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Since our founding in 1964, CCLA has been at the forefront of all civil liberties debates.  CCLA has been at the forefront of all the cutting-edge civil liberties debates for nearly six decades. From school sex education curriculum to reproductive rights to pandemic-related violations to ban of religious symbols, CCLA continues to intervene, to stand up for citizen’s rights and liberties and hold governments accountable.



CCLA is founded

The CCLA was founded in 1964. Its predecessor was the Association for Civil Liberties (ACL), which at its foundation had been intended to address national issues, but had become focused primarily on issues in Ontario. The ACL was led by Irving Himel, and in response to the bill, he gathered human rights leaders in Toronto, including Pierre Berton, June Callwood, Bora Laskin, Mark MacGuigan, Harry Arthurs, and John Keiller MacKay, and they formed the CCLA with Mackay as its honorary president.


Alan Borovoy Took the Reins at the CCLA

Alan Borovoy took the reins at the CCLA as Executive Director, leading the organization as a champion for the rights of Canadians for over four decades.


CCLA Defends Mohawk Demonstrators

CCLA defends the rights of Mohawk demonstrators in Cornwall, ON to demonstrate on disputed land.


Documents the Under-Representation of Racialized Minority Groups

CCLA becomes one of the first groups to document the underrepresentation of racialized minority groups in part of the job market and sets the stage for employment equity campaigns.


War Measures Act

CCLA triumphs against the return of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis. The CCLA was one of the few groups in Canada that protested the 1970 invocation of the War Measures Act by then Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau in response to the October Crisis in Quebec.


CCLA Defends Dr. Morgentaler

Intervenes in the SCC’s first ruling on the abortion practices of Dr. Morgentaler. CCLA defended, and continues to defend, both the antiabortionist’s right to protest and a women’s right to choose.




CCLA appears before the Joint Committee rejecting rights without remedies in the October 1980 draft of the Charter.


CCLA demands a public inquiry into police “Soap“ raids of gay bathhouses.


CCLA was central in the discussions leading to the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Challenges the vagueness of the obscenity provisions of the Criminal Code.


Standing for equality rights. CCLA goes to court to argue that funding religious schools could harm public schools.




CCLA takes on government’s response to 9/11

Challenging new counter-terror laws to the extent that these were unnecessary or overly broad; calling out Canada’s complicity and involvement in torture abroad; and challenging secretive and unconstitutional legal processes that would allow government to indefinitely detain non-citizens whom the government alleged presented a national security risk.


CCLA successfully intervenes in two SCC cases calling for increased police accountability.


CCLA plays instrumental role in raising concerns about policing of the G20 summit in Toronto before, during and after the Summit.

CCLA deployed over 50 human rights monitors to observe interactions between protesters and police during the summit, issued a report following the mass arrests and civil liberties violations that took place during the summit, and held public hearings in the absence of a formal public inquiry initiated by any level of government. CCLA’s advocacy contributed to several important reviews that took place following the summit.


CCLA releases two seminal reports – one on Canada’s failed bail system, and another on the unfairness of police record checks.

CCLA’s bail report, Set Up to Fail, would go on to be cited by the Supreme Court four times over the next six years.


Ontario government responds to CCLA’s reports on police record checks and coalition advocacy, passing the ground-breaking Police Records Check Reform Act, 2015.


Challenges Solitary Confinement

CCLA challenges the unconstitutional use of indefinite solitary confinement in court and in parliament, forcing the federal government to dismantle the legal regime supporting solitary confinement.


Bill 21

CCLA together with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and an individual education student, filed a constitutional challenge in court against a Quebec law that prohibits teachers, police officers, judges, and others in the public sector from wearing religious symbols at work. The law harms religious, immigrant, and racialized minorities – and Muslim women in particular.


Smart City

CCLA and co-applicant Lester Brown commenced proceedings against Waterfront Toronto and all three levels of government, seeking a reset of the rights-threatening Sidewalk Toronto smart city project; CCLA believes the litigation was one factor in Sidewalk Labs’ decision to cancel the project and leave Toronto in May 2020.


Sex Ed Curriculum Challenge

Becky’s daughter is 10 years old. In her public school class, she’s the only one whose parents identity as queer. So she was looking forward to Grade 6 because her classmates were going to learn all about her family, under the 2015 modernized curriculum. A month before school started, the provincial government changed the curriculum and her family was left out. They did not exist. There was no reference to LGBTQ+…. anything. So Becky, her daughter and CCLA decided to fight the unconstitutional exclusion of Becky’s family.




CCLA joins as co-counsel to launch a class action challenging illegal strip searches in Canada’s federal prisons.


G20 Class Action

Settlement agreement is reached in G20 class action which compensates individuals for mass arrests and detentions that took place during the 2010 summit in Toronto. CCLA intervened in the certification stage of this class proceeding. The settlement allows for compensation for individuals and a statement issued by Toronto Police acknowledging that “many hundreds of members of the public were detained or arrested when they should not have been and were held in detention in conditions that were unacceptable.”



The CCLA has actively monitored and advocated for a rights-centred response to the COVID-19 pandemic by governments and state agencies, both in terms of protecting vulnerable populations and preventing unjustified infringements of civil liberties in the name of public safety. These include:

  • Advocacy against regulations permitting the police and other first responders to access individuals’ COVID-19 test results without cause, unwarranted and excessive enforcement of public safety regulations, including overly stringent restrictions of public gatherings and enforcement measures which do not further public health objectives.
  • Writing over 100 op-eds, briefs, and letters to public authorities across Canada expressing concerns and making recommendations about the balance between COVID related public health restrictions and civil liberties.
  • Initiating litigation as a public interest litigant in three matters directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic involving mobility rights, conditions in shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and conditions for those in detention.
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