Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in this House on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay, who have put their trust in me to work on the issues of legislation before the House.
I am going to speak today on why the New Democratic Party is supporting Bill C-55 and what works about this bill, but also on the issues we need to look at and the prism that needs to be applied in terms of how the legislation was crafted, what it was in response to and how it ties into two other key pieces of legislation that this House has been asked to deal with.
One is Bill C-30 and the other is Bill C-12. Within each of the bills are key issues that reflect on the ability of the government to move forward with legislation and on how legislation is actually brought forward.
What is striking already, off the top of Bill C-55, is that it is a very narrow bill. It is simply addressing a section of the Criminal Code, section 184.4, that the Supreme Court struck down.
What we find is that legislation that is limited is usually more effective than legislation that is broad. Legislation is a very a blunt tool. Unfortunately, we have seen that the government likes to throw in all manner of legislation, often without thinking of the consequences or with very little regard for the consequences. We have seen one omnibus bill after another brought before the House without proper review and without a proper understanding of how they related to basic issues like charter rights.
I would like to say that I think the government is doing the right thing with Bill C-55 by having very narrowly defined legislation that addresses a major problem. I would like to think that the government thought this approach up on its own and that this is how it is going to start dealing with criminal matters and the reform of the criminal justice system, but that is not really what has happened here.
The government is responding to the fact that the Supreme Court struck down section 184.4 of the Criminal Code and gave it a deadline of April 13, which is only two weeks away, to address the problem.
I am going to speak a little about Bill C-55 and then explain how the implications of the Supreme Court legislation tie in to Bill C-30 and Bill C-12.
Under section 184.4, the Supreme Court ruled in R. v. Tse that police use of a warrantless wiretap to secure the safety of an individual is a correct step to take. If a life is at stake, law officers have the ability within Canadian jurisprudence to go in, get the evidence and secure a life. That is a long-standing practice within the Canadian law system.
However, the problem with section 184.4 is that there are no accountability mechanisms. What I find very interesting about the Supreme Court decision is that it says that even in the case of criminal activities—and what we were dealing with in this case was a kidnapping, a very horrendous attack against a citizen—basic charter rights still remain and have to be balanced.
The Supreme Court took the larger view and recognized that the spectre of criminality cannot be used to undermine the basic rights of citizens in this country. This is a concept that seems absolutely foreign to the Conservative Party, whose backbenchers jump up whistling and dancing every time they can come up with some extreme case of a criminal activity as a cover to allow them to undermine all manner of privacy rights, all manner of basic citizen rights. They have done it time and time again.
The Supreme Court has said no. The test of law in this country is what is reasonable versus unreasonable. What is reasonable is that if law officers know someone is at risk and need to get that information immediately, it is reasonable to go for the warrantless wiretap to gather that information without the judge's warrant, which can then be obtained later. What is unreasonable is to do that without any oversight mechanism.
Section 184.4 will clarify this, because it defines—and this is a very important thing again in dealing with Bill C-12 and Bill C-30—who is eligible, the police; how it is to be used, under specific circumstances; and why it is to be used, to protect the rights of citizens balanced against the right to bring safety to people who are perhaps under threat of criminal activity. The definition of how this breach of law would be allowed is crucial to Bill C-55.
When we look at Bill C-30, which was the bill that this was supposed to be a part of, we see that none of these definitions of the who, the how and the why are there. In fact, it is so broad that the privacy commissioners from across Canada, in an unprecedented response to the government, wrote against the government's attempt to undermine the basic civil rights of Canadian citizens.
Whenever the Conservative government attempts to do something that it knows will not pass a charter challenge or attempts to pull something that it knows the Canadian public will not stand for, it uses a bogeyman. The minister used perhaps the most baseless attack that has ever been uttered in the House of Commons when he said that anybody who was concerned about privacy rights or the individual rights of citizens in this country or who dared raise a question to him was on the side of child pornographers.
That was about as ugly as it can get. Of course, now we see who is on the side of child pornographers: Mr. Tom Flanagan, who said that it is a victimless crime. We see the right-wing media is concerned about Mr. Tom Flanagan, a very famous and very rich right-wing white man. It was his rights, we are now being told, that were somehow trampled upon. One reporter said that he thought it showed the fundamental shallowness of Canadians that they were outraged that Mr. Flanagan was defending the rights of child pornographers.
However, that was the kind of language being used by this minister to cover up the fact that there were major flaws in Bill C-30. If we tie it back to Bill C-55 in terms of the Supreme Court, the government must have known that none of its provisions would have passed the charter challenge because they did not meet the basic standards of jurisprudence.
Let us look at the lack of the who, the how and the why in terms of Bill C-30 as compared to Bill C-55. Bill C-30 may be brought back by the government; we are not yet sure. Under clause 33, the government would be allowed to designate an inspector to go into a telecom to demand information for being in compliance with Bill C-30.
The minister may designate inspectors, that is his choice, but there is no definition of what those inspectors are. Are they police? Are they private security? Are they political staffers? We do not know. Bill C-30 would allow the extraordinary ability of the minister to appoint inspectors. Under clause 34, these inspectors would be allowed to go into public telecoms to gather information on private citizens. That is clearly something that would never pass the charter challenge.
In contrast, in Bill C-55 we see that they have defined the right to ask for warrantless information to just the police, which is the proper place it should be. We should know who is able to gather that information on us.
What they wanted to do under Bill C-30 was allow warrantless access to subscriber information on the data use of anybody with a cellphone or an ISP address, which would pretty much mean 95% or 96% of the Canadian public. Unspecified persons could gather that information.
The privacy commissioners of Canada spoke out against this. They said that contrary to the Conservative Party's claims, it had nothing to do with being just like a phone book. Ann Cavoukian said that this was “one of the most invasive threats to our privacy and freedom that I have ever encountered”. About being able to demand and being forced to turn over this information, she said:
...customer name and address information ties us to our entire digital life, unlike a stationary street address. Therefore, “subscriber information” is far from the modern day equivalent of a publicly available “phone book”. Rather, it is the key to a much wider, sensitive subset of information.
That is what the Conservatives wanted to be able to gather.
The abuse of privacy rights did not end there. Under Bill C-30, they also wanted to force telecoms to basically build in back-channel spy communication, so that as they expanded their networks, they would have to build in the monitoring system to keep track of any citizen the government felt it should be able to look at at any time, again without any oversight and without citizens knowing they would be spied upon.
Ann Cavoukian, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, said that what they were in fact doing, although they perhaps did not realize it, was creating a hacker's paradise. If we allow wormholes throughout the telecom system to allow police to spy on it, then certainly the hackers, who are usually about three steps ahead of everybody else on this—and we see massive international gangs using sophisticated cyberhacking—would be able to benefit much more than the police or security services.
In terms of the how, Bill C-55 limits the ability to get a warrantless wiretap based on the possibility of a threat to a person. Afterwards there would have to be oversight mechanisms and reports would have to be published and reported to Parliament so that we would know how these warrantless wiretaps are being used. Bill C-55 defines and protects this breach of the private rights of citizens, whereas under Bill C-30, the door was kicked down and all the basic rights of citizens were thrown out.
Of course we know that Bill C-30 was responded to in a massive and very exciting and positive response from the public, a backlash that said that we demand that our privacy rights be protected and defined under the rule of law in this country. It was an unprecedented backlash against the government. The Minister of Justice has been pretty much hiding under his desk publicly ever since. It is a good sign that we have a engaged citizenry here that knows the difference between what is reasonable and unreasonable.
In Bill C-55, the government is limited to gathering information under the reasonableness of protecting an individual who is facing threat compared to the unreasonableness of doing away with all manner of privacy rights whatsoever. In this manner, I would say that the Canadian public are foremost across the world in standing up for their rights, much more than the government, which has very little respect for the privacy rights of Canadians. In other democracies with privacy rights in the digital age and the age of big data and CCTV cameras, other citizens are steadily having those rights eroded, whereas in Canada we want to maintain those rights.
In Bill C-12, which is the other piece of legislation to compare Bill C-55 to, again we see the government showing no respect for the privacy rights of Canadians. There is no understanding of the importance of privacy rights. We certainly saw that with the massive data losses of private financial information on over 500,000 Canadians at HRSDC. We have seen other data breaches. We saw the government's cavalier attitude when, rather than warning citizens that their personal financial data may have been breached, its only desire was to protect the minister, and it kept the breach quiet for two months. Any manner of international gangs could have had that data, gone after people's credit and created massive widespread fraud, because that is what can happen if the public is not alerted.
Under Bill C-12, the government wants to change the reporting threshold for private business when these privacy breaches happen. This is very important in terms of defining how we protect the rights of citizens. Under the changes the government is bringing in Bill C-12, private companies that have our data, whether a bank, a Sony PlayStation, or all manner of online transactions, would only have to report the breach to the Privacy Commissioner if they thought there was a significant risk of harm. “Significant” is an extremely high bar to set. Meanwhile, all manner of abuse could happen underneath it.
Also, private businesses would be very wary about the idea of going public with the fact that they may have lost Visa card information or personal data information for 100,000 or 200,000 or 500,000 people, because it affects their basic online business model. Everything is now done online. However, we see the government telling private businesses that they only have to report a privacy breach if it might cause significant harm. That completely fails the basic test and the understanding of the importance of privacy rights in this country.
We believe that there has to be a very clear rule that if companies fear they have been hacked and that privacy data has been breached, it has to be reported to the Privacy Commissioner, who has such an extraordinary role to play in protecting and reviewing the evidence and deciding whether action must be taken.
However, we see that again the government is undermining the role of the Privacy Commissioner and we have to ask why. As more and more Canadians operate their businesses online and as our financial transactions occur online, the last thing we want to do is create a hackers' paradise in Canada, while the rest of the world moves further ahead of us. Ann Cavoukian has spoken about this.
It is extraordinary that Canada was once seen as the world leader in privacy data. Our Privacy Commissioner is definitely seen as a world leader, but our legislation is falling further and further behind where the Europeans and the Americans are going. As our Privacy Commissioner is asking for the tools to update, to deal with the cyberthreats and to deal with the protection of personal information in the age of big data, the current government is undermining the legislation.
How does that relate to Bill C-55? There are direct connections in the language among Bill C-12, Bill C-30 and what we have seen in Bill C-55. Bill C-12 would allow organizations and companies, including telecommunications companies, to disclose personal information to government institutions, perhaps the police or perhaps not, without the knowledge and consent of the individual when performing policing services. This is under subclause 6(6), but there is no definition of what “policing services” are.
Again, it is the language of Bill C-30, the lawful access and online snooping language, that would allow some undefined security person or force to obtain information on private individuals from telecommunications without defining who would be eligible to gather that information, whereas Bill C-55 would limit it to the police so that is very clear.
I agree with my colleague on the Conservative side and I am telling him that they are going to need to bring Bill C-12 to the same standard, where we define who is eligible to ask for that information. Without doing that, we will end up going before the courts again. If we define that it is the right of the police to ask for that information, then that would meet the test that would be laid out in Bill C-55, but Bill C-12 would not meet that test right now. The issue is that there is no oversight mechanism in Bill C-12. If they did ask for this ISP information on individual users, there are no mechanisms under Bill C-12 for reporting what was happening, and that would fail the test of Bill C-55.
It is clear that what the Conservatives had been attempting to do was to take Bill C-30, which was their desire to be able to snoop on as many people as they wanted as often as they wanted and however they wanted, and build in a number of other subsets in other legislation to make that operable. Bill C-12, which includes changes to the Privacy Protection Act, would certainly allow them to do that. However, being that we have had the public backlash on Bill C-30 and being that we now have defined Bill C-55 very clearly regarding the who, the how and the why of this being allowed, we would need to clarify the same mechanisms under Bill C-12.
We see that the Conservatives are on the straight and narrow right now. They did not want to come. They were dragged, kicking and screaming, and it is our job to ensure they stay on the straight and narrow. We want to work with them. It is hard for them and we will do our part to keep them on the straight and narrow. We will do that 12-step program of accountability and I want to work with my colleagues on that, but they just keep sliding off that wagon. They want to go after personal freedoms. They want to go after individuals. They want to do that spying thing. However, they cannot do it because we have the rule of law in this country.
We are asking them to come work with us and learn from some of their colleagues who might have a little more experience in some of these matters. Certainly the Supreme Court has laid down the test that has to be met. Now that Bill C-55 is in place, the problems with Bill C-12 are too clear to ignore. Then, what we need to do with Bill C-12 is to ensure that Bill C-30 will never come back and that the online snooping provisions of the current government will not come back.