Supreme Court ruling a victory for workers’ privacy rights

Decision reaffirms union’s stance against random drug and alcohol testing

EDMONTON – Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a major victory in the fight against random and arbitrary privacy violations through drug and alcohol testing.

The case, which stems from a grievance filed by Communications Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Local 30 in New Brunswick, has implications to similar cases in Alberta’s oil sands. Labour leaders hailed the decision as a victory for human rights.

“This decision is in line with years of jurisprudence, makes sense, and is in the interest of Canadians. Employers can’t arbitrarily introduce a random drug or alcohol testing regime by declaring a workplace “dangerous” without proving that there’s a problem,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “There’s a direct parallel between this case and what’s happening at Suncor: there’s no evidence that there’s a problem and the employer can’t simply impose their will on the worker and strip them of their privacy without proving there’s one.”

In 2006, CEP Local 30 challenged Irving Pulp and Paper Inc.’s decision to impose random workplace drug and alcohol testing without first proving that there was a problem. In a 6-3 decision released on Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of CEP’s position that the impact on employee privacy was too severe to justify random testing.

The Court ruled that the dangerousness of a workplace doesn’t give an employer free reign to run roughshod over employee’s rights.

“A unilaterally imposed policy of mandatory, random and unannounced testing for all employees in a dangerous workplace has been overwhelmingly rejected by arbitrators as an unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees unless there is reasonable cause, such as a general problem of substance abuse in the workplace,” Justice Abella wrote. “This is not to say that an employer can never impose random testing in a dangerous workplace. If it represents a proportionate response in light of both legitimate safety concerns and privacy interests, it may well be justified.”

CEP local 30 from New Brunswick brought the case forward, we were interveners on the case, as was CEP 707 representing Suncor workers, because the Alberta Federation of Labour and affiliated unions believe in a worker’s right to privacy.


Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email

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