Saskatchewan authorities are investigating after several boxes containing the medical files of about 1,000 patients were discovered intact in a paper-recycling bin in Regina.
Gary Dickson, the province's information and privacy commissioner, told CBC News on Wednesday that he was surprised by what he found when he arrived at the site late in the day.
"To be honest, I'm astonished," Dickson said. "It appears to be a large volume of health information in file folders."
He said the records appeared to be from a doctor's office, or several doctors' offices, and possibly a diagnostic lab and maybe a pharmacy.
"What we know for sure is this is information that is not supposed to be found in a dumpster," he said. "This is totally inappropriate, to toss them in the dumpster where anyone could find them."
Dickson loaded an unspecified number of boxes of medical files into his car and said a member of his staff was checking medical offices in the area to determine the source.
"The immediate concern is making sure the stuff is safe," he said.
'I've got a colleague from my office who's still in the dumpster, trying to get to the bottom.' —Gary Dickson, Saskatchewan privacy commissioner
Dickson pointed out that a health-care provider is considered a trustee of the records, and is responsible for ensuring the files are kept confidential or shredded if they are no longer needed.
"The important thing is that you don't leave people's sensitive, prejudicial, personal health information available for anybody to look at," he said.
The commissioner was alerted by Kevin Yates, an NDP member of the legislature who had received a tip from a citizen about the papers in the bin.
Dickson said he was especially concerned because he had recently published a lengthy report on the management of old medical records and provided recommendations for health-care providers on how to safeguard patient files."It looks like more than 1,000 individual patients," Dickson said. "I've got a colleague from my office who's still in the dumpster, trying to get to the bottom. We're still discovering more and more."