UPDATE: Privacy breach sentencing significant for general deterrence: Crown attorney

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Cory Hurley
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Provincial court

The conviction and sentencing of a former hospital clerk who inappropriately accessed patient records is signficant to deter any future breaches, according to Crown attorney Vikas Khaladkar.

In provincial court in Corner Brook this afternoon, he said the sentencing of Donna Colbourne is more important to send a message to the public than to Colbourne herself.

That message is multi-faceted, he submitted during the facts and sentencing hearing before Judge Kymil Howe, and most be significant to achieve results.

The Crown attorney requested a fine of $7,500 be imposed upon Colbourne, who pleaded guilty to inappropriately accessing 1,043 patient files between June 2011 and May 2012 while employed at Western Memorial Regional Hospital — a breach of the Personal Health Information Act. Defence lawyer James Goodwin asked Howe to impose a fine of $1,000.

Health care professionals must be trusted with personal and medical information that is often essential to the care and treatment of patients, Khaladkar said. A breach such as the one made by Colbourne has a devastating impact on the victims and creates a lack of trust within people in general. This can lead to the withholding of pertinent personal information, he submitted.

It also creates a victim of Western Health. The organization had to conduct audits, investigations, and other human resource processes as well as contact every person whose privacy was breached, report to the privacy commissioner’s office, and participate in the prosecution. The trustworthiness of the organization itself is also called into question, according to Khaladkar.

The Crown attorney said the sentence for the first conviction under the provincial Personal Health Information Act must be significant enough to deter any other health care professional from considering doing this in the future. Since Colbourne was fired and no longer has access to such information, general deterrence becomes the biggest principal of sentencing, he submitted.

Goodwin countered that the ramifications have already been severe for Colbourne. She was fired from her job and the subject of significant media attention as a result of her crime. He stressed that there was no evidence the information accessed was distributed to anybody else.

With limited resources to assist in sentencing — Khaladkar said there is only two similar cases in Canada, both in Alberta — Howe decided to take some time to deliver the precedent-setting decision. She referred to the case as a “new area” for the court. Her decision is scheduled for Sept. 11.

 

Previous article:

Provincial court Judge Kymil Howe will take some time before deciding the appropriate decision in a precedent-setting privacy breach case.

Facts and sentencing in the matter of Donna Colbourne, a former hospital clerk with Western Health, was held in Corner Brook this afternoon. The Corner Brook woman inappropriately accessed 1,043 patient files between June 2011 and May 2012 while employed at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.

Crown attorney Vikas Khaladkar asked Howe to impose a fine of $7,500, while defence lawyer James Goodwin countered with a submission of $1,000. Howe will impose sentence Sept. 11.

This is the first conviction in Newfoundland and Labrador under the Personal Health Information Act.

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador

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