Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to speak about Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the government's response to the Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Tse.
As my colleague explained, I now have the pleasure of sitting on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Before that I sat on the Standing Committee on Finance. Now, I have the pleasure of working with our justice critic, the member for Gatineau. Since becoming a member of this committee and working with her, I have discovered that her knowledge of the justice field is incredibly broad and that she does extraordinary work. As with all the files on which she has worked, she led the team very capably and clarified our position on Bill C-55.
Our position is clear: we are in favour of Bill C-55 because it is a step in the right direction. We have supported the bill at every stage because it resolves one of the legal problems in the Criminal Code. The R. v. Tse ruling made it possible to tell the government that the Criminal Code, as enacted in 1993, with the wiretaps provisions, was unconstitutional. I will discuss this unconstitutional aspect a little later on.
I believe the bill is a step in the right direction. It updates the wiretapping provisions that the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled unconstitutional. In the R. v. Tse decision, the Supreme Court of Canada found that an emergency wiretap authority without a court authorization in situations of imminent harm could be justified under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Certain amendments therefore had to be made. Section 184.4 of the Criminal Code was enacted in 1993 and was unconstitutional, primarily because it contained no accountability measures. I repeat, section 184.4 must be used only in exceptional circumstances. It is an emergency measure. Wiretapping is an infringement of privacy. However, in certain cases, such as in the cases discussed, it is a necessity, as it also involves public safety.
We as legislators must balance the two aspects: public safety with freedom and the right to privacy. Fortunately, this is what the bill does. The law as it was in the past made it impossible to achieve this balance.
The Supreme Court made a rather pressing and important point in its decision. According to the Supreme Court, the Criminal Code, as it stands, is unconstitutional. The court therefore directed the government to introduce a bill to address the problem. The Supreme Court gave the government until April 13, 2013, to enact amendments to ensure that the justice system can function legitimately. Unfortunately, when the government took power, it introduced many bills that it felt were more important, but did not really do what the Supreme Court asked of it.
I will return to Bill C-30, but I would like first to discuss Bill C-55 in more detail. The issue here is the reporting requirement for interceptions of private communications. This is important. We need to know what is going on and we need accountability. This bill concerns the requirement to report, which is important.
Bill C-55 provides that any person who has been the object of an interception must be advised within a period of 90 days to three years. Several questions were raised about the three-year time period, but after hearing witnesses, in particular those from the Department of Justice, we understood that there were reasons that made this acceptable. Of course, the time period will not always be three years. We hope that it will be shorter. However, we are reassured by the fact that those who have been under electronic surveillance will be advised thereof. The bill also restricts what categories of people can make such interceptions.
One of the problems with Bill C-30, which I would like to discuss further, is that it allowed almost anyone to do so, and placed certain obligations on telecommunications companies and so on. Now that has been clarified somewhat. The bill says that the police have the right to intercept communications. Witnesses raised questions about whether this should be clarified and whether it should go still further. Should it be a higher-ranking officer, such as a police supervisor? When we heard the witnesses and thoroughly analyzed the question, we found the definition adequate in terms of being understandable, particularly when applied more broadly to the Criminal Code.
I would like to say more about Bill C-30, because the Supreme Court requirement told the government to come back with a bill that was not unconstitutional by April 13, 2013. We are aware of the fact that it takes a great deal of time for a bill to work its way through the parliamentary legislative system.
The government began by introducing Bill C-30.
Bill C-30 required telecom providers in Canada to monitor user data and be prepared to hand over personal information to authorities without a warrant or judicial oversight. We saw that as a big problem, and a lot of members stood in the House and said that, including my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville, who is the NDP critic.
He is an incredible colleague who fought very hard. The public also helped us by expressing its opposition to this bill.
Canadians must not forget what the Minister of Public Safety said at the time.
On February 13, 2012, the minister, in answer to a question on Bill C-30, said:
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the opportunity to tell him that every province unanimously supported moving forward with the legislation that was introduced first under the Liberal government, by his party. As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier. We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide the police with the lawful tools that they need. He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.
When we look at history, we know the government made a huge mistake with the bill, and it knows it. Bill C-30 was wrong. The fact that a minister could speak that way and then come back and say that maybe it was a mistake and the bill went too far, it was not maybe, it really did. When he spoke like that, it showed narrow-mindedness. If Conservatives want to collaborate and work on better legislation, especially after the Supreme Court told us to do it, we hope there will be better preparation by members opposite in the future.
The NDP was very pleased that the minister and the government admitted their mistake and realized that they had gone too far. There was no reason for them to attack the protection of privacy. The scope of their legislation was too broad and they were asking telecommunications companies to obtain information without a warrant. Canadians and my constituents were outraged. I heard this from many of my constituents.
OpenMedia came up with a campaign to go against it. Once in a while, the government actually listens to what people have to say, and I am glad it did. I wish the government would have done it before coming up with such a bill, but coming back with Bill C-55 is a good thing. The government has looked at what needs to be done. The Supreme Court was pretty clear that we needed to amend the law so that we followed what the charter said, which the government did. That is why we support it. It is really important that the rule of law, the Constitution and the charter be respected.