First Reported Case of CBSA Seizure of Legal Files

I’ve previously highlighted the concerns of border officials seizing and reviewing information and documents protected by solicitor-client privilege found on electronic devices.

The first publicly reported case of this occurring was released this weekend, involving an lawyer from Toronto returning from Guatemala and Colombia on April 10,

“The policy’s outrageous,” said Toronto business lawyer, Nick Wright. “I think that it’s a breach of our constitutional rights.”

His thoughts follow a personal experience. After landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on April 10, he said the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) flagged him for an additional inspection — for no stated reason.

Wright refused, telling the officer both devices contained confidential information protected by solicitor-client privilege.

He said the officer then confiscated his phone and laptop, and told him the items would be sent to a government lab which would try to crack his passwords and search his files.

Although some have suggested that lawyers wipe all of their devices before travel, and only store information in the cloud, this solution is largely impractical. Lawyers would also have to be especially careful that those cloud accounts were not linked or accessible from those devices.

What makes this story more interesting is that Wright is one of the newly-elected Benchers for the Law Society of Ontario, one of the so-called “StopSOP” slate that was opposed to certain EDI initiatives underway by the law society.

The law society is not an advocacy organization on behalf of lawyers. However, it does not benefit the public to have their legal files subject to scrutiny by government officials in Canada.

There may be a role for the new members of Convocation to attempt to address this, instead of focusing on a singular issue that should not have been controversial at all.


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