It's a tale of two nations, you might say.
When an American politician introduced a bill to crack down on Internet lawlessness, what was the reaction? And when a Canadian politician introduced a bill to crack down on Internet lawlessness, what happened up here?
Well, in the case of the U.S. bill - Rep. Lamar S. Smith's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), aimed at punishing copyright infringement - companies such as Google and Wikipedia came together to launch a smart and effective grassroots lobby campaign. Their effort, which culminated in a web blackout on Jan. 18, stopped SOPA in its tracks.
Up here? Well, the Canadian bill - Bill C-30, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (PCIPA) - saw opponents come together to publicize Toews' divorce files. The sickening campaign culminated in a shocking Ottawa Citizen story Thursday, which revealed the Twitter account that had been disgorging salacious details about the Toews family had been - wait for it - run out of the House of Commons.
Both SOPA and C-30 were pieces of legislation that, while well intended, went way too far. Both bills enraged law-abiding citizens who feared being unjustly targeted by the authorities. And both now have an uncertain future, or none at all.
The big difference? The Americans stopped SOPA with organized, broad-based lobbying. The Canadians who tried to stop C-30 with vile smears utterly failed, and (amazingly) rendered Toews a sympathetic figure.
What derailed C-30, truly, was a chorus of conservative voices who objected to the bill's intrusive and authoritarian provisions. Not the gutter politics.
My arch-conservative Sun News colleague, Brian Lilley, hammered the Harper regime for C-30's proposal to permit warrantless searches. Said Lilley: "The potential for abuse is unlimited here ... allowing this kind of searching to go on without a warrant is just too much."
Another conservative, the right-leaning National Post's Lorne Gunter, was just as tough, telling Toews to "stay out of my inbox." Wrote Gunter: "(C-30 gives) police too much authority to snoop around in Canadians' online activities. My fear is ... not the way it will be used against pedophiles or terrorists, but the way it could be turned against innocent, ordinary Canadians."
The Globe and Mail's most prominent conservative voice, Margaret Wente, was mocking in her condemnation of Toews' proposed law. In a column sardonically titled "On Internet privacy, I'm with the child pornographers," Wente wrote: "The act should really be called the Licence to Snoop Law."
Meanwhile, influential conservatives like the National Citizens Coalition's Stephen Taylor damned C-30 on Twitter and elsewhere. By Thursday, Conservative MPs were also publicly expressing their concerns, and the government was in full retreat.
But it wasn't the opposition that forced them to do so. It was conservatives. Appallingly, Liberal MPs such as Justin Trudeau and Ralph Goodale thought it was appropriate to provide online access to the Toews divorce files.
And at least two former Michael Ignatieff staffers did likewise, focusing more on Toews' personal life than on C-30 itself.
It recalled, for me, a day in the fall of 2009 when those of us who were then assisting Ignatieff heard a sad rumour about the personal life of a very prominent Conservative politician. We spoke to Ignatieff about it. He said to us, with fire in his eyes: "If any member of my staff is found to be circulating this crap, they will be fired immediately. Am I clear?"
That was the right and ethical position to take. Fight your opponents aggressively, for sure. But leave spouses and children out of it. It's not fair to them. And it reflects very, very badly on you.
So, the next time someone says American politics is dirtier than Canadian politics?
Tell them they don't know what they're talking about.