Canadian Law Enforcement Admit — And Then Deny — They Own A Stingray Device

from the stingr-eh? dept

Stingrays are now as common as cockroaches in the United States, but we haven’t heard much about their use by Canadian law enforcement. A denial or a confirmation would be nice, but not strictly necessary. It’s safe to assume anything US cops can get, Canadian law enforcement can obtain as well.

Earlier this month, Vice’s Motherboard revealed the first confirmation of Stingray use by a local law enforcement agency. (The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have owned and operated Stingray devices for most of the last ten years.)

According to the BC Civil Liberties Association, which posted a blog announcing the news on Monday, the Vancouver police used an IMSI catcher once, nearly a decade ago, and without a warrant.

“We sent a letter asking the Vancouver police if they’d ever used one of the RCMP’s IMSI catchers, and if they would again,” said Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BCCLA. “The answer to both questions was yes.”

So just once? A decade ago? The Vancouver PD sounds about as credible as a presidential candidate being questioned about past drug use. Still, the Vancouver PD insists it has no files on Stingray use, despite admitting to using a Stingray.

However, the Vancouver PD sounds way more credible than the Edmonton Police, which can’t even get its spokespeople on the same page. On August 11, the Edmonton Police told Motherboard this:

On Thursday afternoon, Edmonton police spokesperson Anna Batchelor sent me an email saying, “I’m able to confirm the Edmonton Police Service owns a Stingray device and has used the device in the past during investigations.”

This was another first. Vancouver law enforcement — according to what had been told to Motherboard — didn’t own the Stingray it used. It borrowed the device from the RCMP and was instructed on how to use it by a Mountie tech.

Several hours later, the Edmonton PD wasn’t so sure it owned and/or deployed an IMSI catcher.

On Friday, I received a call from Superintendent Terry Rocchio of the Edmonton police, who delivered a frantic and conflicting message: the Edmonton police do not own a Stingray, he said, and Batchelor’s confirmation was the result of internal miscommunications. He was very sorry for the misinformation, he said.

Combined with the previous statement, it appears as though Edmonton PD superintendent Terry Rocchio is apologizing for his own words, which certainly gives the appearance of being misinformation. Further statements released by the Edmonton PD claim the department does not own a Stingray but, again, this is at odds with the unexpectedly straightforward statement given to Motherboard in response to its original query.

Now, it could be that Edmonton law enforcement did the same thing Vancouver’s did and borrowed it from the nearest RCMP bug shop. Or it could be that this is just the Canadian version of playing along with non-disclosure agreements. Most agencies contacted by Motherboard refused to comment. Others refused to confirm or deny. And the one agency that DID say it had a Stingray now says it doesn’t.

Given the opacity surrounding local law enforcement use/ownership of these devices, it’s probably safe to say they’ve been deployed without warrants and hidden from judges, defendants, and — quite possibly — local legislators. Months or years from now, Motherboard may have a more complete answer, but for now, this appears to be Canadian law enforcement scrambling to stave off some inevitable discoveries.

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