Bill C-30 backlash warranted

Despite provoking undeserved personal attacks on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, we must consider the implications of Tory anti-privacy bill

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says Bill C-30 would give police greater abilities to fight crime in the digital age.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says Bill C-30 would give police greater abilities to fight crime in the digital age.
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“Vic wants to know about you. Let’s get to know about Vic.”

It was the first tweet from @vikileaks30, a Twitter account that attempted to discredit Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews by revealing details about his personal life over the Internet.

While the so-called Vikileaks tweets were a cruel and undeserved personal attack on the minister, this breach of privacy came with an ironic twist. In fact, the account was created in response to the recently-tabled Bill C-30, a government bill spearheaded by Toews.

It would allow police to obtain, without a warrant, a digital fingerprint that would indicate how much money you make, what websites you visit and how you vote.

According to Toews, the bill is supposed to address concerns voiced by Canada’s police forces and allow them to more adequately fight crime in the digital age.

I don’t have a problem with that. The Internet has made it so much easier for criminal activity to go undetected. But not having to apply for a warrant? That would give police almost unlimited power to spy on our private lives.

All the photos I have on Facebook would be visible to my friends — and Vic Toews. Nobody will ever know about your secret online subscription to Playboy — except the RCMP.

Toews famously said last month that if you’re against Bill C-30, you stand “with the child pornographers.” Well, Mr. Toews, you might be surprised to learn after viewing my personal details online that I don’t support criminal activity. It’s just that most of what I do on the Internet is none of your business.

In a Feb. 21 episode of The Rick Mercer Report, Mercer hit the nail on the head: “We’re not going to let [Vic Toews] peek,” he said. “That doesn’t make us criminal, it makes us Canadian. It’s why we shut our blinds at night. The state has no business in the hard drives of the nation.”

Despite Mercer’s rant, I can’t say I’m surprised at this legislation.

Stephen Harper has shut down parliament twice, once to avoid a vote of confidence in December 2008, and again to avoid speaking about the treatment of Afghan detainees in 2009.

He made it a campaign policy in 2011 to control both the source and number of questions from the press.

More recently, the Prime Minister has invoked cloture to stifle debate on some of his government’s more controversial legislation — it brings a quick end to debate in the House of Commons. And now, Bill C-30 wants to lay bare your private life for police perusal.

Liberal democratic states like Canada require the government to have a certain amount of trust and respect for the citizens they govern. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us rights like free expression, the right to vote and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

In order for Canada to function, the government needs to trust the people it represents to not abuse these rights. It’s a legal requirement of our Constitution.

But it’s bigger than that. Every time you vote, you’re not just choosing who represents you in the House of Commons. You’re making a deal with the government. You agree to pay your taxes and follow the laws that Members of Parliament create.

The government in turn agrees to enforce the rule of law and provide citizens with certain services. You have to trust that they will do their part, while they have to trust that you will do yours.

If Bill C-30 was to be taken as evidence of what the government thinks of us, it would seem that they no longer trust us to keep up our part of the bargain. Because if the government trusted most of us to be law-abiding citizens, they wouldn’t put our private lives under the microscope.

Thankfully, if there’s one thing that Harper can be trusted to do, it’s to practice good politics. Bill C-30 has proven to be extremely unpopular, provoking underhanded personal attacks on Toews and a massive public backlash. So for now, the bill has been sent to a special committee for amendment.

Good riddance. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the bill to die quietly. Stay away from my hard drive, Mr. Toews, and get a warrant.

Jordan Ray is a Journal staff writer as well as director-at-large of Queen’s University Liberal Association.

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