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Evidence from the Internet – Is It Good Enough for Court?

Evidence from the Internet – Is It Good Enough for Court?

In a case I reported on recently called Caine v. Ferguson the father claimed that his income was too low for him to pay child support for his daughter. The court considered evidence designed to refute his claim, put forth by the opposing side and taken from various U.S. music-industry-specific websites. The court wrote:

[The lawyer] submitted that the [father] could be earning $35,000 per annum as a musician. In support of this argument, she attempted to introduce internet articles from two websites from the United States, called Payscale and Musician Wages.com.

The court reflected on the general trustworthiness of these kinds of tendered materials sourced from the Internet, and pointed out that the dependability will vary with their source and nature:

In [prior court cases, the court] permitted the introduction of reports from Ontario Job Futures and Statistics Canada as evidence of income levels for a payor in the insurance industry. In these cases, the reports came directly from provincial and federal governments and had some indicia of reliability. However … I expressed the need to exercise considerable caution in how much weight the court could attach to such documents as they were unsworn third-party statements that could not be tested by cross-examination.

Ultimately, in this instance the court rejected the music-industry website evidence outright, stating:

The documents sought to be introduced here are much more problematic. There was no evidence led that the documents were from reputable sources …  No foundation was provided as to the qualifications of the writers of the documents. The articles were both from the United States. The author of the Musician Wages.com article is an associate conductor of a Broadway play. There was no evidence indicating that he would have any knowledge about what level of income a freelance musician could earn in Toronto. The articles were from 2007 and 2008 respectively. I did not admit the documents into evidence as they did not come close to achieving threshold reliability.

Although a court’s determination will vary from case-to-case, the question of the admissibility and reliability of internet evidence can arise in virtually all kinds of cases, not just those that spring from family disputes.

In fact, it came up squarely in a 2017 immigration case called El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), where the court’s conclusions included a commonsense point: Information from official web sites, developed and maintained by the relevant organization itself, is more reliable than unofficial ones which contain information about the organization but which are maintained by private persons or businesses.

In a future blog post, I will discuss some of the other principles confirmed and summarized in that recent immigration case.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Caine v. Ferguson, 2012 ONCJ 139 (CanLII)

El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2017 FC 39 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com