Wiretaps

From Criminal Law Notebook
This page was last substantively updated or reviewed January 2023. (Rev. # 93085)

General Principles

Wiretaps are governed by Part VI of the Criminal Code.

There are four categories of wiretap:

  • a general wiretap authorized under s. 185 and 186.
  • a wiretap with consent under s. 184.2
  • an emergency wiretap under s. 184.1, 184.4 and 188
  • video intercepts s. 487.01

The emergency wiretap (s. 184.1), exceptional circumstances wiretaps (s. 184.4), and video intercepts (s. 487.01) do not require full judicial authorization.

A wilful interception of "a private communication" without authorization is an indictable offence under s. 184 with a maximum penalty of 5 years. This offence does not include situations where one of the parties consents (s.184(2)).

An interception of a private communication under a Part VI authorization is a search and seizure under s. 8 of the Charter.[1]

The right to full answer and defence permits the accused to examine an edited version of the materials available to the authorizing judge to support the wiretap authorization.[2]

Modern electronic surveillance has been singled out as a particularly powerful form of privacy intrusion. But unregulated, it would destroy any sort of privacy and would threaten society.[3]

The Crown and police have a positive obligation not to disseminate irrelevant private communications revealed within a wiretap.[4]

  1. R v Grant, 1999 CanLII 3694 (ON CA), 132 CCC (3d) 531, per Charron J, at p. 539 [CCC]
  2. R v Garofoli, 1990 CanLII 52 (SCC), [1990] 2 SCR 1421, per Sopinka J, at pp. 1433, 1452 [SCR]
  3. R v Duarte, 1990 CanLII 150 (SCC), [1990] 1 SCR 30, per LaForest J - Judge referring to electronic surveillance as "superbly" equipped to fight crime, but left unregulated would mean "privacy no longer had any meaning"
    R v Wong, 1990 CanLII 56 (SCC), [1990] 3 SCR 36, per LaForest J - Judge suggests that electronic surveillance would "annihilate privacy"
    R v Wise, 1992 CanLII 125 (SCC), [1992] 1 SCR 527, per LaForest J (dissenting) suggesting that surviellance was a "danger to individual autonomy and the organization of a free society”)
  4. R v Guess, 2000 BCCA 547 (CanLII), 148 CCC (3d) 321, per Hall J

History

The modern legislation protecting against the interception of private communications arose from the 1969 Ouimet report which resulted in the Protection of Privacy Act.[1]

  1. R. Ouimet, Report of the Canadian Committee on Corrections, Towards Unity: Criminal Justice and Corrections (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1969) cited in detail at R v Nguyen, 2001 ABPC 52 (CanLII), 294 AR 201, per Stevenson ACJ, at para 17
    R v Lyons, 1984 CanLII 30 (SCC), [1984] 2 SCR 633, 15 CCC (3d) 417, per Estey J, at p. 453 (CCC) - comments on the origin of the wiretap provisions

Purpose

Part VI of the Code regulates the "power of the state to record communications that their originator expects will not be intercepted."[1] It avoids the "danger inherent in allowing the state, in its unfettered discretion, to record and transmit our words."[2]

These provisions aim to "strike a balance between the protection of privacy and the availability of effective law enforcement techniques". [3]

Electronic surveillance has the potential to "annihilate" any expectation of privacy in our communications. Society should not expose us to permanent electronic surveillance.[4]

Surveillance is one of the "the greatest leveler[s] of human privacy ever known".[5]

This provision has nothing to do with protecting persons from the risk that the recipient of the communication will divulge anything.[6]

  1. R v Duarte, 1990 CanLII 150 (SCC), [1990] 1 SCR 30, per La Forest J R v Jones, 2017 SCC 60 (CanLII), [2017] 2 SCR 696, per Cote J, at para 60
  2. Duarte, supra
  3. R v Nguyen, 2001 ABPC 52 (CanLII), 294 AR 201, per Stevenson ACJ, at para 17
    Regina v Welsh and Iannuzzi (No. 6), 1977 CanLII 1215 (ON CA), 32 CCC (2d) 363, per Zuber JA (5:0), at p. 369
  4. Duarte, supra, at p. 11 (CCC)
    see also United States v White, 201 US 745 (1971), at p. 756 ("electronic surveillance is the greatest leveler of human privacy ever known")
  5. United States v White, 201 U.S. 745 (1971), at p. 756
  6. Duarte, supra ("has nothing to do with protecting individuals from the threat that their interlocutors will divulge communications that are meant to be private")

"Authorization"

Definitions

183 In this Part [Pt. VI – Invasion of Privacy (ss. 183 to 196.1)],
"authorization" means an authorization to intercept a private communication given under subsection 184.‍2(3) [one-party consent wiretap – judge must be satisfied], section 186 [authorization of wiretap] or subsection 188(2) [emergency wiretaps – granting authorization]; (autorisation) ...
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 183; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), ss. 7, 23, c. 1 (2nd Supp.), s. 213, c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 13, c. 29 (4th Supp.), s. 17, c. 42 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 1991, c. 28, s. 12; 1992, c. 27, s. 90; 1993, c. 7, s. 5, c. 25, s. 94, c. 40, s. 1, c. 46, s. 4; 1995, c. 39, s. 140; 1996, c. 19, s. 66; 1997, c. 18, s. 7, c. 23, s. 3; 1998, c. 34, s. 8; 1999, c. 2, s. 47, c. 5, s. 4; 2000, c. 24, s. 43; 2001, c. 32, s. 4, c. 41, ss. 5, 31, 133; 2002, c. 22, s. 409; 2004, c. 15, s. 108; 2005, c. 32, s. 10, c. 43, s. 1; 2008, c. 6, s. 15; 2009, c. 2, s. 442, c. 22, s. 4, c. 28, s. 3; 2010, c. 3, s. 1, c. 14, s. 2; 2012, c. 1, s. 24; 2013, c. 8, s. 2, c. 9, s. 14, c. 13, s. 7; 2014, c. 17, s. 2, c. 25, s. 11, c. 31, s. 7, c. 32, s. 59; 2015, c. 20, s. 19; 2017, c. 7, s. 56; 2018, c. 12, s. 114, c. 16, s. 210, c. 26, s. 23, c. 29, s. 15; 2019, c. 13, s. 150; 2019, c. 16, s. 122; 2019, c. 25, s. 63.1; 2020, c. 1, s. 36; 2022, c. 17, s. 5; 2023, c. 14, s. 2.
[annotation(s) added]

CCC (CanLII), (DOJ)


Note up: 183


Defined terms: "private communication" (s. 183)

Interception of Private Communications

"Private Communication"

See also: Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Section 183 defines "private communication":

183 In this Part [Pt. VI – Invasion of Privacy (ss. 183 to 196.1)],
...
"private communication" means any oral communication, or any telecommunication, that is made by an originator who is in Canada or is intended by the originator to be received by a person who is in Canada and that is made under circumstances in which it is reasonable for the originator to expect that it will not be intercepted by any person other than the person intended by the originator to receive it, and includes any radio-based telephone communication that is treated electronically or otherwise for the purpose of preventing intelligible reception by any person other than the person intended by the originator to receive it; (communication privée)
...
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 183; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), ss. 7, 23, c. 1 (2nd Supp.), s. 213, c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 13, c. 29 (4th Supp.), s. 17, c. 42 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 1991, c. 28, s. 12; 1992, c. 27, s. 90; 1993, c. 7, s. 5, c. 25, s. 94, c. 40, s. 1, c. 46, s. 4; 1995, c. 39, s. 140; 1996, c. 19, s. 66; 1997, c. 18, s. 7, c. 23, s. 3; 1998, c. 34, s. 8; 1999, c. 2, s. 47, c. 5, s. 4; 2000, c. 24, s. 43; 2001, c. 32, s. 4, c. 41, ss. 5, 31, 133; 2002, c. 22, s. 409; 2004, c. 15, s. 108; 2005, c. 32, s. 10, c. 43, s. 1; 2008, c. 6, s. 15; 2009, c. 2, s. 442, c. 22, s. 4, c. 28, s. 3; 2010, c. 3, s. 1, c. 14, s. 2; 2012, c. 1, s. 24; 2013, c. 8, s. 2, c. 9, s. 14, c. 13, s. 7; 2014, c. 17, s. 2, c. 25, s. 11, c. 31, s. 7, c. 32, s. 59; 2015, c. 20, s. 19; 2017, c. 7, s. 56; 2018, c. 12, s. 114, c. 16, s. 210, c. 26, s. 23, c. 29, s. 15; 2019, c. 13, s. 150; 2019, c. 16, s. 122; 2019, c. 25, s. 63.1; 2020, c. 1, s. 36; 2022, c. 17, s. 5; 2023, c. 14, s. 2.

CCC (CanLII), (DOJ)


Note up: 183

"Private"

A communication is private where the originator has a reasonable expectation that the communication would "not be intercepted by any person other than the person intended by the originator to receive it".[1] The intention of who is to receive the communication includes those who the originator had knowledge would receive it but may not desire them to receive it.[2]

Where it is reasonable to expect that the communication may be listened to or recorded, then it is not a private communication.[3]

Communication requires some exchange of information between persons and not simply all information capturable by the interception. [4] Consequently, sounds not intended to convey information does not constitute a communication.[5]

"Communications"

According to s. 183, a "communication" can be either "oral communication" or "telecommunication".

The following has been found not to be a "private communication":

  • Electronic signals captured by a digital number recorder (DNR) [6]
  • communication of a paging device.[7]
  • a prayer to God as God does not meet the legal definition of a person.[8]
  • a cassette sent through the mail[9]
  • prayers to God[10]
"originator"

The "originator" refers to the person whose "remarks which the Crown seeks to adduce in evidence" and are protected under Part VI of the Code.[11]

  1. R c Kyling, 2009 QCCS 3311 (CanLII), per Tardif J
  2. R v Goldman, 1979 CanLII 60 (SCC), [1980] 1 SCR 976, per Mclntyre J
  3. R v Newall, 1982 CanLII 276 (BC SC), 67 CCC (2d) 431, per Bouck J
    R v Davie, 1980 CanLII 323 (BC CA), 54 CCC (2d) 216, per Hutcheon J
  4. R v Balatoni, 2003 CanLII 13174 (ON SC), per Dawson J, at para 8
  5. Balatoni
  6. R v Fegan, 1993 CanLII 8607 (ON CA), , 80 CCC (3d) 356, per Finlayson JA
    cf. R v Griffith, 1988 CanLII 7059 (ON SC), (1989) 44 CCC (3d) 63, per McDermid J
  7. R v Lubovac, 1989 ABCA 320 (CanLII), (1990) 52 CCC (3d) 551, per McClung JA
  8. Davie, supra
  9. R v Newall, 1982 CanLII 276 (BC SC), 67 CCC (2d) 431, per Bouck J
  10. Davie, supra
  11. R v Goldman, 1979 CanLII 60 (SCC), [1980] 1 SCR 976, per Mclntyre J

"Telecommunications"

Section 35 of the Interpretation Act defines "telecommunications" as: "means the emission, transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature by any wire, cable, radio, optical or other electromagnetic system, or by any similar technical system"

This definition was found to include technology such as Dialed number recorders.[1]

This term is also used in the offence of Child Luring (Offence), Agree or Arrange a Sexual Offence Against Child (Offence), and Telecommunication Offences (Offence).

Warrants Apply to Many Types of Communication
One application for authorization sufficient

184.6 For greater certainty, an application for an authorization under this Part [Pt. VI – Invasion of Privacy (ss. 183 to 196.1)] may be made with respect to both private communications and radio-based telephone communications at the same time.
1993, c. 40, s. 4.

  1. R v Lee, 2007 ABQB 767 (CanLII), 427 AR 76, per Sulyma J
    R v Croft, 2013 ABQB 644 (CanLII), per Burrows J, at para 22

"Interception"

"Interception" means to "listen to, record or acquire a communication or acquire the substance, meaning or purport thereof;" (s. 183).[1]

Identity of Intended Recipient

A communication that is directed to law enforcement under false assumption of identity is not usually an "intercept" where it is not "participant surveillance".

An online undercover police officer who impersonates a young person and communicates with the accused is not intercepting as there is no "surreptitious" recording of the conversation and no "interception" as between the accused and third party.[2]

Telephone communications between the accused and the police who answers the phone at a drug house and assumes the identity of the homeowner are not covered by Part VI.[3]

"Intercept" vs "Disclose"

The scheme of Part VI distinguishes between "interception" and "use or retention" of that communication, which is conceptually "different and distinct."[4]

Timing of Capture

There is the suggestion that there does not need to be a direct temporal connection between the message seizure and the transmission of the message.[5]

However, text messages saved within the network of a service provider can be otained by a production order as it is not an "intercept."[6] It will generally be required where the message has not yet come into existence or have not yet been received by the recipient.[7]

Devices Used to Intercept

The interception must be done by way of an "electromagnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device" (s.183). Consequently, simply to use one's human senses without technological aids does not invoke Part VI. [8]

Definitions

183 In this Part,
...
"electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device" means any device or apparatus that is used or is capable of being used to intercept a private communication, but does not include a hearing aid used to correct subnormal hearing of the user to not better than normal hearing; (dispositif électromagnétique, acoustique, mécanique ou autre)
...
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 183; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), ss. 7, 23, c. 1 (2nd Supp.), s. 213, c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 13, c. 29 (4th Supp.), s. 17, c. 42 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 1991, c. 28, s. 12; 1992, c. 27, s. 90; 1993, c. 7, s. 5, c. 25, s. 94, c. 40, s. 1, c. 46, s. 4; 1995, c. 39, s. 140; 1996, c. 19, s. 66; 1997, c. 18, s. 7, c. 23, s. 3; 1998, c. 34, s. 8; 1999, c. 2, s. 47, c. 5, s. 4; 2000, c. 24, s. 43; 2001, c. 32, s. 4, c. 41, ss. 5, 31, 133; 2002, c. 22, s. 409; 2004, c. 15, s. 108; 2005, c. 32, s. 10, c. 43, s. 1; 2008, c. 6, s. 15; 2009, c. 2, s. 442, c. 22, s. 4, c. 28, s. 3; 2010, c. 3, s. 1, c. 14, s. 2; 2012, c. 1, s. 24; 2013, c. 8, s. 2, c. 9, s. 14, c. 13, s. 7; 2014, c. 17, s. 2, c. 25, s. 11, c. 31, s. 7, c. 32, s. 59; 2015, c. 20, s. 19; 2017, c. 7, s. 56; 2018, c. 12, s. 114, c. 16, s. 210, c. 26, s. 23, c. 29, s. 15; 2019, c. 13, s. 150; 2019, c. 16, s. 122; 2019, c. 25, s. 63.1; 2020, c. 1, s. 36; 2022, c. 17, s. 5; 2023, c. 14, s. 2.

CCC (CanLII), (DOJ)


Note up: 183

  1. R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 183; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), ss. 7, 23, c. 1 (2nd Supp.), s. 213, c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 13, c. 29 (4th Supp.), s. 17, c. 42 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 1991, c. 28, s. 12; 1992, c. 27, s. 90; 1993, c. 7, s. 5, c. 25, s. 94, c. 40, s. 1, c. 46, s. 4; 1995, c. 39, s. 140; 1996, c. 19, s. 66; 1997, c. 18, s. 7, c. 23, s. 3; 1998, c. 34, s. 8; 1999, c. 2, s. 47, c. 5, s. 4; 2000, c. 24, s. 43; 2001, c. 32, s. 4, c. 41, ss. 5, 31, 133; 2002, c. 22, s. 409; 2004, c. 15, s. 108; 2005, c. 32, s. 10, c. 43, s. 1; 2008, c. 6, s. 15; 2009, c. 2, s. 442, c. 22, s. 4, c. 28, s. 3; 2010, c. 3, s. 1, c. 14, s. 2; 2012, c. 1, s. 24; 2013, c. 8, s. 2, c. 9, s. 14, c. 13, s. 7; 2014, c. 17, s. 2, c. 25, s. 11, c. 31, s. 7, c. 32, s. 59; 2015, c. 20, s. 19; 2017, c. 7, s. 56; 2018, c. 12, s. 114, c. 16, s. 210, c. 26, s. 23, c. 29, s. 15; 2019, c. 13, s. 150; 2019, c. 16, s. 122; 2019, c. 25, s. 63.1; 2020, c. 1, s. 36; 2022, c. 17, s. 5; 2023, c. 14, s. 2.
  2. R v Mills, 2017 NLCA 12 (CanLII), NJ No 55, per Welsh JA pending appeal at SCC
    R v Beairsto, 2018 ABCA 118 (CanLII), 359 CCC (3d) 376, per curiam (3:0)
  3. R v Singh, 1998 CanLII 4819 (BC CA), 127 CCC (3d) 429, per Hall JA
    R v McQueen, 1975 CanLII 1373 (AB CA), (1979) 25 CCC (2d) 262 (SKQB), per McDermid JA (“The [wiretap provisions are] aimed at preventing a third party from intercepting the private communication between two people. It is not intended to apply to the case where there are only two persons involved and one receives a message by impersonation of fraud.”)
    see also R v Giles, 2007 BCSC 1147 (CanLII), 77 WCB (2d) 469, per MacKenzie JA, at para 31
  4. R v Jones, 2017 SCC 60 (CanLII), [2017] 2 SCR 696, per Cote J, at para 63
  5. R v Telus Communications, 2013 SCC 16 (CanLII), [2013] 2 SCR 3 per plurality reasons, at para 35 ("definition of “intercept” that the interception of a private communication be simultaneous or contemporaneous with the making of the communication itself")
  6. Jones, supra
    R v Belcourt, 2015 BCCA 126 (CanLII), 322 CCC (3d) 93, per Kirkpatrick JA
    R v Webster, 2015 BCCA 286 (CanLII), 326 CCC (3d) 228, per Chiasson JA
    R v Didechko, 2015 ABQB 642 (CanLII), 27 Alta LR (6th) 290, per Schutz J
    cf. R v Hoelscher, 2016 ABQB 44 (CanLII), per Simpson J
    R v Croft, 2013 ABQB 640 (CanLII), 304 CCC (3d) 279, per Burrows J
  7. Jones, ibid.
  8. R v Beckner, 1978 CanLII 2511 (ON CA), 43 CCC (2d) 356, per Dubin JA -- officer overhears a conversation between accused and a friend
    R v Kopinsky, 1985 CanLII 1191 (AB QB), 62 AR 100, per McFadyen J

"Offence"

Within the provisions of the wiretap sections of the code, "offence" refers to a specific closed-list of offences. Those offences are listed within s. 2.[1] It will include any conspiracies, attempts or counselling to commit the offence, or any accessories after the fact.[2]

  1. See Criminal Code and Related Definitions
  2. see s. 183 definition of "offence"

Misc Wiretap Terms

Definitions

183 In this Part [Pt. VI – Invasion of Privacy (ss. 183 to 196.1)],
...
"police officer" means any officer, constable or other person employed for the preservation and maintenance of the public peace; (policier)
...
"public switched telephone network" means a telecommunication facility the primary purpose of which is to provide a land line-based telephone service to the public for compensation; (réseau téléphonique public commuté)
"radio-based telephone communication" means any radiocommunication within the meaning of the Radiocommunication Act that is made over apparatus that is used primarily for connection to a public switched telephone network; (communication radiotéléphonique)
"sell" includes offer for sale, expose for sale, have in possession for sale or distribute or advertise for sale; (vendre)
"solicitor" means, in the Province of Quebec, an advocate or a notary and, in any other province, a barrister or solicitor. (avocat)
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 183; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), ss. 7, 23, c. 1 (2nd Supp.), s. 213, c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 13, c. 29 (4th Supp.), s. 17, c. 42 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 1991, c. 28, s. 12; 1992, c. 27, s. 90; 1993, c. 7, s. 5, c. 25, s. 94, c. 40, s. 1, c. 46, s. 4; 1995, c. 39, s. 140; 1996, c. 19, s. 66; 1997, c. 18, s. 7, c. 23, s. 3; 1998, c. 34, s. 8; 1999, c. 2, s. 47, c. 5, s. 4; 2000, c. 24, s. 43; 2001, c. 32, s. 4, c. 41, ss. 5, 31, 133; 2002, c. 22, s. 409; 2004, c. 15, s. 108; 2005, c. 32, s. 10, c. 43, s. 1; 2008, c. 6, s. 15; 2009, c. 2, s. 442, c. 22, s. 4, c. 28, s. 3; 2010, c. 3, s. 1, c. 14, s. 2; 2012, c. 1, s. 24; 2013, c. 8, s. 2, c. 9, s. 14, c. 13, s. 7; 2014, c. 17, s. 2, c. 25, s. 11, c. 31, s. 7, c. 32, s. 59; 2015, c. 20, s. 19; 2017, c. 7, s. 56; 2018, c. 12, s. 114, c. 16, s. 210, c. 26, s. 23, c. 29, s. 15; 2019, c. 13, s. 150; 2019, c. 16, s. 122; 2019, c. 25, s. 63.1; 2020, c. 1, s. 36; 2022, c. 17, s. 5; 2023, c. 14, s. 2.

CCC (CanLII), (DOJ)


Note up: 183

Interception to prevent bodily harm

184.1
[omitted (1), (2) and (3)]

Definition of agent of the state

(4) For the purposes of this section, agent of the state means

(a) a peace officer; and
(b) a person acting under the authority of, or in cooperation with, a peace officer.

1993, c. 40, s. 4.

CCC (CanLII), (DOJ)


Note up: 184.1(4)


Defined terms: "peace officer" (s. 2)

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