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Medical marijuana is packaged for sale in one-gram packages at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary on Nov. 7, 2012, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Medical marijuana is packaged for sale in one-gram packages at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary on Nov. 7, 2012, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Globe editorial

Conspicuous labelling: medical marijuana Add to ...

Health Canada’s egregious error that has outed thousands of medical marijuana users requires more than an apology from the department’s deputy minister or his assurance that “this does not happen again.” The damage has been done, and cannot be undone. The Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, should apologize, and heads should roll in her department.

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For reasons still unexplained, Health Canada recently sent 40,000 letters to Canadians who have permits to use or grow medical marijuana in envelopes on which the return address was the “Medical Marihuana Access Program.” The people who received the letters now feel their private medical information has been exposed to public view, and they are legitimately concerned for their safety. They are not exaggerating – the letter from Health Canada included a warning about the increased risk of “violent home invasion” faced by Canadians who are legal pot users and growers.

The government could not have been more idiotic had it mailed a letter to the new couple on your street with the return address “Canadian Witness Protection Program.” Health Canada has breached the privacy of 40,000 people who thought their medical history was secure and, by its own acknowledgment, has put them in danger.

Even more shocking is that this boneheaded error comes from a department that knows better. People who reported receiving the letter said past correspondence about the Medical Marihuana Access Program arrived in plain brown envelopes via registered mail, with “Health Canada” as the return addressee. It is inexplicable that Health Canada would suddenly change course in such a bizarre fashion.

George Da Pont, the deputy minister of Health Canada, has blamed the gaffe on an “administrative error,” issued an apology and vowed it will never happen again. His words do nothing for the people who received the letters. One man has said he plans to move out of his house over safety fears. He, like all the others, deserves to hear from Mr. Da Pont’s boss. The Health Minister needs to reassure Canadians that her department is properly committed to protecting their medical information, and that the people responsible for this stupid and unprofessional mistake are held accountable.

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