Me, blathering on about spam

Canada: More free than the U.S.?

The U.S. just released this year’s State Department report on global terrorism. Interestingly, Canada has become a problem spot — because “it doesn’t spend enough on policing and places too much emphasis on civil liberties”, according to an Ottawa Citizen writer who’s seen the report.

The report says: “Canadian laws and regulations intended to protect Canadian citizens and landed immigrants from government intrusion sometimes limit the depth of investigations.”

“Sometimes limit the depth of investigations”? Well, yeah — that’s what civil rights are for, for god’s sake: To prevent the abuse of government power.

Consider how ironic this is, with respect to American-Canadian relations. On paper, Canada’s civil rights look much more weak than those in the U.S. Sure, Canada has a “Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” guaranteeing civil rights to Canadians. But their Charter has an infamous “notwithstanding” clause — which says that civil rights are only guaranteed “notwithstanding” the government’s overarching desire to maintain “peace, order, and good government.” What does that mean? That means if any pesky civil rights get in the way of “peace, order, and good government” (words that Mussolini might have used, quite frankly), the government can bust heads and revoke those rights. Scary, eh?

Except not really. On paper, Canada may look like it has shakier civil rights than the U.S.; but in practice, the government does far less snooping on and jailing of its citizens, as the U.S is discovering. And more importantly, the Canadian government has infinitely better laws protecting Canadians’ privacy against prying corporations — as the State Department report notes with annoyance.

The U.S. is precisely the opposite. On paper, things look great — the U.S. has a terrific Bill of Rights. But it’s also got the insanely creepy US PATRIOT Act, the Total Information Awareness Office, and several hundred prisoners of war being kept in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, to make sure they have no civil or international rights anywhere.

Civil rights aren’t merely about what’s on paper. It’s about what a society is prepared to tolerate.

(Thanks to Gayle for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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