Freedom of Expression and Privacy in Labour Disputes: Amendments to Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act in Force

Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) entered 2015 with a (slightly) new look. Amendments set out in Bill 3, the Personal Information Protection Amendment Act, 2014, came into force on December 17, 2014. Bill 3 was tabled to address the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) declaration of sections of PIPA to be unconstitutional in Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. United Foods and Commercial Workers, Local 401. The case is outlined in more detail in a previous post; in brief, the SCC held that PIPA restricted the union’s ability to communicate its cause during a lawful strike, and is an unreasonable interference with the section 2(b) right to freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The amendments to PIPA directly address the constitutional issue in the context of the expressive activities of unions in relation to a labour relations dispute. The collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by trade unions remain subject to PIPA, but certain exemptions to consent now apply in that context. PIPA now permits a trade union to collect, use and disclose personal information about an individual without consent where, subject to any additional requirements that may be imposed by regulation:

  1. The purpose is to inform or persuade the public about a “matter of significant public interest or importance relating to a labour relations dispute” involving the trade union;
  2. The collection, use or disclosure is reasonably necessary for that purpose; and
  3. It is reasonable to collect the personal information without consent for that purpose, taking into consideration all relevant circumstances, including the nature and sensitivity of the information.

Going forward, interpretation by the courts of what is considered a “matter of significant public interest or importance” and the weight afforded to the “nature and sensitivity” of personal information will be closely watched.

The amendments to PIPA are narrowly prescribed to trade unions, and do not attempt to tackle broader considerations of how freedom of expression should be balanced against the privacy interests of individuals in other contexts. In terms of their broader effect, they are more a tweak to PIPA rather than a revamp. However, 2015 is to see the first step towards what may result in broader changes, with PIPA due for a comprehensive review by a special committee of the Legislative Assembly that must commence by July 1, 2015. A final report to the Legislative Assembly, due within 18 months following the start of the review, may include recommendations for amendments to PIPA or any other enactment.

This review provides an opportunity for lawmakers to reflect further upon how the constitutional right to freedom of expression should be balanced against privacy interests even outside the labour disputes context. Broader changes to PIPA to consider these constitutional protections may still be seen in the future.

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Our Privacy and Cybersecurity lawyers operate at the intersection of technology and law. We understand that data is one of your core assets, driving insights and enabling development of valuable new products and services. Our global Privacy and Cybersecurity group works across all sectors offering a full complement of counseling and advice, regulatory and litigation services.