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The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is the oldest and most active civil liberties and human rights group in Canada. The BCCLA has been actively advancing human rights and civil liberties through litigation, law reform, community-based legal advocacy, and public engagement and education for the last half century. We were established in 1962 by a group of academics and activists at the University of British Columbia in response to draconian police responses to religious minorities in the province.

The BCCLA has since grown to become a non-partisan, charitable society with thousands of supporters and volunteers, including many pro bono lawyers providing tens of thousands of hours of legal assistance in our ground breaking test case litigation and over 100 precedent-setting legal interventions at various appellate courts. Though we are based in BC, our work is national in scope with legal interventions and law reform advocacy across Canada.

Mandate

The BCCLA’s mandate is to promote, defend, sustain, and extend civil liberties and human rights in British Columbia and Canada. We recognize that such rights are inalienable and necessary for the flourishing of individuals and human society.

We achieve this mandate through four core programs:

  1. Litigation
  2. Law and Policy Reform
  3. Public Education
  4. Community-based legal education and information assistance

The BCCLA is committed to the protection of inherent human dignity, and strives to achieve a society in which people benefit from the meaningful and substantively equal enjoyment of their Charter-protected rights and liberty interests. The BCCLA recognizes that liberty, dignity and equality are mutually-reinforcing.

The BCCLA focuses on the relationship between people and the state, and the ways in which the state can limit or advance human rights and liberties. The BCCLA’s work pays particular attention to the needs of vulnerable individuals and oppressed communities, who would otherwise have difficulty getting redress for violations and limitations on their rights despite being the most susceptible to state regulation and violations of their fundamental rights. 

The BCCLA is committed to upholding our promise to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, where we committed “our vigilance in using whatever resources we have to oppose violations of the rights and freedoms of Indigenous people now and in the future,” and to the full realization of the rights of Indigenous peoples. 

Highlights of Our Work

Litigation

The BCCLA has proven to be one of Canada’s most successful and prolific test case litigators, and we are one of the most frequent non-government intervenors in the country. We build our test cases from the ground up, aiming to creatively shape the future direction of the law, serve the broad public interest, and uphold civil liberties and human rights. We are also involved in several dozen interventions each year at all levels of court and intervene in public inquiries and inquests to catalyze significant systemic changes in the public interest.

Some of our most ground-breaking litigation includes:

  • Joining with Little Sister’s bookstore to challenge Canada Customs for banning an LGBTQ magazine. The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed that the actions of Canada Customs officials were discriminatory against Little Sisters bookstore.
  • With the call for justice not torture, the BCCLA and John Howard Society filed and won the first-ever constitutional lawsuit seeking to abolish the use of long-term solitary confinement in all federal prisons. The cruel practice of solitary confinement disproportionately harms Indigenous and racialized people and people with disabilities.
  • Our momentous death with dignity Carter v. Canada case in which the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled to recognize the right of seriously and incurably ill Canadians to choose medical assistance in dying.
  • Intervening at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Chhina case to argue that immigration detainees should be able to challenge the lawfulness of their indefinite detention through the writ of habeas corpus, a legal provision that allows anyone being held in custody the right to challenge their detention before a judge.
  • Intervening at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Bedford case to argue against three criminal laws that prohibited various aspects of adult sex work. The BCCLA argued against the criminalization of adult sex work to ensure that adult sex workers have safety and control and the ability to determine the circumstances of their work.
  • Intervening in Victoria v. Adams, a successful Charter challenge to municipal bylaws that prevented homeless people from erecting shelters in public spaces for their protection.
  • Intervening at the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down Canada’s unconstitutional security certificate regime, using secret evidence and secret trials to unfairly imprison and possibly expel long-term residents to Canada.
  • Intervening in R. v. Smith, in which the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared restrictions on medical cannabis products were arbitrary and unconstitutional.
  • Intervening in a number of cases challenging mandatory minimum sentences, culminating in the Supreme Court of Canada striking down mandatory minimum sentencing scheme for certain criminal offenses.
  • Intervening in important cases advocating for criminal law reform, including in R v. Ahmad where the Supreme Court of Canada placed important limits on the power of police to step beyond their normal investigative role and tempt people into committing criminal offences, and R v. Zora where the Supreme Court of Canada held the offence of breaching a bail condition must be consistent with the presumption of innocence.
  • Participating in the public inquiries into the deaths of Frank Paul, a Mi’kmaq man who died of exposure and hypothermia after being dumped in an alley by officers of the Vancouver Police Department, and Robert Dziekanski, who was tasered at the Vancouver International Airport by RCMP officers. We participated in these inquiries with a number of recommendations leading to the creation of the Independent Investigation Office to ensure civilian investigation of serious police use-of-force incidents.
  • Filing Canada’s first and only lawsuit to challenge to the legality of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE’s) spying activities against Canadians.


Law and Policy Reform

In the last decade, we have made over 400 law reform submissions to all levels of government and have had hundreds of meetings with legislators and government policy-makers on law reform topics including national security, police oversight and accountability, surveillance, mandatory minimum sentencing, immigration detention, privacy rights, freedom of expression and SLAPP suits, and patients’ rights.

After years of advocacy alongside community partners, there have been critical victories, such as:

  • Reforming non-conviction disclosures on police information checks with the end to the disclosure of mental health and non-conviction interaction information.
  • Compelling the provincial government to halt cruel and coercive amendments to BC’s Mental Health Act that would create a new form of detention and involuntary health care in BC for youth who have experienced an overdose.
  • Ending second-class citizenship through an extremely visible and ultimately successful campaign to repeal changes made to the Citizenship Act by Bill C-24 that rendered millions of Canadians with less permanent rights because they have, or are eligible for, citizenship in another country.
  • Release of the Protest Papers, thousands of pages of secret documents disclosed from our complaint into the illegal spying activity of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. 
  • Campaigning and making submissions against Bill C-51, draconian and wide-sweeping anti-terror legislation, which was subsequently repealed in part.
  • Advocating for oversight and accountability for the Canada Border Services Agency.
  • Challenging the murderous actions of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia.
  • Ending the transfer of Afghan detainees to face torture.
  • Fighting the extradition of Dr. Hassan Diab and his detention without charge in France.
  • Calling for the return of child soldier Omar Khadr back home to Canada.
  • Participating in the inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was a victim of rendition to torture.
  • Amending Canada’s medical assistance in dying laws to end suffering in the dying process.
  • Successfully advocating for the introduction of effective provincial anti-SLAPP legislation to protect free expression against censorship.
  • Pushing for police accountability, including the creation of the Independent Investigation Office, and police reforms, including a coalition campaign to end to street checks that has gained significant momentum with Victoria and Vancouver City Council motions calling for an end to the police practice.

While we have been successful in obtaining law and policy reforms, we continue to advocate for more substantive and meaningful changes to the law to protect and expand civil liberties and human rights, especially for those most impacted by state regulation.

Policing Indigenous Communities Initiative:

The Policing Indigenous Communities Initiative is a multi-year project that seeks to address the over-representation and disproportionate impact of policing on Indigenous peoples in British Columbia. The initiative has three main areas of focus: police accountability in Indigenous communities in Northern BC; access to justice and rights violations at the Bail stage in rural Indigenous communities; and public awareness-raising and legal education.

Public Legal Education:

Our publications on civil liberties and human rights issues in Canada are influential and in demand by legal experts, research institutes, policy advocates, government ministries, as well as the public. Every year we produce high quality, relevant materials to help inform the public and push the civil liberties and human rights conversation forward in Canada.

Some of our most popular resources, reports and handbooks include:

  • Your Rights in a Pandemic: COVID-19 Response Factsheets, 2020
  • Know Your Rights: Injunctions and Contempt of Court, 2019
  • Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights at the Border, 2018
  • Know Your Protest Rights, 2017
  • Oversight at the Border: A Model for Independent Accountability at the Canadian Border Services Agency, 2017
  • Hungry for Justice: Advancing a Right to Food for Children in BC, 2016
  • HIV Testing Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights, 2015
  • More Than We Can Afford: The Costs of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, 2014
  • Rights Talk: Students and Civil Liberties at School, 2013
  • The Arrest Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights, 2010

We have also provided hundreds of educational workshops on free expression and protest, illegal search and seizure, and rights of youths in schools. Over 200 youth attend the BCCLA’s annual Youth and Civil Liberties Conference, bringing together high school students to learn and discuss civil liberties and human rights issues with a variety of speakers and workshops.


We could not do this work without the dedication of our staff, the passion of our volunteers including our board and pro bono counsel, and without the stalwart support of our members.  

If you are not yet a member, consider becoming one today and stand up for civil liberties and human rights for all.