Québec Premier Lucien Bouchard received an early Christmas "gift" over the Internet, thanks to Kanata's Colin McPhedran.
Until his Internet service provider, Information Gateway Services, blocked access to it, McPhedran apparently was inviting visitors to his "I Hate Lucien Bouchard" Web site to share their ill feelings toward the Pari Québecois premier.
According to the Web author, "Lucien Bouchard is the closest thing to Hitler that Canada has ever known. The death of this man will be the salvation of all true patriots of Canada."
After allegedly receiving numerous complaints, mainly from Québec, IGS vice-president Frank Kahle sought legal advice, pulled the plug on McPhedran's site, and contacted police to determine whether a violation of Canadian hate crime laws had occurred. The Ontario Provincial Police eventually said the home page did not constitute a criminal offence.
Now, free Net-speech advocates Electronic Frontier Canada are claiming that IGS "made a real mess of things" when they suspended the anti-Bouchard page. In a Nov. 14 news release, EFC claims that McPhedran "never intended for his Web page to cause such a stir -- he was merely expressing his political views".
Really? The last time I caught the House of Commons' Question Period on television, I don't recall seeing any members of Parliament calling for the head of Prime Minister Jean Chré'tien.
Certainly, EFC vice-president Jeffrey Shallit is right to suggest that one of the purposes of the Canadian Charter of Rights is to "guarantee robust, open debate on public issues of the day. Lucien Bouchard is a public figure and comments on his actions and performance are part of that debate." But where does Bouchard's death figure in all of this?
Free speech, dumb speech
The only explanation for McPhedran's vitriolic Net commentary has come from EFC, which has turned something offensive and worthy of no attention into a debate on the freedom of speech and expression.
EFC president David Jones wonders what would have happened if IGS had blocked McPhedran's "I Hate Lucien Bouchard" home page prior to a referendum. "Silencing one side of the debate could have disastrous consequences for the country", he says.
Of course, Jones fails to mention the absence of any serious discussion of national issues on McPhedran's part.
EFC is also attacking both IGS and the Canadian Association of Internet Service Providers for their policy of "censor first, ask questions later".
Under existing Canadian law, Kahle may have jumped the gun. Under Section 318 of the Criminal Code, victims of hate propaganda are identified as members of a group, not individuals, "where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace."
Still, talking about Bouchard's death as the "salvation" of all "true" Canadian "patriots", which McPhedran evidently did, hints of something more than natural causes and would certainly lead to social upheaval. Clearly, parliamentarians need to examine Canada's existing laws against hate propaganda.
On Nov. 8, Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MP Mauril Belanger told the Commons that "in our society, there are ways to express our disagreement with the political ideologies of a given party. These individuals will definitely not help their cause by sending messages promoting hate and violence".
If Parliament doesn't move, maybe the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will. During a recent CBC-TV interview on the program, "Ottawa: Inside Out", CRTC chair Françoise Bertrand suggested the commission may get involved in Net regulation.
"One thing I know is, certainly, from the start, to say there is no place -- or no role -- for the CRTC is certainly not in mind", she said.
At year's end, when many of us will be thinking about finding the right techno-toy to give to a loved one during the holiday season, it is vitally important to consider what technology has become and what it has allowed us to do.
The Internet has become an important gateway to global communications. It has also provided an easy and additional route for those involved in exchanging or displaying hateful or salacious information.
With the OPP's recent seizure in Mississauga of what they believe to be the world's largest seizure of computer-based child pornography, the Net, for some, has evidently become a handy tool for criminal activity.
In addition to espousing hatred for Bouchard, EFC says that McPhedran also posted a Web page called "I Hate the Ottawa Rought Riders". Perhaps team president Jim Durrell left before his head was also sought through the Net.
During a season where peace and good will is sought, let's hope those of us who view the Net as a bridge, not a weapon, will find that idea more evident in the future.