Mr. Speaker, sometimes speech is silver, sometimes silence is golden.
It is unfortunate that our colleague from Lanark—Carleton decided to use the time he had left, although that is his right, to complete his presentation. It is not that we do not recognize his erudition and his eloquence, but it had, I believe, been agreed among our various colleagues to allow the member for Cumberland—Colchester, who unfortunately had a plane to catch, to speak for a few minutes to this bill. He really wanted to and will not be able to, unfortunately, under the circumstances.
I know this is not common practice in this House, but I would like to mention, for the constituents of my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester and the people of Nova Scotia, that he wanted to speak in this House on the bill, but circumstances prevented him from doing so.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-35, in part because I have fond memories of my stint on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade as the former Bloc Quebecois critic in the matter. I refer to the act to amend the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act.
I would right off like to congratulate our colleague from Mercier on an excellent job in this matter.
This bill sets out the privileges and immunities enjoyed by diplomats and international organizations in Canada. It sets out Canada's obligations under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations that took effect in 1963.
I would first say a word on diplomatic immunity. It has, let us not fool ourselves, had bad press. We recall the death of Ottawa lawyer Catherine MacLean and the injuries suffered by her friend Catherine Doré. They were struck in March by a Russian diplomat posted to Ottawa, Andrei Knyazev, while he was unfortunately intoxicated. Mr. Knyazev escaped prosecution because of his diplomatic immunity. Russia, in a gesture I cannot support, refused to waive the immunity.
Members will recall that the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced at the time that he would do something so that foreign diplomats arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol would never drive again in Canada. I am surprised that the bill before us makes no mention of this. We will certainly have an opportunity to question the minister on the matter in committee.
People have trouble understanding that some people are above the law simply because they have diplomatic status. If a poll were taken today, I would not be surprised if a majority of the population said they were against diplomatic immunity. It is for this reason, curiously, that I come to its defence today.
Diplomatic immunity is essential for the success of international relations. In many countries of the world, arbitrary decisions take the place of the law. In some areas, there is no freedom of religion. In others, criticizing the government is a crime. If the diplomats we post to these countries were not protected by diplomatic immunity, they could be imprisoned at a moment's notice, or even executed for the slightest criticism or indiscretion.
In such conditions, without diplomatic immunity it would be difficult for the Government of Canada, and even for the House of Commons, to take action vis-à-vis these countries without endangering the lives and the safety of the Canadian diplomats posted there. It would be difficult to intervene at the UN General Assembly. Without diplomatic immunity, our diplomats would have trouble coming to the assistance of Canadians in troubled regions around the world. In short, it would be difficult for diplomats to play their role fully. And the role that diplomats play abroad is an important one.
One has only to read the Vienna Convention to realize this. Diplomats are responsible for representing their government, defending it, negotiating on its behalf, promoting economic, cultural, political and scientific relations and finally, protecting its nationals. Without diplomatic immunity, these functions could be interrupted as soon as there was unrest in the country to which they were posted. And it is at these precise times that diplomats’ functions are most essential.
Diplomatic relations between states or sovereigns have always existed. What is more recent are the diplomatic duties performed within international organizations. These functions really took off with the creation of the United Nations, after World War II. But it is not just the UN. Progress in the transportation and communication sectors have helped the development of international organizations. Some, but not all of them are created by treaty.
In addition to these international organizations, we also have major international meetings and summits that are not always under the aegis of organizations, but nevertheless play an important role in international relations.
The current Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act is ill-suited to this new situation, hence Bill C-35, whose principle is supported by the Bloc Quebecois.
Still, several provisions of the bill raise questions and even serious concerns. We will see in committee how these concerns can be lessened. It is too early to say whether we will support the bill at third reading.
The definition of international organizations found in the existing act is very restrictive. In order to be considered as such, international organizations must be established by treaty. However, a number of organizations, including the OECD and the G-8, are not established by treaty.
The definition of diplomatic mission is also very restrictive. Indeed, the existing act only recognizes embassies or consulates accredited to Canada. Diplomatic missions accredited to international organizations are not recognized. There is a need to adjust the legislation to the current reality, where international institutions play a major role.
Quebec's international reputation, and particularly that of Montreal, is well known. This is especially true in cultural and educational areas, in the environmental sector, and in the aviation industry, where Montreal is known worldwide through ICAO, among others, the International Civil Aviation Organization.
There are already 70 international organizations in Montreal, including 40 that are recognized through agreements with the Quebec government. Seven of these organizations are made up of states and would be covered by Bill C-35. Under Bill C-35, diplomatic missions accredited to these organizations will enjoy the same privileges and immunities as diplomatic and consular missions accredited to the government.
The presence of these international bodies in Montreal has a direct economic impact in excess of $185 million, as well as over 3,300 jobs. On top of that, there are the international meetings attracted by their presence in Montreal. This is another aspect of Bill C-35 which will help Montreal develop its international role. Major international meetings participated in by other countries, might enjoy privileges, taxation ones in particular, under this bill.
Nevertheless, the Bloc Quebecois is extremely perplexed by certain clauses in this bill, as I have already said.
First, the definition of international organizations. In the present act, an international organization is defined as any intergovernmental organization of which two or more states are members, while Bill C-35 adds “whether or not established by treaty”, which is a good thing. However, the French expression “regroupant” (bringing together) has now been changed to “formée de” (made up of) several states. Why?
Does this mean that an international organization of which several states are members, but also federated states or provinces, would no longer be recognized? I am thinking here, of course, of the Francophonie, and also of other organizations in which Quebec will be sure to participate, because they deal essentially with matters over which Ottawa really does not have much, if any, jurisdiction, such as culture, education or health.
The bill has as little to say about interparliamentary associations. These, as we know, are becoming increasingly important. Some even have a permanent secretariat here. I am thinking in particular of COPA, the Parliamentary Association of the Americas, one which is very familiar to you, moreover, Mr. Speaker, and is headquartered in Quebec City.
These parliamentary associations may have foreigners on their staff. They are not comprised of states, but rather of parliaments. The bill does not mention this, and thus affords them no particular tax status. Here we have an excellent opportunity to proclaim the importance of the international role of parliamentarians. It would be a pity to miss it. We are entitled to question such matters, and will do so in committee.
Second, clause 4 of Bill C-35 has an impact on the recognition of delegations of what the bill calls, and I quote, “an office of a political subdivision of a foreign state”. This in fact refers to federated states, or provinces.
I will take the trouble to cite the legislation, because the issue is subtle, but very important. Section 6 of the existing legislation provides that the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Foreign Affairs may decide jointly, and I quote:
—for the purpose of according... treatment that is comparable to
(a) extend any of the duty and tax relief privileges provided for in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that have been granted to that office of the political subdivision of the foreign state, and to any person connected therewith;
In addition, the act provides that the minister may also grant to the offices and archives of these political subdivisions any of the immunities accorded to consular premises and archives by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Bill C-35 limits this. The duty and tax relief privileges are still there, but the immunity of premises has disappeared? Why?
And even with respect to tax privileges, the act provides that the minister may grant them only if he is of the opinion that, and I quote:
—the office of the political subdivision of the foreign state performs, in Canada, duties that are substantially the same as the duties performed in Canada by a consular post as defined in... the Vienna Convention—
This is a condition that is not in the existing legislation.
Federal states, particularly in countries consisting of more than one people, are playing an increasingly large role in international fora. The example of Belgium comes to mind, but there are others. Not all countries are like Canada, which uses every means possible to prevent the people of Quebec from bypassing Ottawa's filter and communicating with the other nations of the world.
Decisions taken in international forums now affect all areas, including some that do not come under federal jurisdiction. The role of federal states in these international forums will only grow.
Why then does Bill C-35 limit privileges, when the times we now live in would seem to require that they be broadened instead?
The Vienna Convention is based on the rule of reciprocity of treatment. If Canada reduces the privileges accorded delegations of foreign federal states represented here, the odds are that foreign governments will be tempted to want to reduce the privileges accorded Quebec delegations abroad accordingly. I have trouble understanding this restrictive clause, slipped into a bill the purpose of which is to be more open.
Quebec has 31 foreign offices: six general delegations, one delegation, seven offices and 17 sub-delegations on every continent.
These Quebec representatives abroad deal with co-operation, immigration and economic development. They play an essential role.
In passing, I would like to highlight one of Mission Quebec's successful economic missions last year, in which they came back with a one billion dollar Spanish investment, in the riding of my colleague from Mercier, to be specific.
Such success would have been more difficult without the presence of Quebec representatives abroad. We must not make things harder for them. Indeed, we must assist them. And one would think that this is the role of the federal government, as long as Quebec is a part of confederation.
Yet we know how much the federal government likes throwing wrenches in the works of Quebec when it comes to their international presence. We know how hard they work at erasing Quebec's presence in the international arena.
Much has been said about the federal government's little book for diplomats posted abroad on how to deal with separatist officials. We recall as well that one African country, Mali, was threatened with having all of its development aid cut if it invited Quebec to participate in a meeting of the Francophonie in the 1960s.
France had to intervene to solve the conflict, which in the end enabled Quebec, the only francophone state in North America, to become a member of the Francophonie. Such events make us suspicious. The government should reassure about clause 4 of Bill C-35.
My third concern, and I will end on this, regards the powers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This aspect of the bill already concerned me. Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism act that was just introduced, increases my concerns.
Bill C-35 adds another section to the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act. It basically adds a new element that did not exist in the current legislation, that of security at intergovernmental conferences.
Indeed, the bill specifies that the RCMP, or the mounted police, as the Prime Minister calls it and as we used to call it 50 years ago, is responsible for the security of intergovernmental conferences.
One wonders what this clause has to do with the immunities and privileges granted to diplomatic missions and international organizations. This clause has nothing to do with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that the bill on foreign missions and international organizations will implement. Moreover, subsection 3 of this clause reads, and I quote:
—shall not be read as affecting the powers that peace officers possess at common law or by virtue of any other federal or provincial Act or regulation.
If this clause does not have any effect on existing laws, then why include it? I do not understand. Let us keep reading. The same clause provides that:
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has the primary responsibility to ensure the security for the proper functioning of any intergovernmental conference in which two or more states participate, that is attended by persons granted privileges and immunities under this Act.
In the past, that responsibility was jointly assumed by the RCMP and the provinces, as we saw during the last summit of the Americas held in Quebec City in April, when RCMP and QPP officers fully co-operated together. The presence of the QPP was indispensable and beneficial in maintaining order.
We can all think of this somewhat ridiculous situation where unilingual anglophone RCMP officers would ask in English unilingual francophone protesters to disperse.
In order to be effective, security measures must be applied jointly.
But let us continue reading clause 10. subsection 2 specifies that for the purpose of carrying out its responsibility under subsection (1):
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police may take appropriate measures, including controlling, limiting or prohibiting access to any area to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances.
This clause institutionalizes the security perimeter. It legitimizes any measure that the RCMP may want to take to ensure the security of international meetings. It gets the parliament's approval regarding measures that may be taken without parliament being involved, even indirectly.
It is not normal to close off cities, barricade neighbourhoods and fence off downtown areas so that heads of state can meet. I understand that it is necessary sometimes, but it is not normal. In fact, it is indicative of some discomfiture in the operation of international organizations, a lack of democracy and transparency and a lack of sensitivity to people's needs. This can only give rise to frustrations and then demonstrations.
This therefore is an abnormal situation that can be only temporary. These measures are exceptional and must be treated as such. There is no reason to institutionalize them, especially in legislation that will be permanent, since its function is to ensure the permanence of international relations. This is an important distinction.
As my time is running out, I will conclude. It is clear that this clause is drafted to measure for the G-8 meeting in Alberta next July. It is clear that it is intended to apply parliament's stamp to the security measures the police are preparing to take, which will be, as we may expect, extraordinary. We must avoid doing so. At the very least, we must avoid doing it in the context of legislation on diplomatic relations.
It is, however, all the more distressing, when we consider the context of the G-8 meeting. The anti-terrorism bill will have been passed by that time.
I point out that the definition of terrorism in the bill is so vague that a Liberal member went so far as to say that, under Bill C-36, the demonstrators at the Quebec summit could have been considered terrorists. We must bear this in mind when we consider Bill C-35. We must be extra cautious.
Freedom of expression, of association and peaceful demonstration are fundamental rights. They are in large measure what distinguishes democratic countries from totalitarian ones.
The Bloc Quebecois will have many questions for the minister about the appropriateness of putting this clause on the security of intergovernmental conferences in Bill C-35.
As can be seen, the Bloc Quebecois is raising numerous questions and concerns. Those questions will have to be answered and our concerns will have to addressed during consideration of the bill.
Nonetheless, we acknowledge the need to modernize the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act. Diplomacy is no longer practiced the way it was 30 years ago nor is it in the same forums.
Consequently, despite all the reservations that I mentioned, the Bloc Quebecois will support the principle of the bill.