In Canada, it is legal to record a party without their knowledge as long as one of the parties being recorded (which includes the person doing the recording) consents (Criminal Code s. 184(2)). However, simply because something is legal does not mean it will be admissible in court. This is especially so when it comes to secret recordings in family law cases.
A recent case in Ontario, Van Ruyven v Van Ruyven, 2021 ONSC 5963, dealt with two parties who put into evidence secret recordings they had taken of the other. The judge decided that the recordings could not be considered as evidence, and that such conduct was to be discouraged by the courts. This case has been cited by courts in BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, as well as Ontario, as judges caution family law litigants from engaging in the questionable activity of secretly recording one’s ex; or worse, one’s child.
Family proceedings can be extremely acrimonious. As such, some parents record the other parent or their child, in an often misguided attempt to collect evidence that the recording party thinks will amount to a “smoking gun”. However, this can often backfire and the recordings may cast doubt on the ability of the recording parent to put the needs of their child in front of their own desire to “win”. This was particularly so in K.M. v J.R., 2022 ONSC 111, where both parents secretly recorded each other, and the judge stated that parents need to be strongly discouraged from engaging in such behaviour.
The judge in that case, who had reviewed the recordings, stated in regards to the content of those recordings that
“[t]he adults were so busy arguing and screaming at each other that they didn’t seem to hear the boy say something that should have been obvious. “I’m scared.” (para 203(f)). The judge went on to say “the manner in which the recording was created raises serious questions about parental insight and sensitivity” (para 208 (e)).
In a similar situation, suspiciously obtained evidence was considered in a recent BC case: Steiner v Mazzotta, 2022 BCSC 827, where, in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a parent snuck onto the other parent’s property and took pictures of the parent who was with the child not wearing a mask in contravention of a previous order. The judge in Steiner admitted the picture as evidence, but stated: “Although the respondent’s poor conduct yielded evidentiary material that I could not properly exclude or ignore, such behaviour is not to be encouraged” (para 11(c)).
Note that whether or not secret recordings will be accepted by the court is up to the discretion of the judge, and that the creation and the attempted use of such recordings may backfire.