Cyberbullying bill inches closer to law despite privacy concerns

A controversial bill to fight cyberbullying and give more powers to law enforcement is set to pass third reading in the House of Commons when MPs return from Thanksgiving.

Legislation contains controversial measures opposition MPs say need to be split into separate bill

A controversial bill to fight cyberbullying and give more surveillance powers to law enforcement is set to pass third reading in the House of Commons, despite concerns raised by privacy experts and Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, a teen who killed herself following cyberbullying.

A controversial bill to fight cyberbullying and give more powers to law enforcement is set to pass third reading in the House of Commons when MPs return from Thanksgiving.

MPs had their last round of debate on the bill Friday, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a cyberbullying roundtable in Winnipeg to mark the two-year anniversary of Amanda Todd's death. Todd killed herself at age 15 after enduring "merciless cyberbullying," Harper said in a news release.

A spokeswoman for government House Leader Peter Van Loan said the last House vote on the cyberbullying bill, known as C-13, will be Monday, Oct. 20. If it passes, it will go to the Senate for debate by senators and consideration at committee.

The bill is expected to pass, with the majority Conservatives supporting it despite a number of objections raised by Canada's privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, and even by Amanda Todd's mother, Carol.

Both Therrien and Todd said the bill should have been split so the widely embraced cyberbullying measures were considered separately from the far more controversial online data-collection measures.

Bill C-13 would make it illegal for anyone to post or transmit an "intimate image" of another individual without that person’s consent. But other measures included in the bill would give police easier access to the metadata that internet service providers and phone companies keep on every call and email by their customers.

It would also make it easier for police to get preservation or production orders by lowering the threshold from a "reasonable grounds to believe" a crime has happened or could happen to "reasonable grounds to suspect."

The bill would also give immunity to any companies that turn over to police the information they hold.

'Really sad'

NDP digital issues critic Charmaine Borg said she's disappointed the government won't split the bill in two parts, calling it "really sad for the families of the victims" that MPs had to spend much of the debate talking about privacy.

Amanda Todd's mother, Carol Todd, has raised concerns with the government's new legislation. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
"I think just the cyberbullying aspects merit their own debate, they merit their own time. And we could have passed them very quickly because there's a consensus all across the House of Commons," Borg said, adding that the anti-cyberbullying measures could have already been law had the bill been split.

Borg said she expects the bill, should it become law, to be challenged in court following the Supreme Court's decision last June in the case R vs. Spencer.

The Spencer decision barred internet service providers from voluntarily disclosing the names, addresses and phone numbers of their customers to law enforcement officials in response to an informal request — something ISPs have been doing hundreds of thousands of times a year.

The landmark decision came the day the House justice committee reported back to the House on C-13.

A spokeswoman for the federal privacy commissioner referred CBC News to Therrien's remarks last spring in front of the House justice committee.

Government: no need to split bill

Therrien told the committee he was concerned the bill would give law enforcement officials the power to access sensitive information solely based on "suspicion," give investigative powers to "a broad range of authorities," and give legal immunity to people or telecoms who voluntarily turn over sensitive information to law enforcement.

"I can tell you that in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Spencer case, we look forward to sharing our views and specific recommendations with Parliament in due course," Tobi Cohen said in an email.

Robert Goguen, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said there's no need to split the bill.

"I wonder what purpose it would serve to split this bill," he said in French on Friday as MPs debated it.

What’s important is establishing a balance between privacy and victims and protecting the youngest and most vulnerable in society, Goguen said.

With files from CBC News