Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech.
On June 20, 2017, almost a year ago to the day, the minister introduced Bill C-59 in the House. Shortly after that, he said that, instead of bringing it back for second reading, it would be sent straight to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security so the committee could strengthen and improve it. Opposition members thought that was fantastic. We thought there would be no need for political games for once. Since this bill is about national security, we thought we could work together to ensure that Bill C-59 works for Canadians. When it comes to security, there is no room for partisanship.
Unfortunately, the opposition soon realized that it was indeed a political game. The work we were asked to do was essentially pointless. I will have more to say about that later.
The government introduced Bill C-71, the firearms bill, in much the same way. It said it would sever the gun-crime connection, but this bill does not even go there. The government is targeting hunters and sport shooters, but that is another story.
Getting back to Bill C-59, we were invited to propose amendments. We worked very hard. We got a lot of work done in just under nine months. We really took the time to go through this 250-page omnibus bill. We Conservatives proposed 45 specific amendments that we thought were important to improve Bill C-59, as the minister had asked us to do. In the end, none of our amendments were accepted by the committee or the government. Once again, we were asked to do a certain job, but then our work was dismissed, even though everything we proposed made a lot of sense.
The problem with Bill C-59, as far as we are concerned, is that it limits the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's ability to reduce terrorist threats. It also limits the ability of government departments to share data among themselves to protect national security. It removes the offence of advocating and promoting terrorist offences in general. Finally, it raises the threshold for obtaining a terrorism peace bond and recognizance with conditions. One thing has been clear to us from the beginning. Changing just two words in a 250-page document can sometimes make all the difference. What we found is that it will be harder for everyone to step in and address a threat.
The minister does indeed have a lot of experience. I think he has good intentions and truly wants this to work, but there is a prime minister above him who has a completely different vision and approach. Here we are, caught in a bind, with changes to our National Security Act that ultimately do nothing to enhance our security.
Our allies around the world, especially those in Europe, have suffered attacks. Bill C-51 was introduced in 2014, in response to the attacks carried out here, in Canada. Right now, we do not see any measures that would prevent someone from returning to the Islamic State. This is a problem. Our act is still in force, and we are having a hard time dealing with Abu Huzaifa, in Toronto. The government is looking for ways to arrest him—if that is what it truly wants to do—and now it is going to pass a law that will make things even harder for our security services. We are having a hard time with this.
Then there is the whole issue of radicalization. Instead of cracking down on it, the government is trying to put up barriers to preventing it. The funny thing is that at the time, when they were in the opposition, the current Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Prime Minister both voted with the government in favour of Bill C-51. There was a lot of political manoeuvring, and during the campaign, the Liberals said that they would address Bill C-51, a bill they had supported. At the time, it was good, effective counter-terrorism legislation. However, the Liberals listened to lobby groups and said during the campaign that they would amend it.
I understand the world of politics, being a part of it. However, there are certain issues on which we should set politics aside in the interest of national security. Our allies, the Five Eyes countries are working to enhance their security and to be more effective.
The message we want to get across is that adding more red tape to our structures makes them less operationally effective. I have a really hard time with that.
Let me share some examples of amendments we proposed to Bill C-59. We proposed an amendment requiring the minister to table in Parliament a clear description of the way the various organizations would work together, namely, the NSIC, CSE, CSIS, the new committee of parliamentarians, as well as the powers and duties of the minister.
In our meetings with experts, we noticed that people had a hard time understanding who does what and who speaks to whom. We therefore drafted an amendment that called on the minister to provide a breakdown of the duties that would be clear to everyone. The answer was no. The 45 amendments we are talking about were not all ideological in nature, but rather down to earth. The amendments were rejected.
It was the Conservative government that introduced Bill C-51 when it was in office. Before the bill was passed, the mandate of CSIS prevented it from engaging in any disruption activities. For example, CSIS could not approach the parents of a radicalized youth and encourage them to dissuade their child from travelling to a war zone or conducting attacks here in Canada. After Bill C-51 was passed, CSIS was able to engage in some threat disruption activities without a warrant and in others with a warrant. Threat disruption refers to efforts to stop terrorist attacks while they are still in the planning stages.
Threat disruption activities not requiring a warrant are understood to be any activities that are not contrary to Canadian laws. Threat disruption activities requiring a warrant currently include any activity that would infringe on an individual's privacy or other rights and any activity that contravenes Canada's laws. Any threat disruption activities that would cause bodily harm, violate sexual integrity, or obstruct justice are specifically prohibited.
Under Bill C-51, warrants were not required for activities that were not against Canadian law. Bill C-51 was balanced. No one could ask to intervene if it was against the law to do so. When there was justification, that worked, but if a warrant was required, one was applied for.
At present, Bill C-59 limits the threat reduction activities of CSIS to the specific measures listed in the bill. CSIS cannot employ these measures without a warrant. At present CSIS requires a warrant for these actions, which I will describe. First, a warrant is required to amend, remove, replace, destroy, disrupt, or degrade a communication or means of communication. Second, a warrant is also required to modify, remove, replace, destroy, degrade, or provide or interfere with the use or delivery of all or part of something, including files, documents, goods, components, and equipment.
The work was therefore complicated by the privacy objectives of Canadians. Bill C-51 created a privacy problem. Through careful analysis and comparison, it eventually became clear that the work CSIS was requesting was not in fact a privacy intrusion, as was believed. Even the privacy commissioners and witnesses did not analyze the situation the same way we are seeing now.
Bill C-51 made it easier to secure peace bonds in terrorism cases. Before Bill C-51, the legal threshold for police to secure a peace bond was that a person had to fear that another person will commit a terrorism offence.
Under Bill C-51, a peace bond could be issued if there were reasonable grounds to fear that a person might commit a terrorism offence. It is important to note that Bill C-59 maintains the lower of the two thresholds by using “may”. However, Bill C-59 raises the threshold from “is likely” to “is necessary”.
Earlier when I mentioned the two words that changed out of the 250 pages, I was referring to changing “is likely” to “is necessary”. These two words make all the difference for preventing a terrorist activity, in order to secure a peace bond.
It would be very difficult to prove that a peace bond, with certain conditions, is what is needed to prevent an act of terrorism. This would be almost as complex as laying charges under the Criminal Code. What we want, however, is to get information to be able to act quickly to prevent terrorist acts.
We therefore proposed an amendment to the bill calling for a recognizance order to be issued if a peace officer believes that such an order is likely to prevent terrorist activities. The Liberals are proposing replacing the word “likely” with the words “is necessary”. We proposed an amendment to eliminate that part of the bill, but it was refused. That is the main component of Bill C-59 with respect to managing national security.
Bill C-59 has nine parts. My NDP colleague wanted to split the bill, and I thought that was a very good idea, since things often get mixed up in the end. We are debating Bill C-59 here, but some parts are more administrative in nature, while others have to do with young people. Certain aspects need not be considered together. We believe that the administrative parts could have been included in other bills, while the more sensitive parts that really concern national security could have been dealt with publicly and separately.
Finally, the public and the media are listening to us, and Bill C-59 is an omnibus bill with so many elements that we cannot oppose it without also opposing some aspects that we support. For example, we are not against reorganizing the Communications Security Establishment. Some things could be changed, but we are not opposed to that.
We supported many of the bill's elements. On balance, however, it contains some legislation that is too sensitive and that we cannot support because it touches on fundamental issues. In our view, by tinkering with this, security operations will become very bureaucratic and communications will become difficult, despite the fact the the main goal was to simplify things and streamline operations.
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security heard from 36 witnesses, and several of them raised this concern. The people who work in the field every day said that it complicated their lives and that this bill would not simplify things. A huge structure that looks good on paper was put in place, but from an operational point of view, things have not been simplified.
Ultimately, national security is what matters to the government and to the opposition. I would have liked the amendments that we considered important to be accepted. Even some administrative amendments were rejected. We believe that there is a lack of good faith on the part of the government on this file. One year ago, we were asked to work hard and that is what we did. The government did not listen to us and that is very disappointing.