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
Not active, as of Oct. 8, 2003
(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?
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:10 p.m.
Odina Desrochers Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC
Mr. Speaker, I too rise to speak to the important matter of Bill C-17.
As you know, I will start by blaming the Liberal government once again for this gag order which limits the time allotted to parliamentarians to discuss such a crucial and important issue.
The legislative agenda has been rather thin lately in this parliament. There have been persistent rumours that the current session could end early due to the upcoming change in leadership on the other side, in other words the current Prime Minister will have to step down in favour of the member for LaSalle—Émard.
It would appear as a result that the government wants to push ahead with several bills and move the agenda faster. After unduly delaying bills and regulations, it now wants to make up for lost time. Attempting to make up for lost time by ramming through a bill as important as Bill C-17 is going a bit too far.
I would like to share an experience I had recently in Taiwan at a world convention in Taipei attended by about 23 countries. The conference was entitled “Democratic Pacific Assembly”. Those 23 countries tackled the fundamental issue of security and freedom of speech.
The motions that were unanimously passed during this important meeting said that the balance between freedom and security had to be maintained and that the unfortunate events of September 2001, that are starting to be distorted, should not serve as an excuse for legislation muzzling hard won freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, Ottawa does not seem to want to respect this fundamental balance between freedom and security. We must say yes to security, but not at the expense of our rights and freedoms.
We have seen what has been happening in the United States over the past two years. Freedom of speech has virtually been eliminated from the airwaves, especially on television; we saw the Bush administration trying to take over the media, use propaganda and justify its behaviour. We are all aware of the situation in which the U.S. administration and its president, Mr. George Bush, now find themselves, especially with their involvement in the war in Iraq. Again, in the United States, freedom of speech has been severely curtailed. Unfortunately the media capitalized on a show. Today, the show is over but the current president and his great thinkers are still trying to justify his actions by using the word terrorism.
With such a formidable neighbour, the Canadian government must be wary of adopting some of the provisions found in Bill C-17. If our neighbours south of the border go too far and get carried away on the issue of terrorism, we are not out of the woods.
As we all know, parliamentarians have been considering this important piece of legislation for two years now. Bills C-36, C-42, C-55 and C-17 were all brought before the House. Unfortunately, whatever the number of the bill is, it still contains the same deficiencies.
Let us review the history of this bill. The first bill introduced in response to the terrorist attacks was Bill C-36. Although we supported at first the need to pass anti-terrorism legislation, we thought that the federal government's proposal did not strike the proper balance.
At the time, the Bloc Quebecois thought that Bill C-36 did not effectively balance freedom with security issues. When Bill C-36 was first introduced, the attacks and the terrorist threat were at an all-time high and had created an exceptional climate. But since then, a lot of water has gone under the bridge.
I remember taking part in the debate on Bill C-36. I warned the government about the three-year limit. Things were changing so fast that we thought we could not pass legislation on such a crucial issue and maintain it for three years without reviewing and adjusting it.
If, at some point, the Canadian government needs certain tools to address a particular situation, we can provide these tools. However, the situation may change, and this is why we would like the legislation to be reviewed and reassessed every twelve months to see if it meets the expectations of the public and our security needs.
Members will recall that the Bloc Quebecois asked for a sunset clause to be added to this bill so that it would cease to be in effect after three years, unless the House decided otherwise. Parliamentarians always have the power to amend an act if the situation warrants. However, we do not know what the future holds for us. We are all trying to stamp out terrorism. We believe that laudable efforts have been made so far, and this is why we think that a piece of legislation as crucial and important as the one before us today must be reviewed periodically.
Regarding this particular piece of legislation, we also asked that it be reviewed automatically each year by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which would be the same thing. Every year, it would be referred to the committee for review. This means that members from all political parties gathered around a table would have a good look at it and would be able to make recommendations in light of the current context. Again, our suggestion was rejected.
Furthermore, it was also said regarding this bill that the Minister of Justice could withhold information normally accessible under the Access to Information Act, without any safeguard provided. This is also very dangerous. The bill will be reviewed only in three years' time. I have talked about this before. The Minister of National Defence will be able to intercept international communications simply by sending a written request to the Centre. He will not even need a judge's authorization.
In this regard, allow me to say that I am very concerned, especially after the events of August 14 and 15 when a power failure hit Ontario and the southeastern United States. We know that the person who was supposed to have all the information and to reassure the public, the Minister of National Defence, made a statement. All he did was further confuse matters. The sources were contradictory. Just imagine if the present Minister of National Defence were to intercept international communications. How could we take him seriously when he interpreted this information and particularly when he explained what was really happening in a given situation?
Continuing with the history of the public security bill, there was first C-42, then Bill C-55 and now Bill C-17. One thing is clear. The weaknesses that were part of the initial bill are still present in Bill C-17 and I will explain why.
Claiming to be trying to further improve security, the government introduced Bill C-42 on public safety.
As soon as the bill was tabled, our party stated its opposition once more, finding that some of the proposed measures went much too far, and that their link to terrorism was rather tenuous. The government must not be given an opportunity to abuse the situation.
The collective memory of Quebeckers has not faded away. We remember very clearly what happened during the October crisis in 1970. We all must remember it, because if we give police and military powers to this government, we know they may be abused. Consequently, when faced with such situations, the collective memory of Quebeckers reminds us of the sad events of October 1970. Today, in 2003, I want to reintroduce them into the debate because one never knows what may happen when a context changes.
In my opinion, that is the reason this bill tends to draw links—often very tenuous ones—with terrorism. I will return to the whole issue of the powers the bill would give to the RCMP and CSIS.
Bill C-55 was then replaced by Bill C-17, which is now before us. Unfortunately, these two bills do not come any closer to achieving the necessary balance. And yet that is the fundamental principle and we mention it constantly in these debates. The position of the Bloc Quebecois is to strike a fair balance between liberty and security at all times, and especially to prevent possible abuses by the Canadian federal government.
We have had some victories along the way during the debates to come up with new legislation. In Bill C-17, we see that the controlled access military zones that were mentioned in Bill C-42 have been withdrawn. That was a considerable victory for the Bloc Quebecois and that is why we keep on hammering away with these fundamental principles.
As I said earlier, it is terrible that the government is using a closure motion once again to prevent us from exercising our rights, presenting our point of view, and trying to eventually convince the Liberal government of the flaws in Bill C-17.
I would also like to address the powers that will be conferred upon the RCMP and CSIS. We are aware of the case of Maher Arar—on which my colleague from Mercier has been asking questions earlier. This Canadian was apprehended by the Americans when in the United States and was subsequently returned to his former country.
Judging from the RCMP's behaviour, if it had more power given to it, this would lead to almost an automatic connection between the RCMP and the Americans. This lays open to question the rights of citizens, of the people of Canada and Quebec.
So those are the powers. The bill includes provisions which confer extended powers on RCMP commissioners as well as the director of CSIS, in connection with the gathering of information on air passengers from the airlines.
The more we travel, the more we will be under surveillance. That is what this means. The more often we take a plane, the more the RCMP will interfere in our business. The more often we visit countries likely to have links with countries that have links to terrorists, the more likely the RCMP is to interfere in our business. It is unacceptable that so much power is being given to the RCMP, particularly when we have seen how it acted in this matter, which is getting so much media coverage and attention in the House.
We tried to amend this bill so as to limit the powers relating to retention and use of the information gathered in this way. We often hear reference to someone “flagged by the RCMP”. What does that mean? It means that the RCMP collects information on such individuals, based on the assumption of a link with terrorism. This information is on file with the RCMP and can be used at any time in order to violate the freedom of members of the public. It is really dangerous to give so much power to the RCMP with Bill C-17.
We also wanted to ensure that the information gathered would be destroyed within 24 hours of landing unless there were any suspicions about the passenger. What point is there in keeping information? But no, the time limit will be seven days. In other words, during those seven days the authorities are in possession of information on an individual which can lead to digging deeper into that person's life, far more than to just find out about his past, his background, when he takes a plane.
The current Bill C-17 includes such abuse, and these are fundamental democratic issues. All the government is doing is imposing Bill C-17 on us. It is forcing the bill on us and gagging us so we keep quiet. If this is democracy, we have a real problem.
I want to say once again that all the members of the Bloc Quebecois oppose this bill. We opposed various provisions in the initial version that are still found in this bill, a few of which I mentioned. Despite all the efforts to mitigate the problematic provisions, we continue to find them unacceptable.
I will repeat once again that it is time for the government to backtrack, and not adopt this bill this afternoon, during the vote to be held shortly. This is a serious situation given the bill's failure to ensure a balance between freedom and security. This is the most important point. If we have to give up rights and freedoms for improved security, why did we fight for them in the first place? In many countries, people are still fighting for freedom of expression.
I am reminded of my trip to Taiwan. In the neighbouring country, the People's Republic of China, there is no such thing as freedom of expression and respect for human rights. Yet we live in an age where information circulates freely. Furthermore, the Americans may promote free speech, but free speech that is controlled and planned by the Cabinet of the United States President, George Bush.
Given all these situations, Bill C-17 must include the desired amendments to maintain a balance between freedom and security so that Quebeckers and Canadians can live freely in the years to come.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 4:05 p.m.
Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-17, the public safety act.
First, nobody in the House argues with the need for us to be vigilant in protecting Canadians against terrorism and in playing a meaningful role, working internationally and through multinational forces, in fighting the scourge of terrorism that was brought home to us on September 11.
Clearly, there are many things we can do both domestically and through continental security, in cooperation with the U.S., to improve protection against terrorism for Canadians. These can include a greater focus on parameter security, more adequate funding for the RCMP, ports police and funding for the Canadian Coast Guard.
Internationally, we need to invest in our Canadian military. We need to refocus our efforts on strengthening the hard power side of our foreign policy and our ability in a meaningful way to provide the kinds of cooperation to our military partners that is necessary. That means, for instance, having a well equipped Canadian armed forces that can provide the type of light, mobile and lethal military service that is required.
I happen to agree with a lot of what has been written in recent months by retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie on not just reinvesting in our Canadian military but actually reforming it to reflect the realities of a post-cold war environment and providing the kind of Canadian military that can dovetail effectively in a multilateral coalition in fighting the war against terrorism.
All these changes can occur and Canada can strengthen its role in fighting terrorism domestically and internationally without this legislation.
The federal government has failed to demonstrate to Canadians why the legislation, which does represent an attack on civil liberties of Canadians, is required when we already have adequate legislation on the books in the form of the Emergencies Act.
Further, this is not a government that has maintained an adequate commitment to the RCMP, the Canadian military or to protecting the sanctity of our parameter. These are all issues and policies that can be addressed in a meaningful way without in any way, shape or form reducing or attacking Canadian civil liberties.
We would propose that the government focus on those sorts of meaningful initiatives, work with the U.S. and develop a common approach to parameter security to take some of the pressure off the 49th parallel security and to help again restore a seamless movement of people and goods between the two countries.
Currently in post-September 11 there has been a significant growth in non-tariff trade barriers between the two countries and a lot of that has emanated from legitimate U.S. concerns about the porosity of Canada's parameter and the lax approach of our government to issues of security on a wide range of fronts.
We ought to work to develop a common approach to parameter security to enable us to have a more seamless movement of people and goods between the two countries and to move toward a checked once policy whereby a shipment or container load of goods that comes into Halifax, or Vancouver, or San Francisco or Baltimore is checked once, resealed and free to move within the economic space of Canada and the United States. That could be achieved quite easily if the government focused on that.
That kind of approach, focusing on defending the sanctity of our parameter, would do more to protect Canadians against terrorism and would in fact keep up our end of the deal in terms of working with our partners, in this case the United States, and a multilateral coalition fighting terrorism around the world.
If we were to properly invest in our military and Coast Guard, restore ports police, improve funding for the RCMP, improve perimeter security and invest significantly in airline security, as the government has moved partially in this regard, that would accomplish a great deal on behalf of Canadians in terms of the war against terrorism.
We can do a lot to protect the security of Canadians without in any way diminishing or threatening to diminish their civil liberties. As such, we have great concerns, as many members on the opposite side of the House have expressed, about this legislation and we do not support it. There are opportunities for the government to do a lot and take significant and important steps to fight terrorism and protect Canadians without this legislation.
We would urge the government to make those investments and demonstrate that will to seriously address the issue of security and the fight against terrorism without resorting to measures as draconian as Bill C-17.
Public Safety, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 3:55 p.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I was interrupted by the government House leader for a good reason, for a motion to allow a House committee to do its work. Before that, I was explaining why the Bloc Quebecois will vote against Bill C-17 on third reading. We think that this piece of legislation does not always strike the right balance between the means to ensure public safety against terrorism, and respect for human rights. Personally, I think the worst abuse of rights that could happen and one that we should not condone concerns the disclosure of information.
On May 6, the Privacy Commissioner published a letter detailing his concerns with Bill C-55—which existed prior to Bill C-17—and information obtained by the RCMP and CSIS. He expressed reservations about provisions allowing the RCMP to use personal information on air travellers to search for individuals subject to an outstanding warrant for any offence punishable by imprisonment of five years or more and, second, allowing CSIS and the RCMP to retain passenger information in search of suspicious travel patterns.
It would appear that the government tried to tighten these provisions and failed. In fact, although the RCMP can no longer collect information to search for an individual subject to a warrant, it can still provide a peace officer with information obtained under Bill C-17 if it has reason to believe that such information is needed to execute a warrant.
An example of this is a Canadian citizen who ended up in Syria due to a broad and possibly erroneous interpretation of that section, or that type of procedure. That is an example of the kind of abuse that can result. To this end, the federal government should think about referring this to committee again—as we just sought to do with another bill—to find ways to further tighten these provisions to ensure there will be no abuse.
The RCMP decides when a situation threatens transportation safety, thereby allowing it to request passenger lists from airlines. This provision has no control mechanisms. The RCMP has carte blanche. Furthermore, once it has obtained information, there is nothing to prevent it from holding on to that information, as long as the reasons are recorded.
There is no mention of what kind of reasons would be valid. Perhaps being a frequent traveller, for example, would be reason enough. So, the RCMP could decide to retain this information. Perhaps, in some way, frequent flyers will be suspected of violating that section.
Therefore, it is not really serious enough. There is some tightening up to be done. These provisions need to be worked on some more to achieve the right balance.
We also heard that the government has tightened up the definition of warrant. In the previous version, it could be 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 stipulating exactly what crimes are involved.
According to the commissioner, the seven-day period for which the RCMP and CSIS can retain information is excessive and a 48-hour period would be sufficient. The fact that this information can be retained indefinitely by the RCMP and CSIS as a security measure is cause for concern. Limits have to be set. Neither of the changes the Privacy Commissioner proposed has been included. In November 2002, the commissioner issued a new press release in which he expressed his concerns about this situation.
We in the Bloc Quebecois believe that the amendments introduced by the government in connection with the powers of the RCMP and CSIS to gather information on air passengers are still far too broad. Although the proposed amendments may appear to be plugging some of the loopholes, the problems raised by the Privacy Commissioner remain. In that regard, the bill is certainly not good enough.
A little over two years have gone by since the events of September 11, 2001. We obviously went through very difficult times in the days and months following these events. Today, as we are debating this bill, we should be even more aware of the need to strike the right balance between the right to privacy and the right to security so as to avoid any abuse on either side and to have the necessary tools to obtain the desired results.
In this case, since the government was really improvising—the same bill was introduced three times—strong representations were required by the Bloc Quebecois to eliminate the most unacceptable parts of this bill. We had to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that there has been intolerable abuse in a democratic society. We obtained a certain number of improvements.
The current version of the bill is still inadequate and does not strike the balance we think it should. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will vote against this bill, in the hope that the government will allow it to be sent back to committee, or think twice before implementing it.
I am convinced that within five years, abuses will have been committed in practical applications, particularly by the police. And people will say that they never would have thought such a bill could lead to such abuses.
In the Bloc Quebecois, we demonstrated that it was most certainly possible. We hope the government is listening to the arguments that have been presented so that the bill, which still needs a lot of improvement, is studied again.
It is unfortunate that the government decided to move a time allocation motion, which limits debate on this issue. It is odd that the time allowed for debating a bill on human rights would be limited. If we heard about such a thing happening in other countries, we would say that they have a democratic deficit.
Indeed, Canada has a major democratic deficit, with the future prime minister convening the Liberal caucus this evening before the official caucus meeting tomorrow. There is something unacceptable about that for citizens.
We also realize that many bills move forward even though they are not perfect, or are not what they should be, because there are no clear guidelines in this government.
For all these reasons, I hope that, despite its time allocation motion, the government will reconsider its decision to have us vote on a bill when several of its provisions are unacceptable and fail to protect human rights.
Public Safety Act, 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 3:40 p.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate on third reading of Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act, 2002, sponsored by the Minister of Transport.
I think it is important, while we are in the heart of this debate, to remember the context in which the bill was introduced and the context in which we must determine its relevancy.
Let us remember that on September 11, 2001, as everyone knows, the United States was hit by deadly attacks. The response came rapidly and there was an unprecedented movement to fight terrorism. The Bloc Quebecois was part of this movement. However, we thought about the matter and said that we must ensure that the measures taken reflect the necessary balance. The leader of the Bloc Quebecois and member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie put it very eloquently, and I quote:
The response must reflect and respect our democratic values.
Consequently, we must ensure that we can get at the root of the problem of terrorism, by taking the necessary repressive and security measures, while respecting our democratic values.
One thing is clear, the federal government did not deliver. Members will remember Bill C-36, the first bill the government introduced in response to the terrorist attacks. At first, we all agreed that we should pass anti-terrorism legislation, but the bill did not strike the proper balance. In fact, we believed that Bill C-36 did not effectively balance liberty against greater security.
For instance, we wanted to add a sunset clause to the bill so that the legislation would cease to have effect after three years, unless otherwise stipulated by the House. What that would have meant is that at an exceptionally tragic time in our history, we would have passed an exceptionally crucial piece of legislation that would not apply forever. We asked for a review of the legislation three years after its implementation, in 2004 or 2005, in order to be able to determine that the legislation was no longer relevant and not required in the short term or to allow the House to renew the act if need be.
The Bloc asked for an annual review to be carried out by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, following the tabling of a report by an independent commissioner. Some of the provisions of the bill severely limited individual freedoms. Therefore, we wanted to ensure that the federal government was acting properly.
We did not get satisfaction on that point, but we were at least listened to, and the bill is to be reviewed in three years. There is, however, no sunset clause that will put an end to the bill.
Following the same logic, the federal government reacted to the winds of panic, because adequate and well thought out measures could not be put in place. The federal government really failed in its anti-terrorism measures.
For example, the public security bill, known today as C-17, started life as C-42 and C-55. The first time it was introduced, the Bloc Quebecois spoke out against it, feeling that some of its proposed measures went much too far and that they had only a very tenuous connection with terrorism.
The federal government took advantage of the terrorism crisis to try to solve other problems and to acquire powers it could use in certain situations. The crisis at that time did not justify this.
For example, the new power of ministers to adopt interim orders allowed too much leeway for arbitrary decisions. In Quebec we have already experienced situations in which the Cabinet took steps that left leeway for arbitrary decisions. Our collective consciousness has been marked permanently as a result.
There was the invoking of the War Measures Act in 1970, and the way the federal government interpreted its legislation in such an elastic way at that time. CItizens' right to freedom were limited in an unacceptable way, there were arbitrary arrests, and we most certainly do not want to find that same type of decision included in a bill.
There was one other measure that went much too far. The military security zones were very poorly defined in the bill and their implementation left the door wide open for all manner of abuses. That bill was replaced by Bill C-55, and now by C-17. Neither one nor the other, however, manage to strike the necessary balance.
Let us talk about the Bloc position on military interventions. As far as the war against terrorism is concerned, we supported the strikes against Afghanistan, but called for them to be made under the auspices of the United Nations Organization in order to lend the necessary credibility to them.
As for sending Canadian troops, we supported that, but called for them not to be sent until there was a debate and a vote in the House of Commons, so that elected representatives could make known their positions on such an important decision.
Finally, we are very critical of the behaviour of the American administration, particularly the use of cluster bombs and the creation of military courts to try terrorists.
When we look at the two anti-terrorism bills the federal government put forward, we cannot but see it has failed in the fight against terrorism. The proposed measures do not strike a fair balance between freedom and security and, worse yet, the government is attempting to justify taking exceptional measures against terrorism when some of those measures are neither necessary nor justifiable.
We oppose Bill C-17 mainly because we believe it is fundamentally a bad bill. We give a failing grade to the federal government in its fight against terrorism.
As a matter of fact, this bill is a new version of Bill C-55, which dealt with public security, which was itself a new version of Bill C-42. Originally, our criticism targeted military zones, the interim orders I mentioned early, and the exchange of information from airline companies on passengers.
There again, the federal government was taking on a very broad mandate. In this respect, compared to the previous bills, the proposed amendments fall far short. The scope of the proposed provisions goes way beyond the fight against terrorism. They do not strike the right balance between security and privacy.
That is why we voted against the bill at second reading. In committee, we put forward a number of amendments and attempted to mitigate the problems created by the bill. Virtually every single one of our amendments was turned down.
For example, with regard to interim orders, the bill provides that they may be issued by various ministers without first checking that they are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its enabling statute.
We attempted to reinstate these initial checks but our amendments were rejected. For our sake and the sake of the balance we have been seeking since the very beginning, it is important that decisions made under interim orders respect the Charter of Rights and that advice be sought to make sure they do. That is not in the bill.
Under the latest version of the bill, interim orders should be tabled in Parliament within the first 15 sitting days after the order is issued. We find this to be excessive and tried to have the timeframe shortened from 15 to 5 days.
With respect to the powers of the RCMP and CSIS, it has become obvious in recent days that the RCMP's management of terrorism is far from transparent. Take for example the Canadian citizen who travelled to the United States and ended up in Syria, on the basis of recommendations from the RCMP according to U.S. government officials. This situation is forcing us to be very critical and to make sure that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
This bill 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.
We want to make the bill much tighter, to ensure there is a very tight net in place to prevent excesses. There is nothing in this bill in this regard.
We tried in vain to amend the bill to limit the powers to retain or use information collected as a result. We wanted to prohibit the use of this information to execute an arrest warrant.
We also wanted to ensure that the information collected would be destroyed within 24 hours after the aircraft 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 bill, the timeframe within which such information must be destroyed remains seven days, which we still feel is inappropriate.
We in the Bloc Quebecois also tried to establish a mechanism to ensure that the Privacy Commissioner receives a copy of the reasons for retaining certain information. We wanted to have a watchdog of sorts with respect to privacy, to counterbalance the increased powers of the RCMP. Again, the government refused.
Thus, with respect to Bill C-17 now before us, which was unacceptable at the beginning because it did not strike the right balance, even after examining the amendments we do not find that balance.
For example, we attempted to make a number of changes in the sections concerning the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Implementation Act, and the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act, by suggesting amendments or voting against certain clauses. We attempted to make these changes in response to the concerns of various groups who appeared before the committee, but they were voted down.
The House will understand that we are clearly opposed to this bill. Beginning with the first version of this bill, we were opposed to a number of provisions that are still found in this one. Even though the Bloc had some success with respect to the first version, particularly in the delineation of military zones, this bill has not been sufficiently improved that we could vote in favour of it.
I was speaking of the concept of military security zones. It has completely disappeared from the bill. This is a sensible improvement that pleases us; we think it is essential. For example, the provision concerning the establishment of zones by order in council appears much more reasonable than in the previous version. We must ensure that no zones are created in Quebec without the consent of the Government of Quebec.
Remember that the initial bill would have made it possible that, in Quebec City, the Citadel, the Armoury and even the Quebec National Assembly could be included within the military zone. When we look at the past, the October crisis and the legitimacy of the Quebec National Assembly, it was completely unacceptable. We succeeded in getting it removed from the bill, and we are very happy about that. We did our job well, and Quebeckers can be proud of the results we obtained.
As for the interim orders, the bill still contains provisions that would allow various ministers to make such orders. Some minimal changes have been made requiring the tabling in Parliament within 15 days and the reduction from 45 to 14 days of the period during which the order would be in force without cabinet approval. But 14 days can still be a very long time, particularly when decisions are made. It can be realized afterwards that some people have felt for years the consequences of a decision taken further to an error in judgment. The way cabinet works, we certainly have to protect ourselves from this type of decisions.
We have seen it before and we still see it, particularly with national defence. It has been said for years that before going out to buy material, we should first decide what kind of armed forces we want to have, what the mandate would be and what kind of results we are expecting. Without clear policies, if an interim order is made by a minister and errors occur, the period during which the order would be in force without cabinet approval should be much shorter than what is provided for in the act.
What is worse, of course, is the fact that there is no prior assessment to ensure that—
Public Safety Act, 2002
Oral Question Period
October 7th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
Mr. Speaker, I want my colleague from Churchill to comment in regard to the legislation that is being used abusively against the Pakistani community generally, and with the exception of one person who is from India, over the last couple of months. People were under simple suspicion, and even that is probably stretching it, that they may somehow be involved in terrorism.
They were incarcerated and not told what the accusations were against them because there were no accusations in effect. Simply, on the whim of some immigration officials, they were incarcerated. A number of them are still incarcerated.
It has produced a chill because the result of some of those positions taken by some of the officials has been that people have now applied to voluntarily leave the country even though they may have a number of other remedies available to them under our immigration laws and common law that would allow them to stay in the country. But because they have had this mud thrown at them, this smear done on their reputations that they might somehow be associated with terrorism, they have voluntarily offered to leave the country.
I wonder if my colleague could comment if that type of chill that has been created in the field of immigration now. Could it spill over into other areas because of Bill C-17?