According to two recent Federal Court decisions, privacy
– though protected by the law - is not worth that much
money when it comes to actual damage awards.
While most privacy complaints are resolved through the Office of
the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, some cases are litigated in
court with plaintiffs hoping to receive monetary compensation for
privacy violations. Two such cases are Randall v. Nubodys Fitness
Centres, 2010 FC 681 (CanLII) and Stevens v. SNF Maritime Metal
Inc. 2010 FC 1137 (CanLII).
Randall involved a situation where an employee's
attendance at a fitness club was regularly reported back to his
company which paid half of his monthly fees as part of his benefits
package. While the Federal Court agreed that this constituted a
violation of his privacy rights, the Court did not award any
damages stating that only egregious breaches such as video-taping
and phone-line tapping warranted compensation. In Stevens,
the Federal Court reached the same conclusion and found that while
the applicant's rights were violated when his company accessed
his personal account information, the wrong was not malicious and
therefore did not warrant an award of damages. The Court noted that
the company then voluntarily put into place a confidentiality
policy which would help prevent these situations in the future.
From these decisions, the Federal Court has shown that while
privacy violations are readily recognized and condemned, they will
rarely result in any monetary compensation. While Michael Geist states
that this may have the unintended consequence of diminishing
respect for privacy compliance due to a focus on the bottom line,
it is important that companies recognize the other costs involved
in breaching privacy - such as a damaged reputation and the cost of
litigation. It is always advisable for companies to have and follow
privacy policies which will protect both themselves and their
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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