Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 281–283 | Cite as

Legal Foundations for a National Public Health Agency in Canada

  • Nola M. Ries
  • Timothy Caulfield


This commentary addresses some of the key legal challenges associated with establishing a national public health agency in Canada. These include issues related to privacy and confidentiality of personal health information in the public health context, constraints on the jurisdiction and powers of a national agency, the need to respect individual rights and freedoms in an outbreak situation, and international cooperation in infectious disease control.

The authors are part of a research initiative, comprised of experts in law, public health policy and medicine, that is currently analyzing legal considerations that may influence the mandate of a national public health agency in regard to infectious disease activities. This article discusses critical issues raised at a meeting in August 2004 that brought the research team together with key federal and provincial policy-makers and members of the public health community.

The commentary emphasizes that law sets the foundation for public health activities, and the promise of a national public health agency will only be realized if significant legal issues are examined early on to ensure the agency is built on a robust legal and policy framework.

MeSH terms

Jurisprudence communicable disease control organization and administration 


Ce commentaire porte sur certains des principaux défis juridiques associés à la création d’une agence nationale de santé publique au Canada: la protection des renseignements personnels et de la confidentialité des dossiers médicaux dans un contexte de santé publique, les contraintes liées aux compétences et aux pouvoirs d’une agence nationale, la nécessité de respecter les droits et libertés individuels en cas d’épidémie, et la coopération internationale dans la lutte contre les maladies infectieuses.

Les auteurs sont membres d’une équipe de recherche composée de spécialistes du droit, des politiques de santé publique et de la médecine, chargée d’analyser les aspects juridiques pouvant influer sur le mandat d’une agence nationale de santé publique dans sa lutte contre les maladies infectieuses. Le présent article examine les questions névralgiques qui ont été posées lors d’une réunion, en août 2004, entre les membres de l’équipe de recherche, des décideurs clés aux paliers fédéral et provincial et des intervenants en santé publique.

Le commentaire souligne que les activités de santé publique sont assujetties au cadre juridique, et qu’une agence nationale de santé publique ne peut donner sa pleine mesure que si l’on examine à l’avance les questions de droit importantes pour s’assurer que l’agence a des assises juridiques et politiques solides.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    The National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. Learning from SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2003. Available: Ontario SARS Commission. SARS and Public Health in Ontario. Ontario Ministry of Health, 2004. Available: public/pub/ministry_reports/campbell04/campbell04.pdf. Ontario Expert Panel on SARS and Infectious Disease Control. For the Public’s Health: Initial Report of the Ontario Expert Panel on SARS and Infectious Disease Control. Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care, 2003. Available: pub/ministry_reports/walker_panel_2003/walker_panel.html. Ontario Expert Panel on SARS and Infectious Disease Control. For the Public’s Health: A Plan of Action, Final Report of the Ontario Expert Panel on SARS and Infectious Disease Control. Ontario Ministry of HealthGoogle Scholar
  2. 2004.
    Available: walker04_mn.html.
  3. 2.
    Schabas R. Public health: What is to be done? CMAJ 2002;166:1282–83.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    Canadian AIDS Society v. Ontario, [1995] 25 O.R. (3d) 388 (Gen. Div.), para. 133.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See e.g., Canadian Medical Association. Canadians highly value the privacy and confidentiality of their health information. Ottawa, 1999.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    For commentary, see e.g., Jackman M. Constitutional Jurisdiction Over Health in Canada. Health Law Journal 2000;8:95 and McKall RT. Constitutional Jurisdiction Over Public Health. Manitoba Law Journal 1975;2:317.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Gostin LO. Public Health Law in a New Century. JAMA 2000; 283:2979–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 7.
    Schneider v. R. [1982] 2 S.C.R. 112 at 142.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    There has been surprisingly little legal analysis of these powers in the Canadian context, in contrast with the significant attention these issues garner in the US. See e.g., Misrahi JJ, et al. Legal authorities for interventions during public health emergencies. In: Goodman RA, et al. (Eds.), Law in Public Health Practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    The Honourable Carolyn Bennett. Hansard, 12 May 2004.
  11. 10.
    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act, 1867 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11. Relevant rights protected under the Charter include: freedom of association (s. 2); liberty and personal security (s. 7); unreasonable search and seizure (s. 8); arbitrary detention (s. 9); cruel and unusual treatment (s. 12); and discrimination (s. 15).Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Gostin LO (Ed.). Public Health Law and Ethics: A Reader. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002; 415.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Gostin LO. International Infectious Disease Law: Revision of the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations. JAMA 2004;291(21):2623–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 13.
    See e.g., Fidler DP. Emerging trends in international law concerning global infectious disease control. Emerg Infect Dis 2003;9(3):285–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 14.
    For a summary regarding the Think Tank, see Frank J, Di Ruggiero E & Moloughney B. Proceedings of the “Think Tank on the Future of Public Health in Canada”. Can J Public Health 2004;95(1):6–11.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Matthews GW, Benjamin G, Mills SP, Parmet W, Misrahi JJ. Legal preparedness for bioterrorism. J Law Med Ethics 2002;30(3):52–56.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Law Institute, Law CentreUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of Law and Faculty of Medicine & DentistryUniversity of AlbertaCanada
  3. 3.Health Law InstituteUniversity of AlbertaCanada

Personalised recommendations