Privacy law in Canada continues to grapple with that delicate balance between individual privacy and freedom of expression.  The recent case Chandra v. CBC provides an interesting commentary on the quickly changing world of privacy law.

In 2012 the Ontario Court of Appeal recognized the independent privacy tort of “intrusion upon seclusion”. Prior to this the case law was unsettled with respect to whether or not one could sue for invasion of privacy as a free standing cause of action.

In the Chandra v CBC case, Chandra, a former professor at Memorial University, brought at claim against the CBC for defamation and breach of privacy. The claim arose out of a three part CBC documentary called "The Secret Life of Dr. Chandra" in which the CBC investigated and accused him for scientific fraud.  CBC defended the suit on the basis of fair comment and responsible journalism. 

To determine how to direct the jury, the court was required to decide whether the privacy tort could succeed in the face of journalistic freedom of the press:

[53] The fact that the allegations made by the plaintiff against the CBC defendants arise in the context of those defendants’ purported journalistic activities and purposes does not, in my view, necessarily preclude an action against them for invasion of privacy. However, as already noted, journalistic activities and practices lie at the heart of claims for the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press and, as a result, claims for the protection of privacy have to be reconciled with, and even yield to, competing claims for protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

To the extent privacy law intersects with responsible journalism, for facts similar to the Chandra case, responsible journalism will prevail.  It is important to note that this is a case on how the court would direct the jury, not a final disposition of the claim itself.  The case does, however provide interesting insight on how courts continue to grapple with the balance of privacy interests and other, legally recognized interests, such as freedom of the press.

See archived posts on this subject for more on privacy law:  New Tort of Privacy in Ontario, from January 2012, discusses the development of the tort of “intrusion upon seclusion” in Ontario and the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Jones v. Tsige.

Workplace Privacy Law 101, from July 2011, modified somewhat by the release of the Jones v. Tsige decision, outlines the legislative scheme for protecting personal information in the workplace in Ontario.