Mr. Speaker, since September 11, all governments on this planet have been faced with a problem that is, if not entirely new, of a scope never before known.
All countries are today faced with new terrorist threats, which are creating something akin to panic in the population at large. Anthrax and other types of alerts are keeping emergency services constantly in response mode. Without wishing to be a prophet of doom, I feel we are far from seeing the end of this.
The danger we face--over and above the attacks or, in certain cases, the supposed attacks--is the gradual paralysis of the economy, of democratic institutions, and of the way we live within society.
All heads of state without exception--at least all those we have heard from--are calling upon us daily to continue to live our lives as normally as possible, as otherwise the terrorists will have accomplished their objective.
Our governments have, as far as they are able, tried to react so as to reassure their population. We are told this over and over. We are told that all steps have been taken to ensure public safety. Nevertheless, people everywhere are showing how insecure they are feeling. They are still extremely fearful.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has just introduced Bill C-36, which would, as its title indicates, amend the criminal code, the Official Secrets Act, the Canada Evidence Act, the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act and other acts. This is known by the short title of the anti-terrorism act.
We agree with this bill in principle. We agree that terrorism must be fought against and also that we have to equip ourselves with the means to do so, and consequently must amend legislation so that we can do a better job of it.
We humbly submit, however, that we need to avoid falling into the trap that lies before us, that is to act too hastily, to pass new legislation which would far exceed its objective and would open the door to all manner of abuses.
Periods such as the current one can easily lead to excesses. Canada's recent history is not exempt from such abuse. Remember what happened during the second world war. Some serious abuse took place in the past in spite of the fact that we lived in a democracy. Citizens were stripped of their rights, even though they had not committed any crime.
Notwithstanding the current situation, we want to maintain our fundamental rights. We want to remain free. We do not want our democracy to be tarnished again by abuse. We must be cautious and take the time necessary to examine all the repercussions that could result from the passage of Bill C-36.
The September 11 terrorist attacks and the continuing threats at present have reached an extraordinary level and created an extraordinary context. Bill C-36 must therefore be an extraordinary piece of legislation to deal with an extraordinary situation.
Should the terrorist threat diminish, several of the measures being considered through Bill C-36 would become unacceptable and the balance between security and freedom would have to be readjusted.
In a democracy, this is always a fragile balance. We must not forget that. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is asking the government to include a sunset clause whereby certain provisions of the bill would no longer be in effect after three years, unless of course the House decided otherwise at that time and the need to extend such provisions was demonstrated. We are also asking that this act be reviewed on a yearly basis.
There are other aspects of Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism act, that raise concerns. It seems to us that the definition of a terrorist act goes too far. It is much too broad and could lead to abuse against groups or individuals who have no connection with terrorism.
We had a very good example of this in the House today when it was suggested that certain groups of protesters at the Quebec summit be deemed to have committed terrorist acts.
The bill would enable the attorney general to withhold information by not applying the Access to Information Act, this without an evaluation by the privacy commissioner and without a judicial review.
This means that the attorney general, or Minister of Justice, is giving herself the authority to withhold information from the public, to remove elements of information, this without any consultation with the information commissioner.
Another element which appears to carry some risk and which deserves to be studied further is that the Minister of National Defence could intercept international communications simply by making a written request to the Communications Security Establishment.
This means that the Minister of National Defence could claim the power to intercept international communications between two groups, individuals or businesses simply by asking the Communications Security Establishment in writing.
A number of other questions could be raised and some of them already have been raised by the media. Doubts have arisen.
Hopefully the bill will be carefully examined before being passed. As elected representatives, it is our duty to ensure that the bill attains the objective for which it was created. As elected representatives, it is our duty to ensure that the bill does not go too far and violate the freedoms of the citizens who elected us.
In my remarks, I also wanted to remind members that the best way to fight terrorism is by preventing it at the source. As a democracy and as a society, we must ask ourselves what the real issues are and try to come up with satisfactory solutions to them.
It is by fighting poverty and misery, as we have repeatedly said, that we will best succeed in changing things. It is by educating and teaching that we will best be able to fight blindness and loosen the grip that dictators have on poorly educated populations. It is by sharing knowledge and resources that we will best succeed in creating conditions that will prevent terrorist groups from springing up. It is also, and most importantly, by restoring assistance to developing countries that we can best intervene. It is a long term process that we must undertake immediately.
Military strikes are not enough to eradicate terrorism. Nor is tough legislation. These are short term measures. What is needed is a new world order where human beings are held in greater value.