Mr. Speaker, last fall the government promised that it would listen to the concerns of members of parliament and Canadians with regard to Bill C-42 and it has. Bill C-55 improves on Bill C-42.
This bill will improve the safety of Canadians, while protecting their rights and their privacy.
I would like to briefly outline for the House how the proposals contained in Bill C-55 would affect the defence portfolio and the National Defence Act. I will begin with controlled access military zones.
One of the most substantial changes in the new bill is the replacement of the military security zones as defined in Bill C-42 with the new controlled access military zones. These zones would be temporary areas designated to protect defence establishments as well as Canadian forces and visiting forces' personnel and property, both on and off defence establishments. This would include, for instance, a Canadian, American, Italian or French ship that might be anchored in one of our harbours, or perhaps a Royal Air Force aircraft or two that would be temporarily staying at a civilian airport.
The new controlled access military zones are more limited than originally envisioned and have more restrictions on their use and purpose. For example, these zones would only be designated where they are considered reasonably necessary to ensure the safety and security of Canadian forces or allied personnel or equipment.
In other words, there would be no sweeping designations for international conferences, such as the one at Kananaskis. There would be no sweeping designations, as some people suggested, to cover an entire province or city. That was never the intent, but certainly people expressed fear about it.
In addition, the authority given by the minister of defence cannot exceed one year. Only the governor in council, the cabinet, could approve a renewal and only if it is deemed reasonably necessary, a fact that could always be tested in the courts, that the designation be in place for a period longer than one year.
These zones would help us better protect our military personnel, equipment and establishments from the possibility of terrorist attacks. They would make us a more responsible ally when it comes to protecting visiting forces.
Following our consultations, we introduced a second series of amendments concerning the protection of defence systems and networks.
Provision in Bill C-55 would give the Department of National Defence and the Canadian forces the authority to protect their information technology without compromising the privacy of individuals. Defence systems and networks play a critical role in the daily operations of the Canadian forces both at home and in the field. As such they are high value targets for attack and for manipulation.
Under the new legislation the Minister of National Defence would have the authority to permit the department and the Canadian forces to intercept communications into, from, or through defence computer systems. This is very similar to a provision in Bill C-36 that involved the civilian oriented Communications Security Establishment in the defence of government departments and their systems. This would be done only in order to identify, isolate or prevent the harmful, and I emphasize the word harmful, unauthorized use, interference or damage to the information systems.
These authorities would be strictly for the protection of our systems. They would have nothing to do with listening to private conversations or eavesdropping, nor would they apply to actions that would more appropriately be covered under the government's acceptable use policy or the criminal code. They are however, essential to protect our information technology systems here at home and abroad. In the case of controlled access military zones, they would make Canada a more reliable international partner. Our IT systems are often closely integrated with those of our allies and we cannot afford to be the weak link in that chain.
The privacy of Canadians would remain paramount when it comes to applying these new authorities. A number of safeguards regarding the use and retention of intercepted communications have been incorporated into this provision. For example, the commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment will be responsible for reviewing activities carried out under this authorization.
Nothing in this part of the bill will in any way affect the powers or the role of the privacy commissioner who has previously looked at these kinds of systems in connection with CSE and has found them to be quite satisfactory.
Let me turn to the establishment of the reserve military judges panel. There are six provisions in the bill that apply to defence. This is another one. The amendment is designed to provide the chief military judge with a mechanism to access qualified reserve officers with prior experience as judges in the military justice system.
The establishment of this panel would ensure that our military judiciary has the same flexibility as currently exists in the civilian court system. It would provide an effective and efficient mechanism to respond to short term increases in demand for judicial services. At the same time it would prove beneficial when competing demands or conflicts limit the availability of the permanent cadre of military judges. The amendment is about efficiency and due process, which I believe Canadians would support.
Another element in the legislation is job protection for members of the reserves. Our ability to generate forces in the event of an emergency can in part depend on the compulsory call out of reservists. Should this situation arise, we have a responsibility to ensure that these members do not lose their civilian employment. The bill would ensure that they are reinstated with their civilian employers in equivalent work upon their return from the call out. The proposed amendment would mean that reservists would not have to choose between possibly losing their livelihoods and breaking the law that requires them to serve on call.
This is a pragmatic and a moral concern.
We will not be able to recruit new members if they risk losing their jobs when called out compulsorily. At the same time we cannot oblige our people to serve and not protect their employment. These measures will ensure that the dedicated men and women of the reserves are treated fairly when they make the sacrifice to serve their country.
I might add, if they are volunteering for a service such as they have in some of our past natural disasters, such as the ice storm, or the floods in the Saguenay or the floods in the Red River, that would continue to be on a voluntary basis as it has been in the past. In this post-September 11 world with the possibility of a terrorist attack and if an emergency arises in which there has to be a compulsory call out, it is only in that context we would use the job protection provisions. It is only in the context of an emergency compulsory call out.
Dealing with the word emergency brings me to the next component of the amendment and that is the definition of emergency. The proposed amendment simply modernizes the definition of emergency found in the National Defence Act by making clear reference to circumstances of armed conflict that fall short of formally declared war. It will now be defined as “insurrection, riot, invasion, armed conflict or war, whether real or apprehended”.
The difference from the previous longstanding legislation are the words “armed conflict” and the word “whether”. The word “whether” is put in the English text to make it balance with the French text. Insurrection, riot, invasion or war have always been there.
Not too many wars are actually declared these days even though there is armed conflict. There has not been a war declared by this country since the second world war even though there are a number of conflicts that have been called war in the colloquial sense. In the popular jargon when we refer to such things as Korea or gulf or Afghanistan, the word war is frequently used but they are not involving Canada or our allies in an actual declared war. The words “armed conflict” help to bring things up to date in that respect.
I stress that this would in no way lower the threshold for declaring an emergency. Rather it aligns the definition with the new security environment in which wars are seldom declared, as I have said, and threats are often posed by groups other than states.
The amendment is important because a number of important powers under the National Defence Act, such as the authority to retain Canadian forces members on service beyond the date on which they are entitled to be released, are tied to the existence of an emergency as defined in the act.
The sixth and final provision that involves defence in Bill C-55 amends the clause regarding aid to the civil power. This is really the same as it was in Bill C-42. Most of the provisions are the same as they were in Bill C-42 except for the controlled access military zones.
The provisions of the bill would allow the Minister of National Defence to provide appropriate direction to the chief of the defence staff to ensure the Government of Canada has the ability to manage simultaneous or multiple requests for assistance during an emergency.
Requests for aid to the civilian authorities will continue to be made directly to the chief of defence staff.
In conclusion, we have listened to the concerns of Canadians and have presented a bill that responds to the security threats that face Canada, that protects individual rights and protects privacy. It makes us a strong partner in the international fight against terrorism. It further improves the ability of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian forces to protect Canadians from terrorism and its effects. I strongly recommend that the bill be supported.