Canadians have generally always thought of themselves as free people living in a freedom-loving democracy. We tend to believe in the power of freedom from government persecution, free speech, and our beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the Harper Conservatives have continued the state-sponsored attack on all of these ideals with their recent legislation Bills C-10 and C-30. These bills dramatically change Canadians’ rights. The Conservatives aren’t the first government to do this, of course, but they are the most bold and open of all governing parties to attempt these changes. The less-than-ideal wording of the Charter has allowed governments to apply their definition of “reasonable” to the rights afforded to Canadians within the Charter. It seems as though most governments believe that it is the Charter that gives Canadians these rights and freedoms with “reasonable limits”.
Others believe that the rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy are inherent in being a human being, not because of some arbitrary legislation enforced by a state apparatus. Governments have used section 1 of the Charter as a sort of exculpatory clause in a contract that gives them the ability to interpret the rights “given” under the Charter using their own definition of reasonable limits. Legislation heaped upon legislation has been attempted, time and again, to erode the Charter rights of Canadians (not to mention the inherent rights of all human beings). The latest examples are Bills C-10 and C-30. Bill C-10 (aka “the Crime Omnibus Bill”) attempts to limit the powers of judges to use their judgment when sentencing Canadians in courts. On the surface, this might seem to be a good thing; why should convicted criminals get handed lighter sentences arbitrarily?
The problem is that it does not allow for extenuating circumstances, something known as mercy. It should be noted that extenuating circumstances might be thought of as a synonym for reasonable limits, which is the luxury afforded to the governments’ ability to pass onerous laws, but apparently not to Canadian citizens’ facing fines or incarceration. One could challenge these laws based on section 12 of the Charter which protects Canadians from being “subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.” Bill C-30 is another attempt by the Conservatives to appropriate powers for the state and the police which is contrary to both the Charter and to Canadians’ natural rights. Bill C-30 gives police the ability to search, seize, and monitor records stored by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) about their customers without a warrant. These records would give the state (i.e. the police) the ability to track the movements of Canadians (as of 2010, roughly 80% of Canadians use the Internet with the majority using more than one mobile device for access). The bill would also allow police to read e-mail without a warrant. In February 2012, Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister, expressed his continued support of Bill C-30 despite a total lack of support from Canadians (approximately 64% are against C-30 according to the latest Angus-Reid polls), from opposition parties, and even from within the Conservative party itself.
For someone that should know the legislation he claims to support, Mr. Toews also expressed his surprise that the bill would give police extra powers: “Toews said in his opinion, it shouldn’t extend police powers in that way.” Despite this lack of understanding or support, the government appears to continue its passage, to the detriment of all Canadians. It has also come to light that the government has been holding secret, closed-door meetings with the largest Canadian ISPs (Rogers, Bell, Telus, RIM, Microsoft, and more) to provide “guidance” about how to give police access to their networks and data without a warrant. The ISPs seem more than willing and eager to comply with the proposed new law. Who then is protecting the privacy rights, and the right to unreasonable search of Canadians as afforded under the Charter and natural rights? Apparently, not the government. Neither are the ISPs to whom we pay more for service than we would in the US, Japan, or England because of market price-fixing. Anyone thinking that this is new behavior for the Canadian government or some artifact of these new Conservatives, think again. In the 60′s (which was updated in 2001 to include the Internet), the government introduced the ironically named bill the “Canadian Human Rights Act“. Ironic because, on the surface, it was designed to protect Canadians against government or other acts or omissions that discriminate against a person based on numerous traits (for example: race, sex, age, etc.) which is a laudable, well-meaning goal. Unfortunately, section 13 of this act attempts to limit the free speech rights of all Canadians by imposing censorship to telephone calls and Internet communication where the government feels someone “is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” against identifiable groups.
In 2009, mainly due to the forward-thinking Canadian Human Rights Tribunal official Athanasios Hadjis, Section 13 was found by the Tribunal to violate the Charter right to free expression. Those who support Free speech do not condone violence or hatred against any group for any reason. Curtailing free expression of idiotic and hateful ideas does nothing but allow people and their ideas to skirt debate and be debunked publicly. Section 13 also provides a slippery slope erosion of Canadians’ fundamental, inalienable rights. Enhanced powers for warrantless searches, more control by governments of the judiciary, and government enforced warrantless surveillance of supposedly free and innocent Canadians all point to the increasing desire by successive governments to enact a police state in Canada. “Police state” is the new way of saying Neo-Fascism. If one remembers history, one knows that fascism isn’t something that happens over night, or even over one generation. Fascism is something that creeps up on people, little-by-little, until one day, the very rights we allow the government to remove from certain people, are removed from the rest of us.
– Todd Brill
Todd lives in the sunny Okanagan & is an avid technophile, entrepreneur, and staunch Libertarian