Canada: PHIPA Does Not Protect Health Information Custodians From Lawsuits

Last Updated: February 19 2015
Article by Daniel Strigberger

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has held that a hospital can be sued (in a proposed class action) for a privacy breach.

In Hopkins v. Kay, the class plaintiff alleged that her records as a patient at the Peterborough Regional Heath Centre were improperly accessed. She based her claim on the common law tort of intrusion upon seclusion, set out in Jones v. Tsige.

The hospital brought a Rule 21 motion to dismiss the claim on the ground that the Personal Health Information Protection Act ("PHIPA") is an exhaustive code that ousts the jurisdiction of the Superior Court to entertain any common law claim for invasion of privacy rights in relation to patient records.


By way of background, PHIPA is an Ontario law that governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information within the health sector. The statute's object is to keep personal health information confidential and secure. The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario is responsible for the administration and enforcement of PHIPA.

An individual who has reasonable grounds to believe that another person has or is about to contravene a provision of PHIPA may complain to the Commissioner. The Commissioner is given extensive procedural and investigative powers in relation to complaints and the power to make a variety of orders following a review. The Act gives the complainant the right to make representations to the Commissioner but does not contemplate a formal adversarial hearing for the resolution of complaints. An appeal from the Commissioner's order on a question of law lies to the Divisional Court.

Of note is section 65 of PHIPA, dealing with remedies:

65.  (1)  If the Commissioner has made an order under this Act that has become final as the result of there being no further right of appeal, a person affected by the order may commence a proceeding in the Superior Court of Justice for damages for actual harm that the person has suffered as a result of a contravention of this Act or its regulations.

(2)  If a person has been convicted of an offence under this Act and the conviction has become final as a result of there being no further right of appeal, a person affected by the conduct that gave rise to the offence may commence a proceeding in the Superior Court of Justice for damages for actual harm that the person has suffered as a result of the conduct.

(3)  If, in a proceeding described in subsection (1) or (2), the Superior Court of Justice determines that the harm suffered by the plaintiff was caused by a contravention or offence, as the case may be, that the defendants engaged in wilfully or recklessly, the court may include in its award of damages an award, not exceeding $10,000, for mental anguish. [emphasis added]

With respect to bringing actions against a custodian of personal information:

71.  (1)  No action or other proceeding for damages may be instituted against a health information custodian or any other person for,

(a) anything done, reported or said, both in good faith and reasonably in the circumstances, in the exercise or intended exercise of any of their powers or duties under this Act; or

(b) any alleged neglect or default that was reasonable in the circumstances in the exercise in good faith of any of their powers or duties under this Act.

(2)  Despite subsections 5(2) and (4) of the Proceedings Against the Crown Act, subsection (1) does not relieve the Crown of liability in respect of a tort committed by a person mentioned in subsection (1) to which it would otherwise be subject.

Superior Court Motion

The motion judge dismissed the motion, holding that it was not plain and obvious that the claim based on Jones v. Tsige could not succeed.

Court of Appeal

On appeal, the defendants submitted that PHIPA amounts to a comprehensive code that reflects a careful legislative attempt to balance various conflicting interests. They contend that PHIPA's careful balance would be disturbed if claims based on Jones v. Tsige were entertained by the courts in relation to personal health information. They argued that allowing these common law claims would contradict the statutory scheme, defeat the intention of the legislature, and undermine the policy choices embodied in PHIPA.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

After setting out the various provisions in PHIPA, the Court found that there was nothing in PHIPA – either implicitly or expressly – that suggested a legislative intention to confer exclusive jurisdiction on the Privacy Commissioner to resolve all disputes over misuse of personal health information:

I conclude that the language of PHIPA does not imply a legislative intention to create an exhaustive code in relation to personal health information. PHIPA expressly contemplates other proceedings in relation to personal health information. PHIPA's highly discretionary review procedure is tailored to deal with systemic issues rather than individual complaints. Given the nature of the elements of the common law action, I do not agree that allowing individuals to pursue common law claims conflicts with or would undermine the scheme established by PHIPA, nor am I satisfied that the review procedure established by PHIPA ensures that individuals who complain about their privacy in personal health information will have effective redress. There is no basis to exclude the jurisdiction of the Superior Court from entertaining a common law claim for breach of privacy and, given the absence of an effective dispute resolution procedure, there is no merit to the suggestion that the court should decline to exercise its jurisdiction.

The Aftermath

In Jones v. Tsige, the Court of Appeal created a new privacy tort that allowed individuals to sue people or companies for privacy breaches. This new decision brings the Jones v. Tsige tort to the healthcare sector, arguably the custodian of the most sensitive kind of personal information.

We live in an age of increasing privacy threats and awareness. Hopkins provides yet another example of how lawmakers and courts are doing whatever they can to protect personal information, while punishing those who mishandle it. We expect to see many more court decisions that not only protect privacy, but also expand upon the tort of intrusion upon seclusion.

See Hopkins v. Kay, 2015 ONCA 112

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Daniel Strigberger
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.