10/27/2014 01:02 EDT | Updated 12/26/2014 05:59 EST

Now, More Than Ever, Canada Must Remain Free and Open

It has never been clearer that Canada has a growing privacy deficit that needs to be addressed. Unless we work together, we could end up with a society that's more spied on and policed than ever before.

Andrew Burton via Getty Images
OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 24: A soldier in the Canadian Army stands guard at the National War Memorial during a ceremony at the memorial on October 24, 2014 in Ottawa, Canada. Two days ago a gunman killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a soldier guarding the memorial. The gunman then stormed the main parliament building, terrorizing the public and politicians, before he was shot dead. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

It's been a terrible few days. Wednesday's events on Parliament Hill have left all Canadians shaken and asking questions about how we move forward as a country.

I doubt I'll ever forget waking up on Wednesday to learn that Parliament -- the very symbol of the rights and freedoms we hold dear -- was under attack. Since then I've talked with a lot of people -- my friends, family, OpenMedia colleagues and supporters -- trying to process this news and consider how we can all move forward.

One thing I'm hearing again and again is that Canadians don't want to allow this tragedy to undermine our freedoms and our way of life. We just can't let this attack change our society for the worse. As Jamie Bertrand told us on Facebook:

"This is horrible but I am now worried what freedoms & rights we'll be losing now to 'stay safe from terrorism'. Hard fought freedom & rights are always the 1st to go and be traded for "safety" after incidents like this."

I've been heartened to see leading commentators from across the political spectrum speak up in a similar vein:

  • Jonathan Kay, writing in the National Post, said: "Successful democracies find a way of protecting their politicians and ordinary citizens from known threats in a way that preserves the essential elements of an open society."
  • The Globe and Mail editorialized that: "whatever changes we choose to make should be done carefully and calmly, with an understanding of the limited scale of the threat, and the nature of the tradeoffs between freedom and safety."
  • Security expert Roland Paris told The Tyee that: ""We always need to be concerned about the risk of unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of individual Canadians. We have legal regimes to limit the powers of police and security services. They're there for a reason -- to protect the values of the society that we cherish."
  • And redditor Summerside91 said in a letter to a local MP: "We should respond to this tragedy with the bravery of clear thinking and careful reflection. We should respond by increasing not decreasing the levels of openness, tolerance and respect for civil liberties of our government."

In times of crisis it becomes more important than ever not to lose sight of our democratic values. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like this government is listening. Already, they are promising drastic new spying powers for its spy agency CSIS that could place the everyday lives of law-abiding Canadians under a government microscope.

Sadly, this government has been pursuing an anti-privacy agenda for years. Not only do we have the prospect of invasive new powers for CSIS, we've also seen Justice Minister Peter MacKay's unpopular and unconstitutional online spying Bill C-13 pass the House of Commons, and move on for debate in the Senate. A recent poll reveals 73 per cent of Canadians opposing the bill, including major opposition from the government's own supporters, who oppose the legislation 2.5:1.

All this comes after a turbulent year of Snowden-leaked revelations about how Canada's spy agency CSEC has monitored the activities of law-abiding Canadians -- as well as scandalous disclosures of over 3,000 breaches of sensitive citizen data impacting 725,000 citizens across the country.

It has never been clearer that Canada has a growing privacy deficit that needs to be addressed. Unless we work together, we could end up with a society that's more spied on and policed than ever before.

That's why we've launched a new crowdsourcing initiative to collect the views of everyday Canadians and Internet users on priorities for keeping our online activities private.

The project includes an online, interactive platform that allows Canadians to set out their priorities when it comes to privacy. It also seeks input from citizens on a wide range of privacy issues. Feedback from the consultation phase of the project will be analyzed and used to shape a crowdsourced set of key policy recommendations for decision-makers early next year, with input from top privacy experts across the country.

Leaders from across the political spectrum are speaking out on the issue. Tom Henheffer, Executive Director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, commented that, "Mass government surveillance reeks of authoritarianism. If citizens can't communicate without fear of government eavesdropping, they do not truly live in a free and open society."

Meanwhile, principled conservatives like Free Dominion's Connie Fournier told us, "There is no conservative principle that allows for this kind of dangerous control by government, and we strongly oppose their high-handed disregard for the will of the people and for the constitutional privacy rights of Canadians that were recently reaffirmed in the Spencer decision."

It is clearly more important than ever that we exercise thought and restraint when evaluating new measures to spy on the sensitive private information of law-abiding Canadians. We're determined not to allow the government to use these events to compromise the rights and freedoms we all cherish. That's why we need everyone to pitch in and help shape a positive plan to safeguard our privacy rights. Use our innovative drag-and-drop tool to let us know what your privacy priorities are today.


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