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Aubry v. Éditions Vice-Versa Inc.

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    April 9, 1998
  • Outcome
    Dismissed
  • Case Number
    [1998] 1 S.C.R. 591
  • Region & Country
    Canada, North America
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law
  • Themes
    Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Privacy, Public Officials

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found that a celebrity’s privacy interests outweighed a magazine’s right to freedom of expression. Éditions Vice-Versa published published a photograph of Pascale Claude Aubry sitting on a public sidewalk without Aubry’s consent. The Court reasoned that the magazine had not demonstrated sufficient public interest in the photograph, and thus violated Aubry’s right to privacy. The was the first case in which the Supreme Court balanced the right to privacy against the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.


Facts

Pascale Claude Aubry brought a civil tort action against a magazine, Éditions Vice-Versa (Éditions), for publishing a photograph of Aubry while she was sitting on a step on a public sidewalk in Montreal. Both parties acknowledged that the photograph was taken in a public place and was taken without Aubry’s consent.

Three provisions of the Quebec Charter are most relevant here. Section 3 of the Quebec Charter states “[e]very person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.” Section 4 states “[e]very person has a right to respect for his private life.” Finally, Section 9.1 stipulates that, “[i]n exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Quebéc.”

Aubry argued that Éditions violated her right to privacy under Section 4 of the Quebec Charter. Éditions countered that restricting the publication of a photograph taken of a public figure in a public place would impermissibly burden its freedom of expression under Section 3 of the Quebec Charter. The lower court sided with Aubry and awarded her damages. Éditions then appealed.


Decision Overview

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the lower court’s verdict for Aubry, reasoning that the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Quebec Charter, have to be interpreted in light of Section 9.1, which stipulates that in exercising the rights enshrined in the Charter, each person must “maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Quebéc.”

The Court determined that the language of Section 9.1 required it to balance Aubry’s right to privacy against Éditions’ right to freedom of expression. In balancing the rights, the Court found that Aubry’s privacy right to her image outweighed the public’s right to information because Éditions had made no showing that the image was a matter of public concern.

A minority of judges dissented on the issue of damages, arguing that they had not been proven.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld a lower court’s verdict against a magazine that published a picture of a celebrity without her permission. The Court balanced the celebrity’s right to privacy against the public’s right to view the photo and decided that, because there was insufficient reason for the public to view the photo, the celebrity’s right to privacy trumped the magazine’s freedom to publish the photo. Thus, the decision contracts the magazine’s freedom of expression.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Can., R. v. Dyment, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 417
  • Can., Field v. United Amusement Corp., [1971] C.S. 283
  • Can., R. v. Keegstra, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 697
  • Can., Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec (Attorney General), [1989] 1 S.C.R. 927
  • Can., R v. Butler, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 452
  • Can., Ford v. Quebec (Attorney General), [1988] 2 S.C.R. 712
  • Can., Fraser v. Public Service Staff Relations Board, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 455
  • Can., Dagenais v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp., [1994] 3 S.C.R. 835
  • Can., Hill v. Church of Scientology, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 1130
  • Can., Kowarsky v. Procureur général du Québec, [1988] R.D.J. 339
  • Can., Moises v. Canadian Newspaper Co., [1997] 1 W.W.R. 337
  • Can., R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295
  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 8
  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 1
  • Can., QC, Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., Estate of Presley v. Russen, 513 F.Supp. 1339 (1981)
  • U.S., Current Audio, Inc. v. RCA Corp., 337 N.Y.S.2d 949 (1972)

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada are binding on all lower courts.  In balancing the right to privacy against the right to freedom of expression, Canada’s lower courts must consider the Supreme Court’s decision in this case.

Official Case Documents

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