Joe Volpe strongarms the Internet and erodes freedom of speech in Canada

Yesterday, a Joe Volpe parody site went up called YouthForVolpe.ca which lampooned the Liberal leadership candidate’s drug money (ahem pharmaceutical donations) from children of Apotex execs. When Volpe gave back the money yesterday (CTV News called it “Volpe’s volte-face”), the website went down. At the time, I thought that the designers had thought that it was irrelevant or that it had served its purpose, so they pulled it. It turns out that this is not the case.

Joe Volpe had the Canadian Internet Registration Authority sever the link from YouthForVolpe.ca to the server which hosted the website.

Today, in Jane Taber’s piece in the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Volpe’s campaign had the site shut down without knowing, it seems, who put it up: “Hi Everyone,” wrote Brenden Johnstone, who is with the Volpe campaign, in an e-mail to other leadership campaigns. “There has been concern about how the issue of the Volpe donations was reflecting on the leadership race.

“My Office has had the website suspended through CIRA [Canadian Internet Registration Authority] and CDNS [Canadian Domain Name Services] and it will be down as soon as 6 p.m. I think the issue with the website has been dealt with. . . .”

This is absurd, censorship and an abuse of power. As a citizen, regardless of your political affiliation, and as a Internet consumer, this should outrage you. The Internet is for free speech, and this fundamental freedom is really only labeled as such because it is one of those elements of our liberty that had to be protected from tyrants with power. If one cannot lampoon a political candidate (the archetype of free speech in a free society) then we aren’t truly free. What is perhaps most chilling is that this censorship has come from a candidate for the Prime Ministership.

If you believe in freedom of speech online and abhor the strongarmed actions of Mr. Volpe against Canadians and the Internet citizenry, please trackback this post and pass this on to all of those who might share this concern.

and then… why not send him an email to voice your concerns: Volpe.J@parl.gc.ca

UPDATE (supplemtary info): There’s more information to the story. The deletion of the domain name was in full compliance of rules of the CIRA (just because it’s a rule, doesn’t make it right). Supposedly, if one registers a .ca domain name with anonymous details, the domain name can be removed under the CIRA’s rules. However, one first needs to point it out (as Joe Volpe’s campaign did).

This doesn’t necessarily make it right, however. Joe Volpe didn’t like the website “youthforvolpe.ca” and he found a way to have the domain name deleted. He was able to do this on a technicality which essentially says that a domain name (and thus free speech delivered via domain names) is only permitted if the user isn’t anonymous.

The debate over whether or not one should be able to register a .ca domain name anonymously is certainly one that we should have.

However, it appears that Joe Volpe’s stifling of free speech was done in full compliance of the rules of the CIRA and that he was able to exert censorship over the webmasters at youthforvolpe.ca over a technicality.

The drug money donations from children were technically in full compliance of the laws of Canada as well, however, Volpe gave the money back.

Rules are rules, but in every case we must measure the spirit of what is right regardless of them.

UPDATE: I just got an email from the kids at youthforvolpe.ca. They received an email from their .ca registrar after they emailed them demanding which part of the Registrant Agreement that they were in violation of. It turns out that it had nothing to do with anonymous registration:

Yep, the reason given was because the registrar believed that the website somehow defamed Joe Volpe and the registrar believed that it might expose CIRA to a lawsuit.

It appears as though this had nothing to do with a technicality of anonymous registration.

We know that Joe Volpe’s crew contacted the registrar to demand action on the youthforvolpe.ca website. CIRA claims that the site was canned because of anonymous registration. But the original registrar, the one that pulled the plug on the domain name, appears to cite section 3.1, paragraph h, subsections i, ii, and iii.

It appears that CADNS.CA, the original registrar, got spooked by Joe Volpe’s unfounded threats of legal action and they quoted the related sections of the Registrant Agreement to kids at youthforvolpe.ca. However, from what I can see, youthforvolpe.ca was not in violation of this section of the agreement.

While the issue of anonymity may be a policy of the CIRA, it appears that the youthforvolpe.ca domain was suspended by CADNS.CA under the threat of legal action (that which is cited under the paragraphs above). Any threats of legal action would be unfounded.

UPDATE: YouthForVolpe mirrors are here, here, and here.

UPDATE: I have received word from the folks at CADNS.ca and they want to correct the record. They have told me:

Of course, this appears in to be in direct contradiction with the original Jane Taber quote that launched this whole post (see above). So what about that?

CADNS.ca replies:

False brag? If this is true, Joe Volpe’s staff flat out lied and slandered CADNS.ca and CIRA.

This is very likely. The email that was forwarded to me by youthforvolpe@hotmail.com did not contain all of the details above. The forwarded email demanded which part of the agreement the registrant was in violation and it could be that the employee acted with “sarcastic humour” and only quoted section 3.1 (h) and (i) because of this sarcasm. Dr. Michael Geist confirms he received emails from youthforvolpe@hotmail.com which made it appear “that the registrar cited defamation and discrimination as the reasons for suspending the domain name registration.”

It would appear that the anonymous prankster decided to remain anonymous.

So let’s weigh this situation for what it is.

First, let’s assume that both CIRA and CADNS.ca do not have a political agenda here. The political players in this story are Joe Volpe’s staff and the anonymous prankster behind youthforvolpe.ca. This story was conveyed, initially by Jane Taber, and then by me as more as more information became available.

Errors were made by all parties here. Volpe’s staff appears to have flat out lied in an email quoted by Jane Taber of the Globe and Mail. Jane Taber didn’t follow up with CADNS.ca (I am guilty of the same). The anonymous registrant did not provide me with the full context of the exchange between him/herself and CADNS.ca (context which includes, according to CADNS.ca, an offer to correct the registrant’s information). CADNS.ca foolishly quoted the libel chill section of the registrant agreement when clarification for suspension was requested by the registrant perpetuating a whole series of events that led us to believe that Joe Volpe was bullying the registrar (a mistake only amplified by the original falsehood by the Volpe staffer).

I present CADNS.ca’s version of the events here because it does seem to be a plausible explanation to this mess and I have no reason to doubt them. Besides, they seem like good folks.

UPDATE: Here is the CADNS.ca press release

A press release from Joe Volpe is expected today (June 6) clarifying why his office lied in the email quoted by Jane Taber of the Globe and Mail.

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