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Tories on e-snooping: 'Stand with us or with the child pornographers'

Canada's privacy commissioners will be surprised to hear it, but the Conservatives are accusing anyone who opposes their bill to give police new powers to monitor the Internet of supporting child pornography.

A similar comment might have cost Stephen Harper the 2004 election. But with the next election years away, it's hard to know whether or when Public Safety Minister Vic Toews will change his tune.

Mr. Toews will introduce Lawful Access legislation, as it is commonly called, into the House of Commons Tuesday. Previous versions of the bill failed to make it through minority parliaments, but now that the Conservatives have a majority it is almost certain to pass.

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The bill will require Internet service providers to store and to make available to the government and police forces information on the Internet activity of their customers.

Police will require a warrant to obtain that information. But the bill would also permit them to obtain IP addresses (which identifies someone on the Internet), email addresses, mobile phone numbers and other information without any warrant.

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's privacy watchdog, is fiercely opposed to the legislation, which she calls "surveillance by design." Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and other provincial privacy commissioners have also raised concerns.

But when Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia attacked the Conservatives for "preparing to read Canadians' emails and track their movements through cellphone signals" – which does appear to be a severe distortion of the bill's powers – Mr. Toews's counterattack was fierce.

"As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier," he told the House. "We are proposing to bring measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide police with the lawful tools that they need.

"He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

During the 2004 election campaign, the Conservatives issued and then quickly withdrew a press release suggesting then-prime minister Paul Martin supports child pornography because his government wasn't, in the eyes of Conservatives, sufficiently tough on crime.

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When confronted by reporters, Mr. Harper refused to back down. "I'm not going to, in any way, give the Liberal Party any break in its record on child pornography," the Conservative Leader maintained. "It is disgraceful, they have had multiple opportunities to do something about it, and they have refused."

Mr. Martin leapt at the gaffe. "Look, this is personal. I am a father and I am a husband, and he has crossed the line. He should apologize," he maintained. Many observers credit the exchange with a last-minute surge that returned the Liberals to office in a minority government.

Now, it would appear, the Conservatives are once again lumping opponents of their law-and-order program in with pedophiles and pornographers.

Ms. Stoddart and Ms. Cavoukian have indicated they will wait to see the legislation Tuesday before offering comment.

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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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