No Approval Needed Says Canadian Judge, Just Listen In

An Ontario Superior Court Judge ruled the Criminal Code emergency provision allowing police wiretapping without a judge’s authorization, while not perfect, is constitutionally valid. His ruling dealt with a major case currently underway in a Toronto court. The ruling comes at a time when Ontario Provincial Police are being attacked for using wiretaps without judicial approval. Mohawk activist, Shawn Brant, told a news conference this week, the OPP used emergency wiretaps to eavesdrop on four people, including Brant and his brother, who is a lawyer, because they knew they’d never get the interceptions approved by a judge. Section 184.4 of the Criminal Code permits a “peace officer” to intercept private communications in emergency situations– without prior judicial authorization–in order to prevent serious harm to persons or property in narrowly defined, exigent circumstances.

As always, if it is left to police authorities, the situation will always be “an emergency” and the threat to “persons” or “property” will always be imminent. Earlier this year, Justice Barry Davies found Section 184.4 to be unconstitutional. He expressed concern over the lack of “oversight and accountability” in making decisions when wiretapping was appropriate.

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