Mr. Speaker, we have been debating this bill, the half-brother of the twins, Bill C-42 and Bill C-55, for a few hours now.
A few years ago, a Quebec performer that you surely know, Richard Séguin, had his own version of this excellent Bob Dylan song called Times they are a changin' . Indeed, times are changing. And since September 11, 2001, many are saying that nothing is the same any more, that our world is changing. The case of Maher Arar, this Canadian citizen of Syrian descent who was deported from the U.S. to Syria without any justification, is proof that things are no longer the same since September 11.
We could also mention the fact that the people targeted by our American neighbours because of their country of origin can no longer travel without worry. There is no doubt that, while the world is changing, most of the time for the better, in this case it is for the worse.
Not long ago, we had the opportunity to speak to a certain bill on public safety. That was Bill C-42. The criticism was harsh, for a good reason. The government proposed a makeshift solution to a new problem in a changing context. Had it passed this Bill C-42, Parliament would have accepted that the most fundamental of civil rights and liberties be sacrificed on the altar of the constant fight, as we were told, against terrorism. But the cost was much too high and, in the end, reason prevailed and Bill C-42 was returned to where it came from, probably some computer's random access memory. We were naive enough to believe that the government had understood the essence of our criticism. But no.
Instead of showing some understanding of our views, the government used a ploy, but we did not fall for it. The new Bill C-55 was the twin brother of Bill C-42, even though it was born a few weeks later. Absolutely. For the second time, we would debate a bill on public safety. Unfortunately, the minister's imagination quickly revealed its limits. We were not fooled. This is why, for the second time, we opposed the idea of interfering with the rights and freedoms that form the basis of any democratic society that acts in accordance with its principles. Fortunately, when Parliament was prorogued, Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and today we are debating Bill C-17, the half-brother of the other two. How times change. This bill is the offspring of a blended family or, in this case, a family which, actually, is divided into two clans.
Before mentioning the common features of Bill C-42, Bill C-55 and their half-brother, Bill C-17, I want to congratulate all the hon. members who strongly condemned the infamous controlled access military zones included in the previous two bills. Thanks to the work of citizens, civil society groups and people who care about fundamental rights, we managed to convince the government to listen to reason. The government had no choice but to see the obvious. It could no longer defend the indefensible. Logic should also help the government party, if only on certain occasions. This is why we should acknowledge this gesture of openness in the face of criticism. This shows that there is a constructive opposition in this chamber, an opposition that listens to the people.
Should we stop being vigilant now that controlled access military zones are not included in the new Bill C-17? Absolutely not. We must see that the decisions being made today respect the balance between the three branches in our society, namely the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.
In its current form, Bill C-17 poses a threat to the balance between the executive and the legislative branches, since it includes specific provisions allowing ministers and officials to make interim orders.
While there are some differences in the monitoring of interim orders as compared with the provisions of the old Bill C-42, the absence of a preliminary check to ensure compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the enabling legislation poses a problem.
We can see clearly, when we read Bill C-17, that interim orders are exempt from the application of section 3 of the Statutory Instruments Act. As you know, an order is considered to be a statutory instrument; therefore, it should undergo a preliminary check by the Clerk of the Privy Council. His role is precisely to ensure that the proposed regulations do not, and I quote:
--trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and is not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.
So we should ask ourselves the following question: if the purpose is not to trespass unduly on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, why are we exempting the interim orders from the proper examination that would prove they are in compliance with the charter? By chance, would the government have the secret intention of transgressing the most basic rules of our free and democratic society by infringing on the fundamental rights of those individuals who form that society?
We do not question the importance of preventing all possible terrorist acts, and we do not question the necessity of equipping ourselves all the tools we need to expose those who would threaten the security of the citizens.
We even tabled, in the fall of 2001, a motion requesting that the government implement all the necessary measures for us to reach our goal of giving 0.7% of our GDP for international aid. The reason was simple and still is: in order to fight against terrorism, we must fight against its main cause, and that is the extreme poverty of hundreds of millions of people.
If we all agree that it is important to eliminate the conditions that breed terrorism, we also agree that we must fight against those who would come to our borders with the intent of committing terrorist acts. Once again, however, this cannot be done at any cost.
One price we must refuse to pay is waiving the right to privacy. In the past, we made choices. We made the choice to live in a constitutional state instead of a police state. We must be careful not to open the door to this style of governance where police are everywhere, always checking what everyone is doing. Would any of us blindly agree to have personal information relating to us processed and used for purposes other than those related to the fight against terrorism? Should the simple fact of taking a plane warrant the RCMP and CSIS having a record on a person? No. That has been made abundantly clear in the debates on Bill C-55, both by members of this House and by the privacy commissioner.
It is interesting to know what the privacy commission thinks of Bill C-17. First, it would appear that his concerns about the defunct Bill C-55 were ignored, the ministers and top government officials having failed, so far, to provide him with an appropriate response. This is why he is now calling on Parliament to ensure his concerns finally receive the attention they deserve.
What is so worrisome in terms of privacy in Bill C-17? About clause 4.82 of the bill, which does not place appropriate limits on the powers of the RCMP, the commissioner says, and I quote:
But my concern is that the RCMP would also be expressly empowered to use this information to seek out persons wanted on warrants for Criminal Code offences that have nothing to do with terrorism, transportation security or national security.
What we must guard against is the risk of creating a precedent that would eventually open the door to increased police control over various areas of our daily lives. For example, if we allowed special powers intended primarily to protect national security and to counter terrorism to be made available to the RCMP with respect to air passengers, who is to say that this special situation will not be extended to rail, bus or metro passengers?
If, for example, a suicide bomber were to blow himself up on a crowded train, would we go so far as to flag train travellers and use this same opportunity to look for people with outstanding warrants? There is always a tendency to be overzealous. There is always a point of no return when it comes to overzealousness, a point beyond which we must not go for fear of destroying the fragile equilibrium required to maintain a free and democratic society.
The commissioner also raises another point that we must not lose sight of. The right to anonymity with regard to the state is a crucial privacy right. With Bill C-17, that right to anonymity will be set aside the moment we are unwise enough to set foot aboard a plane. If it were set out in the act that personal information can be used only in the case of persons representing a true threat to national security, we could feel a bit reassured, but that is not the case. Obviously, the right to privacy will be meaningless as soon as Bill C-17 comes into force if the government maintains its position. We have confidence, Mr. Speaker, that you will not have to reserve passage on a ship in order to visit your girlfriend overseas.
The members of the Bloc Quebecois are here to serve the interests of the public, and so they will fight energetically to see that the right to privacy is respected. We share the privacy commissioner's view that there are some major changes needed in Bill C-17.
Privacy is one of our basic rights. We are entitled to expect information on us to be used sparingly, at the very least. For the government to confer upon itself the right to collect information on air travellers is one thing, but the right to exchange and distribute that information is quite another.
As hon. members may be aware, I have been on the citizenship and immigration committee for close to two years. The recent headlines leave no doubt as to the concerns raised by what our powerful neighbours to the south have been doing. If the government is trying to be subtle, as subtle as an elephant doing a polka on the clerk's table would be, that must not make us let down our guard in the least.
First, we have to realize that the public safety bill, just like several other bills, amends a number of pieces of legislation to keep them in sync with today's reality. Part 5 of Bill C-17 amends the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, as follows:
- (1) The Minister, with the approval of theGovernor in Council, may enter into agreementswith any province or group of provincesor with any foreign government orinternational organization, for the purpose offacilitating the formulation, coordination andimplementation—including the collection,use and disclosure of information—of policiesand programs for which the Minister isresponsible.
Similar provisions in part 5 allow the minister to enter into arrangements. But what change does this amendment make, besides the ability to make arrangements? It adds the words “including the collection, use and disclosure of information”.
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act would be amended to specifically allow the minister to collect information, to use it without indicating for what purpose it is used, and to disclose it without indicating what information can be released and to whom it can be disclosed.
In fact, Bill C-17 would give the minister the right to disclose the information to the whole world. Not only that, but it would allow the minister to disclose and release the information but does not provide a detailed framework for such activities. That is what I call increasing ministerial authority without proper monitoring.
As we have said before, maintaining a balance is crucial to a healthy society and the risks of a faux pas are too high.
Let us use a concrete example. The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is about to conclude an agreement with the United States on safe third countries. Even though this agreement worries us on several fronts, because NGO's oppose it strongly and the UNHCR is questioning the content of the agreement, the government seems determined to go ahead with it. The fact that this agreement will be implemented despite the concerns and protests from civil society is not very surprising. We can just imagine what the situation would be like if Bill C-17 were in force.
We already know that U.S. legislation on immigration and refugee protection is more restrictive than in Canada, to wit the recent revelations on how our neighbours to the south treat people born in certain countries.
With the new powers that the bill would give the minister, he could be authorized to disclose to U.S. authorities information on applications for refugee status made in Canada. Do we have the right to authorize the release of personal information like this? What will happen with the information collected by the minister? One thing is clear, as soon as information is shared with another party, we lose control of it.
In addition to not knowing how the minister might use the information, it is impossible to find out what might happen to it once it was disclosed to a third party. Imagine the results. There is no way of finding out how the information might be used, any more than it is possible to find out the facts. How, then, can we control the dissemination of this information? It is naive, idealistic and even rash to believe that we could control a situation when we have not established sufficient limits.
That is not the extent of it, either. People may think that is enough already. Well no, not quite. Part 11 of Bill C-17 contains a few surprises. It contains, once again, changes to immigration. Indeed, it involves an amendment that would allow for the information collected from airlines to be used to implement any accord or agreement between the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and another party. What exactly is going on in the government? Does it feel so generous that is has to share personal information with everyone? Is it planning to set up a one-stop shop to disclose all of the information on new immigrants? Just take a number.
This is not right. We must be consistent with our principles. If we say that we have decided to live under the rule of law, we cannot allow insidious attacks on democracy to weaken what is meant by privacy protection.
Here is one last element, as if that were not enough. A new clause has been added to specify that the provisions for the collection, retention, disposal and disclosure of information, as well as any disclosure of information for the purposes of national security, the defence of Canada or the conduct of international affairs will be provided for through regulations. That is just wonderful. By specifying that regulations concerning these various elements will have to be tabled before each house of Parliament, perhaps the government thought that we would be easily fooled. To pull this off, the government will need to do much better than that.
Let me remind this government that, under the Immigration Act, once proposed regulations are tabled before Parliament, they may be passed without subsequent changes being tabled once again in the House.
To give a good illustration of what this means, it is as though you and I reached a contract that would bind us indefinitely—how horrible—but only I would have the power to change it as I saw fit, without your approval. Would you sign such a contract? Certainly not, and nor would we.
The government cannot always defend the indefensible. The same goes for the protection of privacy. But I am reminded of something that the philosopher Khalil Gibran wrote in Sand and Foam , and I dedicate it particularly to my colleagues in the government. He said, and I quote:
Strange that we all defend our wrongs with more vigor than we do our rights.
I hope that this will be instructive for our colleagues. It is true that the times are changing. Let us only hope that the party in office will finally understand that it must adapt to change by offering us appropriate solutions instead of constantly offering us the same options, month after month, session after session.