Tag Archives: privacy and litigation

Arbitrator issues principled decision on identification of grievors and other complainants

17 Nov

On September 5th, Arbitrator Abramsky dismissed a motion to anonymize the name of an individual who had grieved harassment, discrimination and a reprisal.

In  making its request, the Union rested heavily on the fact the grievance would invite the disclosure of the grievor’s medical information – information about a learning disability and back problems. It also argued that no purpose would be served by publication of the grievor’s identity.

Ms. Abramsky held that the open court principle applied to the statutory tribunal for whom she was sitting (the GSB in Ontario) and that openness was therefore presumed absent a “compelling reason.” In doing so, she endorsed the following statement about the identification of individuals who file serious complaints:

This rationale – that litigants who make serious accusations should not do so “from behind a veil of anonymity, assured that they will not be identified if they are found not to be credible, their allegations are rejected” – has significant resonance.  It is very easy to make serious assertions and claims.  When doing so – and pursuing such a claim – litigants should not be able to hide behind anonymity, absent a compelling reason to allow it.  Confidence in the administration of justice – and the open court principle – requires it.

Ms. Abramsky also held that medical information can vary in sensitivity and that, in the circumstances, anonymization was not justified.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Cull) v Ontario (Health and Long-Term Care), 2017 CanLII 71798 (ON GSB).


IPC comments on use and disclosure of OSR in litigation

1 Aug

On June 15th, the Information and Privacy/Commissioner Ontario dismissed a privacy complaint that alleged a school board breached the Education Act and MFIPPA by producing a student’s OSR in response to his human rights application.

The Board produced the OSR and filed it in a brief of documents to be used at a pending Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing, all pursuant to the Tribunal’s rules. The complainant objected, and in a preliminary hearing, the HRTO directed the complainant to consent or face dismissal of his application. The complainant did not consent, his application was dismissed and he subsequently filed a privacy complaint with the IPC.

The IPC held that MFIPPA prevails over the statutory privilege provision in the Education Act and that the IPC is therefore “not bound to consider section 266 of the Education Act in its deliberations.” It also held that the OSR was information “otherwise available” to the Board and therefore open to its use under the provision of MFIPPA that stipulates that MFIPPA “does not impose any limitation on the information otherwise available by law to a party to litigation.”

The IPC did recommend that, going forward, the Board refrain from unilaterally handling the OSR when its potential use and disclosure is in dispute: “… the Board should make efforts to seek direction from an administrative tribunal or court prior to disclosing the information contained within an Ontario School Record during the course of litigation.”

 York Region District School Board (Re), 2016 CanLII 37587 (ON IPC).


Addressing the privacy interests of affected individuals

20 Nov

I presented today at the Canadian Institute’s program on advanced administrative law. My topic was about how to deal with the privacy interests of affected non-parties. Here are my slides, revised based on my evolving understanding of this (difficult) issue. My thesis as it stands: we need to develop a principled exception to the audi alteram partem rule that governs when affected non-parties get notice and right to be heard. Courts and admin law decision makers appear to be attracted to solution that rests on the involvement of an appropriate representative party, but the current solutions are not driven by any express principle.

Request for jury contact information dismissed

1 Nov

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).


Privacy claim survives based on allegation of pretexting

27 Dec

On October 23rd, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice allowed a borderline privacy claim to proceed because it alleged the deceptive use of personal information to obtain evidence for a family law proceeding.

The plaintiffs brought a motion to vacate a non-dissipation order on their developed property so they could build on another property. In support of the motion, one of the plaintiffs swore and filed an affidavit that included financial data that supported the need to mortgage the developed property.

The respondent to the motion (the former spouse of one of the plaintiffs) lived with a mortgage broker, who took some of the financial data and obtained a letter of interest that suggested construction financing on the undeveloped property was an option. The respondent filed the letter and succeeded in her response to the motion, at which point the plaintiffs took issue with the mortgage broker’s conduct and eventually filed suit.

Justice Hambly was most troubled with the misimpression allegedly given by the mortgage broker to the finance company, who said that it thought the mortgage broker asked for the letter on behalf of the plaintiff. Assuming that the mortgage broker was acting on behalf of the respondent’s counsel (as he pleaded), Justice Hambly said that is was not clear “that a party or a person acting on the instructions of a party can release private personal financial about another party derived from the court files in a family law action to a third party for the purpose of getting an opinion under the guise that he is acting in the other party’s interest without the other party’s consent.”

Rosati v Cornelio, 2013 ONSC 6461 (CanLII).

The wheels of justice must turn – intrusion upon seclusion claim dismissed

3 Dec

On November 27th, Justice Carole Brown of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed a intrusion upon seclusion and negligence claim brought against lawyers who had acted in the defence of a personal injury claim. The claim alleged the lawyers acted unlawfully by:

  • providing the plaintiff’s medical information to and requesting addendum reports from defence medical exports for the purposes of trial and discussing the contents of the reports at trial;
  • serving copies of a Rule 30:10 (third-party production) motion; and
  • obtaining the plaintiff’s university transcript for purposes of trial.

This is not surprising, though the university transcript was apparently obtained in advance of trial after service of a summons to witness. Justice Brown noted that the defendants did not deceive the summonsed witness and that, in any event, the plaintiff herself adduced the transcript at trial.

Baines v Sigurdson Courtlander, 2013 ONSC 6892 (CanLII).

Nova Scotia court orders hard drive review to disclose usage patterns

15 Feb

On February 8th, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ordered the forensic review of an injured plaintiff’s hard drive because it would likely contain evidence relevant to a claim that he could only work at a computer for two to three hours a day. Although the computer was used by others (perhaps through separate user profiles, though this is unclear on the record), the Court held that use by others went to the weight of the evidence, a matter to be assessed at trial. Notably, the order contemplates a search to be conducted by a third party under a protocol proposed by the defendant.

Hat tip to Barry Sookman.

Laushway v Messervey, 2013 NSSC 47 (CanLII).