The British Columbia and Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioners have confirmed that privacy laws in both provinces allow disclosure of personal information and personal health information without consent in emergency or urgent situations.
On October 30, 2008 the Commissioners jointly published a document entitled “Practice Tool for Exercising Discretion: Emergency Disclosure of Personal Information by Universities, Colleges and other Educational Institutions”. The publication is intended to assist educational institutions faced with deciding whether to release student personal information, including information about a student’s mental or emotional health, without the student’s consent, in a crisis situation. The publication was prompted by cases in which students from Ontario and BC committed suicide. After each event, the institution cited privacy laws as the reason why the students’ families were not contacted about health concerns prior to the tragedy.
Educational institutions and other public bodies responsible for exercising discretion in such circumstances will wish to review the publication and their policies regarding disclosure of personal information in order to ensure that they are prepared to respond effectively in emergency situations.