Civil Law

Canadian Photography Laws » The Laws » Civil Law

Canadian Civil Law generally involves a dispute between you and another person or company. Any person or company can sue any other private citizen or company for almost any reason. Judges will look back to similar cases from the past, and use them as a guide in the ruling.

If you do damage to someone, then Civil Law will allow that person to get restitution for the damages. This is a good guideline, but not always the case.

If you break the law (federal, provincial, or municipal) and there is a private citizen or company that is a victim, you will be prosecuted by the government on behalf of society, and the private citizen or company may also choose to sue you for the damages you caused. Note that damage may not necessarily be to property, but may also be to public reputation.

There are some exceptions, which are noted in specific laws. For example, in Ontario, if you are charged and convicted of Trespassing, the property owner can not sue you civilly for the same event.

Another scenario is where no damage has occurred, and you can still be sued. For example, if you take a photo of a person, or an identifiable property, and you profit or gain from the sale of the photo, then the person or owner of the property can sue you to control the use of their image, or for a cut of the profits. This is commonly covered under the Privacy Acts in various provinces.

Slander / Libel / Defamation of Character

Libel is where you cause damage to another person’s public image by writing about them in public. Slander, which applies less here, is the verbal version of Libel (You say something publicly about them). Both are Defamation of Character, which is a direct, “defamatory” attack on a person’s reputation in public.

If a photograph you take is published, which you have a fundamental right to do, you must be careful not to misrepresent or injure the reputation of people or property which were photographed. This can be done by editing the photo to alter the situation, or adding an incorrect or misleading caption.

Invasion of Privacy

There is no agreed-upon civil law version of invasion of privacy.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be sued for civil invasion of privacy, this just means there is no mandate on this topic.

There is a Federal Law that deals with this: Criminal Voyeurism.

Newspapers and Other Publishers

Newspapers, magazines, and other publications, in general, will publish photos of newsworthy events. However, for reasons of journalistic integrity, ethics, and accuracy, most will not publish edited (or “photoshopped”) photos. Most publications will refuse to publish photos of children under 18, without direct permission from the child’s guardian. This is out of fear that the child could be in hiding (child protective services / foster child, separated parents, witness protection, etc), or a young offender. The reason for this is civil liability. For example, the publisher will have caused civil damage in a situation where a photo of a child that is published allows the child to be found by an abusive parent.


Civil Law differs from Federal, Provincial and Municipal law, in that the only written law is similar previous cases.  However, there are several common unwritten laws, such as contract law and tort law.

Slander / Libel / Defamation of Character - The Tort of Defamation is the important one.  However, as I’ve stated, there is no official text for the law, only references to the many, many previous cases that apply here.

Invasion of Privacy - See Somwar v. McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. [2006] O.J. No. 64



I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. For more information, see the Disclaimer.