Spotlight on Michael Rosenberg – A Lawyer Fighting Solitary…

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
Director of Equality Program





Michael Rosenberg, special counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), will be awarded the 2019 Arleen Gross Award for Young Advocates this month – and it is an honour well deserved! This past April, Michael was also awarded the Heather McArthur Memorial Young Lawyers Award.

CCLA is delighted to see the legal community recognize Michael’s legal achievements. Our organization was honoured to support his nomination for both these awards in light of his diligence, tremendous commitment and legal excellence. And we are privileged to have him working with us to support the rights of people in Canada.

Michael, with the support of his firm McCarthy Tétrault, is one of the key lawyers responsible for representing CCLA in a constitutional challenge of the solitary confinement regime in Canada’s federal penitentiaries, together with co-counsel Jonathan Lisus (Lax O’Sullivan). This is no ordinary undertaking.

Michael, Jonathan and their team have spent many months researching, pulling together evidence, engaging with medical, social science and legal materials, and presenting arguments before both the Superior Court of Ontario and the Ontario Court of Appeal – and they and are now addressing motions at the Supreme Court of Canada. Their mission on behalf of CCLA: to challenge provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that permit holding individuals – including vulnerable individuals and individuals who posed no danger – in solitary confinement, without independent oversight, for prolonged and indefinite periods.

Thanks to Michael, Jonathan, Larissa, Charlotte-Anne and others, we were successful in striking down the solitary confinement regime as unconstitutional.

The results have been far-reaching, legally and practically, and numerous proposals and changes have been introduced to ameliorate the brutal practice of solitary confinement, including a bill before Parliament.

Michael’s dedication to the issue goes beyond the courts. He has been outspoken in the media about the case, helping to inform and engage the public about the dangers and harms of solitary confinement. And he has spoken on behalf of the CCLA before the Senate of Canada, and otherwise has supported CCLA’s efforts to push for true legislative reform.


Demanding our Privacy Rights Get a Seat at the…

Brenda McPhail
Director of Privacy, Technology & Surveillance Project





CCLA is going to court to reset the Waterfront Toronto/Sidewalk Labs smart city project.  A lot of people say, “wait for the plan, nothing has happened yet. Even if the plan is approved, it will take a long time for shovels to hit the ground.”  We have considered that perspective, and don’t take this action lightly. We are not scared of change or innovation. We are not anti-tech. We are firmly and unapologetically pro-rights and freedoms, and the way this project was conceived puts many of the rights people in Canada value at risk.

The problem is, the process that led to this project in the first place was fatally flawed and then presented to the public as a fait accompli, announced with fanfare by the Prime Minister, then Premier, and Mayor.

The problem is, the last year and a half of consultations haven’t been asking whether Torontonians want Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, to create a sensor-laden “test bed” on the Waterfront, either in the Quayside Neighbourhood or ultimately across the Portlands. They have just been discussing what it should look like and promising us it will be awesome.

The problem is, we increasingly realize comprehensive data collection that permits granular monitoring of people’s activities and behaviour online is harming individuals and groups, infringing human rights, and diminishing human autonomy. So why on earth would we think it’s a good idea to import that big data model into our city streets by embedding multiple kinds of surveillance technologies into our infrastructure?  A city built “from the internet up” sounds more like a threat than a promise.

The problem is, virtually everyone—project detractors and supporters alike—agrees that the laws we have to protect privacy are simply not good enough to safeguard us against the potential harms of this kind of pervasive surveillance infrastructure. Many of the technologies that will facilitate the smart city were unimagined when our laws were written. Data has a different value now, whether it is individualized or aggregate, because it can be used in so many ways that create potential benefits but also raise concrete risks. Voluntary best practices, self-assessments for responsible data use, civic data stewardship models, none of these are bad but they are inadequate. We need, and deserve, accountable, enforceable legislation, not promises of good behaviour.

The list of problems could (and does) continue. Which is why the Quayside project should not.

Our Notice of Application filed today, which we bring forward with co-applicant Lester Brown, a citizen of Toronto, is addressed to Waterfront Toronto and all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal. We are arguing that the agreements at the heart of the project are in violation of administrative and constitutional law, and are thus invalid. This project should be reset as a result.

We will keep you updated about this litigation over the upcoming months. For today, we wanted to share the news of its launch.

CCLA is grateful for the work by our amazing counsel, a team from Fogler Rubinoff LLP led by Bill Hearn and Young Park.

Read our filed Notice of Application

CCLA Commences Proceedings Against Waterfront Toronto

Today, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association along with co-applicant Lester Brown, commenced proceedings against Waterfront Toronto, and all three levels of government. We are seeking a reset of the Sidewalk Toronto project. Court document below:

Notice of Application, CCLA


“The Google-Waterfront Toronto deal is invalid and needs to be reset. These agreements are contrary to administrative and constitutional law, and set a terrible precedent for the rest of this country. Unlawful surveillance is wrong whether done by data profiteers or the state. We all deserve better from our federal, provincial and municipal governments,” says Michael Bryant, Executive Director and General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Video below of press conference at Queen’s Park media studio, April 16, 2019:

To arrange interviews or obtain information for release, please contact our media team at:


Media kit

Letter to Quebec Minister of Justice Regarding Child Pornography…

The Honourable Sonia Lebel
Ministère de la Justice
Édifice Louis-Philippe-Pigeon
1200, route de l’Église
9e étage
Québec (Quebec) G1V 4M1
April 12, 2019

Dear Minister,

I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) regarding your decision to prosecute author Yvan Godbout and editor Nycolas Doucet for production and distribution of child pornography.   This is a terrible exercise of your quasi-judicial powers.  There are self-evident constitutional bars to such censorship by Criminal Code, and this matter clearly does not meet the second branch of prosecutorial discretion:  it is not in the public interest.

The CCLA is a national, non-profit, public interest advocacy organization that has been at the forefront of promoting and protecting freedom of expression since our founding in 1964. CCLA made submissions when Parliament first introduced criminal offences relating to child pornography and has been involved in every significant Supreme Court of Canada case that interprets the child pornography provisions. We recognize the pressing need to protect children from exploitation and abuse. However, we have sought to ensure that criminal laws are not used to stifle expression, including artistic expression. This prosecution does just that.

It is our understanding that the prosecution of the author and publisher in this case stems from the description, on one page of a 270-page horror novel, of the sexual assault of a young child. Now that charges have been laid, you have managed no doubt to increase the books’ readership exponentially, even though your charge suggests those in possession of it have child pornography – and are liable under the criminal law – in the eyes of your office.

While the Criminal Code definition of “child pornography” does include written descriptions whose creation does not involve harming children, the provisions must be construed narrowly, as noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Sharpe, 2001 SCC 2. The material must either “advocate or counsel sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years” that would be an offence, or have as its “dominant characteristic” the description “for a sexual purpose, of sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years” that would be an offence. Provided our description above is accurate, it seems clear that the material is not intended to advocate for the sexual abuse of children. Moreover, the Court has held that the phrase “for a sexual purpose” should be understood to consider whether, reasonably perceived, the material is intended to cause sexual stimulation to some viewers. Our understanding is that this is a novel written in the horror genre, and that the relevant passage is only one page in close to three hundred. Given this context, it is straining the limits of reasonableness to suggest that the novel is “child pornography” as contemplated under the Code.

We also note that there are defences to the child pornography provisions which the Supreme Court has held must be liberally construed. In particular, the Code includes an artistic merit defence which the Supreme Court has confirmed should be interpreted broadly: “Any objectively established artistic value, however small, suffices to support the defence. Simply put, artists, so long as they are producing art, should not fear prosecution under s. 163.1(4).” (Sharpe, para 63)

This criminal prosecution is wrong-headed and we urge you to re-evaluate and revisit the decision in light of the foregoing, and otherwise withdraw the information.  While sexual violence and exploitation of children is a wrong, so is government censorship.  Artists always have and always will explore these subjects in their works. Prosecuting an author and editor for depicting such violence in a novel is contrary to the public interest, and sends a chill through literary and artistic communities. We petition you to reverse your decision and stop censoring literature through the Criminal Code.


Cara Faith Zwibel, LL.B., LL.M.
Director, Fundamental Freedoms Program

Letter to Quebec Min Justice – Child Pornography Prosecution

Madame l’honorable Sonia Lebel
Ministère de la Justice du Québec
Édifice Louis-Philippe-Pigeon
1200, route de l’Église
9e étage
Québec (Quebec) G1V 4M1


12 avril, 2019

Madame la ministre,

Je vous écris à la part de l’Association Canadienne des Libertés Civiles (ACLC) au sujet de votre décision d’instituer une procédure à l’encontre de l’auteur Yvan Godbout et de l’éditeur Nycolas Doucet, pour production et distribution de pornographie juvénile. Ceci est un exercice absolument horrible de vos pouvoirs quasi-juridiques. Il existe des interdictions constitutionnelles évidentes à l’encontre de cette censure dans le Code criminel et ceci ne tombe pas bien évidemment sous l’emprise de la  discrétion d’un procureur d’intérêt secondaire: il n’y a aucun intérêt public à ce faire.

Notre association, la ACLC, est un organisme national à but non-lucratif et d’intérêt public, qui a toujours mené à bien la promotion et la protection de la libre-expression, et ce depuis notre fondation en 1964. La ACLC a déposé maintes soumissions lors de l’introduction au parlement de lois relatant aux offenses criminelles sur la pornographie juvénile. Outre, nous nous sommes impliqués dans toutes affaires importantes de la cour suprême du Canada relatant aux provisions sur la pornographie et sur les abus d’enfants. Toutefois, nous avons toujours  cherché à assurer que les lois criminelles ne soient jamais utilisées à des fins d’étouffement de l’expression, y-compris de l’expression artistique. Votre poursuite ne semble viser qu’à cela.

Selon nous, toute poursuite judiciaire à l’encontre de l’auteur et de l’éditeur ci-concernés dépend à l’évidence même de la description d’une agression sexuelle sur un enfant de bas âge, figurant sur une page unique sur 270 d’un roman d’horreur. Depuis que ces accusations ont été portées, il semblerait donc que vous ayez promulgué malgré vous la lecture et l’achat de ce livre, même si vos accusations essaient d’impliquer une responsabilité criminelle quelconque de la part des usagers du livre aux yeux de votre office.

Bien que la définition de la “pornographie juvénile”, selon le Code criminel, n’inclue pas les descriptions qui ne nuisent pas à un enfant de part leur création, ces provisions doivent être interprétées de manière stricte, ainsi que décrété par la Cour suprême du Canada, dans R. c. Sharpe, 2001 SCC 2. Le matériel doit donc préconiser ou conseiller  une activité sexuelle spécifique avec une personne de moins de dix-huit ans, telle activité constituant une offense, ou qui aurait pour “caractéristique dominante, dans un but sexuel” une activité sexuelle avec une personne  âgée de moins de  dix-huit ans et qui constituerait donc une offense. Étant donné la précision ci-dessus, il semblerait acquis que la lecture du livre ne promulgue en aucune sorte un abus sexuel quelconque d’un enfant.

En outre, la Cour a jugé que la phrase “dans un but sexuel” doit être interprété comme étant voulu intentionnellement stimuler sexuellement certains lecteurs. Selon nous, le roman en question est écrit dans le genre du roman d’horreur; le passage en question ne constitue qu’une seule page sur presque trois cent. Sur ce, il n’est certainement donc pas raisonnable de suggérer que l’intégralité de ce roman constitue en fait une “pornographie infantile” quelconque à l’encontre du Code criminel.

Nous notons donc qu’il existe des défenses incontroversibles contres toutes provisions de pornographie infantile interprétées par la Cour suprême. En particulier, le Code permet une défense de mérite artistique, interprétée assez vastement: “Toute valeur artistique objectivement établie, si minime soit-elle, suffit à fonder le moyen de défense. Tant qu’il produit de l’art, l’artiste ne devrait tout simplement pas craindre d’être poursuivi en vertu du par. 163.1(4).” (Sharpe, para 63)

Toute prosécution dans ce sens serait mal dirigée. Nous vous prions fortement de ré-évaluer votre décision dans cette nouvelle lumière et de vous désister. Bien que la violence sexuelle et que toute exploitation d’enfant soit bien évidemment  à tort, toute censure gouvernementale l’est bien sûr de même. Les artistes ont toujours exploré et exploreront toujours ces sujets de part leur oeuvre. Emmener en justice un auteur ou éditeur pour avoir illustré telle ou telle violence dans le contexte d’une oeuvre romancière est de fait contraire à l’intérêt public, et ce envoie un frisson de part la communauté littéraires et artistique. Nous vous demandons donc de revenir sur votre décision et d’arrêter de censurer la littérature par le biais du Code Criminel.


Bien sincèrement à vous,
Cara Faith Zwibel, LL.B., LL.M.
Directrice, programme des libertés fondamentales, ACLC

Lettre Ministre de Justice Quebec – Pornographie Juvenile

Young Voices, Youth Activism, and Social Change

Cara Zwibel
Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program





In these days of heavy-handed rhetoric from our leaders and political infighting, it is easy to become cynical about the future. But last week we saw young people stand up for what they believe in and make their voices heard. It was powerful and inspiring and gives us hope for the future of the country – maybe even a little hope for the present.  

On Wednesday, in the temporary House of Commons, several dozen Daughters of the Vote delegates turned their backs on Prime Minister Trudeau to express their displeasure about the decision to expel two prominent female MPs from the Liberal caucus. Some delegates walked out when Opposition leader Andrew Scheer took the podium. These silent protests were a means of exercising a right foundational to our democratic system of government – freedom of expression – and it showed the power of that expression when it takes a collective form. Daughters of the Vote delegates are chosen based on their engagement with their community, so it is not surprising that some of these young women decided that their trip to Ottawa was about more than networking or sitting politely while the country’s leaders addressed them.  

On Thursday, students across the province walked out of their classrooms to protest proposed cuts to the education system. CBC reported that over 100,000 students participated and that it is believed to be the largest student protest in our country’s history. Many students also rallied alongside parents and teachers at Queen’s Park on Saturday, sporting signs and buttons opposing cuts they see as harmful to their futures.

There are those who have been dismissive of these young people. Some say their activism mostly takes place online, where they don’t have to get their hands dirty. The events of this week suggest otherwise. Ontario’s Premier and Minister of Education have said that the students participating in the walkout are being used as pawns, and others argue they just want to skip class. But interviews with many of the young participants show this is not the case. And anyone who has tried to convince a teenager to do something they don’t want to do should recognize these characterizations as false. These are young people who are knowledgeable, passionate, and engaged. Most of them aren’t old enough to use the ballot box to express their views, so they have found other tactics. Those in power should be encouraging them and expressing pride in a generation that knows its rights and chooses to exercise them. “The people” don’t only speak once every four years.

We dismiss and belittle these young voices at our own peril. They have powerful tools at their disposal that were not available to previous generations, and they will no doubt learn from the successes and failures of the past. In a few short years, they will also have the power to exercise their democratic right to vote – and the politicians who mocked and undermined them may face a reckoning. I, for one, am looking forward to it.