Letter to Stakeholders re: Children First Act and privacy concerns The Information and Privacy Commissioner has issued

a news release with comments about information sharing in the Children First Act. I feel it is important that I provide stakeholders with additional information relating to the Commissioner’s concerns. I cannot count the number of times I have been approached by professionals in education, health, law enforcement, and social work about the challenges of information sharing when it comes to the best interests of a child. The Children First Act increases support and protection for children in Alberta while setting a direction for government to develop a Children’s Charter and review all policies, programs, and services that impact children. A key piece of this legislation is providing more consistent, open and appropriate information sharing for the health, safety and protection of children. It is, of course, the responsibility of the Commissioner to bring to the attention of the Legislature and the public any concerns she has relating to freedom of information and protection of privacy issues. I appreciated the important considerations the Commissioner and her staff raised during the development of the Children First Act. My department consulted with the Commissioner’s office extensively as the concepts for the information sharing portions of the bill were being written and advice from that office led to substantive changes to the bill before it was brought to the floor of the Legislature. This legislation will help break down the silos that currently prevent people from working collaboratively to protect, serve and help our children. This act will allow service providers—including teachers, police, health care workers, and others—to come together with parents and guardians to share information to assist children when it is appropriate and in the best interests of the child. Equally important, this kind of information sharing could prevent a child from becoming at risk in the first place. As the Minister of Human Services, I have the responsibility of putting children first and ensuring our government does the best it can to protect, serve and help our children. With my responsibilities in mind, I would like to respond to several points raised by the Commissioner. • “Bill 25 erodes individuals’ ability to control what happens to their own personal and health information by broadening the ability to share information without consent. The ability to say yes or no to the sharing of one’s own information is, fundamentally, what privacy laws are intended to provide – control.”

The Commissioner is no doubt correct in taking the position that one of the fundamentals of privacy legislation is to limit the way information is collected and used without the express consent of the individual. The risk of harm certainly outweighs any benefit of privacy when children are involved and when their health, safety and education are hampered by a failure to share information appropriately between professionals.

The Children First Act does not allow for the inappropriate sharing of information and it is certainly not about releasing information publicly or to persons not involved as members of the child’s team. There

have been tragic examples where the outcome could have been different had the child’s team communicated and collaborated for the success of the child. I cannot overemphasize how important professionals across the province believe this kind of information sharing is to their work. • “Individuals will not necessarily know what information has been collected about them, by whom, or for what specific purpose. This is contrary to fundamental privacy principles of transparency, openness and accountability, and reduces individuals’ ability to exercise their rights to complain or ask for a review under existing privacy laws.”

There are no pieces of the Children First Act that change the provisions for collection of information. The reality is that people are complex beings with complex issues. To require complete specificity about who information will be shared with is not practical. To be aware that information may be appropriately shared with school officials, police, health professionals and child welfare workers is almost an expectation not only of the public but of the parents, guardians and others directly involved. • “Bill 25 may authorize information sharing with non-profit organizations that are, for the most part, not regulated by privacy legislation and not subject to any independent privacy oversight body.”

Virtually all such organizations that would be in the tent are actually subject to the privacy legislation by virtue of their contract with government for service delivery. A very small number of organizations may be outside the provisions of privacy legislation, and those can be dealt with either by agreement or by exclusion under the regulations. • “Bill 25 provides legislative authority for sharing information “for the purposes of enabling or planning for the provision of services or benefits.” This is a very broad purpose that could include any number of activities undertaken by a service provider.”

While I recognize that privacy legislation is in its nature prescriptive, it would be impossible and counterproductive to attempt to delineate all the circumstances in which information can be shared. We are dealing primarily with professionals who have codes of conduct, very strong skill-sets and who want the best results for the children they serve. • “Bill 25 authorizes information sharing that in many ways is already permissible under existing Alberta privacy laws. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act, the Health Information Act (HIA) and the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) allow disclosures with the consent of the individual the information is about, or without consent in certain circumstances.”

We have always said that the Children First Act will not take anyone out of the purview of FOIP and HIA. The practical reality is that individuals currently default to “no”, to not sharing information, because there is an inherent interpretation of risk through personal, professional and financial penalties. What the Children First Act acknowledges is that a team of professionals, working together in the best interests of a child, is very capable of knowing what needs to be shared and what is not relevant to purpose. These professionals need to be allowed to do their jobs and be provided with assurance that we fully support them in doing so. Protection of privacy is an important value, but it is not paramount to the need for us to be able to act in the best interest of a child.

“Bill 25 is a legislated solution to an education and awareness problem. There will be a need to provide education and training about its provisions, in addition to explaining how it interacts/intersects with the FOIP Act, HIA and PIPA.”

With respect, this comment underestimates the impact that privacy legislation has had on service providers. The Children First Act will not by itself result in immediate change to practice; however, the provisions of the Children First Act greatly increase our chances of success. Based on previous experiences of practice and process, education alone is not the answer. I agree that more education and training are needed. That work has started as part of the Information Sharing Strategy led by Human Services.

While I appreciate and respect the advice and role of the Commissioner, my job is to protect the children of the province who are at risk. I believe the provisions of the Children First Act are necessary to accomplish our goal of ensuring that every Alberta child has the opportunity to be successful. When children are in need, they have to be our first priority
The information protection provisions of the Children First Act remain bound by the principles already in place under the Freedom of Information and the Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and Health Information Act (HIA). This bill does not undermine or change the privacy regime in this province. Rather, it will create opportunities and encourage service providers and families to work more effectively within it. Insinuations (being made by others, not the Commissioner) that this legislation will allow information to be disseminated “all over the place” are simply inaccurate considering Alberta’s strong privacy legislation and the professional ethics of the people involved. Keeping in mind the planned reviews of both the FOIP and the HIA, the discussion around how information is collected and shared is only beginning and there will be further opportunities to make recommendations. Some of the amendments that have been proposed would further restrict information sharing. Based on the discussions I’ve had with parents of children in distress, police, educators and service providers working on the frontlines with young Albertans, that’s unacceptable and completely contrary to the goals and intent of the bill. I make no apologies for taking bold steps forward to help Alberta kids, and with the passage and implementation of the Children First Act that’s exactly what we will do. Yours truly,

Dave Hancock, QC Minister

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