Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, committee members. Amnesty International certainly welcomes this opportunity to appear before you in the course of your review of Bill C-59. I'd like you to know at the outset that I'm here on behalf of both the English and francophone branch of Amnesty International Canada, and thus on behalf of our 400,000 supporters across the country.
Amnesty International has a long history of frequent appearances before parliamentary committees dealing with national security matters, be that studies of proposed legislation or reviews of existing legislation. That's not because we're national security experts. Our expertise, of course, lies in human rights. Our interest in Bill C-59, therefore, comes directly from our mandate to press governments to uphold their international human rights obligations. Documenting and responding to human rights violations arising in a national security context and pressing governments to amend national security laws, policies, and practices to conform to international human rights obligations have long featured prominently in Amnesty International's research and campaigning around the world, long predating September 11.
National security is often blatantly used as an excuse for human rights violations, clearly intended simply to punish and persecute political opponents or members of religious and ethnic minorities. National security operations have frequently proceeded with total disregard for obvious human rights consequences, leading to such serious human rights violations as torture, disappearances, and unlawful detention. Without adequate safeguards and restrictions, overly broad national security activities harm individuals and communities who pose no security threat at all. In all of these instances, the impact is frequently felt in a disproportionate and discriminatory manner by particular religious, ethnic, and racial communities, adding yet another human rights concern.
These concerns are by no means limited to other parts of the world. Over the past 15 years, Amnesty International has taken up numerous cases involving national security-related human rights violations related to the actions of Canadian law enforcement and national security agencies. These concerns have been so serious as to be the subject of two separate judicial inquiries, numerous Supreme Court and Federal Court rulings, and several significant apologies and financial settlements totalling well over $50 million to a number of Canadian citizens and other individuals whose rights were gravely violated because of the actions of Canadian agencies. I think of Maher Arar, Benamar Benatta, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Omar Khadr. This is why we bring our human rights analysis to legislation such as Bill C-59—to ensure that provisions provide the greatest possible safeguards against human rights violations of this nature.
In commenting on the bill, I will touch briefly on five areas: first, the need for a stronger human rights anchor in the bill; second, the bill's national security review provisions; third, positive changes in Bill C-59; fourth, concerns that remain; and fifth, issues of concern that have not been addressed in the bill.
The first area is the need for a national security approach anchored in a commitment to human rights. In the review that preceded Bill C-59, we urged the government to use the opportunity of the present reform to adopt a clear human rights basis for Canada's national security framework. That is an approach that is not only of benefit, evidently, for human rights, but truly lays the ground for more inclusive, durable, and sustainable security as well. Currently, other than the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, none of Canada's national security legislation specifically refers to or incorporates Canada's binding international human rights obligations.
We recommended that those laws be amended to include provisions requiring legislation to be interpreted and applied in a manner that complies with international human rights norms. That was not taken up in Bill C-59 except for one very limited reference to the convention against torture. This is important in that it sends a strong message of the centrality of human rights in Canada's approach to national security. It is also of real benefit when it comes to upholding human rights in national security-related court proceedings.
Our first recommendation, therefore, remains to amend Bill C-59 to include a provision requiring all national security-related laws to be interpreted in conformity with Canada's international human rights obligations.
Second, we strongly welcome and support the provisions in part 1 of Bill C-59 creating the national security and intelligence review agency. Amnesty International has been calling for the creation of a comprehensive and integrated review agency of this nature since the time of our submissions to the Arar inquiry in 2005. This has been one of the longest-standing and most serious gaps in Canada's national security architecture. We do have three associated recommendations.
First, in keeping with the earlier recommendation I just made, the mandate of the review agency should be amended to ensure that the activities of security and intelligence agencies will be reviewed specifically to ensure conformity to Canada's international human rights obligations.
Second, the review agency must have personnel and resources commensurate with what will be a significant workload. We endorse the recommendation made by Professor Kent Roach that the provision allowing for a chair and additional commissioners numbering between three and six is inadequate, and would suggest that the number of additional commissioners be raised to between five and eight.
Third, we continue to be concerned about the review specifically of the Canada Border Services Agency. Unlike many of the agencies that will be reviewed by the new agency, the CBSA does not have its own stand-alone independent review body. The new review agency will have the power to review CBSA's national security and intelligence-related activities, but there still is no other independent agency reviewing the entirety of CBSA's activities, despite the growing number of cases where the need for such review is urgently evident, including deaths in immigration custody. This imbalance will inevitably pose awkwardness for the review agency's review of CBSA, and it underscores how crucial it is for the government to move rapidly to institute full, independent review of CBSA.
We'd like to highlight improvements. First, our concerns about the overly broad criminal offence in BillC-51 of advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general have been addressed by the proposed revisions to section 83.221 of the Criminal Code, which would instead criminalize the act of counselling another person to commit a terrorism offence, which was already a criminal offence essentially.
Second, the threat reduction powers in BillC-51, which anticipated action by CSIS that could have violated a range of human rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and under international law have been significantly improved. However, we think it needs to go further, and there needs to be specific prohibition of the fact that CSIS will not involve threat reduction of any kind that will violate the charter or violate international human rights obligations. We also welcome the changes made to preventive detention, but have some recommendations as to how that can be improved.
We remain concerned about the Secure Air Travel Act provisions, which we do not think address the many serious challenges that people face with the application of the no-fly list. Much more fundamental reforms are needed, including a commitment to establishing a robust redress system that will eliminate false positives, and significant enhancements to listing and appeal provisions to meet standards of fairness.
Because I know my time is limited, let me end with some provisions that remain unaddressed in the legislation.
One of the most explicit contraventions of international human rights in Canadian national security law, going back over 20 decades now, is the provision in immigration legislation allowing individuals in undefined exceptional circumstances to be deported to a country where they would face a serious risk of torture. It's a direct violation of the UN convention against torture. UN human rights bodies have repeatedly called for this to be addressed. Bill C-59 passed on the opportunity to do so. We would recommend that be taken up.
Finally, Bill C-59 also fails to make needed reforms to the approach taken to national security in immigration proceedings. There were very serious concerns about BillC-51's deepening unfairness of the immigration security certificate process, for instance, withholding certain categories of evidence from special advocates.
There needs to be a significant rethinking and reconsideration of immigration security certificate proceedings, rolling back those changes that were made in BillC-51, and addressing still the other areas of concern with respect to the fairness of that process.