Teresa Scassa - Blog

Apologies for a somewhat longer than usual post - but the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Bykovets both interesting and important....

The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v. Bykovets is significant for two reasons. The first is that it affirms an understanding of privacy that is in keeping with the realities of contemporary and emerging technologies. The second is that it does so by the narrowest of margins, laying bare the tension between two very different ways of understanding privacy in a technological age. While this is a victory for privacy rights, it should leave celebrants in a sober mood.

The appellant Bykovets had been convicted of 14 offences relating to credit card fraud and unlawful credit card purchases. During their investigation, Calgary police approached Moneris, a third-party payment processing company, to obtain the IP address linked to specific fraudulent online purchases. Moneris complied with the request. Police then sought a production order to compel the relevant internet service provider (ISP) to provide the customer name and address (CNA) information associated with the IP address. With this information, they were able to obtain search warrants for the accused’s home. At trial, the appellant challenged these search warrants, arguing that when the police obtained his IP address from Moneris without a production order, they violated his right to privacy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bykovets was convicted. The trial judge found that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in an IP address because an IP address on its own did not disclose a “biographical core” of information (at para 24). The majority of the Court of Appeal agreed with a strong dissent from Justice Veldhuis.

R v. Bykovets builds on the 2014 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Spencer. In Spencer, the Court tackled an issue that had bedeviled lower courts for several years, resulting in inconsistent decisions. The issue was whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy in CNA information. Until Spencer, it was unclear whether police could simply ask ISPs for CNA information linked to an IP address without the need for a production order. The argument was that a person had no reasonable expectation of privacy in their name and address, and so police did not require judicial authorization to access it. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Spencer that a request for this information in a context where it would be linked to online activities raised a reasonable expectation of privacy. Bykovets addresses the issue of the status of the address itself – prior to its linkage with CNA information.

Justice Karakatsanis, writing for a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in Bykovets, emphasized the importance of a robust right to privacy in a data-driven society. The first line of her decision states: “The Internet has shifted much of the human experience from physical spaces to cyberspace” (at para 1). The IP address is a vital connector between online activities and the individual who engages in them. Justice Karakatsanis rejects an approach that assesses privacy rights in this information “based on police’s stated intention to use the information they gather in only one way” (at para 6), namely to obtain a production order to further link the IP address to an ISP who can provide the CNA information. In her view, the reasonable expectation of privacy must be understood according to a normative standard, which focuses on “what privacy should be – in a free, democratic and open society – balancing the individual’s right to be left alone against the community’s insistence on protection” (at para 7). In her view, an IP address can be linked to deeply personal information about online activities that can, on its own, reveal the identity of the individual even if a further production order for CNA information is not sought. According to Justice Karakatsanis, “an IP address is the first digital breadcrumb that can lead the state on the trail of an individual’s Internet activity” (at para 9). It is “the key that can lead the state through the maze of a user’s Internet activity and is the link through which intermediaries can volunteer that user’s information to the state.” (at para 13). She goes on to note that “[i]f s. 8 is to meaningfully protect the online privacy of Canadians in today’s overwhelmingly digital world, it must protect their IP addresses” (at para 28).

All parties agreed that there was a subjective expectation of privacy in IP addresses. The real issue was whether this expectation was objectively reasonable. In order to assess the reasonableness of the expectation, it is necessary first to define the subject matter of the search. The Crown characterized it as an IP address that would allow police to continue their investigation. Justice Karakatsanis found that the Crown’s description was “artificially narrow” (at para 37) and rejected an approach that focused on the declared intent of an agent of the state. In her view, additional caution is warranted when the subject matter of a search relates to digital data. She noted that the police were not really interested in an IP address; rather, they were interested in what it would reveal. Although the police planned to get a Spencer warrant before linking the IP address to CNA information, Justice Karakatsanis observed that this was not the only way in which an IP address could be used to derive information about an individual. She stated: “Online activity associated to the IP address may itself betray highly person information without the safeguards of judicial pre-authorization” (at para 43).

The majority next considered other relevant factors in the assessment of a reasonable expectation of privacy, including the place where the search takes place. In the U.S., an individual cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy in information in the hands of third parties. Justice Karakatsanis affirmed the Supreme Court of Canada’s rejection of this ‘third-party doctrine’ in section 8 jurisprudence. Control is not a determinative factor. In the context of ISP’s, the only way to keep an IP address out of the hands of third parties is to not use the internet – which in today’s society is not a meaningful choice.

Although the place of a search can be relevant to the reasonableness of an expectation of privacy, it is also not determinative. Justice Karakatsanis noted that “’online spaces are qualitatively different’ from physical spaces” (at para 49, citing R. v. Ramelson at para 49). She referred to the internet as creating “a broad, accurate, and continuously expanding permanent record” (at para 50), that can be more revealing than most physical spaces. As a result, the fact that the search did not intrude on the territorial privacy rights of the accused was not significant.

Another factor is the private nature of the subject matter, often referred to as the “biographical core of personal information which individuals in a free and democratic society would wish to maintain and control from dissemination to the state” (at para 51, quoting R. v. Plant at p. 293). Justice Karakatsanis adoped a normative approach with aspirational qualities. On this view, a reasonable expectation of privacy “cannot be assessed according to only one use of the evidence” (at para 53) as asserted by the police. She stated: “The unique and heightened privacy interests in personal computer data flows from its potential to expose deeply revealing information” (at para 55). This is not a suggestion that police hide behind innocuous explanations of purported use; rather, the key is “the potential of a particular subject matter to reveal an individual’s biographical core to the state” (at para 57). According to Justice Karakatsanis,

. . . the ever-increasing intrusion of the Internet into our private lives must be kept in mind in deciding this case. It is widely accepted that the Internet is ubiquitous and that vast numbers of Internet users leave behind them a trail of information that others gather up to different ends, information that may be pieced together to disclose deeply private details. [. . . ] This social context of the digital world is necessary to a functional approach in defining the privacy interest afforded under the Charter to the information that could be revealed by an IP address (at para 58).

Justice Karakatsanis rebuffed arguments by the Crown that the IP address is useless without the CNA obtained with a Spencer warrant. An IP address can convey intimate information about online user activity even absent CNA data. Further, the online activity can be correlated with other available data which could ultimately lead to the identification of the individual. In such a context, a Spencer warrant offers little practical protection. It is the IP address which is “the key to unlocking an Internet user’s online activity” (at para 69).

Given this analysis, it is unsurprising that the majority of the Court concludes that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in IP addresses. The majority centres the role of the private sector in the amassing of information about online activities, giving these third parties “immense informational power” (at para 75). Justice Karakatsanis observes that “By concentrating this mass of information with private third parties and granting them the tools to aggregate and dissect that data, the Internet has essentially altered the topography of privacy under the Charter. It has added a third party to the constitutional ecosystem, making the horizontal relationship between the individual and state tripartite” (at para 78). The result is that the state has an enhanced information capacity, as they have many routes for access to this information. Justice Karakatsanis observes that these companies “respond to frequent requests by law enforcement and can volunteer all activity associated with the requested IP address. Private corporate citizens can volunteer granular profiles of an individual user’s Internet activity over days, weeks, or months without ever coming under the aegis of the Charter” (at para 10).

The majority acknowledges that the important privacy concerns flowing from this massive concentration of personal information need to be balanced against the legitimate interest in “[s]afety, security and the suppression of crime” (at para 11, citing R v. Tessling, at para 17). Justice Karakatsanis notes that digital technologies have enhanced the ability of criminals to perpetrate crime and to evade law enforcement. However, she observes that judicial authorization is “readily available” (at para 11). She characterizes the burden on state authorities to obtain the necessary authorizations as “not onerous” (at para 12), given the increased availability of telewarrants. Further, she states that “the burden imposed on the state by recognizing a reasonable expectation of privacy in IP addresses pales compared to the substantial privacy concerns implicated in this case” (at para 86).

Justice Côté writes for the four dissenting justices. The difference in approach between majority and dissent could hardly be more stark. While the majority opinion begins with a discussion of how closely linked IP addresses are to the details of our online activities, the dissenting opinion opens with a discussion of the police investigation into fraudulent activities that led to the charges against the accused. For the dissent, retrieving the IP address from the financial intermediary was just a first step in the investigation. Justice Côté framed the issue as “whether the appellant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the IP addresses alone – without any other information linking the addresses to him as an Internet user – in the circumstances of this case” (at para 95). This is the crux of the difference between majority and dissenting opinions – how to characterize the information accessed by the police in this case.

Although the dissenting justices accept that an IP address links an individual to their online activities, but they find that there are two ways to make that connection. One is by asking an ISP to provide the CNA information linked to the IP address (as was the case here). The other is to connect an individual to the IP address by linking their various online activities. For the dissenting justices, if the first method is used, and if a warrant will later be obtained to require an ISP to provide the necessary CNA information, an initial warrant is not needed to obtain the IP address from the intermediary. Whether a warrant is needed, then, depends upon the steps the police plan to take – a matter which is not transparent to the company that must decide whether to voluntarily share the information.

In reaching their conclusion, the dissenting justices differ from the majority on the issue of reasonable expectation of privacy. In particular, Justice Côté takes a different approach to characterizing the subject matter of the search, and the reasonable expectation of privacy. On the question of the subject matter of the search, she emphasized that it was important to consider “what the police were really after” (at para 123, citing R v. Marakah, at para 15). In her view, this means considering “the capacity of the precise information sought to give rise to inferences or to reveal further information” (at para 123). In her view, Spencer aligns with this approach – once an IP address is linked to CNA information, then it can reveal the individual’s online activities. In this case, the precise information sought by police was the “raw IP addresses alone” (at para 128), which in isolation reveal very little information. A subsequent production order would be sought to match these addresses to CNA information.

The dissenting justices dismissed the majority’s concerns that the IP address could be used to identify an individual from their online activities. First, they note, this was not what the police did in this case. Second, if the police were to use the second method to identify an individual, they would need a warrant. However, according to Justice Côté, this “is an issue for another day in a case where the situation actually arises on the facts” (at para 135). In her view, the police followed a clear series of steps, and the IP address was only one step, with the identification of the individual as a further step for which a production order would be obtained. According to the dissent, “to effectively hold that any step taken in an investigation engages a reasonable expectation of privacy . . . would upset the careful balance that this Court has struck between the interest of Canadians in actual privacy and the interest of Canadians in not hindering law enforcement” (at para 139).

On the issue of the reasonable expectation of privacy, Justice Côté dismissed the idea that the IP address was itself ‘private’ information. She emphasized that ‘on these facts’, the IP address did not reveal any core biographical information. She insisted that the case be decided only on the actual evidentiary record, not on speculation about what might have been done.

The dissenting justices analogized between leaving behind fingerprints at a crime scene and leaving behind one’s IP address on websites one visits online. Justice Côté writes “[i]t cannot be seriously suggested that a police investigation that involves dusting for fingerprints and keeping them – without more – could engage a reasonable expectation of privacy. The same – again, without more – is true of obtaining an IP address” (at para 154). What this overlooks, however, is the fact that obtaining an IP address requires a request to a private sector organization that holds that information, and that has privacy obligations to its customers. Although the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)allows for the sharing of information with law enforcement without knowledge or consent, this is tricky territory for organizations. It is also different from collecting fingerprints from a crime scene to which the police have access. The very issue before the Court was what steps are necessary in order to gain access to the information held by private sector companies.

For the dissenting justices, another factor in assessing a reasonable expectation of privacy – and another point of difference with the majority – is the place of the search. This is tied to territorial notions of privacy under which the strongest protection is with respect to a person’s home. According to the dissent, the place of the search is the database of the credit card processor, and this diminishes any objectively reasonable expectation of privacy on the part of the accused. With respect, in a context in which people in their homes interact in digital environments on a daily and routine basis, this is 19th century reasoning that is a poor fit for the information age.

The approach of the dissenting justices also overlooks the fact that laws such as PIPEDA are permissive when it comes to data sharing by organizations with law enforcement. Under section 7(3)(c.1) of PIPEDA, an organization may disclose personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual to a government actor upon request by that actor where the purpose is law enforcement or investigation. The only check on this data sharing without knowledge or consent is the Charter. If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data being shared, then police require judicial authorization. Charter rights in this context are extremely important – particularly given the vast quantities of often highly sensitive personal information in the hands of private sector organizations. This volume and variety of information has only been increasing and will continue to do so exponentially. To say that the police can request the digital equivalent of a skeleton key from a private organization without a warrant so long as they only intend to use that key to open a particular lock, is to effectively surrender essential Charter rights to privacy in exchange for a “trust me” approach to policing that runs counter to the very idea of Charter rights. The private sector organization is required to trust the police when handing over the information, and society must trust that the police will only use this data appropriately. Yet, the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure is premised on the very idea that some searches and seizures are unreasonable. Charter rights set important boundaries. In a digital society, the boundary between agents of the state and everything one does online is a fundamentally important one. It deserves to be guarded against intrusion.

Charter cases often arise in contexts in which persons have been accused of dangerous and/or antisocial activities that we wish to see stopped. In cases such as Bykovets, it is easy to be impatient with adding superficially unnecessary steps to complicate investigations. But we need also to bear in mind the research and reporting we see on systemic racism in policing in Canada, of the misuse of police powers to stalk or harass women, and the potential for abuse of personal information when it is made too readily available to authorities. Although Charter rights may be cast as an interference in legitimate investigations, they are also a crucial safeguard against excess and abuse of authority. The digital data held by private sector companies can render us naked in the eyes of state authorities. The Charter is not a blindfold that leaves police fumbling in the dark. Rather, it is a protective cloak that each of us wears – until judicial authorization directs otherwise.

For the majority in Bykovets, the goal is not to interfere with online investigations; rather, it is to “better reflect what each reasonable Canadian expects from a privacy perspective and from a crime control perspective” (at para 86). Finding a reasonable expectation of privacy in IP addresses “significantly reduces the potential of any “arbitrary and even discriminatory” exercises of discretion” (at para 87) by the state. It also removes from the private sector decision-making about what information (and how much of it) to disclose to the state. The majority characterizes its approach as ensuring “that the veil of privacy all Canadians expect when they access the Internet is only lifted when an independent judicial officer is satisfied that providing this information to the state will serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose.” (at para 90)


Published in Privacy

(This post is admittedly on the long side - if you have read the case and all you want are my thoughts on the difference between majority and minority opinions, feel free to skip to "Concluding thoughts" at the end.)

On February 14, 2019 the Supreme Court of Canada released its long-awaited decision in R. v. Jarvis, a case in which a high school teacher was prosecuted for voyeurism after he used a pen camera to make multiple recordings of female students’ cleavage while he talked to them in hallways or labs at school. Jarvis was acquitted at trial on the basis that the judge was not persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the recordings were for a sexual purpose, which was an element of the crime. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the recordings were for a sexual purpose, but they upheld the acquittal on the basis that the students had no reasonable expectation of privacy at school. (My post on the ONCA decision is here).

The only issue before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) was “whether the Court of Appeal erred in finding that the students recorded by Mr. Jarvis were not in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy for the purposes of s. 162(1) of the Criminal Code.” (at para 4). The SCC ruled unanimously that the students had a reasonable expectation of privacy and that a conviction should be entered in the case. However, the Court split on how they reached that conclusion. Six judges opted for a contextual approach to the reasonable expectation of privacy that set out a non-exhaustive list of nine considerations to take into account in determining whether a person has been observed or recorded in circumstances giving rise to an expectation of privacy. In reaching this interpretation, these judges relied in part on ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ jurisprudence developed by the Court under s. 8 of the Charter. The three minority judges rejected the use of privacy jurisprudence developed in the criminal context, where the interests of the state are pitted against those of the individual. They also disagreed with the majority’s list of factors to consider in assessing a reasonable expectation of privacy. The minority would have kept only those four of the nine factors that could be linked to elements of the offence in s. 162(1).

The importance of this decision lies in the contextual approach taken by the majority to the reasonable expectation of privacy. This approach moves us away from the troubling dichotomy between public and private space which seems to inform the decision of the majority of the Court of Appeal. While the location of the person who is being subject to observation or recording is one of the factors to take into account, it is only one of them. Similarly, awareness of or consent to potential observation or recording is only a consideration and is not on its own determinative. The contextual approach also permits consideration of the relationship between the parties.

In this case, Jarvis had been charged with the crime of voyeurism under s. 162(1) of the Criminal Code. It is useful to reproduce the relevant parts of this provision:

162 (1) Every one commits an offence who, surreptitiously, observes — including by mechanical or electronic means — or makes a visual recording of a person who is in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy, if

[. . . ]

(c) the observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose.

For there to be a conviction, Jarvis’ recordings would have to have been of students “in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy.” The recordings were made when Jarvis engaged individual students or small groups of students in conversation in the school’s hallways or common areas.

The Majority’s approach to Interpretation

The majority’s interpretation of the phrase “circumstances that giver rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy” is important, particularly since the majority of the ONCA had focused predominantly on location in determining whether a reasonable expectation of privacy arose on the facts. The majority of the SCC had some important things to say on the issue of privacy in public space. While acknowledging that expectations of privacy “will generally be at their highest when a person is in a traditionally ‘private’ place from which she has chosen to exclude all others”, (at para 37), Chief Justice Wagner nonetheless affirmed that a person does not lose all expectation of privacy because she is in public. He stated: “a person may be in circumstances where she can expect to be the subject of certain types of observation or recording but not to be the subject of other types.” (at para 38) He continued: “being in a public or semi-public space does not automatically negate all expectations of privacy with respect to observations or recording”. (at para 41)

The Chief Justice noted that the wording of s. 162(1) also supported the view that a reasonable expectation of privacy was not tied to location. In the first place, that provision speaks of “circumstances” giving rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy. It identifies three possible situations, the first of which is tied to location (where a person is “in a place in which a person can reasonably be expected to be nude. . . or to be engaged in explicit sexual activity: s. 162(1)(a)). (at para 44) But paragraph 162(1)(c) merely refers to situations where “the observation or recording is done for sexual purposes. This latter provision contains no element of location.

The majority ruled that the jurisprudence developed under s. 8 of the Charter, which provides a right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure, could be used in interpreting the concept of “reasonable expectation of privacy”. This is a point on which the minority justices differed sharply. Section 8 of the Charter essentially provides an accused with what amounts to privacy protection from state intrusion. The concept of a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is a key element of a s. 8 analysis. However, as the majority notes, it is also a term used in other contexts – both civil and criminal. Interestingly, those civil contexts in which the phrase is used in Canadian legislation are predominantly found in relatively new statutes that provide tort recourse for the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. The phrase appears in legislation of this kind in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The majority noted that the Court’s s. 8 jurisprudence requires a contextual analysis of the reasonable expectation of privacy. Further, the case law teaches us that ‘privacy is not an ‘all-or-nothing’ concept and that “simply because a person is in circumstances where she does not expect complete privacy does not mean that she waives all reasonable expectations of privacy.” (at para 61) Privacy is differently affected by recordings than by passing observations. Further, the impact of new and emerging technologies needs to be carefully considered. It is possible that “technology may allow a person to see or hear more acutely, thereby transforming what is “reasonably expected and intended to be a private setting” into a setting that is not.” (at para 63). The majority also noted that “’reasonable expectation of privacy’ is a normative rather than a descriptive standard.” (at para 68). This means that a person’s expectation of privacy should not be determined simply on the basis of whether there is a risk that they might be observed or recorded. If this were the case, advances in technology would shrink reasonable expectations of privacy to nothingness. As a result, the majority framed the core question as “whether that person was in circumstances in which she would reasonably have expected not to be the subject of the observation or recording at issue.” (at para 70)

Applying the contextual approach

For the majority, the determination of whether a person was in “circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy” should be guided by a non-exhaustive list of contextual considerations. These considerations should include:

1. The location the person was in when she was observed or recorded

2. The nature of the impugned conduct, that is whether it consisted of observation or recording

3. Awareness of or consent to potential observation or recording.

4. The manner in which the observation or recording was done

5. The subject matter or content of the observation or recording

6. Any rules, regulations or policies that governed the observation or recording in question.

7. The relationship between the person who was observed or recorded and the person who did the observing or recording.

8. The purpose for which the observation or recording was done

9. The personal attributes of the person who was observed or recorded.

Applying these factors to the case before them, the majority noted that the videos were taken at school. The majority of the Court of Appeal had considered schools to be public places. However, the majority of the SCC found that schools are not entirely ‘public’ in nature. Access is restricted, and schools are “subject to formal rules and informal norms of behaviour, including with respect to visual recording, that may not exist in other quasi-public locations”. (at para 73). They noted that the young women were not merely observed, they were recorded – and they were unaware that recording was taking place. Although the ONCA had taken into account the fact that students were aware of continuous recording by security cameras in schools, the majority of the SCC ruled that “not all forms of recording are equally intrusive” and “there are profound differences between the effect on privacy resulting from the school’s security cameras and that resulting from Mr. Jarvis’ recordings” (at para 75). The majority found Jarvis’s recordings were “far more intrusive than casual observation, security camera surveillance or other types of observation or recording that would reasonably be expected by people in most public places, and in particular, by students in a school environment.”(at para 76).

In considering the content of the recordings, the majority noted that while the recordings were of students engaging in normal school activities, they focused close-up on their faces and breasts. The videos targeted specific students rather than capturing general scenes of school activity. The majority stated: “the videos do not show students merging into the “situational landscape”; rather, they single out these students, make them personally identifiable, and allow them to be subjected to intensive scrutiny.” (at para 80).

On the issue of rules and policies, the majority noted that there was a formal school board policy that prohibited the making of recordings of this kind. While the existence of such rules or policies is not determinative, and their weight might vary depending on the circumstances, in this case, the policy gave clear support to a finding of a reasonable expectation of privacy on the part of the students. Jarvis’ behavior was outside of the clearly established norms for teachers at school.

The seventh factor is important in this case. It relates to the relationship between the perpetrator and the person being observed or recorded. The majority found that a relationship of trust existed between teachers and students. The Chief Justice wrote: “It is inherent in this relationship that students can reasonably expect teachers not to abuse their position of authority over them, and the access they have to them, by making recordings of them for personal, unauthorized purposes” (at para 84). Of all of the factors in the majority’s list, this is the one that makes it most clear that a reasonable expectation of privacy does not rely simply on factors related to location, awareness, or the logistics of the observation or recording. Perhaps because of this, it is one of the factors the minority justices rejected.

The majority also considered the purpose of the recording. Since conviction for voyeurism under s. 162(1)(c) requires that the observation or recording be for sexual purposes, this seems a bit redundant. However, the consideration is part of an framework for determining a reasonable expectation of privacy more generally – and presumably in contexts other than just s. 162(1) of the Criminal Code. Thus, for example, the fact that the school had video cameras in public spaces did not infringe on the students’ reasonable expectations of privacy, but Jarvis’ recordings did – a key reason (though not the only one) for this was linked to the purpose of the recordings. The majority of the Court of Appeal, by contrast, had fixed on location as crucial to the reasonable expectation of privacy; citing the public nature of schools and the already existing surveillance cameras, they found the students had no reasonable expectation of privacy

The final factor considered by the majority was the “personal attributes” of the affected persons. In this case, it meant taking into account that the people recorded were high school students. Justice Wagner noted that there is evidence of a “societal consensus” that children have “greater privacy rights than similarly situated adults.” (at para 86).

After applying these criteria to the facts, the majority easily concluded that the young women recorded by Jarvis had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Justice Wagner wrote: “A student attending class, walking down a school hallway or speaking to her teacher certainly expects that she will not be singled out by the teacher and made the subject of a secretive, minutes-long recording or series of recordings focusing on her body.” (at para 90). Interestingly, he also indicated that he might have ruled the same way if the recordings had been made by a stranger on a public street.

The minority opinion

Justice Rowe wrote for the three judges in the minority. Although they too found that a conviction should be entered in this case, they had two main points of disagreement with the majority justices. The first was that, in their view, s. 8 case law should not be used in interpreting what a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is for the purposes of a criminal offence. They noted that s. 8 case law evolved to address the reasonable expectations of privacy that individuals have vis à vis the state. Section 162(1) involved the Crown having to prove that one individual encroached on the reasonable expectation of privacy of another; according to Justice Rowe, this was something very different from redressing “[t]he power imbalance of the police as agents of the state vis-à-vis a citizen that is at the heart of the preoccupations under s. 8 of the Charter”. (at para 102)

Justice Rowe also considered that s. 8 had been interpreted to protect personal, territorial and information privacy. By contrast, in his view, s. 162(1) of the Criminal Code “can relate only to the protection of one’s physical image, a subcategory of personal privacy, itself a subcategory of that which is protected under s. 8”. (at para 102).

The minority justices also take issue with the majority’s list of contextual factors. Instead, they find that only four of the nine factors are actually required by the wording of s. 162(1) taken as a whole. These are: location, the subject matter of the observation or recording; the purpose for which it was made; and the complainant’s awareness of the observation or recording. For the minority justices, the five other factors identified by the majority are relevant only to sentencing. Thus, for the minority, the existence of a relationship of trust is not a factor in assessing whether a person is guilty of voyeurism.

Justice Rowe notes that the voyeurism offences in the Criminal Code were the first “to include a complainant’s reasonable expectation of privacy as an element of the offence.” (at para 118) Since voyeurism is a sexual offence, he argued that the concept of a reasonable expectation of privacy had to be interpreted with regard to “personal autonomy and sexual integrity”. In his view, the privacy interest in s. 162(1):

is meant to protect a privacy interest in one’s image against observations or recordings that are, first, surreptitious and, second, objectively sexual in content or purpose. This privacy interest itself, where it is substantially and not trivially engaged (e.g. by merely uncouth or ill-mannered behavior), is founded on the twin interests of the protection of sexual integrity and the autonomy to control one’s personal visual information. (at para 128)

In the context of the voyeurism offence, the minority justices were of the view that “Infringing a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the context of the voyeurism offence can be conceptualized as crossing a threshold where the law prioritizes the observed person’s interest in protecting their autonomy and sexual integrity over the accused’s liberty of action.” (at para 132)

Such an approach to privacy does not depend solely on location. While location is relevant, it is not determinative. For the minority justices, a privacy infringement occurs “when that which is unknown/unobserved becomes known/observed without the person having put this information forward.” (at para 136) Although a person may be undressed in some public places such as a change room, they might reasonably expect to be observed, yet they would “maintain an essential privacy interest that can be infringed by surreptitious observation or recording, with or without the use of technology, which allows more invasive access to the subject’s image than would otherwise be possible.” (at para 137)

Ultimately, the minority justices found that the students had a reasonable expectation “regarding how their bodies would be observed in the classrooms and hallways of their school” (at para 146). They found that Jarvis’ recordings “went beyond the access that the students allowed in this setting, thus infringing their autonomy”. They were also of a sexual nature, leading to the conclusion that the students’ sexual integrity was infringed.

Concluding Thoughts

The majority’s decision will likely be welcomed by many in the privacy community who had become concerned by the fact that many lower courts, in different contexts, had suggested that there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy in public space. In a society in which public space is increasingly penetrated by technology that permits surveillance and recording (the majority, for example, mentioned drones, but Jarvis’ pen camera is also an example), a contextual approach to privacy is far more useful than any distinction based on concepts of private and public space. The majority also includes the concept of relationships of trust or authority in its analysis. In Jarvis, it is hard to ignore the fact that the teacher was in a position of both trust and authority over the students. Youths should be able to trust that the adults who have authority over them will not surreptitiously record images of them for sexual purposes regardless of where they are located. The relationship is surely a factor in the reasonableness of any expectation of privacy. The majority’s contextual approach feels right in these circumstances.

At the same time, the minority is correct in noting that s. 8 jurisprudence has evolved to answer the question of whether and when individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy vis à vis the state. As Justice Rowe observes in Jarvis, s. 162(1) is an offence that defines the circumstances in which a person’s liberty to act crosses the line and becomes criminal. His approach, which links the expectation of privacy to considerations present in the wording of the offence (including location, purpose of recording, the subject matter of the observation or recording, and the complainant’s awareness of the filing), is meant to keep the offence more narrowly focused to preserve the balance between one person’s liberty and the other person’s autonomy and sexual integrity. As noted earlier, the language “reasonable expectation of privacy” also appears in the laws of those provinces that have made it a tort to disseminate intimate images without consent. For the minority justices, the issue is whether the offender has made public something that the victim had not wished to have public – something that undermines her autonomy and sexual integrity.

The problem with the minority approach, however, may lie in what made this case – which must have seemed like a no-brainer to so many – have to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for a conviction to be entered. The trial judge in this case obviously struggled with his own perceptions that the young women in question were ‘putting it out there’. He wrote: “[i]t may be that a female student’s mode of attire may attract a debate about appropriate reactions of those who observe such a person leading up to whether there is unwarranted and disrespectful ogling” (Trial decision, at para 46). Perhaps the Court of Appeal’s focus on the public nature of the school and its hallways is also influenced that this idea that women’s bodies in public spaces are there for consumption. Without the majority’s contextual approach – one that directs us to consider a range of factors including the youth of victims and relationships of trust – the decisions from the courts below are perhaps proof enough that a more pared-down focus on “autonomy and sexual integrity” may just not cut it.

Published in Privacy

In the 2010-2011 school year, a teacher at a London, Ontario high school used a pen camera to make surreptitious video recordings of female students, with a particular emphasis on their cleavage and breasts. A colleague noticed his activity and reported it to the principal, who confiscated the pen camera and called the police. The police found 19 videos on the camera’s memory card, featuring 30 different individuals, 27 of whom were female. A warrant was obtained a week later to search the teacher’s home – the police found nothing beyond a computer mysteriously missing its hard drive. The teacher was ultimately charged with voyeurism.

The offense of voyeurism requires that there be a surreptitious observation (recorded or not) of a “person who is in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy”. It also requires that the “observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose” (Criminal Code, s. 162(1)(c)). The trial judge had found that the students had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances, but he inexplicably found that the Crown had not met its burden of showing, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the recordings of their cleavage and breasts was done for a sexual purpose. He stated: “While a conclusion that the accused was photographing the student’s [sic] cleavage for a sexual purpose is most likely, there may be other inferences to be drawn that detract from the only rationale [sic] conclusion required to ground a conviction for voyeurism.” (Trial Decision at para 77) He did not provide any information about what those other inferences might conceivably be.

On appeal, the Crown argued that the trial judge had erred in finding that the filming was not done for a sexual purpose. All of the appellate judges agreed that the judge had indeed erred. The majority noted that the trial judge had failed to identify any other possible inferences in his reasons. They also noted that his description of the teacher’s behavior as “morally repugnant” was “inconsistent with the trial judge’s conclusion that the videos might not have been taken for a sexual purpose.” (Court of Appeal decision at para 47) The majority noted that “[t]his was an overwhelming case of videos focused on young women’s breasts and cleavage” (at para 53), and they concluded that there was no reasonable inference other than that the videos were taken for a sexual purpose. Clearly, the teacher was not checking for skin cancer.

However, the accused had appealed the trial judge’s finding that the students had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The majority of the Court of Appeal agreed, leading to the overall appeal of his acquittal being dismissed. The majority’s reasoning is disturbing, and has implications for privacy more broadly. In determining what a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ entailed, the majority relied on a definition of privacy from the Oxford English Dictionary. That learned non-legal tome defines privacy as “a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people; the state of being free from public attention.” (at para 93). From this, the majority concluded that location was a key component of privacy. They stated: “A person expects privacy in places where the person can exclude others, such as one’s home or office, or a washroom. It is a place where a person feels confident that they are not being observed.” (at para 94) The majority accepted that there might be some situations in which a person has an expectation of privacy in a public setting, but these would be limited. They gave the example of upskirting as one “where a woman in a public place had a reasonable expectation of privacy that no one would look under her skirt” (at para 96). Essentially, the tent of a woman’s skirt is a private place within a public one.

The trial judge had found a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances on the basis that a student would expect that a teacher would not “breach their relationship of trust by surreptitiously recording them without there consent.” (at para 103). According to the majority, this conflated the reasonable expectation of privacy with the act of surreptitious recording. They stated: “Clearly students expect that a teacher will not secretly observe or record them for a sexual purpose at school. However, that expectation arises from the nature of the required relationship between students and teachers, not from an expectation of privacy.” (at para 105) This approach ignores the fact that the nature of the relationship is part of the context in which the reasonableness of the expectation of privacy must be assessed. The majority flattened the concept of reasonable expectation of privacy to one consideration – location. They stated that “if a person is in a public place, fully clothed and not engaged in toileting or sexual activity, they will normally not be in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy.” (at para 108)

Justice Huscroft, in dissent is rightly critical of this impoverished understanding of the reasonable expectation of privacy. He began by situating privacy in its contemporary and technological context: “Technological developments challenge our ability to protect privacy: much that was once private because it was inaccessible is now easily accessible and capable of being shared widely.” (at para 116). He observed that “whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy is a normative or evaluative question rather than a descriptive or predictive one. It is concerned with identifying a person’s legitimate interests and determining whether they should be given priority over competing interests. To say that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in some set of circumstances is to conclude that his or her interest in privacy should be prioritized over other interests.” (at para 117)

Justice Huscroft was critical of the majority’s focus on location as a means of determining reasonable expectations of privacy. He found that the majority’s approach – defining spaces where privacy could reasonably be expected – was both over and under-inclusive. He noted that there are public places in which people have an expectation of privacy, even if that expectation is attenuated. He gave the example of a woman breastfeeding in public. He stated: “Privacy expectations need not be understood in an all-or-nothing fashion. In my view, there is a reasonable expectation that she will not be visually recorded surreptitiously for a sexual purpose. She has a reasonable expectation of privacy at least to this extent.” (at para 125) Justice Huscroft also noted that the majority’s approach was over-inclusive, in that while a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home, it might be diminished if they stood in front of an open window. While location is relevant to the privacy analysis, it should not be determinative.

Justice Huscroft found that the question to be answered in this case was “should high school students expect that their personal and sexual integrity will be protected while they are at school?” (at para 131). He noted that schools were not fully public in the sense that school officials controlled access to the buildings. While the school in question had 24-hour video surveillance, the cameras did not focus on particular students or particular body parts. No access was permitted to the recordings for personal use. The school board had a policy in place that prohibited teachers from making the types of recordings made in this case. All of these factors contributed to the students’ reasonable expectation of privacy. He wrote:

No doubt, students will be seen by other students, school employees and officials while they are at school. But this does not mean that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy. In my view, the students' interest in privacy is entitled to priority over the interests of anyone who would seek to compromise their personal and sexual integrity while they are at school. They have a reasonable expectation of privacy at least to this extent, and that is sufficient to resolve this case. (at para 133)

Justice Huscroft observed that the majority’s approach that requires the reasonable expectation of privacy to be considered outside of the particular context in which persons find themselves would unduly limit the scope of the voyeurism offence.

This case provides an ugly and unfortunate window on what women can expect from the law when it comes to voyeurism and other related offenses. In the course of his reasons, the trial judge stated that ““[i]t may be that a female student’s mode of attire may attract a debate about appropriate reactions of those who observe such a person leading up to whether there is unwarranted and disrespectful ogling” (Trial decision, at para 46). The issue is not just about public space, it is about the publicness of women’s bodies. The accused was acquitted at trial because of the trial judge’s baffling conclusion that the teacher might have had some motive – other than a sexual one – in making the recordings of female students’ breasts and cleavage. Although the Court of Appeal corrected this error, the majority found that female students at high school do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to having their breasts surreptitiously filmed by their teachers (who are not allowed, under school board policies, to engage in such activities). The majority fixates on location as the heart of the reasonable expectation of privacy, eschewing a more nuanced approach that would consider those things that actually inform our expectations of privacy.


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