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Canadians Aren't Cool With Harper's New Cyber-Bullying Bill

Canadians aren't down with CSEC or the newest Conservative cyberbullying bill.

Image: Flickr

Canadians were largely unmoved by the Edward Snowden leaks and the disclosure of mass surveillance programs like PRISM, with few showing any serious worries about domestic government surveillance in a poll by Abacus Data in June 2013. But now a new poll by Forum Research suggests Canadians are growing suspicious of the latest Conservative cyberbullying bill C-13, with most rejecting a piece of legislation many think is more about beefing up government surveillance powers than protecting teens from bullies.

The poll asked over 1400 Canadian adults if they agreed with the central provisions of the bill, with three quarters disagreeing with the Harper government, and just one in seven approving. Disapproval went across gender and social status.

It was also an issue that united Canadians across the three major party affiliations. New Democrats were most opposed to the bill (in parliament NDP leader Tom Mulcair has been outspoken on the issue) at 80 percent against, followed by 73 percent of Liberals, and a surprising 62 percent of Conservative party supporters rejecting the bill.

The cyberbullying legislation, which criminalizes so-called “revenge porn,” is widely recognized as an omnibus bill with hidden motives to enhance government surveillance powers to obtain user information. It's an issue that has united liberals fearful of a Tory police state, and even libertarians within the Conservative party who are against big government.

The poll also asked respondents to rate the trustworthiness of government agencies and private entities with their most personal data. Coming in first place was “Family Doctor,” followed by the RCMP, Canadian Revenue Agency, and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service rounding out the top four. CSEC, the NSA’s Canadian counterpart, narrowly avoided being last on the list (8 percent of respondents trust the agency "a great deal"), with telco companies (7 percent) and big retailers (3 percent) being the least trusted groups in the poll.

That’s not a stat CSEC should hang its hat on: Target’s move into Canada has been an unmitigated commercial failure, while Bell and Rogers have been tarred with forking over user data to law enforcement from warrantless requests. In the same breath, CSEC hasn’t escaped the odour of Snowden who disclosed how CSEC is spying on the Brazilian natural resources department and grabbing citizen metadata through an unnamed airport wifi.

“I think that the survey demonstrates, once again, that Canadians are very interested in privacy issues,” said Christopher Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the Citizen Lab, a group that monitors surveillance issues.

“The fact that there is such low support for C-13, even amongst Conservative voters, speaks to the partisanship that the current government has demonstrated in trying to advance the legislation," he said.

To Parsons, the poll is reflective of Canadians growing interest with privacy issues. He thinks Canadians expect there to be legitimate checks and balances on government intelligence-gathering powers, with C-13 sorely lacking even the most basic oversight mechanisms.

In April, Canada's interim privacy commissioner, Chantal Bernier, tabled a report that law enforcement made 1.2 million requests for user data in one year to big Canadian ISPs. Bernier followed that up with revelations the Canadian feds were spying on social media of citizens.  Since, the dial has been turned way up on CSEC for their suspected online spying of citizens and the poll shows that growing concern with government surveillance.

But it's not just regular cititzens who are concerned. Just last week the Supreme Court found that requesting Canadians' personal information from telecommunications companies to obtain a search warrant is unconstitutional. The ruling is a scathing message to the Harper goverment, one that rebukes the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which provided a legal gray area for law enforcement agencies to operate when requesting user data.

Ultimately, the growing displeasure with the cyberbullying bill might mean Canadians are finally waking up to the reality of government surveillance. Even still, CSEC and CSIS still operate with a shockingly little amount of oversight. But with a Conservative government waning in popularity and surging interest in surveillance, this might just be one of the issues the 2015 federal election is fought upon.