Canadian courts appear to be signaling greater willingness to
award damages for privacy breaches. The Federal Court
recently awarded $20,000 in damages against one of Canada's
leading cable companies, Bell TV for conducting an unauthorized
credit check on a (now former) customer. Half the damage
award was exemplary damages to penalize Bell TV for its
conduct. A further $1000 was ordered for legal and other
PIPEDA requires knowledge and consent by an individual whose
personal information will be collected, used, or disclosed. In this
case, Bell TV performed a "hard pull" credit check on the
complainant, "Chitrakar" without his permission when he
ordered Bell's service. Chitrakar complained to Bell, who
apologised on Chitraker's voicemail and allowed Chitraker to
cancel his service, but refused to take further action, eventually
cutting off communication. Chitrakar filed a complaint with the
Privacy Commissioner, who found the circumstances of the breach
In granting damages, the Court gave privacy rights a broad scope
and recognized such rights as "important rights in an era
where information on an individual is so readily available even
without consent." The Court emphasised meaningful
compensation, deterrence, and vindication as driving damages awards
in privacy-related cases, signalling the importance of protecting
these rights even where there is no proof of a direct loss or proof
of a particularly egregious breach.
The Court concluded Bell violated Chitraker's rights in a
"real sense." The Court also emphasized that the power
imbalance between Bell—a large company for whom a small
damage award would have little material impact—and
Chitraker—an individual user who spent a considerable period
dealing with the Bell bureaucracy—suggested the damages award
should not be token, or minimal.
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