Two British Columbia arbitrators have held that, despite British Columbia PIPA, shielding a grievor’s identity from the public is an exception to the general rule of openness.
Both cases involved discharge grievances brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1518. The Local argued that grievor identities should not be revealed in an arbitration award without individual consent. It based its argument on the consent requirement in British Columbia PIPA and, alternatively, by arguing that anonymity should be the default in a proper exercise of arbitral discretion.
Arbitrator Sanderson issued a brief award on July 22nd. He concluded that the shielding of a greivor’s identity is a matter within an arbitrator’s discretion notwithstanding British Columbia PIPA. Arbitrator Sanderson also held that “the open court principle should prevail in decisions of labour arbitrators” though an anonymity order may be granted as justified based on proof of an “unreasonable impact” on personal privacy.
Arbitrator Lanyon issued an award on October 28th. Like Arbitrator Sanderson, Arbitrator Lanyon held that identification of a grievor is the norm, with a discretion to grant anonymity as otherwise as justified. Arbitrator Lanyon also added:
- that there is a particular pubic interest in disclosing the identity of those charged with serious disciplinary offences;
- that an aribtrator’s balancing should be principled, recognizing “the importance of privacy and the difficulties that may arise as a result of publication on the awards on the internet”; and
- that arbitrators should be open to “lesser protections” in addressing the potential harms associated with publication, at the very least by refraining from publishing sensitive identifying information such as birth dates and social insurance numbers.
Neither arbitrator’s means of resolving the consent requirement in British Columbia PIPA is particularly clear, though both view the issue as governed by arbitral discretion. In applying this discretion, both arbitrators dismissed the Local’s request because it was made as a matter of right and not on any fact-based justification. The Lanyon award indicates that the Local had plans to appeal any award “not in accord with its views of this matter.”
[Note also that most recent Advocate’s Quarterly (vol 42, 2013) has an article entitled The Protection of Privacy Interests in Administrative Adjudication in Ontario by Chris Berzins, who has written often on this topic. Chris’s most recent article calls on the Ontario/IPC to give better guidance to Ontario administrative bodies on how to to address the privacy issues related to the publication of decisions as well as other privacy issues related to their adjudicative proceedings.]