Where do we draw the line? - Macleans.ca

Where do we draw the line?

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Kris Kotarski makes an important observation: what Vic Toews said last Monday wasn’t without precedent.

On Nov. 15, 2011, Toews responded to a parliamentary question by saying, “I would call on the Liberals to finally stop putting the rights of child pornographers and organized crime ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens.” So, the Liberals were siding with child pornographers.

On Feb. 2, 2012, Toews told Parliament that “Rather than making things easier for child pornographers, I call on the NDP to listen to the police, listen to the provinces, and support these balanced measures that protect law-abiding Canadians and their children.” So, the NDP were enabling child pornographers.

Just in case anyone missed that, on Feb. 3, 2012, Toews tweeted that “Lawful access will aid child porn investigations. I call on the NDP to stop making things easier for predators and support these measures.”

As I wrote last Tuesday, I don’t think anything we’ve heard over the last month or so has been beyond the rhetorical parameters of the last four years. And in that regard, having had a front row seat for such stuff, it’s been interesting to watch Mr. Toews’ sentence become such a problem for him and his government. I suspect that owes a lot to the legislation involved: online surveillance is much more tangible to the average Canadian than say justice policy or war, so the slur is more easily transferred beyond Mr. Toews’ partisan opponents. The Prime Minister can say Stephane Dion sympathizes with the Taliban, for instance, without great swaths of the public feeling insulted. But when the Public Safety Minister says anyone who has doubts about the government’s pursuit of online surveillance stands with child pornographers, a sizeable number of people are going to feel insulted.

Maybe there’s also something more tangible about the evil invoked as well. Maybe suggesting someone sides with a foreign enemy seems almost cartoonish. I suppose the Internet’s great ability to churn out reaction and draw attention also elevated Mr. Toews’ attack. But it still seems to me to be nothing more than an extension of everything else that has been said these last four years. I’m not sure, in the moment, I heard it as something above and beyond what I’d already heard. And, for that matter, I’d be interested to know whether anyone on the government side (or even the opposition side) immediately knew that a previously uncrossed line had been breached.

I’d note that no one stood after QP on the day of Mr. Toews’ remark to raise a complaint. Not until a full day later did someone stand and demand that Mr. Toews apologize (and in that case it wasn’t even the MP at whom the minister had directed his remark).

Two days after Mr. Toews’ comment, Conservative MP Shelly Glover stood and ventured that the NDP was “anti-Canada.” When Liberal MP Denis Coderre demanded she apologize, Ms. Glover declined and, in fact, declared that she stood by her comment. A quick search of Google News seems to show no reporting of this.