Mr. Speaker, the public safety act, 2002, or Bill C-55, contains some important legal prongs or features in the juridical war on terrorists whose purposive basis is the promotion and protection of human security, including the most fundamental rights, the rights to life, liberty and security of the person.
These legal prongs include the following: amendments to the Aeronautics Act to maximize the effectiveness of Canada's aviation system and thereby enhance the ability of the Government of Canada to provide a safe and secure environment for air travel; amendments to the criminal code to deter terrorist hoaxes that endanger the public or heighten public anxiety; amendments to the Explosives Act to establish tighter controls over illicit trafficking in explosives, including the acquisition, exportation, manufacture, storage or transportation of explosives; and amendments to the Export and Import Permits Act establishing controls over the export and electronic transfer of military and strategically sensitive technology.
Perhaps most important, the proposed legislation also would enact the biological and toxin weapons convention implementation act to prevent the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, transfer or use of biological weapons by states, individuals or other entities. It will thereby reinforce Canada's existing legislation to prevent the development of, and deter the proliferation of, biological weapons. This is a particularly important legal prong in the domestication of international anti-terrorist treaty law in the anti-terrorism juridical effort.
However, the bill also contains some disconcerting features which, however well intentioned, include some errors and omissions that may result in the legislation falling victim to what might be called the “law of unintended consequences”.
The concerns are as follows.
First, while the bill seeks to circumscribe the power initially conferred upon the Minister of National Defence in the predecessor Bill C-42 to designate any part of Canada a military security zone, the scope of both the exercise and application of this power remain problematic. Admittedly, the bill improves upon its predecessor Bill C-42 in that the application of the power is limited to the protection of Canadian and allied military equipment and persons, and the exercise of power is limited to that which is reasonably necessary for this purpose, rather than, as in Bill C-42, what the minister “in his opinion” believed necessary for reasons of international relations, national defence or security.
However, the definition of a “controlled access military zone” has a certain indeterminate feature to it, which could, however inadvertently, be stretched to result in the very thing that this revised version was designed to prevent, for example, the application of this power to something like the G-8 meeting in Kananaskis, simply because the presence of Canadian military equipment or personnel or foreign diplomatic personnel with their related equipment may result in a military zone being nonetheless designated.
As well, it should be appreciated that, under present law, a military base or any property belonging to the Department of National Defence is already a military zone under its control. Clearly, then, we are speaking about the designation of a controlled access military zone that is outside our “defence establishment” on civilian territory. This power needs further delineation and clarification so that it can be clearly limited to the purposes for which it is intended.
Second, and more important, even if the scope of this exercise of ministerial power is appropriately delineated and clarified, the absence of any cabinet or parliamentary accountability is disturbing. In effect, there is no requirement for cabinet authorization of this ministerial decree. There is no requirement that it even be tabled, let alone debated by parliament. There is no express reference to the power of judicial review, though the right of judicial review would still be available even in unexpressed form. In a word, this is government by ministerial decree without the appropriate checks and balances constitutive of a parliamentary democracy.
I am not saying that a carefully circumscribed ministerial power is in no case warranted; I am only saying that the scope of its exercise still has an indeterminate character about it and that it is lacking in the appropriate checks and balances.
Third, as a response to the critique of its predecessor Bill C-42, Bill C-55 further defines and circumscribes the power of other ministers to issue interim orders if “immediate action is required to deal with a significant risk, direct or indirect, to health, safety or the environment”.
Admittedly, the government has refined the scope of these powers by reducing the period within which the minister would be required to obtain cabinet approval from 90 to 45 days after the interim order is made. An additional requirement has been added that now requires that a copy of the interim order be tabled in each house of parliament within 15 sitting days from the time it is issued, thereby instituting a measure of parliamentary oversight. Also, the interim order is expressly subject to judicial review.
However, some disturbing questions remain. Why should there be a waiting period of 45 days to submit these emergency orders for cabinet approval? Why not reduce the period to 72 hours, or a week, as the Canadian Bar Association recommends? These orders are of an emergency character; they can last up to a year. The interim is a long time. The timeframe for cabinet approval needs to be much more expeditious.
Fourth, why should the interim orders have to be tabled in parliament only after 15 sitting days? If parliament were not sitting, there would be no requirement for it to do so. Also, why should parliamentary oversight be limited to the tabling of the interim order and not also the debating of a prospective amendment or an appeal of the interim order, as is consistent with the principle of parliamentary oversight? Again, the principle of parliamentary oversight and accountability needs to be enhanced.
Fifth, both the power of the Minister of National Defence regarding designated controlled access military zones and the power of ministers to issue interim emergency orders are exempt from the application of the Statutory Instruments Act. That means, in brief, that they are exempt from the examination of proposed regulations as required by the Statutory Instruments Act to ensure that these regulations are authorized by the statute pursuant to which they are made; that they do not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which they are made; that they do not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms; and that they do not in any case breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
This does not mean that such decrees or regulations are not subject to the charter but it does mean that the “scrutiny and screen filter”, the filtering out of objectionable features before the regulations are enacted, is absent. Regrettably, a judicial corrective may be necessary when a pre-emptive screening corrective could be utilized first.
Sixth, while Bill C-55, for the most part, strikes a reasonable balance between security and privacy rights, the new provisions giving RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to the personal information of all Canadian air travellers, both on flights within Canada as well as on international routes, are also disconcerting. For example, if the RCMP can obtain and scan airline manifests in search of anyone subject to an outstanding warrant for any offence punishable by five years or more, or for an offence under the Immigration Act, this would appear to be an undue expansion of police power at the expense of privacy rights, without clear justification.
In other words, if, as the privacy commissioner has put it, proposed section 4.82 were limited to providing the RCMP and CSIS with access to airline passenger information for the sole purpose of checking against databases of known or suspected terrorists, with the proviso that all such information would be destroyed except where a match with the database was found, this could be regarded as a legitimate exercise of police power for security purposes.
Seventh, an appreciation of these three distinct exercises of executive power, the power of the Minister of National Defence to designate a controlled access military zone, the ministerial powers to issue interim urgent orders, and the power of police and security services to access aviation manifests, invite us to ask whether they comport with the proportionality principle, that is, that the remedies sought are rationally connected to the objectives sought to be secured, that they comport with the minimal impairment principle, that is, that they intrude on civil liberties as minimally as possible, and that the value of enacting these powers outweighs their cost.
Eighth, we must ask whether these authorized powers, taken as a whole, maintain the equilibrium between the related needs of security and rights protection.
Ninth, we must ask whether the legislation, taken as a whole, maintains the equilibrium among different branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial, or is there an undue allocation of power to ministers with a corresponding diminution of cabinet responsibility, parliamentary accountability and capacity for judicial review? In particular, the parliamentary role in this legislation appears to be diminished.
Finally, as a matter of parliamentary process, I would recommend that the legislation be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, for the following reasons.
First, this is the second part of the government's anti-terrorism package, the first part of which, Bill C-36, was considered and debated before the justice and human rights committee. As a result, that committee acquired a certain repository of experience, if not expertise, in dealing with anti-terrorism law and policy and related issues.
Second, the bill raises fundamental questions, both about the equilibrium between security and rights protection and the equilibrium among the various branches of government that underpin a constitutional democracy, both of which are foundational legal concerns that are the natural subject matter for such a committee.
Third, the exercise of the authorities of the police and security, both under the criminal code and in surveillance matters, again is the natural stuff for a justice and human rights committee.
In conclusion, the public safety act, 2002, has important features, some of which I have described today, that are germane to an anti-terrorism law and policy and to the protection of public safety and human security. However, there are also disconcerting features, as I have also described, that taint the bill and which need to be addressed and redressed so we can promote human security without unnecessarily intruding on civil liberties.