SCC issues civil production decision stressing discretion and proportionality

17 Oct

Today, a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed an order that directed the Competition Bureau and the federal Department of Public Prosecutions to produce, for civil discovery purposes, recordings of more than 220,000 private communications that they had obtained pursuant to Criminal Code wiretap authorizations.

Justices LeBel and Wagner wrote a majority judgement with which Chief Justice McLachlin (for the most part) concurred. The majority held that the production order was neither prohibited by the Criminal Code nor the Competition Act and was a proper exercise of discretion.

The discretion to order non-party production, according to the majority, is “great” (para 28), though should be exercised with a view to fulsome disclosure: “relevance is generally interpreted broadly at the exploratory stage of the proceedings” (para 30). Relevant records may be withheld to achieve proportionality and efficiency, but they may not be “unduly” withheld (para 60). In making a non-party production order a judge must consider the “financial and administrative burden” of the order and the impact on non-party privacy (paras 83 and 85).

The majority’s emphasis on balance and proportionality is heavy. It weaves proportionality into the concept of relevance as the concept applies in respect of civil production:

[30] To be relevant, the requested document must relate to the issues between the parties, be useful and be likely to contribute to resolving the issues (Glegg, at para. 23; Arkwright, at p. 2741; Chubb, at p. 762; Westfalia Surge Canada Co.; Autorité des marchés financiers; Fédération des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec).

[31] This relevance requirement ensures that the parties do not conduct “fishing expeditions”. It also ensures that the conduct of the proceedings is not delayed, complicated or even jeopardized by the introduction of evidence that does not assist in establishing the rights being claimed (see Royer and Lavallée, at p. 487; Marseille, at pp. 1 and 21). In this sense, the relevance rule is a procedural balancing rule that ensures the efficiency of the judicial process while facilitating the search for truth.

The majority refers to the 2005 decision in Glegg v Smith & Nephew Inc in which the Supreme Court of Canada espoused similar principles in respect of the production obligations of a party to an action. All the authorities the majority relies on are Quebec authorities, but the majority does not expressly rely on any provision of the Civil Code of Quebec and the principles it applies are broadly applicable.

Justice Abella, in dissent, argued that private communications intercepted by law enforcement are of utmost sensitivity and should be “protected by an almost impermeable legal coating like a privileged communication.” To achieve this purpose, she would have interpreted the Criminal Code to prohibit the production of intercepted private communications in a civil proceeding.

Imperial Oil v Jacques, 2014 SCC 66.

Workplace privacy panel at the #CIAJ “Privacy in the Age of Information” conference

17 Oct

I’m mid way through the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice “Privacy in the Age of Information” conference in St. John’s Newfoundland. It’s been a great conference so far, with quality presentations on tough administration of justice like issues like cyberbullying, the right to be forgotten and state surveillance.

My contribution was on the workplace privacy panel with Paul MacDonald of Cox & Palmer (as moderator), Emma Phillips of Sack Mitchell and Melanie Beuckert of the Court of Appeal of Manitoba. I started with a short “management perspectives” address and then Emma and I debated a variety issues, including computer access and monitoring, off-duty conduct and the exclusion of surveillance evidence at labour arbitration. Melanie played the “straight person” role wonderfully. It was fun, and I advanced my thinking about these issues significantly.

In preparation I worked up the speaking notes below, which capture some of the ideas I contributed to the discussion.

BC court dismisses class action about iOS4 location services

3 Oct

On September 30th, the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed a motion for certification of a class proceeding against Apple that was about the recording of location data on Apple devices running the iOS4 operating system.

The Court applied significant rigor in weighing the proposed action against the certification criteria, giving heavy scrutiny to both the pleadings and the evidence filed in support of certification.

The Court’s finding on the common issues criterion may have broader implications. The Court acknowledged that the scope of one’s right to privacy under the BC Privacy Act is determined by the context. The plaintiff, the Court said, “has not shown any basis in fact to conclude that the reasonableness and context could be proved on a class-wide basis.” The Court reached the same conclusion regarding the “without claim/colour of right” issue – an issue that speaks to an essential element of a breach of privacy claim.

Ladas v Apple Inc., 2014 BCSC 1821 (CanLII).

HT to Barry Sookman.

Arbitrator gives notice to affected individuals after ordering their PI to be produced

2 Oct

On July 14th, Arbitrator Kuttner ordered an employer (and MFIPPA institution) to disclose retiree contact information to a union and to deliver a notice to retirees about his production decision.

MFIPPA does not apply to employment-related records nor, in general, does it give employees and retirees of MFIPPA institutions privacy rights. Arbitrator Kuttner seemed to accept this in finding that MFIPPA did not preclude him from making the requested order, though he also made a finding that the requested disclosure was permissible under MFIPPA as a “consistent purpose.”

More significant is how Arbitrator Kuttner dismissed the employer’s argument that the procedural rights of affected retirees must be respected in determining the production motion. He said:

The situation before me is far removed from that dealt with by the [Court of Appeal for Ontario's decision] in Re Bradley. There are not here two groups of employees covered by the same collective agreement competing for benefits under its terms, with one group stripped of benefits previously accorded in favour of another group to which they are newly afforded. Rather a bargaining agent, bound to represent fairly before an employer a discrete group of retired employees whose common interests under a collective agreement are in jeopardy, seeks disclosure of their personal contact information held by the employer, so that it can fulfill its representational role. As discussed above, that role is one with common law underpinnings, now rooted in the LRA, and recognized by the parties to the Collective Agreement. Of note in PIPSC v. Canada (Revenue Agency) supra, where employee privacy rights were at issue, is the Supreme Court’s comment that “the usual practice” is not to give affected employees notice of such proceedings, and the same would hold here in the case of retirees.

Arbitrator Kuttner nonetheless considered it “appropriate” to advise the retirees of his production decision and ordered the employer to deliver the letter I’ve attached below.

CUPE, Local 27 and The Greater Essex County District School Board (14 July 2014, Kuttner).

Alberta QB deals with scope of application of Alberta health privacy statute

21 Sep

On September 12, the Alberta Court of Queen’s bench issued a decision in which it held that the Alberta Health Information Act may apply to information about individuals other than those who receive a health service that is collected when a health service is provided to an individual.

The case involves an FOI request filed by the daughter of two residents of a health facility. The daughter sought records of her personal information in the custody of the facility after it imposed conditions on her visitation privileges. The facility denied access to a number of records on the basis that references in the records to the daughter constituted the health information of her parents. The Court agreed, and said the following:

These hypotheticals suggest that “other information about an individual that is collected when a health service is provided to the individual” includes, at the very least, information about the mental or physical health of others that relates to the physical and mental health of an individual or a health service provided to an individual and is collected when a health service is provided to an individual. It may affect the diagnosis or the health service provided to the patient.

Using this standard to determine whether any of the information in the records of Covenant Health about Ms. McHarg is classified as health information under the Health Information Act, the adjudicator must ask two questions. First, is there any information in Covenant Health’s records about Ms. McHarg that relates to or may directly affect the physical and mental health of Ms. McHarg’s parents or a health service provided by Covenant Health to Ms. McHarg’s parents? Second, if so, was this information collected when Covenant Health provided a health service to her parents?

The Court also addressed two issues pertaining to the application of exemptions under the Alberta Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. It found in favour of the facility on all issues and quashed the OIPC’s disclosure order.

Covenant Health v Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2014 ABQB 562 (CanLII).

Canadian Association of University Solicitors social media presentation

19 Sep

Here’s a slide deck from a presentation I delivered today at the CAUS 2014 conference, with some new content I developed on “student expression, policy and law.”

 

Review of IPC exclusion decisions now (officially) subject to reasonableness review

8 Aug

A friend just brought a notable FIPPA judicial review from February 24th to my attention. In it, the Divisional Court affirmed an IPC order to disclose the full names of FRO employees in response to a request for personal information.

The IPC held that the employment-related records exclusion in FIPPA did not apply to certain records containing employee names – records of services provided to the requester. The Court reviewed this on the reasonableness standard, finding that pre-Alberta Teachers case law supporting a review on the correctness standard no longer applies. On the application of the exclusion, the Court rejected an argument that the records of service provided were employment-related in the context:

To qualify for the exclusion, the record must be about labour relations or employment-related matters. The dictionary definition of the word “about” requires that the record do more than have some connection to or some relationship with a labour relations matter. “About” means “on the subject of” or “concerning”: see Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., 2004, s.v. “about”. This means that to qualify for the exclusion the subject matter of the record must be a labour relations or employment-related matter.

Adopting the Ministry’s broad interpretation of “about” would mean that a routine operational record or portion of a record connected with the core mandate of a government institution could be excluded from the scope of the Act because such a record could potentially be connected to an employment-related concern, is touched upon in a collective agreement, or could become the subject of a grievance. This interpretation would subvert the principle of openness and public accountability that the Act is designed to foster.

This should be read to be consistent with the Divisional Court’s earlier decision that there need only be “some connection” with excluded subject matter for the exclusion to apply: see Ministry of Attorney General and Toronto Star, 2010 ONSC 991 (CanLII). Records that have some connection (i.e. a partial connection) to excluded subject matter are arguably still excluded, but the connection must be real, not speculative and not driven by the context in which a request is made.

The Court also affirmed the IPC’s finding that full name information is not exempt under the “unjustified invasion of personal privacy” exemption.

Question. Why not argue that the information at issue – full names or identifying information – is not “personal information” to which the right of access to personal information applies? The right of access to personal information applies to information and not whole records. In the absence of a special context, the identity of employee/service provider names should not constitute the requester/service recipient’s personal information.

Ministry of Community and Social Services v Doe et al (2014), 120 O.R. (3d) 451.

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