Health Canada mails details of marijuana users
Source: National Post
Copyright: National Post
Contact: [email protected]
By: Sarah Boesveld
Published: March 12, 2011
A privacy breach on the part of Health Canada has landed personal information in the hands of a medical marijuana patient in Toronto.
Kyle Andrews, who relies on medical marijuana to ease symptoms brought on by HIV and Hepatitis C, received a package from Health Canada Wednesday that included the rules and regulations he requested about how he was allowed to ingest the marijuana. But it also included two pages documenting personal information from other medical marijuana patients who had called the Marihuana Medical Access Division.
The pages included the callers' first and last names, addresses, apartment numbers, home and work phone numbers and details of their situation as given to a calltaker at the division.
"This is just unprofessional. This is something I would expect from maybe the other side of the medical marijuana community, the street side," he said. He notified the two people whose information was included in the package he received.
One of them, a woman who would only identify herself as Mrs. Li, has been in touch with the Marihuana Medical Access Division to get the drugs for her husband, who is suffering from liver cancer.
She was upset to learn Health Canada would leak her information –accident or not.
"I was surprised. It's supposed to be private," she said from her home in Surrey, B.C. "They have everything, his doctor's address, his sister's information, everything."
Mr. Andrews also called Health Canada, but did not get a response until Thursday, when a top official called him to explain the situation. The Health Canada director told him they did not want the issue to be made public and asked him to mail the information back.
He refused and is now working on submitting a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner.
Late Thursday, Health Canada told the Post they were "aware of an incident involving the potential disclosure of personal information."
"We have taken immediate steps to investigate this occurrence," wrote spokesperson Leslie Meerburg.
"The Department is reviewing its internal procedures to prevent future incidences."
At this time, Health Canada can't say how the privacy breach occurred, she added.
Mr. Andrews, 33, was diagnosed as HIV positive about a decade ago, having contracted it from a partner. He began using crack cocaine and methamphetamines to stave off chronic pain and depression brought on by the disease and soon turned to marijuana. Four years ago, he started dealing with Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Division to gain access to marijuana legally –a year before he contracted Hepatitis C.
"I was not surprised [by the breach] because they're so slack with their program," he said of the Health Canada division.
"Their turnover time to get a terminally ill person to get a medical marijuana card [is lengthy]. The longest I waited was 10 months."
Without a card, a person in possession of marijuana can be charged.
Health Canada stressed that it takes the protection of private information very seriously.