Vic Toews and ‘Lawful Access’: Deception, or incompetence?

It is utterly unacceptable that a Minister of the Crown can assure the House that his legislation would require police to obtain a warrant to obtain information on private citizen’s Internet usage, even suggesting that statements to the contrary are “complete fabrications”, when the wording of the legislation does, in fact, allow otherwise. 

As later became clear, the legislation provides that “any police officer” can, under “exceptional circumstances”, directly request information from an Internet Service Provider without the necessity of court approval. 

Not only does this give the police the right to conduct ‘warrantless searches’, but how would the term “exceptional circumstances” be defined, and who would make that decision?  Any involvement by the courts would have to be ‘after the fact’… 

The potential for abuse appears to be almost limitless.  For that reason, to say that the Minister mislead the House is putting it very mildly.  And the Minister saying  that anyone criticising the Bill can either “stand with us or with the child pornographers” before being caught out, indicates to my suspicious mind the very distinct possibility that he was attempting to squelch any opposition to this appalling measure before his trickery was exposed. 

The best we can hope for is that the Minister may simply have been unaware of the wording, and therefore the possible uses and abuses, of government legislation that he himself was proposing…

In my opinion, Vic Toews has demonstrated himself to be completely unsuitable to hold the office of Minister of Public Safety, or any other Cabinet post for that matter.  He should resign his position forthwith, and take up residence in the back benches where he belongs.

What a disgraceful exhibition.

Jeff Goodall.

After careful consideration, Vic Toews sides with ‘child pornographers’

National Post
Matt Gurney: Feb. 18th, 2011

Vic Toews, federal Minister of Public Safety, has had himself a little bit of a week. It began last Monday, when he fielded a question from Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia. Mr. Toews infamously defended the government’s so-called Lawful Access bill, which would increase the amount of information about customers that telecommunications companies are forced to keep and ease the restrictions against them making said information available to law enforcement, by declaring that, “[Mr. Scarpaleggia] can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

Problem: Mr. Toews has now been forced to admit that the bill is badly flawed, and that he can’t support it in its current form. In other words, Mr. Toews can either stand with his government or the child pornographers … and he’s not picking the government.The problem at the heart of the issue is whether law enforcement officials can access information on a private citizen’s Internet usage without first obtaining a warrant, as they would have to before having a phone tapped or searching a building. Mr. Toews has been very clear that, yes, police would still need a warrant. That made up the rest of the child pornography exchange, in fact, as Hansard shows us (emphasis added):

Scarpaleggia: Mr. Speaker, the government is preparing to read Canadians’ emails and track their movements through cellphone signals, in both cases, without a warrant. How can we trust the Conservatives with such sweeping powers when they use Facebook to keep law-abiding Canadians out of a public meeting? Is this 2012 or 1984? How can we trust them not to use private information to intimidate law-abiding Canadians gathering, for example, to protest a pipeline or to protest pension cuts?

Toews: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the opportunity to tell him that every province unanimously supported moving forward with the legislation, legislation that was introduced first under the Liberal government, by his party. As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier. We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide the police with the lawful tools that they need. He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.

Scarpaleggia: Mr. Speaker, the government is preparing to read Canadians’ emails and follow their movements through their cellphone signals, without a warrant in either case. How could we extend such broad power to the Conservatives with any confidence when they used Facebook to keep law-abiding citizens away from public gatherings? What guarantee do we have that the government will not use these new powers to intimidate Canadians who want to gather to demonstrate against a pipeline, for example, or against a decision to cut their pensions?

Toews: Mr. Speaker, outrageous claims that private communications will be intercepted without a warrant is a complete fabrication. It was the member’s colleague Marlene Jennings who told us year after year to get this legislation passed. This legislation would not allow access to private communications without a warrant. That being said, our message is clear. If someone uses technology to commit crimes, such as distributing child pornography, the police will apprehend the individual and he or she will be punished to the full extent of the law.

Pretty clear — Mr. Toews said twice that the police would need a warrant to access the information. Indeed, this is something he stressed yet again on Friday, when his office submitted a letter to the editor of the National Post, which was printed on the letters page of Saturday’s edition. It read, in part, and again with emphasis added, “[If police want access to someone’s email], they would need a warrant — and always will,” and then later, “There is no provision … that would allow police to read email without a warrant issued by a judge. Nothing in the proposed legislation would change that reality.”

But Mr. Toews has now been forced to … amend those statements. During an interview Saturday morning on CBC Radio, host Evan Solomon presented Mr. Toews with language from the Act that stipulates that in “exceptional circumstances”, “any police officer” can directly ask for information from an Internet Service Provider, without first obtaining a warrant. Mr. Toews was taken aback by this, and said, “This is the first time that I’m hearing this somehow extends ordinary police emergency powers. In my opinion, it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t.”

Mr. Toews is quite right that it shouldn’t. But as written, it clearly does. While Canada may need to update its laws to adapt to changing communications technologies, the coercive powers of the state must always be constrained by checks and balances — a warrant from a judge being one of the most important. It turns out that Mr. Scarpaleggia was right all along — the bill would allow for police to access personal information without a warrant. Nor is the “exceptional circumstances” qualifier particularly comforting — given that the act is designed, in theory, to protect children, it would be hard to find a circumstance that wouldn’t be exceptional. The bill will now be reviewed by a Parliamentary committee before being debated again by the House, and one hopes that this major flaw will be swiftly corrected.

One hopes further that Mr. Toews has learned his lesson. No one expects a cabinet minister to know every single line of a piece of legislation, but it is certainly alarming that the Minister of Public Safety was completely ignorant to an issue of fundamental freedom as serious as authorizing warrantless searches. This should never have happened, and must never happen again. Ministers clearly need to make a full understanding of the legislation they are promoting a higher priority, before they once again find themselves boxed in by their own bluster and rhetoric, forced to choose between supporting child pornographers or their own legislative proposals.

National Post

Email: mgurney@nationalpost.com

See original here.

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