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Litigation Privilege and Solicitor-Client Privilege Contrasted

. Blank v Canada (Minister of Justice)

In Blank v Canada (Minister of Justice) (SCC, 2006) the Supreme Court of Canada sets out it's definitive treatment of litigation privilege, in contrast with that of solicitor-client privilege:
24 Thus, the Court explained in Descôteaux v. Mierzwinski, 1982 CanLII 22 (SCC), [1982] 1 S.C.R. 860, and has since then reiterated, that the solicitor-client privilege has over the years evolved from a rule of evidence to a rule of substantive law. And the Court has consistently emphasized the breadth and primacy of the solicitor-client privilege: see, for example, Geffen v. Goodman Estate, 1991 CanLII 69 (SCC), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 353; Smith v. Jones, 1999 CanLII 674 (SCC), [1999] 1 S.C.R. 455; R. v. McClure, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 445, 2001 SCC 14 (CanLII); Lavallee, Rackel & Heintz v. Canada (Attorney General), [2002] 3 S.C.R. 209, 2002 SCC 61 (CanLII); and Goodis v. Ontario (Ministry of Correctional Services), [2006] 2 S.C.R. 32, 2006 SCC 31 (CanLII). In an oft-quoted passage, Major J., speaking for the Court, stated in McClure that “solicitor-client privilege must be as close to absolute as possible to ensure public confidence and retain relevance” (para. 35).

25 It is evident from the text and the context of these decisions, however, that they relate only to the legal advice privilege, or solicitor-client privilege properly so called, and not to the litigation privilege as well.

26 Much has been said in these cases, and others, regarding the origin and rationale of the solicitor-client privilege. The solicitor-client privilege has been firmly entrenched for centuries. It recognizes that the justice system depends for its vitality on full, free and frank communication between those who need legal advice and those who are best able to provide it. Society has entrusted to lawyers the task of advancing their clients’ cases with the skill and expertise available only to those who are trained in the law. They alone can discharge these duties effectively, but only if those who depend on them for counsel may consult with them in confidence. The resulting confidential relationship between solicitor and client is a necessary and essential condition of the effective administration of justice.

27 Litigation privilege, on the other hand, is not directed at, still less, restricted to, communications between solicitor and client. It contemplates, as well, communications between a solicitor and third parties or, in the case of an unrepresented litigant, between the litigant and third parties. Its object is to ensure the efficacy of the adversarial process and not to promote the solicitor-client relationship. And to achieve this purpose, parties to litigation, represented or not, must be left to prepare their contending positions in private, without adversarial interference and without fear of premature disclosure.

28 R. J. Sharpe (now Sharpe J.A.) has explained particularly well the differences between litigation privilege and solicitor-client privilege:
It is crucially important to distinguish litigation privilege from solicitor-client privilege. There are, I suggest, at least three important differences between the two. First, solicitor-client privilege applies only to confidential communications between the client and his solicitor. Litigation privilege, on the other hand, applies to communications of a non-confidential nature between the solicitor and third parties and even includes material of a non-communicative nature. Secondly, solicitor-client privilege exists any time a client seeks legal advice from his solicitor whether or not litigation is involved. Litigation privilege, on the other hand, applies only in the context of litigation itself. Thirdly, and most important, the rationale for solicitor-client privilege is very different from that which underlies litigation privilege. This difference merits close attention. The interest which underlies the protection accorded communications between a client and a solicitor from disclosure is the interest of all citizens to have full and ready access to legal advice. If an individual cannot confide in a solicitor knowing that what is said will not be revealed, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for that individual to obtain proper candid legal advice.

Litigation privilege, on the other hand, is geared directly to the process of litigation. Its purpose is not explained adequately by the protection afforded lawyer-client communications deemed necessary to allow clients to obtain legal advice, the interest protected by solicitor-client privilege. Its purpose is more particularly related to the needs of the adversarial trial process. Litigation privilege is based upon the need for a protected area to facilitate investigation and preparation of a case for trial by the adversarial advocate. In other words, litigation privilege aims to facilitate a process (namely, the adversary process), while solicitor-client privilege aims to protect a relationship (namely, the confidential relationship between a lawyer and a client).

(“Claiming Privilege in the Discovery Process”, in Special Lectures of the Law Society of Upper Canada (1984), 163, at pp. 164-65)
29 With the exception of Hodgkinson v. Simms (1988), 1988 CanLII 181 (BC CA), 33 B.C.L.R. (2d) 129, a decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the decisions of appellate courts in this country have consistently found that litigation privilege is based on a different rationale than solicitor-client privilege: Liquor Control Board of Ontario v. Lifford Wine Agencies Ltd. (2005), 2005 CanLII 25179 (ON CA), 76 O.R. (3d) 401; Ontario (Attorney General) v. Ontario (Information and Privacy Commission, Inquiry Officer) (2002), 2002 CanLII 18055 (ON CA), 62 O.R. (3d) 167 (“Big Canoe”); College of Physicians & Surgeons (British Columbia) v. British Columbia (Information & Privacy Commissioner) (2002), 9 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1, 2002 BCCA 665 (CanLII); Gower v. Tolko Manitoba Inc. (2001), 196 D.L.R. (4th) 716, 2001 MBCA 11 (CanLII); Mitsui & Co. (Point Aconi) Ltd. v. Jones Power Co. (2000), 188 N.S.R. (2d) 173, 2000 NSCA 96 (CanLII); General Accident Assurance Co. v. Chrusz (1999), 1999 CanLII 7320 (ON CA), 45 O.R. (3d) 321.

30 American and English authorities are to the same effect: see In re L. (A Minor), [1997] A.C. 16 (H.L.); Three Rivers District Council v. Governor and Company of the Bank of England (No. 6), [2004] Q.B. 916, [2004] EWCA Civ 218, and Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495 (1947). In the United States communications with third parties and other materials prepared in anticipation of litigation are covered by the similar “attorney work product” doctrine. This “distinct rationale” theory is also supported by the majority of academics: Sharpe; J. Sopinka, S. N. Lederman and A. W. Bryant, The Law of Evidence in Canada (2nd ed. 1999), at pp. 745-46; D. M. Paciocco and L. Stuesser, The Law of Evidence (3rd ed. 2002), at pp. 197-98; J.-C. Royer, La preuve civile (3rd ed. 2003), at pp. 868-71; G. D. Watson and F. Au, “Solicitor-Client Privilege and Litigation Privilege in Civil Litigation” (1998), 77 Can. Bar Rev. 315. For the opposing view, see J. D. Wilson, “Privilege in Experts’ Working Papers” (1997), 76 Can. Bar Rev. 346, and “Privilege: Watson & Au (1998) 77 Can. Bar Rev. 346: REJOINDER: ‘It’s Elementary My Dear Watson’” (1998), 77 Can. Bar Rev. 549.

31 Though conceptually distinct, litigation privilege and legal advice privilege serve a common cause: The secure and effective administration of justice according to law. And they are complementary and not competing in their operation. But treating litigation privilege and legal advice privilege as two branches of the same tree tends to obscure the true nature of both.

32 Unlike the solicitor-client privilege, the litigation privilege arises and operates even in the absence of a solicitor-client relationship, and it applies indiscriminately to all litigants, whether or not they are represented by counsel: see Alberta (Treasury Branches) v. Ghermezian (1999), 242 A.R. 326, 1999 ABQB 407 (CanLII). A self-represented litigant is no less in need of, and therefore entitled to, a “zone” or “chamber” of privacy. Another important distinction leads to the same conclusion. Confidentiality, the sine qua non of the solicitor-client privilege, is not an essential component of the litigation privilege. In preparing for trial, lawyers as a matter of course obtain information from third parties who have no need nor any expectation of confidentiality; yet the litigation privilege attaches nonetheless.

33 In short, the litigation privilege and the solicitor-client privilege are driven by different policy considerations and generate different legal consequences.

34 The purpose of the litigation privilege, I repeat, is to create a “zone of privacy” in relation to pending or apprehended litigation. Once the litigation has ended, the privilege to which it gave rise has lost its specific and concrete purpose — and therefore its justification. But to borrow a phrase, the litigation is not over until it is over: It cannot be said to have “terminated”, in any meaningful sense of that term, where litigants or related parties remain locked in what is essentially the same legal combat.

35 Except where such related litigation persists, there is no need and no reason to protect from discovery anything that would have been subject to compellable disclosure but for the pending or apprehended proceedings which provided its shield. Where the litigation has indeed ended, there is little room for concern lest opposing counsel or their clients argue their case “on wits borrowed from the adversary”, to use the language of the U.S. Supreme Court in Hickman, at p. 516.

36 I therefore agree with the majority in the Federal Court of Appeal and others who share their view that the common law litigation privilege comes to an end, absent closely related proceedings, upon the termination of the litigation that gave rise to the privilege: Lifford; Chrusz; Big Canoe; Boulianne v. Flynn, 1970 CanLII 339 (ON SC), [1970] 3 O.R. 84 (H.C.J.); Wujda v. Smith (1974), 1974 CanLII 1350 (MB QB), 49 D.L.R. (3d) 476 (Man. Q.B.); Meaney v. Busby (1977), 1977 CanLII 1311 (ON SC), 15 O.R. (2d) 71 (H.C.J.); Canada Southern Petroleum Ltd. v. Amoco Canada Petroleum Co. (1995), 176 A.R. 134 (Q.B.). See also Sopinka, Lederman and Bryant; Paciocco and Stuesser.

37 Thus, the principle “once privileged, always privileged”, so vital to the solicitor-client privilege, is foreign to the litigation privilege. The litigation privilege, unlike the solicitor-client privilege, is neither absolute in scope nor permanent in duration.

38 As mentioned earlier, however, the privilege may retain its purpose — and, therefore, its effect — where the litigation that gave rise to the privilege has ended, but related litigation remains pending or may reasonably be apprehended. In this regard, I agree with Pelletier J.A. regarding “the possibility of defining . . . litigation more broadly than the particular proceeding which gave rise to the claim” (para. 89); see Ed Miller Sales & Rentals Ltd. v. Caterpillar Tractor Co. (1988), 1988 ABCA 282 (CanLII), 90 A.R. 323 (C.A.).

39 At a minimum, it seems to me, this enlarged definition of “litigation” includes separate proceedings that involve the same or related parties and arise from the same or a related cause of action (or “juridical source”). Proceedings that raise issues common to the initial action and share its essential purpose would in my view qualify as well.

40 As a matter of principle, the boundaries of this extended meaning of “litigation” are limited by the purpose for which litigation privilege is granted, namely, as mentioned, “the need for a protected area to facilitate investigation and preparation of a case for trial by the adversarial advocate” (Sharpe, at p. 165). This purpose, in the context of s. 23 of the Access Act must take into account the nature of much government litigation. In the 1980s, for example, the federal government confronted litigation across Canada arising out of its urea formaldehyde insulation program. The parties were different and the specifics of each claim were different but the underlying liability issues were common across the country.

41 In such a situation, the advocate’s “protected area” would extend to work related to those underlying liability issues even after some but not all of the individual claims had been disposed of. There were common issues and the causes of action, in terms of the advocate’s work product, were closely related. When the claims belonging to that particular group of causes of action had all been dealt with, however, litigation privilege would have been exhausted, even if subsequent disclosure of the files would reveal aspects of government operations or general litigation strategies that the government would prefer to keep from its former adversaries or other requesters under the Access Act. Similar issues may arise in the private sector, for example in the case of a manufacturer dealing with related product liability claims. In each case, the duration and extent of the litigation privilege are circumscribed by its underlying purpose, namely the protection essential to the proper operation of the adversarial process.
. Lizotte v. Aviva Insurance Company of Canada

In Lizotte v. Aviva Insurance Company of Canada (SCC, 2016) the court contrasts the law of litigation privilege and of solicitor-client privilege:
[24] While it is true that in Blank, the Court thus identified clear differences between litigation privilege and solicitor‑client privilege, it also recognized that they have some characteristics in common. For instance, it noted that the two privileges “serve a common cause: The secure and effective administration of justice according to law” (para. 31). More specifically, litigation privilege serves that cause by “ensur[ing] the efficacy of the adversarial process” (para. 27) and maintaining a “protected area to facilitate investigation and preparation of a case for trial by the adversarial advocate” (para. 40, quoting Sharpe, at p. 165).

[25] The differences identified in Blank between solicitor‑client privilege and litigation privilege have been adopted in Quebec law: Desjardins Assurances générales inc. v. Groupe Ledor inc., mutuelle d’assurance, 2014 QCCA 1501, at para. 8 (CanLII); Canada (Procureur général) v. Chambre des notaires du Québec, 2014 QCCA 552, at para. 47 (CanLII); Informatique Côté, Coulombe inc. v. Groupe Son X Plus inc., 2012 QCCA 2262, at para. 15 (CanLII); Union canadienne (L’), compagnie d’assurance v. St‑Pierre, 2012 QCCA 433 (CanLII), [2012] R.J.Q. 340, at paras. 23‑24; Imperial Tobacco Canada ltée v. Létourneau, 2012 QCCA 2260, at paras. 7‑8 (CanLII); Société d’énergie de la Baie James v. Groupe Aecon ltée, 2011 QCCA 646, at para. 14 (CanLII); Fournier Avocats inc. v. Cinar Corp., 2010 QCCA 2278, at para. 21 (CanLII). In light of Blank and the subsequent case law, the earlier obiter dictum of LeBel J. in Foster Wheeler on which the motion judge relied in the instant case (at para. 63) must be placed in its proper context. In Foster Wheeler, LeBel J. wrote that litigation privilege “is now being absorbed into the Quebec civil law concept of professional secrecy” (para. 44). However, that observation referred to a tendency that is no longer representative of the state of the law in Quebec. Moreover, because litigation privilege applies, for example, to an unrepresented party without the involvement of a professional counsellor (Blank, at para. 27), it cannot be said, despite the common characteristics, that it has been absorbed into, or constitutes a component or subcategory of, the institution of professional secrecy.


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