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Opinion

Tech Leaders Worried about C-51? How Unpatriotic!

At least, that's how things appear to work in Tory MP Laurie Hawn's world.

By Michael Tippett 13 May 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Michael Tippett is a Canadian entrepreneur, columnist, and educator, and is the founder of wantoo.

According to Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, if your company makes something that can be used to spread terrorist messages, then you are not a patriotic Canadian. If terrorists use the paper that your company makes to print flyers, or your phone company to connect to the web, your car company to deliver a note, or your oil company to fuel up that car, then Hawn appears to believe that you are a business that is, and I quote:

"…profiting from the dispersal of this type of horrific material... [and] should seriously reconsider their business model and lack of commitment to the values that bind us as Canadians."

By this reasoning, if terrorists use your ATM to pay for their printing or if they buy their stamps at your grocery store, then you are not loyal to your country. Do you hear that Canadian Tire, RIM, Bell, Rogers, GM Canada, Husky Oil, Loblaws, Royal Bank, TD, BMO, Telus, and every other business in Canada? You're all on notice.

This is the message that the Conservative party is delivering to the executives, employees and shareholders of Canadian commercial enterprises. Hawn's comments to business were made in response to an open letter penned by over 60 technology leaders, who wrote a thoughtful and critical assessment of the economic impact of the government's controversial Spy Bill, C-51. These business leaders are standing with over 225,000 Canadians who are speaking out at StopC51.ca to call on the government to withdraw the bill.

It's not clear why Hawn, who has never run a tech business, sees fit to advise some of Canada's most successful Internet entrepreneurs on how technology operates in the contemporary economy and how that translates into patriotism.

If it were up to him, he'd rethink the business model that turned Hootsuite into a billion-dollar company with nearly 1,000 employees. If Stewart Butterfield had the benefit of Hawn's insight, he might make changes to the way he's running Slack, a company that -- according to the smartest people in Silicon Valley -- might be one of the fastest growing in history.  

Maybe Hawn has some tips for Tobi Lutke and the 632 employees who have built Shopify into a company that makes over $100 million a year. Or how about John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERs Ventures, who is likely responsible for the health of your pension -- any advice for him? These are just some of the people who put their name to the letter that Hawn believes was written by disloyal Canadians.  

Time for a Canadian apology

Without being asked by any of these industry leaders for his advice, and without seemingly having the faintest clue about what any of these or the 60 other companies do, Hawn stood up in the House of Commons and wondered aloud if their business models are un-Canadian.

The message? If you've got a great new startup idea or want to grow your company, you are un-Canadian, because in some distant future your product could be used by a villain to attack us. Innovators, be warned.

In Hawn's remarks about this group of global technology leaders, he also went after the NDP for -- god forbid -- supporting business. This is notable because there was a time in Canadian politics when Hawn's party supported business. Perhaps this was before he realized that bad people can use good products, too.     

But now, whether you are a startup or an established company, if your firm invents, builds and sells anything that could be used for the dispersal of terrorist propaganda, then the Conservatives appear to have a message for you: your domain expertise and the deep experience you have in your field will be viewed through a political lens that only supports views that align with the Harper government. 

I hope Hawn retracts these ill-considered and damaging comments, and apologizes to the employees, investors, and business leaders he has so wantonly offended.  [Tyee]

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