Madam Speaker, I am not necessarily happy to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-55, however, it is important that I do so.
This bill comes after others that were passed in this House. I think that we must take them into account when we make a decision on Bill C-55, which will allow for the creation of controlled access military zones.
I want to remind the House that, over the last few months, since the events of September 11, we have passed, in spite of the Bloc Quebecois' opposition, Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act, and Bill C-35, where section 5 allows the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take measures, including building walls around any area where events are taking place, in accordance with procedures to be determined by the RCMP alone.
So we already have, over the last few months, passed two bills that are very disturbing from a civil liberties standpoint. Amnesty International, in a report published yesterday and discussed today in the media, says that, since the tragic events of September 11, freedoms and democratic rights in general have regressed, and this is true in Canada.
Clearly, in a number of countries these days, including our neighbours to the south, arbitrary arrests are taking place, detentions without warrant, or even, as was done with the prisoners brought out of Afghanistan, the creation of special courts that do not come under any civil authority.
This morning Amnesty International announced that democratic freedom had experienced setbacks in almost all of the western world. Canada is not, unfortunately, an exception. Bill C-55, along with Bills C-36 and C-35, which have unfortunately already been passed, is one more proof of this. Canada's reputation is exaggerated as far as democratic freedom is concerned. One of the signs of this is that, ever since Canada has become a member of the Organization of American States ten years or so ago, it has signed not one of the regional conventions on basic rights. I feel obliged to denounce this.
Moreover, more and more stakeholders, including Amnesty International, have emphasized this exaggerated reputation Canada has as far as democracy is concerned. For instance, the latest issue of the Quebec chapter of Amnesty International's publication Agir spoke out against the Canadian government for its attacks on democratic freedoms.
We now have before us a new bill, Bill C-55, which is in fact a reincarnation of Bill C-42, which the government was trying to ram through, like Bills C-36 and C-35, but which was withdrawn as a result of criticism by the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois in particular.
So now we have its replacement, Bill C-55. This is the same bill again, except for a few cosmetic changes. For instance, the new terminology: controlled access military zone, instead of what was used in Bill C-42, that is, military security zone. Whatever the terminology, we are talking about exactly the shame negative effect on rights and freedoms.
One might argue that some of the criteria for establishing these controlled access zones have been tightened up. Nevertheless, it is still the minister of defence alone who has the power to establish such zones.
Let us not forget that it was the minister of defence who, just recently, neglected to inform the Prime Minister about Canadian troops taking prisoners in Afghanistan and handing them over to the Americans, information which was quite important in the context. Moreover, this minister had to resign just days ago; he was fired from cabinet for reasons related to conflict of interest.
One can wonder about the adequacy of giving one minister, namely the Minister of National Defence, the power to create controlled access military zones. It seems excessive to us and it opens the door to much arbitrariness and dangerous situations, especially since the bill does not even require the approval of the Quebec government or any provincial government as far as the creation of a controlled access military zone is concerned.
As we know, unfortunately, there have been a number of federal interventions in Quebec that were not requested by the Quebec people. I am also convinced that a controlled access military zone would have been established at the Quebec summit in April 2001. If the Quebec government had objected, the minister of defence would have ignored it, just as they denied the Quebec Prime Minister the right to address the heads of state visiting our national capital.
In Bill C-55, the only criterion governing the designation of these controlled access military zones is that they must be reasonably necessary. This is a criterion that is elastic to say the least, both in terms of the dimensions of the zones and their period of designation.The provisions included in Bill C-42 and Bill C-55 are basically the same. No improvements have been made. There is only the following, in clause 260.1(4), which reads:
(4) The dimensions of a controlled access military zone may not be greater than is reasonably necessary to ensure the safety or security of any person, thing or property for which the zone is designated.
As we can see, there is a grey area, an arbitrary wording that will allow the Minister of National Defence, the federal government to do what it wants with these zones. Again, Bill C-55 complements Bill C-35, which gives the RCMP the power to erect walls, as it did in Quebec City. What were meant to be exceptional measures will now become the norm during any important event, any event of international scope. Bill C-55 has the same flaws as Bill C-42 in terms of the applicable criteria, and this is what makes it just as unacceptable.
Another aspect of the bill is that in these controlled access military zones, the people could lose certain rights. They will not be able to sue for damages, losses or injuries. It is written in the bill. For example, subsection 260.1(12) says:
(12) The Canadian Forces may permit, control, restrict or prohibit access to a controlled access military zone.
No reference whatsoever is made to the rights of people within this zone who, for example, would want to hold a peaceful demonstration, which is consistent with our charter of rights and freedoms and all the international conventions. Once again, nothing could be more totally arbitrary.
Finally, while in Bill C-42, a number of reasons, such as international security, defence and national security reasons, were given for the creation of such zones, in Bill C-55, all these references have disappeared. This bill essentially expands the reasons for designating controlled access military zones.
When we look at the bills passed since September 11, we find that not only Canada's reputation concerning human rights before September 11 was overrated, but the varnish is starting to peel off. The balance between rights and security needs was broken. Now, we are living in a state where civil liberties and democratic freedoms are more vulnerable than a few months ago.
In this context, the Bloc Quebecois has no other choice but to oppose this bill.