Stephen Harper Must Address Online Surveillance in Canada, says PEN Canada

PEN Canada press release



Stephen Harper must address online surveillance in Canada, says PEN Canada

Toronto, January 17, 2014 — With Barack Obama due to announce reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA) today, PEN Canada calls on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to break his ongoing silence on the topic of online surveillance conducted by the Canadian government.

“Thanks to the release of information by Edward Snowden, we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the American government has been spying on its own citizens and those of many other countries, including those whom it considered allies,” said William Kowalski, chairman of the National Affairs Committee of PEN Canada. “This includes Canadian citizens. And we also know that the information obtained by the NSA has been shared with the Canadian authorities, and vice-versa.”

The Snowden revelations confirmed the existence of an information-sharing agreement that exists between the National Security Administration of the United States and the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC). This agreement allows both governments to obtain intelligence about their own citizens from each other without warrants, therefore circumventing laws that prohibit them from spying upon their own people.

“None of this is speculation,” said Philip Slayton, president of PEN Canada. “The facts have been out there for months. Given the disturbing nature of what has been revealed, we find silence by the Prime Minister on this issue to be inadequate. The Canadian people should know to what extent they have been spied upon and why. The U.N. has said it loud and clear – privacy is a human right.”

PEN Canada believes that gathering data on Canadian citizens without any accusation of wrongdoing or reasonable cause for suspicion violates Sections 7 and 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantee the right to security of the person and the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure. “This dragnet-style approach sets a dangerous precedent and reflects an undisciplined protocol,” said Kowalski.

The link between freedom of expression and privacy is clear. In his April 2013 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, confirmed, “Privacy and freedom of expression are interlinked and mutually dependent; an infringement upon one can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.”

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:
Juanita Bawagan, PEN Canada,, 416-703-8448 ext. 21