Mr. Speaker, as this may be my last opportunity to speak to the House before Remembrance Day, I really look forward to these Remembrance Day services. I know all members of Parliament are. We expect to be joined by record crowds of Canadians this year.
Unfortunately, this year, we have two new names to add to the Canadian heroes who have given their life in service to Canada. They are Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Once again, I would like to express my sympathies to their families. I know Canada will do them proud this Remembrance Day by showing how much we respect the sacrifices their families have made.
I rise today to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other acts. In the aftermath of the two attacks at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa just two weeks ago, concern about national security is certainly front and centre in the public mind and, indeed, in all of our minds. There is no doubt that concern already existed about the spread of extremist views and the radicalization of Canadians, whether on the basis of ideological or religious grounds.
As New Democrats, we have taken a strong stand, but we must not rush to judgment on any of the recent events until the full story is known. We have also argued that we cannot let fear warp who we are as a nation and distort our values. We should beware of falling into the trap of looking for solutions in some kind of trade-off, giving up some of our freedom for greater security. Instead, the New Democrats know that it is the responsibility of the government to protect both our civil liberties and public safety. There is no contradiction between the two. We believe Canadians expect the government to do no less.
We know that Bill C-44 was in preparation months before the events of October 22. In fact, if we look at its content, it is easy to see that there is no apparent connection with the events in Ottawa or St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, judging on the information we have before us so far.
In fact, Bill C-44 seems to be a legislative response to difficulties created for CSIS as a result of two court decisions. One is from the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007, called Regina v. Hape, and the other is from the Federal Court in the following year, known as Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act (Re), 2008.
In short, what seems to have happened is that these two decisions made it difficult for CSIS to co-operate and share information with allied spy services, the so-called “five eyes group”, made up of the United States, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada. At the heart of these two cases was the question of whether CSIS could use warrants obtained in Canada to conduct surveillance abroad, using methods that would have required the authorization of a judge if they were to take place in Canada.
By providing a clear framework for overseas surveillance work and express authority for the courts to issue warrants authorizing these activities in Bill C-44, the government is arguing that CSIS would be better able to protect national security. Indeed, this may be the case. We are certainly prepared to look carefully at this measure in committee.
This is what lies at the heart of Bill C-44, and it may indeed be the case that CSIS needs these new expanded or clarified powers, however we wish to describe them. The New Democrats are therefore prepared to support this legislation to go to committee, recognizing their potential importance for national security.
However, details matter very much in bills like this, so we will be asking tough questions about what the government proposes to accomplish in this bill and about whether and how this expansion of CSIS' powers will actually help keep Canadians safe.
Again, as we have said, just as it is important to protect public safety and national security, it is also necessary to protect civil liberties. What we see missing in this bill are any improved accountability measures to accompany the proposed expansion of the powers of CSIS. I will return to this question of accountability in just a moment.
Let me stop here to consider what else is in Bill C-44, in addition to clarifying the international mandate of CSIS and its ability to carry out surveillance abroad.
The third element in Bill C-44 is the provision of a blanket protection on the identity of the human sources of CSIS. Again, we will have some serious questions to ask in committee about this provision. Right now, judges can grant protection for the identity of CSIS sources on a case by case basis. The onus is on the government to show why this protection is actually needed. Bill C-44 would reverse that onus. The presumption would be that the identity of CSIS sources would always be protected.
Even the bill itself acknowledges that this could be a problem when it comes to using CSIS information as the basis for criminal charges. Our criminal justice system, quite rightly, does not look favourably on anonymous testimony or evidence whose validity cannot be challenged in court.
Bill C-44 would create an exception for criminal law, allowing the disclosure if the defence could establish that doing so would be necessary to establish the innocence of the accused. This would add a large potential complication to any such criminal cases, as it would require a separate process to be carried out in Federal Court. On this side of the House, we remain concerned that this provision may perversely make it more difficult to secure criminal convictions of those who threaten national security.
There is in the bill, however, no such exemption to the blanket provision for protection of identity of CSIS sources for immigration and refugee cases. In fact, Bill C-44 makes reference to the use of special advocates in cases where the identity of CSIS sources seems likely to affect the outcome of the case.
The fourth provision of Bill C-44 has nothing at all to do with CSIS and which we could say, in a way, makes Bill C-44 a mini omnibus bill. This is the provision that would advance the coming into force date for the provisions in the Citizenship Act, passed last year, that allow the revocation of Canadian citizenship for dual citizens convicted of terrorism or other serious offences. This is something the New Democrats opposed at the time, and continue to oppose, as creating two different classes of Canadian citizen.
When we look at the provisions of Bill C-44 in the current context, there are some other questions we need to ask ourselves, which may not fall neatly into the confines of a debate on legislation alone. We must ask ourselves if legislation is always the answer to every problem or, as the government sometimes seems to believe, the only answer to every problem.
We must ask ourselves if there are other things we can do when it comes to the question of how we respond to the use of violence at home by Canadians. Perhaps most important among these questions is how we respond to homegrown radicalization of youth, whether it is a young Canadian who murders three Mounties in New Brunswick or another who seeks to go abroad to join an armed religious or ideological movement. A lot of good work has been done on this question at the community level, and we need to reach out to those communities concerned and work with them on prevention and early intervention strategies.
Another serious question we must ask ourselves about national security is whether the the federal government assigned sufficient resources to the task of protecting national security. Testimony at the Senate Standing Committee on National Defence on two successive October Mondays cast doubt on whether the government had done this.
On October 20, the deputy director of Operations of CSIS told the Senate that CSIS was forced to prioritize its resources when it came to monitoring radicals returned from abroad or prevented from going abroad. The deputy director said that CSIS did not have the resources to monitor all 80 or 90 names on that shifting list and that this must be seen as a public safety concern.
Just a week later, RCMP Commissioner Paulson told the same Senate committee that in the wake of the October attacks, he was forced to expand the 170 personnel assigned to the integrated national security enforcement team, the front-line teams on national security, by seconding 300 personnel from organized crime and financial crime units, reassigning them to national security. This means weakening one important area of crime fighting in order to strengthen the fight against threats to national security, and is surely an indication of inadequate resources for the RCMP at this time.
Is this a choice the government really should be asking the Commissioner of the RCMP to make, protecting national security or continuing to fight organized crime? The record of the Conservatives on this issue is clear, despite the attempts of the minister again this morning to make historical references to funding going back, sometimes it seems, to the beginning of time.
In 2012, on page 277 of the economic action plan, the Conservatives clearly laid out their intention to cut $688 million from the public safety budget over the three fiscal years ending this year, 2014-15, and they have done this. We have seen cuts beginning in 2012 now amounting to $24.5 million annually for CSIS, something like a 5% cut in 2012. Never mind what the level was in 2006 or 2007, it is a cut from 2012.
There were $143 million cut from the Canadian Border Services Agency, a cut of nearly 10%, including cutting more than 100 intelligence staff from the CBSA, those who are charged with finding out who is trying to violate our borders and might potentially be a threat to national security. It includes a cut of $195 million from 2012 to the budget of the RCMP.
It also appears, from the tabling of the 2014 Public Accounts, that each of these agencies has also been subject to the same pressures from the Conservatives to underspend even those reduced budgets in the quest for an ever larger surplus on paper.
I want to return now to the question of the importance of oversight for our national security agencies.
We all in this House know good models for accountability when we see them, and we have many good examples, like the independent officers of Parliament who have special expertise and report directly to Parliament and not just the minister of the day. These are officers of Parliament like the Auditor General or the Privacy Commissioner, whose reports can be debated in Parliament, shining light on what the government has or has not done, and holding the government to account.
It is strange to think that the CBSA has no such oversight body. This is despite four specific recommendations for the establishment of an oversight body that I can think of: from the 2003 recommendation of the Auditor General to the 2006 O'Connor commission report, to the 2008 Canadian Council of Refugees recommendation, to the most recent 2014 calls for better accountability by both the Canadian Council of Refugees and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association in the wake of the death in custody in Vancouver of Lucia Vega Jimenez.
Now the government will be quick to respond that CSIS already has sufficient oversight in the form of the 30-year-old Security Intelligence Review Committee, but keep in mind that this is the same government that significantly reduced accountability in CSIS by eliminating the position of inspector general, the CSIS internal watch dog who reported directly to the minister each year on CSIS' record of complying with the law. Instead, this important function was transferred to SIRC, a part-time body of non-specialists, and that responsibility was transferred short of roughly $1 million of resources, which the Conservatives promptly booked as “savings”.
SIRC already has very important responsibilities, including investigating public complaints about the way CSIS deals with things like security clearances, their approval or revocation, which affects people's employment; dealing with public complaints about CSIS' exchange of information with foreign governments, and we know we have had problems where that exchange of information has led to mistreatment of Canadians abroad; and CSIS' functions in providing information in immigration and refugee cases.
The responsibility of the inspector general was added to the work SIRC was already doing, again, without the transfer of the full resources, and again, under the responsibility of a part-time, non-specialist committee.
In addition to the structural weaknesses of SIRC—as I mentioned, a part-time body of non-specialists—there are concerns about whether the Conservatives have taken SIRC seriously. It currently has only a temporary chair, and two of the five positions on the committee have been vacant for months. What was previously a serious consultation process, involving the opposition in appointments to SIRC, seems to have deteriorated to the point where we found SIRC was chaired by a patronage appointee, Arthur Porter, a former fundraiser for the Conservatives who is now facing fraud charges from a Panama prison.
Even with its current limitations, SIRC itself has tried to draw Parliament's attention and the attention of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to the question of CSIS' accountability. In its recently tabled 2012-13 annual report, SIRC points to serious problems with CSIS in terms of accountability. SIRC reported serious delays in receiving information from CSIS, which impeded its investigations. SIRC even noted that CSIS had been less than forthright in its responses to questions from the accountability body.
The most serious concern raised in the 2012-13 annual report has to do with arming CSIS personnel in high-risk and dangerous operating environments abroad.
We know that CSIS did first have armed agents abroad in Afghanistan. From 2002 to 2007, they were trained by Canadian Forces, and special forces close protection units provided protection to CSIS agents in the most dangerous operations. As well, DFAIT provided diplomatic accreditation to protect those armed CSIS agents against local accountability
After 2007, CSIS launched its own firearms program with its own policies, training, and armed operational support teams. SIRC, in 2010, expressed concern about the expansion of the use of armed CSIS agents beyond Afghanistan and said that this should be done: “...only after...consultation with, and approval of, the Minister of Public Safety”.
SIRC raised significant concerns about the liability of CSIS staff who might be armed abroad under the criminal and civil law of a foreign jurisdiction. It also raised concerns about how a CSIS staff member, if found negligent in the use of firearms, could be dealt with under our domestic legal regime. Of course, it raised concerns about the possibilities of violations of international law and the sovereignty and laws of foreign governments.
I am not arguing that perhaps CSIS agents do not sometimes need to be armed, but what SIRC asked for was that a written justification be supplied to the minister explaining the legal authority permitting CSIS staff outside Afghanistan to be armed. In 2012-13, SIRC found it unacceptable that there was no record of any meetings or discussions between the CSIS director and the minister on this topic.
As Bill C-44 attempts to clarify CSIS' authority to operate abroad, the question of CSIS officers carrying weapons abroad becomes a critical policy question as well as a critical accountability question.
The SIRC report clearly states that CSIS needs to:
...provide a full explanation of how the arming of some of its employees is consistent with CSIS’s policy framework, which is rooted in the premise that activities are lawful and authorized, necessary and proportionate, and represent an effective and efficient use of public resources.
This demonstrates the point I am trying to make about the clear necessity of strengthening accountability along with any expansion of CSIS powers.
Bill C-44 presents the House of Commons with its first test of whether any new legislation on national security in the current climate will conform to Canadian values. This would require that the legislation aim to protect both public safety and civil liberties at the same time. The question should not be whether there will be some new balance where we give up some portion of our liberties for security, which unfortunately seems to be the position of both the Conservatives and the Liberals on this important question. Instead, Canadians expect us to take on the tougher task of protecting both freedom and security in a climate where extremists of all kinds are attacking the essence of our free and open society.
Equally unfortunate is the tendency to act as if legislation is the government's only tool. As the old saying goes, “If you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail”. The New Democrats will continue to urge the Conservative government to take a broader view. We will urge the government to examine whether the tools it already has are being used effectively. We will urge the government to skip its clever rhetoric about a mythical 30% increase in public safety budgets and ask serious questions about the impacts of three consecutive years of cuts on national security. We will ask the government to engage in a dialogue with Canadians from all communities on how else, other than legislation, we can respond to these new national security threats.
Above all, we are asking the government to consider what we can do together as a nation to respond to the need to protect both public safety and civil liberties.
I look forward to the debate we will have when we get to committee, but as I said, we have many serious questions to ask the government and we hope we will be given time to bring forward the expert witnesses we need at committee to have a full debate, as these are important questions to national security in Canada.
We have seen an unfortunate tendency in the public safety committee to limit the number of witnesses who appear, to limit the debate, and to limit the discussion of any necessary amendments. We will be asking tough questions about accountability because, as has been the theme of my remarks today, we believe that if there is a need for an expansion of powers for agencies like CSIS, then we must ensure that we have adequate accountability measures in place to protect civil liberties.
As I see my time is drawing to a close, I want to thank the minister for providing a briefing on this legislation for the opposition. It was quite a useful briefing, although I have to say it seems it is the first time we received such a briefing. I hope it indicates a new spirit of co-operation on any legislation coming forward in the future, because we have to make sure we get this right. Things that affect national security and civil liberties go to the very heart of who we are as Canadians.
Once again, New Democrats ask the government to consider very seriously not asking Canadians to give up some civil liberties for security, but consider how we can protect both civil liberties and public safety and keep this the nation that we all treasure so much.