Defining Privacy
A critical investigation of Canadian political discourse


3.4 Results

This chapter used text analysis to investigate the transcripts of the debates in the House of Commons in order to uncover the meaning of the word ‘privacy’.

The investigation determined that the utterances of ‘privacy’ increased in frequency during the sample period, from a total of 0.007% of the total words spoken in 2006 to 0.020% in 2015. The analysis of the concordance data, in tandem with the frequency analysis, uncovered the ways in which ‘privacy’ was used in debates, leading to a clarification of the meaning of the term as it is used in Parliamentary discourse. The text analysis showed an increasing trend of phrases describing ‘privacy’ as a ‘right’ held by individuals and groups, and that this ‘privacy right’ is in need of protection and respect in order to prevent breaches and violations.

More specifically, the frequency data revealed a interesting diachronic trend regarding the phrase ‘privacy rights’. In 2011, especially during the months of January to March inclusive, ‘privacy rights’ has the highest relative frequency compared to all of the preceding years. Upon further examination of the concordance data from this specific period, the connotation of the words used in proximity to this phrase was more negative in tone than positive. This trend is not confined to 2011, but includes the entire 3rd session of the 40th Parliament. Interestingly, in 2014, when the phrase shows a further increase in relative frequency, the analysis of the concordance data shows the opposite trend. Words used in proximity to the phrase ‘privacy rights’ tend to be more positive in tone than negative.

It could be argued that this positive trend is not positive at all, as the relationship between ‘privacy’ and words such as ‘protect’ or ‘respect’ may actually imply a current state of vulnerability or disrespect that needs changing. Alternatively, words like ‘breach’ and ‘violate’ may actually be positive, as their use may imply that privacy is being protected, rather than threatened. For this reason, these trends will not be investigated further in the scope of this thesis.

Parliamentary discourse, and the subsequent creation of laws, establishes what may or may not be done in a given society (Bayley 12). The text analysis research in this chapter has revealed that privacy is continuously described as a ‘right’ in the House of Commons, with the use of phrases such as ‘right to privacy’ and ‘privacy rights’. Despite this discourse, there exists no actual right to privacy in Canada, but only the quasi-constitutional right to the protection of personal information held for federal or commercial purposes, where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists. As discussed in the last chapter, this does not constitute an actual right to privacy, despite how it is discussed and debated by Members of Parliament.

This contradiction merits a further investigation of the discourse of privacy in the House of Commons. Why do Members of Parliament consistently refer to privacy as a ‘right’ when the reality of ‘privacy rights’ in Canada are subject to continuous interpretation by the courts, as well as a lack of a substantive definition of privacy in the legislation? Why are some of the instances of ‘privacy’ and ‘privacy rights’ modified with the addition of the phrase ‘law-abiding Canadians’? While the results of the text analysis highlighted the reoccurring trends and patterns of language at the level of the word, phrase, and sentence in the Hansard corpus, the Critical Discourse Analysis in the next chapter will focus on an examination of language-in-use, and the ways in which the discourse of privacy can shape the expectations of the meaning of the word itself.

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