Mr. Speaker, I am pleased as a member of the Standing Committee on Industry—of which the member for Mercier is also a member—to take part in this debate at second reading.
The debate is on the bill's principle, and on this point I may well disappoint the parliamentary secretary by saying that the Bloc Quebecois totally disagrees with this bill. I will explain why.
The title of the bill represents a long and fairly complex paragraph, which I will read:
An Act to support and promote electronic commerce by protecting personal information that is collected, used or disclosed in certain circumstances, by providing for the use of electronic means to communicate or record information or transactions and by amending the Canada Evidence Act, the Statutory Instruments Act and the Statute Revision Act.
Beside me sits the member for Chambly, who has worked for a long time on the Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. He was saying that there are some 200 fairly concise but complex clauses.
We must always be careful, for even a bill with a long title is easier to understand when it is a measure to enact. However, when it is an amending bill that also requires regulations—like this bill, which amends the Canada Evidence Act and the Statute Revision Act—things start to get complicated. This is one of the weaknesses of the bill.
I would not go so far as to say that the long title of Bill C-54 represents a catch-22 situation, but it does contain a sort of trap, because clause 1 contains no mention of electronic commerce.
I was listening to the parliamentary secretary and, in his initial arguments, he said it must be recognized that society has changed. He said that, with personal computers, we have come a long way from the era of the perforated card. The parliamentary secretary is very nice, but this is not what the bill is about.
Clause 1, which gives the short title of the bill, reads as follows:
- This Act may be cited as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Earlier, when the hon. member for Chambly asked whether the commerce and sale of personal data collected by businesses would be prohibited, I listened attentively to the reply by the parliamentary secretary, but he did not answer the question.
This is another problem with this bill. It includes the usual provisions contained in an act, but the core of this particular bill is found in its schedule. That schedule is a document provided by members of the industry, who agreed on a code of discipline and are trying to apply that code to their industry on a voluntary basis.
Because journalists, editorial writers and consumer groups expressed concern about the issue, the government tried to meet their expectations and finally decided to pass a law. But, as we can see, this knee-jerk response was not adequately prepared. The government's attitude was “if legislation is necessary, so be it”. A close look shows that the core of this bill is a series of principles drafted by the private sector, by the industry concerned.
Do you think for a moment that the businesses concerned would purposely propose to the government measures that could create problems for them? Of course not! It would not be in their best interests. I am not saying there are terrible things in the bill, but there is at least that aspect. It seems to me that, as legislators, we should have a reasonable doubt and make sure that this is what everyone wants, including consumer groups and individuals.
Again, it is essential. The Privacy Act applies to everyone, even babies. They cannot read yet but, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, his grocery store uses a point system whereby some businesses know that he has a baby at home. Companies already have personal information on the baby of the hon. member opposite. They already know what kind of diapers, brand of milk or type of food are being used. They know everything.
We are talking about personal information, not only on those who know how to read, but even on those who cannot read yet. We could also mention the case of children who use computers. This is fine but we already know that confidentiality is not guaranteed.
The parliamentary secretary also said that we must have a global approach, because electronic commerce knows no boundaries. This is true. Two or three weeks ago, I had the opportunity, as a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, to attend an OECD meeting, here in Ottawa, on electronic commerce. I was not able to attend all the sessions, but I discussed the issue with the hon. member for Mercier, who did attend.
I read the documents and the information that were circulated at the meeting. I am not saying this is right, but it was clear from the start that the primary concern of OECD members and their finance ministers was not so much personal information as how governments could enact a tax on transactions.
Indeed, transactions ought to be taxed. That is something the GST is trying to take care of. It would appear that a great many electronic transactions might elude us because of this international dimension. This must be dealt with.
Personal information or absolute privacy does not seem to be the main concern. But it was a concern for a number of European countries, which did not think that all OECD nations were technologically advanced enough to protect personal information.
Quebeckers tend to think that everything is better elsewhere, and this may true of Canadians too: if the Americans do something, it must be good, they have such a great country. However, I have met Europeans and had discussions with them. My English is not the greatest but we managed to communicate. They told me “You are lucky in Quebec, you have excellent privacy legislation”. Excellent legislation that applies not only to government agencies but also to the private sector.
These European countries would like to model their legislation on the Quebec legislation. I would have expected, a few weeks later, that the legislation debated in this House to at least incorporate the same features as the Quebec legislation. I appreciate the international considerations involved.
In Quebec, we consider trade to be a provincial jurisdiction. As members know, while this bill deals with electronic trade, we are here to look after Quebec's interests. We may still be in the federal system, as we are not yet sovereign, but for the time being we are looking after our interests. That is only normal; nobody can blame us for that.
People from other countries, foreign parliamentarians, foreign delegates, told us in private—and one of them even had a copy of the act with him—that it was an excellent one and they hoped to get the same thing passed in their countries. This is not necessarily an easy thing to do, because some interest groups are not anxious to see things changed.
For instance, there is the fact that the core of the bill is to be found in the schedules, and that it reflects proposals by one sector concerned. I would draw to the House's attention to clause 5(2). I have read it and thought I could reassure the hon. member for Chambly, but I see it will just add to his doubts. This clause reads:
(2) The word “should”, when used in Schedule 1, indicates a recommendation and does not impose an obligation.
This caught my attention. I then turned to the schedule, and the word “should” is just about everywhere. This is not just a fluke, nor is it surprising, because this is a code of ethics they worked out amongst themselves. Would a given sector deliberately set out to cause itself problems? No, so everything is expressed with “should”. “But that it is what a recommendation is”, they counter.
Now I have seen everything. It is not often a person sees legislation that, instead of forbidding something, as the hon. member for Chambly would like, limits its language to saying “we would really like it to be this way”.
I do not think legislation like this is long for this world. It will not stand up to the rigours of life in Quebec or in Canada for very long. It needs to be a lot more substantial than it is, particularly because it is aimed at the future. If I understood the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre correctly, he said that something had to be done, even though it is not perfect. He is candid enough to admit that, and rightly so. He said “Something had to be done”, and since they were anxious to get at it—although he did not say that—“people were calling for it, so we went ahead and drafted a bill. We did a rush job and did not do our homework”.
The party over there did not do its homework. Instead of thinking of something on its own, it let the sector concerned suggest a bill. This is not the usual way of doing things. I hope it will not become a habit with this parliament, because that would be dangerous.
Reading the objectives, one would think the bill is a complex one because it is multi-dimensional. Yes, there is an international dimension.
I will make an aside here. This morning, I was reading in the newspaper that the OECD has finally given up on making the MIA official, more or less. The question was whether this would be done within the World Trade Organization, the WTO, instead. I agree international organizations should be involved.
Yes, there are international dimensions to it, and yes this needs to be watched. At the same time, careful thought is required before an approach that will take on very broad proportions is given free rein. It would be out of the control of the countries involved. Once an agreement like the MAI is signed, it will be in place for a while. For 20 years in some cases and 10 in others.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to please let me know when I have only one minute left so I can move an amendment at the end of my remarks.
The member for Lac-Saint-Jean was concerned about parliamentarians' loss of control of the powers to legislate and to control.
I think there is some truth to what he says in this case. It will take a while for all the OECD countries to reach agreement, but once they do, it will be for a long time. Why will it take a while? Because the interests of the OECD countries vary. However, they are not the poorest countries. Even the richest countries have reservations. Why? Are they about protecting the ordinary citizen internationally? Do ordinary citizens have a lobby powerful enough to raise their interests in these meetings, which may not be secret, but are nevertheless open to only a few? Parliamentarians can do that.
I cannot really agree with having the heart of a bill in the schedule and including in it a provision saying that everything not foreseen as well as changes will be decided by the commissioner with the approval of the governor in council. The governor in council, as we know, is cabinet.
This would be totally beyond the control of the members of Parliament, who are duly elected to represent the people. This is another element that gives rise to serious concerns, which oblige us to say that the bill is half-baked and has not had the full scrutiny of the people in the department. The sector concerned is being allowed to propose legislation; the usual provisions go into the bill, and we are told what is in the schedule—the standards established by the sector concerned—will have force of law.
I gave the example of the question of the member for Chambly earlier. The bill does not answer his objection since it does not specify what is prohibited. The penalties are not clearly defined either, should such a thing occur. Also, even the best legislation in the world is useless if it cannot be enforced, because it becomes mere rhetoric.
Some say “this is a modern era. We have computers and systems that allow us to do transactions and e-commerce. This is a new venture. It is high technology. It is extraordinary”. I am all for modern technology, but the privacy of personal information must be protected.
In Quebec, we have a good act that applies to every sector, including government services, businesses and even non profit organizations. Every type of organization is included. As I said earlier, it is an act which is being used as a model by European countries interested in doing the same.
My other concern is that we are dealing with commerce, which is a provincial jurisdiction. But we will monitor the situation.
The new member for Sherbrooke did not waste any time. He reviewed the bill and he thinks it makes no sense. In fact, he will tell us about it in the coming days. He also supports my motion. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word ”That” and substituting the following:
”Bill C-54, Personal Information and Electroinic Documents Act, be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the Bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Industry.”
This was the substance of my comments.