Saskatchewan farmer Chris Akhter has long done business with grain buyer Kent Mickleborough, but an unfortunate misunderstanding put an end to years of fruitful cooperation. In 2021, the partners agreed that Mr. Akhter will supply the client with 86 tons of flax seeds. Negotiations took place over the phone, after which Mickleborough sent the farmer a photo of the contract and asked him to confirm it. In response, Akhter sent an emoji of approval. The buyer decided that in this way the farmer accepted the deal and waited patiently for his order. Only now the seeds never made it to Mickleborough, after which he sued the partner.
The farmer is convinced that the emoji he sent cannot be interpreted as an electronic signature. In addition, according to Akhter, the buyer sent him an incomplete version of the contract. The man claims that with the help of “thumbs up” he only confirmed receipt of the message.
However, Judge Timothy Keane sided with the plaintiff, citing the definition of the “thumbs up” emoji in an online dictionary. Dictionary.com says that the symbol is used to “express agreement, approval, or encouragement in digital communications.”
“I’m not sure how authoritative this is, but it seems to match my understanding of my daily use, even though I’m new to the world of technology,” Keen explained of his decision.
The defense, in turn, expressed concern that the controversial court decision would cast doubt on the interpretation of other emoji, such as “fist bump” and “handshake.” It is not yet clear whether they can serve as a substitute for signing a contract and impose legal obligations on the sender.
However, such questions do not bother Mr. Keane. According to him, the judiciary must adapt to the fact that emoji have become a way of expressing consent.
“This appears to be a new reality in Canadian society, and courts must be prepared to deal with the new challenges that may arise with the use of emoji and the like,” Keane concluded.