Compagnie d’assurances Standard Life c. Tremblay, 2010 QCCA 933 (CanLII)

On May 11, 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal issued a definitive judgment in support of privacy rights in the case of Standard Life v. Tremblay. Upholding the trial decision, the Quebec Court of Appeal maintained the damages awarded which included a punitive sum of $100,000.00 to the plaintiff Tremblay against Standard Life Insurance Company (Standard Life).

Tremblay was covered under a disability plan provided by Standard Life and started to receive disability benefits following a severe car accident. After being re-examined, the Standard Life medical consultant reported his doubts about Mr. Tremblay’s disability and suggested surveillance of Mr. Tremblay. Standard Life then proceeded to monitor Mr. Tremblay on 5 different occasions over a period of about one year with each time averaging 3 days.

During the second surveillance session, the investigators mistakenly recorded Mr. Tremblay’s brother and therefore believed they were capturing Mr. Tremblay engaging in very active tasks such as putting up Halloween decorations. Having been shown the erroneous recording, Standard Life’s neurosurgeon Dr. Francoeur concluded that Mr. Tremblay was not in pain and that Standard Life should cease paying the disability benefits.

At the heart of the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision is an unmistakable endorsement of Mr. Tremblay’s privacy rights. Citing the first instance judge, the court agreed that Standard Life committed a fault in ordering the surveillance without good reason and that this amounted to a significant violation of his privacy.

Furthermore, the Court deferred to the trial judge’s assertion that Mr. Tremblay’s dignity was ruined and his reputation damaged. Following the definition of dignity set out in Quebec (Public Curator) v. National Union of Employees of the Hospital of St. Ferdinand [1996] 3 S.C.R. 211 which includes self-respect and respect from others, the Court agreed that he was treated as a liar due to Standard Life’s unwarranted surveillance. The Court concluded that Mr. Tremblay suffered prejudice because of Standard Life’s actions and that the information they obtained was in fundamental breach of Mr. Tremblay’s right to privacy.

Of great significance in this case is that the Court maintained the punitive damages award given by the first instance judge. While rarely awarded in Canada, punitive damages symbolize a Court’s desire to punish a litigant who has behaved particularly egregiously. The fact that the Court endorsed this penalty against Standard Life sends a very strong message that unjustified intrusions into the private lives of citizens will not be tolerated.

Having already upheld a punitive damages award in a similar decision (Veilleux v. Compagnie d’assurance-vie Penncorp, 2008 QCCA 257) the Quebec Court of Appeal through this decision signals the growing willingness of courts to intervene when privacy rights are violated.