Madam Speaker, for Canadians watching, it is not appropriate for a member of Parliament to refer to the presence or absence of a member in the House, and I certainly did not mention an individual member at all. Most of the Liberals were not here, so I certainly did not highlight anyone specifically.
Because Bill C-59 is one of the many omnibus bills we have seen in this Parliament, I am going to speak to three aspects of this bill. I need to remind Canadians and my friend, the deputy House leader of the Liberal Party, that the Liberals promised Canadians that they would never use omnibus legislation in this Parliament. I have lost count of the number of omnibus pieces of legislation, which my friend, the Liberal MP from Winnipeg, once called an assault on democracy. They have been regularly assaulting this democracy in this Parliament, and Bill C-59 is an example, because it is comprehensive. It would affect the Criminal Code, the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. There are multiple pieces of legislation referenced and amended. It is very comprehensive.
The Conservatives have tried to work with the government on it. There are two central concerns I have with Bill C-59, which is why I and the Conservatives cannot support it, despite the good work by opposition members and despite the good work by the Senate, which agrees with much of what I am going to say.
I am going to talk about two critical pieces where the government is falling short, from a public safety standpoint, with Bill C-59. Then I am going to talk about the great advocacy work of No Fly List Kids and people like Sulemaan Ahmed and the families that have been some of the most sincere, thoughtful and creative advocates I have seen in my six years in Parliament trying to make public policy better. I am going to make a commitment to them right at the start of this speech. Conservatives will fix the problems with the no-fly list. We will make sure that there is a redress system to have false positives addressed, and we will do that within the first two years of government. We will have a process to get it fixed.
The government throws it into an omnibus bill and claims that it is going to cost far more than it is. We need a redress system, much like the one in the United States.
When the no-fly list was created under the Conservative government, and I am not suggesting that it was not under the Conservative government, there was no idea that there would be so many false positives. Families impacted by that, many families who have children sharing a name with someone who might be on a no-fly list, have no way to distinguish that or redress that, and that is unfair. It has affected many families from across the country.
I want to thank the no-fly list kids and their families and make that personal pledge to them. I have mentioned it many times in the House and in committee. If we win the election in the fall, which we are planning to, to get Canada back on track, we will make a commitment to fix that very quickly, faster than the government that still has not fixed the Phoenix pay system in the final months of its time in government.
Here are the substantive measures we cannot support in Bill C-59. The no-fly list is part of this large omnibus bill.
The reason Conservatives cannot support it are central to public safety and security. I say this as a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, as a former minister of the Crown and as a former shadow minister for public safety. I have looked at this bill and the issues involved in great detail.
The first issue is the threat disruption threshold. The government's change is a risk to public safety. I never overstate risks. There is not a bogeyman around every corner. However, when we change the threshold for peace officers, law enforcement and our justice system from “likely to prevent” a terrorist act to “necessary to prevent” the commission of such an act, that is a threshold that will perplex police forces across this country and make it hard for them to detain risks to public safety and security.
Why is that critical? It is because, when we introduced a change to this power, following the attack on Parliament and following the attack and death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, the Prime Minister, who was the member for Papineau and third party leader in the last Parliament, praised this preventative measure in that Parliament. In fact, he said that he “welcome[s] the measures [on] preventative arrest” that were contained in the bill. However, the Liberals are changing it, and law enforcement and security officials are telling them not to change it.
I would invite Liberal members who were not here in the last Parliament to read the committee transcripts from the last Parliament and the testimony from Patrice Vincent's sister. He was a warrant officer serving with distinction in Quebec who was run down and killed by a radicalized Canadian because of the uniform he wore. That is it. He was targeted. Police knew that the young man from Quebec was a risk, but they did not feel they had an evidentiary burden to make a preventative arrest to prevent what they thought might be the commission of a terrorist offence.
By making it “necessary to prevent”, the bill sets a high standard. As a lawyer, I worry about that standard. “Likely” does not mean that this power would allow law enforcement to willy-nilly preventatively arrest people. “Likely to prevent” the commission of an offence is an appropriate threshold. Changing this is a very poor and, quite frankly, dangerous public policy. Therefore, we have asked for that amendment, as have many Canadians and many law enforcement experts.
We, in the Conservative caucus, trust law enforcement officers. They have a difficult job to do whenever someone is caught on the way to committing an offence, as we saw in southwestern Ontario with Mr. Driver. Questions are asked by law enforcement. Look at how close we were. We have relied now two or three times in the last few years on FBI information to stop threats in our country. Therefore, this is a serious gap in Bill C-59.
The second issue is the “counselling commission of terrorism” element of the bill and the criminal standard of the offence under our Criminal Code. Many groups appeared before committee in this Parliament saying that we cannot have ambiguity on the counselling the commission of terrorism issue in the bill. The old standard was “knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism”. Therefore, there is still an evidentiary threshold that is required. This is not some draconian power that people are suggesting. There is a threshold required. Making the threshold too high or too ambiguous is a risk, and that is unnecessary. In fact, the entire Senate agrees with our position on this. “Counselling” is way too broad and unclear.
In an age when a lot of threats are now online, advocating, pushing, promoting should be something for the commission of violence on another, so that we can avoid the next attack on the Hill, so that we can avoid the next horrible attack like the one we saw at the mosque in Quebec City. That horrendous killer went into the mosque, and if law enforcement had seen that he was knowingly advocating or promoting violence against an identifiable group, that would have been enough. In fact, combined with my last point, it would have been “likely to prevent”. That could have stopped someone in that circumstance.
All communities, particularly religious communities like the Muslim and Jewish communities that face threats and see horrific things online, should not want these aspects of Bill C-59 to pass, and that is what the Conservatives have consistently been advocating in the interest of public safety, in the interest of all Canadians. The Senate agrees on the issue of counselling the commission of an offence. Most advocacy groups agree that it is too ambiguous. In a time when we are seeing these threats emerge online, we are seeing people radicalized online.
In the last Parliament, I remember one of my early votes was to make travelling abroad for training with a terrorist organization a crime under the Criminal Code. Now, with social media, technology and YouTube, people do not need to travel. They can be radicalized, promote hate and violence and actually advocate for violence against an identifiable group online.
We have to give law enforcement the tools of preventative arrest and we have to criminalize some of that terror activity at its source, trusting our law enforcement and our courts. Preventative arrest is not trial and conviction. It is law enforcement, in conjunction often with the Crown, saying that it has ascertained there is a serious risk to public safety, to Canadian citizens, to people living in Canada, to people visiting Canada, and that preventative arrest will likely prevent it. That is a reasonable standard. That was the old standard.
Changing that to arresting the person preventatively to prevent this or to stop it is too high a threshold. That could mean law enforcement would spend three more weeks looking into the suspect. In the case of Patrice Vincent, we heard that in committee in particular. I would invite Canadians to look at the committee transcripts. I will tweet his sister's testimony out later. Law enforcement knew that gentleman in Quebec. I cannot remember his name right now. He was a young Québécois who had been racialized and law enforcement knew he was a risk.
Those are the two elements why the Conservatives cannot support Bill C-59. It is bad for public safety and security. There are other elements in the bill we like. However, an omnibus bill, as my friend from Winnipeg used to say, is an assault on democracy. I have tried in my speech to commit to two key things on why the legislation is flawed.
I cannot understate enough how impressed I am by the thoughtful and informed advocacy of the no-fly list kids. I know members on all sides of the House have heard from these people and have seen their commentary.
My friend Sulemaan will laugh when he hears I am promoting going to a Montreal Canadiens game, as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but I am. When young people are prevented from going to a hockey game of the Montreal Canadiens because they share a name with someone who is a threat, not only is it unfair to them, it shows that our no-fly list is full of garbage. In public safety and security that is not enough. If someone has to sort through dozens, hundreds and thousands of false positives, is there really security at all?
This is a commitment from my leader and our caucus. We want to thank the no-fly list group and their families for the advocacy they have done with all the members of the House and commit to them. We are the party that delivers. We are not the hashtag party. We are not the photo ops party. We are the party that will deliver. We give our commitment that this will be a priority early in our government.
I can see a resolution. I have often said that this is not as complex as the minister of public safety has suggested. I do not even believe it is an accurate statement that it will cost $80 million to fix it.
The U.S. has a redress list. This is about data. This is about ensuring we constantly review the no-fly list . If people who are not threats are crowding out the one or two who may be, the system is not working. I think all Canadians will agree with our pledge to commit that.
I praised the government when it finally addressed the issue, after listening to the families of the no-fly list kids. However, by putting it into an omnibus bill, it prevents us from addressing it immediately. I am not suggesting bad faith on the part of the government. I think it listened to the advocacy and found this was the most appropriate bill to put it into. However, I do not think it even requires legislation. It could have been done through a ministerial directive. Most of the entries on the no-fly list are known to be false positives.
I remember when retired Senator David Smith was on the list. He was a prominent Liberal senator, or whatever those types of senators are called these days, Liberal or independent. I am not sure. How many David Smiths would there be in Canada? There would be roughly a thousand, so the list is garbage.
Then we saw that a number of young Canadians were on the list because they shared common names in certain communities. How do the hundreds of people with the same name but no biometric information redress that? How can we get the newborn babies off that list? The minister could fix that under his or her own authority. If that had been done, as I said at the time, there would have been full support for the government.
I acknowledge that when we brought this measure in, even prior to my time in Parliament we did not anticipate this false positive issue. I think we have much to learn from the redress system in the U.S., because if there are problems with their no-fly list there, we could avoid some of those pitfalls and make ours world class. That is a commitment we want to make as part of the debate on Bill C-59.
I will go on to say that we generally support other aspects of the bill, those related to security and intelligence oversight, and we have been trying to participate in that work. At various times during our time in government, we talked about a super SIRC and more coordination and oversight with respect to the agencies that collect data. However, one challenge that was faced in minority parliaments was that it was very hard to set up a committee of parliamentarians that would have been devoid of politics. So far, from what I have seen from that committee, although we have not had much in the way of reports from it, it does not seem that politics have been impacting the process. That is a good thing that has come out of this.
There are elements of Bill C-59 that we support. However, when they are included in an omnibus bill, we have to weigh the elements we support on the intelligence side, such as the redress system for the no-fly list, against the elements we do not support. During my speech, I tried to outline the two very serious ones. I cannot underscore enough the fact that preventive arrest is a rare power provided to law enforcement, but it is there because we live in a dangerous and uncertain world. Many of us will remember the day when Nathan Cirillo was killed and the gunman came into the old building, and Patrice Vincent, and the shooting in the mosque in Quebec City, and the Aaron Driver case, when law enforcement stopped this person in southwestern Ontario when he was on his way to commit an offence. We cannot set the burden so high for law enforcement officers that they know there is a risk but are debating for weeks on whether preventive arrest will stop that risk from harming Canadians.
One of our most fundamental duties as parliamentarians is to provide a safe, secure, rules-based system that respects diversity and human rights. Law enforcement officers have a tough job to do, so the last thing we can do, as this Parliament wraps up, is support a bill that will make their job harder.