Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cotler incident may harm Conservative case for lawful access legislation

In the wake of the Speaker's privilege ruling yesterday, the Conservatives are saying that "there will be no more phone calls to voters in Cotler’s riding, spreading the word that he was about to step down." Take that for whatever it's worth from these Conservatives. Until they're caught in the midst of the next wonderful iteration of their permanent campaign.

So while this despicable little incident may be over, for the time being, one important point to keep in mind is that they've arguably harmed their case with the lawful access legislation that will be brought before Parliament in the near future. With that legislation, as we know, they are seeking enhanced powers to obtain online subscriber information of Canadian citizens, without a warrant. They've never demonstrated that they need those powers on a warrantless basis. There is a high degree of trust that goes along with that request. So their behaviour means that this legislation in particular requires a much harder look. As Bob Rae suggested in the Star piece, that behaviour raises serious questions:
“We rely on governments to respect information. We rely on governments to respect the due process of law. Citizens give up a lot of their rights in order to give information to people,” Rae said.

“If you condone telling lies and making phone calls into somebody’s riding and playing those games, what would stop you from being similarly abusive in situations where you’re keeping confidential information?”
Now to the eye-rolling crowd out there who are still ready to defend this government even after such tactics are exposed and are reprimanded, the ones who will say, well, this was only politics and all the parties do it, it's activity that's limited to this political, not really. It's about the character of the Conservatives. Why would we believe that they would only behave immorally in the political sphere but morally in the governmental sphere?

Even before this incident it has been clear that the lawful access legislation should rightfully include a real system of checks to prevent potential abuses. One of those checks is the requirement that a warrant be obtained when online subscriber information is sought. That the argument for such inclusions may have been helped by this ugly political mess may be one lonely upside to take from it.