Mr. Speaker, I was not planning on speaking to Bill C-35 this morning, because the hon. member for Mercier, the Bloc critic, has worked so well on this issue that the Bloc's position has been very clear.
Given that the government has once again, through means at its disposal, prevented the opposition from doing its job on issues as important as this one, I feel compelled to rise to both speak to this bill and denounce it at the same time.
I do not completely agree, in fact, I would say that I completely disagree, with the government members who say that there is no link between bills C-35, C-36 and C-42. I think that we need to look at the big picture. It is very relevant to discuss this. It is so relevant to discuss this that the government has gagged debated on Bill C-36 in order to rush it through, so as to prevent us from having all of the legislative pieces in hand to discuss them as a whole.
There is one complaint that the Bloc Quebecois wants to make to the government regarding the September 11 events. Yes, September 11 is an extremely sad and tragic date. We all know the clichés such as “Nothing will ever be the same after September 11”. If the government had any political courage, it would have presented to us all the bills, its global vision, all at once, so that we could see how it plans to strengthen security—assuming it needs to be strengthened—and, as it says, fight terrorism.
But instead, the government is using a piecemeal approach. It resorted to closure with Bill C-36. As for Bill C-42, we learned yesterday that, because of a lack of political guts, the government has decided to split this legislation in two. As regards the very controversial part, it says “We will shove it down their throat later, when we get back from the Christmas break. Since all the other parts of the controversial bills will already have been adopted, there will only be this small part left and we will deal with it later”.
Today, in relation to Bill C-35, we heard another falsehood from members opposite. Bill C-35—unless I do not know how to read—was introduced on October 1, 2001. That was after September 11, 2001. Therefore, it reflects what the government intended to do following the September 11 events. Whether the bill was previously debated in committee or wherever, the fact remains that we have been here since November 2000 and the government had ample time to introduce this legislation, had it wanted to.
But probably because of a lack of political will, it waited for the events of September 11, and now it is in a great big hurry to see all its wildest dreams realized. It is passing bills. It is giving itself all sorts of powers to intervene, to ignore the information commissioner, a superior court judge, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is full steam ahead because of the events of September 11. The government is going to give itself so much power that, at some point, the criminal code will be affected. It will head in the direction of the Canadian Alliance, in the direction of the Canadian right, even if it means abandoning principles which have been years in the making and which are part of the criminal code. Not to worry. It is going to give itself far-reaching powers and it is going to use them.
This is absurd. That is why I wish to speak to Bill C-35. The preamble to the bill says that this will be a clearer piece of legislation and that it will also correct the deficiency in the existing statutory definition of international organization. When we examine this bill, we find that some of its provisions are even retroactive.
In Law 101, one of the most important considerations when examining a bill has to do with the retroactive effects, because this is contrary to many principles of Canadian law. There are even portions that are retroactive. On close examination, the provisions in clause 5 are absurd.
Under the guise of protecting our diplomats and people from outside the country, the government is preparing to give the police vast powers. Everything that is done currently will be set aside in order to tidy up and make things safer.
Let us have a look at clause 5. I understand that, because of the government's earlier motion, we can no longer introduce amendments at third reading. This is another way to gag the opposition. It is another way to ignore democracy in Canada.
It is rather strange that the government, which says it passes laws to protect democracy, is in fact ignoring democracy in order to get these laws passed. It is ignoring the elected representatives of the people, those with something to say to properly represent their constituents. They are ignoring all of these people in order to protect democracy, as they say. This is no doubt their democracy, their view of the things that, in terms of democracy, they want to protect.
Clause 5 of the bill amends the act by adding a new section. I think it is worth reading it. We are at third reading, and I think people have to understand what is happening. The amendment reads:
10.1(1) The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has the primary responsibility to ensure the security for the proper functioning of any intergovernmental conference in which two or more states participate, that is attended by persons granted privileges and immunities under this Act and to which an order made or continued under this Act applies.
Subclause (2) reads:
For the purpose of carrying out its responsibility under subsection (1), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police may take appropriate measures, including controlling, limiting or prohibiting access to any area to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances.
Subclause (3) reads:
The powers referred to in subsection (2) are set out for greater certainty and shall not be read as affecting the powers that peace officers possess at common law or by virtue of any other federal or provincial Act or regulation.
Is this clear? Has the proper legal terminology been used to give the clarity that is so greatly desired? If I answer this, I will be accused of petty politicking, and since it comes from the government, and the opposition has always criticized the government, it is certain that I will be told it is not true.
The bill was discussed in committee. People appeared before the committee, people who were not politicians, not evil separatists, as some may well think. Nor were they members of the Alliance, the NDP, the Progressive Conservatives, or anything else such as that coalition of members over there in the corner. No, they were specialists, people who had examined the issue.
What did these people have to say? They said that this amendment is either unnecessary to the extent that it purports simply to codify a status quo or, in the event that it's not unnecessary, it's woefully incomplete.
Those were the words used by a lawyer who came before the committee on November 6.
William Sloan, president of the American Association of Jurists, told the committee “You have ‘appropriate measures’ and then you have ‘to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances’. These are so many undefined terms; they are all terms the courts have found to be terms that confer discretion”.
He is right. When the courts interpret this, they will understand it to be a discretionary power given to the RCMP, or the Mounties, as the Prime Minister calls them. That is how they are going to interpret it.
Does giving discretionary power to police clarify the situation? I think not. The lawyers my colleague heard in committee—I was not a member but I am aware of certain facts—all said that it was not precise, not clear.
Wesley Pue, from the University of British Columbia, said that RCMP officers also need clarity. Ultimately, they are the ones who will face disciplinary measures, civil suits, investigations and possible criminal proceedings. The police deserves to have clear legislative guidelines.
This B.C. lawyer is surely not a Bloc Quebecois supporter. He said that, in order to protect police officers, the act has to be clear, because they are the ones who may be held liable by the courts if they go too far. Obviously, these officers, who deserve an appropriate framework to enforce Bill C-35, do not have the tools to interpret it correctly. They do not have legislative guidelines to do a good job. In opposing clause 5, we are also thinking about police officers.
As regards powers, if we want to change a situation, it is because there is a problem. What is the problem? How does the RCMP currently work? What are its powers? This is what we must look at if we want to properly assess clause 5 in Bill C-35.
Currently, there is no act that provides for the establishment of security zones. The RCMP's argument is based on a series of powers and judicial precedents.
So when the government tells us that we must stick to Bill C-35 and not look at other legislation, it is because it does not understand the bill. In its section on security zones, Bill C-35 refers to Bill C-42, which is now before the House. This is in the context of terrorism. We must also keep in mind the entire thrust of Bill C-36.
I can understand that it does not want us to look at all of them together, because the powers are truly excessive when lined up one beside the other. Canada is looking more and more like a police state. In any event, that seems to the objective of the Prime Minister, who claims to be the father of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With bills like these, the child, which is the charter, must be renouncing its father right now.
So what powers does the RCMP's have right now? Does it have the legislative tools it needs? There is the Security Offences Act, section 2.3 of which provides that the RCMP has primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of individuals when, in paragraph ( b ):
the victim of the alleged offence is an internationally protected person within the meaning of section 2 of the Criminal Code
The entire first part of clause 5 of Bill C-35 is therefore unnecessary because there is already an enactment identifying very clearly those individuals the legislator wishes to protect.
Add to this the powers conferred to the RCMP under its incorporating act, which specifies, at section 18—and I will read it since clearly there are some government members who either cannot read, do not want to read, or do not take the time to read the existing legislation before wanting to amend it. Section 18 reads as follows:
It is the duty of members who are peace officers, subject to the orders of the Commissioner,
(a) to perform all duties that are assigned to peace officers in relation to the preservation of the peace, the prevention of crime and of offences against the laws of Canada and the laws in force in any province in which they may be employed, and the apprehension of criminals and offenders and others who may be lawfully taken into custody;
(b) to execute all warrants, and perform all duties and services in relation thereto, that may, under this Act or the laws of Canada or the laws in force in any province, be lawfully executed and performed by peace officers;
(c) to perform all duties that may be lawfully performed by peace officers in relation to the escort and conveyance of convicts and other persons in custody to or from any courts, places of punishment or confinement, asylums or other places; and
That is quite a few powers that the RCMP can already exercise:
(d) to perform such other duties and functions as are prescribed by the Governor in Council or the Commissioner.
This means the RCMP has the powers of peace officers, which powers are described and set out by the supreme court. It has spoken with respect to these powers over the years. It has established limits which we are looking for and which a number of international lawyers have said are absent from this legislation. The supreme court has set perfectly good guidelines for preserving the peace, preventing crime and protecting life and property.
Currently, before it intervenes in a situation, the RCMP considers the approach it will take based on existing case law in Canada. However, it takes years for case law, real case law reflecting supreme court decisions, to be incorporated in legislation—and it is worth remembering this, because the government members seem to have forgotten it as well, or actually did not know it.
There are certain principles of law that the supreme court has spent 20 or 30 years considering before establishing specific guidelines. In the matter before us this morning, the supreme court took some 20 years before clearly establishing the powers of the RCMP, what it can and cannot do, again in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was clarified over the years, obviously since its passage. Why change it?
Let us look at the most recent events, for example, the summit in Quebec City. Did it provide evidence of a glaring legislative failing? Was it shown that we failed, in legislative terms, in Canada, and thus in my beautiful Quebec? Did we not have what it takes to face the music, as they say?
I think things went well at the Quebec City summit. There were demonstrations, it is true, but this is a free and democratic country and we are proud of that fact. There have to be such things. Yes, the demonstrations got a bit out of hand. Yes, some went too far, but there is the criminal code. Those who acted improperly should be taken to court for it. For those who plotted reprehensible acts, there is a whole section on plots in the criminal code.
We must not change something that is working. This is illogical. As I have just said, the events of September 11 are being used to justify exorbitant powers. This situation, dreadful as I admit it was, is being used to change the rules of the game in a number of different Canadian statutes. What I find the most alarming is that, when amendments are made and incorporated into the criminal code or some other related piece of legislation, this is going to influence courts trying criminal cases.
As we know, one of the principles in Canada and in Upper Canada—this will be my final point—is that a law is interpreted according to its legislative text. When questions arise, however, similarities are sought, either in the criminal code or in specific statutes. When this is done and an interpretation of the changes arising out of Bills C-36, C-42 or C-35, the bill before us at the present time, is sought, individual and group rights will be restricted, which is extremely worrisome.
I will close by saying that, had clause 5 of the bill been eliminated, we would have supported it, and we have been straightforward about this. Given the government's lack of courage in the way it is proceeding, however, by putting such powers into the bill, we will be voting against it. We are proud to oppose it, in the interest of individual and group rights.