Ted Talks: Cyberbullying and C-13

In his latest column, Ted Falk promotes the recently passed Bill C-13, the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act.” There’s a lot of good stuff in this law, which is aimed at criminalizing cyberbullying by requiring that all “intimate” pictures posted on the internet have the approval of the people in them, and giving the government the means to track and remove offending pictures. This would give the victims of revenge porn, voyeurism, and even human trafficking some means of protection and recourse. That’s fantastic.

However, many people were concerned about some of the implications of the bill for the privacy of Canadians, including Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd, a BC teen who killed herself after being bullied online. Here’s an excerpt that brings up issues for me:

Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons , lent his support to the bill. He feels the privacy concerns are moot, given the extent of data given over to authorities already. Canning told the committee that he also trusts law enforcement agencies to use the increased powers judiciously.

“If we’re going to shoot this down out of concerns about privacy, let’s talk about the whole issue of privacy. Who really has privacy in Canada anymore?” Canning told reporters.

“We’re talking about privacy and our children are using social media to torment each other to death for likes and thumbs-up on Facebook.”

Despite her misgivings about the privacy implications, Todd said she wants a law passed soon. Asked if she’d support the bill even if the Conservatives ignore her plea, Todd doesn’t hesitate: “I want it passed. I don’t want to wait any longer.”

“I think we’ve waited too long already. It’s been a year and a half . . . since my daughter’s death. That’s too long even for me. I don’t want to wait another two years.

“I want it done now.”

I have incredible respect for Carol Todd and Glen Canning, who have suffered so much but also who have done so much to advocate for other victims of bullying, but I can see that they’ve been placed in a position to compromise. Every day that people are being bullied is one day too long, but rushed decisions and rushed bills can cause many other problems. This government makes a valiant effort to act quickly to protect victims, but whether intentionally or not, they use the urgency of the situation as a tool to help rush bills through, silence debate, and criticize anyone who opposes them. This was not the Conservatives’ first shot at this issue: former Provencher MP and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced its predecessor, and when people complained about the implications for personal privacy he famously said “you can either stand with us, or with the child pornographers.”

Polarizing rhetoric usually doesn’t go over too well, and in the case of C-13 the Conservatives (including Ted Falk in his column) have been careful to talk about having “struck the right balance” between privacy and protection, and to highlight the requirement of a warrant for access to people’s private internet records. While this is true in many cases, the bill is 53 pages long and still gives privacy commissioners (and even Carol Todd) cause for concern about the potential violation of privacy. The NDP asked for the bill to be divided so that they could happily pass the parts of the bill they agreed with and have more time for debate regarding the portions of the bill that were more controversial; this would have satisfied the urgent demand for protection of the victims of cyberbullying, and it would have allowed time for proper debate. The government rejected the NDP’s appeal to divide the bill, and also put a time limit on debate for the bill, prompting NDP MP Charmaine Borg to say the following in the House:

Mr. Speaker, it is very disappointing that we are once again being forced to debate a very important bill under a time allocation motion. I have lost track somewhat, but I think this is the 80th time allocation motion. It has happened so many times under this government that there have been many complex, important bills that we have not had a chance to debate.

This government has a track record of using omnibus bills (that is, drafting bills that cover a multitude of issues but present them as one issue) for just about everything, and for limiting debate on them by using the time allocation motion mentioned above. Using an omnibus bill allows them to include things that would be very unpopular (such as giving the government easy access to private information) with things that are very necessary and important, such as protecting victims of cyberbullying or child pornography; this allows them to characterize opposition to the bill in nefarious ways such as suggesting that those who oppose them are standing with child pornographers, or as Ted Falk says it in his column, “Indeed, for too long the justice system has been about protecting the rights of criminals, not the victims of the crimes.” Putting a time allocation motion on the bill shortens the time available to debate, and in some cases even read, complicated omnibus bills: the omnibus budget bill that passed a few years ago was 420 pages long, contained hundreds of issues, and MPs were given a very limited time to read and debate it. Often government ministers won’t even bother to read a whole bill, because they’re told how to vote on it anyway (but that’s another issue for another day).

So Bill C-13 has passed into law, and while I’m thankful for the anti-bullying provisions within it, I’m frustrated at the way it was handled and the still unresolved privacy issues it presents us with (because the government defeated the proposed amendments to the bill and refused to debate the privacy issues separately from the bullying issues).

The Green Party wants to address issues like this without infringing on the privacy and civil liberties of Canadians. Here is an excerpt from Vision Green, page 120:

  • [Green Party MPs will] Dedicate resources to computer crimes specialists combating the online sexual exploitation of children through child pornography and Internet luring. The RCMP must have the necessary resources and tools to tackle this problem on a national scale. The Harper era legislation fails to provide tools, while intruding excessively on privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians;

Or as Carol Todd put it in the article above:

“We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety. We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, sextortion, and revenge pornography.”

I would add to these statements that the Green Party is not in favour of the abuse of omnibus bills and the time allocation motion that, when combined, whether intentionally or not, have the effect of holding us ransom to bills we would not otherwise support for the sake of protecting victims.

If you have any concerns about cyberbullying, your privacy, the use of omnibus bills, or anything else, let Ted Falk know. Also, let me know so that I can bring it up. It’s Ted’s job to hear from you, and it’s my job as an opposing candidate to help make sure that happens; government works for you, not the other way around!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon