Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Clingy Girlfriend's Bill

Despite the excitement of the Slutwalk and the election, it is imperative that we remain attentive to the processes occurring in our fair province. We have been struggling recently with missing persons, the most prominent lately being the disappearance of Lyle and Marie McCann, an elderly couple whose burnt trailer was discovered a few days after their disappearance was noticed by family. In response, the Alberta legislature has proposed Bill 8, which a few defenders of the private domain have ruffled their feathers over, but has received almost no major news coverage; I assume because it just isn`t as interesting as the latest Oilers loss (Have I complained about the coverage of sports in my local papers yet?). The level of outrage has been nowhere near proportional to the incursions onto our rights that is perpetrated in this bill, so I had to dust off my Police State Panic Pants for some good, hard, freaking out. 

The bill defines a missing person as someone whose whereabouts are unknown despite reasonable effort to locate them and whose health and safety are under concern due to mental or physical capabilities. This seems perfectly reasonable, if it were not completely undone by the first clause, which allows police to consider anyone 'missing' who has not contacted someone who could reasonably expect contact. Proof positive that legislation is weirder than your imagination. I can picture some stereotypical mother in the police station, "But officer! He hasn`t phoned his mumsie in two days; he`s gotta be missing!"(Missing children are no laughing matter, but paranoid parents with capable adult children are)

Even less comfortable is the abilities that are given to officers in their pursuit of missing persons; if given a court order they have the ability to rifle through financial information, travel or employment histories, health information, phone or GPS logs, and even, if they suspect a missing person is at the location, to enter a location without invitation. Furthermore, they don't even have to justify the invasion of privacy with results, the order applies if it would assist in the investigation of the missing person. In cases where the health and safety of the person is at risk, not even the basic order requirement holds.

The media seem to be portraying this as an honourable bill that will somehow magically ensure every missing person is brought home, but the reality of the bill is too excessive for comfort. Its second reading has been delayed, and I hope this will provide enough time for people to familiarize themselves with this bill, and decide whether they want to allow this or not.

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