Wednesday, July 31, 2013

RCMP officers complain that the federal police force unlawfully used and disclosed their mental health records

A group of RCMP officers today filed a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, arguing that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police unlawfully trolled through their mental health records in order to discredit a psychologist who has been an outspoken critic of the force. The group also accuses the police force of disclosing mental health records of officers in its complaint against the psychologist from British Columbia. The complaint against the doctor was determined by the college of psychologists to be unfounded.

From the Vancouver Sun:

RCMP handed over members' private medical info in B.C. dispute, says privacy complaint

VANCOUVER — The RCMP violated the privacy of members being treated for mental health issues by handing over their personal medical files in a dispute with a British Columbia psychologist, says a group that advocates for Mounties across Canada, adding it has filed a complaint with the federal privacy commissioner.

The Mounted Police Professional Association said Tuesday it has asked for a full investigation, including whether the disclosure is part of a larger, systemic abuse of RCMP members' privacy.

"This exemplifies a crass and cynical disregard for the confidentiality of RCMP members' most sensitive personal health information," Rae Banwarie, association president, said in a statement.

"(The association) is concerned that it may have been done to intimidate those RCMP members in the doctor's care."

In the complaint, the group says the personal health information was provided to the B.C. College of Psychologists without permission to bolster RCMP allegations last August against Dr. Michael Webster, accusing him of lacking objectivity and practising outside of his area of expertise.

Webster had become a vocal critic of the organization after 20 years of treating Mounties, and testified about the culture within the force at the public inquiry into the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport.

Webster was a psychologist once consulted by RCMP and other law enforcement agencies in incidents like the Gustafsen Lake standoff in 1997 and the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, in 1993, but Webster told the Dziekanski inquiry the force had been "brainwashed" by the Taser manufacturer.

He testified officers were using the stun weapons instead of using non-life threatening responses.

After that, Webster has said business from the RCMP dried up.

Earlier this year, the college found the complaint against Webster was unfounded. The organization declined a request for comment and would not release its report on Tuesday, suggesting a request would have to be filed under provincial Freedom of Information legislation.

But Rob Creasser, spokesman for the Mounties' association, said it was through that process that Webster found out the personal information had been handed over, and he informed the members.

"Dr. Webster has been an advocate for change in the RCMP because his take on it has been that the RCMP is a toxic workplace, and he, as a practising psychologist, has difficulty putting his clients back into a workplace that will continually cause them to be sick," Creasser said.

The RCMP did not immediately return a call for comment. A call to Webster's office was also not immediately returned.

Although the force's complaint against the psychologist was not substantiated, RCMP health services will not pay for treatment by Webster, Creasser said.

The association is asking the federal privacy czar to look into whether the disclosure in this case is part of a larger, systemic abuse of members' private information.

Full disclosure: I am legal counsel to the affected RCMP officers.

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