Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before you today on your study of the border.
Privacy rights and the border must be considered in context, and an important element of context is that trade is, of course, important to Canada. This means that smart controls for border goods and data, as they move across borders, are required.
One topic of discussion flagged for your current study relates to screening and searches by Canadian border services officers. As you know, the powers of border officers are quite broad. They may question travellers, collect biometric information for identification purposes, as well as examine, search, or detain any goods.
As for searches of the person, they may also conduct pat-down searches and frisks, take X-rays or body scans, and they may even demand strip searches or body cavity examinations. All searches of persons require reasonable grounds to suspect some legal contravention, particularly the concealment of goods or of anything that would present a danger to human life or safety.
For their part, electronic devices have historically been considered as goods by the CBSA. Paragraphs 99(1)(a) and (c) of the Customs Act allow for examination, opening, and taking samples of goods without grounds. These provisions apply to materials both entering and leaving Canada. In addition, under existing charter jurisprudence, greater latitude is given to state authorities at the border to enforce sovereignty and territorial integrity and to regulate immigration.
At the same time, though, the Supreme Court has found in many other contexts that searching of electronic devices is extremely intrusive. Therefore, while the law is not settled, I think it is clear that Canadian courts would find that groundless searches of phones, of cellular devices, were unconstitutional even at the border.
The idea that electronic devices should be considered as mere goods and therefore be subject to border searches without legal grounds is clearly outdated and does not reflect the realities of modern technology. This may well be why Canada's policy is more nuanced than what the Customs Act may allow.
Under CBSA policy, specific grounds need to be satisfied, namely that “evidence of contraventions may be found on the digital device or media”. I think that policy is wise, but it should in my view be elevated to a rule of law in the near future.
Another border issue of note concerns Bill C-23, which is now before the Senate. Bill C-23, the pre-clearance act, 2016, would implement the 2015 agreement on land, rail, marine, and air transport pre-clearance between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States. This would provide for pre-clearance activities on the part of the Canadian and U.S. customs officials to take place at various points of entry on both sides of the border.
I've raised concerns about U.S. announcements to search the electronic devices of any and all aliens who seek to enter the U.S. These searches will be at their discretion and without specific legal grounds other than generally to protect homeland security.
Bill C-23 establishes that U.S. pre-clearance officers in Canada are subject to Canadian law as they perform their duties or exercise any powers. The Canadian government reminds us that this would include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act. However, these protections are somewhat hollow, as they would be severely limited by the principle of state immunity, meaning that they could not be enforced in a court of law.
It should be noted that under Bill C-23, searches of persons, including relatively non-intrusive pat-down searches, require “reasonable grounds to suspect” in order to be carried out by U.S. officers in Canada. In my view, searches of electronic devices can be much more intrusive than these frisk searches.
As I recommended in the context of the study of Bill C-23, border searches of electronic devices should require reasonable grounds to suspect, the same threshold that applies to searches of persons.
This past spring, I informed you of my correspondence with the three appropriate ministers regarding the executive orders of the new U.S. administration, issued earlier this year. Measures like these clearly have a material effect on the privacy of many citizens, given the scale of tourism and business travel to the United States.
One order would specifically exclude non-U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from certain privacy protections.
Upon review, I have concluded that, while Canadians have some privacy protection in the United States, that protection is fragile because it relies primarily on commitments or administrative agreements that do not have the force of law, for instance the Five-Eyes Agreement and the Beyond the Border Agreement with the United States.
I have therefore called upon our government to ask their U.S. counterparts to strengthen privacy protections for Canadians. This could be done, for example, by adding Canada to the list of designated countries under the U.S. Judicial Redress Act, which would extend some of the protections conferred by the U.S. Privacy Act to Canadians, as they are in place for citizens of several European countries.
We have also asked the government for assurances that the protection afforded by Canada-U.S. administrative agreements will continue despite the order and to be advised of any changes that may adversely affect the privacy of Canadians. We understand that the findings have now been compiled and a response is forthcoming.
Let us turn now to the information-sharing agreements with the United States.
Generally speaking, we have spent considerable time on border issues and information-sharing in the past several years, in particular, the Beyond the Border initiatives with the United States. To date, we have provided feedback on close to fifty separate privacy impact assessments (PIAs) on just these programs alone. Through these exchanges, we have made a series of recommendations to the CBSA and various other federal departments implicated in expanding information exchange and other border-related processes.
Overall, we have been pleased with the level of consultation and the improved quality of privacy analysis undertaken by agencies involved with border security.
That said, we still have concerns over issues such as retention periods applicable to data collected from travellers and the risk that data collected for border purposes is then used for secondary purposes.
Both of these issues were found to be problematic from the point of view of European law, in a recent judgment of the European Court of Justice on the Canada-EU API/PNR Agreement.
In closing, as people, goods and data move across borders more frequently, it is important that Parliament ensures that we have the appropriate rules in place to respect individuals' privacy. The importance of the rules has been recognized historically in relation to the search for persons. In my opinion, it is time to extend these safeguards to electronic devices.
Thank you for inviting me and I look forward to your questions.