Surveillance by Mike Gabelmann (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Surveillance by Mike Gabelmann (CC BY-NC 2.0)


Lost Confidence: Why Trust in Canadian Surveillance Agencies Has Been Irreparably Harmed

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations in which the public has become largely numb to new surveillance disclosures, the Canadian reports over the past week will still leave many shocked and appalled. It started with the Ontario Provincial Police mass text messaging thousands of people based on cellphone usage from nearly a year earlier (which is not government surveillance per se but highlights massive geo-location data collection by telecom carriers and extraordinary data retention periods), continued with the deeply disturbing reports of surveillance of journalists in Quebec (which few believe is limited to just Quebec) and culminated in yesterday’s federal court decision that disclosed that CSIS no longer needs warrants for tax records (due to Bill C-51) and took the service to task for misleading the court and violating the law for years on its metadata collection and retention program.

The ruling reveals a level of deception that should eliminate any doubts that the current oversight framework is wholly inadequate and raises questions about Canadian authorities commitment to operating within the law. The court found a breach of a “duty of candour” (which most people would typically call deception or lying) and raises the possibility of a future contempt of court proceeding. While CSIS attempted to downplay the concern by noting that the data collection in question – metadata involving a wide range of information used in a massive data analysis program – was collected under a court order, simply put, the court found that the retention of the data was illegal. Further, the amount of data collection continues to grow (the court states the “scope and volume of incidentally gathered information has been tremendously enlarged”), leading to the retention of metadata that is not part of an active investigation but rather involves non-threat, third party information. In other words, it is precisely the massive, big data metadata analysis program feared by many Canadians.

The court ruling comes after the Security Intelligence Review Committee raised concerned about CSIS bulk data collection in its latest report and recommended that that inform the federal court about the activities. CSIS rejected the recommendation. In fact, the court only became aware of the metadata retention due to the SIRC report and was astonished by the CSIS response, stating that it “shows a worrisome lack of understanding of, or respect for, the responsibilities of a party [SIRC] benefiting from the opportunity to appear ex parte.”

There is little no reason to believe that the issues raised by the court or the revelations regarding surveillance on journalists – an act that undermines the freedom of the press and its ability to hold government to account – are isolated incidents. In fact, this is not the first time the federal court has felt misled about the activities of Canadian intelligence agencies. Justice Richard Mosley, a federal court judge, issued a stinging rebuke to Canada’s intelligence agencies and the Justice Department in 2013, ruling that they misled the court when they applied for warrants to permit the interception of electronic communications. While the government steadfastly defended its surveillance activities by maintaining that it operated within the law, Justice Mosley, a former official with the Justice Department who was involved with the creation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, found a particularly troubling example where this was not the case.

This week’s metadata case involves CSIS, but this year’s report from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) commissioner uses legal language seemingly designed to obscure an otherwise clear admission that there are ongoing metadata violations within the CSE. The report notes that metadata activities were “generally conducted in compliance with operational policy” and that the “CSE has halted some metadata analysis activities” that were the subject of previous criticisms. The use of words like “generally” and “some” are no accident. The CSE Commissioner could have just as easily written that the CSE still does not conduct its metadata activities in full compliance with the law and that it has refused to stop some activities that were the subject of complaints. Yet the soft framing turns what should be a major story and source of concern into something largely ignored by the general public.

Moreover, Snowden has made it clear that Canadian securities agencies have been enthusiastic participants in numerous surveillance initiatives. Canadians played a lead role in projects focused on tracking travellers using airport Wi-Fi networks, monitoring millions of daily uploads and downloads to online storage sites, aggregating millions of emails sent by Canadians to government officials, and targeting mobile phones and app stores to implant spyware.

Meanwhile, all Canadian telecommunications companies still do not release transparency reports (Bell being the notable outlier), securities agencies won’t disclose their own breaches, and the federal government is consulting on the expansion of interception capabilities within Canadian networks and the revival of lawful access rules.

There are no silver linings here. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded to the court ruling by stating:

“In matters of security and intelligence, Canadians need to have confidence that all the departments and agencies of the government of Canada are being effective at keeping Canadians safe, and equally, that they are safeguarding our rights and freedoms.”

In light of what we now know, Canadians simply cannot be confident that security intelligence agencies are safeguarding and respecting our rights and freedoms. This government was elected on a mandate of real change. It must now put those words into action by overhauling legal oversight and enacting real change to Canadian surveillance programs and their agencies.


  1. Breaches on our privacy and security are happening at a rate faster than we can keep them in check, especially since there is little accountability. And our police forces/intelligence agencies feel they have a right to abuse the law. We need to repeal bill C-51 and completely overhaul the current laws and bring them up to the digital age.

  2. This government’s representatives voted in Bill C-51 before the election. One cannot retroactively apply the “mandate of real change” to something one knew or ought to have known was a mandate the party had already signed off on. But, looking forward to the alleged revisions. An NDP rep from the east entered a private members’ bill…listed as 365 or something absurd on the agenda. Good Luck now!

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  4. Richard Sharp says:

    “Collect it all.”

  5. CSIS will now be in trouble with the rest of the gang members – the so-called Five Eyes. This international criminal group seem to have convinced everybody that they’re working for our safety. The protection racket is not new.

    The real story here is that our government is both shilling for these criminals and paying the protection money with direct funding. As such, this government is complicit in breaking the law and guilty of a crime against the people.

  6. Me Michael Rodger Heroux and my wife Ingrid Van Eyk are still having counter intelligence operation run against us under bill C 51. We use Rogers internet and we are constantly still being hacked and CSIS and the RCMP are still torturing us. They are still putting ROOT KITS and malware of all kinds on our operating systems. We have been assulted and they are threatening assassination against my family and I again. They took our 14 year old daughter away from us and put her in a grouo home where they are using brain washing techiques against her so we won’t proceed with suing them. She is not allowed to use internet since they took her from us, she is not allowed to have a cell phone. She cannot got out by herself, she always has to be escorted where ever she goes. She cannot use a cell phone, she cannot have her tablet, she cannot play video games anymore, she cannot use a camera, she cannot talk to her family unless someone is on the other phone monitoring what she is saying, she can’t visit with her family unless someone is monitoring the visits, she cannot have a camera to take pictures, she is being BRAIN WASHED by some agent they sent from WASHINGTON DC. She is being reprogrammed by the Trudeau government becauae they have abused our family for over 20 years. When they took her from us JUDGE SAGER ruled NO PREJUDICE AGAINST HER FAMILY AT ALL but they are threatening us that they are going to do her harm.

  7. We went to the ATTORNEY GENERALS OFFICE OF THE INDEPENDANT INVESTIGATION UNIT OF ONTARIO on Bay St. in Toronto here to have the assaults and threats against us investigated but they looked into the assaults and threats and told us it would not be in the best interests of their office to investigate the assaults and threats against our family since we have been persuing legal action against them. They said it was the RCMP that assaulted and threatened us and they said they don’t investigate the RCMP anyways. We got a lawyer not too long ago, he is FALCONER from the FALCONER LAW FIRM and they told us they would help us with our case. We are the ones who had the fradulent 30-08 WARRANTS taken out on us by the HARPER government. We have been tortured ever since and it is still going on. They have been contacting our family members for years to try to get our family members to torture us also.

  8. We are a family of 5. My wife Ingrid Van Eyk and I Michael Rodger Heroux and my daughter Victoria Van Eyk and my other daughter Clarissa Van Eyk and my son Michael Van Eyk. When they took our 14 year old daughter away from us we were living in a government of Toronto housing shelter that is run by the Ontario government. We contacted Justin Trudeau’s MP John Mackay because we were living in his riding at the time but they didn’t want to help us even thought they knew we had been tortured over the fradulent 30-08 terror warrants the Harper government took out on us in 2009. They said we could keep our daughter if we gave them all of our email addresses and phone numbers, they wanted all of our social media platforms and they wanted to be able to come in our home and monitor our family when ever they wanted to and if we didn’t do as they said they were going to take Clarissa away from us. They said they would say we were secluding her in our home for too long. The government of Toronto told us they took her because we wouldn’t answer our door when they came by. We are not doing anything wrong, they just don’t want us talking about the torture of our family. The Toronto police have come by a few times and spoke with our kids to ask them if the torture was real and as soon as they found out it was they took our daughter from us. They put our daughter in a group home to BRAIN WASH her and she is only 14 years old. They set her up with a 22 year old boyfriend from Washington DC and we are going to have him and the group home charged because they are letting her date this man even though she is only 14 years old and ONTARIO CHILDRENS AID knows all about this, THIS IS CHILD MOLESTATION.

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