Stephen Harper used to talk about the virtue of individual responsibility. But, when it came to defending an individual's civil liberties, all of that rhetoric went up in smoke. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson believes -- as Harper did -- that civil liberties get in the way of good police work. Michael Harris writes:
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson wants warrantless access to online subscriber information. That, in itself, is not remarkable. Police always want fewer obstacles between their work and the people they pursue — more John Wayne, less Perry Mason. It’s the old argument: It’s plenty hard enough to catch the bad guys, we’re told, without bureaucrats putting roadblocks in the way of the good guys.
It wouldn’t surprise me to find small graven images of Stephen Harper and Vic Toews on Commissioner Paulson’s desk, given how much he sounds like them. Harper and Toews both saw the world the way Paulson does, in binary black and white: Give the police the power they ask for and forget about the implications for civil liberties.
Harper simply didn’t give a hoot about privacy issues from the point of view of the individual. This is the man who gave us Bill C-51, after all. Harper’s approach to privacy law always came down to reduced protection for individuals online and far more power for police and other security services. Bill C-13 (the so called ‘cyberbullying’ law) and Bill S-4 (the Digital Privacy Act) were all about invasion of privacy without consequences for the invaders.
To Harper and Paulson it doesn't matter that the Supreme Court upheld the right of internet privacy in R v Spencer. The police, the court ruled, need a warrant to search internet subscriber information:
And it wasn’t just a matter of names and addresses, as the old Harperites and the police always insisted in their zeal to pursue a bad idea. It was high-tech snooping without due process or independent oversight. The high court saw far greater values to protect than the right of police to snoop.
But, unlike Harper, Paulson hasn't gone away. He represents another challenge which the Trudeau government faces.