Cyberbullying victims' parents divided over privacy concerns in online bill

The parents of three teenagers who took their own lives because they were bullied gave emotional pleas before a Commons committee today in favour of legislation to protect Canadians from online crime, but appeared divided on whether Bill C-13 violates the right to privacy.

Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, Jamie Hubley’s father, Allan Hubley, and Glenford Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons, are in Ottawa on Tuesday to give MPs on a Commons justice committee their views on a bill to protect Canadians from online crime.

Carol Todd said she applauded the government's efforts to address the problem of cyberbullying, but had reservations with some of the provisions in the bill.​

Measures in Bill C-13 include giving police easier access to the metadata that internet service providers and phone companies keep on every call and email.

"I don't want to see our children to be victimized again by losing privacy rights. I am troubled by some of these provisions condoning the sharing of Canadians' privacy information without proper legal process."

"A warrant should be required before any Canadians' personal information is turned over to anyone, including government authorities," Todd said.

By contrast, Canning said while he respects privacy "as much as any Canadian," Bill C-13 "is not about an invasion of privacy."

"It's about allowing police officers to effectively address the many challenges of instant mass communication and abuse.

"It seems so out of place to complain about privacy while our children openly terrorize each other to death for 'likes' on Facebook," Rehtaeh's father said.

Hubley did not raise any privacy concerns during his opening statement. Instead he urged MPs to pass the bill to give law enforcement the tools they need to do their job.

"C-13, in my view, is meant to help reduce cyberbullying and help police obtain the evidence needed to punish those among us who prey on our beautiful children," Jamie's father said.

Todd called on the government to remove the more controversial measures from the bill so that it could pass with broad agreement.

"I have one request: if there is any way that we can separate these controversial provisions from the law ... this would allow this bill to be free of controversy and to permit a thoughtful and careful review of the privacy related provisions that have received broad opposition," Todd said.

Conservative MP Bob Dechert told reporters after the committee meeting was over that he disagreed with Todd's suggestion that MPs hive off some of the provisions in the bill.

Dechert, who is the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said the provisions are needed to update the Criminal Code and if that helps law enforcement officials combat terrorism that is all the more reason to pass the bill.

"Preventing terrorist acts is important too. And that's why I said we need this opportunity to update all the provisions in the Criminal Code in terms of the technology.

"Whether the person is cyberbullying a child or conspiring with other people to blow up a building or to detonate a bomb at a marathon, like the Boston marathon, we need to prevent that from happening too," Dechert said. "All of these provisions are related."

"You have to get on one side of that line or another, you can't sit on the fence," he added.

New Democrat MP Francoise Boivin sided with Todd, saying she's worried the entire law could be rendered useless if it faced a successful court challenge over privacy concerns.

She, too, urged the committee to hive off the more controversial portions of the bill so it could be passed more quickly, giving police greater powers to fight cybercrime.

Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has warned that C-13 — along with S-4, the Digital Privacy Act — would allow organizations to disclose subscriber or customer personal information without a court order.

The disclosures would also be kept secret from the people whose information is being shared.

The legislation would create a new offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images, aimed at curbing cyberbullying.

It would also give police new tools to help investigate the distribution of such images, as well as to probe electronic evidence transmitted over the Internet.

Currently, companies are allowed under law to voluntarily disclose personal information as part of an investigation by police, but can also insist on a court order.

Geist said Bill C-13 makes it more likely that those companies will disclose information without a warrant because the legislation removes any legal risks associated with making such disclosures.

"The immunity provision is enormously problematic," Geist wrote in a blog post last month.

Bill S-4 goes even further by expanding the potential of warrantless disclosure to anyone, not just law enforcement, he added.

The Department of Justice says Bill C-13 "simply aims to provide police with the necessary means to fight crime in today's high-tech environment while maintaining the judicial checks and balances needed to protect Canadians' privacy."

The justice committee also heard on Tuesday from AlychaReda and Kimberly Chiles​, two victims and survivors of cyberbullying.