The privacy police investigate the human rights police
I have written 200 blog entries about Canada's abusive human rights commission since my own appearance before Alberta's kangaroo court. If I had to choose the most important milestones in our battle to reform these corrupt commissions, I'd list:
- Keith Martin's private member's motion,
- the Globe and Mail's editorial,
- the endorsements of PEN Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists,
- Rick Mercer's "rant", and
- the Warman v. Lemire hearing on March 25th that put exposed the corrupt practises of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Today comes news of the most important development yet: according to this report, Canada's privacy commissioner is going to investigate some of the abusive practices of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that were revealed in that March 25th hearing -- specifically that CHRC staff illegally stole access to a private citizen's wireless Internet connection, in order to cover their tracks.
Here's why this is so important:
- This is the first instance of anyone with actual power holding the CHRC to account. So far, only influence has been brought to bear on the problem -- that is, the bully pulpits of a thousand bloggers, a hundred newspapers columns and talk show hosts, and other voices of persuasion. But until now, no-one with the authority to do anything has done anything -- as per my chronic lament about the inaction of the federal Conservatives. But the Privacy Commissioner isn't just about persuasion, she's about enforcement of the law -- the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Those laws won't put Dean Steacy or Richard Warman in jail; but they can put the CHRC through the kind of scrutiny -- an audit, really -- that no kangaroo tribunal, overseen by an bored, weak pushover like Athanasios Hadjis, can do. The CHRC suffered an enormous setback after the March 25th hearing, despite a dozen tricks and outright lies told by the CHRC that Hadjis accepted. The shenanigans pulled by the CHRC to avoid scrutiny would be offences under a Privacy Act investigation. Just imagine what would be revealed in a real investigation.
- Unlike most of the fights involving the CHRC, the political optics of this one cannot be muddied by the involvement of unsavoury respondents. In the past, partisan defenders of the CHRC have attempted to excuse its abominable conduct by arguing, essentially, "sure the CHRC is unconstitutional, abusive and corrupt, but the people it pursues are white supremacists, so it's acceptable." They've implied than any critics of the CHRC are in league with neo-Nazis. But there are no neo-Nazis involved in this privacy investigation -- just the CHRC and an unsuspecting woman whose Internet broadband was stolen. Actually, there was some neo-Naziism here -- bigoted comments posted by Stormfront members Dean Steacy and Richard Warman, the CHRC staff who anonymously posted anti-Semitic propaganda online.
- Privacy, especially privacy from government, is something that most Canadians understand instinctively -- not only in the abstract, but in terms of their everyday lives. People are naturally reluctant to tell the government information, and are constantly irritated by government nosiness, from the income tax process on down. There is a natural skepticism towards government snooping, and the idea of CHRC keystone cops hijacking Internet broadband is revolting, and easy to understand. By contrast, defending free speech -- and defending offensive free speech -- can sometimes be an abstraction, or at least seem removed from the daily life of Canadians. Stealing wireless access is a very concrete act of a Peeping Tom -- all the more revolting when the Peeping Tom is a "human rights" commission.
- This privacy investigation is incredibly important in its own right. But it's also an important fountain of news stories that will denormalize the CHRC for months to come. Look at how this story is being reported: there's not a whiff of ideology in it. It's a straight news story. As I've written before, that's important -- because readers give far more credit to a straight news report than they do to an opinion editorial.
Here are a few excerpts from this stunning story -- written by Canada's largest news syndicate, CP, and published in Canada's best-read newspaper, the Toronto Star. Try to read the story as if it were the first time you'd ever heard about the CHRC's shenanigans -- which is surely the case for most Star readers. And stop and stare at the insanity of the sentence I've bolded. You and I are a little bit numbed to the craziness of the CHRC, since we've encountered it so often. What do you suppose a severely normal Canadian would think? Here's the excerpt:
Canada's privacy office is looking into allegations that federal human-rights investigators tapped into an unwitting woman's Internet connection to post messages on white supremacist websites, a spokesman said Friday.
The unauthorized use of someone's computer or network could constitute a serious breach of privacy, the office of Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said.
"The possibility that the (commission) was accessing someone else's computer without their permission and in effect using their network to communicate is something we're certainly going to look into," Colin McKay, who is Stoddart's communications director, said from Ottawa.
"Hacking into anyone else's network for your own purposes certainly seems like a breach of judgment at the very least."
The allegations arise out of long-running hate hearings before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal involving Toronto resident Mark Lemire.
During the hearings, Dean Steacy, an investigator for the human rights commission, admitted using the pseudonym "Jadewarr" to post messages on white supremacist websites.
Following a subpoena, Bell Canada revealed that one "Jadewarr" post in a chat room had originated from an Internet address belonging to Nelly Hechme, a woman who lives in an Ottawa high-rise close to the commission's office.
Hechme, 26, who apparently had an unsecured wireless Internet link, was reportedly dumbfounded by the use of her account and denied any connection to Steacy or the rights agency.
This is the worst news that the CHRC has yet received. The only thing that would top this would be if Marc Lemire's criminal complaint against the CHRC was accepted by the police.
This is what's called momentum. We're winning.