Monthly Archives: December 2017

A Part VI authorization only applies to prospective interception of digital messages and is not required to obtain historical text messages. A production order is sufficient.

R. v. Jones 2017 SCC 60 – Jones was convicted of several firearms and drug trafficking offences. His convictions rest on records of text messages seized from a Telus account associated with his co-accused, pursuant to a production order obtained under s. 487.012 (at that time, but now s. 487.014) of the Criminal Code. Jones challenged the Production Order under s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He argued that law enforcement must obtain a “wiretap” authorization under Part VI of the Code to seize records of historical text messages from a service provider in order for the seizure to comply with s. 8 of the Charter.

Telus complied with a Production Order and provided the requested records to the police. The records revealed a text message exchange concerning the potential transfer of a firearm. The exchange occurred between the co-accused’s phone and a phone used by Jones, but registered in the name of his spouse. Relying in part on the text messages, the investigators obtained a Criminal Code Part VI authorization for a number of phones associated with the suspects. Communications intercepted under it were then used to obtain an additional Part VI authorization. On the basis of those subsequent interceptions, search warrants were granted and executed. The fruits of those searches led to Jones’s prosecution for marihuana trafficking and proceeds of crime charges. The firearm trafficking charges against him, on the other hand, were brought largely on the basis of the text messages obtained under the Production Order.

Not surprisingly, the SCC ruled that it is objectively reasonable for the sender of a text message to expect a service provider to keep information private where its receipt and retention of such information is incidental to its role of delivering private communications to the intended recipient (in short, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in texts stored by a service provider). However, historical text messages denote messages that have been sent and received, not those still in the transmission process. In such cases, a Part VI wiretap authorization is unnecessary because the police are not seeking an order authorizing the prospective production of future text messages. Nor is the police seeking evidence in text messages that are still in the transmission process. Therefore, the search and seizure of historical text messages can be properly authorized by the production order provisions of the Criminal Code, and does not breach s. 8 of the Charter.

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Can Canadians ever reasonably expect the text messages they send to remain private, even after the messages have reached their destination?

R. v. Marakah 2017 SCC 59 – Marakah sent text messages regarding illegal transactions in firearms to Winchester, asking him to delete them after reading them. The police obtained warrants to search his home and that of his accomplice, Winchester. They seized Marakah’s BlackBerry and Winchester’s iPhone, searched both devices, and found incriminating text messages. They charged Marakah and sought to use the text messages as evidence against him. At trial, Marakah argued that the messages should not be admitted against him because they were obtained in violation of his s. 8 Charter right against unreasonable search and seizure. The application judge held that the warrant for Marakah’s residence was invalid and that the text messages recovered from his BlackBerry could not be used against him, but that Marakah had no standing to argue that the text messages recovered from Winchester’s iPhone should not be admitted against him. He admitted the text messages and convicted Marakah of multiple firearms offences. The majority of the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed that Marakah could have no expectation of privacy in the text messages recovered from Winchester’s iPhone, and hence did not have standing to argue against their admissibility. The main question on appeal to the SCC was whether Marakah had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the messages he sent to Winchester and whether he could claim s. 8 Charter protection for the text messages accessed through Winchester’s iphone?

The SCC said text messages that have been sent and received can, in some cases, attract a reasonable expectation of privacy and therefore can be protected against unreasonable search or seizure under s. 8 of the Charter. To claim s. 8 protection, a claimant was required to first establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the subject matter of the search. Whether a claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy had to be assessed with regard to the “totality of the circumstances” (factors discussed in R. v. Cole, 2012 SCC 53, [2012] 3 S.C.R. 34). The subject matter of the alleged search was the specific electronic conversation between Marakah and Winchester. According to the SCC, Marakah had a direct interest in that subject matter, he subjectively expected it to remain private, and that expectation was objectively reasonable. He therefore had standing to challenge the search.

If the place of the search was viewed as a private electronic space accessible by only Marakah and Winchester, Marakah’s reasonable expectation of privacy was clear. If the place of the search was viewed as Mr. Winchester’s phone, this would reduce, but not negate, Marakah’s expectation of privacy, said the SCC. The mere fact of the electronic conversation between the two men tended to reveal personal information about Marakah’s lifestyle; namely, that he was engaged in a criminal enterprise. In addition, Marakah exercised control over the informational content of the electronic conversation and the manner in which information was disclosed. A person does not lose control of information for the purposes of s. 8 simply because another possessed it or could access it, said the SCC. The risk that Winchester could have disclosed the text messages did not negate Marakah’s control over the information contained therein. It followed that Marakah had standing to challenge the search and the admission of the evidence, even though the state accessed his electronic conversation with Winchester through the latter’s iPhone.

The SCC noted, however, that not every communication occurring through an electronic medium would attract a reasonable expectation of privacy and grant an accused standing to make arguments regarding s. 8 protection. Different facts could lead to different results (e.g. messages posted on social media, conversations occurring in crowded Internet chat rooms, or comments posted on online message boards).  Two of the Justices, Moldaver and Rowe, were concerned as to the consequences of this decision on standing. For example, if the sender has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the record of his digital conversation, what happens when the recipient wants to show that record to the police? Is the SCC now opening the door to challenges by senders of text messages to the voluntary disclosure of those messages by recipients? As Justice Moldaver suggested, this would lead to the perverse result where the voluntary disclosure of text messages received by a complainant could be challenged by a sender who is alleged to have abused the complainant.

Would it make a difference if, for example, the complainant or victim volunteered or gave the text messages to the police rather than if the police seized or took them?  In Marakah, police seized the text messages from Winchester’s iPhone; Winchester did not offer or give them to police, nor did the police seek informed consent from Winchester.  Would that have mattered in the end?  I can’t say, but I suspect we will see a lot of litigation around this issue in the months to come.

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General warrant cannot be used for the impermissible purpose of circumventing the standards required for obtaining a CDSA s. 11 warrant.

R. v. Christiansen 2017 ONCA 941Christiansen was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of possessing narcotics for the purpose of trafficking, and one count of possessing proceeds of crime, $21,500; he appealed his convictions. A police investigation suspected that the accused and another individual were selling drugs out of a clothing store. Following further investigation and surveillance, police obtained a general warrant for the store. Upon confirming the presence of drugs (oxycodone and cocaine), police obtained a CDSA warrant to search the remainder of the store and the accused’s home. Police seized drugs from the store and $21,500 in cash from the accused’s residence.

The ONCA ruled that general warrants under s. 487.01 authorize the use of investigative techniques, procedures or devices, or other things to be done, that would otherwise constitute unreasonable searches. Subsection 487.01(c) restricts general warrants to cases where “there is no other [legislation] that would provide for a warrant, authorization or order permitting the technique, procedure or device to be used or the thing to be done.” The Supreme Court dealt with this legislative restriction in R. v. TELUS Communications Co., [2013] 2 S.C.R. 3, [2013] S.C.J. No. 16. Justice Moldaver explained, at para. 80, that this requirement ensures that general warrants are to be used “sparingly” when the “investigative technique is truly different in substance from an investigative technique accounted for by another legislative provision.” He explained that s. 487.01(c) serves to ensure that “general warrants may not be used as a means to circumvent other authorization provisions that are available but contain more onerous pre-conditions.”

In this case, the general warrant was issued, in substance, for the same investigative technique available under CDSA, s. 11, namely, to search the Unit. The police could not satisfy the requirements for a search under CDSA, s. 11 because they did not have reasonable grounds to believe there was evidence at the Unit. In effect, said the ONCA, the police used the general warrant for the impermissible purpose of circumventing the standards required for obtaining a CDSA s. 11 warrant. The court therefore allowed Christiansen’s appeal, set aside the convictions against him, and ordered a new trial.

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Assistance order pursuant to s. 487.02 of the Criminal Code forcing accused to unlock his cell phone by providing the swipe password violates the Charter.

R.v. Talbot 2017 ONCJ 814 – Talbot was arrested for second degree murder and a cellphone was located on his person. The police obtained a search warrant authorizing them to seize and forensically examine the cellphone. However, the phone was locked using a swipe pattern and the attempts to bypass the security had failed. The only other possible method to enter the phone offered no guarantees and risked causing permanent loss of the data and potential evidence from the cellphone. The Crown sought an order pursuant to section 487.02 of the Criminal Code, requiring Talbot to assist the police in accessing his cellphone by providing the screen lock passcodes or PIN codes.

The Defence took the position that the mere act of compelling an accused to assist the police would be in violation of the accused’s section 7 Charter rights. The Defence submitted that the assistance order would compel Talbot to be used as an instrument of the state in order to obtain potentially incriminating evidence to bolster the case against him. The Defence further submitted that the swipe pattern was a product of Talbot’s thought process and provided the gateway to stored information which was intensely personal and would reveal intimate details about Talbot’s life.

Section 487.02 of the Criminal Code states:

“If an authorization is given under section 184.2, 184.3, 186 or 188 or a warrant is issued under this Act, the judge or justice who gives the authorization or issues the warrant may order a person to provide assistance, if the person’s assistance may reasonably be considered to be required to give effect to the authorization or warrant.”

The word “person” is not defined in the Criminal Code. After carefully considering Canadian jurisprudence in this area of law, the ONCJ was not prepared to find that accused persons were specifically excluded from being a “person” in section 487.02 of the Criminal Code. Parliament could have specifically excluded targets of investigations or accused persons, but chose not to do so. Simply because the section had traditionally been used for third parties or non-targets did not automatically exclude an accused person from consideration. However, compelling Talbot to assist the police by providing his swipe password infringed his section 7 Charter rights. An assistance order would breach his right to choose whether to remain silent or communicate with the police. Both the compelled participation and the ramifications for failing to comply would have a significant impact on Talbot’s life, liberty, and security of the person.

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