Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to join the debate on Bill C-54. The bill before us aims to support and promote electronic commerce by increasing Canadian confidence in online transactions, providing protection for personal information that is collected, adjusting the legal framework of the electronic environment, and providing an alternative means for the federal government to provide services.
Bill C-54 is part of a larger overall strategy to make Canada an international leader in the growing realm of electronic commerce. I will talk about some of the contents of the bill and outline the reservations New Democrats have with Bill C-54.
I will discuss the phenomenon of electronic commerce in the information age. A variety of commentators from all sorts of disciplines have commented upon the increasingly important role that electronic commerce is playing in the lives of everyday people.
The chairman and CEO of Bell Canada, Mr. Jean Monty, told delegates at the Ottawa OECD conference last week that we are witnessing the birth of a new economy, a new economic order based on networks and chips. The electronic transfer of information has changed the very way in which humans interact with each other. For this reason it is a subject of great importance and we would be wise to consider carefully any decision we take.
First it may be helpful to discuss the definition of electronic commerce. If we are to adopt a broad understanding of the concept of electronic commerce, we will see that it includes two very different types of transactions. One type which has proven quite successful involves the exchange of information through closed networks. This would include systems such as those used by debit cards and credit cards.
Other types of transfers are those conducted through open networks such as the Internet. This type lags far behind its closed network counterpart for numerous reasons which I will now examine.
When one thinks about the on-line world, a certain minister comes to mind. Just as the solicitor general has had some difficulty lately maintaining the security of his department's private information, so too does the Internet in ensuring the confidentiality of important matters. Canadians have demonstrated a lack of faith in the minister. This is similar to the reservations they have about entrusting their own personal information in cyberspace. It is our job to address these concerns.
The Internet remains for many an intimidating world in which trade relationships are poorly developed and people cannot be certain of the ways in which confidential information is being handled. Businesses as well as consumers are often unsure as to exactly whom they are dealing with, whether payment measures are secure and what the legal frameworks for such transactions are.
The Internet for most Canadians remains a sort of wild west where law and order is poorly represented and people enter at their own risk. Many parents are reluctant to establish Internet access because of well-founded fears that the on-line environment has become a haven for those who traffic in child pornography.
At home, we used to be connected up with the Internet, but I gave it up one day because I found some pictures on the screen, and I was very happy that my 10-year old son had not seen them. If my mother had seen them, I would have had trouble talking to her about them.
It is obvious that pornography on the Internet is a serious problem.
Businesses as well as consumers have been clamouring for confidence building measures on electronic commerce for quite some time. Canadians do not want cyberspace to be lawless.
One part of the bill which attempts to tackle people's reservations about trade on the information highway is the section on privacy rights. The bill adopts a set of guidelines developed by the Canadian Standards Association for gathering, using and disclosing the personal information of Canadians.
At the present time, the federal Privacy Act deals strictly with information that is collected by the public service. Bill C-54 goes farther than this. After a period of three years the guidelines for the handling of personal information will apply to all commercial transactions.
For example, the bill would force companies to obtain the consent of Canadians in order to collect personal information. It would force them to only use the information for the purpose for which it is collected.
Under the bill, people would be granted access to the information held about them and they would also have the right to make changes to it when there are inaccuracies. Bill C-54 strengthens significantly the office of the privacy commissioner and allows Canadians a means of recourse against those who abuse confidential personal data.
New Democrats support these provisions in principle and feel that they are long overdue. With the rapid manner in which information can be transferred in today's world it would be reassuring to know that individuals do have some control.
In order that Canadians can feel confident enough to engage in electronic commerce, common guidelines for the handling of personal information are essential. They would benefit business as well as give peace of mind to consumers.
The other prominent section of the bill that attempts to assuage the fears of Canadians is the discussion of security features such as secure electronic signatures which would be recognized by law.
More noticeable however is the absence of any discussion of encryption technology. At first glance this appears to be an adequate solution for addressing security concerns. However, the way in which the government is going about this raises some serious concerns for the future.
Cryptography technology allows users to encode information and then pass it along the Internet. This can be used to encode all sorts of information such as credit card numbers, medical records and private correspondence. In itself this is very good thing.
Unfortunately, the government has adopted a completely hands off approach in the area of licensing encryption software. The government has not demanded any sort of access mechanism that would allow it to intercept and decode such messages.
I fear that the government has forfeited any means whatsoever of policing the Internet. For example, the privacy commissioner would have little power to actually see whether or not personal information is being mishandled and transferred illegally. The privacy provisions in the bill seem then to be weakened by a hands off approach to cryptology.
Also, law enforcement agencies might see their ability to thwart child pornography traffickers severely curtailed. Similarly, without any sort of access mechanism, cryptology technology will possibly play into the hands of organized crime and perpetrators of corporate sabotage.
The fact that government will allow virtually any type of cryptology technology will serve only to increase the security fears of Canadians. The thought that the RCMP and other police forces will be basically powerless to investigate Internet abuses is of great concern. This is a violation of the peace and good government principle upon which this nation was formed. It will do little to make Canadians feel secure.
I must add that we are nevertheless in a country where people often find it difficult to feel secure. We saw what happened in recent weeks, not only in Vancouver with the students who were attacked, probably under orders from the Prime Minister, but also the events in New Brunswick. We saw what happened to the parents and the young students of the Saint-Sauveur school when they tried to keep their school open. Premier Frank McKenna had decided he was going to close schools. They sent in the RCMP. They sent in the pepper spray. They attacked not only the adults, but small children, students.
There are also the events in Kent County in the past two weeks, where a man named Jackie Vautour went fishing for a pail of clams, although fishing season is closed. He ended up with broken bones. I do not understand how that can happen to someone just for going for a pail of clams. This is a 65 year old man.
He and his wife had been in court before for fishing clams in a national park out of season. The charges were thrown out because, as you may or may not know, it is not clear whether Kouchibouguac national park is really a national park.
Each time Mr. Vautour is caught the government drops the charges. That is what they did the first time Mr. Vautour was caught fishing for a little pail of clams. They began proceedings, took him to court and were obliged to drop the charges, because they could not prove where the park boundaries lay. The gentleman went for another pail of clams. This time he had his shoulder and his arm broken. In this case too, a complaint must be lodged with the RCMP commission so the matter will be investigated.
These sorts of things are always the responsibility of someone higher up. When the Saint-Sauveur families were attacked, it was clear who had set the gang on the students. I have no doubt the same thing happened when Jackie Vautour was attacked by the RCMP.
It is outrageous to think that they are capable of breaking limbs. Mr. Vautour did not have a gun or a knife, but he ended up with broken limbs. He and his wife, aged 65 and 64 respectively, ended up in jail because they took a bucket of clams, after park employees had told them they could continue to catch shells.
The same thing happened to a man in 1969 because he did not want to leave his house when Kouchibouguac national park was established. They bulldozed his house. That is what they did to him. He stayed in the park. Had it not been for him, we would have ended up with nothing. In 1971, we left the park with $6,600. This was the money we had to move, to settle elsewhere. People in Kouchibouguac park did not get rich.
Mr. Vautour was smart. He said “I am not leaving. They put us in boats back in 1755, but I am not going in boats again”. This is what happened to Mr. Vautour. My father was told the same thing: “If you do not move, we will be close to your house and you will not get anything”. This is what they did, and Jackie had a large family. He stayed anyway and he kept fighting.
I am not saying that what he did was always right, but I do know that this is how the hate started. It started the day they hired someone with a bulldozer to destroy his house. We were not pagans in Kouchibouguac park. We were poor people living in the middle of nowhere, but we were not people who did not know what they were doing. We were not trash. There was no crime in Clairefontaine, Fontaine, Cap-Saint-Louis and the Kelly region. We were not bad people.
In those days, the current Prime Minister was the minister responsible for expropriation. It is funny how the people who were expropriated from the park re-elected him and made him the Prime Minister of the country. It is incredible how forgiving we Acadians can be. But he better not try his luck again.
I was 11 when we moved away. In our region, people did not have much formal education. But my father had work year round. We had a television and a telephone as well as an Eaton's catalogue we would order from once in a while. We were good folks and still are. The story does not end here. Mr. Vautour went to court to know why his shoulder and arm were busted and why he was thrown in jail. The judge did not even want to let him out for three months pending trial. Mr. Vautour was 65 and his wife, 64.
Is there any justice, any democracy in this country? The APEC Summit does not have the monopoly on lack of justice. It is the same all over the country.
It is ironic for me to have become a member of Parliament. I am sure there are ministers across the way wondering if I will ever stop pressing the Kouchibouguac national park issue. The fact is that we will keep asking questions and raising the matter until our questions on what happened have been answered. In 1969, 239 families were treated unfairly and no commission of inquiry was established. The government does not want to look into what went wrong.
As long as the issue remains unsettled, families will continue to live under extreme conditions within the Kouchibouguac park boundaries. We will carry on and we will not let them down. Coming back to Bill C-54.
Bill C-54 attempts also to establish the federal government as a responsible and model user of the Internet as a tool for delivering services. With this in mind, many federal statutes were examined to see whether or not their references to means of collecting information were limited to paper. The result was that nearly half seemed to indicate paper transactions as the only legal means of sharing information. Bill C-54 attempts to adjust or apply current laws so that there is an electronic alternative for transmitting information.
It would be interesting if Jackie Vautour could put the history of Kouchibouguac park on the Internet.
In principle this is a good proposition. It would offer Canadians access to a new and faster means of communicating with government bodies.
The government believes that by acting as a role model, it can stimulate a substantial increase in the use of this technology in all realms. A quick glance at the current electronic commerce situation though reveals that Canadians are far from embracing the Internet. In many cases this is because they simply cannot afford to. Even if we assumed that about 30% of Canadians have some sort of access to the Internet, and this may just be because they have a connected computer at their school, we must acknowledge that the other three-quarters of the country are in the dark.
I think it is important to mention that we have a lot of schools. My son is in grade 7 and I am sure he does not have access to the program. A lot of young people and families today may not be extremely poor, but they certainly cannot afford to have a computer at home. We must be careful.
A few moments ago, a government member seemed proud to say that he could change plane tickets and that it would cost only a few dollars. But how many jobs will be lost? Is anybody trying to maintain some kind of balance in all that? It is all well to say that we are going to save money. Hurrah! the Internet is here and we will save money, but what is the real cost in terms of lost jobs?
In closing, I will say that not everybody is connected and we have to recognize that as a fact. It is a problem for those people, and it is not just a matter of not having a computer.