Madam Speaker, before this interruption, I was speaking of the importance of a balance between control and respecting rights and freedoms. In our opinion, there is much still to be done.
I was also saying that we in the Bloc Quebecois have managed to get the government to take a step forward by restricting the application of property and materiel to the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence now, rather than the crown.
I would also like to make clear why Quebecers defend their rights and freedoms so fiercely. I would perhaps invite my colleagues in the House one day, if they have the time—because they would find it a most interesting read—to read journalist Normand Lester's book on Canada's dismal record, from cover to cover.
My colleagues would discover that, on various occasions in history, the Canadian Forces imposed martial law on Quebec and, on certain occasions, even killed Quebecers, people who were taking part in demonstrations or other highly democratic activities.
Let us call to mind the most recent events, which are still fresh in our memories. In October 1970, invoking the War Measures Act led to the Canadian Forces being stationed at all federal buildings, all embassies, all consulates. This was extremely problematic for Quebec. There were many arrests without warrants and people were held in custody for longer than the law allowed. Hon. members will understand we have certain reservations about section 260.1 of this bill, which creates controlled access military zones, major reservations in fact, all the more so because this zone is determined by a single person.
Unlike the situation at the time of the events of 1970 I have referred to—when it was a Cabinet decision—now a single man makes the decision, the Minister of National Defence. People may respond, “It is not just him, it will be on recommendation”. But we know who makes the recommendations: the Chief of Staff of the Canadian Forces. And we know whom that Chief of Staff reports to.
Canada's armed forces are subject to civilian authority. They are subject to the authority of the Minister of National Defence. Therefore, it is quite clear that the person who has the final say, who has the legal status to say, “Yes, we are designating a controlled access military zone”, is the Minister of National Defence. One single person.
I remind the House that in the dissenting report by the Bloc Quebecois, we noted that the man who is currently responsible for this portfolio misled the House in the Afghan prisoners affair. This means that he demonstrated a great lack of judgment. Can we trust this man, who could say from one day to the next, “I designate a controlled access military zone in such and such a part of the country, or in such and such a part of Quebec”? The answer is quite simple, “No, we cannot trust this man”.
This is not simply about the current minister. The fundamental issue is the fact that one person alone can decide. This person may make an error in judgment, and it will be the citizens who are penalized. This is the main problem. Errors in judgment do occur.
We believe that it is very important—and the governing party objects to this—to get the consent of the province in which this were to occur.
There is no denying the federal government's authority on military bases or military facilities that belong to it. However, this bill will allow one single person, the Minister of National Defence, to extend this jurisdiction into civilian territory, a municipality, which comes under provincial jurisdiction, naturally. In Quebec, municipalities are a creation of the Government of Quebec.
Therefore, as a protection, we need provisions whereby the Government of Quebec will be not only consulted, but will give its consent.
Obviously, if something important happens, the Government of Quebec is responsible enough to say, “This makes sense; we agree”. We also think it may disagree. But it seems that we need this essential protection in the bill before us today.
Of course, I am only referring to this clause because, as national defence critic, this is the one that I am concerned about. The expression military security zone has been changed to controlled access military zone. As far as we are concerned, this is a minor cosmetic change. But if we take a closer look at the legislation, we have a lot of concerns, because the expression reasonably necessary is used in relation to the four most important concepts, namely the creation of the zone, its dimensions, its effective period and the renewal of its designation to maintain it for another period. We are told that the minister alone will have the power to do this and that he will only do it if it is reasonably necessary.
These terms are usually avoided in any contract or agreement because, depending on the interpretation of the expression reasonably necessary, anything may be allowed and no one could object on the ground that it is not a reasonable demand, that it is not reasonably necessary. The minister will say, “As far as we are concerned, it is reasonably necessary. We are the ones who have the authority to decide, and we think it is reasonably necessary”. If this is challenged in court, I believe that time will pass and the zone will probably disappear before a ruling is handed down.
The minister decides everything. We are quite concerned about certain provisions, including those on designation, renewal, variance and cancellation. All this will be done without any reference to the statutory instruments under the Statutory Instruments Act. This means that parliament will be completely left out of the process. The minister is the only who can decide and no one will be allowed to ask for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence. The minister will say that he is not subject to the Statutory Instruments Act.
Another subsection in section 260.1 that we have a lot of trouble with is the one which says that “As soon as possible after a designation is made, renewed, varied or cancelled, the Minister shall, by any means that the Minister considers appropriate in the circumstances, give notice of the designation, renewal, variance or cancellation to persons who in the Minister's opinion may be affected by it, unless the Minister is of the opinion that it is inadvisable to do so for reasons of international relations or national defence or security”.
National security is always top secret. He could decide to renew based on national security. Worst of all is the subsequent clause, which provides that: “The Minister shall publish in the Canada Gazette a notice of a designation, renewal, variance or cancellation within 23 days after the designation, renewal, variance or cancellation is made, unless the Minister is of the opinion that it is inadvisable to do so for reasons of international relations or national defence or security”.
What this means is that the minister could, within 23 days, say that there was a military zone, but it could also mean the contrary. People could be in a controlled access military zone for more than 23 days and not know it. That is even worse. Anyone could unwittingly find himself in a controlled access military zone without authorization. The same goes for livestock, vehicles, boats or aircraft. People could be forcibly removed by the military. This is completely unacceptable in a free and democratic society.
There is a problem for farmers whose livestock might be in a designated zone. They could be found in contravention of this section, charged and forcibly removed, without having been told that they were in a controlled access military zone. Naturally, we find this hard to accept.
The worst part is the mention, in subsection 14, that there may be “No action for loss—”. Not only can a person find themselves in a controlled access military zone without realizing it, but what is worse, if they suffer damages, they will not be compensated and no court can examine the issue. As far as we are concerned, this goes much too far.
To conclude, I would like to come back to what my colleague from the government said regarding Mr. Radwanski, the privacy commissioner. He was opposed to the former bill and he opposes the current bill, saying that it goes much too far. It is said to violate the rights and freedoms of Canadians and Quebecers.
One has to wonder if section 260.1 contained in this bill, and others, are constitutional. Does it really respect the charter of rights and freedoms? In a free and democratic society, can the government do these kinds of things?
It is a question of interpretation. Our interpretation is that once passed, it will not be long before this legislation will be brought before the courts to determine if it is constitutional. I believe there is a major problem.
One also has to wonder about all those in the government who are defending this, including the Prime Minister, who wakes up either as a dictator one day, or a champion of democracy the next. I think that by introducing this legislation, he has most certainly gotten up on the dictator side of the bed. As far as I am concerned, granting full authority to one single person to designate the period, the dimension and the renewal of this zone, without anyone else having any say in the matter, that falls squarely into the dictatorship category.
For all of these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois cannot support this bill. We will of course make the necessary effort and take part in consideration in committee. We are going to propose amendments. I must, however, forewarn my colleagues on the government benches that, barring changes in this bill, they must not expect the Bloc Quebecois to support it all the way through and vote in favour of it, for the historical reasons I mentioned, and out of respect for rights and freedoms.
I am therefore making it clear that, if the bill remains as it is, the Bloc Quebecois is, unfortunately, going to object to it and will deplore this government's loss of any proper relationship with the people.
Life here in Ottawa is in a kind of glass bubble. Here is where the decision is made on the bill. Then the minister will, from his glass bubble, announce “Well now, there are some sea cadets in the port of Quebec, so we will extend the zone to all of the old part of Quebec City, because an American ship is coming in”.
The minister keeps coming back to the same example, the blowing up in Yemen of the USS Cole . I would like to remind the minister of two things: one, this is not Yemen, and two, it is too much responsibility for one man to decide that all of Old Québec—and this would be possible because he is the one to decide on the dimensions of the zone—could be designated a controlled access military zone for several weeks. He could even not let the people there know. They might suddenly be told “You can't go home tonight, because it is a newly designated zone and we are entitled to keep you out of it”. That is going way too far.
The Liberal Party needs to get out of its bubble. It needs to get in touch with the people. I believe that objections will not come just from the people of Quebec City and Quebec, but from all over Canada. It is not too late for the government to think it over, like it did the first time, and say “You are right. There are too many grey areas, too many things that will have a negative effect on the rights and freedoms of citizens. We will back off and go back to the drawing board”. It is not too late.
We are, however, giving them fair warning: if they decide to stick to the party line, keep up this hard line approach and fully implement this bill, the Bloc Quebecois is going to object to that approach.