Number of reported instances of unlawful access allowed into evidence drops from 124 to 18
The prosecution may have a bit of a harder time proving its case against Colleen Weeks. That’s after a St. John’s judge ruled that certain past evidence would not be allowed in the trial.
© Rhonda Hayward
Judge Greg Brown rendered his decision Friday, concluding that information about Weeks’ possible past misconduct could not be introduced to help prove more recent allegations that she unlawfully accessed patients’ health records.
Weeks has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of breaching the province’s Personal Health Information Act (PHIA).
It was alleged that Weeks accessed records without authorization 124 times between July 9, 2010 and July 10, 2012, while she worked at Eastern Health as a nurse.
However, 106 of those alleged instances pre-date the PHIA’s one-year limitation statute, meaning only 18 of those alleged instances — from April 18, 2011, to July 10, 2012 — can be used as evidence in her trial.
Crown prosecutor Vikas Khaladkar had attempted to have those alleged pre-dated access attempts introduced by proving similar fact evidence — or evidence of similar past behaviour.
Weeks’ lawyer, Randy Piercey, argued it would bias the case.
Arguments on the issue were made this past week in provincial court in St. John’s.
Brown agreed with Piercey. He said that if evidence of possible past behaviour were permitted at Weeks’ trial, it would likely do more harm than good.
“While similar fact evidence is important, in my view, I’m not satisfied their value outweighs the prejudice,” the judge said.
Brown said it would be difficult for Weeks to answer to allegations of what she did three years ago. He added that focusing on the possible past acts would be time consuming and would distract from the current access allegations.
After Brown’s decision, Khaladkar told the court that “there is evidence that has come to light which neither (Piercey) nor I have had the opportunity to review.”
Piercey added that it could have “a dramatic effect” on the case and said he may have to file an application.
They wouldn’t say what the evidence is, but Khaladkar told reporters that the information came from Eastern Health.
The lawyers agreed to return to court Oct. 11, at which time Piercey would inform the court whether or not he plans to file an application.
Weeks showed no reaction as she walked out of court.
The 39-year-old was dismissed from her job at Eastern Health after the allegations came to light.
Provincial information and privacy commissioner Ed Ring announced details of the reported breaches in April.
He has said the investigation that led to the charges marked the first time the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has used Section 88 (1)(a) of the act to lay charges against an individual. After health authorities contacted patients whose records were accessed, some chose to file complaints with Ring’s office.
According to the PHIA, a person found guilty of committing an offence can be fined up to $10,000, or be sentenced to a jail term of up to six months.