British Columbia

As paparazzi descend on Harry and Meghan, B.C. privacy laws could face first celebrity test

Ever since Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, made their exit from the royal family, the hot glare of the media they tried to escape in the U.K. continues to burn brightly, even on remote Vancouver Island. 

Canada doesn't have the same celebrity system as the U.S. or the U.K.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex look on during the pre-game ceremonies before the MLB London Series game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at London Stadium on June 29, 2019 in London, England. (Dan Istitene - Pool/Getty Images)

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. 

Press photographers focus on Meghan Markle and she joins Britain's Prince Harry for a walkabout on the esplanade at Edinburgh Castle, Britain, Feb. 13, 2018. The couple has had a difficult relationship with the British press. (James Glossop/Reuters/Pool)

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."

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and their baby son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor during their royal tour of South Africa on Sept. 25, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

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."

About the Author

Roshini Nair is a writer for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at


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