Electronic documents and computer data have become one of the most common forms of documentary evidence in modern criminal trials. For the purposes of Canadian evidence law, an electronic document includes any data stored or recorded on an electronic device that can be read by another electronic device or by a person. This definition includes metadata associated with computer files, emails, chat logs, other forms of electronic communications, and any other electronic communication.
Before being admitted as evidence, electronic documents and computer data evidence must be authenticated by someone capable of doing so. This person must have first-hand knowledge of the information contained in the reports. In some cases, an expert witness may be necessary.
Person A is charged with child pornography offences after their electronic devices were seized and child pornography material was found. Law enforcement officials make a forensic copy of person A’s computer and extract the metadata to be used as evidence to prove person A was in possession of child pornography, as well as the quantity of child pornography.
At trial, the Crown introduces reports generated by law enforcement from the metadata found in person A’s computer. Included in these reports is the number of images and videos of child pornography found in person A’s possession, as well as computer data proving that person A shared some of the material with a third party, person B. The Crown calls an officer who worked on the case as a witness to authenticate the reports.
Common Examples of Electronic Documents and Computer Data
- Text messages, emails, or other electronic communications
- Printouts from a government website
- Metadata from a computer
- Content posted on social media
- Records of any kind stored on a computer (bank records, business records, etc.)