TOP COURT AFFIRMS PRIVACY PROTECTIONS IN TOBACCO DATA CASE
OTTAWA — British Columbia does not have to give a tobacco company access to detailed provincial health databases to help it mount a defence in a multibillion-dollar damages trial, the Supreme Court of Canada says in a ruling that will have a countrywide ripple effect.
In a unanimous decision Friday, the high court said the province cannot legally allow Philip Morris International to see raw data from the information banks.
The ruling is the latest development in a 17-yearold effort by B.C. to recoup smoking-related healthcare expenditures from tobacco companies.
It helps clarify a key legal point of national interest, as all 10 provinces have filed suits seeking a total of more than $120 billion in damages from tobacco firms. “The most important thing now is for provinces to aggressively bring their cases to trial,” said Rob Cunningham, a lawyer for the Canadian Cancer Society.
B.C. had argued that permitting wholesale access to individual-level health files — even with personal identifiers removed — could unduly compromise privacy.
In its decision, B.C.’s appeal court said there was no serious threat to personal privacy in allowing access to the anonymized data. The Supreme Court of Canada disagreed, pointing to privacy safeguards in special B.C. legislation that paved the way for court action against tobacco firms.