The world according to Toews

Russell Wangersky
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Two weeks ago, I pointed out in a column that one of the best things about federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is that, whether he means to or not, he coughs up some of the accidentally hilarious - and outrageous - defences of Harper government policies.

Sometimes, they're just funny; other times, they are so eye-rollingly over the top that you have to stop for a moment and ask yourself if you're not the unwitting guest on a comedy show.

A few weeks ago, for example, when asked by NDP MP Jack Harris about the government's decision to allow Canada's spy agency to use information obtained through torture by foreign security forces, Toews' hilarious response was that Harris was the kind of politician who would keep information secret and allow a jet filled with Newfoundlanders to be blown up. Toews finished up that little dose of preposterousness by adding that was why no one trusted the NDP to run a government.

It was Toews who recently told a Senate committee examining the Harper government's so-called "tough on crime" legislation that he didn't know anything about the statistics showing a dramatic dip in crime rates. Toews' pronouncement? That he didn't care about statistics - he cared about "danger."

Danger? Might as well announce that you care about manatees or crab grass. "Order, please, order. It's time for ministerial statements. First, the Minister of Big Scary Monsters Under the Bed and Strange Thumpy Sounds ..."

On the other hand, maybe we really need a minister of danger.

Toews struck again this week: when the Tories trotted out new legislation to allow the police warrantless access to everyday Canadians' Internet use - essentially an Internet police fishing expedition - Toews trumpeted that people were either onside with the law, or else they were on "the side of child pornographers." (He is just great - the longer he's the dark side of comic relief in the Harper cabinet, the longer that list of Toews-isms is going to get.)

Funnier still, he flatly refuses to back down from obviously untenable and indefensible positions. Not only did he say it, but given the chance to back away from the child pornographers cliff-edge outside the Parliamentary chambers, he just kept marching forwards.

A dinosaur? No. This is a true fossil of the very first order. How clear is that to everybody involved?

Well, think of this: Wednesday, a columnist with the clearly right-of-spectrum National Post, Kelly McParland, opined that, if Vic Toews was in favour of the Internet bill, then the columnist was already against it - "In Toews' world, anyone who gets nervous about a little freelance police snooping must be into child pornography. Toews' approach to any delicate situation is to get out his boots and stomp on it. If you're wary about letting police into your private affairs, then how much more scary would it be to think Vic Toews might get access?"

Take a look at the logic: there's not a shred of evidence that the kind of information-sampling Toews wants to allow has any effectiveness in catching child pornographers. In fact, another Post opinion writer, Jesse Kline, pointed out that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police - in internal emails - admitted that there were "no good examples" they could offer to show that the fishing missions were of value.

So, if there is no connection between the proposed law and the arrest of child pornographers, Toews' defence of the law effectively runs along the logical line of: "if you don't like raisins, you are in favour of snipers" and, "if you own a cat, you should be strip-searched." Or maybe, "if you won't offer up your neighbours and friends to this commission, you must be a Communist."

Or, for that matter, "if you don't want Canadians to be complicit in overseas torture, you'd be willing to let your neighbours be blown up on a plane." Oh wait - sorry, that was a real one.

And just in case you've forgotten, this is the same politician who came to St. John's and blithely said no one from the provincial government had ever raised the question of the terrible conditions at Her Majesty's Penitentiary with him - when, actually, they had, and had the paper to prove it.

And don't forget - this week, a judge defied the federal government's mandatory minimum sentencing rules, saying that there are circumstances where a mandatory minimum sentence is "cruel and unusual punishment."

Can't wait to hear Toews' pronouncement on that bit of judicial independence.

And this is the guy who is in charge of the public safety of Canadians? Now, that's a danger.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: NDP, Senate committee, National Post Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's

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