Bill C-17 (Historical)
Public Safety Act, 2002
An Act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
David Collenette Liberal
(This bill did not become law.)
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 5:30 p.m.
Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I must say that I rise with considerable emotion after a comment or intervention like the one by my friend and colleague from Champlain. No bill, no motion, no subject in this House can be debated in this way, when a person has had an experience like that described by my friend and colleague.
Too often here in Ottawa, when we are discussing a bill, even if we want to be close to the public, we sometimes forget the distance that separates us MPs from our fellow citizens. A comment such as the one we have just heard reminds us that all the fine words we pronounce here have repercussions on our communities. The bills on which we vote will one day impact on the people in our communities, in our counties, in our municipalities. If we make poor decisions, they are the ones who will have to bear the brunt of our error, as in the circumstances the hon. member for Champlain has described to us.
We have just had a clear demonstration of that. It is why the Bloc Quebecois is so sensitive to Bill C-17. We have seen concrete examples of why we feel that way, and why we are opposed to the bill. We have wanted to remedy the situation right from the start, in order to make this bill, which started off as Bill C-36, more acceptable.
It is quite ironic that we are dealing with a problem that occurred on September 11, 2001 by discussing it on October 7, 2003. It is as if we were still discussing whether, if those tragic events had occurred here, who would be responsible for cleaning up the mess, the Minister of Industry or the Minister of National Defence.
More than two years after those tragic events, we are trying to remedy the situation through passage of a bill. We are still discussing the advantages of passing a public safety act, which started out as an antiterrorism act.
I will, if I may, give a little historical background on this Bill C-17 we have before us today.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill C-36 was introduced in response to terrorist attacks. Although we supported the idea of an antiterrorism bill—as it was originally called—we believe that this current bill disturbed the desired balance between security and freedom.
The Bloc Quebecois felt that this would not ensure a fair balance between security and freedom. Furthermore, the amendments proposed in committee by the minister are clearly insufficient to restore that balance.
The Bloc Quebecois did not oppose this legislation for the joy of opposing it. We did not block the bill, as we are often accused of doing. On the contrary, we tabled amendments, not to delay it, but to improve it and its implementation.
We had asked, and this is very important, for the bill to include a sunset clause. Something may happen, and perhaps this bill will no longer be needed in the future. There is a start date and an end date. This is not like legislation on the environment or the official languages. The official languages legislation had a sunset clause right from the start, meaning it was adopted one day and the next day it ceased to truly exist. The sun set very fast.
We asked that this bill be reviewed in one year and, second, that there be an end date. And if it needed to be extended, we would have been responsible and extended the bill.
We asked for an automatic review each year and not just every three years, as proposed. The sunset clause and the annual review, instead of every three years, were not significant changes, but rather corrections to bring the bill into line with its stated purpose, which is to protect the public from possible terrorist attacks or from the creation of terrorist groups.
We also found the bill's definition of terrorist acts overly broad.
Moreover, the fact that the attorney general could withhold information by not applying the Access to Information Act was not enough for us.
And there is also the fact that the bill will only be reviewed in three years' time, as I said before, and the fact that the Minister of National Defence would be able to intercept international communications simply by sending a written request to his officials. We also wanted to correct or clarify some other aspects to make the bill more acceptable, as I was saying previously.
Then Bill C-42 was introduced, followed by Bill C-55 and now by Bill C-17. We can see that this bill has evolved. Some of the amendments, some of the Bloc Quebecois' concerns have been heard and we have gained a very significant victory with regard to the controlled access military zones.
The situation was corrected and the designation “controlled access military zones” was taken out of Bill C-42 and of the following bills. If that had not been done, Quebec City for example could have been identified as a controlled access military zone et been subject to the War Measures Act and the Public Safety Act or Antiterrorism Act, and federal laws could have been suspended in these controlled access military zones.
The Bloc Quebecois has made a good presentation with respect to responsibility. Today we can say to everyone that even though we oppose Bill C-17 as it stands, at least we won a victory regarding the controlled access military zones.
But this is a special debate today, discussing a bill like this one that has an impact on people's individual freedom, rights and safety. At the same time, there is time allocation to gag us once again. We could set up a counter and keep track of the number of times they have forced through a time allocation motion.
Today, once again, the government House leader rose in the House to tell us that Bill C-17 is a very important bill. It is a bill on which consultations will be held, but in a very limited time frame. He told the members of Parliament and the message goes out to the population that bulldozer tactics are being used on a bill dealing with every man and woman's individual freedoms. I want to remind the House that it is extremely important and saddening that we are having closure imposed on this bill.
The last aspect of this legislation that particularly concerns us—and we oppose its application—are the powers to be granted to the RCMP. What image is the RCMP projecting today? I should ask, instead, what the Prime Minister and the government are doing to the RCMP's image, by using it for political purposes.
I want to give a few examples. There is Shawinigate, which concerns the golf course and the hotel. Three, four or even five years ago, the RCMP launched an investigation into apparent conflicts of interest. The report on this investigation has disappeared. Groupaction did not make three copies, that is for sure. If they did make three copies, then they lost all three. So, there is still no report, no investigation, and no conclusion to that investigation.
There is also the sponsorship scandal. Paul Coffin was investigated. The report will surely come out. The RCMP may be investigating others, the real big cases like Everest or Groupaction. We do not know and no one will tell us. In addition to this refusal to tell us, the investigation report will never be made public.
I feel it is totally unacceptable for a government to make use of the police for political purposes and thus to tarnish its image, particularly since it wants to give it more powers.
In addition to Shawinigate and the sponsorship scandals, now we have CINAR. They refuse to tell us whether there has been an investigation and whether there was a report. We do not want to know the report's contents, just whether or not it exists. That is all we want to know, and they will not tell us. They are even refusing to tell us whether there was an investigation or not, yet the then deputy prime minister and heritage minister gave us the name and phone number of the lady who was supposedly carrying it out. Today they will not even tell us if there was an investigation.
As for the Radwanski affair, here we have the same thing all over again. Maybe the RCMP will look into it. We will end up with more or less the same result as with the ethics counsellor, which is either nothing at all, or something that is totally useless.
We are therefore opposed to enhanced powers for the RCMP. In principle, we want to improve this bill and to make it acceptable. As it is, however, we will continue our opposition to it.
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague was referring to the events of 1970. He said that he did not want to name names, but there is one name that comes to mind for me. I am thinking of officer Samson who placed a bomb near the residence of former Prime Minister Trudeau. While he did not die, he at least lost the use of one arm.
That is when it was discovered that a good many of the bombs had been planted by the RCMP to try to discredit those who were working for Quebec's sovereignty. That does not mean that FLQ members were being protected, but that there were groups that wanted to be heard.
To show that these groups were reprehensible, for example, the RCMP was asked to steal a Parti Quebecois membership list. That made everyone in Quebec very nervous and I, for one, very nearly lost my life.
In 1970 I was arrested and found myself looking down the barrels of two guns for an hour. I was arrested in Baie d'Urfé. I can report that, when one has done nothing wrong, and sees flashing lights and police officers everywhere, when one is taken for a criminal and has two guns pointed at one for more than an hour, until the error is discovered, giving more power to the police is not the first thing one would consider. I have always promised myself that I would think twice before I did anything of the sort.
After that incident, I told the police officers, “Now, to me you look like the bad guys”. Not all police officers are guilty of such disrespect, but when you have been held the way I was and the way others were in the 1970s, it leaves a scar. As my hon. friend pointed out, some 400 or 500 people were imprisoned for no valid reason, on the pretext of public safety. Give me a break. The only people safer were a few politicians.
Perhaps the politicians were helped to correct their errors, but the RCMP was asked to so something it never should have had to do. In my eyes, police forces in general lost much of their previous credibility. When the hon. member was talking about the 1970s, I was thinking about that event.
After September 11, we were told there was a need for security and I agree. I do not agree with those who commit crimes like the attacks on September 11. Nonetheless, after September 11, we heard some fine speeches from people who had put their finger on the problem.
I remember, after September 11, Tony Blair saying that now we must truly address the unrest in the world. We must ensure that there is more justice and deal with the root causes of what happened on September 11. Since then, those fine speeches have been shelved. The police are being asked to be repressive and to arrest anyone who looks the least bit dangerous.
If we had paid more attention to speeches like the one Tony Blair made the day after the attacks, there would be less fear today. We would not need Bill C-17. We would just have to ensure a little more justice in the world and stop stealing from those who cannot defend themselves. We go on about child poverty, but every day, more children are poor because of our policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
If the bill did not give power to the police, but were used to ensure justice in the world, then all of my colleagues and I would vote for it. However, we will not vote for a bill such as Bill C-17.
Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC
Mr. Speaker, when I spoke to Bill C-17 earlier, I said that I thought that the government just wanted to scare people. I said that there were organizations or groups which used the same methods as the government and continued to spread this fear. I talked about my house insurance.
The member for Berthier—Montcalm is a former mayor; he has been the chief executive of a municipality. I would like to know what he thinks. If he were still mayor, would he let this kind of legislation go through in his municipality?
Odina Desrochers Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm. With words, sentences and substance, he was able to summarize all the issues that are now in Bill C-17, Bill C-55, Bill C-42 and Bill C-36.
However, no matter what number is given to this bill, it still contains flaws. Since the beginning of this debate today, we have talked constantly about the balance that must exist between freedom and security. Paragraph by paragraph, my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm has gone over the issues in this debate and, above all, has pointed out the elements that are contrary to our fundamental values.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 5 p.m.
Roger Gaudet Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, I apologize. On September 11, 2001, the United States was the target of deadly attacks. The world reacted quickly with an unprecedented mobilization to fight terrorism.
The Bloc Quebecois was part of that mobilization. That day, on September 11, we spoke out strongly against the attacks and, in the following hours, we offered our cooperation to the federal government with regard to the emergency measures needed to deal with the situation. Later, in a speech made on September 17, 2001, our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, set out the principles that would guide our actions following these tragic events.
The response must reflect and respect our democratic values. In other words, we established the rules that would govern our actions from then on. In fighting terrorism, we must strike the right balance between freedom and security.
Unfortunately, as we will see later on, the federal government has failed. The measures it has proposed do not respect this balance. This is particularly true of bills such as Bill C-17, which we are debating today.
If I may I will proceed in chronological order. The first bill put forward in response to the terrorist attacks was Bill C-36. Although we were at first in favour of the idea of anti-terrorist legislation, we believe that the bill proposed by the federal government did not strike the right balance.
Indeed, the Bloc Quebecois felt that Bill C-36 did not effectively balance freedom with security issues. Moreover, the amendments put forward in committee by the minister turned out to be insufficient to restore this balance.
Terrorists attacks and the terrorist threat have reached an exceptional level and created an exceptional context. Bill C-36 was an exceptional bill in answer to an exceptional situation. Should the terrorist threat subside, several of the measures proposed in Bill C-36 would become unacceptable.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois asked the government to include a sunset clause in the bill so that it is no longer in force after three years, unless the House decides otherwise.
The Bloc Quebecois asked that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human rights automatically review the act every year following a report by an independent commissioner. Those Bloc amendments were turned down.
These are the other elements of Bill C-36 which are problematic for the Bloc Quebecois. The definition of terrorist acts is too broad and could lead to abuse against groups or individuals who have no connection with terrorism, as we saw last week.
The Attorney General and the Minister of Justice could withhold information by not applying the Access to Information Act, and there would be no safeguard. This was the conclusion of the Privacy Commissioner and a judicial review.
The act will only be reviewed in three years, which is much too long. The Minister of National Defence will be able to intercept international communications simply by making a written request to the Centre, without the authorization of a judge.
This bill includes all the provisions found in the bill on the registration of charities, which the Bloc condemned.
The government can list entities as terrorists without the authorization of a judge.
We tried to propose amendments to fix the problem, by adding, among other things, a sunset clause that would have limited the application of the act in time.
However, our amendments were rejected, and we felt that the amendments made by the minister fell far short. Consequently, we voted against the bill.
Later, allegedly as a complement to security enhancing measures, the government introduced Bill C-42, the public safety bill. From the day it was introduced, the Bloc Quebecois expressed its opposition to the bill, judging that some of what was proposed went too far and actually had little to do with terrorism. For instance, the new power conferred upon ministers to make interim orders leaves too much room to arbitrariness. As for the military security zones, they were very poorly defined, and their designation left the door wide open to all sorts of abuse.
If we look at the Bloc's position on military interventions as part of the fight against terrorism, we did support the military strikes in Afghanistan. We had asked that these take place under the umbrella of the United Nations, however. As far as the deployment of Canadian troops was concerned, we agreed, provided that it be subject to a debate and a vote in the House of Commons. Finally, we were very critical of the behaviour of the American administration, particularly with respect to the use of cluster bombs and the establishment of military tribunals for terrorists.
After these two bills on terrorism from the federal government, we can only conclude that the government has failed in the fight against terrorism. The measures presented do not strike the right balance between freedom and security. And even worse, the government is trying to use the fight against terrorism to justify exceptional measures, although some of these measures are neither necessary nor justifiable. We need only think of the use that could be made of the information obtained under Bill C-17 with respect to persons named in a warrant. We are opposed to Bill C-17, first, because we believe that basically it is bad law. It is also a sign of the failure of the federal government's strategy in the fight against terrorism.
In speaking to Bill C-55, we concentrated on three major points: the controlled access military zones, or military security zones as they were known in Bill C-42; interim orders; and the exchange of information on airline passengers.
Of these three, the controlled access military zones mentioned in Bills C-42 and C-55 have been completely removed from this bill. This is quite a victory for us.
The bill still contains provisions on interim orders, although the time allowed for tabling an order in Parliament and getting cabinet approval has been shortened considerably. Nonetheless, our primary issue, the lack of a prior check for compliance, remains.
With respect to the exchange of information, the proposed amendments to the previous bills are clearly inadequate. The coverage of the proposed provisions is much broader than the war on terrorism, and the provisions do not strike a fair balance between security and privacy. We voted against this bill at second reading.
In committee, we tried to alleviate the various problems related to this legislation by moving numerous amendments during clause by clause consideration. Nearly all our amendments were defeated. I want to share with the House the general tenor of the amendments we tried to make.
With regard to interim orders, Bill C-17 authorizes various ministers to issue such orders without first ensuring that they comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the enabling legislation. We tried to re-establish this preliminary check, but our amendments were defeated.
In the latest version of the bill, interim orders must be tabled in Parliament within 15 days after they are issued. We find this to be excessive and asked that the time period be shortened to five days.
With regard to the powers of the RCMP and CSIS, this legislation includes provisions that confer sweeping powers on the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service with regard to passenger information compiled by the airlines.
In vain, we tried to amend the bill to limit the powers to retain or use information collected as a result. We wanted to prohibit this information from being used to execute a warrant of arrest. We must not forget the War Measures Act in Quebec in 1970.
We also wanted to ensure that the information collected would be destroyed within 24 hours after the plane carrying the passengers on whom information had been collected had landed, except if such information was reasonably necessary for transportation security purposes or an investigation related to national security. In this legislation, the time period within which such information must be destroyed remains seven days. In our view, this is too long.
Finally, we also tried to institute an mechanism to ensure that the Privacy Commissioner would receive a copy of the reasons justifying why some information had been retained; this was also voted down.
We also proposed other amendments. We tried to effect several changes, namely to the parts concerning the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Implementation Act, and the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act, either by suggesting amendments or voting against certain clauses. The purpose of these changes was to respond to the concerns of various groups that appeared before the committee. These changes were not made either. That is why the Bloc Quebecois voted against this bill.
Let us now talk about military security zones. The notion of military security zones has completely disappeared from the bill.
The Bloc Quebecois was unanimous on this. Dropping military security zones from the public safety bill is an important victory for us.
As for the declaration of special zones, this measure strikes us as far more reasonable than before. We will, however, be keeping a close eye on developments and will remain extremely vigilant in order to speak out against any potential abuse. We must also ensure that no zone will be created in Quebec without the consent of the Government of Quebec.
The bill still contains provisions allowing various ministers to make interim orders. There are two relatively minor changes that were made; orders must be tabled in Parliament within 15 days and the duration of the order has decreased from 45 to 14 days, that is, the length of time it is in effect without cabinet approval.
There was no prior check on charter compliance or compliance with the enabling legislation carried out by the Clerk of the Privy Council. I have a diagram with me that illustrates how the provisions on interim orders have evolved from Bill C-42 to Bill C-55 and Bill C-17.
Starting with the compliance check, the answer was no for all three bills.
As for the interim orders, under Bill C-42, these expired after 90 days except with approval of the governor in council; with Bill C-55, the time limit was 45 days except with approval of the governor in council. Now, with Bill C-17, it is 14 days, except with approval of the governor in council.
As far as tabling the orders in Parliament is concerned, there was no provision for this in Bill C-42, while in Bill C-55 the tabling had to take place within 15 sitting days after it was issued. In Bill C-17, it is 15 days.
Obviously, we can see that there have been marked improvements between the first version, Bill C-42 and the present one, Bill C-17. The main problem is still with us, however: the lack of a prior check for compliance with the charter and enabling legislation.
As for information sharing, Bill C-17 allows two stakeholders to obtain passenger information directly from airlines or operators of reservation systems: the Commissioner of the RCMP and the Director of CSIS.
This information can be requested if there is an imminent threat to airline security. Only CSIS can also request information for investigations into threats against the security of Canada. Bill C-55 would also have allowed this, in order to “identify a person for whom a warrant ofarrest has been issued”.
As a rule, information provided to the RCMP or CSIS must be destroyedwithin seven days after it is provided orobtained, unless it is reasonably required forthe purposes of transportation security or theinvestigation of threats to the security ofCanada.
On May 6 of this year, the Privacy Commissioner released a letter outlining his concerns with Bill C-55 in connection with the gathering of information by the RCMP or CSIS. His reservations were related to the provisions allowing the RCMP to use personal information on all airline passengers in order to locate persons for whom there was an outstanding warrant for any offence punishable by a sentence of imprisonment for five years or more.
He also expressed reservations about the provisions allowing the RCMP and CSIS to retain the personal information of passengers for such purposes as searching for suspicious travel patterns.
With respect to the first point, several provisions were problematic at the time. Among them, there was the definition of the term warrant and those provisions allowing the RCMP to collect and communicate information about individuals subject to an outstanding warrant. The commissioner suggested that these provisions be withdrawn from the bill.
Our present understanding is that the government tried to tighten up these provisions but was unsuccessful. As a matter of fact, while the RCMP can no longer obtain information for the purpose of finding an individual subject to a warrant, it can still convey to a peace officer information obtained through the provisions in Bill C-17 if it has reason to believe that this information would facilitate the execution of a warrant.
However, in actual fact, the RCMP decides by itself when there is a threat to transportation safety and can thus ask an airline for information on passengers. There is no mechanism controlling the use of this provision. In other words, the RCMP has carte blanche. Giving carte blanche is not always a good thing. Moreover, once it has obtained the information, nothing precludes the RCMP from keeping it, as long as the reasons for doing so are written down.
The government has tightened up the definition of warrant. In the previous version, it could have been an outstanding warrant for any offence punishable under federal law by imprisonment for five years or more.
Now the definition stipulates that there will be a regulation stating exactly what crimes are involved.
As to the second point, the commissioner also expressed serious reservations regarding how long the information could be retained. The seven day period during which the RCMP and CSIS may keep the information is excessive; 48 hours would be adequate. The fact that the RCMP and CSIS can keep this information indefinitely is of concern. There must be limits.
But, neither of these changes was made. As a result, on November 1, 2002, the Privacy Commissioner issued a press release regarding Bill C-17, in which he described the changes as being minor. He said:
—with only minimal and unsatisfactory changes in the replacement legislation, Bill C-17.
According to the commissioner:
The provision in question, section 4.82 of both bills, would give the RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to the personal information held by airlines about all Canadian air travellers on domestic as well as international flights.
—my concern is that the RCMP would also be expressly empowered to use this information to seek out persons wanted on warrants for Criminal Code offences that have nothing to do with terrorism, transportation security or national security.
In Canada, it is well established that we are not required to identify ourselves to police unless we are being arrested or we are carrying out a licensed activity such as driving. The right to anonymity with regard to the state is a crucial privacy right. Since we are required to identify ourselves to airlines as a condition of air travel and since section 4.82 would give the RCMP unrestricted access to the passenger information obtained by airlines, this would set the extraordinarily privacy-invasive precedent of effectively requiring compulsory self-identification to the police.
The changes that have been made in this provision in the new bill do nothing to address the fundamental issues of principle that are at stake.
The Government now proposes to have regulations limiting the Criminal Code offence warrants for which the RCMP will be searching. But this does nothing to address the fundamental point of principle that the police have no business using this extraordinary access to personal information to search for people wanted on warrants for any offences unrelated to terrorism.
As well, in the new bill the Government has removed the “identification of persons for whom a warrant has been issued” as a “purpose” for accessing passenger information under the legislation. But this is meaningless—indeed, disingenuous—
For all these reasons, we oppose this bill. Ever since the original bill was introduced, we have been speaking against a number of provisions which are still included in the bill. Despite all our efforts to improve the provisions that posed a problem, these remain unacceptable to us.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:55 p.m.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:55 p.m.
Odina Desrochers Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC
Mr. Speaker, I was glad to hear my colleague's remarks, which support completely the position of the Bloc Quebecois. This fight has now been going on for two years.
She mentioned that the present bill has the same flaws we identified in the two previous bills, as we said today.
For the information of the hon. members opposite, I would like my colleague to mention a few points that she would have liked to amend in Bill C-17, which will be adopted in a few minutes, unfortunately.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:45 p.m.
Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today on Bill C-17. It is quite a coincidence, since I am currently renewing my home insurance policy and on the issue of liability insurance, my contract stipulates:
Terrorism: an ideologically motivated unlawful act or acts, includingbut not limited to the use of violence or force or threat of violence or force,committed by or on behalf of any group(s), organization(s) or government(s) forthe purpose of influencing any government and/or instilling fear in the public—
It also points out that the policy does not provide coverage for:
—any loss or damage caused directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, by terrorism or by any activity or decision of a government agency... to prevent, respond, or terminate terrorism.
So, this is not covered by the insurance policy. Later on, I will link all of this to my speech on the public safety bill now before the House. Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, people were understandably afraid. However, I think that some people want to exaggerate the attacks or the threats of terrorism. The government as well as other groups and businesspeople are using the events of September 11, 2001 to scare people. They want the public to remain nervous and distraught. Legislation like Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act, 2002, can only instill more fear in people. That is not showing them much respect.
As I said earlier, and as everyone knows, the United States was hit by deadly attacks on September 11, 2001. The response came rapidly and there was an unprecedented movement to mobilize in the fight against terrorism.
The Bloc Quebecois joined this immense mobilization. We condemned the attacks and, in the hours that followed, we offered our cooperation to the federal government with respect to emergency measures for dealing with the situation. But at the time, we had asked—and that has remained our position for all the bills that have been presented—that there be a fair balance between freedom and security.
Unfortunately, the federal government has failed, and the measures it has proposed have not maintained this balance. They go even further in my view; they scare people. That is particularly true when it comes to bills such as Bill C-17, which we are debating today.
The first bill presented in response to the terrorist attacks was Bill C-36. We agreed to adopt an antiterrorism bill, but Bill C-36 did not strike the right balance between freedom and security, something we are still looking for.
The terrorist attacks and threats reached an exceptional level and created an exceptional context. This happened in a certain country, at a given time, during a given period. That does not mean there will not be any more, that there will be attacks here in Canada or in Quebec.
Of course, acts of terrorism can happen every day. Nonetheless, there have not been very many here over the past three decades, so why frighten people and hold them hostage?
I repeat, Bill C-36 was an exceptional measure in response to an exceptional situation. That is why the Bloc Quebecois asked the government to include the sunset clause my colleague was talking about earlier, for the legislation to cease to be in effect after three years unless the House decided otherwise.
The Bloc Quebecois asked for an automatic review every year, by the Standing Committee on Justice, or after the tabling of a report by an independent commissioner, to remove the pressure that people feel and perhaps prevent escalation or trade-offs. Unfortunately, these amendments were rejected. There are other problematic elements, but those are the main ones.
Then came Bills C-42 and C-55 and the current version, Bill C-17; the public safety bill that now before the House.
Claiming to be trying to further improve security, the government then introduced Bill C-42 on public safety. From the beginning, the Bloc Quebecois was against this bill, because some of the proposed measures really went too far and the connection with terrorism was rather tenuous. For example, the new power being given to ministers regarding interim orders was way too arbitrary. As for the military security zones, they were ill defined and their implementation left the door wide open to much abuse.
This bill was then replaced by Bill C-55 and later on by the bill before us today. Unfortunately, these two bills did not manage to maintain the necessary balance either.
Considering the two bills that the federal government introduced on terrorism, we have to recognize that the government has failed in its fight against terrorism. The proposed measures fail to maintain a fair balance between freedom and security. And what is worse, the government is trying to justify the extraordinary measures by the fight against terrorism, while some of those measures are neither necessary nor justifiable. We need only think about the use that can be made of the information obtained under Bill C-17, with respect to people for whom a warrant has been issued. If we oppose Bill C-17, it is mainly because we strongly believe that it is a bad bill, but it is also because we recognize that the government's behaviour in the fight against terrorism is a failure.
We voted against this bill at second reading. We will do it again this time, as we still oppose this bill. From the beginning, we have opposed many of the provisions that are still in the bill before us, despite the fact that we tried to move amendments and made many efforts to understand and refine the first bill.
Despite all the efforts that we made to soften the impact of the problematic clauses, these clauses remain unacceptable for the Bloc Quebecois and its members.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:35 p.m.
Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.
Before getting into Bill C-17, I want to commend the excellent work done by our critic, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, who has expended considerable talent and unbounded energy to uphold the principles of the Bloc Quebecois. We were in favour of fighting terrorism, but not at the cost of ignoring or shoving under the carpet the rights and freedoms of Quebeckers and Canadians.
It is interesting to note that immediately following September 11, the Bloc Quebecois offered its cooperation. On the principle, the vast majority of Quebeckers agreed that terrorism had to be fought, but not at any cost. Otherwise, the terrorists would have won, since we would ourselves have curtailed the principles and rights and freedoms of our democracy.
That is why, when the initial bill, Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism bill, was introduced, we stressed that this balance between the fight against terrorism and respect for rights and freedom was lacking. That is why we started by proposing several amendments.
We asked the government to include a sunset clause. We felt that the legislation was too rough, too tough in certain areas. This was understandable, given that the events had just taken place, but we believed that in time, it would be desirable that the legislation be reviewed because many of the provisions would no longer be necessary. We were ignored and we expressed our opposition to the bill.
This is the third version of the second major piece of legislation arising from the events of September 11: Bill C-17. First, there was Bill C-42, and then Bill-55, and now, when it is unclear how much longer the House will be sitting because of the political context, Bill C-17. We have before us a bill which, it must be noted, is an improvement in a number of regards on Bill C-42 and Bill C-55.
To us, these are gains which can be described as a partial yet major victory that everyone will be very pleased with. I would be remiss not to mention that one of the main irritants in Bill C-55 was the ability the government was giving itself to designate controlled access military zones. There have been two versions, but initially the government gave itself the power to declare that any zone, anywhere in the country, was a military zone under the complete control of the government, without any protection for rights.
We said that this made no sense whatsoever. Even at the time of the War Measures Act, it was Quebec's attorney general who was supposed to ask that the federal government get involved. It is absolutely unacceptable that the federal government should decide on its own initiative to establish these zones anywhere, without being asked to do so by the attorney general of the province concerned. This could have led to all kinds of abuses.
We said no and we protested strongly. Finally, the government heard us and we now know that orders in council be will made if need be. We will monitor each of these orders, but the general measure is risky and thus put aside. This is for the better.
Another one of the major provisions we strongly opposed was the exchange of information. Part of the exchange of information provided for in the original bill affected travellers. However, it was finally recognized that the need for this came from the demands of the United States concerning aircraft flying over its territory.
With a lot of debating, we finally got—and this too was a given—specific legislation on this issue, with a number of limited powers, although some are still too broad, but at least there are limitations.
Let me say that, if controlled access military zones have totally disappeared from Bill C-17, we find ourselves in the reverse situation on the issue of exchange of information, that is, the transfer of information to the United States, which was limited to some extent, will now be broadened.
Indeed, under Bill C-17, those who travel by plane must provide more information than had been required by the Americans. This information is available to the RCMP and CSIS, and they both reserve the right not to destroy it. We asked for a 24-hour timeframe.
We think that it is utterly unacceptable, since it means that some people will be followed, even though there are no longer on a plane, because we want to know how they get from one airport to another.
Again, this applies only to people travelling by plane. However, I think that we must reaffirm the right of law abiding citizens to leave the country without having their every move scrutinized, as it would be in a police state.
We are also against the interim orders, which will allow ten ministers to make decisions regardless of their compliance with fundamental legislation. They have 15 days to do this. It seems to us that the verification process could be done before that. We proposed flexible solutions for that, but they were rejected. It makes no sense to us.
Our concerns with Bill C-55 and Bill C-42 were heard, and it seems to me that everybody benefited from that. Our requests must also be heard. Unfortunately, we are disappointed that the amendments that we proposed in committee were not accepted. Therefore, we will have to vote against this bill.
We believe that it would have been possible not to sacrifice our rights and freedoms. The Privacy Commissioner, who was criticized in other circumstances, spoke out against this situation.
Since he was so close to the Liberal government, we can use what he said when he expressed serious concerns about the provisions dealing with the sharing of information.
We will vote against this bill. We would have preferred to do otherwise, but it is impossible in the circumstances.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:30 p.m.
Roger Gaudet Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks on Bill C-17. I have a brief question for him.
He talked repeatedly about the importance of striking a balance between freedom and security. What impact does he think Bill C-17 introduced today by the Liberal government will have on freedom of speech?