NLCA holds that implied undertaking does not apply to medical report

28 Dec

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.

Unifund Assurance Company v Churchill, 2016 NLCA 73 (CanLII).

Arbitrator admits surreptitious audio recording

22 Dec

On October 27th, Arbitrator Dorsey held that a surreptitious audio recording should be entered into evidence because its probative value outweighed the potential prejudice to harmonious workplace relations. He was impressed that the recording was made spontaneously at a work team dinner (rather than during work proper) and that “tone” of the communications recorded would be relevant.

Arbitrator Dorsey commented:

I find the balance between real or potential prejudicial effect of an unplanned recording in the not staged, relaxed situation away from the stress of being on the fire line is outweighed by the probative value of having an accurate record of apparently unprovoked words and tone that became the subject of a complaint and the employer’s disciplinary decision.

The effect the recording might have on either the presentation of the union or employer’s case is secondary to the prejudicial effect exclusion of the recording will have on the credibility and acceptability of the outcome of this arbitration process.

It will be inexplicable to the employee witnesses at the dinner table why their recollection of the words and tone over 15 months ago, which will be subject to time consuming dissection to expose differences in recollection, is the approach preferred to determining what was said in what tone over listening to a recording of what was said with whatever limitations and frailties it might have. They would be justified in regarding such a fact-finding process as an anachronism lacking common sense; operating in a world in which they do not live; and should be treated with a corresponding lack of respect.

BCGEU and BC Public Service Agency (27 October 2016, Dorsey).

Arbitrator says reference to record in opening statement does not extinguish implied undertaking

22 Dec

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.

Fortis BC Energy Inc and IBEW, Local 213 (9 September 2016, Peckles).

BCCA discusses redaction of information from otherwise relevant documents

18 Dec

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).

 

BCCA issues decision on implied waiver of privilege

18 Dec

On November 29th, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia held that a party must voluntarily inject into the litigation legal advice it received or its understanding of the law before waiver of solicitor-client privilege can be implied. It is not enough, according to the Court, for the privilege holder’s state of mind to be relevant. The Court therefore held that a party had not waived privilege over legal advice obtained that related to a misrepresentation by another that it pleaded it had reasonably relied upon.

Soprema Inc. v. Wolrige Mahon LLP, 2016 BCCA 471 (CanLII).

SCC issues decision lending weight to litigation privilege

28 Nov

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada held that a legislative provision cannot abrogate litigation privilege unless it does so with clear, explicit and unequivocal language. 

This principle was established for solicitor-client privilege by the Court in its Blood Tribe decision of 2008. It now extends to litigation privilege.

The Court also used Friday’s decision to establish litigation privilege as a “fundamental principle of the administration of justice.” It affirmed:

  • litigation privilege is a class privilege, entailing a presumption of immunity from disclosure once the conditions for its application have been met;
  • litigation privilege is only subject to clearly defined exceptions and not to a case-by-case balancing exercise; and
  • litigation privilege can be asserted against third parties, including third parties who have a duty of confidentiality.

Litigation privilege retains its status as a kind of junior privilege to the almighty solicitor-client privilege. According to the Court, however, litigation privilege is an important, class privilege that behaves like a class privilege. Arguments that litigation privilege must give way to the truth seeking function because of the circumstances will now ordinarily fail. 

Lizotte v. Aviva Insurance Company of Canada, 2016 SCC 52 (CanLII).

SCC deals blow to privacy commissioner powers – privilege reigns supreme

28 Nov

Yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision in which it held that the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta does not have the power to compel the production of documents over which solicitor-client privilege is claimed in conducting an access inquiry under Alberta’s public sector access and privacy statute. 

The case – which arose out of an access request made to the University of Calgary – is a sequel to the 2008 Blood Tribe Department of Health case in which the Supreme Court of Canada made a similar finding regarding the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s powers under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Blood Tribe established that solicitor-client privilege cannot be abrogated by statutory language that is any less than “clear, explicit and unequivocal.” PIPEDA, however, is a unique statute. It establishes the OPC as an ombudsperson and not in adjudicator, and the power to produce that the OPC relied upon in Blood Tribe was drafted in the most general terms. Accordingly, Blood Tribe left a question about the powers of other privacy commissioners under more traditional statutes.

That question is now answered.

The Alberta Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act gives the Alberta Commissioner the power to order production despite “any privilege of the law of evidence.” This phrase appears in a number of other public sector access and privacy statutes as does the similar phrase “any privilege under the law of evidence.” Ten privacy and access authorities therefore intervened in the University of Calgary case to argue in support of their mandates.

Nonetheless, a five judge majority held that the language of Alberta FIPPA is not clear enough to override solicitor-client privilege. The majority took pains to root its analysis in statutory interpretation principles, but its finding is best understood as reflecting a near absolute dedication to the supremacy of solicitor-client privilege. The majority also viewed the Alberta Commissioner as something less than an impartial adjudicator, alluding to the tradition by which information commissioners often act as parties in reviews of their own orders.

We must be careful in drawing broad conclusions about a finding under a particular access and privacy statute, but this decision will have a ripple effect. Commissioners across Canada may adjust their protocols for dealing with solicitor-client privilege claims and may lobby for statutory amendments. University of Calgary is a good news decision for institutions given the burden of arguing solicitor-client privilege claims on a record-by-record basis.

Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. University of Calgary, 2016 SCC 53 (CanLII).