OTTAWA – In their tough-on-crime approach to legislation, the Conservatives are learning a tough lesson.
Mess with the Internet and it’s going to mess with you.
Social-media networks and comment pages exploded Wednesday in opposition to the Harper government’s introduction of Bill C-30, which would give police and spies easier access to information about Internet users.
And the centrepiece of the campaign was an anonymous Twitter account purporting to leak details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ divorce records.
“Vic wants to know about you. Let’s get to know about Vic,” wrote @vikileaks before beginning an information dump that also juxtaposed details about the minister’s home life with his public comments on family values.
Within hours, the account had over 3,000 followers and inspired hundreds of comments, photo collages and jokes.
Toews was quick to condemn the posts.
“I won’t get involved in this kind of gutter politics,” he said on his own Twitter account, which has a fraction of the followers of his anonymous attacker.
“Engaging in or responding to this kind of discussion leads nowhere.”
Public court records of Toews’ divorce have been available for several years, but no major news organizations have pursued the story.
Online campaigns against legislation have been successful in the past, albeit not one that tackled a minister’s personal life.
Last year, the Conservatives ordered the CRTC to review a decision on usage-based billing on the Internet after then-Industry Minister Tony Clement’s email and Twitter account were flooded with complaints.
In the United States, a massive online campaign against what was known as the Stop Online Piracy Act saw legislators back down and make changes.
The Conservatives are styling Bill C-30 as a law to protect children from online predators, but privacy advocates and opposition MPs say it’s far too broad.
Among other provisions, it would allow authorities access to Internet subscriber information – including name, address, telephone number and email address – without first getting a court’s go-ahead.
Currently, it is voluntary for Internet service providers to hand such data to police.
The Canadian legislation spurred a “Don’t Toews Me Bro” campaign to unite all opposition to the bill under a single banner.
It’s a play on the sound of Toews’ name and a catchphrase that developed after a Florida student yelled it while being hit with a Taser by police five years ago.
Social media users quickly adopted the phrase to append to messages about the bill.
And a former Green party candidate created a website with the same name, calling for a write-in campaign against the bill for next Tuesday, which he has styled as “Toewsday.”
The Conservatives have already indicated they’re feeling the heat on the bill, appearing open Wednesday to amendments.
Some opposition MPs, while blistering in their criticism of the proposed law, were uncertain whether disclosing Toews’ personal court files was appropriate response.
“Yeah, it’s a complicated world we’re living in now with social media. We are public figures, yes. We are holding ourselves out there as public figures, yes,” said NDP MP Megan Leslie.
“Sometimes, there are court documents that are public documents, yes. But I don’t know if it’s appropriate to be leaking them line by line on Twitter. It seems a little bit invasive.”
NDP Charlie Angus said he didn’t need to know anything about Toews’ personal life.
“I think his public life is problematic enough for Canadians,” Angus said.