On November 25, 2014, the Alberta Government’s proposed amendments to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), found in Bill 3, passed the second reading of the legislature.

The proposed amendments are in response to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada declared PIPA to be unconstitutional and invalid, holding that it infringed on the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by limiting the ability of the union to video-tape and photograph individuals crossing the picket line. The Supreme Court of Canada held that freedom of expression in the context of labour disputes must be balanced against the government’s objective of providing individuals control over their personal information when crossing a picket line. The declaration of invalidity for PIPA was suspended for 12 months, in order to give the legislature time to consider amendments to make PIPAconstitutionally compliant. On October 30, 2014, this deadline was extended for an additional six months.  

For more background, please see our previous blog posts by David Elder regarding the  leave decision and the decision of the Supreme Court.

Bill 3

Bill 3 proposes an exception to PIPA’s requirement that consent is obtained for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information for trade unions in relation to a labour dispute.  The amendments provide that subject to the regulations, a trade union may collect, use, or disclose personal information about an individual without the consent of the individual for the purpose of informing or persuading the public about a matter of significant public interest or importance relating to a labour relations dispute involving the trade union if:

  • the collection, use, or disclosure of the personal information is reasonably necessary for that purpose, and
  • it is reasonable to collect, use, or disclose the personal information without consent for that purpose, taking into consideration all relevant circumstances, including the nature and sensitivity of the information.

The proposed amendments have been endorsed by Jill Clayton, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, as being consistent with her recommendations. However, she has expressed her hope that she continues to be consulted on any future regulations related to these provisions.

Our Views

The Government of Alberta’s proposed amendments simply reflect the directive of the Supreme Court of Canada to balance the constitutional right of freedom of expression of trade unions in labour disputes against the privacy interests of individuals. If the Bill is passed, and it seems likely that it will, unions and employers alike will want to take note of the application of these provisions in future labour disputes and it will be interesting to see how the balance between freedom of expression for matters of “significant public interest” to a labour relations dispute and the use, collection, or disclosure of sensitive personal information is ultimately struck. Unions remain concerned that the scope of the legislation is still too narrow but it appears that the amendments are compliant with the Supreme Court of Canada’s directive.