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Monday, March 19, 2012

Vic Toews' Privacy Issue

Vic Toews in the Public Lens
ne Heemlijchkjeit

    Vic Toews, Stephen Harper’s Minister of Public Safety and Mennonite-heritage Canadian politician, has recently generated a bit of a public debate – one pertaining directly to the Postmodern experience in the control and manipulation of the digital universe.
    The controversy stems from three character trends of the Post-modern identity experience – the perceived lack of individual privacy, the increasing atmosphere of George Orwell’s Big Brother security that sees all, knows all and processes all, and the rapid, irrevocable, transmission of information – any and all information, no matter how sensitive, no matter how private, no matter how truthful.
    In a turn-of-events that many Canadians are interpreting as well deserved comeuppance, Canada’s own potential Big Brother found the personal details of his somewhat messy divorce broadcast across the country for all to maul through and judge.  
    As Minister of Public Safety, Toews has found himself caught in the middle of the security versus privacy debate, and he has perhaps not made the best use of his rhetorical skills to justify the changes, nor the best use of his libido – it is a difficult dilemma. 
    Bill-30, marked SECRET until introduced in Parliament … An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts…” basically would do for Canadian intelligence and law enforcement what the so-called Patriot Act has done for the United States security services – give law enforcement officers power and authority to view, intercept and receive the private digital communications data for Canadian citizens without a warrant. 
    In the United States, Americans surrendered many of their privacy rights and greatly relaxed warrant requirements in response to the 9-11 attacks in 2001, generally accepting the government’s need to adapt to new anti-terrorism methods and digital tracking of information.  Toews and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson have indicated that Canada’s new law is focused on fighting child porn by allowing officers to obtain the name, address, telephone number, email address, internet protocol (IP) address and local service provider identifier.  However, the most controversial aspect of the bill, as brought out by critic NPD MP Charlie Angus is the so-called “spy” technology that the bill requires be built into the digital devices and telecommunications delivery systems. 
    As quoted by the CBC, Angus has charged, “What’s very disturbing in this bill is it’s going to force cellphone providers, the telecom providers, to build in the spy mechanisms so that police and security can track you any time they want,” … “add[ing] that the government has not demonstrated any need for the proposed new powers, including the ability to get subscriber information without a warrant,” (CBC, On-line Surveillance…).  In other words – the fight against child porn might sell the bill to voters, but who else is the bill targeting?
    There has also been a significant exchange regarding the availability of the subscriber identifiers with Angus claiming that such information is already freely available to the police services voluntarily without a warrant and Toews responding that discretionary compliance is simply not an acceptable alternative – throwing in the threat that a service provider’s refusal or reluctance could potentially endanger the lives of children, and that those opposed to the new powers were siding with child pornographers against the well-being of Canada’s children. 

    A political veteran, Angus’ response is indicated as, “Is Vic Toews saying every privacy commissioner in this country who has raised concerns about this government’s attempt to erase the basic obligation to get a judicial warrant – is he saying they’re [all] for child pornography?” (CBC, ibid).  As they are fond of saying in Chicago, “RE-ally?...”  

    Similarly, Vancouver-based Open Media has stated their opposition to Toew’s bill as “opening the door to needless invasions of privacy for law-abiding citizens,” (CBC, ibid).
    As of March, 2012, the bill, which as many as 83% of the Canadian public opposed, has been tabled in Parliament (
    But this does not resolve the matters at stake, being the preservation of Western Democracy’s basic civil liberties while retaining the ability to protect the citizenry from crime and terrorism.  Note that the United States Supreme Court also recently addressed matters of citizen privacy regarding the government’s ability to track automobiles “bugged” with GPS locater spy devices.  Americans have been similarly questioning the potential for tracking their personal movements via the GPS devices on their cell phones.
    Noting that Bill-30 threatened security actions beyond screening for child porn, the irony of the situation seems totally lost on Toews – a possible symptom of the Postmodern condition wherein an individual might be seduced into the system and unquestioningly buying into it – yet buying into it in such a way that only reflects a very individualistic, subjective perception of truth, reality and morality.
    Another aspect of this Postmodern dilemma is the manipulation of perception, debate and truth-telling.  Where once such debate would be held rather openly and vigorously, Toews seems to have demonstrated an inexplicable need to manipulate the debate by using a relatively noncontroversial problem such as the need to fight child porn to mask the weaknesses of such legislation and to generate an emotional argument that fails to take into consideration the consequences of the legislation to other citizens in other cases or the lack of safeguards relegating such powers to specific instances.  In the United States, for instance, American politics has a built-in cynicism against the abuses of authority and government power – with significant stop-guards and specific limitations being placed in legislation and the U.S. Constitution to prevent abuse.  Even in the US, more and more surveillance and police power legislation seems to be increasingly open ended.  At the same time, it has never been easier for authority to more efficiently and totally invade the private lives of the citizenry.  Perhaps a new Postmodern political trend should be identified as "its for the children or environment" (IFTCOE) political redirection.
    As most students of Postmodernism will point out, this is not merely a problem with police authority, but extends also to the Commercial world. has recently rewritten its privacy policies.  Together with and other social networks, commercial entities have the ability to track, package, sell and attempt to manipulate the private lives and data of digital services subscribers to an almost overwhelming degree.  Only in Europe has this become a major policy concern of the governing parties.  North American regulators seem to be more reactive than proactive and often seem to consider it the citizens’ obligation to be informed and to “opt out” from services that he or she feels threatens his or her privacy to an unacceptable degree.  This difference has been readily demonstrated in how regulators treat approaches to potential digital/electronic invasions of privacy in the Google street scanning scandal where generally, Europeans seem to have enforced the freedom to opt in rather than face a requirement to opt out
    In an interesting twist of fate, Toews might now be getting what many CBC on-line commentators feel to be a taste of his own medicine – fueled by the intensity of the rhetoric over the digital surveillance debate, someone seemingly determined to help Toews understand how it felt to have the personal details of one’s life scrutinized by the Postmodern digital social environment.  

    In 2008, Toews participated in what the CBC refers to as an “acrimonious” divorce from Lorraine Kathleen Fehr, his wife of 30 years (CBC, “Vic Toews…”). Toews, who has often very vocally championed the concept of Canadian family values, his opposition to gay marriage on moral grounds, and most recently, his willingness to re-open Canada’s pro-Choice legislation, was discovered to have fathered a child by his presumed baby-sitter.  More graphic details of his divorce were made public nationally by a political staffer from Ottawa via Tweet – details obtained through a traditional publicly-accessible Manitoba court system.  Additional electronic media were similarly impacted - his Wikipedia biography was edited almost immediately to reflect the new information (…).
    In response to the so-called Vikileaks Scandal, Toews has demanded information from Manitoba Courts regarding who has accessed his public file – hence the general feeling that Toews has reacted poorly and defensively to a much smaller, less serious theoretical invasion of privacy than he attributed the opponents to his Surveillance Bill-30 of doing under a much more serious, secretive scrutiny.
    Without dwelling on Toews’ personal life, he has seemingly definitely demanded that effective oversight be provided to those accessing the public court files so that such information might be tracked and hopefully not misused, and presumably, he might confront such perceived misuse at the source – rights and privileges he would yet deny the general public. 

Victor Toews, Canadian Government, Privacy, Manitoba Politics, Lorraine Kathleen Fehr, Rob Nicholson, Stephen Harper, the Internet, Mennonite Politicians, Divorce, Postmodernism, Bill-30

1.       CBC News, “Online Surveillance bill targets child porn: Toews,” 14 Feb 2012,, 08 March 2012.
2.       CBC News, “Vic Toews to find out who saw his divorce,” 07 Mar 2012,, 08 March 2012.
3.       Conners, Douglas, Occupy Canada Facebook page,, accessed 08 Mar 2012.
4.       Miller, Dr. Robert, “Baudrillard’s Philosophy of Seduction:  An Overview,” Existentialism Society Lecture, Dec 2004.
5., “Government Begins to Backpeddle on Online Spying as Petition reaches 93K,” 15 Feb 2012,, 08 March 2012.
6., “Vic Toews.”

1 comment:

  1. New develops continue this story... as of 24 April, Carroll is appearing before a Canadian Parliamentary committee to answer charges regarding his creation of vikileaks...


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