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

Forest industry supporters and convoy arrive at B.C. legislature

Rally delivers petition in favour of ‘working forests’

Port McNeill council tackles the issue of AirBnBs

Council wants a public hearing to identify options for short-term rentals in Port McNeill.

Port McNeill council roundup: Feb. 11 meeting

Various stories from Port McNeill council’s Feb. 11 meeting.

Forestry workers vote for new agreement, ending 8-month strike on Vancouver Island

Wage increases, higher premiums and contract language part of new agreement

REVIEW: Poetry helps Conshinz heal from brain trauma

The Book of 1000 Poems, Volumes 1-4, by Conshinz, a.k.a. Port Alice… Continue reading

Protesters barricade Premier John Horgan’s home ahead of B.C. budget unveiling

Demonstrators from the Extinction Rebellion have blocked the Langford driveway

Ten poisoned eagles rushed to veterinary hospital in Nanaimo

Eagles stricken after eating flesh of euthanized animal at Nanaimo Regional Landfill

Trudeau says Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades a critical moment for country

First Nations leaders suggest it may be time to peacefully end the blockades

Sightseeing airplane crashes into Greater Victoria farm

Two sent to hospital with minor injuries after Cessna 172 crash at 8:55 a.m.

B.C. budtenders become first private cannabis workers to unionize in Canada

Two of seven Clarity Cannabis storefronts vote to join UFCW 1518 union

Kids exposed to household cleaners as newborns more likely to get asthma: B.C. study

Air fresheners, plug-in deodorizers, antimicrobial hand sanitizers and oven cleaners were the worst culprits

Victoria, Abbotsford record biggest jumps in rent prices nationwide: report

Toronto and Vancouver had priciest rentals in Canada

VIDEO: Convoy of forest industry supporters on its way to Victoria

Rally at the B.C. legislature begins with participants setting off from Campbell River

Teen snowmobiler found safe after overnight search in Okanagan

The teen had been missing since just after 6 p.m. on Monday

Most Read