Flowchart: Canadian Supreme Court Determines Whether Text Messages Are Still Private After Reaching Recipient’s Phone

Ever wondered what a Supreme Court judgment says, but did not have the courage to read through one?

Well you’re in luck, because I’ve diagrammed a recent Supreme Court of Canada judgment which determined whether Canadians had a reasonable expectation of privacy over SMSs that have reached the recipient’s phone.

In this case, police arrested two suspects and illegally searched their phones. This meant the evidence from each phone couldn’t be used against the phones’ owners. At trial, the prosecutor used, against one of the suspects, the copy of the SMSs recovered from the accomplice’s phone, arguing that the suspect couldn’t contest the illegal search of someone else’s phone. The case was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Some notes, if you’re not a lawyer:

Civil rights are all about limiting State interference in people’s lives. The Supreme Court often defines civil rights principles in the context of a criminal case, as it is the most common situation where people and the State collide. As such, civil rights are often decided on cases where the defendants are not the most sympathetic ones and it is possible that criminals will be set free.

Cases that reach the Supreme Court are often very complex. Even when the question is not that complex, the ultimate ruling often depends on a chain of arguments, where any link in the chain may break the whole case. In the case below, for example, from a technical point of view, the actual ruling on privacy of SMSs is an accessory to the bigger question of whether a piece of evidence is admissible in court. Yet the reason this case went all the way up to the Supreme Court is exactly on this specific point.

If you do read the full judgment, which I recommend you do (the majority ruling is only 82 of the 200 paragraphs), you’ll notice that the Supreme Court does not take civil rights lightly. On the contrary, it adopts a point of view that tends towards broadening, rather than restricting, privacy rights. The following quote illustrates this point of view:

To accept the risk that a co-conversationalist could disclose an electronic conversation is not to accept the risk of a different order that the state will intrude upon an electronic conversation absent such disclosure. “[T]he regulation of electronic surveillance protects us from a risk of a different order, i.e., not the risk that someone will repeat our words but the much more insidious danger inherent in allowing the state, in its unfettered discretion, to record and transmit our words”: Duarte, at p. 44.

How much notice should you get if you’re fired?

One of the most frequent type of “BTW, since you’re a lawyer” questions I get is about notice when someone gets fired.

It’s not exactly the most difficult question, although like anything in law, there’s a simple answer and a complicated one.

The simple answer, for Quebec, according to the Labour Standards Act (LSA), can be found in the table below, also available on the CNESST website:

Length of uninterrupted service Notice
3 months to one year One week
1 to 5 years 2 weeks
5 to 10 years 4 weeks
10 years or more 8 week

The complicated answer takes into account things like:

  • whether your employer is under federal or provincial jurisdiction (the Labour Standards Act only applies to employers under provincial jurisdiction, which excludes banks, for example, but not the Caisses Populaire Desjardins)
  • what position you held (the notices in the LSA doesn’t apply to upper management)
  • whether you were unionized
  • what kind of work you were doing (there is a quite technical list of excluded workers)
  • whether any other exception applies

to determine that you should have at least X weeks of notice, but maybe more, it’s hard to tell…

At any rate, I’ve made a flowchart that’s somewhere between the easy answer and the complicated one, which should cover most of the situations out there…

Flowchart showing the length of notice an employee should get in case of dismissal.

What’s a Family Patrimony?

Every married couple in Quebec has a family patrimony.

What it is doesn’t really matter until they divorce.

The infographic below tells you what goes in a family patrimony, and how you calculate its value when you divorce.

Please note that the whole section on the Family Patrimony in the Civil Code of Québec is much longer, and this infographic only shows a small portion of it.

You can read the actual text of the law here: Quebec Civil Code, articles 414 to 418.

Infographic on the rules of family patrimoniy division in Quebec law

New diagrams: confinement & psych evaluations

English follows.

La section sur la garde en établissement et les évaluations psychiatriques s’appliquent dans le cas où une personne (habituallement majeure) est emmenée dans un établissement pour y recevoir des soins psychiatriques, malgré son désaccord. Pour la protection du patient et du public, le code civil va permettre, sous certaines conditions, à l’établissement de garder le patient, même contre son gré.

Pour ce faire, le patient doit représenter un danger pour lui-même ou pour autrui. Une garde préventie est permise si le danger est grave et imminent, mais l’autorisation du tribunal sera nécessaire pour lui faire subir un examen psychiatrique.

Les articles 26 à 31 prévoient les règles relatives à la garde, à l’examen, ainsi qu’aux rapports d’évaluation psychiatriques. Ci-dessous, la version réarrangée.


The section on confinement and psych evaluations applies when a person (usually of full age) is brought into a institution to receive psychiatric care, in spite of his opposition. To protect the patient and the public, the Civil code will allow, under certain conditions, the institution to keep the patient, even against his will.

To do so, the patient must be a danger to himself or others. Preventive confinement is permitted if the danger is serious and imminent, but authorisation of the court will be necessary to make him undergo a psychiatric assessment.

Articles 26 to 31 sets out the rules applicable to confinement, assessment, and psych assessment reports. Below is the re-arranged version.

New diagrams: organ donations and experiments

(English follows)

Deux nouveaux diagrammes aujourd’hui, pour compléter la section sur les soins: les articles 19 à 25, traitant du consentement à l’aliénation d’organes, et à une expérimentation médicale. Ces articles indiquent les cas où il est permis ou interdit de faire un don d’organes ou de subir, ou faire subir, une expérimentation à un patient.

En général, la loi donne libre choix à un majeur pour consentir, mais s’assure de protéger les mineurs ou les personnes inapes à consentir.

Ci-dessous, les articles réarrangés. Dans la colonne de gauche, les règles concernant de droit d’aliéner ou de soumettre quelqu’un à une expérimentation, et dans la colonne de droite, les modalités d’exercice de ces droits.

*** *** ***

Two new diagrams today to complete the section on Care: articles 19 to 25, related to consent to alienation of organs (organ donation) and to undergo a medical experiment. These articles specify cases where it is permitted or forbidden to donate an organ, or to take part in, or force someone to take part in an experiment.

In general, the law allows the patient of full age freedom to choose what to do with his/her body, but makes sure to protect minors and those unable to consent.

Image below are the same articles rearranged. In the left column are the rules concerning the right to alienate or experiment, and the column on the right contain rules on the conditions governing the exercise of the rights.