Intrusion Upon Seclusion

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Larizza v. The Royal Bank of Canada, 2017 ONSC 6140 (CanLII)[1]

[51] The elements of intrusion upon seclusion are:

a. The defendant’s conduct must be intentional or reckless;
b. The defendant must have invaded, without lawful justification, the plaintiff’s private affairs or concerns; and
c. A reasonable person would regard invasion as highly offensive, causing humiliation, or anguish.

(See Jones v. Tsige, 2012 ONCA 32 at paras. 70-71.[2])

[52] Proof of damages is not required, but the Court of Appeal has emphasized that “given the intangible nature of the interest protected, damages for intrusion upon seclusion will ordinarily be measured by a modest conventional sum”: Jones v. Tsige, supra, at para. 71. Therefore, if the plaintiff can establish the three elements of the tort, she may be entitled to a modest amount of damages.

[1]

Jones v. Tsige, 2012 ONCA 32 (CanLII)[2]

Issue 1. Does Ontario law recognize a cause of action for invasion of privacy?

(a) Introduction

[18] Professor Prosser's article picked up the threads of the American jurisprudence that had developed in the 70 years following the influential Warren and Brandeis article. Prosser argued that what had emerged from the hundreds of cases he canvassed was not one tort, but four, tied together by a common theme and name, but comprising different elements and protecting different interests. Prosser delineated a four-tort catalogue, summarized as follows, at p. 389:

1. Intrusion upon the plaintiff's seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs.
2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the plaintiff.
3. Publicity which places the plaintiff in a false light in the public eye.
4. Appropriation, for the defendant's advantage, of the plaintiff's name or likeness.

[19] Most American jurisdictions now accept Prosser's classification and it has also been adopted by the Restatement (Second) of Torts (2010). The tort that is most relevant to this case, the tort of "intrusion upon seclusion", is described by the Restatement, at 652B as:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the invasion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

[69] Finally, and most importantly, we are presented in this case with facts that cry out for a remedy. While Tsige is apologetic and contrite, her actions were deliberate, prolonged and shocking. Any person in Jones' position would be profoundly disturbed by the significant intrusion into her highly personal information. The discipline administered by Tsige's employer was governed by the principles of employment law and the interests of the employer and did not respond directly to the wrong that had been done to Jones. In my view, the law of this province would be sadly deficient if we were required to send Jones away without a legal remedy.

(c) Elements

[70] I would essentially adopt as the elements of the action for intrusion upon seclusion the Restatement (Second) of Torts (2010) formulation which, for the sake of convenience, I repeat here:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the invasion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

[71] The key features of this cause of action are, first, that the defendant's conduct must be intentional, within which I would include reckless; second, that the defendant must have invaded, without lawful justification, the plaintiff's private affairs or concerns; and third, that a reasonable person would regard the invasion as highly offensive causing distress, humiliation or anguish. However, proof of harm to a recognized economic interest is not an element of the cause of action. I return below to the question of damages, but state here that I believe it important to emphasize that given the intangible nature of the interest protected, damages for intrusion upon seclusion will ordinarily be measured by a modest conventional sum.

[72] These elements make it clear that recognizing this cause of action will not open the floodgates. A claim for intrusion upon seclusion will arise only for deliberate and significant invasions of personal privacy. Claims from individuals who are sensitive or unusually concerned about their privacy are excluded: it is only intrusions into matters such as one's financial or health records, sexual practises and orientation, employment, diary or private correspondence that, viewed objectively on the reasonable person standard, can be described as highly offensive.

[73] Finally, claims for the protection of privacy may give rise to competing claims. Foremost are claims for the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. As we are not confronted with such a competing claim here, I need not consider the issue in detail. Suffice it to say, no right to privacy can be absolute and many claims for the protection of privacy will have to be reconciled with, and even yield to, such competing claims. A useful analogy may be found in the Supreme Court of Canada's elaboration of the common law of defamation in Grant v. Torstar where the court held, at para. 65, that "[w]hen proper weight is given to the constitutional value of free expression on matters of public interest, the balance tips in favour of broadening the defences available to those who communicate facts it is in the public's interest to know."

[81] The four provincial privacy acts do not require proof of damage as an element of the cause of action. The Manitoba Privacy Act, however, is the only statute that provides specific guidance with regard to the determination of damages:

Considerations in awarding damages
4(2) In awarding damages in an action for a violation of privacy of a person, the court shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case including
(a) the nature, incidence and occasion of the act, conduct or publication constituting the violation of privacy of that person;
(b) the effect of the violation of privacy on the health, welfare, social, business or financial position of that person or his family;
(c) any relationship, whether domestic or otherwise, between the parties to the action;
(d) any distress, annoyance or embarrassment suffered by that person or his family arising from the violation of privacy; and
(e) the conduct of that person and the defendant, both before and after the commission of the violation of privacy, including any apology or offer of amends made by the defendant.

[2]

TST-80383-16 (Re), 2017 CanLII 142740 (ON LTB)[3]

39. I believe that the Ontario Court of Appeal’s commentary concerning invasion of privacy in the case of Jones v. Tsige 2012 ONCA 32 (CanLII), has resonance here:

“One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise upon the seclusion of another or his [or her] private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his [or her] privacy, if the invasion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person”.

40. I found AG to be sincere and straightforward in her evidence that she genuinely meant no harm to the Tenant in taking photographs through her window. Nonetheless, at the same time, I think a reasonable person would consider a covert campaign by a landlord to take photographs through a tenant’s windows –whatever the rationale - to be, as outlined by the Tenant’s representative, to be “…egregious and unacceptable”, particularly given the specific context of the Tenant, who suffered a recurrence of anxiety and panic as a result.

44. I think it is plain from my review of the case law (including Meija v. Cargini [2007] O.J. No. 437 (Ont. Div. Ct), which was submitted by DA on behalf of the Tenant), that I have jurisdiction to award general damages to the Tenant for pain and suffering. I am not persuaded, as urged by DA, that I have jurisdiction to award aggravated damages in this or any case, in the absence of a Divisional Court or binding court decision confirming same.

45. Accordingly, I shall order the Landlord to pay the Tenant the amount of $2,500.00 in general damages as requested. Based upon the totality of the evidence presented, and the medical/treatment documentation submitted by the Tenant, I believe that the nature and extent of this award is reasonable and appropriate.

[3]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Larizza v. The Royal Bank of Canada, 2017 ONSC 6140 (CanLII), <http://canlii.ca/t/h6mhb>, retrieved on 2020-08-05
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Jones v. Tsige, 2012 ONCA 32 (CanLII), <http://canlii.ca/t/fpnld>, retrieved on 2020-08-05
  3. 3.0 3.1 TST-80383-16 (Re), 2017 CanLII 142740 (ON LTB), <http://canlii.ca/t/hrx95>, retrieved on 2020-08-05