Courts across Canada have specific rules about how documents relating to litigation must be delivered to, or served, upon parties to the litigation. The idea is that a legal process should come to the attention of the person/persons who are affected by it. Often the rules require personal service. Serving materials on another party can be difficult, and as a result the courts will occasionally grant orders for substituted service through alternative means. In recent years, the courts have had to contend with requests from parties wishing to serve documents over social media.
A judge in Nova Scotia has refused to let a man serve his daughter with legal documents through Facebook messenger. The man was attempting to obtain sole responsibility for decision making regarding his grandson, who lives with him. He claimed that his daughter was not reliable with face-to-face meetings but was active on Facebook.
Associate Chief Justice Lawrence O’Neil wrote in the decision that there was no evidence presented that the man’s daughter was evading personal service, and that “It must be remembered that the first obligation is to personally serve and only after an explanation as to why that is not possible should an order for substituted service be sought.”
O’Neil cited a 2016 decision from the Ontario Court of Justice which permitted service via Facebook. In Jewish Family and Child Service of Greater Toronto v. K.B., the court found that the applicants had made significant efforts to locate and contact the respondent, who remained evasive.
Justice S.B. Sherr did not approve a request to dispense with service, as it was felt that service gave the respondent the best opportunity to participate in the proceedings. An order for substituted service was provided, and explicit instructions were given to the applicants regarding the wording of the Facebook message to be used for serving the necessary documents.
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