Kitchener-Waterloo

Why a lawyer could soon serve you papers over social media

After an Ontario power utility was granted permission by a judge to serve legal papers through Facebook messenger, a Toronto lawyer says social media could soon play a "significant role" in the legal system.

A judge has approved the unusual format in a Kitchener-based civil case

As an Ontario power utility has been granted permission by a judge to serve papers through Facebook messenger, a Toronto lawyer says social media will soon play a "significant role" in the legal system. (Jenny Kane/Associated Press)

After an Ontario power utility was granted permission by a deputy judge to serve legal papers through Facebook messenger, a Toronto lawyer says social media could soon play a "significant role" in the legal system.

"It's going to be unavoidable," said Tara Vasdani, principal lawyer with Remote Law Canada.

Lawyers representing Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro Inc. applied for permission to use the messenger service to sue the owner of a vehicle that crashed into a hydro pole in 2015. 

The lawyers said they tracked down the name of the owner using a vehicle registration search but have been unable to locate him because the address listed on his vehicle registration papers is outdated. 

Facebook messenger was proposed as an alternative form of communication.

"I accept on a balance of probabilities that the Facebook account holder is the correct individual and that service by the proposed method is likely to bring the claim to his attention," a deputy judge wrote in his decision.

Social media 'exception, not the rule'

At this point, it's unusual but not unheard of to use social media to serve claims, said Vasdani, who was the first Canadian lawyer to serve a statement of claim over Instagram. 

"This is the exception not the rule," she said. "The only time that you turn to social media is when you've exhausted all of your other efforts."

Claims have to be served in person, and if that is impossible, lawyers can use an alternate way. Typically, that means leaving the claim at a person's last known address or sending it via mail.

In the Instagram case, Vasdani said she tried showing up at the person's home, knocking on her neighbours' doors, calling her employer and reaching her via email. 

When those avenues didn't work, she decided to look the person up over Instagram, and there, she found an account that matched the name and photo she was looking for.

"I use Instagram a lot. So it just seemed normal," said Vasdani, adding that she, too, had to get permission from a judge to do it.

Emojis allowed in court

Vasdani said the legal system tends to lag behind when it comes to incorporating new kinds of technology. The degree to which a judge accepts the use of social media as either evidence or as a means of communication will depend on "who's got the gavel," she said.

Still, Vasdani said social media is gradually becoming more and more important in the legal system, as more activity happens online. 

Emojis are now accepted as evidence in court — for instance, in a case of sexual harassment where evidence includes emojis of hearts and kisses.

"If the client demands those things or if the client is heavily involved in social media … Well, then you've got to go with it," she said. 

"If the if the legal system doesn't participate, the clients are going to force them to participate."

Although the shift will likely be gradual, Vasdani said people should prepare themselves by taking care with social media — and being aware of the traces that they're leaving online.

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