Criminal Sentence For Unauthorized Access Of Former Co-Worker’s E-Mail Reduced On Appeal

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A terminated employee was convicted of “Mischief to Data” and “Unauthorized use of a Computer” contrary to the Criminal Code after he remotely accessed a former co-worker’s e-mail without her authorization and forwarded several e-mails to his personal account. In this recent appeal decision, the Summary Conviction Appeal Court reduced the terminated employee’s sentence to a conditional discharge after taking into consideration, among other things, the potential impact of a criminal conviction on his current and potential employment opportunities.

In R. v. Charania, the appellant was terminated from his employment as the Director of Care at a nursing home. Later that same evening, the appellant used the username and password of Ms. Caven, the Human Resources Coordinator at the nursing home, to remotely access her e-mail. Once in her e-mail, the appellant forwarded several e-mails relating to their meeting and his employment to his personal e-mail account. At the same time, Ms. Caven was also attempting to remotely access her e-mail using her username and password. She was repeatedly denied access and eventually locked out of the system, which led to a complaint to IT, and subsequently, to an investigation by the nursing home and the police.

Contrary to the appellant’s claim, Ms. Caven denied providing the appellant with her username and password. Based on the totality of the evidence, the trial judge found the appellant guilty of the offences charged. She conditionally stayed one count and on the other count sentenced the employee to a fine of $1,300.00 and placed him on probation for 18 months with terms including restitution. The appellant appealed his sentence.

The Summary Conviction Appeal Court found that the trial judge committed an error by considering the appellant’s defence as an aggravating factor and again when considering the viability of a conditional discharge. In considering whether to vary the sentence imposed by the trial judge, the court stated that the potential impact of a criminal conviction on the offender’s current and potential employment opportunities is a relevant consideration in deciding between a criminal conviction and a conditional discharge. The court went on to consider that the appellant was a first time offender with no prior criminal record. He had a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, with a minor in healthcare administration and was studying for his Master’s degree. Prior to these offences he had a solid employment history and had contributed to the community through volunteer work. Further, as a registered nurse the appellant was facing additional consequences for his conduct as a result of disciplinary proceedings by the College of Nurses of Ontario.

Ultimately, the Summary Conviction Appeal Court held that, in these particular circumstances, a conditional discharge would neither be contrary to the public interest nor would be inconsistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing in the Criminal Code.

R. v. Charania, 2014 ONSC 1695

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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