The Public Service Labour Relations Board (“the Board”) is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal that operates very much like a court when it conducts proceedings under several labour-related statutes, including the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and Part II of the Canada Labour Code. This document outlines the Board’s policy on the openness of its processes and describes how it handles issues relating to privacy.
The open court principle is significant in our legal system. In accordance with that principle, the Board conducts its oral hearings in public, save for exceptional circumstances. Because of its mandate and the nature of its proceedings, the Board maintains an open justice policy to foster transparency in its processes, accountability and fairness in its proceedings.
The Board’s website, notices, information bulletins and other publications advise parties and the community that its hearings are open to the public. Parties that engage the Board’s services should be aware that they are embarking on a process that presumes a public airing of the dispute between them, including the public availability of decisions. Parties and their witnesses are subject to public scrutiny when giving evidence before the Board, and they are more likely to be truthful if their identities are known. Board decisions identify parties and their witnesses by name and may set out information about them that is relevant and necessary to the determination of the dispute.
At the same time, the Board acknowledges that in some instances mentioning an individual’s personal information during a hearing or in a written decision may affect that person’s life. Privacy concerns arise most frequently when some identifying aspects of a person’s life become public. These include information about an individual’s home address, date of birth, financial details, SIN or driver’s licence numbers, credit card, or passport. The Board endeavours to include such information only to the extent that is relevant and necessary for the determination of the dispute.
With advances in technology and the possibility of posting material electronically — including Board decisions — the Board recognizes that in some instances it may be appropriate to limit the concept of openness as it relates to the circumstances of individuals who are parties or witnesses in proceedings before it.
In exceptional circumstances, the Board departs from its open justice principles, and in doing so, the Board may grant requests to maintain the confidentiality of specific evidence and tailor its decisions to accommodate the protection of an individual’s privacy (including holding a hearing in private, sealing exhibits containing sensitive personal information or protecting the identities of witnesses or third parties).
The Board’s policy is consistent with the statement (http://www.hfatf-fptaf.gc.ca/declaration-web-eng.php) of the Heads of Federal Administrative Tribunals Forum (endorsed by the Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals) and the principles found in the Protocol for the Use of Personal Information in Judgments (http://cjc-ccm.gc.ca/cmslib/general/news_pub_techissues_UseProtocol_2005_en.pdf) approved by the Canadian Judicial Council.
Board case files, containing correspondence exchanged between the parties, are available to the public for consultation at the Board’s premises with appropriate notice. However, information such as an individual’s home address, email address, phone number, date of birth, financial details, SIN or driver’s licence numbers, or credit card or passport details is not available for consultation.
Exhibits filed at a hearing are available to the public for consultation at the Board’s premises with appropriate notice, once the decision on the merits of the case has been rendered or the Board has otherwise closed its case file. However, exhibits that have been ordered sealed are not available for consultation.
Board decisions are available electronically on its website. In an effort to establish a balance between public access to its decisions and privacy concerns, the Board has taken measures to prevent Internet searches of full-text versions of decisions posted on its website. This was accomplished by using the “web robot exclusion protocol,” which is recognized by Internet search engines (e.g., Google and Yahoo). As a result, an Internet search of a person’s name will not yield any information from the full-text versions of decisions posted on the Board’s website.