House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was defence.

Topics

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously an amendment was made. It was in fact proposed by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île, and accepted in desperation.

However, in accordance with what the parliamentary secretary said, provisions could have been included throughout the bill to make sure that provincial jurisdictions would be respected and that provinces would have priority access to remote sensing images. Such was not the case.

The only amendment accepted was the one that would have been very difficult to reject. How could the Liberal Party admitted publicly that it was against the interests of the provinces?

When one looks at the details of the bill, one realizes that, in spite of the government's rhetoric, respecting the provincial jurisdictions and giving the provinces priority access to remote sensing images is not among its priorities. Otherwise, the government would have wholeheartedly accepted the changes proposed by the Bloc Québécois.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-25, the act governing the operation of remote sensing space systems.

Now that we are at third reading of the bill and in the final stages, I want to say at the outset that when we were debating the bill in principle at second reading, the NDP and our critic in this area, the member for Halifax, were actually of two minds about the bill. We were very aware of the critical need for legislation outlining protection for Canadian interests and the privacy of Canadians, and for proper controls and regulations when it comes to satellites, the information used and how it is governed.

While we were very aware of the underlying need for this legislation, when we looked at the bill we became very concerned about the vagueness of the language in the bill. It really began to raise some alarm bells for us in the NDP in terms of exactly how the bill would be implemented and whether or not the public interest would be upheld.

I know that the member for Halifax, our critic, worked very diligently at the committee level. When the bill was referred to committee, she worked very diligently with NGOs and with community representatives who were very concerned about the bill and who in fact brought forward something like 18 solid amendments which would have provided the kind of clarification, accountability and transparency for this bill that would have allowed us in the NDP, had the amendments been approved, to then support the bill.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. Those amendments were not approved. Here we are at third reading, and although we agree with the underlying intent and principle of the bill, we have serious reservations that the bill does not go far enough. It does not do the job in protecting the interests of Canadians and ensuring that there is adequate public oversight of what happens with RADARSAT-2. I will just spend a few minutes detailing what some of those concerns are.

First of all, let us be very clear that it is Canadian taxpayers who have funded a major portion of the development of this satellite. About 75% of the development funds have come from the public purse. That is about $450 million. On a financial basis alone, after what has been invested in this program, we should have a huge concern about what is going on.

The reality is that this satellite, RADARSAT-2, will be 100% commercially owned. It seriously raises the question as to why, as my colleague from the Bloc raised earlier, the Canadian Space Agency, for example, does not have some control and oversight of the development of this satellite and all that it will entail.

Why is it that the Canadian government appears to be moving away from its controlling interest and oversight of this? We will end up with a 100% commercially owned entity where the only connection and accountability will be as a result of this bill, which, as I have said, is very inadequate.

We agree that Canadians must be assured that the information collected by RADARSAT-2, the satellite, will not be used against our national interest and will not violate in any way the privacy of Canadians. In fact, one of the amendments that we sought in committee was to entrench the privacy rights of Canadians, to ensure those rights in view of the imagery collected by this incredibly powerful, highly advanced, state of the art technology. That is what we are told about it by its manufacturer, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.

We wanted an ironclad agreement that the privacy of Canadians from images and information resulting from this technology would be protected. We know that the images created can come up to within one and a half metres of an individual, an activity or a location. I think people have a really deep concern about that.

We live in an era where data collection is massive. We live in an era where increasing privatization, which has been encouraged and supported by the federal government, infringes upon the rights of Canadians and their protection of privacy. We have to recognize that there is a very deep concern from Canadians about this issue.

One only has to remember, for example, the outcry from Canadians when they learned that Statistics Canada was thinking of handing over our census collection to Lockheed Martin, the largest ammunitions and militarized corporation in the world. When people found out that our census and Canadian data about Canadians, about us individually, was about to be handed over to Lockheed Martin, there was a huge outcry in this country. We were the ones who raised it in Parliament and the federal government had to back away from that because it realized that it had gone down a road where there was a massive backlash.

One only has to remember what is going on in British Columbia, where the Liberal provincial government is working to allow medical records to also be handled by a U.S. corporation. There are huge concerns about the loss of privacy and the lack of adequate oversight and control around the handling of that data.

I mention these two examples because they are very pertinent to this debate today. Here we have RADARSAT-2, a state of the art technology, featuring the most advanced commercially available radar imagery in the world, to be developed by next year, massive Canadian funds that have been invested in it, yet what hangs on a shred is this bill and the protection of not only individual privacy and rights of Canadians but also national interests.

One of our major concerns about this bill is that it does not include the kind of protection that we would like to see, that we sought in committee, in order to have the protection of privacy of Canadians.

Another serious concern that we have about this bill is that the language that is contained within it now is very vague and unaccountable in terms like international obligations and international relations. Again at committee, we tried to further define this and to get much better assurances from the government to ensure that where there is a conflict, where a conflict may arise in terms of information that is collected by RADARSAT-2, it will in no way violate or impact on Canadian interests or national security.

We have heard from the parliamentary secretary today that of course, there is no question, he is entirely convinced, as his government is, that this bill will adequately protect those interests. However, I must say that from the witnesses who were heard at committee there was a great deal of skepticism. There was a great deal of concern that there were not adequate protections to ensure that information affecting our international obligations or international relations would be protected.

For example, Canada is a part of NATO. NATO makes decisions about engaging in military actions. It may be a military action that involves NATO going to war. It may be a decision that Canada does not agree with, but it leaves us with a scenario where information that has been collected could be used by other agencies and interests that would place in conflict Canada's policies and international relations.

This is an area of great concern to us as well as the language that is within the bill right now. Basically, it is left to the sole discretion of ministers to decide whether or not there is a conflict with international obligations and national interests. We believe that this is something that should firmly rest with Canada. These are big questions and they were canvassed by the committee. They were on the table in committee where there was a lot of discussion.

We heard from Bloc members who had similar concerns. Yet the government chose not to further elaborate and provide protections in the bill to ensure that privacy and Canada's interests are protected.

We are concerned that the bill will now be approved. In fact, the parliamentary secretary earlier in the debate today made reference to a special in camera meeting that was held supposedly to assure members of the committee that the protections that they sought would be there. I was not there. I am not on the committee, but I know from our critic, the member for Halifax, that the meeting did take place.

However, in actual fact what transpired from that was an even greater concern that there may be other agreements between the satellite company and the federal government that were not even acknowledged. That is a very real concern.

This information was not fully disclosed at the in camera committee. We are very concerned that there may be other confidential agreements that exist. We do not know the terms of those agreements. We do not know how it impacts on information that may be divulged to other parties.

Yes, frankly speaking, there is a concern that information that is collected by this technology and this commercially owned operation can be used by other governments, for example, the U.S. for military purposes. It may be contrary to a decision that Canada has taken, for example, our non-participation in the war in Iraq. We know that it happened with RADARSAT-1.

I know the parliamentary secretary is going to get up and tell me, and try to convince me and other Canadians that the government has done the job, that it has protected everyone. However, upon our examination of the bill and hearing from expert witnesses and hearing from people who are tracking the bill and the system, there is no such assurance.

Therefore, we are standing before the House today and saying that we cannot support the bill. Otherwise we would be supporting it because we understand why the bill is needed. However, we cannot support it in its present form. It does not provide the kind of assurances and guarantees that we believe are incredibly important for this kind of highly sensitive, highly volatile information that is being collected.

I would speak further to one other amendment, of which there were a number put forward by the NDP, which was rejected. It recommended that a detailed report be filed with Parliament that would clearly outline for example how many times violations had taken place, how fines were being imposed, and whether the government had collected on those fines. We tried to bring in amendments that delivered on the accountability and transparency side, but again they were not accepted, so we are left in a position where we cannot support the bill.

At the beginning of the debate we heard from the parliamentary secretary that there was a sense of urgency to get the bill through. Maybe there is and maybe there is not. I do not know, but it is a very significant bill because it deals with an area of public policy that really does not get enough public scrutiny.

It is the kind of bill that can just easily slip through and before we know it the landscape has changed and all the rules have changed. Here we have a commercially owned operation where vast amounts of powerful information and images are being collected that can be used in a way that is contrary to Canadian interests.

We have very serious reservations about that. We believe that the bill should not be rushed through. It should be debated. We should have a review of some of the amendments that have been put forward. There are two parties that have very strong reservations about the bill, but as it stands now it looks like it will pass. We do not think that is good enough and so we will be using our votes to clearly voice our opposition to third reading.

I encourage other members to take another look at it and consider their position. We think the bill as it is now is not adequate. It is not good enough. It does not provide the kind of protection that is being sought by members of the community, by our party and by other parties to protect the interests of Canadians.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I understand and have listened very attentively to the list of concerns that the House leader for the New Democratic Part has raised.

I am rather thankful that the NDP has now recognized that this particular type of technology has absolutely nothing to do with ballistic missile defence. It was a very hard nut to crack over there, but we have been able to do that.

I want to address some of the questions that she has raised because I know there will be opportunities for rejoinders at some point.

On the subject of privatization, I know the New Democratic Party has a problem with this, in general. This is a reality however that was passed by this House several years ago on the subject of satellites. There was a debate in this House and the House pronounced itself on this issue.

The subject of how this may be privatized in terms of RADARSAT-2 is a debate of a bygone era but nevertheless an important debate, not because the hon. member has expressed it but because it will be an ongoing concern. Provisions are made in this act, including the amendment which has been accepted by the government that we review this act periodically and that Parliament have the opportunity to do this. On that question, obviously, the hon. member may want to brush up.

On the question of privacy, the member raises a good point as far as understanding that we have very effective privacy laws. The hon. member will know that the government did meet with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner prior to the tabling of this and it had no recommendation for provisions dealing with privacy.

There are of course other safeguards which I want the hon. member to address, not only with respect to the Privacy Act itself. The protection of personal Information and electronic documentations act provides further assistance when we need to be concerned as it relates to who the licence is given to and when the licence is issued. The other one of course is the charter of rights itself. It would be important for us to recognize the importance of the Privacy Act in that the act is not defined in a way that would make the Privacy Act lesser or subordinate to the importance of that act in and of itself.

Does the hon. member believe that in this particular act we should have created a super privacy act? Or is she prepared to rely on the very effectiveness and wisdom of the Privacy Commissioner and the Privacy Act?

Finally, on the question of other nations and priorities, those are established priorities. We want to ensure that when it comes to these cameras, this particular device being used, that they also take into consideration the priorities as established by the government, that they are not inconsistent both with international law and the international obligations as well as the international priorities of this government and of this Parliament.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary did as I predicted; that is, he tried to provide some soothing words to assure me and others that this bill is okay and that it will protect against the concerns that we have. However, I am not reassured by his comments.

If he believes, as he says, that he cares about the privacy of Canadians, then why would the government not have supported the amendments that were put forward by the NDP? We also suggested in committee that we should impose the same rules on this operation, RADARSAT-2, as we do on the defence industry. That was a no go, as well. It seems to me that the government is trying to do as little as it can. It did not adopt those amendments.

I clearly want to state that if the parliamentary secretary is somehow interpreting that we do not have concerns about how information and images from this RADARSAT-2 can be used for military purposes, star wars or anything else, then he is wrong. That is a serious concern that we have and one of the reasons that we sought amendments at committee that were defeated.

Yes, his job is to try and convince all of us that everything is A-okay under this bill, but it is not. The reality is that those concerns still persist from at least two of the parties in this House and certainly from organizations which track and monitor the government's policies and progress in terms of this kind of development and how it can be used for other purposes, so we are not reassured.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize the hon. member is quite willing to pursue the argument which suggests that as long as the NDP has proposed it, it must mean that there is a problem and that unless it is addressed, the sky will literally fall.

We have to be serious about this legislation. We have the support from the opposition. However, we also want to take into account the real and variable concerns that the committee had heard, and we did so in a very painstaking way. We took the time to listen to every witness provided by the hon. members.

Both hon. members from the Bloc and the NDP really believed the bill had something to do with directing missiles that might be launched or might be used to defend. The record is very clear. The NDP believed that this kind of satellite had something to do with tracking missiles as they went through the sky at 10,000 kilometres an hour. However, that is fantasy and it is the kind of Buck Rogers response to what is a very serious issue. They got the technology wrong. They got it wrong on the question of privacy because there are plenty of safeguards there. They got it wrong in terms of saying that somehow this was a deviation from previous policy when Parliament already had pronounced itself on this.

While I understand the hon. member's concern and lament, the safeguard about reviewing any of the deficiencies already is in the act. The debate between myself and the member is really one of perspective. However, I want the hon. member to understand that we are basing this on a prima facia case of fact, not fantasy, not what this might do. There are safeguards in the act to prevent the kind of occurrences to which the hon. member believes this might lead.

The hon. member has an obligation in the House to understand that the technology being used not only respects Canada's international obligations, it also respects the very bills that have been passed in the House in previous times.

Therefore, short of the concerns which she has raised, which are really not founded in any basis of fact, short of what we have done to exhaust the witness list of people who have come before us and recognizing the satellite has to come in 2006 because RADARSAT-1 already is five years long in the tooth, I do not want it falling from the sky, nor does the hon. member.

What does the hon. member believe we could do right now that would help her party understand that this technology is important for Canada and for Canada's development internationally? It is also important for Canada's contribution to the kinds of sciences that will continue to make a cutting edge and that will create the kinds of jobs the member and I want in our constituencies.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a very different perspective. For the parliamentary secretary to in effect minimize and trivialize the concerns being put forward is most unfortunate, but I guess that is what he sees his job. This is not just about what the NDP has to say. The bill went through committee where there were significant concerns expressed by NGOs, by people who watched this development and put forward the same kind of concerns.

I am under no obligation, nor is the NDP, to say we have some responsibility to approve this because the government has brought forward a bill. Our job is to critique the bill and point out its shortcomings. The NDP did a very good job of doing that. It is very regrettable that the Liberal government chose not to hear what those concerns were and to act upon them. We now have an important bill going forward. It needs to be done, but it is flawed. It does not have the accountability that is required not does it have the transparency that is required. I think there will be many questions about the bill in the future. I think Canadians were sold short by it.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to belabour the point for the hon. member as I know she has put a lot of time into this. However, it is always beneficial to have a member of Parliament sitting on the committee to know exactly what has happened. I understand the philosophy and the importance of what is being provided here.

There appears to be several amendments that her party proposed at committee which were accepted and were not in essence redundant. I am looking at dozens that were supplied by her party. Some are extremely important to address the concerns of the NDP and to express the concerns that might have some relationship to what we were trying to accomplish here. As much as the government and the opposition have been flexible in this regard, there comes a point where philosophy obscures one's vision of the facts.

I do not blame the hon. member because she never sat on the committee. Perhaps she was there for only a moment or two. She is relying on the good work done by the hon. member for Halifax for whom I have great respect and who has done a lot of work on this issue.

As much as I understand the correspondence between herself and the member who sat on the committee, something has become lost. Not withstanding the objections, in my view there was an emergence on the committee of general consensus that this was not the great satellite detection system that would be used for military purposes in terms of the ballistic missile defence.

Surely the hon. member and her party are not saying now that they are opposing the bill because it could have positive implications for our troops around the world and for people who find themselves in positions of disaster. Surely the NDP is not saying that Bill C-25 should not pass and allow the kind of technology that helps Canadians abroad.

I want to hear it from the NDP. Are those members opposing the legislation because they have some philosophical differences or are they opposing it because they have some kind of reticence to protecting Canadians abroad?

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I found the comments of the parliamentary secretary to be incredibly patronizing. This is not some sort of philosophical debate. The bill exists. This is something concrete. This is about sharp differences between what we saw as a need for amendments to the legislation and that did happen.

The question of needing the bill is not an issue. It is the reality that the bill does not give the kind of protection raised in committee and was warranted. I find it very trivializing for him to pass it off as somehow being a philosophical debate.

If the government chooses not to look at those amendments and adopt them, then so be it. If the government wants our support on Bill C-25, then let it come forward and discuss those amendments. We would be happy to do that. If they were approved, then we would be happy to support the bill.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-25. The bill is intended to implement the commitment of Canada made under the Canada-U.S. agreement concerning the operation of commercial remote sensing satellite systems in June of 2000. The purpose of that agreement was to ensure that private remote sensing satellite systems would be controlled in each territory, that is, Canada and the United States, in such a manner as to protect shared national security interests without interfering in the commercial benefits to be derived from these systems.

From my point of view, the most important portion of remote sensing is the ability to use the system to secure our borders and remain autonomous in our defence decision making. Security in the form of border control is a useful example of the system's advancement. Whether it is curious activity taking place at a particular port or unusual movement or normally unused coastlines, this satellite technology will make us aware.

As we know, the bill has been through the committee stage under intense scrutiny and the private-public partnership that will be used to run the system was addressed. We feel assured that the private sector investment in technology will be beneficial to keeping Canadian satellite technology development progressing steadily, with no need to invest in technology elsewhere.

The images taken by the satellites serve a plethora of purposes. There cannot be one particular environmental field in Canada that would be disappointed with RADARSAT-2's ability now to give them the most advanced information possible to track environmental information. Forest fires, flooding, any type of environmental degradation can be located with this new technology. It is able to produce the most elaborate maps of the earth's surface which will serve other numerous purposes, like irrigation planning and identifying arable land, et cetera.

The accuracy of RADARSAT-2 is truly remarkable in identifying objects on or near the earth's surface. From the movement of people to blemishes on agricultural goods, this sensing system is the epitome of detail.

All principal emphasis in the legislation seems to agree with relevant Conservative Party policies, notably those which uphold the commitment to encourage the private sectors and those which underline the primary responsibility of government to provide for national security. It is intended to provide the Government of Canada with authority to regulate remote sensing space systems and to protect national interests in matters of defence and security. It is seen as an essential prerequisite to further acts of co-operation between government and private firms which intend to operate in these fields.

The present legislation appears to provide an opportunity to secure the proper role for a sovereign Canada in regulating the most advanced systems gathering information from space. The Conservative Party's interest in this matter of securing a proper place for the private sector in scientific and industrial activity leads it to support the legislation, as does its commitment to the defence of the nation, the hemisphere from military threats from abroad and from terrorist activities conceived at home and abroad. Thus, it will support the legislation.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
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12:50 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the official opposition's critic on defence issues and very much respect his background and understanding of work with respect to Canada's military and Canada's priorities abroad. I think we have taken a very balanced view on many of these issues. His colleagues who worked on the bill in the committee have supported, in general principle, the idea of moving forward as quickly and as expeditiously as possible with the bill along with some amendments.

One of the amendments that was proposed was the five year review by Parliament to ensure that the legislation meets the requirements we have both internationally and here domestically within this department.

The hon. member will know about the recent disasters that took place in the world, both in terms of the tsunami last December in the Indian Ocean and, more recently, the devastating hurricanes. Does he and his party have a position as it relates to the importance of being able to help signal devastation, to alert our search and rescue and other efforts to find the best ways to get Canadians out of harm's way? Does he believe this technology will assist in that regard? Perhaps he could give some perspectives given his many years working in defence in Canada.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, RADARSAT-2 is improved technology that provides governments, in this case our government, with the ability to sense much of the information that it could not sense before. If a disaster were to arrive, RADARSAT-2 could provide a lot of information to the government so that it could make reasoned decisions on what kind of resources have to be committed to a particular area. We see RADARSAT-2 as a most valuable advance in information technology and information for planning by the government.

As people who believe in the protection of the individual, we feel comforted that the bill contains enough privacy protection for individuals. However when it comes to national security, in the sense of a large scale disaster or terrorists, I think this RADARSAT would be of great benefit, which is why we support this project and why when the bill comes to a vote we will support it.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member who again demonstrated some background and history in terms of work in this area.

Although this has been a public/private type of arrangement, I wonder if the hon. member has examples of where he sees future investments with respect to this kind of technology. How, for instance, may it help our armed forces in certain circumstances?

A very large section in the bill talks about the effective use of shutter control. I am thinking of circumstances where the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence may have a concern to protect our forces, if indeed this kind of technology would have been made available years ago had it been around, whether or not something like this could have helped Canada's military in days past. Does he see this as being a more efficient use of our obligations internationally at a time when they are dearly needed?

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a very sensible aspect of the bill to ensure that the Ministers of National Defence and Foreign Affairs have the ability to impose a shutter control on RADARSAT-2.

RADARSAT-2, as envisaged at the moment, will be of great benefit to commercial and private interests. Of course in a time of crisis it may not be in the national interest to provide all this information to private individuals, so it is quite beneficial to have this shutter control.

However one of the most practical purposes that this kind of radar can be put to is the developments in the north. As we know, global warming is proceeding. I will not get into the debate of what is causing global warming, but the ice is melting in the north and it is changing the terrain. We will be having a lot more activity in the north, especially when the Northwest Passage opens up. We will have a lot of transportation from Asia, Europe and America going through our north.

It will be beneficial for our government at the time to be able to sense what is happening on our terrain, especially in the north, as a contributor to our national sovereignty. I see RADARSAT, on balance, as being a great asset for our country and will benefit our country. I also think it is very wise to put a shutter control on in the case of some kind of national emergency.

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-25 today regarding remote sensing of space systems.

Three or four years ago, when I was our party's defence critic, I was fortunate enough to visit the RADARSAT facility here in Ottawa. When I went into that facility I knew very little about what this was all about but by the time I left I was terribly impressed. The whole operation of RADARSAT-1 is something for which Canadians can be proud.

It was apparently initiated back in about 1980 I believe when Canada had been using a similar type of radar based American satellite and that satellite failed after only a few days in space. Therefore Canada was looking at what to do in terms of replacing the needs of that time. The government decided to develop its own program and develop its own radar based satellite and RADARSAT-1 was the result of that.

When I visited that facility I was terribly impressed by some of the capability. Most of the capability has to do with areas like the environment and issues like a natural disaster of some kind. I was really impressed when it was explained to me how RADARSAT-1 was actually used to monitor oil spills on the ocean anywhere on earth. If there was an oil spill this satellite could actually monitor the spreading of the oil or other substances on the water.

I do not think anyone could argue the importance of having that RADARSAT-1 capability.

What the legislation would do is determine an appropriate role for government in monitoring satellites like that. RADARSAT-2 is about to be launched over the next few years. I think the need for legislation was partially spawned by that but I also think it was partly because the government recognized that there are times when it has to monitor and regulate the information gathered by equipment like RADARSAT-1, and 2 in the future, in order to be allowed to use information collected for the benefit of national security.

That is really the purpose of the bill. It would allow the Minister of Foreign Affairs to license commercial development of remote sensing satellite systems and regulate the distribution of information produced by these systems.

The bill does have national security implications but it also has important implications in dealing with the environment, natural resources and possibly military use as well.

This is one of those pieces of legislation that comes before the House that does not seem like particularly important legislation and there is a temptation to kind of rush it through the House. The bill has been examined in committee already and many concerns were raised by all parties regarding what was in the bill and some changes were made.

Our party will support the bill but we have some concerns about it and we will be looking for some clarification, particularly in terms of definitions of just what types of satellite systems the government may control. In this case that control is appropriate, as I have stated before, but I think it has to be clearly defined under what situations and in what way a government can take over the use of that system and restrict the agencies from using that information in a way that may harm our country and may harm national security.

This legislation might not sound that important, but I believe it is important and does deserve proper scrutiny. We will continue to do that throughout the process in the House.

Bill C-25 allows Canadian companies to own and operate remote sensing satellite systems under licence from the government. It provides government with priority access if government deems it must interrupt the normal use of the system. Just for clarification, it is not the case that the government will actually be running the system. It is not the case that the regulation will involve the everyday use of the system, so much as allowing, when needed, for government to step in and use the information as required and also for it to limit the use of the information by the private sector or by the agency.

Again it is a situation where it is hard to define clearly which situations would require government to intervene, but it is important that we do the best job we can. The committee has attempted to do that. There is some work to be done and we will certainly continue to try to ensure that the bill is in a form that we can support before we support it at third reading, but we will support it at this time.

When we look at its potential use and how RADARSAT-1 has been used, it is not just about RADARSAT-1 or RADARSAT-2; it could certainly be future satellites that we may not know anything about. If we look at the potential use of these types of systems, we do not want to do anything to discourage the private sector or an agency to become involved and to develop. It is to everyone's benefit in this country that it is developed and that the use is expanded in the future.

Other than the oil spill and the environmental type of situation which I mentioned, we could all imagine the great importance of having a system like this available in the case of a natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake. Often in an earthquake, communications systems are closed down. Roads and railways and other access routes are shut down. To have this monitoring ability is extremely important. The use of this type of system is clearly of importance, so we do not want government to get involved in a way that will discourage the private sector from continuing to develop future satellite systems.

As the bill passes through the House, we have to ensure that it will not discourage, but that it will encourage the private sector and the government agencies involved to do their work and develop even better systems in the future.

I will leave my comments at that. I look forward to hearing the debate today. Certainly I look forward to the final form of the legislation when it has passed through the House. It may not be perceived as a particularly important bill, but I believe it is important that Parliament does its job on the bill.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's statement. He is the former defence critic for the opposition and an individual who, as he said, is very aware of the issues surrounding Bill C-25.

It is important to reiterate some of the important points that were touched on by the previous speaker. Not only is this bill important from a security aspect, which I will get to in a moment, but it is also extremely important from an environmental aspect.

Global warming is taking place. We have heard of the contraction of the ice cap in the north and what effect that is going to have. We know about the different changes that are occurring with respect to our waterways, the changing weather patterns that are occurring and the effect on the ground. Vegetation is changing. Vegetation mapping is important from a scientific perspective and an environmental perspective, but it is also exceedingly important to the member's province of Alberta and my province of British Columbia. Understanding the changing environment on the ground with respect to the forest cover is exceptionally important from environmental and economic perspectives.

I also want to touch on an important issue that I know is close to the member's heart, as it is for me and the government. That is the issue of defence. To those who would criticize Bill C-25, I say watch out. This bill is extremely important for our troops, for their protection and their ability to do their work within Canada and abroad. Bill C-25 and the RADARSATs are extremely important for us to enable them to do their work and also to protect them.

I would ask those who would oppose this bill to think about whether it is rational at all to deprive our armed forces, our men and women on the ground who are doing a yeoman's job abroad, of this information and capability. We must have it for their protection and their service to our nation. It is a rhetorical question which deserves but one answer, and that is yes. This bill is important for their security and the work that they do for our country and Canadians here and abroad.

Given the hon. member's experience as the previous defence critic for his party, could he expand upon where this RADARSAT technology may wish to go in the future for our armed forces?