Ontario and B.C. Privacy Commissioners offer guidance to universities, colleges and school boards on emergency disclosure of personal information

    When decision-makers face a potentially life or death situation

    TORONTO, Oct. 30 /CNW/ - University, college and school board
professional staff tasked with making very difficult judgment calls, in what
might possibly be a life or death situation, are being given a special
resource designed by Ontario's and British Columbia's Information and Privacy
    This morning, Ontario's Ann Cavoukian and B.C.'s David Loukidelis
released a Joint Practice Tool for Exercising Discretion - Emergency
Disclosure of Personal Information by Universities, Colleges and other
Educational Institutions - to assist decision-makers faced with deciding
whether to release a student's personal information without consent in
emergency circumstances.
    A university in each of the two provinces lost a student to suicide in
recent years (this year in Ontario). After each tragedy, privacy laws were
cited as the reason that the university had not contacted the students'
families about concerns beforehand.
    Commissioners Loukidelis and Cavoukian stress that privacy laws in both
provinces permit the disclosure of personal information in compelling
circumstances. The Practice Tool for Exercising Discretion, aimed specifically
at educational institutions, provides three sample cases of where personal
information may be disclosed without the student's consent.
    "Privacy laws are not the problem," said Commissioner Cavoukian.
"Tragedies can occur when people who could act do not do so, due in part to a
misunderstanding of privacy legislation."
    "There is no question," said Commissioner Loukidelis, "that the decision
to disclose a student's personal information without consent is extremely
difficult and requires a reasoned judgment call. A great deal of deliberation
and discretion is needed, and often staff have to act very quickly. But
privacy laws do not stand in the way of disclosure where appropriate."
    One of the examples cited by the Commissioners in the Practice Tool deals
with a student who is severely depressed, with concerns arising about a
possible suicide attempt. The second example deals with a student's mental
state and the possible risk of significant harm to the public. The third deals
with a case where a counsellor is concerned that a student may be on the verge
of a breakdown and fears that the student may harm himself or others.
    The Practice Tool outlines the relevant laws in both provinces that
pertain to personal information and personal health information, and the
provisions that permit disclosure in emergency circumstances.
    The Commissioners also provide guidance regarding the kinds of measures
and protocols that educational institutions should have in place for such
    Commissioner Cavoukian will be making a presentation regarding the
Practice Tool to the Council of Ontario Universities in Toronto this
    The Practice Tool, Emergency Disclosure of Personal Information by
Universities, Colleges and other Educational Institutions, is available on the
websites of both Commissioners (Ontario: www.ipc.on.ca; British Columbia:

For further information:

For further information: Media Contacts: Ontario: Bob Spence, IPC
Communications Co-ordinator, Direct line: (416) 326-3939, Cell phone: (416)
873-9746, Toll free: 1-800-387-0073, bob.spence@ipc.on.ca, www.ipc.on.ca;
British Columbia: Maria Dupuis, Executive Co-ordinator, Direct line: (250)
387-0777, mdupuis@oipc.bc.ca, www.oipc.bc.ca

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