< class="what-entry-title">We’re hiring an Articling Student.>
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The BCCLA is seeking an Articling Student to work in the BCCLA’s four core program areas, with an emphasis on litigation. Under the supervision of the student’s principal, the BCCLA’s Executive Director, and working frequently with the Litigation and Policy Directors, the articling student will assist and conduct litigation in a diverse range of practice areas including constitutional, criminal, and administrative law. The articling student will also undertake legal and policy research, draft legal and policy documents and engage in advocacy and education on behalf of the BCCLA.

We are looking for an articling student to start in October 5, 2020 (i.e. interested 3L students should apply).

Learn more and apply here.

The BCCLA is committed to building an inclusive and diverse workplace, and strongly encourages applications from all qualified applicants. Applicants from traditionally underrepresented or marginalized groups including Indigenous people, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people are welcome to self-identify, should they feel comfortable in doing so, in their cover letter.

This is a 12-month articling student position (including the duration of the student’s PLTC participation) with a salary of $46,500; employer coverage of PLTC fees; and an extended benefits plan. This position is normally based at our office in Vancouver at #306-268 Keefer St. In light of COVID-19, this position’s work will be performed remotely until distancing measures are lifted; a laptop and access to all required platforms will be provided. The BCCLA will try to accommodate alternate arrangements wherever possible, in compliance with WorkSafeBC guidelines.

The deadline for applications is June 21, 2020 at 11:59pm.

< class="what-entry-title">Tackling Money Laundering In BC: What Is At Stake For Our Civil Liberties?>
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Left unchecked, money laundering has significant social and political consequences, but our attempts to tackle this problem could compromise our rights.

Photo: Province of British Columbia

 This week, the BCCLA is participating in the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in BC, where we will work to ensure that the rights and liberties of ordinary citizens are taken into account in governmental and private sector efforts to combat money laundering. While we support the aims of the Inquiry, we remain concerned about the civil liberties implications of the measures proposed.

The Commission was established to inquire into and report on money laundering in BC and to make recommendations for anti-money laundering measures in the province. However, the Commission is considering some troubling anti-money laundering measures that include:

  • Increasing the amount and types of data collected and shared by public and private sector institutions.
  • Increasing the presence and powers of police and regulatory investigators in the gaming industry.
  • Expanding the use of invasive, rights-infringing measures such as civil forfeiture and introducing Unexplained Wealth Orders (“UWOs”), which allow for government confiscation of citizens’ property without due process

These types of recommendations have severe implications for the privacy rights and civil liberties of all Canadians, not just those who may be suspected of money laundering activity.  With these interests at stake, the participation of the BCCLA at the Commission is crucial. The BCCLA will be the only voice calling on the Commission to take into account the civil liberties and human rights of citizens in developing an anti-money laundering regime.   

Implications of Data Collection and Sharing

Photo: RCMP

The BCCLA has consistently worked to protect and advocate for the fundamental right of privacy, even as rapid technological advances in data collection and analysis threaten privacy rights like never before. The prevalence of data collection and tracking by government entities and private companies increases the risk that data will be used for profiling, unlawful monitoring of communities, immigration enforcement, be leaked, or otherwise exploited for improper purposes. The threat of profiling is significantly heightened, given FINTRAC rules that require reporting entities to flag transactions with a “foreign component.”

The BCCLA will appear before the Commission to argue that proper checks and balances must be put in place for anti-money laundering measures that involve data collection and sharing. Increased calls for data collection and sharing in the context of anti-money laundering initiatives must not unduly compromise privacy and other fundamental rights.

The Loss of Presumption of Innocence and the Potential for Racial Profiling

The BCCLA will also advocate against the use of civil forfeiture and the invasive tool of UWOs by the government. We have always been staunch opponents of civil forfeiture laws, pursuant to which an individual who has not been charged or convicted of a crime can lose their property to the government.

The BCCLA has spoken out against the incentive the law creates for police and government abuse, and the barriers to representation faced by those targeted by civil forfeiture orders, who are often low-income individuals.

UWOs measures are even more extreme than civil forfeiture. These orders raise profound civil liberties implications, including erosion of privacy rights, doing away with the presumption of innocence, and subverting the rights that shield people from unreasonable search and seizure. In the United Kingdom, UWOs have required that a person provide a detailed account of how they obtained a piece of property (real estate or goods) without the requirement that any criminal charges be filed.

The reverse onus scheme of UWOs would permit the province to exercise coercive state powers and obtain court orders against people without any evidence of wrongdoing.  There is also the risk that such orders could be used to unfairly target racialized individuals and groups, such as Chinese-Canadians or Chinese newcomers with assets in BC. The BCCLA intends to address the potential for, and negative impacts of, racial profiling in Anti-Money Laundering efforts at the Inquiry.

More Police, Less Accountability

Many of the recommendations for anti-money laundering measures call for significant increases in police powers and presence. The BCCLA has long been an advocate for police accountability and transparency. We have seen time and time again how problematic policing policies and practices can lead to abuse and hurt citizens and society. 

At the Inquiry, the BCCLA will call for accountability mechanisms for policing and police misconduct. The BCCLA will also call for independent research and analysis on the efficacy and potential impact of proposed calls for more policing. It is critical to ensure that policing units assigned to casinos and related gaming activities are not created or expanded unnecessarily and that they do not operate in a rights-infringing manner. 

Anti-money laundering measures will affect the majority of the population, not just those suspected of money laundering activities. The BCCLA will work to ensure that the implications for the rights and liberties of all form an essential part of the analysis in developing an effective Anti-Money-Laundering regime. 

< class="what-entry-title">“The Pandemic is a Prism:” Civil Liberties and the COVID-19 Crisis>
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Reading the news these days is like flipping through a dystopian novel, with the pandemic producing anxiety in all of us. Crises like this one are times of upheaval, of uncertainty, and also, of urgency. Now more than ever, protecting civil liberties and human rights is imperative, and it has been a busy time at the country’s oldest civil liberties organization.

Rights During the Pandemic

We are receiving many emails about the changing state of government policies at this time, such as privacy rights and policing measures, with questions about whether governments have struck an appropriate balance in protecting public health and our fundamental rights.

We are actively monitoring government measures, like changes to privacy, so we can respond to unreasonable breaches of civil liberties:

  • Digital Privacy: We are in discussions with government officials about privacy rights, contact tracing apps, and digital surveillance. We are calling for measured and justifiable responses when considering enhanced digital surveillance or data collection.
  • Know Your Rights: What exactly is an emergency order? There are news stories about police ticketing blitzes in different provinces, but what authority do officers have to enforce public health orders in BC? Can landlords compel or share private tenants’ medical information? To make sure people are equipped with information during the pandemic, we have produced a series of free legal education factsheets.  
  • Access to Justice: We are part of the new provincial Attorney General’s Justice COVID-19 advisory group to support government responses and courts in minimizing the impact on the justice system. The closure of courts is having a deep impact on those going through the criminal justice system and on women and gender diverse people experiencing family violence, and we want to ensure access to justice in a timely, safe, and accessible way.

Social Distancing Doesn’t Break Social Solidarity

This pandemic is a prism, refracting back to us the existing inequities of our society, and placing a disproportionate burden on precarious workers, seniors and elders, people with disabilities, refugees, prisoners, homeless people, women and trans people, and Indigenous communities.

The pandemic has also revealed that to keep any one of us safe and to flatten the curve of the virus spreading, we must keep every one of us safe. Here is some of our advocacy alongside many local and national groups to ensure no one is left behind during this difficult time:

  • Prisoners Rights: Prisons continue to be a dangerous hotspot for COVID-19 transmission, and we are deeply troubled that the government and Correctional Service of Canada have taken an entirely passive approach, or are relying on harsh medical isolation that is indistinguishable from solitary confinement. One month ago an incarcerated person at Mission prison died from COVID-related complications and we are pressing for a full and public Coroner’s inquest to ensure similar deaths are prevented. We are also calling for the immediate and safe release of prisoners who are releasable, health protections for people incarcerated in and/or working in prisons, and necessary legal accommodations for Muslim prisoners during Ramadan. In the courts, though we are disappointed that an important constitutional challenge about Canada’s flawed prison needle exchange program was dismissed, we are pleased the federal government has dropped its appeal of our historic win striking down Canada’s cruel and unconstitutional solitary confinement laws.
  • Decriminalization of simple drug possession: As the pandemic and the overdose crisis sweep across Canada, there is a pressing need to adopt evidence-based measures that treat drug use as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice. In light of the pandemic, we are calling for a federal exemption for simple drug possession from drug laws.
  • Accountability at the Border: The federal government has barred refugee claimants from entry throughout the land border, rather than ensuring they are included in public health responses and offered protection from persecution. We are urging the government to protect the essential movement of refugees by reversing this decision. We are also horrified as revelations of gross misconduct by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have recently surfaced – ranging from sexual harassment to excessive use of force, resulting in over five hundred investigations. We are determined as ever to keep pushing for independent, civilian oversight of CBSA.
  • Safety for people in homeless encampments: We are urging governments and police agencies to not enforce a Ministerial order forcing the eviction of homeless encampments. In the absence of adequate housing for all, we are highly concerned about the well-being of people, disproportionately Indigenous, being displaced and evicted from encampments under the threat of criminal sanction. We are also urging municipalities to suspend enforcement of bylaws requiring homeless people to move from parks in the daytime, which essentially prevents them from sheltering-in-place, and to not seize peoples’ shelters and belongings.

During these challenging times, we will continue our critical work to protect and expand civil liberties and human rights for all.

< class="what-entry-title">Pandemic Triggers British Columbia to Alter the Legal Landscape for Personal Information Sharing beyond Canada’s Borders>
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While our new reality has brought the implementation of government measures to encourage social distancing, such as the closure of restaurants and playgrounds, government actions impacting privacy rights have been more obscure. Governments have been bending the rules around how the collection, use, and sharing of personal information is protected and privacy maintained. 

This blog will help you understand what the government of BC has done to temporarily adjust the privacy laws that apply to its ministries as well as other public entities like health authorities, and school districts. This is my interpretation of an order passed in March by BC’s Minister of Citizen Services, impacting the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Data Residency

Before I jump into my review of the order, I wanted to set out what data residency is and why we embrace it.  BC is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that has embedded the principle of data residency into the privacy laws binding the government. This means that any personal information collected by public bodies always has to stay within Canada. Given the fact that so much government administration is now digital, public bodies in BC must ensure that computer systems used for the collection, storage or use of personal information must use servers located in Canada. Privacy advocates champion these rules because it helps to ensure that any stored personal information remains subject to Canadian laws, enabling individuals to hold the government accountable should there be a privacy breach.

Health Care Bodies Sharing Information Outside Canada Re: COVID-19

The first part of the order talks specifically about sharing information outside of Canada – including health information – on the condition that sharing the information is necessary for communicating with individuals regarding COVID-19, supporting a public health response to the pandemic or coordinating care during the pandemic. 

Ordinarily, the law only allows this information to be shared within Canada. However, the order permits healthcare bodies—like hospitals—and health ministries and authorities to use this mechanism to share information beyond our national borders, but it expires on June 30, 2019.

Furthermore, personal information may only be shared for the purpose for which it was obtained/compiled or for a use consistent with that purpose, or to an officer/employee of the public body or to a minister, if the information is necessary for the performance of their duties. This limits the scope of what can be shared. We’re always happy to see limitations and conditions on the sharing of personal information.

Now, this latter part strikes me as a bit odd, it isn’t immediately obvious why these conditions would be met right now. Why would an officer or employee or a Minister of a BC public body need to get information while outside of Canada? However, considering how quickly the self-isolation rules came down and how they vary around the world, it may be that some key health officials who work for public health bodies in BC may be working outside of Canada right now.

The part that raises the most concern is that it allows the public health bodies to share personal information for “the purposes of communicating with individuals respecting COVID-19.” This seems a little broad as it may open the door to sharing with any individual, depending on interpretation. There is some comfort in recalling the added limitation– that the personal information can only be shared “for the purpose for which it was obtained or compiled.” This may mean that this mechanism was needed to simply tell people who were tested for COVID before leaving the country, whether or not their test is positive. On the other hand, it may allow for relatives/guardians of COVID-19 victims who aren’t in Canada to have test results or treatment plans shared with them. Although it may seem alarming at first, there could be very valid reasons for creating this new avenue of personal information sharing in the face of a pandemic when people and communities are as mobile as we are.    

Another obvious reason for this portion of the order is to allow some planning with neighbouring jurisdictions (states) about coordinating care and supporting public health responses.  Arguably, “bulk data”, like the number of infected persons and their postal codes, is never completely anonymized. As a result, the government may be taking an abundance of caution to ensure that they can share broader information, like where the infection hotspots are, and which hospitals are at capacity, with counterparts in the USA without running afoul of privacy law.

Disclosure of Personal Information Outside of Canada Through Third-Party Tools

It is clear to me that the second portion of the order is only linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in that thousands of civil servants are now working from home (or wherever they happened to be when they were ordered to shelter in place). 

This part of the order is clearing the way for those civil servants who are now outside of Canada to be able to keep doing their jobs remotely.  The nature of the personal information would change depending on the work being done, so it could be very sensitive personal health information or other very sensitive personal information about children in care, student performance or vaccination records, employee hiring and firing, social assistance applications, etc.  We are happy to see some conditions limiting disclosure by requiring that “any disclosure of personal information is limited to the minimum amount reasonably necessary for the performance of duties by an employee…”

The BCCLA will continue to monitor the implementation of this order—and future ones—to ensure that privacy rights are respected and are properly balanced with other competing interests.  

Read more about the BCCLA’s COVID-19 response here.

< class="what-entry-title">COVID-19 highlights the importance of free expression rights for healthcare workers>
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In the wake of COVID-19, it is important that our healthcare workers have free speech protections.  Responding effectively to a health crisis requires the free flow of information, especially from those with insider knowledge. 

A growing number of British Columbian nurses have been taking to social media to express their concerns about what they are seeing from the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Nurses have urged people to stay home, called for donations of personal protective equipment (PPE), and spoken out about the dire state of hospitals.

One nurse at Surrey Memorial Hospital took to social media to speak to the conditions of the hospital. “We are seeing a lot of people walk through these doors with COVID-19 symptoms,” she said. “We have a lot of people in critical care currently at the hospital. Our wards are getting full.”[1]

However, a spokesperson for the Fraser Health Authority quickly refuted the nurse’s statement and said that her call to action was inaccurate and misinformed, writing “[i]t’s an unfortunate video that doesn’t reflect the situation accurately.”  The President of the B.C. Nurses Union also spoke out against the posts, stating:

“I’m asking every one of our members at this time to refrain from posting public messages of this nature, even if they are intended to reinforce the message of the public health officer… My message to all nurses is this: please focus on your patients and providing the best quality patient care you can and let the provincial health officer focus on the message to the public.”[2]

Our Strom Case Intervention

Photo: Hush Naidoo

The BCCLA has long been a strong advocate for the free expression rights of health care professionals.  Last year, the BCCLA intervened in an important case at the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal regarding the censorship of a nurse by her professional body.  In Strom v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association, Ms. Strom, a nurse in Saskatchewan, was found guilty of professional misconduct and ordered to pay a $26,000 fine and cost award by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (SRNA) for comments she made on Facebook that were critical of the care her deceased grandfather received at the end of his life.  The Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench upheld this disciplinary decision, finding it to be reasonable.  The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal heard the appeal on September 17, 2019, and has reserved its decision.  

If the Court of Appeal chooses to uphold the disciplinary decision, it will send a message to nurses that they are not free to criticize aspects of the healthcare system. The BCCLA intervened to fight against this unjust result and to advocate for the free expression rights of nurses. We spoke to the potential chilling effect and improper encroachment on private life that results from professional regulators disciplining their members for off-duty speech. Professionals, such as nurses, must feel free to speak to the public about their concerns with our public systems.

The BCCLA’s submissions at the Court of Appeal emphasized that freedom of expression should not be limited by professional discipline, and regulatory bodies such as the SRNA must not be empowered to prevent nurses from speaking up as individuals about public institutions.  Disciplining members who speak out would set a dangerous precedent that could prevent nurses from advocating on issues of public importance.  We eagerly anticipate a ruling in the Strom case that recognizes these principles.

Free Expression During COVID-19

The BCCLA will work to protect and advance the rights of those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A nurse working in a downtown Toronto hospital posted several videos to Facebook citing a dire need for supplies. “Me and my colleagues need your help. We are running out of supplies; sanitizer, gloves, masks, face shields,” she said.[3]

Photo: Nicholas Bartos

The hospital, however, was once again quick to refute the nurse’s message.  A spokesperson for the hospital’s management network stated: “We do currently have sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment and supplies, however, this pandemic is a fluid, changing situation.” On the website for the management network, however, there is a public request for masks (N95 and surgical), goggles, isolation gowns, gloves, face shields and scrubs.[4] 

Many of such nurses’ videos have since been removed, likely in response to backlash from their employers or regulators.  It has been reported that nurses in Ontario hospitals are being told not to speak out about shortages of N95 masks and other PPE.  One Ontario nurse stated “[h]ospitals are telling us to keep quiet about this information and even threatening to fire staff should we speak out on social media or to the public.”[5]

Across the world, healthcare workers are facing consequences for speaking out about their working conditions.  In the United Kingdom, doctors and nurses are being warned by hospitals and other National Health Service bodies not to raise their concerns about widespread shortages of PPE publicly, threatening possible disciplinary action.[6]

In the US, nurses have spoken out over inadequate PPE and the limited means they have to raise concerns within their chains of command.  Nurses have been told that they could be disciplined for talking to the media, and some have stated that they had been explicitly warned about that in emails sent by hospital administrators.[7]

Healthcare workers are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic; they deserve not to be silenced.

Read more about the BCCLA’s COVID-19 response here.

[1] Ibid.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “‘We are in dire need’: Toronto nurse sends public video plea for supplies from inside a COVID-19 unit”, March 31, 2020,
[4] Ibid.
[5] “‘I was made to feel belittled’: Nurses reveal fears working on the front lines of COVID-19 pandemic”, April 3, 2020,
[6] NHS staff ‘gagged’ over coronavirus shortages, March 31, 2020,
[7] “Expired Respirators. Reused masks. Nurses offer sobering accounts of what could come” April 3, 2020,

< class="what-entry-title">“No One Should be Left Behind:” BCCLA Update on COVID-19>
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Dear BCCLA members and friends,

Normally, my walk to work takes me through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Chinatown – some of our city’s busiest and most vibrant neighbourhoods. Now, like so many of you, I am working remotely from home. The BCCLA has instituted remote work best practices and increased accommodations for work and paid sick leaves to prioritize public health and the well-being of our staff team through this time.

Following the direction of public health experts, we have also made the necessary decision to cancel our upcoming Liberty Awards Gala on May 8th, 2020 and to move the event to 2021. Even before the government directive against large gatherings, the BCCLA was taking steps to cancel our event to ensure we flatten the curve to lessen the impact on our public healthcare infrastructure and on frontline workers.

The BCCLA extends our solidarity and support to our community partners, to frontline care workers, and to the most marginalized in our communities including precarious workers, migrants, prisoners, homeless people, seniors, people with disabilities, and Indigenous communities who are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.

All government measures should be non-discriminatory, protect the human rights of the most vulnerable, and not unreasonably limit fundamental rights and civil liberties.

The impacts of COVID-19 are not felt equally. Addressing social determinants of health, such as income, working conditions, racism, colonization, disability, gendered violence, safe housing, access to social supports and strengthened public infrastructure, are all vital parts of a public health response to COVID-19.

We are unequivocal that no one should be left behind.

Governments are also implementing a number of extraordinary measures such as closing the border to many Canadians and non-Canadians, and contemplating emergency orders that grant exceptional powers. We remain vigilant to ensure fundamental rights are not being unreasonably or unjustifiably limited. Given the reality of over-policing of poor and racialized communities, the blunt power of any enforcement measures must not further criminalize these communities or those who simply don’t have the means to self-isolate, such as homeless people or women in unsafe housing.

We are particularly disturbed and disappointed about the federal government’s decision to turn away refugees arriving at the US-Canada border. This violates our legal obligations to not turn away refugees seeking safety from violence and persecution. Many refugees are on death-defying journeys and as the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, reminds all states “imposing a blanket measure to preclude the admission of refugees or asylum-seekers, or of those of a particular nationality or nationalities, without evidence of a health risk and without measures to protect against refoulement, would be discriminatory and would not meet international standards.” During this pandemic, we can maintain physical distance and enact necessary health measures without violating our legal and moral commitments to refugee rights.

Now more than ever, protecting civil liberties and human rights is absolutely imperative. Here is some of the work we have been undertaking in the past few months.

Prisoners’ Rights

This month we intervened alongside many other organizations, such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, in a precedent-setting case about the constitutional right of prisoners to access prison needle exchange programs as a necessary public health intervention. We know prisoners are particularly vulnerable to violations of their constitutional rights because the government has total control over every aspect of their daily lives, including their access to health care.

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot forget the unjust conditions, including lack of adequate healthcare, faced by people caged behind bars. Our governments must immediately release prisoners who are releasable and reduce the number of people in prisons, jails, juvenile detention facilities, and immigration detention centers as an urgent priority.

Photo by Matthew Ansley 

The BCCLA remains committed to upholding the constitutional rights of prisoners alongside advocating for alternatives to incarceration, especially given the gendered colonial crisis of incarceration experienced by Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people. Later this year we will be going to the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that indefinite solitary confinement violates fundamental Charter rights and must be abolished in Canada.

Solitary confinement is a form of torture, and we will not back down from taking this fight to Canada’s top court.

Migrant Rights

Last week, the BCCLA joined with dozen of organizations and community groups, such as Sanctuary Health, in calling for an end to the three-month exclusionary wait period preventing new immigrants, migrant workers, returning Canadians, and even some newborn Canadian babies from receiving health care coverage. Especially amidst a pandemic, we must ensure access to universal healthcare and testing procedures for all residents.

We call for the waiting period to be eliminated immediately.

Last month, Parliament tabled Bill C-3 proposing the establishment of an independent and civilian review and complaints function overseeing Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).  BCCLA has been advocating and campaigning for CBSA oversight for the past several years, and you can count on us to be making submissions on this Bill. Every major police agency in Canada has some form of independent oversight. Yet, despite its immense powers, there has been no independent civilian oversight body to review CBSA policies or investigate officer misconduct.

You can read my interview “CBSA is Not a Fair or Accountable Agency: Why We Need Canada Border Services Agency Oversight” with Mexican refugee Karla Lottini about her personal experiences on why CBSA oversight is necessary and with BCCLA Policy Staff Counsel Latoya Farrell about CBSA oversight (and its shortcomings) proposed in Bill C-3.

As Latoya states, “It is imperative that the government establish a meaningful and robust independent oversight body so that the most vulnerable in our society have their rights, dignity, and humanity protected when interacting with an agency with as much power as the CBSA.”

Police Accountability

Closely related to CBSA oversight is our ongoing work to ensure law enforcement accountability, which has become even more pressing in light of recent revelations that the RCMP have been routinely using facial recognition for up to 18 years!

In unceded Wet’suwet’en territories, where the nation has been in the national spotlight for the assertion of their Indigenous rights and laws, we have been working closing with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs to call for an investigation regarding the improper and unlawful actions of the RCMP.  

RCMP operations in Wet’suwet’en territories have been a clear exercise of overbroad and unlawful policing power, with the impact of criminalizing Indigenous peoples on their lands and violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Here, in Vancouver, we worked with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Black Lives Matter-Vancouver to oppose the findings and recommendations of a recent Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review. The VPD Street Check Review assumes that street checks are valuable, despite the lack of any evidence to support the claim. We also disagree with the review’s finding that the statistical evidence of disproportionate over-policing is “plausible.” Indigenous and Black people are significantly over-represented in the numbers of street checks conducted by the VPD. This undermines the claim that VPD are engaged in proactive policing and, instead suggests that race-based over-policing and pretext policing are occurring.

We will continue to oppose discriminatory and unnecessary VPD street checks.

Patients’ Rights

Last, but certainly not least, we will continue to advocate for medically-assisted death with dignity and for patients’ rights. Earlier this month, the federal government tabled Bill C-7 to amend Canada’s medical assistance in dying law. This came after the BCCLA litigated and the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decriminalized assisted dying for seriously and incurably ill people in 2015.

As our Litigation Director Grace Pastine puts it, “The new MAID law is a mixed bag for civil liberties and patients’ rights.” Many patients will now face additional, confusing hurdles and intolerable wait periods that make it impossible for them to have a compassionate dying process.

The BCCLA has been urging the government to address these flaws in the legislation and make amendments before the bill becomes law.

And if all that wasn’t enough, we have been working hard to ensure corporations cannot benefit from the protection against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment as set out in s. 12 of the Charter.

Yes, you read that right. A company is arguing it has the right to section 12 protection in order to avoid paying a fine it is facing for violating Quebec’s Building Act. The company argues the fine is too high, and therefore cruel and unusual punishment. The BCCLA was at the Supreme Court of Canada to argue in this significant appeal that in fact, no, protections against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment only apply to human beings.

As BCCLA Litigation Staff Counsel Jessica Magonet argues, “Corporations can’t benefit from these rights because their purpose is to protect human dignity and prevent physical or psychological suffering.”

We are proud of our work, which is national in scope – from opposing Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which proposes shockingly anti-democratic state infringement on civil liberties and human rights, to opposing the definition adopted in Ontario’s Combating Antisemitism Act, which would greatly narrow the scope of free expression and political expression. We will continue our critical work during these challenging times. Our whole team continues to be guided by an ethic of solidarity, justice, and equity, and this pandemic has only reminded us of how vital it is that we protect civil liberties and human rights for all. If you are not yet a member, I invite you to become one and thank you for your ongoing support of our work.

Sending good wishes,

Harsha Walia

Executive Director

< class="what-entry-title">Welcome to our new staff!>
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We’re pleased to welcome Aisha Weaver, Leila Toledo, and Sambriddhi Nepal to the BCCLA team! Please join us in extending them a warm welcome, and learn more about them below.

Aisha Weaver, Policy Director

Aisha Weaver joined the BC Civil Liberties Association as the Policy Director in April 2020. Aisha is responsible for directing and developing the policy work of the BCCLA. She is passionate about advocating for the civil liberties and human rights of all Canadians, and particularly marginalized and vulnerable people.

Aisha’s commitment to social justice is long standing. Aisha has researched, written, advised and advocated on a variety of human rights and civil liberties issues, including state accountability, corporate accountability, access to justice, discrimination, equality, prisoners’ rights, conflict resolution, socio-economic rights, land rights, property rights, women’s rights, and labour rights in various contexts around the world. Aisha has worked with communities on these issues in Canada, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, and the US. 

Most recently, Aisha served as General Counsel of Strategic Initiatives at a leading health care center and non-profit in Canada. Aisha holds a JD from Columbia University School of Law, LLM from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and BSc in Economics & International Development from Tulane University. Aisha is called to the bar of Ontario, has applied to transfer to the bar of British Columbia, and is a member of the New York State bar.

Leila Toledo, Director of People and Operations

Leila Toledo joined the BCCLA in 2020 as the Director of People and Operations. She was born and raised in Mexico before becoming a settler in unceded Coast Salish territories. Leila has over seven years of experience in the not-for-profit Arts sector. Her background ranges from administrative support for small business to large event and project management. She has worked for the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, where she served the human resources and financial operations with a lens in accessibility, inclusion, and system development. She is an avid reader of fiction and gender theory and is passionate about her involvement in social change.

Leila holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of British Columbia.

Sambriddhi Nepal, Supporter Engagement and Development Manager

Sambriddhi is a fundraising and communications professional with almost a decade of experience in the non-profit sector. Prior to working at the BCCLA, she worked at WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. Sambriddhi’s greatest professional joys come from creating content that inspire people to take action for something they believe in.

Sambriddhi is a settler on Coast Salish Territories. She was born in Nepal and lived in 6 different developing countries before immigrating to Canada in 2009. She is an avid reader, and hopes to add “Host of a Well-Attended Book Club” to her list of achievements in the future.

< class="what-entry-title">Our new Communications and Development Volunteers!>
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Join us in welcoming our Winter 2020 Communications and Development volunteers. Zoe and Joeveen will be supporting our work in outreach, fundraising, and events. We are very excited to have them on the BCCLA team!

Joeveen is a graduate from the University of British Columbia where she completed a B.A. in Political Science. Throughout her academic journey, she has participated in countless volunteer opportunities, including an internship in community engagement at Amnesty International. In her free time, Joeveen enjoys playing in a Rec multisport league with her family and friends, and exploring all the beauty British Columbia has to offer. She hopes her previous volunteer, work, and academic experiences, alongside her passion for human rights will assist her in making a meaningful contribution to BCCLA’s work and creating a lasting positive impact.

Zoe (she/hers) is a racialized queer settler living on the stolen lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples. She is keenly interested in the relationship between narratives of law and histories of marginalized peoples. She deeply appreciates the work that the BCCLA does to defend and extend human rights and civil liberties. After completing her undergraduate at UBC studying History and Philosophy, Zoe is thrilled to join the team at the BCCLA as a volunteer.


< class="what-entry-title">“CBSA is Not a Fair or Accountable Agency”:Why We Need Canada Border Services Agency Oversight>
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Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have vast powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure, and questioning of travellers. Enforcing Canadian customs and immigration laws, CBSA has even wider powers than police agencies. One of the most significant of these powers is the detention and arrest of non-citizens without requiring a warrant. There have been a number of deaths of migrants and refugees in immigration detention, where detainees face prolonged and cruel confinement, and countless public incidents of CBSA officer misconduct.

Every major police agency in Canada has some form of independent oversight. Yet, despite its immense powers, there is no independent civilian oversight body to review CBSA policies or investigate officer misconduct. For the past several years, BCCLA has been advocating and campaigning for CBSA oversight. This is a small but necessary step towards ensuring CBSA accountability and independent oversight, though much more needs to be done to tackle the systemic marginalization and exclusion of migrants and refugees created by Canadian immigration enforcement policies.

In February 2020, Parliament tabled Bill C-3: An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act. Bill C-3 proposes the establishment of an independent and civilian review and complaints function overseeing CBSA. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which currently oversees the RCMP, would take on additional responsibilities of oversight over CBSA and be renamed the Public Complaints and Review Commission.

I spoke with Mexican refugee Karla Lottini about why CBSA oversight is necessary and with BCCLA Policy Staff Counsel Latoya Farrell about CBSA oversight proposed in Bill C-3.

Harsha: What has been your experience with CBSA and why is CBSA oversight needed?

Karla Lottini

Karla: CBSA is not a fair or accountable agency. I dealt with CBSA when I had a deportation order. I was a refugee fleeing political persecution from Mexico and seeking safety. Canada initially refused my refugee claim and I was facing deportation. Eventually, I won my humanitarian and compassionate claim thanks to grassroots groups and my lawyer. But while I was facing deportation, I had to deal with CBSA and it was a bad experience. They didn’t believe that I was fearing for my life. They treated me with complete suspicion and all I heard about was their plans to kick me out of the country. It was very stressful and intimidating for my family and I because CBSA officers are armed and have complete control over the fate of our lives. Their attitude is very “my country, I decide” kind of attitude. They were very aggressive and, as a non-Canadian, I didn’t feel I had any rights or I could complain anywhere. The power imbalance is huge.

A few years later, I was very involved in seeking justice for Lucía Vega Jiménez. Lucia was a 42-year old Mexican migrant who hung herself in the Immigration Holding Centre in Vancouver. She died in CBSA custody, but CBSA never revealed details about her death to the public until another detainee contacted us and then we had a huge campaign and forced CBSA to admit there was a death in custody. We also had to fight for an inquest into Lucia’s death, and the BC Coroner’s Inquest found there were many mistakes made by CBSA and their contractors. How many other Lucia’s are there that we don’t know about? How many other immigrants and refugees are being denied critical mental health services? How many other people are being unfairly deported without being informed of their legal rights or being detained under unjust conditions without any recourse or investigation?

Harsha: Yes, the BC Corners Inquest raised a number of issues surrounding Lucia Vega Jiménez’s death in CBSA custody. Some of the issues, as you outlined, were CBSA’s failure to provide adequate mental health supports for Lucia, failure to advise Lucia of a legal application she could make to stop her deportation, failure to advise the public of her death, and the explosive revelation that CBSA contractors had falsified their reports about supervision of the detention facility. Among other findings, the Inquest found “there is no independent, realistic method for immigrants to bring forward concerns or complaints.”

Karla: It is very hard to bring forward concerns or complaints. In my professional employment, I work with newcomer immigrant and refugee children. The fear and trauma they experience is every day. The humanitarian image we project about Canada is not a reality. So many people come here and are rejected, like I was until I fought and went public with my situation. Many of the children I work with know that CBSA has told their families that they cannot remain in the country. CBSA criminalizes people; people are handcuffed, jailed, treated with suspicion, and made to feel like they have no right to asylum.

CBSA is considered ‘not as bad’ as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US but it really is similar. Homes and workplaces are raided, families are separated, and people are detained and deported. You can be detained just for being a flight risk or looking suspicious. The browner you are, the more likely you are to be stopped and profiled. You are even more susceptible if you are poor. I know a journalist from Ayotzinapa, Mexico who was detained by CBSA. He was given no real reason. He showed them all his work credentials but they still didn’t allow him entry. CBSA officers kept saying “you don’t have enough money” and “you don’t look like a journalist.” I have been here eleven years and I am still waiting to see the truly welcoming culture that Canada likes to talk about. People are welcoming, but powerful agencies like CBSA are not.

Harsha: Latoya, what are some of your perspectives on why people in Canada should care about CBSA accountability and oversight?

Latoya Farrell, BCCLA Staff Counsel (Policy)

Latoya: Once, while I was living in the UK with a student visa, I traveled to Amsterdam. My student visa came in the form of a student card and I did not notice when it fell in the hotel room in Amsterdam. When I landed back in the UK, I realized I did not have my student card. The immigration and customs officer told me, “I can’t let you back in.” I showed him my passport, but he insisted on seeing the card. Panic set into me. I was a student, I had no money on me, all my stuff was in the school, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was sweating in panic. They eventually verified my identity and let me in but those three minutes felt like three years.

My experience wasn’t in Canada, but we can think about similar experiences happening to travellers in Canada, and especially for refugees who are more vulnerable. It should concern all of us that refugees seeking a life raft of survival or a beacon of hope are impacted by a powerful border services agency, which has no oversight or complaint process.

Harsha: Can you explain key components of Bill C-3?

Latoya: The main purpose of the Bill is to propose the establishment of an oversight body over CBSA, which is the only major law enforcement agency in Canada with no independent oversight.

There are significant issues with Bill C-3 that fall short of robust and meaningful oversight. The Bill will roll oversight into the CRCC, which is already under-resourced and has a significant backlog when it comes to complaints about the RCMP. Another issue is that third party complaints may not be permitted under Bill C-3, even though third party complaints are essential given the marginalization and vulnerability of refugees and people without secure status. People without secure status may feel afraid to complain about CBSA officers, or may even be deported and not in a realistic position to file a complaint. Third party complaints also tend to point to wider systemic issues, beyond an individual officer’s misconduct, which is essential to advancing the public interest. The Bill also needs to be more robust with respect to policy-based complaints. Systemic policy-based complaints about CBSA, and not just complaints about individual officers, should be explicitly permitted in order for the oversight process to be meaningful. This includes a review of CBSA policies such as indefinite detention, warrantless search and seizure, treatment of detainees, and more.

It is imperative that the government establish a meaningful and robust independent oversight body so that the most vulnerable in our society have their rights, dignity, and humanity protected when interacting with an agency with as much power as the CBSA. The model proposed in Bill C-3 does not achieve this. Passing this bill in its current state would significantly undermine principles like justice, protection of the most vulnerable, and holding law enforcement bodies accountable for their actions.

< class="what-entry-title">A Thank You Message from Harsha Walia, BCCLA Executive Director>

Dear friends and supporters,

Thank you for the warm welcome I have received as I step into the role of the Executive Director of the BCCLA.

I have partnered with the BCCLA for many years. During that time, I observed the association work within coalitions and alongside community groups to achieve important victories such as the right to a physician assisted death, striking down indefinite solitary confinement laws, and challenging an unaccountable border enforcement agency. Now, in my first month in the BCCLA office, I have witnessed first-hand the team at BCCLA, including our extraordinary staff, dedicated volunteers, committed pro-bono counsel, and passionate board members, doing critical work to advance civil liberties and human rights every single day.

I am thrilled to join the organization at such an exciting time – with a vision to be effective and ethical through strategic litigation, law and policy reform, public legal education, and community relations. As you know, the organization now has its first strategic plan in place to guide our work on strengthening democratic rights, resisting rising authoritarianism, advocating for patient rights, demanding law enforcement accountability, and centering equity and inclusion in all our work. We also know that access to justice is fraught, and a systemic barrier, especially for Indigenous peoples and nations asserting their own legitimate legal orders.

I am humbled and honoured to be in service of the BCCLA’s collective mandate – one that affirms dignity, liberty, and justice for all – which you, as our supporters and friends, have helped us fight for and strive for. Thank you for your trust in me and our team as move this work and vision forward.

In solidarity and struggle,

Harsha Walia

Executive Director