Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Have the Perfect Reason to Live in British Columbia: Unique Privacy Laws
British Columbia has a law that specifically creates a right to sue if your privacy is invaded
Along with clean air, friendly neighbors and seemingly endless miles of beautiful coastline to explore with son Archie, the couple’s new Vancouver Island home offers another key ingredient: a “Privacy Act” that provides extra protection from the British newspapers.
“British Columbia is one of a handful of provinces that has a law like this, which specifically creates a right to sue if your privacy is invaded,” privacy expert David Fraser, of law firm McInnes Cooper, tells PEOPLE. “It specifically says that surveillance can be a form of privacy invasion.
Fraser adds, “Privacy is also one of the only areas of law that protects a certain set of feelings related to being surveilled or being ‘creeped out.’ So, if you think you’re alone and somebody steps out from a shadow, that jarring feeling of intrusion is something that privacy law increasingly is protecting.”
For Meghan and Harry, this should mean that they have a greater right to privacy when they’re at home, taking a stroll in the park or popping into a local grocery store. It’s all thanks to what Canadian’s view as a “reasonable expectation of privacy”— even for those in the public eye.
“We have a notion here in Canada that if you are a public figure — if you have stepped into the spotlight — along with that you have to accept that there is a reduced expectation of privacy,” says Fraser. “But with Harry and Meghan in particular, they have specifically said that they are stepping out of the spotlight. They have specifically said that they are moving from the U.K. in order to preserve their privacy — and some of the statements I have seen have tied it to the experience of Princess Diana or mental health concerns associated with perhaps unfair media coverage or unfair scrutiny of their private life.
“So, I would imagine that there would be a sympathetic ear within the courts that would at least take a look at all these factors without kind of dismissing it outright by saying ‘Look, you’re a member of the royal family. You may no longer be a senior royal but…’”
While these rights have to be balanced with Canada’s equally big respect for the freedom of the press, the difference is that it’s “not as absolute as in the USA,” explains Fraser. Exactly what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy is also vastly different to expectations in the United Kingdom too.
“The point is that we all have a zone of privacy — even around famous folk,” says Mark Stephens, partner at London law firm Howard Kennedy. “That zone of privacy is slightly smaller around famous folk than it is around somebody ordinary walking along the street.
“What they are doing is essentially giving themselves a larger zone of privacy — what they’re saying is ‘we’re not going to the opening of an envelope anymore. We’re not going to be spending all of our waking hours in the public eye and thereby we’re going to live a life of greater seclusion, which gives us a greater degree of privacy as a matter of law.’”
Should Harry and Meghan ever take legal action using the British Columbia privacy laws, then their claim will go in front of a judge in Vancouver. Should the court rule in their favor, then Meghan and Harry are likely to seek an injunction against whatever photographer or publication has crossed over the legal boundaries, limiting their ability to venture near the couple.
“In Canada, we don’t have a celebrity culture. We don’t have a paparazzi culture,” adds Fraser. “So, it is a fresh field to plow in a lot of ways and I think there are levers within British Columbia law that would not be available in the U.S. and they are slightly different to those in the U.K. too.”
When Harry and Meghan dropped their bombshell announcement in January, they specifically stated that they wanted to “amend their media relations policy to reflect their new roles.” They also stated that while they welcomed “accurate and honest media reporting,” they also valued “privacy as individuals and as a family.”
Thanks to British Columbia’s privacy act — and the goodwill of locals keeping their movements private — they may succeed. Truth is, however, that it may simply be the remoteness of Vancouver Island that helps them most.
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“If you’re a freelance photographer and you’re on Vancouver Island where there are only three people you want photographs of, you’re probably better off being in Los Angeles or Monaco, or Paris, or London,” adds Fraser.
“Them changing their status in the royal family is newsworthy, and them relocating to Canada is newsworthy, but them going to a coffee shop in six weeks just will not be newsworthy at all.”