Liberals reject letting police search domestic mail
Behind closed doors, government officials saw it as an effective way to curb the flow of dangerous opioids and thwart other crime, suggesting there was a “pressing ” need to act, but the Liberal government has decided not to let police open and search Canadians’ domestic mail.
A 2016 Public Safety Canada report obtained by the National Post indicates that several agencies — including the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) — agreed on the benefits of changing the current law that bars police from accessing mail moving between domestic addresses.
Such a change could not only slow the spread of Fentanyl and other opioids, but plug a legal gap exploited by organized crime — and help stop cannabis getting into the hands of children once the drug is legalized, the document suggested.
Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, acknowledged that a variety of policy options were considered as ways to combat the opioid epidemic.
But the government decided not to change the Canada Post Corporation Act to allow police with search warrants to open the domestic mail, he said, and “no further changes are proposed at this time.”
Bardsley said he couldn’t reveal why the decision was made because he’s unable to discuss cabinet confidences.
He stressed, though, that “robust” changes were made to the rules around intercepting mail coming into Canada from other countries. Under Bill C-37, police can now search international mail weighing 30 grams or less — enough to contain 15,000 fatal doses of Fentanyl — and are better able to intercept pill-making equipment.
But the Chiefs of Police Association of Canada has long lobbied against the law that prevents officers from searching mail in transit within the local Canada Post system. It cites a 2012 RCMP report that guns, grenades, a rocket launcher, stun guns, dangerous chemicals and various drugs have been shipped by mail.
The Public Safety document, released through access-to-information legislation, suggests the change was being actively pursued by the government, too.
The report details a “four-corners” meeting — typically between officials of the prime minister’s office, the privy council office and a line department, in this case Public Safety.
The topic was how to address the opioid crisis, but much of the five-page document dealt with the mail issue.
The report indicates there had been several conference calls on the topic involving director general-level bureaucrats in Public Safety, the CBSA, the RCMP, Public Services and Procurement Canada and the privy-council office.
The issue extends beyond illicit opioid shipments getting into the domestic mail, the report said.
“Organized crime groups are and will continue to exploit the legislative gaps in the domestic mail system.”
The document also notes that the imminent legalization of recreational marijuana added another reason to amend the law.
“These changes would support efforts to restrict access to children and youth, and others not legally permitted to possess and consume the drug by sending cannabis through the mail,” it said. “There is also a pressing time frame to resolve this issue.”
If police obtain a tip about mail containing contraband now, they can only try to seize it at the receiving address.
The police chiefs’ group has passed resolutions on the issue for each of the last few years, and wrote to Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould in October about it, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for the association.
A spokesman for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was not available to comment, but the group has said in the past it would not have major qualms with the change, so long as police were required to get a judge’s approval before opening mail.
A Canada Post truck drives through the streets of Toronto in 2013.