Post box rental

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To: the Council of the City of Vancouver
From: the B.C. Civil Liberties Association
Re: Post Box rentals
Date: January 21, 1983

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has several objections to the proposed Post Box Rental Bylaw (the “proposed bylaw”), including:

  1. unfair discrimination
  2. constructive search and seizure
  3. invasion or privacy and
  4. denial of due process of law.

Unfair discrimination

The proposed bylaw was supposed to be aimed at the two Post Box Rental Agencies mentioned in the May 28, 1982 Report of the Director of Permits and Licenses and not at such businesses as the Vancouver Sun or Province or other newspapers. Yet the definition of ’Post Box Rental Agency’ is phrased so as to include those businesses. In any case, the proposed bylaw would unfairly discriminate between businesses.

Unequal treatment is shown when telephone answering services, law offices, bank and trust company services, safety deposit vault services, and similar operations are considered. This bylaw was not meant to include these groups. It is possible they may be covered and the law just not applied to them. It is possible they are not covered. In either case unfair discrimination would exist. Those businesses would not have to keep customer lists showing names and addresses and turn that information over to City Inspectors or to the city police. Without any compelling rationale, the proposed bylaw singles out one special class from the type of service business. And it then unfairly imposes restrictions and obligations on that special class.

Constructive search and seizure

There is no real distinction between a law allowing the police to break, enter, search and seize and a law compelling a person to provide to the police lists or information without such breaking and entering. The former is actual search and seizure; the latter is constructive search and seizure. In both cases the object of the law is to get incriminatory evidence and information in the hands of the police.

The Charter of Rights and Freedomsprotects everyone from unreasonable search and seizure. With police search and seizure our laws generally provide a search warrant requirement. By this means the police must obtaint he approval of a judicial officer, normally a justiceof the peace, before they proceed with the search. And the police can only obtain that approval by satisfying the justice that they have reasonable and probable grounds for believing:

  1. that an offence has been or is likely to be committed and
  2. that the evidence uncovered by the proposed search will be evidence of the offence mentioned and against the person mentioned.

The proposed bylaw unfairly (and quite possibly illegally) circumvents that process. It amounts to a constructive search and seizure. Also, instead of being a particular search against one person for a particular offence, it is a blanket search of many persons for unknown offences. Worse still, there is no requirement that reasonable and probable grounds for believing an offence has occurred exist before this kind of search is authorized.

Finally, note that the proposed bylaw imposes an obligation on post box rental agencies to gather information and provide it to city officials on demand. The post box rental agencies end up doing the job of the police. Against their will, they become police informers and agents.

Invasion of privacy

There are many reasons why a person would wish to rent a post box. One of those might be to conduct a business. But that is only one reason. A person may wish all or just some kinds of personal mail to come to such a post box rather than to his or her residence. She or he may wish to keep their personal residence a secret. Use of a post box is thus similar to using an unlisted telephone number.

The rights of such people to remain private are of great importance in a democratic society such as ours. And our laws concerning the powers of all levels of government to invade that privacy are clear. The Charter or Rights and Freedoms recognizes this in several of its provisions, including the provision protecting security of the person and the provision against unreasonable search and seizure.