April 2014 E-bulletin

By on April 1, 2014

Dear CCLA Supporters:

As we head into April, CCLA continues its strong focus on accountability.

This week we appeared before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence arguing for review and oversight of the Canadian Border Services Agency – an agency with sweeping powers including law enforcement, the powers to arrest with and without a warrant, and powers of detention and ‘bail’ conditions regarding non-Canadians at ports of entry and inside Canada.  We have argued that such sweeping powers in a free and democratic country must have an effective investigative and complaints review mechanism. You can read more here.  Also this week, CCLA will be appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs.  We will express our serious concerns with the Fair Elections Act, including how it may disenfranchise young people, seniors and Aboriginal persons – read more below in this issue.

We are happy to share with you a positive decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, in which we argued that the right to challenge the legality of one’s detention be upheld, our work on Freedom of Religion in Quebec, a refugee exclusion case in the Supreme Court of Canada, and also the landmark case of Kazemi about whether the State Immunity Act bars a civil suit for torture by a foreign government – we intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada, and new and exciting work in education! 

Finally, we invite you to join us on May 3rd for a fantastic music and performance concert to celebrate 50 years of CCLA’s work in fighting for civil liberties – details below!

As always, we are most grateful for your continuing support because we could not do our work without you.

Sukanya Pillay
General Counsel


Table of Contents

CCLA intervenes in Kazemi v. Iran et al.

Supreme Court reaffirms robust habeas corpus review for Canadian detainees

CCLA Appears Before the Supreme Court in Febles

CCLA at Supreme Court on Freedom of Religion in Quebec…Again

The “Fair Elections Act” is Anything But Fair

Canadian Artists for Civil Liberties Present CCLA’s 50th Anniversary Concert Celebration

CCLET to be a Partner in Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada Study


CCLA intervenes in Kazemi v. Iran et al.

Simon Chamberland (far left) and Christopher A. Wayland (right) represented CCLA in Kazemi. They were assisted by articling students Jagtaran Singh (centre left) and Elena Haba (centre right).

CCLA appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada as an intervener in the case of Kazemi v. Iran et al.; Iran et al. v. Hashemi, on March 18th, 2014The case concerns the right to pursue a civil remedy against foreign governments for alleged death by torture. CCLA argued that torture, a violation of jus cogens, is an exception to the State Immunity Act, which bars civil suits against a foreign State. CCLA had also intervened in the lower court, the Quebec court of Appeal. CCLA would like to thank Christopher A. Wayland and Simon Chamberland of McCarthy Tétrault LLP for their excellent work representing us in this case. To read CCLA’s factum in this case, click here. To watch a video of the proceedings, click here.


Supreme Court reaffirms robust habeas corpus review for Canadian detainees

On March 27th, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Mission Institution v. Khela, a case that examined the scope of court review on a habeas corpus application and the disclosure obligations correctional authorities owe when an individual is involuntarily transferred to a higher security correctional facility. Habeas corpus is a centuries-old legal writ that is an essential safeguard against illegal and unconstitutional detention.  As stated by the Supreme Court, it is “the strongest tool a prisoner has to ensure that the deprivation of his or her liberty is not unlawful.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened in the case to argue that habeas corpus must continue to be a broad, flexible and responsive remedy that gives the fullest access and opportunity to prisoners to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.  The Supreme Court’s decision strongly upholds a robust habeas corpus review, and affirms that provincial courts can assess both the procedural fairness and the reasonableness of a decision in order to decide whether an individual’s detention is lawful. The Court also ruled that correctional authorities have significant disclosure obligations in an involuntary transfer context, and that information may only be withheld “when the Commissioner has “reasonable grounds to believe” that should the information be released, it might threaten the security of the prison, the safety of any person or the conduct of an investigation.” To read the CCLA’s submissions click here. To read the Supreme Court’s decision click here.


CCLA Appears Before the Supreme Court in Febles

CCLA’s counsel –Peter Edelmann and Aris Daghighian– at the Supreme Court of Canada after making arguments in the Febles case. Aris and Peter are pictured alongside Pia Zambelli and Catherine Dauvergne, who represented the Canadian Council for Refugees.

On March 25th, the CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as an intervener in the case of Luis Hernandez Febles, which centres on Canada’s international obligations to refugees. Mr. Febles is a Cuban national who left his home country in 1980 and was granted refugee status in the United States based on his well-founded fear of persecution as a political dissident. While living in the United States, Mr. Febles was convicted of two criminal offences. After serving his prison sentences, Mr. Febles came to Canada and applied for refugee protection, but was denied.  In the Febles case, the Court was asked to consider the interpretation of Article 1F(b) of the UN Refugee Convention, under which an individual can be denied refugee status where he or she has committed a serious non-political crime, and to clarify whether the fact that they had served their sentence, been rehabilitated, and time had passed could be considered . Before the Supreme Court, the CCLA and other parties argued that the decision-maker in Canada can and should consider factors relevant to rehabilitation – such as completion of sentence, granting of a pardon or passage of time since the commission of the offence. In our submissions, the CCLA took a strong stance against the implication that someone who commits a serious crime can never be rehabilitated or forgiven.  Click here to read the CCLA’s factum.  Click here to access the Supreme Court of Canada’s webcast of the Febles hearing.


CCLA at Supreme Court on Freedom of Religion in Quebec…Again

On March 24, 2014 CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec.  In Loyola, the Court is asked to decide whether Loyola High School, a private Catholic high school in Montreal, can teach their own version of the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) curriculum. Loyola sought to be exempt from teaching the standard ERC on the basis that it taught a course that was equivalent, but was in keeping with its mission as a Catholic school.  The Minister denied the exemption arguing, in part, that as a religious institution (and not an individual), Loyola could not make a freedom of religion claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Minister also took the view that Loyola’s course was not equivalent because it was confessional in nature.  CCLA intervened in the case to urge the Court to recognize that, while freedom of religion is often thought of as an individual right, it also has significant associational and expressive aspects.  Therefore, in certain cases, where a non-profit institution is primarily a vehicle through which individual members exercise their own freedom of religion, association and expression, the institution itself can make a claim under the Charter.


The “Fair Elections Act” is Anything But Fair

CCLA is very concerned about Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, which would significantly amend the Canada Elections Act – the law that spells out in great detail how to exercise the right to vote, how elections are administered, how parties and candidates may fundraise and spend, and what constitutes an election offence.  In particular, we are very worried about proposed changes to the identification requirements for citizens to vote.  The Bill would remove the option of proving your identity by having another elector vouch for you.  This method was used by over 100,000 voters in the last federal election, and there is no evidence that it results in fraud or allows some to vote who are not eligible.  According to the Chief Electoral Officer, young persons, seniors and Aboriginal persons are most likely to be affected by the elimination of vouching as a means of identification.  Although the vouching system is complex to administer and there have been problems with meeting the necessary recording requirements, the answer is to fix the system, not disenfranchise voters.  CCLA is strongly opposed to any change in the law that would erect barriers to exercising the right to vote, particularly if those barriers will impact groups that are already disadvantaged or face hurdles in accessing their rights.

CCLA has participated in a Town Hall meeting hosted by the NDP on the Bill and appeared before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, on April 2, 2014, to speak to its multiple concerns about the Bill.


Canadian Artists for Civil Liberties Present CCLA’s 50th Anniversary Concert Celebration

When: Saturday, May 3rd. Doors open at 7 p.m. Show begins at 8 p.m.

Where: Trinity St. Paul’s Church, 427 Bloor St W, Toronto

The Canadian Artists for Civil Liberties has organized a special concert event to celebrate free expression and commemorate CCLA’s 50th Anniversary. The event will take place May 3rd 2014 at Trinity St. Paul’s Church and will feature musicians, a spoken word artist, dancers and visual artists who have all come together to celebrate freedom of expression in the arts. Performers include Array Music, playing an original piece by Oscar-nominated musician Owen Pallett; Juno-nominated Kobotown; a special appearance by Toronto favourite Jason Collett; and many more. After the show there will be a reception, featuring the work of environmental activist and artist Franke James.

Tickets are $25 for CCLA members and earlybird buyers, and $30 at the door. 

Click here for more information, including a full list of performers, and bios of the artists. A link will be made available in the coming days for early bird tickets to be purchased.


 CCLET to be a Partner in Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada Study

The Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust is pleased to announce that it will be a partner in a study to be funded by the Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The study which will be led by Professor Yvette Daniel at the University of Windsor’s faculty of education is entitled “Pedagogies of Repair and Reconciliation (Tikkun): The Embodied Praxis of Youth Civic Engagement.” With a focus on young people in Canada, Kosovo, and South Africa the partnership’s overall goal is to foster and formalize a Canadian-led collaboration for youth-led praxis (informed committed action) for social justice. The specific objectives of our partnership are to: (1) identify the places (e.g. home, school, community) and resources (e.g. social media) from which marginalized youth become aware of injustices and opportunities for civic engagement in order to facilitate youth-led advocacy for positive social change; and (2) explore the ways that these understandings are translated into their embodied (lived) experiences — how youth take leadership roles and responsibility for addressing injustice. The findings will be used to (3) to develop and implement a plan to mobilize the findings and pedagogical models generated by the partnership for youth, researchers, teachers, and youth organizations in Canada, South Africa, and Kosovo; and subsequently (4) to consolidate and expand our partnership.



CCLA partners with #G20Romp on post-show panel discussions!

By on October 21, 2013

Watch the above video to hear from CCLA’s Director of Public Safety Abby Deshman on G20 Toronto, policing at protests and You Should Have Stayed Home.

CCLA is partnering with Praxis Theatre throughout their National Tour of You Should Have Stayed Homea performance piece about the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history. Written by Tommy Taylor, the play is an award-winning account of what he and many others experienced when they were arrested and detained during the G20 Toronto Summit in June 2010. Starting this fall, Praxis Theatre will take this play on a Canada-wide tour to:

  • Whitehorse, Yukon: Yukon Arts Centre, Sept 12-15 2013
  • Vancouver, British Columbia: Firehall Arts Centre, Sept 24 -Oct 5, 2013
  • Toronto, Ontario: Aki Theatre, Oct 16 -27, 2013
  • Montréal, Quebec: Mainline Theatre, Oct 30 – Nov 2, 2013
  • Ottawa, Ontario: Arts Court Theatre, November 13 -16, 2013

If you’re interested in getting involved and participating in the play, check out this call for volunteers here!

CCLA is helping Praxis Theatre to pull together panel discussions on broader issues facing civil liberties in several of the cities that the play will be hosted in. See below for details about the panels in Vancouver and Toronto:


Post-show Panel Discussion on Civil liberties and protest in post-G20 Toronto
Where: Aki Studio Theatre @ Daniels Spectrum – 585 Dundas Street East. 

When: Tuesday, October 22, 2013. Show @ 8pm  panel @ 9:30pm.

Moderated by: Praxis Theatre Artistic Director Michael Wheeler


Abby Deshman – CCLA: Director, Public Safety Program 

Abby first joined the CCLA as the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Pro-Bono Articling Fellow and stayed on as the Project Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Project. She graduated from the University of Toronto Law School with an Hons JD in 2008, and obtained an LLM from New York University in 2010. She is currently involved in all aspects of CCLA’s advocacy and educational programs.

Prior to joining the CCLA she worked with numerous local and international non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations High Council for Refugees in Kenya and Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism/Counterterrorism division in New York. She was also a case worker in the law school’s International Human Rights Clinic, where she worked primarily on international human rights and counterterrorism issues, including the Clinic’s intervention before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Khadr case.

Her previous work has also taken her to Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Belize and Peru. Although she loves Toronto, she is concerned about the lack of sun available during Canadian winters, and is therefore constantly on the lookout for inexpensive flights to combat incipient vitamin D deficiencies.

Jan Borowy – Cavalluzzo

Jan Borowy’s practice areas include labour relations, human rights, pay equity and professional regulation. Jan brings to her practice a longstanding commitment to the promotion of workers’ rights and human rights. Her experience gives her an understanding of the importance of a clear strategy in union negotiations, campaigns, strikes, organizing and educational programs.

Jan is the former Research Co-ordinator at the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, where her work focused on a campaign for fair wages and working conditions for garment home-workers. She further developed her advocacy skills as the Worker’s Rights Community legal worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services. At law school, Jan developed an expertise in Aboriginal law and issues facing Aboriginal workers.

Jan’s experience within the firm has included close involvement in the representation of private sector and public sector workers before labour arbitrators, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the Pay Equity Tribunal and the Ontario and Canadian Labour boards. Jan is a member of the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers and the Canadian and Ontario Bar Associations.

Tommy Taylor – Writer/Performer: You Should Have Stayed Home

Tommy is a theatre artist, activist and NGO fundraiser living in Toronto. Recently Tommy was assistant director/video designer on The Belle of Winnipeg (Dora Winner), adaptor/director of Dear Everybody at the CanStage Festival of Ideas and Creation and director of Kayak at The SummerWorks Festival. He is a graduate of the Centre for Cultural Management (University of Waterloo/ CCCO), The Vancouver Film School and Humber College’s Community Arts Development Program.

Tommy was arrested (but never charged) and detained during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. He has since turned his account of the experience into You Should Have Stayed Home. The show is on a cross-Canada tour for Fall 2013, playing in Whitehorse, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.



Post-show Panel Discussion on Civil Liberties, Activism and Surveillance
Where: Vancouver, BC – Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E Cordova St.
When: Thursday, October 3, 2013, following the 8pm performance

Moderated by: Neworld Theatre Founding Artistic Producer Camyar Chai

About the Panelists

Micheal Vonn is a lawyer and has been the Policy Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association since 2004.  She has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the Faculty of Law and in the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies where she has taught civil liberties and information ethics. She is a regular guest instructor for UBC’s College of Health Disciplines Interdisciplinary Elective in HIV/AIDS Care and was honoured as a recipient of the 2010 AccolAIDS award for social and political advocacy benefitting communities affected by HIV/AIDS.  Ms. Vonn is a frequent speaker on a variety of civil liberties topics including privacy, national security, policing, surveillance and free speech.  She is an Advisory Board Member of Privacy International.

Harsha Walia is a South Asian activist, writer, and researcher based in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. She has been active in grassroots social movements for over a decade, including with No One Is Illegal, Women’s Memorial March Committee for Missing and Murdered Women, Radical Desis and more. She was one of the many leading up to both the Anti-Olympics Convergence and the G20 Protests in 2010, facing arrests and trumped charges at both. Harsha has been named one of the most influential South Asians in BC by the Vancouver Sun and Naomi Klein has called Harsha “one of Canada’s most brilliant and effective political organizers.” Her first book Undoing Border Imperialism is forthcoming in November 2013 by AK Press. Find her @HarshaWalia.

Greg McMullen is a litigation associate with Branch MacMaster. He focuses on class action work concerning privacy and access to information. Greg was one of the organizers of the BCCLA’s Legal Observer Program during the 2010 Winter Olympics, which trained more than 400 citizen-observers to record police interactions with the public (and especially with protesters) during the 2010 Games. He is also on the Board of Directors of the BC Civil Liberties Association, and authored the BCCLA’s Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook.

Tommy Taylor is a theatre artist, activist and NGO fundraiser living in Toronto. Recently Tommy was assistant director/video designer on The Belle of Winnipeg (Dora Winner), adaptor/director of Dear Everybody at the CanStage Festival of Ideas and Creation and director of Kayak at The SummerWorks Festival. He is a graduate of the Centre for Cultural Management (University of Waterloo/ CCCO), The Vancouver Film School and Humber College’s Community Arts Development Program. Tommy was arrested (but never charged) and detained during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. He has since turned his account of the experience into You Should Have Stayed Home. The show is on a cross-Canada tour for Fall 2013, playing in Whitehorse, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.

LIVE BLOG: Seeking Access to Information – Part 1

By on August 22, 2013

Can’t make it to our event “Seeking Access to Information”? We’ll be live blogging the event today – check it out below!

The federal Access to Information Act celebrated its 30th anniversary this summer amidst calls from Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault to overhaul the Act.  According to Legault, “our access to information rights have been slowly eroded by a variety of constraints, practices and amendments to the act.”  Moreover, “…the act does not cover all institutions that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions. One such institution is Parliament itself — the seat of our democracy.”

Join us on Thursday, August 22nd at 12:30 pm for a discussion with journalist Paul Knox on the current state of access to information legislation in Canada. Knox has worked as a reporter, editor and broadcaster for over 30 years. He teaches at Ryerson’s School of Journalism and is a member of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)’s Canadian Issues committee.

As a follow up to this discussion, join us on Saturday, September 28th from 1pm-4pm for a hands-on workshop intended to teach individuals how to navigate Canada’s Access to Information System. More details coming soon!


Summer 2013 E-bulletin

By on August 7, 2013

Dear friends,

It is with a touch of sadness that I write this message. I am leaving the Canadian Civil Liberties Association today to become the Dean, Common Law at the University of Ottawa. I had a wonderful time at CCLA and am very proud of the work that we have done, with your support.

Our Director of National Security, Sukanya Pillay, will act as interim General Counsel while the search for a new General Counsel is completed. Sukanya, who celebrates one of her numerous victories in this e-bulletin, is well equipped to lead CCLA over the next few months. A graduate of both University of Windsor and NYU, she was, among other things, a Program Director for Witness, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York. We are so lucky to have her with us.

Please, do keep in touch at, or on Twitter @ndesrosiers, and let’s keep fighting for civil liberties in Canada.

Yours sincerely,

Nathalie Des Rosiers


Table of contents


CCLA applauds Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ezokola

On July 19th the Supreme Court of Canada released its judgment in Ezokola v Canada. The decision is a victory for refugee protection and international criminal responsibility as well as for Canadian principles of criminal law and fundamental justice.

CCLA applauds the decision for correctly recognizing, as CCLA argued in its intervention, that any decision to exclude an individual from asylum must be based upon “serious reasons for considering” that the individual did commit the crimes which permit exclusion pursuant to Article 1F(a) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”). It is not justifiable in Canadian law or in international law to exclude an individual merely because he or she was a member of a group guilty of war crimes — ‘guilt by association’ violates fundamental criminal law principles.

In this case, Rachidi Ezokola was an employee of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), during a time when the DRC had committed crimes against humanity. The issue before the Court was whether Mr. Ezokola was also guilty of crimes against humanity and therefore whether he should be excluded from refugee status in Canada. The CCLA supports a forceful prosecution of crimes against humanity but does not accept that due process principles should be sacrificed. The Supreme Court recognized in its decision that an individualized assessment of Mr. Ezokola’s actual actions is required to determine whether in fact there are serious reasons for considering he is culpable, as opposed to tainting him through “guilty by association.” CCLA had argued for this, and is very pleased with decision of the Court which considered Canadian and international legal commitments  to uphold fundamental criminal law principles.

To read CCLA’s factum in the case, click here.

To read more on the case, click here. campaign: Say No to Secret Online Spying

Image courtesy of OpenMedia's Flickr account.

You probably saw on the news that a U.S. government agency has been caught secretly spying on the private communications of millions of people like you – through their cell phones,[1] and through popular online services like Google, Facebook, and Skype.[2]

Canada has its own agency operating in near-total secrecy that appears to be doing the same thing – recklessly collecting and storing our most sensitive private information in giant databases.[3]

This is important: We need to know what sensitive private data is being collected and stored, and why. Call on the government to tell us the truth about their reckless online spying program immediately.

The key agency collecting our sensitive information is called the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which the Globe And Mail describes as an “ultrasecretive Canadian electronic-eavesdropping agency”.[4]

According to online surveillance experts, CSEC spying gives them the power to “pinpoint not only who you are, but with whom you meet, with what frequency and duration, and at which locations.”[5]

Even the government’s own Privacy Commissioner’s Office has ominously stated, “We know very little specific information at this point, but we want to find out more.”[6]

We need to use this moment—when privacy issues are in the spotlight—to get answers. Tell the government that we deserve to know if our sensitive private information is being collected and stored in giant unsecured databases.

Whether it be pushing back against copyright censorship schemes, Big Telecom’s price-gouging, or threats to our online privacy – we know that when we work together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

Call on the government to stop this secretive spying scheme, and to tell Canadians exactly what’s going on. We deserve to know.

[1] “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily.” Source: The Guardian.

[2] “Secret program gives NSA, FBI backdoor access to Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft data.” Source: The Verge.

[3] The Globe And Mail reports that CSEC has “acknowledged that some Canadian communications are scooped up into this dragnet.” Source: The Globe And Mail.

[4] “Privacy watchdog on spy agency’s data collection: ‘We want to find out more.’” Source: The Globe And Mail.


What to ask for after police shootings?

It is time to revisit the use of force model that is part of police training. It just does not work. The death of Sammy Yatim, who was holding a knife, alone on a streetcar, and was shot nine times by a police officer, should lead us to that conclusion. Tragedies often bring to light systemic flaws. The Lac Megantic derailment may bring about improvements in railway safety and the death of Dudley George at the hands of the Ontario Provincial Police at Ipperwash has led to changes in policing practices. We should not need accidents and violent deaths to trigger critical changes, but we often do. As the community and family of Sammy Yatim mourns, we need to vigorously pursue unanswered questions, and think about how to prevent other deaths.

Emotions run high in the context of police shootings and there is nothing to be accomplished by ignoring the rigours of the processes put in place to investigate, but we should demand that they be followed expeditiously.

  1. We should demand absolute co-operation from the Toronto Police Service with the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). In the past, there has been friction and disagreements between the SIU and the TPS; it is time that they be put aside. We should demand that the TPS disclose all information promptly and co-operate fully with the investigation. Chief Blair has committed to that course of action and we should hold him to that commitment.
  2. We should demand transparency. The public has the right to know what has happened here. A shooting death at the hands of the police epitomizes the ultimate power of the State. It is frightening to imagine ourselves at the hands of mistreatment by the police whom we are encouraged to trust. That is why there is a duty to inform the public, and speak substantively to the incident.
  3. We should ask for a timely investigation from the SIU. The process must be thorough and fair, but it must be done efficiently.  Too often, delays prevent meaningful accountability.
  4. If there are reasons to believe that criminal charges should be brought against the police officer who shot Yatim, they should be laid and due process should be afforded to the charged officer, just as it should be against any other accused. The rule of law requires equality before the law and no preferential treatment is to be afforded to anyone. That does not mean, however, that people should be treated more harshly or that the circumstances, mitigating and aggravating, ought not to be put to a judge. Everyone is entitled to a day in court – police officers as well.
  5. Finally, we should demand that there be a review of the training standards and the use of force model.  It could very well be that this untimely death was the result of an individual’s mistake and bad judgement. But  this is one death too many. Incidents like this should not happen, and we owe it to ourselves to look deeply, honestly, and thoroughly at how they can be prevented. The use of force model goes only in one direction. It trains the police officer to escalate the confrontation with each level of defiance from the suspect. It ends with “shoot to kill.”  Errors are too costly. The use of force model must be re-evaluated.

We do not know what could have been done to prevent the tragic death of Sammy Yatim, but we should demand a rigorous and efficient process to discover the truth.


CCLA’s education program and TVO Parents team up to present “Civics for Kids”

Are you looking for a fun way to engage your children this summer? The Canadian Civil Liberties Association Education program and TVO Parents have a great new webpage with stories and questions to get you and your children thinking. The Civics for Kids stories each focus on a specific right or freedom guaranteed in the Canadian Charter. From the right to vote to freedom of religion, these scenarios, along with a list of suggested questions, can help kids learn about their rights and freedoms in a fun and engaging way.

July’s story is about an experience that many families have encountered – the no-nuts rule in schools. As adults we understand the purpose of the rule, but what happens when one child is allergic to nuts and her friend is sent to school with only a peanut butter sandwich? Whose rights should prevail – and why?

Grown-ups, take the challenge. See if you can resist offering your opinion first – it will encourage your children to tell you what THEY think!



CCLA at the Toronto Trans March 2013


On June 28th, 2013 CCLA joined over 1,000 trans people and allies at the Toronto Pride Trans March. This was CCLA’s second year participating in the March, which has been held annually since 2009. This year’s event was different, however, because it marked the first occasion in which the City of Toronto issued a permit for the March to take place on Yonge Street, the city’s central artery.

The event was at once celebratory, dynamic, and sombre. Its message addressed the significant shift in social attitudes towards trans people that must take place. And it was meant to honour “the fallen”: all the trans people who have been murdered or committed suicide.

TransPULSE, a research project investigating the effect of discrimination on the health of trans people in Ontario, reported in 2012 that 43 per cent of their trans survey respondents had attempted suicide at some point in their life, 10 per cent in the last year. Researchers note that these staggering numbers are the result of the social shame and isolation trans people experience, rather than anything innate about being transgender.

CCLA is involved in the fight to protect trans rights in order to reverse this trend. In November 2012, we made written submissions to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, endorsing Bill C-279, and addressed the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights on June 10th, 2013. This private member`s bill will, if passed, give explicit recognition to the rights of trans people, by adding gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code. To read our submission on Bill C-279, click here.

CCLA has also been actively involved in advocating for the rights of youth to create LGBTQ-positive spaces in their schools.

For more images of CCLA at the 2013 Toronto Pride Trans March, click here.

June 2013 E-bulletin

By on June 12, 2013

Dear CCLA supporters,

Privacy violations, abusive segregation in prison and discrimination against non-Canadians are the themes for this month’s message.  We also celebrate a break-through in Ontario for the protection of freedom of expression and dissent by the enactment of Anti-SLAPP legislation.

Read as well on our Gala.  CCLA has again this year a full program of interns giving their time for civil liberties — Merci!

Nathalie Des Rosiers
General Counsel & Executive Director


CCLA Celebrates its 3rd Annual Gala 

On May 29, 2013, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association held its third annual Celebrating Canada gala. Honourees and 250 guests gathered in the historic Distillery District in downtown Toronto to enjoy an elegant and lively evening in celebration of justice, rights, and freedoms.

Each year, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association honours men and women who courageously contribute to the advancement of human rights, human dignity, fundamental freedoms, and democracy in Canada and worldwide. We recognize extraordinary human rights activists, lawyers, artists, filmmakers, writers, athletes, journalists, and business professionals for their passionate, fearless and unwavering commitment to human rights and human dignity.

Celebrating Canada is a wonderful opportunity to remind all those present to cherish their freedoms and rights. We wish to thank all our sponsors for the evening, guests, and volunteers – we are so grateful for your support of our work. We would also like to extend a special thank you to our honourees, whose examples help to demonstrate the practical application of the contributions which individuals can make in defence of democracy and civil liberties. Read Act for Freedom for a glimpse of honourees and their contributions on the theme of justice.

See some of the photos from the event here, and view more in our online gallery!


Surveillance Methods Cannot Compromise Fundamental Rights

Recent reports of access to mass amounts of personal information via metadata obtained from telecommunications service providers are of serious concern to CCLA.

This week reports emerged that the Canadian Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the agency responsible for gathering signals intelligence, has been involved in procuring metadata, following on the heels of reports last week that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been gathering metadata.

CCLA is particularly concerned that we don’t know yet how this information is procured, and its uses.  While there have been arguments that metadata (for example –the outline of who you called, and from where, rather than what you actually said) is respectful of privacy rights because it doesn’t actually include the actual communications (i.e. the contents of a phone call or email) — we disagree.  Compilation of metadata can provide salient information on people, their whereabouts and their contacts, and can result in the creations of profiles on individuals.  When metadata is grabbed as a form of mass surveillance, it means that the personal information of innocent people is caught in the net.

CCLA has held long-standing concerns about information sharing domestically — among Canadian agencies — that do not employ proper legal safeguards, and we have argued that all the policy recommendations of Justice Dennis O’Connor of the Arar Commission be implemented.

In addition to domestic information sharing within Canada,  CCLA has  held a long-standing concern that invasive surveillance regimes that would be illegal in Canada are employed in foreign jurisdictions, and that the information so-obtained could be shared with the Canadian government.  Surveillance regimes frequently allow for more privacy-invasive techniques to be used against ‘foreign’ communications.  For example, US laws permit the US to intercept communications of foreign nationals in some circumstances — which of course could include Canadians.  But because information may be shared between countries, the results of this invasive surveillance may eventually make its way back to domestic authorities.  Such arrangements would effectively bypass privacy safeguards established by national laws.

In 2011 CCLA joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union and Privacy International to release our suggested 12 Core Legal Principles for the Canada-U.S. Security Perimeter.  Point 12 specifically addressed this issue, and urged governments to commit “ensure that domestic law enforcement can never use foreign law enforcement to circumvent legal safeguards that apply to the domestic agency. A law enforcement agency must not carry out surveillance on one country’s citizens on behalf of another country’s law enforcement agencies in circumstances where those agencies are prohibited from carrying out such surveillance on their own.”  The recent disclosures about the scope of the American surveillance regime have underscored these concerns.

We understand that surveillance is a crucial tool of effective counter-terrorism, but it must conform with the safeguards of our law and international legal standards.  Intelligence agencies should not be able to procure information in a manner that bypasses existing safeguards such as warrants, and accountability procedures including oversight of these processes.


The Ashley Smith Inquest – Segregation in Prisons on Trial

Since the beginning of the inquest into Ashley Smith’s death in custody, the five person jury has heard testimony from front line correctional officers and health care professionals regarding Ms. Smith’s treatment throughout her eleven and a half months in federal corrections.  Ms. Smith was transferred 17 times over her eleven and a half months in federal custody, spending time in correctional and psychiatric facilities. Throughout her custody in both the youth and adult correctional systems, she remained largely on segregation status (solitary confinement).  Jurors have heard evidence that Ms. Smith’s behaviour demonstrated many of the harmful effects documented in studies on prolonged solitary confinement.

The inquest into her death continued in May, with testimony from health care employees who were employed at Joliette Institution in Quebec during her two short periods of incarceration there, a number of whom injected Ms. Smith with anti-psychotic medication without her consent. Extensive evidence was also introduced regarding two alleged assaults perpetrated against Ms. Smith by correctional staff during her time at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Ms. Smith’s experience in the corrections system raises a number of serious civil liberties issues, including questions regarding the use of solitary confinement in modern penal systems, and the role that meaningful and transparent oversight mechanisms should play to protect the fundamental rights of inmates.  CCLA is participating in the inquest as a party to address these key civil liberties concerns, and to ensure that there is a full public accounting of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smith’s death, and that meaningful recommendations for change in the Canadian corrections system are made.

The inquest will continue until June 27th and will break in July and August for a summer recess period. Please stay tuned for further updates regarding the inquest, or click here to read more about our ongoing work on this issue.


Ending Discrimination against Foreign Students

CCLA opposes unfair discrimination against non citizens in all areas of law.  It urges the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) to abandon its discriminatory practice of limiting the participation of non-Canadians to its competitions.  The CCLA was alerted to CCAA’s discriminatory policy by the administration of Holland College in Prince Edward Island. Holland College has been fighting to have this policy repealed for several years. Section 12.1 of Article 5 of the CCAA Code states that no more than 2 “non-Canadian” athletes can be dressed to play in basketball or volleyball games, and no more than 3 “non-Canadians” can be dressed to play soccer.  The CCAA Code defines “non-Canadians” as people who do not possess Canadian citizenship or permanent residency, as defined by Immigration Canada.  Preferential treatment to Canadian students may no longer be necessary, nor is it really in the interest of the sports or fair to international students who pay substantial fees to attend Canadian Universities. Canada appears to be the only country where such discrimination is practiced.


CCLA Welcomes Ontario Anti-SLAPP Bill

CCLA is pleased that the Ontario government has introduced Bill 83, The Protection of Public Participation Act, as a means of helping individuals fight back against abusive lawsuits.   CCLA had asked for it and had made it a specific request to Kathleen Wynne, recently appointed as Premier of the province.  The Bill, if passed, would amend the Courts of Justice Act and other legislation so that individuals served with a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) could bring a motion to have the case dismissed on a relatively short time frame.  A SLAPP suit is a lawsuit that is intended to shut down public discussion or protest.  Though the law suit usually relates to a claim of defamation, copyright infringement or trespass, the ultimate goal of the suit is not to vindicate the legal rights of the powerful litigant. It is, instead, intended to use to the threat and overwhelming costs of litigation to silence or chill speech which runs contrary to the litigants’ interest.

Read more about some of CCLA’s past casework on SLAPPs.

RightsWatch 2013

Now in its 4th year, CCLA’s annual RightsWatch Conference will be held this year in Toronto at Ryerson University. We are pleased to announce our partnership with Ryerson University’s Office of the Vice President, Research and Innovation, the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, and the Ryerson Law Research Centre to present Civil Liberties and Democracy in the Digital Age: Privacy, Media and Free Expression.

This year’s conference will include a series of discussions on the impact that new technologies and modes of communication have on legal and societal understandings of privacy, freedom of expression, and the media. We are planning panels on surveillance, anonymity and expression in ‘public’ space, freedom of the press and the citizen journalist, the application of constitutional guarantees of privacy to new communications technologies, access to information and ‘open’ government, and privacy and expression in the private sector.

Join us Friday, September 20, 2013 for an evening keynote and reception, and Saturday, September 21, 2013 for a full-day conference.

The Friday Evening Keynote features William Binney, former National Security Agency intelligence analyst and whistleblower.

More details on panels and speakers will updated as they become available on our website here:

Early-bird registration available until August 1, 2013

May 2013 E-bulletin

By on May 3, 2013

Dear CCLA supporters,

Welcome to the May edition of the CCLA e-bulletin.  In this month’s edition, we first want to invite you to our Celebrating Canada Gala on May 29th in Toronto where we will celebrate the courage of Canadians who stand for civil liberties.  It is our main fundraising event.  Please come with your friends or sponsor a student to attend.  We need your help.

In this bulletin, read about our work on terrorism, privacy and the right to protest as well as our appearance at UN in the context of the mandatory evaluation of Canada’s human rights records. Keep  abreast of our work on a regular basis by signing on to our electronic daily newsflash at,

Thank you for your support,

Nathalie Des Rosiers
General Counsel




CCLA Reacts to Montreal’s Crackdown on Protests

In response to student protests in the Spring of 2012, the City of Montreal enacted bylaw P6. While many municipalities have bylaws to regulate large gatherings and events, Montreal’s P6 appears to target protest political activities.  The bylaw requires demonstrators to share meeting locations and itineraries with police in advance of demonstrations and prohibits individuals from covering their faces at a demonstration without “reasonable motive.”  CCLA believes that these provisions are unconstitutional.

CCLA has always spoken out against laws that place unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and, at the time that it was enacted, we wrote to Montreal’s City Council expressing concerns about the breadth of the bylaw and its potential to silence peaceful social protest activities.  It is clear that many of these concerns were well-founded – in March of this year alone, bylaw P6 was used to issue hundreds of tickets for over $600 each.  These hefty fines discourage people from exercising constitutionally protected freedoms.  CCLA recently wrote to Montreal’s Mayor and Chief of Police about the use of mass arrests to stop social protest activities before they are even underway.  CCLA also wrote to a Montreal City Councillor in support of his motion to repeal the bylaw which was, unfortunately, unsuccessful.  CCLA is continuing to monitor this situation and consider legal action to ensure that the right to protest is given broad protection in Montreal and throughout Canada.


Case for Exceptional Terrorism Provisions Remains Unconvincing

In late April, the Government reinstated two sunsetted provisions relating to preventive arrest and investigative hearings included in Bill S7 (Combatting Terrorism Act).

CCLA is supportive of the Government’s legal duty to take every lawful measure to protect Canadians from the threat of terrorism — but we are not supportive of Bill S7.  In fact, CCLA and other Canadian civil liberties groups have pointed out that the Criminal Code is an effective counter-terrorism tool that already allows police to properly pursue, investigate, disrupt, and successfully prosecute terrorism-related crimes.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the necessity of these recent provisions have simply not been demonstrated. The preventive arrest and investigative hearing laws, in effect from 2001 to 2007, were never once used for their intended purpose. Every major criminal terrorism-related incident in Canada since 2001 has been disrupted and prevented without the need for preventive detention or investigative hearings, and through the use of criminal procedure.  The use of exceptional measures that undermine the legal protection and the legitimacy of our criminal law system is counterproductive.

The provisions in Bill S7 do not add any value to law enforcement or security.  The Bill seeks to normalize exceptional powers, inconsistent with established democratic principles, and which threaten hard-won civil liberties. Commitment to the rule of law means that counter-terrorism measures must adhere to the values embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and cannot infringe on basic rights.


CCLA testifies at the Senate, advocates for stricter limits on and greater transparency around emergency wiretaps

Warrantless wiretaps are a necessary and appropriate tool in a democracy – but only if they are used under very exceptional circumstances, and with tight controls and independent oversight to deter and detect abuse.  This is the message that CCLA gave to the Senate last month – an advocacy position that is the culmination of a multi-year battle to tighten up Canada’s emergency wiretap provisions.

In 2011, CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court in R. v. Tse, arguing that the existing statutory regime was unconstitutional.  Warrantless wiretaps, we argued, should be used only as a last resort tool in situations of true emergency, consent should be obtained where feasible, and each case should be subject to after-the-fact judicial oversight.  A year ago this month the Supreme Court agreed and ruled that Canada’s emergency wiretap provisions were unconstitutional violations of our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The government introduced Bill C-55 in response to this decision, which was intended to fix the constitutional deficiencies in the Criminal Code.  The Bill is certainly a step forward.  As compared to the provision that was before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Tse case, Bill C-55 restricts the persons who may use warrantless wiretaps, implements a requirement that notice be given to persons subject to a wiretap, and mandates an annual report to Parliament and the provincial legislatures.  These are all positive developments, many of which align with the thrust of CCLA’s submissions before the Supreme Court.

We did, however, suggest that the Senate consider a few additional adjustments to the bill, which would allow for better transparency and reporting measures, and express restrictions on the class of persons who may be subject to this invasive investigative tool.  You can read the full transcript here  or watch it via CPAC. The Bill has now received Royal Assent – without any amendments from the Senate – but regardless, we’re still celebrating it as a solid win for privacy and democracy in Canada.


From Local to International: Challenging Canada’s Human Rights Record at the UN

European UN headquarters in Geneva, Switerland (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On April 26th, Canada appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council for its second comprehensive review of Canada’s compliance with international human rights laws – the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Canada, like all member States of the United Nations, participates in the UPR process, in which States make recommendations to each other on steps to further compliance with international law commitments. The State Under Review (in this case, Canada) has the option to accept or reject recommendations, and to undertake Voluntary Pledges.

A delegation of Canadian civil society groups, including CCLA, was in Geneva last month to participate in a UPR pre-session – CCLA updated States on our concerns about Canada’s actions regarding rights and liberties guaranteed by international law and binding upon Canada. Specifically, CCLA presented concerns about treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and migrants; police accountability and administration of justice; threats to the absolute prohibition against torture; national security measures which unjustifiably curtail rights and seek to normalize exceptional powers; and violence against women.

Many States recognized the progress and efforts that Canada has made on the 2009 recommendations for the protection of human rights and respect for international law. However, there were many concerns from the international community regarding Canada’s human rights record. Canada faced questions by member States on the issues of homelessness and poverty, Aboriginal and women’s rights (particularly the prevention of violence against Aboriginal women), immigration and refugees, racial profiling in law enforcement, and threats to civil liberties on the grounds of national security.

States recommended that Canada improve its relationship with Indigenous peoples, and encouraged Canada to adopt international conventions (that is, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment). States also encouraged Canada to publish the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review, and to consult with civil society on how best to implement the recommendations.

It is expected that Canada will formally respond to the UPR by accepting or rejecting the recommendations made at the April 26th oral review in the fall. CCLA will continue to advocate for Canada’s compliance with international human rights commitments, and push for the implementation of the UPR recommendations.

Read Canada’s oral and written recommendations to States in anticipation of Canada’s Second UPR.

Watch the live webcast of Canada’s review before the UN here.

LIVE BLOG: From local to international, Challenging Canada’s human rights record at the UN

By on April 29, 2013

Can’t make it to our “From Local to International: Challenging Canada’s Human Rights Record at the UN” event? We’ll be live blogging the event today – check it out below! More information about the event can be found here, and more info about CCLA’s submissions to the UPR Process can be found here.


April 2013 E-bulletin

By on April 2, 2013

Dear CCLA supporters,

April 4th is Refugee Rights Day in Canada and CCLA’s message for this year is that human rights are for everyone, no matter where someone is born.   Fair and just processes must be available to everyone.

April 26th is the day that Canada will be asked questions about its commitment to International Human Rights at the Second Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council. CCLA was consulted in this process and we invite you to read about our work to ensure that Canada does not waver in its international commitments.

Please continue to support us and read about our recent wins,

Nathalie Des Rosiers
General Counsel




CCLA celebrates robust win for Canadians’ privacy at the Supreme Court

CCLA is very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Telus, which upholds strong privacy protections for the millions of Canadians who communicate via text message.  The Criminal Code contains comprehensive provisions on intercepting private communication, giving individuals heightened privacy protection when police apply for a wiretap authorization.  The Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened in Telus to ensure that these privacy protections remain meaningful in an era dominated by cell phones and text messaging. The CCLA argued that text messages that are surreptitiously obtained from a cell phone service provider in the midst of the transmission process must be subject to the protections offered to wiretaps in the Criminal Code.

The decision affirms that there is no practical difference between texting and a traditional phone conversation, nor should differences inherent in new technology determine the scope of protection afforded to private communications.  Police may not use technical differences in how text messages are transmitted from one person to another to avoid the more rigorous scrutiny of a wiretap authorization: if law enforcement wants to access text messages that will be sent from one person to another, they need to get a wiretap authorization.

Read more about the case here.

To read CCLA’s factum click here.

To read the Supreme Court’s decision click here.


CCLA joins Amicus Brief on Equal Marriage Rights at US Supreme Court

CCLA has joined a group of human rights organizations representing four continents to submit a brief to the United States Supreme Court on the issue of marriage equality.

The International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD) brought together groups to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to find Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that barred same-sex marriages, unconstitutional. This week, ICAAD filed its amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, highlighting how both foreign and international laws are rapidly evolving to recognize marriage equality as a basic right.

In its advocacy, CCLA has supported the right to same-sex marriage as essential to ensuring equality in Canadian society. Because of its geographical closeness to the United States, and the high level of travel and exchanges that characterize the relationship between Canada and the United States, the same-sex marriage issue in the United States has profound repercussions in Canada, including the trans-border validity of same-sex marriages contracted in Canada. More importantly, the persistence of discriminatory practices in a neighboring country undermines efforts in Canada to end homophobic practices and hate crimes against the LGBT community.

To read the Brief of International Human Rights Advocates as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondents, to which CCLA is a signatory, click here.


Supreme Court Affirms Principle of Individualized Sentencing

Last month CCLA welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Pham, affirming the central role that the principle of individualized sentencing should play: that the personal circumstances of an offender are relevant in determining their sentence. The central question on appeal was whether a judge should exercise his or her discretion to take collateral immigration consequences into account in the sentencing process, namely the loss of a right to appeal a deportation order. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a permanent resident sentenced to a term of imprisonment of two years or more loses the right to appeal a removal order issued against him or her.

CCLA appeared before the Court to argue that the collateral immigration consequences of a sentence should be considered at sentencing and that the criminal law should be flexible enough to allow the judiciary to fashion appropriate and individualized responses to criminal conduct. CCLA also argued that the failure to consider the collateral immigration consequences of a sentence for a non-citizen could be a violation of the right to equality under the Charter. The Supreme Court affirmed, similarly, that “if the personal circumstances of the offender are different, different sentences will be justified.”

Read more about the case here.

For CCLA’s factum in the case, click here.

For the Supreme Court’s decision, click here.


CCLA Addresses States at the Universal Periodic Review

Canada has generally expressed willingness to comply with its international legal obligations and has sought to implement the rights and guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These commitments should not be diluted or reversed and the protection of rights requires constant vigilance. CCLA’s position is that Canada’s compliance with international humanitarian law obligations is a major tool towards ensuring international peace and security. Indeed, it is the foundation upon which Canada can be most effective in countering the world’s greatest threats, and capturing, prosecuting and punishing wrongdoers.

In late March in Geneva, CCLA addressed State Delegations at a pre-session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). CCLA’s intervention was to update States on our concerns about Canada’s ongoing human rights record, in anticipation of Canada’s Second Universal Periodic Review.  Canada, like all member States of the United Nations, participates in the Universal Periodic Review  process,  in which States make recommendations to each other on steps to further adherence to international law commitments, and the State Under Review (in this case, Canada) has the option to accept or reject recommendations, and to undertake Voluntary Pledges.

CCLA presented concerns about Police Accountability and Administration of Justice; Threats to the Absolute Prohibition Against Torture, National Security Measures which unjustifiably curtail rights and seek to normalize exceptional powers; Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants; and Violence Against Women.

To read CCLA’s statement to the UPR Pre-Session click here.

For background information on the Second UPR of Canada click here.

To read a copy of CCLA’s written submissions to the UPR Process please click here.


CCLA gearing up for Third Annual Celebrating Canada Gala

Each year, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association honours men and women who contribute to the advancement of human rights, human dignity, fundamental freedoms and democracy in Canada and worldwide. We recognize extraordinary human rights activists, lawyers, artists, filmmakers, writers, athletes, journalists, and business professionals for their passionate, fearless and unwavering commitment to human rights and human dignity.

We invite you to be part of our third annual gala, “Celebrating Canada” to be held May 29, 2013 in Toronto, for the dinner during which the special awards will be presented. Each Honouree will be heading a table of guests. To see a list of this year’s Honourees accepting awards, please click here.

All proceeds raised from Celebrating Canada will go towards supporting the work of the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust. Tax receipts will be provided for the maximum allowable amount. To purchase tickets, click here, or for further information about purchasing a table, contact Sukanya Pillay at

March 2013 E-bulletin

By on February 28, 2013

Dear CCLA supporters,

We are pleased to report that the government has announced that it will not proceed with Bill C-30, the Lawful Access legislation, which aimed at granting police forces the power to access, track and monitor a host of online and wireless information without a warrant.  CCLA had been campaigning against that bill and is happy that the government has changed its course.

We are also happy to report our expansion in Atlantic Canada and the work of our TD Fellow in attempting to give voice to some of the Aboriginal views on justice.

On a fun note, I am happy to invite you to visit the Lerners Facebook page and click “Like” on the page that features our board member Jasmine Akbarali.  For every “Like”, Lerners will give $1 to CCLA, up to a maximum of $2500.  Please click away! 

Lastly, the Annual CCLA Celebrating Canada Gala is coming on May  29th! Save the Date!

Thank you for your support,

Nathalie Des Rosiers




McInnes Cooper to be Atlantic Canada’s law firm for Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Nathalie Des Rosiers at the press conference to announce CCLA's partnership with McInnes Cooper.

In early February, CCLA was proud to announce a formal working relationship with law firm McInnes Cooper to advance civil liberties in Atlantic Canada. McInnes Cooper will provide pro bono counsel to CCLA on civil liberty cases consistent with the firm’s areas of legal expertise, as well as participate in public outreach programs in the region.

“We are very pleased to work with the CCLA by engaging our skills to focus on matters of public interest and enable access to justice,” said Hugh Wright, McInnes Cooper Partner and Board Member and head of the firm’s pro bono committee.

“The CCLA has working relationships with top law firms across Canada and we are pleased that McInnes Cooper will form the base of our operations in Atlantic Canada,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel of the CCLA. “The firm’s legal expertise will further advance our objectives to bring a civil liberties perspective before the Canadian courts.”


Yet another reason to put that password on your cell phone…

Generally, the police do not need a warrant to search a person who is under arrest, and regularly do look through arrestees’ bags and pockets to ensure officer safety and secure potential evidence.  Fifteen years ago this kind of search might turn up a wallet, some papers, maybe an address book.  Today, however, through the modern magic of cell phones, we can carry our entire digital existence – phone records, contact lists, emails, social media profiles, location records, photos and much more – in our pockets.  The privacy implications of giving police warrantless access to this information upon arrest are enormous.  Should cell phones really be treated like the scraps of paper, notes or printed photos we carry in our pockets or knapsacks?  Or should they be seen more like entirely distinct places – with vast amounts of personal information and correspondence and an unknown number of automatically-entered passwords that open doors to any number of linked accounts.

In September 2012 CCLA appeared before the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Fearon to argue that a cell phone is not like a wallet or papers you may carry in your purse – and the law should not treat it in the same way.  We urged that, absent exigent circumstances such as danger to life or imminent loss of evidence, the police should be required to get a warrant before searching a person’s hand-held electronic device.

On Wednesday the Court released their decision, and unfortunately did not agree with CCLA’s argument.  They found that, so long as the police reasonably believe there may be evidence on the phone, they can conduct a warrantless “cursory” search of an arrestee’s cell phone if unlocked.

While the judgment makes it clear that there are limits to police search powers incident to arrest, the ruling gives a significant amount of discretion to individual police officers.  Arresting someone is not the same as charging them with a crime.  Many people who are arrested never even proceed to charges, let alone end up in trial in front of a judge!  The privacy implications of new technologies are often misunderstood by the courts: a cell phone is not a wallet.  We will continue to advocate a better understanding of the privacy implications of new technology in the context of policing.  This is not the end of this story, in the meantime, lock your phone.

To read CCLA’s factum at the Court of Appeal click here.
To read the Court of Appeal’s decision click here.


Government of Canada confirms that it has imprisoned – and may continue to imprison – people for alleged offences committed by others 

Your mother is hurt! (– this is just a thought exercise).  She is bleeding and needs urgent medical attention. Someone rushes outside and stops a car. Your mother, injured, in pain, and anxious to get to a hospital, takes the ride and pays the requested fee, even though there is no meter.  Upon arrival at the hospital, police tell your mother they suspect that the person who drove the car may in fact have stolen it.  In the result, they turn around and arrest… your mother.

If this strikes you as absurd and unethical, then your instincts are well in tune with traditional Canadian criminal and constitutional law.  We are not in the habit of locking people up for offences committed by other people.

And yet, just recently, the Minister of Public Safety detained several groups of asylum seekers for that very reason: because they had arrived in Canada and there is a suspicion that some of the people who helped them were engaged in human smuggling. The Minister confirmed this in a letter to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

The story began last fall, when it was reported that the government had designated and detained groups of people who had entered Canada months earlier.  The individuals in these groups are reportedly asylum seekers from Romania, mainly members of the Roma minority group that has reportedly suffered discrimination in their country of origin.

This designation and detention are a first in Canada, under new powers granted by the Immigration Act to the Minister of Public Safety.  CCLA has strongly objected to these new powers from the outset, for violating various constitutional and international human rights, including: mandatory group detention without requiring an individual assessment of risk; the potential for prolonged detention (6 months) without judicial review; separation of families; and more.  On learning of the actual use of these powers to imprison people in this manner, CCLA wrote to the Ministers of Public Safety and Immigration expressing deep concerns about the detention of people in such circumstances, and objecting once again to the new legislative provisions.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ reply (two months later) confirms our concerns.  His justification for the detention does not include any accusation against those held in detention; it does not include a statement alleging that they present any danger or risk; it simply includes, by way of explanation for the detention, the following statement:

“The facts I have reviewed have provided me with reasonable grounds to suspect that these arrivals have occurred as part of a human smuggling operation, in contravention of section 117 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, for profit or in association with a criminal organization.  Human smuggling is a dangerous and despicable crime.  Our message is clear to those contemplating a human smuggling operation – don’t do it.”

What is astonishing about this statement is that the prohibition against human smuggling in our Immigration Act applies to the smugglers – those people who assist others to enter Canada unlawfully.  In other words, smuggling is the offence – being assisted is not.  It is human smuggling that is the international crime that needs to be addressed and stopped; asylum seekers are often the victims of such crime.  It is not helpful to confuse the two.  Nor is it appropriate to conflate victims (the refugees) with offenders (the smugglers).

Incidentally, the British Columbia Supreme Court recently struck down s. 117 of the Immigration Act as unconstitutional because it is so broadly worded.  As currently drafted, this provision could have penalized as a “smuggler” a parent for bringing their child with them to safety, or a hero who risked her life to rescue refugees and help them get into Canada.  It is appropriate to prohibit smuggling and to target smugglers who profit from other people’s desperation and exploit them. It is not appropriate to punish the desperate people themselves.

Your injured mother (in the above thought exercise) is not unlike the asylum seekers.  She is a person in need of help, and does not belong in a jail because of it.  Her urgent need and the circumstances of her arrival at the hospital, do not make her a car thief any more than the asylum seekers who came into Canada seeking safety are human smugglers.  To jail someone for an alleged crime committed by someone else is irrational, immoral and offensive.


CCLA Stands Up for Democratic Participation – and Wins!

Over the years CCLA has often heard from people who have been banned from attending their municipal council meetings and even attending at their local city halls.  These individuals are generally critical of their local government and make their views known at meetings and by way of public protests.  The use of trespass notices by municipalities to keep their critics at bay is a troubling phenomenon.  Individuals in receipt of these notices are threatened with arrest if they attend at City Hall and are rarely provided with information about how to appeal the Notice or what steps can be taken to have it rescinded or set aside.  In a recent case involving a Windsor man, the City issued a trespass notice in 2009 which not only prevented the resident from participating in public meetings, it also inhibited his ability to access a myriad of social services housed within Windsor’s City Hall.  Despite the resident’s own efforts to have the Notice rescinded, he was advised by the City’s legal counsel that the Notice remained in place almost three years after it was issued and that it would not be rescinded.  The resident was not provided with any information about how to appeal the City’s decision but he contacted CCLA about the problem and we took action.

CCLA wrote to Windsor’s Chief Administrative Officer and just days later received a reply that the Notice would be rescinded.  We are of course pleased with this outcome, but concerned that this resident was prevented from participating in public meetings for close to four years because of the Notice.  A democracy embraces the role of its residents in debates about governance and governments should not be able to exclude residents from participation in public life, except in the rarest of circumstances and subject to fair procedures.  CCLA continues to welcome individuals who have been subjected to these bans to ask for their rescission and contact CCLA for help.


Introducing CCLA’s TD Fellowship Project 2012…. Smog Signals

Imagine you are in junior high school and your school is hosting a week celebrating multiculturalism. When you arrive for the week’s opening ceremony in the gym, you find that one wall of the gym is covered in many words of welcome, representing all the different languages at the school. Yet there is one word missing; your family’s word for welcome. What would you do?

Janine Manning, a participant in CCLA's TD Fellowship Project "Smog Signals"

This is Janine’s story, the president of the Aboriginal Student’s Association at York University, and a participant in CCLA’s latest online media project, Smog Signals. That evening, Janine challenged her school principal on the oversight and got her word added to the gym wall. The story marks her launch as an advocate for Aboriginal students and more broadly, for the rights of Aboriginal peoples.

Stories like these are the focus of Smog Signals, an online media project showcasing the experiences of Aboriginal peoples on issues of equality and justice. The project takes a look at some of the ideas that have shaped activism in the Aboriginal community. Smog Signals forms a portrait of the work within the community as it defines its relationship with Canadian society and ends a legacy of discrimination.

To hear more of Janine’s story, visit


Apply for the CCLA RBC Fellowship!

Are you a creative, resourceful and innovative individual eager to get involved in groundbreaking campaigns and social justice advocacy? CCLA is happy to announce a new opportunity to join our team on an exciting twelve-month communications internship, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada Foundation.

The CCLA RBC Fellow will have the opportunity to help design and implement CCLA’s media and communications strategy, including content creation for our website and social media networks, growing CCLA’s media presence and managing media relationships, helping to organize advocacy events and online campaigns… and much more! The CCLA RBC Fellowship is based out of our Toronto office, and will be paid full-time work for twelve months, beginning in July or August 2013. We want this to be a valuable internship to build upon your skills and experience and at the same time contribute meaningfully to CCLA’s work.

To learn more about the CCLA RBC Fellowship and how to apply, click here.

February 2013 e-bulletin

By on January 26, 2013

2013 is well under way and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is busy planning its activities for the months to come.  We know that we will have to monitor the development of the security perimeter with United States with its increased information sharing protocols that could violate privacy rights. We know that privacy rights in the workplace are also under threat as employers attempt to know more about potential employees. We know that we will have to monitor the increasing accumulation of data in the police data banks.  We continue our fight to ensure accountability for police misconduct and to protect fundamental rights.

Read more about our work below and sign up for our daily news links to keep up to date.

We do all this work with your support and we thank you.

Happy reading,

Nathalie Des Rosiers

CCLA Speaks out on Campus Free Speech…and University Listens!

University and college campuses have been sites of vigorous discussion, debate and protest for many decades, and their role is no less important today.  Campuses bring together diverse individuals with unique interests and opinions, and the learning and research environment provides a context for exploring a wide variety of social and political issues.  CCLA has been involved in many campus controversies over the years and recently wrote to McGill University regarding their draft Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations.  This protocol was drafted as part of an ongoing process at McGill to address issues of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly on campus following some high profile events including a group of students occupying an administrative building and the presence of riot police on campus.

In our letter, CCLA expressed significant concerns about the scope of the Protocol and the extent to which it truly respected and promoted freedom of expression on campus.  The Protocol suggested that a protest or event that created some disruption or inconvenience would not be considered “peaceful” and used language that would have created significant uncertainty about what was permitted on campus, and what would be considered worthy of disciplinary action.  CCLA noted that disruption and inconvenience are often important components of a protest and key to communicating the messag.  Many members of the McGill community also expressed concerns about the Protocol.  Just days after CCLA’s letter was submitted, McGill administration announced that it would not be proceeding with the Protocol but that it would engage in further discussions and consultations with the university community in order to develop a Statement of Values and Principles.  CCLA is very pleased with this result and glad that we could add our voice to this important endeavour.


CCLA Acts as a Party at the Ashley Smith Inquest

(Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press)

CCLA is participating in the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith as a party in order to ensure that there is a full public accounting of the circumstances surrounding her death and that the issues of accountability and proper administration are addressed.  The inquest began on January 14th, 2012. An earlier inquest was discontinued after the retirement of the first coroner.

Ms. Smith died tragically in 2007 at the age of 19 inside her cell at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, after spending many months in segregation (solitary confinement). Prior to her death, she spent time in a number of federal and provincial correctional facilities and struggled with mental health issues while in jail.  The young woman died after tying a ligature around her neck while guards, instructed not to intervene before she stopped breathing, watched.

During the first week of the inquest, Allison Thornton, special counsel for CCLA at the inquest, participated in a jury visit to the Grand Valley Institute (as seen here).

CCLA has experience in ensuring that adequate oversight of government and authorities, and accountability mechanisms are in place to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people.  Meaningful and transparent oversight is essential to ensure that prisons operate within the law.

CCLA is represented at the Inquest by Allison Thornton of Koch Thornton LLP.

The proceedings of the inquest are being broadcast live via webcam and are available at the following link.


CCLA at Supreme Court on Important Refugee Rights Case

On January 17th, 2013, CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada to intervene in the case of Rachidi Ekanza Ezokola v Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The case concerns the proper application of the Article 1F(A) exclusion clause of the UN 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is incorporated into Canadian law through the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  Article 1F(A) of this Convention denies refugee protection to an individual where “there are serious reasons for considering” the individual has committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.  The issue is how to apply this clause when the individual did not directly himself commit these crimes, but was employed by a government that did commit such crimes.

CCLA argued that presumptions of individual responsibility drawn from membership or employment in a group are wrong — rather, we argued that an individualized assessment that considers whether the person committed a crime is necessary.  An individualized assessment would consider – among other factors — whether the individual at any time had a true moral choice; how the individual was conscripted into or joined the organization that committed Article 1F(a) crimes; whether the individual at any time by act or omission made a substantial contribution to the crime; and whether the individual had the requisite intention regarding the commission of the crime.  This is consistent with CCLA’s long standing position that people should be punished and judged for what they do and not which organization they belong to.  Presumptions of guilt are always dangerous and may cause great injustices.

Watch the webcast of the proceedings here.


Repeal Criminal Libel

We often hear about lawsuits for libel or defamation between two private parties, but did you know that our Criminal Code also includes offences relating to libel?  These provisions have been used against individuals who are critical – sometimes in harsh and provocative language – of state officials, including police officers and participants in the justice system.  They are arrested or charged simply for their words.  CCLA believes these provisions have no place in our modern democracy.

One of the libel provisions, s. 301 of the Criminal Code, has been repeatedly held unconstitutional by lower courts throughout Canada, yet the law remains on the books.  It allows individuals to be convicted even if they had no intent to defame anyone and even if the statements they made were true.  CCLA has been involved in a few cases recently where individuals have been charged or threatened with charges under this provision.  This has a significant impact on freedom of expression and can severely chill expression on matters of public interest.  We have written to Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Rob Nicholson urging that this provision be repealed or amended.  CCLA believes this provision is archaic and a throwback to an era that was not protective of freedom of expression; the provisions were initially enacted as a means to prevent dueling!  Today they appear to be used to insulate public officials from criticism and undermine the purposes of freedom of expression.  We will keep you posted on our ongoing campaign to get rid of these provisions.


Apply for CCLA’s Summer Legal Internships

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association welcomes applicants for our (unpaid) summer legal internship positions.  Interns work in CCLA’s Toronto office four or five days a week, for a minimum of 12 weeks during the summer. Legal interns have the opportunity to engage in substantive legal work relating to CCLA’s ongoing advocacy efforts in civil liberties and human rights.  Interns work closely with the organization’s lawyers on a variety of projects. The work may include monitoring human rights and civil liberties issues, legal and policy-based research and analysis, engaging with and responding to public enquiries, developing materials for the public on ongoing advocacy campaigns and current issues, organizing events, and assisting in the development of advocacy letters, legislative briefs and litigation materials. Although CCLA is not in a position to fund these positions, applicants may wish to seek funds through independent, external or law school fellowships.

More information about applying can be found here.


Board news: Congratulations to Marie-Ève Sylvestre and John McCamus!

In honour of his four decades of scholarship, York University is hosting a one-day symposium and celebration dinner for CCLA’s Chair of the Board John McCamus. For more information about the symposium and to register online, click here.

CCLA board member Marie-Ève Sylvestre was awarded the Young Researcher of the Year award for her contributions to the humanities sector at the University of Ottawa.

Congratulations to Marie-Ève and John for their outstanding contributions!