Nova Scotia

Andrew Younger's privacy violated, privacy commissioner rules

Nova Scotia's privacy commissioner has ruled the premier's former chief of staff violated a former cabinet minister's privacy by releasing "highly sensitive" health information about him in November.

Kirby McVicar, premier's former chief of staff, told reporters Younger suffered from brain tumour, PTSD

Former Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Younger (right) accused Kirby McVicar, the premier's chief of staff, of breaching privacy laws by revealing the MLA's medical information. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's privacy commissioner has ruled the premier's former chief of staff violated a former cabinet minister's privacy by releasing "highly sensitive" health information about him in November.

Catherine Tully's investigation found Kirby McVicar revealed "more information than was strictly necessary" when he talked about Independent MLA Andrew Younger's health issues — without Younger's consent — to the media during a series of interviews on Nov. 23.

She called it a "serious" breach of privacy because "there's a stigma associated with mental health information — so much so that people even don't disclose to their own families because of their concern for the effect on their reputation."

Younger complained to the privacy commissioner the day after McVicar gave those interviews. McVicar claimed the former Liberal cabinet minister had told him he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and had a brain tumour.

Younger said he was diagnosed with PTSD but denied he had a brain tumour.

Attempt to explain secret recording

"Personal health information, particularly mental health information, is among the most sensitive personal information," Tully said in a statement on Thursday.

"It will be a rare circumstance when disclosure of sensitive medical information to the media is authorized under our privacy laws."

McVicar resigned as Premier Stephen McNeil's chief of staff in late November.

"I will not be commenting but thank you for the opportunity," he told CBC News on Thursday.

The privacy breach happened during McVicar's attempt to quell a controversy surrounding a secretly recorded conversation between him and Younger.

'A lapse in judgment'

On the recording, McVicar said he hoped a "legal situation" involving Younger would "get tossed" and appeared to offer to find Younger's wife, Katia Younger, a job.

McVicar told reporters the job offer was an attempt to take pressure off an MLA who was under tremendous stress. He also revealed Younger's medical information.

Tully's report said McVicar told investigators "the disclosure of Mr. Younger's personal information on that day was a mistake, a lapse in judgment," and that in hindsight "it was incorrect."

But Younger isn't so sure it was a momentary lapse.

"They wanted to discredit what I was going to say and they decided that's how they were going to respond," he said Thursday at his office in Dartmouth.

"[It was] part of an attempt just to say, 'Hey, don't believe him. This is a guy who's got PTSD.'"

Shortcomings in premier's office

The privacy commissioner's investigation pointed out several shortcomings in McNeil's office.

Political staff in the premier's office had received no privacy training, had not read the privacy policy and were unaware of who, in the office, was responsible for privacy concerns, the report said.

The "unauthorized" release of the information was caused by three factors:

  • Public pressure to account for McVicar's comments on Younger's recordings.
  • Insufficient privacy training.
  • Inadequate media preparation of McVicar by the premier's communications director (McVicar was given only 10 minutes of preparation despite not having given a media interview in five years).

The report made six recommendations, including appointing a chief privacy officer to "provide strategic privacy leadership" across government.

'He's paid the price for it'

Tully told CBC News she's confident the government will move ahead on all of her recommendations.

The premier's office has been given 30 days to respond, but McNeil is already downplaying a recommendation to make privacy training mandatory for all government employees.

"If you want my honest opinion, I don't think you need any program to realize you shouldn't release personal information. That's a pretty straightforward piece," he told reporters.

As for his former chief of staff, the premier said McVicar has paid for his mistake.

"Mr. McVicar acted honourably," McNeil said. "He made a mistake and he's paid the price for it. And he's unemployed."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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