This letter was co-signed by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
CIPPIC – A large coalition of Canada’s leading privacy experts and civil society groups wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday regarding the federal government’s increasing failure to protect the privacy of Canadians. The letter points to the government’s efforts to increase the ability of law enforcement and other state agencies’ ability to exploit new technologies in order to invade Canadians’ privacy (pointing specifically to Bill C-13, currently being rushed through parliamentary committee under the guise of ‘cyber bullying’ legislation), while steadfastly refusing to address long-standing privacy problems raised by the same technological developments. The letter specifically points to the unchecked surveillance activities of Canada’s foreign intelligence agency, CSEC, and the steadfast refusal to update ageing but central privacy and transparency statutes as indication of some of the long-standing privacy problems the government has refused to act on. It calls on the government to take its review of the privacy-invasive elements of Bill C-13 seriously, and to establish a commission to examine privacy and state surveillance in the digital age.
Finally, the letter decries the controversial nomination of a government official as Privacy Commissioner of Canada. While the capabilities of the candidate — Daniel Therrier, a senior and respected government lawyer at Public Safety Canada — are not questioned, there is concern that he lacks the perspective necessary to immediately tackle Canada’s long list of privacy challenges. The appointment is particularly controversial in light of reports that, in selecting Mr. Therrier, the government rejected its own selection committee’s preferred candidate. As Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Public Safety Canada, Mr. Therrier would have been responsible for designing, overseeing and legally advising on a number of the very programs he will be called upon to challenge as Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The Letter points out that it will take time for an individual to develop the perspective necessary to challenge the very programs that individual has designed, and that leaving Canadians without an effective Privacy watchdog while this perspective is developed is indefensible.
This statement was originally crafted on the occasion of the launch of the book Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada / Vivre à nu: la surveillance au Canada, at the ‘Politics of Surveillance Workshop’. This event brought together in Ottawa, Canada, May 9-10, 2014, an international group of academics and advocates to debate the various political, legal, social and technological strategies for challenging mass surveillance, protecting civil liberties and advancing democratic rights.
We the undersigned are agreed:
1. That all levels of government in Canada must fully respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms including the right to privacy, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and security against unreasonable search and seizure.
2. That all proposals for changes to information and privacy rights must be presented, justified and debated in a transparent manner. No changes to information and privacy rights and statutory privacy law should ever be embedded in omnibus bills or otherwise hidden in legislation relating to other issues.
3. That the extension of ‘lawful access’ regimes allowing government bodies to collect and/or purchase and store personal data without specific judicial permission, should be halted. All such proposed changes must be subjected to tests of necessity, proportionality, minimality and effectiveness, with the burden of proof being on the government. In addition, security vulnerabilities in communications systems must be addressed and fixed rather than exploited by government agencies.
The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) and the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Harkat, which leaves in place a fundamentally unfair process that relies on secret evidence in deciding whether to deport a non-citizen, potentially to a risk of torture.
In its decision, the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional the security certificate scheme, finding that Special Advocates can adequately compensate for the failure to share with the persons concerned some of the evidence used against them.
The ICLMG and the CCR regret that this decision leaves in place unequal protections for non-citizens’ basic rights. When these rights are at stake for citizens, such as in criminal proceedings, we do not tolerate the use of secret evidence. Non-citizens deserve an equal opportunity to know and respond to the evidence used against them. The Court did not engage with the discriminatory aspects of these provisions. The Court also failed to refer to international human rights law, which should provide a crucial framework for Canadian law.