Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Mercier for her amendment. This provides us with the opportunity not only for an important debate on Bill C-35, but also for one on the situation in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11.
It is my impression that Bill C-35, and Bill C-36 likely as well, are part of the tendency of a number of governments, including those of Canada and the U.S., to make use of the legitimate fears triggered by the events of September 11 among the population of many western countries, Canada and the U.S. among them, to concentrate more power on the executive, in order to ensure that they will have a whole series of means at their disposal to maintain what they consider to be the established order of things.
This bill, its clause 5 in particular, is imprecise, incomplete, dangerous and inappropriate. I must therefore thank the hon. member for Mercier for giving us the opportunity, those of us in the Bloc Quebecois, and members of all parties, the government in particular, to reflect a little on its scope before reaching a decision. Given the concerns voiced by certain Liberal MPs during the hearings of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, there is some hope that the government will backtrack on its desire to get this bill, with clause 5, passed, and will remedy the situation.
I will quote clause 5 if I may, which amends a section of the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act as follows:
The first paragraph stipulates that:
10.1 (1) 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 and to which an order made or continued under this Act applies.
This first clause goes way beyond current practice, as the RCMP has the responsibility to protect individuals and not events. This initial slip is of some concern, especially since a number of duties are shared among various police forces—the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec in Quebec and municipal police forces.
In the case of court action, and I use the example of the Quebec City summit—and this is public knowledge—the RCMP shot a lot more rubber bullets than all the other police forces. Had the Sûreté expressed its concerns over the excessive use of rubber bullets to the RCMP, could it have continued shooting rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators citing this clause, which sets out its primary responsibility?
It seems to me this clause represents an exceedingly dangerous shift compared to practices set out in current legislation.
Subclause 10.1(2) provides that:
(2) 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.
The government is now institutionalizing a practice that was to be exceptional, that is, the setting up of security perimeters, not to protect individuals or dignitaries anymore, but to ensure the proper functioning of events. This is obviously something that represents a very significant threat to individual rights, especially in connection with sections 2 and 3 of the charter of rights and freedoms.
Is this in fact nothing more than the codification of existing practice as members of the government including the minister have said on a number of occasions? Is this the status quo or does this clause not in fact increase the powers of the RCMP? We think it increases them. It increases powers that are not limited and this is lamentable. What the government calls reasonable measures and terms in such circumstances can be interpreted in any number of ways.
During the summit in Quebec City, a Montreal lawyer, Mr. Tremblay, contested the security perimeter in Quebec City set up around the congress centre on the grounds that it infringed his rights.
The judge ruled that his fundamental rights had indeed been violated, but that the installation of this perimeter had been necessary to protect the dignitaries taking part in the event, the summit of the Americas in Quebec City. So, existing legislation permitted the installation of perimeters when justified.
Now, this bill is institutionalizing the RCMP's right to install perimeters not to ensure the safety of dignitaries and visitors to these important events, but to ensure that the events themselves can be held. This is a violation of individual freedom of expression because—and the RCMP commissioner pointed this out—these perimeters must allow demonstrators and protestors to be heard by dignitaries and those holding these intergovernmental meetings.
Given the current tendency for these perimeters to grow ever wider, this fundamental right to be heard would be violated by this second paragraph. Paragraph 3 of clause 10 says:
10.1 (3) The powers referred to in subsection (2) are set out for greater certainty and 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.
The question still remains: if existing legislation allows the RCMP to exercise its responsibilities, why include a clause such as clause 5 in Bill C-35? If it maintains the status quo, it is not necessary. If it does not, it must be clarified and further codified, which is what governments in other countries which have used similar legislation have done.
During the debate on this bill in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Australia and New Zealand were often held up as examples. A closer examination reveals that the legislation adopted by the province of Queensland in Australia was of temporary application and provided for the creation of a security perimeter for a specific event only, the APEC summit in 1999. This is a far cry from clause 5 of Bill C-35, which institutionalizes for all time the creation of such perimeters for whatever reason.
In the case of the New Zealand legislation, limits are set on the duration and size of the perimeter. There is also a requirement to show need.
Clause 5 of Bill C-35 contains no such provisions. The RCMP would be able to decide on the extent and duration of such perimeters with no legal obligation to show need of any sort.
As the member for Mercier said, this bill is being considered at the same time as debate on Bill C-36, in which the definitions of terrorist act and terrorism are extremely broad. The Bloc Quebecois will also be proposing a number of amendments to that bill. We would hope that the governing party will open its eyes and see fit to restrict the scope of the legislation.
However, as I mentioned at the outset, what we are dealing with here is an offensive by the Canadian executive, the cabinet, in an attempt to arm themselves with tools that have the potential to be extremely repressive and that could very well violate fundamental rights. This situation—which, as I mentioned, has also caused concern among some of the Liberal members—must be reversed. Some statements were made outside the House, but also among committee members. A certain number of members spoke of their concern about the scope of clause 5.
Incidentally, until quite recently, there had been a resolution, submitted by the parliamentary secretary. This resolution warned the government against using clause 5, and asked that the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further study. If this recommendation had been adopted by the committee as proposed, we might have believed that the government was shifting its position. However, this morning, something quite different was proposed.
So what we are witnessing, is a form of sectarianism, that is the word for it, of dogmatism, practiced by the Liberal government. Many of them know it, clause 5 is extremely dangerous. It is a very dangerous shift in the balance between fundamental rights and security.
I hope that there will be enough members of the House, as a group, who are reasonable enough to vote for the amendment moved by the member for Mercier, an amendment that will ensure that Canada remains a land of rights and freedoms. If not, all I can say is that we are shifting towards an unexplainable form of totalitarianism.