Postal Interception Coming to Canada?

The Canadian Senate is debating Bill S-256, ‌An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (seizure) and to make related amendments to other Acts. The relevant elements of the speech include:

Under the amendment to the Customs Act, a shipment entering Canada may be subject to inspection by border services officers if they have reason to suspect that its contents are prohibited from being imported into Canada. If this is the case, the shipment, whether a package or an envelope, may be seized. However, an envelope mailed in Canada to someone who resides at a Canadian address cannot be opened by the police or even by a postal inspector.

To summarize, nothing in the course of the post in Canada is liable to demand, seizure, detention or retention, except if a specific legal exception exists in the Canada Post Corporation Act or in one of the three laws I referenced. However, items in the mail can be inspected by a postal inspector, but if it is a letter, the inspector cannot open it to complete the inspection.

Thus, a police officer who has reasonable grounds to suspect that an item in the mail contains an illegal drug or a handgun cannot be authorized, pursuant to a warrant issued by a judge, to intercept and seize an item until it is delivered to the addressee or returned to the sender. I am told that letters containing drugs have no return address.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, in 2015, raised this very issue (.pdf). They recognised “that search and seizure authorities granted to law enforcement personnel under the Criminal Code of Canada or other criminal law authorities are overridden by the [Canada Post Corporation Act], giving law enforcement no authority to seize, detain or retain parcels or letters while they are in the course of mail and under Canada Post’s control.” The result was the Association was resolved:

that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police requests the Government of Canada to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act to provide police, for the purpose of intercepting contraband, with the ability to obtain judicial authorization to seize, detain or retain parcels or letters while they are in the course of mail and under Canada Post’s control.

It would seem as though, should Bill S-256 pass into law, that seven or eight years later some fairly impressive new powers that contrast with decades of mail privacy precedent may come undone.

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