The two sides of cryptocurrencies

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Dear ,

Bitcoin, blockchain, cryptocurrencies. You’ve likely heard these words in the last few years.

These technologies all form what experts call virtual assets – things that hold value, but only exist in digital form. The term often refers to cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin or Ethereum, but it can also include other assets that are built on similar tech (digital art, collectibles, securities, and so much more).

That’s what the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in BC recently turned its mind to.

Our lawyers are continuing to keep human rights and civil liberties at the forefront of the Commission’s work. Virtual assets and cryptocurrencies could make the Canadian financial system more equitable and inclusive. For people facing financial discrimination, such as sex workers, cryptocurrencies offer alternatives to traditional payment systems.

We support the development of virtual assets in ways that can strengthen our Charter values. However, we strongly oppose new laws that could undermine those gains.

Read our latest blog on... Cryptocurrencies and Your Rights

At the Cullen Commission, the RCMP acknowledged that blockchain technology helps police investigations because it provides a full transaction history. Even though cryptocurrencies are pseudonymous (learn more about what that means here), the transparency of the blockchain gives a wealth of information to anyone who cares to look. That includes the police.

That means that the police could get more information from a public blockchain than they would be able to get from a bank without a court order. Police and intelligence agencies shouldn’t be able to use commercial products to obtain information about Canadians they would not otherwise be able to obtain without a court order.

Financial information is one of the most sensitive forms of personal information. How we spend our money can reveal a great deal about our political opinions, religious beliefs, sexuality, health, relationships, and interests.

Read more here

Despite the risks to financial privacy, we’re hopeful that the right kind of development of virtual assets and their underlying technologies could reduce systemic discrimination in the Canadian financial system and help reduce inequality.

For example, financial discrimination is a growing issue for sex workers. Many banks, credit cards, and online payment platforms refuse to provide service to sex workers.

In response to these challenges, some sex workers are turning to cryptocurrency as an alternative to traditional payment systems. By accepting cryptocurrency, sex workers can avoid the discriminatory barriers created by financial institutions.

We’re hopeful that virtual asset technologies will lead to a more equitable, inclusive financial system. However, there is also a risk of unchecked surveillance by police and intelligence services. We stand against calls for new state powers to gain easy access to vast amounts of deeply personal information without any court oversight.

As we all navigate the possibilities and risks created by these new technologies at the Cullen Commission and beyond, you can rest assured that the BCCLA will continue to push for financial privacy and a more inclusive and equitable financial system.


Jessica Magonet (she/her/hers)
Staff Counsel (Litigation)

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