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Assault on privacy

September 30, 2002

Editorial, Toronto Star

Should all Canadians be treated like criminals, because a few are? That's a question Parliament must ask as it resumes today. Jean Chrétien's government has given itself grotesquely abusive powers in the name of tracking down terrorists, killers, pedophiles, tax cheats and the like.

Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski has just sounded a frightening warning that Ottawa proposes to create a Big Brother database on air travellers entering Canada, after saying it wouldn't.

Law-abiding passengers will have their names, flights, destinations, credit card information and travelling companions placed in a Canada Customs database for six years. That will allow Ottawa to cross-match information with police files, tax files and all manner of information.

Inevitably, the police and security services will go on "fishing expeditions" to see who they can nab for one infraction or another.

This is a coarse and unprecedented invasion of privacy. When a similar scheme was proposed after the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government proposed to destroy the data within 24 hours.

While vigilance is needed in a post-9/11 world, this latest move goes too far.

Canadians shouldn't have to surrender their Charter right to privacy to thwart terrorists. Parliament must stop this. And if Parliament will not, the Supreme Court must.

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