Mr. Speaker, Bill S-7 is the latest chapter in a long saga that began in the wake of September 11 and led to a number of legislative measures. Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act passed in 2001, was the first salvo launched following the horrific events in New York which still strike fear in people today.
Obviously, the legislation was brought in not only to respond to this threat and to protect Canadians, but also to meet our international obligations, as dictated at high levels, to the UN.
Some of the provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act amended existing pieces of legislation such as the Criminal Code, the Access to Information Act and the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorism Financing Act.
Other more significant changes were brought in, notably unprecedented changes to Canadian law. Those who were serving in the House at the time of the 2001 attacks perhaps can attest to the fact that this legislation was passed hastily and without due consideration.
Facing the unknown and a climate of dread, Parliament responded in a strong-armed, reflexive manner. There is a reason therefore why these provisions, crafted in the urgency of the moment, were subject to sunset clauses.
These so-called sunset clauses ensured that the more controversial measures would simply be temporary. That was for the better. The provisions in question pertained to preventive arrest and investigative hearings.
Had the desire arose to extend the life of these provisions, had they been deemed useful or relevant or had it been acknowledged that they had prevented an otherwise inevitable catastrophe from occurring, there would have been an opportunity to maintain them and make them permanent.
To do so would have required a resolution by both Houses of Parliament. A resolution was in fact tabled and rejected. Parliamentarians in their wisdom found that there was no valid reason to extend the life of these provisions.
Both Houses did their homework as far as these measures were concerned. Each one examined the most sensitive provisions of the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act. In October 2006, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security reviewed the legislation, most notably the investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions provisions. The other place produced an aptly named report entitled “Fundamental Justice in Extraordinary Times”.
Despite this flurry of activity, these questionable, freedom-destroying and fortunately temporary provisions expired as originally scheduled in 2007.
Each time, the same conclusion has been reached: the state currently has all the tools it needs to combat terrorism.
There was no reason to bring in these measures, even in 2001, and there is no reason to re-introduce them today.
The measures being debated today are not harmless. Among other things, Bill S-7 would re-introduce into Canadian law the phenomenon of investigative hearings that allow a peace officer to apply to a provincial court judge for an order to compel individuals to appear before a judge if they are suspected of having information concerning future terrorist acts. The provision would compel the individual to attend hearings and to answer investigators’ questions.
Another important measure that is being brought hastily before the House is the recognizance with conditions provision which includes preventive detention. It would give a peace officer the authority to arrest an individual without a warrant if he believes such action is necessary to prevent a terrorist act. The individual in question is subsequently brought before a judge, as soon as feasible, according to the wording of the bill, and may be imposed certain conditions, or may even be committed to prison for a term not exceeding 12 months.
From a human rights standpoint, these provisions are very restrictive. One could also argue that they are cause for great concern and that careful consideration should be given to the balance that must be struck between the real advantage they provide in terms of public safety and the cost to citizens, which undeniably in this instance is restrictions on a person’s fundamental rights. Admittedly, at issue are the rights of the individuals primarily concerned, but ultimately the rights of all citizens are affected as well.
Dramatist Henry Becque wrote that freedom and health have much in common and that we only appreciate their value when they are lost to us.
I am greatly concerned about the timing of today’s debate, about the fact that the government has chosen to move it up in light of what has happened. As noted earlier, the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act was passed hastily and this is not how debates on national legislation should unfold.
Today it would seem that an attempt is being made to recreate the same climate of fear and panic in order to hastily push through a bill that has serious implications for people’s freedoms.
It goes without saying that the people in my riding, Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, want to live in safety. However, they also believe very strongly in the rights that belong to every individual. Many of them are going to wonder whether this is the right time to be debating the measures in Bill S-7, when people are recovering from the horrific, cruel and gratuitous attacks that took place last week at the Boston marathon.
We do not need any added emotion for debating this bill. What we need is some distance, some reflection, and some calm and considered thought.
To me, there is nothing wise about the government precipitating this debate. I stress the word “wise”.
Is it really wise, the day after attacks like that, and with what we have in the news here in Canada, to be rewriting our laws and redefining our fundamental freedoms?
Perhaps it is the usual opportunism we see from this government, in its typical crudeness and poor taste.
We on this side firmly believe that this bill is contrary to the fundamental values of Canadians and the values on which our judicial system is built.
The unambiguous and unvarnished goal of these measures is to limit the civil liberties and fundamental rights of Canadians.
Those rights include basic elements of our judicial system that we take for granted: the right to remain silent, the right to a fair trial and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
The principles of our law, whose origin lies in centuries-old customs and legal traditions, lay out individual rights that are unwavering.
While the draft we are presented with today includes a few sops that are supposed to reassure us, because they are in the form of additional protections, these proposals are very unconvincing overall.
We also oppose these measures simply on their track record: these methods are ineffective in principle.
Ultimately, we firmly believe the Criminal Code is an entirely satisfactory tool for investigating these suspicious people who engage in shady plans or whose goal is to threaten the public. Those are crimes and that is what the Criminal Code is intended for.
In fact, the provisions drawn up in 2001, which had a “sunset clause” that took effect in 2007, were never used. Those measures made people uncomfortable from the outset, in 2001, because they were inimical to liberty.
In 2010, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Reid Morden, said, on the question of the two measures I referred to earlier:
...I confess I never thought that they should have been introduced in the first place...
He raised the idea that these provisions had slipped into the act almost by mistake.
...and that they slipped in, in the kind of scrambling around that the government did after 9/11...It seemed to me that it turned our judicial system somewhat on its head.
He then stressed that law enforcement agencies already have the powers they need to do their job. They do not need additional powers. He concluded by saying:
I guess l'm sorry to hear that the government has decided to reintroduce them.
It appears that these measures caused misgivings among the forces of law and order, who wisely decided not to use these powers in their investigations.
Can someone really explain why these measures would be useful today, when they were not useful in the months following September 11, and that even the people who could have enforced them did not want to?
Finally, when some rights are under threat, all rights are under threat. Under the provisions of this bill, there is not much to ensure that citizens or anyone will not be falsely accused in the future for activities that have nothing to do with terrorism. Some activities may be considered subversive or dissident—slippery words that can be applied to peaceful activities in a democratic context.
Those who defend fundamental human rights are speaking up from all sides, telling us that these measures are unnecessary and that the price to be paid will be paid in civil rights, which is not a fair exchange for the proposed benefits. These measures are unwanted and unnecessary.
We saw this a few years ago when threats of spectacular terrorist attacks were foiled. We saw it again yesterday, when the admirable public safety professionals arrested two suspects who, it appears, wanted to disrupt the lives of ordinary people and do them unimaginable harm.
At this moment in time when terrorism has become part of current events, it is essential that we resist. We must resist terrorism in order to protect ourselves, prepare ourselves and defend ourselves. We must make our trains, airports, public spaces and gathering places safe and secure.
It is also essential that we, as a society, as communities and individuals, refuse to be terrorized by terrorism, and refuse to be manipulated or to change our behaviour and lifestyles. That is precisely what we should not do.
We must not be terrified by terrorism. To stand up to terrorism is to ensure that democracy and individual liberties for everyone in our country are never threatened by such people and their violence.
Since I have only a few seconds left, I just wish to express my astonishment at the Liberal Party's inconsistency. In 2001, the Liberals adopted the sunset clauses, but today they are not proposing any amendments of the sort. I cannot explain that.