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Federal government seeks to provide more tools for police

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 06:00 am

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Dear Editor, I’ve spent the better part of my career advocating for the safety and security of Canadians. As a prosecutor, child protection lawyer, federal and provincial Attorney General, and in my current job as Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, I’ve always made it my goal to put victims first.

Over the years, it became clear to me that Canada’s laws were falling far behind the technology used by criminals. The frustration of police was plainly evident.

After I entered politics, I heard the same story from law enforcement so many times that I began to wonder if the problem would ever be fixed. Soon after my appointment as federal justice minister in 2006, I was introduced to the concept of “lawful access,” which dealt with the challenge of fighting online crime. I was struck by the reality that our approach to the Internet had been shaped in the era of the rotary phone.

This was by no means a new concept. My Liberal predecessor, Anne McLellan, made the first attempt at a new law in 2005. Marlene Jennings tried again twice in the form of private members’ bills in 2007 and 2009. The government introduced similar bills twice more: once under Peter Van Loan in 2009 and once by me in 2010.

Despite the tireless efforts of people like Paul Gillespie, formerly of the Toronto Police Service and now the head of the Kids Internet Safety Alliance (KINSA), and Roz Prober of Beyond Borders, none of these attempts became law. Gillespie speaks with passion about the emotional toll child exploitation investigations take on frontline officers. Each day, they are confronted by the bleak reality that 10s of thousands of children are sexually abused in graphic, unimaginable ways. The reality is that police simply don’t have the tools to effectively fight these crimes. This is true not only of child pornography but identity theft, online organized crime, and many Internet scams and frauds.

More than a decade ago, police signalled they lacked the tools to keep up with changing technology.

The process of gathering information for investigations was extremely slow and cumbersome. Today, police are in exactly the same predicament.

In just one wrenching example reported in the Kingston Whig Standard by the Kingston Police, Detective Constable Stephanie Morgan received information via the Internet that an individual might attempt suicide. When she approached an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for help in locating the individual, she ran into a brick wall. Morgan said that the Internet service provider refused to give up that information because of the person’s privacy. “To this day, I don’t know who that person was who sent the message. I don’t know if they really were in distress or if they later committed suicide.

I think that would not have happened if this legislation was in place.”

Scott Naylor, an inspector with the Ontario Provincial Police Child Sexual Exploitation Unit recently said, “Obtaining warrants on all IP addresses involved in child pornography simply wasn’t practical. It’s still like putting a cup under Niagara Falls, that’s all we’re catching.”

On Feb. 14, our government re-introduced legislation that closely resembles the efforts of McLellan and Jennings, but with improvements to better protect the privacy of Canadians. C-30 allows police to request basic customer information to assist with investigations, but makes police more accountable through audits and obligations to report to federal and provincial privacy commissioners. We also reduced the number of basic subscriber information points that police could request of service providers — the modern equivalent of phonebook information — from 11 down to six.

Let me be clear: Bill C-30 creates no new powers to access the content of e-mails, web-browsing history or phone calls beyond that which already exists in Canadian law.

Some have accused me of not reading a bill I’ve been involved in shaping for over half a decade. Ironically, when I read most media coverage of C-30, I am struck by just how poorly the bill is understood by many writers.

The government intends to send this legislation directly to committee for a full examination of potential amendments to update our laws while ensuring the privacy of Canadians is respected.

I hope that all Canadians, and especially Members of Parliament and the media, will read, discuss, and reflect on this Bill.

Vic Toews, Federal Minister of Public Safety


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