This is one of those stories that, if it weren’t so goddamn sad, would be fucking hilarious:
With Conservatives targeting a Liberal staffer who posted the sordid details of Vic Toews’s divorce to Twitter, the Speaker of the House has ruled that threatening videos by the hacker group Anonymous violated the Public Safety Minister’s parliamentary privilege. Andrew Scheer told the Commons Tuesday the Anonymous videos “constitute a direct threat to the minister in particular, as well as all other members” of Parliament.
Okay, so this part’s not that funny. A group of Anonymous supposedly ‘threatened’ Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (who you’ll remember has appeared on this blog a few times before) after he announced his intention to pass a bill that would allow police to access information on the IPs of Canadians without a warrant. Mr. Toews then said that anyone who thought it was a bad idea to let police snoop people’s personal data without any kind of judicial oversight was simply standing with child pornographers. Anonymous, being who and what they are, did not like that, and released this “threat”:
Again, that’s not the punchline. While the threats were comparatively mild, Toews and his Republican North colleagues threw a shit fit and demanded answers. This Inquisition was spurred on by the revelations that a Liberal Party staffer was responsible for a novelty Twitter account that revealed the (publicly-available) details of the depths of Vic Toews’ depravity in the form of affidavits signed during his divorce proceedings*. All of a sudden the “liberal conspiracy” klaxons were sounding from the hallowed halls of the House of Commons, and the government was out for blood.
The Speaker of the House, for whatever reason, ruled that the ‘threats’ against Mr. Toews violated his parliamentary privilege, and as such a hearing could be held by the House Affairs Committee. This is where the courts go all the way down the rabbit hole. Part of the House Affairs Committee process involves testimony from the accused group – in this case, Anonymous:
He invited Mr. Toews to move to have the matter sent to the procedures and House affairs committee. It is unclear how MPs on that committee could call Anonymous to testify, given that its members are, in fact, anonymous.
I couldn’t help but laugh because this sentence reminded me of the only part of Austin Powers III that was actually any good: the scene with Fred Savage as “the mole”, where he says “I realize that I have a large mole on my face. I also realize the irony that I am, myself, a mole”.
So, the house of commons thinks that it’s possible to compel Anonymous, a group that is famously headless and has no leaders or organizers to speak of, that has no identity or official membership, that prides itself on thereby being nearly-impossible to trace, to show up at the House of Commons to “Toewstify”. I cannot help but picture Vic Toews standing outraged at the ocean’s edge in the early morning hours, threatening “back to work” legislation unless the tide returns to the shore immediately. He will also demand an apology for its ruining his shoes. The problem is that it isn’t just limited to one crazy-pants minister – the body responsible for regulating the internet (or so they fancy themselves) is finally coming to grips with the fact that they have no idea what they’re doing:
Members of Parliament trying to investigate threats against Public Safety Minister Vic Toews by the online hacker group Anonymous are facing up to the difficult, perhaps impossible, task that has been put before them. New Democrat Chris Charlton reminded the Commons procedures and House affairs committee on Thursday – the first day of hearings into a possible breach of privilege by the group against Mr. Toews – its job is to identify the guilty party and to come up with possible remedies.
Even though the members of the committee feel strongly that MPs should not be threatened or intimidated, Ms. Charlton said, “it’s not as clear to me how we go about identifying a culprit in this case.” She asked a trio of senior House of Commons staff who were called to testify whether it was realistic to think those responsible will ever be caught.
Audrey O’Brien, the Clerk of the House of Commons, agreed the committee’s job would not be easy. “This is unprecedented in that the attacks in question come from an unknown entity,” she said. It is a criminal offence to threaten a public official and one can assume that Mr. Toews has lodged a complaint with the police, Ms. O’Brien added. But as far as the work of the committee goes, “I am not sure that seeking out a culprit as such wouldn’t be a giant waste of time.”
So congratulations, Canada. Your government is run by people who don’t have the wits to realize that an idea like “forcing Anonymous to testify” is ridiculous on its face. This is something that doesn’t get laughed out of the House of Commons, although it was much derided online. So while we laugh at folks like US Senator Jim Inhofe for saying that global warming can’t be real because YahwAlladdha wouldn’t let it happen, just remember that for a dark couple of days in March, the Canadian Parliament seriously considered the feasibility of arresting Anonymous because they made fun of a cabinet minister.
Let that sink in.
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*Some would argue that such a personal attack is offside. It would be offside if it were irrelevant to the laws that Mr. Toews was championing, but it’s not. Vic, who is a “family values” (read: hate-filled) conservative, articulated the position that people with nothing to hide should not fear a snooping law, and then there’s the whole “child pornographers” thing coming from a guy who cheated on his wife with his 17 year-old babysitter.