Source: CBC: Secret Police Wiretaps Fly Under the Radar
In my last blog post, I made a passing mention to the Bush Administration's use of illegal wiretaps and how a proposed Conservative motion under review at the moment, could lead the way to the same types of actions undertaken here in Canada. Well, imagine my surprise when I read this news article today, not to mention the sense of shock I felt when I remembered my own reference to this type of action.
Now, for those of you who don't wish to go through the source article, I will simply mention the key points brought across by it. Under section 184.4 of the Canadian Criminal Code, police are authorized to initiate wiretapping of a subject without the need of a warrant. Between 2000 and 2008, section 184.4 was used at least 267 times by the RCMP and other police departments throughout the nation.
Unlike regular wiretaps, which require judge approval and are reported to the House of Commons, emergency wiretaps do not need a record kept of them or any mention of their use necessary outside of a criminal proceeding. Effectively, the office/department that orders the wiretap does not need to keep track of what information the wiretap produces, nor do they need to report its use.
In their purest nature, emergency wiretaps seem to be a way to prevent physical harm from falling upon anyone. Their nature allows police to close a narrow time gap, by bypassing lengthy paperwork and judge approval, to protect and save someone from harm. However, as the CBC reports, some of these wiretaps seemed to have been used when there was no risk of personal harm to anyone; as evidenced by Ontario Police who decided to use the wiretap to spy on Mohawk protesters before a planned blockade.
Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against these types of wiretaps is a British Columbia court decision that struck down this part of the Criminal Code as being against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by violating a person's right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure. As for Ottawa, the only proposed change is that unwarranted wiretaps should now be reported to the House of Commons, but only when they produce charges.
In my last post, I said that the rise of new rules that clear the way for any type of law that allows the government to act unilaterally without the courts, especially in regards to the granting of warrants, removes the presumption of innocence from an individual by naturally assuming guilt. Again, this is the case. By allowing police to wiretap an individual in hopes of gaining credible evidence against them, without a warrant, the rule of law assumes guilt.
Presumption of innocence may not sound like a big deal to most people; after all, we all assume that if the RCMP or another police service is wiretapping someone, there must be enough to already assume some modicum of guilt against that person. But this is not always the case; all I have to do is talk about cases where someone was wrongfully accused of a crime, although their may be guilt placed against them, it is unfounded and these types of actions only further violate an innocent person's rights.
You can call me naive, or idealistic, but the main role of the RCMP and other police services is to uphold the law, first and foremost. By having any kind of 'emergency' power, police services are going against this fundamental principle that they have sworn to uphold.
In closing, I think it is important that all of us as Canadians take a close look at the types of powers we are giving to those we trust to protect us. I quoted Ben Franklin in my last post, on the issue of security and liberty, and I feel that the quote still stands. We must ensure that those we have entrusted to protect us are actually protecting us, and doing so within the confines of the law they have on their side.
If we fail to demand the upholding of the law for all Canadians, then it is only a matter of time until the laws we've expected to protect us, quite simply, turn against us.