[Member spoke in Cree]
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to this historic piece of legislation. The people of Winnipeg Centre were very concerned before the last election in 2015 about the manoeuvres of the Harper government with Bill C-51 and all of the things that it did to undermine our national security. We are committed to keeping Canadians safe while safeguarding rights and freedoms. After the largest and most transparent public consultation process on national security in our country's history—there were 58,933 online submissions, 17,862 email submissions, and more than 20 in-person events—I am very proud to see that our government has introduced this national security act in 2017 to undo and repair the damage done by the Harper Conservatives with Bill C-51.
I would like to thank the committee for its diligence in bringing forth amendments recommended by stakeholders, which have truly strengthened this bill. A collaborative approach was certainly our major intent when the government took the rare step of referring the bill to committee prior to second reading. I believe we need to thank the Privacy Commissioner, the chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and individuals like Professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach for their helpful testimony before the committee, which helped to ensure that the bill is the best and as sound as it could be.
Indeed, it is thanks to these many months of close scrutiny that we now have a new component of the bill, the avoiding complicity and mistreatment by foreign entities act. To be clear on this point, Canada unequivocally condemns in the strongest possible terms the torture or other mistreatment of any individual by anyone for any purpose. It is contrary to the charter, the Criminal Code, and Canada's international treaty obligations, and Canadians will never condone it. As members know, directions were issued to clarify decisions on the exchange of information with a foreign entity that, with public safety as the objective, could have the unintended consequence of Canada's contributing to mistreatment. As a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, I feel it should always be foremost in our mind that these things can sometimes occur. Thanks to the committee's work on this bill, the new amendment would enshrine in law a requirement that directions be issued on these matters. They would be public, they would be reported on annually, and they would strengthen transparency and accountability.
I would also like to thank the committee and all those who testified for their important scrutiny of the privacy-related aspects of Bill C-59, particularly as they relates to the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. Importantly, amendments would now cause institutions receiving information under the information sharing act to destroy or return any personal information received that does not meet the threshold of necessity. These are both welcome changes.
As a result of many months of close scrutiny, we have legislation that will ensure that privacy interests are upheld, clarify the powers of our security agencies, and further strengthen transparency and accountability beyond our initial proposals. This is important. It does not mean that legislation is forced upon people, but that we can actually ensure that legislation is strengthened through the work of this House in a collaborative process, which is a significant change from four years ago. These proposals, of course, also reflect the tens of thousands of views we heard from the remarkable engagements we had with Canadians from coast to coast to coast online and in person.
As I have noted, we followed up on our commitment to continue that engagement in Parliament. In sending the bill to committee before second reading, we wanted to ensure that this legislation is truly reflective of the open and transparent process that led to Bill C-59's creation. The bill is stronger because of the more than 40 amendments adopted by committee that reflect the important stakeholder feedback.
As we begin second reading, allow me to underline some of the bill's key proposals. Bill C-59 would strengthen accountability through the creation of a new comprehensive national review body, the national security intelligence review agency. This is a historic change for Canada. For the very first time, it would enable comprehensive and integrated scrutiny of all national security and intelligence activities across government, a whole-of-government approach. I should note that Justice O'Connor can be thanked for the first detailed blueprint of such a review system nearly a decade ago, and that this recommendation has been echoed by Senate committees and experts alike.
The government has taken these commitments even further. The creation of a new agency would mean ending a siloed approach to national security review through a single arm's-length body with a government-wide mandate. It would complement the work of the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, the multi-party review committee with unprecedented access to information that would put us in line with our Five Eyes partners and what other nations do around the world.
Through our new measures, Canadians will have confidence that Canada's national security agencies are complying with the law and that their actions are reasonable and necessary. The establishment of an intelligence commissioner would further build on that public confidence. The commissioner would be a new, independent authority helping to ensure that the powers of the security intelligence community are used appropriately and with care.
I was pleased to hear that the committee passed an amendment that would require the commissioner to publish an annual report that would describe his or her activities and include helpful statistics. Indeed, all of these measures complement other significant new supports that would promote Canadians' understanding of the government's national security activities.
These include adopting a national security transparency commitment across government to enable easier access to information on national security, with implementation to be informed by a new advisory group on transparency. Transparency and accountability are crucial for well-informed public debate, and we need them now after a decade of darkness under the Conservatives. Indeed, they function as a check on the power of the executive branch. As members of the legislative branch, it is our job to hold the executive branch to account. They also empower Canadians to hold their government to account.
I am confident the proposals that have been introduced in the form of Bill C-59 would change the public narrative on national security and place Canadians where they should be in the conversation, at its very heart, at its very centre, at the heart of Canada, like Winnipeg-Centre is the heart of Canada.
We also heard loud and clear that keeping Canadians safe must not come at the expense of our rights and freedoms, and that previous efforts to modernize our security framework fell short in that regard. Indeed, Canadians told us they place great value in our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms. These include the right to peaceful protest, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. They also told us that there is no place for vague language when it comes to the powers of our security bodies or the definitions that guide their actions.
Once again, because we took the time to listen to Canadians in the largest public safety consultations ever held in Canadian history, and talked to stakeholders and to parliamentarians, we can now act faithfully based on the input we received. First, we all understand that bodies like CSIS take measures to reduce national security threats to Canada. Our proposals clarify the regime under which CSIS undertakes these measures, they better define its scope, and they add a range of new safeguards that will ensure that CSIS's actions comply with our charter rights.
However, to be clear, the amendments in Bill C-59 have not diluted the authority CSIS would have to act, but rather have clarified that authority. For example, the bill would ensure that CSIS has the ability to query a dataset in certain exigent circumstances, such as when lives or national security are at stake. Even then, there are balances in place in the bill that would mean that these authorities would require the advance approval of the intelligence commissioner.
The amendments by the committee would also strengthen key definitions. For example, they would clarify terms like “terrorist propaganda” and key activities like “digital intelligence collection”. All of these changes are long overdue and are of critical importance to this country.
National security matters to Canadians. We measure our society by our ability to live free of fear, day after day, with opportunities to thrive guided by the principles of openness, equality, and fairness for all. However, Canadians are not naive about the context in which we find ourselves today in a changing environment and a changing threat landscape.
It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to be vigilant, proactive, and thorough in making sure that our national security framework is working for all Canadians. That means making sure that the agencies protecting us have the resources and powers they need to do so. It also means making sure that we listen to Canadians, and making them a partner in our society and security. It also means building on the values that help to make our country safe, rather than taking away from them, and understanding that a free and open society enhances our collective resilience.
On all fronts, Bill C-59 is not just a step in the right direction, but a giant leap forward for Canada. I proudly stand behind this legislation. Once again, I would like to thank all members of the committee who have done important work.
[Member spoke in Cree]