Currently bouncing around Parliament is the immigration reform bill Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act (C-49), introduced by the Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews. Toews had earlier brought us the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (C-30), a bill about surveilling Canadians’ electronic communications (which I discussed in an earlier post). Who comes up with these names? And do they direct the political debate?
The questions refer to the short titles of bills — the ones meant for citation only. Both bills above have long, formal, objective titles as well, such as Bill C-30’s An Act to Enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to Amend the Criminal Code and Other Acts, and Bill C-49’s An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act. (Click here to view a comprehensive list of bills for Parliament’s current session.) But it’s the short titles that get passed around in debates and by the media, and that we, the voting public, ultimately associate with new legislation.
The short title for a Parliamentary bill originates with its sponsoring minister (e.g., Toews), in consultation with the government (e.g., Conservative Party). In the case of a private member’s bill, the short title comes from the MP putting it forward. Short titles are up for debate in committee, and the Opposition typically pushes to amend the polarizing ones. This rarely succeeds. One exception happened in 2010, when Bill C-22’s original short title, Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act, was successfully contested in committee, and later deleted. Parliament requires that only a bill’s full title accurately reflect its contents; there are no laws governing short titles. In the past, and usually still now, a short title is pulled directly from the bill’s full title (e.g., An Act Respecting Louis Riel becomes Louis Riel Act (C-302)). (more…)
Last week, many Canadians ended their Valentine’s Day startled by the news that Vic Toews had a long-term affair with his children’s babysitter, and spent $500 at Winnipeg’s Original Pancake House. These private revelations about the Minister of Public Safety came via the anonymous Twitter feed @vikileaks30. The account has since been shut down, but not before fulfilling its purpose: focusing attention on a Conservative push for the enactment of Bill C-30, which will ease restrictions on internet surveillance. The Vikileaks incident tailgated Toews’ remarks — directed toward the Liberal MP who’d invoked 1984 in his challenge to the bill — that “he can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
Bravo to us for finally listening to what’s happening around our telecommunications usage and rights. Bill C-30’s most disquieting element is that it would force internet service providers like Rogers and Bell to hand over subscriber information to authorities whenever requested, without a warrant. Such forfeitures would include IP addresses, which can be used to trace many online activities. But wait: of the tens of thousands of information requests that the RCMP sent to telecom service providers throughout 2010, the TSPs complied with 94 percent of them. Bill C-30, despite the size and thickness of its blanket, would be required for only the remaining 6 percent of cases in which authorities need a warrant to compel disclosure. It’s unclear why the Conservative Party insists on chasing this bill. Worrying is the wide range of implications that a fully warrant-less surveillance system would allow, from the fact that it would become easy (and, many of us fear, customary) for law enforcement agents to do extensive internet usage background checks on anyone, at anytime, to the fact that people under surveillance may never know and their ISPs may be forbidden to tell them. (more…)