Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-55, the public safety act.
The government has taken a very measured approach in drafting the bill. We are demonstrating with the bill our continued commitment to the values of Canadians. The bill carries on the work of the government's anti-terrorism agenda, an agenda that we have pursued with urgency, I might add, in the interests of increasing public protection against terrorism. It walks a balance between safety and security for our citizens and the privacy rights of all Canadians.
The fight against terrorism is a long one. No one doubts that for a minute. It is important and it is an effort that must be sustained both nationally and internationally. That is why, then, it is critical that our law enforcement agencies and public security organizations have the best information with which to work.
We have come up with improvements in Bill C-55 that will increase our anti-terrorism response. In particular, the bill should enhance the capability of the RCMP and CSIS to protect the public, especially the safety of air passengers. That is very important and is something that all Canadians desire, need and require.
The amendments respond to the concerns raised by some of our hon. colleagues that Bill C-42 needed to be improved to prevent terrorism and to prevent terrorists from accessing Canadian planes. We have listened in this regard and have come up with Bill C-55 in response.
I would now like to address the proposals in the bill concerning passenger information: what they will do, how they will better inform and give better information sharing to improve public safety, and how they will balance privacy rights with the need for law enforcement and intelligence.
To support the government's new air carrier protection program, designated officers would have access to specific passenger information to check for potential terrorists and serious criminals as well as threats to transportation security. In particular, an RCMP designated officer would be able to check for outstanding warrants for serious offences, warrants issued under the Immigration Act or by a foreign state for which a person should be extradited.
This is a sensible approach and a sensible scheme because it not only promotes the security of air passengers but also improves overall public safety. For example, it enables the RCMP to notify the responsible police force if it discovers after accessing passenger information that a person is wanted for an outstanding warrant for a serious offence such as murder, for example.
Under no circumstances could this information be used for broader law enforcement purposes such as a criminal investigation and it would not permit unbridled arrest and detention of any law-abiding passenger. As is currently the case, before any arrest for an outstanding warrant the police would have to positively identify the person named in that warrant. The result would be more effective protection of passengers and cross-border co-ordination to intercept terrorists and criminals. Again, that is something that Canadians want and require.
I want to emphasize that we have built into this scheme very strict and rigorous privacy protection. Only a very small core group of officers especially designated by the RCMP commissioner or the director of CSIS would be able to access passenger information for specific purposes related to their agencies' mandates. For example, while only the RCMP could access passenger information for warrant purposes, only CSIS could access it to investigate terrorist threats. Once obtained, passenger information could be matched against other information under the control of the RCMP or CSIS. This would assist, then, in identifying passengers who are known or suspected terrorists.
Only designated officers would be able to share matched information with specific parties for very restricted purposes. For example, disclosures could be made to aircraft protective officers to assist with their transportation security duties. An RCMP designated officer would be able to advise local police if a kidnapped child, for example, were arriving on a scheduled flight.
To ensure accountability and transparency, written records would have to be kept to justify both the retention and the disclosure of passenger information. This would enable review agencies such as the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the inspector general for CSIS and the privacy commissioner to readily examine records for compliance with the law. All accessed passenger information would have to be destroyed within seven days unless it was reasonably required for the restricted purposes of transportation security or the investigation of terrorist threats, for example, to analyze travel patterns of known or suspected terrorists. There is absolutely no authority for examining or tracking persons who do not present such threats.
The RCMP and CSIS would each be required to conduct an annual review of information retained by designated officers. If retention were no longer justified, again, the information would have to be destroyed. This is in keeping with the general thrust of the legislation to ensure that privacy is paramount in this all important area, but not at the expense of security and safety for Canadians. Given the sensitivity of terrorist information, only a CSIS designated officer could disclose to another CSIS employee for a counterterrorism investigation under the CSIS act, and only after approval by a senior CSIS designated officer. Finally, thresholds would have to be met before passenger information could be shared. For example, a designated officer would need to have reason to believe that the information would assist in the execution of a warrant.
In developing these amendments, the government is being responsive to the concerns that have been raised about screening passengers who are potential threats. Hence the safety and security of not only the country but of Canadian citizens and others: if we are to have an effective air carrier protective program, we need to have these legitimate changes.
The privacy commissioner announced yesterday that he would not “...stand in the way of legitimate and necessary measures to enhance security against terrorism”. That is exactly what these amendments do. They promote safe air travel, safety and protection from terrorists and confidence that passenger information will be used effectively for public safety purposes, all while respecting privacy rights. That too is something that Canadians have said loud and clear and have said repeatedly, and certainly we in this parliament have listened.
The scheme I have outlined does not permit unrestricted access to passenger information. It is tightly controlled and would be a legitimate part of transportation security in Canada's fight against terrorism. Using a variety of safeguards and accountability mechanisms, the scheme has been carefully designed to integrate security demands for information and the protection of the privacy rights of Canadians.
By way of recap, let me say that the new bill is something that has come about as a result of the government listening closely to Canadians, listening closely to people who have a great deal of interest in this area, and listening closely to people who want to ensure that there is safety and security in this great country of ours but at the same time ensure that our privacy rights as Canadians, fundamental to each and every one of us, are in fact protected.
The bill further defines and circumscribes the power of the Minister of National Defence to establish controlled access military zones and of other ministers to use interim orders in emergency situations, particularly through greater involvement of parliament. It also provides more comprehensive parameters for the new terrorist hoax offenses, and it provides strong measures to ensure accountability and transparency.
It also includes important provisions that will make Canadians safer by, as I have noted, improving the capacity of federal departments and agencies involved in anti-terrorism and national security activities to share that kind of critical information and co-ordinate their work in a manner consistent with the operations of these agencies, to ensure safety and security for all. It does so by providing for the smooth flow of information between Canada and its international partners, particularly the United States, with which we share a border, in order to prevent terrorist activity and protect public safety and by allowing the Government of Canada to provide financial assistance wherever necessary to enhance marine security.
At the same time, the act retains the key elements from Bill C-42 such as measures that will, for example, clarify and update existing aviation security authorities to maximize the effectiveness of the aviation security system and enhance the ability of the Government of Canada to provide a safe and secure environment for aviation. It also does so by deterring irresponsible hoaxes that endanger the public or heighten public anxiety, all of which has the net effect of creating even more terrorism among our midst.
It does so too by establishing tighter controls over explosives and hazardous substances, activities related to other dangerous substances such as pathogens and the export and transfer of technology. It does so by helping to identify and prevent harmful unauthorized use of interference with defence computer systems and networks and, finally, it deters the proliferation of biological weapons.
All of this is to say, then, that Bill C-55, this public safety act, is the work of a government intent on providing safety and security for the country and safety and security for Canadians wherever they live, but at the same time, and again to repeat it because it is an important point, to preserve the privacy rights of Canadians in a manner consistent with the great values of our country and certainly consistent with the charter of rights and freedoms. I believe that in walking this balance we have been able to provide the kind of legislation that is good, decent and worthy of support.
I would certainly ask colleagues on all sides of the House to support the bill, knowing that at the end of the day what it does is ensure that ours is a safer and more secure country, but at the same time it protects those rights and those responsibilities and the privacy that flows from that for all Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the time allotted to me, and I wish to thank all members who are considering voting for this very important measure because certainly it is worth doing so.