Politics - Federal

Toews' Smear a New Low in National Discourse

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 16, 2012

Vic Toews ought to be ashamed of himself. The Conservative Minister of Public Safety dragged the national discourse to a new low in his attack on the array of groups that have lined up against the Government's proposed legislation to mandate widespread warrantless electronic surveillance.

Bill C-30, the - and I'm not making this up - the "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act", would mandate internet and cellular service providers to provide personal information about their customers and to share their electronic communications, including following their movements via cell phone signals, in realtime to various law enforcement agencies - without a warrant.

It's a classic power grab, unshackled from judicial oversight, and there's absolutely no reason for a free and democratic society to give its government such sweeping authority to invade personal privacy without due process.

The government already has all the power it needs to seek a court warrant and obtain data from digital service providers. As Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart wrote in an October 26, 2011 letter to Toews:

Despite repeated calls, no systematic case has yet been made to justify the extent of the new investigative capabilities that would have been created by the bills. Canadian authorities have yet to provide the public with evidence to suggest that CSIS or Canadian police cannot perform their duties under the current regime. One-off cases and isolated incidents should not prove the rule, nor should exigent or emergency circumstances, for which there are already Criminal Code provisions.

As well, if the concern of law enforcement agencies is that it is difficult to obtain warrants or judicial authorization in a timely way, these administrative challenges should be addressed by administrative solutions rather than by weakening long-standing legal principles that uphold Canadians' fundamental freedoms.

In fact, Canadian service providers already tend to provide customer data to the government without a court warrant. This is a legitimate privacy concern, but the bill would only formalize and expand such abuse of privacy instead of mitigating it.

'With the Child Pornographers'

But that hasn't stopped Toews from lobbing the most reprehensible smears against principled opponents to this unjustified power grab.

After Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia criticized the government for "preparing to read Canadians' emails and track their movements through cell phone signals", Toews launched into his vile counterattack:

He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.

Not content to take responsibility for the sheer inappropriateness of this charge, Toews subsequently denied saying it.

Then he denied it again. So much for the party of personal responsibility.

Pattern of Smears

Michael Geist, Canada's leading advocate for sane internet policy, has documented Toew's pattern of smears against advocates for the past several weeks.

November 15, 2011:

I would call on the Liberals to finally stop putting the rights of child pornographers and organized crime ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens.

February 2, 2012::

Rather than making things easier for child pornographers, I call on the NDP to listen to the police, listen to the provinces, and support these balanced measures that protect law-abiding Canadians and their children.

February 3, 2012:

Lawful access will aid child porn investigations. I call on the NDP to stop making things easier for predators and support these measures.


OpenMedia.ca has launched a petition to send a message to the Government:

We oppose mandatory Internet surveillance. This scheme is poorly thought out, costly, and will leave our personal information less secure. Unchecked mass surveillance is a breach of our fundamental right to privacy.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2012 at 08:15:40

While I hate labels, Toews strikes me as having the 'right stuff' to be a GW Bush-era Republican.

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By Feeling Chilly (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 10:05:58

Toews remarks go beyond rude and distasteful. As a Minister of the Crown with responsibility for law enforcement, his suggestion that dissent on policy equals support for criminals is disturbing. It is designed, quite clearly, to silence critics. But the more sinister undertone, particularly in discussing a bill like this, is that those who do not support the policy are suspect, and perhaps deserving of surveillance themselves. It's "you're either with us, or we'll be taking a very close look at you." It's intimidation, worthy of a dictatorial state rather than a participatory democracy.

This approach, however, goes beyond Toews remarks. The very title of the Act, the "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act", is designed to limit dissent. It sets up an argument that those who oppose it are willing to put children at risk. But the operational text of the Act says nothing about children. It extends enhanced powers to the Competition Bureau as well as the police. I'm pretty certain the Competition Bureau is not regularly involved in investigating child pornography.

The litmus test will be the willingness of the government to accept an amendment to the legislation that restricts its application to investigations concerning child exploitation. If the government is not willing to adopt such an amendment, then the sham of their marketing of this Act will be exposed. The enhanced surveillance capabilities they seek will be shown to be desired for much broader purposes.

Much has been made of the requirements in the Act that ISP's and phone companies turn over subscriber information without a warrant. While this is troubling, the fact is that at present no law prevents an ISP from turning over this information to law enforcement. In fact, many already do. The potentially larger implication is the requirement that ISP's construct and maintain their networks in such a way that enhanced surveillance is possible, what Ontario Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian calls "surveillance by design". It establishes a new normal. As more and more of our lives are networked and online, mining and connecting data becomes incredibly powerful. A detailed picture can be assembled of what a person does, where they go, what they think, what they buy and who they communicate with, and this picture can be closely examined without the person's knowledge. When the Federal government proposes legislation that requires, by law, that our communications infrastructure be built to facilitate this sort of surveillance, we have to be very cautious about not only how they currently intend to use it, but how it might be used in the future. For once the tools are there, governments and law enforcement will face increasing pressure, and desire, to use them.

This week, the selling feature of the bill is "protecting children". But if the infrastructure requirements are accepted, it is not difficult to see how they will be incrementally expanded. Data retention requirements could be gradually expanded, as storage becomes cheaper. Once the concept of surveillance by design is accepted, expansion becomes a mundane, technical detail that happens below the public's radar. And when the next major public "security event" happens, be it a terrorist attack, civil unrest, a biker war, or another G20 summit, law enforcement will have in place the tools to execute widespread invasions of privacy on a scale never before possible. During the G20, we witnessed massive denials of some of the most fundamental freedoms "guaranteed" in our Charter. Police suppressed freedoms of speech and assembly, often violently. They arrested thousands without cause, imprisoned them, and then released them without charge. All in the name of "security".

Once the surveillance infrastructure is built, with data retention, data mining and pattern recognition designed in, we leave ourselves open to granting access to government every detail of our lives. The next major public security crisis could produce the "Protecting Canadians From Terrorists Act", or the "Protecting Canadians From Organized Crime Act." This Act would be short and to the point - grant the government unrestricted access to all of the data now being routinely collected. And the techniques will be the same: if you oppose it, you'll be standing with the terrorists, or standing with the Hell's Angels.

Rights are rarely taken away in a sudden, dramatic fashion. They are worn away, like erosion on the banks of a river. It can be so gradual that it is hard to see. But eventually, you find yourself at the bottom of a deep river valley, with no way back to the top. And you wonder, how could this trickle of water have cut so deeply into the bedrock of the land? And how did it happen without you even noticing?

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By 0xC0D1F1ED (registered) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 11:13:18

Excellent points already made. My question is what good will these new laws do if criminals use encrypted VPNs in other countries? Will Gov't then ask for expanded powers, or for programmers to backdoor crypto? Will they try to make the internet like the amateur radio bands where everybody has to transmit unencrypted except for law enforcement? (or other agencies that apply for a license that no private citizen has any hope in hell of getting) How will this data be stored, and will anybody audit the storage of the data? What happens if an ISP stores it in plain-text? Will they be fined? Will that charge then be passed back on to me as a customer?

What happens when ISPs start getting breached and customer histories start getting posted to PasteBin? Should I be prevented from getting a job because I like to watch hardcore porn starring consenting midgets with ball-gags and cricket paddles? Employers already scour social media and refuse to hire people because of stuff on their profiles. Imagine they had your whole history? Imagine you're the "smart computer guy" in the family, and they get you to look up all kinds of information online for them. Do I really want the potential for future insurance providers to see that I looked up "testicle+rash"? or HIV/AIDS? or gotten details on specific cancers? I've got a feeling if this passes Yakov Smirnoff will move to Canada just so he can be funny again.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2012 at 11:41:58

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2012 at 00:47:07

I heart Corey Doctorow.

I'm more than a little tired of the excessive use of sexual violence as a justification by the justice system. Indifference, inaction and victim-blaming are huge issues faced by survivors of sexual assault when they attempt to seek legal help, which is why most don't, and why those who do so rarely get "justice". If they wanted to start taking action on these issues, they could start by spending a little less time listening to our phone calls and a little more time listening to victims.

As for these new laws, the technological potential here is incredible. Now that our phones are computers, the amount of data they store and transmit is incredible and growing. We're rapidly entering a world where everything is not only recorded, but cross-referenced, and that leaves very little room for privacy. Consider this recent case from the US: Target superstores learned to effectively track pregnancies very early through purchase patterns, for the sake of marketing. In the process, though, they got a lot of attention by unwittingly tipping off the father of a high-school aged girl that he was about to become a grandfather... http://www.businessinsider.com/the-incre...

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2012 at 13:19:51 in reply to Comment 74506

Wow, now that really shows off the power of data-mining at work.

And the risks, which is why I try to keep my "profile" to a minimum.

;-) Just kidding Mr. Toews!

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By I wonder (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2012 at 14:47:12

Sometimes I wonder what will wake up the masses, as we keep pushing closer and closer to a complete fascist state.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 20, 2012 at 16:16:08 in reply to Comment 74523

Ya not sure, our current soft fascist (global) state seems to be too comfy for some folks and they just can't seem to wake up. The jackboots will have to knock down the door and drag them out of bed before they wake up.

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted February 18, 2012 at 14:44:14 in reply to Comment 74523

I think we are closer to that state than many suspect. Check out these three articles and decide for yourself:




Comment edited by lorne on 2012-02-18 14:44:53

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By Love goodness (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2012 at 15:04:46


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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 19, 2012 at 23:52:27

If Mr Toews were in Hamilton, his recent actions would be the equivalent of walking into every north end dive bar and calling everybody present a "goof". For those unfamiliar with local inner-city street terminology, them's fightin' words. And it's a fight he got.

I really have no sympathy for the national public humiliation he's now receiving.

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By Rwolf (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2012 at 16:07:24


The Canadian (Commons Bill C-30) that would among other electronic invasions—give any Canadian police officer without a warrant—the power to request Internet service providers turn over customer information (see section 17 of C-30) will cause the same loss of electronic privacy and civil liberties the British Government recently proposed—to monitor the electronic activity and communications of Brits. Is it coincidence the British and Canadian proposals mirror legislation the U.S. Government said it wanted passed in 2011 to spy on U.S. Citizens? Overlooked by mainstream media is that Britain and Canada signed with the U.S Government an array of (Asset Forfeiture Sharing Agreements) to share with Canadian and British Police/Governments assets seized from Brits and Canadians resulting from evidence or information gleaned from wiretapping and other electronic surveillance of Citizens’ communications, e.g., emails, faxes, Internet activity, Internet actively, phone records including GPS tracking.

Compare U.S. Government’s proposal to electronically monitor Americans without a warrant—with Canada’s recent Commons’ eavesdropping (Bill C-30) and British Government’s plan to spy on its Citizens’ private communications.

The U.S. Government wants the power to (introduce as evidence) in criminal prosecutions and government civil trials, any phone call record, email or Internet activity. That would open the door for Police to take out of context any innocent—hastily written email, fax or phone call record to allege a crime or violation was committed to cause a person’s arrest, fines and or civil asset forfeiture of their property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture. Government civil asset forfeiture requires only a civil preponderance of evidence for police to forfeit property, little more than hearsay.

If the U.S. Justice Department has its way, any information the FBI derives from circumventing the Fourth Amendment, i.e. (no warrant searches) of Web Server Records; a Citizen’s Internet Activity, personal emails; fax / phone calls may be used by the FBI for (fishing expeditions) to issue subpoenas in hopes of finding evidence or to prosecute Citizens for any alleged crime or violation. Consider that neither Congress nor the courts—determined what Bush II NSA electronic surveillance, perhaps illegal could be used by police or introduced into court by government to prosecute Americans criminally or civilly. If U.S. Justice Department is permitted (No-Warrant) surveillance of all electronic communications, it is problematic state and local law enforcement agencies and private government contractors will want access to prior Bush II NSA and other government illegally obtained electronic records not limited to—Americans’ Internet activity; private emails, faxes and phone calls to secure evidence to arrest Americans, assess fines and or civilly forfeit their homes, businesses and other assets under Title 18USC and other laws. Of obvious concern, what happens to fair justice in America if police become dependent on “Asset Forfeiture” to help pay their salaries and budget operating costs?

The “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000” (effectively eliminated) the “five year statue of limitations” for Government Civil Asset Forfeiture: the statute now runs five years (from the date) police allege they “learned” an asset became subject to forfeiture. It is foreseeable should (no warrant) government electronic surveillance be approved; police will relentlessly sift through business and Citizen’s (government retained Internet data), emails and phone communications to discover possible crimes or civil violations. A corrupt despot U.S. Government can too easily use no-warrant—(seized emails, Internet data and phone call information) to blackmail Americans, corporations and others in the same manner Hitler utilized his police state passed laws to extort support for the Nazi fascist government, including getting parliament to pass Hitler’s 1933 Discriminatory Decrees that suspended the Constitutional Freedoms of German Citizens. A Nazi Government threat of “Property Seizure” Asset Forfeiture of an individual or corporation’s assets was usually sufficient to ensure Nazi support.

Under U.S. federal civil forfeiture laws, a person or business need not be charged with a crime for government to forfeit their property. Most U.S. Citizens, property and business owners that defend their assets against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture claim an “innocent owner defense.” This defense can become a “Catch 22” a criminal prosecution trap for both guilty and innocent property owners. Any fresh denial of guilt made to government when questioned about committing a crime “even when you did not do the crime” may (involuntarily waive) a defendant’s right to assert in their defense—the “Criminal Statute of Limitations” past for prosecution; any fresh denial of guilt even 30 years after a crime was committed may allow Government prosecutors to use old and new evidence, including information discovered during a Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding to launch a criminal prosecution. For that reason many innocent Americans, property and business owners are reluctant to defend their property and businesses against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture.

Re: waiving Criminal Statute of Limitations: see USC18, Sec.1001, James Brogan V. United States. N0.96-1579. U.S. See paragraph (6) at:

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:55:33

Ryan, you would be disappointed if the RCMP didn't have a file on you? I would.

What interests me is the parallels you can draw between C-30 and the gun control registry.

In both cases the state infringes on the privacy of the law abiding majority for little gain. Heavily, in the case of C-30. In both cases the criminal element is not much reduced by this infringement, as they have other ways (illegal unregistered weapons; aliases, encryption) of eluding the law.

If personal freedom is the only basis of your ideology, you will have the same stand on both issues. If you insist on harm reduction entering the equation it gets more complicated. But our political and legal systems are a long way from reaching 'harm minimization' as a societal goal. Simple concept, but it requires smart, objective people to practice it (sigh...) If we did so, the Conservatives would be more deserving of the label "terrorists" than Greenpeace is.

Amazing that Toews chooses to play the victim from the Anonymous personal hack, when this is precisely the kind of information that Joe Cop down the street can dig up on anyone on a whim. Maybe Toews is too stupid, or hypocritical, to see the irony. Any rational person would slink off in the shadows realizing, "oh, yeah, that's the downside. Sorry."

I think the best way of addressing a problem such as child porn is to set up a third party internet intelligence division which can be triggered quickly by police request, but Joe Cop is not allowed to do it himself. Only positive findings relevant to the suspected crime are forwarded to police. The third party must be carefully watched by an ombudsman and have serious penalties for unwarranted privacy invasion.

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