This November the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a case that pits the Charter right to freedom of expression in the context of labour relations against the right to privacy found in the Privacy Act.
Elizabeth Bernard is an employee of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) is the bargaining agent for her classification. Ms. Bernard refused to join PIPSC, and has waged a long-standing battle to prevent CRA from disclosing her home contact information to PIPSC. Initially, she brought an application for judicial review of a consent order by the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB) authorizing the disclosure of her home contact information to PIPSC, subject to safeguards. The Federal Court of Appeal sent the issue back to the PSLRB for a decision on what information an employer must provide to enable a union to enable it to fulfill its obligations under the Public Service Labour Relations Act while at the same time preserving the employees’ rights under the Privacy Act. The PSLRB found the Court of Appeal’s instruction was limited to assessing the privacy rights of employees. It declined to consider the Ms. Bernard’s Charter argument. It is her position that disclosure of the information would violate her freedom not to associate. The PSLRB decided that disclosure of the information was authorized by para. 8(2)(a) of the Privacy Act, because PIPSC’s intended use of it was consistent with the purpose for which it was obtained by the CRA. Its original order was amended to add further safeguards to protect the personal information. Ms. Bernard again sought a judicial review. This time Federal Court of Appeal dismissed her application on the basis that the Board’s decision was reasonable.
This case has garnered a great deal of attention. There are ten interveners and, because Ms. Bernard is self-represented, the Court has also taken the step of appointing an Amicus