A civil rights group alleges that police services across Ontario engaged in broad, illegal searches of a COVID-19 database.
In a report released today, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says many forces ran broad searches that called up a list of COVID test results for wide geographic areas.
The association says such searches are illegal and infringe on individuals’ privacy.
The provincial government ended police access to the database on Aug. 17, after a legal challenge was filed by a group of human rights organizations.
After the case was dropped, the CCLA sent letters to every police force in the province, asking them for details of how the database was used and if any information was retained from it.
The CCLA says 23 of the 37 forces contacted have offered “substantive responses.”
It says many police forces found the database difficult to use and in an attempt to find workarounds to its issues they resorted to these problematic broad searches.
According to the CCLA report, Toronto police never used the database because there were “issues with the accuracy and reliability of the information in the Portal.”
Similarly, the report says that York Region asked the provincial government to revoke its access to the database after an internal review found that the risks associated with accessing personal health information outweighed any benefits.
Aboriginal Legal Services, the Black Legal Action Centre, the CCLA, and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario argued in their lawsuit that allowing police to access personal health records violates individuals’ constitutional rights to privacy and equality.
Data released in the context of the legal action showed that Ontario police services conducted over 95,000 searches of the database while it was active.
More than 40 per cent of these searches were conducted by either the Thunder Bay Police Service or Durham Region Police Service.
Thunder Bay police accessed the personal health information in the database more than 14,800 times — a rate of access 10 times higher than the provincial average — even though the area reported a total of just 100 COVID-19 cases in the period that the database was active.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2020.
The Canadian Press