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Media Release: Civil Liberties Watchdog Fights in Federal Court for Release of Documents on Illegal Spying On Canadians

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Canadian Surveillance Agency seeks to suppress information about its activities

For immediate release

OTTAWA (June 2, 2016) – The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) appeared in federal court yesterday and today to challenge the government’s suppression of information related to the Communications Security Establishment’s (CSE) warrantless spying on Canadians.

Yesterday, June 1, David Martin, lawyer for the BCCLA, began his cross-examination of government witnesses who claim the information cannot be released. The cross-examinations concluded today, June 2, 2016. The disputed documents, which the BCCLA has received in a highly-redacted form, relate to the surveillance activities of the CSE.

The BCCLA seeks to have information in the possession of the Canadian government disclosed in its lawsuit against the CSE. The BCCLA filed a lawsuit in 2013 against the CSE claiming that its broad and unchecked surveillance of Canadians is unconstitutional. The lawsuit challenges the CSE’s mass interception and searching of Canadians’ international phone and Internet communications, including emails, web-browsing content, and search-engine requests.

The Attorney General of Canada opposes the release of the contested information on the grounds that its disclosure would cause injury to Canada’s national security and international relations. The AG brought an application pursuant to s. 38.04 of the Canada Evidence Act. The Act prohibits the release of the information unless it is authorized by the Court.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, states: “The activities of Canada’s signals intelligence agency are shrouded in secrecy. CSE is required to have policies in place to protect the privacy of Canadians, but it has not provided the details of those policies to Canadians. We’re calling on the federal government to state clearly who it is watching, what is being collected, what is being shared with foreign governments and how it is handling Canadians’ private communications and information.”

The cross-examinations are the first part of the public phase of the hearings into whether the Court will authorize the disclosure of the information. Earlier this year, Mr. Justice Barnes appointed John Norris as amicus curia to assist the Court in considering the information and whether it should be disclosed and to advocate for the interests of the BCCLA. Mr. Norris will review the information at the Court’s undisclosed secure facilities in Ottawa. There will be secret hearings regarding whether the information should be disclosed.

The BCCLA’s lawsuit is the first and only lawsuit to challenge to the legality of CSE’s spying activities against Canadians.

Members of the new federal government have expressed serious concerns that are the same as the issues raised by the BCCLA. While the Prime Minister’s full election platform committed the government to “limit Communications Security Establishment’s powers by requiring a warrant to engage in the surveillance of Canadians”, to date, the government continues to oppose the BCCLA’s litigation.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, states: “There is no court or parliamentary committee that monitors CSE’s interception of Canadians’ private communications and metadata information, and there is no judicial oversight over its sweeping powers. Canadians know far less about the spying activities of their government than American and British citizens – and there are far fewer protections in place. What we know is that the government is monitoring people without probable cause and without warrants or review by judges.”

The BCCLA is represented by lawyers David J. Martin and Tamara Duncan of Martin and Associates and Joseph Arvay, Q.C. of Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP.

Read more about the BCCLA Stop Illegal Spying case here.

Read the Notice of Claim here.