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Forcing bodily fluid samples is an unnecessary intrusion: commissioner

British Columbia's information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has panned a third piece of government legislation this week.

Bill 39, the Emergency Intervention Disclosure Act, was pitched by Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid as a way to give "peace of mind" to first responders like police officers, firefighters and paramedics who may come into contact with other people's bodily fluids.

The law would allow a first responder to get a legal order to compel someone to provide a sample of bodily fluid for testing if one is not given voluntarily.

"Bill 39 subjects individuals to a process of looking for disease that is highly privacy invasive while providing little to no demonstrable benefit to the emergency responder," wrote Denham in a May 3 letter to MacDiarmid.

Emergency responders already follow protocols like getting vaccinations and wearing gloves and protective clothing, she said.

When they believe they've been exposed to a bodily fluid carrying a disease, they'll begin treatment immediately, well before the time it takes to get test results back, she said. In Alberta, which has similar legislation, it has only been used twice in four or five years, she said.

"Removing an individual's right to control their bodily integrity is the most intrusive form of privacy infringement," she said. "Any initiative that limits this right must strike a balance between the reasonableness of restricting an individual's liberties with the commensurate need to infringe them. I do not see such a balance with Bill 39."

She asked the government to withdraw the bill.

MacDiarmid had said earlier in the week she was aware Denham had concerns, but the government planned to proceed with the bill regardless.

Denham also criticized sections of the Pharmaceutical Services Act and the Animal Health Act that she argued give the government overly broad powers to override the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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