Evidence of meeting #53 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was powers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ziyaad Mia  Chair, Advocacy and Research Committee, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association
Carmen Cheung  Counsel, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
Eric Vernon  Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress
Nathalie Des Rosiers  General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

10:20 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

It goes back to something Mr. Norlock said as well. The attacks here on CSIS and the RCMP I think are unfounded in the way they connect into dealing with this legislation. We would be led to believe that it's Get Smart and Dudley Do-Right. The fact is, as Mr. Norlock points out, we haven't had a major, serious terrorist attack, but it's not for lack of trying. CSIS has clearly indicated that vigorous, robust terrorist activity is going on in Canada by cells and groups that are fund-raising, organizing, contributing to the training of terrorists right here in Canada.

The experience the Jewish community has had with both CSIS and the RCMP with respect to the security of our community has been nothing but exemplary. They've been diligent and professional in dealing with us, in understanding the seriousness of threats, and in making sure our community is safe.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Do I have a little bit of time left, Mr. Chair?

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Yes, you have two minutes.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Vernon, another question I want to bring to your attention is proposed section 83.28 talks about if a person or an individual during an investigative hearing does produce some information or produce some testimony, this cannot be used against them. The only thing that can be used against them is if they lie during the investigative hearing or give contradictory evidence. Would you agree?

10:20 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

Yes, and I think that again the overall issue is whether this minimal impairment of civil rights is sufficient to throw away the value we might get from the RCMP and CSIS having these powers. Yes, they haven't been used extensively in the time they've been around. Yes, we haven't had them since the sun set on them, but that doesn't mean these powers aren't important, and they could be used very effectively in the future to prevent a catastrophic failure of intelligence.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Just to set Canadian minds at ease, if this were to be used, federal and provincial attorneys general will produce an annual report indicating and explaining to Canadians where investigative hearings were used.

Do you agree with that, and do you think that's a good practice to put in place?

10:25 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

It's excellent to have that in place. There needs to be some transparency in this. But of course we're dealing with intelligence matters, where public information can be extremely detrimental. But that doesn't mean we're developing a scenario here where these investigations are the star chamber.

On the point Mr. Rathgeber made about fear--or perhaps it was you--we should not be alarming Canadians about the potential consequences of these actions. I think we should be telling Canadians that we have a very serious issue here. We have serious and real credible threats against our security and we need to make sure our police and security forces have all the authority and powers they need to make sure this doesn't happen.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Vernon.

Madame Mendes.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to our witnesses.

I would like to get back to what Mr. Vernon was saying about not alarming Canadians as to any potential infringement of their rights. Looking at this bill, I would say that we should not alarm Canadians about the potential for terrorist attacks. Our country, it must be said, has not experienced terrorist attacks that were so serious that it would be justified to abuse their rights.

I would like to hear what you have to say, Mr. Mia, Ms. Cheung and Ms. Des Rosiers, about the Toronto 18, a relatively recent event still fresh in our minds. None of the provisions of this bill were used and yet the plot was foiled.

I would like to hear what you have to say on the fact that both at the RCMP and at CSIS, we do have extremely competent and capable people doing their work, and these people, without resorting to exceptional measures, were able to foil a terrorist plot, thereby ensuring the safety of Canadians, without any need for egregious violations of the fundamental rights of our fellow citizens. I would like to hear what you have to say to this.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Madame Mendes.

Madame Des Rosiers.

10:25 a.m.

General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Nathalie Des Rosiers

Obviously it is far better for Canadian society to have Criminal Code powers used appropriately. Police officers know how to make use of them because they know them well, the system knows them well and the guarantees work well in the context. Some mistakes have been made and there will be others but at least the system works in such a way as to provide enough guarantees of good results. It is reassuring for Canadians to know that there was evidence and that people were found guilty based on sufficient evidence. That is why it is a better approach, not only in terms of protecting human rights, but also ensuring that we are arresting the right people. It is of no use to incarcerate, arrest or detain the wrong people.

The idea of protecting the presumption of innocence is not simply in the interest of incarcerated people, but also that of the general public; we want to bring to justice the right people not the wrong ones.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Vernon.

10:25 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

If I could just add, there's a wonderful Latin phrase—post hoc ergo propter hoc—and it means that just because something happened doesn't mean it had to happen that way.

With the Toronto 18, we got very lucky. That was a conspiracy waiting to be discovered. The next group may be—

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

They were very professional. They did their job.

February 10th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

Who did?

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Our security, they did their job.

10:25 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

Exactly, that's right.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

But we weren't lucky.

10:25 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

No, but we were lucky that they didn't need to use those powers. The next group might very well be much more sophisticated and much more difficult to penetrate. I wouldn't want our authorities not to have these powers to deal with them.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madame Cheung.

10:25 a.m.

Counsel, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

Carmen Cheung

The only thing I would add to my colleague, Ms. Des Rosiers, is that the Toronto 18 prosecution was a very good example of disrupting a future terrorist attack, so it doesn't go to only prosecuting acts of terrorism that have already occurred, but preventing future attacks.

10:30 a.m.

Chair, Advocacy and Research Committee, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

Ziyaad Mia

Mr. Vernon, if we prepare for every what-if scenario, we won't have much left and we'll have laws as high as a quarter horse. We don't design laws that way. We use logic and the rule of law.

Madame Mendes, yes, CSIS and the RCMP worked well, as well as local police forces in the GTA. Toronto 18 was done well. I'm not saying they're always making mistakes, and I don't want to be characterizing them as that. But what we need to do is we know, and it's not.... Madame Des Rosiers and I are not peddlers of fear; that is incorrect. We're telling you what the Arar commission said, what the Air India commission said, what Justice Mosley said in the Almrei case, that there are serious problems here. To respect our agencies, we need to just be honest that there are serious problems. For all the moms and dads watching out there in TV land, when your kid does something wrong, you don't just cover it up, you tell them, “Let's correct this so you'll be better at what you do.” We need to always have continuous improvement. You all have an ombudsman, an oversight. I do, as a legal professional. We need oversight of these agencies to make them do their jobs better.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Mia.

We'll now move to Mr. McColeman.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank the witnesses for being here. I would also like to point out that Mr. Vernon is appearing on short notice.

We had two family members of victims scheduled to testify. Unfortunately, they both have the flu and couldn't make it. I think it's good to get on the record. It's not that your presence is not significant. It's very significant, and I don't mean to diminish it. But we want to listen to the victims of terrorism and get their views on this issue. We hope that this can happen down the road.

As I listen to the discussion today, it's quite apparent that our law enforcement has taken a major hit from those who wish not to have this bill go forward. I want to underscore my colleague's comments that these are human beings, men and women. They make mistakes from time to time, but on balance and in the scheme of our national security they do a fine job. Thank goodness we're a country that has not had to experience a terrorist attack such as those experienced by a lot of other western democracies.

As I look at terrorist organizations and the reason we need to give law enforcement the tools that this bill contemplates, I see that al-Qaeda and the like survive on two major resources: money and personnel. They are like any major organization. They have to have money and they have to have recruits. They also have to have training grounds for those recruits. Those recruits are preparing for something. Whether you think it's a terrorist attack or just to engage in a debate is up to you.

One of the reasons we've had testimony before and why it is appropriate to go forward with this is that we need to stop terrorism in its tracks by finding the money trail. We need to find and get those people who are suspected of fund-raising in our country and other countries around the world. For this, our law enforcement agencies need to have all the tools available, not just partial tools. They need all the tools at their disposal to disrupt that. That's for sure. This is another tool.

We had testimony earlier, on December 15, from Professor Forcese of the University of Ottawa. He has done an extensive study of this legislation and has compared it with legislation in other countries. Countries like the U.K. and Australia have far more stringent holding powers. He identified a gap in our system.

We asked the department officials who drafted the laws what were they attempting to do. Were they trying to close that gap and trying to do it with a balanced approach to human rights? They said that was exactly what they were doing—trying to close the gap.

The other thing we've been misled about here today is that, actually, CSIS is overseen by a civilian board.

10:35 a.m.

General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Nathalie Des Rosiers

We didn't say that.