The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the current police use of emergency wiretaps but is not ruling out the practice entirely.
In a decision released Friday, the high court found the existing approach has no provision for notifying the targets of a bug that they are under surveillance, the Globe and Mail reports. But it upheld the idea of emergency wiretaps, which allow police to act quickly without judicial authorization for cases such as bomb threats and hostage-takings. The Supreme Court also suspended implementation of its unanimous ruling for a year so Parliament could amend legislation to deal with the issue.
Globe legal reporter Kirk Makin said the court's decision "was a careful attempt to avoid hamstringing police who must deal with sudden emergencies, while at the same time ensuring that they are accountable in the long run."
The justices said notifying targets about wiretaps via a warrant would not interfere with effective policing but would allow them to challenge invasions of privacy.
The case stemmed from a 2006 kidnapping of a suburban Vancouver man involved in the drug trade. The hostage was held and tortured for 25 days, the National Post reported. They also abducted the man's wife and friend.
Yat Fung Albert Tse, Nhan Trong Ly, Daniel Luis Soux, Myles Alexander Vandrick and Viet Bac Nguyen were found guilty in 2010 of extortion, kidnapping and unlawful confinement. Huong Dac Doan was found guilty of unlawful confinement and extortion but not guilty of kidnapping. The men received sentences ranging from 10 to 18 years, the Post said.
The accused appealed their convictions, arguing the emergency wiretaps violated their Charter rights because no warrant was issued immediately.
RCMP used the emergency wiretap provision to carry out warrantless interceptions of private communications when the daughter of the kidnap victim began getting calls from her father stating he was being held for ransom, the Globe reported.
About 24 hours after using the emergency provision, the Mounties obtained their warrant.
The unique section of the Criminal Code allowing emergency wiretaps required police to have reasonable grounds to conduct one to prevent an unlawful act that would cause serious harm.