Breach of deemed undertaking does not fit within crime and fraud exception to s-c privilege

20 Jul

On July 16th Justice D. M. Brown of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed a motion to compel answers to three cross examination questions that were refused based on a solicitor-client privilege claim. He dismissed an argument that the evidence sought was a communication between lawyer and client in furtherance of crime or fraud because the communication was for the purpose of breaching the deemed undertaking rule. Justice Brown said:

The deemed undertaking rule is a most important one in the civil litigation process balancing, as it does, the public interest in getting at the truth in a civil action with the privacy interest of the person subject to examination for discovery and the compelled production of documents. Its importance is underlined by the fact that the undertaking is one given to the court. But the breach of the deemed undertaking does not attract any penal sanction. Although Rule 30.1 does not specify the sanctions for its breach, case law exists in which courts have stayed subsequent proceedings which used evidence in breach of the deemed undertaking rule, and other remedies may include striking pleadings or bringing a civil contempt motion.

That is to say, a breach of the deemed undertaking rule does not give rise to a cause of action against the party in breach, but the aggrieved party may seek a process-related remedy before the court in an existing action, such as the present one.
In my view, the nature of the conduct involved in any alleged breach of the deemed undertaking rule does not come anywhere close to that narrow cohort of “future crime and fraud” misconduct in respect of which communications between a client and its lawyer would not enjoy the protection of solicitor-client privilege

Brome Financial Corporation v Bank of Montreal, 2013 ONSC 4816 (CanLII).

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