The Harper government will not resurrect its controversial Internet surveillance bill, and will not introduce new legislation to monitor the activities of people on the web.
The bill, which excited outrage over possible privacy violations on the Internet, marks a legislative failure for the Harper majority government.
“We’ve listened to the concerns of Canadians,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told reporters outside the House of Commons on Monday.
He said that “we will not be proceeding with Bill C-30. And any attempts to modernize the criminal code will not contain …warrantless mandatory disclosure of basic subscriber information or the requirement for telecommunications service providers to build intercept capability within their systems.”
Instead, the government has carved out a sliver of the bill to ensure warrantless wiretaps during emergencies remain legal.
“We are immensely relieved,” said Chantal Bernier, the federal assistant privacy commissioner. She said the government’s reversal “is the result of the recognition of the fundamental right to privacy of Canadians, and also of their attachment to it.”
Bill C-30 caused a furor when it was introduced a year ago this week. The legislation would have permitted police and other government officials to compel Internet service providers to disclose identifying information linked to clients’ ISP addresses without a warrant.
Telecommunications companies would also have been required to collect and store data on clients’ digital activities.
The law was fiercely opposed by federal and provincial privacy commissioners as a fundamental intrusion on privacy rights.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews added to the conflagration when he infamously asserted that critics of the bill must choose to be either “with us or with the child pornographers.”
Stung by the controversy, the Conservatives said the bill would be referred to a committee for study. Instead, it languished untouched for a year, although Mr. Toews continued to insist the legislation would go ahead.
But Mr. Nicholson has made it clear that won’t happen.
“This is a great day,” said Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, one of the staunchest opponents of the Internet surveillance bill. “This is a victory for privacy and for freedom.”
The government climb-down was proof, she said, that perseverance married to a strong case could get results that, in this instance, protect the privacy rights of all Canadians.
“That’s why this is such a victory today.”
Without the bill, police could lose the power to tap a phone without a warrant when they believe a major crime is under way or imminent that could cause grave harm to people or property.
Last April, the Supreme Court struck down the 20-year-old law, on the grounds that it did not require police to inform those who had been wiretapped after the fact or provide for any other oversight of the police power.
The judges suspended their ruling for a year – until this April – so that Parliament could fashion a remedy.
With the new legislation, Mr. Nicholson aims to satisfy the court’s concerns. The bill requires that the objects of warrantless wiretaps be notified afterward and that federal and provincial governments issue annual reports on their use. It also limits the types of officials who can employ the wiretaps and the particular crimes that can be involved.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian. This online version has been corrected.