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Anti-terrorism Act

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Senate Special Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act

May 9, 2005
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada


Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee.

Thank you for inviting me to appear today to discuss the Anti-terrorism Act.

I have tabled with the Committee a paper prepared by my Office, explaining in detail our position on the Anti-terrorism Act. As Privacy Commissioner, I have a responsibility for overseeing the application of informational privacy rights and look with a careful and critical eye at initiatives such as the Anti-terrorism Act.

With that in mind, my remarks today will focus on providing an overview of our Office's position about the impact of the Act on informational privacy. We will close by highlighting some of our key proposed recommendations. We urge the Committee to consider these recommendations and to examine the cumulative impact of anti-terrorism measures on the privacy rights of Canadians.

Anti-terrorism and the right of privacy

The Anti-terrorism Act has had a significant impact on informational privacy rights — that is, on the right of individuals to control the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information, and on their right to have access to, and request correction of that information.

A key issue for this Committee to consider is proportionality. Regrettably, there appears to exist no empirical evidence to suggest that the measures provided for by the Anti-terrorism Act are necessary. No one denies the reality of the threat that the Act was intended to address. We must ask ourselves, however, whether what the Act gains us in security justifies the sacrifice of privacy and other rights.

Specifically, the impacts of the Act can be grouped into three broad themes.

  • First, the surveillance powers of security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been overly broadened.
  • Second, constraints on the use of those same surveillance powers have been unduly weakened.
  • Third, government accountability and transparency have been significantly reduced.

Broadened Surveillance Powers

Since 9/11, the Canadian government has introduced a series of measures to broaden its surveillance powers over the citizens and residents of Canada.

The Anti-terrorism Act has set the tone for creating a broader net for surveillance of organizations and individuals. Much of the personal information gathered is highly sensitive and part of integrated information systems that process information on a wide range of aspects of the lives of individuals, families and communities. If this information were to be misused, distorted or misinterpreted it could have serious consequences on the lives of Canadians.

I might also add that public debate over the state's investments in surveillance powers have largely been far removed from discussions of national security policy. Public opinion trends suggest that Canadians are increasingly aware of informational privacy issues and expect a reasonable and balanced approach to a national strategy to combat terrorism. There is strong support by the public for greater accountability, transparency and oversight of agencies involved in national security.

There is a real risk that as the logic of anti-terrorism permeates all spheres of law enforcement and public safety, large-scale systems of surveillance will increasingly erode privacy rights in Canada, without a critical assessment of where it is appropriate to draw the line.

Reduced Constraints on Surveillance

At the same time that the surveillance powers of the state have been strengthened by the Anti-terrorism Act, constraints on those powers have been weakened.

Law enforcement and national security agencies are no longer required, in anti-terrorism investigations, to consider other investigative methods prior to applying for judicial authorization for electronic surveillance.

The executive branch of government may displace the role of the judiciary in issuing security certificates and authorizing interception of communications; and the judicial standard of "reasonable grounds to believe" has been lowered to one of "reasonable grounds to suspect."

A number of the legislative amendments enacted under the Anti-terrorism Act have had the effect of weakening independent oversight of the surveillance activities of law enforcement and security and intelligence organizations.

Independent oversight is one of the pillars of democratic freedom. The question, "Who watches the watchers?" is best answered by ensuring oversight of the surveillance powers of the state by the judiciary and other independent agents. Parliament and Canadians need to question the measures in the Anti-terrorism Act that reduce oversight. Independent review should be the rule, not the exception.

Decreased Government Transparency

Amendments brought about by the Anti-terrorism Act have also added to the secrecy surrounding legal proceedings, contrary to the fundamental principles that court hearings should be conducted openly and that individuals should be entitled to know the charges against them and the evidence relevant to the charges.

Among the most significant changes affecting transparency and access of individuals to their own personal information are the amendments to section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act, the section that addresses the judicial balancing of interests between the public interest in disclosure and the interest of the state in national security and maintaining foreign confidences.

As amended by the Anti-terrorism Act, section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act provides a broad statutory gag order that prohibits not only the disclosure of the information itself, but also the mere fact that section 38 proceedings have been engaged.

These restrictions on disclosure are, in many cases, overly broad.

The Anti-terrorism Act further amends section 38 procedures by permitting the Attorney General to override a Federal Court order that the information should be disclosed.

This extraordinary power is unnecessary in view of the judicial rigor that already exists under the Canada Evidence Act, which appropriately allows a judge to determine the balance of the competing interests between disclosure and national security.


As I indicated to you at the start of my opening statement, my Office has tabled with the Committee a position paper outlining 18 recommendations aimed at improving the provisions and operation of the Anti-terrorism Act.

I will not go over each of the recommendations today, as time simply does not permit me. Suffice it to say that our recommendations aim to contain surveillance, as well as increase oversight and promote transparency. We also ask that the Committee consider some general recommendations aimed at improving the privacy protection regime of the federal government's national security framework.

My first recommendation of the paper stipulates that the Government of Canada should conduct an empirical assessment of the effectiveness of the extraordinary powers granted to law enforcement and national security agencies under the Anti-terrorism Act, and the proportionality of the loss of established rights.

This examination should include an exploration of alternative models for achieving national security objectives without unnecessarily encroaching on informational privacy.

As I indicated a moment ago, there exists an apparent lack of empirical assessment by the government of the effectiveness of the extraordinary powers that the Anti-terrorism Act gives law enforcement and national security agencies. This assessment is the necessary precondition of a proper analysis of proportionality.

I have also formulated seven recommendations in the paper that address the need for contained surveillance and increased oversight. The suggestions include increased judicial oversight over the activities of law enforcement agencies.

The paper includes four recommendations on the need for transparency and openness of Section 38 procedures under the Canada Evidence Act. We believe these recommendations will strike the right balance between disclosure and national security interests.

I have also created a recommendation for a security-cleared special advocate position to carry out the function of both challenging arguments that information should not be disclosed to the affected party, and in challenging information that cannot be disclosed before the judge. Our Office would be willing to offer its policy expertise and experience in applying privacy legislation to assist in the development of special advocates.

Finally I have made five general recommendations of importance that deal with the need for a continuing review of the Act and a proposal that the Government articulate the operating principles of a privacy management framework for national security, including the development of an internal privacy audit capacity, privacy leadership responsibilities incorporated in the performance agreement of senior executives, privacy protection performance indicators, and a strengthened role for Access to Information and Privacy coordinators.

The elements of such a privacy management framework will be familiar to the Government. Indeed, I recently wrote to the President of the Treasury Board to suggest a number of measures to strengthen the Government's privacy management regime. These range from a thorough review of outsourcing and off-shoring of personal information and the development of contractual clauses to mitigate against privacy risks, to strengthening the reporting requirements to Parliament under the Privacy Act.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, let me state simply that the Anti-terrorism Act — as well as other recent government initiatives aimed at combating terrorism — reflects a fundamental shift in the balance between national security, law enforcement and informational privacy, with a associated loss of privacy and due process protections for individuals.

Over-broad state powers in the name of national security may in fact imperil the self-identity of democratic nation states. It is imperative that the means and measures adopted to combat security threats do not end up abrogating the very freedoms that define and give substance to the democracy that we claim to be defending.

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, security and the protection of informational privacy need not be seen as a trade-off, where one is sacrificed in the interest of the other. Both can be achieved with well-designed law, prudent policy, and effective but not excessive oversight.

I urge the Committee to carefully consider our remarks and recommendations, which are intended to contribute to the achievement of this goal.

Thank you.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Summary of Recommendations on the Anti-terrorism Act
Presented to the Senate Special Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act
May 9, 2005

Recommendation 1

The Government of Canada should conduct an empirical assessment of the effectiveness of the extraordinary powers granted to law enforcement and national security agencies under the Anti-terrorism Act, and the proportionality of the loss of established rights. The examination should include an exploration of alternative models for achieving national security objectives without unnecessarily encroaching on informational privacy.

Recommendation 2

The ordinary requirement that a judge be convinced that other methods of investigation have been tried or would fail should be applied to electronic surveillance for terrorism offences under the Criminal Code.

Recommendation 3

The Criminal Code's ordinary time limits for such warrants — 60 days authorization and up to one year for notification — should be required, and the exceptions in the Anti-terrorism Act for warrants up to a year and up to three years without authorization should be repealed.

Recommendation 4

The Anti-terrorism Act's amendments to the National Defence Act to allow the interception of private conversations that may involve people in Canada should be amended to require prior judicial authorization.

Recommendation 5

The requirement in section 273.65(2)(d) of the National Defence Act for "satisfactory measures... to protect the privacy of Canadians and to ensure that private communications will only be used or retained if they are essential to international affairs, defence or security" should be amended, either to require "all reasonable measures to protect privacy" or to specify in greater detail what constitutes "satisfactory" measures.

Recommendation 6

Section 273.65(4)(d) of the National Defence Act, which permits CSE to collect information essential to protecting the government's computer systems, should be amended to place limitations on what information CSE can obtain.

Recommendation 7

Section 273.65(8) of the National Defence Act should be amended so that the CSE Commissioner is required to ensure not only that intercepts of private conversations have in fact been authorized by Ministerial direction, but that the direction itself is authorized by the law and consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act.

Recommendation 8

Parliament should undertake a systematic review of the overall mechanism for oversight of national security activities, taking into account the existing bodies and identifying areas where these bodies overlap, but more importantly, identifying areas where there are gaps in coverage.

Recommendation 9

The mandatory in camera proceedings and the mandatory ban on even revealing that a s.38 proceeding is taking place found in ss.38.02 and 38.11 should be repealed, following the principles in Ruby v. Canada and the comments by Chief Justice Lutfy in the Ottawa Citizen Group case. A more proportionate alternative is to allow the judge to hold proceedings in camera when necessary to protect national security.

Recommendation 10

Section 38.13 should be repealed on the basis that it is superfluous to empower the executive to trump an adjudicative order for disclosure. Section 38.06 already allows courts to balance the conflicting interests in disclosure and national security and impose conditions on the release of information in a manner that reconciles these two important concerns; it has been interpreted by the courts in a way that makes generous allowance for the state's interests in national security, national defence and international relations.

Recommendation 11

Should s.38.13 certificates be retained, they should be subject to the same reporting and sunset requirements as the use of investigative hearings and preventive arrests, because they constitute extraordinary interventions by the executive into the adjudicative process. A section 38.13 certificate should also not last for 15 years but for 5 years, perhaps subject to renewal.

Recommendation 12

A judicial balancing of competing disclosure and security interests as available under s.38.06 should also be available under s.38.131, which provides for review by one judge of the Federal Court of Appeal of a s.38.13 certificate issued by the Attorney General. Thought should also be given to allowing appeals from the judicial review of the s.38.13 certificate, or of allowing the review to be conducted by three as opposed to one judge of the Federal Court of Appeal, so as to encourage greater checks and balances and the possibility for the expression of dissent.

Recommendation 13

I recommend that the Committee give consideration to the creation of a security-cleared special advocate position, to test Government claims that information should not be disclosed because of concerns about national security. This would ensure that a judge hears an advocate for the greatest possible disclosure possible before making a decision. The special advocate could also

examine any evidence that the judge decides cannot be disclosed to the affected person and, where appropriate, challenge the government's reliance on such secret evidence.

Recommendation 14

The Anti-terrorism Act, along with the Public Safety Act, should be considered extraordinary legislation. As such, they should be subject to periodic Parliamentary review to assess their continued relevance, and to keep them in the public eye.

Recommendation 15

The Government should articulate the operating principles of a privacy management framework, including the development of internal privacy audit capacity, privacy leadership responsibilities incorporated in the performance agreement of senior executives, privacy protection performance indicators, and a strengthened role for Access to Information and Privacy coordinators.

Recommendation 16

Departments and agencies with an anti-terrorism role under the Anti-terrorism Act should be required to report to Parliament on a periodic basis, perhaps at the same time as the legislative review, with a general description of their anti-terrorism programs, and accounting of how effective these measures have been for detecting, stopping or deterring terrorist acts.

Recommendation 17

The Government should establish a National Security Committee of Parliamentarians to oversee the security and intelligence apparatus in Canada. Such a committee would review the policies, resources and legislation supporting Canada's national security system, assess their effectiveness, and identify required improvements. The Committee should be supported by security cleared staff and have access to all information, including classified information, required to carry out its mandate.

Recommendation 18

The Government of Canada should, in the context of the new national security environment, examine the adequacy of legislation that governs personal information collected, processed and shared by the Canadian government. This means a thoroughgoing reconsideration of the Privacy Act, of course, something that has been seriously overdue since before 9/11. The Government of Canada and Parliament should also assess the completeness and adequacy of the institutional framework (including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner) to safeguard privacy rights, and the powers and authorities of oversight bodies, including their capabilities and resources.

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