Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak to this situation, because it is in the context of events that occurred in Quebec.
Last spring, Quebec media revealed that journalists had been under police surveillance, meaning that their telephone conversations had been tapped. Of course, people were shocked to learn about it. It was reported that journalist Patrick Lagacé was not the only one who had been under surveillance, and that other journalists had been under police surveillance, not just for a few weeks, but for periods of four to five years. They included journalists from Enquête, even Alain Gravel. This was clearly a serious situation.
Many people were shocked, and after some hesitation, the Quebec government decided to launch an inquiry into the protection of journalistic sources on November 11, 2016. Other measures were also adopted by the National Assembly of Quebec, including a unanimous motion stressing the importance it attaches to the protection of journalistic sources.
Quebec Minister of Justice Stéphanie Vallée stated:
The new disclosures are extremely serious, and as mentioned, it is essential that the public trust in its public institutions, in all institutions.
Thus, it is important to remember the principle behind the protection of journalistic sources. It has to do with public trust in its institutions. A number of scandals have been uncovered by journalists who did a tremendous amount of investigative work, and by sources who never would have spoken up without the anonymity provided by the protection of journalistic sources. Without it, some of those stories might never have come to light.
It is really important that those kinds of things be made public, because it helps us move forward and create a healthy democracy. Without the work of journalists, there might even be more wrongdoing. Thanks to journalists, who do rigorous investigations and often get information from sources who could face serious consequences if their names ever got out, we have access to that information. Since people know that some oversight exists, perhaps this keeps them more honest in their work.
Given that the commission of inquiry is mandated to make recommendations on police practices and ways to protect sources, I think this could produce very positive results. Since the bill before us addresses only about 75% of the problem, it will be important to follow up on it, especially after what we have learned from Quebec, in order to settle things for good and address other protections that could prove necessary.
After what happened in Quebec, something needed to be done. People realized the magnitude of the problem, and since the federal government did not want to create its own commission of inquiry to protect journalistic sources, claiming that these problems did not exist at the federal level, it was important to find a solution. That is why Bill S-231 was introduced in the Senate.
This bill is based on another bill from 10 years ago. There was an attempt to solve this problem 10 years ago, but unfortunately, thanks to our sometimes inefficient parliamentary process, it was not successful, because bills died on the Order Paper, work stopped and started, and there were back-to-back minority governments.
Back in 2007, all political parties were unanimously in favour of taking action. Unfortunately, no action was taken. Then we learned that journalists had been spied on for years. That is terrible, but I applaud Mr. Ménard for the work he did 10 years ago to protect journalistic sources.
Bill S-231 resurrects most of the measures in Bill C-426, which was introduced 10 years ago, and it adds other measures to keep it current because new laws have been passed, so some additions were necessary to keep journalistic source protection up to date.
Let us consider the true ramifications of these revelations. In light of the revelations about the police surveillance of journalists, Canada's international ranking in terms of freedom of the press dropped 14 spots to 22nd. This had an extremely negative impact on Canada's image, a country considered to be rather free. It came to light that behind the image, the police were allowed to spy on journalistic sources.
The thing that really got me in all of this was how long it went on for. The spying did not just go on for a short period of time, for a week or two because the police thought that the journalists were in contact with certain people. The police were listening in on the telephone conversations of renowned journalists in Canada for four or five years. They listened to all the details of the journalists' lives. It makes no sense. There was no specific timeframe involved. It was truly an ongoing wiretap to try to gain some information. When we look at this mess, the first thing that comes to mind is that we should have gone further to solve this problem 10 years ago.
Now, 10 years later, it is vital that we pass the bill. It will not solve the problem in its entirety, but I estimate that it will address at least 75% of it. That is why we cannot allow parliamentary procedure to again prevent us from taking action on this problem.
It would have been good for the present government to introduce its own bill to resolve this issue. This is a members' bill. However, for the sake of Canada's public image, we can no longer afford to not act on this issue. Freedom of the press is a fundamental principle in Canada and Quebec. Our journalists deserve to know that they can do their job without being spied on with impunity. Furthermore, Quebeckers and Canadians deserve to know that they are protected when they speak to a journalist, and that there will be no fallout.
With respect to employment insurance, we remember that in 2013 we learned that investigators had quotas for recovering payments from the unemployed. Had the journalist not investigated this story and had there been no guarantees to protect the source, we perhaps would never have learned about this. For that reason, it is important to protect our sources. Otherwise, people will not dare blow the whistle on such situations. When people no longer report such situations out of fear that they will not be able to remain anonymous, and when this has consequences, we stop making progress and democracy suffers.
Given that the protection of sources is closely linked to democracy, it is vital that we address this issue now. I hope that we will do so once and for all and that it will not take another 10 years.