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

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

But one of my colleagues from across the table was indicating that they're not, that they need some kind of civilian oversight. Actually, they are overseen by an arm's-length government civilian board called SIRC, the Security Intelligence Review Committee. I want to point that out.

I'd like Mr. Vernon to respond to the comments I've made.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Please be brief.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Vernon, we as a country are taking a weaker approach to the stringency of these conditions than are other countries. What are your views on that?

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Actually it would be interesting to hear your views, but we are out of time.

Thank you.

We'll now move to Mr. Holland, please.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Perhaps I can start by continuing what Mr. Forcese said.

Mr. Forcese went on to say, “I'm not sure that Bill C-17 is useful in filling that gap...”. That's the gap you were referring to earlier, Mr. McColeman. He continued:

I'd be unprepared to have those extra-aggressive provisions imposed via this legislation in the absence of very robust checks and balances to enhance the civil liberties....

He went on to say he doesn't agree and certainly wouldn't proceed without the addition of extra checks and balances.

Let me come back. A comment has been made several times that we appreciate and we like the work done by the men and women who are police officers and CSIS officers. Let's agree that everybody around this table, both witnesses and politicians, all deeply and profoundly respect the job that is done by men and women who serve this country. That's a given, and I think everybody would agree with that.

What is at question is that in any human society there are errors, flaws, weaknesses; that's why we need oversight. I think we've all seen examples that when we erode that, when we let it go, it leads to bad and dark places. That's the point here.

Witnesses, on that issue of oversight, how imperative is it that we fix what's broken first, before extending those additional extraordinary powers?

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Holland.

Madam Cheung.

10:35 a.m.

Counsel, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

Carmen Cheung

I'll be brief; I think we all want to speak on this subject.

I think it's imperative that we have proper oversights. Of course we appreciate that there is a civilian oversight over CSIS in the form of SIRC, but I think the recommendations by previous inquiries are that there be cross-agency oversight on issues of national security simply because of the nature of those investigations and how national security investigations are undertaken. It's absolutely crucial that we have those mechanisms in place prior to expanding on the already very broad powers of investigating terrorism and terrorism-related offences.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Mia and then Mr. Vernon.

February 10th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.

Chair, Advocacy and Research Committee, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

Ziyaad Mia

First of all, I want to correct any misunderstanding. I think CSIS and the RCMP are doing a relatively good job in most cases and that they're needed, to some extent, within the bounds of law that created those entities. But what Mr. Holland has been reiterating is the oversight.

My organization has been calling for cross-agency national security oversight of all agencies. After 9/11, everything was integrated—sharing information—and you had a toothless complaints commission at the RCMP, SIRC, and others. Bring it all together. If we're going to integrate national security, we need integrated oversight and accountability. The Arar commission pointed out significant mistakes. As human beings we make mistakes, and that's why we need checks and balances. We paid Mr. Arar some money, and I think that was right. We harmed his interests and his liberty. He was tortured because of things that our agencies did.

At the end of the day, we need to look at Arar. Nothing has been done on that. No one who was identified as doing things that gave rise to Mr. Arar's plight have suffered; many of them have even been promoted in the RCMP. I think that's the kind of thing we need to think about.

Let's fix this first. This legislation can't go forward as it is; it needs fixing. I believe Mr. Forcese and others have mentioned things that need to be fixed, but first start with the oversight. Fix the agencies so they work for us, and then see if we need new powers.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Mia.

Mr. Vernon.

10:40 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I'm not clear how we can talk about the erosion of our civil liberties when in the past ten years there has been zero evidence of that with respect to these two provisions. I'm not clear that we're in that kind of crisis mode.

Having said that, we believe that the checks and balances in this bill are good. If there are others that can be proposed, we'd be prepared to look at them.

From the larger perspective of oversight, we've been supportive of expanding the role of Parliament in having that kind of oversight authority over the security apparatus writ large, possibly having an officer of Parliament established to look into that and make sure all elements of the counter-terrorism regime are being implemented effectively and properly. You could have a subcommittee of this committee focusing on that. There are methods and modalities that can be investigated to enhance oversight.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

10:40 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

But that doesn't mean these powers need to be thrown out.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Vernon.

Madame Mourani.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Vernon, do you have a solution other than legislation?

10:40 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

There are numerous discussions in countries like Canada and the U.K. with regard to what 21st-century multiculturalism looks like. I think there are certain elements of how we approach diversity within our communities, how we promote integration and the notion of maintaining one's identity while adhering to an overarching set of core national values. I think these are aspects of how we conduct ourselves here as Canadians that could certainly be looked at.

In order to deal with the issue of second-generation radicalization, I think we have to look into these situations and ask ourselves why there are elements within certain communities that don't seem to have the attachment to Canada that perhaps their ancestors did when they arrived here.

So these kinds of socio-economic components of the situation need to be looked at, but at heart, terrorism is a criminal act, and we need the authority and the power to interdict it, and unfortunately, if something happens, to make sure the perpetrators are caught and punished.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Do you also believe there needs to be more justice on a global scale? Should we work towards the resolution of certain conflicts throughout the world, mainly in the Middle East?

10:40 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

I think it's a bit of a red herring to suggest that a lack of justice is at the heart of terrorism. Certainly if you take a look at the people involved with the 9/11 attacks, they were not people coming out of abject poverty. Certainly we're all in favour of justice and the promotion of human rights for all peoples, but I don't think this notion of root causes for terrorism can take away the fact that there are people out there with evil agendas. We need the powers to make sure, first of all, that they're put out of business altogether—because these are people who are associated with values that are completely antithetical to our way of life—but certainly to make sure that we here in Canada are protected from the ravages of these attacks.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Do you think torture is a good thing? Are you in favour of torture?

10:40 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

One certainly can't be in favour of torture.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Do you believe an agency like CSIS, or any other agency, is entitled to use torture to obtain information?

10:40 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Very well. Do you think the fact that CSIS used information obtained through torture is a sign of competence?

10:45 a.m.

Director, Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

Eric Vernon

I wouldn't say it's a sign of competence or incompetence. I would say it is a sign that perhaps there were some individuals who exceeded their mandate or perhaps were overzealous in pursuit of important intelligence.

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

In the Omar Khadr case, you might have seen footage of his interrogation in Guantánamo Bay. He is a minor, a child. No matter what crime he was being accused of, would you say that the attitude of CSIS officers was acceptable?