Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House to speak on behalf of the people of Gatineau concerning Bill C-44. Although their experience was very different than ours here in the House, the people of Gatineau were affected by the events of October. Many people will never be the same because of what happened. I am convinced that the Remembrance Day ceremonies, which will begin this weekend and culminate on November 11 in the national ceremony here in Ottawa, will take on quite a new, although similar, significance. In fact, what we celebrate every year is the fact that we must not forget. Perhaps this year more people will remember.
I know that I will be very happy to be with the people of Gatineau at the two cenotaphs in my riding. First, I will lay a wreath at the Legion on Baie Street. Then I will go to the cenotaph at the Norris Branch Legion. I try to alternate every year. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo will certainly be in our thoughts.
That said, we have to keep things in perspective. The comments I sometimes hear from the Conservative benches are disconcerting, including the comments by the member for Etobicoke Centre.
He accused the opposition of being guilty of under-reacting to threats against the country and its citizens.
I take offence at that type of comment. It certainly does not encourage thoughtful debate in view of what is happening right now. What is more, it sheds a negative light on the picture that the Conservatives are trying to paint of Bill C-44.
As an aside, I am convinced that quite the opposite was true when the mass killing occurred at École Polytechnique. At the time, the government's response was to create a firearms registry. As I recall, the Conservatives were accusing the government in power of overreacting. Sometimes one has to be consistent in life to keep things logical.
The best tribute we can pay to Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent, if we want to honour their memory, is to continue to uphold the values that they staunchly defended by fulfilling their duties every day. That is what Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent would ask of this noble institution, which is supposed to represent our democracy. They would ask us to protect the security of Canadians, something they did valiantly and courageously. As I was saying, I will be pleased to honour them during my visits to the cenotaphs and the Greater Gatineau Elementary School, when the young children hold a Remembrance Day ceremony. They are going to talk about Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent. However, these individuals would also want us to remember the values that Canada has always stood for, the values of democracy and the protection of freedoms. We send our soldiers around the world to defend these principles. That has always been my understanding.
It is misleading to claim that Bill C-44 is a solution to a problem that could have caused the absolutely tragic events that took place in October. To expect people to believe that is to take them for fools and to try to take advantage of a situation, which I think is despicable and certainly flies in the face of our role here as legislators, which is to introduce sensible legislation that is in line with our Constitution, our charters, our rights and our values.
We lack confidence in this government because we often get information bit by bit.
The Conservatives give roundabout answers to specific questions. Then they accuse us of not supporting the solutions they are trying to shove down our throats.
Bill C-44 was already on the radar. The bill is exactly the same as it was when it was to be introduced on that day we all remember, Wednesday, October 22, the day of the tragic events that led to the death of Corporal Cirillo. The introduction was pushed back, in light of the circumstances, and the bill was introduced a short time later.
I think the comments by the member for Malpeque bear repeating:
The Tories lost the July court ruling on CSIS spying overseas.
Bill C-44 is nothing but a response to the July rulings by the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal, by Justices Mainville, Dawson and Blais. Sometimes I lose a little confidence in this government, and that is the understatement of the year. We learned yesterday that this ruling had been made and had been partially redacted. That is understandable, since a government cannot disclose everything when it comes to national security.
I try to be familiar with court rulings, in light of my amazing and fascinating role as justice critic for the official opposition. However, I learned about this ruling from the papers. This is what Tonda MacCharles, a journalist with the Ottawa bureau of the Toronto Star, had to say:
The Conservative government revealed that it lost an important Federal Court of Appeal ruling that found CSIS hid the extent of its overseas spying activities from a judge.
A redacted version of the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, dated July 7, 2014, was posted on the court’s website Tuesday with no notice to the media — a highly unusual move.
It upheld an earlier Federal Court ruling by Justice Richard Mosley that rebuked the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the federal government for hiding the fact that CSIS had turned to CSE, Canada’s electronic spy agency, and its allied partners in the “Five Eyes” international spying network to carry out intrusive surveillance abroad on two Canadians.
The ruling gives strong backing to CSIS’s power to operate abroad.
In light of the threats, we can understand that some powers are necessary.
But Justices Eleanor Dawson, Robert Mainville and Pierre Blais, the recently retired chief justice, declared that a judge’s decision to issue a warrant is “not the simple ‘box-ticking’ exercise the attorney general suggests.” And they said CSIS had to level with the courts.
“The duty of candour and utmost good faith required that CSIS disclose to the Federal Court the scope of its anticipated investigation, and in particular that CSIS considered itself authorized by...the CSIS Act to seek foreign agency assistance without a warrant. CSIS failed to make such disclosure.”
However, the appeal ruling disagreed with the lower court, and found that a Federal Court judge does have jurisdiction to issue a warrant that would authorize intrusive surveillance by CSIS overseas.
I will spare the House the rest, but that gives members an idea of the implications of Bill C-44.
Our colleagues in the House, especially the Conservatives, say that we must provide a proper response to what happened in October. They would have Canadians believe that this bill is part of that response. However, it is part of something even bigger than the tragic events of October that resulted in two deaths.
I do not believe that we are under-reacting to the threats to our country and our fellow Canadians when we clearly and explicitly say that we will support Bill C-44 in order to send it to committee to be studied. Canadians are asking not just the official opposition, but also the government, to take action in that regard.
Sometimes, good suggestions are made, and witnesses will be heard.
Just recently, at a conference on the O'Connor commission, there were speakers who know a lot more about espionage and international terrorism than I do, such as the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Privacy Commissioner and former justice O'Connor. Those are some high-powered speakers. Former justices Dennis O'Connor, John Major and Frank Iacobucci spoke at the October 29 conference, “Arar +10: National Security and Human Rights a Decade Later”.
I did say “and human rights” because for the Conservatives it is often a question of one or the other. They believe that human rights must be curtailed in order to protect security. Both can be maintained in a reasonable world, and that often happens with oversight mechanisms. In the House we often hear that organizations are given extensive powers to protect us.
Yesterday, on the local news, the reporter was asking, in a very straightforward manner, if the government should increase security in its buildings. That is like asking if the sky is blue. Of course everyone will answer yes.
The discussion really starts to get interesting when we start looking at the details. How do we make the buildings more secure? Everyone has an opinion on that. However, one fact remains: we have a starting point and the government wants to give certain powers to an organization
Sometimes, I feel as though the government is not taking the most logical action. I like logic, I like to be able to understand and I like to visualize what is happening. Like everyone, I want to feel safe. I do not want to walk down the street, afraid of my own shadow. That has never been the case in Canada, and I do not want that to change.
However, I am not naive. I know that there are people with bad intentions. I do not want to get into a discussion about their reasons because it will only be divisive. Instead, we need to find good solutions.
I am concerned when I hear people from CSIS tell us that they do not have the resources to use their powers while, at the same time, the government is getting ready to grant them more powers. I do not think anyone can get angry with me for saying that I am concerned when our major security institutions, such as the RCMP and CSIS, tell us that they need more resources.
Make no mistake. These agencies had their budgets cut and were asked to reduce their complement of police officers. It is not easy to deal with the Internet threat. Everyone has to adapt to these changes. At the same time, if we want to give these agencies powers, we also have to give them the means to exert those powers.
This bill is very technical in that it will make it possible for some people's identities to remain hidden, and likely with good reason. We therefore have to ensure that we have the means of overseeing these agencies since we are giving them a practically limitless mandate to protect our security.
No one wants to see what happened to Maher Arar happen again. Ten years later, we have to pay out tens of millions of dollars because of an illegal arrest and the government has had to apologize. We all want to avoid that.
At the same time, we want to ensure that Canadians here and abroad are safe. Let us do things right. That is the completely rational and logical message that the official opposition is sending to the government regarding Bill C-44.
I do not want to blow things out of proportion or ascribe motives to anyone, but it makes my blood boil when I hear people say that we under-react to threats against the country and its citizens. It hits close to home for me because we want everyone to be safe. That is part of the mandate of everyone here.
We do not want people to have to relive events like what happened here in October when they hear explosions, as we did three or four times this morning during our caucus meeting. We want to do things right.
All the experts agree: a committee is needed. I think this committee should be as independent as possible. I listened to the member who spoke before me, and he did not know that there are still two vacant positions. I would say there is even a third: there is an interim chair, a former Reform Party colleague, Deborah Grey. I am sure she is very nice, but does she have much experience in this area? Two of the five seats on that committee are vacant. As an oversight committee, it has an extremely important role to play, and yet no one seems to take it very seriously.
We are being accused of all kinds of things, blamed for every evil under the sun, as though we could not care less about what happens in terms of security. It is as though only the government cares about this, cares about our soldiers and remembers the sacrifices our veterans made on our behalf. I would be inclined to say that our veterans deserve more. It is all well and good to send them off somewhere, but how they are welcomed home at the end of their mission is also very important, I think. However, I digress.
That being said, I think this bill deserves serious consideration. Many provisions of the bill seem quite all right, such as providing the courts with certain mechanisms. We shall see. I have already talked to a number of legal experts about this, because it is not my area of expertise. Three people I consulted had different opinions or differences in opinion on certain interpretations and certain clauses. I would say to my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, who will have the extremely important task of studying Bill C-44, to pay close attention and be as open-minded as they can. They should not do as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons sometimes does and say that they have to pass the bill quickly.
When we consider the circumstances in which Bill C-44 must have been drafted during the summer, following the unfavourable rulings on the government's position on this issue, it is easy to see that we have to spend more than just a few hours reviewing this bill in committee. I hope that my official opposition colleagues who sit on that committee will be able to make their voices heard calmly and make the other members realize that we are all in the same boat. We all live under the same flag, a flag that is dear to all our hearts, perhaps now more than ever. That is what should unite us and make that sense of camaraderie that we felt on October 23 last. I am not saying that we should all be singing Kumbaya. I know that we may not always agree, but we have to at least study the bill with respect, because the issue is extremely important.
In conclusion, I do not think that Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent would want us to be creating a police state. That is not at all what these individuals—now national heroes—were protecting. With all due respect for their memory, that is what I will keep in mind when I lay my wreath at the cenotaph and visit with young people at the Greater Gatineau school for their annual ceremony. I hope that my colleagues will examine Bill C-44 not with a tough-guy attitude, but with respect for the security, rights and freedoms of Canadians.