Evidence of meeting #51 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was chair.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Leif-Erik Aune

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you very much, Ms. Ablonczy.

A little bit more latitude only in that there was potential testimony from other days of hearings that were held here that cannot be held accountable to the subject of today.... However, we cannot make that same mistake here, in that this is a new day, and if we are going to be repetitive on the same topic, the chair will make a decision on that.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

I appreciate that, and I'm trying to differentiate in my head what was said at meetings previous to today's and make sure that I don't repeat myself.

One of the arguments I've heard for why this bill needs to go through is that there is a feeling from my colleagues across the way that they have more than accommodated the concerns raised by the opposition. We disagree fundamentally, because we believe that they have not addressed the concerns we've raised, nor have they given us the latitude we need in order to bring forward the different witnesses who want to come and present before this committee.

When we are talking about the existing and future impact of terrorism, history informs us a lot about how we deal with things today, but history also informs us of where the gaps are. To that effect, I do hope you will indulge me as I say that in regard to the Air India bombing terrorist attack, there are many who still feel that, even with the laws that existed, a lot more could have been done. They are still waiting for their day, for justice.

At the same time, when I'm looking at this piece of legislation that has opened up the scope and is giving far more powers without any additional oversight, and when I keep hearing that every time we're looking for more time to study the bill that somehow we're being obstructionist, I find that a little bit unfortunate. More than a little bit unfortunate, I just think it's disrespectful.

There is a phrase I've used many a time in my career: let us agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable. It is okay for us to have different perspectives and different points of view, but agreeing to disagree also means giving the people you disagree with the opportunity to express their point of view and to hear from the witnesses, because not to hear that opposite point of view is disagreeable in itself.

I certainly hope that as parliamentarians, as we have these very adult conversations where we're making decisions that are going to impact Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we will do the due diligence and the thorough oversight that is required, and we won't use the fact that a certain party has a majority to shut down debate and to shut down expert testimony.

With that, Mr. Chair, I'm going to end for now. I have a lot more to say, but I'm sure it's going to be a long evening, so I'm going to go away to committee and then come back. Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you very much, Ms. Sims.

We will go to the next speaker on the list, which is Ms. James.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, speaking to the subamendment, we're talking about over 50 witnesses. On the 48, we've been very cooperative with the opposition on this measure. We've tried to accommodate the requirements for more witnesses. We have boosted that number in a large way. We are offering.... The subamendment to their amendment speaks of eight additional meetings. That's 16 hours of witness testimony.

We talked earlier. There was some concern from the opposition that there wouldn't be enough time—and it was brought up again just now—to hear from witnesses because of the three per panel. Obviously, I addressed that earlier. I don't want to sound like I'm being repetitious. Stop me if I am, Mr. Chair, but this committee has always had three witnesses per panel.

We have the ability to limit the opening remarks. It doesn't have to be 10 minutes. It doesn't have to be seven. It doesn't even have to be five. Witnesses are free to provide their opening remarks in both official languages and then spend the time in committee answering questions.

What we're seeing right now is the opposition members, the NDP, who are fundamentally opposed to this bill, come out before they've heard from a single witness and indicate that they are going to vote against it, which we saw in the House—

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

On a point of order, Madam Doré Lefebvre.

February 26th, 2015 / 4 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Everything the parliamentary secretary said was a repetition of what she already mentioned in her previous intervention. I am wondering whether she has anything new to add to the debate, as she is now just repeating herself.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you very much, Madam Doré Lefebvre.

As the chair indicated earlier, it would be advantageous if members from both sides could try to shed some new light on and/or be relevant to the actual motion, amendment, and subamendment that are before us. Perhaps the information is accurate that you have suggested, but perhaps it could relate more to the motions that are before us.

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you for that intervention, Mr. Chair. I'm finding it more and more difficult, as we continue talking about the subamendment, to bring anything new to the table. We're hearing the same arguments from both sides. However, there is one thing I would like to address.

Earlier we heard some comments that there is already legislation in place. That is one of the reasons, I guess, that the NDP opposes this. They have said that we can stop someone from travelling overseas.

That was actually through the Combating Terrorism Act. Conservatives did bring that forward. The NDP voted against it. Then they're sitting here today using that as something in their pocket as the reason we shouldn't proceed with this new legislation. They don't want to hear it at committee. They're trying to delay by opposing...I mean, 50, more than 50 individuals will come before this committee to provide testimony.

What is also interesting is that I think once this legislation does pass, in a couple of years from now there will be some of us still sitting at this table and we'll hear the same arguments. They will be talking about how the anti-terrorism act has been able to help in the threat against terrorism, about how we have these powers in place. I think they may regret trying to delay this and obstruct this bill coming to this committee.

Canadians expect the government to bring forward measures to protect their national security and their interests, to keep their community safe and their families safe. This legislation is clearly aimed at terrorism. They expect the government to bring it to committee, to pass the legislation, to hear from witnesses, to review amendments carefully. That is precisely what we are trying to do. We are very cooperative.

Mr. Chair, I just hope—I hope—that before the end of the day, whenever that may be, whether it be tonight at 11:59, there is some sort of agreement and cooperation from the opposite side to get on with this bill, bring it to committee, and hear the expert testimony. We keep hearing that we want to hear expert testimony. Unfortunately, we're not going to hear that until we can get an agreement on the table as to when this bill should come to committee.

I'll leave it at that. Thank you.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you very much.

Next on the list is Mr. Norlock.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Chair, I believe the majority of Canadians know a filibuster when they see one. Only in Ottawa, playing with the rules of debate in Parliament, do we talking heads think that filibusters are smart, that we played this rule against that rule. Canadians out there don't want to see that kind of nonsense. This place costs a lot of money to run. I think we need to stop this nonsense and get on with it.

In terms of what we have offered the opposition, we started out, quite frankly...as the motions and subamendments and all these amendments to subamendments to subamendments.... We've shown goodwill. We started out with three meetings. They said 25 meetings. We said eight. They said 25. If we took a break, we might even come to another number, but I suspect very strongly they'll say 25.

Canadians deserve better than a bunch of talking-head politicians gabbing away, thinking they are scoring some points with the media, thinking, “Well, maybe some smart thing I say will get on three minutes of the news”. I just hope and pray that....

The majority of Canadians won't even hear what we're saying, won't even see what we're saying. A few people will be watching CPAC and some other program that might carry a few little excerpts. People will think they got the full message, but they didn't. There's some stuff we can't talk about because it was in camera, but we heard it all; it's been all blurted out probably throughout today.

I won't take up a lot of the time of the committee. I sometimes jokingly say to my fellow constituents that some days Ottawa appears to be 20 square miles surrounded by reality. I think that today is proving that point.

Mr. Chair, I'll give up my time here, but I have to tell you that I'm getting near the end of my tether. If I start to see repetition upon repetition.... I know what the rules are, and you're bound to follow those rules, but Canadians deserve better than what's happening here.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you, Mr. Norlock.

Next on the list is Mr. Payne.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Chairman, I'll try to be brief as it pertains to the legislation and certainly the subamendment.

We saw the media report on these individuals from Quebec who left. The report said—and I have to take it at its face value at this point because I don't have anything else to suggest otherwise—that one of the individuals said that his passport had been stolen. Actually, according to the report, his father said he had taken that passport so the individual asked for a new one. Now, if CSIS knew that, they actually wouldn't be able to go to the passport folks and say that they couldn't reissue. That is just one point I wanted to make.

We're often asked to limit our statements, as previously said by others and particularly the parliamentary secretary. I've been in a number of committees where we've actually limited the speaking time of the witnesses to five minutes, or to seven minutes, and potentially other times.

What was also interesting was listening to our colleague Mr. Garrison. He was talking about Grand Chief Phillip and saying that he was arrested. He was suggesting that this legislation had something to do with it, but my recollection is that this legislation isn't law yet, so I'm not sure how it would have impacted that. It's just a point I wanted to make.

Also, I believe it was Mr. Garrison who also stated that CSIS can't be trusted. I mean, as witnesses here, I just wonder about that comment.... I know that he also talked about dozens and dozens of phone calls coming into their offices. I also had a bunch of phone calls coming in from a group well known to be very friendly to the NDP asking us to stop this legislation. My staff asked them if they actually read the legislation. The vast majority said that no, they hadn't. So they didn't even know anything about it, and on their concerns regarding that, I find it a bit frustrating and a bit phony, if I might suggest, Mr. Chairman.

I think the final point I want to make is that we still need to make sure that officers, when they go before the courts...they need to get a warrant, so they have a judicial presence in getting those warrants to do whatever it is they might need to do in terms of stopping terrorism. That's what this bill is all about, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you very much.

Now we have Mr. Harris.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

I'm pleased to have a chance to join in this discussion about how we, as parliamentarians, ought to deal with this legislation before us. I have to say, first of all, that it's important legislation. It's important because it's designed, or at least it purports to be, to help deal with the problem of terrorism, but—and there's a big but here—the question really is to what extent this legislation actually deals with that issue and what the quality is of that legislation. What we're debating here right now, with the amendment and the subamendment and the motion, is how much scrutiny this actually deserves.

There's talk opposite about a filibuster, but the last three speakers came from over there, so it seems to me we are really engaged in the discussion of how much scrutiny this bill actually needs. Mr. Payne gave his comments on certain other bits of evidence and incidents that were happening, and that's fair enough. He said some people who called his office hadn't read the bill but they seemed to be opposed to it. The reality is that we've seen some public opinion polls in the last number of days—some of them are a week old—saying that a great number of people seem to be supporting the legislation, but none of them have read it. That's quite all right with the other side, which is saying that the public is in favour of this legislation, so let's pass it. The reality is that the people in this room and the people in the room next door to the House of Commons are the ones whose duty it is to read the legislation, to study it, to go about the business of Parliament, to listen to the experts who know more about this than we do, and to determine whether the legislation is adequate, whether it oversteps its stated objectives, whether it's dangerous for civil liberties in this country, or whether the provisions in it are even necessary given the circumstances we're facing.

You know, I'm going to say something that doesn't come from me but comes from, in fact, one of the oldest and longest standing national newspapers in the country, by way of an editorial. I have to think that the editorial writers actually did read the bill, because the editorial talks about Bill C-51 and it says the following—and this is called the anti-terrorism bill, the short title:

On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may“—not “will”—occur.

Then it goes on to say:

Why does this bill exist? What is it fighting? And why is it giving intelligence officers powers that are currently reserved for the RCMP and other police forces?

These are fairly fundamental questions, not coming from somewhere out in—I'm not sure what Mr. Norlock called it—20 square miles of unreality but coming from the longest standing national newspaper in the country, with a fairly good reputation for being part of the establishment. They're not some fringe newspaper that managed to come alive one week and disappear the next. This is the establishment in Canada saying there's something wrong, fundamentally, with this legislation.

Then it talks about CSIS:

CSIS is an intelligence agency. It is secretive, and it is supposed to be. Why does it suddenly need police powers to do its job? Until now, police powers were reserved for the police—an organization that is public, and which in a democracy must be.

Have you ever met a CSIS agent? Was he in uniform, walking the beat? No. CSIS works in secret. It is furthermore immune from Parliamentary oversight.

Now if Bill C-51 passes, CSIS will be able to disrupt anything its political masters believe might be a threat. As the bill is currently written, that includes a lot more than terrorism.

That's why we're having this discussion today, Mr. Chairman, because fundamentally, the bill is being challenged for being something that it says it's not. We have ministers of the crown, like the Minister of National Defence, who was out last weekend saying, “Oh, no, this bill doesn't give any more powers to CSIS; this gives powers to the judiciary. If they ever want to disrupt anything, they have to go to a judge and get a warrant.”

That matter was just repeated by Mr. Payne, that it's only judges who give warrants that allow them to do that. However, that's not true. That's not the case. Anybody who says that either hasn't read the legislation or is misleading the public about what this bill says and does.

We talk about disrupting matters. The legislation doesn't actually do that. It doesn't talk about disrupting; it talks about taking action to reduce threats. I'll read the section, and the context is important. I'm not arguing—

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

I'll interrupt you just for a second.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I'm not arguing the—

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Fine. I'll just interrupt you for one second, Mr. Harris, and I will certainly let you continue, sir.

Obviously we don't want to get into a debate on the merits of the bill. That is the point. While there have been leanings that way from both sides and the chair has given a fair bit of latitude to move forward, we don't want to get into a debate on the merits of the bill and predetermine what the testimony may or may not be from various experts in the field.

If you could just swing your conversation back a bit more towards the issue, I would thank you.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

I do appreciate what you're saying, and I don't intend to get into arguments about the merits of the bill per se.

The point is that this matter I'm raising shows why this committee has to do an extremely thorough job in making sure that the public in Canada, and that members of Parliament, who ultimately will have to vote on this, actually understand what's going on. If we rely solely on what's been in the media, even what ministers are saying, what public opinion polls say, if that's part of a rush to judgment here, then we won't be doing our jobs.

I say this while sitting in a room where on one side we have a picture of the Fathers of Confederation, the founders of our democracy, and on the other side there is a picture of the Vimy memorial, another symbol of our nationhood. Our role as members of Parliament is to guarantee that democracy continues, and continues with the kind of liberties that are part of our Canadian values.

I will make a point, though, Mr. Chairman, if I have your indulgence for a moment, because clause 42 of the act puts in an amendment which allows CSIS to take measures within or outside of Canada to reduce the threat, and that's what the disruption is. It states:

If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, the Service may take measures...to reduce the threat.

Now, that is the power that CSIS has: no warrant, no judge, nothing. But now there's an exception. Where it says “Warrant”, it states:

The Service shall not take measures to reduce a threat to the security of Canada if those measures will contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Chair, on a point of order, I've been preached to by the other side telling me how I need to do my job as a parliamentarian, especially how I need to do my job as a member of this committee. I've been on this committee for nine years. My intervention was very short. It wasn't part of a filibuster. It was designed to let my constituents and Canadians know that what Mr. Harris is doing with the other side is a filibuster. They're hoping to score political points by playing the rules of this austere establishment to get their point across. As I said, we have been more than cooperative on this side with regard to the numbers of witnesses. No Canadian believes that hearing from 40 to 50 witnesses is too short. They have made their point. Every speaker on the other side has made their point that they need to have 25 meetings and close to 75 or 100 witnesses. Mr. Chair, this is getting out of hand. Canadians should be sick and tired. I can get 50 or 200 people to call his office and tell him how wrong he is. That's the joke about saying “all kinds of Canadians”; well, they fired up their interest groups.

Mr. Chair, with all due respect, we need to be talking and hearing some new points as to why we need to hear from witnesses. If they don't have any new points, then Mr. Chair, I would respectfully suggest that the chair bring this whole debate to a head. This is getting ridiculous and anybody who has followed it so far can see through all the horse pucky that's coming out.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Thank you, Mr. Norlock.

As we all know, Mr. Norlock has a point that the chair has been extremely lenient all the way through on both sides. There is no doubt the chair also intimated earlier in the day a couple of times that I don't want to have changing parameters on the way through. That's not fair to all the members. But I was very obvious when I stated as we move along here and we hear testimony that is very similar, if not identical, to testimony that has and keeps on occurring, albeit with a different flavour to it, that the chair will be a bit more active in trying to bring us closer to the actual subamendment we are debating.

We are not debating the motion. We are not debating the amendment. We are debating the subamendment that was very clear on the number of meetings and number of panels and number of witnesses. I just bring that to the attention of the committee and as we move forward I'll ask you to keep your comments as close as possible to the issue of the subamendment before us.

You have the floor, Mr. Harris.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

I'm only trying to make one point and I don't think I've been hogging the floor. I've only been here for an hour. I've been speaking, maybe, for 10 minutes. I've been interrupted because somebody doesn't want to hear what I'm saying. But my point is this, that when the minister of the crown is talking to the public, and I heard him on radio on Saturday and Sunday on national news broadcasts, saying that no powers are going to CSIS, they're going to the courts....

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

Do you have a point of order, Ms. James?

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

And I can't even finish the sentence without a point of order.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Daryl Kramp

We'll get back to your sentence shortly, perhaps.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I'm just asking about repetitiveness again, because I've heard that member mention this particular...whether it's media or whatever with the ministers over the weekend. I've heard it now three times.