Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-6. I would like to begin my remarks by reminding members of a terrible reality.
This bill found virtually no support in Quebec because Quebec already has legislation dealing with the protection of personal information. It came into force five years ago and it goes a lot further that the bill before us.
Earlier, I listened to the exchange between my two colleagues from the Canadian Alliance and from the Liberal Party. I could see all the difference there is between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Quebec, having reached a consensus, passed legislation on the protection of personal information that strikes a balance between supporting trade and ensuring that individuals are protected with regard to personal information pertaining to them. That legislation is used as a model throughout the world. It is one of the first acts of this kind ever to come into force and it is the most balanced.
At the same time, here, in the House, members of the Canadian Alliance say that it is government interference. Now we understand better why the bill proposed by the federal government is so bland. It proposed a bill that deals with the issue of electronic commerce without dealing directly with the protection of personal information. That is probably why the Conseil du patronat du Québec and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux or CSN—employers and unions, and that says a lot—all expressed their opposition to this bill.
The Quebec bar and the Chambre des notaires du Québec, those who deal daily with information and contracts, whose job it is to advise employers, business people and industrialists on how to manage information are saying this is a bad bill, and we already have our own legislation in Quebec.
Why such duplication? A few years down the road, we will probably have two court cases to try to decide which one prevails, and to find out what to do in such or such a situation.
Even if the federal government decided the Quebec legislation applied in Quebec, not the federal one, nothing would prevent an employer or an individual who felt unfairly treated by the act, to claim that the federal government's decision was not valid. It would be a terrible legal mess.
Action Réseau Consommateur is another opponent to the act. It got the picture right away. The federal act will protect people involved in e-commerce, but it does not protect them the same way the Quebec act protects every citizen. Today, people who look at consumer issues know the importance of telemarketing and the way the new technologies are being used, and abused, to reach people.
Also, the Conseil interprofessionnel du Québec and the Quebec access to information commission are opposed to the bill. The members of the commission are experts who, in the past, developed an interesting approach to dealing with personal information. They analyzed the situation and testified before the committee that, in their opinion, the bill was not acceptable.
Several years after the Quebec government acted responsibly and passed legislation which has been well received across Quebec, the federal government is stepping in. Quebec can see the legal and administrative complications that will stem from such duplication.
Not surprisingly, Bill C-6, which was formerly known as Bill-54, was hardly changed at all at that stage. Today, the bill is being amended by the Senate. This is why it has come back to the House of Commons. The Senate has proposed amendments to exempt for an additional year the health sector from the provisions of the bill dealing with the protection of personal information.
In a way, this is proof that the bill was hastily thought out and has not been fine-tuned. Even after C-54 and after C-6, we are now seeing amendments being tabled by the Senate to exempt the health sector when this problem was resolved a long time ago in the Quebec legislation.
We are a bit surprised that the federal government did not use it as a model from the start. This was all covered in the Quebec act. If the federal government wanted appropriate legislation for the rest of Canada, this was the way to go.
The Quebec act applies to all sectors. It applies to the health sector. It is very clear on the matter of consent. Section 21 states that, with the permission of the Commission d'accès à l'information, organizations may disclose without consent information from which personal information has been removed.
If the minister had used the Quebec legislation as a model for his bill on the protection of personal information in the private sector, we would not be in the mess we are in right now.
The Bloc Quebecois will oppose the Senate's amendments, because they do not change the principle of the bill, which the Bloc vigorously opposed in order to protect Quebec's jurisdiction in the area.
These amendments could result in one of three things: they may change nothing because there is no consensus and the boondoggle, as described to the senatorial committee, will continue; future amendments will be consistent with Quebec's legislation and will not cause any particular problems in Quebec; in the worst case scenario, the proposed amendments contradict Quebec's legislation, and once again the federal government will establish national standards in a strictly provincial area, which will create duplication and confusion.
We realized, when reading the proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, that the most reputed experts give totally different interpretations of the legislation. This bill was drafted initially for consumers, to give them confidence in e-commerce, but reputed Canadian lawyers have diametrically opposite interpretations of the bill. How will consumers figure it out?
Also, the Senate's discussions raised a number of problem areas that had already been identified by the Bloc Quebecois: jurisdictional duplication, confusion, and contradiction.
Finally, the Bloc Quebecois notes that the minister has agreed to bring forward, at the report stage, amendments to satisfy the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and announced that he approved the amendments recommended by the Senate to deal with the concerns expressed by the health sector.
But he dismissed out of hand numerous requests from the Quebec government and the civil society, asking unanimously that Quebec be exempt from the application of the legislation in order to avoid constitutional problems and duplication of regulations. In so doing, the Minister of Industry, like his government, is taking a hard line against Quebec.
We are faced with the evidence. This bill was put through by closure. The government made a decision. For Quebecers, this is a good example of the kind of country they live in.
A decision was made by the federal government to build the kind of Canada it wanted for all of Canada, to the detriment of any other form of development. While the Quebec society gives itself its own tools and is ahead in many areas of social policy, the federal government fails to take an approach flexible enough to give Quebec the breathing room it needs to reach its goals and put in place its policies, and Bill C-6 is an example of that.
I refer to a paper prepared by the hon. member for Mercier, entitled “Bill C-6 Promoting E-Commerce at the Expense of Privacy”. That is really the spirit that we found in the bill. It is best illustrated by the fact that it emanated from the Department of Industry.
It is quite normal for that department to adopt a commercial approach, but nowhere do we see the balance found in Quebec's legislation, which has been in effect for several years and has made the protection of privacy one of the highlights of government action in Quebec. It has allowed for proper decisions that have led to adequate jurisprudence and interesting results.
Bill C-6 is another case of the federal government deciding to impose its perspective and to refuse to confirm in its legislation that Quebec's legislation will take precedence in Quebec. A clause of this bill deals with equivalent legislation, and there is probably one in Quebec which could be recognized as such.
However, during debate in the Senate, it was realized that even if Quebec's legislation is substantially similar to Bill C-6 and will probably be designated as such, since it is set out in a different scheme than Bill C-6, it would be helpful to know on what basis the decision was made, although, in the absence of any criteria set out in the legislation we are, in a sense, operating in a bit of a vacuum. This is what Anita Finnberg, Counsel, Legal Services Branch, Ontario Ministry of Health, pointed out.
Senator Murray added that this was a very good point, and wanted to know on what basis the department, or perhaps the minister himself, could indicate that Quebec's legislation met the criteria of the clause dealing with “substantially similar” provincial legislation.
Even if the federal government were to say “It has been decided that the Quebec legislation was sufficiently similar and that it is to be considered the legislation that will apply within Quebec”, a lawyer might well defend the interests of his client by saying “There was even discussion in the Senate, when the bill was passed, to the effect that it was very difficult to identify whether a statute could be considered similar. It appears to me that, in the present case, the federal government has erred and the Quebec legislation ought not to have been considered similar, and consequently I choose to take this to all levels of the court system”. This would cost a considerable amount.
This is probably the situation the Conseil du patronat had in mind when it expressed opposition to the bill, saying “If there is one thing we at the Conseil do not need, it is more duplication, more ways of doing things so that we cannot operate properly and are stuck dealing with an inadequate bureaucracy”.
If the only thing involved had been facilitating e-commerce, we would, of course, all have been in favour. The other side of the coin, protection of privacy, would, however, have had to be well developed, would have had to be working properly, and we would have needed the assurance that the legislation will be well balanced and will offer sufficient protection, both to consumers and to business operators.
In conclusion, we are dealing with a bill much debated in the House of Commons, first as Bill C-54 and now as Bill C-5. Yet never have we had the impression that it was a bill that had been properly fine-tuned, one that would achieve the desired results.
The hon. member who spoke before me concluded by describing this as an interim bill—and this was a member of the Liberal majority. He called it an interim bill, and thus one that would need considerable improvement.
I think that, at this stage, we should say to people in Quebec and in Canada that we have not completed our work, that we should look at this again and find a more balanced solution, instead of passing an interim bill that will have to be reviewed in two, three, four or five years.
The legislation on electronic commerce must be flexible and, at the same time, it must send clear messages. The bill before us does the opposite. Here is an example where the federal government is intruding in an area where the provinces could easily have taken action, as Quebec did.
If it is true that, elsewhere in Canada, people want the same legislation enforced across the country, why was it not mentioned in the bill that a province can, if it so wishes, be exempted from the application of the act.
Then all the organizations opposed to this bill—the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the Barreau du Québec, the Chambre des notaires, Action réseau consommateur, the Interprofessional Council, the Commission d'accès à l'information or the Government of Quebec—would have supported it.
Members can imagine how different things would have been if the federal government had just admitted in this bill that, because Quebec already had its own legislation and because this is a matter under its jurisdiction, its choice would be respected and that Quebec would be allowed to enforce its own legislation. It also could have taken from the Quebec legislation everything it found beneficial. We would have avoided debate on amendments by the other Chamber to exempt health, when Quebec has already provided in its legislation a practical way that has been in effect for several years.
Possibly in view of its disproportionate taxation capacity and bureaucracy compared to its mandate, the federal government feels obliged to draft this type of bills, when we do not really need them. In particular, it tries to ram them in the House, forgetting that the Canadian mosaic contains an important element, Quebec, which has its own personality, its own approach, its own Civil Code. Instead of taking this into account, it decided to impose federal legislation on Quebecers within an area of jurisdiction already well covered by Quebec.
For all those reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will be voting against Bill C-6.