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Canada's Justice Minister Peter MacKay pauses while speaking during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 26, 2014. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's Justice Minister Peter MacKay pauses while speaking during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 26, 2014. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

MacKay defends expanded surveillance powers in cyberbullying legislation Add to ...

Justice Minister Peter MacKay is brushing aside calls to split apart the government’s proposed cyberbullying law, saying its broad new police surveillance powers are essential to fight bullying, terrorism and other crimes online.

The NDP on Monday proposed Bill C-13 be split apart, saying the new police powers go far beyond the scope of a bill focused on cyberbullying. Several critics, including two provincial commissioners, have said government shouldn’t lump in the surveillance powers with the broadly supported new penalties on bullying.

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“It’s like two different bills in one,” NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin said. “… This is a more complex and technical bill than the actual [cyberbullying] infraction of distributing intimate images.”

However, Mr. MacKay said Monday in the House of Commons the bill would be an “empty vessel” without the new police powers, which he said are essential to fighting all kinds of crime online.

“It would be a shell of a bill if we do not modernize those provisions of the Criminal Code that allow law enforcement to do their important work,” Mr. MacKay said, after earlier saying government “takes the privacy issues of Canadians very seriously.”

Bill C-13 is one of a handful of bills proposing new powers for police – some carried over, critics say, from former cabinet minister Vic Toews’s failed surveillance bill, C-30.

Bill C-13 gives new tracking and data seizure powers to police and other law enforcement officials, including several that require a warrant. Police can also ask for certain data to be voluntarily handed over – subscriber information from a telecommunications company, for instance – and a major company could do so without fear of being sued, under the bill.

Mr. MacKay insisted Monday the bill doesn’t allow “individuals to, without jurisdiction, without proper oversight, simply access privacy and the private information of Canadians. They have to seek judicial authorization.” This appeared to omit cases where information can be voluntarily handed over with impunity.

Mr. MacKay said the new surveillance powers are part of the government’s response to the suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, Jamie Hubley and others, which he said amounted to a “clarion call for government action – not further study, not delaying it, not allowing [input from] experts who may have some other agenda in mind.” The NDP motion was voted down.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Canada’s interim privacy commissioner had called for the bill to be split. It has been updated.

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