Yunesit'in (Stone), west of Williams Lake, is one of six First Nation communities comprising the Tsilhqot'in Nation. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Privacy commissioner rules B.C. giving enough COVID-19 info after First Nations’ complaint

3 First Nations argued the government violated the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act

B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner has ruled that the province does not need to release specific information about COVID-19 to First Nations communities.

Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Tsilhqot’in National Government and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council filed a complaint to Commissioner Michael McEvoy’s office in September, alleging the province violated the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act by failing to quickly disclose locations of COVID-19 cases – including whether that infected person had travelled to a particular nation’s territory.

At the centre of the decision is Section 25 of the act, which requires the government to “without delay, disclose to the public, to an affected group of people or to an applicant…information about a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people.”

The health ministry argued that the Public Health Act emergency powers override its duty of public interest disclosure.

In his decision, McEvoy said he rejected that argument but that “sufficient information is already available on COVID-19 cases” to allow First Nations communities to take steps to avoid or mitigate the risks connected to the pandemic.

Earlier this month, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the ministry would be releasing total COVID-19 cases within local health areas on a weekly basis.

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