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.
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:
- Law and Policy Reform
- Public Education
- 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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.