Later today, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will vote on a government-backed motion that would compel Google and Facebook to disclose private third-party communications dating back years that could sweep in the private communications of thousands of Canadians. The motion, which is obvious retribution for opposing Bill C-18, is a stunning attack on the privacy of Canadians and could have a chilling effect on public participation. However, you don’t have to take my word for it. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has issued a dire warning about the motion in a public letter, suggesting it is undemocratic and urging MPs to reject it.
The Chamber’s letter rightly describes the motion as an attempt to intimidate opponents of Bill C-18 that would establish a dangerous precedent. It argues the motion:
poses a serious threat to the privacy of Canadians and to their rights to hold and express opinions on public issues. In addition, adopting it would put a chill on the legitimate work of thousands of associations, chambers of commerce, unions, social action groups, not-for-profits, and private enterprises across the country. It is impossible to know who the next target of this type of measure will be. We urge the committee to avoid setting a precedent that would make it easier for future governments of any political stripe to attempt to intimidate its opponents in this way.
I don’t always agree with the Chamber, but it is right on this issue. The motion solely targets opponents of the legislation, raises a myriad of risks (ironically including the prospect of compelled communications with journalists), and sets disclosure requirements that the government itself doesn’t come close to meeting.
There is no issue with calling the companies and their executives before committee. But this motion, led by the same MP who previously suggested I was racist when I raised concerns about government funding for an anti-semite and the silence from government ministers, shamefully goes far beyond that by snooping into the private communications of Canadians and raising the spectre of intimidation for political views. As the Chamber appropriately concludes:
Every individual and every organisation in Canada has the right to decide whether it supports Bill C-18 or any other piece of legislation that comes before Parliament. They should be free to do so without fear of retribution for their views. For the Committee to take any other approach would not only be undemocratic—it would also be unconscionable.