Last Friday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal issued a judgment in which it affirmed a finding that that the province’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal waived privilege by providing a summary of an opinion to citizen who later requested a copy of the full opinion in an FOI request.
The Court rejected the Department’s argument that privilege held by the provincial crown can only be waived by the executive branch. It said that, “a court should look at the authority of a particular government actor and determine whether the advice sought and any waiver ‘follow’ or is ‘coextensive’ with that person’s subject-matter and/or territorial responsibilities.”
The Court also affirmed a finding that the Department official who disclosed the summary did not “voluntarily evince an intention” to waive privilege by making the summary. It did not quarrel with case law the Department put forward for the principle that sharing the conclusions of a legal opinion does not indicate an intention to waive privilege. Rather, the Court relied on the application judge’s finding that the offical had disclosed reasons for the opinion along with the “heart of the opinion.”
Finally, the Court made a comment on waiver of privilege based on the need to promote fairness and consistency. It did not outright reject the Department’s argument that the fairness and consistency basis for waiving privilege applies only in the context of litigation, but suggested (at para. 42) that fairness issues are engaged when a government actor responds to valid queries from a citizen by reference to a legal opinion.
Nova Scotia (Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal) v. Peach, 2011 NSCA 27 (CanLII).