Blogs & Comment

The fed’s new bill leaves in law making Batman comics illegal: Peter Nowak

Language changed, but, oddly, not the law itself


Much has already been written about Bill C-13, the Canadian government’s omnibus legislation that is ostensibly aimed at making cyber-bullying illegal, but which also shovels in a whole bunch of unrelated stuff. Academics, journalists and privacy commissioners alike have roundly criticized it for what it is – a thinly veiled resurrection of the failed Bill C-30, which sought to give authorities all kinds of new spying powers.

C-13, or the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act,” does actually introduce some welcome rules that would criminalize cyber-bullying. Disseminating a naked picture of someone without their permission, also often known as “revenge porn,” would – for example – be punishable by five years in jail. No one’s disputing the need for such a law.

But there’s a whole bunch of other stuff in there, including exemptions for Internet providers from lawsuits for voluntarily giving customer information to authorities, that’s making a lot of people queasy. C-13 differs from C-30 in that police would still require a warrant to forcibly obtain such info, but if the companies can’t be sued by customers for giving it up, why wouldn’t they do so voluntarily?

The bill also updates some of the Criminal Code’s language, but some of those additions are utterly bizarre – not the changes in wording themselves, but the continued existence of the parts in the first place.

For one thing, C-13 proposes a slight amendment to the wording of section 327, or “Possession of device to obtain telecommunication facility or service.” Under the new wording:

Everyone who, without lawful excuse, makes, possesses, sells, offers for sale, imports, obtains for use, distributes or makes available a device that is designed or adapted primarily to use a telecommunication facility or obtain a telecommunication service without payment of a lawful charge, under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the device has been used or is or was intended to be used for that purpose, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years.

The only difference from the Criminal Code, enacted in 1985, is the removal of the words “the proof of which lies on him” after the “without lawful excuse” part. It’s up to lawyers to interpret that, but the point is still the same: anyone who steals cable, Internet or any other telecom service can get up to two years in jail.

This has been incorrectly reported as a new rule, but it has indeed been in effect for nearly 30 years. In fact, it’s a law that is on the verge of becoming completely obsolete since it’s almost impossible to steal a telecom service these days. Digital television is a two-way signal, which means a cable provider can easily detect anyone trying to grab it for free.

Anyone who is getting free TV is probably getting an analog signal (and therefore not getting HBO, as that newspaper article mentioned), which is now something that cable providers are starting to kill. With analog TV’s days numbered, so too are the free rides of the people who are stealing it. In that vein, it’s rather strange that the government would bother updating the language of an almost-obsolete law.

But that’s not the strangest change. C-13 tweaks the language of section 163 and 164 of the Criminal Code, or the parts that deal with “Corrupting morals.” As if the very idea of that isn’t outdated enough, the updated language states that:

A judge may issue a warrant authorizing seizure of copies of a recording, a publication, a representation or of written materials if the judge is satisfied by information on oath that there are reasonable grounds for believing that… the publication, copies of which are kept for sale or distribution in premises within the jurisdiction of the court, is obscene or a crime comic.

That’s right: in 2013, Canada’s laws still make it illegal to print, sell or distribute crime comics. What’s even more bewildering is that rather than correcting that crazy, 1950s-era anachronism, C-13 merely looks to modernize some of the language around it. To use some other modernized language, WTF?

Just about any modern comic book – meaning those of the past half-century or so – could theoretically qualify as a crime comic. The Joker and Doctor Octopus do, after all, have a penchant for robbing banks, right? Most superheroes – including Batman, the so-called world’s greatest detective – are technically illegal.

It’s incredible that this is still a law, much less one that is merely having its wording updated. Surely society’s morals have changed enough to warrant the outright removal of such a clause. If not, somebody better tell Hollywood because those crime comics are all over the big screen.

In trying to drum up support for the failed Bill C-30, former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews famously said that people were either with them or the child pornographers. The extended implication this time around is that critics of C-13 are obviously with the cyber-bullies and revenge pornographers. And Batman.