Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to engage in the debate today on the bill dealing with emergencies and the federal response to emergencies.
The bill actually replicates a bill that was introduced into the House in the last Parliament, with a couple of tweaks here and there I guess, but the bill is recognized as being needed. Those needs arise from the evolution of public awareness and government awareness that the prospect of significant emergencies and disasters, and perhaps exacerbated by the possibility of a terrorist incident that would be the equivalent of a disaster, that requires the federal government, as well as the provinces and municipalities, to be ready, able and willing to deal with these types of emergencies. They evolve out of climate change, natural disasters, just bad things that can happen in the world today.
The world media certainly make us aware of all of those things. We would like to think that Canada will be lucky and avoid the huge earthquake, the meteorite from space that drops the huge flood, the terrible hurricane and tornado, but these things do happen. It is worth noting that most of these events, when they do occur, would normally be seen as falling within provincial jurisdiction. I will address that later in my remarks because there is a practical and legal issue that arises from the bill.
However, the bill would allow the federal government to refocus and better coordinate the organization of its response to emergencies. Perhaps we can all note that there is arguably a difference between what is called an emergency and what we might regard as a security related incident. They are not always the same. Most of what the bill would deal with is emergencies involving natural disasters with some component of a man-made contribution in it.
First, I want to note the reference to the leadership and mandate of the public security emergency preparedness minister. This is a concept that the government has been slow to get to. The predecessor of the PSEP minister was the solicitor general and over time it became apparent that some federal minister had to take responsibility for a federal government response to emergencies.
In the old days, I think Canadians felt that the minister of national defence could probably handle that. Canadians have always had a feeling that its armed forces were capable of rendering assistance wherever it was really needed. The armed forces have jumped in from the beginning of Canada to assist Canadians, as have other government institutions. However, as with other things in life, emergencies and natural disasters have evolved and become more complex I suppose, and we simply needed a government minister, aside from the Department of National Defence, who could coordinate these things. Now it would be the federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness. That is one thing the bill does.
The second thing worth noting is the imposition of a protection for private information of third parties in the hands of government. That information would have been supplied to government as part of the preparation of an emergency management plan. It really is, in my view, quite reasonable that third parties who supply that information to government to assist in the creation of an emergency management plan should have that information protected within government and not have it accessible through the Access to Information Act. That is quite a reasonable proposal and I am not aware of any difficulties in law with that.
The third thing I would like to point out relates to something I mentioned earlier. There is a provision in the bill, I believe it is clause 7(c), that allows the federal government by regulation to declare a provincial emergency to be of concern to the federal government. I take it from this that it is the intention of the bill to put a federal thumb print on what is a provincial emergency. I think the committee that looks at this bill will need to ask whether that particular provision is relying on the peace, order and good government section of our Constitution, section 91. I think it does.
Clause 7(c) involving the regulations is also related to clause 6(3) of the bill. Clause 6(3) states:
A government institution may not respond to a provincial emergency unless the government of the province requests assistance....
That seems to say that the federal government will not get itself into a provincial emergency. The wording is important because it refers to a provincial emergency. However, if the federal government, in which legislation has paramountcy to provincial legislation, has a regulation that says a provincial matter is of concern to the federal government, that matter may cease to be simply a provincial emergency and may become a matter of concern to the federal government. This is a constitutional issue and I am not too sure that the statute has made it clear in its wording and I am not too sure that we here have taken note of that implication.
The concept of the federal government declaring a provincial emergency to be of concern to the federal government should be distinguished from what we normally refer to here as aid to the civil power by the armed forces. If there is a problem, the province requests the federal government for assistance from the armed forces and the armed forces are made available to the provincial jurisdiction. That is a separate mechanism and concept from what we are dealing with here.
I suggest that the bill does create something new that should be addressed and clarified if necessary because as I stand here today I suppose I am not prepared to say that it is real clear from the statute that the intent of clause 7(c) as it interrelates with clause 6(3) is exactly the way I have described it. That has to be clarified.
What are some other issues in the bill? Clause 5 raises the matter of dealing with emergencies involving the United States of America. We have a long common border. We probably have a border with Denmark and with Russia but we certainly have enough border interface with the United States to make this a matter of concern. It does have a place in legislation. It is a picky issue perhaps but I think I should note it for the record.
Clause 5 would authorize the development of what is called a joint emergency management plan. The other clauses of the bill deal with developing emergency management plans. This clause refers to a joint emergency management plan, which is okay, but it does not say with whom the joint plan should be arranged. It just says with United States authorities. It does not mention whether it should be with state jurisdictions in the United States, municipal jurisdictions or U.S. federal agencies. It just talks about United States authorities. That may be a concept that is a little too naive for our purposes here in doing legislation. This can be looked at later as well.
However, there is another clause of the bill that deals with the making of regulations and that is on the issue of whether we have any statutory jurisdiction in the United States of America. Of course we do not. That would involve an extraterritorial application of our law. However, it would not prevent us from developing an emergency management plan, but does it involve Canada spending money, resourcing, in the United States?
Clause 7 of the bill creates the authority to make regulations and it seems to indicate that we anticipate spending money in the United States of America. For example, subclause 7(b) says regulations “respecting the use of federal civil resources in response to civil emergencies”. Does that include assistance in response to U.S.A. emergencies? If we do respond to an emergency management plan that we have developed with the U.S.A., are we just talking about the border, or are we talking Laredo, Texas on the border with Mexico? Are we talking about an emergency similar to the hurricane damage in New Orleans? Are we talking about a tsunami in Hawaii? It is not clear if there are any constraints on this extraterritorial spending of resources.
In addition, subclause 7(a) says that the government may make orders or regulations “respecting the preparation, maintenance, testing and implementation of emergency management plans”. Emergency management plans are referred to in the bill, but there is the second type of emergency management plan called the joint emergency management plan, found in clause 5, dealing with the U.S.A.
I am suggesting, on a very technical basis, that if it is intended that the minister or the governor in council make regulations about joint emergency management plans, that should also be set out in the statute. The way it is worded in the bill it is evidently a separate concept.
This too can be dealt with, if necessary, at the committee level. I am sure members would like to debate that one for 5 or 10 minutes. It is better to fix these problems now than to have a lack of clarity and have issues arise later with our American friends, or our Canadian provincial friends or our municipalities. Also, we never know when the official opposition will raise an objection to the government's actions.
Those are most of my comments on the bill.
There is a related matter of dealing with our border relations with the U.S.A.. I want to make note of that because it may have implications for the bill.
Our joint efforts with the United States include border security, intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations. This does not always happen at the border. I would point out that although we have integrated border enforcement teams at work now through much of the Canada-U.S. border system, and those integrated border enforcement teams operate very well, do a good job and involve our police, their police, our agencies and their agencies, we also have integrated national security enforcement teams. They do not operate at the border. They operate in Canada's larger cities.
Those joint operations bring together the RCMP, CSIS, municipal and provincial police, some Canadian ministries and American representatives from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Border Patrol and generally now the Department of Homeland Security. These institutions and liaison people are at work in Canada, which raises issues. Just as in emergency preparedness and resourcing of cross-border emergencies, it raises issues about efficacy of spending and, in some cases, issues involving scrutiny for civil liberties.
We have not yet in the House nailed down, with precision, how we will take steps to ensure that these new constructs, put together for public safety and security, are properly operating, spending efficaciously, operating within the law and are not unduly threatening to civil liberties. This is a huge unreconnoitred piece. These new constructs have just come up in the last three or four years and we have not done our homework.
I know there was a bill in the last Parliament, Bill , that had developed, with all-party consensus, support for a new construct for a committee of parliamentarians who would have access to the appropriate classified material in order to scrutinize these types of operations. That bill has not been reintroduced yet. I believe it is the intention of the minister to do so.
I and a number of members have worked hard on this envelope for a number of years and we would like to see that bill introduced quickly so Parliament may respond and get on with its important work on behalf of Canadians.
I look forward to seeing the bill referred to committee to deal with these relatively technical issues to which I have made reference, all of it being for the purpose of providing better planning, foresight and ultimately protection for Canadians for seen and unforeseen emergencies should they arise.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill . This is a moment I have been eagerly awaiting, for I am well aware that in the world in which we now live, the issue of emergencies certainly demands the attention of legislators.
Just earlier, I was pondering the fact that, even in the 1800s, people were trying to regulate emergencies with the Quarantine Act. Why did they attempt to use this act in part to regulate emergencies? Because disease was surely the greatest threat to human communities, to the human condition about which Malraux spoke to us with such talent. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you are an enthusiast of Malraux. I know your erudition, and even your epicurean side. Of course, if we are talking about the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries, the spread of disease could not possibly be compared with the SARS crisis that we experienced, for example. And for once, the federal government was in a field of jurisdiction that belonged to it alone, under a class of subject enumerated in the Constitution.
When we speak of emergencies, the word “emergency” is in itself open to many meanings. What does it mean when we speak of emergencies? Are we talking about disease, the unleashed forces of nature, public transit, natural catastrophes, the overflowing of the Red River, the pollution in the big cities, terrorist attacks? Terrorism is a real fact of our collective life.
If I may digress, for a parliament and a parliamentarian, the end can never justify the means. One can never say, on account of some context one considers extraordinary, that one is going to take certain actions prejudicial to personal freedoms. In any case, you know how the Bloc Québécois is. If there is one party in this House that could hold a set of scales in its hands, with a centre of gravity that can balance human rights with necessary protection of the community, that party is surely the Bloc Québécois. How could we not be disturbed by Bill , and its successor Bill on anti-terrorist measures. The government was trying to plagiarize the previous government, and it plagiarized certain provisions of the Patriot Act, tabled by the Bush administration. Incidentally, it will be with great interest that we shall read the judgment to be rendered shortly on the security certificates.
I know that some of my caucus colleagues, and in particular our immigration and public safety critics, have a lot of reasons to be worried. I would ask you the question, Mr. Speaker. Is it acceptable, in a country that adheres to the rule of law, for a person to be subject to arrest without warrant, arbitrarily detained, and not have access to the complete evidence in his or her court file? Do we not learn in our law schools that it is important to have a just and fair trial? Are we not in the post-Stinchcombe era? The Supreme Court has given judgment on this point. My colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is aware of that. Stinchcombe requires that all evidence be disclosed. That is surprising, because Stinchcombe involved a tax fraud matter, if I recall correctly.
In any case emergencies cover a range of situations: SARS, overflowing rivers, terrorism, or mass transit.
We know that in some democracies, the evil hand of certain groups has used mass transit to spread toxic substances. Plainly it is a concern of governments, I would even say their duty, to have evacuation and emergency plans.
Let us ask the question: is this primarily the responsibility of the federal government? That question arises in the case before us. This is not a case involving quarantine, an epidemic or virology.
The bill says:
This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.
Obviously, when we read the bill, we can say that it is reasonable for the federal government, in the departments for which that government is responsible, to have an emergency plan. We therefore understand that it is reasonable for there to be a plan for public safety, health, national defence, or any other example that my colleagues may bring to my attention.
Closer to home, I know that on Parliament Hill, the Board of Internal Economy, of which the various party whips are members, thinks about how to ensure that the Hill is safer. There have been very few unfortunate incidents, but still, there have been a few.
In fact, there is a new Sergeant-at-Arms in the House. I would like to wish him success in the responsibilities of his position. He is the person who is responsible for the safety of parliamentarians.
In the British parliamentary tradition, the distance between the opposition and the government is two and a half sword lengths. Why? Because when Parliament was first created, when the institution of Parliament was created in the United Kingdom, the monarch stood in fear of members of Parliament. That is the source of the tradition, when the Speaker is elected, of dragging him or her by the arm while being met with resistance. That is because some of the speakers, in some of the Parliaments of Great Britain, who were called burgesses, were beheaded when the king did not agree with them.
So as not to wander too far afield, let us come back to the Sergeant-at-Arms. He is responsible for parliamentarians’ safety, and in emergencies he must arrange for the Hill to be evacuated.
I would like to give you an example of a traumatic event that I experienced personally. Every member of this House is familiar with my sturdiness, physical strength and self-discipline. Then there is the President of the United States, who thinks he is the master of any house he happens to be in. When President Bush visited the Hill, some parliamentarians, including me, were not allowed access to the Hill. My colleague from Saint-Lambert was also denied access to the Hill. Why? Not because the constables prevented us from entering. After all, their kindness is known to us all. They were not the ones who denied us entry. It was security personnel outside Parliament who stopped us; they went about it quite rudely, I might add. Such events prompt us to think about how we might react in an emergency that forced us to evacuate the building rapidly.
I know that Board of Internal Economy members, including the whips, have discussed this issue.
So, yes, we have to have emergency measures in place in our large communities, especially in big cities. Emergencies can be caused by natural disasters, terrorist attacks on public transportation or, of course, disease. Obviously, we do not deal with disease as we did in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, but imagine the impact of a virus spreading through our communities. Even in our modern society, we have come to realize that hospitals are not always a safe haven. We do not think that going to the hospital can make us sick. I feel comfortable talking about this before the member for Québec because I know she is as healthy as a horse, but people sure do not expect to get sick when they go to the hospital.
We recently learned that some hospitals in Canada were vectors of contamination. This is one of the emergencies for which we must plan.
Although the Bloc Québécois agrees with this bill in principle, we have some concerns. First is the issue of respecting provincial responsibilities. A national emergency should never mean there is just one government. We are long past the time of the Rowell-Sirois commission. We are not in an apprehended war situation. As elected members of the Bloc Québécois, as representatives of the people of Quebec, we must never act as though there were just one government.
The National Assembly, whose first speaker was Mr. Panet—if I recall correctly—is one of the oldest Parliaments in North America. A number of years ago, it passed its own public safety plan. And who was the author of this important plan that respects decentralization, a plan whose goal was to have the regional county municipalities, the municipalities and the health care system work together? When we think of emergencies, these are the players we want to see promote a common vision.
The National Assembly was the first francophone Parliament in North America. It was led by Speaker Panet and founded under the Constitutional Act, 1791, with ministerial responsibility introduced in 1848. It used to be referred to as the Salon de la race, but that expression is no longer used. It passed its public safety plan. We are most privileged to have among us the author of the plan, none other than the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who was the public safety minister at the time and who served the Government of Quebec well.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Réal Ménard: We would appreciate it if members of the government were more careful with their tributes, Mr. Speaker, but it might come back to haunt them later.
The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin shouldered his responsibilities and suggested a plan. I repeat that we understand perfectly well that this is the federal government's responsibility, as regards its own institutions and jurisdictions. That is what federalism is. If Gérald Beaudoin and Henri Brun, two eminent constitutionalists, were here, they would tell us that federalism has three defining characteristics: first, two levels of government, each one sovereign in its areas of jurisdiction; second, a constitution; and third, a forum for arbitration. What is the forum for arbitration in a constitutional state? It is the Supreme Court, whose appointment process we hope will undergo a sweeping reform. The former member for Charlesbourg, a brilliant mind who served this House well, made a motion two years ago, if I am not mistaken, to ensure that, for example, the National Assembly could submit a list in order to respect the true spirit of federalism. The Supreme Court Act provides for civil law judges on the court. Moreover, although it is not my intention to talk about this—I would hate to be called to order—I would say that more and more, we are approaching a unitary state. This is not the spirit of federalism. There were 33 Fathers of Confederation. Thing were different then, as hon. members will recall. But we had the conviction that there were two governments, each with its own jurisdiction.
Why is there an imbalance in the Canadian federation?
For example, do you think that the residual powers—all the powers that are not specifically conferred on a government—are the responsibility of the provinces? No. The federal government has responsibility for them. The day is fast approaching when Quebeckers will decide to leave that federation, but it not my intention to talk about that.
Bill asks the federal government to adopt an emergency management plan. This plan is expected to give powers to the different ministers concerned, because it will be at their level of responsibility. Sometimes, the focus will be more on public safety, sometimes on health, sometimes on the environment. This will depend on the situation.
The bill obliges the departments to establish principles and programs to develop emergency management plans for government institutions. We can live with that. They must also provide advice to government institutions respecting emergency management plans. That is a ministerial responsibility we can live with that. Under this bill, the departments must analyze and evaluate the prepared plans. We would hope to learn more about just what that means. They must coordinate the actions of the various federal institutions in an emergency, provide financial or other assistance to provinces that need it, and establish the necessary arrangements for the continuity of constitutional government in the event of an emergency. Now, that is worrisome. I do not know if my colleague, the hon. member for , can see the look of concern on my face, but there is something very troublesome about the mention of the constitutional government and an emergency. We all know that the most significant intrusions have occurred in times of emergency.
Take, for example, tax points. Taxation, particularly personal income tax, was not intended to be permanent. If I am not mistaken, I believe it was Adélard Godbout who was Premier of Quebec at the time, a progressive Liberal typical of his time. We are all familiar with the terror that reigned at the time of the second world war. At the time, the wartime tax rental agreement was the expression used for transferring the personal income tax. In the end, what was meant to be temporary became permanent. Thus, it is very easy to speak of emergencies in a bill, but we have a certain responsibility in this regard.
We will therefore remain vigilant about the use of the word "emergency" and we do not agree that, under the pretence of an emergency, provincial jurisdictions should be encroached upon. I believe that the hon. member for will have something serious to say when the bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
In conclusion, I cannot help but urge caution. We live in troubled times. Is the Arar affair not a good example of the prudence that should guide us as Parliamentarians?
We know quite well that, in the wake of September 2001, security certificates can give rise to excesses. Obviously, I will make the necessary distinctions. I do not wish people to think that I am not a nuanced person. I know that the emergencies we are talking about do not specifically include terrorist attacks, although such attacks could lead the federal government to take all manner of emergency measures. That is a possibility.
I believe that our responsibility is to maintain the appropriate balance between the rights of individuals and the security of the nation. Who wants to wind up with big brother in a totalitarian state where people are arrested without a warrant, searches are carried out, individuals are thrown in jail, and the principles of natural justice are violated? The Bloc Québécois has always been extremely vigilant in its protection of these principles.
Correct me if I am wrong but I believe we were the only party to vote against Bill . However, I do not wish to offend the NDP. I do not remember how they voted. My colleagues could indicate if they think I am mistaken.
I would like to conclude by saying that we agree with the principle, that we understand that emergency situations can arise, but that we hope Quebec's jurisdiction will be respected when appropriate.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill .
Across the country there are probably communities that have no idea about the content of the bill, or the content of provincial legislation around emergency preparedness. However, over the last five or six years because of what has happened in Canada and abroad people are becoming much more aware and concerned about how the country, a province or a city would respond to an emergency.
An emergency has come to have almost no meaning now or an extremely broad meaning. At one stage in our history we all fairly well understood the word “emergency” but today emergency has a much broader concept than we have seen before. There are viruses, for example. This is a tough one and we have debated this around another piece of legislation. Part of the legislation states that the federal government would enter into an emergency plan if it was in its interest to do so. I understand the position of the Bloc.
Having been a former health minister and a nurse, I know that viruses, especially new viruses, permutate all the time and turn into viruses we have never seen before. We do not know how to treat them. Viruses do not have maps. They do not permutate and then look at a map and respect provincial borders. They move across borders very quickly.
I see the Minister of Health has just come in. I know that from his experience in Ontario he is more than aware of how viruses that we have not--
An hon. member: You can't comment on people coming in and out.
Ms. Penny Priddy: Mr. Speaker, I do apologize. It was my anxiousness to acknowledge the minister's previous experience.
The minister knows very well that viruses and new diseases do not recognize borders. So the concept of when a federal government decides it is in the best interests of Canadians to enter into a provincial emergency is going to continue to be a difficult one for everybody.
On the other hand, as we saw with SARS and some other viruses, they moved quickly across the country. We were not able to keep up with them, to get ahead of them, or even to recognize any trend of what is happening.
For me it raises one of the other issues around trends particularly in health emergency situations. Because there is no mandatory reporting on the part of the provinces to the federal government or to the health ministry if they see something happening, if they see a virus, it makes it even more difficult for us to see trends occurring across the country. That causes me some concern. The federal government might not even be able to see whether or not it is in its interest because a provincial government is not mandated to report if something is occurring in that province. That causes me some concern in terms of the federal government's ability to make an informed decision.
Some education is needed in this country regarding emergency preparedness. I do not think most people know who is responsible for emergency preparedness, whom they could count on and for what.
When my children first started school, they came home one day and told me that they had a drill. I asked them if all the children had managed to get out on time. They said that they did not leave the school that they went under their desks. In British Columbia not only do we have fire drills but we also have earthquake drills. Many of us have earthquake preparation kits in our homes and in our cars. This is very different from many other parts of the country, except for Quebec and Yukon where there are earthquake risks.
What is becoming of more concern to people is who does what, when, with whom, and under what circumstances. If this bill passes, there is a responsibility on the part of the federal government, and provincial and municipal governments as well because they have their own regulations, to ensure that citizens have this information so they can feel safe. It is frightening enough to be faced with any kind of emergency, be it a climatic one or an armed conflict. It is frightening not to have any idea whatsoever as to who takes responsibility and for what. I hope committee members will take into consideration the publication of this kind of information.
In the first few hours of an incident it is important that one person be seen as taking a leadership role. It is important that one person be responsible for ensuring that all the things that are supposed to happen do happen. Responsibility should not be spread out among a variety of people. There must be one place of accountability.
The bill states, “The minister is responsible for exercising leadership relating to emergency management in Canada by coordinating, among government institutions and in cooperation with the provinces and other entities, emergency management activities”. When the committee considers the bill, I would ask it to consider two things: one, to write shorter sentences so we do not have to take a breath in the middle; and second, to make clear that the responsibility for acting would be in the hands of one minister and one minister only.
The concern about access to information has already been raised by some members. Some people feel that this concern has been answered. This bill would amend the Access to Information Act ostensibly to provide for protection of information provided by third parties which, if disclosed, might pose a security threat. I hope the committee will examine this in greater detail to see if there are any issues which may adversely affect the privacy rights of Canadians. I understand in an emergency many things have to be done, but the committee has to look a little more closely at whether this would adversely affect the privacy rights of Canadians out of proportion to what might be necessary in a particular emergency.
Several people have asked for clarity as it pertains to foreign affairs, armed conflict and so on. I think my colleague here has asked that question on two occasions. I do know that the summary states:
This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.
What people are raising is a provision of clarity that these regulations only apply in terms of things that happen, not just affect people living on Canadian soil but happen on Canadian soil. If I understand my colleague's question correctly, that is the kind of clarity that he would like to see.
I will wrap up my comments by saying that there are still a number of issues to look at when the bill goes to committee. I understand the intent of the bill. Every Canadian wants there to be in place an emergency piece of legislation where they know people will leap into action to do everything they can to make them safe.
Hurricane Katrina was a perfect example of what we should not do. People were left stranded everywhere with certain people being attended to first before people with fewer resources. We saw some very damaging ways of responding to an emergency during hurricane Katrina. I believe we will have learned those kinds of lessons. I would not of course believe that Canadians would respond to people in an emergency situation in any different way based on their current circumstances, economic, social or otherwise.
I look forward to hearing the results of the debate at committee.