On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer ruled that YouTube videos by “Anonymous” that threaten to reveal unpleasant facts about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews if he presses on with passing Bill C30 (the online-surveillance legislation) do indeed constitute a prima facie breach of the minister's privilege. He invited Mr. Toews to send the matter to Procedure and House Affairs for further consideration.
There's something almost charmingly innocent about the parliamentarians' indignation about Anonymous's “flagrant disregard of our traditions.” Yes, it is just dreadful when someone is mean on the Internet, but I'm not sure who it is the Speaker imagines is going to arrive to testify at the committee.
Anonymous is anonymous. The organization is so informal that it can't be called an organization. One becomes Anonymous by behaving Anonymous-like, anonymously, which is to say mostly by committing or supporting website vandalism and other pranks online, often in the name of a sort of bombastic cyber-libertarianism, sometimes while wearing plastic Guy Fawkes masks. It has no leaders, no mission statement. It's not Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but it's also not a sinister band of hacking super-gods living in the basement of Mount Olympus.
Anonymous is so nebulous that for the federal government to call Anonymous to testify is almost to call the Internet itself – something the government may regret.
“I'd to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak today,” the first witness might say. “The threats against the minister are grave and on the advice of my consul, Mr. Fry, I'd just like to assure the minister that I … am never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna … ”
The whole room starts swaying.
“Order!” calls out Joe Preston, the honourable member for Elgin-Middlesex-London and the unfortunate chairman of this event.
Mr. Toews himself is sworn in. He begins, “First of all, I'd like to thank the” – but he gets no further, charged as he is from the left by Peter Stoffer, NDP critic for veterans affairs.
“Minister Toews, I'mma let you finish,” Mr. Stoffer blurts out, “but Rahim Jaffer had some of the best testimony of all time!”
“O RLY?” someone calls out.
“YA RLY!” Mr. Stoffer says.
“That's it! Silence or I'm cancelling this hearing and – get those LOLcats outta here! And … and dear god, what is that horrible screaming?”
“Well, you've just threatened to cancel something,” a backbencher explains. “That'd be Hitler, reacting.”
“All right, we'll carry on,” Mr. Preston sighs, removing a sloth from his lap and passing it gently to an aide.
“Like!” someone calls out.
“Like!” someone else calls out.
“Re-sharing!” someone calls out even louder.
“Headdesk,” the Prime Minister says.
“Steak, caramelized onions and Stilton on a baguette,” a voice says calmly as three baby pandas roll across the room and out the other door.
“Sushi from Omi!” another voice chimes in.
“Honey Crisp apple and a bagel. At my desk. Sigh,” says one who presents only as a purple egg.
“Why do people keep telling me what they're having for lunch?” the chairman inquires, gazing fondly after the pandas.
“I'm sorry,” a page apologizes. “That's Twitter.”
“I am hungry,” the chairman admits. “I'd buy us both lunch, but I've just given all of my money to Mr. Kumalo, a Nigerian prince.” He taps the side of his nose knowingly.
“Cherry cupcake?” 11 million babies seated in flowerpots ask kindly from the Pinterest section.
“No, thank you,” the chairman says. “Can we please just continue with our witness and – for heaven's sake, why are three-quarters of the people here naked? All right, Mr. Toews, yes, yes, someone give that walrus a bucket, in your duties as … ?”
“First!” someone shouts out from the back, followed quickly by: “Too long; did not read. You are so brave! Hugs! Thanks for sharing your story. This sucks. Check out my blog! Manolo Blahnik shoes! Yves Saint Laurent shoes! Authentic! Free shipping! $39.99! RON PAUL 2012! RON PAUL 2012! RON PAUL 2012!”
“What?” Mr. Toews asks. “What is that person shouting about? What's he even saying? None of that has anything to do with the issue at hand.”
“Well, I'm sorry, Vic,” Tony Clement explains, with a shrug. “You invite the Internet, you're going to get a comment thread. I'll see what we can do to close it down.”
“Never mind,” Mr. Toews says. “I think I'd just like to go home. And no one e-mail me,” he adds just as Keyboard Cat starts playing.