Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the people of Surrey Central I am pleased to lead the debate on Bill C-35, an act to amend the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act.
My colleagues in the Canadian Alliance and I resent the sneaky way in which the bill was introduced. The first debate is taking place four days after the bill was tabled in the House and three days after opposition MPs had a first glance at it. We are debating the bill on a Friday when most MPs are on their way to their constituencies for a one week break.
The government is trying to slip some major changes through parliament by hiding them in an innocuous looking act surrounded by mundane housekeeping provisions. There has been no advance notice from the government side, no media coverage and no press release from the department. There was no legislative summary or explanation of any kind provided and the Library of Parliament was not instructed to prepare such documents.
There was no meat on the bones in the briefing of the opposition by the department on Wednesday. There was very little in terms of information regarding the legislation. We did not have time to consult and debate it in our caucus. The opposition was not given enough time to adequately prepare, research and develop an indepth analysis. Perhaps this was intentional, and I am tempted to oppose it on that basis alone.
The bill amends the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act to modernize the privileges and immunities regime. This would allow Canada to comply with its existing commitment under international treaties and to respond to recent developments in international law. It corrects the deficiencies in the existing definition of an international organization. It attempts, perhaps as a marketing tool, to encourage international organizations to come to Canada. It empowers the RCMP with the primary responsibility of ensuring the security and proper functioning of intergovernmental conferences.
This authority supports the security measures taken by the Canadian police in fulfilling Canada's obligations to protect persons who have privileges and immunities under the act. It attempts to give security and protection a statutory basis. Security at international conferences will be quite significant, especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks and the upcoming G-8 summit in Canada. Despite all of these significant issues the bill is labelled as housekeeping in nature.
The bill proposes roughly 10 amendments in five broad categories. The first category of amendments modernize the legislation to comply with Canada's existing commitments under international treaties and to respond to important new developments in international law.
For example, international chemical weapons inspectors that conduct inspections under the chemical weapons convention would enjoy immunity at par with that of foreign diplomats. It would enable the inspectors to import specialized technical equipment without paying customs duty.
The second category of amendments correct deficiencies in the existing definition of an international organization. Traditional definitions cover only international organizations of a formal institutionalized nature based on treaty such as the United Nations.
Unstructured intergovernmental organizations such as the G-8, OSCE and APEC are not covered by that definition. This is a concern because non-treaty based organizations are less accountable to Canadians since they are established by an order from cabinet rather than by a treaty which is then subject to review in parliament.
The Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act went into effect in 1991. If this is a housekeeping change, albeit an important one, why did it take the weak Liberal government over eight years to correct these deficiencies? It has been sitting on these improper definitions for eight years.
This shows the government's general attitude of neglect. The government has neglected so many important issues facing Canada such as the budget, national security and safety, health care issues, defence and agriculture, it is always taken by surprise by situations such as this one.
The third category of amendments gives statutory authority to support security measures for Canadian police to provide security and protection to persons who attend high level meetings held in Canada such as APEC, the summit of the Americas or the G-8.
The government says that the legislation clarifies the role of the police, but in the same breath the amendments authorize the RCMP to take appropriate measures that are justified, reasonable and proportionate under the circumstances. The government uses words like reasonable, appropriate, proportionate and so on.
Lawyers make millions of dollars from vague words like reasonable, appropriate and proportionate. The Hughes report on APEC cost over $5 million. Bill C-35 would multiply that by many times. It might also curtail freedom of expression, the right to peaceful protest and assembly.
Does it mean that pepper spray, stun guns or even bullets would be appropriate and reasonable? I wonder if this is an escape valve for the Prime Minister to avoid political controversy such as the one over pepper spraying at the APEC summit in Vancouver in 1998.
The reason the Prime Minister and his government do not want to clarify the powers of the RCMP and write them in common law is that it potentially leaves room for political interference. They prefer to keep the directions vague so that they can exert political influence whenever they need to do so.
How could the police possibly satisfy the charter requirements? If the bill were passed it would be an invitation for endless charter challenges because the terms are vague. The words appropriate and reasonable cannot be defined clearly. It would provide wide umbrella coverage for the RCMP to take any action against people who are protesting peacefully. This cannot be justified.
This is a matter for debate and will probably lead to many court cases. I do not understand what the difference would be then between the approaches taken in a repressive regime that we condemn and in a free and democratic Canadian society.
Bill C-35 leaves no question of who is in charge of the situation since it is the primary responsibility of the RCMP to ensure security for the proper functioning of an international event.
The department's shallow briefing notes state that these amendments have no impact on the powers of provincial and municipal police forces. Some members on the other side say that these amendments may not give the police any new powers. Why are these amendments there in the first place? Is it a sugar coated but bitter medicine?
The common law authorities of police forces have been clarified in legislation in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Why do we not do that in Canada? Our criminal code says that police officers are responsible only to the law itself.
These amendments may affect any number of outstanding court cases to date of protesters arrested at the summit of the Americas in Quebec City or during APEC in Vancouver, British Columbia. That has to be seen.
In principle there are few problems with clarifying the role of who is in charge of security at these important meetings. My concern is that Canada's police, especially the RCMP, is already stretched to the limit.
The Canadian Police Association recently accused the government of playing shell games with the security of Canadians. It said in a press release that when it comes to security at our borders and airports Canadians should not be lulled into a false sense of security. It explained that the RCMP had to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. It means that the RCMP has been moving officers to priority areas in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
If the RCMP has to reallocate officers from one assignment to the other then we have to study the impact of adding to those demands and responsibilities without adding further resources. Could this mean that when the G-8 comes to Kananaskis next year RCMP officers will be pulled away from their duties providing security to our citizens and communities and leave them without protection?
The fourth category of amendments seek to clarify provisions granting immunities from immigration restrictions to alien registration and overriding the Immigration Act provisions that prohibit the entry to Canada of inadmissible persons but not overriding the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
According to the amendment, when an order is passed under the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act the requirement to grant a minister's permit under the Immigration Act would be removed. The minister's permit would be granted by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration because it is related to immigration matters, but under this amendment that would be overruled.
What would happen if a leader or a representative of a country happened to be a criminal or terrorist? The amendment overriding the Immigration Act would allow for that criminal to have easier access to Canada because he or she would be given access by the foreign minister or immigration minister who may not have all the checks and balances in place.
Where would one draw the line on the nature and magnitude of criminality? What kind of minor criminal act would be exempt? What is the definition of a minor criminal act? We do not know. September 11 brought security concerns to the forefront of everyone's consciousness.
Bill C-35 would allow the foreign affairs minister to supercede the authority of the immigration minister by allowing him to sign an order for a foreign visitor to be admitted into the country who would otherwise not be allowed to come to Canada.
I hope the Minister of Foreign Affairs does not want the House to rubber stamp this power grab.
If we take a less neutral example, not a Nelson Mandela, but a leader known to have committed human rights abuses or supported terrorism, the government would have the authority to admit him or her on political grounds, if they thought it furthered Canadian interests. What a ridiculous idea.
This gives more power to the government than with which most Canadians would be comfortable. Also, this power grab by the Minister of Foreign Affairs creates a situation where a serious criminal would be treated better and differently than an ordinary person with a minor criminal record.
The bill would create a double standard. For instance, a person with a criminal record, even a minor criminal record, would not be allowed to enter Canada under special privileges. Whereas a spouse of a Canadian with a minor criminal charge would not be. That person would be allowed to enter Canada, despite the person's criminal record, but an ordinary person with a minor criminal record would not.
I do not say that criminals should be admitted to Canada, but for the sake of this example it might be a case which would cause a Canadian family to split. It could also cause a marriage to break down because that individual, who may have committed a minor criminal offence, would not be able to rejoin his or her family in Canada. Allowing the government to use vague words like national interest is not good enough.
It is already clear that the act centralizes a lot of power in DFAIT. Is it the bureaucrats, or the Prime Minister or the cabinet who will decide? We do not know that because the bill does not tell us. The amendment is vague and leaves wide latitude that can be abused or even accidentally or unintentionally erred.
We know that at the francophonie games a record number of sports persons applied for refugee status. Imagine if the participants had come under permits from the foreign affairs minister, superseding the immigration minister. Where are the checks and balances? Who will find out what their backgrounds are? It brings the immunity of delegates to international conferences and international organizations into question.
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Canadian authorities do not have the right to arrest, detain or question diplomatic personnel. Canadian authorities cannot search or enter their premises. Also, the convention obliges Canadian authorities to protect diplomatic premises. This also includes the premises of not only the diplomatic missions, but also the premises of international organizations. This means that a terrorist or a potential criminal entering Canada under the guise of diplomacy would not only be immune from prosecution in Canada, but our authorities would also be responsible for his or her safety. This is giving the red carpet treatment for potential terrorists, spies from other countries, criminals or even brutal dictators.
The bill would do two things to supposedly improve the immunity of foreign officials in Canada. First, it would expand the number and type of people who would enjoy immunity. Second, it would deepen the level of immunity they would enjoy.
How about extradition if someone under diplomatic privilege is charged in another country? Could that person be immune and not extradited to that country? We do not know that. The bill does not touch on that part at all.
The fifth category of amendments are called housekeeping amendments. There are many amendments, but one that got my attention. It is disgusting that it has been included in a supposed housekeeping section. It clarifies the governing statute for diplomatic missions to import liquor into Canada.
Canadians still remember the immunity given to the Russian diplomat who killed a Canadian citizen last year while driving drunk. This was in spite of a number of previous drunk driving allegations in Canada for that individual. I wonder if that Russian diplomat was ever charged for his crime anywhere, in Canada or in Russia. We do not know that.
The question about this amendment is not duty free status. I do not have a problem with that. The question is about the drunk driving aspect. The bill does not mention any measures about diplomats under immunity driving drunk or being involved in a fatal accident while driving drunk. Not only that, according to the bill this murderer could be allowed back into Canada as part of a Russian delegation to a conference. While he is on Canadian soil, he could kill someone else and his immunity would protect him again. That is pathetic.
The government now wants to expand the number of people enjoying these privileges. This is a serious concern. Our briefing by the department said that this section was to clarify the confusion over federal and provincial jurisdiction in the area of liquor imports and diplomatic rights because the liquor imports were a provincial jurisdiction. This means the potential for harm is greater than before the bill was introduced. It highlights the insensitivity of the government.
The lack of proper checks and balances is already a problem with the general concept of immunity and the bill would only make the matter worse. Maybe that is why the government is keeping the bill so quiet on a Friday, when no one is participating in the debate.
Some other serious concerns I have with the bill are covered under three categories. The bill does not deal with so many other important issues, for example, the corruption at foreign missions. The bill is in respect to the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act. When we talk about foreign missions, we must talk about how our foreign missions operate. The corruption at foreign missions is a serious issue in the wake of security concerns. Our security begins at our foreign missions abroad. They screen people before they even enter Canada. They are our first line of defence.
Some strange things have been going on in Canada's diplomatic missions overseas. Let me first point out that most of our diplomats and foreign services civil servant employees are very honest, hard-working and dignified individuals. I commend them for the jobs they do in representing Canada abroad. However, I will mention that there are a few bad apples as well.
I will give some examples. In Damascus a Syrian national skimmed close to half a million dollars in visa processing fees and tampered with the immigration computer for years. The RCMP managed to recover about a quarter of a million dollars from that individual in 1999.
In the New Delhi and Islamabad High Commission offices, corruption has been reported frequently. Based on the information given to me by my constituents, I reported this to the immigration minister and the RCMP.
After the investigation they fired some locally hired employees based on the information I provided them. The question is who was minding the queue.
It has been reported that an office boy at the Canadian high commission in New Delhi, who was supposed to mail out Canadian visas after they were issued, did not mail them. He sat on those passports, hiding them in his drawer, yet wrote down that he mailed them. Every passport had an address so he sent his agents to the holders of these passports and extorted bribes from them before releasing their passport. That individual is gone.
In Beijing an internal report for CIC warned of organized crime groups providing fake documents to people interested in obtaining student visas as a back door entrance to this country. According to the facts, at least two-thirds of the more than 5,000 visa applications processed in Beijing in 1999 were linked to organized crime.
In Los Angeles three Americans from the Canadian consulate were fired in 1997 after they were connected to theft and the illegal issuing of visas.
According to reports, an RCMP spokesman said the mounties had investigated 38 cases of fraud and theft in about 20 Canadian diplomatic missions in 1998 alone. The extent of corruption and abuse is giving Canada a black eye.
In Hong Kong the RCMP quietly investigated the alleged infiltration of the computer assisted immigration processing system, we call CAIPS, by local staff at the mission who were said to be linked to triads. Remember these foreign missions are our frontline of defence. An estimated 788 computer files containing sensitive background information on criminals and businessmen wanting to emigrate to Canada were allegedly deleted from the computers. In addition, the RCMP probed the alleged disappearance of more than 2,000 blank visa forms from the embassy. We do not know who got the visas issued on those 2,000 blank forms or whose files were among the 788 computer files deleted.
The RCMP confirmed investigations of a large immigration consultancy firm believed to have used a secret diplomatic contact and possibly a political contact as well. There is evidence the RCMP knew that the suspect in the case of the missing Hong Kong files on gangsters was living British Columbia. Some RCMP officers were puzzled as to why there had been no follow-up on that information. According to a newspaper report that suspected individual is living in British Columbia in a beautiful mansion.
Our foreign missions are our firstline of defence for Canada, but I do not see anything in the bill that would protect and restore the integrity of our foreign missions. Despite an abundance of leads, the discovery of fake Citizenship and Immigration Canada stamps in the office of a locally engaged staff member, there have been allegations of political pressure to cover up the investigations.
A number of RCMP officers were assigned to the case and then abruptly transferred just as they made significant finds, according to a former senior employee of the department.
Canadian diplomatic staff in Hong Kong were reported to have been treated to nights at the horses races, parties and an abundance of gifts. The RCMP investigated a night at the races involving red envelopes stuffed with dollars. The investigation showed that what they were doing was carrying on with corrupt officials at the horse races and giving them huge sums of money. They showed that they won the money at the horse races and black money was turned into white money which they could then bring into Canada and do whatever they wanted with it.
In some cases the whistleblowers were harassed, punished and even dismissed from their jobs. Despite all that, no independent public inquiry into these cases was held. It is pathetic. We need a public inquiry into what went on or may still be going on in some of our diplomatic missions abroad. We need to fix the system. We need to restore the integrity. We ought to make it fair but there is no political will by the government to do that. There is no political will on the government benches to restore integrity in Canada's foreign missions. They are the defence line for us when people want to enter Canada.
The waste and mismanagement in our foreign missions are big embarrassments which have not been addressed in the bill. A civil servant blew the whistle on the spending of millions of taxpayers' dollars to keep Canada's diplomats in the lap of luxury. After senior foreign affairs officials violated treasury board guidelines, that official blew the whistle and we know what happens to the whistleblowers in this country. We do not have any whistleblower legislation. I have a private member's bill on whistleblowing but I do not know when I will have a chance to debate it in the House.
According to that employee, expensive sites have been purchased for offices or residences but they are left unoccupied for many years. If the official does not like the property, he or she is allowed to rent another expensive apartment to live in and the initial investment is wasted.
One site was purchased in Turkey in 1958 and it is still unoccupied. Why did we invest in buying that property in 1958 when we are not using it? It is the taxpayers' money. The litany of waste and negligence has been reported. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been blown on staff housing from Tokyo to Turkey to Mexico. I am not talking about the utilization of the money; I am talking about the waste, the real waste, the real mismanagement.
The civil servants who blew the whistle have been suspended. They have been harassed and their careers have been paralyzed. Has there been a public inquiry? No, there has been none whatsoever. Is there a political will to fix these problems? No, we do not see that. Is there anything in the bill to address these issues dealing with foreign missions? No, there is nothing about these issues mentioned in the bill. This is an area of concern.
Another important issue that the bill ignores is Canada's membership in international organizations. I remind members that the title of the bill is “Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act” but there is no mention of Canada's membership in international organizations in the bill.
Canada belongs to many international organizations. Perhaps we are the world's greatest joiners. Some organizations shut down in the 1970s and those organizations are still on Canada's membership list. We should join international organizations if we intend to do a good job, otherwise we should not join them. We should not join them just for the sake of joining.
What are the criteria for joining the international organizations? We cannot find them anywhere in the bill. It does not address that issue at all.
We know for sure that the costs Canadian taxpayers a lot. Canada's total expenditure on international organizations is difficult to assess. A few years ago we wanted to do some research but we could not get that information. Even the Library of Parliament could not get enough information. It is difficult to assess.
One CBC study estimates that Canada spent as much as $1 billion annually on the United Nations and its related agencies. In 1999-2000 assessed grants and contributions to international organizations were said by DFAIT to total about $275 million.
Canada has a tendency to view multilateralism as an all embracing panacea. Its reflex reaction to international problems has often been to support and even aggressively promote the proliferation of international organizations.
One example is the Arctic Council, founded in 1996. Touted as a forum for Arctic issues and sustainable development among circumpolar states, its precise purpose and utility still remain unclear. Moreover, United States enthusiasm for the council is limited. As a result, the council cannot deal with military security matters. It is open to question whether Canada's membership in such organizations bears tangible relation to our national interests. This concern is not new.
In 1928 the then opposition leader, R. B. Bennett, noted that the Mackenzie King government's enthusiasm for signing international agreements did not clearly advance Canada's interests. He questioned the increasing evidence as the days went by of a desire on our part to find a place in the sun by signing conventions and treaties, thus suggesting that we had become a very important people. Importance in the world is not measured in any such manner. In other words, joining a proliferation of organizations does not by itself promote Canada's influence and credibility. Bennett added that that is not a test of our greatness.
Under the current Liberal administration, Canada signed the Kyoto, Beijing and Rio conventions without any intentions whatsoever of implementing them.
Ottawa seems to be proud of its record of paying our dues and frequently criticizing our major ally, the United States of America, for deliberately falling into arrears. Whatever Canada's record is on paying fees, no international organization that receives tax dollars should be immune from audits by the Canadian government. If we pay the dues, we should have the right to audit.
For example in 1995 UNICEF disclosed that $10 million went missing from its Kenyan operation due to fraud and mismanagement by its employees. Some $10 million from UNICEF was missing. In 1998 an independent audit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted serious failings in the agency's financial management procedures, dubious accounting practices and possibly fraud at a cost of millions. That is what the situation is with some of the organizations.
These reviews show that we must examine the effectiveness and utility of an international organization to Canada before we join it. After such a review has taken place, parliament should decide what course of action is necessary, whether we should continue our membership, withhold the fee to induce reform in that organization, or withdraw fully from the organization.
I recommend that: Canada engage in international organizations which clearly promote conditions for expanding Canadian political and economic interests; the role of parliament be strengthened to provide genuine oversight over the activities of international organizations and the extent to which they serve Canada's national interests; Canada participate in audits and reviews in the international organizations with a view to remaining in those that advance national interests and consider withholding resources to induce reform.
In conclusion, this is a sneaky bill which does not deal with those important issues. It hides the important issues and disguises them as housekeeping changes. I mentioned that waste, mismanagement, corruption and membership of international organizations are serious concerns with respect to the bill.
Since it has been indicated that my time has expired, I will end my speech here but I have more to say.