Mr. Speaker, thank you for informing me, in your great wisdom, of the speaking time I have left. Naturally, I will endeavour to use this time appropriately. When I spoke on Bill C-17, I pointed out that this was an improved version of the bill put before us last spring, the public safety bill, Bill C-55.
At the time that bill was introduced, I rose to express great concern about, among other things, controlled access military zones, now referred to as military security zones, as defined in Bill C-42.
This was a very important point. I should remind hon. members that the concept of controlled access military zones, at the time, made it possible for the government to establish protected military zones, which could cover any area where there are military facilities. This could lead to abuse. At the time, I gave the very specific example of Quebec City as a potential controlled access military zone. It would have been very difficult to do anything in Quebec City if there had been problems of terrorism.
The other point I raised at the time concerned the interim orders. The new bill before us today also contains provisions on interim orders. We were primarily concerned about the deadlines for these orders and the way they could be made, the fact that the decision to make interim orders could be made by an individual, either the minister or an official.
A problem remains concerning interim orders, and I will come back to that. I am talking about the lack of preliminary compliance audits. I will address this issue later, to explain why we oppose the new version of the bill, Bill C-17, before us today and dealing with interim orders.
We also strongly emphasized another point: the exchange of information. In this respect, the amendments proposed to the previous bill fall far short of what is needed. A great deal of information can still be exchanged and, as far as I am concerned, too much control and power is given to the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. I will come back to that also. The privacy commissioner commented on this last spring. He is saying pretty much the same thing now, stating that the provisions do not represent the proper balance between safety and security, and privacy.
So, I said in the first part of my remarks, that we would vote against the bill in its present form. We will do so for reasons that are essentially the same as those mentioned last spring, because, in our opinion, the changes made to the bill are clearly insufficient.
More specifically, on the subject of military security zones, a recent news release issued by the Department of Transport indicated the following:
The government concluded that it needed to take a more measured approach and re-engineer these provisions in a way that achieves a better balance between the public interest and the ongoing legitimate security needs of Canadian Forces and visiting forces in Canada. The government recognizes the need to deal with these security concerns as a matter of some urgency. As a result, it has decided to establish, through Order-in-Council, controlled access zones in Halifax, Esquimalt and Nanoose Bay harbours.
The same news release, which was issued when the bill was introduced, also said:
These controlled access zones will be much narrower in scope than the earlier provisions and will apply only to the three naval ports in question, although other such zones could be considered on a case-by-case basis, should the security situation dictate.
This last comment is a source of concern for us.
Of course, we are pleased that, in the new bill, the government did not include the military security zones that were being considered at the time. However, the fact is that these zones can still be established through orders in council.
This measure seems much more reasonable to us than the prior one. However, it still leaves room for abuse and this is one of the reasons we are not supporting this bill.
We must be sure, obviously, that when military zones are established, particularly in Quebec, they be established with the agreement of the Government of Quebec, particularly if the zone in question includes Quebec City, or other military bases located in Quebec.
As for the interim orders, the bill still contains provisions that would allow various ministers, and in at least one case, bureaucrats, to make interim orders and we have concerns regarding this. When it comes to interim orders, they really must be tabled in Parliament so that Parliament is informed of the situation, and aware of what is really happening.
The time period has been shortened, from 45 to 14 days before cabinet approves it, which is still far too long as far as we are concerned. What is more, the major problem regarding interim orders is, as I said earlier, that there is no prior assessment to ensure that they respect the charter and enabling legislation.
As for the sharing of information, as I said, this is a very, very important element, especially for us, because we are used to certain freedoms and we try, as much as possible, to avoid giving the police too many powers. In fact, Bill C-17 allows two different individuals, in addition to the Minister of Transport, or an official designated by the minister, to have direct access to information on passengers from airlines and airline reservation systems operators. These two individuals are the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. This information may be requested in the case of an imminent threat to the safety of transportation. In the case of CSIS, this information may also be requested for investigations into threats to Canadian security. Bill C-55 also allowed for the disclosure of information about persons for whom a warrant has been issued.
Usually, the information collected by the RCMP and CSIS must be destroyed within seven days of being received or obtained, unless it is reasonably necessary for transportation safety, or to investigate a threat to Canada's security.
Once again, we are granting what I would call a discretionary power. We are giving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police the authority to retain this information and not destroy it if the commissioner determines that it could be useful.
Personally, I consider that to be a serious threat because we should require that this information, and all the other information, be destroyed within the prescribed time limits, unless, of course, special authorization is granted by the minister or the cabinet.
Last May, the Privacy Commissioner issued a letter in which he expressed his concerns about the provisions of Bill C-55 giving the RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to personal information. He said he was troubled about the provisions, and I quote:
a) Empowering the RCMP to obtain and scan passenger lists in search of anyone subject to an outstanding warrant for any offence punishable by imprisonment of five years or more; and
b) Allowing CSIS and the RCMP to retain passenger information in search of suspicious travel patterns.
With respect to paragraph a), several provisions were problematic at the time and still are. Among others, there was the definition of the term warrant and those provisions allowing the RCMP to collect and communicate information about individuals subject to an outstanding warrant. The commissioner suggested that these provisions be withdrawn from the bill.
Basically, the RCMP would compile a file, share the information with other police services or other institutions in order to do checks. To what extent should these files be destroyed or eliminated? That question has been raised.
Currently, from the way we understand Bill C-17, the government has tried to tighten up these provisions, but in the end the door is still ajar and there is still a danger when it comes to files being compiled, information sharing and the disclosure of personal information regarding Canadians and Quebeckers who travel. I think that the door is open far too wide when it comes to the RCMP obtaining personal information.
Even though, under Bill C-17, the RCMP no longer has the power to collect information in order to find a person for whom a warrant has been issued, it still has the power to share information obtained under the provisions of Bill C-17 with a peace officer if it has reason to believe that it could be useful in executing a warrant. This is still what I would describe as a discretionary power, which in my opinion is a very problematic element when it comes to Bill C-17.
In fact, it is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police itself that decides when a situation is a threat to transportation security, which allows it to ask an airline for information concerning passengers. As soon as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has any doubt, it would be allowed, under Bill C-17, to ask the airline for information concerning passengers. This leaves room for abuse.
In the bill, there is no control mechanism concerning this provision. I believe that the government should have included restrictions throughout Bill C-17, that it should not have opened the door so wide with respect to this provision and allowed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to obtain information relating to all airline passengers.
This gives the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carte blanche as it were. Furthermore, once the information is obtained, nothing prevents the RCMP from keeping it, as long as the reasons for doing so are recorded. This means that a file would be created on people who travel within the country or elsewhere. A file would be created on all the people using air transportation and all the information concerning passengers could be obtained through the airlines, which appears extremely dangerous to us and also appears dangerous to the Privacy Commissioner, George Radwanski.
In concluding, I would like to reiterate that we will vote against Bill C-17, for the reasons that I just mentioned, among others.