Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A House of Commons marker laid down for the C-30 rewrite

This was the text of a motion passed in the House of Commons last night. The motion was brought by Liberals with a view to the coming debate at committee over C-30, the Conservatives' proposed and invasive internet surveillance legislation:
That the House recognize: (a) the fundamental right of all Canadians to the freedoms of speech, communication and privacy, and that there must be a clear affirmation on the need for these rights to be respected in all forms of communication; (b) that the collection by government of personal information and data from Canadians relating to their online activities without limits, rules, and judicial oversight constitutes a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' protections against unreasonable search and seizure; (c) that Canadians who have expressed deep concerns about Bill C-30 should not be described as being friends of child pornography or advocates of criminal activity; (d) that the Charter is the guarantor of the basic rights and freedoms of all Canadians; and (e) that the Charter is paramount to any provision of the Criminal Code of Canada; and accordingly the House calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that any legislation put forward by his government respects the provisions of the Charter and its commitment to the principles of due process, respect for privacy and the presumption of innocence.
The motion passed unanimously, with 274 voting for, zero against.

Note subsection (b) above, in particular, that includes judicial oversight as being a crucial component in protecting Canadians' online activities against unreasonable search and seizure. The lack of judicial oversight in C-30, as written, when law enforcement seeks to obtain online subscriber information is a key problem and source of much of the online protest.

One would think that the unanimous backing might mean that the Commons committee that will be taking up the bill would act in accordance with the expressed intent of the House of Commons, particularly with respect to subsection (b) and the warrant requirement. After reading through a bunch of the debate, however, and the Conservative statements in particular, it isn't clear at all whether that will occur. It's possible, however, that the debate was a reflection of initial partisan posturing, as MPs start speaking to the bill, staking out their starting positions, not wanting to give any ground on the parliamentary record. And there were glimpses of possible cooperation, this from Conservative MP Albrecht:
Our government believes we have proposed legislation that will ensure Canada's laws adequately protect Canadians online.

We also, however, expect Parliament to conduct a thorough review of our proposed legislation to ensure that we do strike the right balance between protecting Canadians from crime while respecting Canadians' privacy rights. I would ask hon. members to exercise due diligence in that review.
We shall see if statements like that will mean something come committee time. Here was Marc Garneau, doing some pre-committee stage setting too:
I know that Bill C-30 will be sent to committee before second reading and, needless to say, I support this step, which validates our position. However, this is just the first step, and we must now be vigilant in order to ensure, on behalf of Canadians, that this is not just a smokescreen.

Will the government set aside its ideological modus operandi in order to adopt a modus vivendi in the interest of all Canadians? We must take the time required to conduct an in-depth examination of this bill. We will have to hear from many witnesses and experts, and I hope that we will not accept half measures when it comes to legitimately respecting procedures.

We need to recognize that, given these realities and what they mean, the Liberals' reasons for introducing this motion today are quite legitimate. The democratic nature of a society is measured by the manner in which it balances the protection of public safety with civil liberties and individual rights and freedoms.
For now, it was good to see the motion pass. Let's hope that the Conservatives didn't just support it as a non-binding freebie in order to obtain some political cover from the C-30 online uproar.