Ontario's privacy commissioner is launching an investigation into how patients' sensitive medical records ended up being blown around a downtown Ottawa street Wednesday.

Ann Cavoukian said she alerted CML Healthcare immediately after hearing that an Ottawa man had found the papers on O'Connor Street, outside a medical centre housing a CML medical imaging clinic.

She directed the company to send staff to scour the streets for any remaining records, which they did.

Cavoukian said her office will launch an investigation on Monday.

Under Ontario's Personal Health Information Protection Act, Cavoukian said, anyone with health records in their possession must:

  • Keep it in a secure manner.
  • Ensure privacy for the people to whom the records pertain.
  • Ensure the information is not accessible for unauthorized access or use.

'It's untenable'


The documents included information about patients, including their names, date of birth, phone number, and the results of their lab tests. ((CBC))

"What you would never do is put a box of health records out on the curb for disposal," she added. "It's untenable. You would never do that."

Cavoukian said the records could be stolen and used to commit identity theft.

The office of the information and privacy of commissioner of Ontario will try to determine whether CML Healthcare had proper protocols in place to protect privacy, and how a breakdown may have occurred. The goal is to ensure such a breach won't happen again, Cavoukian said.

The investigation could result in an order finding the company in breach of the law, and someone could then take that order to take legal action against the company.

The company also faces damage to its reputation, Cavoukian said.

Parking attendant found loose records


Andre Werbrouck, an attendant at a parking lot next to the clinic, noticed the documents blowing about on Wednesday morning. ((CBC))

About a dozen muddy, rumpled pages bearing patient names, phone numbers and medical records were fluttering in the street outside CML's  clinic when they were spotted around 9 a.m. by Andre Werbrouck, an attendant at a parking lot next door.

He collected them and noticed they carried the clinic's letterhead as well as information that most patients expect to remain confidential, including results for various lab tests.

"If I was a customer from there and something like that happened, I don't want nobody to know my birth … date," he said, adding that if someone dishonest found the papers, "He can screw those people real bad."

By the time a CBC reporter arrived around 10:30 a.m., at least one of the papers was still lying in the snow across the street.

Werbrouck said he thinks they were blown out of a blue recycling bin that had been placed nearby. He said he will probably either return them to the clinic on Monday or destroy the records himself.

A woman in a lab coat working Wednesday behind the desk of the CML Healthcare clinic in the basement of the medical centre building said her boss was away.

She wasn't willing to give her name, but pointed to the lab's paper shredder and said documents are only placed in the recycling bin beside while waiting to be shredded. She added that the incident was clearly due to a mistake and she planned to find out how it happened.

CML Healthcare has 119 medical imaging clinics across the country, including 92 in Ontario, as well as 124 medical test clinics across Ontario and a medical diagnostic lab. Shares of the CML HealthCare Income Fund trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange.