Evidence of meeting #14 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was agencies.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jim Judd  Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service
  • William Sweeney  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety
  • Marc-Arthur Hyppolite  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
  • Stephen Rigby  President, Canada Border Services Agency

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

I'd like to bring this meeting to order. This is the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, meeting 14, and we have before us today the Minister of Public Safety. We welcome the Honourable Peter Van Loan. He has with him a number of staff and support officials from the different departments under his purview, and I will let him introduce them and allow him some time to make an opening statement. Then we will proceed as we normally do with questions and comments.

The minister can only be here until 10:30 a.m. We are starting promptly so that we can make best use of our time.

Again, Mr. Minister, we welcome you to our committee and await your statement. Go ahead, sir.

April 2nd, 2009 / 9 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Minister of Public Safety

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'm pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the government's spending plans for the public safety portfolio as laid before Parliament in the main estimates.

I have brought with me today an entire posse of senior officials from the portfolio. I have Mario Dion, chairperson at the National Parole Board; Marc-Arthur Hyppolite, who is senior deputy commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada; Stephen Rigby, president of the Canadian Border Services Agency; Myles Kirvan, who is associate deputy minister of public safety; James Judd, director of CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; and William Sweeney, senior deputy commissioner of the RCMP.

While I have to leave at 10:30 a.m., as does the associate deputy minister, I do believe the other officials will be able to remain for the last half hour--and I hope I'm correct there--if there are any questions.

The main estimates 2009-2010 for the public safety portfolio total $7.3 billion, which represents a modest 0.5% increase over the budget for the previous fiscal year. Subject to Parliament's approval, the Government of Canada will use these funds to fund programs to protect Canadians' safety and to continue the efforts begun three years ago to increase security in the streets and communities for all Canadians.

You can obtain more information on our priorities in the reports on plans and priorities presented to Parliament on March 26.

These main estimates reflect the government's decision to invest this year in new measures to enhance public safety, including renewal of the national crime prevention strategy, federal security responsibilities for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, continuing the transformation of corrections, and additional resources for the RCMP to focus on law enforcement priorities such as drugs and border security.

The main estimates also include government investments in public safety since 2006.

Since coming to power, the government has paid considerable amounts to improve border security, emergency preparedness and youth crime prevention, as well as to hire 1,500 new RCMP officers and reform of the Correctional Service.

Budgets since 2006 have invested in programs to help protect children from sexual exploitation over the Internet, funded the national anti-drug strategy, and established funds for the provinces so they can hire more police officers. The cumulative effects of these investments are that there are more police on the streets; there is a greater and more focused emphasis on crime prevention; we are getting tougher on gangs and drug-related gun crimes; and we have just introduced new legislation to create stiffer penalties for many of these offences.

We are transforming the federal correctional system and strengthening Canada's national security capability. We have also reinforced the border by making it more effective and secure. We have reason to be proud of all these achievements.

The security and integrity of Canada's borders remains an important government priority. These estimates reflect additional funding for the Canada Border Services Agency's basic operations, border security and Olympic security. In fact, the government is investing $345 million over the next four years to ensure that the Canada Border Services Agency has all it needs to meet its mandate. I was pleased this week to announce expansions to publicly funded services provided by the Canada Border Services Agency at airports across the country.

With regard to the RCMP, the main estimates provide for an increase of $48 million in spending power for 2009-2010. Furthermore, through the supplementary estimates (A), the government will seek an additional amount of $130 million to bear the federal share of costs related to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and to provide for other budget allocations for police activities.

In brief, we are managing prudently. We are keeping our commitments and we are ensuring our agencies have the resources they need to carry out their mandates.

Now, since I appeared before you last, I understand this committee has been studying border security. I would like to report to you on my recent visit to Washington, where I met with key officials from the Obama administration and Congress, including both the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder. I reminded them that Canada is America's closest friend, most trusted ally, and most important trading partner.

As part of my discussions with Secretary Napolitano, we have agreed to seek opportunities to cooperate and work together to achieve our common objectives of reinforcing security and developing trade. We have also decided to meet twice a year on an official basis to manage border issues.

These meetings will help us develop measures together. They give us greater security and facilitate trade. We will work to finalize details on initiatives that allow Canada and the U.S. to work more cooperatively on border issues. One such initiative is the shiprider program. On that front, we spoke about the need to finalize a framework agreement that will allow both countries to implement the program on a national basis. We also agreed to again explore the possibility of moving forward with land preclearance.

Later this month, I will be meeting with Secretary Napolitano once again. The positive and constructive discussions I have had with my American counterparts are encouraging. In my opinion, we have the opportunity to work with the new American government to move matters forward and develop effective approaches to solving common problems.

National security is an important concern for our government. Terrorist activity continues to take Canadian lives in Afghanistan. Extremist and terrorist activity proves to be an enduring threat around the world.

Canada has been working closely with our allies to combat potential threats to our security. However, I believe the concerted effort that has been applied since 2001 has been paying off. While the risks remain real and incidents are still frequent, I believe the world is a safer place today. The collective counterterrorism efforts of Canada and our allies have made a difference.

Here in Canada we've had the first successful prosecution of the Toronto 18 extremist group. The recent conviction here in Ottawa of Momin Khawaja was the first successful prosecution under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act. These are tributes to the successful efforts of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but it's also a reminder of the reality that extremist and terrorist threats are very real and we must remain vigilant.

Another significant national security issue we face is cyber security. We've recently seen cyber attacks on the countries of Estonia and Georgia. The recent report from the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto is not a surprise to the government. Not a day goes by when someone, somewhere in the world, isn't trying to breach the security of our systems.

Our government will continue building on our work in this area. We will be working with our allies to meet this challenge, a challenge that changes and grows daily. We will also be encouraging the private sector to seriously engage on this issue, as it represents a potential threat to our economy, security, and stability.

Before we go to questions, in preparing for my appearance here today, it came to my attention that when I appeared before you last, there was one question to which I needed to correct the answer. There was a question, which I believe came from Mr. Harris, regarding funding in the supplementary estimates, an item totalling $1.142 million for the security and prosperity partnership. I had indicated in my initial answer that it related to the security priority of the five priorities of the security and prosperity partnership, which is called smart and secure borders. I then consulted with officials, came back, and told you, no, it wasn't that. It was in fact for the Montebello summit. My initial answer was in fact the correct one. Having had it drawn to my attention last night when reviewing these notes, I wanted to clear that up for the committee so that you have a clear understanding and record of it.

I know the committee has a busy agenda to examine a range of issues. I know how broad and expansive the jurisdictions and issues in front of this committees are. I appreciate your efforts. My officials and I are happy to support your work by appearing before you. I appreciate the considerable effort that this committee puts into that broad range of very important issues for the safety and security of Canadians.

I'm happy to answer any questions you might have. I apologize again in advance for having to depart at 10:30. Hopefully, we can get a lot done by then.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much, sir.

We will move immediately to the official opposition.

Mr. Holland, please.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Minister, thank you for appearing before the committee today.

Minister, I'd like to begin with the issue of oversight, specifically on the lack of legislative authority that the public complaints commissioner has and all of the agencies that still don't have oversight, despite the recommendations of Justice O'Connor.

In fact, this is despite the government stating it would implement the recommendations of Justice O'Connor and despite the fact that this issue of lack of legislative ability to oversee the RCMP was stated in the recommendations as needing to be fixed and in David Brown's recommendations on the RCMP pension scandal. The Senate Special Committee on Anti-terrorism also recommended it. We're going to be expecting it in Justice Braidwood's inquiry into the Dziekanski matter. We know that Justice Major's inquiry into the Air India tragedy will also recommend it.

Minister, how many inquiries does it take? How many tragedies does it take? How many times does a government have to be asked to put in these oversight mechanisms before it will finally do so?

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

As has been clearly indicated, having a proper oversight mechanism, particularly to deal with the problem that exists, which is.... I have a bunch of agencies here. Several of them have their own oversight mechanisms, but often their work crosses boundaries, and that is where, according to most of those commissions you referenced, problems have arisen. The government is strongly committed to an oversight mechanism to deal with that challenge. A lot of work has been done on it.

I will be quite candid with you. In enumerating your list of inquiries, one of those you identified was Justice Jack Major's inquiry into the Air India matter. That committee has finished its work, but we're awaiting its report. In my judgment, as Minister of Public Safety, my preference has been not to proceed with our changes until we have the advantage and benefit of his advice on the problems that existed and how he feels they can be remedied, to the extent that he may provide advice on them.

That is why, at this time, although we've done considerable work and I think are in a good position to proceed very soon with a new comprehensive oversight mechanism, it would be wise and prudent to await the recommendations of Justice Major. That is where we are right now.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

But, Minister, the part of this that I'm not understanding is that Justice O'Connor was very clear. Essentially, his recommendations were echoed by Justice Iacobucci and all the other inquiries that I've mentioned. In fact, the Auditor General, in her recent report, also indicated that there is still not an adequate level of oversight of these bodies.

Why would you wait for yet another inquiry? Is the position that as long as there is an outstanding inquiry that's going to come to the same conclusion, you'd better not implement it just in case there might be some slight minor variance? This is something that two years ago the government said they would do. This is not something that is new.

While you say you are serious about it, how serious can you be if nothing has been done in two years and we're facing the same issues and the same recommendations tragedy after tragedy? What is it going to take?

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

With the greatest of respect, a considerable amount of work has been done. If you saw the report of the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, you'd have seen that they comment positively on the amount of work that has been done. The Auditor General also comments positively in her report that work is being done.

The question becomes.... You said “waiting for another inquiry” and how many more do we have to wait for? I think it is prudent to wait for the inquiry into the worst-ever terrorist event in Canadian history. Had that inquiry been started under a previous government, we'd probably have those answers now. Unfortunately, the previous government was unwilling to do that, unwilling to have that inquiry.

As a result, we're in a position now, a long, long time after the actual terrorist incident, too many years after it, where we're trying to gain the information. But there is no doubt that it is probably considered to be the worst failure of cooperation among intelligence agencies, leading to the worst-ever Canadian terrorism incident. I think that's worth waiting for advice and answers on before we go off thinking we have all the answers.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Minister, two years ago Justice O'Connor's recommendations came out. You said they would be adopted. They were not, period.

On the issue of apology, when we dealt with Maher Arar, the government took advantage of parliamentary privilege and, despite the fact that there was ongoing litigation, recognized that a tremendous wrong had been done.

We have a similar situation with the conclusions that were reached by Justice Iacobucci with respect to Mr. Elmaati , Mr. Almalki, and Mr. Nureddin. I want to know if you'll take the same opportunity today that was taken for Mr. Arar and use parliamentary privilege and extend an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for the horrible tragedy of that circumstance and the incredible pain that those individuals had to endure.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Firstly, in terms of the O'Connor commission, your assertion here is simply not accurate. Almost all the recommendations there have been largely implemented. You told the committee that none of them have. That's simply not true.

The only question that remains outstanding of significance is that of an oversight body and--

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Which happens to be the most important recommendation, Minister.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

It's a very significant recommendation and that's why we want to get it right. That's why we want Justice Major's advice. I'd be very disappointed if we put in place a new mechanism that failed to answer to what Justice Major recommends, based on the most serious terrorist incident in Canadian history. As I said, we wish we would have had that before now. We wish a previous government would have responded to requests to have a public inquiry--

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

And I wish you would have dealt with Justice O'Connor's recommendations two years ago, but can you answer to the issue of the apology?

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

--but unfortunately that didn't happen.

With regard to your other question, those matters are before the courts, before litigation, so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on that.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Well, if you're not going to avail yourself of the same opportunity that you did for Mr. Arar, that's indeed unfortunate.

My last question is with respect to the comments that were made this week on torture. I am deeply concerned. Let me ask the same question for which I couldn't get an answer and ask your opinion. Should we be sharing information with states that we know to be engaging in terrorist activity, a direct contravention of recommendation 14 in Mr. O'Connor's report? Are we continuing to share information with Syria and Egypt, yes or no?

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

We certainly don't want to cooperate with states that conduct terrorist activities. I'm not sure whether we identify Egypt as a country engaged in terrorist activity. Mr. Judd may want to add to that.