Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

Sharing a computer with someone does not mean giving up privacy rights over the material stored on the machine, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a 9-0 decision Thursday, the high court restored the acquittal of Thomas Reeves of Sudbury, Ont., on child-pornography charges — even though his common-law spouse had consented to police seizure of a jointly used computer from their home.

In October 2012, police arrived at the home without a warrant after Reeves’ spouse reported finding what she believed to be child pornography on the computer.

The ruling said that although the couple shared the computer, Reeves had a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning its contents.

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure, including cases where police have found evidence of criminal activity.

The court found the warrantless seizure of the computer and a later search of it with a flawed warrant were unreasonable, meaning the child-pornography evidence should be disallowed. Permitting the evidence would “bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” the ruling said.

Although the decision was unanimous, two of the nine judges provided their own rationales.

The majority reasons by Justice Andromache Karakatsanis said the case affects the privacy rights of all Canadians who share computers with others.

“Shared control does not mean no control,” she wrote.

“We are not required to accept that our friends and family can unilaterally authorize police to take things that we share. The decision to share with others does not come at such a high price in a free and democratic society.”

Deciding otherwise could disproportionately affect the privacy rights of low-income people, who might be more likely to share a home computer, she added.

Child-pornography offences are “serious and insidious” and there is a strong public interest in investigating and prosecuting them, the decision said. However, in applying charter rights, the question is not whether a person broke the law, but whether the police exceeded the limits of the state’s authority.

The Reeves case unfolded after he was charged with domestic assault and a no-contact order was issued that barred him from entering the family home without his spouse’s written consent.

When she contacted Reeves’ probation officer to withdraw consent, she reported the presence of the apparent child pornography on the computer, prompting the police visit.

Police held the computer without a warrant for more than four months without searching it, and failed to report the seizure to a justice despite a legal requirement to do so.

After eventually obtaining a warrant to search the computer, they found 140 images and 22 videos of child pornography. However, a judge ruled the warrant should not have been granted because the information used to obtain it was misleading and unfair.

The judge excluded the computer evidence, given the initial warrantless seizure, the lack of required reporting and the eventual reliance on a flawed warrant. However, an appeal court said the evidence should be allowed and ordered a new trial. Reeves then took his case to the Supreme Court.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

New MP Taylor Bachrach makes his first trip to Bella Coola

Bachrach said he is keen to get to know his riding and the members of his constituency

Bachrach rejects calls for police action against demonstrators

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP says only way out of crisis is “true nation-to-nation” talks

Nuxalk Nation celebrates first carpentry graduates

11 students graduated from the community’s first carpentry program

Bella Coola leave their mark on All Native Basketball Tournament as they reach Intermediate final

Nuxalk Braves bring home a strong second place finish; three individual awards for Marlon Edgar-Apps

All Native Basketball: Finals matchups start to take shape as title games approach

Two Prince Rupert sides in contention, while two dynasties are on the brink

VIDEO: Feds warned agricultural sector near ‘tipping point’ due to blockades

Canadian Federation of Agriculture points to lack of propane and feed due to Coastal GasLink dispute

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

B.C. Liberals call for assistance on soaring strata insurance rates

NDP’s Carole James says problem is across the country

‘Intemperate, insulting’: B.C. teacher reprimanded for online comments about religion

John William Yetman made the comments in response to a Facebook invitation to Open Mosque Day B.C.

Most Read