As paparazzi descend on Harry and Meghan, B.C. privacy laws could face first celebrity test
Canada doesn't have the same celebrity system as the U.S. or the U.K.
Ever since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their exit from the royal family, the hot glare of the media they tried to escape in the U.K. has continued to burn brightly, even on Canada's west coast.
Monday evening, SkyNews published video of Harry, decked in a puffer jacket and tuque, deplaning from a West Jet plane on the Victoria airport tarmac. Photographs of Meghan's life on the island — taking a seaplane to Vancouver, going to a yoga class, picking up a friend from the airport — have all been published.
On Tuesday, media outlets like the Guardian said the couple had issued "a stern warning" against photographers in Canada after "unauthorized" pictures of Meghan walking with eight-month-old Archie in a park with the family's two dogs were published in a number of British tabloids.
The couple, who have long had a difficult relationship with the tabloid press, are involved in a number of lawsuits with U.K. tabloids over invasion of privacy — but their latest Canadian warning could mean a test for this country's privacy laws.
Privacy is governed by both federal and provincial statutes in Canada, explains privacy lawyer David Fraser, who works for the firm McInnes Cooper, and runs the Canadian Privacy Law Blog.
Most Canadian privacy law is similar to U.K. law, he says, but what is different in British Columbia is the implementation of the provincial Privacy Act.
In B.C., the Privacy Act is what allows individuals to sue other people for invasions of privacy where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The act also says privacy may be violated by eavesdropping or surveillance, whether or not accomplished by physical trespass.
"So, the act of the paparazzi of continually following around a person — in this case the duchess — probably could be surveillance for the purposes of this act, which could lead to a lawsuit," Fraser explained.
A successful lawsuit wouldn't bring substantial monetary damages, he says, but could grant the privacy-seeking couple something more important — an injunction against that kind of repeat surveillance from photographers.
The major caveat, however, is that the law hasn't really been tested with these types of "celebrity" cases.
"It's all relatively untested when it comes to these sorts of circumstances [because] we don't have in Canada the same sort of paparazzi culture," Fraser said.
"Most of the cases that we've seen under this statute ... principally relate to voyeurism, to a landlord putting a hidden camera in an apartment [or] harassment and things like that."
As Vancouver Island continues to bear the gaze of the international tabloid press, Fraser says pure economics rather than the law might be the blunt instrument of choice that eventually wins the young family their peace.
"If you're a freelance paparazzi photographer in Los Angeles or Monaco or London, that's a pretty target rich environment," Fraser said.
"On Vancouver Island, there will be one or two celebrities and one baby that you'll be looking to try to earn your living from."