Supreme Court rebukes Chretien, not Harper

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It’s a nice narrative, to be fair.

Harper rebuked again!

Not quite right, though.

Today the Supreme Court snuck in a bombshell in deciding R. v. Spencer.  While there’s usually a bit of pomp and circumstance around big top court decisions, this was barely teased at all.  The usual media lockup — where nervous journalists are forced to leave their Blackberries in the charge of someone else while they’re briefed on the decision — was forgone.

So when we found out that the justices — lead by Thomas Cromwell, Harper’s own appointee — essentially blew away police power to obtain Canadians’ information sans warrant, there were a few dropped jaws.

The first reaction was: oh my, another middle finger to Harper.

Yet, let’s take stock, here: the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is not a Harper creation.  The sections of the Criminal Code that allow for the very warrantless investigations that the Supreme Court today declared unconstitutional were created by Jean Chretien’s government in an aggressively inept manner that turned privacy legislation into a sad sack of government investigative powers much beyond what Harper is currently trying to do.

While, yes, Harper is riding that very same horse, it is not a new invention.

The Conservatives’ efforts to expand police powers haven’t yet come into force.  The Liberals’ undermining of our privacy rights have been in power for more than a decade, and there’s no telling how many users had their privacy compromised or their lives ruined — rightfully or wrongfully.

But now the Liberals would have you believe that they’ve got your back.

The Liberals are not out to protect you.  Neither are the supposedly small government Conservatives.  Nor will the NDP be vanguards of our primordial right to secrecy if they ever ascend to the throne.

Given the choice between protecting our broad right to guard our personal lives or catching one criminal, to avoid public ridicule, Ottawa will always side with the latter.

The government can never truly protect our privacy, they can only be pushed back from infringing on it.

And without check, we should be worried.  Without limits, we would be better absconding to the woods than sitting under Big Brother’s watchful eye.

Because, despite how Ottawa loves to ply its Nineteen Eighty-Four routine, it’s really more of a Brazil than Oceania.

To that end, today’s Supreme Court decision is hugely significant, and cannot be understated.

It is an audible and embarrassing spanking for law enforcement and the lawmakers who give them power.  And they should take that to heart, but they won’t.

Because the tension isn’t between privacy and publish safety — the continuum is between the public, who deserve to be protected; and the government, who will do anything to protect them and, thus, itself.

But, like an oaf running with a pair of scissors in one hand and a puppy in the other, the government often harms its own citizens in an effort to protect them.

So, to add a big asterisk to the current bric-a-brac over the Harper Governments’ current campaign to caveat the personal privacy that we take for granted — don’t trade one wolf for the other.

We ought to force through parameters and constraints on the government’s power, so that Harper’s successor can’t pull these tricks again, even if they try.

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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

 

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