LAWYERS for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a proposed national class action lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of Canadians whose private communications and metadata information has been collected by the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) in a manner that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The proposed class action statement of claim, filed in Federal Court, is a companion case to the claim filed by the BCCLA in the B.C. Supreme Court in October 2013. If the BCCLA’s original lawsuit is successful in striking down the laws that allow CSEC to collect Canadians’ private communications and metadata, the class action may provide a vehicle for Canadians to get a direct remedy for unconstitutional intrusions on their privacy and free expression rights.
“Last fall, we filed a lawsuit asking the court to strike down laws that allow CSEC to collect Canadians’ private communications and metadata,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA. “We are confident that the court will agree with us and will declare those laws to be unconstitutional. Now we have filed a class action, as a companion to our existing lawsuit, so that Canadians may have a remedy for violation of their rights by Canada’s electronic snooping.”
The proposed class action lawsuit has been brought on behalf of all people who have used a wireless device – laptops, cellphones, smartphones, tablets and similar devices – in Canada since 2001. The representative plaintiff for the proposed class is Lindsay Lyster, President of the BCCLA and a lawyer in Vancouver.
“I am bringing this lawsuit on behalf of everybody in Canada who uses wireless devices and who may have been spied on by the federal government,” said Lyster. “Canadians trusted that they could communicate on their phones, and use their computers, without the government looking over their shoulders. It turns out that that trust was misplaced. The government has been spying on us, and potentially violating the constitutional rights of millions of Canadians.”
The BCCLA claims that two aspects of CSEC’s operations violate Charter protections against unreasonable search and seizure and infringe free expression rights: the interception of private communications of Canadians and the sweeping collection of metadata information produced by Canadians.
Under the current law, CSEC is permitted to read Canadians’ emails and text messages, and listen to Canadians’ phone calls, when a Canadian is communicating with a person outside of Canada. CSEC also operates under a secret ministerial directive that allows it to collect and analyze the metadata information that is automatically produced each and every time a Canadian uses a mobile phone or access the internet. The BCCLA takes the position that the law permitting these activities is unconstitutional.
There is no court or Parliamentary committee that monitors CSEC’s interception of these private communications and metadata information, and there is no judicial oversight of its sweeping powers.