(September 28, 2019) By asking questions about an email, two British Columbians may have broken new ground on how Canadian political parties can gather information on us.
After two residents of the riding of Courtenay-Alberni flagged their concerns about how their local NDP riding association had obtained their personal email addresses, the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner made a major decision last month that the province’s private-sector privacy law applies to riding associations of federal political parties. Commissioner Michael McEvoy’s reasoning is based in part on a determination that Ottawa’s rules requiring parties to provide some protections for voter personal information are so limited that there is no conflict with B.C. applying its own comprehensive privacy rules.
The ruling will have implications beyond the province’s borders. It means that internationally-accepted privacy rights, as found in the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and which currently does not expressly apply to political parties, may be available to voters across the country.
PIPEDA and its parallel B.C. law, the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), provide a sophisticated privacy code and enforcement mechanism. This code includes the right of individuals to be informed of all their information held by an organization – including its third party marketing providers – and how that information was collected. As well, organizations must disclose through appropriate communications a fulsome description of their practices relating to the use and sharing of the information. An individual’s consent to collection of their information is required unless the law provides otherwise.
By contrast, the recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act contained in the Elections Modernization Act impose only limited privacy obligations on parties.
David Young Law
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