Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
He said: Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada has no greater responsibility than keeping Canadians safe. We must fulfill that essential and solemn obligation while at the same time safeguarding Canadian rights and freedoms.
This double objective of protecting Canadians while defending their rights and freedoms was the basis of our commitments regarding national security during the last election, and it informed everything we have done in the area since we have been in government.
We have, for example, created a committee of parliamentarians with unprecedented access to classified information to scrutinize the activities of all national security and intelligence agencies. We have launched the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence to help Canada become a world leader in counter-radicalization.
We have issued new ministerial directions that more clearly prohibit conduct that would result in a substantial risk of torture. Our starting point was the most extensive and inclusive consultations about national security ever undertaken by the Government of Canada. Beginning in the spring of 2016, that effort involved individual stakeholders, round tables, town halls, various renowned experts, studies by parliamentary committees, and a broad solicitation of views online. More than 75,000 submissions were received.
All of this fresh input was supplemented by earlier judicial inquires by Iacobucci, O'Connor, and Major, as well as several parliamentary proposals, certain court judgments, and reports from existing national security review bodies. It all helped to shape the legislation before us today, Bill C-59, the national security act of 2017.
The measures in this bill cover three core themes, enhancing accountability and transparency, correcting problematic elements from the former Bill C-51, and updating our national security laws to ensure that our agencies can keep pace with evolving threats.
One of the major advances in this legislation is the creation of the national security and intelligence review agency. This new body, which has been dubbed by some as a "super SIRC", will be mandated to review any activity carried out by any government department that relates to national security and intelligence, as well as any matters referred to it by the government. It will be able to investigate public complaints. It will specifically replace the existing review bodies for CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment, but it will also be authorized to examine security and intelligence activities throughout the government, including the Canada Border Services Agency.
In this day and age, security operations regularly involve multiple departments and agencies. Therefore, effective accountability must not be limited to the silo of one particular institution. Rather, it must follow the trail wherever it leads. It must provide for comprehensive analysis and integrated findings and recommendations. That is exactly what Canadians will get from this new review agency.
Bill C-59 also creates the brand new position of the intelligence commissioner, whose role will be to oversee and approve, or not approve, certain intelligence activities by CSIS and the CSE in advance. The intelligence commissioner will be a retired or supernumerary superior court judge whose decisions will be binding. In other words, if he or she says that a particular proposed operation is unreasonable or inappropriate, it will simply not proceed.
Taken together, the new comprehensive review agency, the intelligence commissioner, and the new committee of parliamentarians will give Canada accountability mechanisms of unprecedented scope and depth. This is something that Canadians have been calling for, and those calls intensified when the former Bill C-51 was introduced. We heard them loud and clear during our consultations, and we are now putting these accountability measures into place.
BillC-59 also brings clarity and rigour to internal government information sharing under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, or SCISA. This is the law that allows government institutions to share information with each other in respect of activities that undermine the security of Canada. Among other things, Bill C-59 would change the name of the law, in English, to the security of Canada information disclosure act, to be clear that we are talking only about the disclosure of existing information, not the collection of anything new. Government institutions will now be required to keep specific records of all disclosures made under the act, and to provide these records to the new review agency.
Importantly, Bill C-59 clarifies the definition of activities “that undermine the security of Canada”. For example, it is explicit in stating that advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression are not included. The new legislation would also provide more precision in the definition of “terrorist propaganda”, in line with the well-known criminal offence of counselling.
The paramountcy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an overriding principle in Bill C-59. That is perhaps most evident in the updates that we are proposing to the CSIS Act. This is the law that created CSIS back in 1984, and it has not been modernized in any meaningful way since then.
The former Bill C-51 empowered CSIS to engage in measures to reduce threats to the security of Canada without clearly defining what those measures could and could not include. We are now creating a specific closed list of measures that CSIS will have the authority to take to deal with threats. If any such activity might limit a charter right, CSIS will have to go before a judge. The activity can only be allowed if the judge is satisfied that it is compliant with the charter.
Another concern we heard during the consultations and more generally has been about the no-fly list, especially the problem of false positives, which affects people whose names are similar to listed individuals. This is due to long-standing design flaws in the way that the no-fly list was first created many years ago. Those flaws require legislative, regulatory, and technological changes to fix them.
Bill C-59 includes the necessary legislative changes and paves the way for the others that will be necessary. In essence, Canada's no-fly list currently piggybacks onto the airlines' computer systems, which means that the government does not control the fields to be included nor the way that the whole system works. This bill would give us the authority we need to allow the government, instead of airlines, to screen passenger information against the no-fly list. The people who have been affected by this, especially those with children, feel frustrated and stigmatized by their no-fly problems. That is entirely understandable, and that is why we are working so hard to get this fixed. Passing Bill C-59 is a necessary step toward that end.
There is much more in Bill C-59 than I could possibly deal with in these 10 minutes, but in keeping with the open and inclusive approach that we have taken with this legislation since before it was even drafted, we are sending it to committee before second reading to ensure that the examination of the bill is as thorough as possible.
Professor Craig Forcese, a respected expert in national security law from the University of Ottawa, said Bill C-59 “appears to be more carefully crafted than anything we've seen in this area in a long time..”. I appreciate that, but there is still more work to be done.
I certainly hope to hear ideas and advice from colleagues in the House. We are open to constructive suggestions as we work together to ensure that Canada's national security framework is as strong and effective as it can possibly be.