Must a union give personal information about its members to creditors?
Christine Davies looks at a recent Alberta decision in which a union was required to disclose personal information about a member
Can unions be forced to give up personal information about their members to creditors? An Alberta court recently addressed this issue in the case of Aecon Industrial Western v. International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers, Local Lodge No. 146. The court held that a union can be required in certain circumstances to provide a member’s personal information to a creditor without first obtaining the member’s consent.
In Aecon, the creditor obtained a judgment against a union member. The lawsuit by the creditor had nothing to do with the union or with union membership. When the creditor sought to enforce the judgment and collect its money, it went to the union to try to track down the member. The union declined to provide the creditor with any information about the member, including the member’s employment information, citing privacy laws.
However, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench concluded that, although there was no doubt the union was subject to Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act and would therefore ordinarily have a duty not to disclose personal information without consent, it was obliged to provide the information as a result of an exception in the legislation.
The Alberta legislation allows information to be disclosed without a person’s consent where “a reasonable person would consider that the disclosure of the information is clearly in the interests of the individual and consent of the individual cannot be obtained in a timely way or the individual would not reasonably be expected to withhold consent.” Because the creditor was allowed to demand information from the debtor (the union member) after obtaining its judgment, including the member’s employment information, the court held that a union member could not reasonably be expected to withhold consent in the circumstances. The court commented, “Intransigent and unlawful behavior is not consistent with the use or meaning of the word ‘reasonable’… The purpose of the Act is to protect reasonable and legitimate expectations, not illegitimate ones.” The union was therefore required to provide the information about the member as requested.
In Ontario, the result might well have been different. Unlike Alberta, Ontario does not have its own privacy legislation governing private businesses. Therefore, federal privacy legislation – the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) – applies in Ontario (except in relation to certain information, such as healthcare information, for which Ontario has its own specific legislation).
In Citi Cards Canada Inc. v. Pleasance, a bank refused to provide information to a creditor about one of its customers and the Ontario Court of Appeal held that PIPEDA did not require such disclosure. In light of this decision, unless PIPEDA were to be amended or Ontario were to adopt its own legislation containing different terms, it seems unlikely that an Ontario union would be required to provide a member’s personal information to a creditor without the member’s consent.