once, the Conservatives seem to be listening to the people. Perhaps, more surprisingly, some of their own MPs have expressed concern about Bill C-30 — the so called Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, or as some people call it, the Licence to Snoop Act.
When Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in Parliament, “you are either with us, or with the child pornographers,” it seemed to flip a switch with people.
Those who hadn’t been paying attention to the Act began to realize something was wrong here. Canadians know a red herring when they hear one. Toews said that line to the Public Safety critic Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia, who said the bill would have police, “preparing to read Canadians’ emails and track their movements through cellphone signals, in both cases without a warrant.”
A columnist that I hardly ever agree with, Margaret Wente, wrote last week, “in the case of this act, I stand with the child pornographers.” She is right. As it stands, this act would force service providers to give police a person’s name, address, phone number, email address and IP address (which identifies a computer) upon request and without a warrant.
Both federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian maintain that the federal government hasn’t made a case for the need for these new powers. Cavoukian calls the new bill, “surveillance by design.” It seems that the police and attorneys general of each province are for this bill, but wow, they have stayed very quiet through this whole process, haven’t they?
And as far as I can tell, the police have been doing just fine with the way things are. Didn’t they just arrest 60 people in Ontario and charged them with various child pornography charges? It scares me to let government and the police have more power.
In an interview on CBC radio, Cavoukian pointed out that if this bill passes it will create a surveillance structure that ultimately will be paid for by Canadians. As it stand now, the service providers will have to bear the costs of setting up the surveillance, which they will pass on to their customers. Some of the smaller providers have already said they won’t be able to afford it. So if the government helps them out and the taxpayers are on the hook again.
She went on to say that selling the bill as all about protecting children is misleading and disingenuous and it is much broader than that. Even though there have been some amendments, the warrantless access remains. As one of my friends said the other day, “protect the children sure, but what about the rest of us.”
When told that Europe does this kind of thing now, Cavoukian said, “we reject that, let’s not lower the bar. We have to protect our privacy and freedoms.”
What a breath of fresh air it was to listen to the privacy commissioner instead of politicians who backtrack. If I were a true political cynic, I would suspect Harper wants to send this back to committee and used his back benchers to express some concerns about it. Otherwise it would have been shoved through with his majority.
Sometimes, when a bill is sent back to committee before second reading, it means the government is open to big changes or it means they will let it languish for a time and try again. As long as they leave warrantless access as part of the framework, we should all be concerned as to where this government is going.
If I didn’t know any better, I would think they will watch anyone who says unkind things about Harper and his government. Anyone who dares to speak out against the government and its plans would be fair game. What does that remind you of?
Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.