Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth of the Penticton RCMP holds a syringe as emergency workers put an overdose victim on a stretcher at a Government Street house. Mark Brett/Western News file photo

Overdose data policy may not comply with FOI law, expert says

But B.C. Coroners likely ‘most transparent jurisdiction in the country,’ according to spokesperson

Scrubbing the number of overdose deaths in small towns last year from public releases has some science behind it, but experts say public bodies are likely taking the wrong approach.

Last week, Black Press successfully advocated for the release of preliminary figures of total overdose deaths in Penticton for 2017, but it came with some resistance from the B.C. Coroners Service.

Related: Penticton’s overdose death rate most likely tops Kelowna’s

The provincial service relented amid interviews with an advocacy group and the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, a quasi-judicial body on access to information and protection of privacy.

Daryl Meyers, executive director of Pathways Addictions Resource Centre in Penticton, said she is of two minds on the data release policy.

“Respecting privacy, absolutely, that’s number one of our priorities,” she said.

On the other hand, Penticton does not have a publicly funded residential treatment centre, which Meyers said she would like to see in town — though she added it is not likely anytime soon.

“That’s why numbers like that are important to get, because I would hope that we would be able to leverage and get more services here.”

Related: Penticton group, IH eyeing overdose prevention site

At the heart of the issue is the mosaic effect — when a number released isn’t large enough, data believed to be anonymized can identify, for example, an overdose victim.

On that note, Brad Weldon, OIPC’s acting deputy commissioner, was quick to point out that the privacy protection falls in the same rulebook as access to information.

“They just mean you need to run through a three-part test that all of the public bodies will know to determine whether or not the disclosure of that information is an unreasonable invasion of that third-party’s privacy.”

That three-part test effectively asks if there would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy (such as a psychiatric evaluation) and if there is valid public interest in the information (subjects of public debate, public health concerns).

Related: Nine suspected fatal overdoses over five days

And the Coroners Service formerly erred on the side of transparency. In fact, the service used to disclose the name of deceased, and in 2017, a Coroners Service report showed one person died in Vernon in January.

But when it comes to weighing personal information against the public interest specifically at the Coroners Service, Weldon said the OIPC doesn’t tend to weigh in, as the Coroners Act has its own clause about disclosing private information.

In B.C., the number five is typically assumed by public bodies as the threshold for de-identifying data — cited by the Coroners Service, B.C. Ambulance and Interior Health — but Weldon took some issue with that approach.

Deciding whether or not to release data, he said, should include factors like the total number of deaths compared to those caused by overdose, as well as the size of the community and the breadth of the time frame being considered.

Related: Penticton hospital fourth busiest in IH region for opioid overdoses

“It’s quite a bit removed from the original principles that gave rise to the number five, and it could be the number four is more appropriate, or it could be the number 10 is more appropriate,” Weldon said.

“The concern that I have is that when you’re applying a blanket rule and you’re using it as essentially a proxy for going through the test, then you’re not complying with FIPPA.”

Coroners Service spokesperson Andy Watson said the service is currently developing a data disclosure policy to clarify what can and can’t be released.

“I should also point out for context, I believe we are the most transparent jurisdiction in the country with regard to the surveillance information with illicit drug data,” he said.

“Any emerging trends are shared with health authorities as we spot them — we would also work with health authorities to distribute public alerts as and when required if there was a public concern for safety or a new trend emerging.”

Related: South Okanagan front lines workers say comments add insult to tragedy


@dustinrgodfrey

dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Black Press Kootenay Career Fair underway in Cranbrook

Today, Thursday, August 22, around 40 employers will be waiting to meet potential new employees

Elk River reclaims property as its own

Laws make it harder to protect private land than ever before says farmer, local government

Rossland council urges minister to kill Jumbo Glacier Resort project

Mayor writes letter panning ski resort on environmental, legal, and economic grounds

Investment group plans to build water bottling facility in Golden

GoldenKey Investments Group has purchased a 20-acre parcel of land on Fisher… Continue reading

CSRD addresses septic aquifer concerns in Nicholson

Water quality in Nicholson has been a concern of the Columbia Shuswap… Continue reading

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Speculation tax forces sale of Greater Victoria’s iconic ‘Tulip House’

Bob and Jan Fleming selling their retirement home famous for its thousands of tulips

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Man at centre of dropped HIV-disclosure case sues province and 10 cops

Brian Carlisle of Abbotsford says Mission RCMP defamed him and were ‘negligent’ in their investigation

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Forests minister visits B.C. town rocked by multiple mill shutdowns

A third of Mackenzie turns out for rally, not much to cheer about

NDP bring Green New Deal to the Kootenays

MPs Wayne Stetski and Peter Julian held climate change talks in Nelson, Cranbrook and Revelstoke

Most Read