Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi. I know the member well because I serve on two committees with him.
I am very pleased to speak again in the House on the NDP's views on this piece of legislation, Bill C-55. It would amend the Criminal Code in response to the Supreme Court ruling referenced several times here this morning in previous speeches.
The point that has to be reiterated is that this is all coming about with a very few days remaining to meet the deadline that was provided to the House by the Supreme Court. It stayed a decision for a year to give the government the opportunity to bring forward an improvement to legislation that is much needed. We have supported this legislation throughout the process, although we found the process daunting because of the delay that took place in getting it here. We supported the government because it is an important tool for our police services in this country.
However, on the counter side of that, it is very important for the official opposition to look cautiously at any legislation that authorizes people to look into people's lives in the manner that this would. This enactment seeks to amend Canada's Criminal Code, and the Supreme Court ruling talked about the need for safeguards for Canadians, because this allows for authorized, and I want to stress the word “authorized”, interception of private communications, done prior to judicial authorization as foreseen in section 184.4 of the act.
It is worth noting that the enactment states that it:
requires the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Attorney General of each province to report on the interceptions of private communications made under section 184.4;
provides that a person who has been the object of such interception must be notified...within a specified period;...
The assumption is that those persons have not been found to be taking part in any criminal activity, and thus they have every right to be informed; and if they were involved with criminal activity and are part of an ongoing investigation, there could be an extension.
It narrowed the class of individuals who could actually make such interceptions, and those limited interceptions to particular offences are listed.
I was speaking a few moments ago about the fact that we are within three weeks of a deadline supplied to us by the Supreme Court. There was the benefit of a year from the Supreme Court to act on this, and the government has not done so until the very last minute. I have to question what the delay is. Why did it take close to a year for the government to respond to this? This was not a great difficulty, from the standpoint that the Supreme Court identified the areas in which the government had to make changes.
I would go so far as to say that when any government or any party in government looks to put forward legislation, a significant part of the process is debate in this place. Another significant part is the opportunity for all parties to come together, which we did in the instance of Bill C-55 at committee, to look at it, to hear witness testimony, to do those things necessary to offer any piece of legislation the due diligence necessary to make it as good as we possibly could. That is the concern over the timeframe, the concern over the fact that we had a couple of days to try to do things that could have well extended beyond, had we brought in more witnesses. It is troubling because that impedes the due diligence we have to administer on behalf of those people who sent us to this place.
I tend to repeat myself in my remarks, because that troubled me to the degree that I felt it was worth repeating.
There have been other times in this place that the opportunity to debate and to consider various bills has been impeded. I would ask how many times the Conservative government has moved time allocation on bills. It is not the delay just in this particular bill, but in other bills. We must be closing in on 30 times that it has occurred in this Parliament. It has to be close to that by now. I hear other members agreeing.
We have seen budget bills and other legislation affecting services, which Canadians rely on, shut down or extremely limited by the Conservatives, at what appears to be almost every opportunity. It stifles the opportunity for us to make those bills better. It stifles the opportunity we have as members to point out what they have done well and what they have done not up to the standards Canadians expect. We get to do that in this public forum. That has been curtailed too many times.
Once again, that is part of my concern with this bill, Bill C-55, and how it got to committee after such a delay. It has the potential of impacting ordinary Canadians in a very negative way if the protections of which the Supreme Court has spoken to us were not put into place.
Bill C-55 is simply an updated version of wiretapping provisions the Supreme Court previously deemed unconstitutional. That is quite a statement when we think about it. Fortunately again for the House, the Supreme Court set the parameters of what it saw as the need to protect Canadians' rights.
I have to say that Canadians have good reason to be concerned about privacy legislation that comes out of the government. To date the government has not had what I see as a good record in that area. It is not encouraging at all.
There is an obligation on the official opposition to work for the public good in upholding the rule of law, our Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was in February 2012 that the Conservative government tabled Bill C-30. Members will recall that gave authorities the power to access personal information in a way to which the Supreme Court responded.
It raised very serious concerns across the country, as I recall, about personal privacy and fundamental rights. That was due to the manner in which it was constructed and the powers it was seeking to give out. I will add that it was kind of a compilation of previous bills that have been before this House, Bill C-50, Bill C-51 and Bill C-52 from a previous parliamentary session. The Conservatives were attempting to build on the original legislation from 1999 to provide public safety authorities with extensive surveillance powers over digital information. As I said a moment ago, there was a significant backlash from the people of Canada in regard to this.
Now we have the government with these much-needed changes, I will commend the government. It reached across to us in the committee. We did work better on that bill than we did on some others in the past. If we did not meet the deadline or the provisions required by the Supreme Court, then these emergency powers would be thrown out.
I began my remarks talking about the need for police officials of our country to apply these. In this particular case, these provisions are intended to happen at the worst possible time, when somebody is under physical threat of injury or harm. It was important for us to go a little deeper into it.
I am looking for what really needs to be summarized here, and that is the fact that our role is to ensure that the privacy rights of Canadians are balanced with the police officials' needs to investigate, particularly in a time where someone is under the threat of physical harm. I have to say that, working together, I believe we accomplished that. Thus, we will be supporting this bill.