Mr. Speaker, as I was saying earlier before being interrupted for oral question period, I think that Bill , to establish an independent committee of parliamentarians to oversee the actions of our intelligence agencies, is a step that should have been taken long ago.
For example, the United Kingdom has had such a committee since 1994. Australia formed one in 1988 and New Zealand in 1996. Canada is at least a decade behind. The step we are taking today is way overdue, as they say.
When Parliament was passing Bill , four former prime ministers, namely Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, John Turner, and even Joe Clark, a Progressive Conservative prime minister not a neo-conservative, recommended that this oversight committee be formed. They recommended oversight of Canada's overseers and said that it would take an independent committee that would be called to review the actions of our intelligence agencies. These four former prime ministers were accompanied by a host of former Supreme Court justices and former justice ministers including Irwin Cotler, for example.
According to them:
|| Accountability engenders public confidence and trust in activities undertaken by the government, particularly where those activities might be cloaked in secrecy. Independent checks and balances ensure that national security activities are protecting the public, and not just the government in power.
Consider the extent of the resources used in the name of security in Canada. Communications Security Establishment Canada, which I am more familiar with than the other intelligence agencies such as CSIS or the RCMP, has annual expenses of about $500 million and its headquarters cost us $1.2 billion. CSE's headquarters is the most expensive building in the history of Canada.
In 2010, we learned that CSE was analyzing 400,000 emails a day to mitigate risk to information technology. These were emails sent to the government.
In 2014, we learned that CSE had studied email and cellphone metadata from Canadians travelling through a Canadian airport without actually getting their consent.
Before the Spencer decision, we learned that a number of Canadian telecommunication companies were voluntarily handing over information at the request of intelligence agencies without judicial authorization.
Under the circumstances, I do not think it is an extravagance to have an independent parliamentary committee overseeing the activities of our intelligence agencies, thereby ensuring that they do not act with impunity and are accountable not only to themselves but to elected parliamentarians.
Bill also addresses people's expectations for such a committee. Professor Craig Forcese, for whom I have tremendous respect, articulated certain expectations. He talked about four essential factors.
First, efficacy must be part of the committee's mandate. The committee must be able to evaluate whether our intelligence agencies are using their vast sums of money effectively. That is part of the committee's rather broad mandate. He also talked about propriety. The committee has to review whether government intelligence agencies are acting within their legal mandates.
Mr. Forcese also mentioned that the committee has to look at the whole picture. It cannot look at just the RCMP, CSIS, or Communications Security Establishment Canada. It must take a good look at the national security activities of all our intelligence agencies. His fourth and final proposal is to have enough money and human resources for the committee to do a good job. All these proposals are within the committee's mandate.
The committee created by Bill meets all the criteria. In my opinion, we will have an effective committee and one that will be useful for Canadians. It is a first step in the right direction, the first in a thousand-mile journey towards having checks and balances on the power given to intelligence agencies.
We need to have better and more robust checks and balances, especially when it comes to the fundamental rights of Canadians. I am hopeful about the thousand-mile journey we have to travel, especially with Bill as our first step. First and foremost, we need to return to specific judicial authorization regarding legal access. Judicial authorization, that is, a judicially authorized warrant for a specific person, for specific purposes, must be the norm in Canada. It must be the basic rule, and there must be no getting around it. In fact, I think we must be very strict about that.
In that regard, I congratulate the Liberal Party for having introduced Bill back in the day, a bill that required CSE to obtain judicial authorization before intercepting any Canadians' communications. That is not necessarily required at the moment. The ministerial authorization is broader. I hope we return to specific judicial authorization for access to Canadians' private communications.
The second thing is that there is no definition for metadata in any Canadian legislation. In the 21st century, we need to define metadata, particularly in terms of private communications. That would be an additional protection, especially when we know just how useful and precise metadata are.
For instance, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former information and privacy commissioner, said that metadata were more intrusive than the contents of a communication, because they make it possible to track people's habits and create very specific portraits.
The third thing has to do with Bill . I know we are reviewing the bill and that we still have some consultations to do, but the information sharing the bill allows is fairly draconian. There is a way to limit information sharing among government agencies. The Maher Arar case showed us just what kind of impact that can have.
If we want to protect both Canadians and rights, an independent committee overseeing the activities of our government agencies is not too much to ask for. It is our job as legislators to strike a balance between protecting basic rights and protecting the physical integrity of Canadians. Bill is an excellent first step in that direction, and we have been waiting for it for at least 10 years.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill , legislation about which we, as the official opposition, have a lot of apprehension.
I would like to refer to the earlier speeches of my colleague from and my colleague from , clearly articulating some of the shortfalls in Bill .
As someone who has been here for over 12 years, as a parliamentarian who has nothing but the greatest respect for this chamber and this institution, I believe Parliament has a key role to play in providing oversight to all sorts of government agencies, which include our security and intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, the bill of goods that is being presented in Bill falls far short of giving proper parliamentary oversight.
As has already been alluded to, there is a concern already, before the committee has been struck and before the legislation has passed and properly studied at committee, that a chair of the committee has already been named, the member for .
I suppose we should not be too surprised about that, knowing that the 's BFF, Gerald Butts, and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, used to work for former premier Dalton McGuinty, the brother of the member for . That is a connection that a lot of people have made, one that we know is of concern about whether this committee will have true independence and be able to function the way we expect parliamentary committees to function.
We have looked at this, debated it, and have had conversations already about what our other Five Eyes partners are doing in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. This function has been missing in Canada over the years.
One of those reasons is that we have, within the Canadian system, ombudsmen and commissioners who oversee most of the intelligence agencies, like Communications Security Establishment Canada, CSEC, that operates under National Defence. As a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, I am well aware of the activities of the organization. As the defence critic, I still appreciate the role the commissioner plays in being independent and reviewing all the activities that are undertaken to ensure CSEC stays on point, the same thing that happens with CSIS. When there are issues, they report it immediately to Parliament. We get the information we need to make a decision as parliamentarians.
What we see in Bill is not a committee of Parliament. It does not mirror what is happening in the United Kingdom or in Australia, where the committee is appointed by Parliament and the committee functions as a parliamentary committee. What we are seeing here is something that is actually working out of the 's office. That is what is being proposed.
If we look at the United Kingdom, and we always want to go back the mother of Westminster Parliament in London, it established its committee back in 1994, and it has worked incredibly well. Politics was left at the door. It works in collaboration. It looks over the operational and security measures that agencies are taking within the government. In 2013, parliament even expanded that committee's role. It is important that this is done because the committee reports back to parliament. It is not beholden to the prime minister, it is not beholden to any minister of the crown.
Australia also has a parliamentary joint committee. Again, it was set up by parliament, and it oversees six different security agencies. Again, we see this as being the proper way to do it, in that parliament has control of the committee.
I know there is some concern when we look at the history of this place. Probably its recent history is when we established the special committee on Afghan detainees, the transfer of those detainees, how those individuals were treated by the Canadian Armed Forces, and what happened to them after they left.
First, we were looking at having an all-party committee, but the NDP of the day decided not to participate on a committee, because it would have to be done in secret, and information gleaned through that process could not be used in the public domain. Therefore, they took a pass on sitting on the committee, and so just the Liberals and Conservatives sat on that committee and went through thousands and thousands of unredacted documents to try to determine whether or not there was any abuse, until they determined there was not.
I can see why the Liberals are up here speaking in favour of Bill , but I think they are somewhat confused. If we look at their promises in the last election campaign, we see on page 31, on national security oversight, it says that:
|| We will deliver stronger national security oversight.
|| At present, Parliament does not have oversight of our national security agencies, making Canada the sole nation among our Five Eyes allies whose elected officials cannot scrutinize security operations. This leaves the public uninformed and unrepresented on critical issues.
The key word here is “Parliament”; it does not have oversight. What the bill before us would do is create an all-party committee, but it is not a parliamentary committee.
The Red Book from the last federal campaign for the Liberals, on parliamentary committees, says that they will “...strengthen Parliamentary committees so that they can better scrutinize legislation”. It also brought forward great ideas, such as making sure that they have non-partisan research, and that they would have committee chairs elected by secret ballot. They talked about having ministers and parliamentary secretaries removed from committee and not able to vote on committee.
Therefore, everybody assumed that we would review parliamentary committees, make them more independent, and allow members of Parliament to work and elect chairs, and that it would happen with the national security oversight. I can see how members from the Liberal caucus would be confused, because the two of them went one right after the other and they just assumed that they were going to have a true parliamentary committee.
We can look to the comments and rhetoric that have come from the government in the past. I listened earlier to the member for . He has been in this place for a long time and has made some comments about wanting to have parliamentary oversight. He said, when he was speaking in the House in the last Parliament, “The key point here is that I really cannot understand the government's unwillingness to look at proper parliamentary oversight...”. They key word is parliamentary.
He said later that “I'm strongly advocating oversight, parliamentary oversight”. This was in the debate on Bill and one of the demands.
Also, the member for brought forward Bill , which was about trying to establish legislation to provide more security agency oversight through Parliament.
Therefore, I can see why there is confusion among Canadians. I can see why there is confusion among Liberals when they have actually always talked about parliamentary oversight, but what we are seeing today is that this process in Bill is all about having more control by the Prime Minister's Office.
I have the bill in front of me here, and I have read it carefully just so I can raise my concerns and the reason I have these concerns about the way this committee is being established. If we look at subclause 4(3) of Bill , we see it says clearly that:
|| The Committee is not a committee of either House of Parliament or of both Houses.
Therefore, we are not talking about a committee of Parliament. It has no responsibility to Parliament. As a matter of fact, the extra remuneration that has been awarded to the chair and committee members will come from general coffers and not through parliamentary budgets.
The bill goes on to say in subclause 5(1) that:
|| The members of the Committee are to be appointed by the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, to hold office during pleasure until the dissolution of Parliament following their appointment.
Well, parliamentary committees are established through whips assigning people onto committees, and chairs are elected by the committee, but not in this case. In this case, the will appoint every single member of the committee.
On the Senate side, it says that the will consult with a member of the Senate and then appoint those members. We have senators who are independent, and those members who are independent, of course, are appointed to the Senate on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, so they are beholden to the Prime Minister, and now the Prime Minister will appoint those independently Prime Minister-appointed senators to the committee. So definitely those senators, up to two members on the committee from the Senate, will act in the interests of the Prime Minister. Then members of other parties will be appointed by the after he has talked to the leader of that party.
That in itself clearly documents the shortcomings in Bill . I encourage caucus members in the Liberal Party to read through it, to clearly understand that the bill of goods they sold Canadians in the last election was false. To make the point, in subclause 12(1), it says:
|| Despite any other law, no member or former member of the Committee may claim immunity based on parliamentary privilege in a proceeding against them in relation to a contravention of subsection 11(1) or of a provision of the Security of Information Act....
Here in Parliament we have immunity and true freedom of speech. That is removed from the committee, making the point that this may be a committee that has parliamentarians on it, but the committee is not part of this institution; it is part of the 's Office.
Then we go to the information that the committee can use, and we continue to see that there are restrictions placed on the committee, on the information it gleans. There are actually seven exemptions keeping the committee from really doing its work of ensuring that intelligence agencies are taking our national security seriously and of protecting the rights and freedoms of individual Canadians.
We have to wonder whether or not the people of Canada, when they elected the government, fully understood that they were not going to get what they really deserve, which is true parliamentary oversight. There are exceptions. Members are appointed by the . Ministers have the right to refuse to give information of any department, so if there is any department that the committee wants to investigate, the minister can refuse that information. Even before it is out of the gate, it is already handcuffed. It is bound, gagged, and completely beholden to the PMO.
The other thing I have trouble with is that the committee chair has a vote on all proceedings. We see that only occasionally in our parliamentary process, on special joint legislative committees where a chair has a vote on policies, debates, and motions at committee and also can cast a vote to break a tie as well. It has been suggested here that the chair of the committee gets to vote, plus gets to cast a ballot to break a tie on all votes. Essentially even though Liberals are saying there are going to be four Liberals as it sits today on the committee, there are actually five because the chair has two votes.
In clause 21, it says the report is not presented to Parliament. The committee writes a report that is presented to the and to the minister or ministers whom it impacts. They get to vet all the reports. How is that freedom of speech? How is that our ability as parliamentarians to do our job if, when the committee reaches a decision, it still gets vetted by the PMO and vetted by the affected minister. That is beyond the pale of proper parliamentary procedure and democracy.
Not only do they vet it, but it actually says right in the legislation in subclause 21(5) that the chair of the committee will get direction from the Prime Minister or from the minister on how to properly write the report if they are not happy with what is in it.
It states that “the Prime Minister may direct the Committee to submit to the Prime Minister a revised version of the annual or special report that does not contain that information” about which they are concerned.
There are some major political gains and games that will be played in this process, and it is something that needs to be seriously looked at for amendment if Canadians are going to have faith in this process.
It continues on with a minister having the ability to refuse to provide any information. The committee can write a report about its dissatisfaction with that minister, but at the same time, has no control over whether a report would even get tabled.
There are not the checks and balances that we need to see in Bill . That is why, as the official opposition, we are opposing the bill, unless some substantive changes are made.
I know that the member for has tried on a number of occasions to reach out to the and our Liberal counterparts, along with the member for in the NDP caucus, to ensure that we develop a piece of legislation that everyone here would be comfortable supporting. Unfortunately, that fell on deaf ears.
This bill was tabled in the dying days of the summer session, just before the summer recess in June, so we did not have a chance to have a proper discussion on this bill, and we have only got an opportunity now to express our concerns over what is a poorly drafted piece of legislation. Canadians expect more. If parliamentary oversight is going to be provided, it had better be true parliamentary oversight and not just an extension of the 's Office wielding its authority over parliamentarians.
Actually, I am baffled why anyone in the Liberal caucus, especially on the backbench, would want to be so tied up by the authority of the PMO. If Liberals wanted to exercise their rights and obligations as members of Parliament in the House and represent their constituents, they would be demanding that this committee become a true extension of Parliament, that it be set up the same way standing committees are set up, become part of the Standing Orders, elect its own chair, and table the reports here in the House.
We agree that the members from all parties who sit on this committee should be properly vetted. We agree that they should all take an oath to commit themselves to protecting the information they are going to see, as this is not information that should be used for partisan political purposes. This is about the security of our nation and the protection of Canadians, as well as protection of their rights and freedoms.
We also believe that the people who sit on this committee should have experience on issues of national security, national defence, and policing, so that the information they are going to look at in no way startles them or causes them to make ill-informed decisions.
We really urge the government to fix this legislation so that there can be all-party support. However, until it does, the official opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada, will oppose it since it does not reflect the promises made by the in the last federal election, it does not respect this institution, nor would Bill , in its current form, achieve what we hoped it would achieve, proper parliamentary oversight.
Madam Speaker, although Bill falls under the purview of the , who is responsible for the machinery of government, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate.
Might I just, for the information of the hon. gentleman from Selkirk who has just spoken, inform him that the description of the appropriate committee he put on the record in the last half hour or so bears very little resemblance to the advice given by his own critic in a letter sent to me on March 1, 2016. The member for recommended a committee under a majority controlled by the government, nominated by the and appointed by Governor in Council. That was the advice the critic offered, so the description the hon. gentleman just put on the record in the House seems to be at odds with that of his own critic.
In the last election we laid out a clear agenda with respect to Canada's national security framework. It included these specific elements: first, stronger scrutiny of security and intelligence activity through a new committee consisting of parliamentarians; second, a new initiative on community outreach and counter-radicalization; third, faithful compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; fourth, full protection for the right to protest; fifth, clarity with respect to warrants; sixth, conscientious treatment of appeals about no-fly lists; seventh, a more precise definition of the term “propaganda”; eighth, a full review of all terrorism-related legislation after three years; and finally, genuine consultation with Canadians to help identify any other steps that should be taken to achieve two simultaneous objectives, ensuring that all security agencies and police forces are being effective at keeping Canadians safe and, at the same time, safeguarding our rights and freedoms and the open, inclusive, democratic character of our country—in other words, the qualities that make Canada Canada.
Bill is the cornerstone of that agenda. It fulfills our single most important commitment to Canadians. The legislation will establish a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, and it will give those parliamentarians from all official parties extraordinary access to classified information so they can scrutinize all the security and intelligence operations of the Government of Canada.
As distinguished Professor Wesley Wark has said, the creation of this committee and the passage of this legislation is long overdue. Virtually every other country in the western world, including all of our Five Eyes allies—the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand—have had a body of this kind for a good many years. Canada, therefore, has been the anomaly.
Over a decade ago, in 2003, the Auditor General identified significant shortcomings in Parliament's ability to scrutinize the activities of Canada's security and intelligence agencies. The following year, a joint House-Senate committee recommended the creation of a parliamentary body to fill that gap.
In 2005, the then Minister of Public Safety, the Hon. Anne McLellan, sought to address the problem by introducing a bill that is very similar to the one we are debating today. Unfortunately, when a different government was elected in 2006, the proposal was dropped.
Since that time, private members' bills to institute parliamentary scrutiny of national security and intelligence agencies have been repeatedly introduced, including by the former member for Scarborough--Rouge River, Derek Lee, and the current members for and . Former Senators Hugh Segal and Roméo Dallaire also brought forward legislation to this effect in the other place.
That is all in addition to a report by the House public safety committee in 2009, calling again for the adoption of Anne McLellan's bill or something very similar to it, as well as inquiries by Justices Frank Iacobucci and Dennis O'Connor, both of which highlighted the need for greater accountability of our national security and intelligence agencies.
In the wake of the terrorism tragedies in October 2014 at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and here in Ottawa, there came another opportunity to correct this major deficiency in Canada's national security framework. The whole country shared the grief of those sorry days. We were leaning on each other, on all sides, in this House. There was a clear sense that our security, intelligence, and anti-terrorism laws needed to be revisited and strengthened, and there was a palpable will, on all sides, to work together to get it right, because these are difficult questions. Getting it right would include strengthening scrutiny, review, and oversight of the process.
In the words of a large group of eminent Canadians, including four former prime ministers, who wrote in an open letter at that time, “Canada needs independent oversight and effective review...more than ever”. However, the government of that day resisted that argument, and the opportunity for collaboration and co-operation across the floor quickly evaporated.
That is why a central commitment in our platform last year was to deliver stronger national security oversight, which included the creation of an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities.
With Bill , we are keeping that promise.
The national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians would be made up of nine members, including the chair. Two of the members would be senators. The other seven would be members of Parliament. No more than four would be from the government caucus. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries would not be eligible to sit on the committee. The law would require consultation with the Senate before senators were named, and consultation with the leaders of opposition parties before the appointment of opposition MPs.
The committee would have a broad mandate to examine the legislative, regulatory, administrative, and financial framework for national security and intelligence as well as any activity related to national security and intelligence carried out anywhere within the federal government.
There are nearly 20 departments and agencies within the Government of Canada that have some kind of security function, from the RCMP and CSIS to the Canada Border Services Agency, National Defence, Transport, Foreign Affairs, and many others. This committee would be able to look at all of them.
On its own initiative, the committee would be empowered to follow its investigations wherever they led, which means that it would get a full picture of what the government was doing in national security and intelligence matters. This would be in contrast to several of the Canadian committee's counterparts elsewhere in the world, where mandates are strictly limited to reviewing the activities of a particular agency or agencies or to examining general structures but not particular operations.
In fact, because of the wide-ranging scope of the committee's mandate, one of Canada's foremost experts in national security law, Professor Craig Forcese, has declared that this committee of parliamentarians in Canada would be a stronger body than its equivalents in either the U.K. or Australia.
Indeed, Bill would transform Canada from being a laggard to being a leader when it comes to parliamentary scrutiny of national security and intelligence activities.
To make certain that the nine parliamentarians on the committee could be as effective as possible, the legislation would also establish a secretariat to help them fulfill their mandate. The secretariat, made up of capable and knowledgeable individuals, would handle the research and administrative tasks necessary to ensure that the committee's work and the work products of the committee were of the highest possible quality and that the committee had the resources and the expertise it needed to get the job done.
The committee might also draw upon the help and expertise of existing review bodies, such as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the Security Intelligence Review Committee for CSIS, and others, and seek information from them, as appropriate.
The bill directs the committee and existing review bodies to work in close collaboration. I expect that by design and through experience, they would relate to each other in a way that would complement each other's efforts and ultimately produce for Canadians significant value-added and greater confidence in the activities of the respective agencies.
The committee would be required to prepare at least one annual report. There could be others. It could also prepare special reports as it saw fit. In other words, it would be able to report on whatever it wanted and whenever it wanted. Obviously, because of the nature of information related to national security and intelligence, not everything the committee looked into could be made public.
However, on this point, I would like to take a moment to discuss the recourse available to committee members should they uncover something they find truly problematic but that their oath of confidentiality prohibits them from disclosing.
Classified information must remain classified. However, without getting into specifics, committee members would command a great deal of attention and put a great deal of pressure on the government of the day if they were to tell Parliament and the public that there was something going on within the realm of security and intelligence activities that they believed was improper. The committee would be able to outline the problem in detail in its report to the prime minister, and the prime minister would be accountable to Canadians. Subsequently, the committee would be able to tell Canadians whether the problem had been adequately addressed, and the pressure would not go away until the committee gave the all-clear. That public pressure would be a powerful tool, and only a committee of parliamentarians could bring it to bear.
Finally, all of these aspects of the committee's operations would be reassessed five years after Bill came into force. The bill would require Parliament to conduct a review at that time to ensure that the committee was functioning effectively and to make recommendations about how to further advance its work.
We have included this statutory review in the legislation, because there will undoubtedly be lessons learned in the first years of the committee's existence, and we want to guarantee that there will be an opportunity for those lessons to be seriously considered and for any appropriate changes to be made as a result.
The goal is for Canada to have a national security framework that makes us a world leader in both effectiveness and accountability. The legislation before us today is an important step in that direction.
In our consultations with other countries that have had practical experience over the last many years with this concept, like the United Kingdom, for example, we heard repeatedly that it would be wise and prudent to move at this new initiative in a deliberate and measured manner, learning as we go, and to be prepared to accommodate further changes over time.
It is critical to earn trust on all sides: from the public, and after all, the public interest is what this committee would be designed to protect; and from the security and intelligence agencies that would be scrutinized.
Let me emphasize once again our two core objectives for national security for this new committee and indeed for all of our other initiatives in this domain. Number one, we need to ensure that all of our agencies are being effective in keeping Canadians safe. Number two, in lockstep with that, we need to equally ensure that Canadian rights and freedoms are safeguarded along with equality and the character of our democratic way of life.
Building that trust with the agencies and the public, all around, is crucial. That is why we are proposing a mandate for the committee that is not siloed to a few named agencies, as other countries do, but rather is a mandate that reaches across the full scope of government. Unlike other review bodies and other countries, this Canadian committee of parliamentarians would be able to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
In addition to looking at events and activities retroactively, this committee would also be able to examine ongoing activities, a unique power, subject only to basic, reasonable safeguards for classified information.
Again, please recall the full context of our national security agenda. The anchor piece would be the committee of parliamentarians that would be providing a brand new type and level of scrutiny and review, plus a new initiative, funded in the last budget, for community outreach and counter-radicalization, plus full compliance with the Charter of Rights, plus full protection of the basic right to civil protest, plus clarity about warrants, plus action to remedy issues with no-fly lists, plus a more precise definition of “propaganda”, plus a full review of terrorism legislation after three years, plus the first ever inclusive consultations with Canadians, parliamentarians, subject-matter experts, and the general public about other measures they deem appropriate, beyond the ones I have mentioned, and necessary to keep Canadians safe and to safeguard our rights and freedoms.
Already in the consultations we have undertaken we have received more than 7,000 submissions online, which indicates a considerable appetite to be involved and engaged.
In light of a report issued just today by the Privacy Commissioner, let me make one point about our national security consultations very clear: This is not a narrow exercise. All Canadians, including the Privacy Commissioner, can raise and pursue any issue they want to pursue under the rubric of national security and intelligence operations. The discussion paper we published a few weeks ago is not a statement of government policy. It is intended to provoke discussion and debate to get Canadians involved and engaged, and it is doing exactly that.
After we hear from Canadians, we will be able to put forward the appropriate changes in law or procedure that reflect the recommendations we have received.
I will look forward to hearing the full scope of what the Privacy Commissioner has to say about any and all dimensions of our national security architecture. Indeed, I understand that he may be appearing before the House security committee on this topic just next week to present his views on the national security framework. His ongoing input, advice, and oversight are important to me and to the government, just as we want to hear from all Canadians, an opportunity they have never had before.
Parliament has rightly been called the grand inquest of the nation. For too long, however, Canada's Parliament has been prevented from fulfilling that particular role in matters of national security and intelligence. Yet these are matters that concern the fundamental freedoms of Canadians, and they are quite literally matters of life and death. Parliamentarians, the people's chosen representatives, must be at the heart of our system of national security accountability, and at long last, Bill will make it so.
Before I close, allow me to pause for just a moment to recognize the tremendous work done by the brave women and men of our law enforcement and national security agencies, which they demonstrate on a regular basis. That was the case, in particular, in Strathroy, Ontario, this summer. They were exemplary professionals. The security agency plus at least four different police forces worked seamlessly and effectively, and they prevented a much larger tragedy. I know that we are all exceedingly proud of them and are grateful for their service.
I trust that hon. members in all parties understand the gravity of the issues we are dealing with and will approach not only the committee itself but the upcoming legislative process to establish it with the seriousness this topic warrants. I will be looking forward to good, useful, practical advice.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I rise today in support of Bill at second reading. This should not be a surprise to anyone in the House, because New Democrats from the beginning of these debates about national security have always argued that effective oversight of our national security agencies is necessary in a free and democratic society.
We also know that independent and effective oversight is essential to ensuring that the government fulfills both its responsibilities: a responsibility to protect our civil liberties, and the responsibility to keep us safe. Just as all of us also cherish our civil liberties, none of us in the House doubts that the threat posed by terrorism is very real.
Therefore, I will begin my discussion of Bill today with what I am sure many members will find is a long preamble, both about my concerns about Bill being part of a larger government strategy to avoid action on fixing Bill , now the Anti-terrorism Act, and about why the passage of Bill C-51 makes effective oversight even more crucial. I will then conclude with some remarks on why I fear that Bill will not provide the effective and independent oversight we need without significant amendments.
Bluntly stated, I fear the Liberals will use the passage of Bill as an excuse to avoid action on Bill . The Liberals promised during the election that they would introduce a bill that would address their concerns regarding Bill . They said they were voting for the bill at the time, but that it had problematic elements. Once again today, the listed about 10 things that he finds problematic in Bill C-51.
I appreciate the relisting of those concerns, but here we are one year later and the Liberals have failed to put any specific proposals before the House other than Bill , which is only one aspect of the national security concerns, although the says that it is the centrepiece. Again, I would submit that the centrepiece really ought to be fulfilling the election promises to fix Bill .
When the minister talks about his consultation, he skips over what I think is an important fact. What the Liberals said they would do was introduce a bill to amend Bill and then conduct consultations. In fact, what they have done is turned their promised changes into a list of things to discuss as part of a broad general consultation on national security.
Therefore, we have proposed the repeal of Bill , as this is the quickest and simplest way to restore our rights. We know that Bill tramples our civil liberties without doing anything to make us safer.
We know that both the Liberals and the Conservatives have bought into the idea that national security requires a balance between our freedoms and safety, and that somehow we can purchase security by giving up some of our rights. New Democrats believe that the responsibility of the government is to protect both our rights and our security, at one and the same time. It is a difficult task, but one that we must undertake in a democratic society.
If the Liberals really believe parts of Bill should be kept as they are, then it is up to them to tell us in the House which parts and why. New Democrats would be happy to work with the Liberals to help defend the rights of Canadians by repealing, or at minimum, amending Bill .
In the meantime, as these debates have gone on, the federal government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has failed to provide any additional resources for those things we know to be the most effective in fighting terrorism: effective investigation and enforcement, and de-radicalization programs.
During the hearings on Bill in the public safety committee, we heard from the RCMP commissioner and the director of CSIS about having insufficient resources to meet national security challenges, yet there have been no real increases in spending for CSIS, the RCMP, or the CBSA by either the Conservatives or the Liberals since 2012. De-radicalization programs still are not functioning at the community level, despite all the promises and despite some good preparatory work. They are still not out there running on the ground. If we are going to fight the threat of terrorism, we need to focus our resources on de-radicalization and on the traditional intelligence and enforcement work that have served us relatively well so far.
With all of this in mind, New Democrats have called for the repeal of Bill . New Democrats have always believed that the Anti-terrorism Act is in fundamental conflict with our civil liberties, and that these infringements on our civil liberties do nothing to make us safer. This is why we voted against the bill at the beginning. In fact, the overall impact of Bill is to cast a net so wide that it may actually prevent enforcement authorities from focusing on what are in fact the very real threats to our safety.
This point was reaffirmed by several witnesses in the public safety committee when we had the discussion of Bill , including the former head of national security for the Toronto Police Service. He said that when we were looking for a needle in the haystack, the last thing we needed was more hay.
A bill that requires collecting vast amounts of information on people who pose no threat at all, which is ordinary Canadians, and collecting information on those who are engaged in legitimate dissent may in fact make us less safe by providing too much hay to the enforcement authorities.
Indeed, the Anti-terrorism Act is being challenged in the courts in a case filed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association jointly with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. This case was filed just a month after the bill's passage. However, the backlog in our courts means that a decision from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Bill will not come for at least another three years. That is cold comfort to those whose rights may be breached in the interim. That is why independent and effective oversight becomes so crucial while Bill C-51 remains in force.
Bill has now been in place for more than a year without any additional oversight and without the Liberals' promised report to the House of Commons by the CSIS director on the use of its new powers. At this point, we are left with no evidence whatsoever to support the contention that Bill C-51 has done anything to make us safer. If that evidence exists, it should be presented in the House.
The reason Bill and having effective oversight of our national security agencies is so important is precisely because of the threats to civil liberties posed by Bill . Let me talk about those briefly.
First, the definition of national security in Bill is so broad that it potentially captures many forms of legitimate dissent. First nations leaders and environmental activists in particular are concerned that they can be subject to surveillance and even disruption of their activities as a result of the broadening of the definition of national security in Bill C-51 to include the economic security of Canada and to include critical infrastructure, read pipelines. Only “lawful” dissent would be explicitly protected. Good luck to those who inadvertently violate a court injunction or trespass as part of a demonstration or other action in defence of aboriginal and treaty rights or in the fight against climate change.
Second, Bill conflicts with the fundamental principles of Canadian privacy law by allowing the widespread sharing of personal information with other departments and even foreign states. We have always lived in Canada with the assurance that information collected by the government in Canada will only be used for the purposes for which it has been collected, and that it will stay in Canada. Bill C-51 has changed all that, and those are the concerns the Privacy Commissioner was raising in his report today. Those are the concerns that he asserts, quite correctly I believe, are not raised in the government's discussion paper.
The third challenge to our civil liberties are the new powers that were given to CSIS to act illegally and in secret without any additional oversight. CSIS is prohibited only from using murder, sexual assault, and interference with the justice system as tactics. This hardly fits with the idea of a democratic society and rule of law that most Canadians hold dear. If, and only if, CSIS sees it as necessary, then it can seek a warrant from the courts to violate charter rights. I am sure this provision will be found unconstitutional.
This provision gives CSIS and the courts a role in deciding when it is okay to limit charter rights, and that is a power that constitutionally belongs to this Parliament and only this Parliament. It is not the purview of CSIS to decide what are reasonable limits on free expression, and it is not even the purview of the courts to decide that. The courts have left that to legislation passed in Parliament, and rightly so.
The fourth threat to our civil liberties is the creation of this new broad criminal offence of supporting terrorism “in general”. This lacks the element of intent that is normally required for a criminal offence. We do not impose criminal penalties in Canada unless harm was intended. This therefore infringes on rights to free speech in terms of things like fair comment by journalists who might wish to cite writings by someone advocating terrorism as part of their investigation. It interferes with the rights of authors of fiction, of satirists, and with all kinds of people who have legitimate reasons to make statements about terrorism in general with absolutely no intention of inspiring terrorist acts, but they will fall under the purview of this new definition.