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



Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Small trailer clips cop while he’s watching for distracted drivers

A member of the Integrated Road Safety Unit was slightly injured Monday afternoon in Langley City.

Terri Clark in Langley to celebrate upcoming duet with Dallas Smith

These two country music celebrities were sharing a drink at Cactus Club today.

Pro Langley boxers heads to Poland for world championships

Langley Boxing Club’s own Sarah Pucek, now in the professional ring, prepares to dethrone champ.

Langley arena invites people in for a little jab

Stop by the Langley Events Centre Thursday to donate blood.

Last skate at Aldergrove Arena

Aldergrove residents get their final skate around the 45 year old rink

Ottawa proposes restricted pot labels, packages

Packaging will include red stop sign with marijuana leaf and ‘THC’

Pro-Trump protest sign with F-word is OK, court rules

Judges say Ontario man can protest publicly, even using vulgar language

Body of missing Australian woman found in Whistler lake

RCMP say they do not suspect foul play in Allison Raspa’s death

YVR wants you to help name three new puppies

Say hello to the Vancouver Airport’s new assistance pups

Speculation tax causing concern at Cultus Lake, Harrison Hot Springs

Recreational property owners face hefty bill for 2019 for what some call a ‘wealth’ tax

Suspect who attacked autistic man in Ontario could be from B.C.’s south coast: police

29-year-old man was sent to hospital with serious injuries

Privacy watchdog to explore Facebook leak

Canadian expert says his analytics company helped Trump campaign capitalize on private Facebook info

Wasn’t that a St. Patrick’s party in Aldergrove!

A full house enjoyed the Irish Ceilidh style St. Patrick’s Day party at the historic Coghlan Hall

Woman struck and killed by self-driving Uber vehicle

Ride-hailing company suspends all road-testing of such vehicles in U.S. and Canada

Most Read