News Release

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada issues statement on the use of genetic test results by life and health insurance companies

OTTAWA, July 10, 2014 – The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is urging the life and health insurance industry to call on its members to refrain from asking applicants for access to existing genetic test results for the purposes of underwriting an insurance policy at this time.

“As science and technologies advance, protecting genetic privacy will become increasingly important and challenging,” says Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien. 

“We are calling on the industry to refrain from asking for existing test results to assess insurance risk until the industry can clearly show that these tests are necessary and effective in assessing risk.  This would allow people to undergo genetic testing for various purposes without fear that the results may have a negative impact if they apply for insurance.”

The step called for in the policy statement issued today would effectively expand the industry’s current voluntary moratorium on asking applicants to undergo genetic testing. The statement outlines the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s  position with respect to the application of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to this practice.

The statement says: “It is not clear that the collection and use of genetic test results by insurance companies is demonstrably necessary, effective, proportionate or the least intrusive means of achieving the industry’s objectives at this time.”

The statement reflects the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s ongoing work on the privacy implications associated with genetic information.

The issue has prompted the introduction of private members’ bills at both the federal and provincial levels, and the issue was mentioned in the most recent Speech from the Throne.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has provided the statement to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.

The Commissioners of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec – all provinces with substantially similar private-sector legislation – support the work done by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.  Insurance companies in those provinces will need to consider provincial legislation in addressing these issues.

For more information about the two research papers that contributed to this statement and the OPC’s strategic priorities, please see:

About the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman and guardian of privacy in Canada. The Commissioner enforces two federal laws for the protection of personal information: the Privacy Act, which applies to the federal public sector; and PIPEDA, which applies to organizations engaged in commercial activities in the Atlantic provinces, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Territories. Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia each has its own law covering the private sector, with the exception of federally regulated activities.

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For more information (media only), please contact:

Valerie Lawton
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
E-mail: Valerie.Lawton@priv.gc.ca

NOTE: Journalists are asked to please send requests for interviews or further information via e-mail.

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