Canada: Sharing Computers And Sharing Space: Privacy Interests Persist

Privacy and Cybersecurity Bulletin
Last Updated: March 14 2019
Article by Fasken Martineau


Many people share computers, either within their home or at work. What control do they have over these computers, which they may not even own? Do they still have a privacy interest in the computer contents? The Supreme Court of Canada tackled this important question in its recent R. v Reeves decision, basically affirming the strong privacy interest of a person in his or her own computer contents, even though the computer may be used by several people and physical access is through space shared with other individuals.


Reeves, the accused, shared a home and a computer with his spouse. However, his spouse obtained a no-contact order against him following charges of domestic assault. When contacting the police to withdraw her consent for him entering the home, she reported she believed she had found child pornography on the home computer. A police officer subsequently visited the home without a warrant and obtained her written permission to carry away the computer.

The computer was with the police for more than four months and was not reported to a justice as the Criminal Code requires. Finally, a warrant was obtained to search the computer and the police found extensive images and videos of child pornography.

At trial, the accused pleaded that the computer-based evidence against him had been illegally obtained and violated his privacy rights based on s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed and the accused was acquitted.


The Supreme Court ruled that the evidence gathered should be excluded and that the accused be acquitted.

The majority of the Supreme Court held that the accused had maintained his reasonable expectation of privacy in his shared computer, even though his spouse had given her consent.

Taking into account the totality of the circumstances, the Court stated that the informational content of the computer which the accused had used was likely to contain his most personal and intimate thoughts and therefore attracted a strong privacy interest. Another person who shared the computer could not override this interest by handing over the computer to the police who had not obtained a warrant.

The Court referred to a previous case involving a computer in which the user was not the owner. In R v Cole, decided in 2014, it had affirmed that what an individual writes, searches and downloads on a computer he or she uses is of such a personal nature that it comprises part of the core biographical information which is worthy of the strongest constitutional protection from unauthorized state seizure or surveillance. The fact that the computer in question was owned by a third party did not modify the privacy interest of the computer user.

Because a person is always likely to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a computer, its seizure by the state without a warrant and without consent is likely to be contrary to the protection afforded by s. 8 of the Charter.

Justice Michael Moldaver offered a separate opinion in which he listed the circumstances at common law in which the police may enter a home without a warrant. Acknowledging the reality of shared dwellings and shared common spaces for many people today, he wrote that in order to carry out their duties, police may have to intrude on a co-resident's reasonable expectation of privacy. He sets out the conditions for them to do so with minimal interference to the privacy of others.

The lawfulness of entry into the home and the circumstances of the police seizure of the computer was also addressed separately by Justice Suzanne Côté. She reasoned that his spouse, who shared the home, had rights of access and control over the common areas of the home and could lawfully allow the police to enter, especially in the context where an order forbid the entry of the accused. The accused shared joint ownership and control of the computer with his spouse and therefore had no reasonable expectation that she could not consent to it being taken away by the police. The police had not searched it before obtaining a warrant. However, the failure to report the detention of the computer by the police meant the evidence should be excluded nonetheless.

Lessons Learned

Ownership and control of computers have little, if any, effect on the constitutional privacy protection of their contents.

Even shared computers in common residential spaces cannot be handed over to the police without either consent of the person involved or a judicial warrant.

Today, many people share computers in work space, community space and within their dwelling places. Employers and owners of computers used by third parties should have policies making clear their expectations about the use of computers and the consequences of using them for illegal activities.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions