In Canada, security, surveillance, and privacy have developed lockstep with those in other Anglo-Western countries, positioning Canada as a case study of new developments. Canada, however, differs from some Anglo-Western jurisdictions, notably the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, in having superior, albeit still weak, legal privacy protections.


If video monitoring is an exemplar of surveillance patterns, then surveillance has been expanding in Canada for decades. Commencing with private establishment video surveillance in banks and retail shops, open-street or public surveillance cameras were then rolled out at the local level, in some cases inspired by the United Kingdom’s embrace of these technologies but not in a manner that mirrored that country’s centralized funding arrangements. Video surveillance has since gone mobile via various forms, including in taxicabs, police-operated automatic license recognition cameras on cruisers, temporary redeployables, mobile body cameras for the police, and cameras affixed to police drones. Yet not all the proposed surveillance initiatives have been widely accepted. National identity cards, for instance, were proposed several times but have failed as a policy option.

Until recently, mass surveillance practices of the kind uncovered by Edward Snowden in 2013 had not advanced as far in Canada as in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. Canada has two national intelligence agencies, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment, both of which are actively involved in surveillance of the citizenry. In Canada, there is less oversight of these two agencies by commissioners compared with their counterparts in other Anglo-Western countries. Recent federal legislation has legalized more intensive surveillance for both agencies in Canada and abroad. However, it is also true that a recent Canada Supreme Court decision has prevented the public police across Canada from acquiring data from Internet service providers without a warrant, as they can in Australia through its new mandatory data retention legislation. Also, corporate surveillance is rapidly expanding in Canada, consistent with other Anglo-Western jurisdictions, since many corporations (e.g., Amazon, Google) operate transnationally. Biometric surveillance continues to proliferate in everyday life, as seen in its use to access new “smart” cell phones and in hospitals that require staff to use fingerprint scanners to access files and drugs.


In Canada, the security provision is typically divided between public and private. In the public realm, national security organizations have followed the patterns of other Anglo-Western nations in that Canada is, along with the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, one of the “Five Eyes.” In the private realm, Canada has a host of private contract security agencies and has branch plants of the transitional contract security agencies headquartered abroad, such as G4s. As important, but often neglected, are major private corporations operating in Canada that have corporate or in-house security units. These units can be sophisticated, and the ones in Canada are equal to those found in other Anglo-Western countries and also in Europe.


In Canada, privacy entails governing through an amalgam of legislation and forms of law. Canada has privacy commissions at the provincial level and a federal commissioner’s office as well. The Privacy Act refers to the federal public sector (government and crown corporations), and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act governs the private sector. Each Canadian province has distinctive privacy legislation. For example, in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, there is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (regarding provincial government–funded agencies) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (governing municipal government–funded bodies).

There is variation in administration among provinces and the federal government privacy commissioners and over time. For example, le Commission d’acces a l’information was very interventionist in the 1990s in Quebec. The Ontario commissioner proffered the privacy-by-design model in that province in the 2000s. The federal commissioner was interventionist in, for example, trying to stop the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from installing video surveillance in British Columbia in the early 2000s, but since his departure his successors have not been so. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is also a factor nationally, though (as with the U.S. Constitution) it does not describe a right to privacy. Rather, its Section 8 describes a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Provincial privacy legislation is weak and poorly enforced, taking the form of guidelines rather than regulations. For example, video surveillance signage to ensure fair information practices is often ignored by the public and private organizations to whom it applies because it is not binding. Overall, the concern over privacy is marginally more enhanced in Canada than in the other Anglo-Western jurisdictions.

Randy K. Lippert and Kevin Walby

See also Australia ; Corporate Surveillance ; Municipal Surveillance ; United Kingdom ; United States

Further Readings

Doyle, A. and K. Walby. “Cab Cameras: The Case of Surveillance in Ottawa Taxi Cabs.” In A. Doyle, et al. (eds.), Eyes Everywhere: The Global Growth of Camera Surveillance. London, England: Routledge, 2011.

Forcese, Craig. “One Warrant to Rule Them All: Reconsidering the Judicialization of Extraterritorial Intelligence Collection.” In Randy K. Lippert, et al. (eds.), National Security, Surveillance and Terror: Canada and Australia in Comparative Perspective. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Hier, Sean P. and Kevin Walby. “Policy Mutations, Compliance Myths, and Re-Deployable Special Event Public Camera Surveillance in Canada.” Sociology, v.48/1 (2014). doi:10.1177/003803851 3477755

Lippert, Randy K. “Open-Street CCTV, Canadian Style.” Criminal Justice Matters, v. 68 (2007). doi:10.1080/09627250708553283

Lippert, Randy K. “Signs of the Surveillant Assemblage: Privacy Regulation, Urban CCTV, and Governmentality.” Social and Legal Studies, v.18 (2009). doi:10.1177/0964663909345096

Lippert, Randy K. and Bryce Newell. “Police Body Cams and Beyond: Debate Introduction.” Surveillance & Society, v.14/1 (2016).

Lippert, Randy K. and Kevin Walby. “Municipal Corporate Security and the Intensification of Urban Surveillance.” Surveillance & Society, v.9/2 (2012).

Lippert, Randy K. and Kevin Walby. “Police Moonlighting Revisited: ‘Pay Duty’ in Three Canadian Police Services.” Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, v.7/4 (2013). doi:10.1093/police/pat026

Lippert, Randy K. and Kevin Walby. “Marketization, Knowledge Work and Visibility in ‘Users Pay’ Policing in Canada.” British Journal of Criminology, v.54/2 (2014). doi:10.1093/bjc/azt074

Lippert, Randy K. and Kevin Walby. “Governing Through Privacy: Authoritarian Liberalism, Law, and Privacy Knowledge.” Law, Culture and the Humanities, v.12/2 (2016). doi:10.1177/1743872113478530

Walby, Kevin. “Little England? The Rise of Open-Street, Closed Circuit Television Surveillance in Canada.” Surveillance & Society, v.4/1–2 (2005).

Walby, Kevin and Randy K. Lippert. “The New Keys to the City: Uploading Corporate Security and Threat Discourse Into Canadian Municipal Governments.” Crime, Law and Social Change, v.58/4 (2012). doi:10.1007/s10611-012-9395-9

Walby, Kevin, et al. “Interrogating National Security, Surveillance, and Terror in Canada and Australia.” In Randy K. Lippert, et al. (eds.),National Security, Surveillance and Terror: Canada and Australia in Comparative Perspective. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Walby, Kevin and Randy K. Lippert. Municipal Corporate Security in International Context. London, England: Routledge, 2015.

Walby, Kevin and Sean Hier. “Securitizing Citizenship: ID Cards, Passports and Border Surveillance in Canada.” In Sandra Rollings-Magnusson (ed.),Anti-Terrorism: Security and Insecurity After 9/11. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: Fernwood, 2009.

Warren, Ian, et al. “When the Profile Becomes the Population: Comparing Privacy and Law Enforcement in Road Traffic Surveillance in Canada and Australia.” Current Issues in Criminal Justice, v.25/2 (2013).