IT.CAN Newsletter/Bulletin
June 19, 2017/19 juin 2017

Google Bound by Canadian Order for Global Injunction

Worldwide interlocutory injunction upheld

With its decision in Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc., the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld an order against Google which has global effect. Equustek was a tech company in British Columbia, and it had an arrangement with Datalink in which Datalink distributed networking devices designed and built by Equustek. It alleged that Datalink began relabeling one of the Equustek devices as Datalink’s own and began selling it on that basis. In addition it alleged that Datalink had acquired and was using confidential information and trade secrets belonging to Equustek. Equustek launched an action against Datalink and demanded that Datalink delete all references to Equustek’s products and trademarks on its websites.

Equustek was successful in obtaining an injunction which ordered Datalink to do a number of things, such as to return any source codes, board schematics, and any other documentation it had in its possession that belonged to Equustek, and to cease to refer to Equustek or any of Equustek’s products on its websites. Datalink was also ordered to post a statement on its websites indicating that it was no longer a distributor of Equustek products and directing customers to Equustek’s website. Rather than comply with the order, however, Datalink fled the jurisdiction and continued to act as it had, running its websites from unknown locations outside of Canada.

Equustek sought and obtained various other orders against Datalink, none of which were successful in stopping their activities. Subsequently, Equustek approached Google and asked them to de-index Datalink’s websites, in an effort to make them less discoverable by consumers. Google refused to do this, although it later appeared in court with Equustek as they obtained an injunction ordering Datalink to cease operating or carrying on business through any website. AS a result of that order, Google removed a number of Datalink’s individual webpages, though they still refused to de-index entire websites. Equustek discovered that this approach was ineffective, since Datalink simply moved the content to different pages on its websites.

In addition, Google had only removed pages from searches conducted through Google.ca, which therefore only affected searches conducted from Canada. Indeed, it did not necessarily affect all of them, since a person in Canada could simply search through the URL for Google in some other country. As a result, Equustek sought, and was successful in obtaining, an interim injunction requiring Google to de-index Datalink’s entire websites, and to do so through all searches on Google, not simply those through Google.ca (see the It.Can newsletter of June 25, 2014). This injunction was upheld by the British Columbia Court of Appeal (see the It.Can Newsletter of June 25, 2015). The Supreme Court of Canada has now upheld that interim injunction.

Commenting in particular on the need to have the injunction apply globally, the Court held:

[41]…The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally. As Fenlon J. found, the majority of Datalink’s sales take place outside Canada. If the injunction were restricted to Canada alone or to google.ca, as Google suggests it should have been, the remedy would be deprived of its intended ability to prevent irreparable harm. Purchasers outside Canada could easily continue purchasing from Datalink’s websites, and Canadian purchasers could easily find Datalink’s websites even if those websites were de-indexed on google.ca. Google would still be facilitating Datalink’s breach of the court’s order which had prohibited it from carrying on business on the Internet. There is no equity in ordering an interlocutory injunction which has no realistic prospect of preventing irreparable harm.

The Court also observed the way in which the claim that the injunction was a “worldwide” one was exaggerated:

[43]…The order does not require that Google take any steps around the world, it requires it to take steps only where its search engine is controlled. This is something Google has acknowledged it can do — and does — with relative ease. There is therefore no harm to Google which can be placed on its “inconvenience” scale arising from the global reach of the order.

A further issue in the case was comity. Google argued that the Canadian order could potentially conflict with the law of some other country, thereby imposing Canadian law on another state. The Court was again unpersuaded by that claim. Factually the Court doubted that an order protecting intellectual property rights would be inconsistent with the laws of any other jurisdiction, but allowed for the possibility of the interim injunction being amended if that were shown to be the case in any particular jurisdiction. Given the nature of the injunction, however, the Court placed the onus on Google to show such an infringement:

[47] In the absence of an evidentiary foundation, and given Google’s right to seek a rectifying order, it hardly seems equitable to deny Equustek the extraterritorial scope it needs to make the remedy effective, or even to put the onus on it to demonstrate, country by country, where such an order is legally permissible. We are dealing with the Internet after all, and the balance of convenience test has to take full account of its inevitable extraterritorial reach when injunctive relief is being sought against an entity like Google.

Finally the Court noted that this interim injunction was not dissimilar to what Google already did in other contexts:

[49] And I have trouble seeing how this interferes with what Google refers to as its content neutral character. The injunction does not require Google to monitor content on the Internet, nor is it a finding of any sort of liability against Google for facilitating access to the impugned websites…

[50] Google did not suggest that it would be inconvenienced in any material way, or would incur any significant expense, in de-indexing the Datalink websites. It acknowledges, fairly, that it can, and often does, exactly what is being asked of it in this case, that is, alter search results. It does so to avoid generating links to child pornography and websites containing “hate speech”. It also complies with notices it receives under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 105-304, 112 Stat. 2680 (1998) to de-index content from its search results that allegedly infringes copyright, and removes websites that are subject to court orders.

Ultimately the decision is a recognition both of the globalizing effects of the internet, but also of the impact that private companies like Google have on it. As the Court observed at paras 52-53 in closing, “Google is how Datalink has been able to continue harming Equustek in defiance of several court orders…This does not make Google liable for this harm. It does, however, make Google the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur.”

Facebook Must Come to British Columbia

Forum selection clause in contract found unenforeceable

The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to uphold a forum selection clause in the terms of service for Facebook with its decision in Douez v Facebook, Inc. Douez was a British Columbia resident who had been a member of Facebook since 2007. In 2011, Facebook created a new advertising product called “Sponsored Stories” which used the name and profile picture of Facebook members to advertise companies and products to other members. When a Facebook user “liked” a page, an ad would be created for that page that would tell the user’s friends that the user had liked the page, thereby encouraging the friends to do the same.

Douez brought an action in British Columbia against Facebook, alleging that it used her name and likeness without consent for the purposes of advertising. She argued that this contravened section 3(2) of the British Columbia Privacy Act. She also sought certification of her action as a class proceeding. Section 4 of the Privacy Act provides that actions under the Act must be heard in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. However, as part of her initial registration with Facebook, Douez (like all users) had agreed to Facebook’s terms of use: those terms of use included a forum selection and choice of law clause requiring that disputes be resolved in California according to California law.

The trial judge declined to apply the forum selection clause, but that decision was overturned by the British Columbia Court of Appeal (see the It.Can newsletter of June 25, 2015.) Douez appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where she was successful, but in a very divided decision.

The Court held that whether the forum selection clause was enforceable fell to be decided by the common law test in Z.I. Pompey Industrie v. ECU-Line N.V. (Pompey), which set out a two step process:

[28]…At the first step, the party seeking a stay based on the forum selection clause must establish that the clause is “valid, clear and enforceable and that it applies to the cause of action before the court” …At this step of the analysis, the court applies the principles of contract law to determine the validity of the forum selection clause. As with any contract claim, the plaintiff may resist the enforceability of the contract by raising defences such as, for example, unconscionability, undue influence, and fraud.

[29] Once the party seeking the stay establishes the validity of the forum selection clause, the onus shifts to the plaintiff. At this second step of the test, the plaintiff must show strong reasons why the court should not enforce the forum selection clause and stay the action…

Alone among the seven judges deciding the case, Justice Abella held that Facebook failed at the first step. Relevant in her view was that the contract was a consumer contract of adhesion, in which the consumer had no ability to bargain, and indeed she found this to be particularly true in the current case:

[111] Tied to these public policy concerns is the “grossly uneven bargaining power” of the parties. Facebook is a multi-national corporation which operates in dozens of countries. Ms. Douez, a videographer, is a private citizen. She had no input into the terms of the contract and, in reality, no meaningful choice as to whether to accept them given Facebook’s undisputed indispensability to online conversations. As Prof. Cheryl Preston noted: “ . . . if one’s family, friends, and business associates are on Facebook  . . . using a competitor’s service is not a reasonable choice” (Cheryl B. Preston, “‘Please Note: You Have Waived Everything’: Can Notice Redeem Online Contracts?” (2015), 64 Am. U. L. Rev. 535, at p. 554).

She noted as well that this was not merely a consumer contract, but an online contract:

[99] Online contracts such as the one in this case put traditional contract principles to the test. What does “consent” mean when the agreement is said to be made by pressing a computer key? Can it realistically be said that the consumer turned his or her mind to all the terms and gave meaningful consent? In other words, it seems to me that some legal acknowledgment should be given to the automatic nature of the commitments made with this kind of contract, not for the purpose of invalidating the contract itself, but at the very least to intensify the scrutiny for clauses that have the effect of impairing a consumer’s access to possible remedies.

In addition she noted other concerns: the privacy rights were important enough to be quasi-constitutional, and that a forum selection clause could, as a practical matter, operate as a complete bar to pursuing an action. She therefore found the forum selection clause to be unconscionable, and so found that it failed the first step of the Pompey test.

The second cohort of three judges making up the majority (Karakatsanis, Wagner and Gascon JJ) did not disagree with Abella J about the relevance of the factors she had raised, and noted at para 36 that the common law test needed to be developed

since online consumer contracts are ubiquitous, and the global reach of the Internet allows for instantaneous cross-border consumer transactions. It is necessary to keep private international law “in step with the dynamic and evolving fabric of our society” (R. v. Salituro, [1991] 3 S.C.R. 654, at p. 670).

However, they felt that those considerations were better suited to considering the second step of the Pompey test. For reasons similar to those of Justice Abella, they concluded that the forum selection clause was enforceable, but that the court should choose not to enforce it. They makde special note of the gross inequality of bargaining power between Douez and Facebook in particular, observing that

[56]…unlike a standard retail transaction, there are few comparable alternatives to Facebook, a social networking platform with extensive reach. British Columbians who wish to participate in the many online communities that interact through Facebook must accept that company’s terms or choose not to participate in its ubiquitous social network. As the intervener the Canadian Civil Liberties Association emphasizes, “access to Facebook and social media platforms, including the online communities they make possible, has become increasingly important for the exercise of free speech, freedom of association and for full participation in democracy” (I.F., at para. 16). Having the choice to remain “offline” may not be a real choice in the Internet era.

The remaining three dissenting judges would have found that the forum selection clause was enforceable and that Douez had not shown it should not be enforced. In their reasoning, they were less focused on the actual defendant Facebook, giving greater emphasis to the nature of online contracts in general:

[158] …By offering services across borders, online companies risk uncertainty and unpredictability of the possible jurisdictions in which they may face legal claims. Professor Geist (M. A. Geist, “Is There a There There? Toward Greater Certainty for Internet Jurisdiction” (2001), 16 B.T.L.J. 1345 describes this risk:

Since websites are instantly accessible worldwide, the prospect that a website owner might be hauled into a courtroom in a far-off jurisdiction is much more than a mere academic exercise; it is a very real possibility. [p. 1347]

[159] Other commentators point out that since online companies do not know in advance where their customers are located, it is difficult for them to proactively determine jurisdiction issues in advance: Z. Tang, “Exclusive Choice of Forum Clauses and Consumer Contracts in E-Commerce” (2005), 1 J. Priv. Int. L. 237. In our view, these risks are best addressed through adherence to the existing system of private international law that has been carefully developed over decades to provide a measure of certainty, order, and predictability. Requiring the plaintiff to demonstrate strong cause is essential for upholding certainty, order, and predictability in private international law, especially in light of the proliferation of online services provided across borders. Holding otherwise would ask the court to ignore valid and enforceable, contractual terms.

[160] It is not only large multi-national corporations like Facebook that benefit from emphasizing the need for order in private international law. The intervener, Information Technology Association of Canada, points out that small and medium-sized businesses benefit from the certainty that flows from enforcing forum selection clauses, and that by reducing litigation risk they can generate savings that can be passed on to consumers. Facebook adds that the certainty which comes with enforcement of forum selection clauses allows foreign companies to offer online access to Canadians. In our view, these benefits accrue to online businesses of all sizes, and in all locations.

On the Internet No-one Knows You’re a Dog

Reverse onus relying on presumption people believe things they are told on the internet found unconstitutional

The Ontario Court of Appeal, with its decision in R v Morrison, has struck down a provision of the Criminal Code which presumed that people believe thing they are told on the internet, on the grounds that that is an unreasonable presumption to make.

The accused was charged with child luring by means of a computer contrary to s. 172.1(1)(b). He had posted an ad on the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist entitled “Daddy looking for his little girl—m4w—45 (Brampton).” A person calling herself “Mia” and claiming to be a 14-year old girl – but who was in fact an undercover police officer engaged in a sting operation – responded to the ad. Morrison and Mia had multiple sexual conversations over the course of two months, and during these conversations Morrison suggested that Mia should touch herself on her breasts and vagina. This constituted the offence of invitation to sexual touching, which formed the basis of the child luring charge.

However, section 172.1 requires that the accused “by a means of telecommunication, communicates with…a person who is, or who the accused believes is, under the age of 16 years. The undercover officer was not under 16, and so the key issue at trial was whether Morrison believed that she was. Morrison testified that he thought he was participating in a sexual role-playing exchange with an adult female, and noted that the rules of that section of Craiglist required participants to be 18 or older.

In proving Morrison’s belief, the Crown was assisted by section 172.1(3), which states:

(3) Evidence that the person referred to in paragraph (1)(a), (b) or (c) was represented to the accused as being under the age of eighteen years, sixteen years or fourteen years, as the case may be, is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, proof that the accused believed that the person was under that age.

That is, the provision creates a basic fact reverse onus: if the Crown proves that the person was represented to the accused to be under sixteen, then the onus is on the accused to raise doubt about whether he believed that. Morrison successfully challenged the constitutionality of the reverse onus: the Ontario Court of Appeal found that it violated section 11(b) of the Charter, the right to be presumed innocent.

The Court of Appeal noted that the Supreme Court has established a test for determining the constitutionality of basic fact reverse onus provisions: if proof of the basic fact leads inexorably to proof of the presumed fact, then there is no Charter violation. In this case, the Court of Appeal concluded, that test was not met: the fact that Mia, on the internet, told Morrison that she was 14 did not lead inexorably to the conclusion that Morrison believed her:

[60] The mere fact of a representation is no indication of its reliability or credibility and does not lead inexorably to the conclusion that the recipient believed it. Some representations are inherently doubtful, even in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Representations on the internet are notoriously unreliable. As put by Dawson J. in R. v. Pengelley, 2010 ONSC 5488 (CanLII), 261 C.C.C. (3d) 93, at para. 17, “nothing may be as it appears on the internet where deception is rampant.” There is simply no expectation that representations made during internet conversations about sexual matters will be accurate or that a participant will be honest about his or her personal attributes, including age. Indeed, the expectation is quite the opposite, as true personal identities are often concealed in the course of online communication about sexual matters. In the present case, there is evidence that Morrison himself made a misrepresentation about his age on his Craigslist advertisement.

[61]      Given the reality of misrepresentation over the internet, a trier of fact could well be left with a reasonable doubt that the recipient of a representation as to age believed the representation, even in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Thus, an online representation as to age may occur in such circumstances as to fail to establish an accused’s belief that the interlocutor was underage beyond a reasonable doubt, even in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Although the representation may lead to a rational inference that the accused believed the interlocutor was underage, that is not the applicable legal test: Oakes, at pp. 133-134. Considered in light of the circumstances of online communication and their content, that inference is not inexorable.

The Court of Appeal also found that this section 11(b) violation was not saved under section 1, and so they struck down the provision. Ultimately this did not prevent Morrison from being convicted, however. Section 172.1(4) prevented him from raising a “mistake of age” defence unless he had taken reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the person: that section of the Code was constitutional, and Morrison had not taken such steps.

A “Newspaper” Needn’t be Paper

Notice periods for newspapers apply to online publications

The Ontario Court of Appeal has clarified some aspects of how libel laws apply to online publications with its decision in John v. Ballingall. The applicant, John, was a rapper who was suing a reporter and the Toronto Star for libel. John had written a rap which had resulted in him being charged with uttering threats. The Star interviewed him and published an article online with the headline “Rapper says death threat just a lyric”. The next day, he sent an electronic message to them denying that his rap contained any death threats at all: when the Star published the article in its print edition, it used the headline “Trial to decide if rapper’s rhyme is a crime”.

Sixteen months later (at which point the headline of the online article was unchanged) John brought an action for libel against the reporter and the Star. The issue which was before the Ontario Court of Appeal was whether that action was statute-barred. Ontario’s Libel and Slander Act (LSA) requires that notice be given to a defendant within six weeks of an alleged libel being made, and that the action itself be commenced within three months. John argued – unsuccessfully – that although his action was not launched until sixteen months later, those requirements of the LSA did not act as a bar.

John first argued that the limitation did not apply, because his action was not against a “newspaper”, but rather concerned the online version. The LSA defines newspaper as

a paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or remarks or observations thereon, or containing only, or principally, advertisements, printed for distribution to the public and published periodically, or in parts or numbers, at least twelve times a year.

The online version was not on paper, John argued, and so did not meet the definition. The Court of Appeal was unpersuaded by this argument:

[23]      I agree with the analysis in Weiss that the word “paper” in the definition of “newspaper” is not restricted to physical paper. To hold otherwise would be to ignore principles of statutory interpretation, which are flexible enough to achieve the intent of the legislature in the context of evolving realities. As the Supreme Court of Canada held in R v. 974649 Ontario Inc., 2001 SCC 81 (CanLII), [2001] 3 S.C.R. 575, at para. 38:

The intention of Parliament or the legislatures is not frozen for all time at the moment of a statute’s enactment, such that a court interpreting the statute is forever confined to the meanings and circumstances that governed on that day. Such an approach risks frustrating the very purpose of the legislation by rendering it incapable of responding to the inevitability of changing circumstances. Instead, we recognize that the law speaks continually once adopted. Preserving the original intention of Parliament or the legislatures frequently requires a dynamic approach to interpreting their enactments, sensitive to evolving social and material realities. [Citations omitted.]

[24]      The courts have interpreted legislation to apply to advances in technology that did not exist when the provision was enacted. For example, courts have found the Telegraph Act applies to telephones, and a fibre optic system is a “cable” within the meaning of the Income Tax Act, despite the fact that neither of these technologies existed at the time the relevant provisions were enacted: see Attorney General v. Edison Telephone Co. of London Ltd. (1880), 6 QBD 244; and British Columbia Telephone Co. v Canada (1992), 139 N.R. 211 (F.C.A.).

[25]      The regime in the LSA provides timely opportunity for the publisher to address alleged libellous statements with an appropriate response that could be a correction, retraction, or apology. Now that newspapers are published and read online, it would be absurd to provide different regimes for print and online versions.

John also argued that even if the limitation periods did apply, he had commenced his action within them. The headline on the online version had not been removed from the website until after he commenced his action. In essence, he argued that the allegedly-libellous words were republished each day the headline remained on the web, and therefore that his action had complied with the relevant limitation periods. The Court of Appeal was not persuaded on this count either. The relevant time to start the clock running was when the applicant became aware of the alleged libel, which in this case was – given that John had written to the Star about it – the day after the publication was made. However, that message had only purported to be a factual correction, not notice under the LSA, and so it did not constitute the required notice.

Judicial Misunderstanding of Browser Technology Leads to Incorrect Conviction

Appellant has possession of child porn conviction overturned after two layers of court misunderstand caching

In R. v. M.N., the appellant had been convicted in 2009 of possessing child pornography, and his conviction in the trial court was upheld in the summary conviction appeal court. The appellant’s common law partner had found 55 child pornography images on their shared computer, in an Internet Explorer temp folder and on Google Desktop, and together they decided to call the police. The appellant admitted to accessing adult pornography but denied any knowledge of any child pornography and in particular denied downloading it. The couple’s 14-year old daughter testified that on one occasion, while accessing adult pornography on the computer, she had seen a child pornography pop-up but had simply closed the computer without downloading it. The appellant was convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment (which he had served by the time of the appeal), as well as 10 years on the sex offender registry.

Much of the appeal turned on the Crown’s computer expert witness at the trial and how his evidence was interpreted. The expert had testified that cached files are created automatically upon accessing websites. The trial judge had rejected the appellant’s testimony that he did not know the files were on his computer, and held that the appellant had accessed the images on the internet. The judge then inferred—mistakenly, and clearly misinterpreting the expert evidence—that the file could not have come to be in the cache without some deliberate act on the part of the appellant. The appellant was convicted at trial and the conviction was upheld on appeal when the summary conviction appeals judge made the same mistake as that of the trial judge.

On appeal, the Crown consented to leave to appeal being granted and acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence that the appellant had intended to possess the images. Justice Weiler, for the court, reviewed the applicable law:

[20] The question of whether an accused person can be said to be in culpable possession of a cached visual depiction alone, while perhaps a live issue at the time of the appellant’s trial in 2009, was definitively answered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2010. In Morelli, referenced above, Fish J. held, at para 19:

[P]ossession of an image in a computer means possession of the underlying data file, not its mere visual depiction. [Emphasis in original.]

[21] He explained, at para. 14:

In my view, merely viewing in a Web browser an image stored in a remote location on the Internet does not establish the level of control necessary to find possession. Possession of illegal images requires possession of the underlying data files in some way. Simply viewing images online constitutes the separate crime of accessing child pornography, created by Parliament in s. 163.1(4.1) of the Criminal Code. [Emphasis in original.]

[22] Fish J. concluded, at para 31, “Plainly, the mere fact that an image has been accessed by or displayed in a Web browser does not, without more, constitute possession of that image.” At paras. 35-36, he considered how the Court’s understanding of possession applied to files in an Internet cache as follows:

When accessing Web pages, most Internet browsers will store on the computer’s own hard drive a temporary copy of all or most of the files that comprise the Web page. This is typically known as a “caching function” and the location of the temporary, automatic copies is known as the “cache”.

On my view of possession, the automatic caching of a file to the hard drive does not, without more, constitute possession. While the cached file might be in a “place” over which the computer user has control, in order to establish possession, it is necessary to satisfy mens rea or fault requirements as well. Thus it must be shown that the file was knowingly stored and retained through the cache. [Emphasis in original.]

[23] After commenting that most computer users are unaware of the contents of their cache, how it operates, or even its existence, Fish J. held that absent that awareness, “they lack the mental or fault element essential to a finding that they culpably possess the images in their cache”: Morelli, at para. 37.

[24] Fish J. acknowledged that there could be rare instances where a person knowingly used the cache “as a location to store copies of image files with the intent to retain possession of them through the cache” (emphasis in original): Morelli, at para. 27. There is no evidence that this case is one of those rare instances. Thus, quite apart from the misapprehension of Ryder’s evidence, the existing jurisprudence would lead to the conclusion that the appellant was not guilty of possession of child pornography.

While effectively conceding the appeal on the possession conviction, the Crown nevertheless argued that a conviction should be entered for the offence of accessing child pornography, which in its view is a lesser included offence within the possession offence. Specifically the Crown argued that it is impossible to possess child pornography without accessing it, justifying considering the latter to be an included offence. Justice Weiler disagreed:

[37] For example, if someone downloaded child pornography onto a memory stick and gave that memory stick to the appellant, and the appellant knew the memory stick contained child pornography, the appellant would be in possession of child pornography. He would have knowledge of the contents of the memory stick and control over those contents; therefore the elements of possession would be satisfied. He would not be guilty of accessing child pornography because he has not viewed the images on the memory stick nor has he transmitted them to himself.

[38] As the above example illustrates, it is possible to possess child pornography without accessing it. The elements of the offence of accessing are not intrinsically embraced within the offence of possession.

[39] My conclusion is also consistent with Morelli, at para. 27, where Fish J. observed that “viewing and possession [of child pornography] should … be kept conceptually separate”. (emphasis added.)

In the end, neither entering a conviction for accessing nor amending the indictment to include the accessing offence, and sending the matter for a new trial, would be in the interests of justice. The trial judge’s misapprehension of the evidence might well have had an impact on the trial judge’s findings on the appellant’s credibility on the mens rea element of the possession offence, so a conviction was too dangerous. There was nothing to serve the public interest in having a new trial, given the length of time and the fact that the appellant had already served his sentence. The appeal was allowed and an acquittal entered.

A Social Media Substitute for Substituted Service

Nova Scotia court rules that for mortgage deficiency motions, unilateral e-notification constitutes proper service of documents (and substituted service not needed)

In CIBC Mortgages Inc. v MacLean, Justice Gerald Moir of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia presided over a motion by the plaintiff mortgage corporation for a declaration that it had effected proper service upon the defendant. CIBC had foreclosed on the defendant’s mortgage and sold the mortgaged property, but was left with a deficiency of approximately $40,000 and obtained a default judgment against the defendant in that amount. As required under Nova Scotia’s civil procedure rules it then sought an order for assessment of the deficiency prior to enforcing the default judgment. At this point Rule 72.12(2) is engaged, which provides:

A mortgagee who makes a motion for a deficiency judgement against a party who has not designated an address for delivery must, unless a judge orders otherwise, given notice of the motion to the party in the same way a party is notified of a proceeding under Rule 31 – Notice, as if the notice of motion were an originating document.

This would ordinarily have required CIBC either to effect personal service of the motion documents on the defendant (whom it could not find) or seek an order for substituted service from the court in order to effect service. As Justice Moir noted, CIBC was “propos[ing] a more efficient and less costly approach” (para. 2): it sent the motion documents to an email address and a Facebook account both established by the evidence to belong to the defendant, and by mail to a possible employer of hers. It asked the court to hold that this amounted to sufficient service.

Justice Moir noted the use of the phrase “unless a judge orders otherwise” in Rule 72.12(2) and noted that this was framed in a very broad manner, giving a judge fairly wide discretion. He held that such discretion could be exercised in three circumstances:

  1. When substituted service would be ordered and the plaintiff has used reasonable substitutes as a judge would order;
  2. When the defendant’s use of social media with a private message component or of an email address is so well established and current that the court is confident documents sent there will be received by the defendant; and,
  3. When the defendant provides a method of delivery and states a preference for that kind of delivery over personal service.

In the midst of considering each of these Justice Moir made the following comments regarding the second:

[15] On the second kind of situation, Rule 31.10(2)(e) gives as an example of efforts when the defendant cannot be located, “performing searches on the internet”. This example is less than ten years old, but already it is outdated in failing to capture all that is now available for locating a person’s place of communication or their place of residence or employment through efforts on the internet. Also, Rule 31.10(4) says nothing specific on social media as a source for substitutes.

[16] Electronic communications of all sorts provide fertile territory for substitutes. As long as identity, regular use, and current use are proven these substitutes may be nearly as effective as personal service, without the embarrassment.

In this case the evidence brought the court “well within the bounds” of the second category, and thus there was no need for substituted service. The declaration was granted.

While this case to some extent involves specific aspects of the Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules, it may be useful to counsel in many jurisdictions as the phrase “unless a judge orders otherwise” is certainly a common one. The key point is that commonly-used internet- and social media-based modes of communication can, if used properly and convincingly underpinned by affidavit evidence, provide a means of serving documents on a party that can satisfy a judge in any situation where the applicable rules give him/her discretion to avoid the need for a substituted service motion. Arguably there was no reason for the court to distinguish the wording “searches on the internet” from elsewhere in rules from the kind of activity contemplated here, since the former is broad enough to capture the latter.

You Need to Read that Client Service Agreement…

Money transfer account hacking victim cannot recover from bank

In Du v. Jameson Bank, the plaintiff was the victim of fraud and lost a large sum of money from his wire transfer account with the defendant bank, which occurred when parties unknown hacked the Hotmail account which he used for communicating with the bank. He sued the bank, asserting a number of causes of action including breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and conversion. The bank in turn brought a motion for summary judgment, over which Justice Robert Beaudoin of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice presided, arguing that none of the causes of action were sustainable.

In opening the account the plaintiff had signed an application from which had attached to it a list of standard terms and conditions (which he stated that, in accordance with his usual practice, he didn’t bother to read). Among these were that: the bank was entitled to rely on electronic communications which appeared to be, and which the bank believed in good faith were, from the plaintiff; the bank was not liable for any losses save those caused by its wilful misconduct or gross negligence; and the plaintiff was required to maintain security systems around the account, including “keys, access codes, security devices and verification procedures.” The plaintiff chose to use his personal Hotmail email account to conduct wire transfers and acknowledged that he alone was responsible for the security of the account; he also changed his story regarding how often he changed the password for the account. The account was used by parties unknown to complete wire transfers to individuals in Singapore. The fraudulent transactions contained information which, based on previous transactions, the bank could safely have assumed could only have been known by the plaintiff, including references to his personal broker at Scotiabank.

In the ultimate result, the court dismissed each of the plaintiff’s claims as having no evidence to sustain it. The plaintiff was bound by the terms and provisions of his agreement with the bank despite his failure to read most of the terms, as was clear in Canadian contract law, and he knew he was obligated to maintain the security of his email account. The bank was entitled to rely upon the instructions it received via this account, and responsibility for all risks associated with communications rested with him. There was no negligence of any kind on the bank’s part as all of the information communicated to it quite reasonably appeared to be that of the plaintiff (and one notes parenthetically that the way in which the plaintiff gave, and changed, his evidence gave rise to several credibility problems).

On the conversion claim, the plaintiff argued that the emails providing instructions for the wire transfers were analogous to cheques, to which the tort of conversion applied. Justice Beaudoin dismissed this argument on the basis that an email is not “a chattel which can be negotiated from party to party,” which was the basis upon which a cheque can be converted. The motion for summary judgment was granted.

Anti-Spam Private Right of Action “On Ice”

Government suspends coming into force of controversial CASL provision to allow time for reflection, comment

As has been widely reported (see here, and here), in an Order in Council dated 7 June 2017 the federal government has repealed the part of a previous Order which set the private right of action under Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) as coming into effect on July 1st of this year. The precis of the Order sets out the rationale:

Order Amending Order in Council P.C. 2013-1323 of December 3, 2013 in order to delay the Coming into Force date of sections 47 to 51 and 55 of Canada's Anti-spam Law, which provides for a private right of action, in order to promote legal certainty for numerous stakeholders claiming to experience difficulties in interpreting several provisions of the Act while being exposed to litigation risk.

In a press release federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains commented:

Canadians deserve to be protected from spam and other electornic threats so that they can have confidence in digital technology. At the same time, businesses, charities and other non-profit groups should have reasonable ways to communicate electronically with Canadians. We have listened to the concerns of stakeholders and are committed to striking the right balance.

Probation avec condition d’accepter comme « amis » une personne désignée par le service de police

L’accusé a été reconnu coupable d’avoir sciemment proféré une menace de causer la mort ou des lésions corporelles à l’ensemble des policiers de Gatineau et d’avoir, dans l’intention de provoquer la peur chez un groupe de personnes ou le grand public en vue de nuire à l’administration de la justice pénale, fait usage de violence envers des personnes associées au système judiciaire. Le Tribunal doit déterminer la sentence à imposer à la suite de la commission de ces infractions.

Le Tribunal prononce une probation d’une durée de 3 ans dont 18 mois avec surveillance et les conditions imposées comportent celles d’accepter comme « amis » sur les réseaux sociaux une personne désignée par le service de police de Gatineau. S’ajoute aussi une interdiction d’utiliser tout ordinateur ou autre appareil permettant l’accès à Internet propriété d’un tiers. La sentence maintient une permission d’utiliser Internet et les réseaux sociaux mais à condition de permettre, en tout temps, à une personne autorisée désignée par le service de police de Gatineau de procéder à l’examen du contenu de tous les ordinateurs et autres appareils permettant l’accès à Internet qu’il possède ou utilise.

Conformité de l’inspection des rives au moyen de drones avec la protection des renseignements personnels

Le 5 août 2015, un article paru dans le Journal de Montréal révèle que la Ville de Québec utilise les services de la firme Dronexperts (l’entreprise) pour surveiller la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles, et ce, au moyen d’un drone. À la suite de cet article, la Commission d’accès à l’information initie une enquête de sa propre initiative conformément aux articles 123 et 129 de la Loi sur l’accès. Cette enquête, menée par la Direction de la surveillance de la Commission, vise à s’assurer de la conformité des activités de la Ville de Québec avec les exigences prévues aux articles 63.1 et 64 de la Loi sur l’accès, plus particulièrement en ce qui concerne la cueillette, l’utilisation, la communication, la conservation et la destruction des renseignements personnels recueillis au moyen de drones en vue de surveiller l’érosion de la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles.

La Ville doit démontrer que les objectifs poursuivis par la collecte d’images à l’aide de drones pour surveiller la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles sont légitimes, importants, urgents et réels et que l’atteinte au droit à la vie privée que peut constituer cette collecte est proportionnée à ces objectifs. La Commission constate que l’objectif poursuivi par la Ville de Québec vise à contrôler la végétation et les fenêtres vertes (c.-à-d. « ouverture aménagée dans la berge à travers la végétation permettant une percée visuelle du lac ») et à renaturaliser la bande riveraine. Pour réaliser cet objectif, les employés de la Ville de Québec sont autorisés à examiner toute propriété immobilière et, de ce fait, à prendre, entre autres, des photographies des lieux visités. La Commission estime que cet objectif en est un « de sécurité et de santé publique afin d’assurer le maintien de la qualité de l’eau consommée par les citoyens de la Ville de Québec et de l’agglomération de Québec. En effet, le Lac Saint-Charles fournit environ 54% de l’approvisionnement en eau potable des 54 000 habitants de l’agglomération ». De plus, la Commission avance que « compte tenu de la situation critique de ce réservoir d’eau potable », la Ville de Québec se doit de vérifier le respect de l’application du Règlement. La Commission constate également qu’en procédant au survol de la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles à l’aide de drones, la Ville de Québec peut augmenter le nombre d’inspections. Par conséquent, les objectifs poursuivis par la Ville en collectant des images à l’aide de drones pour surveiller la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles sont légitimes, importants et réels.

Mais, advenant la captation d’images permettant d’identifier, même partiellement, une personne physique lors du survol de la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles par des drones, la Ville de Québec et l’entreprise ont prévu une procédure de floutage et de destruction des images. La Commission observe que la Ville de Québec informe préalablement, par voie de communiqués dont elle a pris connaissance, les riverains du Lac Saint Charles du survol de ce dernier par des drones en précisant, entre autres, l’objectif poursuivi et le moment estimé auquel les drones survoleront la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles ainsi que le nom et les coordonnées d’une personne à contacter pour toutes questions. De plus, la Ville de Québec et l’entreprise se sont dotées d’un calendrier de conservation des images captées par des drones lors du survol de la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles. La Ville réévalue chaque année le besoin de reconduire ou non le survol de la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles. Ainsi, la captation d’images à l’aide de drone est rationnellement liée à l’objectif poursuivi. La captation d’images à l’aide de drones est un moyen qui permet à la Ville de Québec de s’assurer du respect des dispositions du règlement en augmentant le nombre d’inspections tout en diminuant la charge de travail associée à ce type d’activité. L’atteinte au droit à la vie privée que peut constituer la captation d’images contenant des renseignements personnels par les drones est minimisée. La zone survolée par les drones, en l’espèce, est clairement définie par règlement et la Ville a pris des mesures pour limiter l’atteinte à la vie privée des riverains du Lac Saint-Charles en s’assurant qu’aucune image permettant d’identifier une personne physique ne lui est transmise ni n’est conservée par l’entreprise. En plus, les renseignements personnels recueillis sont détruits à la première occasion possible et ne sont donc pas communiqués à la Ville de Québec. Enfin, la Ville avise les personnes susceptibles d’être présentes lors la captation d’images par les drones. La Commission considère donc, en l’espèce, que l’atteinte au droit à la vie privée que peut constituer la collecte d’images à l’aide de drones utilisés par la Ville de Québec est proportionnelle à l’objectif poursuivi soit la surveillance de la bande riveraine du Lac Saint-Charles.

Absence de preuve prépondérante laissant douter de l’intégrité d’un document technologique

Dans le cadre d’une demande d’examen de mésentente concernant l’accès à tout document concernant le demandeur et détenu par l’entreprise, le demandeur soutient que l’entreprise n’a pas démontré, conformément aux dispositions de la Loi concernant le cadre juridique des technologies de l’information, que l’intégrité des copies des enregistrements des conversations téléphoniques déposées a été assurée et qu’elles n’ont pas été altérées. Il considère que son témoignage et l’enregistrement d’une conversation entre un représentant de l’entreprise et lui-même datant du 19 mai 2015 démontrent que l’enregistrement du 17 mai 2015 à 22 heures est incomplet. Il demande à la Commission d’ordonner le dépôt des disques durs de l’entreprise qui contiennent ces enregistrements afin d’avoir l’entièreté de la conversation téléphonique.

La Commission d’accès à l’information estime que l’écoute de l’enregistrement du 17 mai 2015 à 22 heures, de par son contenu (composition du numéro, salutations, conversation puis au revoir et son de la ligne qui se coupe), ne laisse pas croire que la conversation se soit poursuivie au-delà de ce qui est enregistré. Rien ne semble indiquer que l’enregistrement ait été modifié ou que des passages aient été supprimés. Le fil de la conversation est cohérent et il apparaît clairement à son écoute que le représentant de l’entreprise n’a pas l’intention de prolonger la conversation et ne souhaite pas élaborer sur les motifs du congédiement et sur les reproches de l’entreprise envers le demandeur. Le demandeur ne s’est pas acquitté de ce fardeau de démontrer au moyen d’une preuve prépondérante que l’intégrité du document que constitue l’enregistrement de la conversation a été affectée. La preuve prépondérante démontre plutôt que le document n’a pas été altéré et qu’il est complet. Par conséquent, la Commission considère qu’il n’est pas pertinent d’ordonner à l’entreprise de produire les disques durs contenant les enregistrements « originaux » de cette conversation téléphonique, comme le requiert le demandeur. Elle conclut donc qu’aucun élément de preuve ne permet de douter de l’affirmation de l’entreprise selon laquelle tous les renseignements personnels qu’elle détient au sujet du demandeur lui ont été remis, à l’exception de ceux dont l’accès est refusé en vertu de dispositions de la Loi sur la protection des renseignements personnels dans le secteur privé.

Possible obligation d’un site de modifier rétroactivement un article

Dans le cadre d’une demande de rejet de la poursuite au motif que l’action est prescrite, le Comité de déontologie policière a rendu une décision dans laquelle il était mentionné que la demanderesse a été condamnée à neuf reprises pour voies de fait sur des policiers. Par la suite, le Comité rectifia sa décision afin de refléter le fait qu’elle a plutôt été condamnée à deux occasions et encore, que dans les deux cas, elle a obtenu du juge une absolution inconditionnelle. Le recours contre les journaux est prescrit en vertu de la Loi sur la presse. Mais la demanderesse modifie sa requête et allègue que le maintien de l’article original sur le site Canoë sans mention que cet article reproduit une décision du Comité de déontologie policière qui comporte une erreur importante de fait qui a depuis été rectifiée, constituerait une faute quotidienne susceptible de lui causer un dommage tout aussi continu, auquel cas, selon elle, son action ne serait pas prescrite.

Le Tribunal rappelle que le fait que le journaliste ait reproduit un des éléments mentionnés à la décision du Comité qui s’est avéré par la suite être inexact, ne constitue pas une faute. Un journal n’a pas l’obligation de suivre le sort des très nombreux jugements et décisions rendus au pays, et n’a donc pas l’obligation de tenir ses lecteurs informés d’un résultat différent un an ou, comme en l’espèce, d’une correction apportée à la décision six ans plus tard. Par contre, il est possible que l’exploitant d’un site Internet qui reçoit une mise en demeure, comme ce fut le cas en l’espèce, ait une obligation de retirer l’article visé ou d’ajouter à sa suite un avertissement quelconque ou un lien vers le jugement corrigé, à titre d’exemple. Dans l’éventualité où l’exploitant d’un tel site se voit imposer une telle obligation, il est loin d’être certain qu’il bénéficie des courtes prescriptions de la Loi sur la presse, que son défaut d’agir à la suite de la réception de la mise en demeure ne soulèvera pas sa responsabilité civile ou encore que le Tribunal n’ordonnera pas, dans le cadre de la demande d’injonction, la mise en place d’un remède quelconque. Mais ce n’est pas dans le cadre d’une demande préliminaire en rejet de l’action, sans une preuve plus élaborée, que de telles questions de droit doivent être tranchées.

Date de prise d’effet d’un avis de résiliation de bail par courriel

Les parties sont liées par un bail visant une chambre située dans une résidence privée pour personnes âgées. Respectivement les 22 et 23 avril 2015, la mandataire de la locataire envoie au locateur, par courriels, un « certificat de relocalisation » (qui atteste que la locataire satisfait aux conditions d’admission en CHSLD et que le transfert est nécessaire pour sa santé) puis l’avis de résiliation de bail signé, le tout à une adresse valide de courriel du locateur. Celui-ci nie la réception puisqu’il ne retrouve pas dans son dossier les documents mis en preuve envoyés par courriels.

Après analyse, le Tribunal est d’avis que la preuve démontre non seulement l’envoi d’un avis de résiliation anticipée du bail, mais également celui d’un document qui émane d’une personne autorisée de l’autorité concernée et qui inclut, à la fois, l’attestation et la certification requises. Le « certificat » atteste en effet que la locataire satisfait aux conditions d’admission en CHSLD et que la relocalisation est nécessaire pour sa santé à la suite d’une évaluation médicale et psychosociale. Relativement à l’envoi par courriel, le premier alinéa de l’article 31 de la Loi concernant le cadre juridique des technologies de l’information prévoit qu’« un document technologique est présumé transmis, envoyé ou expédié lorsque le geste qui marque le début de son parcours vers l’adresse active du destinataire est accompli par l’expéditeur ou sur son ordre et que ce parcours ne peut être contremandé ou, s’il peut l’être, n’a pas été contremandé par lui ou sur son ordre. » Le Tribunal conclut que l’opération d’envoi de l’avis de résiliation de bail et des documents nécessaires à son soutien est terminée le 23 avril 2015. Cette date est donc retenue. Compte tenu du fait que l’article 1974 du Code civil du Québec prévoit que la résiliation du bail devient effective deux mois après l’envoi de l’avis de résiliation, c’est la date d’envoi qui prime pour le législateur (et non celle de la réception par le destinataire) et qui marque le point de départ de la computation du délai applicable de deux mois.

Contrat de référencement sur le web

La demanderesse réclame au défendeur la somme de 1 176,46 $ pour des services de publicité et de référencement sur le Web. Le défendeur nie devoir cette somme et affirme qu’il n’a pas obtenu les résultats escomptés. Il qualifie le travail de la demanderesse de « mal fait ».

Le Tribunal conclut que le contrat intervenu avec la demanderesse ne fait état d’aucun objectif de performance. La demanderesse a une obligation de moyen. Rien dans la preuve présentée par le défendeur ne démontre que les services rendus par la demanderesse n’étaient pas adéquats ou différents de ce à quoi elle s’était engagée à faire. La réclamation est donc accueillie.

Pas d’obligation de classer les courriels de manière à en permettre l’accès

L’organisme public demande à la Commission d’accès à l’information l’autorisation de ne pas tenir compte de la demande d’accès, en vertu de l’article 137.1 de la Loi sur l’accès, puisqu’elle serait abusive par le nombre de documents qui y sont visés. Il ne serait pas capable de traiter les 31 000 courriels par intervenant et y répondre dans le délai de vingt ou trente jours prévu par cette loi, à savoir dans un délai raisonnable.

La Commission estime que la demande de l’intimé est d’une telle ampleur qu’elle est colossale. Elle est abusive par le nombre de documents visés par la demande, à savoir 31 000 courriels par intervenant, y compris les documents joints. Il est évident que la responsable de l’accès n’aurait pas été capable de la traiter dans un délai raisonnable sans paralyser les autres activités de l’organisme, et ce, même si elle avait été accompagnée d’une autre avocate à temps plein. Au surplus, pour procéder au traitement de cette demande, la responsable de l’accès devrait respecter toutes les étapes nécessaires, afin de s’assurer que les documents visés par la demande ne contiendraient que les renseignements accessibles en vertu de la Loi sur l’accès, ce qui est impossible dans les délais, considérant leur nombre.

L’intimé souligne que l’organisme aurait dû avoir un système de classement, en vertu de l’article 16 de la Loi sur l’accès, ce qui lui aurait permis de repérer facilement les documents visés par sa demande. La Commission reconnaît que selon cet article, un organisme doit classer ses documents afin de faciliter le repérage. Cependant, le système de classement n’est pas en jeu dans la présente cause. La preuve démontre plutôt l’impossibilité pour la responsable de l’accès de traiter la demande de l’intimé et de faire parvenir à celui-ci une décision, quant à l’accessibilité de près de 31 000 courriels par intervenant, dans un délai raisonnable, soit dans le délai de vingt ou trente jours, comme le prévoit la Loi sur l’accès. La Commission accorde l’autorisation d’ignorer la demande d’accès.

Ordonnance de retirer un article du web

Après avoir conclu au caractère diffamatoire d’un article de journal, le Tribunal ordonne de retirer du site ou de voir à ce que cesse d’apparaître sur le site Web du journal La Métropole.com ou sur tout autre site dont ils ont ou peuvent avoir le contrôle, l’article intitulé « Une infirmière bat sa mère et s’en tire ». Il ordonne aussi aux défendeurs de faire en sorte que tous les liens ou hyperliens se rapportant audit article soient rompus et que toute tentative de s’y référer soit rendue impossible à effectuer.