ONSC awards $15,000 in privacy damages

On December 12th of last year, Justice Fragomeni of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered a man to pay $15,000 in damages to his estranged spouse for surreptitiously installing a camera in a bathroom (prior to separation) to take photos “for a couple of days.” There’s little analysis about liability. Here are the damages factors listed by the Court:

1.   the nature of the intrusion. It took place in a bedroom and bathroom, places which are very private. The privacy interests of Sheth were significant.

2.   the intrusion takes place within a domestic relationship

3.   although Sheth was embarrassed and shocked at the intrusion no medical information was filed to support and establish an evidentiary basis to find any significant effect on Sheth’s health or welfare

4.   the conduct of Patel in lying about the intrusion at his Discovery and even attempting to blame Sheth herself for the camera being installed is extremely aggravating and demonstrates a lack of any insight into what he did as being wrong.

Note also that the photos recovered and tendered in evidence by the plaintiff did not show anything explicit.

Patel v Seth, 2016 ONSC 6964 (CanLII).

Federal Court of Appeal reverses certification of privacy class action

On June 24th, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the certification of a number of causes of action in a class action that claims damages for the sending of a letter that identified the sender as the “Marihuana Medical Access Program.”

The intended recipients were, in fact, individuals authorized to possess medical marihuana. They claim the letter disclosed this fact and exposed them to various harms. The Federal Court certified the action last July based on a finding that the claim set out a number of valid causes of action.

The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the action to proceed based on claim alleging that the government’s negligence (and breach of confidence) caused the following damage: costs incurred to prevent home invasion, costs incurred for other personal security, damage to reputation, loss of employment, reduced capacity for employment, and out of pocket expenses. The Court of Appeal affirmed that a claim for such damages is actionable and “not entirely speculative.”

The Federal Court of Appeal overturned certification of three other causes of action:

  • It held that the pleading did not establish a valid claim of contractual breach because it set out no exchange of promises backed by valuable consideration. The existence of an enforceable contractual contract was also not apparent in the circumstances given the arrangement between government and the representative plaintiff was invited and structured by statute.
  • It held that the pleading did not establish a valid claim for public disclosure of private facts because the pleadings did not support a finding that the government “published” private facts: “…the concept of ‘publicity’ means that ‘the matter is made public, by communicating it to the public at large, or to so many persons that the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge.'”
  • It held that the pleading did not establish a valid claim for intrusion upon seclusion because it did not support a finding of the required state of mind (i.e., intent or recklessness): “At best, the material facts pleaded support the notion that an isolated administrative error was made.”

The Court’s limitation of the claim to one based on negligence is significant because it precludes access to “moral damages.” While the Court said the pleaded special damages were not so speculative to disallow the claim, it’s questionable whether the actual damages suffered by members of the class amount to much at all.

Canada v John Doe, 2016 FCA 191.

Ontario decision suggests corporation can sue for breach of privacy

On February 19th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice declined to strike a pleading that alleged a company unlawfully interfered with a competitor’s economic relations by receiving confidential information about a client (BC Cancer) that was sought after by both organizations. The Court held that the pleading was sustainable because BC Cancer had an arguable claim against the recipient organization based on the “intrusion upon seclusion” tort, suggesting that the tort is available to natural persons and corporations. As stressed by the Court, on a motion to strike a court errs on the side of permitting a novel but arguable claim to proceed to trial.

Fundraising Initiatives v Globalfaces Direct, 2015 ONSC 1334 (CanLII).

Tort damages awarded for privacy breach in Ontario

On October 31st, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered general damages for breach of privacy under our new tort.

This is another love triangle case involving an improper access to personal information. The defendant worked at Legal Aid Ontario. The plaintiff was her boyfriend’s ex. The defendant accessed the plaintiff’s legal aid file without authorization, learned she had dealings with Children’s Aid and threatened to call Children’s Aid to have the plaintiff’s children taken from her. The plaintiff gave evidence that Children’s Aid investigated, but failed to prove this was because of the plaintiff’s disclosure. The plaintiff also unsuccessfully alleged that she lost a job because of the breach or – to be more precise – the anxiety caused by the breach.

Legal Aid Ontario settled and the defendant did not defend the action.

The Court dismissed all  special damages claims and said that the evidence showed “irritation rather than devastation.” On a $100,000 claim, it awarded a modest amount for general damages. The judgement unfortunately records the damages award at both $7,500 and $10,000. The Court also awarded $6,500 in partial indemnity costs.

McIntosh v Legal Aid Ontario, 2014 ONSC 6136.


BC court dismisses class action about iOS4 location services

On September 30th, the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed a motion for certification of a class proceeding against Apple that was about the recording of location data on Apple devices running the iOS4 operating system.

The Court applied significant rigor in weighing the proposed action against the certification criteria, giving heavy scrutiny to both the pleadings and the evidence filed in support of certification.

The Court’s finding on the common issues criterion may have broader implications. The Court acknowledged that the scope of one’s right to privacy under the BC Privacy Act is determined by the context. The plaintiff, the Court said, “has not shown any basis in fact to conclude that the reasonableness and context could be proved on a class-wide basis.” The Court reached the same conclusion regarding the “without claim/colour of right” issue – an issue that speaks to an essential element of a breach of privacy claim.

Ladas v Apple Inc., 2014 BCSC 1821 (CanLII).

HT to Barry Sookman.

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

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).

Sask C.A. Opines on Elements of Statutory Privacy Tort

On March 15th, a majority the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal affirmed a decision not to strike a pleading that was based on the Saskatchewan Privacy Act.

The case is about a Saskatchewan Power Corporation customer service representative who accessed account information for personal reasons. The account holder sued and the defendants, in response, moved to strike. The defendants argued that the plaintiff did not plead facts necessary to establish that the information at issue was of a quality protected by the Act. The ratio of the majority decision (written by Justice Ottenbreit) is summarized in the following paragraph:

The wording of the Act arguably does not require that a claim alleging a breach of privacy respecting information must necessarily plead that the information accessed is confidential or reveals intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the plaintiff. This is not to say that the Act does not make the accessing of such information actionable and that certain Charter concepts of privacy and Charter analysis would not be apt in a particular case. To what extent Charter concepts and a Charter approach would be helpful remains to be determined. What is clear is that the Charter concept of reasonable expectation of privacy and its corollary concepts are arguably not congruent with the “privacy” or an “expectation of privacy”, the violation of which is actionable under the Act. Based on an examination of the Act, pleadings in terms of Charter concepts of reasonable expectation of privacy are arguably not therefore essential to a claim under the Act. The argument of SPC that the pleading is deficient because it lacks sufficient facts which would allege a violation of an expectation of privacy identical or very similar to the Charter concept fails.

Justice Ottenbreit said that it was enough for the plaintiff to plead that the individual defendant accessed her employer’s records “to obtain information about [the plaintiff’s] activities” for her own purposes.

Justice Smith dissented. She held that, at a minimum, a plaintiff claiming breach of an informational privacy right based on the Saskatchewan Privacy Act must plead facts to establish that the information at issue is “personal and confidential.”

Bigstone v. St. Pierre, 2011 SKCA 34 (CanLII).