All Canadians, including elected officials, should be concerned about online videos that contained threats against him, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a parliamentary committee Tuesday.
The procedure and House affairs committee is looking into threats posted on Youtube where a group called Anonymous promised to release personal information about Toews and his family if he didn't scrap Bill C-30, known as the lawful access or online surveillance bill.
The proposed law would give police increased powers to gather customer information from internet service providers and force ISPs to hold on to certain information.
"This online group called Anonymous that posted the videos hides behind masks and their claim to anonymity, and it is their threats that clearly attempt to intimidate me, and in fact all parliamentarians, as we carry out our democratically elected responsibilities," Toews said.
Toews told the committee the RCMP continues to investigate threats against him, and that those threats go beyond the Youtube videos, though he preferred not to elaborate on them.
"I think all Canadians should be concerned by these types of threats posed to our democracy by these online bullies and thugs who in fact are intimidating the democratic process," Toews said.
Videos 'crossed the line'
But opposition MPs questioned what role the committee can play in the matter and what Toews is asking them to do. Liberal MP Marc Garneau said the threats were unacceptable but he is "scratching his head" about what the committee can accomplish.
Toews urged the committee to study the impact of the use of the internet on democratic processes and to determine if there are any steps that MPs could take to protect themselves from intimidation or that the House of Commons could take to protect MPs.
He said that he views freedom of speech as precious and that he protects it, but that the videos "crossed the line."
"I do not believe that members of Parliament should be held hostage, afraid to do what they feel is right for fear that unnamed thugs might threaten them," he told the committee. "Canadians deserve better."
The committee last heard from House of Commons staff, who warned them it would be difficult to track down who posted the Youtube videos. Anonymous is a collective of hackers and activists with little central organization, open to anyone who wants to align themselves with the group.
The online surveillance bill, which sparked an enormous public backlash, has been on hold since the week after Toews introduced it in the House of Commons. The Conservatives promised to send it to committee prior to second reading in the House, allowing for more changes than at the stage when a bill usually arrives at committee.
Anger over the bill led within days to the #tellviceverything Twitter campaign, in which users overloaded Toews's account with tweets about the mundane details of their lives.
Toews was also put under the microscope by the vikileaks30 Twitter account, which tweeted details alleged in divorce papers filed by his ex-wife. The ethics committee has demanded Adam Carroll, a Liberal staffer who resigned after House IT staff tracked the vikileaks30 account to his computer, appear before them. No date has been set due to Carroll's undisclosed health problems.