Letter to Prime Minister Chretien from BCCLA President John Dixon,”Attacks on our Privacy”

Dear Prime Minister Chretien,

RE: Attacks on our Privacy

I am writing to you on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association regarding what has become a torrent of measures from your government undercutting the privacy rights of all Canadians.

The BCCLA is the oldest and most active civil liberties group in Canada. We have spent the past 40 years working to preserve, defend, maintain and extend civil liberties and human rights in British Columbia and across Canada. What is happening now is an unprecedented attack on the civil liberties of all Canadians.

Some of these laws are being justified on the basis that they are necessary for the war on terrorism, or so we are told. Other measures are supposedly necessary to fight the war on organized crime, or the war on drugs or the war on child pornography. What is actually being waged is a war on privacy and the rights of Canadians to have a life free from constant scrutiny by their government or anyone else.

Your government has passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which has, among other draconian measures, allowed the Communications Security Establishment to use its resources to monitor communications within Canada.

Last month the BCCLA appeared before the legislative committee studying Bill C-17, the latest iteration of the Public Safety Act. This legislation would create a new series of powers to be used by Ministers and their officials without either judicial or meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and extend the use of the airline database to transport security and searching for people with outstanding warrants against them.

We will also be appearing before the Citizenship and Immigration Committee later this month to make our views known on the proposed national ID card, which your Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is apparently favours. Considering what else has been happening to our privacy rights, we have a number of serious concerns about this proposal.

The BCCLA, along with many others in this country, has been critical of the API-PNR database, which allows extensive personal information on travelers to be kept for up to six years by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and shared across the government. What was originally proposed to be a 24 hour screening mechanism for terrorists has now become a monster, with the Minister now openly boasting of using this database for all kinds of purposes unrelated to the fight against terrorism.

We are also awaiting legislation coming out of the 2002 Department of Justice paper on Lawful Access. This initiative is very worrying for anyone concerned about the right to privacy. Not only does the consultation document propose a number of new measures to give law enforcement agencies greater access to the private electronic communications of Canadians, but it would make service providers into agents of the state and require them to assume the cost of ensuring their systems are able to be monitored by the authorities. This is unacceptable.

To sum up, the BCCLA is concerned about the direction your government is taking on all these issues. We are not alone in this. A number of organizations and individuals share our concerns. In fact, your own Privacy Commissioner has highlighted many of these same concerns in his annual report. I urge you to read his report carefully and to follow his recommendations.

Our positions and submissions on these issues are available on our web site,

If you have any questions regarding our positions on these matters, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

John Dixon, President

cc: George Radwanski, Privacy Commissioner of Canada