Journalistic status of ATA News undecided

January 17, 2012 Margaret Shane, ATA Records Manager and Privacy Officer

December 14, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2011 SCC 61, wherein the Court ruled that the information and privacy commissioner’s appeal regarding timelines should be allowed.

The Court remitted the remaining matters respecting the journalistic status of the ATA News under Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) to the “chambers judge to consider the issues not dealt with and resolved in the judicial review proceedings” (para. 104). This means that the journalistic status question has yet to be argued before the Court of Queen’s Bench.

These court proceedings arise from a complaint to the commissioner in October 2005 by individuals whose names had been reported in the ATA News in relation to the Teacher Membership Status Election Regulation (AR 260/2004) of the Teaching Profession Act (T-2 RSA 2000). The 2005 ATA News article reported that individuals electing to opt out of ATA membership would no longer be subject to the Code of Professional Conduct.

In October 2006, the Association and the privacy commissioner came before the Court of Queen’s Bench to argue several points related to the commissioner’s order on the October 2005 complaint. Two of the most important issues before the Court of Queen’s Bench were (1) the journalistic status of the ATA News and (2) whether the commissioner had lost jurisdiction over the matter owing to the fact that he had failed to meet the then 90-day deadline. The Court of Queen’s Bench chose to hear arguments on the timeline issue, and it was that issue alone that culminated at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s order does two things. First, it upholds the commissioner’s position on timelines. Second, it requires both the commissioner and the Association to return to the Court of Queen’s Bench to address the matter of the journalistic status of the ATA News.

A court date before the Court of Queen’s Bench will be scheduled in the coming months.

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