Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon, members of the committee. It's a pleasure to be back again. Thank you for the invitation to come on this occasion to talk about the consultations on the national security framework. I want to begin by thanking this committee for undertaking that study. It's an integral part of the government's approach to the future with respect to national security, and I'm grateful to have the committee's participation in the examination of that framework.
I also want to welcome Malcolm Brown. It's the first time he's had the opportunity to appear before the committee as deputy minister of public safety. I rely upon his good work and that of the women and men who toil in the department so faithfully to support the safety interests of Canadians.
In the second hour you will have the director of CSIS, Michel Coulombe, and the commissioner of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, in front of you. Those are always exceedingly interesting sessions. Even though he's not here at the table at the moment, I would like to acknowledge particularly Commissioner Paulson, who this morning made a historic announcement about a court settlement, and an apology and an approach going forward that will turn the page, we all hope, on a period of some considerable distress within the force having to do with harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. That announcement this morning was exceedingly important, and I congratulate all of those involved, including the commissioner, but also the very brave women who led that process over the course of the last number of years and had the patience, the persistence, the courage, and the perseverance to see it through to a successful conclusion.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank this committee for its work in consulting with parliamentarians and with Canadians generally about Canada's national security framework. This helps to fulfill a commitment that we made to Canadians last year to give them an opportunity to have input on national security issues and to be as inclusive and transparent in that process as possible.
Before I wade into more details, let me pause for one more short detour, and that is to thank the committee for the report you filed earlier this week about post-traumatic stress injuries, which disproportionately affect first responders. Dealing with that challenge is another of my priorities on behalf of firefighters, police officers, and paramedics who work every day to keep the rest of us safe and secure. The committee's report was very well done, and it will be very helpful to the government as we bring forward a coherent national strategy for PTSI among our vital emergency response personnel across the country.
With respect to public consultations on Canada's national security framework, this initiative to have public consultations is absolutely unprecedented. We want to hear from parliamentarians, subject matter experts, and Canadians generally about how we can best achieve two overarching objectives. We need to ensure that our security and intelligence agencies are effective at keeping Canadians safe. Simultaneously, we need to be equally effective at safeguarding our rights and freedoms, and the open, inclusive, fair, and democratic character of our country.
I began this consultation work on this topic many months ago. We've collected important input from respected academics such as professors Wark, Forcese, and Roach, and from security and intelligence operators like Ray Boisvert, who was formerly with CSIS, and Luc Portelance, who was formerly at the CBSA and before that at the RCMP. I've also heard from former MPs like Bob Rae, Anne McLellan, and Irwin Cotler, as well as former senators Hugh Segal and Roméo Dallaire. I've met with a number of other current MPs and senators, and with outside groups like the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, OpenMedia, various organizations representing Muslim lawyers and other professionals, and many more.
That's a good start, but my direct meetings are going to be ongoing because the consultation is ongoing, and that is now augmented by the active and very welcome outreach by this committee.
More broadly, we have launched, as of last month, an online public consultation, and it will be running until the first of December.
By way of background, in the summer the government published its “2016 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada”. That report covered the period through 2015 and into the beginning of 2016, highlighting the particular threat posed by individuals or small groups of lone wolves who get inspired to violence in some perverted way by the insidious influences of organizations like al Qaeda and Daesh. The threat report also included for the first time a description of Canada's national terrorism threat level. That level, by the way, is currently set at medium, where it has remained unchanged since October 2014.
To begin our online conversation with Canadians last month, the Minister of Justice and I posted a discussion paper and a backgrounder on our website. These do not purport to be statements of government policy. They are intended to elicit ideas and to provoke engagement on national security, and they certainly seem to be achieving that effect. Thus far, more than 8,000 responses have been received, with nearly two months yet to go in the consultation process. As I said, this online consultation will run until the first of December.
Whether it's our discussion with subject matter experts, or your committee work in talking to experts as well as other parliamentarians and Canadians generally, or the input we are getting online, we're looking for two types of advice: how we can enhance the effectiveness of our security agencies, and how we can equally and simultaneously safeguard our rights and freedoms, our open, inclusive, democratic society, and our Canadian way of life. These two core themes underpin our entire national security agenda.
On that point, I have noticed, of course, the report last week, and the committee appearance this week, of the Privacy Commissioner about the sharing of information. I consider Mr. Therrien to be a key part of the parliamentary oversight and accountability apparatus. I take his input very seriously, and I have already had one discussion with him about the points he raised in his report, and others will follow. In the meantime, in response to his point about privacy impact assessments in various government departments, I am now writing to all of my cabinet colleagues to ensure that all departments and agencies have in place the right privacy-related protections to deal with the issue of information sharing.
To close this introduction, Mr. Chairman, let me put these national security consultations in the context of our overall national security agenda as a government. That agenda includes the following points:
One, there is the creation of that new committee of parliamentarians that is reflected in Bill , which you will have before you for consideration at another time. That is a cornerstone piece to bringing a brand new element into our oversight, scrutiny, and review architecture that has never before existed in Canada, but which has been recommended on a variety of occasions, by parliamentary committees, by the Auditor General, by external independent inquiries, and so forth. Bill C-22 will remedy the defect of that deficiency.
Two, we are hard at work on a new office of community outreach and counter-radicalization. The money for that was provided in the budget, and we're in the process now of identifying the individuals who will be best placed to deliver that new initiative.
Three, we will ensure faithful compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Four is clarity with respect to warrants.
Five is a more precise definition of propaganda.
Six is repairs to no-fly lists, and in particular the appeal process that relates to the no-fly list.
Seven is full protection of the right to protest.
Eight is a statutory review, after three years, of our anti-terrorism legislation.
Nine is a new arrangement with the United States with respect to our common border, including a much improved pre-clearance system and the establishment of an entry/exit data collection mechanism for the first time, as well as other improvements in the arrangements with respect to no-fly lists.
Ten is, and for the first time, this process. Canadians are actually being thoroughly consulted about what other steps, in addition to what I've already mentioned on the agenda, they believe are necessary to keep them safe and to safeguard our rights and freedoms.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Minister, thanks again for being here. It's always great to have a minister at the committee.
I want to talk about the new powers that were granted under Bill to CSIS. Basically, it gave them new powers to disrupt potential threats. There are different things, telephone calls, travel plans, etc. Before the changes in Bill C-51, CSIS could only inform police agencies of potential threats and could not act on them alone. Throughout the last election campaign, Mr. Minister, your party basically said they were going to make major changes to it.
Now, the director of CSIS appeared before a Senate committee in March. He indicated that the agency had used their new powers close to two dozen times since Bill came into force and six more months have passed since then. He also indicated that it is likely that they'd use these powers again in the future. During an interview following being at the Senate committee, the director of CSIS stated that, following the national security review that the government is currently engaged in, a decision would likely be made that could affect the power and others.
Mr. Minister, seeing that if the powers that be would have had the proper things at the time, Corporal Cirillo probably would still be alive.... We were all here two years ago when that happened, and I'm sure you were as well. Also, the would-be terrorist, I believe, in Strathroy a few months ago probably wouldn't have been caught without these new changes.
My question is, do you intend to change them, and if so, how do you see these powers changing? Clearly, they've been effective in disrupting potential threats thus far.