Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour for me to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois on Bill C-6, formerly known as Bill C-54.
Bill C-6 is 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.
Today we are addressing a fundamental question in a society claiming to be as civilized, as ours does. At the same time, we are addressing something that is in a way the price of modernity, the price of progress. The most sophisticated of technologies now enable us to access what are considered the private affairs of individuals, and we can do so in a very subtle, very insidious and, let us face it, a very dangerous way.
Addressing this type of issue requires a fairly lofty debate. We need to realize that we are drawing here on the Declaration of Human Rights, passed 50 years ago now by the United Nations and subscribed to by Canada, which says that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and which states the following:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.
We are drawing at the same time on the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms, which provides that “Every person has a right to respect for his private life”.
To give an idea of the scope of the question and the extremely important issues here, I would like to quote a very important passage from a statement by the executive director of the Commission de la protection de la vie privée du Québec, Julien Delisle, of Quebec, summarizing the issues facing us today. These remarks were made in 1996 and are still current. He said:
Privacy protection is nothing less than the idea that we cannot live in a democracy in a free society without protecting our intimacy.
Ten years ago, it was easy to live incognito. At that time private enterprise and the government sector had access to a lot of personal information but in unrelated bits.
Telecommunications and the growing amount of information have totally upset this delicate balance by eliminating two natural mechanisms protecting privacy: the volume of paper and the impossibility of cross checking information from various files or agencies.
We have here before us a very important law, which has been debated in this House and which has been referred, as procedure would have it, to the other House, commonly known as the Senate. The other House also addressed the issue with witnesses, as did the Standing Committee on Industry. The result, the other House having shifted the debate to health and thus muddied the waters even further in the view of a very great many people, is greater confusion than ever.
Numerous experts were heard, including lawyers who waded into the issue. Their views were so divided and conflicting—with all due respect for lawyers, of which there are many, maybe too many, within the ranks of the Bloc Quebecois—that the debate was more confused than ever, and opinions often ranged widely, when they did not contradict one another outright.
Having gone through all that, we are back at square one. What this means to us is that there is a major flaw in the federal government's approach, in its shameless attempt to once again trample the Constitution of Canada, which is supposed to govern the actions of this government and of the provincial governments.
This does not come from us. It comes from no less than the Conseil du patronat, one of the many bodies I will list later that supported the Government of Quebec. The Conseil du patronat does not have very much in common with the present Government of Quebec, as we know, but it supported it and Quebec received incidental, intelligent and qualified support.
Having given the matter some thought, the Conseil du patronat made the following statement when it appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry:
In so far as there is no challenge to the constitutional jurisdiction conferred on the provinces with respect to the protection of personal information and privacy under section 80.13 of the British North America Act, and in so far as Quebec's lawmakers have already passed their legislation in this regard, it is to be expected that numerous disputes over jurisdiction will ensue.
So said the Conseil du patronat, and there is every reason to think its prediction will come true.
Another a very competent person, Jacques Frémont, a well-known constitutional expert from the Université de Montréal, appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry and said:
In my opinion, Bill C-54, now Bill C-6, violates the spirit and the letter of the division of powers as it should be understood in this country. It proposes an arrogant and intrusive approach to provincial jurisdictions. Privacy protection is essentially under provincial jurisdiction. In Quebec, for example, it is property and civil rights. It is the Civil Code. It is Quebec law that applies in addition to the Canadian and Quebec charters.
This allows us to say that on the very face of it there is a technical flaw in this bill which, to some extent, could be viewed as unconstitutional since it respects neither the letter nor the spirit of the constitution, more specifically section 92.13.
Moreover, the bill takes a giant leap that is a very serious infringement on what has so far been done by the provinces in this area, as provided for under the constitution. That leap is found in clause 3 of the bill, which reads as follows:
The purpose of this Part is to establish, in an era in which technology increasingly facilitates the circulation and exchange of information, rules to govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal information in a manner that recognizes the right of privacy of individuals with respect to their personal information and the need of organizations—
And here is what is new:
—to collect, use or disclose personal information for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances.
The important thing in this clause is that far from recognizing the fundamental nature of the right to privacy, it now tries to balance this right with the right of companies to do business. That leap is a very serious infringement, almost a business-like move, which fits very well into the current neo-liberalism where citizens no longer count, where they are only of interest to the economic system as consumers, and where—