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Evidence of meeting #14 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was agencies.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jim Judd  Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service
William Sweeney  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety
Marc-Arthur Hyppolite  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
Stephen Rigby  President, Canada Border Services Agency

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

I'm asking that question, Minister.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Okay--

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

A point of order. You have to give an opportunity for the minister to answer, sir.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

In terms of information obtained by torture, the view of the government and I believe the practices of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are quite clear. Information that has been obtained by torture is not reliable. It should not be relied upon. There is ample understanding in the world that this is the case. That's why western democracies do not engage in torture to gather information, because it is not reliable. It's also because it's a fundamental violation of human rights, but the probative value is limited as well. As an intelligence service, I know Mr. Judd is reluctant to explain their operational practices, but they gather intelligence from everywhere in the world. It's a giant pot. All the intelligence that goes into CSIS perhaps is intelligence that people gave to CSIS. They've had it come to their attention. Part of their job is to evaluate its probative value, and if there's any evidence that it's come by way of torture, they do not rely upon it.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Unfortunately, both the examples in Guantanamo Bay, the reports of Iacobucci and O'Connor, would beg to differ with what you just said.

Let me ask you a very clear and direct question. Would you immediately provide a ministerial directive stating what you just said so that there is no ambiguity, so that people like Mr. O'Brian or others working for CSIS who are involved in information gathering have no confusion on the matter? Would you provide a ministerial directive where you state unequivocally that information obtained through torture is unacceptable in all circumstances?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Well, we made it quite clear. I had exactly that discussion two nights ago, with Mr. Judd again, and he confirmed to me and has reassured me that this is in fact the case and the practice of CSIS. I'm happy to write it down and put it in any kind of directive, any kind of memo, and continue to restate it in any form. There is nothing controversial or new about that decision of ours.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

If you could provide that directive, that would be helpful.

The second component.... I don't know whether or not you have to wait for an inquiry to be started before you do something about it, but the issue of oversight is something that came up in all of these reports with respect to information sharing. One of the problems that was listed was this. Remarkably enough, in some of these cases CSIS would state they didn't know that Syria did torture or they didn't know that Egypt conducted torture. This was all a surprise to them.

Can you give me specifically reasons why you haven't implemented the recommendations with respect to oversight in those areas? How do we make sure we just don't have this directive going around, as it has in the past, by saying “Syria tortures? That's news to us. It's a surprise.”

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

There is a division between the role of the government and the role of arm's-length bodies like the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. We provide direction to them. We provide a policy to them. Our policy on this matter is quite clear. It is their job to follow that policy.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

You made a comment with respect to our leader. Let me quote from his book:

So torturing someone to divulge terrorist actions is wrong, no matter what useful information is extracted, and hence no democracy should ever have anything to do with torture.

I understand you want to try to score some cheap political points, but, Minister, can I ask the question of where you are getting this information and why you're trying to launch an attack when I'm asking questions directly on this?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I don't believe I'm launching an attack. I'm simply indicating that he wrote a book where he talked about these things at length, as a hypothetical discussion, and said that sometimes you have to be willing to rely on lesser evils. That was his whole point--

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

That wasn't his quote. That's a misrepresentation of the quote.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I don't have the phrase in front of me, but I believe he said that to defend democracy sometimes you have to resort to things like coercive interrogation and even violations of--

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

I'm quoting from that book.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

--civil rights, was one of his phrases. I think another phrase is to defend democracies you can't rely on herbivores; we need carnivores. Those are some of the things in his hypothetical discussion.

We aren't into those hypothetical discussions as a government. We have a clear policy. Our clear policy is that we don't condone the use of torture.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you.

Mr. McColeman, please.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

I, too, want to express my thanks to the minister and the officials here today.

I want to get it back on track as to why you first came here, which is about the main estimates. It has been a short six months, approximately, that I've served as a parliamentarian, and first I want to comment that I truly appreciate, Minister, your work in strategic review of programs, expenditure, and operations.

Because I have a small business background, it surprises me immensely, as a newcomer to this environment, that it seems that the order of the day is to automatically accept increases to expenditures instead of decreases, when operations can be streamlined and efficiencies met, and how political that becomes for the opposition in terms of always saying we have to increase the spending.

I truly appreciate the review. It's my understanding that this is done on a frequent basis. Can you answer, Minister, how frequently that strategic review process is done?

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I believe it's every fourth year. Every fourth year agencies are subject to it, and all government departments. In our case, the National Parole Board, the Correctional Service of Canada, and the RCMP went through it last year. There will be a new round this year from within the department.

The credit for the effectiveness of those strategic reviews should really not lie with me. It should lie with those agencies that were responsible for their own internal reviews and that did, I think, a very, very good job.

The thinking was creative. The efficiencies that were achieved reflected the right kind of thinking: let's stop doing things the way we did in the past just because that's the way we always did them. For example, at the Parole Board there was a particular type of hearing where the decision was always yes. It was always the same thing. It could be decided on paper. Why do you need to hold a hearing when it's always the exact same decision, to continue residency? They said, let's just do that on paper. Staff can review the stuff on paper, and we'll save all kinds of money that way. That kind of creative thinking makes sense.

They also had a situation where they were always having hearings with panels of three people. Agencies and tribunals at the provincial level, which I'm familiar with, had long ago gone to two- and one-person panels. They said the third member doesn't make a difference so let's use our resources more efficiently and have two-member panels; they're not going to make any worse decisions. In fact, statistically, if you look at how the members on those panels determined matters in the past, it would never have made a difference if there were two or three members. So they said, “Let's be efficient; let's spread them out; let's have more return for our dollars.” It's that kind of practice that has allowed reinvestments in things that do matter, that are priority areas.

I can tell you, all the agencies under the public safety portfolio represent priority areas for this government, because we believe that national security and public safety are very significant priorities.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

I appreciate your work on this, and the work of the agencies.

In my world it would be probably more appropriate to do it on an annual basis instead of every four years, but I know that would be a tough undertaking.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

You're frightening all these people up here.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

I certainly think it's work that is well invested in.

On another note, if I have time, Mr. Chair--

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

You have less than a minute.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you.

Just quickly, on Mr. Norlock's comments about training in prisons with people who are incarcerated, and then the comment about weaving in the time served where we'll have more people.... Frankly, I think it presents a bit of an opportunity, if you're creative about this, to help individuals who find themselves in that circumstance. Of course, my background is in construction, so I'm thinking that people who can hammer and get the construction trades under their belt will definitely have work available to them.

It's more of a comment than a question. I think Mr. Norlock hit on a huge success there, and to the extent that we can expand that, I think we're absolutely going down the right track.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you. There's no question there.

Mr. Kania, please, for a brief round. The minister has to leave in four minutes.

April 2nd, 2009 / 10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Good morning.

Minister, you signed a letter dated March 9, 2009, to Mr. Alex Neve. You're familiar with that letter?

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I sign an awful lot of letters, so you'll have to refresh my memory.