This week, amid some public outcry and criticism from the opposition, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced he’s postponing plans to record conversations at airports and border crossings.
Somewhat belatedly – the equipment has already been installed – Mr. Toews backtracked and said that he’d ask the federal privacy commissioner to review the policy that, according to the Canada Border Services Agency’s website, was designed to enhance “border integrity, infrastructure and asset security and health and safety.”
“I’m not aware of any private conversations having been recorded by this measure,” Mr. Toews said, carefully, in answer to a question from Quebec New Democrat Rosane Doré Lefebvre.
His statement, however, would seem to be at odds with his admission the previous day that the border agency has “areas for screening international travellers arriving at airports across Canada, including monitoring video and audio. …”
Perhaps the truth runs something a bit more like this: Picture Mr. Toews, several nights ago, seated in his office, being interrupted by an enthusiastic young aide who bursts in clutching a brimming file.
“Minister Toews, we’ve just been given the transcripts from our secret surveillance program!” the aide says, bouncing excitedly from one leg to another.
“You mean the one with the babies and the microchips?” Mr. Toews says happily, hastily closing his laptop.
“No,” the aide replies. “The one with the fancy microphones and the airports.”
“Well, Rupert, what’re you waiting for? Read them to me!” Mr. Toews says.
“All right, sir. Transcript number 1: ‘What? Seriously? Our connecting flight’s delayed by two hours and they didn’t even bother to announce it? What kind of an idiot totally oblivious to public perception is running this airline anyway? It’s like Vic Toews is running this airline. I mean you would have to be as arrogant as Vic … ‘”
“Next!” cries out Mr. Toews.
“Um, all right, sir. Here’s another one: ‘There’s no way in hell I’m paying $23 for a plate of nachos at an airport bar. That is such a scam. I ask you, what kind of a human being would charge $23 for a plate of nachos just because he thought he could get away with it? You know what, I’ll tell you what kind of human being would charge $23 for a plate of nachos at an airport bar. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews would charge $23 for a plate of nachos at an airport bar because that’s just the kind of guy he is. Why, I think he’s the kind of guy who would …”
Next!” cries out Mr. Toews.
“All right, sir. Try this one: ‘I will say this, Marjorie – the Conservative Party of Canada has my vote for the rest of my life. I love that my privacy is no longer being invaded by the long-form census. That was a truly principled move on the part of the Conservative Party of Canada. I mean, why should I be expected to fill out an anonymous form telling some government bureaucrat how many bathrooms I have in my house?
“‘And, while I’m on the subject of bathrooms, Marjorie, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about installing a bidet in the master bathroom. The reason I really need to start using a bidet, Marjorie, is that as you once commented, my…’ ”
“Next!” cries out Mr. Toews.
“All right, here’s a citizen who said, ‘Hey, you know what I’m getting Vic Toews for his birthday?’ ”
“Aw, c’mon,” sighs Mr. Toews. “Next.”
“Of course, sir,” says Rupert, flipping through the stack, allowing some to fall on the floor, before pausing and reading:
“ ‘You ever get the feeling Vic Toews is listening?’ ”
“Oh,” says Mr. Toews. “Isn’t there anything security-related in there, Rupert?”
“Well,” says Rupert, “I see a lot of people speculate that you may have stolen their luggage.”
“That’s it! We need to scrap the whole project. Make an announcement,” the minister says. “Pretend we think we should review these things with a ‘privacy commissioner’ or something fancy-sounding like that. and transfer the funding to the babies and microchip program and the invisible Zeppelins.”
“The ones we use to control the robotic birds, sir?”
“No, the ones with the mind-control beams. And please destroy the contents of that file, because if you don’t, you are …”
“With the pedophiles, sir?” says the aide brightly.
“Good man, Rupert.”