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March 28, 2012

Invasion of Privacy Recognized as a Tort

The Ontario Court of Appeal has recognized a tort of invasion of privacy.

In Jones v. Tsige, 2012 ONCA 32 (C.A.), the plaintiff discovered the defendant had been surreptitiously looking at her banking records. The parties worked at the same bank and Tsige was in a relationship with Jones’ ex-husband. Despite these connections, the parties did not know each other. Tsige claimed she had a financial dispute with Jones’ ex-husband and was accessing the account to confirm whether he was paying child support to Jones. Tsige was contrite and apologized for her actions.

A motions court judge dismissed the action on a motion for summary judgment on the basis that Ontario does not recognize a tort of invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.

Justice Sharpe cited Professor Prosser in setting out four categories of invasion of privacy:
1. Intrusion upon the plaintiff’s seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs.
2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the plaintiff.
3. Publicity which places the plaintiff in a false light in the public eye.
4. Appropriation, for the defendant’s advantage, of the plaintiff’s name or likeness.

This case falls within the “intrusion on seclusion” category. In order to make out a cause of action, a plaintiff must show:
1. an unauthorized intrusion;
2. that the intrusion was highly offensive to the reasonable person;
3. the matter intruded upon was private; and,
4. the intrusion caused anguish and suffering.

Justice Sharpe held that damages for intrustion on seclusion should be modest, and up to the range of $20,000. The quantum will depend on factors such as the nature of the intrusion, the effect on the plaintiff, the relationship between the parties, distress or embarassment suffered by the plaintiff, and the conduct of the parties, including any apology by the defendant. Justice Sharpe granted summary judgment to Jones in the amount of $10,000.

Will we see the floodgates open with these types of claims now? Privacy seems to be a “hot button” issue right now, and it seems that we may see more cases involving breaches of privacy in the future.

- Tara Pollitt

1 comment:

  1. This sort of a case is rife with questions as to the extent to which "intrusion" is damaging.

    While $20,000 is not a large award, I think the "floodgates" will open in Ontario for this type of case very soon.