Townsend v Sun Life Financial, 2012 FC 550, confirms the Federal Court’s reluctance to award damages for trivial breaches of privacy under Section 16 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). In this case, Sun Life Financial accidentally copied a letter containing sensitive medical information to the individual’s insurance advisor. Sun Life Financial acknowledged the privacy breach in sending the letter.

The Court reiterated and followed its position in Randall v Nubodys Fitness Centres, 2010 FC 681 at para. 55 [Randall] that a reward for damages under Section 16 of PIPEDA should be made “only in the most egregious of circumstances.” In assessing the seriousness of the breach, the Court considered the impact of the breach on the individual, Sun Life Financial’s conduct, and whether Sun Life Financial benefited from the breach.

Here, the Court found the impact on the individual was minimal, as the disclosure was limited to the individual’s insurance advisor, who appeared not to have noticed the personal information and promptly destroyed the letter upon request. Moreover, the Court found Sun Life Financial’s conduct to be commendable, both in acknowledging the error and informing the individual of the disclosure, and in taking steps to promptly correct its policies and procedures. The Court dismissed the application.