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A woman holds a photo as several hundred people attend a community vigil at Victoria Park in Halifax on April 11, 2013, to remember Rehtaeh Parsons, who died by suicide. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
A woman holds a photo as several hundred people attend a community vigil at Victoria Park in Halifax on April 11, 2013, to remember Rehtaeh Parsons, who died by suicide. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

TABATHA SOUTHEY

Bill C-13 is about a lot more than cyberbullying Add to ...

Pay attention to the way Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, is being sold by Justice Minister Peter MacKay. It’s a lesson in opportunism being taught with a bill we’re assured will stop cyberbullying, which has been in the news since the heartbreaking deaths by suicide of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons.

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Both of them suffered the relentless, insidious torment the Internet can provide. You can switch schools but you can’t switch Internets. Even someone who takes the career-limiting, socially isolating step of never connecting again can’t escape. You are served up to whoever Googles you, in whatever context someone has mentioned you, using whatever images they have or have concocted.

Certainly cyberbullying is a serious issue currently on the minds of Canadians. As news pegs go, linking the bill to it was a strategic move, but little more. For all the connection the provisions in the bill have to either cyberbullying or revenge porn (posting images of someone naked or in a sexual situation) – another problem it claims to address – one wonders if those drafting C-13 didn’t consider calling it the Protecting Canadians from Rob Ford Act or the Protecting Canadians from Russian Meteors Act or the Protecting Canadians from Kim Kardashian’s Baby Act.

Bill C-13 touches upon cyberbullying in an almost cursory manner. It makes it a crime to share an intimate image without the consent of the person depicted in that image – a reasonable provision – but much else in the bill seems tacked on simply to increase police powers to investigate our online activities. Yes, it’s a nasty crime, but so is murder and we don’t allow the police to pop into our homes on a whim to check our knives for traces of blood.

“Reasonable grounds for suspicion” is a low bar, but under Bill C-13 that’s all an officer would need to obtain a court order. No need for a dark cloud to be forming over a citizen for the police to begin surveillance. Bill C-13 has an almost “Grandpa’s got that tingly feeling in his knee again – and you know that always means it’s going to rain” standard.

Mr. McKay insists his bill doesn’t contain the warrantless wiretapping provisions that caused Canadians to reject the government’s last effort, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. However, that’s almost a moot point as it offers up a number of warrants that are easier to obtain, while granting service providers immunity to prosecution and lawsuits, should they fork over whatever information the authorities request.

Several laws already on the books to protect Ms. Todd and Ms. Parsons seem not to have been enforced, so it seems cynical to invoke their names to pass one with provisions the police have long fancied but likely wouldn’t have saved them either.

Service providers would have nothing to lose but the goodwill of law enforcement and the benevolence of government (which regulates their industry) when deciding whether to protect your privacy. The bill’s provision for a two-year penalty for stealing cable starts to look like a carrot to the industry.

What’s mostly needed is a shift in our attitude about the kinds of images that crushed these two young women. The targets of revenge porn are mostly women – often women who at some point had sex with the men now posting pictures of them. A great many couples take naughty photos for fun and sometimes they are taken without permission – not that I think this should matter in terms of how a woman is judged.

Perhaps one day it won’t – the sheer number of such images will rob their power. There are so many bare breasts on the Internet, the currency is mercifully devalued. I’m close to advocating an “I am Spartacus” response wherein all women upload photos of themselves naked, thus rendering the revenge pornographers and blackmailers impotent.

Perhaps one day mothers will nag their daughters: “Have you posted yet, baby? I’m just afraid you’re leaving yourself vulnerable, if anyone thinks you have a problem with being a woman.”

“No, mom, I’ve been busy,” will be the reply. “But I totally told everyone on Facebook what I did with two members of the hockey team.”

“Good girl – and lucky boys!” mom will say, in a world where a picture of a woman having sex she consented to isn’t shameful and one of her being raped is evidence.

Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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