Information Policies Under the Harper Government Part 5: Lawful Access to Information

Although Harper’s Government is now gone, the harmful policies it created will continue to impact Canadians as our new government takes office. The damage caused by the Conservatives’ slow and steady deterioration of Canadians’ personal privacy and freedom of expression, among many other egregious assaults to our constitutionally held rights, will take a long time to undo. 

One-Line Description: Government decries opponents of its draconian cyber surveillance legislation as supporters of child pornography,[1] then passes legislation under the guise of fighting cyber-bullying.[2]

Details: While attempts to update Canada’s surveillance legislation have been proposed several times over the past two decades, the Conservative government was especially aggressive in its approach to pass lawful access legislation. In 2012 it introduced legislation that would significantly expand police surveillance powers including the ability to get access to telecommunications subscriber information with lessened need for warrants.[3] However, while the law was being debated in Parliament, then Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggested that Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, who was questioning the bill, could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”[4] The backlash to Toews characterization of opponents to the bill caused the bill to be shelved, but not to be outdone the Conservatives reintroduced many provisions of the bill the next session in Bill C-13 under the guise of enhancing legislation to protect Canadians from cyberbullying. Despite the lack of need to connect legislation for addressing cyberbullying with lawful access legislation, the approach worked, and Bill C-13 received royal assent at the end of 2014.[5]   The passed legislation has the effect of reducing the threshold for obtaining a warrant from where investigators have a reasonable belief to a mere suspicion.[6]

[1] Gustavo Vieira. “Vic Toews vs. The Child Pornographers – Whose Side Are You on?” Macleans. 14 Feb. 2012. http://www.macleans.ca/general/vic-toews-vs-the-child-pornographers-whose-side-are-you-on/

[2] Bill C-13, Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. 41st Parl., 2nd Sess. http://www.parl.gc.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?billId=6301394&Language=E&Mode=1

[3] Bill C-30 Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. 41st Parl., 1st Sess. cl. 26. http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/411/Government/C-30/C-30_1/C-30_1.PDF

[4] Vic Toews. House of Commons Debates, Monday Feb 13, 2012. 41st Parl., 1st Sess. Edited Hansard Vol. 146, No. 79. http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5380035

[5] Bill C-13, Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. 41st Parl., 2nd Sess. http://www.parl.gc.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?billId=6301394&Language=E&Mode=1

[6] Privacy Commissioner of Canada. “Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act.” https://www.priv.gc.ca/parl/2014/parl_sub_141119_e.asp