Individuals in Canada have a right under section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be free from unreasonable searches and unreasonable seizures of their property and their personal information. Section 8 says: Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

Although the word “privacy” does not appear at all in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, from the first days of its application in the 1980s, section 8 has been interpreted as a shield against unjustified state intrusions on personal privacy. (1) Through a series of cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, this principle has been recognized as a core value of our society. 

Under section 8, individuals are not free from all searches and seizures, only those that are unreasonable, because section 8 protects a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The guarantee of security from unreasonable search and seizure protects you when you are in circumstances in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This requires a balancing of individual privacy interests against important societal interests such as preventing and detecting crime or ensuring public safety.

You do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in all circumstances involving law enforcement investigations.  Whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy depends on a number of factors, including what is being searched, the place of the search, the investigative techniques used in the search and whether you are present during the search. (2) It does not depend on whether you were actually involved in criminal activity. 

There is no protection under the Charter in circumstances where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Even when you do have a reasonable expectation of privacy, police or other state investigators can still search you or your property, or can undertake surveillance of you or your communications, but in most cases they must go in front of a judge to get a warrant, and satisfy the judge that certain factors have been met, including that there are reasonable grounds for the search or surveillance.

In some exceptional circumstances the officer does not need to go in front of a judge because there are reasonable grounds to search without a warrant. 

(1) R. v. Kang-Brown, 2008 SCC 18 at para. 8

(2) See Hunter v. Southam Inc. [1984] 2 S.C.R. 145; R. v. Edwards [1996] 1 S.C.R. 128; R. v. Tessling, [2004] 3 S.C.R. 432; see also R. v. Kang-Brown, 2008 SCC 18.