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Ottawa, November 1, 2002 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today released the following statement regarding the Public Safety Act, Bill C-17:

Since last May, I have expressed extremely grave concerns about one provision of what was then Bill C-55, the federal Government's Public Safety Act. This same provision has now been reintroduced, with only minimal and unsatisfactory change, in the replacement legislation, Bill C-17.

The provision in question, section 4.82 of both bills, would give the RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to the personal information held by airlines about all Canadian air travellers on domestic as well as international flights.

I have raised no objection to the primary purpose of this provision, which is to enable the RCMP and CSIS to use this passenger information for anti-terrorist "transportation security" and "national security" screening. But my concern is that the RCMP would also be expressly empowered to use this information to seek out persons wanted on warrants for Criminal Code offences that have nothing to do with terrorism, transportation security or national security.

The implications of this are extraordinarily far-reaching.

In Canada, it is well established that we are not required to identify ourselves to police unless we are being arrested or we are carrying out a licensed activity such as driving. The right to anonymity with regard to the state is a crucial privacy right. Since we are required to identify ourselves to airlines as a condition of air travel and since section 4.82 would give the RCMP unrestricted access to the passenger information obtained by airlines, this would set the extraordinarily privacy-invasive precedent of effectively requiring compulsory self-identification to the police.

I am prepared, with some reluctance, to accept this as an exceptional measure that can be justified, in the wake of September 11, for the limited and specific purposes of aviation security and national security against terrorism. But I can find no reason why the use of this de facto self-identification to the police should be extended to searching for individuals who are of interest to the state because they are the subject of warrants for Criminal Code offences unrelated to terrorism. That has the same effect as requiring us to notify the police every time we travel, so that they can check whether we are wanted for something.

If the police were able to carry out their regular Criminal Code law enforcement duties without this new power before September 11, they should likewise be able to do so now. The events of September 11 were a great tragedy and a great crime; they should not be manipulated into becoming an opportunity - an opportunity to expand privacy-invasive police powers for purposes that have nothing to do with anti-terrorism.

If we accept the principle that air travellers within Canada can in effect be forced by law to identify themselves to police for scrutiny against lists of wanted suspects, then there is nothing to prevent the same logic from being applied in future to other modes of transportation. Particularly since this provision might well discourage wanted individuals from travelling by air, why not extend the same scrutiny to train travellers, bus passengers or anyone renting a car? Indeed, the precedent set by this provision could ultimately open the door to practices similar to those that exist in societies where police routinely board trains, establish roadblocks or stop people on the street to check identification papers in search of anyone of interest to the state.

The place to draw the line in protecting the fundamental human right of privacy is at the very outset, at the first unjustifiable intrusion. In this instance, that means amending the bill to remove all reference to warrants and thus limit the police to matching passenger information against anti-terrorism and national security databases.

The concerns that I have raised in this matter since last spring have been publicly endorsed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario; by members of every party in the House of Commons, notably including a member of the government's own Liberal caucus who is an internationally recognized expert on human rights, Irwin Cotler; and by editorials in newspapers including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal.

These concerns have now been ignored by the Government.

The changes that have been made in this provision in the new bill do nothing to address the fundamental issues of principle that are at stake.

The Government now proposes to have regulations limiting the Criminal Code offence warrants for which the RCMP will be searching. But this does nothing to address the fundamental point of principle that the police have no business using this extraordinary access to personal information to search for people wanted on warrants for any offences unrelated to terrorism.

As well, in the new bill the Government has removed the "identification of persons for whom a warrant has been issued" as a "purpose" for accessing passenger information under the legislation. But this is meaningless - indeed disingenuous - since the RCMP would remain empowered to match this information against a database of persons wanted on warrants and to use such matches to bring about arrests. It insults the intelligence of Canadians to suggest, as the Government does in its press release accompanying the bill, that the RCMP may "incidentally" come upon individuals wanted on Criminal Code warrants - if the police are to match names of passengers against a database of individuals wanted on Criminal Code warrants, there can be nothing "incidental" about finding them.

Since the original Bill C-55 was introduced, I have used every means at my disposal to make the crucially important privacy issues that are at stake known and understood by all the Ministers and top Government officials who are involved in this matter. I regret that I have not, to date, been successful in obtaining an appropriate response from them, though I will certainly continue my efforts. It is now up to Parliament to explain to these people that privacy is a fundamental human right of Canadians that must be respected, rather than treated with the apparent indifference that the Government is showing.

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For more information, please contact Anne-Marie Hayden, Media Relations, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, by phone at (613) 995-0103 or by e-mail at ahayden@priv.gc.ca.

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