BCHA applauds BC Supreme Court decision upholding privacy rights

The BC Humanist Association (BCHA) welcomes today's decision by Justice Wilson of the Supreme Court of British Columbia to dismiss a petition claiming the province's privacy act infringed the religious liberties of two Jehovah's Witnesses congregations.

Two former Jehovah's Witnesses (the applicants) had exercised their rights under the province's Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) to request personal records held by their former congregations in Grand Forks and Coldstream. Elders of the congregations objected, claiming such disclosure would expose "confidential religious communications." The Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC decided in June 2022 that the congregations would have to disclose the records to their office for review before they were turned over to the applicants.

In his ruling, Justice Wilson agreed with the Commissioner's ruling that PIPA infringed the religious rights of the Jehovah's Witnesses congregations and their elders. However, he found these infringements justifiable under Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

[138] Freedom of religion is not absolute, and courts have been reluctant to exclude religious organizations from laws of general applications.

The BC Humanist Association, which intervened in the case, applauds the court's commitment to balancing privacy and other fundamental rights. Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BCHA:

An individual's right to privacy is crucial. We're pleased to see the court recognize the importance of upholding that right.

The decision underscores the delicate balance required when navigating the intersection of privacy rights and religious freedoms.

[156] I am not satisfied that disclosure of the Disputed Records by the congregational elders to the Commissioner for review for the purpose of determining whether disclosure to the Applicants will be required would preclude the elders from continuing to follow their religious practices when weighing the rights of individuals to control over their personal information on the one hand and the religious freedom of the elders on the other. The Production Order represents a balancing of the competing interests, and I conclude that the infringement on the congregational elders’ religious freedoms that results from the Production Order is proportionate.

If they don't appeal this decision, the congregations must now disclose the contested records to the Privacy Commissioner for review.

Read the full decision


Sign up to receive updates from the BC Humanist Association

Created with NationBuilder Creative Commons License