A Bank of Montreal employee who used the bank’s computers to look at the accounts of her husband’s ex-wife, has been fined $10,000 in an important Ontario breach of privacy case.
The case created a right in Ontario to sue for a breach of privacy.
Sandra Jones and her ex-husband’s common law wife Winnie Tsige were both employed at different Ontario branches of the Bank of Montreal. Jones became suspicious that Tsige was accessing her account and complained to BMO. When confronted, Tsige admitted that over the course of four years, she had used her work computer at least 174 times to look at Jones’ banking information.
Among other things, Tsige looked at Jones' salary information and her mortgage payments, but didn't record the information or distribute it. She apologized to Jones for her actions and the Bank of Montreal suspended her for a week without pay and denied her a bonus.
Jones sued, claiming $70,000 for invasion of privacy and $20,000 more for punitive damages.
The case was initially heard in March 2011 and tossed out by Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Whitaker because Ontario does not have a general right to privacy law. Other provinces, including B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have statutes that allow individuals to sue for breach of privacy.
Jones appealed and the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s findings. The Appeal Court found that while there was no monetary loss, Jones was awarded damages of $10,000. Since this was a new situation, neither party was awarded costs.
By all accounts Tsige was contrite, but the Court found her actions were deliberate, prolonged and shocking. The court noted that any person in Jones’ position would be profoundly disturbed by the intrusion.
The Court took a giant leap forward by creating a new tort called ‘intrusion against seclusion’ and awarding Jones damages.
I am generally not in favour of the damages routinely awarded by U.S. courts. But this is a case where I think a jury on “Law and Order” might have made Tsige pay punitive damages that better reflect the seriousness of her actions.
What do you think?