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Serving Documents via Twitter: Is it the Future of Canadian Law?


Serving Documents via Twitter: Is it the Future of Canadian Law?

In all Canadian litigation, documents are “served” or delivered on opposing parties (or their lawyers) in accordance with strict Rules of Procedure.

Depending on the circumstances – and on whether the opposing party is trying to avoid being served – this can be accomplished through one of many different means, ranging from merely handing them over, to sending them by registered mail, to other specified procedures.

In Ontario Family Court, for example, the Rules provide that “regular service” encompasses a variety of methods, including sending documents by mail, courier, fax, physical document exchange. (And there may need to be what is known as “special service” in specified situations). With the consent of the person being served or by court order, they may also be served by electronic document exchange or e-mail.

But Canadian law has not gone too far in allowing for the service of documents by more unconventional means.

Not so in the U.S.: A judge in San Francisco, California has allowed documents to be served in a highly unconventional manner — by way of Twitter.

The intended recipient of the documents was a Kuwaiti national, located overseas, who was suspected of helping to fund the terrorist group ISIS. He had proven difficult to locate by conventional means, but had a large following on Twitter and was still actively using that social media platform to raise money for terrorist organizations through donations.

The documents were being served by St. Francis Assisi, a non-profit organization which alleged that ISIS financing had supported the murder of Assyrian Christians in Syria and Iraq.

The San Francisco judge authorized the service of documents under U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which in recent years has also been used in some cases – where deemed necessary and warranted in the circumstances – to authorize service of documents on foreign defendants by more unconventional technology-based methods such as e-mail, LinkedIn and Facebook. Under those Rules, the method chosen must be one that is “reasonably calculated to give notice” to the person being served, if there is no internationally-agreed means or if there is an international agreement but it does not specify the method. Typically, a court will order a copy of the served documents to be sent by more than one method.

But this U.S. case was the first in which a plaintiff such as St. Francis Assisi was authorized to use Twitter as a means of service on a hard-to-find foreign national. It may not be the last.

Is this a good development in the law generally? Should it be adopted in Canada? What are your thoughts?

For a link to the judge’s order, see:

St. Francis Assisi v. Kuwait Fin. House, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136152 (N.D. Ca. Sept. 30, 2016)

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