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).

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

19 Nov

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).

First CASL decision invites long-desired feeling of normality

29 Oct

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation is relatively new, onerous and far from elegant. Organizations have been weighing the risks the best they can – and in doing so have puzzled over how to account for CASL’s provision for penalties of up to $10 million.

On October 26th, the CRTC issued a decision in which it held that a company breached the consent requirement in CASL by sending approximately 385,000 unsolicited e-mails to government employees. As a result, it ordered an administrative monetary penalty of $50,000. Most significantly, the CRTC’s decision includes following comment about the significance of CASL’s significant maximum penalty:

The potential for higher penalties provides the Commission and the designated person with a means to recognize and address more egregious non-compliance when it arises, but this does not mean that larger penalties are inherently more appropriate in comparison to regimes with lower maximum penalties. As provided for in the Act, the objective and effect of an AMP must always be to promote compliance, and must not be to punish.

The CRTC considered the size of the company (“small”) and the short duration of the violation (two months) to support a lower penalty. Conversely, it considered the company’s failure to respond to a production order and its failure to change its practices immediately when contacted by investigators as aggravating factors.

The company violated the Act because it could not demonstrate the basis for which it claimed implicit consent to message individuals whose e-mail addresses were “conspicuously published.” In finding a violation, the CRTC said:

The requirement that it be relevant to the recipient’s role or functions creates the condition that the address be published in such a manner that it is reasonable to infer consent to receive the type of message sent, in the circumstances… Paragraph 10(9)(b) of the Act does not provide persons sending commercial electronic messages with a broad licence to contact any electronic address they find online; rather, it provides for circumstances in which consent can be implied by such publication, to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Harvesting addresses from the internet for the purpose of business-to-business marketing is permitted but, as this case shows, organizations need a protocol to demonstrate a duly diligent effort to send individuals messages that are relevant to their work.

None of this should come as a surprise, but this welcome decision does invite a long-desire feeling of normality.

Compliance and Enforcement Decision CRTC 2016-428.