Internet surveillance bill not dead, Toews says

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is denying reports that the Harper government intends to quietly shelve its controversial online surveillance bill, C-30.

Despite controversy and criticism, Toews says government proceeding with C-30

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is denying reports that the Harper government intends to quietly shelve its controversial online surveillance bill, C-30.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters Wednesday that the government is proceeding with its controversial online surveillance bill. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday morning, Toews insisted the legislation was moving ahead.

"Our government has been very clear, that matter will be referred to a parliamentary committee. In fact we made it clear that legislation would proceed to committee prior to second reading," Toews said.

Toews can move to send the legislation to committee for review before any House debate on the bill, but he has not done that yet in the Commons.

C-30 is similar to earlier legislation that had died on the order paper, but goes further in its enforcement measures.

But the Conservatives faced criticism not only from the opposition benches but also inside their own caucus about privacy concerns with the bill. 

In February, shortly after the bill was introduced, Toews told CBC News that he was surprised to hear criticism that a section of C-30 provides for "exceptional circumstances" under which "any police officer" can request customer information from a telecommunications service provider. Toews said in his opinion, it shouldn't extend police powers in that way. 

The committee's review is expected to provide the government with an opportunity to amend the legislation

When the bill was introduced in February, Toews said the legislation was necessary to protect Canadians from child pornography and organized crime. But although it mentions protecting children from predators in its title, there's no mention of child pornography in its actual text.

In the heat of the early debate on the bill, Toews told Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia he could "either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

Two social media protests online – one using the Twitter hashtag #tellviceverything, and the other using the Twitter account @vikileaks30 to circulate personal details from the minister's divorce files – raised awareness and mobilized concern about the bill. 

Review delayed until fall

On Wednesday, Toews told reporters that it's the "house leader's responsibility" to decide when the legislation proceeds to committee, but the government is "intent on proceeding."   

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan's office says the Commons is expected to rise on June 22 for summer recess, and until then the government is focusing on economic legislation. 

The Commons committee's review of C-30 isn't expected to start until the fall. 

The government could prorogue Parliament at some point over the next year, allowing some bills to die on the order paper. If that happened, the government could deliver a new Throne Speech and make a fresh start with a new legislative agenda, moving on from recent controversies. 

Toews mentioned that the recent Queen's Speech in the British Parliament indicated Britain would be bringing forward legislation similar to the Harper government's online surveillance bill. 

"This is legislation that civilized, democratic countries around the world recognize is important in order to deal with some very significant problems," Toews said.