Sunday, August 21, 2011

Federal Court awards minimal damages under PIPEDA

The Federal Court has recently released its second decision in which damages have been awarded for a breach under PIPEDA. Once again, the degree of damages are very low considering the costs associated with seeking redress before the Federal Court, but this very likely turns on the unique facts of the case.

In Landry v. Royal Bank of Canada, 2011 FC 687 (CanLII), the applicant was embroiled in what appears to be a bitter divorce and was hiding certain bank accounts from her spouse. Her bank was served with a subpoena to produce records. It appears that the bank did not follow its prescribed procedures (which would have avoided the entire mess) and ultimately faxed the applicant's bank records to counsel for her spouse. The applicant complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who found her complaint to be "well-founded and resolved".

The applicant started an application in the Federal Court, seeking at least $75,000 in damages. Neither party looked good appearing in court: the bank had not followed its procedures and tried to cover it up. The applicant was essentially caught trying to hide assets contrary to her legal obligations in connection with the divorce proceeding.

In the result, the Court concluded:

[32] Taking into account the contributory fault of the applicant, who was partially responsible for her own problems, and the serious breach committed by the respondent’s employee and its subsequent cover-up, the Court finds that the applicant suffered humiliation under paragraph 16(c) of the Act and that the respondent’s negligence warrants the applicant being compensated but does not give rise to exemplary damages as requested. Consequently, we fix an amount of $4,500 with interest and costs to be paid to the applicant by the respondent.

What is interesting is that the Court awarded any damages at all. The records, if they had been properly processed, would have been released to the applicant's husband and the personal result to her would have been the same. The Court could have said "no harm, no foul", but awarded damages (which are at least symbolic). This may hold out some hope for applicants that, in the right case, substantial damages may be awarded.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Upcoming panel on WikiLeaks, National Security and Free Speech at the ABA in Toronto

I've been invited to be on an amazing panel discussion at the American Bar Association's annual meeting next week on WikiLeaks, National Security and Free Speech. My co-panelists include lawyers from the ACLU, CNN and the American University in Washington DC. The panel will be on Saturday, August 6 at 3:45 in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Room 803 B, 800 Level. If you're at the ABA, come by and say hello. See: Ethics of Social Media, Wikileaks and Courtroom Tech Among Topics to be Explored at Annual Law Meeting – ABANow – ABA Media Relations & Communication Services.