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John Ibbitson: The quiet death of the Internet surveillance bill

Public Safety Vic Toews speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 4, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

What Parliament isn't debating can be as interesting as what it is debating. This fall it emphatically isn't debating Bill C-30.

That's because, for all intents and purposes, the Conservatives' Internet surveillance legislation is dead.

C-30, you will remember, would grant the federal government and law enforcement agencies the power to obtain information about individuals who are online without having to apply for a warrant.

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You will also remember that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews endured a world of hurt back in February when he told critics of the bill that they could "either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

Stung by the widespread opposition, including from the federal and provincial privacy commissioners and from within its own caucus, the Conservative government said it would refer the bill to a committee.

Last May, your correspondent was rebuked by Mr. Toews for writing that the bill was, in reality, "dead in the water."

"Our government has been very clear, that matter will be referred to a parliamentary committee," he insisted.

But the five hours of debate needed before the bill could be referred to the committee didn't happen that May. It didn't happen in June. It didn't happen in September, when the House returned from summer recess. October? So far, nada.

When asked when and whether C-30 would come before the House this autumn, Mr. Toews' spokeswoman, Julie Carmichael, said by email: "Our government is thoroughly reviewing this legislation.

"At all times we will strike an appropriate balance between protecting privacy and giving police the tools they need to do their job," she wrote.

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Which may be another way of saying the Internet surveillance bill is not just dead in the water – it's at the bottom of the sea.

Nathan Cullen, House Leader for the NDP, says he has asked about the status of C-30 at virtually every one of his weekly meetings with Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan.

"I always get the exact same answer back, which is a non-answer," said Mr. Cullen in an interview.

"I don't know whether it was because the Minister so screwed up the messaging, or whether they've had some other input saying they went too far or it just can't be salvaged," he speculates.

What isn't speculation is that the Internet bill has disappeared from the radar – for good, it would appear.

Stephen Harper is likely to have Parliament prorogued this coming winter, in anticipation of a major cabinet shuffle and a throne speech to mark the halfway point in his majority government. With prorogation, C-30 will die on the order paper, unmourned.

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A new Public Safety Minister may introduce new lawful access legislation that would require a judicial warrant before anyone could compel an Internet Service Provider to divulge information about a client.

But that's down the road. What matters is this: If you're with the child pornographers, or with the privacy commissioners, or with at least some of the Tory caucus, or with the millions of other Canadians who want to limit the power of the federal government to snoop online, you can forget about C-30.

The Tories appear content to leave this political shipwreck alone.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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