International. (Legal Reporter)

Article excerpt

Privacy. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that information gleaned during investigations conducted by government agencies must be disclosed after the investigation unless there is a reasonable expectation that injury will occur because of the disclosure. The decision narrows the application of the country's Privacy Act, which protects the confidentiality of private sector information during government investigations.

Robert Lavigne worked in the Montreal office of the Department of National Health and Welfare in the early 1990s. Between November 1992 and March 1993, he filed four complaints with the Commission of Official Languages alleging that his rights had been violated because he had been forced to communicate only in French while at work.

Investigators from the commission questioned 25 of Lavigne's coworkers, but many were reluctant to talk, fearing reprisals. The investigators explained that under Canada's privacy laws, their comments would be confidential. After conducting its investigation, the commission concluded that Lavigne's complaints were legitimate and ordered his employer to make changes to workplace language rules.

Meanwhile, Lavigne pursued his case in court. The Federal Court found in favor of Lavigne and awarded him $3,000 (Canadian) in damages.

While the court proceedings were underway, Lavigne requested a complete copy of his case file from the commission. The commission sent him his personal information--which may be legally released--but omitted other items protected under law, such as interviews with coworkers.

Lavigne filed a complaint with the country's Privacy Commissioner, who began an investigation. In an attempt to mediate the dispute, the commissioner sent release forms to all of the individuals questioned in the original investigation asking if their statements could be released to Lavigne. Fifteen people signed the forms, but 10 people either refused to have their statements released or could not be located to sign the form. …