Madam Speaker, I will jump into the debate and continue where my colleague left off. This has to do with which committee the bill should be referred if it is in fact adopted at second reading by the House. I tend to agree with him that the justice committee might be the preferable committee to deal with it.
Some of our colleagues on the transport committee might be wondering why they would not be so favoured or perhaps they might regard the bill as a burden. It is certainly not out of any disrespect for their abilities on the transport committee, but it appears clear that the bulk of the bill does not involve mainline transportation issues. One quarter to one third of the bill does deal with transportation related issues but the bill, as it appears from the debate here, is clearly more about the issue of citizen-state relations such as civil liberties, constitutional compliance and privacy.
Having sat on the justice committee, I know that those are issues with which the justice committee has dealt previously and with which it will continue to deal as part of its mandate from the House. Therefore, I am rather inclined to suggest either the bill go to the justice committee or that a special legislative committee be constructed and comprised of some individuals from the transport committee and some from the justice committee. The bill would get a better procedural scrutiny in that manner and therefore I do not object to those issues being raised by the opposition.
The manner in which the opposition is addressing the bill is not wholly constructive. There is a lot of exaggerated rhetoric. We all know it is part of its job. The opposition is invited to support a bill but it does not usually. Anything it does not like it tends to react with mock indignation and exaggerated rhetoric. Most of us on this side of the House understand that and most of the issues, and not necessarily the positions raised by the opposition, have been noted by members on this side.
I will address parts of the bill. As everyone knows, the bill has a large number of components involving many federal statutes. It makes it difficult to address the bill easily from a general perspective.
As an example, I read part 7 dealing with the Export and Import Permits Act. It is not a particularly exciting part of the of the bill. One might wonder why that statute would be amended by the bill which is supposed to deal with our response to the terrorist threat. There are reasons related to the export of technology and our protection of technologies which are Canadian or based in Canada and which might in the wrong hands facilitate a terrorist act, either here or abroad. Therefore, the act is being amended.
As a legislator who has been around here for a few years and one who has been fairly picky from time to time on legislation passing through this place and committee, I noted in section 55, which deals with section 7 of the Export and Import Permits Act, that there was a fair bit of discretion being bandied about in the section that would allow officials to give permits for import or export. It simply says: “subject to such terms and conditions as are described in the permit”. There does not appear to be any constraint on the kind of discretion used in setting those conditions.
All our public servants exercise their authority with appropriate good faith. Our job in this place is to ensure that when they exercise their discretion, they do it in a framework that at least controls their discretion and prevents abuse of discretion and the use of authority to achieve objectives which were not envisaged by the original statue which gave them the authority. Those kinds of decisions that might redirect their discretion in that improper way are frankly an abuse where it has ever occurred. I am not suggesting any particular instance of abuse but our job is to prevent that.
As an example, I would like to move now to part 8 of the act dealing with the Food and Drugs Act. This section of the bill is an example of a number of other sections of the bill that provide the authority to the minister to make interim orders to respond to emergency situations. What we are envisaging here is in response to a terrorist act.
Most reasonable people would agree that where there is an incident, the government should have the ability and the authority to respond and respond quickly. In other statues dealing with transportation, like the Atomic Energy Control Act and other federal statutes, authority for public officials to react quickly and to make orders that will protect public safety exists. They are buried in federal statutes and they are used from time to time to protect the public interest.
What we have in this bill is the creation of a whole lot of new sections of this nature, whereby when we conceive of a terrorist incident we in government then have to think through how we could or should respond to those incidents. We create in the bill what we call the interim order. Some people have called it a power grab. It certainly is an attempt to legislatively create an authority for a minister or public official to react in the interests of public safety after an incident.
I will give an example of how it works. It says that the minister may make an order. It should be known clearly that when a statute says that in this manner it is also possible for a government official, as I understand it, to make the order if the official has been designated by the minister to make that order. Those orders will be made by a minister and in may cases by a public official who has been designated by the minister to make the order. It will not be made necessarily by the minister sitting at his or her desk. As I said, this framework already exists in federal statute. There is nothing too scary about that. It is pretty normal.
Let us say an order is made under the Food and Drugs Act where there has been a contamination by a terrorist act. I do not like to talk about these things but let us just suggest there has been a contamination of the food supply somewhere by a terrorist act and it is necessary to make orders to remove food, to prevent public access to food and to protect the food supply and water supply. An official may make that order. That order, under the proposed bill, is to be tabled in parliament within 15 sitting days.
We all know around here that if such an order were to be made on June 28, parliament might not have it on the table until some time in September or October. This is nonsense and whoever has drafted this totally misunderstands the purpose of the section and the way parliament works. If the purpose of the section is to notify parliament, it should say that the order is to be tabled in parliament forthwith or within two, three or five days. Let us be reasonable here. That can be tabled if parliament is sitting. If it is not sitting, then we use what is normally called back door tabling. The order is delivered to the clerk's office in the House just down the hall. That is sufficient as tabling.
I suggest that that must be changed. If it is not changed, parliament in practice could be the last to be advised of an interim order. This is simply not acceptable to me and I do not think it is acceptable to my colleagues.
After the order is in place it can last for only 45 days unless it is made permanent by cabinet, by the governor in council. If the order needs to be continued up to 100 days, it can be done by the governor in council. That interim order continues for 100 days. At the end of 100 days the order dies, and there is no provision for renewal under the proposed section.
I would prefer these proposed sections to state that officials may not re-enact the interim order. They do not say this. Currently one of our committees has a difference of opinion with a federal department over this very issue. Federal officials say the statute does not state that they cannot re-enact the interim order and the committee is saying that it only has the authority to create an interim order and it dies after so many days, so we have a difference there. I would prefer this section to state that the interim order cannot be remade. If officials want to change a few words or change some of the elements of the order perhaps they can remake it, but they should not be able to remake the identical order. If it is important enough to be in place, the governor in council, the cabinet, should enact it as regulation, as an order, and make it permanent.
No matter how that particular order ends up here, it is published in the Canada Gazette after 23 days. We can see how silly it is that parliament might not find out for many weeks that the order is going to be in the Canada Gazette in 23 days. If it can get into the Canada Gazette in 23 days, we can get into parliament a lot sooner than that.
I want to point out something that has not been talked about yet. The right hon. leader of one of the opposition parties said yesterday that there is no parliamentary scrutiny. Under section 19 of the Statutory Instruments Act, every regulation of this nature stands referred to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. All these interim orders, as soon as they were made, would stand referred to that committee .
This committee scrutinizes all federal regulations and orders except those that are explicitly exempt and these interim orders are not exempt. One of its scrutiny powers is scrutiny of unusual or unexpected use of power, so these interim orders would be reviewed by a parliamentary committee very quickly. The committee has a permanent secretariat and sits 12 days a month, 24 hours a day. It does not work 24 hours a day, but it is fully functional even when parliament does not sit.
This committee, I will remind the House, has what we call the power of disallowance. If a scrutiny criterion is offended, that committee can commence a procedure resulting in a disallowance. I believe there have been 8 disallowances in the House in the last 10 years. A disallowance happens when the committee initiates a procedure to disallow a regulation. These interim orders are reviewable and disallowable by the House under existing procedures, and I refer members to Standing Orders 123 to 128 and to section 19 of the Statutory Instruments Act.
There are a number of privacy concerns raised by Bill C-55. The privacy commissioner has gone public with his concerns about the bill's proposed procedure that would allow police forces, the RCMP and CSIS, access to airline passenger databases. Principally it is intended to allow police to locate people against whom there are outstanding warrants for serious offences, that is, those punishable by five years or more, or immigration warrants.
I must say that I am looking at this issue carefully and trying to sort it out myself as to whether or not we have the right balance. However, I think that the House has already passed a bill in regard to the information sharing power of airlines that makes airlines share that same data with U.S. police authorities. If it is an issue now, it must have been an issue then, but I do not remember it coming up as an issue. In fairness to people on this side and that side of the House, I just do not remember a lot of wailing in the dark here about those provisions. If it is important in fighting the threat of a terrorist incident to provide that information to American authorities so that we can fly into American airports and American airspace, then I would think it is just as important for our federal policing authorities to have that same information.
Right now I am accepting of the concept, but that is not to say there are not ways to further confine the process of sharing what happens with the data and rendering it inaccessible or destroying it if it is no longer needed to protect against the threat of a terrorist incident. I consider that an important part of the bill, I know that the government does and we will watch that one closely.
Now I want to talk about the part of the bill that deals with military exclusion zones. I think we ought to call them military equipment zones. I think most Canadians would be shocked to know that in regard to a piece of military equipment, and as example let us just take an aircraft that lands at a civilian airport, the military does not have any special powers to protect that military asset. Most Canadians would say that is pretty stupid. They would ask if that really means that the soldiers or the aircrew or whatever have no power to protect that asset other than as citizens. However, we must keep in mind that as citizens or military on the aircraft they do not own the aircraft.
I would say that most citizens would see it as pretty normal stuff for the military to have control over the area where the military asset is, whether it is a ship or a plane or some other piece of military equipment. Someone mentioned a jeep. I do not even think that in theory we could get an order from the minister for that. It is simply absurd to suggest that the Minister of National Defence is going to take the time to create an order to protect a jeep in a parking lot. This is silliness and it is hysteria and it is coming from the opposition, but we have already accepted that from time to time the rhetoric of the opposition is hysterical and over the top. It is the opposition's job to look at the edge and sometimes it looks at the edge so closely it goes over the top.
In any event, I suggest that these provisions are quite reasonable. We all should note that the provisions have been narrowed from what they were in the previous bill, which was withdrawn.
It is true that in the previous bill the Minister of National Defence had the authority to create a military exclusion zone without reference to any military assets. The zone simply could be created if there was not even a military paperclip in the zone, but now there are constraints: reasonableness, necessity, and the presence of military assets in the zone. I have sort of knocked this one off my list of areas of concern. The opposition will still suggest that it is the case. They will have to make the case. I have not stopped listening. None of us have stopped listening. We will all be dealing carefully with the bill.
Generally, to wrap up, although the previous bill was withdrawn some days ago, all the components of the bill, save one or two, were contained in the previous bill. There have been some refinements in the bill to respond to concerns expressed by members on both sides of the House. The bill is a much better bill.
As I have indicated, there are questions. These questions can be dealt with at committee. I would suggest that we are not all going to hell in a handcart here with this bill or with any other. The bill is quite a reasonable response to the events of September 11 and the threats that we perceive as being out there, in air transport and in many other areas. I think we have the ability to create a good bill, a statute that will serve the public interest well for many years to come.