On October 11th, the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan ordered a defendant to produce an un-redacted copy of an e-mail, thereby providing the plaintiff with the identity of an individual who had reported him as a potential threat.
The Court reviewed the Canadian jurisprudence on redacting information from producible documents, and adopted a modified version of the prevailing view (outside of Alberta and Nova Scotia):
The underlying action was brought by a former employee of SaskPower . SaskPower had received a bomb threat, and as part of its response, identified the plaintiff as a suspect to the local police. The plaintiff sued SaskPower for malicious prosecution and breach of privacy.
SaskPower produced the internal e-mail that identified the plaintiff as a threat, but redacted the name of an employee who had earlier raised concerns – “However [redacted text] came to me with concerns (even before we were aware other the threat came from someone with an accent).”
The Court dismissed the defendant’s argument that relied on informer privilege because SaskPower was not the police and held (in a rather cursory manner) that SaskPower had not met its burden.
The outcome is a good illustration of the test, which is a one-way test that puts the burden on the party resisting production. If the test put more emphasis on the value of the evidence to the proceeding (and balancing), there may have been a different outcome given the public interest in fostering the making of these types of reports.
SaskPower has nice, simple facts for an attempted appeal, the law of production has been in flux in the last decade, and the differing Alberta and Nova Scotia law might help.
It is inappropriate to closely parse solicitor-client communications in assessing the scope of privilege; the entire “continuum of communications” must be protected. This is the principle articulated in a June 8th decision of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.
The Court allowed the appeal of a chambers judge order to produce parts of a series of e-mails between a government lawyer and staff at an administrative tribunal. The content ordered to be produced included:
two paragraphs and two sentences of a ten paragraph advisory e-mail in which the chambers judge suggested the lawyer stepped beyond his role as legal advisor and impinged upon the tribunal’s decision-making authority;
a follow-up e-mail that the chambers judge held was not privileged for similar reasons; and
follow-up correspondence between (internal) clients discussing the lawyer’s advice.
The Court held that all this communication was part of the “continuum of communications” that supported the solicitor-client relationship and was therefore privileged. It held there was no basis for a finding that the lawyer usurped the tribunal’s decision making authority, also stating:
In my view, it is in the nature of legal advice that it may influence the decision-making of the client. The purpose of legal advice is normally to advise the client on the best course of action to comply with the relevant law. Advice provided to a statutory decision-maker as to what should be done in order to be legally defensible is still legal advice.
The dispute arose after the above communications were inadvertently disclosed in response to a freedom of information request made by a law firm. The receiving lawyer obtained the communications as part of a disclosure package in which government made a number of exemption claims. She believed government to have waived privileged and used the communications in a proceeding, which led government to assert its privilege claim and claim its disclosure was inadvertent. The Court held there was no waiver. It wasn’t highly critical of the receiving lawyer given these facts, but reminded lawyers of their duty to give notice when they receive communications that are apparently privileged.