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MPs blast Anonymous attack on Toews but can't get behind 'mask'

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 24, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters

The Public Safety Minister's privileges were breached when he became the subject of an online attack, a House of Commons committee declared Wednesday.

And the people behind the video may face contempt of Parliament charges – if anyone can ever figure out who they are.

A series of videos apparently from the activist group Anonymous targeted Vic Toews in the days following his introduction of an online-surveillance bill, demanding his resignation and the withdrawal of the bill or they would expose information about him.

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The threats they contained were ruled by the Speaker as worthy of further examination, but the nature of the group means the videos' creators are uncertain and the committee had struggled with how to proceed.

A series of witnesses had suggested that tracking down Anonymous would be difficult, though Mr. Toews himself had urged them not to back down.

But in a report Wednesday, the committee said it is better for the RCMP to continue its investigation and they'd be willing to take a second look if more information comes to light.

"When the identity of the person or persons hidden behind the mask becomes known to this committee, they will be called before the committee to answer for their behaviour and, if appropriate, the committee will recommend sanctions," the report said.

The committee called the threats unprecedented in the medium that was used and raised concerns that it could happen again.

They noted that the freedom of the Internet is protected by the Charter right to freedom of expression, but the Charter offers no protection against bullying.

"The people behind those videos claim to act to protect basic democratic rights and freedoms, but they themselves have jeopardized and breached these same rights and freedoms they claim to protect," the report said.

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The threats by Anonymous against Mr. Toews were part of a broader online campaign against the bill, which critics suggested gives authorities far too much power to snoop into people's Internet lives.

Another Commons committee has examined the use of a Twitter account set up by a former staffer to broadcast portions of Mr. Toews's divorce records.

The Public Safety Minister has said he was satisfied with the staffer's appearance at the committee to explain his actions.

And on Wednesday, his spokeswoman said Mr. Toews was pleased with the committee findings.

"All MPs must be free to introduce legislation on whatever issues are important to them or their constituents without fear of reprisal and are rightly concerned about the threats posed to our democracy by online thugs who seek to intimidate duly elected members of Parliament," Julie Carmichael said in an email.

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