The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench issued a remarkable privacy decision on June 30th that didn’t get much attention until David Fraser posted about it last week. (Thank you David.) Madam Justice Goss of the Court held that Alberta PIPA violates section 2(b) of the Charter because it doesn’t give organizations wide enough latitude to record and disseminate images of people at public social or political events.
Picketers often employ video cameras and still cameras, a practice thought by some to be a form of intimidation. In this case, there was evidence of a union communication that stated it would post images on a website called “www.casinoscabs.ca” and evidence that the union had used images to attack individuals in a manner described in the Alberta OPIC order under review as follows:
As well, exhibits were entered showing that images of this Complainant’s face were included (which he stated was without his consent) in issues of the Union’s newsletter or strike leaflets, in one case superimposed over the head of a person driving a miniature train, associated with text which began “There goes [the Complainant] with his train full of scabs”, and in another case, superimposed onto a turkey. In a third image, in which Complainant C is seen leaning over a railing gazing down at the floor below, the associated text begins: “What is [the Complainant] thinking? Is it jumping? …” and continues with other comments related to the strike and the Complainant’s possible thoughts.
Madam Justice Goss suggests that this activity – and “ridicule” and “mockery” in general – does not warrant constitutional protection. She nonetheless holds that PIPA is too restrictive of expression in a free and democratic society because it restricts unions from engaging in “union journalism” relating to labour disputes and picket lines. While significant, Madam Justice Goss’s finding does preserve a rather fundamental limit on the “cyber picket line” (a term used by the union’s expert): the dissemination of images to ridicule, mock and intimidate can and should be restrained by applicable privacy legislation.
Of course, the decision has implications that go beyond the picket line. At its broadest, the matter raises a rather gargantuan issue about how much government can restrict the expression of information about things people do in public as a means of promoting and protecting personal privacy.