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

News from the Kimberley Garden Club

Submitted by: Marilee Quist My husband and I have been in our… Continue reading

New energy grant targets community buildings

Columbia Basin Trust supports renewable, alternative energy generation

Dynamiters have a winning weekend

Nitros defeat regional rivals Creston and Fernie

Kootenay rubgy teams see success at Kamloops 7s tournament

The Kootenays sent four regional teams to the Kamloops 7’s Rugby Tournament… Continue reading

Creekside Physiotherapy is Kimberley’s Business of the Year

The Kimberley Bulletin is proud each year to sponsor the Business of… Continue reading

Don McCormick re-elected as Mayor of Kimberley

Election results are in, McCormick to serve as Mayor for another four years.

Canada announces $20M fund for women entrepreneurs

New federal program will provide up to $100,000 for female business owners to grow their operations

Vancouver Island man claims falling ice smashed his truck windshield

Man discovered volleyball-sized chunk ice on his truck Saturday, near Nanaimo, B.C.

B.C. veteran combats PTSD in the ring and on the farm

Cam Tetrault is a valuable contributor at Quesnel’s Two Rivers Boxing Club

B.C. vegan butcher to appear on Dragons’ Den

Victoria’s Very Good Butchers will star in Nov. 29 episode

Fast ferries from B.C. spotted in Egypt

Controversial aluminum BC Ferries vessels ’big white elephants covered in dust,’ eyewitness says

Canadian troops, families take shelter in hotel after Florida hurricane

Most of the Canadians were evacuated from the military base before Hurricane Michael

B.C. jury trial hears police-sting audio of man accused of killing girl, 12

Garry Handlen has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Monica Jack on May 6, 1978.

5 tips to keep trick-or-treaters safe this Halloween

BC Children’s Hospital has a few suggestions to keep Oct. 31 fun

Most Read