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Judge sides with Toronto in battle with Uber over policy disclosure

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

© Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

An Ontario court has quashed a bid from ride-sharing app Uber to keep details of its "highly confidential" insurance policy secret.

In the legal battle between Uber and the City of Toronto, a key issue has been whether the Silicon Valley-based company provides adequate insurance to protect its users. This week, a judge ruled that if the company chooses to put forward a copy of its insurance policy as evidence, that the document – which Uber painstakingly guards as a "trade secret" – must be made public.

"To begin, I am not satisfied that Uber has presented sufficient evidence to show that disclosure of the insurance policy would lead to a loss of any competitive advantage," Ontario Superior Court Justice James Diamond wrote in his decision.

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According to court records, Uber had argued for the documents to be presented under a sealing order, saying the policy is shared only "on a tightly restricted, need-to-know basis," and that making it public "would cause serious harm to its commercial interests and competitive position."

But Justice Diamond said this did not warrant a sealing order. "I also do not find the insurance policy amounts to a 'trade secret,'" he wrote.

Uber Canada spokeswoman Susie Heath declined to comment on the court decision, citing company policy not to comment on matters that are before the courts.

The court decision is the latest setback for the app-based taxi service, which launched in 2009 and pairs riders with paid drivers. In November, the City of Toronto filed a court injunction against the company – arguing that the service defies municipal taxi licensing regulations – in an attempt to shut down its operations. Uber's response has been to say that it is a technology company and thus not subject to traditional taxi rules.

And as the case awaits its Toronto court date in May, Uber has continued to attract controversy in cities around the world, with critics questioning the company's safety and privacy policies.

The company's insurance policy has played a central part in these controversies. Uber Toronto's website says the company provides up to $5-million in insurance coverage for users. But the City of Toronto's legal action against the company questioned this, saying in court records that Uber's insurance does not meet the $2-million coverage required in city bylaws.

Uber has in the past made public its insurance policy related to its operations in U.S. cities. But its Canadian policy has been kept confidential since its development. An affidavit from the company's director of insurance, Henry Gustav Fuldner, said the details are kept secret even within the company.

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In its arguments to keep the policy confidential, Uber Canada manager Ian Black says in an affidavit that the policy "is integral to [Uber operator] Rasier's business model and its efforts to attract drivers to use the Uber App." In court, lawyers further argued that its insurance is "unusual, in that it is not a typical 'off the shelf' product," and that its development took more than seven months of negotiations.

Amid its legal battle with the city, Uber Toronto has also been engaged in an extensive lobbying campaign over the past several months in an attempt to persuade city councillors to rewrite taxi regulations specifically for app-based ride-sharing services. In addition to that, the company launched an e-mail campaign this week, asking its "top users" to lobby their city councillors on Uber's behalf.

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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