Menu
< class="what-entry-title">We’re hiring a Director of Operations and People!>

The BCCLA’s Director of Operations and People requires a talented person to actively grow the effective operational and internal capacity of our growing organization. This is a full-time, permanent position.

Reporting to the Executive Director and working closely with the full staff team as well as the Board of Directors, the Director of Operations and People provides a leadership role in BCCLA’s financial, operational, governance, internal capacity and HR work.

We are seeking a poised and professional leader with a strong background in financial management, budgeting processes and endowment management, development of organizational policies, operational infrastructure, managerial experience, knowledge of and interest in human rights and civil liberties issues, and a deep commitment to equality, justice, and freedom. The successful candidate will show leadership, good judgement, and strong ethics.

The BCCLA is committed to ensuring that equity, diversity, and inclusion are priority considerations, including in building a workplace that honours the particular experiences and expertise of communities marginalized through state violence and social oppression. The BCCLA strongly encourages applications from all qualified Indigenous people, Black people, people of colour, immigrants and refugees, working class people, and LGBTQ+ people. Applicants are encouraged to self-identify, should they feel comfortable doing so, in their cover letter and are invited to share how their lived experience would inform their approach and ethics in this leadership position.

This position is normally based at our office in Vancouver at #306-268 Keefer St, on unceded Indigenous lands belonging to the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlil̓wətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil Waututh) nations.

In light of COVID-19, the option to perform this position mostly remotely is available until distancing measures are lifted; a laptop and access to all required platforms will be provided. As an Operations position, this position does require some regular in-office work, in compliance with WorkSafeBC guidelines for in-office work during the pandemic.

How to Apply

Applications including cover letter and resume can be emailed to [email protected] and are due by 11:59pm PST on March 9, 2021.

We anticipate interviews will be conducted by BCCLA staff through video-conference during March 2021, with an ideal start date of end of April 2021.

Download the full job posting here.

< class="what-entry-title">Cryptocurrencies and your rights>

BCCLA at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia

As 2020 came to a close, the BCCLA continued its participation at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia. From November 23-25, 2020, the Cullen Commission turned its attention to virtual assets, including blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

gold-colored Bitcoin
Photo by: André François McKenzie

While virtual assets and cryptocurrencies may seem like niche issues today, they are being taken seriously by governments, financial institutions, and technology companies. The underlying technology has a wide range of applications. If the optimists are right, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies will enable the development of new digital art forms, innovative methods for collective decision-making, and a more inclusive financial system. However, opponents fear they could undermine government’s role in the economy and act as a payment channel for crime and corruption.

The Cullen Commission focused on the darker side of virtual assets. Witnesses discussed the use of cryptocurrencies in enabling drug marketplaces like the Silk Road, in ransomware attacks, and in money laundering more generally. They discussed the challenges in investigating crimes where cryptocurrencies are involved. The Commission heard witnesses from the RCMP, Chainalysis, a company that combines blockchain data with other “open source intelligence” to identify users of cryptocurrencies, and a number of companies in the virtual assets industry.

The BCCLA brought a much-needed civil society voice to the Cullen Commission’s analysis of these emerging technologies. BCCLA lawyers raised serious concerns about privacy and surveillance, encouraged the development of virtual assets in ways that could make the Canadian financial system more equitable and inclusive, and discouraged new rights-infringing regulations that unduly hamper innovation.

The BCCLA encourages the development of virtual assets and blockchain technologies in ways that strengthen Charter values and reduce discrimination, and strongly opposes new police powers that would undermine those gains.

What are virtual assets?

Virtual assets are things that hold value but only exist in digital form. The term often refers to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, but includes other assets built on similar technologies, from securities to digital art and collectibles.

At the Cullen Commission, the discussion of virtual assets focused on cryptocurrencies, which are based on a technology called blockchain. Three features of blockchain technology make it especially interesting to both the Cullen Commission and the BCCLA —decentralization, transparency, and pseudonymity. [1]

Decentralization

Blockchains are decentralized, meaning they don’t rely on an authority like a bank or government to record account balances or approve transactions. Instead, the records are stored in a database that is copied to and maintained by thousands of computers around the world—a blockchain. For most blockchain networks, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can download software that allows them to participate in the network.

Transparency

Blockchains record a history of every transaction that has been sent over the network, typically including the blockchain addresses of the sender and receiver, the amount sent, and the balances associated with each address. Anyone can download a copy of the blockchain to view a specific transaction or the entire history of an address.

Pseudonymity

Blockchain addresses may look like a random string of numbers and letters, but they are not anonymous. They are pseudonymous. Even though blockchain addresses do not provide an individual’s name, they can often be associated with an individual by other means.

Virtual assets and civil liberties

Privacy and surveillance

At the Cullen Commission, the RCMP raised concerns about the difficulties police face in investigating crimes involving cryptocurrencies, suggesting that increased regulation may be necessary to maintain public safety.

However, the RCMP also acknowledged that blockchain technology can be an asset to police investigations, since it provides a full transaction history. Although cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies are pseudonymous, the transparency of the blockchain provides a wealth of information to anyone who cares to look, including the police.

shallow focus photo of white paper sheet mounted on cork board
Photo by: Volodymyr Hryshchenko

To illustrate this, imagine the stereotypical red string board of an obsessed detective or conspiracy theorist. The detective puts up pictures of individuals they know or bits of evidence they have found, then connect the dots as more facts are uncovered, eventually revealing a map of the subject of the investigation.

With a blockchain, the dots are already connected by a tangle of red string showing all the transactions between addresses, including those related to the criminal activity under investigation. The job for investigators is to decide which strings are important and identify the people the strings lead to.

An RCMP witness acknowledged that the level of information investigators can obtain from the public blockchain is already more than they would be able to get from a bank without a court order:

 [T]his is information which we would typically have to complete a production order in order to obtain from a bank or financial institution, whereas here we could simply go publicly and confirm that a transaction has actually occurred.[2]

Privacy, open source intelligence (OSINT), and blockchain analysis

BCCLA is deeply concerned by the level of financial surveillance possible through the combination of blockchain data with OSINT.

The red strings aren’t all the information available to police. With the help of commercial software vendors and data brokers, blockchain data can be supplemented with other personal information. Companies like Chainalysis provide the police with software that combines information available on the blockchain with “open source intelligence” to find patterns in the data and de-anonymize the individuals behind addresses. OSINT includes information collected from a wide variety of sources, including news reports, social media, and public records. It can include information purchased from data brokers and other proprietary sources. Chainalysis witnesses at the Cullen Commission would not confirm exactly what information its software provides to its law enforcement clients, but said it might include information purchased from data brokers.[3]

BCCLA is deeply concerned by the level of financial surveillance possible through the combination of blockchain data with OSINT. Police and intelligence agencies shouldn’t be able to use commercial products to obtain information about Canadians they would not otherwise be able to obtain without a court order. Financial information is one of the most sensitive forms of personal information. How we spend our money can reveal a great deal about our political opinions, religious beliefs, sexuality, health, relationships, and interests. Canadian courts and privacy commissioners have routinely held that financial information is highly sensitive and deserves the highest levels of protection.

Equality and inclusion

Despite the risks to financial privacy, BCCLA is hopeful that the right kinds of development of virtual assets and their underlying technologies could reduce systemic discrimination in the Canadian financial system and help reduce inequality.

Canada’s financial system is one of the most advanced and stable in the world, but it is not accessible to everyone. For example, the Cullen Commission heard evidence that financial discrimination is a growing issue for sex workers. Many banks, credit cards, and online payment platforms refuse to provide service to sex workers. Even if they manage to obtain banking services, credit card processors offer “chargebacks”, which unscrupulous clients use to claw back payments after a sex worker has provided a service.  

In response to these challenges, some sex workers are turning to cryptocurrency as an alternative to traditional payment systems. By accepting cryptocurrency, sex workers can avoid the discriminatory barriers created by financial institutions. The pseudonymity of cryptocurrency allows sex workers to maintain their privacy, while the irreversibility of cryptocurrency payments provides certainty that they will be paid for their work.

This is just one example of how cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies may provide a path for marginalized communities to work around the financial system that has excluded them. These technologies offer the opportunity to build new financial services outside the existing banking system, with transparency and security guaranteed by the blockchain.

Cryptocurrency is not just for illegal activity

Almost all of the witnesses at the Commission raised concerns that cryptocurrency could be used by “criminals” to conceal their illegal activities. However, the Commission also heard that only 1.1% of cryptocurrency transactions were suspected to be tied to crime. In other words, 98.9% of cryptocurrency transactions were entirely legitimate. As the technology develops and achieves greater mainstream adoption, it is likely an even greater percentage of use will be completely legal. In light of this, the BCCLA rejects calls for new state powers to monitor cryptocurrency transactions or restrict the use of blockchain technology.

Safeguarding financial privacy

The BCCLA is hopeful that virtual asset technologies will lead to a more equitable, inclusive financial system. However, widespread adoption of blockchain technology also creates the risk of unchecked surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence services, providing easy access to vast quantities of deeply personal information without court oversight.

We believe that police should not be free to purchase information they would not be allowed to collect themselves without court supervision. Even when information is technically public, court oversight of its collection and use may be appropriate. To realize the benefits of these promising new technologies, we must prevent them from being used to establish an unaccountable financial surveillance regime.

The BCCLA will continue to push for financial privacy and a more inclusive and equitable financial system as the Cullen Commission continues into 2021.

More on our work at the Cullen Commission:


Notes:

[1] This blog post won’t provide an in-depth technical explanation of blockchain technology and how it works. For the purposes of this post, we just assume that the technology works as promised. If you want to learn more, there are lots of resources online. You could start with this explainer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYip_Vuv8J0

[2]https://cullencommission.ca/data/transcripts/Transcript%20November%2023,%202020.pdf, November 23, 2020, page 36

[3]https://cullencommission.ca/data/transcripts/Transcript%20November%2024,%202020.pdf page 130-135

< class="what-entry-title">Should white supremacist organizations be designated as terrorist organizations?>
Hasan Alam interviewed by Harsha Walia

The white nationalist insurrection at the Capitol in the US on January 6, 2021,  prompted the Canadian government to, first, unanimously pass an unofficial motion at the House of Commons and, subsequently, officially designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. Twelve other organizations were also added at the same time.

In Canada, there are hundreds of active far-right extremist and white supremacist groups. The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is strongly committed to confronting and ending white supremacy and all forms of hate that harm Indigenous, Black, Muslim, Jewish, and racialized communities. Violent hate threatens democratic and equality rights for all of us. In 2020, we joined 25 human rights and civil liberties groups in calling on the federal government to establish a national action plan to dismantle white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

But is part of the solution to designate white supremacist organizations as terrorist organizations?

In the US, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated that law enforcement agencies already have the powers needed to dismantle far-right groups and, according to Manar Waheed, ACLU’s senior advocacy counsel: “We cannot find our solutions in systems that ultimately harm us, particularly Black and Brown people.” As Aly Panjwani and Lea Kayali write, “Calling white supremacists terrorists will not change the epistemological realities of the terrorism label — it will only further fuel the militarized practices of the War on Terror apparatus.”

Hasan Alam, BCCLA Board member, lawyer, and community liaison for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline

For the past twenty years, the BCCLA has been raising the alarm about Canada’s post 9/11 national security legislation that, generally speaking, subverts minimal standards of presumption of innocence, violates the right to due process, authorizes arrest and detention without charge or arrest simply by association, and often relies on secret evidence. We have challenged Canada’s No Fly list, joined detainees in challenging the constitutionality of security certificates at the Supreme Court of Canada, called for increased oversight and accountability of national security agencies, pushed for and participated in the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, and advocated against countless bills like C-51, S-7, C-59, and C-23.

I spoke with Hasan Alam, a BCCLA board member, lawyer, and community liaison for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, to discuss the thorny issue of whether or not white supremacist organizations in Canada should be designated as terrorist organizations.

– Harsha Walia


Harsha: To start us off, can you please describe what being listed as a terrorist organization actually means?

Hasan: It is not technically a crime to be listed as a terrorist organization and the Anti-Terrorism Act provides measures for the Government of Canada to create the list of entities based on:  

  • having knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity
  • or knowingly acted on behalf of, at the direction of or in association with an entity that has knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity

The process to add a group to the Terrorist Entities List is a provision under the Criminal Code: Section 83.05. The Minister of Public Safety, based on advice from Canada’s security agencies or CSIS, makes a recommendation to the Governor in Council, who then approves the listing. Terrorism, under Canadian law, is any act that is politically, religiously or ideologically motivated, which aims to intimidate or compel an action, and which intentionally causes death, serious bodily harm, endangers a person’s life, causes substantial property damage or disrupts essential systems.

Groups who are added to this list are not informed in advance, nor are they given the chance to speak to or respond to allegations against them. While the decision must meet the standard of “reasonable grounds to believe” that a listed group will engage in terrorism, the decision is based on secret information, including information that would otherwise be inadmissible in court. For example, it may include anonymous intelligence that could be inaccurate or obtained through mistreatment and/or torture, as well as hearsay evidence.

Only once a group is added does the listing become public, and the listed entity is in a position to challenge it. Even then, though, they are not granted access to all the information used against them and information can be withheld, including on purported national security grounds. This makes it incredibly difficult to mount a defense. The allowance of secret evidence is the norm and not the exception, flying in the face of the expectation that one faced with such a serious accusation would be able to know the entire case against them and be able to fully challenge it.

This is, therefore, a process shrouded in secrecy, based on suspicion, and relies largely on the assumption that CSIS will act in good faith and provide honest intelligence to the Minister of Public Safety. But CSIS’s track record is one of misleading our public institutions, including the courts. For example, the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal both recently held that CSIS had breached its duty of good candour and good faith to the Court and had obtained a warrant on the basis of evidence that was deliberately “crafted” to mislead and “keep the Court in the dark.”

If the government has evidence that indicates listed organizations pose a threat to someone’s safety, they should make that evidence public and prosecute these organizations through our court system and the open court principle. It should not be shrouded in secrecy or be at the whim and discretion of the government. It is a huge concern that national security legislation sanctions the government to act in almost total secrecy and not reveal the evidence upon which it relies upon to go after perceived terrorist threats. CSIS is also allowed to carry out investigations in complete secrecy, with little to no oversight. Even when such issues go to court, much of the evidence relied upon is heard before the courts in secrecy. 

One of the most troubling features of Canada’s national security laws are security certificates, under which permanent residents and refugees have been detained unlawfully without any charge and potentially indefinitely, had their rights violated, and face deportation from Canada to face torture and prosecution – all based on evidence that they might never see and which could otherwise be inadmissible in a court of law. By contrast, the government, who is the opposing party, is never excluded and has access to all the evidence. In 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously voted 9-0 that the security certificate system was unconstitutional. The BCCLA intervened in this important case. A new bill was passed in early 2008 but this system still remains fundamentally flawed and in violation of the right to due process.  

Other draconian examples of Canada’s national security regime is Bill C-51, which made significant changes to national security, anti-terrorism, and privacy law, and the No Fly List, which has placed thousands of innocent people, including children, on a list just because they had a Muslim names that matched someone else’s. At the end of the day, we do not even have evidence that Canada’s anti-terror and national security laws are effective and actually prevent terrorism. Yet we do have clear evidence of how detrimental it can be with respect to our civil liberties and how it can lead to wrongful detention, deportation and torture.

Harsha: Thank you for detailing how the process works and the affects it has on civil liberties and human rights. Can you describe what some of the impacts have been on Muslim communities?

Hasan: I was in my 20’s in the aftermath of 9/11 and, in the years that followed, Canada’s anti-terrorism laws expanded and were embedded in Islamophobia. Even more recently, ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper justified the passage of Bill C-51 by equating mosques with terrorist breeding grounds. For the Muslim community, the post 9/11 era has meant the fear of constantly being surveilled, put into indefinite detention, or deported to a foreign country to face torture.

These are not irrational fears; these fears are grounded in reality. We have witnessed Muslim men being detained indefinitely without being charged or knowing the evidence against them. Individuals such as Adil Charkaoui, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohamed Harkat, and Hasan Almrei who were detained indefinitely without charge on security certificates. Maher Arar, a Canadian, was deported to Syria to be tortured, with the help of CSIS agents. These all became household names in the Muslim community and examples of what could happen to us if we acted too Muslim, or looked too Muslim, or spoke too Muslim. Due to the expanded and unchecked powers of Canada’s national security laws, we were fearful of attending mosques or gatherings because we knew that CSIS informants were being placed within our mosques.

For the Muslim community, the post 9/11 era has meant the fear of constantly being surveilled, put into indefinite detention, or deported to a foreign country to face torture.

I remember my own parents begging me with tears in their eyes for me to not get involved in student politics, to not get involved in my local mosque or Muslim Student Association, and to not speak out against the War on Terror. They were afraid CSIS would come knocking, which was happening all across the country. When I was the president of the SFU Muslim Students Association, a CSIS agent did come knocking. This CSIS agent sat across from me and asked me questions about the members of that club, if anyone had traveled to the Middle East or Pakistan recently, if anyone had started praying or going to mosque more regularly. Everyone in that group met that criteria! I was terrified after that encounter, not only because it drove home to me that I was probably being watched, but also the vague criteria that CSIS was using to identify people who they deemed to be suspicious. This had a chilling effect and we all became scared to become more politically vocal. The worst part was that many people within the community started to became suspicious of each other.

Harsha: That is a chilling overview of the national security regime, Hasan. In light of this broader context, what are your concerns with the recent unanimous motion in the House of Commons to list the white supremacist organization Proud Boys as a terrorist organization?

Hasan: My comments are situated within my lived experience as a Muslim and the experiences I have described. My concerns with using the term “terrorist” or invoking Canada’s national security legal infrastructure stems from my community’s experience with this label of “terrorist” and the state powers that accompany it. The Muslim community has been treated as suspicious or suspect and been harassed, surveilled, vilified, and detained from as early as I can remember.

It would be easy for me to say “See, you got it wrong. It’s white supremacists that you should have been calling terrorists all this time – not us.” But such rhetoric translates into real life consequences and the use of a terrorism framework further empowers the state to use counter terrorism measures. It is this very legal system of national security and counter terrorism that has historically and contemporarily targeted and criminalized Indigenous, Brown, Black and leftist communities – the very same marginalized communities that white supremacists target for hate.

We cannot forget that the first community that the Canadian state labeled as a threat to the Canadian state was the Indigenous community, and land defenders continue to be labeled and perceived as a threat to the state. More recently and especially since 9/11, the overwhelming majority of individuals and organizations labeled as terrorists or have been the targets of Canada’s national security laws have been Muslim. The build up of Canada’s security regime over the past two decades has been fueled by a rhetoric of Islamophobia. Muslim bodies have literally been the testing grounds for these laws, even when their very constitutionality has been questioned in the highest courts of this country.

I am fraught with fear when the term “terrorist” is invoked, even if it is against a white supremacist organization, because the normalization of this regime means continuing to uphold and give tacit approval for its ongoing use against the Black and brown Muslim community, Arab community, Sikh community, and other racialized communities. In an era where the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum, who is to say that Black activists won’t also be targeted? A one-off designation of a white supremacist group as a terrorist organization does not somehow fix the gross misbalance of the use of these national security regimes against racialized communities and political dissenters.

Labelling these white supremacist groups as terrorist organizations is not the solution. Even if the Proud Boys are designated as a terrorist group and even if the group dissolves, the members who ascribe to the white supremacist ideology will continue to be present within our society and will re-group. The terrorist designation doesn’t change the members’ ideas or the ideology that they subscribe to. The Proud boys of today are the neo-Nazis or the KKK of yesterday.

Harsha: You have made a clear case that strengthening national security laws will ultimately be more harmful for racialized communities than for white supremacists, and also that national security is an ineffective framework for tackling white supremacist organizations. What are more effective ways and tools to dismantle these organizations and end white supremacy?

Hasan: Yes, I do not believe that labeling white supremacist organizations as terrorist organizations is the way in which we will go about dismantling these organizations or white supremacy.

First, designating these organizations makes it seem as if these groups are a few bad apples in a system and society otherwise free of white supremacy. We can’t fit the elements of these organizations neatly and squarely within the confines of the term “Terrorist,” and ignore the fact they are simply a symptom of the larger systemic problem of white supremacy within Canada.

If we want to dismantle white supremacist organizations at their core, we need to first dismantle the culture and system of white supremacy that exists within our communities and institutions. The membership of organizations such as the Proud Boys come from all segments of society: students, teachers, lawyers, military officers, law enforcement officers. Designating some white supremacist groups as terrorist detracts from the other larger problem and also sends this false signal that the problem has been dealt with.

But also, to quote you, Harsha, and others who have made this point, why don’t we just designate white supremacist groups as white supremacist groups? And doesn’t that really get at the heart of the problem here – people are not motivated to act against white supremacy but are motivated by the already-racialized framework of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

“If we want to dismantle white supremacist organizations at their core, we need to first dismantle the culture and system of white supremacy that exists within our communities and institutions.”

For years, authorities have ignored or downplayed the threat that violent white nationalists pose, even though Canada’s own intelligence agencies have been pointing out that these organizations, not jihadi organizations, pose the largest domestic threat. And despite this fact, our government and the public as a whole hasn’t mobilized to combat this threat. The Canadian government has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to programs that are aimed at de-radicalizing Muslims. Programs like this have included RCMP and CSIS agents speaking at mosques, Muslim youth groups, and putting out pamphlets and guides on how to spot radicalized Muslim in our communities. Where are the hundreds of millions of dollars being dedicated to de-radicalizing and de-Nazify young white men? Also, there are already laws in Canada’s Criminal Code that can be used to address the threat of white supremacist groups, without having to resort to anti-terrorism laws that undermine due process and violate our rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We do not lack the tools, we have lacked the political will.

< class="what-entry-title">BCCLA’s 20 Highlights of 2020>

It is strange to write about highlights in the midst of a global health pandemic and the compounding horrors of the world that reveals the fault lines of who is kept safe and who is not. There continues to be a crisis of gendered colonial violence borne by Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people every day; the opioid drug poisoning epidemic is killing thousands of our neighbours; and the violent harms of policing and prisons are especially hurting Black, Indigenous, low-income, and disabled communities.

More than ever, defending civil liberties and human rights is imperative. Here are our 20 highlights of 2020, crowd sourced from our team passionately fighting in the courts, advocating for meaningful law reform, and advancing public legal education.

Flattening the COVID Curve: Equality not Enforcement

We supported nationwide efforts to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable, while speaking out against unreasonable breaches of civil liberties and against policing of the pandemic. Read our op-ed “Our civil liberties matter during crises” in the Vancouver Sun.

  1. We urged governments to adopt human rights measures to ensure no one was left behind. This includes protecting the human rights of refugees at the border; homeless people in encampments; women and gender diverse people experiencing violence; sex workers and people using drugs being criminalized by bad laws; and people incarcerated in prisons and jails, including those dying in custody.
  1. We advocated against unreasonably invasive digital surveillance during the pandemic. We also met with government officials and raised key privacy and data protections concerns in contract-tracing apps. We supported the Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government in their legal complaint demanding health information transparency for Indigenous governments.
  1. We produced a series of four “Your Rights in a Pandemic” factsheets on the powers of government emergency orders, enforcement powers of public health orders, tenant privacy rights and medical disclosure, and a guide to conditional releases for incarcerated people.

End to Policing Harms

In the wake of deadly tragedies of police violence, there has been public outcry against the harms and systemic racism of policing. We organized three educational webinars on “Policing Black and Indigenous Lives,” “Racism in Policing and Surveillance Tech” and “Who’s Policing the Police? Police Oversight and Accountability in Canada” that you can watch online.  

  1. We launched a lawsuit against the RCMP Commissioner for inexcusable delays preventing the release of a civilian watchdog report into RCMP spying on Indigenous and climate advocates.
  1. We supported Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and land defenders with a policy complaint to the civilian watchdog regarding the unlawful RCMP checkpoint and exclusion zone during militarized RCMP operations on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. Our joint op-ed “Settler governments are breaking international law, not Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs” appeared in the Toronto Star.
  1. We worked with Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Hogan’s Alley Society, WISH Drop-In Centre Society and Black Lives Matter to organize a powerful coalition of 92 organizations and 8,944 individuals calling for a ban on racist and illegal police street streets across Vancouver and BC. Vancouver and Victoria city councils have passed motions calling for a ban. We also challenged the Vancouver Police Board after receiving disturbing information about the censorship of racist and inappropriate comments and conduct by VPD officers in the Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review report. We co-authored an op-ed “Why did the Vancouver Police Board hide racism in VPD ranks?” in the Vancouver Sun.

Challenging Criminalization

We oppose criminalizing laws that extend into many aspects of our lives including prisons, the criminal legal system, child apprehension laws, and coercive healthcare. Laws intended to criminalize disproportionately affect Indigenous, Black, Muslim, racialized, sex worker, drug user, and low-income communities.

  1. We announced an end to our cross-appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada in our solitary confinement case with John Howard Society. The federal government finally abandoned its attempt to overturn our historic victory at the BC Court of Appeal, which found that prolonged solitary confinement in federal prisons is inhumane and unconstitutional.
  1. We secured an important victory with community organizations in forcing a pause on the coercive Bill 22. Bill 22 proposed amendments to BC’s Mental Health Act to create a new form of detention and involuntary health care for youth experiencing an overdose.
  1. We celebrated two important victories in our Supreme Court of Canada interventions; one limiting police powers to entrap people and another affirming that bail conditions must be consistent with the presumption of innocence. In the highest court, we also argued against the abolition of peremptory challenges that reduce jury diversity and are fighting for young persons’ right to appeal in the criminal legal system.

Free Expression

Freedom of expression has been a cornerstone of BCCLA’s mandate for decades. This freedom is especially essential for oppressed communities to act collectively to challenge unjust laws.

  1. We celebrated an important legal victory protecting the right of frontline healthcare workers, such as Carolyn Strom, to criticize the healthcare system without fear of employer or administrative discipline.
  1. We spoke out against the implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (“IHRA”) definition of antisemitism in Montreal and Ontario. While we condemn antisemitism and all racism, this definition and list of illustrative examples can chill Canadian, especially Palestinian and Arab Canadian, protests of Israeli state policy.
  1. In response to members of the Kwantlen First Nation, we released an unprecedented letter detailing the application of Charter section 2 on reserves.
  1. We intervened and won at the Supreme Court of Canada in cases supporting anti-SLAPP laws and protecting people from legal intimidation by powerful private actors.

Privacy Rights

With the explosion of digital technologies, protecting privacy rights is one of our priorities.

  1. We are the only civil society organization granted standing at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia. We support efforts to combat money laundering, however, some of the government’s recommendations raise serious concerns for privacy, due process, government surveillance and police seizure powers, and risk having a disproportionate impact on East Asian Canadians.
  1. We celebrated the news that Clearview AI is ceasing its controversial facial recognition services in Canada and are calling for a ban on all facial recognition surveillance by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
  1. We made an essential joint written submission to the Special Legislative Committee reviewing BC’s Personal Information and Protection Act. We recommended substantive amendments to the Act, including digital privacy protections.

Democratic and Human Rights

We know that democratic rights are only meaningful when liberty, dignity and equality are all reinforced. Similarly, decolonization is only meaningful when collective Indigenous rights are affirmed.

  1. As part of the Coalition on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in BC, we raised grave concerns to the federal government regarding delays in the registration process for First Nations women and their descendants who are newly entitled to status because of amendments to the discriminatory Indian Act. We also advocated for BC’s Human Rights Code to add Indigenous identity as a ground of discrimination.
  1. We launched a toolkit, downloaded thousands of times, to help people participate in the federal government’s consultative survey on medical assistance in dying and protect the right to die with dignity.
  1. We announced we are going to court against Alberta legislation that grants the government sweeping new powers to unilaterally write new laws without legislative oversight. In BC, a similar Act authorizes the government to temporarily change any piece of legislation during an emergency, without any public oversight and legislative approval.
  1. As absurd as it sounds, we secured an important victory for human dignity at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case reinforcing that s.12 of the Charter – protection against “any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” – does not apply to corporations.

Even as I honour this tireless work by our committed staff team – supported by our dedicated network of probono lawyers, volunteers and board members and guided by the expertise of frontline communities – there is so much to be done. We will be ringing in the new year ready for more fights, and we cannot do it without the support our members and supporters. Thank you for fueling our fires and joining us in these fights.

Help us continue this work into 2021! Become a member today.

< class="what-entry-title">Welcome our new Communications and Development Volunteers!>

Join us in welcoming the new members of BCCLA team. Amy and Melissa will support us in virtual engagement, outreach, and event planning. We are very excited to have them on board! Learn more about them below.


Melissa is currently in her final year at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, completing a BA with a major in Political Science and a minor in Law and Society. She has focused her academics in critical gender, race, and social justice studies, and is particularly interested in the ways political and legal institutions create or limit change in society. She is passionate about education, community engagement, and the law and how they intersect.

She also volunteers with the feminist legal organization West Coast LEAF as a Youth Workshop Facilitator. After finishing her BA, Melissa plans to go to law school and to continue working with similarly impactful organizations.
On weekends you can find Melissa serving brunch at a local, female owned restaurant in Kitsilano, or—when time permits— out enjoying the beautiful mountains in BC. Melissa is excited to be working at the BCCLA this winter and learn from such an accomplished team.

Amy is a recent graduate with a BA in Philosophy from Simon Fraser University, and her interest lie in jurisprudence, legal theories, and the intersectionality of law and philosophy. Graduating in the middle of the pandemic, she was inspired to pursue community engagement in this increasingly digital world. Her passion for equity, diversity, and inclusivity principles shaped her desire to be more involved with the youth community. From a course project, with a group of close friends, she is aiming to create an online youth community called Together Tomorrow Project to share stories and to learn from one another during these tiring times.

Amy is excited to support the work of capeless heroes at BCCLA with her experience in online engagement and youth engagement. She is currently working as an urban researcher with PIVOT 2020, and she aims to gain more professional experience before pursing for law school in the near future. When she’s not busy with Zoom calls, Amy enjoys brisk walks in Coquitlam parks.

< class="what-entry-title">Welcome to Our New Articling Student!>

The BCCLA is happy to welcome Stephen Chin to the team as our new articling student! Help us in extending a warm welcome, and learn more about him below. Welcome Stephen!


Stephen Chin, Articling Student

Stephen Chin joined the BCCLA team as an articling student in October 2020. He has received degrees in science, commerce, and law from the University of Alberta. He credits his interdisciplinary education for affording him the opportunity to navigate the complex dimensions of leadership at the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, and for stoking his interest in climate change litigation at the National University of Singapore. Informed by his prior experiences at a small governmental commission and a university ombuds office, Stephen is attentive to the space where fairness, privacy, and institutional policies intersect and collide with community interests. He remains endlessly fascinated with emergent technologies, and is always on the lookout for surprising and thoughtful podcast episodes.


We are pleased to have Stephen join our team, welcome!

< class="what-entry-title">An Announcement from the BCCLA’s new President and Vice President>

Dear friends and supporters,

We are writing to you as the new, incoming President and Vice President of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

This may come as news to some of you, but Lindsay Lyster was appointed to the Supreme Court of BC in July! We are incredibly proud of the contributions Madam Justice Lyster has made to the organization over many decades – as pro bono counsel on many of our interventions and as the Board President for seven years. As well in September, we congratulated Caily DiPuma as she accepted a new position with the BC Attorney General’s office. Caily served as the Board Vice-President and stepped up as President last year.

We congratulate and thank Caily and Lindsay for their many important contributions to the Associations’ achievements. Best of luck to both as they bring their strong commitments to their new positions!

Due to the requirements of their new positions, Lindsay and Caily had to step away from the Board, and we had some big shoes to fill. We are honoured to accept the Board’s nomination as the President (David Fai) and Vice-President (Haran Aruliah). David is a Vancouver-based lawyer and brings decades of experience in civil liberties and criminal law to the organization. He has been a director of the Board for five years. He is a strong advocate and brings a keen sense of justice to the role. Haran has been a director for two years and is a lawyer and chief technology officer for a local software company. His concerns at the intersection of law and technology touch on many emerging civil liberty issues.

While there has been a transition at the Board level, the organization’s priorities and work continue ahead at full pace. Our responsibility to promote, defend, sustain, and extend civil liberties and human rights continue to be guided by our 2020-2025 strategic plan.

A small sampling of our recent and upcoming work includes:

  • Interventions at the Supreme Court of Canada in criminal justice reform in CP (arguing for a young persons’ right to appeal), Chouhan (argued the abolition of peremptory challenges reduced jury diversity), and Zora (persons should only be convicted of bail violations when they actually, not ‘ought’ to, know they’ve breached a condition)
  • Three educational webinars on policing available online here
  • Participation as the only civil liberties organization in the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in BC.
  • Victories for freedom of expression at the Supreme Court of Canada in an anti-SLAPP case, and at the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal protecting healthcare workers’ right to criticize the health care system.

These are not easy disputes, but we remain uniquely situated to champion the cause. Despite the challenges 2020 presented, we have had numerous triumphs. Most recently, we secured an important victory for human rights at the Supreme Court of Canada, reinforcing that s.12 of the Charter – protection against “any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” – does not apply to corporations.

We are grateful to help the Board navigate these challenges and recognize this is only possible with the hard work and determination of our staff, volunteers, and supporters’ commitment.

In solidarity,

David Fai
President

Haran Aruliah
Vice-President

< class="what-entry-title">What We Won for Free Expression at the Supreme Court of Canada>

In an important victory for free expression rights, the Supreme Court of Canada has issued strong rulings supporting the broad scope of Ontario’s anti-SLAPP suit law. The BCCLA intervened in these significant court cases to support freedom of expression and to discourage litigation by powerful private actors that curbs the free expression of citizens in important public interest debates. The BCCLA was represented by pro bono counsel Maia Tsurumi, Barrister and Solicitor, and Peter Kolla of Goodmans LLP. Peter Kolla, reflects on the importance of these cases.

On September 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decisions in 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association and Bent v. Platnick. These cases addressed the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of Ontario’s “anti-SLAPP” legislation.  Strategic lawsuits against public participation, known by the acronym “SLAPPs”, are legal proceedings brought not to advance a real claim, but rather to try to chill freedom of expression and prevent people from participating in public debates on matters of public interest.

Recognizing the harm caused by SLAPPs to freedom of expression on matters of public interest, the governments of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have passed laws aimed at stopping SLAPPs. These laws, known as anti-SLAPP legislation, provide defendants with an expeditious route to have those lawsuits dismissed at an early stage. 

The BCCLA has long been a proponent of anti-SLAPP legislation.  When two cases about the interpretation of Ontario’s anti-SLAPP legislation were heard by the Supreme Court in November of 2019, the BCCLA intervened in the proceedings in support of a robust interpretation of the legislation that would provide broad protection to freedom of expression on matters of public interest.  These cases were the first time that the Supreme Court, Canada’s highest court, has interpreted anti-SLAPP legislation.

In its decisions, and in particular the Pointes Protection case where a unanimous Supreme Court set out the principles for how to interpret the Ontario legislation at issue, the Supreme Court powerfully endorsed the importance of protecting freedom of expression on matters of public interest

Important aspects of the Supreme Court’s analysis were consistent with the points argued by the BCCLA, which focused its submissions exclusively on the interpretation of the weighing provision in s. 137(4)(b) of the Courts of Justice Act.  The Supreme Court in Pointes Protection called that weighing provision “the heart of the legislation”, the “crux of the analysis”, and the “core” and “key portion” of the analysis. 

The Supreme Court specifically noted that the BCCLA had argued that this provision, which requires that two separate public interests be weighed against each other, should not be called a “balancing exercise”.  The BCCLA argued the express statutory language did not seek to balance those two public interests (which would undermine the protection to freedom of expression on matters of public interests), but rather to weigh them and if they are equally balanced then the expression wins.  The Supreme Court agreed, holding:

Here, the provision expressly requires that one consideration “outweig[h]” the other. I am of the view that this is substantively different than if the statute had required that the two considerations be balanced against one another. The difference can be illustrated by the following quantification of weighing and balancing: where one factor must outweigh the other, the ratio between the two must be at least 51/49; in contrast, where one factor must be balanced against the other, a ratio of 50/50, or even 45/55, might be sufficient for a judge to rule in favour of the former. The word “outweighs” necessarily precludes such a conclusion. [emphasis in original]

The Supreme Court’s ruling was also consistent with other points argued by the BCCLA. 

The BCCLA had argued that it was incorrect to supplanted the weighing exercise required by the legislation with four “indicia of a SLAPP suit”, as that would incorrectly curtail the broad protection to freedom of expression on matters of public interest set out in the legislation.  The Supreme Court’s decision said that that such indicia must be tethered to the text of the statute, and articulated a broad range of factors – not just four – that could be considered in the weighing exercise. 

The BCCLA also  argued that the Supreme Court should adopt an approach to the weighing analysis by assessing, on a spectrum from low to high, the two public interests.  The Supreme Court used the “spectrum” language in performing the weighing analysis. 

Finally, the BCCLA had argued that it was proper for courts when conducting the weighing analysis to look at the motive and quality of the expression at issue, and the Supreme Court’s decision is consistent with that position.

Hopefully the Supreme Court’s decision will have two additional effects.  First, it could encourage other provincial governments to pass laws protecting freedom of expression on matters of public interest.  Second, it could encourage people to speak out on matters of public interest, with less fear that they will be targeted by a SLAPP lawsuit as a result of their expression. 

As Justice Suzanne Côté held for the Supreme Court in the unanimous ruling  in Pointes Protection, in a passage that highlights the importance of freedom of expression, “Strengthening the integrity of the justice system by encouraging truthful and open testimony is inextricably linked to the freedom of participants to express themselves in the forums concerned without fear of retribution.”

< class="what-entry-title">Taking the Call to Ban Police Street Checks to the Vancouver Police Board>

The BC Civil Liberties Association, Black Lives Matter-Vancouver, Hogan’s Alley Society, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and WISH Drop-In Centre Society continue to call for an END to police street checks in Vancouver and across BC.

Our next stop is the Vancouver Police Board on Thursday September 17!

On September 17, we will be appearing as a Delegation to the Vancouver Police Board to drive home that the Board must order that police street checks be completely banned.

Banning street checks is a policy matter squarely within the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Police Board. Even if this was an operational decision, the BC Supreme Court has held in Bagnell v Taser International Inc. that “The [Vancouver Police] Board is ultimately responsible for all aspects of policing performed by the Vancouver Police Department, whether they are policy or operational matters.”

Further, under the Police Act, municipal police boards are required to “take into account the priorities, goals and objectives of the council of the municipality.” Section 26(4) of the Act also authorizes municipal police boards to “determine the priorities, goals and objectives of the municipal police department.” On July 22, Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a motion stating Vancouver City Council’s priority is to end the practice of street checks in Vancouver.

This City Council motion in Vancouver, and a similar one in Victoria, came on the heels of our open letter with 68 co-signatory organizations and a petition signed by over 8,000 people calling for an immediate municipal and provincial ban on police street checks.

Ending police street checks is only one part of the many actions needed to end the harms of policing, but it is a necessary part. Street checks are racist, specifically anti-Indigenous and anti-Black, harmful for low-income people, and fundamentally illegal. We need to end them now!

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. Help us get to 10,000 signatures on our petition to ban police street checks. Sign and share before September 15: https://act.bccla.org/banstreetchecks
  1. If you are a Vancouver-based organization, add your name to our open letter calling for an immediate ban on police street checks. Email [email protected] to add your organization as a signatory to the open letter by September 15.
  1. Watch the Vancouver Police Board meeting online on September 17, starting at 1 pm: https://vancouver.ca/police/policeboard/Meetings.htm
  1. Sign up to appear as a Delegation at the Vancouver Police Board Meeting on September 17: https://vancouver.ca/police/policeboard/DelegationPolicy.htm. Please note that delegation spots are likely to be very limited, so email early and strongly consider appearing as a coalition with one representative speaking.
  1. Send an email to the Vancouver Police Board [email protected]. Emphasize that street checks are a racist, harmful, and illegal police practice that must end in our city. Writing points to consider are available at https://bccla.org/our_work/police-street-checks-faq/. We need your voice; be yourself!

Download a PDF of this blog post here

< class="what-entry-title">4 Reasons We Are Concerned About BC’s COVID-19 Law>
Posted on

The BC government has been given broad new emergency powers with the passage of Bill 19, the COVID-19 Related Measures Act. Under the Act, the government can temporarily change any legislation during an emergency, without any oversight from the public and without approval from the legislature. Although emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic require quick decisions by the government, this Act lacks the safeguards required when the government is given such broad powers.

Generally, in our system of government, the legislature creates law, and the government ensures that it is carried out. The law-making process includes three readings of a proposed law, and debate amongst all members of the legislative assembly. This process is integral to maintaining the rule of law. It ensures that the public is aware of proposed rules before they become binding and can organize to support or oppose the law, or even ask for changes to it. It also allows elected officials to ask important questions to the governing party about the motivations and policies underlying the new rules.

Sometimes the legislature gives the government[1] permission to create regulations about certain issues. For example, under the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord can only raise a tenant’s rent by a certain amount. The legislature gives the government the power to determine what that amount should be through regulations. It is usually easier for the government to change regulations than for the legislature to change legislation.[2] This system ensures that the government can update certain areas of the law over time, and go into more depth than what the legislature could do on its own. 

The COVID-19 Related Measures Act goes a step further. It changes the Emergency Program Act by creating a new set of powers. During a state of emergency, Cabinet can now create regulations that amend any piece of legislation, thereby filling the law-making role of the legislature. These new powers are worrying for several reasons.

1. The Act creates broad new powers for Cabinet.

According to the Attorney General, the COVID-19 Related Measures Act simply transfers powers from the Solicitor General (a particular minister in Cabinet) to Cabinet as a whole. But it’s unlikely that those powers existed in the first place.

When the Solicitor General previously made orders amending legislation, the ombudsperson investigated and found them unlawful. The Emergency Program Act did not give the Solicitor General the power to override legislation. The government disputes this, but it has not pointed to any legal authority to confirm its opinion.

Although the Attorney General has tried to comfort critics by stating that the Act merely transfers powers, it appears that it actually creates new ones.

2. The Act limits public accountability.

In the past, when the Solicitor General made orders amending legislation, there was no legal requirement to make those orders public. Fortunately, the new changes mean that future amendments will be done through regulations, which must be published.

With that said, regulations can come into effect immediately. As a result, the government can avoid public scrutiny until after legislation has been amended. The public won’t be made aware of changes through the traditional law-making process, and won’t have the ability to change the law before it comes into effect.

3. The Act leaves the government unaccountable to the legislature.

Through the Act, the legislature will only be able to access the regulation after it has already come into effect. The lack of review goes against ombudsperson recommendations that the government report any amendments to the legislature, and they should expire after a fixed number of sitting days.

In addition, there is limited accountability afterward. The regulations aren’t subject to automatic expiration or review. They can last the length of the state of emergency, which will persist as long as Cabinet renews it every 14 days.

As Paul Daly has argued, accountability during an emergency is more likely through political, rather than legal, avenues. For that reason, the government shouldn’t be able to bypass the legislature entirely. Expansive powers should be accompanied by some form of automatic expiry or review by the legislature.

4. The Act permanently expands emergency powers.

While some of the other changes in the Act are specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, section 9 permanently changes the Emergency Program Act. Future governments may use the new powers in response to new emergencies.

The Attorney General has said that the government is in the process of reviewing and overhauling the Emergency Program Act. However, we don’t know when that process will be finished. The promise of future changes provides little comfort from the hasty changes made by the COVID-19 Related Measures Act.

Cabinet can unilaterally declare a state of emergency, and under this new Act, it can amend any piece of legislation during the course of that emergency. The COVID-19 Related Measures Act gives Cabinet extensive powers with meagre safeguards. The government sometimes needs additional powers to respond to emergencies. But that shouldn’t override the need for good governance and accountability to both the public and the legislature.


[1] Government in this context refers to the executive council, a.k.a. Cabinet. Statutes passed in the legislature delegate law-making to the Lieutenant Governor in Council (all of Cabinet) or to a specific Cabinet Minister.

[2] This is because the process is very different; for the most part, regulations can be developed in secret by government, aren’t subject to a vote in the legislature, and only need to be published after they are approved.