Student fails to self-isolate

Privacy, messaging concerns following $1000 fine

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
September 2 2020

Last week the public was informed that a student residing in Antigonish had been charged and ticketed by the RCMP under the Health Protection Act (HPA), but questions remain about privacy rules related to the case and messaging from StFX University.

On Aug. 27, RCMP said a university student had been fined $1,000 for violating the HPA. Antigonish RCMP had received a complaint on Aug. 24 about a student from outside of the Atlantic Bubble not self-isolating. Upon further investigation, officers determined that the individual was in violation of the HPA. The ticket for failing to self-isolate was issued on Aug. 25.

In news reports following up on this case, the RCMP told media that they could not release the name of the individual who was charged, to the media or to StFX, due to privacy regulations.

This raised questions about the COVID-19 Pandemic Plan Student Community Protocols StFX required students to sign in order to register for classes this year which states, “The local RCMP notifies StFX when they respond to a call that results in a charge or summary offence ticket issued to a student. StFX will follow up with the student and may impose additional outcomes such as probation, loss of student privileges, or even suspension from the university.”

The Journal spoke to Sgt. McBeath of the Antigonish detachment of the RCMP on Thursday. He confirmed that the statement in the StFX protocol is in error; the RCMP cannot release the name of the individual charged under the Health Protection Act to the university.

When asked how the university might obtain the student’s identity, as a Facebook post by StFX on Thursday stated, “The student will now be subject to the StFX disciplinary process as prescribed by the StFX Community Code,” indicating that the university was aware of the student’s name, Sgt. McBeath said there were a few avenues open to the university.

“The person who contacted us,” said Sgt. McBeath, “can also contact STFX. I believe there is a number in the guide (the StFX protocol document). They can contact StFX and StFX can follow up with them if they make a complaint. Or StFX can go to the courthouse and get a list of all the people that have been charged. It is public record. Those are the avenues that StFX has to follow up and learn about the incident.”

When The Journal asked about the discrepancy between the STFX COVID-19 Protocol and the RCMP’s inability to provide the identity of any person charged under the Health Protection Act, Cindy MacKenzie, StFX's manager of media relations, responded with an emailed statement: “The RCMP is one of many organizations StFX has and continues to work with over the last several months in creating our back to campus protocols and procedures. The RCMP has since clarified its procedure in regards to notifying the university if a student is fined under the Health Protection Act. We are making the appropriate amendments to our procedural documents that will include the fact that we will access information from publicly accessible records once the RCMP make an announcement. It will not be necessary for students to re-sign the COVID Protocol since we reserve the right to make amendments as the situation may evolve.”

The anticipated return of perhaps as many as 2,000 students from outside of the Atlantic Bubble has been of some concern to citizens in Antigonish and area. News of the violation of the HPA has not assuaged those fears. One local retailer has decided she will alter her business practice to help reduce contact with the public.

Heather Scott, who owns a shop on Main Street, Antigonish told The Journal in an online interview, “I am concerned about our community both local and StFX students and staff as we embark on the school year and the increased likelihood of exposure to COVID and will be trying to find ways to continue to operate in this new uncertainty -- building our online store and providing curbside pickup and in town contactless delivery and limited open hours including considering 'shopping by appointment' heading into September."