PEN Canada Concerned By Metadata Surveillance

PEN Canada press release

PEN Canada concerned by metadata surveillance

Toronto, June 11, 2013—PEN Canada is seriously concerned by recent media reports which indicate that the government of Canada has continued to monitor the phone calls and online activity of Canadian citizens despite the concerns of former Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) Commissioner Justice Charles Gonthier.

On June 10, 2013 the Globe and Mail reported that Defence Minister Peter MacKay issued a ministerial directive on November 21, 2011, reinstating arrangements that enable CSEC to capture and analyze “metadata” from every phone conversation and Internet-based activity undertaken by Canadian citizens. Although the data does not allow CSEC to eavesdrop directly on such communications, PEN believes that its collection nevertheless constitutes an unreasonable intrusion into the activities protected by the Privacy Act and Charter, and generates information that is ripe for misuse by domestic law enforcement agencies. 

“Democratic governments that wish to surveil their citizenry must not do so by bureaucratic stealth,” said Philip Slayton, chair of PEN Canada’s National Affairs Committee. ”They must explain, to public satisfaction, the national security imperatives for doing so. Until the government of Canada is prepared to justify such surveillance it should cease the collection of metadata forthwith.”

PEN believes that such wholesale surveillance is fundamentally incompatible with Canadian law and flies in the face of Commissioner Gonthier’s recommendation that CSEC display “a fundamental respect for the rule of law and for democracy [including] a reasonable expectation of privacy for all Canadians.” 

In 2008 the Commissioner proposed that the National Defence Act be amended to require that ministerial authorizations be issued “for the sole purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence.” A year earlier he expressed concern that “characteristics of contemporary communications technology mean that the interception of communications by CSEC runs the inherent risk of acquiring the private communications of Canadians. It is for this reason that a ministerial authorization is sought for this collection.” The spirit of the Commissioner’s recommendation that the gathering of sensitive information be restricted to a necessary minimum, is clearly violated by Min. MacKay’s authorization of all-embracing surveillance measures.

A few months ago the Canadian public rejected provisions in Bill C-30 which would have allowed the government to engage in broad Internet surveillance without securing special warrants. The indiscriminate collection of metadata from the private communications of law-abiding Canadians is no less Orwellian. PEN urges the government to propose and debate the national security implications of such data gathering through accepted democratic processes instead of imposing what amounts to universal surveillance by ministerial fiat.


PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada. (

For further information:
Brendan de Caires, PEN Canada, bdecaires[at] or 416-703-8448 ext. 21