In Debate: Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act

Ms. Charmaine Borg (Terrebonne—Blainville, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in this debate today.

    As all members of this House will agree, cyberbullying is an extremely disturbing phenomenon. When I heard the stories of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons in the media, I was truly saddened to learn what they had to go through and the pain they had to suffer, which unfortunately led them to suicide.

    We have talked at length about Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, of course, but I want to emphasize that many young people whom we will never hear about have also been victims of cyberbullying and have unfortunately decided to commit suicide as result of this scourge. It is extremely important that we work together as parliamentarians and do everything we can to find solutions to this absolutely appalling phenomenon.

    Bullying is obviously nothing new. People have been talking about it for a long time, particularly in the schools, and I myself was bullied when I was young. However, bullying has changed with new technologies.

     New technologies afford excellent opportunities. They enable people to learn quickly, to share stories and to socialize without even knowing the other person. Unfortunately, they also make it possible, for example, to distribute pictures of a person against that person's wishes, especially pictures that can harm the person, as in the cases of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons.

     Another aspect of cyberbullying underscores how important it is to take action. Bullying used to occur more in school environments, among a group of friends, but young people were safe when they got home to a no-bullying zone. In the case of cyberbullying, that no-bullying zone unfortunately no longer exists now that there are social media.

     Now, when young people get home from school, they open Facebook, Twitter or whatever social medium they may use, and they can see negative comments or photographs published without their consent. Amanda Todd changed schools several times in an attempt to start over. Unfortunately, when photographs are posted on the Internet, they stay there forever. You can never completely delete what is posted there.

     That is why one part of this bill is important, and I do mean one part. Only four pages of this 53-page bill address cyberbullying.

     I am going to take the time to congratulate my colleagues from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for raising these issues in the House of Commons. I know that much of what my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour proposed wound up in this bill. I am really proud of that because this is an extremely important issue.

     The bill will create a provision on cyberbullying stating that:


    Everyone who knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct, or being reckless as to whether or not that person gave their consent to that conduct, is guilty…

     This provision is extremely important. I am convinced that every member of the House of Commons would vote now to pass it at all three readings in order to bring it into force.

     The problem is that this issue has unfortunately been used. There are four pages on cyberbullying. What did the government do? It included about 50 pages on lawful access in a bill about cyberbullying. There is no connection.

     The police admittedly need certain powers to act in such cases, but lawful access could have been treated as a separate issue, particularly when the bill talks about, for example, terrorism and software that has no bearing on the provision. Thus, everyone who distributes, transmits, sells or makes available an intimate image of a person is guilty of an offence. That has no bearing.

     I am extremely concerned about the fact that cyberbullying has been used in order to propose provisions that, as everyone knows, have been highly controversial.

     I have to say, all the same, that I am happy that the Conservatives did listen a little. This happened thanks to the work of the whole community of people concerned about protecting privacy and all those who stood up to combat measures that were going to make it possible to disseminate personal data without a warrant and require Internet service providers to set up an entire infrastructure for online snooping.

     I am happy that these measures are not contained in Bill C-13. However, there are other measures that are very worrying. What is most disturbing is that tragic stories about cyberbullying, like the cases of Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd and all the other young victims of cyberbullying, have been used in order to introduce measures respecting lawful access. It has no connection and merits a separate debate.

     I would prefer that we speak today strictly about cyberbullying, because it is so important.

     I would like to use the 20 minutes of speaking time allowed me to talk exclusively about cyberbullying. I am obliged, however, to talk about all the other controversial and disturbing measures relating to lawful access.

     A motion was moved to divide the bill, so that we could talk strictly about cyberbullying and thus expedite consideration of that portion of the bill.

     Unfortunately, the Conservatives refused. They wanted to use cyberbullying to push through a range of provisions respecting online access that threaten the protection of privacy. The victims deserve a separate debate. They really do deserve it, and so do the families. We should debate cyberbullying alone, and not lawful access.

     For lack of co-operation from the Conservatives, however, I will talk about lawful access. As the NDP critic on digital issues, I have done a great deal of work on this one. I have consulted people all across Canada concerning the protection of privacy and lawful access. I asked them where the limit lay as far as they were concerned, and what they found disturbing.

    Four aspects are particularly troubling and they are of great concern to those who are worried about protecting privacy. I, too, am concerned about them. I believe that they deserve the full attention of the committee that studies this bill.

    First of all, this bill, which is supposed to deal solely with cyberbulling, lowers the threshold for obtaining personal information. I am talking about metadata, transmission data and tracking data. I have often heard people say that metadata do not really provide any information.

    I want to explain what metadata include. They include information provided by an email or telephone call: location, time, person contacted and search history. Metadata can provide plenty of information.

    It seems to me that the whole debate around metadata and all of the information that can be gleaned from them really began in the United States, particularly with all of Mr. Snowden's revelations.

    There is a new threshold. We have moved from “reasonable grounds to suspect” to “reasonable grounds to believe”. The threshold is being lowered, which creates a very disturbing precedent. When that threshold is lowered, we leave the door open to potential abuses of privacy.

    This bill, which is supposed to deal solely with cyberbulling, goes on to include a provision encouraging Internet service providers to hand over personal information to authorities. In return, they cannot be criminally prosecuted.

    I am not naive; I know that this is already happening. I know that there are Internet service providers who are sometimes handing over data that could be useful in criminal investigations. It is already happening, but right now Internet service providers are supposed to consider what might happen to them if they hand over that information. It may not be a good idea to provide it. They need to ask themselves those questions; they need to think about it before they hand over personal information, and that is what they do.

    By removing the need for this sober thought prior to the sharing of data, the government is essentially opening the door to the sharing of personal information. It is creating and promoting a system that works completely outside any judicial oversight, a system that sidesteps all parliamentary oversight, and a system that excludes nearly every authority that should have the right to look into these activities.

    Obviously, Internet service providers are not supposed to be spies. They are supposed to be people who give us access to the Internet, period. However, more and more, Internet service providers are being used to obtain information without judicial or parliamentary oversight. I find this extremely problematic, especially as we know, from a story published in the Globe and Mail, that spectrum licences require Internet service providers to build infrastructure specifically designed to store the personal data of the company's users or customers.

    When such a provision is added to this infrastructure, we basically have an online spying system free of any oversight. I find this very problematic, and I think most Canadians will find it problematic as well, especially after hearing about the U.S. scandal and the American people's surprise at learning what was going on with Verizon, the NSA and PRISM. The government is recreating a very similar system in a bill that is supposed to address only cyberbullying.

    I have a big problem with this provision, and I hope the government will seriously consider it before sending the bill to the next stage. I would ask all members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to study this provision and fully understand what they are opening the door to. Indeed, this is very serious and creates an ominous precedent.

     This bill also criminalizes software that can be used to access telecommunications infrastructure such as Internet services or television. That is good. Canadians must not be encouraged to steal cable programming.

     However, not everything is black and white. Many software packages permit access to another computer, but for legitimate reasons. For example, there is software that permits access to another computer to verify its security or to repair it. Other software allows a person to create an internal network with two or three friends. Basically, this provides access to another computer, but not for criminal reasons or to steal from the Internet or from cable. It is for legitimate reasons.

     I think that this requires a lot of study to identify the possible negative repercussions of this sort of clause, because as I was saying, it is not black and white. We cannot say that all software allowing access to another computer should be criminalized. We cannot think like that. We have to think of all the possible repercussions of this sort of clause.

     There is another point deserving of more in-depth study that might raise some concerns. That is prohibiting certain people from using the Internet. I can understand the logic. However, is it really possible to ban someone from using a computer? Computers and the Internet are everywhere. I think that this may cause problems of compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is really important to establish whether this clause is realistic and what its charter repercussions would be.

     I have spoken about the importance of the Internet in our lives. Its possibilities are endless. We can communicate, participate in democracy, buy things online and take part in a whole digital economy. However, when we start opening the door to provisions that allow potential abuses of privacy, we are jeopardizing everything that the Internet is supposed to be.

     We are putting at risk people who might want to use the Internet to challenge the government or its choices and policies. We are putting the Internet at risk as a free and open medium. With regard to Internet surveillance and online spying—no matter what we call it—we cannot allow our Internet to be destroyed by these sorts of provisions. It is extremely important that privacy remain paramount in Canada. This is entrenched in section 8 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is paramount that this right always be respected.

    I hope that everyone on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will assess all of the provisions I spoke about so that they truly understand the repercussions of this bill before moving forward. That said, I want to reiterate that cyberbullying is an extremely important issue, and we should really be dealing with it specifically. That is what the victims deserve.

    Everyone here agrees that that part of the bill should be fast-tracked. I think it is really unfortunate that the government has taken a cyberbullying bill and included 50 pages on lawful access, which has nothing to do with protecting our youth.


Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for a very thorough investigation of the bill.

    She pointed out something particularly troublesome and particularly relevant; that is, once the images go out on the Internet they can be very damaging. Far too many young people do not have a real sense of just how serious it is when they send these pictures and how it can destroy a life, how it can impact a young person's life for many years in very upsetting and dangerous circumstances.

    In addition to the key part of the bill, the provision whereby it is not permitted to send out explicit images, might it not have been better for the government to include funding for anti-bullying programming so that we could make that effort to warn young people, to give them some tools with regard to protecting themselves?

    Instead, we have all this extraneous and rather troublesome government add-on. It is far better to have a prevention program.


Ms. Charmaine Borg:  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent question. She has brought up an excellent point. Prevention is an essential component of an anti-bullying strategy for all forms of bullying, online or otherwise.

    I have often had a chance to speak with young people about using and posting images on Facebook. I would say that most of them do not think twice before posting an image or a potentially negative comment about someone else.

    It is extremely important that the government focus on preventive measures for these types of issues and cyberbullying.

    I know that there are organizations, such as MediaSmarts, that are working hard to educate youth about how to use the Internet safely. However, there is still a lot of work to be done and there are very few initiatives right now.

    That is why I believe that the government should focus on this issue sooner than later. There are too many lives at stake.

Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a question about the drafting of this bill.

    The Conservatives say that they respect Canadians' right to privacy. However, the Information Commissioner saw this bill for the first time the day it was introduced.

    What does my colleague think of the decision to not consult the commissioner in advance?

Ms. Charmaine Borg:  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify one small point. I believe that my colleague was talking about the Privacy Commissioner, not the Information Commissioner. I think that it was important for her to be consulted.

    When drafting a bill that has the potential to have very negative implications for Canadians' privacy, it seems logical that the Privacy Commissioner would be consulted. That is what she is there for. She does an excellent job of protecting Canadians' privacy. That should have been part of the government's plan.

    I would like to point out that Ontario's Privacy Commissioner has raised concerns about this bill. I would like to quote her as this raises an important point in this debate:


    We can all agree that cyberbullying is an issue that needs immediate attention but it is very troubling to see the government once again trying to enact new surveillance powers under the guise of protecting children. Regrettably, the federal government is using this pressing social issue as an opportunity to resurrect much of its former surveillance legislation, Bill C-30.

    A number of commissioners have raised concerns about Bill C-30. If my memory serves me well, the government even said that it would consult the commissioner when dealing with this issue. It did not.

    In my opinion, this really shows that privacy is clearly not a priority for this government.