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SCOC weighing freedom of expression against privacy

By Jesse Johnston/News1130.com
Published on June 12, 2013


VANCOUVER – If you had to choose between your right to freedom of expression and your right to privacy, which one would you pick?

The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case that puts one against the other.

“There was a picket line, the UFCW union was picketing their employer, which was a casino at West Edmonton Mall,” BC Civil Liberties Association President Lindsay Lyster tells News1130.  “As is typical, both the employer and the union were videotaping picket line activity and the union put a notice up telling people who were considering crossing the picket line that if they did so, they could see their picture on a website called www.casinoscab.ca.”

Three people filed complaints with Alberta’s privacy commissioner, claiming the use of their images would be a violation of the province’s Privacy Act.

Canada’s highest court must now determine whether the union’s right to freedom of expression outweighs the privacy rights of the people who were videotaped.

Lyster sides with the union in this instance, but points out privacy may outweigh freedom of expression in another case.

“In a different context, the result might not be the same,” she says.

“Take, for example, a woman going to seek an abortion at an abortion clinic.  She is seeking to exercise a constitutionally protected right to access that clinic to obtain a medically necessary procedure and one of a highly personal and private nature.  If someone was trying to videotape women going into an abortion clinic, I think that the balance of privacy and freedom of expression would likely fall on the other side of the balance.”

Lyster is hoping the SCOC ruling will give set out some guidelines privacy commissioners can use in future cases.

“To give them a clear indication that while, yes, privacy rights are important, so too are freedom of expression rights,” Lyster says.  “Giving them some tools by which they can analyze in any given case how those two important rights can balance out.”

Hearings have now wrapped up.

There is no word on when the high court will hand down its decision.