On February 17th, the Federal Court of Appeal re-clarified that protective orders ought to be granted based on the test set out in AB Hassle – i.e., when “the moving party believes that its proprietary, commercial and scientific interests would be seriously harmed by producing information upon which those interests are based.” It held that the application of the more restrictive test for confidentiality orders set out in Sierra Club was not warranted.
On February 28th, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal held that a motor vehicle accident plaintiff was not entitled to production of her insurer’s policy documents merely because she had alleged bad faith. It held that these documents might be relevant, but the plaintiff failed to meet an evidentiary burden to establish relevance. Justice Farrar explained:
Although the pleadings are a factor to be taken into consideration in determining whether documents are relevant, they are not the only factor. If that were the case, adroit counsel could draft pleadings in such a manner to allow a party to embark on a fishing expedition. This is precisely what the Rules were intended to avoid when they were amended to move from the “semblance of relevance” test to relevancy. The motions judge’s decision, in my view, reverts to the “semblance of relevance” test. Allegations, no matter how specifically worded or drafted, which have no basis in the facts or the evidence without more, cannot be the basis for a production application. This is particularly true here, where there was a dearth of evidence before the motions judge.
On October 22nd, the Federal Court of Appeal affirmed a counsel’s eyes only order, affirming that such orders are available in Federal Court (despite the impact on the solicitor-client relationship) when there is a “real and substantial risk that is grounded in the evidence.” It based its affirmation on the following analysis of the facts:
The judge noted that Mr. O’Hara was the sole employee of the appellant and the driving mind behind its product development and business decisions. The judge had a well-founded concern that it would be difficult, if not altogether artificial, to expect Mr. O’Hara to completely divorce his mind from that information. Given the small and highly competitive market in which the parties both operate, this would have obvious and significant consequences for the respondents.
On December 28th, Justice Sweeny ordered a plaintiff to submit to another medical examination because he surreptitiously recorded a prior examination, commenting:
The surreptitious recording of the examination was improper. The effect of this recording is the doctor would now, most likely, be subject to cross-examination on issues as to what exactly happened in the course of the examination. The evidence of the plaintiff is also relevant. Mr. Cruz may be examined or cross-examined on the transcript. If the doctor was aware of the recording, he may have conducted his examination a different way. He may have been clearer in the language used. He may have been more specific is instructions given to the plaintiff. Much of the communication that goes on is nonverbal. The doctor was denied an opportunity to ensure that his words and conduct were being accurately recorded.
On November 28th the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal held that the Nova Scotia Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal erred by ordering the disclosure of a worker’s entire file without redaction.
The matter was about a workplace safety insurance claim, and particularly whether a worker’s condition was caused by his work. The Tribunal made the order in response to an employer’s objection to various redactions made to a set of records in the possession of the Workers Compensation Board. Although the employer argued the redacted information was relevant, the Tribunal ordered the unredacted file to be produced because it lacked the resources to vet for relevance, because fairness and the “ebb and flow” of a hearing supported full disclosure and because of the difficulty in making relevance determinations.
Despite the obvious appearance of laziness, the Tribunal framed its decision as rooted in procedural fairness. In response, the Court said: “…there is no principle of procedural fairness… that a litigant who requests disclosure is entitled to see every document it requests, regardless of relevance and without a relevance ruling by an impartial arbiter.”
Implicit in this statement is a concern for the worker’s privacy interest. The Tribunal had recognized this interest in a policy manual that it disregarded in making its order, though there are aspects of the Court’s reasoning that suggest a more broadly based right to redaction.
The Court gave this guidance on how to vet for relevance:
The person who vets for relevance must keep in mind that material should be disclosed for its connection to the “proposition[s] being advanced” by the parties, to borrow Justice Rothstein’s phrase, and not merely to justify an anticipated conclusion on the merits of those propositions. The vetting official may not be able to foretell precisely how the evidence will be martialed. So the ambit of disclosure should allow the parties some elbow room to strategize for the engagement.
On December 21st the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal held that the implied undertaking does not apply to a medical report produced in a related personal injury action.
The plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident and submitted to an examination in his action against the driver. That action settled, but the plaintiff continued a separate action against his own insurer for disability benefits, which prompted the insurer to seek the report. The Court commented:
In this case, it is difficult to see how the implied undertaking rule is engaged. A medical report, being factual in nature, would be neutral insofar as encouraging the provision of complete and candid discovery, one of the rationales for the rule. Further, the proposition stated by Binnie J. [in Juman v Doucette] that “whatever is disclosed in the discovery room stays in the discovery room” loses its impact and relevance when considered in the context of the factual nature of medical reports and the operation of rules 31 and 34.
The Court also held that the undertaking – implicit rather than express in Newfoundland – is “overridden” by the provisions of the Newfoundland Rules of the Supreme Court that favour production of medical reports.
On September 9th, a British Columbia arbitrator held that a Union’s reference to a “secret recording” in an opening statement did not bring the implied undertaking to an end. The employer, he therefore concluded, breached the undertaking by attempting to investigate the making of the recording after the Union made its opening statement and before the recording was adduced in evidence. The arbitrator referred to the leading cases, which establish that the undertaking comes to an end when records are adduced in evidence. He also held that, in arbitration (which lacks pleadings), it is good policy to sustain the undertaking beyond opening statements because doing so encourages parties to make fulsome opening statements.
On December 12th, the British Columbia Court of Appeal adopted the following statement from North American Trust Co. v. Mercer International Inc. (1999) 1999 CanLII 4550 (BC SC), 71 B.C.L.R. (3d) 72 (S.C.) on the redaction of irrelevant or sensitive information from otherwise relevant documents:
Under the rules of this court, a litigant cannot avoid producing a document in its entirety simply because some parts of it may not be relevant. The whole of the document is producible if a part of it relates to a matter in question. But where what is clearly not relevant is by its nature such that there is good reason why it should not be disclosed, a litigant may be excused from having to make disclosure that will in no way serve to resolve the issues. In controlling its process, the court will not permit one party to take unfair advantage or to create undue embarrassment by requiring another to disclose part of a document that could cause considerable harm but serve no legitimate purpose in resolving the issues.
This same statement has been adopted as reflective of Ontario law by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice: see McGee v. London Life Insurance Company Limited, 2010 ONSC 1408 (CanLII).
The Supreme Court of Canada decided the case of RBC v Trang this week. It held that the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act does not limit the procedural powers of a court. If a court, based on analysis that is not at all governed by PIPEDA, decides that an order to disclose personal information is warranted, it may issue the order. The order may be complied with notwithstanding PIPEDA.
Here is the ratio in Trang:
As a result of s. 7(3) , PIPEDA does not diminish the powers courts have to make orders, and does not interfere with rules of court relating to the production of records. In addition, PIPEDA does not interfere with disclosure that is for the purpose of collecting a debt owed by the individual to an organization, or disclosure that is required by law. In other words, the intention behind s. 7(3) is to ensure that legally required disclosures are not affected by PIPEDA.
All is right in the world again after the Ontario courts got quite twisted up on a very fundamental question about PIPEDA’s impact on the civil justice system.
The Court also held that debtors implicitly consent to the disclosure of mortgage status information (current balance) to judgement creditors who are seeking to recover a debt. This creates an opportunity for banks to assist judgement creditors without requiring them to obtain a court order. (Might the Court have had the burden of pro forma motions in mind?)
More generally, the Court supported a very flexible, fully-contextual implicit consent standard. This arguably erodes privacy protection and invites uncertainty, but also allows for just and sensible outcomes despite a consent rule in PIPEDA that is otherwise quite strict. Of course, this will feed the current dialogue about whether consent is a meaningful principle by which to govern the protection of personal privacy.
On January 22nd, Vice-Chair Harris of the (Ontario) Grievance Settlement Board held that an employer can call testimony from witnesses who had viewed a video tape before it was inadvertently destroyed. He held that exclusion was an inappropriate remedy for inadvertent spoliation given the employer’s case rested on the proposed evidence. He also held that the proposed evidence was not hearsay and was not excluded because the best evidence was unavailable.
The overwhelming strength of the authorities is that such secondary evidence is admissible when the trier of fact is satisfied that the original existed, has been lost or destroyed and a proper explanation has been given of the absence of the better evidence. Here, that explanation has been given and accepted by the union.