Waiver of Solicitor-Client Privilege

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General Principles

See also: Solicitor-Client Privilege

Privilege can be waived expressly, inferentially or by conduct.[1]

Generally, solicitor-client privilege should only be interfered with to the extent necessary to achieve a just result.[2]

Waiver is established where the possessor of privilege:[3]

  1. knows of the existence of privilege;
  2. voluntarily evinces an intention to waive that privilege.
Party Entitled to Waive

Only the client can waive solicitor-client privilege.[4]

  1. Montemarano v Montemarano, 2020 ONSC 1393 (CanLII)}}, per Akbarali J, at [http://canlii.ca/t/j5pt4#par19 para 19 ("Privilege can be waived expressly, inferentially or by conduct: Biehl, at para. 42. A witness can implicitly waive privilege through their conduct including by putting the legal advice they received in issue, or by testifying about privileged communications. The guiding principles in an enquiry about whether privilege has been waived must be fairness and consistency")
    Biehl v Strang, [http://canlii.ca/t/2fvgk 2011 BCSC 213 (CanLII)}}, per Arnold-Bailey J, at para 2fvgk
  2. Fraser v Houston, 2002 BCSC 1378 (CanLII), per McLachlin J, at para 22
  3. S. & K. Processors Ltd. (1983), 1983 CanLII 407 (BC SC), 45 B.C.L.R. 218 (S.C.), per McLachlin J
  4. R v McClure, 2001 SCC 14 (CanLII), [2001] 1 SCR 445, per Major J (9:0), at para 37

Implied Waiver

There can be implicit wavier depending on the circumstances.[1]

Privilege will be waived without explicit intention where "fairness and consistency" require.[2]

Inadvertently disclosing privileged information does not automatically result in a waiver of privilege. An implied waiver could be established by knowledge of disclosure of the information and silence in response to disclosing the documents. The court must look at all the circumstances.[3]

The client cannot be compelled to waive privilege by answering questions in the course of litigation.[4]

A waiver of privilege can arise from an accused making allegations attacking competency of counsel using what would otherwise be privileged information.[5] The waiver of privilege only covers evidence concerning the issue alleged.[6]

Reliance on legal advice as a defence to a litigation results in the loss of privilege.[7]

  1. R v Creswell, 2000 BCCA 583 (CanLII), (2000), 149 CCC (3d) 286 (BCCA), per Ryan JA (3:0), at paras 41 to 43
    Chapelstone Developments Inc. v Canada, 2004 NBCA 96 (CanLII), (2004), 191 CCC (3d) 152 (N.B.C.A.), per Robertson JA (3:0), at paras 45 to 46, 49 to 51, 55, 59
  2. Fraser v Houston, supra, at para 22
  3. R v Chapelstone Developments Inc, supra
  4. Creswell, ibid.
  5. R v Hobbs, 2009 NSCA 90 (CanLII), per Saunders JA (3:0), at para 21
    R v West, 2009 NSCA 94 (CanLII), per Saunders JA (3:0), at para 16
  6. R v Dunbar [1982] OJ No 581 (ONCA)(*no CanLII links) at 67
  7. Fraser v Houston, supra, at para 22

Waiver by Conduct

Privilege can be waived by conduct of the client.[1]

This can occur with conduct such as:

  • where part but not all of the communication between a client and solicitor has been set out before the court.[2]
  • where instructions given by client are at issue.[3]
  1. Transportaction Lease Systems Inc. v. Virdi et al, 2007 BCSC 132 (CanLII), per Burnyeat J, at para 17
  2. Transportation, ibid., at para 17
  3. Transportaction, ibid., at para 17

Effect of Waiver

The existence of waiver does not necessarily mean that all communications become waived. Waiver can be limited to specific subjects.[1] However, waiver of part of a communication will amount to waiver of the entire communication.[2]

  1. e.g. R v Marriott, 2013 NSCA 12 (CanLII), per Fichaud JA (3:0) , at para 42
  2. Fraser v Houston, 2002 BCSC 1378 (CanLII), per McLachlin J, at para 22