Madam Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the very distinguished member for Prince George--Peace River.
I think this is the fourth time I have spoken to the bill and I did not think I had a lot to add, or at least that is what I thought when I made my notes. However, the more I hear of it and the more I put it into relevance with everything else that is going on around us, the more I see that the overall approach here is an attempt by the government to take over everything. It is an attempt to exclude parliamentarians, to prevent us from doing our jobs in any meaningful way and to concentrate the decision making process in a very small circle.
Bill C-35 amends the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act to expand immunity to a lot of people and a lot of foreigners who have never had it before. It involves a lot of changes in procedure. It was presented as a housekeeping bill but the more we get into it, the more we see how profound and important it is. It changes the way we do many things and is a contradiction in many ways to the parallel bill, Bill C-36, which was passed last night.
Bill C-36 restricts Canadians, imposes new laws, new punishments and restricts civil liberties, while Bill C-35 expands immunity against all of our laws to a group of people that is not even named or identified. The system is not even named or identified to my satisfaction. To me it is a contradiction that we are expanding immunity to these unknown people who are going to come to Canada, while for Canadians we are creating new laws with new restrictions and taking away civil rights from people in order to deal with terrorism.
It is a complicated issue. I know Canadians want us to deal with terrorism and that is why Bill C-36 was passed last night, but there are things in Bill C-36 that make many of us feel uncomfortable.
One thing that really stands out in Bill C-35, and I have spoken about it many times, is the simple reluctance by the government to report to parliament who makes claims under the new expanded immunity regulations. I do not understand why there is reluctance to put this into legislation.
The minister says he will report four times a year on who files claims against immunity but he will not put it into legislation. The only conclusion I can come to is he will not put it into legislation because he wants to be able to change it, or a subsequent minister to be able to change the rules, or whatever and deny parliament and Canadians access to this information. There is a contradiction because under Bill C-36 the government just put in an amendment to include annual reporting for certain aspects of it.
The parliamentary secretary says we cannot put everything into legislation on Bill C-35 but the government put it in Bill C-36. The arguments do not wash; they are contradictory and do not make sense. The government for some reason does not want annual reporting. It does not want parliament to know what is going on or what is happening under this new expanded regime of immunity.
Another argument that comes up even more now than before is the argument that we have to do this because it is part of the Vienna Convention and we have reciprocal agreements. I do not believe that all the countries we deal with, or even very many of them, have reciprocal agreements. There are probably only a very few countries that have reciprocal agreements that are as wide ranging and broad as this bill is in coverage for diplomats and visitors to foreign nations.
I have asked that question. I hope I will get an answer from the parliamentary secretary. I did not get a chance to ask her directly but she knows the question is out there. I would like to know exactly how many countries qualify for the Canadian expanded immunity and how many countries give us the same immunity. I want to know exactly which countries give exactly the same immunity. My feeling is it is not going to be very many.
There are two other aspects of the bill I wish to touch on. The catalyst that generated the bill was the Hughes report on the convention in Vancouver, but it does not follow the Hughes report.
There is nothing in the bill that prevents politicians from interfering with the actions of the RCMP. It identifies the RCMP as the responsible police force in any case where there are more than two countries' citizens involved or meetings that involve more than two countries. That is a good thing. It makes it a lot simpler and a lot quicker to determine who is responsible, but there is nothing in it that says politicians are restricted from interfering with the RCMP which was a very clear message in the Hughes report.
On one hand the government says it is following the Hughes report and on the other it does not when it is convenient for the government, and as long as the government can retain power. A key part of all the bills is that the government either retains power or acquires more power in an ever lessening circle of people.
The other question I have had over and over again is how we determine what people qualify for the expanded immunity. I am not at all satisfied with the answers. One foreign affairs official said that if we give diplomatic privileges and immunities for a meeting, then all participants that we let in for that meeting will get it.
What kind of a broad based blanket immunity is that? In the past we did it one on one. Every participant was examined. There was a file on every person who applied for diplomatic immunity. We knew what we were doing. In this case the officials are saying that if there is a meeting and it is decided it will be subject to diplomatic immunity, then everybody will get diplomatic immunity. I certainly disagree with that philosophy. I do not know who will make the final decision. I am not satisfied with who will make the decision on what meetings qualify but it sounds like they will try to include every meeting and every person who is even remotely involved with the meetings.
It was very disappointing to see some of the amendments that were moved not only by my party but other opposition parties, refused, turned down or defeated by the government. I do not understand why the government has a policy of blanket turndowns even though the amendments make sense, whether they are from my party or another party. The government just does it on principle. It turns them down even when they will help make the bill better for Canadians.
We will not be supporting the bill. Unfortunately at the start we thought we would be supporting it but it is clear that the government is intransigent on changes, amendments or even common sense proposals. It will not make the minor changes for which we and other parties have asked so we will be voting against the bill.