The House resumed from October 15 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, before running out of time on Monday, I was speaking about the witnesses who oppose this bill because they believe it is pointless and violates various civil liberties and human rights. They appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in 2011, when it was studying Bill C-17, the previous version of Bill , in another Parliament.
This is what Denis Barrette of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said:
The coalition believes that the provisions dealing with investigative hearings and preventive arrests, which are intended to impose recognizances with conditions, are both dangerous and misleading. Debate in Parliament on these issues must draw on a rational and enlightened review of the anti-terrorism law.
The first provision makes it possible to bring individuals before a judge in order to provide information, when the judge is of the view that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual has information about a terrorism offence that has or will be committed. A refusal to cooperate may result in arrest and imprisonment for up to one year. Furthermore, the provision dealing with investigating hearings gives the state a new power of search. Not enough is being said about this. The fact is that this provision can compel an individual to produce an object before a judge or tribunal, which will then pass it on to the police.
Furthermore, the current provisions encourage racial profiling and profiling on religious, political and ideological grounds. In its report on Canada in November of 2005, the U.N. Human Rights Committee noted its serious concerns with respect to the excessively broad definition of terrorist activity in the Anti-terrorism Act. The committee stated...“The State party should adopt a more precise definition of terrorist offences, so as to ensure that individuals will not be targeted on political, religious or ideological grounds, in connection with measures of prevention, investigation and detention.”
This shows that alarms were already going off about a number of problems in Bill C-17 with respect to civil liberties and how such a bill could be used. These problems remain in Bill . This bill clearly has a problem balancing security and fundamental rights. What worries me is that I see no valid reason for these provisions.
These provisions have been expired for five years, so how can they all of a sudden have become so important and necessary, when they never proved to be useful when they existed? None of the witnesses was able to think of a case that would require this kind of law. None of the witnesses said that these provisions were necessary. On the contrary, witnesses clearly told the Senate committee that there were major problems with respect to human and children's rights.
I would like to talk about what Ihsaan Gardee of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations had to say:
We are mindful of the increased emphasis on public safety and national security in response to the threat of terrorism during the last decade.... We are also cognizant of the real risks to our free and democratic society posed by overreaction and fear when they are used as the basis of public policy and legislation. At the end of the day we risk eroding the foundational values upon which Canada rests, while not making us any safer from terrorism....
We strongly disagree with those who would suggest that attaining a balance between human rights and security is an insurmountable task. In addition to sharing many of the concerns others have raised regarding the proposed legislation, Canadian Muslims have particular misgivings regarding how...Bill C-17 [could] have a disproportionate impact on members of our communities that may be considered discriminatory.
With regard to the impact on individual freedom and liberty, after 9/11 every major criminal terrorism-related incident, from the Toronto 18 to the case of Momin Khawaja, has been disrupted and prevented without the need for preventive detention or investigative hearings.
I repeat: here is another witness who is saying that the measures set out in this bill are not useful and could even carry risks.
Let us go back to the statement made by James Kafieh. He said:
We also need to bear in mind that not everyone who chooses to remain silent in such circumstances is guilty, and that choosing to remain silent is not an admission of guilt or a proof of guilt. People may, for example, have legitimate concerns for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Such an extraordinary measure as investigative hearings should only be used for the purpose of preventing an imminent act of terrorism. It should never be used as an investigative tool for past acts. The present text of [the bill]...allows for investigative hearings for past events, for which the imperative of safeguarding of innocent life from imminent attack is wholly absent. This is, in itself, an escalation.... Such an escalation shows that we are already witnessing creep in the use of such provisions before the court.
He also said:
This [bill] allows for the arrest and detention of people without ever proving any allegation against them. It could also make people subject to conditions on release with severe limitations on their personal freedom, even if they have never been convicted of any crime. Anyone refusing to accept and comply with the terms of the recognizance may be imprisoned for up to 12 months. The legislation does not limit the number of times this provision may be reapplied.
How is this consistent with our Canadian values and the principles upon which our system of justice is founded? ...The most recent cases of five men who were detained for up to eight years without ever being charged or convicted of a crime should give us all cause for concern.
That is food for thought for our discussions on this type of bill. When it comes to combatting terrorism, we cannot just simply add slightly tougher provisions to the Criminal Code without understanding why. The fact that Canada is already a signatory to a number of international conventions that address this makes these measures unnecessary.
In 2001, when these provisions were being discussed, the aim of the Anti-terrorism Act was to update Canadian laws to meet international standards, particularly UN requirements. All the provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act, except for that concerning investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions, remain in effect today, which is what we are discussing today and what is being presented in Bill .
To be perfectly clear, all the provisions of the original Anti-terrorism Act have remained in effect except for the two that expired in 2007, which were never used and which parliamentarians felt did not need to be renewed because they did not prove necessary.
Now, we are dealing with a Conservative government that says that the NDP is against making the country safer when it comes to combatting terrorism. In truth, this bill does not add anything substantive in terms of security. What is more, this bill will undermine fundamental human rights and freedoms. In my humble opinion, this represents a real risk. Canada already has a legal arsenal to combat terrorism, including international treaties, a complete section of the Criminal Code that deals with this, and a whole host of laws.
Furthermore, another provision in this bill would amend the definition of “special operational information” in the Security of Information Act. Under this change, the identity of a confidential source that is being used by the government would be considered to be special operational information. This would reduce the transparency of information.
Considering this government's track record when it comes to transparency, reducing it any further on such a delicate subject would really worry me.
In short, I oppose this bill because we already have very effective measures in place. This measure would be ineffective and pointless in the fight against terrorism.
This bill violates civil liberties and human rights and, once again, does so unnecessarily. In particular, it violates the right to remain silent and the right to not be jailed without a fair trial, two rights that are absolutely fundamental in Canadian society.
The provisions we are debating here today were invoked only once, and unsuccessfully. This perfectly illustrates the fact that we already have all the tools we need to combat terrorism. Thus, there is no reason to pass legislation that threatens our civil liberties.
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to debate the bill known as the with my colleagues.
The main objectives of this bill are: to amend the Criminal Code in order to provide for investigative hearings and preventive arrests; to amend the Canada Evidence Act to allow judges to order the public disclosure of potentially sensitive information about a trial or an accused once the appeal period has expired; to amend the Criminal Code to create new offences of leaving or attempting to leave Canada to commit a terrorist act; and to amend the Security of Information Act to increase the maximum penalty for harbouring a person who has committed or is likely to commit an offence.
More than 10 years have now passed since the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001. These events turned the whole world upside down. As a result, international co-operation has been strengthened in order for the global community to better protect itself against terrorist acts.
A number of western countries implemented policies and laws to protect themselves against terrorism. Canada was no exception. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the government hastily passed Bill C-36, which was followed by Bills S-3, C-19 and C-17 in later years. The Conservatives introduced all bills after Bill C-36.
The attacks had a much more insidious effect: everyone felt threatened by terrorists, who were hiding everywhere, and it was necessary to sacrifice freedoms for security. All of a sudden, people felt far less safe and a climate of fear began to take hold.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have spent a great deal of time creating an atmosphere of fear, suspicion and insecurity with respect to national security. They have led Canadians to believe that there is an ever-present danger to our major urban centres. In my opinion, the political objective of the government's approach to safety is to obtain increased police powers for the state from the Canadian people.
When a tragedy such as a terrorist attack occurs, it is easy for a government to fall into the trap of acting quickly and forcefully. It is understandable since, after all, the government is responsible for the safety of its citizens.
I would like to quote the former justice critic and current member of Parliament for , who clearly described the government's willingness to act when catastrophic events occur. He said:
When facing a crisis, we as political leaders feel that we have to do something even when all the evidence shows that the structures we have, the strength of our society, the strength of our laws, are enough to deal with it. We passed legislation in early 2002 to deal with terrorism when we panicked. We have learned in the last eight years that there was no need for that legislation.
The bills that the Conservatives introduce and the speeches that they give leave me feeling completely baffled. They are asking us to give them the tools they need to protect us. In exchange for their protection, they are asking us to give up a few of our civil liberties. It is not true that freedom and security are mutually exclusive. It is possible to strike a fair balance between freedom and security by making thoughtful decisions that take these two variables into account.
The Conservatives do not believe that. I will explain why. The Conservatives' idea to adopt such a policy emanates from somewhere and that is from beliefs that are deeply rooted in their right-wing ideology. According to political studies, there are often many types of beliefs. This includes fundamental beliefs, which are often associated with basic rights. One's personal safety is, in my opinion, one of these fundamental beliefs. Anyone under the influence of fear will act to protect him or herself. In fact, in our laws, we recognize the legitimacy of the right to defend ourselves.
The Conservatives are dealing in fear. They want to put Canadians on the defensive so that they will then give the government more power in exchange for certain civil liberties.
The official opposition's role is to make sure that the government does not use worst-case scenarios to mislead the public and give itself extraordinary powers. Furthermore, the Conservatives have been implying that if opposition members do not agree with their very restrictive policies, it means that we do not care about public safety and that we cannot be trusted when it comes to national security. I think that the has insinuated that many times.
To my Conservative colleagues I will say that I have worked to make Canadians safe. I also used to be the deputy critic for public safety and I care very much about the safety of all Canadians. Our party would take the necessary and appropriate measures to effectively protect Canadians. Unlike the members opposite, we care about the most fundamental human rights and freedoms, and these must be taken into account when introducing bills or policies that could threaten certain rights and freedoms. We do not take this kind of thing lightly.
The key thing is to never contradict the Conservatives. They firmly believe that an attack is imminent and that police forces need more tools from legislators to be able to combat terrorism. They will reject all facts and arguments that do not corroborate this belief. They focus only on those that support what they believe. How many times has the government refused to listen to scientists and experts, whether on environmental or social policy matters? If something does not support their position and ideology, they reject it outright, regardless of the facts, and the fight against terrorism is obviously no exception.
It worries me a lot to see that the government completely ignores experts in various fields. Public policy is no longer based on common sense. Good public policies are based on facts and on expert and stakeholder opinions. That is how it should work. That is what it means to govern in partnership, a concept that the Conservatives do not seem to care much about.
In my opinion, the worst is that the government is playing right into the hands of terrorist groups by restricting Canadians' civil rights. Terrorist groups attempt by their actions to cause greater collateral damage than the attack itself. So they try to draw media attention to the savage nature of their terrorist attack in order to spread a climate of fear among all nations. That is where the government may be tempted to limit its citizens' liberties. When that happens, the terrorists have achieved part of their objective. From that point on, all security-related political actions are influenced by terrorism and the fear that it caused.
How does that relate to Bill ? The purpose of this bill is to grant the government extraordinary powers with respect to terrorism. Those powers are not justified by the threat level or by Canadian society's values respecting civil rights and freedoms, particularly since the Criminal Code contains a series of sections on terrorism and security.
As I mentioned, Bill is the most recent in a series of anti-terrorism legislative measures introduced since Bill was tabled in 2001. In this bill, the provisions respecting preventive arrests and recognizance with conditions, two provisions included in the bill, were subject to a sunset clause that expired in February 2007. And there was a reason why that type of provision was inserted. It was that the House had serious concerns, including the possibility that those provisions might be abused.
When the House revised the Anti-terrorism Act, we saw that there had been no investigative hearings or situations requiring recognizance with conditions. The Conservatives wanted to renew the bill in 2007, but they needed the consent of the House, which they fortunately did not obtain. The House decided not to renew those provisions. In fact, only one investigative hearing has been held since 2007, in the context of the Air India attack, and that produced no conclusive results.
And now the government is back with its phoney majority to pass a bill that the House previously rejected because it ran counter to Canadian values. It has also not bothered to include all the recommendations of the Subcommittee on the Review of the Anti-terrorism Act. It selected only what suited it.
What is the rush? Why are these measures suddenly necessary? They expired nearly six years ago, and the act has never been used for this purpose. Naturally, the Conservatives' response to these questions is that just because these measures have not previously been used does not mean they are unnecessary. They will use the ticking time bomb argument and offer all kinds of Jack Bauer-style scenarios.
I will briefly describe those two measures to put this bill in context and sum up what is stated in section 83.28 of the Criminal Code concerning investigative hearings.
A peace officer may, with the prior consent of the attorney general, apply to a provincial judge for an order that any individual who might have information concerning a terrorist act appear before a judge. If the order is made, the person must attend for an examination, answer all questions and bring with him anything he has in his possession relating to the order. Investigative hearings are used to obtain information, not to prosecute individuals. Accordingly, the answers given at one of these hearings may not be used against an individual in criminal proceedings, except in the case of prosecutions for perjury or the giving of contradictory evidence.
Section 83.3 of the Criminal Code deals with preventive arrest under the heading “Recognizance with Conditions”. That section is formulated to include preventive detention. A peace officer may arrest a person without warrant if he believes it is necessary in order to prevent a terrorist attack. The individual who is detained must then be taken before a provincial judge within 24 hours after being detained or as soon as possible, to show cause for the detention. The peace officer must then apply to a provincial judge, with the prior consent of the attorney general, to order that the person appear before a judge to determine whether it is necessary that the person be required to comply with certain specific conditions.
If a judge finds that the person must enter into a recognizance, the person will have to undertake to keep the peace and abide by other conditions, such as giving up control of his firearms for a period of up to 12 months. If the person refuses, he may be committed to prison for a term not exceeding 12 months.
As parliamentarians, the question we have to debate this afternoon is whether the provisions set out in Bill are necessary and appropriate to protect the safety of Canadians. During the first hour of debate, my colleague from asked the whether there had been any testimony at the Senate hearings in support of reinstating the provisions set out in this bill. In her answer, the parliamentary secretary did not refer to any such testimony.
The reality is that in police investigations since 2007, terrorist conspiracies have been dismantled without having to use any of the provisions set out in Bill , nor did those investigations call for any extraordinary powers to be granted. Whether in the case of Khawaja, the “Toronto 18” or, more recently, the four people in the Toronto region, none of the provisions of Bill have been necessary.
I think this is conclusive proof that our police forces have the tools they need to protect the Canadian public. We have to continue to support our public safety officers so they are able to keep doing the good job they have done to date.
We will be opposing this bill because it is a completely ineffective way to combat terrorism and because it infringes our most fundamental rights and freedoms. This bill demonstrates the Conservatives’ total failure to grasp the connection between security and liberty.
The way the provisions of the bill are written could have serious consequences for law-abiding people. Bill would make individuals who have never been charged with a terrorist act liable to imprisonment for as long as 12 months, or make them subject to strict conditions of release.
The provisions of this bill could be invoked to target individuals participating in activities such as demonstrations or acts of dissent that have nothing to do with any reasonable definition of terrorism. Is the government aware of that or is it knowingly doing this?
The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations has raised an interesting situation I would like to share with my colleagues. It says that it is still unclear how the distinction will be made between acts associated with terrorism and other criminal acts. For example, the recent firebombing of a Royal Bank branch in Ottawa, just before the G20 summit, was treated as criminal arson, and so no charge was laid under the anti-terrorism provisions. However, the people who committed that crime could have been charged with terrorism.
Need I remind my Conservative colleagues of who Maher Arar and Mr. Almalki are? They are Canadian citizens who were detained, deported and tortured because we had falsely accused them of terrorist activities.
Is this the kind of policy that this government wants to adopt? Regressive, outdated policies? The Conservatives need to listen to Canadians and perhaps relearn our basic Canadian values, for they seem to have forgotten them.
This bill applies to people who have not committed any terrorist acts per se. Also, in order to now justify all of the tools available to national security agents and for any strategic issues, there are several forms of terrorism and as many tools that can be used depending on the kind of terrorism—environmental, economic, religious, nationalist, and so on.
The recently released anti-terrorism strategy is proof that this government is targeting broader groups. That document gives examples of terrorist groups and includes things like occupy and environmental groups. The government has said on a number of occasions that environmental groups are extremists, perhaps even terrorists. That is why I think the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations is an interesting example, since it demonstrates that the application of these anti-terrorism measures will affect everyone differently.
This is not the best way to combat terrorism. The best way to fight terrorism is not by passing extraordinary legislative measures like the ones proposed in this bill, but rather to collect information, and that is the job of police forces.
The existing Criminal Code provisions are more than adequate to investigate people who engage in terrorist activities or to detain someone who poses an immediate and credible threat to Canadians. The Conservatives know this, but they want to prove that they are tough on crime, even at the expense of our individual rights and freedoms.
Neither I nor any NDP member can support this bill.