Teresa Scassa - Blog

Friday, 26 September 2014 10:20

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Statute

Written by  Teresa Scassa
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A year ago in November, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) on the basis that it violated freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. It did so by not appropriately striking the balance between the rights of striking works to express themselves in the context of a labour dispute and the privacy rights of others. In Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401, an adjudicator under PIPA had ruled that the Union’s practice of taking photographs and videotapes of people crossing its picket line during a labour dispute – and of using some of the footage on its website – contravened the data protection legislation. (The case is discussed in more detail in an earlier blog post here). The Union countered (ultimately, successfully) that to require it to seek consent to the collection and use of this personal information would infringe its rights to freedom of expression.

Where legislation violates a Charter right, a court has various options. Here, both the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta and the Attorney General of that province had asked the Court to strike down the legislation if it were found unconstitutional, rather than to perform judicial surgery on it. The Court agreed this was the better option, writing: “Given the comprehensive and integrated structure of the statute, we do not think it is appropriate to pick and choose among the various amendments that would make PIPA constitutionally compliant.” (at para 40). The Court added a one year period in which the declaration of the legislation’s invalidity was suspended. This would allow the law to remain operative in the province, giving the legislature what was clearly thought to be ample time to introduce the amendment or amendments necessary to bring the statute into compliance with the Charter.

A one-year suspension of invalidity might suffice where a government is functioning as its citizens have a right to expect. However in an age of increasingly dysfunctional governments the Charter remedy of striking down entire statutes with a one-year suspension of invalidity may be a riskier gambit. It has certainly proved to be so in this case. Recognizing that it cannot get amendment’s through by the November 15 deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Alberta Government as now asked the Court for an extension. The Court is likely to grant the extension – to do otherwise would result in a state of chaos in Alberta as far as private sector data protection is concerned.

Update Note:  On October 30, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to a six month extension to the suspension of invalidity.


Last modified on Thursday, 06 November 2014 08:52
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