House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provisions.

Topics

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

moved:

1. That pursuant to subsection 83.32(1) of the Criminal Code, the application of sections 83.28, 83.29 and 83.3 of that Act be extended for a period of three years from the first day on which this resolution is passed by both Houses of Parliament.

2. That this Resolution come into force on the day on which it has been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:05 a.m.

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I can think of no greater duty for a government than to provide for the safety and security of its citizens. The government has clearly demonstrated its commitment to that duty since taking office.

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Canada put in place the Anti-terrorism Act. Canada's new government continues to support the need to provide the necessary tools to police and prosecutors to prevent, disrupt and deter terrorist incidents.

The motion put before the House today concerns two measures which came into effect five years ago. First, the investigative hearing power in the Anti-terrorism Act. This enables law enforcement officials to investigate and obtain information about terrorism offences.

Second, the recognizance with conditions provision is designed to disrupt emerging terrorist activity by putting a person under judicial supervision. These provisions are designed to prevent the carrying out of terrorist activities and make Canada a more difficult environment for terrorists to operate in. Because terrorism can result in mass destruction and death, punishment after the event is not enough. We must adopt a preventive approach.

Therefore, the key aspect of the provisions under consideration today is prevention, and that is something I believe all Canadians can support. They would also agree that preventing terrorism is not only a Canadian responsibility, but a global responsibility, and prevention of terrorism is an essential goal that we should all share.

Our legislation must be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It must respect human rights. It must be proportional to the threat. It must, at appropriate points, involve the judiciary and it must have effective procedural safeguards.

The investigative hearing and the recognizance with conditions meet those high standards. They are core elements of an appropriate legislative response to terrorism.

The investigative hearing provision has been upheld by our nation's highest court. It allows a peace officer investigating a terrorist offence to ask a judge to require a witness to answer questions before a judge or produce evidence, such as documents or recordings.

When the procedure was scrutinized and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, the court had this to say about the safeguards built into this legislation:

It is clear from the above discussion that the procedural protections available to the appellant in relation to the judicial investigative hearing are equal to and, in the case of derivative use immunity, greater than the protections afforded to witnesses compelled to testify in other proceedings, such as criminal trials, preliminary inquiries or commission hearings.

It is important to remember that these hearings are not meant to punish, but to obtain information that can help prevent a terrorist offence. Not only can they be used to gather information in respect of potential future attacks, but they can also be used to assist in finding the perpetrator of a past attack, who could thereafter be prosecuted and convicted and, most important, prevented from carrying out additional attacks.

A person appearing at an investigative hearing appears as a witness, not as an accused person. The advantage of such a hearing is that a person may be asked questions in a judicial forum where information can be properly received and evaluated.

These hearings, from an investigative standpoint, would likely be more often used to garner information from a peripheral person rather than the actual target of a terrorist investigation. This individual could be brought in and questioned in order to gather information to open up new leads and move the investigation forward. It could also conceivably assist in possible cases where a person may want to come forward, but would be reluctant to be seen to volunteer information in aid of an investigation.

This is an exceptional power. For that reason I emphasize that it can only be used with the proper authorizations. Parliament clearly recognized that it should only be used in very particular circumstances. This House attached many safeguards to its use, including the following: first, requiring the prior consent of the relevant Attorney General; second, giving witnesses the right to retain and instruct counsel and protecting them against self-incrimination; third, requiring federal and provincial attorneys general to report annually to Parliament on the use of these powers; and fourth, making it subject to a five year sunset clause.

The investigative hearing provision has been invoked just once in 2003 in connection with the Air-India case, and even then the hearing was never held. As I said earlier, the Supreme Court of Canada held in 2004, in connection with the same case, that the investigative hearing process was, in fact, constitutionally valid.

The investigative hearing procedure is not without precedent. Indeed, this type of procedure is well known in Canadian law. It parallels procedures employed in the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, public inquiries, and coroners' inquests. In addition, section 11 of the Competition Act incorporates court ordered investigative hearings, which are generally held to determine how markets operate and how companies compete with each other.

This type of procedure is also well known in other countries. Australia and South Africa employ a similar legal measure to help investigate terrorist threats to their citizens. The United States has a longstanding grand jury system, and the United Kingdom has a regime under which failure to disclose material information to a constable in relation to a terrorism investigation is a criminal offence.

We are at the five year deadline. We would be neglecting our duty if we allowed these important tools for investigating and preventing terrorist acts to simply expire. Allowing this provision to sunset is not a reasonable option. While some critics of the act would no doubt welcome this option, failing to renew this and the recognizance provision would deprive all Canadians, including the police, prosecutors and the judiciary, of the tools needed to prevent terrorist activities.

Another essential measure in the Anti-terrorism Act is the recognizance with conditions provision. This provision is sometimes known as preventative arrest, which is a very misleading term I should say. Its purpose is not to arrest a person, but to put that person under judicial supervision in order to prevent a terrorist incident.

This provision is meant to be used to allow a person to be released under his or her own recognizance to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, and where warranted, to submit to certain other reasonable release conditions. Such measures are not new in Canadian law. For example, judges have long had the power to require a person to enter into what is sometimes called a peace bond. Such recognizances are used in relation to personal injury and child sex offences as well as criminal organization offences.

The recognizance with conditions in the Anti-terrorism Act is a version of a peace bond. It is designed to prevent, restrict, or disrupt preparations for terrorist activity. For example, these provisions could be useful against individuals who are raising funds or otherwise facilitating the activities of terrorist organizations.

To employ this procedure, the police must obtain the prior consent of the appropriate attorney general. They can only obtain this consent if they believe on reasonable grounds that a terrorist activity will be carried out and suspect on reasonable grounds that the imposition of a recognizance with conditions on a person or the arrest of a person is necessary to prevent the carrying out of the terrorist activity.

In certain limited circumstances, the police may arrest a person without a warrant in order to bring him or her before a judge. A person detained in these circumstances must be brought before a judge within 24 hours, or if no judge is available, as soon as possible thereafter. A hearing is then held with all parties present, including the person's counsel.

At this hearing the judge evaluates the evidence and determines whether the police officer has reasonable grounds for the suspicion. If so, the judge then decides whether it would be advisable to order the individual to enter into a recognizance obliging that person to comply with certain conditions before being released. These conditions might include a curfew, restrictions on the use of telephones or computers, or travel restrictions. Should the person not agree to comply with those conditions the judge may order that the person be detained for up to 12 months.

As with the investigative hearing power, this provision contains robust legal safeguards to protect the rights of the individual, including reporting requirements for federal and provincial attorneys general, the Minister of Public Safety and provincial ministers responsible for policing. It is important to understand that while the police may make an arrest without warrant, they must still subsequently obtain the consent of the relevant attorney general. Also, under these provisions, it falls to the judiciary to determine whether conditions affecting a person's liberty will be imposed. It is not for the police to do so.

Both the investigative hearing and the recognizance with conditions provisions are preventive in nature. In each case, their intended use is to bring a person before a judge, either to advance the investigation of a terrorist offence or to prevent an act of terrorism.

Some would argue that we should eliminate these provisions because they are so seldom required. That would be akin to getting rid of our fire extinguisher because we have never had a fire.

Justice Canada monitors the use of these Anti-terrorism Act provisions in cooperation with other federal departments and our provincial and territorial counterparts. Frankly, we should take great comfort from the restraint shown in their use thus far.

Parliament clearly recognized in 2001 that these safeguards were appropriate and that they were necessary. Parliament just as clearly recognized that we needed new powers to deal with the exceptional new threat posed by international terrorism. That threat continues as we all know.

This can be demonstrated, for example, by recalling the terrorist attacks on mass transportation in Mumbai this past August, in London in July 2005, and in Madrid in March 2004. We should also recollect that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda movement have not retracted their threats against our country of Canada. We should also bear in mind that reports last summer of a plot to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners.

We have also seen on numerous occasions around the world the deliberate mass murder of civilians in public places. Suicide bombings have sadly become commonplace in our daily news reports. Yet, we may be facing an even more devastating threat if terrorist groups gain access to weapons of mass destruction. Cyber terrorism that would seek to paralyze our infrastructure could also have devastating effects. Societies that, like Canada, are open, democratic and technologically advanced could easily be subject to attack in these areas.

Canada's own recent history demonstrates that we are not immune from terrorist incidents. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, international terrorism threatens our peaceful communities and our way of life and, regrettably, is likely to be part of our world for years to come.

The investigative hearing and recognizance with condition provisions provide law enforcement agencies with the much needed ability to act quickly when necessary, and potentially save lives. And they can only be activated under special circumstances.

As I said, both of these powers will cease to apply on the 15th day of 2007 on which both Houses of Parliament sit, unless both Houses pass a resolution to extend it.

A sunset clause was inserted in 2001 to allow us to review the powers, with the benefit of five years experience and determine whether they are still desirable and necessary.

These provisions do not exist just for the sake of having them or because the government wants to have them. In a perfect world, there would be no need for such procedures. As we have seen, however, in the real world threats do exist, not just south of the border or in some far off corner of the globe, but right here in Canada, as we discovered last year with the unravelling of an apparent plot to cause violence and destruction in our largest city, Toronto, and right here at our very doorstep in Ottawa. These powers are something we need, not something we want, and they are absolutely necessary.

The House of Commons subcommittee reviewing the act released an interim report on these provisions in October. The majority of the subcommittee recommended that both provisions be extended to December 31, 2011, in other words for five more years, and that Parliament review any further extension beyond that date.

Other recommendations will be addressed by the government in its response to the parliamentary review of the Anti-terrorism Act. This resolution before the House is, necessarily, limited to the issue of whether these existing provisions should sunset or should be extended.

I thank the subcommittee for its timely interim report and excellent work. We look forward to receiving the findings of the subcommittee on the entire review, as well as those advanced in a report by the Senate.

The government believes that the investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions will continue to be important tools for our domestic law enforcement agencies as they act to prevent, disrupt and investigate terrorism.

Both the Minister of Public Safety and the former minister of justice argued before the parliamentary committees reviewing the Anti-terrorism Act that these tools are still needed.

Accordingly, today a motion has been put before this House in an effort to ensure that these powers continue to be available to investigate and prevent acts of terror.

I want to be sure that we as a country have the legislative tools to protect the safety and security of Canadians and to prevent, disrupt and deter terrorist activity here in Canada.

Law enforcement agencies have expressed their support for the continuation of these measures.

For these and other reasons, Parliament should resolve to extend the sunsetting provisions for three years to enable Canada to continue to have the tools necessary to respond effectively to the threat of terrorism.

Why three years? Because this extension would allow Parliament to further consider the issue in depth. It will also give the government enough time to consider recommendations proposed by the parliamentary committees reviewing the Anti-terrorism Act and introduce any changes deemed appropriate.

This is certainly a prudent course to follow. Allowing these powers to lapse would needlessly eliminate a vital tool for ensuring Canadians' safety and security. We need the benefit of several more years of experience with these provisions before we take such a step as allowing them to sunset.

Only Parliament can renew these powers. I believe it is not only a responsibility but a profound duty for us to do so.

I urge all hon. members to support this motion.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the member who just spoke. Does the government still consider the investigative hearing provisions—where a person is required to witness—to be an important tool that will enable the police to fill in the gaps in a poorly managed investigation or an investigation where the police have thrown away recordings of conversations, as they tried to do in the case of the Air India investigation?

The fire extinguisher analogy was a good one. Certainly, the fact that the provisions have never been used is not proof that they are useless, but it might be an indication, just as the reason for not having used the extinguisher is that there had never been a fire.

In his speech, the member explained that we are still dealing with a fire. Terrorism is still a threat. Nevertheless, we have never had an opportunity to use these two measures preventively.

Has it occurred to the member that there might be other reasons these measures have never been used? I would like him to tell us why. My colleague knows that I disagreed with part of this report.

Why is the government not heeding the recommendations in the majority report of the committee? They are majority recommendations because members of the government agreed to them. We spent over 100 hours in committee listening to witnesses.

What good is a committee if the government refuses to consider its unanimous recommendations?

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is important to remember that the committee was of the view that we extend these provisions. The committee responsible did convey that to this Parliament. That is why I am urging hon. members to support the committee's view that these provisions are necessary.

I think the analogy is sound. We do not wish for a fire but we want to be prepared if one takes place. We are certainly not through the danger yet when it comes to international terrorism. We see the impacts and we see the threat every day just by turning on the news.

It is important to note for Canadians that, as the hon. member has mentioned, in regard to the investigative hearing and the recognizance with conditions, those provisions have not in fact been used. I think we should all be grateful that they have not been used at this point, but in the aftermath of September 11, members of this House decided that these were appropriate measures to put in place.

That threat still exists. The committee has encouraged Parliament to extend these provisions for our police to be able to better protect us and our entire system, to be able to better protect Canadians from the threat of terrorism.

I did not name them all, but it is important to know what safeguards exist with respect to investigative hearings: only a judge of the provincial court or a superior court of criminal jurisdiction can hold an officer's application for such a hearing; prior consent is required; the witness has the right to retain and instruct council; and incriminating evidence compelled during testimony or derived from such testimony cannot be used or received against the person in further criminal proceedings, except in prosecutions for perjury and giving contradictory evidence.

I want to leave time for other questions, but there are other safeguards in place that should ring a familiar tone with Canadians because they are components of our justice system with which we are all familiar and support. This is a necessary measure for exceptional circumstances to prevent terrorist activity. That is why we must all support it.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to caution the parliamentary secretary. I was quite taken aback by his use of the example of the charges--and I repeat, charges, not convictions--in the incident in Toronto as an example of terrorism incidents in this country. Those 17 or 18 individuals have not been convicted of anything up to this point. As the parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for public security, he should be very cognizant of the way he uses that incident to try to justify the continued usage of these two sections.

My question for him is this. Will he agree that neither one of these two sections that are about to be sunsetted, barring favourable passage of this motion, were used in that particular incident and have not been used at all in any incidents in this country since their passage?

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his cautions. I appreciate that. I take his point, but I do not think that Canadians need to be reminded at all that we are under an international terrorist threat. There is no denying that. Members of this House acknowledge that. That is why we brought forward measures to combat terrorist activity, whether it is the financing of terrorist activity or the Anti-terrorism Act. We are all working on this, including the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety, the provinces, police agencies and Canadians. All of us should be working to prevent terrorism.

I do not look at the fact that these provisions have not been used as a reason to allow them to sunset. It would be folly on the part of this Parliament to allow important provisions to sunset that were well thought out and that have been considered by House committees and by a subcommittee. They have been considered. We have heard the evidence that these measures are necessary for an extreme circumstance. We do not want to find out after the fact that we should not have let these provisions sunset.

We need to be as prepared as possible. Canadians know the threat of terrorist activity is there. Unfortunately, it will continue to be there for some time. I do not think there is any arguing that we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to a terrorist threat. We want these provisions in place. The member is right in that they have not been used, but that is not to say they should not be kept in place to be used in the future.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the minister and the parliamentary secretary for this very important work.

It is very timely to have this presented in Canada's Parliament. The world over, truly, we know that the terrorist threat is out there. We know that many countries are working together to offset this menace and to keep Canadians safe from terrorist activity.

I know that the parliamentary secretary has consulted not only in Canada but with many other countries as well. Could he please expand on the question of whether or not other countries now have the same powers in place that we will here in Canada once this resolution is passed?

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, as we know, international terrorism knows no boundaries. These terrorist groups operate in a sophisticated way whether it comes to financing or planning terrorist activities. There is probably no corner of the globe that is not in some way impacted or connected. Even right here in Canada we need to have these safeguards in place.

The member asked about other countries. There are many countries that have taken positive steps to combat terrorism. The United Kingdom, for example, has an even more severe what we could call a regime in place to combat terrorism. Australia and South Africa, as I have mentioned, have provisions in place similar to our investigative hearing provisions. The United States, as I mentioned, has the longstanding grand jury system in place.

Yes, other countries are taking similar steps to combat terrorism.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Before I begin my remarks, Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it you would find unanimous consent for me to split my time with the member for Mississauga—Erindale, for 10 minutes each.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we are speaking to a government motion concerning two sunset provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act: investigative hearings, section 83.28 of the Criminal Code; and recognizance with conditions (preventive arrest), section 83.3 of the Criminal Code.

Today's motion is tabled because these sections of the code will cease to apply at the end of the 15th sitting day of Parliament after December 31, 2006, unless there is a vote in both Houses extending the provisions of the motion before us today. Please note that this motion is not amendable.

The Anti-terrorism Act was introduced into the House of Commons in mid October 2001 and given royal assent on December 18, 2001. The act was part of Canada's response to UN Resolution 1373 of September 28, 2001, which required member states to adopt anti-terrorism legislation and policies within 90 days. Canada reported to the United Nations its compliance with Resolution 1373 on December 12, 2001.

This very complex piece of legislation went through the entire law making process in less than three months. Throughout the world it was a time of uncertainty and fear after the horror of September 11. Many of us in the chamber today were intimately involved in the process and work of the anti-terrorism bill. It was the Liberal government that introduced this legislation.

In 2001 debates around the Anti-terrorism Act were wide ranging. However, it was agreed that steps had to be taken to protect Canada and Canadians at a time of threat and uncertainty.

Many people across our great country debated whether the legislation was to be adopted, appropriately balancing community safety and security and individual rights and freedoms. There was an understanding then as there is now that there needed to be legislation which allowed for the prevention of and the protection against terrorist activity.

Within this context, legislators worked toward creating the Anti-terrorism Act which would be reasonable and proportionate and contained numerous safeguards strong enough to protect constitutional rights and freedoms. Did we get the balance right?

It was within this context that one such safeguard, a full review of the act, was mandated. Section 145 of the act required that a comprehensive review of the provisions and operations of the Anti-terrorism Act be completed by the end of 2005. It was mandated that a committee of the House submit a report containing any recommended changes to this act.

Unfortunately, because of the electoral situation over the last few years, this review has yet to be completed. There is currently a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security working very hard at completing this task. I am told that we should have the completed version shortly.

Within the context of this review, two of the most contentious sections of the Anti-terrorism Act, investigative hearings and preventive arrests, are found. In 2001 many Canadians had very serious concerns with these measures as they were deemed as unprecedented in Canadian law and people were concerned that they could be used inappropriately. The Liberal government of the day in its wisdom attached two sunset provisions with which we are now dealing.

I should remind colleagues that the original bill as presented did not have the sunset provisions. These were added after the very serious concerns heard at the committee hearings. I would like to briefly explain the two provisions, investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions, commonly referred to as preventive arrests. The interim report of the reviewing subcommittee concisely describes these provisions and I will use those descriptions now.

Section 83.28 of the Criminal Code, also contained in section 4 of the Anti-terrorism Act, allows a peace officer, with the prior consent of the Attorney General, to apply to a superior court or provincial court judge for an order for the gathering of information. If it is granted, the order compels a person to attend a hearing before a judge, answer questions and bring along anything in his or her possession. This person is entitled to retain and instruct counsel, but is required to answer questions unless refusing to do so on the basis of law relating to disclosure or privilege. The judge will rule on any refusal. No one attending such a hearing can refuse to answer a question or to produce a thing on the grounds of self-incrimination.

Any information or testimony obtained during an investigative hearing cannot be used directly or indirectly in subsequent proceedings, except in relation to a prosecution for perjury or providing subsequent contradictory evidence.

Since the adoption of this section of the Criminal Code, it has never been used; only in one circumstance was it even attempted to be used. In that instance, during the Air India trial, the section was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where it was upheld in a four to three split decision. The investigative hearing in relation to this trial was ordered but not held because the Air India trial was over by the time the Supreme Court of Canada had issued its rulings. Even at that time it was explained:

Although terrorism necessarily changes the context in which the rule of law must operate, it does not call for the abdication of law. The challenge for democracies in the battle against terrorism is to balance an effective response with fundamental democratic values that respect the importance of human life, liberty and the rule of law.

Again, I will refer to the succinct description of recognizance with conditions found in the subcommittee's interim report.

Preventive arrests, the second provision of the Anti-terrorism Act which we are considering today, is found in section 83.3 of the Criminal Code and section 4 of the Anti-terrorism Act.

With the prior consent of the Attorney General, a peace officer who believes that a terrorist act will be carried out and suspecting that only the imposition of recognizance with conditions or the arrest of this person will prevent that act from taking place may lay an information before a provincial court judge. That judge may order that person to appear before him or her. A peace officer following these procedures may arrest without warrant the person who is the object of the information if such apprehension is necessary to prevent the commission of a terrorist activity.

If a person is detained in this manner, he or she must be brought before a provincial court judge within 24 hours, or as soon as possible thereafter. At that time a show cause hearing must take place to determine if the person should be released or detained for a further period of time. This hearing can only be adjourned for a further 48 hours.

If the judge determines there is no need for a person to enter into a recognizance, the person is bound to keep the peace and respect other conditions for up to 12 months and to not be in possession of a weapon. If the person refuses to enter into such a recognizance, the judge can order that person to be imprisoned for up to 12 months.

Subsections 83.31(2) and (3) of the Criminal Code of Canada require the responsible federal and provincial ministers to publish annual reports on the usage of these provisions. We are glad to have this information. As confirmed in the subcommittee interim report of October 2006, there have been no, and I repeat no, reported uses of these provisions.

We have now had five years plus of experience with these provisions. The current government is now asking for a three year extension. It has not tabled any companion piece of legislation to address the concerns in the subcommittee report and has given no indication that it will do so in future. The subcommittee majority and minority reports' recommendations were made because the subcommittee deemed it necessary to further restrict both the scope and the applications of the provisions under review.

We must return to the original intent of inserting the sunset clause. Parliament made this law believing that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 these infringements on charter rights of potential suspects might be required by the law enforcement officials of the land. There was always a concern that the sweeping power of the provisions could allow for either intentional or unintentional abuse. We know today that the Criminal Code already contains all the necessary offences and powers for law enforcement officials to adequately respond to the threat of terrorism. Terrorism is a reality that we must continue to address for the safety and security of Canadians, there is no doubt.

These were extraordinary provisions, with the anticipation of their sunset, in the original bill as passed by this Parliament.

Proper security intelligence and the rule of law protect our democratic society. These provisions as they stand should sunset. There continues to be a very difficult call between balancing the rights of democratic societies to protect themselves from acts of terror and the rights of individuals in those societies.

We look forward to the subcommittee's final report on the comprehensive review of the Anti-terrorism Act in its entirety.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the significant position the member has taken with regard to this motion and the reaffirmation of the need for Parliament to be respected, the committee process to be respected, but also to reinforce that balance we are constantly trying to strike between security and human rights and civil liberties in this country, a trade-off that I always argue should never be made, that it is not necessary to make that.

I want to address a very specific point. Does the member agree with me that the government by not accepting the majority report that recommended these sunset clauses be extended for five years by reducing it to three years is an admission on its part that in fact we do not need them?

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, to the first point on the subcommittee report, two members from our party worked very diligently on the interim report as did other members around the House, including government members and other opposition members.

In fact the subcommittee report had 10 recommendations and none of these recommendations is reflected in the take all or nothing motion we see before us. We know that refinements were asked for in the subcommittee report. We also know that the subcommittee is still working on the full report which is yet to come before the full committee.

We also know that most of this evidence was taken before the last election. There have been many events since that time that go into the thought process behind anti-terrorism legislation. I and my party believe it is very necessary, let no one think otherwise. It is necessary.

We are looking forward to working with all the refinements that will be put before the minister. We will work with him on the revision of the Anti-terrorism Act. I am concerned that once again we could be moving into an election before this work is finished. I respect the hard work and the thought that goes into these recommendations. Today we see a motion with nothing accompanying it to acknowledge the work that was put in. There has been no response to the subcommittee report of October 2006 except for today's motion which is not in line with either the minority or the majority reports in that interim report.

Yes, we respect what happens in Parliament. I respect personally what happened in the parliamentary work when we added those sunset clauses. We now have very real work to do. I look forward to seeing the final report. Then we should have a new version of the Anti-terrorism Act with refinements in it that we can properly debate.

I cannot answer the specific question regarding what the government was thinking. Government members were part of the subcommittee. Their recommendations sit equally with those of my party's members who did such hard work. We need tools that are properly balanced. We will work with the government on refinements to a good piece of legislation in the future. Unfortunately we did not see anything tabled with this motion that gives us the certainty that it would be coming.

We also know that we are again in uncertain times. We should work constructively together to get that fine balance right. I look forward to continuing that work.

Anti-terrorism Act
Orders of the Day

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to debate the motion presented by the Conservatives to extend the sunset clauses of two extraordinary powers: preventative arrests and investigative hearings. These two clauses were part of the Anti-terrorism Act that was implemented by the Liberal government just over five years ago in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The government of the day acted quickly in response to the urgent needs of modernizing our security regimes and laws. During the legislative process, the government of the day consulted with Canadians and examined various options. The challenge was, and continues to be, how to find the right balance between introducing new security tools and yet still maintain the protection of fundamental civil liberties and human rights.

After carefully examining and considering numerous and valuable thoughts and ideas, the government made a bargain with Canadians. The new law would proceed with introducing these two powerful tools, but place them on a probation period. The tools would be given a five year trial period, and if during that period it emerged that their benefit outweighed their risk, lawmakers would then have the opportunity to renew them. Otherwise, the default option was that those clauses would sunset at the end of that period. That compromise was concluded after consulting lawmakers, legal experts, law enforcement agencies and community leaders.

Now that the five year trial period has ended, we parliamentarians have to decide this. Do we honour the original compromise and let those clauses sunset, or do we feel those tools have been proven necessary and choose to change our original plans and vote to extend that period?

The House has a serious choice to make. A House of Commons subcommittee has studied this choice. The findings of that subcommittee recognized the power of those tools and offered 10 recommendations. The recommendations stated that if the government and the House wanted to extend those clauses, they needed to accompany them with some tweaking and adjustment.

The Conservative government chose to ignore the holistic approach the subcommittee chose to adopt. Instead of accompanying this motion with legislation that takes into account the necessary changes, it is asking us to ignore our duties and maintain the status quo.

Over the last five years we have learned so much. We have seen mistakes where innocent people have been caught in the web of confusion and handicapped judicial system like in the case of Mr. Maher Arar. We have seen our courts push back on some security legislation and we have witnessed that our ordinary legal system is capable and has the necessary tools to protect Canadians.

Canadians are proud of our law enforcement agencies. We are confident in our legal system and courts. We are proud in our values and principles. As lawmakers, we must always examine our decisions carefully, responsibly and dispassionately.

Once again, I am proud to demonstrate a clear contrast between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The Conservatives at the time of passing the Anti-terrorism Act wanted the Liberal government to implement blunt tools that could risk our civil liberties, while the Liberals were careful to maintain an appropriate balance between providing the right security tools and protecting our fundamental liberties.

Here is another example. Now the Liberals, after finishing the trial period and realizing that these tools did not turn out to be needed, are ready to restore our traditional laws, but the Conservatives want to enshrine these extraordinary tools without even offering any type of adjustment or balance.

Canadians are familiar with the tendencies of the Conservative Party. Whether it is in their approach to dealing with crime, refugees, minorities, or aboriginal people, those members start with the premise that one is guilty until proven innocent. They assume the worst in people and fearmonger so they can justify imposing blunt and harsh instruments or legislation.

I call on all my colleagues in the House to join me in restoring the needed balance in our judicial system. Our legal system is an international symbol of fairness and equality. We must work to strengthen it, not paralyze it. The essential need for checks and balances may at times appear cumbersome, but it is the wise approach. It is the outcome of hundreds of years of social and legal evolution and it is designed to protect the citizens and at the same time provide our law enforcement agencies with the support they need.

Five years have passed. We now know that those two tools have not been used and were not needed. In the meantime, our law enforcement agencies have been able to operate effectively. Therefore, why should we leave those extraordinary measures on our legislative books? Why risk any potential abuse or errors in the future?

Our judicial system is fundamentally built on a balanced dynamic of checks and balances and oversight. This tricky balance must be respected and preserved. I would argue that our existing laws already provide the necessary tools. Now that we have just finished our five year probation period and realize that these two clauses are not needed, we must take a sober second look and fulfill the initial intent of the legislation.

Let us allow these two clauses to sunset and reinforce the traditional role of our judiciary.