Conservatives killing off controversial Internet surveillance bill

OTTAWA – The Conservative government is scrapping its controversial and much-maligned Internet surveillance bill in favour of modest changes to Canada’s warrantless wiretap law.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says Bill C-30, the so-called Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, will not go ahead.

The law, which sparked a public outcry when it was first introduced, had been sought by police who said they needed it to go after child pornography, but it quickly met stiff resistance from privacy and civil liberties advocates.

The legislation would have forced Internet service providers to maintain systems that allowed police to intercept and track online communications.

“We will not be proceeding with Bill C-30, and any attempts we will have to modernize the Criminal Code will not contain the measures in C-30 — including the warrantless mandatory disclosure of basic subscriber information, or the requirement for telecommunications service providers to build intercept capabilities within their systems,” Nicholson said.

“Any modernization of the Criminal Code … will not contain those.”

Nicholson said the government was responding to Canadians “who have been very clear on this.”

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews set off a public firestorm last year when he told parliamentarians they could either stand with the government on Bill C-30 or stand with child pornographers.

The comment infuriated a wide cross-section of opponents, including many small-c conservative libertarians who opposed what they called Big Brother oversight in the legislation.

The government will instead take one small element of the legislation and create a new law that will address Supreme Court concerns over the use of police wiretaps without a warrant, Nicholson said.

Another piece of legislation, Bill C-12, remains before Parliament. It would make it easier for Internet service providers, email hosts and social media sites to voluntarily share personal information about customers with authorities, possibly including private security firms.

The changes announced Monday, however, will nonetheless ensure police will once again be able to tap people’s phones without a warrant in cases of emergency or imminent harm.

Nicholson said under the new rules, anyone whose communications have been intercepted in situations of imminent harm must be notified by police within 90 days.

There will also be an annual report compiled on the use of imminent harm wiretaps, and only police — and not other peace officers — will be able to use them.

The government’s proposals fall in line with recommendations from the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that warrantless wiretaps would constitute a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The high court gave the government a year to come up with changes to address its concerns.