Politics is full of glass houses. But that doesn’t stop anyone from throwing stones. Far from it.
Last week, a firestorm of protest broke out over Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ proposed legislation to allow greater police access to online activity by private citizens.
Several people sent tongue-in-cheek tweets to Toews revealing mundane details of their private lives. There were also letters, petitions and blog postings.
But one campaign took a decidedly nasty tone. Someone armed with records of Toews’ divorce proceedings, as well as his public spending habits, issued a steady stream of tweets under the Twitter name Vikileaks30.
It was ugly and personal.
When the tweets were traced to the Parliament building, Toews decried it as gutter politics. He even asked police to investigate. So far, the RCMP have not said anything about the “leaks” of public information, though they are looking into an apparent death threat against the minister.
Toews, meanwhile, has indicated he would entertain amendments to the legislation.
Nonetheless, a new online campaign surfaced this week from an underground group calling itself “Anonymous.” As well as reviving the Vikileaks tweets, the group posted an ominous video displaying its mysterious logo. Sinister music swells as a computer-generated voice taunts the minister with more threats of exposure.
“You cannot run; you cannot hide,” the halting, female voice says.
“You will pry the Internet, our most valued and precious weapon against oppression, from our cold, dead hands.”
It’s meant to be clever, but it’s actually quite creepy.
What makes it even more disturbing is that it may signal a new approach for opposition forces in this country: fight sleaze with sleaze.
Bottom of the barrel
All parties have their low points, but there is no question the Tories have taken the prize for underhandedness over the past seven years.
You can forget the little mini-scandals that come and go: Maxime Bernier’s mislaid documents, or Lisa Raitt finding cancer “sexy.” But the bigger transgressions are hard to ignore.
The famous “in-and-out” election spending scandal looms large. Despite vehement denials and an initial court victory, the country’s top court found the party guilty of violating regulations.
Then there’s last fall’s prank phone calls in Irwin Cotler’s Montreal district. Tory staffers hired a polling firm to call constituents and suggest, falsely, that the Liberal MP was stepping down.
There was the direct order for departments to change “Government of Canada” to “The Harper Government” on public documents. (Harper denied any such order until proof surfaced in the form of emails from the Privy Council Office.)
And then there’s Harper’s growing legacy of shutting down democracy. National Post columnist Lawrence Martin summed it up this way:
“The stifling of dissent featured such measures as the shutting down of Peter Tinsley’s Afghan detainees’ probe, the removal of the head of the RCMP Complaints Commission and the removal of the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission. There was the ransacking of Rights & Democracy, the disregarding of a fixed-date election law, the issuance of a secret manual instructing Conservatives on how to disrupt parliamentary committees, and a dozen other examples of authoritarian measures more befitting a one-party state than a 21st-century democracy.”
It’s a little rich, therefore, for a Tory minister to point fingers over clandestine manoeuvres.
But that still doesn’t make it right.
The problem with the Anonymous campaign is right the there in the group’s name.
Anonymous attacks are beneath contempt.
This is one instance where two wrongs don’t make a right.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor.