All About Information Turns Ten!

2 Aug

Ten years ago on a Saturday morning in early August something inspired me to upload a post on employee surveillance to a WordPress site. I can’t remember what I called the site at that time, but the title was lame and had my name in it. Ten years and 973 posts later, “All About Information” still exists. It has facilitated a good deal of my learning and has fostered connections with some valued colleagues who work outside of my own firm, Hicks Morley. As for its merits, at the very least All About Information is now a sizable catalog of notable Canadian cases that are… well… about information. Thank you to those who have made guest posts and comments and those who have kindly corrected my numerous typos. And thank you especially to you, the reader.

Dan Michaluk

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“Steep hill” to climb for defamation plaintiffs when suing on matters of public interest

29 Jul

On July 25th, the Ontario Superior Court of justice dismissed an action under a new provision of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act intended to dissuade persons from bringing “strategic lawsuits against public participation” – so called “SLAPP” suits.

The plaintiff is a company that operates a gravel pit. It sued a Stouffville teacher who made two postings to Facebook about a municipal approval that allowed an expansion of the company’s operation. The defendant made the posts without reading the engineering report the plaintiff had filed with the municipality or taking any other significant steps to inform herself of the issue. She said the defendant would profit significantly from the approval, the municipality would not, and the defendant “would potentially poison our children.” When the plaintiff demanded an apology, the defendant apologized. The plaintiff sued anyway.

The plaintiff agreed that the defendant’s expression related to a matter of public interest – leaving the plaintiff to establish that its proceeding had “substantial merit,” that the defendant had “no valid defence” and that it had suffered (or was likely to suffer) “sufficiently serious harm” in order to survive dismissal under the CJA’s anti-SLAPP provision. The Court held that none of these criteria were met, dismissed the action and awarded $7,500 in damages to the plaintiff (in part reflecting how the plaintiff conducted its proceeding and in part reflecting the defendant’s failure to adduce medical evidence in support of her damages claim).

The judgement means that the burden on a party seeking civil redress for statements made about a matter of public interest is high. In this case, for example, it did not matter that the plaintiff took few steps to inform herself of the issue or used the “unfortunate” word “poison”; informed or not, the Court said the plaintiff had a right to enter the public forum and use emphatic language in doing so without the risk of being sued. Justice Lederer explained:

I am inclined to the view that the legislature did more than just “tilt the balance somewhat”. Rather the legislature created a steep hill for the plaintiff to climb before an action like this one is to be permitted to proceed. The legislation directs that we place substantial value on the freedom of expression over defamation in the public sphere. To put it simply, those who act in the public realm need to realize that not everybody will accept what they wish to do or agree with what they say and may make statements that go beyond what may seem, to the recipient, to be appropriate.

United Soils Management Ltd. v. Mohammed, 2017 ONSC 4450.

IPC decides on request for threat assessment records

22 Jul

On June 30th, the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario issued an interim order regarding a request for records of a school board’s threat assessment process – a request made by the student who was the subject of the assessment. 

The IPC held that input given by student witnesses was exempt because its disclosure would constitute an unjustified invasion of privacy and that opinions expressed by members of the board’s threat assessment team were exempt because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to threaten the members’ safety. This is decision rests on the facts before the IPC in this case, though sets out a roadmap for shielding the most sensitive information in a threat assessment file.

The IPC decided to give notice to staff members before deciding whether information related to them (other than opinions) should be released. The matter continues. 

Toronto Catholic District School Board (Re), 2017 CanLII 45048 (ON IPC). 

No relief for victims of harassment – Ont CA

22 Jul

I’ve written here about the difficult position an employer/organization is placed in when its employees are harassed by “outsiders.” On July 20th the Court of Appeal for Ontario illustrated the difficulty by affirming a decision that denied relief from such harassment that a municipality (and its mayor) sought on behalf of the mayor, councillors and staff. The decision suggests that an employer’s duty to provide a safe and harassment free environment provides no basis for a civil remedy. 

Rainy River (Town) v. Olsen, 2017 ONCA 605.

Hint of compromise not necessary to shield meeting communications with settlement privilege

16 Jul

On July 6th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice held that communications exchanged in a settlement meeting need not demonstrate “a hint of compromise ” to be subject to settlement privilege. Such a requirement would be inappropriate, the Court said, given the ebb and flow of a settlement meeting. Here are the key quotes:

In my view, where the communications in question are made in a meeting the purpose of which is to attempt to resolve a dispute, as opposed to through a written communication that may or may not be marked “without prejudice”, different considerations apply to the third requirement for settlement privilege. This is because a participant at such a meeting cannot be expected to calibrate the words chosen in each sentence spoken during an open, free-flowing and unscripted conversation to ensure that each sentence meets the three requirements for settlement privilege.

In my view, the communications at a meeting that is held for the purpose of attempting to settle a dispute, when considered after the fact, do not need to reveal a willingness by either side to compromise the litigious dispute in order for settlement privilege to be engaged. Even if the dispute is not resolved, and even if no offer of settlement is made during the meeting by one side, or by either side, if the first two requirements for settlement privilege are satisfied, then the communications at the meeting will be protected by settlement privilege if the purpose of the meeting was to attempt to effect a settlement of the dispute (unless an exception applies).

Singh v. Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario et al, 2017 ONSC 4168.

Limitation period does not toll with continued online publication – Ont CA

16 Jul

On July 7th the Court of Appeal for Ontario held that a limitation period for an online publication runs from the date of discovery despite continued online publication. It explained:

The appellant seeks to rely on an incorrect interpretation of the “multiple publication rule”. That concept provides that when an alleged libel is republished across different mediums, including the Internet, those republications are treated as distinct libels. In Shtaif, the court rejected the notion that the limitation period for a suit about an online magazine article starts to run when the plaintiff becomes aware of the printed version. This was the basis for the conflicting evidence on discoverability in Shtaif. This decision does not mean that each day of online publication grounds a new cause of action. The court in Vachon v. Canada Revenue Agency, 2015 ONSC 6096 (CanLII), expressly rejected this interpretation of Shtaif. I concur with Hackland J., who said, at para. 22:

The plaintiff argues that the alleged defamation should be taken as having been republished every day [while it] remained accessible on the internet … Shtaif does not support that proposition … any limitation period based on discoverability will run from the point where the internet defamation is discovered.

The time by which the plaintiff must give notice under s. 5(1) and bring his action under s. 6 begins to run when the libel has come to the knowledge of the person defamed. There is no dispute here that, on December 5, 2013, when the appellant submitted the “factual error” message, he was aware of the facts on which his cause of action might be founded. He was aware of the statements, took exception to them as inaccurate, and demanded a correction. The clock began to run on December 5, 2013, when the appellant knew that statements were made that might be considered libellous.

John v. Ballingall, 2017 ONCA 579 (CanLII).

Man CA gives broad protection to lawyers’ reporting letters

10 Jul

On June 29th, the Court of Appeal of Manitoba held that the law has evolved such that reporting letters in real estate transactions (though often primarily summarizing facts) should be presumptively subject to solicitor-client privilege. It said, “Such correspondence is the direct result of a lawyer providing legal advice or otherwise acting as a lawyer, is descriptive of the services provided by the lawyer and arises as a result of the solicitor-client relationship.” This represents a change in Manitoba law, though is consistent with case law in other jurisdictions, including Ontario. 

R v Douglas, 2017 MBCA 63 (CanLII).