Minister of Public Safety embarks on a campaign of misinformation, critics charge
by Bobbie Saga
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews continues to defend the Tories’ lawful access legislation – and himself – saying many in the media misunderstand the highly controversial Bill C-30.
Toews made the attempt to clarify his position in an Op-ed column for Postmedia News Friday that followed a public backlash beginning with the Tories’ reintroduction of the legislation that many Canadians, at best, deem too intrusive.
But in the process of an explanation, Toews – yet again – resorts to a disingenuous attack, this time taking direct aim at the media.
In his editorial, Toews continues to reiterate the bill’s intent is to protect children, even though the only reference to children is in the title, and that it is required to combat serious crime, even though critics say law enforcement agencies have yet to provide evidence to substantiate the need for sweeping new police powers.
"Let me be clear: Bill C-30 creates no new powers to access the content of e-mails, web-browsing history or phone calls beyond that which already exists in Canadian law," Toews wrote.
"Some have accused me of not reading a bill I've been involved in shaping for over half a decade. Ironically, when I read most media coverage of C-30, I am struck by just how poorly the bill is understood by many writers."
Toews first leveled an attack against Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia Feb. 13 with his now infamous statement, inferring Canadians could, "stand with us of with the child pornographers." But by the following day, and with public outrage mounting over the comment, Toews denied having said it, leading the media to replay the tape of him saying it.
Then on Feb. 14, the day C-30 or the Protecting Children From Online Predators Act was reintroduced in Parliament, it was confirmed the legislation does indeed give authorities new and unprecedented access to personal information – names, addresses, phone numbers and online ID numbers – and without appropriate court oversight.
In an interview airing Feb.17 on CBC Radio's The House, Toews also said his understanding of the bill is police can only request information from ISPs when conducting, "a specific criminal investigation."
But according to privacy and legal experts, as well as the opposition parties, provisions of C-30 do allow authorities the ability to ask for Internet subscribers' information without a warrant under "exceptional circumstances" (Section 17), and there is a section allowing authorities, with a warrant, to make copies of records made by ISPs (Section 34).
Within days of its introduction, and with growing opposition from within their own base that included calls for Toews' resignation, the Tories announced the bill would go directly to committee for revisions, a rare move by any government.
Campaign of misinformation
There is, however, more skepticism than certainty that Bill C-30 going to the committee process will result in reasoned debate, or changes to the legislation. That is because Conservative MPs have control of the process and will determine all aspects of it and its outcome.
And although most vocal media critics of the legislation have yet to respond to Toews continued assertions, or his statement the media misunderstand Bill C-30, some opponents are clearly not backing off in their bid to have the bill go through substantive alterations. Nor has the very vocal public outcry abaited to have Bill C-30 killed altogether, or fixed.
Dr. Michael Geist, an expert on the subject of lawful access, and outspoken critic of both the current and previously tabled legislation, says he has "been asked repeatedly what should be done to fix Bill C-30" since its reintroduction.
He says the bill requires considerable study, adding "12 amendments of undertakings" are needed "to begin to address the massive public concern with the legislation." Geist posted How to Fix Canada's Online Surveillance Bill: A 12 Step To-Do List on his blog yesterday.
"Given recent events, many understandably believe the bill is beyond repair and should be scrapped," he says.
"However, assuming the government sticks with it and send[s] the bill to committee with a mandate to consider a wide range of reforms and submissions, I’d start with the non-comprehensive to-do list:
- Evidence, Evidence, Evidence;
- No Mandatory Warrantless Access to Subscriber Information;
- Reporting Warrantless Disclosure of Subscriber Information;
- Remove the Disclosure Gag Order;
- "Voluntary" Warrantless Data Preservation and Production;
- Government Installation of Surveillance Equipment;
- Reconsider the Internet Provider Regulatory Framework;
- Improve Lawful Access Oversight;
- Limit the Law to Serious Crimes;
- Come Clean on Costs;
- The Missing Regulations;
- Deal with the Failure of Privacy Laws to Keep Pace."
OpenMedia is an independent, non-partisan organization representing more than 40 advocacy and other groups, plus many individual Canadians countering the government with a petition that, to date, has accumulated over 115,000 signatures. It has also championed a public education Stop Online Spying campaign since last May.
"The government is on the defence," Gogolek wrote.
"Fresh from being outed on CBC radio as unfamiliar with his own bill, asked to resign in the National Post, and generally berated via social media, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has been emailing those who signed the Stop Online Spying petition with the same washed up talking points that have been debunked again and again. We’ve decided to go point-by-point through his misleading ‘myth-busting’, and make sure it’s clear how ridiculous this bill — not to mention the force attempting to pass it — truly is."
Gogolek then advised that "If you're upset by Toews' unwillingness to listen to Canadians, consider submitting a letter to your local paper. We have a tool for this here."
Additionally, results of a public-opinion poll released Friday by Angus Reid, suggests half of Canadians surveyed believe the bill is too intrusive, while about the same amount believe C-30 should be scrapped.
The survey concludes Canadians reject components of Bill C-30, and reveals concern over the proposed legislation crosses party lines. Nearly half of Conservatives and the majority of New Democrats and Liberals oppose the bill's passage in its current form. It does not state if Green Party supporters were represented in the survey.
"The idea of surrendering subscriber data and identifiers without a warrant is rejected by almost two thirds of Canadians," Angus Reid declared in its analysis.
It went further, noting, "The most unpopular measure included in Bill C-30 is requiring telecommunications providers to disclose, without a warrant, six types of identifiers from subscriber data (Name, Address, Telephone number, Email address, IP address and Local service provider identifier). Almost two thirds of Canadians (64%) disagree with this idea."
The online survey of 1,011 randomly selected Canadian adults, which took place Thursday and Friday, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.