Search & Seizure

The ability to control who has access to our information and our private spaces, in what circumstances, is foundational to privacy.  

When we lose control over our personal information and private spaces, it impacts our human dignity and our freedom.

However, law enforcement frequently seeks access to private spaces and personal information to collect evidence and investigate crimes, and so a balance must be struck between public safety objectives and our rights.  Traditionally, warrants granted by independent judges have been the primary tool for ensuring that police search powers are used appropriately and reasonably. However, this balance is constantly being challenged by changes in the law and technology. 

Rapid technological changes are expanding the amount of information captured about our daily lives, and digital infrastructures make it increasingly easy to collect information about us. CCLA advocates to ensure the principled privacy protections provided by section 8 of the Charter, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, are appropriately extended and interpreted in the context of new technologies.

We believe that we must be vigilant to ensure that a reasonable balance is maintained, and that privacy protections remain both meaningful and effective.

Our 2018 Supreme Court Win

Can Canadians ever reasonably expect the text messages they send to remain private, even after the messages have reached their destination? Or is the state free, regardless of the circumstances, to access text messages from a recipient’s device without a warrant?

When Nour Marakah was accused of various crimes, text messages he had sent were used as evidence against him. Text messages on his phone were deemed inadmissible because using them would violate Nour’s right to be free from search and seizure; so the investigating team got an iPhone belonging to another person who had received texts from Nour, and attempted to use them as evidence.

Oral communications in Canada are protected and require a warrant to obtain, and with more and more people using texting to communicate, we argued that written communication should also be allowed the same privacy. Advancements in technology make it possible to negate privacy, but they don’t make it legal.

The Court found that there had been a breach of Marakah’s Charter rights in this case.  Without those texts, he would have been acquitted and to allow the conviction to stand would be a miscarriage of justice.


The court agreed that written communications should have the same expectation of privacy as oral communications, and that violating that privacy is a breach on your charter right to be free from search & seizure.

Our Work in Search & Seizure


Supreme Court Dodges Key Issue in R. v. McGregor

February 21, 2023
A majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. McGregor opted not to…

Human Rights Tribunal Finds Police DNA Sweep was Discriminatory

August 23, 2022
Earlier this week the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Ontario Provincial Police (“OPP”)…

CCLA Calls for Moratorium on RCMP Surveillance ‘Tools’

August 9, 2022
Brenda McPhail, Director of Privacy Technology and Surveillance Program for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association,…

Statement on the RCMP’s Use of Spyware

June 30, 2022
The RCMP uses spyware against Canadians in targeted investigations. The revelation was buried in a…

Canadian Civil Liberties Association launches constitutional challenge to Ontario’s strip search law

June 20, 2022
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a woman with personal experience have launched a major…

Oral Submissions on Bill S-7 Regarding Privacy and Device Searches at the Border

June 1, 2022
Oral Submission to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence (SECD) regarding Bill…

Applying the Charter Outside of Canada

May 16, 2022
Does the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to the actions of law enforcement…

Phone Searches at the Border: Bill S-7 Fails to Protect Privacy

May 16, 2022
Bill S-7, introduced to provide a threshold for device searches at the border, fails to…

SCC Rules on Constitutionality of Post-Arrest Searches of Houses

April 12, 2022
On Friday April 8 the Supreme Court released its ruling in R v Stairs, a…

CCLA to Appear Before the Supreme Court in Police Search and Seizure Case

June 11, 2021
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has been granted leave to intervene in the upcoming…

Shoppers Not Suspects

November 13, 2019
Shoplifting problem? What shoplifting problem? Retailers need to stop illegal searches of their customers. The…

Victory at The Supreme Court: A Fight for Everyone’s Right to Privacy and Equality (R v. Le)

May 31, 2019
Victory! Today, the Supreme Court rendered a monumental decision recognizing that police carding in a…

CCLA at the Supreme Court: The Worst Carding Case in Canadian History?

May 30, 2019
On Friday May 31st, the Supreme Court of Canada is going to release its decision…

A Phone Is Not a “Good”, It’s a Private Window into Our Lives

May 5, 2019
Yet another story has emerged about an intrusive attempt to search a traveller’s phone and…

CCLA at The Supreme Court: Privacy Lost

April 19, 2019
It’s a loss for privacy in a disappointing Supreme Court decision released April 18 in…

CCLA at SCC: Mills

April 17, 2019
CCLA at SCC: Mills

Supreme Court Finds a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Shared Computer

December 13, 2018
In a decision released today in R v Reeves, the Supreme Court ruled that each Canadian…

CCLA urges Nova Scotia to withdraw charges against teen: downloading publicly available data is no crime

April 23, 2018
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will challenge the Government of Nova Scotia’s exceptionally broad injunction limiting…

CCLA At Scc: Privacy In The Classroom… And Everywhere…

April 20, 2018
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will challenge the Government of Nova Scotia’s exceptionally broad injunction limiting…

G20 Civil Case Against Toronto Police Board Begins Today

February 5, 2018
This week, trial begins in a long-awaited civil case against Toronto Polices Services for its…

Privacy at The Border: Committee Report Recommends Customs Act Update

December 22, 2017
Cell phones should not be considered a “good” at the border, and the Customs Act…

A Win for Privacy in Text Messages: Marakah and Jones

December 8, 2017
CCLA’s voice was heard in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision released today in R…

Privacy protectors: Teens Reflect on Privacy in Digital Age

March 22, 2017
A group of teens aged 13-19 from across Canada worked over two school years to…