Canada: Court Of Appeal Affirms Substantial Damages In Police Liability Case For Breaching Confidentiality

In February 2015, the Superior Court of Justice awarded substantial damages against the Durham Regional Police Services Board ("Police") for releasing the identity of an alleged confidential informant. That decision was recently upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Nissen v. Durham Regional Police Services Board, 2017 ONCA 10 ("Nissen").

The Plaintiff learned that the teenaged son of one of her neighbours had broken into a neighbour's home with his brother and stolen some guns. The Plaintiff attended at the police station to report this information on the condition that her identity and reporting of the theft remain confidential. Unbeknownst to the Plaintiff, the interview was recorded by the Police. Soon after, the young men were charged. During the criminal proceedings, the recording of the Plaintiff's interview was disclosed to defence counsel. This information infuriated the accuseds' parents, who subsequently threatened and harassed the Plaintiff. As a result of these events, the Plaintiff had to sell her house and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although disputed by the Police, the trial judge found that the Plaintiff was promised anonymity and confidentiality. Therefore, in law, the Police owed a common law duty not to disclose the identity of the Plaintiff which it breached by failing to maintain confidentiality. The Plaintiff was awarded general damages in the amount of $345,000. Of note, the trial judge found that the failure of the Police to act after learning of the harassing behaviour by the accuseds' parents was an aggravating factor in assessing damages. The Plaintiff's husband and two children were awarded damages for loss of guidance, care and companionship in the amount of $65,000 and $25,000 (each) respectively. The Police appealed and raised three issues.

First, the Police argued that the trial judge made a palpable and overriding error in finding that the Plaintiff was promised confidentiality. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and stated that the trial judge's finding — which attracts deference — was based on his assessment of the Plaintiff's credibility and reliability as a witness and supported by other corroborating evidence.

Second, the Police contended that a civil claim for damages for breach of a promise of confidentiality by police requires more than a finding that there was a promise which was breached and led to damages. They argued that the alleged informant must also show that the information provided be difficult or impossible to obtain and that the informer must be likely to suffer harm or danger if his/her identity is disclosed. They also argued that the formal requirements set out in the Durham Police's Criminal Informant Directive ("Directive") to classify an individual as an informant were not followed and the claim must therefore fail. The Court of Appeal disagreed and found the case was properly decided as a civil claim for damages for breach of confidence. The Plaintiff was promised confidentiality which gave rise to a common law and equitable right entitling her to have that promise kept. It was a right that was not contingent on the level of difficulty in obtaining the information provided or what dangers she may later face. Nor should her claim be dismissed because the Directive was not followed. Although the Police may have thought that the Plaintiff was not an informant on that basis, it does not affect the Plaintiff's claim for breach of confidence.

Third, the Police argued that the damages awarded were excessive on the basis that the trial judge placed too much emphasis on non-analogous cases, failed to consider the Plaintiff's pre-existing psychological conditions and erroneously awarded aggravated damages when there was no finding of "reprehensible or outrageous conduct". These arguments were all rejected. The Court of Appeal stated that while the damages awarded were very generous, they did not reveal any error of law or principle that required appellate justification. Specifically, the case law relied upon was not so different in quality that it could not be used as a reference point in assessing damages. The Court also found that the trial judge had considered the Plaintiff's pre-existing conditions and was still open to find that the psychological harm suffered was entirely attributable to the disclosure of her identity and the subsequent harassment by the accuseds' parents. Lastly, the Court disagreed that a trial judge can only take into account aggravating features where there has been a finding of reprehensible or outrageous conduct. Aggravated damages aim not at punishing wrongful behaviour (which is the role of punitive damages) but at fully compensating the loss suffered.

This decision reinforces the obligation to maintain the confidentiality of people who provide information to police on a confidential basis, and establishes that substantial damages can be recovered in the event of a breach.

About BLG

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
Related Video
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.