New police powers reduce privacy in Ontario
Police may demand confidential information without warrant
September 19, 2019
Last week I received the following notice from my College, the CPRO.
There is a new law, effective July 1st, that applies to everyone but may have special application to health care practitioners. The Missing Persons Act (https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/18m03) enables police to make an “urgent demand for records” where the “missing person” has not been in contact with people they would expect to have been in contact with and there is reasonable grounds to believe their safety is at risk. While this demand can be made of anyone, it is anticipated that health care practitioners, cell phone providers and financial institutions are most likely to receive these requests. The request from the police will specify the type of information sought, which information is intended to assist the police in locating the individual. This new power is designed to assist in cases where no criminal activity is suspected (where search warrants would be available). Likely the exceptions in the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) already permits this disclosure, but now cooperation is mandatory.
This legislation has been passed very quietly. When we wrote to the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, we received the following reply:
"Thank you for alerting us to this concerning new provision, which we were not aware of."
Below is the most relevant section of the legislation:
Urgent demand for records
5 (1) An officer may make an urgent demand in writing to a person requiring the person to produce copies of records, in accordance with subsection (6), if the officer is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that,
(a) the records are in the custody or under the control of the person;
(b) the records will assist in locating the missing person; and
(c) in the time required to obtain an order in accordance with section 4,
(i) the missing person may be seriously harmed, or
(ii) the records may be destroyed.
Factors to consider
(2) An officer shall not make an urgent demand unless the officer is of the opinion that the public interest in locating the missing person outweighs the privacy interest of any person whose information may be contained in a record specified in the demand....
Duty to comply
(6) A person who receives an urgent demand shall, as soon as reasonably possible, produce copies of the records specified in the demand that are in the person’s custody or under the person’s control to a member of the police force.
See also: How private is my therapy in Ontario?
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