Electronic Frontier Canada

Date:Wednesday, April 23, 1997

To: The Honourable Mr. Chris Axworthy
Member of Parliament, Saskatoon
House of Commons, 274 Wellington Bldg
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OA6
From: Dr. David Jones, President
Electronic Frontier Canada
20 Richmond Avenue
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 1Y9

phone:(613) 995-1551
fax:(613) 943-2010
phone:(905) 525-9140 x24689
fax:(905) 546-9995

Dear Mr. Axworthy,
Re: Anti-Internet Bill C-396

I write to you in my capacity as President of Electronic Frontier Canada (EFC), Canada's premier nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation of civil liberties in cyberspace. We have hundreds of members drawn from every Canadian province and territory, including your home province of Saskatchewan.

We were very alarmed to read the text of your Bill C-396. While we share your concern about the sexual exploitation of children, this bill is not the solution.

First, you propose the licencing of Internet service providers (ISPs). We believe this is an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians do not need a licence to own and operate a typewriter, a photocopier, or a printing press, and neither should we need one to express our opinions electronically. As Justice John Sopinka of the Canadian Supreme Court said in an address at the University of Waterloo in 1994, . . .

``In many ways, it may be said that electronic media such as Internet are the posters of the late twentieth century providing an invaluable means of expression to a wide audience . . . We must be very careful not to unduly restrict free speech simply because it is difficult to control the illegal use of information technologies. Systems such as Internet can enhance an individual's ability to promote truth, political and social participation, and self-fulfilment. Since these goals lie at the core of free speech, one might expect that it would be very difficult for the government to legitimately pass any regulations prohibiting the use of Internet.''
Although it is easy to be misled by sensationalistic media coverage, it is important to recognize that child pornography forms a minuscule proportion of the material transmitted over the Internet. The construction of a huge new licencing bureaucracy is clearly a disproportionate response to the problem.

Section 4 of your bill is also troublesome, since it places an unreasonable burden on ISP's by making them responsible for policing the actions of thousands of their customers. With the volume of information flowing through the Internet, this is clearly infeasible. The fear, uncertainty, and potential penalty of two years in jail would do tremendous damage to the the information technology industry in Canada - one of the few sectors of the economy that is creating jobs for young people.

We believe the provisions in Section 6 are also unconstitutional, since it requires ISPs to comply with requests by the Minister of Justice to block access to Internet sites of which the government disapproves, or else face a jail term. With the absence of any judicial review, this provision erases the important separation between those who make the laws and those who enforce the laws. This invites a kind of totalitarianism that is quite foreign to our Canadian democratic values.

All told, your bill is a sad way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Electronic Frontier Canada is devoted to educating the public about cyberspace-related issues. Please take a few moments to browse our archives at http://www.efc.ca where you will find dozens of articles explaining why further regulation of the Internet is unneeded, unwise, and unconstitutional.

David Jones, PhD
President, Electronic Frontier Canada