moved that Bill C-35, An Act to deter terrorism, and to amend the State Immunity Act, be read a second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity at second reading to speak about how this government is delivering on its commitment to protect from terrorist activities the safety and security of Canadians, both at home and abroad, while giving those who do fall victim to heinous acts of terrorism an ability to fight back.
Bill C-35, An Act to deter terrorism, and to amend the State Immunity Act, is a result of victims' initiatives championed by an organization called the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, know by its acronym C-CAT, which represents Canadian terror victims. C-CAT has played a critical role in driving this bill forward.
I would like to personally credit Danny Eisen and Sheryl Saperia, two young Canadians who put heart and soul into C-CAT. Credit is due as well to many supporters across Canada who have contributed time and effort to this important initiative. However, the driving force has been Maureen Basnicki, who lost her husband Ken in the 9/11 destruction of the twin towers in New York City. Maureen has been joined in the C-CAT cause over the years by Canadians of all communities who have also had their lives and the lives of loved ones touched by terror.
The legislation before us today would provide the Government of Canada with another important tool to protect Canadians from acts of terrorism while ensuring that victims of these heinous acts have the chance to seek justice. Over the last few years, all of us have been witness to the horrible carnage that terrorism can and does leave in its wake.
Canadians including constituents from my riding of Thornhill have been personally affected by terrorism. We have witnessed the broken lives, the broken communities and the constant state of fear and panic that innocent bystanders as well as victims and their families are forced to endure.
Most recently, we heard of a string of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, where innocent civilians were indiscriminately massacred. The bombings in Mumbai, the attacks on Sri Lanka's national cricket team and the recent arrest of seven people on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack in Amsterdam are all chilling reminders of the continuing threat of terrorism.
Canada is not immune to this threat. Hundreds of Canadians were killed in the bombing of Air India flight 182, the worst act of terrorism in Canadian history, and the biggest in North America before the September 11 tragedy.
Canada has been designated as a potential target for terrorist attacks by organizations like al-Qaeda. We have also seen the successful action taken against terrorists born or recruited in our country before they could execute their plans. We must not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this country has no interest in participating in the worldwide fight on terrorism. We must continue to take concrete and decisive action. That is the reason for Bill C-35, An Act to deter terrorism, and to amend the State Immunity Act.
We need to take steps to prevent these acts from occurring in the first place, and when they do occur we need to ensure that victims' voices are heard. That is what Bill C-35 is all about.
Bill C-35 demonstrates this government's commitment to deterring terrorism and to giving victims the possibility to seek redress.
Specifically, it would create a course of action to allow victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism. It would modify the State Immunity Act to allow the Government of Canada to lift the immunity of states that are deemed to support terrorism. The bill demonstrates Canada's leadership in combatting terrorism and terrorist supporters.
Providing victims with an opportunity to seek justice for violent acts committed against them is a fundamental tenet of our legal system and a cornerstone of Canadian society. Criminals, including terrorists, need to be held to account. They need to know there are consequences to their actions. Victims too need to know that their interests are paramount and that they can move on with their lives to every extent possible.
Canada applies these principles domestically. The bill before us today would further extend them to some of the most callous acts of violence imaginable, regardless of whether they are committed here in Canada or overseas.
Bill C-35 would allow victims to use courts to seek redress provided they can show a real and substantial connection between their action and Canada. The burden of proof is smaller in civil cases.
Civil suits would deter future acts of violence by bankrupting or financially impairing the terrorist infrastructure through successful judgments and/or by causing terrorist sponsors to refrain from future sponsorship out of fear of the publicity and exposure that would result from a civil suit.
Bill C-35 proposes to allow victims to seek redress not just from the perpetrators of terrorist acts but also from their supporters.
Today we know that terrorist groups seldom act alone. The scale and sophistication of terrorist operations in recent years have often required vast amounts of financial and organizational support. That support can come from other entities and even from other states. Many observers have often described the relationship between terrorist groups and certain governments as one of a state operating within a state.
The present reality is that money is the lifeblood of terrorism. One of the most effective ways to deter terrorism and to put terrorists out of business is therefore to hit them where it can hurt the most, in the pocketbook.
The bill before us today, Bill C-35, An Act to deter terrorism, and to amend the State Immunity Act, would do just that by allowing victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including those states that support terrorism, while respecting the important international relations that we have.
For example, Bill C-35 will allow victims of terrorist attacks to seek redress for losses or damages resulting from a terrorist act committed anywhere in the world on, or after, January 1, 1985, if they can demonstrate a real and substantial connection between their cause of action and Canada. Victims will be able to sue the perpetrators as well as supporters of terrorism, including some states that are known supporters.
Bill C-35 would lift the immunity of those states, under certain conditions, so that governments that support terrorism can no longer hide behind the international rules and agreements between so-called civilized, law-abiding countries.
As Victor Comras, one of the five international monitors appointed to oversee the implementation of security council measures against terrorism and terrorist financing, once noted:
...major terrorism’s financial abettors and supporters...have successfully avoided criminal prosecution. (...) [C]ivil liability cases... associated with terrorism may [therefore] constitute the best constraints we have against their activities and our best chances to hold them accountable.
Bill C-35 proposes to do exactly this by lifting state immunity for states known to support terrorism. The decision to list such countries will be made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in consultation with the Minister of Public Safety and will be subject to review every two years. Listed countries will also be able to make a written application for delisting, which again will be reviewed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in consultation with the Minister of Public Safety.
There are, therefore, safeguards and review mechanisms built into this provision, striking the appropriate balance between accountability, justice and fairness.
The bill before us today is also reasonable. It proposes to give the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Finance the discretion to help victims identify and locate the property of a foreign state against which a judgment has been rendered, provided such assistance falls within the minister's mandate and it is in Canada's best interests to do so.
The provisions of Bill C-35 respond to the needs of victims. They respond to the needs of Canadians who want us to work together to put an end to terrorist acts and to ensure that we protect their safety and their security at home as well as abroad.
Several years have now passed since that terrible day in 2001 when Canadians and people from around the world became aware of just how much they were at risk and how committed terrorists are to causing untold and indiscriminate damage.
Since then, Canada and its allies have taken a stand to say that we are not afraid, that we will not bow down to the terrorists, and that we will not give in to terror.
We are not going to back down from terrorists or give in to fear. We are going to meet the threats they pose head-on and take the necessary steps to protect this country, protect our fellow citizens and help ensure that terrorists do not succeed in raining havoc among our friends, our neighbours and our allies overseas.
That is the commitment all of us as Canadians made in 2001. It is the commitment that all of us today as Canadians still believe in. The bill presently before us gives this country another important tool in our efforts to both deter terrorism and help ensure that victims get the justice they so rightly deserve.
That is what our government has committed to doing and what the legislation before us today is all about. I therefore urge hon. members to give speedy passage to the bill we are debating today and send one loud and very clear message to all those who would threaten our safety and security: Canada is prepared to do anything and everything we can to defeat terrorism.