On March 31st, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal issued a judgement in which it quashed an order requiring the RCMP to produce two investigation files. In doing so, made some significant comments about privacy protection and non-party production orders.
The plaintiff’s home burnt down. The RCMP investigated and did not lay charges. A month earlier, it had investigated a break and enter at the home.
The insurer denied the plaintiff’s insurance claim and defended her action on the basis of a policy exclusion that it alleged applied because the plaintiff left the house vacant for more than 30 days. It sought an order for production of the two entire RCMP investigation files, expressly including personal information protected by the federal Privacy Act. The insurer argued (without any supporting evidence to support an inference) that the files would likely contain information related to the vacancy issue. The RCMP consented and, remarkably, the Attorney-General drafted the terms of the order and wrote the court requesting that the insurer’s production motion be allowed.
The Court of Appeal quashed the order on a narrow point of law. It held that the RCMP is not a “person” that can be subject to a non-party order for production under the New Brunswick Rules of Court. Chief Justice Drapeau went on, however, to comment that the order was overbroad and granted without a proper basis. In doing so, he said:
- the New Brunswick rules contemplate that non-party orders target specific materials because such orders are not meant to invite discovery
- that non-party consent (though “significant”) does not relieve the requesting party from establishing the requirements for a non-party order
The Chief Justice also questioned whether the RCMP’s actions were proper though, given the Attorney-General was not before the Court, made clear that the Court was not passing judgement on “whether their involvement is faithful to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Privacy Act, including its stated purpose (s. 2) and its prohibition, except in defined circumstances, against disclosure of an individual’s personal information without his or her consent.”