Canada’s Take on the US Patriot Act

“… Canadian laws and practices are as equally invasive
as the USA Patriot Act, and also provide access to this
personal information by other foreign entities.
… Canadian laws were created to protect privacy and
civil liberties, and yet they are oft en in vain. Fighting
terrorism is legitimate; applying terror rules to nonterror-
related situations is dishonest, and we ask that
this situation be fi xed. Failing that, the trust and faith
of Canadians citizens in their laws and in their human
rights protections will continue to erode, even as
these Canadian laws and practices are copied by other
countries. Th is practice is corrosive to human rights

… Laws passed abroad will aff ect Canadian subsidiaries,
Canadian fi rms with offi ces abroad, and Canadian
data. Th is is globalisation in all ways, for better and
for worse. As the Geist and Homsi submission states
clearly, the powers and practices that allow for such
extra-jurisdictional access to personal data arose mostly
in the 1970s and 1980s. It is not a development of the
1990s globalization growth, nor the 2000s dearth in
surveillance. Nowadays, to make surveillance eff ective,
an international reach is optimal.
… We should avoid seeing Canada as a lonely lamb
about to be engulfed by the American wolf. Th e laws
that protect privacy in Canada are many and they act
as models to the rest of the world. Canada’s laws on
surveillance, however, are also models of invasiveness.
As a number of submissions stated, most remarkably
the one from ITAC, Canadian law enforcement and
national security agencies already have similar practices
to the Americans. How can Canada turn down another
for something that they would choose to allow for
themselves? Th e problem thus begins at home.

Reasonable people may say that the USA Patriot Act is
not problematic because of the letter of the law, or it is
no diff erent to existing practices and laws. Th ese people
are probably right in much of what they say. But within
our current legislative and political environment we
cannot separate the concerns of those who fear antiterrorism
laws but do not know its contents, from the
concerns of those who worry about being sent to jails
in third-world countries because of opaque regimes of
international co-operation, from the concerns about
not being able to get onto airplanes or open bank
accounts because of inaccurate information, or from
the concerns of being wiretapped by all-listening ears.
Perhaps these fears are not well grounded, but the
lack of confi dence and the fears themselves are real.
Reasonable people may debate about truth and facts,
but the results of such a debate are almost secondary to
our decreased confi dence that our rights are adequately
The situation may not be legally wrong, but it remains
dishonest and suffi ciently opaque to all. Much needs to
be done to increase our confi dence, all these years aft er
so much has been done in the name of increasing our
Th e legal situation in the US regarding the treatment
of personal information is indeed appalling. It does
create a problematic situation for Canadian law, as it
did with EU practices. Th e situation must be fi xed.
Yet Canada must also fi x its own house. Th e legal
protection of privacy and due process in Canadian law
is increasingly problematic, to the point that Canada
is in less and less a position to criticize others, even as
Canada’s laws are increasingly being used as standards
for other countries. Th ese conditions are establishing
unacceptable risks particularly with an increasingly
docile set of legislatures.
Th e British Columbia Commission, as well as all
other privacy and information commissions, need to
protect the hard fought data protection and privacy
laws in light of these developments, in order to protect
the regime in Canada from the corrosive eff ects of
international policy dynamics and degradation by
internal legislative dynamics. At some point this
madness must stop. Someone has to stand up and say
that this cannot continue. We hope this will begin in
British Columbia.”
Submission of Privacy International (August 2004) pp. 1-3, 7.
Privacy and the USA Patriot Act