"Sit down, my son. We don't read most of the bills. Do you really know what that would entail -- if we were to read every bill that we passed? Well, the good thing, it would slow down the legislative process." Rep. John Conyers (D -- MI 14) to Michael Moore on the rush passage of the Patriot Act.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
It's called ministerial responsibility, Toews!
Good to be back after taking a bit of a break. Hope my postings will become much more regular going forward.
Seems we learn nothing from the Americans because don't need to, or perhaps we should. No sooner does our Attorney General, Vic Toews, accuses the Opposition of supporting child pornography because the Opposition is concerned about possible Charter violations on police searches of Internet Service Providers than Toews admits that he actually hadn't read the bill before tabling it in Parliament for first reading last week.
A minister who introduces legislation on behalf of the government is responsible for the content. He or she can't blame it on government lawyers. Especially when it's the head of the Justice Department itself, the Attorney General. Vic Toews is our chief law enforcement officer, for heaven's sake. Wouldn't it be nice for him to say that he screwed up and is open to introducing amendments to fix the major concerns we have about the bill, even before it goes to the Justice Committee after second reading? Frankly, this should actually be read by Committee of the Whole.
This situation almost sounds like the rush job on the anti-terrorism provisions that were passed by Parliament in the wake of 9/11. Most of the bill had actually been ready for tabling before the outrages that befell our American friends (and killed 24 of our own) since the then Liberal government wanted to come down hard on biker gangs and other organized crime elements; but the provisions dealing with preventative detention and secrecy of classified information which were drafted after that horrible day weren't really thought through. Even the "Official Secrets Act" had its name changed to the "Security of Information Act" -- as much a whitewash as when the "War Measures Act" became the "Emergency Measures Act"; martial law by any other name is still martial law.
Regarding the bill itself, the fact any police officer could without a warrant check on my purchasing patterns or my library records -- not to mention what I post here and my Facebook ™ and LinkedIn ™ accounts -- is frightening. It's really no one's business if I want to read Mein Kampf (because I'm not a racist) or The Anarchist's Cookbook (because I have no intention of making a bomb). The government would better spend its time going after rampant identity thieves or unlicensed online "lotteries."
I stand next to no one in my opposition to child porn. The slime-bags who produce and distribute it should be locked up in a deep, dank hole for a very long time.
But what ever happened to legitimately opposing legislation without being branded this or that? This is something learned from the Americans that we never really should have. For that matter, why is it that the only acceptable point of reference on how legislation should be written or enforced is the American way? If we look at other liberal democracies our sentences are already relatively harsh -- in much of the EU sentences for most crimes are substantially lighter for first offences (with the exception of DUI, where a reading of .05 is usually a misdemeanor and .08 is a felony).
Be that as it may, I have to break with many of my fellow progressives in saying the online campaign to air out Toews' dirty laundry (i.e. his divorce) really isn't that polite. Sure what he initially said about the Opposition was wrong, but two wrongs don't exactly make a right unless Toews himself has trafficked in the very kind of atrocity he wants to stamp out (and there is no indication of course that he has ever done that). If we're going to argue for civility and the right to privacy, then we should practice what we preach. There are still rumours about Bytown about another politician facing a family crisis; until we know for sure it really is him or her there's no point spreading rumours.
I support getting tough on crime, especially when there is virtually no chance of redemption as with the disgusting filth the law is intended to address at base. But when the government overreaches, it's the Opposition's duty to presume the "right to advise, to consult and to warn." In this case, we need to go by what we always have done -- probable cause to obtain a warrant. I thought that was what one of the components of habeas corpus was about.