Vic Toews runs afoul of “shiny new bullhorn”
Troy Media – by Doug Lacombe
This week federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced Bill C-30 (“an Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and others Acts”) to the House of Commons with little fanfare.
Ordinary Canadians seemed oblivious to what seemed a minor procedural event. Attorneys General and police chiefs came out in support of the bill, and, truthfully, the prevailing sentiment seemed to be such a bill was needed to safeguard children on the Internet. So far, so good.
As the bill wound its way through the system the usual suspects, Internet law professor Michael Geist, the folks at OpenMedia.ca, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and numerous others, started peeling back the legislative onion and what they saw there made them cry, figuratively speaking.
Too big a sacrifice in privacy
According to Geist “The substance of the bill is genuinely bad as there is no need for hyperbole to explain the privacy threats that come from mandatory disclosure of personal information without court oversight.”
The legal and digital communities were coming to the conclusion that the legislation as written was overly intrusive and any gains in protection from this bill were not worth the sacrifices in privacy. Canada’s privacy commissioners weighed in against the legislation, stating their collective concern that, “In essence, (the bills) make it easier for the state to subject more individuals to surveillance and scrutiny.”
All of which put Minister Toews on the defensive, and ratcheted up the rhetoric.
“He can either stand with us,” said Toews in Question Period, “or with the child pornographers.”
And thus is born a “meme” (a contagious Internet idea) of immensely viral proportions.
As CTV’s Don Martin asked, “How crazy was that?” Big-time crazy in the age of social media. Toews made a few futile attempts to deny and then re-frame his remarks but in 2012 the machine is always recording and the Internet never forgets.
Ordinary Canadians, outraged at the proposal that disagreeing with elements of a piece of legislation is the equivalent of siding with pedophiles, took to Twitter in droves to let Toews know just how they felt. They mostly chose to do so with satire, wrapping their dissent around the humorous Twitter hashtag #TellVicEverything.
Twitter aficionados figured if Vic Toews wants to monitor our every Internet move, why not #TellVicEverything.
And they did, by the thousands. Tweets like “Vader is Luke’s father #TellVicEverything” by @TheAlanRichards and “I’m actually with the riled stenographers, but that sounds like child pornographers, so I understand the mixup. #TellVicEverything” by @WagTheFox elevated this uniquely Canadian meme to number two worldwide on Twitter’s trending topics. It was a groundswell of dissent to a bill that was practically unknown and invisible mere days earlier.
Conservatives, apparently surprised by the Twitter tsunami of dissent, started backing away from the legislation towards the end of the week, sending the bill back to committee.
At around the same time the unregulated, unaccountable aspect of Twitter reared its ugly head in the form of an anonymous account. @Vikileaks30 (a mashup of Toews first name and Wikileaks) released publicly available facts from Toews bitter 2008 divorce in a cutting ad hominem attack.
A shiny new bullhorn
The plot thickened when it was revealed the Internet protocol address of the machine publishing to @Vikileaks30 could be traced to the House of Commons. Liberal MP Justin Trudeau piled on to the personal smear, taking the opportunity to publicize the Vikileaks handle on his @justinptrudeau account.
Notwithstanding the IP address debacle, the NDP had the best reaction to these gutter attacks in saying they were not interested in Toews’ personal life and that there’s enough on the public record to attack.
CTV commentator Carmi Levy called this “a seminal event in Canadian politics”. I tend to agree. From Middle Eastern revolts to Twitter outrage at Chris Brown’s appearance on the Grammy awards (search #wifebeater), the public has a shiny new bullhorn, and they are using it in creative ways to shape society.
As Clay Shirky famously put it “Here Comes Everybody” and transgressors best beware – there’s rage inside that machine.
Doug Lacombe is president of social media agency communicatto. A timeline of the #TellVicEverything meme can be found at http://storify.com/DougLacombe.