Former police officer charged with health snooping in Winnipeg

A Winnipeg man facing charges for snooping into other people's private medical information is a former police officer who allegedly said in an email that similar unauthorized access is commonplace.

Other employees also access private health files for personal information, accused says in court document

A former Manitoba Health official and Winnipeg police officer is accused of accessing the private health information of 12 relatives. (Getty Images)

A former Winnipeg police officer faces charges for snooping into other people's private medical information, and an email he allegedly wrote says similar unauthorized access is commonplace at Manitoba Health.

The man, who worked as an auditor and risk analyst for Manitoba Health until 2014, looked at the health records of 13 people, the province alleges. 

He faces one criminal charge, the first of its kind under the Personal Health Information Act (PHIA); it was filed last week by Manitoba's ombudsman. The charge carries a potential maximum fine of $50,000. 

More details about the case emerged when a relative who is one of the complainants in the criminal case filed a court application for a protection order against the former police officer (which was dismissed).

An email allegedly from the former police officer and a letter from Manitoba Health were among the documents filed with the protection order application. They stated that he accessed records from Pharmacare, the provincial drug plan.

In one case, the email said, he was checking "for drug abuse or double doctoring" when he accessed a medical database that includes patient billing information, diagnoses and procedures done.

The relative named in the criminal complaint applied for the protection order against the man in November 2014, shortly after being informed of the privacy breach.

Over the years there have been other employees that have been called into the office to have a finger shaken at them for using the system for personal information. It has never come to this extent previously.- Email

The accused defended his actions in the email and stated that other employees in Manitoba Health also used the system for personal information gathering, court documents say.

"Over the years there have been other employees that have been called into the office to have a finger shaken at them for using the system for personal information," he wrote. "It has never come to this extent previously." 

The relative who applied for the protection order expressed fear that co-operation with the ombudsman's investigation could prompt the man to retaliate, and stated he owned a gun. (Under the Personal Health Information Act, the person whose privacy has been breached must consent to the disclosure of their information in order for the ombudsman to lay a criminal charge.) 

Looked up 12 other relatives

The email allegedly from the former police officer also laid out the circumstances of 12 of the privacy breaches, which all involved relatives.

It said some of the relatives asked him to check their records, and he checked others out of care and concern or to check drug coverage under the Pharmacare program.

"At no time did I use any information for personal or financial gain, nor was it used for any malicious intent," the email said. 

The man retired from the Winnipeg Police Service and joined Manitoba Health as a risk analyst and auditor three years later, according to his Linkedin profile.

"This is very regrettable. Unique. This doesn't happen. It's very unique that it does occur," assistant deputy minister of health Bernadette Preun said in November 2014, when the province released information about the privacy breach. 

The province told CBC it cannot comment on any of the allegations in the email and letter because the case is before the courts and it is not known who will be called as witnesses.

The man accused of snooping did not respond to phone calls from CBC News.