Snooping Through Your Spouse’s Emails Could Land You In Trouble
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently released its decision in Golchoobian v Vaghei, 2015 ONSC 1840, which involved the divorce proceedings between a husband and wife. The wife brought a motion to the court alleging that the husband had deliberately violated her solicitor-client privilege by snooping through her personal emails.
Pending the resolution of their divorce proceedings, the husband and wife continued to work together at their jointly-owned clinic. The husband was observed on the clinic’s security cameras using the clinic’s computer to read his wife’s personal email. The husband was also heard in an audio recording telling someone information he could only have found out by reading the wife’s emails.
At least one of the emails he read was between the wife and her lawyer. The lawyer’s email contained the usual proviso that it contained privileged information.
The court held that the email involved asking for and receiving legal advice and was intended to be confidential by both the wife and the lawyer. It was therefore subject to solicitor-client privilege.
The court also found that the husband deliberately accessed his wife’s personal emails. Although the husband claimed that he had accidently stumbled on the emails while looking for the clinic’s business emails, the court did not accept his explanation. The court found the husband intentionally breached his wife’s solicitor-client privilege and lied to cover up his conduct, and that because of this, the husband had threatened “a fundamental aspect of the Canadian legal system”.
The court delivered a warning to the husband:
(a) that he must be vigilant to observe the rights of the Applicant to solicitor-client privilege;
(b) that he must be compliant with the Family Law Rules and the Rules of Civil Procedure and any orders or judgments;
(c) that he remains exposed to serious consequences should he be found to violate any of the Family Law Rules or Rules of Civil Procedure or any orders or judgments;
(d) that his future transgressions may attract more serious consequences including an order that his Answer and Claim be struck and the application proceed on an uncontested basis; and
(e) that the consequences of his conduct thus far remain as a stigma throughout the proceedings.
The court did not consider it appropriate in the circumstances to order that the husband pay a fine or that his pleadings be struck out. However, it did order him to pay the wife’s full costs of the motion, provide an Affidavit confirming what documents he had obtained and what he done with him, and to provide an undertaking to the court that he would not repeat the offensive behaviour.