Canada: The Second Opinion: One Man’s Trash…Can’t Be Searched Without A Warrant (At Least, Not Online)

A Commentary on Recent Legal Developments by the Opinions Group of McCarthy Tétrault LLP

Anyone who has watched Law and Order knows that the police, both here and in the U.S., do not need a warrant to rifle through someone's curbside recycling bin. This is because that person has abandoned their privacy interest in the contents of the bin. Does the same hold true for items in someone's computer desktop recycling bin?

Apparently not, according to the B.C. Court of Appeal in R. v. McNeice, 2013 BCCA 98. While putting something by the curb in the real world indicates an abandonment of a privacy interest, the B.C. Court of Appeal has held that doing the same thing in the virtual world is (emphasis added) "consistent with an intent to conceal, and thus to maintain a privacy interest".


The facts in R. v. McNeice are remarkably similar to those in R. v. Cole, 2012 SCC 53  in which the Supreme Court  recently held that a schoolteacher maintained a privacy interest in the contents of his employer-issued laptop and that, as a result, police required a warrant to look at its contents when they were conducting a child pornography investigation.

In R. v. McNeice, the accused  appealed from a trial decision in which he was found guilty of accessing child pornography. The police had received information from their German counterparts that led them to believe that child pornography was being accessed and downloaded from an IP address associated with McNeice's home. The police obtained a warrant and upon execution, found a computer that contained images of child pornography.

The police then asked the superintendent of the school district, McNeice's employer, for McNeice's school laptop. The laptop was owned by the school district and exclusively assigned to the appellant, although the school board's policy did not prohibit its use for personal purposes.

The superintendent sought legal advice and ultimately provided the laptop to the police. The police, using special software, were able to recover deleted child pornography from it and considered this evidence to be important given the possibility that the home computer could have been accessed by the accused's wife.

At trial, McNeice tried to have the evidence on the laptop excluded because it had been obtained without a warrant. The judge ruled in a voir dire that McNeice had abandoned any privacy interest in the laptop, and the "recycled" files,  because he had deleted his browsing history and because his laptop did not have a password. As a result, the police search was lawful as it did not require a warrant.

Subsequent to the trial decision, the Supreme Court's decision in R. v. Cole was released. In light of R. v. Cole, McNeice appealed his conviction.


The Crown argued that there was no privacy interest in the files on the laptop. It submitted that the laptop was not a personal computer, but a work computer owned by the school district. There was no password on the computer and the deletion of the files, while not completely analogous to other situations of abandonment, demonstrated the appellant's desire to distance himself from the files.

The Crown also submitted that any expectation of privacy was not objectively reasonable as McNeice knew that his Internet use was monitored while at school, and would have also reasonably known that he was publically accountable for web use on a school laptop.

McNeice argued that the deletion of the laptop's temporary Internet files did not constitute abandonment, suggesting instead that it was a way to keep the information private. As to the lack of password, McNeice submitted that act of deleting the temporary Internet files was the equivalent of protecting them with a password.

The B.C. Court of Appeal held that deletion of files was more closely related to an intention to destroy, or at least conceal from view, than an intention to abandon an interest. In both R. v. McNeice and R. v. Cole, the court noted that the information at risk was sensitive (core biographical information) and that employer policies were vague (in R. v. Cole, the employer policy permitted the use of laptops for personal use; in R. v. McNeice, there was no policy that prohibited personal use). The court also found that the deletion of the files by McNeice had the same practical effect as password-protecting them.

As a result, the court held that a warrant should have been obtained to search the laptop. However, the court also found that to exclude the illegally obtained evidence would bring the administration of justice in to disrepute and ultimately upheld the conviction.

Somewhat disappointingly, the B.C.Court of Appeal did not take up the Supreme Court's invitation in R. v. Cole to address the "finer points of an employer's right to monitor computers issued to employees." This issue of employer monitoring remains unresolved.


Both R. v. McNeice and R. v. Cole should serve to alert employers about the need to have adequate policies in place regarding use of employer technology. This will become increasingly important as more and more workplaces move to Bring-Your-Own-Device environments. In addition, employers should be aware that no one factor (employer ownership of technology, policies) will serve to eliminate an employee's reasonable expectation of privacy, which will continue to be fact-driven.

To view original article, please click here

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.