House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was magazines.


Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to say two things in one minute. First, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry—for whom I have a lot of respect—said that, in his view, under the bill, the commissioner will be accountable to parliamentarians. That is one of the problems. I would like him to tell me that could be changed. I would be willing to make the correction. However, under the bill as it stands now, I believe the commissioner is accountable to the governor in council, that is to cabinet, through the minister concerned.

Moreover, the former Minister of Justice, who is now the Minister of Health, said that, when people talk about personal information, he wished they would do just that and not imitate the Minister of Industry who has become a promoter. The title of the bill talks about promoting electronic commerce.

That is the main purpose of the bill. It is the minister's main objective. But I say we must be careful, the real purpose of section 1 should be the protection of personal information. That is not what they are trying to do. It is something else. The government is willing to discuss that other thing, but it wants to do it in the context of the promotion of electronic commerce.

As far as personal information is concerned, I want to be protected and I want all Quebeckers and Canadians to be protected as well.

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-54. I typically speak on financial issues and I sit on the House of Commons finance committee.

I am intrinsically interested in the whole issue of e-commerce. I do not think we can deal with financial issues without considering the importance of e-commerce technology. This is particularly important when we are considering issues such as the MacKay task force because increasingly the global financial industry is being dominated by e-commerce.

We should consider how the world is changing and recognize that the changes are largely driven by information technology. We need to recognize that Canada can become a leader in cyberspace. To become that world leader and carry the title of the most connected nation, the government must conduct itself accordingly. We must be visionary. We need to strike a balance between the privacy of Internet users and the legitimate marketing efforts of Canadian businesses. If we make the right decisions Canada could be a leader in e-commerce.

Trust is at the centre of this entire exercise. Internet users need to trust the security safeguards put in place by online marketers. Canadian industry needs to trust that legislation will permit them to responsibly do business on line. Canadian taxpayers need to be assured that they are getting value for their money from their elected officials and that our work will develop a comprehensive, state of the art electronic commerce policy.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Canada is poised to become a world leader in e-commerce. As a large country with a huge geographic mass and a sparsely populated geographic mass we have developed many ways and means to service that mass. The Canadian banking industry, for example, is largely dominated by electronic commerce and has done a capable job of meeting the needs of communities across the country.

It should not be lost on our colleagues in the House today that Bill C-54 is in many ways the first step in our developing a regulatory infrastructure for electronic commerce. In many ways this is the 21st century equivalent of the first spike.

The first spike was the free trade agreement supported and spearheaded by my party back in 1988 when members opposite tended to be more Luddite in their approaches. We understand that was not necessarily dominated by their convictions economically but instead was driven by their convictions of political survival and what was politically palatable at the time. Hypocrisy being only half a mortal sin, I guess we should be tolerant of these transgressions.

The Internet continues to grow exponentially with implications for every Canadian business, government department and Canadian resident. The industry committee must continue to work in a diligent and, I would argue, non-partisan effort to achieve responsible legislation.

The issue goes well beyond the boundaries of the industry department. As I mentioned earlier I sit on the finance committee. The issues we are dealing with today, including the emerging changes to the Canadian financial services sector, are largely dominated by technology and information technology. Just as the Y2K bug issue impacts on every facet of government, we must recognize that the legislation we are debating today will impact on every level of government and all types of business.

E-commerce will have far more implications than just privacy issues. The government needs to come up with a comprehensive plan, one which addresses uniformity in the digital marketplace, online eavesdropping by security forces, public-private online relationships, competition, the role of small and medium enterprises, and Canadian heritage and culture. The list goes on and on.

I am in the process of reading a book by David Brin called Transparent Society: will technology force us to chose between privacy and freedom . Another book I read recently was the Death of Distance which is focused on the death of distance as a determinant in the cost of telecommunications.

These global forces are shaping our economy. It is extremely important for all of us in the House to be familiar with these forces so we can ensure Canadians are prepared to prosper in that economy.

One Canadian executive made an interesting observation on the issue. I think it bears repeating in the House. He said that a fax machine was only valuable when the rest of the world has a fax and that value explodes exponentially with membership.

Extending this advise logically, the corollary would be that the government must be very careful so as not to allow the Internet industry to falter. There is a fine line between too little oversight over issues of privacy and too much oversight. A tremendous regulatory burden exists now for Canadian business. It could threaten to stifle its potential to compete and prosper in an emerging e-commerce industry if the government were not rigorous in ensuring that the costs of regulatory burden would not exceed the purported benefits of the regulations.

Many industries are immune to Internet competition. When a family in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, which is in my riding, decides to have a Saturday night barbecue, it is unlikely they would turn to the Internet to supply their hamburger buns. It is probably more reasonable to assume that given the choice they would rather step into the warmth of a bakery to purchase their rolls.

Many consumer choices remain which can be reviewed and ordered in a visual pleasing format on a computer screen. Perhaps the message is that the butcher and baker are safe but the candlestick maker should beware.

There is no doubt that my analogy is somewhat simplistic, but it leads me to a discussion of the pending showdown between downtown and cybertown. As we balance our policies to protect the interests of downtown, we need to ensure that we do not prevent Canadians from participating in opportunities in cybertown.

There is a fine line between protecting Canadians against the risk of a global knowledge based society and preventing Canadians from participating fully in the opportunities of a global knowledge based society.

Incentives are a very intricate balance in the marketplace. Some are intrinsic such as the desire to be self-employed. Some are dominated by quality of life issues. For instance, with the death of distance as a determinant in the cost of communications, communities in places like rural Nova Scotia become increasingly attractive for people to live in.

People can choose where they work and where they shop. We must recognize they do not have to be in those places physically. I would promote that this represents an unprecedented economic development opportunity for remote communities. Information technology for Atlantic Canada could be the equivalent of what the shipbuilding industry was to Atlantic Canada during the age of sail, if we make the right policies.

The important issue to note is that where artificial incentives are created by legislation there is almost certainly an equal and opposite disincentive. The law of unintended consequences kicks in as government policy kicks in. The job of legislators should be to determine the disincentive and to debate it rationally.

Recently the federal revenue minister announced that the government was not interested in creating new taxes for e-commerce. Tentatively I wish to commend him on that position. Canadians have spoken loudly and clearly that we do not have a stomach for new taxes. Instead we should be looking for ways to reduce taxes and reduce the complexity of our current tax system.

The question we must ask ourselves is how we apply existing tax legislation in a fair, predictable and revenue neutral fashion. At the present time the situation exists whereby online retailers who are set up in Prince Edward Island and ship to provinces like Ontario are not required to collect sales taxes. Instead it is the consumer who is responsible to remit the sales tax to the province in which they reside. This may come as a shock to the revenue minister so I ask him to brace himself if he is listening. By and large I suspect these taxes are not being remitted.

This is not an insurmountable problem, however. Time and time again Canadian industry has shown its willingness to comply with the necessary regulations which allow government to collect the revenue needed to provide the services Canadian demand.

At issue is the interim situation. There appears to exist a marketplace where those who open storefronts, employ sales clerks and pay commercial property taxes will also have to endure a competitive disadvantage. They will be required to collect sales taxes that their online competitors may be able to escape. This situation should be addressed sooner rather than later. There should not exist a timetable for when tax regulations will be fair. Fairness must come as an inherent fundamental cornerstone in tax policy.

I have dealt with a purely domestic Internet tax issue. Now I want to turn our attention to taxation in the international marketplace. At the recent OECD e-commerce ministerial conference held in Ottawa much of the focus was on the principles of e-commerce taxation. There was fundamental agreement in five following areas.

The first was neutrality. This would see that the taxation would seek to be equitable and fair as it pertained to both e-commerce and traditional forms of commerces.

The second was efficiency. This would target compliance to ensure that it would meet the dual objectives of limiting costs and administration.

The third was certainty and simplicity. This would ensure that taxation levels and collection procedures are transparent and predictable.

The fourth was effectiveness and fairness. This would limit the potential avoidance and evasion and guarantee that the right amount of tax was collected at the right time.

The fifth was flexibility. This provision is included to assist legislators as they attempt to keep pace with emerging technologies.

These principles do not only apply to e-commerce but should apply to all types of taxation. Consistent with the Mintz report presented in June to the finance committee, we need to develop a fairer, flatter, simpler tax system in Canada and help to eliminate what I consider to be a regulatory burden, that is an egregiously excessive tax burden and a complex tax system that penalizes legitimate businesses. Fair minded, far reaching in their scope, these high brow goals could be used to describe the principles necessary in taxation to create not only fairer e-commerce but any area of business.

These principles seek to equalize a world of incongruent tax regimes. Perhaps they could not be implemented by a single nation state or even negotiated over a long term phase-in within the realm of a free trade agreed. However that is not the world we live in today. As borders become less and less consequential in global trade in many ways we need to demonstrate consistency and co-operation between countries both in terms of tax policies and tax co-operation to avoid avoidance.

At this time there is no international formula for taxation to balance the playing field. If we tried to negotiate such a treaty it would take a long time. It would be a very long and arduous process. It would entail the same pitfalls that have currently been encountered with the multilateral agreement on investment. While the agreement is not necessarily inherently bad, the process of its negotiation has been far too exclusive. As such Canadians and other citizens around the world have not been effectively engaged in the discussion.

The House is charged with the duty of protecting and fostering Canadian interests. As far as I can see we have to choose to be a player in a liberalized trading world, or we can follow the path of protectionist policies, a trail that will most assuredly lead us to a dead end. The PC Party is the author of or a founding partner in the most successful trade agreement in the nation's history. It is not about to turn its back on free trade.

However, we must be realistic about the competition that exists out there. The cold reality is that Internet commerce cannot help but be brutally efficient. Price comparisons will be performed in a matter of minutes, eliminating what used to be an entire Saturday of window shopping. Price as a determinant will become the overriding decision maker in the Internet.

When we understand this, coupled with our knowledge of our completely uncompetitive situation, we must recognize that our tax system, our regulatory burden and the inherent structural deficiencies that we have in the Canadian economy need to be addressed.

Improving productivity needs to be the goal for every government policy, not only for Bill C-54. Any government policy debated in this House needs to have as its principal goal the improvement and the augmentation of Canadian competitiveness in the global environment in the 21st century.

By and large, regulation of the Internet has been a failure in every jurisdiction that has ever tried to overstep the boundaries of common sense.

On November 23 the CRTC will begin hearings on what kind of regulation, if any, is needed for new media and the Internet. The commission has been vilified for this and has been accused of empire building.

We believe that this is exactly the kind of exercise we must engage in. That is not to say we will support any move to censor the Internet. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. The private sector must determine what the future holds for the Internet and the public sector has a role to facilitate this debate.

One of the realities we must accept is that the Internet is expanding at a rate which far exceeds our ability to respond with legislation. In fact, if we were to promote and pass legislation that creates an excessive regulatory burden, I would argue that we would not be able to put in place a regulatory infrastructure that would be capable of enforcing legislation passed in this House or developed by a committee. We have to be careful that we not only create a regulatory structure that is fair, but that is in fact enforceable.

Government will have to rely, frankly, on the private sector to produce new technologies which individuals can use to access or eliminate specific Internet content as they see fit.

The role of government will be greatly curtailed in this exercise if we do our jobs properly. In fact, we can create a relatively self-regulating e-commerce industry that can both achieve the goals of helping Canadians access the levers of economic opportunity in the global environment while at the same time protecting their privacy.

The expansion of technology that was originally devised as a research tool for academics has surprised all of us. Recently an IBM executive referred to the phenomenon as the digital revolution and labelled its impact as being no less in scope than that of the industrial revolution. Like the industrial revolution, the Internet and e-commerce have the ability to change the way business is done, the way governments are organized and the way economies are structured.

Let us think for one moment of how the Internet and technology have changed our role as parliamentarians. Twenty years ago we would have had as parliamentarians greater access to information than our constituents. Today our constituents have access to the same information that we have and at the same time that we have it due to the Internet and technology.

I would argue that for us to remain relevant individually as parliamentarians and collectively as a parliament and as a government that we need to become more rigorous. We will not be judged on what information we have, but increasingly we will be judged on the quality of the decisions we make with that information.

That is very exciting because I think the demand will be on us to become more relevant and to make decisions that are sound and not necessarily purely politically palatable in the short term sense, but the right decisions from a public policy perspective in the long term.

This represents a significant democratization of democracy. It will affect the way we do our jobs. It is another way that technology is changing the way we are living as Canadians and the way we do our jobs.

The challenge is to ensure that we balance these various goals, as we pursue these somewhat inherently incongruent goals, treating the complexity of what is an extremely complicated public policy issue, with the maturity that I believe our constituents deserve. We cannot relegate this to three-second sound bytes. It is not going to be reduced to that if we pursue this in a mature way.

The subject of global e-commerce should not fill us with fear. Many people would urge that we move in a Luddite way. One of those individuals is running for the leadership of my party at this juncture, but hopefully that will be put to bed on Saturday and Mr. Orchard will continue to destroy windmills or to pursue Luddite-type activities in other parties. I would suggest that he has a natural home in a party that now sits on the far right in this House, ironically.

In any case, there is no basis for the fears of the Luddites in my opinion. The only fear that can be legitimized is if governments and members of this House lack the courage to attach Canadians to the levers of a global economy which can provide unprecedented—

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

This seems like a good point to interrupt.

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11:35 a.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Walt Lastewka LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kings—Hants for his speech. I know he spends more time on the finance committee than the industry committee, but his fellow member for Markham is a valuable member on that committee, having had a lot of experience in the computer field.

I want to bring something to the member's attention. I am not sure whether he mentioned it or not, but the Minister of Industry has been very involved in leading in this area. In fact he took the leadership role at the recent OECD conference where they tried to set goal posts. It is important that we not set narrow goal posts. We must leave them in a wider arena and make continuous improvements.

I am sure the member realizes that the Maritrain group in Digby, Nova Scotia received a special contract with HRD in the area of e-commerce and the human resources field. I know the member is aware of the great facility in Aldershot, a $30 million investment in computer training and valuable tools for the Internet and future technology.

I would like the member to expand a bit more on the fact that when we talk about e-commerce, the Internet and computers there are no provincial or state borders. We must look at it in the global context and we must be leaders.

When we discuss this bill at the industry committee we should set aside partisan politics. We must have concern for our constituents, the people who are affected by privacy, and all of the stakeholder groups. I know that about 36 sectors have been mentioned already. Is it not more important to set those goal posts and then make continuous improvements in a non-partisan way for the good of the people of our country?

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right in recognizing that our member for Markham has a tremendous background in the computer industry, an inherent knowledge of e-commerce and in fact contributes on an ongoing basis at the industry committee.

The member raises an interesting issue with respect to provincial borders, state laws and the importance of working to eliminate these barriers.

I would argue that electronic commerce has the ability to do what governments have lacked the will and courage to do, and that is to reduce and eliminate interprovincial trade barriers in Canada. Interprovincial trade barriers cost Canadian jobs in a tradition sense. In fact, an increase of 10% in interprovincial trade would bring about 200,000 much needed jobs to Canadians. The whole concept of there being more trade barriers between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia than exist between Nova Scotia and Israel is absolutely absurd.

Yes, we do need to engage in an ongoing dialogue with other jurisdictions. Yes, we need to bring down trade barriers. But although e-commerce and the Internet will force the government's hand in a lot of areas, I suggest there is still no replacement for leadership. We need to move proactively as opposed to being moved by where the industry is going to take us. I think we should be looking ahead and actually trying to develop policies that reflect where we want to be taken by these industries.

I would also reflect briefly on what the member was saying about the growth of knowledge based industry in Nova Scotia. There is one company in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Orion Electronics, which is currently planning an expansion. Hugh Roddis of Orion Electronics chose Windsor because of the quality of life, the cost of living and the fact that he wanted his daughter to have the best education, and Kings-Edgehill, a private school in the area, offers an international baccalaureate program. He chose Windsor because he is in information technology. He does not have to be in Toronto, Boston or New York.

I would appreciate the member's feedback on this. Our entire economic development strategy for Atlantic Canada must be increasingly cognizant of the opportunities that we have, focusing on the depth of distances as a determinant in the cost of telecommunications argument and focusing our efforts on New England, New York, Boston and companies in other areas where people are looking for a better quality of life.

I would like to see from the government, frankly, an industrial strategy that is more holistic, that is more inclusive and that in fact represents economically sustainable long term vision for Atlantic Canada as opposed to a stop-gap approach.

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11:40 a.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want the issue that the member for Kings—Hants brought forward on interprovincial trade to pass. I am not sure that he is aware that the co-chair of that committee is a member of his party, the premier of this province, and that Mr. Al Palladini is the co-chair. I agree with him 100%. The sooner those two gentlemen start working on interprovincial trade the better it is going to be for this country. But maybe he should have talked about it last weekend at his conference. I encourage him and I plead with him to discuss that with members of his party and to move on interprovincial trade.

On the other item, I want to say that the government has been working more and more in the maritime provinces and the member knows that. I visited many businesses and organizations in the Atlantic provinces this past summer in order to make sure that we get more examples like the one we have in Digby, Nova Scotia with the Maritrain group.

Electronic commerce can be anywhere in this country. Travel is very quick. Movement through the Internet is very fast. That is the advantage we are going to have in this country.

I just wanted to make sure that the member understood that issue with respect to interprovincial trade and I would hope that he would continue to encourage the members of his party to work on interprovincial trade.

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right to recognize that if any leadership is to be provided on issues like interprovincial trade that leadership will come from provincial premiers due to the current vacuum at the federal level on leadership issues. He is quite right to recognize that we need a greater participation of the province in these areas, that the provinces must grab hold of these issues and make the changes necessary to guide us into the 21st century. Clearly his government has abdicated that level of leadership on the federal-provincial stage. I appreciate his input, his vision and his observation of this important trend. I hope he continues within his own caucus to urge this type of participation at the federal level in interprovincial trade issues, constitutional issues and taxation issues.

There was a time not that long ago when federal governments provided significant leadership on these types of issues. When that happened there was a very active policy and legislative agenda. It was place in the late eighties and the early nineties under Brian Mulroney who is deservedly receiving an Order of Canada today. That included a set of structural changes for the Canadian economy, changes like free trade, the elimination of the manufacturers sales tax and the deregulation of financial services and transportation. These changes led to this government's ability to eliminate the deficit.

I appreciate his recognition of the important role of federal leadership in many of these areas. I am optimistic that at some point as things change, and Saturday's events may be pivotal in this, there will be a time when the federal government may play this type of active role in making the required decisions and in working with the provinces by taking a leadership role. The government can cut spending to the provinces, it can offload many responsibilities but it cannot offload or downsize leadership.

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11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We will now proceed to 10 minute speeches without questions or comments.

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, you are saying that we are now entitled only to 10 minutes and that the 20 minute speeches are over. It is unfortunate because I think it is important to debate this bill in principle, to ensure that the people really understand why the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière moved an amendment providing that the bill to promote electronic commerce:

be not 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.

Why does the Bloc Quebecois want to have this bill withdrawn? A personal information protection act has been in the works for some time now. The former justice minister made statements in which he said that it was important and crucial to have in Canada a personal information protection act.

He was probably reacting to the fact that Quebec has had one in effect for the last four years which deals with the private sector, is operational and has worked out very well. So, this was the purpose of the federal government's strategy.

Then, the whole matter was transferred to the industry minister. It was decided that all that was needed was an act to promote electronic commerce. The protection of personal information was no longer an important issue to be dealt with.

To show how important this issue is I will give a few examples of electronic commerce in everyday life.

For instance, on a typical day as you drive out of the garage in your building, your exit may be captured by a surveillance camera or even on a card. This is a type of electronic transaction.

Later in the day you send an e-mail to a friend, another one to a colleague. Both e-mails can be read by your employer. Even if you erase them, they will remain on the server's hard drive.

As you buy a present for someone's birthday, the credit card reader keeps track of the details of your transaction and the store's loyalty card assigns points or targeted rebates to your purchase. Your bank may establish your profile with great precision from the trends revealed by the review of your purchases. Likewise with the drugs you purchase.

These things have an impact on our daily lives. Contrary to a traditional trade transaction, where there is a direct interaction between the vendor and the buyer, electronic transactions have a direct impact on bank accounts, consumer lists and various other things, allowing the information to be used for other purposes. The government was expected to introduce a bill that would rectify the situation.

This is the reason why today we are moving an amendment to send the bill back to committee so that the government can go back to the drawing board.

We are not the only ones to think this way. In his 1996-97 annual report, the privacy commissioner referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, which stated: “The committee stressed the importance of privacy as a fundamental human right. The charter of privacy rights it is proposing would have quasi-constitutional status and, as such, would take precedence over any act of Parliament and ensure the protection and integrity of body, mind and property, in a word privacy”.

The report raises an important issue. It went so far as to recommend that it be included in a charter that would have quasi-constitutional status. But the federal elephant has given birth to a mouse. This report has been totally overlooked. I think that the current Minister of Industry is indeed in the habit of bowing to business lobbies instead of seeking a balance between electronic commerce and consumers. We all agree that electronic commerce ought to be promoted; this is an important industry that should be allowed to develop. But at the same time, it should not be allowed to grow unchecked, for it affects people in their everyday lives, when it comes to personal information that may have an impact on future choices. This is therefore a very important issue.

There is another important reason why we think this bill should be amended. In Quebec, we have had legislation in force for four years in this respect. In fact, it is a world model in terms of privacy in the private sector. We would have liked to find in the bill what was announced in the minister's press releases, namely that, a province that already has legislation in this area would be allowed to substitute it for the federal legislation.

But that is not the message the minister is conveying. The federal government did not feel it necessary to include this formally in the bill, and this is a key area to amend. The Bloc Quebecois members can certainly not afford to operate on the basis of something that is not written down. All it would take is a new industry minister with a much tougher approach to Quebec in any given situation who would force it to foot the bill. This is not acceptable. It must be resolved.

This is all the more important because Quebec's access to information commission, which administers this legislation in Quebec, evaluated the CSA code. The CSA code is contained in one of the schedules to the bill and defines the conditions for determining the rules of the game. These rules were arrived at after consultation, but this consultation was primarily with industry representatives. There was far less consultation of consumers.

In its 1997-98 annual report, Quebec's access to information commission had this to say:

The CSA code, however, in no way meets the objectives of the personal information protection regimes established by the two Quebec statutes: ensure that citizens have access to an impartial and equitable resolution of problems and disputes that may arise in the increasingly important area of respect for this dimension of privacy.

Quebec's commission, which has been administering the law for four years, tells us that the code does not meet the necessary requirements. We are looking at a bill containing a code that is basically the linchpin of the entire bill. The government is reserving the right to amend the legislation and the code without further recourse to Parliament. At the same time, this code is unsatisfactory for Quebeckers. It is therefore not acceptable to us.

Since Quebec is ahead of the rest of Canada, we cannot take a step backwards and accept something that will provide less protection for personal information. This is one of the things that is different about our society. If Quebeckers are in the vanguard in this respect, they are entitled to benefit from their wisdom, particularly as this is legislation that was passed by the former Liberal government.

Surely, no one can claim that it was an act adopted by sovereignists to annoy the federal government, since it was passed by the previous provincial government. It was adopted after wide consultations and it works very well.

In fact, Quebec's access to information commission also says in the same report that “in the opinion of the access to information commission, the Quebec system is the only response that is respectful of the rights of citizens, in the context of the challenges arising from the creation of the information highway”.

The commission specifically said “the only response that is respectful of the rights of citizens”. It did not say “one of a number of respectful responses”. This is the basic reason why we are asking that the bill not go any further. In our opinion, it is not sufficiently respectful of the rights of citizens, in the context of the challenges arising from the creation of the information highway.

Earlier, the parliamentary secretary said that the Department of Human Resources Development had shown how personal information can be used. Considering what was done with the data on the jobless on vacation, which were matched with Revenue Canada's data, without considering the core of the issue. Since the department did that without having first obtained a ruling confirming that it was legal and that it could go ahead, one can hardly consider this to be a good example.

It appears to me that the legislation before us is a botched job. If this were a bill that concerned only 2% or 3% of the population, we would judge it at face value. But it will affect people in all manner of daily transactions. Today in our society, more and more people are involved in e-commerce transactions. More and more people are providing information about themselves.

After what the federal government did with SIN numbers, do members not think people are considerably concerned about getting even more assurance, once things get to the private sector, that management of this information would be properly monitored.

Today the federal government has decided to proceed with a position the sole purpose of which is to encourage commerce in what I would call a dog-eat-dog marketplace, where there will not be sufficient protection of personal information. There is some imbalance here. I believe these are grounds for withdrawing this bill and that the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière was justified in proposing an amendment along those lines.

I feel it would be important for the federal government to be aware of the obstacles facing it.

Mr. Speaker, I am asking the consent of the House to continue for about another 10 minutes, since I have other comments to make.

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11:55 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

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11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


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11:55 a.m.

An hon. member


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11:55 a.m.

The Speaker

There is no consent.

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11:55 a.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques could not continue. I know he had some interesting and important things left to say.

I find it also regrettable that certain members of this House refused consent. I fear they did so for lack of interest in the subject. They do not realize the importance of the issue. They do not realize the issue is the proper protection of the personal information of Canadians, because the bill does not provide this protection.

In the past two days, I have had the opportunity to examine this illusory bill in greater depth. It is an illusion because, to be really protected, the public, consumers, will have to indicate directly, voluntarily and clearly that they do not want this information revealed.

If, by chance, the consumer fails to say “No, I do not want this information released”, it can be. When we buy something, we do not take the time to read all the details on the bill. We look at the cost and pay the bill.

If we are not careful, with this bill, there will be a little box we will forget to tick, and our information will be free to circulate.

This bill, I repeat, provides the illusion of protection. In fact, it exists explicitly to promote electronic commerce. It is not there to protect personal information. Protecting personal information is only of secondary importance. This is a kind of encouragement that the bill gives consumers by telling them: “Do not be afraid of using electronic commerce, everything will be okay. Your transactions will not be intercepted. You do not have to fear that the information you will give might be disclosed. You have nothing to fear.”

Unfortunately, reality is quite different. The main part of this bill is contained in a schedule. The bill refers constantly to Schedule 1 containing an ethics code essentially dictated by a group of industry, business and trade representatives.

The problem is that the schedule uses the word “should” and that the bill expressly states that the word “should”, when used in Schedule 1, indicates a recommendation and does not impose an obligation. This means that the bill gives a false sense of security and amounts to wishful thinking, as it can be circumvented by those who wish to do so. Worse yet, Schedule 1 can be amended according to the wishes of industry and business.

Some things are appalling. We talked about this on Monday. For four years now, Quebec has had an act which protects personal information given by citizens to a private business, not only in a commercial context but in any context. This act makes Quebec a leader in this area.

On Monday, I heard a government member declare in this House that Canada would be on the cutting edge with Bill C-54. On the contrary, it is Quebec which has been on the cutting edge for the last four years. Canada will not even be a close second because the European Community has much better provisions than what is found in Bill C-54.

This is why I said, on Monday, that the bill should be sent back to the drawing board. This bill should be withdrawn. The minister should go back to the drawing board with the protection of citizens in mind. This could only enhance electronic commerce.

Things have been turned upside down. Fortunately, an amendment was put forward today suggesting that the minister go back to the drawing board. We are not asking the minister a favour. The citizens of Canada are not, through us, asking the minister a favour. They are simply asking that Canada be served as well as we are in Quebec. But it is more than that. Should this bill be enacted, Quebec could face some significant problems.

As we all know, federal laws often have precedence over provincial laws. There are federally incorporated companies in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. These corporations would prefer without a doubt to be subject to a toothless law like this bill rather than to a strong, well structured law made to protect all citizens.

This is a major problem. This bill is ill-conceived and misdirected. The government thinks it can help electronic commerce by giving illusions to consumers. This will not work. Worse, we might jeopardize a good situation which has existed in Quebec for the last four years and which could and should have guided the minister. Our amendment gives the minister an opportunity to review this bill, to rework it and eventually, to resubmit it to this House.

The other day I heard an honourable member—from the government benches, obviously—claim that, if even if we accepted this bill, we could send it back to committee and improve it. You know, and I know and most of the members in this House should know that a bill cannot be modified in committee beyond its original scope. Its objective is to promote electronic commerce.

If we try to give additional dimensions to this bill, for example the protection of personal information given to non-profit organizations, or the protection of medical, tax and other information, we are completely altering the framework of the bill before us by giving it a scope that it does not currently have. This is unacceptable and not allowed under the Standing Orders of the House when we work in committee.

So, if this bill passes second reading, we enter a dead end. We are going to put in place a bad law that will have perverse effects and will not meet the conditions required in today's economy to compete not only domestically, but internationally. Quebec took the lead in this area four years ago.

In international trade, countries whose laws are more responsible than the legislation we have before us will require that their companies transmit information only to countries whose laws are equally responsible. This legislation will not be and, therefore, some countries will most likely put an embargo on transactions with Canadian citizens and businesses.

Members do not want that, I do not want it. Quebec already has a responsible law.

Mr. Speaker, I see that you are going to interrupt me, may I ask unanimous consent to answer questions?

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12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-54, the personal information protection and electronic documents act the purpose of which is to promote electronic commerce by providing Canadians with a right to privacy of personal information that is collected, used or disclosed in an increasingly information based economy and world.

Privacy provisions are based on the Canadian Standards Association model code for the protection of personal information. A strengthened federal privacy commissioner would play a role in ensuring compliance with the regulations.

Bill C-54 also aims to make the electronic transfer of information legal through safeguards such as secure electronic signature so that for example federal agencies, boards and commissions can decide how existing statutes and regulations can be satisfied by electronic means rather than through paper.

Our caucus opposes Bill C-54. I intend to articulate the reasons for that later.

First it is worth talking about what is electronic commerce. It can broadly be defined as any kind of transaction that is made using digital technology, including open networks, that is, the Internet, closed networks, such as electronic data interchange and debt and credit cards. Currently closed types of transactions account for transfers in the trillions of dollars worldwide. This is why some of us are interested in the so-called Tobin toll or Tobin tax.

A host of commentators of all sorts have heralded the immense possibilities of electronic commerce.

For example, recently the chairman and CEO of Bell Canada, Jean Monty, told delegates at the Ottawa OECD conference “What we are witnessing today is the birth of a new economy, a new economic order that is based on networks and chips”. This electronic transfer of information has changed the way humans interact with each other and for this reason it is an issue of great importance. Consequently, it would be wise to examine very carefully all the decisions that we take in this regard. This is why I say that this bill is the first that deals directly with the totally new issue of electronic commerce.

First, it may be useful to talk about the definition of electronic commerce. To get a general understanding of the concept of electronic commerce, it must be said that it encompasses two very different types of transactions. One of them, which has proven very successful in this country, includes the sharing of information through closed networks. This includes systems such as the ones that are used for debit cards and credit cards. I repeat, Canada is known as a world leader in the development of the infrastructure needed for these kinds of closed networks.

The other type of transfers pertains to those that are made through open networks such as the Internet.

Product offerings are limited and few Canadians are willing to entrust personal information in an environment they perceive to be completely insecure. Furthermore many are leery about using the Internet because of its reputation for harbouring offensive contents such as child pornography.

The personal information protection and electronic documents act is intended to be a major component of the electronic commerce strategy outlined by the Prime Minister one month ago today. The purpose of this document was to present challenges and opportunities for businesses and consumers with the hope that Canada would become a world leader in the development and use of electronic commerce by the year 2000.

It is true that the Internet is a very difficult medium to regulate. However, Canadian law enforcement agencies must fulfil their fundamental obligations in protecting the public. As Barbara Roche, British under-secretary of state responsible for small business, commerce and industry, said recently, governments must not lose sight of the fact that electronic commerce deals essentially with human beings.

Other countries, such as the United States, France, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, are firmly opposed to unrestricted encryption. There is obviously an international consensus about the dangers of allowing the use of all kinds of encryption products. I wonder why the government has decided not to consider this problem. By not doing so, it seems that it has missed an opportunity to co-operate with other countries to solve this security problem. I hope that, during the study of this bill in the House, the government will see fit to change this provision and will allow Canada to join other countries in the fight against the misuse of encryption products.

I will now turn to the reasons this caucus is in opposition to Bill C-54. We acknowledge that electronic commerce plays an increasingly important role in the lives of Canadians. A legislative effort that will increase confidence in the technology and make Canada a world leader is in principle a good idea. However, we in this corner of the House want to see a farther reaching framework for electronic commerce, one that acknowledges and recognizes that 70% of Canadians do not have Internet access. That creates the risk of having a society of information haves and have nots.

Bill C-54 acknowledges the economic revolution that electronic commerce has become but does absolutely nothing to address the enormous displacement of workers that numerous experts have warned about. The legislation ignores the limitations of the telecommunications infrastructure and access. Canadians in rural areas are already concerned about massive increases in local phone rates that may make Internet use impossible.

Small and medium size businesses have complained of the prohibitive cost concerned with electronic commerce and Bill C-54 does very little to help them become more competitive.

We believe that for a bill which pretends to be the first step in making Canada a world leader in electronic commerce, Bill C-54 is simply far too short-sighted. Our caucus is calling upon the government to consider all the ramifications of the technology for all Canadians.

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12:15 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois proposed this amendment asking the committee to rework the bill because the question of privacy and protection of personal information is too important to be botched. It is important also because the main objective of the minister, the protection of personal information to promote electronic commerce, is not adequately fulfilled by the bill.

I will try to explain. Four years ago, Quebec passed legislation to protect personal information and privacy in the private sector. This was a first among North American states. When the bill was being prepared, many people said: “It is going to be awful. Companies will not be able to meet the requirements”. Yet, the legislation is working. I would be surprised to hear even a member from the other side say it is creating huge problems. I even suspect that the other side was rather proud of that bill and wished to use it as a model.

Repeatedly, members opposite promised legislation to protect personal information and privacy in the private sector, but the bill tabled by the Minister of Industry is clearly, as the title says, to promote electronic commerce.

This has several consequences. First, the bill is too weak to actually protect consumers. It will not even fulfil its stated objective of promoting electronic commerce.

I heard repeatedly during the OECD ministers meeting called by the Minister of Industry and the Canadian government that to promote electronic commerce one had to reassure consumers. This bill is too weak to do that.

Moreover it has another consequence which is totally unacceptable in Quebec. My colleagues mentioned it, but it must be said again. In Quebec this bill would have the effect of creating two systems in the private sector: one more demanding, and another one less demanding. This is extremely annoying.

But what is even more annoying is that this bill would give the government full arbitrary power to decide what part of an act similar to its own would apply in a given province, in this particular case in Quebec.

It is totally unacceptable for an act that is working well and known to be good and effective to be open to being invalidated in part, by sectors or categories, or globally, and above all to be subjected to unhealthy competition, which will serve no one, by creating less demanding laws that would apply to other institutions.

We were told that the government had no intention of preventing the Quebec act from being enforced. In view of the wording of the bill, we have trouble believing this. We know that governments change, even if the current one truly intends to protect it; we know that ministers change. Therefore this is totally unacceptable.

I said earlier that one of the flaws of the bill was its weakness. It is weak because it does not adequately address the need to protect privacy. We know how often privacy is invaded in this world of ubiquitous electronics. We know that files are being kept on citizens everywhere, that often they themselves are unaware of their existence, but that when they do and want to have these files corrected they are unable to do so.

The government is willing to have a voluntary code enshrined in the act, a voluntary code which, when dealing with the rights of citizens uses the conditional, which is very worrisome. I recognize the effort made by businesses to find the means to protect personal information, but this cannot in any way replace the state's responsibility.

I would like to quote from the speech delivered at the OECD by the French Secretary of State for Industry, Christian Pierret. He said: “On the one hand, it is up to the private sector to develop practices, standards and tools to build confidence”. He also said: “On the other hand, if businesses and users are to be the major contributors, confidence builders—we are asking much of them—governments have a responsibility to ensure public interest.

This is what we are asking of the Minister of Industry. Not only should he support businesses in their efforts and commend them, but he should also very clearly recognize that the government has the responsibility of safeguarding public interest so that the public can feel confident.

Mr. Pierret said that “Confidence needs a stable and safe legal framework protecting the legitimate interests of all actors. We cannot risk covering some organisations and leaving others aside”. In France, this legal framework exists. I wish to make it very clear. He says: “It is not an unlegislated area”. This is not really the case in Canada and the minister himself tells us that as far as the right to privacy is concerned, the various situations are different and unacceptable.

That must change. The minister is in a position to stop the inequities and inefficiency. He has to act. We will be happy to applaud him. He cannot satisfy himself with a half-baked legislation that does not afford Canadians the protection they are entitled to.

It is hardly a comfort that the bill includes conditions regarding the collection, storage and processing of data and individuals' access to information about themselves. We also worry because, in cases of non-compliance, the Privacy Commissioner can only conduct investigations and report, he cannot make a final decision.

Yet, access to one's record raises questions, such as how to go about changing incorrect information. Must one go to court? Not everybody can afford that. We all know as well that individuals will have to wait for the Privacy Commissioner's report. The bill is not effective because, not only are the requirements inadequate, the remedy itself falls short. It is practically non-existent.

The French Secretary of State said that privacy is a right for which governments are ultimately responsible, just as they must ensure prevention and repression—

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12:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member but her time is up.

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12:25 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the member for Mercier, our colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, for raising the alarm. She reminded us that privacy and personal information are issues of great importance and concern in our modern world and that the bill before us is not acceptable.

This is not the first time that the member for Mercier tries, with intelligent and forceful arguments, to make the government see the light. She did so for the employment insurance. She did so for the special legislation on the rail industry. However, we are constantly faced with a government that is dense, stubborn, insensitive and blissfully ignorant, one that rejects any possibility of co-operation.

Now, what we have to do is refer the bill to the committee, where the members can contribute fully. It is in committee that we can really improve a bill and ensure that we hear from our fellow citizens and understand their wishes.

The debate surrounding this bill is about the whole issue of protecting personal information, particularly in this case personal information detained by the private sector.

Mr. Speaker, you are a scholar and a human rights defender, so you will argue that it is a basic right in a world where electronics are so powerful, in a world where one can access extremely personal information just by pushing a button. It is a basic right and the question is why should it be considered, primarily, as a business matter.

Should we not be entitled to expect that the whole issue of protecting personal information be related to the Canadian Human Rights Act? That part should be related as much to the Canadian Human Rights Act which, as we know, not only forbids discrimination on several grounds but ensures that individuals can feel protected in an extremely important legislation governing the relations between the government and citizens as well as the relations between individuals within federally regulated corporations.

Before this bill can pass, the opposition, led by the member for Mercier, will use every means to see that this bill does not pass. I say bill, but I mean a mishmash piece of junk, written in the conditional, whose essence lies in the schedule.

Any law student knows as well as my colleague, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, a distinguished lawyer, that what is quintessential in a bill is its main body and its architecture. In this case, we have an absolutely incredible situation where what we are asked to pass as legislators lies in a schedule drafted in the conditional, with all sorts of confusions and imprecisions, so much so that any well-informed lawyer would give a C to a bill as bad as it is dreadful.

At this moment, I ask you to refrain from laughing. The strangest part in all of this is that we do not seem to be able to approach this bill in the context of privacy and access to information, and in the light of our sacred human rights—something which should be protected against all indiscretion and disclosure. The very title of the bill will help you understand readily the kind of confusion this government is dragging us into. Let me read it: “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.”

How blurry can you get? How far can you go to confuse things. These people must be living on some other planet to be able to write so awkward a title. Not a single freshman in law school would dare hand in an assignment containing a title like this.

What is the message we get from this bill? What are we to understand as legislators? I would not want to disturb government members, but I would like to know what we should make of this bill. We are told that the government should be concerned about privacy only in a commercial context or, more narrowly, in a context of electronic commerce.

For once in his life, could we not have expected the Minister of Industry to see reason and model this legislation on the one we have in Quebec, one of the most modern and avant-garde pieces of legislation, one which has stood the test of time during the four years it has been in force and which could have been built on by this government?

No, that is not what happened. After all, it is out of the question to take Quebec as a model. As the member for Mercier indicated, with clause 27, the federal government reserves the option of deciding whether or not a province that has similar or related legislation should be exempted from the application of the act.

This does not make sense. Mr. Speaker, you should herewith call back the bill, call on the government to do so immediately. The government would come away enriched from this debate, having gained the support of the member for Mercier, and of the Bloc Quebecois. I think it would also have the support of the Progressive Conservative Party, which obviously still has a long way to go before forming a government. It would also have the support of the NDP. Then we would all go to the committee and keep improving the bill, based on the legislation we already have in Quebec, to ensure that this half-baked, poorly drafted rag, which lacks vision and whose main feature is a schedule tacked on to the back of the bill, reflects the true guidance any state concerned with the public good should offer its citizens.

This is no trifling matter, when one thinks of it. As I said, had they taken Quebec as a model, they would have found out that our legislation on the protection of personal information deals not only with commercial transactions but also with labour relations.

I know that we have to treat the government members like school children, because they do not catch on very quickly; so, let me give the House an example. Let us take the example of an employee at Eaton's. His employer has in his file, in Toronto, personal information about him, about his career plan and other personal matters. This employee works at Eaton's in Montreal. Pursuant to the act that has been in effect for four years in the province of Quebec, that employee working in Montreal could have access to every bit of information that is related to him, even though the head office is in Toronto.

Would it be the case if Bill C-54 was in effect? No, because, in its present form and if it is not amended, the bill would not apply to staff relations. Even though there is interprovincial trade and Eaton's has branches outside the province of Quebec, the access to information will not be in a business context but in a staff relations one. We were told this is a flaw in the bill and that that Eaton's employee would not have access to that information.

Mr. Speaker, I see that my time is up, so I urge you to recall this bill. It does not make any sense. For heaven's sake, let us send it to committee so that it can be reworked.

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12:35 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to re-read the amendment put forward by my hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois.

That 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.

The purpose of this bill is to protect personal information. It is a very timid piece of legislation that could hurt a lot of Quebeckers.

In 1982, the Quebec government passed an act respecting the protection of private information in the public sector. All the other provinces and the federal government eventually passed a similar act. Let me remind the House that those acts only protected private information in the public sector.

In 1994, the Liberal government in Quebec, first under Robert Bourassa then Daniel Johnson, improved the 1982 legislation by passing an act extending the protection of private information to the private sector.

Therefore, the Quebec government is the only administration in North America to have an act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector, which has been in effect for four years now.

Bill C-54 comes as the federal legislation to protect personal information in the private sector which we have been promised many times.

I do not want to reread the title of the bill, since I only have 10 minutes, but the previous speaker, the oustanding member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, did take the time to read the very legalese title, which is eight lines long. At the end, we realize that the purpose of this bill is not really to protect personal information in the private sector, but to promote the sales of electronic equipment.

Bill C-54 is a very timid bill. Indeed, it could, as I said before, deny many Quebeckers rights that they had in the legislation passed in 1994 by the Liberal Party.

A little while ago, my colleague gave the example of an Eaton employee in Montreal and the parent company in Toronto, where all personal files are kept. The Eaton employee who would like to check if there are errors in his file can now do so under the Quebec legislation. But once Bill C-45, as proposed by the government of the Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice, passes third reading in the House, that employee will no longer have that right because the legislation says this is not a matter of commercial relations, but of labour relations. So he would lose that right.

If he really wants to see his file, he will have to go before a federal court This makes no sense.

This legislation should at least be greatly amended or better yet, struck from the Order Paper . The members for Sherbrooke and Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière only suggested that the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, where government and opposition members could make sensible and meaningful amendments.

What hurts also are the excessive powers given to the governor in council in section 27(2)( b ) of Bill C-54. This is dangerous. As I become more familiar with the evolution of this Parliament and of the whole country, I realize that we should not give more power to the Prime Minister, especially this one.

I will never forget—and I am sure all members will remember—the significant role played by the current Prime Minister in the Trudeau cabinet. They had agreed to apply the War Measures Act and almost 500 public figures were imprisoned in Quebec, including the late Pauline Julien. She was in jail for eight days without ever being accused of anything but only on the pretence that she might be dangerous. Those are the absurd situations that happened under the Liberal government in the early 1970s.

Orders originating from the Prime Minister's office show that, on November 25, 1997, in Vancouver, the Prime Minister himself ordered the RCMP to clear the place by four o'clock in the afternoon. Twenty seconds after the RCMP officer gave these orders, young students accompanied by their parents were pepper sprayed.

Fortunately, the RCMP had foreseen this. They had already brought with them not only pepper spray but also wet towels to alleviate the harm done to those students who are the ones who will succeed us tomorrow, who will be our elite, possibly future prime ministers, members of Parliament, speakers of legislatures or of the House of Commons.

This government will invest more than $2 billion in education. Appropriations have been voted and money has already been invested in the millennium scholarships, in an area which is not under federal jurisdiction. The government does this to make itself look good to students and then, a few hours later, it goes off and roughs up several hundred students before throwing them into jail. A student said that he was kept in prison for eight hours without any charge being laid against him and, worse yet, he was forced to sign a form saying that he would not go back to the APEC summit to demonstrate.

The Prime Minister misused his power. Bill C-54 gives him powers which will be transferred to future prime ministers. I think that this man can sometimes be dangerous. We must not give him powers. The Prime Minister went so far as to say that it could have been baseball bats instead of pepper spray. The next day, he said that the RCMP could have used water cannons instead. So why not do as China did in Tiananmen Square and use tanks and simply kill the protesters. He is a dangerous man and I do not understand that some of my colleagues refuse to pay lawyers so that we can finally know the truth about what happened on the 25th of November of last year, almost eleven months ago.

Therefore, I find it hard to believe that the government seriously wants to protect our personal information with Bill C-54, when it does not even respect our civil rights. In Canada, the right to express one's opposition to a dictator on an official visit or to applaud Queen Elizabeth II when she comes to Ottawa is well recognized.

Where is the government leading us? To a dictatorship perhaps? Mr. Speaker, I invite you to exert all the pressure you can on the government to convince it to withdraw Bill C-54 as soon as possible.

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12:50 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this most important bill. This bill is about a fundamental value in our society, namely the protection of privacy.

The need to adopt a bill to protect personal information and privacy is nothing new. Most provinces have already passed such legislation. The federal government was late in taking its responsibilities and introducing a bill that would apply to businesses under its jurisdiction.

We could have expected that lengthy delay to be beneficial to the Liberal Party, that it would have allowed it to introduce a bill that is coherent, effective, clear and in harmony with other jurisdictions. Unfortunately for all Quebeckers and Canadians, this bill is wide of the mark.

Instead of protecting privacy, this bill does nothing but protect the right of large private businesses to make profits with as few restrictions as possible. That is unacceptable.

In the next few minutes, I will review with the members some of the reasons why the Bloc Quebecois is categorically opposed to this incoherent, unfair and incomplete bill.

First, we deplore that fact the Liberal Party of Canada is using this empty and confused bill to try to convince Quebeckers and Canadians that it is concerned with the protection of privacy. No one can trust a bill filled with ifs and whens and shoulds, based on voluntary compliance and full of loopholes as far as protection of privacy is concerned.

First of all, I must stress the fundamental nature of the right to privacy. Others have spoken of this before me, but I am returning to it because, with this bill, the Liberal Party is putting the right to make a profit before the right to privacy.

The experts equate the right to privacy with other human rights such as the right to equality and justice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations 50 years ago and to which Canada was a signatory, states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. It also states as follows: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation”.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also impacts on the protection of privacy, even though this is not specifically in the charter. This is how the courts have interpreted sections 7 and 8 of the charter. Section 7 reads as follows:

  1. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Section 8 stipulates:

  1. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

In Quebec, as you are probably aware, this right to privacy is explicitly recognized in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which was enacted in 1975. There is nothing ambiguous about section 5, I repeat nothing ambiguous:

  1. Every person has a right to the respect of his or her privacy.

This is from Quebec's charter of human rights and freedoms. The right to privacy is also recognized in chapter III of Quebec's Civil Code entitled “Respect of Reputation and Privacy”, from which I will also quote. I urge my colleagues opposite to listen carefully. They would perhaps do well to look at what Quebec is doing and follow its example. Section 35 reads as follows:

  1. Every person has a right to the respect of his reputation and privacy. No one may invade the privacy of a person without the consent of the person or his heirs unless authorized by law.

I think I have shown that respect for privacy is a fundamental right that is recognized internationally, as well as in Canada and in Quebec. It is wrong for the federal government to introduce a bill that does not protect this fundamental right.

The situation in Quebec in this regard is particularly exemplary. The Government of Quebec is the only government in North America—that is correct—that has passed legislation protecting personal information in the public and private sectors. Furthermore, many experts say that Quebec's law, which applies to the private sector, is one of the best in the world.

It is surprising in this context that the government did not draw on Quebec's legislation. It would have achieved two objectives at once. It would probably have achieved its objective with its bill, but it ignored what inspired Quebec, preferring instead to focus on an empty bill. What are the two principles and two objectives the government could have achieved had it followed the Quebec model? First of all it would have ensured consumers would have top-notch protection. It would also have avoided all the inevitable loopholes and pitfalls of unharmonized federal and provincial legislation.

Had the government drawn on the legislation in Quebec, it would have met these two objectives. But it decided to ignore what has been done up to now in Quebec.

This leads us to believe that the real objective of this bill is not the protection of privacy, but a vague exercise in public relations. The government would like to use this bill to show that it responds to the public's concerns. This, however, is totally wrong. The bill does not meet the expectations of the people of Quebec who want their privacy protected. Instead, it serves commercial interests.

Even Canada's privacy commissioner notes that the working document proposed by Industry Canada and the Department of Justice focuses more on commerce than on protecting privacy. He also is critical of the federal government's defining the public as simple consumers and not as individuals with the right to protect their privacy.

The Bloc Quebecois and the opposition are not the only ones saying this. I just referred to the privacy commissioner of Canada.

In conclusion, one simply needs to compare the titles of the two acts. The hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve did it in an eloquent way earlier. Quebec's act is entitled “an Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector”, whereas the convoluted title of the federal act is “an Act to support and promote electronic commerce by protecting personal information that is collected, used or disclosed in certain circumstances”.

While the Quebec act seeks to protect privacy and governs all organizations, the federal bill only applies to commercial transactions. The Quebec act is clearly more strict and more comprehensive, in terms of its format, definitions, clarity and because of the power of order given to the commissioner. Such power simply does not exist in the federal legislation.

It is for these reasons that we categorically reject Bill C-54. The federal government refused to follow the example of the Quebec act, even though it is recognized as a model in this area.

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1 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening since this morning to the various members who spoke on Bill C-54 which, according to its title, as the member for Rosemont pointed out, and according to the wording of the text, is aimed most of all at supporting and promoting electronic commerce.

We see that the concern for protecting the privacy of the consumer, the individual, is secondary. This is mainly a trade-related legislation, if I may say so. This is also why the industry minister has moved it.

Of course, this may be required for certain reasons. Many business people or companies will come forward to justify the existence of this bill. In general, the main reason for being in business is to maximize receipts and revenues. The fewer the restrictions, the bigger the profits.

But privacy is still important. As the member for Rosemont put it so eloquently—I concur with everything he said—the main concern should be the protection of personal information.

I would like to tell members opposite, especially the industry minister who tabled this bill, where indiscretions can lead sometimes.

I recall reading in the newspapers a few years ago—I will not say in which province—that police officers, who had a bank of confidential information, were selling it to collection agencies. Some would say “He who pays his debts grows rich”. I realize that, but these collection agencies were reselling this information to organized gang members who were looking for defaulters to, often times, physically abuse them. In one case, if my memory is correct, they killed one of them. The biker gang paid a tracing agency a small fee and destroyed somebody's life.

So, it is very important to protect personal information that may seem trivial to some, especially those who sell them, but that could have really dramatic consequences for those who are victims of this type of indiscretion.

The main concern of the minister is not to protect citizens and their property, but mostly to look after the industry and its profitability and to respond to the industry lobby's requests to facilitate the creation and growth of this or that type of business; that is his duty and I think he has done a good job so far.

To come back to the bill itself, subsection 7(1) reads: “For the purpose of clause 4.3 of Schedule 1—”

As we know, Schedule 1 is the code of ethics that applies to those whose job it is to betray their fellow citizens by releasing information about them. This code of ethics is full of may's, shall's and should's. The bill itself and the schedule, which is only wishful thinking, do not distinguish between the various people involved in this business, companies like Equifax and others that have made a lot of money as informers, collecting and selling information, because they do not give anything away for free.

Clause 7(1) says this, and I quote:

  1. For the purpose of clause 4.3 of Schedule 1, and despite the note that accompanies that clause, an organization may collect personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual only if

(a) the collection is clearly in the interests of the individual and consent cannot be obtained in a timely way;

There is no problem with that. If someone is involved in a traffic accident and is unconscious, we want to know their blood type and we want to know their address to notify their parents. I understand why the government would include such a provision in this bill.

The bill says that personal information may be collected without the knowledge or consent of the individual if

(b) it is reasonable to expect that the collection from the individual would compromise the accuracy of the information or defeat the purpose or prejudice the use for which the information is collected;

I think about Equifax. If Equifax is gathering information on a person and that person does not want their financial, economic or even political past to be known, of course whoever is collecting the information for Equifax will choose not to ask the person directly knowing that they will not be willing to give that information. That opens the door for the gatherer to ask anybody for that information or to sell it to anybody. That is the danger.

It is not that the minister has not seen the dangers in his bill, but he has chosen to ignore them, especially the danger in clause 7(1)(b).

Paragraph (c) says this:

(c) the collection is solely for journalistic, artistic or literary purposes.

We can live with that. The provision that is really catastrophic for any individual is clause 7(1)(b). And it goes on. This bill contains plenty of loopholes.

The government has introduced a bill. There is a code of ethics—if I can call it that—that people who are in the business of buying and selling personal information have developed for themselves. The bill says that everything which is stated in the conditional in the schedule, in the code of conduct, is not compulsory. They can do it if they want to, if they think they should, if they could, if they would. Nothing is binding. Nobody is obliged to do anything.

The government would have us believe that this bill is truly aimed at helping people who are bothered by canvassers of all kinds and collectors using more or less clever tricks. A case in point is a company we all know, which obtained highly confidential information concerning the president of a fairly large medium size business, namely Mrs Verreault, who is from Gaspé like me, and a very successful businesswoman.

Her direct competitor, her business opponent, hired a firm which, through all kinds of shenanigans, using forged papers, fake ID and under false pretence, managed to gather information from various sources, putting at risk this lady's private life, as well as her economic and financial situation, for the benefit of one of her competitors.

Here we have the minister with his bill, Bill C-54, which only pays lip service to protecting privacy. It is not too late for him to realize all the harm, not so much the harm he has done himself, but the harm he could prevent from happening if he withdrew this half-baked bill. It is a botched job, it will not last long. As the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière said, I would be surprised if it lasts the winter. It is not because it will be repealed once passed by the Liberals; they have a majority, they can do whatever they want, even change a man into a woman.

The bill will be enacted, but it will be inoperative and unenforceable. I urge the industry minister to backtrack, and get back to the drawing board. At least, if he himself does not want to cause any harm, he should not permit others to do so.

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope you realize the additional burden put on me today by having to speak after the learned member for Chambly, a redoubtable parliamentarian who speaks so eloquently. This adds an element of stress to the privilege of rising in this House.

I will nevertheless do my best, as always. I beg your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and hope that, when we meet privately, you will not comment on the fact that my performance did not measure up to the one just given by the hon. member for Chambly.

That said, my opening remarks having been clearly made—I can see the members opposite smiling—it is a pleasure to speak on the bill before us. I want to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Mercier, for her work on this bill at the industry committee. She works hard on all issues, but especially on this one. This is a critical issue in that it concerns the rights and freedoms of the people we represent. That is why the member for Mercier has decided to lead the battle she is currently leading in this House. I want to congratulate her on that.

We all know, and I am not making this up, that the fact that we are a distinct society needs not be recognized in statutory law. There is no need to put it in writing; we in Quebec have moved way beyond the laying down of the concept of distinct society. We Quebeckers, Quebec residents, the people of Quebec, know that Quebec is a unique model in North America for its legislation regarding the protection of personal information.

Quebeckers know—and I am pleased to inform Canadians in the House and those listening at home—that, since 1982, Quebec has had a law protecting privacy in the public sector. It will be recalled that it was the Parti Quebecois government led by René Lévesque that passed this legislation ensuring privacy protection in 1982.

All the provinces and the federal government subsequently followed our lead and passed similar legislation. In 1994, Quebec passed a law extending the protection of personal information to the private sector. In fact, Quebec is the only state in North America with a law protecting personal information in the private sector, a law that has been on the books for over four years. The proof that we are in the vanguard is Bill C-54, introduced four years after Quebec passed its own privacy legislation.

I had another comment. Quebec's legislation is consistent with the International Bill of Human Rights, which considers the protection of personal information a fundamental right.

Section 5 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, passed in 1975, reads as follows:

  1. Every person has the right to respect of his or her privacy.

We know that Bill C-54 is at attempt to deliver on the many promises for a federal law protecting personal information in the private sector. But the title of the bill itself reads as follows: “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”.

Bill C-54 is not a bill to protect personal information. It is a bill that provides little protection for personal information in the commercial sector alone. The essence of Bill C-54 is its schedule, as my colleague from Chambly pointed out.

Its schedule is written in the conditional. We know the great importance of words in legislative texts. People who are governed by these laws say “No one is above the law, but we have to have laws written with words”. So the wording and the terminology of this bill are vital to those who have to interpret it.

In this case, the schedule is written in the conditional, which means it is only giving recommendations. We find “should, could, would”.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you have a legal background, but all young lawyers and students in the faculty of law watching us know that in the first year law courses we are taught the grammatical construction of laws. We learn to differentiate between “may” and “shall”.