Court Cases

CCLA at Supreme Court on Assisted Suicide Case

By on October 15, 2014

Today the CCLA intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Attorney General of Canada, a case that challenges the Criminal Code’s current prohibition on assisted suicide.  This is the second time that the highest court will consider the issue.  In 1993, the Supreme Court in Rodriguez held that the absolute ban on assisted death did not violate the Charter, by a 5-4 majority.

Ms. Carter and Ms. Taylor both suffered from intractable and progressive diseases and are now deceased. They, along with other applicants, brought a civil claim before the British Columbia Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit assisted suicide.  They succeeded at the B.C. Supreme Court, where the judge concluded that s. 241(b) of the Criminal Code violated the s. 15 equality rights of Gloria Taylor and the s. 7 life, liberty, and security of the person rights of Gloria Taylor, Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, and that none of these infringements could be justified under s. 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On appeal, the B.C. Court of Appeal reversed the decision and held that s. 241(b) was constitutional. The judgment however, turned on the answer to a particular question about whether the lower court’s findings were wrong because of what the Supreme Court of Canada had decided years earlier in the Rodriguez case.   The Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal and granted CCLA the opportunity to intervene in the case.

The CCLA appeared before the Court to argue that an absolute prohibition on assisted suicide restricts personal autonomy in a manner that unreasonably restricts the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, and supports striking down the relevant Criminal Code provision.  CCLA argues that the constitutional rights to life and liberty include personal autonomy and control of one’s bodily integrity. An absolute prohibition against physician-assisted suicide violates these rights.  It overrides the thoughtful and informed choices of terminally ill, suffering individuals, and denies them the the opportunity to preserve dignity and control over the final days of their life.

Read CCLA’s factum in the case here.

CCLA at Supreme Court on Important Freedom of Religion Case

By on October 14, 2014

The CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as an intervener in the case of Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al. The appeal heard by the Court on October 14, 2014, centres on whether the recital of a prayer at the beginning of public city council meetings violates provisions of the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms and, in particular, whether rights to equality and freedom of religion, are unjustifiably infringed.

Mr. Simoneau, a non-religious citizen of the respondent City of Saguenay attended the meetings of the municipal council. A municipal by-law allowed council members to stand and say a prayer at the start of council proceedings if they wished. Mr. Simoneau and the Mouvement laïque québécois filed an application against the City and its mayor with the province’s human rights tribunal alleging that they had violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion and his right to respect for his dignity (ss. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 15 of the Charter). They asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that religious symbols be removed from the proceedings rooms. The tribunal allowed Mr. Simoneau’s application in part, but the Court of Appeal set aside the decision on the ground that the content of the prayer did not violate the duty of neutrality imposed on the City, and that even if the recitation of the prayer interfered with Mr. Simoneau’s moral values, the interference was trivial or insubstantial in the circumstances.

The CCLA’s position in the case is that State-sponsored religious coercion, in the form of the recital of a religious prayer at public city council meetings, violates the right to equality and freedom of religion and conscience, and that these violations cannot be justified under the either the Quebec or Canadian Charters.  There can be no justification for state compulsion in matters of belief, and the context of the particular case pointed to the bylaw’s clearly religious purpose and effect.

Read CCLA’s factum in the case here.

CCLA Argues there are Inadequate Safeguards for Person Detained under Ontario’s Mental Health Law

By on September 17, 2014

The case of P.S. v. Ontario concerns an individual detained for over 18 years in a maximum security mental health facility, despite a broad consensus that he does not need to be in maximum security, and significant evidence that he may not need to be in an institution at all and may be eligible for a community placement. Mr. S. is deaf and pre-lingual, however his disability and language needs were reportedly not accommodated by the institution, apparently leading to intense social isolation, lack of adequate assessment and treatments, and ultimately the lengthening of his detention.

CCLA intervened in this case to argue, before a 5 judge panel at the Ontario Court of Appeal: that there need to be adequate safeguards for people in involuntary detention under the Mental Health Act; that mental health detainees are entitled to Charter protection of their rights; that the Charter applies to non-government hospitals that function as detention facilities; and that the court must consider the compound nature of fundamental rights violations where applicable. CCLA’s submissions appeared to be of interest to the 5 judge panel, who referred to CCLA’s arguments a number of times during the hearing. CCLA is grateful to the work of counsel David Morritt and Eric Morgan (Oslers).

To read CCLA’s factum, click here.

CCLA to Intervene in Challenge to Prohibition on Assisted Suicide

By on September 4, 2014

CCLA has been granted leave to intervene in Lee Carter, et al. v Attorney General of Canada et al. This case, scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada on October 15, 2014, is the second time the Supreme Court will consider the issue of decriminalizing assisted suicide-the first being the 1993 Rodriguez decision, where the court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the absolute ban on assisted death.

Ms. Kay Carter and Ms. Gloria Taylor both suffered from intractable and progressive diseases and are now deceased. They, along with other applicants, brought a civil claim before the British Columbia Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit assisted suicide.  They succeeded at the B.C. Supreme Court, where the judge concluded that s. 241(b) of the Criminal Code violated the s. 15 equality rights of Gloria Taylor and the s. 7 life, liberty, and security of the person rights of Gloria Taylor, Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, and that none of these infringements could be justified under s. 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On appeal, the B.C. Court of Appeal reversed the decision and held that s. 241(b) was constitutional. The judgment however, turned on the answer to a particular question about whether the lower court’s findings were wrong because of what the Supreme Court of Canada had decided years earlier in the Rodriguez case.   The Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal and granted CCLA the opportunity to intervene in the case.

The CCLA is intervening in the case to argue that an absolute prohibition on assisted suicide restricts personal autonomy in a manner that unreasonably restricts the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, and supports striking down the relevant Criminal Code provision.  CCLA argues that the constitutional rights to life and liberty include personal autonomy and control of one’s bodily integrity. An absolute prohibition against physician-assisted suicide violates these rights.  It overrides the thoughtful and informed choices of terminally ill, suffering individuals, and denies them the the opportunity to preserve dignity and control over the final days of their life.

Read CCLA’s factum in the case here.

Appellate decision approves G20 class action

By on August 8, 2014

On August 6, 2014, the Ontario Divisional Court decided that hundreds of individuals who were detained and arrested in mass police cordons during the G20 can have their legal claims heard together as a class action.  Hundreds of those detained at the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre may also have their claims jointly heard as part of a related class. The Court’s decision recognizes the seriousness of the claims being brought forward and the alleged conduct of the police on that weekend in June 2010. As stated by Justice Nordheimer, who authored the unanimous decision:

“If the appellant’s central allegation is proven, the conduct of the police violated a basic tenet of how police in a free and democratic society are expected to conduct themselves. Their actions, if proven, constitute an egregious breach of the individual liberty interests of ordinary citizens. On this view of the respondent’s conduct, it is not hyperbole to see it as being akin to one of the hallmarks of a police state, where the suppression of speech, that is uncomfortable for those in positions of power, is made a prime objective of those whose job it is to police the public.”

CCLA filed evidence in support of the motion for certification, and has continued to be involved in other post-G20 accountability efforts including ongoing disciplinary proceedings against the senior Toronto Police Service officer who ordered several of the mass arrests. You can learn more about the ongoing class action, including who is included within the class, at http://www.g20classaction.ca/. To read more about CCLA’s actions before, during and after the 2010 G20 Summit click here.

Read the decision here.

Read the full press release from Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors here.

CCLA welcomes Supreme Court’s restrictions on ‘Mr. Big’ technique

By on August 6, 2014

On Friday August 1st the Supreme Court released its decision in R v Hart, a case that examined whether the existing legal limits on a police investigative tactic known as “Mr. Big” were sufficient to protect individuals’ rights and ensure fair trials. The Court agreed with the position advanced by CCLA and a number of others that the existing limits on this particular police technique were not sufficient, and crafted a new more rigorous test aimed at ensuring that police activities in these undercover operations do not produce false confessions and are not abusive.

The “Mr. Big” tactic is a specific type of undercover police operation. Police target a suspect, befriending him or her and slowly involving the suspect into the activities of a fictitious criminal organization. The suspect is given financial rewards and friendship, with the promise of more money and support to come. Eventually, he or she is introduced to the crime boss – “Mr. Big” – who must approve the suspect’s involvement, and presses him or her for a confession to the unsolved crime.

As recognized by the Supreme Court, there are numerous dangers involved in this type of police operation: “Suspects confess to Mr. Big during pointed interrogations in the face of powerful inducements and sometimes veiled threats.” In short, it is an inherently coercive process that can result in false confessions. Introducing the confession in court also necessarily involves detailed testimony of the suspect’s willingness to commit other crimes and join a criminal organization – information that can easily prejudice a jury against the accused.

In recognition of these dangers, the Supreme Court established strong new rules governing the admissibility of Mr. Big confessions. These confessions will now presumptively be inadmissible, and it will be up to the Crown to prove that they are reliable enough to be used as evidence. The conduct of the police will also be scrutinized: “No matter how reliable the confession, the courts cannot condone state conduct – such as physical violence – that coerces the target of a Mr. Big operation into confessing.”

CCLA welcomes the newly restrictive rules governing these coercive police techniques.

To read CCLA’s factum before the Supreme Court click here.
To read the Supreme Court’s decision click here.

A Win at the Supreme Court on Internet Privacy

By on June 13, 2014

The Supreme Court of Canada has rendered its decision in R. v. Spencer, a case that considered the privacy interests that an individual has in Internet activities and affirmed that anonymity is a key component of the right to privacy.  The Court also clarified a point of long-standing disagreement between privacy advocates and law enforcement authorities, and concluded – unanimously – that police require judicial authorization to obtain subscriber information from internet service providers.  CCLA believes that the decision sends a clear signal that privacy rights exist in the digital world.

The  decision arose out of the case of Mr. Spencer, who was charged with possessing and distributing child pornography.  The police had information about an internet protocol (IP) address that had shared what was believed to be child pornography.  The police sought information about the subscriber associated with the IP address Mr. Spencer’s internet service provider.  The law enforcement request for information was purportedly made pursuant to a provision of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which is privacy legislation directed at protection of privacy in the private sector (i.e. information held by private entities).  The information was handed over without a production order (an order that is similar to a search warrant) and the police then sought and obtained a search warrant to enter Mr. Spencer’s home and search his computer.

The Supreme Court had to address the question of whether the request for information from the internet service provider was a “search” within the meaning of s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The Court noted that while the basic information being sought (name, address and telephone number) appears mundane, the information that it would reveal about an individual – in particular, their activities online, was substantial.  The Court also laid out that the nature of the privacy interest at issue in the case had three different aspects: privacy as secrecy, privacy as control and privacy as anonymity.  The Court’s recognition of anonymity as a concept protected by section 8 echoed the arguments made in CCLA’s factum and may have wide-reaching implications for future cases.

The Court also had to consider whether Mr. Spencer had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information that was obtained by the police (and the information that it revealed).  The Court considered the impact of PIPEDA as well as the terms of service governing the relationship between the internet service provider and its customers.  It concluded that these factors supported the existence of a reasonable expectation of privacy.  In dealing with the proper interpretation of PIPEDA, the Court held that the legislation does not allow the police to simply obtain information which is subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy, merely by asking.  In other words, PIPEDA does not create any search or seizure powers.

The Court concluded that Mr. Spencer’s Charter rights were violated but held that the evidence, on the facts of this case, should nevertheless be admitted.  It considered that the police did not act with wilful or flagrant disregard of the Charter and that the belief that they were acting lawfully was a reasonable one.  Given the seriousness of the offences, the Court held that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute to exclude the evidence.

The implications of the decision are substantial, and may play a significant role in CCLA’s ongoing Charter challenge to PIPEDA.  In particular, the Court’s decision confirms CCLA’s view that PIPEDA is legislation to protect privacy, and cannot be used to undermine it.  CCLA was represented by Anil Kapoor and Lindsay Daviau of Kapoor Barristers.

Read the Court’s decision in R. v. Spencer here.

Read the CCLA’s factum in the case here.

Ontario court upholds human rights decision on freedom of expression and union speech

By on May 30, 2014

On May 28, 2014, Ontario’s Divisional Court released its decision in Taylor-Baptiste v. OPSEU, confirming the right of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to consider Charter values, including freedom of expression, when assessing whether there has been discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The CCLA had intervened in the case to promote a robust understanding of when and how tribunals can consider the Charter in their decision-making. The judgment also has implications for employee privacy and freedom of expression in the Internet age.

The case arose in the context of a fractious labour dispute between management and correctional officers at a Toronto-area jail. The union representing workers at the jail created a blog to communicate with members. After an incident in the workplace, the union local president published a post criticizing the performance of a female manager. Unfortunately, the blog post used demeaning and sexist language to describe her.  The manager subsequently applied to the Human Rights Tribunal, arguing that the blog post constituted discrimination with respect to employment – which is prohibited under section 5 of the Ontario Human Rights Code.  However, the Tribunal ultimately concluded that the post did not fall under the Code.  In reaching this decision, the Tribunal relied on a number of different factors: there was no evidence that the union president worked on the blog while at work; his posts focused on issues of union-management concern; the manager occupied a position of relative power in the workplace. Among other things, the Tribunal noted that Charter rights were engaged by this scenario – particularly freedom of expression and freedom of association. Ultimately, the Tribunal concluded that, in this particular case, the blog post was not covered by the relevant provision of the Human Rights Code.

The manager asked the Divisional Court to review this decision arguing, in part that it was inappropriate for the Tribunal to invoke the Charter in this context.  CCLA’s intervention in the case focused on persuading the Court that administrative tribunals are not only entitled, but required, to consider Charter rights, among other factors, when making rendering judgments.  In this case, the Charter was relevant to deciding whether the Human Rights Code applies to a particular constellation of facts. This approach is necessary to ensure that the Charter is woven into the fabric of everyday administrative decision-making.

The Taylor-Baptiste decision also has ramifications for employee privacy and freedom of speech in the Internet age. Employees often turn to blogging, social media and other online platforms to express themselves after work hours – sometimes on issues that are connected to their jobs. The Tribunal held that some of these communications may be covered by the Human Rights Code, but not all. In each case, the Court or Tribunal will consider the entire context to determine whether there was a sufficient connection between the communications in question (e.g. a blog post) and the workplace. CCLA applauds the Divisional Court’s decision which led to a a sensible and nuanced result.

Read the CCLA’s factum before the Divisional Court

CCLA supports students to launch court challenge of mandatory prom Breathalyzer

By on May 21, 2014

Recently the Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote to Northern Secondary School outlining the organization’s concerns with the school’s plans to make every student entering the prom undergo a Breathalyzer test.  On Tuesday, May 20th, CCLA-cooperating pro bono lawyers filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice requesting a declaration that the proposed policy violates students’ constitutional rights.  The applicants are two students currently enrolled at the school.

Read a copy of the Notice of Application.

CCLA Challenges Federal Privacy Legislation

By on May 21, 2014

Click here to read the Toronto Star‘s front page coverage of CCLA’s challenge.

CCLA is bringing an Application in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to challenge parts of Canada’s federal private-sector privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).  This is the law that regulates how personal information is collected, used and disclosed by private commercial organizations.  It is part of the scheme that has allowed government institutions to access personal information from telecommunications companies and internet service providers on a massive scale, and CCLA believes the law is overly broad and violates fundamental rights.

Why is CCLA bringing a lawsuit to challenge PIPEDA?

CCLA believes that our current privacy legislation, PIPEDA,  has not kept pace with modern technology, because it enables too much information sharing by the private sector to government, and that it may have significant and adverse impacts on people’s lives.  Information gathered by the government may be used for the purposes of investigating and laying criminal charges and may also be shared with foreign governments.  Once this information is shared with governments outside of Canada, we effectively lose control over how and why it is used.  Furthermore, the current provisions may allow government to do an end run around warrant requirements.

CCLA’s lawsuit aims to strike down some provisions of the privacy legislation so that the law can be changed in a manner that is more protective of individual rights and freedoms.

When can my telecommunications or internet service provider hand my personal information over to government?

The general rule is that your information cannot be disclosed to others without you knowing about it and giving your consent.  However, there are some big exceptions to this rule. Provisions of PIPEDA allow information to be disclosed to a government institution (including law enforcement agencies) for purposes of national security and the enforcement of any law of Canada, any province or a foreign jurisdiction.  Law enforcement agencies are relying heavily on private corporations like telecom companies and internet service providers to gather information about Canadians and are frequently doing so without judicial oversight and with little transparency or accountability.  In light of recent revelations that government institutions requested personal information from telecommunications providers over 1 million times in a one year period, CCLA is standing up for the privacy rights of Canadians and challenging these laws.

Does the government need a warrant to get this information?

A warrant or court order is usually necessary before law enforcement agencies can obtain access to personal information in the hands of an organization.  However, law enforcement and telecommunications providers have taken the position that basic subscriber information (customer name and address) is not private and that a warrant is therefore unnecessary.

While the information usually found in a phonebook is likely not considered confidential or sensitive, associating a name and address with an individual Internet protocol (IP) address, may reveal many intimate details about an individual’s online activities and about them personally.  It remains unclear precisely what information is being handed over by telecommunications and internet service providers to government institutions, absent a warrant, but CCLA is concerned about the massive scale of the information exchange and has decided to take action.