Being monitored isn’t freedom

Bram Lebo

A few months ago, I received a $250 ticket in the mail for running a stoplight. That’s not something I normally do, and so I put my mind back to the day in question, one I remembered because I had been at a medical appointment in the City. Yes, I had been there, but I recalled making a right turn at that intersection, to head to theDon Valley Parkwayand back to Haliburton. I did not go through it.

Yet there was the notice, telling me I was guilty. I studied it carefully and, sure enough, there’s a photo of my car next to anther in front of a red light, then another photo with my car completely absent.

How was that possible? Surely my car would have been visible on the other side of the intersection had I ran the light?

But of course I hadn’t run the light. I had made a perfectly legal right turn, stopping at the intersection beforehand to check traffic. Somehow, the red light camera — that assuredly infallible piece of technology put there to save the world from criminals — had made a mistake.

Try telling that to the Ministry of Transportation. You cannot; they do not accept calls. What you must do, and what I did, is take another day and go back to the City, to stand in line and file an objection. Then, I was told, after about six months, or maybe two years, I would get a notice of my court date where I could dispute the charge laid by the robot at the corner ofFinch AvenueandDon Mills Road.

That was exciting. I immediately constructed my revenge fantasy, my day in court. I would stride, Maximillian Schell-like, towards Exhibit A — the photo of me stopped at the intersection, which I would have blown up to courtroom proportions, sitting on an easel for the judge to consider. Then, more striding, I would land the telescopic pointer — which I had purchased especially for the occasion — like a flyswatter on Exhibit B — the photo of an empty intersection displayed triumphantly on easel #2.

“Quod erat demonstrandum, your honour!” I would declare, triumphantly, using the Latin for “see, I didn’t do it” for maximum effect.

I would demand the City reimburse me for the two days I had to spend defending myself, and for the pointer, Bristol board and easels. I would claim vindication over Rob Ford’s apparently still-repressive regime and tell the awaiting televisions cameras that this was one small step for justice against the tyranny of government surveillance.

Alas, it was not to happen. On receiving my objection, it seems someone actually looked at the photos and cancelled the ticket. A relief, but a bit of an anticlimax really: no day in court, no gesticulating deliberations.

Now this story really happened, and despite the aggravation it caused me, it did me little harm. Imagine however that the charge was not running a red light, but something much more serious. Imagine, as our federal government wishes to do, our online activities, conversations, emails and phone calls were monitored and, through some screw up — quite likely, actually inevitable from the people who can’t seem to issue a fishing license — my name or yours comes up in a fishing expedition for criminal activity.

That is the question — and answer — to Vic Toews and to anyone who says you have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide [see Stephen’s editorial, left]. Free people aren’t watched, monitored, tracked and assessed for threats. The act of snooping on law-abiding citizens is in itself an attack on freedom. We could stop all crime by tagging everyone, by putting cameras in every home and every location: no crime, but no freedom either; that’s exactly what this bill does through electronic surveillance.

Because if this bill passes, there is no doubt that, eventually, the government will collect everything about you. A faceless agent (or maybe the robot at Don Mills & Finch) will be able to call up your file and see exactly who you know and who you’ve talked to (from your email records); where you’ve been (from your phone records) and what’s on your mind (from your browsing records). Then, when it turns out you were sitting next to a guy at a restaurant three years ago who’s committed a crime, presto — the police appear at your door to ask questions. Or maybe they just arrest you in the name of being tough on crime and you can have your day in court, exhibits and all.

Our community was strongly against the long-gun registry because it was an intrusion into the lives and privacy of law-abiding citizens. The Conservatives’ proposed surveillance laws are far more threatening to our privacy and our freedom than a simple registry of guns. That’s not fantasy, that’s the experience of nations who disregard the privacy of their citizens, from the formerEast GermanyandUSSRtoCanadaand our treatment of Maher Arar.

What can you do? You can write to our MP, Barry Devolin, and tell him you expect the same defence of our privacy and freedom as he provided on the gun registry, by voting against this bill. Write barry.devolin@parl.gc.ca  or call toll free 1-866-688-9881.

 

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