Nunavut doctor accused of snooping won’t face charges
Health minister suggests administrative penalty regime after privacy commissioner says act lacks ‘teeth’
A doctor caught snooping in a colleague’s medical files will not face charges under Nunavut’s privacy law.
Health Minister John Main gave that update when he responded June 23 to recommendations in a March report from territorial information and privacy commissioner, Graham Steele.
Steele’s report concerned a doctor and colleague. An audit of the colleague’s records revealed the doctor had snooped through them for no legitimate reason over an 18-month period starting around May 2020.
Steele did not identify the doctor or colleague, or say where they were working, but called the incident a “profound” violation of personal privacy.
His report made several recommendations, including that the doctor be charged under the territory’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Steele acknowledged it would be unlikely that the territory would lay charges because jurisdiction is not well defined, the maximum $5,000 fine might not be worth the trouble, and there is a six-month limitation period.
Main cited that six-month limitation in his decision not to prosecute.
However, Main opened the door to creating an administrative penalty regime for privacy act offences.
Administrative penalties are commonly used in Canadian provinces and municipalities to enforce territorial and provincial laws and bylaws through fines and other deterrents.
Steele said he is aware prosecution is nearly impossible and he understands why the Health Department is not pursuing it.
“The privacy law needs more teeth,” Steele told Nunatsiaq News in an email.
“I’m happy to see the minister acknowledge that there’s a problem there, and he seems willing to work with me to see if we can improve the law.”
Steele also recommended the department develop a privacy “anti-intrusion plan,” start using software to identify “red-flag” behaviours in accessing medical records, and that the department identify someone to follow up on those red flags.
“The Department of Health accepts the majority of recommendations and has already completed some of the work,” stated Main in his response.
The department is updating its medical records software and has identified an individual to follow up on red flags.
Steele has previously recommended the department bolster privacy controls for medical records.
He raised the issue in 2020 after a similar privacy intrusion within the department. The minister committed at the time to update privacy protocols but, Steele said, three years later that work had still not begun.
Steele asked the Department of Health to update his office by the end of this year on its work to upgrade privacy controls, which Main said the department will do.
Main did not accept every recommendation.
He said the department will not develop a privacy anti-intrusion plan, instead deferring this work to the territorial government as a whole. Citing safety concerns, he also said the department will not modify its medical records system to block a particular user from accessing certain health records.
Where is the doctor?
It’s not clear whether or where the doctor at the centre of Steele’s report is still practising.
Nunavut’s licensing body continues to investigate the allegations.
In March, a Health Department spokesperson told Nunatsiaq News the Government of Nunavut had ended all its contracts with the doctor in question, who by then had left the territory.
The allegations have also been reported to the colleges of physicians in Ontario and Quebec, where the doctor is licensed to practice.
Nunatsiaq News has been unable to determine whether investigations have been opened in either province.