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Big Developments in Canada Privacy Issues

WASHINGTON (AFP eWire - Jan. 6, 2004) - The past several weeks have seen several major developments on the Canadian privacy front, including the introduction of legislation in Ontario, the passage of privacy bills in Alberta and British Columbia and a challenge to the constitutionality of the federal privacy law by Quebec.

On Jan. 1, the federal privacy law PIPEDA (the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) came into force for all provinces except Quebec, which has a provincial privacy law that the federal government deems similar enough to PIPEDA. However, Quebec has taken the position that the federal government has intruded into its jurisdiction by reviewing its privacy law.

The Quebec Court of Appeals has determined that the province's attorney-general can challenge the constitutional validity of PIPEDA on the ground that it exceeds the power given to Parliament by the Constitution Act of 1867. Such a challenge dramatically makes the privacy picture in Canada much less clear and will create confusion among many organizations still struggling to understand and comply with PIPEDA.

Whether or not a challenge to PIPEDA is successful (Quebec can bring a constitutional challenge at any time and is expected to in early 2004), AFP encourages charities to continue to comply with PIPEDA when engaged in commercial activities. AFP has created two documents to help charities understand the new privacy law:

Meanwhile, provincial privacy laws in Alberta and British Columbia both went into effect on Jan. 1 as well. Neither bill has been deemed substantially similar to PIPEDA by the federal privacy commissioner. Thus, organizations in those provinces must comply with two privacy bills - the federal PIPEDA and the appropriate provincial privacy bill. Neither the Alberta nor the British Columbia bill has a major impact on charitable fundraising (See recent eWire article on provincial privacy legislation, 'Provincial Privacy Bills Inch Closer to Passage.')

Alberta is said to be considering joining Quebec in its challenge to the federal privacy law.

Finally, Ontario has introduced a privacy bill - Bill 31, the Health Information Protection Act - that affects the collection, use and disclosure of health information about an individual.

AFP has reviewed the bill, and the legislative language regarding the collection and use of basic contact information (such as name and address) for fundraising purposes is somewhat vague. AFP will be working with the Ontario provincial government to ensure the bill does not create additional burdens for charities in their fundraising efforts.

For a copy of the bill, click on Bill 31. (Please note that you will need Adobe Acrobat to open this file, which is large at 97 pages.)

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