Health Canada erred in withholding personal information

An individual complained to us after Health Canada refused to give him access to personal information that had been collected about him before, during and after an evaluation of his fitness for work. The evaluation was carried out by a Health Canada program that deals with occupational health and safety.

The Department declined to turn over the information, citing section 28 of the Privacy Act. That section states that the head of a department may choose to withhold personal information related to the physical or mental health of an individual if examining the information would be contrary to the best interests of the individual.

The regulations further stipulate that the head of the organization may show the personal information to a medical practitioner or psychologist who is qualified to determine whether disclosure of the information would be against the individual’s best interests. Involving a medical professional, however, requires the consent of the individual concerned.

Upon investigation, we concluded that the personal information that the complainant was seeking was not confined to sensitive records related to his mental or physical health. We therefore concluded that section 28 of the Act did not give Health Canada an appropriate reason to withhold access to his personal information.

Consequently, we upheld the complaint as well founded. However, after the Department undertook to release the requested information, we also deemed the file to be resolved.

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