The federal government is considering allowing Canada Post inspectors to open suspicious letters, according to Attorney General David Lametti.
At a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on May 18, Lametti said he would review changes in federal law, which currently states under the Canada Post Corporation Act that postal inspectors can only open larger packages suspected of carrying contraband, but not letter mail, as reported by Blacklock’s Reporter on May 23.
“It is important not only to law enforcement but also important to the protection of human rights and rights to privacy under the charter,” said Lametti. “It is a little trickier than a package so it needs more time.”
Police chiefs have been asking for legal authority to seize mail in transit since at least 2015. At the time, civil liberties advocates warned that the process would be ripe for problems.
Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told the CBC in August 2015 that someone “who hasn’t yet received it [an intercepted package containing illicit goods] and who actually may not know that it’s coming, or may not have asked for it,” or may not know it contains illegal items, could face criminal consequences.
“We should be careful about eroding the kind of protections that we put around what gets sent through the mail—and what gets sent electronically,” she said.
The current regulations prohibit the inspection of letters weighing 30 grams or under. Under the law, police also cannot intercept any letter, package, or mail of any kind if it is still in transit. To intercept and seize an item suspected of containing an illegal drug or a handgun, for example, a police officer must wait until it is delivered to the addressee or returned to the sender.
Lametti said he was “open to looking at” rewriting the regulations.
Drugs by Letter Mail
In a May 5 submission to the Senate committee, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said drug dealers are shipping contraband by letter mail.
“Too many criminals are exploiting the current loophole in this legislative framework, making large profits using Canada Post to commit criminal acts and putting Canadian lives at risk,” wrote the police association.
According to Saskatchewan Senator Denis Batters, police have said that “criminals exploit an antiquated legal loophole that bars them from searching packages sent through Canada Post.” Current regulations ensure “a Crown corporation will remain the shipper of choice for fentanyl dealers,” suggested Batters.
Lametti replied that “I agree with you that it is an important question,” noting that “I am open to looking at that moving forward.”
Another Saskatchewan Senator, Marty Klyne, asked Lametti, “How important is it for inspectors to be able to intercept letters?”
“I appreciate the depth of your concern,” replied Lametti. “I share those concerns as well as a general desire to make sure that our legitimate systems of communication aren’t being used for illegal purposes, especially one as tragic as trafficking fentanyl,” he said, adding that “I share your belief in the importance of it.”
Proposed Postal Safety Act
Quebec Senator Pierre Dalphond put forward a public bill in November 2022 that is currently before the Senate. Bill S-256, An Act to Amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, would allow police to stop suspicious mail in transit, including letters, if they suspect illegal material.
“While an item is in the mail, the only option the police have is to work closely with one of the 25 inspectors at Canada Post—25 to cover the whole country,” Dalphond, a former judge, previously told the Senate in a speech at the start of the second reading of the bill, also known as the Canadian Postal Safety Act, on Nov. 29, 2022. “What are we waiting for?”
According to Dalphond, the original Post Office Act of 1867 forbade any interference with the Royal Mail, with privacy protection being the main objective.
Last year, Canada Post delivered 6.6 million packages, parcels, and letters to 17,200,000 addresses nationwide, said the article by Blacklock’s Reporter.
“For quite some time, only a postal inspector could detain an item, for instance if it wasn’t sufficiently stamped for the class of mail or if it contained items that were illegal to send by post. It would be more than 100 years before any exceptions to the principle of prohibiting interference with mail items were adopted,” Dalphond said in his speech.
This was done through passage of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act in 1984, an amendment to the Customs Act in 1986, and the passage of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act in 2000, according to Dalphond.
“Under the amendment to the Customs Act, a shipment entering Canada may be subject to inspection by border services officers if they have reason to suspect that its contents are prohibited from being imported into Canada. If this is the case, the shipment, whether a package or an envelope, may be seized,” added Dalphond.
“However, an envelope mailed in Canada to someone who resides at a Canadian address cannot be opened by the police or even by a postal inspector,” he said.