Does the Public have a “Right to Know” this Information? What Do You Think?
“This information provides critical insights about infection rates and locations — details people need to be aware of so they can take the steps necessary to protect themselves and prevent further spread of the disease.” – Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted April 9th, 2020 on Niagara At Large
A story posted this April 6th by CBC News reports that “Niagara Region Public Health (the public health department that is part of Niagara, Ontario’s regional government) is refusing to release the number of local COVID-19 deaths, saying that victims’ privacy trumps the public’s right to know how the pandemic is affecting the community.”
The CBC story goes on to say that “Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner doesn’t understand why NRPH is shielding the numbers and wants them released “as soon as possible.”
“This information provides critical insights about infection rates and locations — details people need to be aware of so they can take the steps necessary to protect themselves and prevent further spread of the disease,” commissioner Brian Beamish told CBC News.’
Over the past month or so, and even before Niagara Public health circulated a news release, reporting the first confirmed case of a Niagara resident testing positive with COVID-19 (coronavirus) on March 12th, Niagara At Large, as have other media outlets, been snowed over with news releases, public advisories, updates and the like on this outbreak, coming from one body or another in the private sector and all levels of government.
In that blizzard of information, I recall receiving information from Niagara Region Public Health on confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region, but not on deaths related to it. Niagara Region Public Health has also issued media releases on measures being taken by local governments, and measures that people in the community can take, to protect themselves from exposure to this potentially deadly virus.
The only official information I received about people in this region dying from complications related to the virus have come from Niagara Health (once known as the Niagara Health System or NHS), the area’s amalgamated system of hospitals.
And even releases from Niagara Health contained little or no information about the deceased persons, age, and sex or where in the region they lived in the region.
The reason for this dearth of information, I’ve been told, is that information about someone dying in the health care system isn’t normally or ordinarily released out of respect for the privacy of the deceased and their loved ones.
To this I would add this. Unless the deceased died, let’s say in a traffic accident or was a victim of an alleged crime, I can appreciate our public health care system leaving it to up to family and friends to decide what information, if any, they wish to share with others.
These, however, are not ordinary or normal times, and people are understandably casting out for information on where this invisible invader is and how it is impacting others in the community around them. This is information that they want, and I would argue need to know as they make decisions about what lengths they should go to protect themselves and members of their family.
I don’t know of anyone in Niagara who is talking about our regional health authorities publishing the names or street addresses of those who die from coronavirus complications, without the families’ consent or unless it is their wish to do so.
What would be very helpful for people in our communities to know is the how many people have or are dying, in what time frame, and to at least know the sex and age range of the deceased.
If, for example, some of those who are dying are people in their 50s, 40s, 30s or younger, that sends an important message out to younger people that they are not immune to the most dire consequences of this plague.
If some of the deaths are occurring among people who live in senior’s residences or long-term care facilities that is important for people, particularly those who have loved ones living in such facilities, to know too.
In the CBC report, a spokesperson for Niagara Region Public Health appears to be saying that one of the reasons deaths are not reported is that Niagara has such a small population, the rest of us may be able to guess or determine who the deceased persons are.
Let’s grow up, here. This is not Mayberry or Hooterville we are living in.
Niagara now has a population approaching half a million people. I highly doubt that I am going to figure out who the person is or the street or neighbourhood where they lived if we are told that, for example’. ‘A male in his 30s is the latest Niagara residents to die from complications of COVID-19.
Let me finish by repeating a statement from Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, Brian Beamish – “This information provides critical insights about infection rates and locations — details people need to be aware of so they can take the steps necessary to protect themselves and prevent further spread of the disease.”
Okay, so what do you think? Feel free to share your views below.
And if you feel strongly that Niagara residents should be given up-to-date reports on the number of coronavirus deaths in this region and generic information about the age and sex of the victims, contact your mayors and regional councillors and let them know.
To read the CBC report I have been referring to above, click on – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/niagara-region-public-health-refuses-to-share-covid-19-deaths-with-the-public-1.5523724
NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.