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Federal Court says open courts principle overrides Privacy Act

29 Aug

On June 5th the Federal Court of Appeal held that material filed in a Canadian Transportation Agency dispute resolution proceeding is accessible to the public notwithstanding the prohibition on disclosing personal information in the federal Privacy Act.

The CTA exercises, in part, a quasi-judicial dispute resolution function. In excercising this function the CTA passed rules requiring that materials filed in a proceeding be placed on the public record unless subject to a confidentiality order. The applicant argued that records filed and not subject to a confidentiality order are “publicly available” and therefore exempt from a prohibition on disclosure arising under sections seven and eight of the Privacy Act. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, an intervener, argued that information is not publicly available unless it is “obtainable from another source or available in the public domain for ongoing use by the public.”

The Court agreed with the applicant. It said:

From the time of their placement on the Public Record, such documents are held by the Agency acting as a quasi-judicial, or court-like body, and from that time they become subject to the full application of open court principle. It follows, in my view, that, once on the Public Record, such documents necessarily become Publicly Available.

Lukács v. Canada (Transport, Infrastructure and Communities), 2015 FCA 140 (CanLII).

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BCCA says arbitrators have discretion to identify grievors despite PIPA

15 Aug

On August 12th the Court of Appeal for British Columbia held that British Columbia labour arbitrators are bound by British Columbia’s provincial private sector privacy legislation but do not need consent to collect, use or disclose grievor and witness personal information.

This was an appeal of a decision by Arbitrator Lanyon issued in October 2013. Mr. Lanyon dismissed a union claim that the Personal Information Protection Act prevents arbitrators from disclosing personal information of individuals in a final decision without their consent. Mr. Lanyon made his decision on multiple bases, perhaps because the union had put him on notice that it would appeal any unfavourable decision!

The Court of Appeal’s decision is much more simple. It held that PIPA applies to labour arbitrators when the term “organization” is read purposely. It then held that disclosure without consent is “required or authorized by law” based on a provision in the Labour Relations Code that requires arbitrators to file a copy of their awards for publication. Although this provision does not specifically require the filing of an award that includes personal information, the Court said:

It is difficult to see how a decision-maker, who is obliged to provide reasons that are subject to various levels of review, could possibly avoid disclosing personal information, as required by PIPA. The suggestion of the Union of using initials would not, in many cases, comply with the requirements of PIPA.

Arbitrators, the Court noted, have a discretion to use initials of parties or witness to protect privacy interests or “however they see fit.”

This is a matter in which the outcome reached by Mr. Lanyon and the Court of Appeal is very sensible and supportable on a policy-based analysis. One may question, however, whether the Court of Appeal’s simplistic basis for determining the matter is open to attack.

United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 1518 v Sunrise Poultry Processors Ltd, 2015 BCCA 354 (CanLII).

BCCA affirms order requiring Google to render domains unsearchable

14 Jun

Last Thursday, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia issued an important decision about the power of a domestic court to make orders against non-party, internet “intermediaries” – in this case, search engine provider Google.

The matter involved an order made to help a network hardware manufacturer enforce its intellectual property rights against a former distributor who had gone rogue. After the plaintiff sued the former distributor, it went underground – essentially running a “clandestine” effort to pass off its own products as the plaintiff’s products. This scheme relied on the internet and, to a degree, Google’s market-dominant search engine.

Google voluntarily took steps so searches conducted at the Google.ca search page would not return specific web pages published by the defendants. The plaintiffs sought and obtained an order to block entire domains and to block searches originating from all jurisdictions. Google appealed, making a number of broad arguments about the impact of the order (and its kind) on comity principle of private international law as well as international (internet-based) freedom of expression.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Google’s appeal, demonstrating significant sympathy for the perils facing the British Columbia plaintiff. And while the Court was sensitive to the principles raised by Google (along with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as interveners), it held that the principles were not engaged in the matter:

… Courts should be very cautious in making orders that might place limits on expression in another country. Where there is a realistic possibility that an order with extraterritorial effect may offend another state’s core values, the order should not be made.

In the case before us, there is no realistic assertion that the judge’s order will offend the sensibilities of any other nation. It has not been suggested that the order prohibiting the defendants from advertising wares that violate the intellectual property rights of the plaintiffs offends the core values of any nation. The order made against Google is a very limited ancillary order designed to ensure that the plaintiffs’ core rights are respected.

This reasoning by the Court of Appeal relates back to a significant admission by Google – an admission recorded by the chambers judge as follows: “Google acknowledges that most countries will likely recognize intellectual property rights and view the selling of pirated products as a legal wrong.”

The Court of Appeal decision is therefore relatively balanced. In general, it will help those seeking civil remedies deal with global internet intermediaries such as Google. However, global search engine “takedown orders” of the kind issued in this case will not necessarily be easy to obtain and enforce.

Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., 2015 BCCA 265 (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.”

 

BCLRB affirms decision denying grievor anonymity

2 Aug

There has been some significant British Columbia litigation about whether the British Columbia Personal Information Protection Act gives a grievor a right to have his identity obscured in an arbitration award.

On May 29th the British Columbia Labour Relations Board affirmed a decision by arbitrator Stan Lanyon on the issue.

Thr Board held that PIPA does bind a labor arbitrator, but that labor arbitrators nonetheless retain a discretion in deciding whether to grant a right of anonymity based on the “authorized by law” exception to the consent rule.

The Board also affirmed Arbitrator Lanyon’s finding that the arbitration process is “not a purely private dispute resolution mechanism,” that there is therefore a public interest in open proceedings and that there is a particular public interest in publishing the names of individuals who commit employment offences.

Look for an appeal on this very principled and important issue.

Sunrise Poultry Processors Ltd v United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1518, 2014 CanLII 27506 (BC LRB).

Alberta Court Lends Constitutional Protection to the “Cyber-Picket Line”

12 Sep

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.

United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 v. Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2011 ABQB 415 (CanLII).

Ontario Court of Appeal Relieves Media of Elevated Costs Order in Privacy Dispute

18 Aug

The Ontario Court of Appeal reduced a full indemnity costs award made against the Toronto Star on Tuesday. The motion judge made the extraordinary costs award against the Star because it was a “media giant” that had unsuccessfully taken on an individual who was trying to protect his personal privacy. The Court of Appeal held that the Star’s action in seeking to publish potentially embarrassing personal information about the individual was not conduct worthy of sanction even though it affirmed a finding that the the Star was motivated, in part, by its private interests. Though notable to readers of this blog, given how it was handled this case is arguably more about the exceptional character of elevated costs orders than about media rights and privacy.

Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. v. Fraleigh, 2011 ONCA 555 (CanLII).