BCCA discusses redaction of information from otherwise relevant documents

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).

Este v. Blackburn, 2016 BCCA 496 (CanLII).


SCC says PIPEDA does not constrain a court’s procedural power

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.

Royal Bank of Canada v. Trang, 2016 SCC 50 (CanLII).

Party can call evidence about contents of lost video

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.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Phagau) v Ontario (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), 2016 CanLII 7445 (ON GSB).

Request for jury contact information dismissed

On October 22nd, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed a motion for third-party production of the names, telephone numbers and home addresses of 800 people summoned to jury duty. The plaintiff in a slip and fall claim wanted this information to contact potential witnesses, a plan that Mulligan J held the plaintiff did not establish was necessary. Notably, Mulligan J also reviewed various authorities about the role of a criminal jury and held that, in the context, the contact information at issue was “core biographical information.”

I’m most interested about the Court’s sensitivity to the privacy interest and procedural rights of the affected 800 individuals. It apparently adjourned the first day of the motion and ordered the plaintiffs to serve the IPC/Ontario. The IPC chose not to attend, perhaps because it viewed attendance as inconsistent with its mandate. The Court referenced a recent Alberta case in which the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta appointed an amicus and directed it to give notice to a group of jury members (and not a large jury pool) whose privacy interests were at stake in light of a similar production request. I’ll be addressing the procedural dilemma posed in similar circumstances at the Canadian Institute’s upcoming “Advanced Administrative Law and Practice” conference. I’ve clipped the program below.

Champagne v Corporation of the City of Barrie, 2014 ONSC 6103 (CanLII).


NSCA grants protective order, clarifies public interest test

Yesterday the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal granted an order prohibiting the public disclosure of confidential business information belonging to the defendants in an action. It held that the motions judge erred by ruling out the order because the moving parties had a commercial interest in keeping the the relevant information secret. A concurrent public interest, according to the Court, will suffice:

That D+H and Resolve have a specific private interest does not exclude the existence of a concurrent public interest. The two are not mutually exclusive. In Sierra Club, Justice Iacobucci said (para 55) “the interest in question cannot merely be specific to the party requesting the order; the interest must be one which can be expressed in terms of a public interest in confidentiality” [emphasis added]. The question is whether D+H/Resolve’s clear private interest also can be expressed in terms of a public interest in confidentiality.

Here, the Court recognized the public interest in the integrity of a government tendering process and, after weighing competing interests as called for by the Sierra Club case, granted the order.

Resolve Business Outsourcing Income Fund v. Canadian Financial Wellness Group Inc., 2014 NSCA 98 (CanLII).

SCC issues civil production decision stressing discretion and proportionality

Today, a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed an order that directed the Competition Bureau and the federal Department of Public Prosecutions to produce, for civil discovery purposes, recordings of more than 220,000 private communications that they had obtained pursuant to Criminal Code wiretap authorizations.

Justices LeBel and Wagner wrote a majority judgement with which Chief Justice McLachlin (for the most part) concurred. The majority held that the production order was neither prohibited by the Criminal Code nor the Competition Act and was a proper exercise of discretion.

The discretion to order non-party production, according to the majority, is “great” (para 28), though should be exercised with a view to fulsome disclosure: “relevance is generally interpreted broadly at the exploratory stage of the proceedings” (para 30). Relevant records may be withheld to achieve proportionality and efficiency, but they may not be “unduly” withheld (para 60). In making a non-party production order a judge must consider the “financial and administrative burden” of the order and the impact on non-party privacy (paras 83 and 85).

The majority’s emphasis on balance and proportionality is heavy. It weaves proportionality into the concept of relevance as the concept applies in respect of civil production:

[30] To be relevant, the requested document must relate to the issues between the parties, be useful and be likely to contribute to resolving the issues (Glegg, at para. 23; Arkwright, at p. 2741; Chubb, at p. 762; Westfalia Surge Canada Co.; Autorité des marchés financiers; Fédération des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec).

[31] This relevance requirement ensures that the parties do not conduct “fishing expeditions”. It also ensures that the conduct of the proceedings is not delayed, complicated or even jeopardized by the introduction of evidence that does not assist in establishing the rights being claimed (see Royer and Lavallée, at p. 487; Marseille, at pp. 1 and 21). In this sense, the relevance rule is a procedural balancing rule that ensures the efficiency of the judicial process while facilitating the search for truth.

The majority refers to the 2005 decision in Glegg v Smith & Nephew Inc in which the Supreme Court of Canada espoused similar principles in respect of the production obligations of a party to an action. All the authorities the majority relies on are Quebec authorities, but the majority does not expressly rely on any provision of the Civil Code of Quebec and the principles it applies are broadly applicable.

Justice Abella, in dissent, argued that private communications intercepted by law enforcement are of utmost sensitivity and should be “protected by an almost impermeable legal coating like a privileged communication.” To achieve this purpose, she would have interpreted the Criminal Code to prohibit the production of intercepted private communications in a civil proceeding.

Imperial Oil v Jacques, 2014 SCC 66.

Raw test data disclosed over doc’s objection

On July 29th, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered raw test data to be produced over the objection of plaintiff’s (neuropsychologist) expert, who claimed her professional obligations restricted her from disclosing the data forming the foundation of her expert’s report to anyone but another neuropsychologist. It said:

Counsel for the applicant defendant correctly submits that there is nothing in the Code of Conduct to substantiate the apparent position of the College of Psychologists of BC that test material cannot be released except to another psychologist or psychological service provider in another jurisdiction. He is correct. That is not what the Code of Conduct states.

The Court noted that not all experts are equal in interpreting data, but held that the quality of interpretation is a matter for trial.

Smith v Rautenberg, 2013 BCSC 1347 (CanLII).

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

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).

BCCA denies access to patient information to further class proceeding

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia vacated an order that required non-party physicians to provide a class action plaintiff with the contact information of patients who were potential class members. It rendered a principled judgement on physician-patient confidentiality, stating:

Laudable as the plaintiff’s intention may be to seek redress for persons who may have a claim to compensation for deleterious consequences from this medical treatment, such generous intention does not justify, in my view, the invasion of privacy that is inherent in dipping into the physician-patient relationship to discover the names, addresses, and contact information of persons who received this treatment. Each patient is entitled to maintenance of the confidentiality implicit in his or her attendance in a physician’s examining room and protection of his or her privacy on a personal matter, absent serious concerns relating to health or safety, or express legislative provisions compelling release of the information in the public interest. In my view, the judge erred in principle by elevating the purposes of the Class Proceedings Act and the search for legal redress above the fundamental principle of confidentiality that adheres, for the benefit of the community, to the physician-patient relationship.

The Court distinguished other orders in which contact information was provided to class action plaintiffs as not involving physician-patient confidentiality.

Logan v Hong, 2013 BCCA 249.

Ontario master questions state of jurisprudence on OSR privilege

On January 22nd, Master Muir of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice held that answers to discovery questions that would disclose information contained in the Ontario Student Records of non-party students should not be answered based on the statutory privilege in section 266 of the Education Act.

Master Muir held that he was bound by Pandremenos v Riverdale Collegiate Institute, [1998] OJ No 1480 (GD), but not without expressly stating his disagreement with an interpretation of section 266 that precludes access to information contained in an OSR (as opposed to an OSR itself). He said:

In my view, the relevant portions of the Act make it clear that it is the OSR file itself that is privileged and not necessarily all of the information that may find its way into the OSR. Section 266(2) of the Act creates the privilege. It provides that “a record [that is, the OSR] is privileged” [emphasis added]. It says nothing about the specific information that section 265(1)(d) of the Act requires the principal to collect for inclusion in the OSR. This is to be contrasted with sections 266(9) and 266(10) of the Act. Section 266(9) states that “no person shall be required in any trial or other proceeding to give evidence in respect of the content of a record” [emphasis added]. Section 266(10) provides that “every person shall preserve secrecy in respect of the content of a record” [emphasis added]. It is noteworthy that the word “content” is absent from section 266(2).

In my view, if the legislature had intended to extend the privilege to any piece of information that may end up in an OSR (such as something as basic as a student’s address or date of birth, for example) it would have used much broader language that would clearly extend the privilege to the contents and to all information that may be found in an OSR. In my view, the interpretation suggested by Northmount could lead to an absurd situation where certain basic information about an individual could never be disclosed or introduced into evidence in a civil proceeding simply because he or she happens to be a student to whom the Act applies and the information in question can also be found in his or her OSR.

Master Muir noted other decisions by the Court in which discovery was allowed because the information at issue was not required to be contained in the OSR by the Ministry’s guideline. Master Muir said these decisions are distinguishable from cases in which the information at issue is required to be contained in the OSR as in Pandremenos and the matter before him.

Robinson v Northmount School for Boys, 2013 ONSC 1028 (CanLII).