“Simply horrific” is how Micheal Vonn described a Health Canada threat to turn the personal information of medicinal-marijuana users over to the RCMP.
“It was our impression that Health Canada was taking the only ethical stance that it could, which was that they were not in a position to release patient information,” the policy director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association told the Straight by phone from Washington, D.C. “We don’t know what has caused this turnabout.”
According to a March 14 notice posted online, the federal government recently amended the Conservative’s new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation—which takes effect April 1—to provide for Health Canada to share information with law enforcement related to patients who are deemed noncompliant.
Citizens licensed to possess marijuana—of which there are more than 16,000 in B.C. alone—were previously informed that they are required to dispose of any pot obtained under the old rules. Now Health Canada has said patients must provide the federal government with written notice stating how much marijuana they destroyed, regardless of whether or not they are in possession of marijuana today. Licence holders have until April 30 to meet the terms of the order.
“If participants do not comply with the requirement to notify Health Canada, the Department will notify law enforcement,” the statement reads. “Health Canada will track receipt of notifications from Program participants and disclose a list of those who fail to comply with the notification requirement to the RCMP. The RCMP will address this information as appropriate, for example, in prioritizing which non compliant licensees to investigate.”
Health Canada spokesperson Sean Upton told the Straight that the federal government is not granting interviews on medicinal marijuana.
Vonn questioned the implications of patient information being passed to law enforcement.
“Health Canada would be feeding information into a police database that we have already seen being recklessly shared [with U.S. authorities],” she said. “These are the kinds of medical-data disclosures that have prevented people who have, for example, a mental-health history, from crossing the border into the U.S.”
Valerie Lawton, a spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, told the Straight that her office has received “several complaints” regarding the March 14 Health Canada notice. The OPCC is examining the issue, she added.