The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Saskatchewan Privacy Commissioner cuts services due to lack of funds 

The Privacy Commissioner of Saskatchewan is reportedly having to scale back services after the provincial government nixed a request for additional resources to hire another investigator. Gary Dickson's office not only administers the public sector access and privacy law, but he has to deal with the health privacy law that covers public and private sector healthcare.

I'm not sure you can truly be independent of the government if you have to go begging to it for adequate funds.

Saskatchewan privacy commissioner cuts services citing lack of resources - Winnipeg Free Press

REGINA - Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner says his office is in crisis and is being forced to cut back services because of a lack of funding from the provincial government.

Gary Dickson says surging demand for service has overwhelmed his office and the current three investigators cannot sustain the caseload.

He says despite his plea, the government's Board of Internal Economy has denied a request for $129,000 to hire another investigator and set up office space for that person.

"I've said to the board when I appeared in front of them, and I used the word very consciously, our office is in a crisis in terms of being swamped with demands for service from the people who live in the province," Dickson said Monday.

"We just cannot possibly ... respond to that demand in any kind of reasonable time frame."

Dickson says the number of reviews and complaints is up by 113 per cent over last year. Requests for advice and inquiries from public bodies and health trustees are also up.

Some people have been waiting for more than three years for a resolution to their case file, he says. The three investigators currently have a caseload of 376 reviews and investigations.

"Something has to give," says Dickson.

"So what we've decided to do is try and be transparent to the people of the province in terms of how this is going to translate into waits and delays."

The commissioner says his office will send letters to everyone who requests an investigation or review alerting them that they should not expect any action on their file for approximately 12 to 18 months.

Dickson also says all public organizations should expect significant cutbacks and delays if they need consultation on a project.

The privacy commissioner's office oversees some 3,000 bodies including ministries, Crown corporations, boards, commissions, agencies, schools, regional health authorities, municipalities, universities, colleges and health trustees.

The commissioner says the decision by the board will diminish how accountable public bodies are to the people of Saskatchewan.

"Manitoba, with roughly the same population, would have six investigators. Newfoundland and Labrador I think has more than six investigators (and) half the population. They certainly don't oversee 3,000 public bodies and health trustees," says Dickson.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan, who sits on the board of internal economy, says the privacy commissioner's budget has been steadily rising since 2002. That can't continue during tough financial times, he says.

"We're in times of fiscal restraint and we're expecting all ministries, all government agencies to try and work within existing budgets wherever they can," says Morgan.

The province is trying to cope with a big hole in last year's budget when potash revenue fell $1.8 billion.

The Saskatchewan government will deliver its new budget March 24, but Premier Brad Wall has already warned there won't be big spending increases - in fact, cuts are in the works.

Morgan said there's no way of controlling how many complaints the privacy commissioner's office receives, but he wants to cut the number if possible.

"We would like to work with the privacy commissioner to find ways that we can reduce the backlog in their office and try and find some efficiencies by having more of the requests dealt with at the ministry levels rather than through his office," he says.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Who do our privacy laws protect? 

I was intereviewed by a New Brunswick journalist last week who was writing an article on how privacy laws can be used in a knee-jerk way to limit access to government information. The article, I expect, is a reaction to a number of stories out of NB where reporters were given the excuse of privacy laws to limit their access to information about potential high-risk offenders, the investigation of a motor vehicle accident that claimed a number of lives and public sector salaries.

Here is the bit that I contributed: - Who do our privacy laws protect?

Governments must protect citizens' public information [note: I'm sure I said "private information"] while still being accountable and transparent to the public, said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer with the Atlantic Canadian law firm McInnes-Cooper.

For example, the expenses for a cabinet minister's trip to Europe would likely be made public. However, a doctor's billing records, which would essentially reveal their salary, are only made available in some provinces, he said.

And although some form of privacy legislation has existed federally for quite some time, that doesn't mean the laws regulate every activity on the internet.

"It regulates commercial activities. So it says what information your bank can ask about you and what it can do with it, or your local video store," said Fraser. "But if an individual takes a picture of another person on their camera phone in embarrassing circumstances and then they post it on the Internet that's a personal use, not a commercial use, so that's not caught by that law." There are some circumstances where personal information can be released. For example, if an individual gives consent.

As well, personal information can be disclosed if it's deemed to be for the greater good of the public.

"I think people, just as a knee-jerk reaction, they say no - it's personal information," said Fraser.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

An access odyssey in the UK 

The Guardian has an interesting article on John Harris' odyssey of exercising his access rights under the Data Protection Act. He had quite an experience, between credit files he never knew existed and a mobile phone company that made up rules on the fly. I'm surprised no Canadian journalist has tried this under PIPEDA so far, but one or two may follow Harris' example. Check it out: The John Harris files UK news The Guardian.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Court of Appeal considers insured's right of access to IME notes 

Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal issued its decision in Wyndowe v. Rousseau, 2008 FCA 39 (CanLII). This case involved an individual's request for access to information generated by a physician hired by his insurer for the purposes of an independent medical examination. At trial, Justice Tietelbaum held the information was "personal information" for the purposes of PIPEDA and that it was not covered by litigation privilege (See Rousseau v. Wyndowe, 2006 FC 1312 (CanLII) and Canadian Privacy Law Blog: FCA grants stay of judge's order for disclosure of personal information). The question of litigation privilege was not appealed.

The Federal Court of Appeal has some interesting things to say about the interplay of the common law and PIPEDA, the definition of personal information, the nature of "commercial activities".

On the question of "commercial activities", the Court was clear that the collection of the applicant's personal information was in the course of commercial activities:

[35] The question is whether the IME transaction was of a “commercial nature”, as defined in section 2. The transaction between Dr. Wyndowe’s corporation and Maritime Life, who was paying for the IME, is of a commercial nature. Mr. Rousseau’s relationship between himself and Maritime Life is also clearly of a commercial nature: it is governed by a contract between Mr. Rousseau and his insurer, where Mr. Rousseau presumably paid some premiums (or his employer paid the premiums as part of Mr. Rousseau’s compensation for employment) and he therefore may or may not be entitled to benefits.

[36] In the context of these two commercial relationships – between Dr. Wyndowe’s corporation and Maritime Life on the one hand and between Mr. Rousseau and Maritime Life on the second hand – I find it hard to believe that by introducing a third relationship – between Dr. Wyndowe and Mr. Rousseau – the commercial nature of the overall transaction is defeated. In my view, Dr. Wyndowe is merely the medical agent of Maritime Life. If Dr. Wyndowe worked as a full time doctor for Maritime life, there would be no question the transaction is commercial; being examined by him would merely be a step which Mr. Rousseau had to follow to collect his benefits. In that sense the examination would be akin to filling out a form required by Maritime Life in order to begin collecting benefits. Just because Dr. Wyndowe is an independent consultant hired by Maritime Life does not change the fact that the overall transaction retains its commercial nature. It also does not change the fact that Mr. Rousseau was only doing what his contract with Maritime Life required him to do to maintain his benefits, i.e. submitting to an IME.

With respect to whether the information is "personal information" of the applicant, the Court concluded it was:

[49] In light of the Privacy Commissioner’s recognition that there are in the notes information which is personal to Mr. Rousseau and information which is not, it may be said that in the end, Mr. Rousseau has a right of access to the information he gave the doctor, and to the final opinion of the doctor in the form of the report to the insurer. In accordance with Principle 4.9.1. of Schedule I to the PIPED Act, this enables Mr. Rousseau to correct any mistakes in the information he gave the doctor or which the doctor noted, as well as any mistakes in the doctor’s reasoned final opinion about his medical condition. But the process of getting to that final opinion from the initial personal information of Mr. Rousseau belongs to the doctor.

[50] This Court, in Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (above, at para. 8), has recognized that “the same information can be “personal” to more than one individual” (at para. 15). It may well be, in the end, that some information in the notes will be personal to both Mr. Rousseau and Dr. Wyndowe. A balancing exercise similar to that proposed in our ruling in Canada (Information Commissioner) would then need to be performed.

And on the interplay between the common law and PIPEDA:

[26] A) the common law

The appellant first submits that as the PIPED Act does not clearly and unambiguously override the common law respecting the right of access to one’s personal health record, the common law should apply. At common law, as the argument goes, the right to inspect one’s medical records is only recognized where there is a fiduciary relationship between physician and patient (see McInerney v. MacDonald, 1992 CanLII 57 (S.C.C.), [1992] 2 S.C.R. 138. As there is no fiduciary relationship between the insured and the insurer’s doctor performing an IME (see X(Minors) v. Bedfordshire County Council, [1995] 3 All E.R. 353 (H.L.), the insured has no right of access to his medical records.

[27] I am not persuaded that at common law an insured has no right of access to his medical records. In any event, it is my view that the common law should not prevail where the very purpose of the PIPED Act is to provide new privacy protections to Canadians not otherwise enjoyed under the common law.

In the result, the Court of Appeal held that the applicant/insured had a right of access to the notes of the examining physician under PIPEDA.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Developments in UK data protection law 

DP Thinker has posted a few developments in UK data protection law:

DP thinker: A few developments

Just a few developments to note on data protection in the UK:

1) The draft Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2007 will take effect on 1st October 2007. These regulations implement the Data Retentions Directive 2006/24/EC and will apply to public electronic communications providers. Data will be retained for a period of 12 months from the date of communication (Regulation 4(2)). The types of data to be retained are telephone numbers and mobile numbers (Regulation 5(1) and 5(2)). The regulations do not apply to data from internet access, e-mail and internet telephony (VoIP). The Information Commissioner will monitor the application of these regulations (Regulation 8). A comparison of the other European Member States' Laws implementing the Data Retentions Directive 2006/24/EC can be found here.

2) On 24 October 2007, the transitional exemptions under the UK Data Protection Act 1998 will end. This means that structured manual filing systems containing personal records will be covered under the Data Protection Act, but would apply to data that was held before October 1998. The Durant case will be relevant, which took the view that most manual file files are not relevant filing systems.

3) Draft Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2007 - The Government has drafted amended freedom of information (FOI) fees regulations which will allow public authorities to take into account more comprehensively the work involved in dealing with an FOI request. The consultation was completed in June, but further details can be found here.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Information Commissioner takes up post 

Canada's new Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, took up his post yesterday. You may recall that he was the interim Privacy Commissioner after George Radwanski's resignation until the current Commissioner's appointment.

From the Government of Canada news release:

Prime Minister Welcomes New Information Commissioner

15 January 2007

Ottawa, Ontario

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today welcomed Canada’s new Information Commissioner, Mr. Robert Marleau, whose appointment was recently approved by the Senate and the House of Commons. This appointment is effective January 15, 2007.

The Prime Minister took the opportunity to commend Mr. John Reid, who had been serving as Information Commissioner since August 1, 1999 and whose term expired on September 30, 2006, for the commitment, diligence, and professionalism he demonstrated during his tenure. The Prime Minister wished him well in his future endeavours.

The Office of the Information Commissioner was created in 1983 under the Access to Information Act - Canada’s freedom of information legislation. An agent of Parliament, the Information Commissioner oversees the implementation of the Access to Information Act by government institutions. The Information Commissioner investigates complaints from individuals who believe they have been denied rights under the Act. The Information Commissioner is also responsible for mediating between dissatisfied applicants and government institutions.

Biographical notes on Mr. Marleau are attached.

* * * *


Robert Marleau served Parliament and the members of the House of Commons for 31 years, 13 of which were spent as Clerk of the House of Commons. Mr. Marleau left a rich legacy of achievement, including the guide book, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which he co-authored with then Deputy Clerk Camille Montpetit.

During his parliamentary career, Mr. Marleau held several senior positions as an advisor to seven Speakers and to Members and Senators for nine Parliaments. A franco-Ontarian, Mr. Marleau is a graduate of the University of Ottawa, where he earned a B.A. in French Literature. He joined the House of Commons in 1970 as a Committee Clerk and went on to hold such positions as Clerk Assistant of the House of Commons and Deputy Secretary General of Parliamentary Relations. In July 1987, he was appointed Clerk of the House of Commons, and served in that capacity until July 2000.

From July 2000 until his retirement at the end of January 2001, he served as Senior Advisor to the Speaker of the House of Commons. On his retirement, the House of Commons made Mr. Marleau an Honorary Officer of the House by unanimous resolution. Following his retirement from the House of Commons, Mr. Marleau was Principal of RDM Consulting, a parliamentary consulting practice with work in Canada, Africa and the Caribbean. From July 2, 2003 until November 30, 2003, he was appointed to serve as Interim Privacy Commissioner.

Mr. Marleau is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate degree from Ottawa University, his alma mater. He is a member of the Commonwealth Society of Clerks at the Table, the Association of Canadian Clerks at the Table, and the Canada/USA Association of Clerks and Legislative Secretaries

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Nova Scotia's new FOIPOP review officer 

As of February 5, 2007, Nova Scotia will have a new review officer under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act:

News Release: Department of Justice

New FOIPOP Review Officer Appointed

Department of Justice

January 11, 2007 8:20

Dulcie McCallum, former Ombudsman for the Province of British Columbia, is Nova Scotia's new Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Officer.

Ms. McCallum will oversee how provincial and municipal governments protect the privacy of Nova Scotians and respond to requests for access to information.

"I'm pleased that Ms. McCallum has agreed to take on this important role," said Justice Minister Murray Scott. "The courts have recognized our legislation as being among the most open, progressive information and privacy laws in the country. Ms. McCallum brings tremendous expertise and knowledge to this office, particularly in the areas of the rights of persons with disabilities and children, constitutional matters and justice issues."

Ms. McCallum received her law degree from the University of Victoria and has expertise in administrative and human rights law. Over the past 30 years, Ms. McCallum has held positions in private practice and in the public sector. She was Ombudsman for the Province of British Columbia for seven years, until 1999. Since then, Ms. McCallum has worked for government and a number of organizations, including representative on the Canadian Delegation to the United Nations, to draft the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"I am thrilled to be named the new FOIPOP Review Officer and am ready to serve Nova Scotians in this important office," said Ms. McCallum. "I moved to rural Nova Scotia just over a year and a half ago from Victoria, British Columbia.

"Living in Sherbrooke has been one of the most rewarding times of my life. This new opportunity, which will enable me to work throughout the province to ensure citizens' rights of access and privacy are respected, is both a great honour and privilege."

The review officer is an independent ombudsman appointed by the Governor in Council for a term of five to seven years. The review officer will accept appeals from people and organizations who are not satisfied with the response they received from government departments or other public bodies such as hospitals, universities and school boards.

The review officer may make recommendations to the public body. The public body must respond in writing to the report. If the applicant, or a third party, is not satisfied with the outcome of a review, an appeal may be made to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

The selection process for a new review officer was led by the Public Service Commission. An independent selection advisory committee, chaired by Auditor General Jacques Lapointe, recruited candidates for the position. The committee reviewed 70 applications and interviewed six candidates.

Ms. McCallum will assume office on Feb. 5.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia 

The new access to information advocacy organization for Nova Scotia, the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, has a new blog: Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia.

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