Information Commissioner sides with GN on release of COVID-19 data

A citizen requested information on the vaccination status, age and state of health of people hospitalized with coronavirus

Nunavut Department of Health not required to create new types of COVID-19 statistics despite formal citizen request for such information, according to review by Information and Life Protection Commissioner Private of Nunavut, Graham Steele.

“That raises a really interesting question,” Steele said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

“If the government does not have a record, to what extent should it create a new record in response to an access to information request? »

The commissioner’s report comes after a requester, whom the report did not identify, requested various information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health on January 17.

This included: the vaccination status of all people who tested positive for COVID-19; also the age, vaccination status and other health conditions of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

The department responded by giving the requester the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, which was 13, but without further information.

In turn, this individual requested a review of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, known as ATIPPA, from the Commissioner.

Steele eventually went along with the Health Department’s argument that he shouldn’t have to provide this information, despite rejecting three of his four arguments for not doing so.

The argument Steele accepted is that the department had not generated the requested statistics and therefore had no obligation to create them.

In his report, Steele said a public body has a partial obligation to create information, but only when feasible. For the Ministry of Health, this was not the case.

Collecting the information requested by the plaintiff would have taken department personnel up to nine days of work and unreasonably interfered with the operations of health department branches working on COVID-19, the report said.

The main reasons why collecting the data sought by the applicant would represent such a constraint were the lack of personnel and the absence of medical equipment capable of quickly collecting health information.

In the report, Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said six or seven out of 20 positions are vacant in the Health Protection Branch.

Meanwhile, a single epidemiologist has the skills to fully exploit Nunavut’s software system, called MediTech, which lacks the ability to collect medical information like systems in other provinces.

“It doesn’t take much to put a strain on government operations,” Steele said in the interview, of GN vacancies and overworked staff.

“It’s a problem lurking in the background.”

However, Steele did not accept the other three reasons given by the department for not providing the information.

This included the GN citing the language of the request as being aligned with an anti-vaccination stance. Steele’s report rejected this, stating that it is the nature of the information itself that is important, not the perceived intentions of the person requesting it.

Steele also disagreed with the department’s assertion that collecting the statistics would involve disclosing personal information.

He said collecting medical statistics without an identity is not personal information, the decision is made after the statistics are collected first.

Steele also disagreed with the Department of Health’s assertion that the information requested by the requester would be “considered” in a report to be made to the GN in the fall of 2022.

That commitment was too vague, he said.