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Evidence of meeting #28 for Public Safety and National Security in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bob Paulson  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Monik Beauregard  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, National and Cyber Security Branch, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Malcolm Brown  Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Michel Coulombe  Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.)) Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm happy to call to order the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for this, our 28th meeting, as we study the national security framework.

We very much want to thank Minister Goodale for joining us today, as always. We also welcome the deputy minister, who is relatively new to the position. I believe it's your first time at our committee. You will find we're an excellent committee, as you will tell by our questioning and our knowledge of this subject.

We welcome the minister to give opening remarks. We have him here for the first hour of our meeting and officials will gather following.

Minister, you're on.

October 6th, 2016 / 3:30 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good afternoon, members of the committee. It's a pleasure to be back again. Thank you for the invitation to come on this occasion to talk about the consultations on the national security framework. I want to begin by thanking this committee for undertaking that study. It's an integral part of the government's approach to the future with respect to national security, and I'm grateful to have the committee's participation in the examination of that framework.

I also want to welcome Malcolm Brown. It's the first time he's had the opportunity to appear before the committee as deputy minister of public safety. I rely upon his good work and that of the women and men who toil in the department so faithfully to support the safety interests of Canadians.

In the second hour you will have the director of CSIS, Michel Coulombe, and the commissioner of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, in front of you. Those are always exceedingly interesting sessions. Even though he's not here at the table at the moment, I would like to acknowledge particularly Commissioner Paulson, who this morning made a historic announcement about a court settlement, and an apology and an approach going forward that will turn the page, we all hope, on a period of some considerable distress within the force having to do with harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. That announcement this morning was exceedingly important, and I congratulate all of those involved, including the commissioner, but also the very brave women who led that process over the course of the last number of years and had the patience, the persistence, the courage, and the perseverance to see it through to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank this committee for its work in consulting with parliamentarians and with Canadians generally about Canada's national security framework. This helps to fulfill a commitment that we made to Canadians last year to give them an opportunity to have input on national security issues and to be as inclusive and transparent in that process as possible.

Before I wade into more details, let me pause for one more short detour, and that is to thank the committee for the report you filed earlier this week about post-traumatic stress injuries, which disproportionately affect first responders. Dealing with that challenge is another of my priorities on behalf of firefighters, police officers, and paramedics who work every day to keep the rest of us safe and secure. The committee's report was very well done, and it will be very helpful to the government as we bring forward a coherent national strategy for PTSI among our vital emergency response personnel across the country.

With respect to public consultations on Canada's national security framework, this initiative to have public consultations is absolutely unprecedented. We want to hear from parliamentarians, subject matter experts, and Canadians generally about how we can best achieve two overarching objectives. We need to ensure that our security and intelligence agencies are effective at keeping Canadians safe. Simultaneously, we need to be equally effective at safeguarding our rights and freedoms, and the open, inclusive, fair, and democratic character of our country.

I began this consultation work on this topic many months ago. We've collected important input from respected academics such as professors Wark, Forcese, and Roach, and from security and intelligence operators like Ray Boisvert, who was formerly with CSIS, and Luc Portelance, who was formerly at the CBSA and before that at the RCMP. I've also heard from former MPs like Bob Rae, Anne McLellan, and Irwin Cotler, as well as former senators Hugh Segal and Roméo Dallaire. I've met with a number of other current MPs and senators, and with outside groups like the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, OpenMedia, various organizations representing Muslim lawyers and other professionals, and many more.

That's a good start, but my direct meetings are going to be ongoing because the consultation is ongoing, and that is now augmented by the active and very welcome outreach by this committee.

More broadly, we have launched, as of last month, an online public consultation, and it will be running until the first of December.

By way of background, in the summer the government published its “2016 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada”. That report covered the period through 2015 and into the beginning of 2016, highlighting the particular threat posed by individuals or small groups of lone wolves who get inspired to violence in some perverted way by the insidious influences of organizations like al Qaeda and Daesh. The threat report also included for the first time a description of Canada's national terrorism threat level. That level, by the way, is currently set at medium, where it has remained unchanged since October 2014.

To begin our online conversation with Canadians last month, the Minister of Justice and I posted a discussion paper and a backgrounder on our website. These do not purport to be statements of government policy. They are intended to elicit ideas and to provoke engagement on national security, and they certainly seem to be achieving that effect. Thus far, more than 8,000 responses have been received, with nearly two months yet to go in the consultation process. As I said, this online consultation will run until the first of December.

Whether it's our discussion with subject matter experts, or your committee work in talking to experts as well as other parliamentarians and Canadians generally, or the input we are getting online, we're looking for two types of advice: how we can enhance the effectiveness of our security agencies, and how we can equally and simultaneously safeguard our rights and freedoms, our open, inclusive, democratic society, and our Canadian way of life. These two core themes underpin our entire national security agenda.

On that point, I have noticed, of course, the report last week, and the committee appearance this week, of the Privacy Commissioner about the sharing of information. I consider Mr. Therrien to be a key part of the parliamentary oversight and accountability apparatus. I take his input very seriously, and I have already had one discussion with him about the points he raised in his report, and others will follow. In the meantime, in response to his point about privacy impact assessments in various government departments, I am now writing to all of my cabinet colleagues to ensure that all departments and agencies have in place the right privacy-related protections to deal with the issue of information sharing.

To close this introduction, Mr. Chairman, let me put these national security consultations in the context of our overall national security agenda as a government. That agenda includes the following points:

One, there is the creation of that new committee of parliamentarians that is reflected in Bill C-22, which you will have before you for consideration at another time. That is a cornerstone piece to bringing a brand new element into our oversight, scrutiny, and review architecture that has never before existed in Canada, but which has been recommended on a variety of occasions, by parliamentary committees, by the Auditor General, by external independent inquiries, and so forth. Bill C-22 will remedy the defect of that deficiency.

Two, we are hard at work on a new office of community outreach and counter-radicalization. The money for that was provided in the budget, and we're in the process now of identifying the individuals who will be best placed to deliver that new initiative.

Three, we will ensure faithful compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Four is clarity with respect to warrants.

Five is a more precise definition of propaganda.

Six is repairs to no-fly lists, and in particular the appeal process that relates to the no-fly list.

Seven is full protection of the right to protest.

Eight is a statutory review, after three years, of our anti-terrorism legislation.

Nine is a new arrangement with the United States with respect to our common border, including a much improved pre-clearance system and the establishment of an entry/exit data collection mechanism for the first time, as well as other improvements in the arrangements with respect to no-fly lists.

Ten is, and for the first time, this process. Canadians are actually being thoroughly consulted about what other steps, in addition to what I've already mentioned on the agenda, they believe are necessary to keep them safe and to safeguard our rights and freedoms.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much, Minister. That was thorough and helpful.

We're going to begin our seven-minute round of questioning with Mr. Spengemann.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

Thank you both, Minister Goodale and Deputy Minister Brown, for being here.

I wonder if I can take the opportunity in going first in the questioning to ask a couple of stage-setting questions.

Another committee I serve on is the Standing Committee on National Defence. That committee, in the context of a review of North American aerial readiness, received testimony that the single biggest threat to Canada is domestic terrorism. I'm wondering, drawing on the 2016 reports that I've read with interest on the terrorist threat to Canada, if you could tell the committee whether, or to what extent, you agree with that, whether that's too simple a conclusion from your perspective, or whether the threat is more multi-faceted than that.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

The threat is certainly multi-faceted, and it comes in many ways. Identifying the threat of terrorism, and in particular the inspired lone wolf, I think is identifying one of the key areas upon which we need to concentrate our efforts.

The threat report that was published in the summer indicated a number of things that seem to be new or evolving in the structure of threats that are affecting Canada. One of those is the advent of new technology that is changing all the time. Another is actually the gender makeup of some of the threats that we deal with and an increasing presence of women in the matrix.

Still, at the moment—and Director Coulombe would be able to give you a good deal of texture with respect to this analysis—one of our key concerns is those lone wolves who are on the Internet or who somehow get inspired by al Qaeda or Daesh and get on a path to violent behaviour. That's why we have a particular focus on the counter-radicalization initiative, to try to put ourselves in a position to identify that risk in advance and, to the extent we can, head it off.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

I'm wondering, to add briefly to that, if you could tell the committee generally, because I'm assuming there are classification levels involved here, the extent to which the threat level varies with the intensity of commitments by our armed forces abroad and in other missions, whether military or peacekeeping, or other exercises in the Middle East and central Asia. In other words, to put it in very simple terms, does the threat increase the more we do abroad?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Obviously, I need to be careful in answering that question because, as you say, classified information is involved. One of our leading priorities is to make sure that when Canadians are in harm's way, they are properly protected to the maximum extent possible.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

That's helpful. Thank you, Minister.

The second line of questioning draws on a line from the “2016 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada”. It talks about building a safe and resilient Canada. My colleagues will take you into the details of the mechanisms that you're proposing on the national security framework.

I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about the role of Canadian society with respect to good security and good safety. I'm particularly interested in how Canadians perceive national security in 2016 and what their role is. The fact that you itemized consultations as a very important part of our commitment will bring Canadian society into the discussion.

What is the role of Canadian society in not only preventing attacks but also making us socially resilient? If that's the right path to go down, how important are relationships not just between communities and government, but also between communities with respect to counter-radicalization and tackling the misperceptions and distortions that are imbedded in the term “terrorism”?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

That's not only important in terms of our national security, but it's also an instinctive part of the character of Canadians, I think, to want to build that sense of cohesion.

We're a country that is extraordinarily diverse. I think it was the Aga Khan who said that Canada is the finest example of pluralism the world has ever seen. That's a great compliment. He is an honorary citizen of this country, and we take that compliment very sincerely and gratefully. But in that diversity, you constantly have to work at social cohesion. That involves reaching out to each other and understanding one another, trying very hard to build bridges with each other. The kind of country we have and the kind of history we have hold us together, not so much by the force of law or the force or arms, but by our common will. We're a successful country because we want to be, not because we have to be. You have to keep promoting that sense of common cause, understanding, and outreach.

This consultation is intended for two purposes. One is to let Canadians have their say, and they've wanted to have their say for a long time. This is the first time in history that they're going to get it, so they're participating in the process. Also, by listening to the conversation, whether at this committee table, online, or in the other rooms in which the consultation is taking place, hopefully we'll elevate the level of understanding about what national security means, what the framework is, and what the threat level is, and reinforce the point, too, that fundamentally we are a safe and peaceful country. We need to make sure we keep it that way, but Canada is in a very privileged position in the world.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll leave it there. I'll delegate the rest of the time to the next Liberal speaker.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Mr. Miller.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Minister, thanks again for being here. It's always great to have a minister at the committee.

I want to talk about the new powers that were granted under Bill C-51 to CSIS. Basically, it gave them new powers to disrupt potential threats. There are different things, telephone calls, travel plans, etc. Before the changes in Bill C-51, CSIS could only inform police agencies of potential threats and could not act on them alone. Throughout the last election campaign, Mr. Minister, your party basically said they were going to make major changes to it.

Now, the director of CSIS appeared before a Senate committee in March. He indicated that the agency had used their new powers close to two dozen times since Bill C-51 came into force and six more months have passed since then. He also indicated that it is likely that they'd use these powers again in the future. During an interview following being at the Senate committee, the director of CSIS stated that, following the national security review that the government is currently engaged in, a decision would likely be made that could affect the power and others.

Mr. Minister, seeing that if the powers that be would have had the proper things at the time, Corporal Cirillo probably would still be alive.... We were all here two years ago when that happened, and I'm sure you were as well. Also, the would-be terrorist, I believe, in Strathroy a few months ago probably wouldn't have been caught without these new changes.

My question is, do you intend to change them, and if so, how do you see these powers changing? Clearly, they've been effective in disrupting potential threats thus far.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Mr. Miller, thank you for your greeting.

On the threat reduction activities, that is one area where we want to listen very carefully to Canadians' views, because views are mixed on that power. If you remember, the original creation of CSIS flowed out of a decision by a previous government to remove intelligence functions to a significant extent from the RCMP and hand them over to an independent agency that would specialize in intelligence, while the RCMP would deal with policing issues. There was a policy decision at that time to separate the two functions. Now, many years later, the legislation was changed to, in some ways, merge them back together again. I think we need to think carefully about that.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Do you intend to change them, Mr. Minister?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

The commitment that we made in the platform was to ensure compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Of course.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

That was the commitment that was made. There was language in Bill C-51 that tended to contradict that, so that is the issue that needs to be addressed—

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Okay, Mr. Minister.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

—compliance with the charter.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

I'm running out of time.

You really haven't said whether you are going to change them or not, and how would that look if you do. The answer to one is a very quick yes or no, and with the other one, if it's yes, then how?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

The point is, Mr. Miller, why would you have a consultation if you've already determined the answer to the question?

As I said at the beginning of my answer, we want to hear from Canadians on this subject. The bottom line for us is compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Okay, did you consult, then, prior to making that announcement during the election? I think that we know—

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

What announcement? We announced compliance with the charter. That's what we announced.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Yes, well it goes beyond that, I think.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Well, that may be your platform; it's not mine.