CALGARY — A proposed legislative amendment that would clarify the ability of paramedics to tell police about information that could be related to a crime is necessary, Calgary’s police chief said Friday.
Rick Hanson said officers across the province have noticed a big difference in their relationship with paramedics since Alberta Health Services took over responsibility for Emergency Medical Services from the municipalities.
With that jurisdictional move, paramedics will soon be covered by the Health Information Act and as a result, Hanson said, they are being told they can no longer share information with police.
“We have over 25 incidents that we’ve managed to put together that are serious complaints from across the province of where police officers have been unable to do their job because of the clamp on information-sharing,” he said.
Hanson was responding to a news release by Alberta’s privacy commissioner, Frank Work, who argues the new amendment isn’t necessary.
Work said existing privacy laws already allow paramedics to share information that would protect public safety, but added he fears the amendment would keep his office from reviewing complaints from the public about information given by paramedics to police.
“If you want to know what kind of information the ambulance attendant shared with police and the police won’t give you that information, your ability to come to the office of the information and privacy commissioner to appeal that decision is not there anymore,” explained Wayne Wood, a spokesman for Work, of the amendment’s potential impact.
However, Hanson said despite Work’s assurances that paramedics can share information under the existing legislation, concrete examples show that isn’t true.
He said in one case, paramedics were called to pick up a heavily intoxicated underage girl who had collapsed.
An exam showed she had been sexually assaulted and though her parents were summoned and told of the situation, the paramedics did not contact police because they believed the legislation did not allow them to.
Weeks later, Hanson said, the girl’s parents called asking how the police investigation was going.
“We, the Calgary Police Service, say what sexual assault?” said Hanson. “Nobody told us about it. When we went and endeavoured to follow up, we could not even get information from EMS in relation to where the crime scene was.
“All we’re asking for is in common sense incidents, let us know.”
Scott Pattison, communications officer with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents EMS personnel around the province, said the workers he’s spoken to have said that since the jurisdictional switch-over, they have been told to stop sharing information with police.
He said until recently, paramedics had a history of working closely with officers and were happy to help out.
Wood said the privacy commissioner has written a letter to Alberta Health Services expressing his concerns, but no actions have been taken.
The Emergency Health Services Amendment Act was introduced in the legislature Wednesday.