Mr. Speaker, the nuclear terrorism act, currently in the form of Bill S-9, would amend the Criminal Code to align our law with obligations under two international agreements, as the parliamentary secretary has so ably outlined. One is ICSANT, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism of 2005, and an amendment to another treaty in 2005, the Convention for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials.
In broad terms, those two instruments, along with the underlying Convention for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, deal with the protection of radioactive material, nuclear material and nuclear facilities, and the protection from nuclear or radioactive devices.
The creation of criminal law offences is one aspect of the protection scheme, alongside ensuring there is a broad, in essence, kind of universal jurisdiction to prosecute for most aspects of these offences.
The present bill, Bill S-9, is overdue if one looks at the dates of the two instruments, both 2005, although this delay is mitigated by the fact that Canada is not yet bound to either instrument because it has not yet ratified. We have signed but that is not the same thing as ratification. The passage of Bill S-9 will put us in a position to be in compliance and, thus, to ratify.
However, why we have left this combined ratification and implementation for so long does remain a mystery to me, despite the answer just given by the parliamentary secretary. This is not a controversial bill from any side of the House and I cannot imagine a minority Parliament would have held it up.
As I have already indicated, the NDP very much supports the bill going to committee. We will vote for it at second reading and we expect to do so at third reading. Overall, we are completely behind the bill as a necessary measure as part of Canada's international co-operation against threats related to nuclear terrorism of various forms.
In a world of heightened technological sophistication that increases the ability to steal material, attack installations, make radioactive devices and so on, it is impossible to overstate the importance of such co-operation and, indeed, Canada's role in that co-operation.
We wish to see this bill become law as rapidly as possible. At the same time, we also emphasize that some close technical scrutiny of the bill in committee is still called for to ensure that it has been drafted in the best way to fulfill our obligations under these two treaties so that we can then go on and not be in non-compliance once we ratify.
It may be that some slight amendments will be needed in committee. I say this for three reasons.
The first reason is that there was what seems to have been a major omission in the government's bill that went to the Senate before coming to us. What was that omission? I referred to it in my question just now to the parliamentary secretary. Whereas ICSANT's article 2(1)(a) includes the offence of making a radioactive device, Bill S-9, in its original form before the Senate, did not include this activity despite mentioning every other conceivable form of activity that also was in the two treaties: possession, use, transport, export, import, alteration and disposal.
The Senate caught this omission, assisted, no doubt, by an alert Library of Parliament preliminary summary of the bill, and the mistake has been rectified in what we now have coming from the Senate.
However, and this is my main point, the situation does give one reason to pause and ask a question. If something as significant as making a radioactive device, which appears clearly in the text of the relevant treaty, was missed, has anything else been overlooked, or has there been some other slippage in the tightness or the accuracy of the drafting of this bill? The committee needs to ensure this is not the case.
The second reason there may be a need for amendments following directly on from the just asked question is that the commitment may need to consider amendments in that there is some reason to believe that parts of Bill S-9 have been drafted in terms that are not just more general in their phraseology than the specific treaty articles they are meant to implement but are broader in the sense of criminalization of more than is required by the treaties.
I will, in a moment, outline where this may be a problem in Bill S-9, but a prior problem may be that the Minister of Justice and officials before the Senate committee do not appear to agree that there are any such aspects of over-breadth. The reason this is a problem is that such denial makes it impossible to go to the next stage of analysis, which is to ask whether over-breadth in relation to what is strictly required by the treaties is actually of any real concern.
If the treaties permit state parties to go further in what they criminalize, and the treaties probably do permit this, then it becomes a matter of sound public policy discussion as to whether we do wish to go further. However, if the government denies that Bill S-9 does go further, we cannot even have that discussion.
The third reason we may need to entertain a small amendment or two in committee is that there may, and I emphasize the word “may”, be under-breadth in terms of the coverage of one aspect of Bill S-9 offences. Now I may have misread the corresponding treaty provisions in relation to the sections of Bill S-9 in question, but one reading of them is that Bill S-9 may not go as far as required in one respect. If this is the case, then our legislation would put us in non-compliance after ratification. I will identify this possible glitch in a moment.
I will now proceed with a bit more detail on these points to illustrate why it is that we may have to pay some close attention in committee.
First, on the issue of potential over-breadth, and I do apologize to everyone listening that this will be as technical as it is starting to sound. In particular, with respect to proposed sections 82.3 and 82.4, article 2 of ICSANT is rather inelegant in expressing the need for specific intent on top of general intent for some of the offences mentioned. It talks about any person intentionally possessing, using, making a device and so on with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury or with the intent to cause substantial property damage or harm to the environment.
The first point to note is that this double use of intentionality does cause a certain degree of inelegance. Bill S-9 does not repeat that. It uses simpler language, for the most part going straight to the specific intent formulations. This seems wise.
However, the problem that then appears on one reading of proposed sections 82.3 and 82.4 is that the specific intent formulations of the ICSANT treaty regarding use or damage to a nuclear facility are not reproduced in Bill S-9. Instead, proposed sections 82.3 and 82.4 of the bill merely assume a general intent standard. This is because, and again this is a very technical point, in proposed sections 82.3 and 82.4 the acts listed after the words “or who commits” are cut off from the specific intent references earlier in the provision.
In a similar vein, the amendment to the CPPNM treaty on acts directed against nuclear facilities also has a specific intent requirement that Bill S-9 does appear to omit.
Here is another point about over-breadth that I will simply state as a very clear problem, as there is no doubt or debate about this one. The references to crimes of threat in Bill S-9 go further than necessary under the treaties. This is very helpfully laid out in the very well put together legislative summary provided by the Library of Parliament.
Finally, there is a provision in Bill S-9 that talks about committing an indictable offence with intent to obtain material or a device versus the treaty provisions, which actually list the specific other forms of offence that are attached to this search for intent to obtain material or a radioactive device.
We have created a much broader tacking-on of this notion of committing any indictable offence as opposed to the offences specifically listed in the treaties: theft, robbery, embezzlement, fraudulent obtaining and so on.
All of this is as dry as the hon. member for Gatineau promised it would be. However, I did want to get this on the record so that it helps us at the committee stage to ask whether this is a correct reading, and if so, what needs to be done about it.
There is something quite significant however about the fact that if there is over-breadth in any respect, there is a multiplier effect that occurs throughout Bill S-9. That is because a number of other provisions tack themselves onto the offences. Four of them in particular are worth mentioning. One is the extraterritorial scope of the offences. The second is that they enter into the definition of terrorist activity, which is thereby broadened. The third is that the electronic surveillance provisions of the Criminal Code would be kicked in by the offence definitions, as are fourthly, the DNA sample provision of the Criminal Code.
The issue is not that these offences are simply more broadly worded in and of themselves, which may strike people as a slightly semantic issue. It is how one multiplies the potential significance of that across all of the other provisions I have just listed. It is what I call an amplification effect.
I mentioned that there is possibly an odd twist here. There may be one instance of narrowing our treaty obligations in Bill S-9 in such a way that might mean that Bill S-9 does not go far enough and, thus, may put us in breach of the treaty.
The new CPPNM amendment in article 7(1)(d) criminalizes “the intentional commission of...an act which constitutes the carrying, sending, or moving of nuclear material into or out of a State without lawful authority”. Yet proposed section 82.3 of Bill S-9 would make the import and export offence subject to the specific intent portions of that section, which are not in Article 7(1)(d) of the treaty amendment. This could possibly be a misreading of the treaty amendment on my part or of what is intended by Bill S-9, but there does appear to be the possibility that we have under-inclusion in that respect.
All of this adds up to the fact that the committee will need to pay some attention to whether or not this legislation has been drafted as well and as tightly as needed, particularly in light of the fact that in asking questions of the parliamentary secretary just now, the responses that came back were fairly general. It is not at all clear that the government has its head around these problems, despite the warning of some of these questions being asked in the Senate.
I would like to say a few words about parliamentary democracy as it relates to this legislation. One might assume that I am referring to the fact that the bill started in the Senate, the unelected, second chamber of our Parliament. In fact, that is not my immediate concern. A much more real concern and affront to this chamber is that Bill S-7, on which debate started earlier today, first went to the Senate.
Having listened to myself for the last 10 minutes, Bill S-9 is very technical in nature. It may well be the kind of bill that can fruitfully be started in the Senate so that the House benefits from some preliminary cleaning up and does not have to allocate undue time to studying the bill. The fact that the Senate caught the omission of the making a device offence may actually prove my point, in part.
My immediate democracy concern does not relate to the Senate. Rather, it relates to the methods we use in Parliament to implement treaties and statutes. Again, I am not referring here to the mess that many in this room know exists with respect to the lack of consistency in the way that statutes are drafted to accomplish implementation of a treaty.
By one count in a law journal article I read some time ago, there are well over a dozen methods employed, ranging from verbatim reproduction of treaty text to very general language that does not even hint at there being an underlying treaty motivating the legislative change. While this is an important issue and while it does bear directly on how Bill S-9 may be over-broad in parts, I will leave that for another day.
Therefore, I turn to what my concern actually is.
What I want to discuss is much more procedural in nature. The way in which bills are introduced, presented and reported from stage to stage is close to a travesty when it comes to the twin goals of transparency and accountability. Parliament, and thereby the Canadian public, must be given every opportunity and tool to be able to understand precisely what is in a bill and how that content relates, in this context, to an underlying treaty or another international instrument such as a Security Council resolution.
However, that is not what happens here in Canada. Treaty-implementing bills almost always get plunked onto Parliament's desk with nothing resembling an overview, let alone a road map, from the government of how a statute's provisions line up with related treaty provisions. Parliamentarians end up reading a bill as if they have a jigsaw puzzle to solve. They track down the related treaty and then try to connect the dots between the treaty and the statute with absolutely no help from the government by way of a commentary that could easily provide explanatory charts showing side-by-side text so that Parliament's role of scrutinizing critically and effectively can be facilitated.
Instead, valuable energy is wasted at the preliminary stage of understanding what is going on in the relationship between the statute and the treaty text. As some members will be aware, I am speaking as someone who was not only a law professor in a previous life but has been an international law scholar for over 20 years. Therefore, if there is anyone in a position to put the jigsaw puzzle together it would be someone with my background. However, even I find it very frustrating.
More importantly, I find it undemocratic. Why? Anything that makes legislative details needlessly inaccessible gets in the way of clear and focused analysis and debate, both by and among parliamentarians, and in terms of how journalists and the public in general will have difficulty grasping analysis and debate if there are no well-presented documents that make the subject of analysis and debate reasonably easy to follow. At multiple levels, democratic scrutiny is undermined and the distance between Parliament and society is exacerbated.
Without dwelling further on the details of an ideal system of clear and transparent presentation of treaty-implementing bills, which this bill lacks, at minimum the government must be required to include alongside a bill a document that does at least the following three things.
First, the document should show the text of the treaty and statute in a side-by-side comparison that makes clear what the statute is intended to implement.
Second, the document should explain and justify the method of implementation that has been chosen. For example, if general language is used or if a treaty text is reproduced nearly but not entirely in verbatim form from the treaty, we need to know why that decision was made.
Finally, the document should provide a clear account of what is not in the implementing bill by reason of the fact that either Canadian law may already cover off the area, the treaty provisions in question may only operate on the international plain or the matter must be dealt with by a provincial legislature.
In order to appreciate that this is not simply a cranky protest, all we have to do is to consider what everyone knows about how inaccessible even basic bills are when presented to Parliament in terms of how well we can understand the underlying statute that is being amended. We also can refer to budget bills that do not come anywhere close to meeting OECD transparency guidelines.
In this immediate context, my main point is to draw attention to one problem we have with a very procedural dimension of accountability in this Parliament, which is not alone in the way we deal with legislation.