"Patients, Not Users" - Privacy of class claimants upheld in case against Health Canada
HALIFAX, Feb. 26, 2014
HALIFAX, Feb. 26, 2014 /CNW/ - In a decision released on Tuesday, the
Federal Court of Canada (the Court) agreed that to deny the plaintiffs
anonymity in the court proceeding would disclose the very information
they seek to protect and exacerbate the damage and/or risk of harm that
has already been caused by Health Canada's mailing that identified them
as a participant in the Program.
Health Canada, relying on newspaper articles and internet research,
argued that public opinion about marihuana use has changed to be more
accepting. The Court rejected this evidence as irrelevant, explaining:
"What the Plaintiffs' marijuana use discloses is their medical and
health information. The Plaintiffs are patients, no simply "users".
Disclosing their identities discloses that a course of treatment has
been prescribed by them by a medical doctor, and that they suffer from
serious health conditions and symptoms. Identifying the Plaintiffs by
name or information that discloses their personal identity also
discloses that they have or are likely to have medical marihuana in
their homes - something that Health Canada itself saw as a serious
safety and security risk.
Accordingly, I am satisfied that in the within case of John Doe and Suzy
Jones, without the protection they seek on this motion, the important
issues they raise in their Amended Statement of Claim may not be
determined in this forum, and that the issues they raise regarding
patient rights, privacy and whether Health Canada owes a duty of care
and has breached that duty and is liable are issues that are in the
public interest to be determined. The Plaintiffs have requested only
that their personal identity be protected and with minimum intrusion on
the open court process."
The law firms of Sutts, Strosberg LLP, Charney Lawyers, Branch MacMaster
LLP and McInnes Cooper commenced a proposed class action against the
Government of Canada on behalf of all persons who were sent a letter
from Health Canada in an envelope that referred explicitly to the
"Medical Marihuana Access Program".
Jane O'Neill of McInnes Cooper who brought the motion on behalf of the
plaintiffs says, "We are very pleased that the Court has recognized the
importance of ensuring that the Plaintiffs' right to keep their health
information private is maintained throughout this proceeding."
"This is a victory for access to justice," said Ted Charney of Charney
Lawyers, co-counsel for the proposed class. "It is common sense that
the Court should step up to protect the Plaintiffs so they can have
their day in Court without being re-victimised in the process."
"It is important that that the Court recognized that this is not just
about medical marijuana," said Ward Branch of Branch McMaster,
co-counsel for the proposed class. "But that the members of the
proposed class are affected by serious health conditions which were
disclosed by Health Canada's privacy breach."