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Privacy Commissioner Launches Charter Challenge

Ottawa, June 21, 2002 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today announced that he is initiating a Charter challenge of the RCMP's video surveillance activities in Kelowna, B.C. He made the following statement at a press conference:

As you know, I have been trying since October of last year to persuade the RCMP to stop their constant video surveillance of law abiding citizens on a public street in Kelowna, British Columbia. I believe that general video surveillance of our public streets and public gathering places by the police or other public authorities, is the single greatest threat to the fundamental human right of privacy that our society faces.

We have a fundamental right as Canadians to walk along our public streets without being systematically observed by police. If we lose that, we lose a fundamental part of our privacy and our freedom.

The video surveillance of public streets that the RCMP is carrying out in Kelowna is not necessary. There is no evidence that it is effective or is likely to be effective. The invasion of the privacy of law abiding citizens is not proportional to any benefits that might be derived and there is no evidence that less intrusive policing methods are not sufficient to keep the peace in Kelowna.

I have tried repeatedly, without success, to persuade RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli of the importance of respecting the privacy rights of Canadians in this regard. I have also tried, without success, to persuade Solicitor General MacAulay to exercise his responsibility and instruct the RCMP to take down the camera.

In March, I sought the advice of the Honourable Gérard La Forest, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who is with us today. Prior to his retirement, he wrote many of the Supreme Court's most important decisions on privacy rights. Mr. La Forest advised me in April that, in his opinion, what the RCMP is doing in Kelowna is not only a serious violation of privacy rights, but also a contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That opinion by Mr. La Forest was made public in April, and it too was ignored by the RCMP and the Solicitor General.

As Privacy Commissioner of Canada, I am mandated by Parliament to oversee and defend the privacy rights of Canadians. I believe that what the RCMP is doing in Kelowna violates not only privacy rights in general, but is unconstitutional because it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The only remaining recourse is to ask the courts to put a stop to it. Accordingly, I have instructed counsel to file today in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Kelowna, an action to declare the RCMP's video surveillance activities in Kelowna unconstitutional as a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international covenants. The case will be handled for my office by Mr. Morris Manning, Q.C., who is one of Canada's most eminent lawyers. The Honourable Mr. La Forest will continue to advise me in this matter.

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For more information, contact:

Anne-Marie Hayden
Media Relations
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel.: (613) 995-0103

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