Alberta's Personal Information Protection Act1 ("PIPA") is currently undergoing review and the Standing Committee on Alberta's Economic Future is expected to recommend amendments to the Alberta legislature in the next year. In a February 2016 submission to the Standing Committee on Alberta's Economic Future2 (the "Report"), the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta ("Alberta OIPC") provided its suggestions and recommendations for changes to PIPA, including a lengthy submission on the treatment of non-profit organizations under PIPA.
The only non-profit organizations that are currently exempt from PIPA's application are those that are specifically defined as a non-profit under PIPA, and that exemption only applies to the extent that such organizations are not carrying out a commercial activity. The current definition of a non-profit organization under PIPA is narrow, and only includes organizations (1) incorporated under the Societies Act (Alberta); (2) incorporated under the Agricultural Societies Act (Alberta); or (3) registered under Part 9 of the Companies Act (Alberta).3 Furthermore, determining whether those non-profit organizations are carrying out a commercial activity and are therefore subject to PIPA involves analysis of each activity carried out by the organization and may lead to an organization being subject to PIPA for some activities it carries out, but not others.
In the Report, the Alberta OIPC identifies its concerns with the current treatment of non-profit organizations under PIPA and strongly recommends that PIPA be amended so that all non-profit organizations are subject to PIPA, subject to a one-year transition period.4 The Alberta OIPC argues that non-profit organizations that do not fall under PIPA's current definition of a non-profit are already subject to PIPA, including religious societies and federally incorporated non-profit organizations. The Alberta OIPC also points out that since PIPA came into force, sixty cases involving non-profit organizations have been brought to the Alberta OIPC but PIPA only applied in a minority of these cases, suggesting that there are inconsistencies for individuals and for organizations as to when PIPA will apply. The Alberta OIPC argues that non-profits often handle sensitive personal information and should therefore all be subject to legislation and the oversight of the Alberta OIPC.5
The concerns heard from the non-profit sector include the expense and administrative burden of establishing privacy policies and practices compliant with PIPA. Although the Alberta OIPC recommends a one-year transition period for all non-profit organizations in Alberta to fall under PIPA, smaller organizations that do not have the manpower or the financial resources in place may have a difficult time adjusting to any changes in PIPA.
The Alberta OIPC's recommendation on the treatment of non-profits under PIPA has been known for some time, but given the public's current sensitivity to protection of personal information and the ongoing review of PIPA, we may see changes to the treatment of non-profits under Alberta's PIPA in the near future. Non-profit organizations operating in Alberta would be well-advised to watch the progression of this issue and note any impending changes. While changes are not forthcoming yet, it may help to be prepared if such changes are presented.