Privacy vs. PIPEDA: Solicitor-Client Privilege Wins

July 22, 2008 Hull & Hull LLP Estate & Trust, Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

When an irresistable force meets an immovable object, we appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

In Canada (Privacy Commissioner) v. Blood Tribe Department of Health, 2008 SCC 44, the force is the Personal Information Protection of Electronic Documents Act ("PIPEDA") and the object is solicitor-client privilege.  Section 12 of PIPEDA grants the Privacy Commissioner express statutory power to compel a person to produce any records that the Privacy Commissioner considers necessary to investigate a complaint “in the same manner and to the same extent as a superior court of record”.  The issue in Blood Tribe was whether this conferred a right of access to documents protected by solicitor-client privilege.  The Court held unanimously that the broad grant did not contain the requisite specific express authority to override privilege.

The Court stated the rule that "general words of a statutory grant of authority to an office holder such as an ombudsperson or a regulator do not confer a right to access solicitor-client documents, even for the limited purpose of determining whether the privilege is properly claimed.  That role is reserved to the courts.  Express words are necessary to permit a regulator or other statutory official to “pierce” the privilege." 

The Court also noted that "while the solicitor-client privilege may have started life as a rule of evidence, it is now unquestionably a rule of substance applicable to all interactions between a client and his or her lawyer when the lawyer is engaged in providing legal advice or otherwise acting as a lawyer rather than as a business counsellor or in some other non-legal capacity."

Speaking of the Supreme Court of Canada, the law you’re looking for just might be in the "unreported judgments" section of the Supreme Court’s user-friendly website.  How does a Supreme Court decision go unreported?

Have a great day,

Chris Graham

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