VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - Canada breached the privacy of thousands of medical marijuana patients by identifying them in a mailer from Health Canada's Medical Marijuana Access Program, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Jason Wilcox claims that about 40,000 people received a letter this month, with the return address:
"Marihuana Medical Access Program
"Ottawa ON K1A 0K9"
Wilcox claims that all previous correspondence from the program was sent by private couriers, and never included the word "marihuana" on the outside.
Canada's Deputy Minister of Health has apologized, saying it was an error he "deeply regretted," according to the complaint.
Wilcox claims the letters effectively outed addressees as medical marijuana users who are likely to possess or produce the drug.
By identifying them as participants in the program, the letters disclosed sensitive health information and indicated that addressees could be suffering from a host of diseases and ailments, including AIDS, cancer, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, Wilcox claims.
He seeks costs and damages for negligence, breach of contract, reckless intrusion upon seclusion, privacy invasion, breach of duty of care, and acknowledgment that the government's conduct was "high-handed, outrageous, reckless, wanton, entirely without care, deliberate, callous, disgraceful, willful and/or in complete disregard for the rights of the plaintiff and other class members, and as such renders the defendant liable to pay punitive damages."
The lawsuit comes as Canada's medical marijuana system is gearing up for an overhaul. The federal government has sought to clamp down on people who abuse the program by getting production licenses and unloading excess yield onto the already massive black market, worth several billions in British Columbia alone.
Next year, so-called personal production licenses will no longer be allowed, in favor of commercial producers, in part due to city governments, neighborhoods, police and fire departments wrestling with a burgeoning network of home-based marijuana grow operations, legal or otherwise.
Wilcox is represented by Ward Branch, Kate Saunders and Emily Unrau with Branch MacMaster in Vancouver.
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