Supreme Court strikes down emergency wiretaps
The Supreme Court of Canada is seen in this file photo. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA - Canada's top court struck down a law that allows for emergency wiretaps without a warrant, arguing it's unconstitutional.
Parliament has been given a year to revisit the law.
The Supreme Court unanimous ruling, released Friday, argues a provision of the criminal code that allows for wiretaps without a warrant isn't accountable because it "does not provide any mechanism to permit oversight of the police to use this power."
The main concern raised by the judges is that people whose communications are intercepted under the provision can be kept in the dark about the wiretap.
"The targets of the wiretapping may never learn of the interceptions and will be unable to challenge police use of this power," states the decision.
The case that sparked the charter challenge involved the kidnapping and extortion in 2006 of a B.C. drug kingpin, his wife and friend.
The RCMP intercepted family phone calls without a warrant when the alleged kidnap victim's daughter began getting calls from her father saying he was being held for $1.3-million ransom. Police got a warrant to continue the wiretap 24 hours later.
In the lead-up to the subsequent criminal trial, the accused brought forward a motion challenging the constitutionality of the wiretap law - provision 184.4.
In 2008, a B.C. Supreme Court judge declared the provision invalid, arguing it contravened the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
The Crown appealed the ruling directly to the federal top court.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an intervener in the case, said it's satisfied with Friday's ruling and is calling on Parliamentarians to ensure the law is rewritten with safeguards in place.
Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis raised concerns law enforcement now faces a new hurdle when it comes the tool he said was rarely used and then only in life-or-death circumstances.
The federal government offered no comment on the ruling.
Still, even before the ruling, Public Safety had taken steps towards addressing the problems raised by the top court by writing new rules into the controversial Internet surveillance Bill C-30. That legislation launched a social media protest when it was tabled in February over concerns parts would breach the privacy rights of Canadians.
In the bill, the provision would be changed to ensure those wiretapped are notified within 90 days, and that all emergency warrantless surveillance is reported to Parliament.