Almost 200 children's records found at Yellowknife dump

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Some Yellowknife parents say they’re worried about privacy after sensitive information about their children was left in the salvage area of the city's landfill.

Documents left at Yellowknife's dump contained names, birth dates, health care numbers and details about health conditions, and parents’ names and contact information.

All 191 records relate to children, ranging in age from four to 15 years old. Most entries were accompanied by health care numbers and dates of birth.

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The records appear to be from the Yellowknife Minor Fastball Association, which said it was looking into the apparent privacy breach and working to improve its training for volunteers.

“It’s disappointing that they would not respect that information and the privilege to that information,” said Jocelyn Christensen, a parent of a child identified in the documents, calling it “irresponsible.”

“I’m curious what their explanation is,” she said.

The association reportedly issued an email to parents on Monday evening in which it stated the documents – believed to relate to the 2018 season – could have been mistakenly discarded during a clean-up of an equipment shed.

Kristal Melanson, a member of the minor fastball association's board, earlier told Cabin Radio: “We had collected this information in case of emergency.”

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Melanson added in an email: “Coaches were provided with a copy of their team roster and were instructed to keep them on-hand at all practices/games in case of an emergency.”

The association said it did not train coaches in the handling and disposal of such personal medical information but, Melanson added, such training is to be provided in future.

'Not comforting'

Who left the documents at the dump is not clear.

They were found on Sunday by public librarian Megan Clark [the author’s partner] who recognized the sensitivity of the information shown. The records were among discarded uniforms on a couch in the salvage area of the dump, a place known as 'YKEA' for its usefulness to thrifty locals.

“It seems like if it isn’t one organization losing your shit, it’s another organization losing your shit,” an audibly frustrated Niels Konge told Cabin Radio. Konge’s name, as well as information about his son, was shown in one discarded document.

“It’s certainly not a comforting thing to know that information gets misplaced as often as it does in this country, and especially this territory,” he said.

There have been a range of unauthorized personal information disclosures across the Northwest Territories in recent years.

Last December, in a similar incident, a trove of medical records found at the Fort Simpson dump came to light.

A month earlier, the territory's privacy commissioner urged the health authority to stop faxing things, citing several embarrassing privacy breaches that occurred as a result of fax-related flubs.

Aurora Kotokak’s son was among those identified in the documents found on Sunday. She said the discarding of such information makes her nervous.

“We’re supposed to be trusting that everything is private but, if people are finding stuff at the dump, that doesn’t make me feel that safe,” said Kotokak.

“That’s pretty scary, for anybody to see that.”

Policies needed

Dylan Gray, the assistant territorial privacy commissioner, said the mishandling may not violate any laws as the organization is strictly not-for-profit.

Territorial laws only relate to NWT government agencies and affiliated organizations, like school boards, while the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA) applies to commercial enterprises.

Therefore, he said, this may “fall through the cracks” in terms of jurisdiction.

However, Gray said, dumping unredacted, intact database records in plain view is not how such information should be handled and disposed of.

Gray suggested the incident served as a reminder – or wake-up call – for the NWT's not-for-profits to make sure appropriate steps are always taken.

“All these groups that collect this kind of information are required to protect that information,” he said. “They need to do so at all times and take steps to ensure that things like this don’t happen.”

In a follow-up email, Gray emphasized that even not-for profit sports organizations, if they are handling personal information, need policies in place covering how to collect, store, and dispose of those records.

The records will be returned to the Yellowknife Minor Fastball Association on the advice of the federal and territorial privacy commissioners’ offices.

The association says it plans to contact all potentially affected parents and destroy the documents.

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