The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise in support of Bill . This bill would create a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians. First, I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for its hard work on this file, and for what I understand was a great discussion at committee level.
Our government is committed to protecting both the national security of Canadians as well as Canadians' rights and freedoms. By establishing the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, this government is fulfilling the promise that we made to Canadians in 2015. The role of the committee will be to ensure that the national security framework is working effectively to keep Canadians safe, and that the rights and freedoms of Canadians are also safeguarded.
It was 17 months ago that Canadians elected this government to produce real change in Canadian society. Bill is part of our plan to address the deficit of public trust between Canadians and the intelligence agencies that protect them. Restoring public trust will be no easy task. What it requires is a return to the basics of public service. We do not need to look hard to find these foundational principles. They are enshrined in our Constitution, now 150 years old. The phrase, “peace, order, and good government” has come to symbolize Canadian constitutional principles. These words hold truth today and are in fact fundamental to the mandate of this new committee.
Peace is a universally recognized Canadian value. This committee would have a hand in overseeing our military and intelligence agencies. Canadians have empowered their security agencies with the tools they need to keep Canada safe and to maintain public peace and security, yet there must be measures in place to ensure that these tools are not abused. This is why the committee will have a broad government-wide mandate, in fact, broader than other partners in the Five Eyes. This will allow the committee members to review any national security matter in all government departments and agencies, and, if security allows, present their findings to the House. Assuring citizens that their privacy is respected is a challenge that persists for democracies around the world. This next step would help to provide the transparency that Canadians overwhelmingly voted for in 2015.
“Order”, the second foundational virtue of our Constitution, is a crucial element to the bill. Every democracy struggles to strike the appropriate balance between collective security and individual liberty. MPs and senators on the committee will have access to classified information and a robust mandate to review and to complete the scope of our national security framework throughout the federal government. All of our Five Eyes allies have similar committees, and the broad scope of this committee's mandate will make it a stronger body, as I mentioned earlier.
Here too, the government has struck a reasonable balance between peace and order. MPs and senators on the committee will have access to classified information, as well as the mandate to review the complete scope of Canada's national security framework.
However, there are provisions in the bill that limit access to certain information, such as ongoing military operations, cabinet confidences, and information related to ongoing law enforcement investigations. This balance ensures the security of classified information and the operational effectiveness of the DND, CSIS, and the RCMP, while also providing MPs and senators with adequate oversight to properly protect our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Good government” is the final value reflected in this phrase. It is best embodied when we here and those in the upper house collaborate for the good of our country. With government amendments, the committee will be comprised of up to 11 members, eight from the House of Commons and three from the Senate. Up to five members of Parliament will be from the governing party.
This bill is an essential part of our national security strategy, which includes specific measures outlined in our platform, as well as consultations, so that Canadians can have their say about what other measures are needed.
Restoring public trust in Canada's security institutions is of critical importance. This is by no means the only measure the government will take to rebuild the public's confidence. The hon. is currently reviewing Bill , to make much-needed reforms.
There are many lessons that history has to teach. Perhaps the most important is the government's role in society. Government is an instrument for good, where people can come together and work toward common goals. As MPs, we cannot forget this simple truth. We are tasked with protecting the rights of the people we serve, as well as future generations. We must not become complacent and rely upon false comfort and assumptions. Constant vigilance by Canada's leaders to maintain these freedoms is included in the review recommendations of this bill.
This past summer, the former president of the United States, Mr. Obama, addressed this House and emphasized the truth of this. He quoted the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau when he said, “A country, after all, is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids, and then leave standing to defy eternity. A country is something that is built every day”.
If we are to keep building Canada as a monument to the world, we must take these words to heart.
To conclude, I urge my fellow MPs to support Bill . The bill is a thorough and comprehensive piece of legislation. It would equip MPs with the resources they need to responsibly exercise their due diligence. I urge my colleagues to support the bill as a common-sense move to promote government accountability.
I welcome any questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill , an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain acts, or, as I call it, another piece of bad legislation to cover for a campaign promise the Liberals made without really thinking it through.
There are some points I want to address in discussing this bill, as I mentioned: using bad legislation to cover for bad campaign promises, the problem with creating legislation that relies on putting blind trust in the government, a redundancy of some of the legislation, and what stakeholders are saying about the bill.
We start with a campaign talking point that turned out to be a poorly phrased policy platform: how to reconcile the 's support of Bill when he was a third party leader and his current compulsion to oppose everything the previous government did. My colleague from said it perfectly when he said, “the devil is not only in the details; the devil is in the fundamental misappropriation of the bill to promise something to the electorate and then not deliver.”
Today's legislation is just another in a string of poor attempts to cover up politically popular, but operationally difficult, campaign promises. This bill gives broad discretion over intelligence and national security discussions to the government, with “strong” oversight from the PMO, but not from Parliament. MPs are told to just trust the Liberals and they will figure it all out later. We know from their actions, though, they cannot be so easily trusted. They find ways to bend, break, and skirt the rules.
Therefore, we use the mechanisms within the House to hold the government to account and make sure that Canadians are aware of what the Liberal government is up to. Bill creates a committee with broad oversight, heavy Liberal influence, and public disclosure solely at the discretion of the PMO. It is a system designed to operate on blind trust in the government of the day, but we know that a strong and secure democratic system of government will ensure our security and liberty no matter who is in charge. Bill C-22, demanding that Canadians blindly trust the Liberals, does not accomplish this.
With their already lengthy track record of abuse of privileges, ethical lapses, and skirting responsibility for their mistakes, as well as their general contempt for the opposition when it opposes flawed legislation, I just cannot trust the government to act in the best interests of Canadians. Bill simply does not provide reasonable, meaningful mechanisms for parliamentary oversight.
Let us look at the track record of this bill. The special committee is appointed by, and reports to, the PMO. It should, instead, be appointed by, and report to, Parliament. The campaigned on a reduced role for the PMO, but his actions do not follow his words. Similarly, the Prime Minister, independent of any discussion with the other parties, appointed the committee chair in January before the legislation was even created. He refused to consult with the opposition parties, despite the public willingness of my party and the NDP to discuss this important committee. We were at the table, willing and ready to talk, but they stood us up.
The purpose of this committee is not to encourage and ensure transparency for the security agencies that are already as transparent as they can be while still protecting Canada and Canada's interests, rather it is a knee-jerk policy decision to shore up public support the Liberals lost when they voted in favour of Bill previously. Bill is a roundabout way for the 's Office to direct the way our national security agencies function, effectively politicizing institutions that should always operate at arm's length from political sources. If the bill achieved some balance between oversight for parliamentarians and effective oversight for the committee while enhancing our national security, perhaps Conservatives could support it, but the bill, as it is, is purposeless.
Oversight agencies, including the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the RCMP External Review Committee, National Defence and Canadian Forces ombudsman, and the Security Intelligence Review Committee are already mandated to provide oversight for each department or agency. This includes providing annual reports to Parliament.
Let us look at the membership process of the committee. Subclause 4(2) of the bill states:
The Committee is to consist of not more than two members who are members of the Senate and not more than seven members who are members of the House of Commons. Not more than four Committee members who are members of the House of Commons may be members of the government party.
There are two members of the Senate, seven members of this House, and not more than four government members, so we could easily be looking at four parliamentary secretaries from the government, notably members who are accountable first to their cabinet ministers, two so-called independent senators, and three members of the opposition.
I have heard government members state that they only get up to, but not necessarily, four members. Let us be honest here. No one expects the government to appoint a majority made up of opposition members and Conservative senators.
We have seen all too often that the and his office truly believe that their unilateral decisions are the best courses of action for Canadians. They dictate the issues of the day and the alleged solutions to those issues.
The has offered amendments so that subclause 4(2) would instead read: “The Committee is to consist of not more than three members who are members of the Senate and not more than eight members who are members of the House of Commons. Not more than five committee members who are members of the House of Commons may be members of the government party”.
Even with this, we could have five government members, three so-called independent senators, and three opposition members. We would still be faced with a Liberal majority on the committee that could unilaterally direct our intelligence and security agencies.
We always talk about how important it is to consult with the relevant stakeholders on legislation, so I will read what a couple of stakeholders are saying about Bill . Here is a spoiler alert. It is not praise.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said:
we are concerned by the government’s power to halt a Committee investigation, or refuse to provide information, when it is deemed “injurious to national security.” While we recognize that the utmost secrecy is sometimes required, this is particularly worrisome because these decisions are final, and are not subject to judicial review or any other dispute resolution process. Also concerning is the prime minister’s power to redact Committee reports (without any evidence that redactions were made), as well as the numerous categories of information the committee cannot access. Furthermore, it should be the Committee members themselves—not the prime minister—that chooses the Committee chair.
The Civil Liberties Association seems to broadly agree with our concerns, that Bill would leave most of the discretionary decisions and oversight resolution mechanisms to the .
I am really not sure how the government can genuinely argue that it is increasing oversight by increasing the discretionary power of the PMO to censor information that claims to be injurious to national security but may actually just be injurious to the Liberal government.
The government seems to hide things it does not like. Just two weeks ago, members of the House debated a motion calling on the government to release the finance department's redacted data on a federal carbon tax. The information was unfavourable to the government, so it refused to disclose the information and voted it down.
The government has muzzled more than 100 public servants for life on the purchase of the politically motivated, sole-sourced Super Hornet purchase. We have heard testimony in committee that the government did not even bother to make these muzzled public servants aware of their rights under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, but it sure went out of its way to muzzle them for life.
The Canadian Bar Association, which I understand might be versed on the impacts of laws, waded in on Bill by saying:
While we have made suggestions and expressed concerns about various aspects of the Bill, our concerns about section 16 of the Bill are greater by several orders of magnitude. That section would provide broad discretion for Ministers and departments to refuse to provide information on vague national security grounds and on the basis of the expansive definition of ‘special operational information’ in the Security of Information Act.
Just recently, in the government operations and estimates committee, we heard how the government is making extensive use of national security exemptions to skirt rules on the procurement of such items as jackets for Syrian refugees, under the guise of national security, yet we are supposed to trust that government ministers are not going to opt out of the disclosure regime under Bill C-22 when they see fit.
However, it is okay, just trust that the Liberal government will always act in everyone's best interest, and shame on us for again questioning its so-called commitment to act openly and honestly.
I do not like legislation that relies solely on trusting the government to act properly. We have seen too many examples of the government hiding from responsibility for political gain, and this legislation will only make that easier, without tangibly increasing Canada's national security oversight.
As such, I cannot in good conscience support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House with respect to the second reading of establishing the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians.
Bill C-22 is about rebuilding trust with Canadians. It is about providing assurance that our national security and intelligence communities' activities are being conducted responsibly. Parliamentarians can and should play a major role in reviewing these activities. To that effect, our government made a commitment to an approach that protects our rights and freedoms and provides for the security of Canadians.
For many, Bill was cause for grave concern. Today, as our consultation analysis and improved legislation comes forward, it is a pleasure to demonstrate that we are being proactive and fair in our commitment to protecting Canada's national security and Canadians' rights and freedoms.
Democracy and freedom should never be taken for granted. Upholding democracy and freedom requires constant vigilance. Bill C-22 is a significant step forward. It stands against excessive powers of the state, something that I and many in the House believe in strongly.
Bill C-22 would provide a well-designed and sensible framework for the government to share highly classified information with selected members of Parliament from various parties, as well as senators, so that national security and intelligence activities in Canada would be subject to their scrutiny.
It is my pleasure to continue debate on this important bill that would help to protect both Canada's national security and Canadians' rights and freedoms. The amendments proposed by the government would strengthen the bill. The bill and an amendment brought forward by the committee would enable the national security and intelligence committee to review any federal department or agency, and now, because of a recent amendment, any crown corporation that performs national security or intelligence activities. This could be the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the Canada Border Services Agency, or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for example.
The national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians would have a government-wide mandate that would set it apart from other oversight bodies established to review a specific agency, such as the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment, or the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
To ensure transparency, the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians would provide an annual report of its findings and recommendations to Parliament. It would also issue special reports at any time it considered it necessary. Because these reports would be available to the public, they would need to be submitted to the prime minister before tabling to ensure that they did not contain any classified information. However, I wish to emphasize the fact that the prime minister would not have any power to change the committee's findings and recommendations.
Bill would also enable the committee to provide classified reports to ministers at its own discretion. To ensure transparency about its reviews, the committee would be required to include a summary of these special reports in its annual report.
While it is vital to involve more parliamentarians in examining how federal agencies carry out their national security responsibilities, there must be some boundaries to ensure that ministers remain fully responsible and accountable for the activity of their departments.
Every department and agency of the security and intelligence community reports to a minister. That minister is ultimately responsible for the conduct of these departments and agencies. The minister is accountable to Parliament, and Canadians, for ensuring that the organization under her or his charge carries out its duties to keep Canadians safe while respecting our fundamental rights and freedoms. A minister may need to stop a review of a security or intelligence operation or may have to withhold sensitive operational information if the minister believes the review or the disclosure of the information could be harmful to national security.
I believe that such checks and balances are appropriate when we consider, for example, that the integrity of an active operation could be at stake. This is the reason our government has put forward amendments relating to access to information. Under the amendments proposed, ministers would not be able to use their power arbitrarily when it came to disclosing or not disclosing the information. Any request to withhold information would have to be explained to the committee, and if the committee was not happy with a minister's decision, it could report back to Parliament. The committee would have a legitimate platform to challenge a minister in public, in Parliament, before all Canadians.
Thanks to Bill C-22, the committee of parliamentarians would be able to hold the government to account. It would play a key role in ensuring that ministers took the necessary actions to address problems and fix deficiencies. It is clear that the bill would give the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians significant powers. It would also back it up with the necessary support through the creation of a secretariat.
It is also very important to stress the fact that the proposed national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians' mandate and powers could only be changed through amendments to the legislation, that is to say, only through the will of Parliament. Nevertheless, the proposed legislation includes an obligation for a review of all of its provisions and operations after five years to make sure it is meeting its objective.
Bill demonstrates how the government is setting the bar higher when it comes to transparency and accountability concerning national security. Canadians can be confident that Parliament can and will hold the government to account.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate on Bill , the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians act.
I had the opportunity to comment on this legislation at second reading, and unfortunately, my concerns have not been addressed. As I noted earlier, this legislation prescribes a committee that would be a PMO working group rather than a parliamentary oversight committee.
Above all else, Parliament's role is to oversee the government and the executive. Unfortunately, Bill would make the reverse true. The government and the executive would oversee parliamentarians. The committee would report to the and not Parliament. The Prime Minister would have the power to censor the committee's reports. Parliamentarians on this committee would not be protected by parliamentary privilege as they undertake their work. This committee would not be able to provide parliamentary oversight of Canada's national security agencies, because it is not a committee of Parliament. It is not even close. Without support from more than the governing party, this committee would not have multi-partisan legitimacy and, therefore, have no discernible impact.
During the bill's review at committee, Conservative and NDP members presented amendments that would have made this committee of parliamentarians something that somewhat resembles a parliamentary committee by, amongst other things, giving the leader of each opposition party input into which opposition members sit on the committee. The response from the government side by voting against this amendment speaks volumes as to why this bill is meaningless.
I will quote the member for :
...if this amendment were to be passed, the Prime Minister would no longer have full responsibility or accountability for recommending appointments to the committee. As this committee is an extension of the executive, which would report to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office, it would be contrary to the purpose of this bill.
The contention of the member for is clear. The members of this committee would be chosen by the without consultation or input from the other party leaders. According to the member, giving someone other than the the right to nominate members to this committee would reduce the power of the executive, thus making it unacceptable to the government.
The purpose of this legislation is not to empower Parliament, but rather to empower the . The committee's membership is critical as the members would determine the committee's agenda, determine what witnesses they want to hear from and what questions should be asked. They would be reviewing the documents they request, and they would be writing the committee's reports. Additionally, and most importantly, the members would serve as a liaison between the committee and each caucus.
Nothing is more important to the success of a committee than its members and their ability to meaningfully participate in the committee's proceedings. The sum of their experiences and contributions to the committee's process would determine whether the committee is effective.
If the is unwilling to relinquish the responsibility of determining which members of Parliament sit on this committee, it is hard to consider this entire exercise of creating this committee as more than going through the motions to check off a box on his Liberal electoral platform.
Ms. Heather Sheehy from the Privy Council described what the committee would actually be:
This committee is a committee of parliamentarians, as distinct from a committee of Parliament. The subclause that limits parliamentary privilege is consistent with a committee of parliamentarians, as distinct from a committee of Parliament.
Quite frankly, a committee of parliamentarians can be just about anything. The Conservative Party caucus hockey team can be considered a committee of parliamentarians. It does not mean it is an oversight body for the agencies and departments that oversee the security of Canadians.
The committee being made up of parliamentarians is simply not enough. The parliamentarians sitting on that committee must be given more power than what is being provided for in this legislation in order to be effective. As has been stated, Canada does not need to further enshrine executive oversight over its national security agencies. The executive in Canada, cabinet, already has oversight responsibilities of Canada's security agencies. In Canada, the executive branch is the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office that supports it.
The does not need to have a new advisory group of parliamentarians to provide him with input on Canada's national security. The supposed problem as outlined by the Liberals that this legislation was intended to solve was that Parliament, and not the executive, did not have the tools required to properly oversee our security agencies. Alternatively, the executive already has the ability to summon any member of Canada's security agencies to ask questions and order changes to operations, if necessary. Parliament does not. Therefore, it makes no sense to create another committee that reports to the executive.
The Liberal platform was clear on what it intended to do, which is to “create an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities”.
In order to fulfill this commitment, the leaders of the opposition parties should have the responsibility of naming their members to the committee, and Parliament must have the autonomy to oversee every government department and agency with national security responsibilities. If a committee is to be part of the decision-making process, then it should be allowed to impact policy. It should also be noted that when in opposition, the Liberals called for this very kind of parliamentary oversight. If, however, the PMO chooses to set up this committee purely for advisory purposes, then it will lose the true advantage of presenting a diversity of views to Canada's security agencies and the quality of advice that they receive will be compromised.
Furthermore, when it comes to changing Parliament's Standing Orders or the appointment of an officer of Parliament, the governing party typically goes to great lengths to ensure that it has the support of all parties. This is done to ensure that any change to the Standing Orders does not benefit the governing party or the opposition. It also ensures that each officer of Parliament begins work with the support of all parliamentarians behind them, thus giving them a real mandate for that work.
Unfortunately, the creation of this committee breaks all the rules that typically govern this place. This committee would not even have a mandatory quorum that is set by Parliament. It is almost laughable that the chair of the committee could be the only one present and be able to receive evidence.
As members of all parties would be serving on this committee, it only makes sense that a majority of members from all parties support its creation, its mandate, how it conducts its business, and how it would eventually report back to Parliament. Throughout the legislative process, all opposition parties have tried to make this committee more of an agent of Parliament, while the government has insisted that it must be an agent of the executive. Unfortunately, the government has voted down these practical amendments from the opposition.
In conclusion, I am disappointed by this legislation. I cannot shake the impression that this entire piece of legislation is simply a facade for the to say that he fulfilled a campaign commitment. If that is the case, he has failed to fulfill both the spirit and the letter of that very commitment. As long as this committee remains a working group of the , it will have no legitimacy or practical use.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be able to speak to this extraordinarily important piece of legislation. Before I reference parts of the bill, I would like to provide a bit of background as to where my perspective emanates from. I was a member of Toronto City Council on the Police Services Board, and in particular on the Police Services Board during the G20 summit when elected officials were presented with information that they could not share with their constituents, despite the fact that they were on the board precisely because they represented constituents. It was a very trying period to provide oversight to an important police body and an important security operation. They had no capacity to talk to those in charge of the operation because it was nestled in the Ontario Provincial Police at the time, not at the City of Toronto as many think it was. At the same time they could not relate back to their constituents the steps they were taking to protect their civil rights and make sure that their rights to political protest as well as access even to their homes were going to be guaranteed.
Therefore, civilian oversight is at the heart of any democracy and is at the heart of any responsible approach to public safety, let alone intelligence and security measures that we are now embarking upon, which when Parliament was conceived were not really perceived as being part of the responsibility of Parliament but rather the executive branch and others in society. As Parliament has evolved over the last few centuries, we have been evolving the practice of stronger and stronger civilian oversight, in particular around public accountability for the way in which our police and security agencies operate. We have also developed, expanded, and layered our security and our police bodies as we have taken on more and more complex matters. Society has changed and we have become more cognizant of the realities that we have to encounter. As a result, there is not a single police operation that Parliament oversees but rather close to 17, 18, or 19. We could even include border security now in that, which we need to explore as dynamics change in an ever-evolving world.
Into this mix, we have had over the last decade, even the last 20 years I would argue, significant powers invested into our security agencies. What has not kept pace is an oversight body that is as complex and as far reaching as those agencies now are. When the RCMP was originally looked at as a security force way back when, 100-plus years ago, there was no need to think of it as a spy agency dealing with foreign interventions coming into this country. It was a completely different colonial period of time when it was conceived.
CSIS flew straight out of the inadequacies both in the regulation and the oversight of the RCMP, when that was discovered in the 1970s. When CSIS was established, a whole new chapter of security agencies was brought to bear in terms of the way in which this country and this Parliament prosecuted public safety. However, the rules and regulations that were brought in for CSIS were not applied to other elements of the government. We get into electronic surveillance, intelligence sharing with our allies, and the complexities that technology has brought to this issue. It is clear that it is time for a revisit as to how we provide civilian oversight, as I said the corner of democracy, to make sure that we are protecting both people's public safety and their private safety as well as their civil liberties and society's civil liberties. That is the challenge that we are trying to address with the bill in front of us.
Over the last decade in particular, the powers invested in our security agencies have been strengthened, but the powers of oversight have not. What this Bill seeks to do is strengthen those oversights. One of the most important components of this bill is that the committee would be struck in a way that it would report directly to Parliament. I know the opposition has talked about it going through the executive branch because the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office, in particular, have the ability to screen it to make sure that the reports that have been tabled in public do not compromise public safety. That is a prudent measure, it is not a political measure. It is a measure that has been put in place in particular to keep sensitive information away from public eyes, not to stop the work of the committee or the advice that the committee would give Parliament as it relates to public safety. That is a critical distinction to make. All redactions and all screenings would have to be justified in writing both to the committee and to Parliament and would have to be understood as such, as being filters that do not preclude activity or preclude areas of examination but rather make sure that the reporting of those activities is done in the safest way possible to protect our public safety environment.
The other thing that is critically important here is there has been criticism that it would not be a parliamentary committee but rather a committee of parliamentarians. The language there might sound very familiar, just a set of words reordered, but a committee of parliamentarians means that it would include the Senate.
Again, I think this is a critical piece of evolution. It would allow us to sit down with both chambers, both of which have carriage of public safety in this country, to make sure that real information and sensitive information are delivered in real time to both bodies, so that both bodies can make quick decisions when quick decisions are needed. What we know from the ever-evolving situation globally and internally in this country is that quick decisions are part of what of what we have to accommodate as we move through accountability practices in this country.
The other issue which I think is critically important is that the government would not have a majority on this committee. Let that be said again. It would be a committee of parliamentarians where government would not have a majority. This means that the activities, the advice, the description, and the publication of what is being done is constituted by a majority of parliamentarians who are outside of government, let alone outside of the executive branch. In other words, if the belief of some members of Parliaments is that civil liberties or public safety in the areas of inquiry are being frustrated by the government, they would have the ability, as a majority committee, to make a committee report to that effect and bring public pressure. That is the best form of accountability to bring to bear on the activities of this committee.
The other thing which I think is critically important to understand, as well, is that currently there are silos in which the different security agencies operate, and with the accountability officers for those different security agencies, all 17 to 19, depending on one's view of the configuration of the list, that is not shared in real time. The information among those organizations is shared in real time, but the accountability is not conducted in a coordinated, overreaching, and overarching method. What this committee would achieve is to bring that together under one accountability model. It would measure the relationships between these two organizations, or several different organizations, and make sure that the information that is being shared, the practices that are being pursued, the behaviour of these agencies, are consistent across all of government as we move to protect both civil liberties and the public's right to public safety.
These issues allow us to broaden the access of parliamentarians to security, and sensitive information and sensitive operations. Instead of just being housed inside the executive branch now, it is housed inside the Parliament of Canada. That, again, is a critically important development. It is one that fulfills our mandate and our promise to the electorate that sent us here to make sure that we strengthen, broaden, and engage all of Parliament as we try to make sure that public safety in this country is done with the most accurate, up-to-date, and effective civilian oversight possible. That is a principle that this party will not step back on.
I would like to also reference a couple of other components of the bill which I think are critically important. The notion that this is somehow not fulfilling our mandate, I think is just wrong. In fact, if we listen to the experts who were critical of the previous government's approaches to public safety, what we hear is that they are in accordance with us.
Craig Forcese said, “this will be a stronger body than the UK and Australian equivalents. [It will be] a dramatic change for Canadian national security accountability. [It's] a good bill.” He gives it a high pass.
The criticism of Bill largely emanated from this individual, and now the support is coming from this individual. Clearly, we have moved the yardsticks.
I am going to leave members with one last thought. I think this is a critical thought, as well.
There is a notion somehow, and I certainly saw it in Bill when I was here in the previous term, that governments can land on public safety issues or civil rights issues perfectly, every time that they present legislation. That is a fallacy. In fact, I would say that is an arrogance.
Public safety and civil rights in particular are iterative processes. We move forward carefully. We move forward prudently. We expand rights. We protect rights simultaneously as best we can. However, we never get it right. Circumstances change. The behaviour of institutions changes. Individual officers within these organizations behave in particular ways.
It is a constant moving target that we are trying to deal with here, both the need to protect Canada's public safety and the need to protect charter rights. This process, as we establish this committee, I can guarantee members will evolve over time. It must evolve over time, because the circumstances we are dealing with are evolving over time. To do it in a way that is responsible is to do it in a way that is open and parliamentary and accountable to this body, and not to the executive branch.
That is exactly what this legislation would achieve. It would allow us to make significant steps forward at this time. I assure members that as long as I am sitting in this House, the conversation around good legislation, strong ideas, and intelligent criticism that emerges around how we balance the complexities of the security environment which we live in, how we make sure that civil liberties are protected as we protect public safety, needs to be sustained.
I take the ideas that frame that endeavour and that work of this Parliament very seriously. I think members have seen over the last couple of days that when strong ideas and intelligent criticism are presented on the floor of this Parliament, all parliamentarians have the ability to say, “That's a good idea. Let's support that, and let's move that into law and move that forward to protect Canadians or develop Canadians rights.”
That is what this bill would do. It is in the spirit of that kind of thinking, that kind of discipline around public safety and civil rights. That is the hallmark of the Liberal Party and this government. I am proud to support this bill because it continues that reputation.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill as reported to the House of Commons by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
We have been discussing the need for such a committee of parliamentarians for more than a decade, so this is an idea whose time has come. We lost 10 years. In fact, Canada has some catching up to do with our closest allies.
We, along with Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have an intelligence-sharing arrangement that dates back to the early days of the Cold War. Our alliance is known as the “Five Eyes”.
Every other member of the “Five Eyes” alliance has a body of legislators with special access to classified information relating to national security and intelligence matters. Further, I submit that the broad scope of the Canadian committee’s mandate will make it an even stronger body than many equivalents elsewhere.
I would like to explain to the House how the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP, as proposed in Bill , will compare to frameworks that our allies have established to provide parliamentary oversight of security and intelligence activities.
I will limit my comparison to models in the other Westminster parliamentary tradition in the Five Eyes, namely Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, or PJCIS, and the U.K. and New Zealand, which have each established an Intelligence and Security Committee, known respectively as ISC-UK and ISC-NZ.
There are several similarities between the proposed Canadian committee, called NSICOP, and the parliamentary review committees of those three countries.
The membership of these three committees ranges from 5 to 11 members, appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with opposition parties. We currently have before us a motion from the to increase the size of the NSICOP under Bill from 9 to 11, which will allow for one additional member from each House of Parliament.
I support this amendment, as it provides the additional flexibility to ensure that the NSICOP’s membership reflects a diversity of views within Parliament. Canada’s NSICOP will be similar to our allies' committees in that committee members will be bound to secrecy.
The mandates of our allies’ committees include the authority to examine matters related to the administration, policy, legislation, and expenditures of national security departments and agencies, but they differ markedly in the examination of operations. I will come back to that shortly.
Each country imposes similar restrictions on the public reports of their committees to ensure that no classified information is disclosed.
In the other Westminster systems, as in Canada, the work of the committee is supported by staff that is required to have the appropriate security clearances.
When it comes to access to classified information, the other Westminster democracies also define the scope of that power by legislation. Generally, there are limits on the power to access certain information.
For example, details about sources, methods, and operations, or whether the information was provided by a foreign government may not be disclosed to the committees.
Each of the Westminster countries authorizes the executive branch, namely the minister responsible for the department or agency under review, with powers to withhold sensitive information to ensure that the national interest and security are not harmed.
The standing committee has made some significant changes to this area of Bill . In particular, it deleted almost all of the provisions in clauses 14 and 16 of the bill. This includes provisions that protect important types of information such as the identities of sources and persons in the witness protection program.
I am pleased to see that the government has carefully considered the spirit and intent of the standing committee's changes, and is suggesting a compromise approach. We have before us a motion by the to restore clause 16 and partially restore clause 14.
Under this approach, the national security intelligence committee of parliamentarians would be provided with access to as much information relevant to its mandate as possible, with restrictions applied only where necessary to prevent harm to individuals, ongoing police investigations, or national security.
I believe this is a responsible, balanced approach, and I urge all members to join me in supporting these amendments.
I have, until now, described similarities between what is proposed in Bill and what is already in place among our Five Eyes allies, but the proposed national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians will be different from parliamentary review elsewhere in some significant ways.
The differences among the Five Eyes allies relate to the scope of the committees’ mandates, that is to say, the extent to which each committee can examine various institutions involved in national security. The other three Westminster models limit the jurisdiction of their committee to the main national security agencies. The UK and New Zealand allow for additional agencies or programs to be added, but only if the government agrees.
Bill will give Canada’s committee of parliamentarians a broader mandate. Committee members will be able to examine any national security and intelligence activity conducted by the Government of Canada, regardless of which department or agency is conducting this activity. This will include the main security and intelligence agencies, that is to say, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the other 17 or so other federal organizations that have national security responsibilities, such as the Canadian Border Services Agency.
One of the amendments reported to us by the Standing Committee will make it clear that the committee of parliamentarians' mandate and access to information includes crown corporations. I support this amendment, which is entirely consistent with the committee’s government-wide mandate.
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to the mandate that the committees have over operations, the Five Eyes countries differ considerably in their approaches. The committees in Australia and New Zealand have no mandate to consider operational matters. In the U.K., the committee may review operations, but only if it meets certain conditions, namely, that the Prime Minister has agreed that it is not part of an ongoing operation and that the matter is of significant national interest.
The U.K. committee may only review an ongoing operation if the matter is referred by the British government. Under the bill before us, the Canadian committee would have a broader mandate to review national security and intelligence activities. It would, for example, be able to examine ongoing operations on its own initiative, with the proviso that the minister could stop a review for reasons of national security.
I am pleased to see that the standing committee has strengthened this aspect of the bill by clarifying that operational reviews may only be stopped for national security reasons during the period that the operation in question is ongoing, and that once the operation is complete the parliamentary committee may resume its review. Furthermore, the instances in which this authority is used will be part of the committee’s annual reporting to Parliament, ensuring government accountability in this area.
Another unique feature of this bill is the ability of the committee to engage with the three existing Canadian review bodies that are dedicated to reviewing particular agencies, that is to say, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the Security Intelligence Review Committee for CSIS, and the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. This ensures that the committee’s work can be informed by the work of these highly focused and expert review bodies.
I have outlined the similarities and differences between what is included in Bill and how our allies among the Five Eyes implement similar oversight and review of security and intelligence matters. We have taken some of the best practices from our allies and gone further to establish a strong, accountable, and transparent review of Canada’s security and intelligence community’s activities.
This is truly a made-in-Canada approach to parliamentary review of security and intelligence. Our country may be late in creating a parliamentary review committee, but Canadians will now have a bold and forward-looking framework for this committee of parliamentarians. Establishing the committee underscores our commitment to be more open and transparent and keep our country safe.
I commend the government for engaging with the standing committee in a constructive and thoughtful manner to improve Bill . I urge honourable members to join me in supporting the amendments proposed by the and the passage of this important bill.