Supreme Court ruling in London case upholds privacy, even in public spaces, professor says

A Western University professor is applauding a Supreme Court decision on the case of a London high school teacher charged with voyeurism, saying it upholds concept of expectation to privacy, even in a public place equipped with security cameras.

Decision comes from London case where teacher secretly filmed female students' chests

In a case involving a teacher at London's Beal Secondary charged with voyeurism, the Supreme Court ruled that students had a reasonable expectation of privacy, even in public spaces equipped with surveillance cameras (Google Street View)

A Western University professor is applauding a Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of a London high school teacher charged with voyeurism, saying it upholds the expectation to privacy, even in public places equipped with security cameras. 

"This has the potential to be a game-changer," said Sam Trosow, an associate professor in Western's faculty of law. "This is good news for people who are interested in privacy protections."

Ryan Jarvis, a teacher at H.B. Beal Secondary School, was caught in 2011 using a spy pen camera to secretly film the chest area of female students while he spoke to them in the classrooms and hallways of the school. 

Sam Trosow is a professor of law and media at Western University in London, Ont. (Western University)

The initial court ruled that Jarvis had violated the students' rights, but that the Crown didn't prove the videos were filmed for a sexual purpose, a key element of the Criminal Code definition of voyeurism. That caused Jarvis to be acquitted.

The Crown appealed and though this time the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Jarvis did act with sexual intent, the acquittal was upheld because the court ruled the students had no reasonable expectation to privacy in the public areas of the school, which are equipped with security cameras. 

That decision was quashed by the Supreme Court's unanimous decision released Thursday. The ruling said the students had a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Trosow said that, with the ruling, the courts have adopted a more nuanced definition of privacy, one less tied to a specific place and more in keeping with 21st century technology. 

"People have been saying 'Privacy is dead, get over it, there's never a reasonable expectation of privacy anymore because there are cameras every place,'" said Trosow.  "But this resets the base for that discussion."

Trosow said it's important that Canada's highest court has now clarified that people still have some expectation to privacy, even in a public place.

"This really evaporates the importance of that public/private distinction and instead substitutes that for: 'Let's look at all of the factors, including the relationship of the parties and the importance of the personal integrity," he said.​

Important for women's safety

Gillian Hnatiw is vice-chair of Women's Legal Education and Action Fund. She said the decision also has the potential to help protect women.

"This is the first time that the Supreme Court has considered the concept of privacy as a form of sexual violence," she said in an interview on CBC's Afternoon Drive. "It's extremely significant. Particularly for women and girls who are going about their day-to-day lives out in the world and are expecting to be free from this type of technological intrusion."

She also said the decision acknowledges the harm that can come from secretly filming women a in sexual way against their will. 

"This gives trial courts across the country scope to recognize that this is about more than just privacy, that it's also about sexual integrity," she said.