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August 17, 2020

The Ontario government has ended police access to a COVID-19 database after CCLA and partners filed a legal challenge to stop the blanket disclosure of personal medical information to law enforcement.

In light of the government’s decision we have decided to end the current litigation which focused on the province’s actions. The fight to protect Ontarian’s medial privacy, however, is not over.

Data the government provided to us shows that in a matter of months Ontario police searched the COVID testing results database over 95,000 times. Over 40% of these searches were conducted by two police services: Thunder Bay Police Service and Durham Region Police Service.

Thunder Bay Police Service in particular accessed the personal health information in the database over 14,800 times – a rate of access that is ten times higher than the provincial average – even though the area has reported only 100 positive cases since the outset of the pandemic.

We have written to police service boards and chiefs of police across Ontario to find out what happened to these Ontarians’ health information – who has access to it and where it is being stored.

We are calling on the police to destroy the personal health information they have collected to date.

We are also calling on the jurisdictions with the highest per capita use of the database – Thunder Bay, Durham Region, London, Kawartha Lakes and Guelph – to conduct audits to ensure the data access to date complied with policy and legal requirements.  For further details regarding the legal action please see the CCLA’s Case page on Privacy and COVID.

Details of police access to date

Data released by the province showed that Ontario police services searched the COVID database 96,815 times between April 17 and July 20, 2020. Details of the breakdown by police services are below.

Note that 345 searches were conducted by authorized users that had the same name (first and last) in two different police services. As such, these searches were not attributed to any single police service but were included in the total of 96,815 searches.

Number of times police services accessed the provincial COVID database, April 17 to July 20, 2020
Source: Letter from the Ministry of the Attorney General (August 7, 2020)

Police services’ searches of the provincial COVID database, rate per 100 people, April 17 to July 20, 2020
Source: Letter from the Ministry of the Attorney General (August 7, 2020)

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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