Privacy Commissioner’s remarks on a submission to the government’s consultation on Canada’s national security framework

December 6, 2016
Ottawa, Ontario

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, made the following statement during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.

(Check against delivery)

Good morning and thank you for coming. I’ll make a short statement, and then my colleagues, Commissioner Beamish and Mr. Chartier, will say a few words. We will then be happy to take questions on our submission, which was endorsed by all federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners and ombudspersons.

I’ll keep my opening comments brief and general in nature, but would be pleased to address details later.

In its discussion paper on national security and police powers, the federal government suggests that state powers may no longer be up to the task of protecting us in the digital era.

I believe that everyone can agree that police and national security agencies require adequate tools to fulfill their key role in keeping Canadians safe; and also that these tools need to be adapted to the digital world.

However, the powers of police and national security agencies have already been significantly increased – in particular with the passage of Bills C-51 and C-13.

Remember as well that, post 9-11, we have seen too many cases of inappropriate and sometimes illegal conduct by state officials that impacted on the rights of ordinary people who were not suspected of criminal or terrorist activities.

In my view, these serious incidents were caused by deficient legal standards that failed to set appropriate limits on government actions.      

Key lessons from history – from the Arar inquiry, to the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance, to more recent cases involving metadata collection by the CSE; CSIS; and police in Quebec– remind us that clear safeguards are needed to protect rights and prevent abuse; that national security agencies must be subject to effective review; and that any new state powers must be justified on the basis of evidence.

The government should only propose and Parliament should only approve new state powers if they are demonstrated to be necessary and proportionate – not merely convenient.

This is not the time to further expand state powers and reduce individual rights. This is the time to enhance both legal standards and oversight to ensure we do not repeat past mistakes and achieve real balance between security and respect for basic individual rights.

See also:

News release: Don’t repeat past mistakes, Privacy Commissioner warns as government reviews national security framework

Backgrounder: Privacy and Canada’s national security framework

Submission to the Consultation on Canada’s National Security Framework

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