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Professional Responsibility - Regulated occupations - Occupations - Police officers - Duties

Thursday, February 02, 2017 @ 7:00 PM  

Appeal by the police defendants from a finding of liability and award of damages in favour of the plaintiff, Margaret. Margaret learned that one of the neighbourhood boys who babysat her children broke into a neighbour’s home, stole guns, took them to school, and threatened other students. She sought to convey the information to police without becoming part of the investigation, so as not to alert her neighbours she had discussed the matter with police. Margaret testified that the officer she was put in contact with through friends told her that if she came to the station, her identity would be kept secret. She testified that she emphasized her concerns regarding her family’s vulnerability and received an absolute promise she would not be identified. Margaret attended the station and gave a statement conveying the information regarding the neighbourhood boy and the gun theft. She was unaware the statement was videotaped. She received further assurances her identity would remain anonymous. Margaret testified that she subsequently noticed changes in the manner in which the boy’s parents behaved toward her, culminating in the boy’s father driving his truck on the sidewalk at her. Margaret’s husband spoke to the boy’s father and learned that police had arrested and charged the boy for the gun theft, and that his lawyer had been disclosed the videotape of Margaret’s statement as part of the criminal proceeding. The plaintiffs found the ensuing threats and harassment unbearable to the point that Margaret was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and her family sold their home and moved from the neighbourhood. The trial judge found that the circumstances expressly and implicitly entitled Margaret to an informant privilege that was subsequently breached. Margaret was awarded damages totaling $345,000, with ancillary awards for family members totaling $115,000. The defendants appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The trial judge did not err in finding that Margaret was promised confidentiality by the police. The trial judge’s finding was supported by the conversation between Margaret and the interviewing officer at the conclusion of the videotaped statement, and by other evidence including police witnesses. The trial judge did not err in finding that the plaintiffs established the necessary elements for a claim for damages. The plaintiffs’ case represented a civil claim for breach of confidence. Margaret was promised anonymity and confidentiality in exchange for information. That promise was breached and Margaret suffered damages as a result. Margaret’s right of recovery was not contingent upon the danger she faced or other possible sources of the information she provided, as the police were best-positioned to assess the value of the proffered information prior to promising confidentiality. The damages awarded, while generous, were not excessive given the evidence Margaret had suffered a severe psychological injury that radically affected her life. It was open to the trial judge to find that the harm suffered by Margaret was attributable to the disclosure of her identity and the retributive conduct that followed.