Mr. Speaker, this bill before us, Bill C-55, for those who are interested in jogging their memories, is Bill C-42, which was withdrawn by the government following pressure from the Bloc Quebecois. It became apparent that the defence minister was assuming excessive powers. Indeed, he could have decided that a controlled access military zone would cover the entire territory of a province. He could declare this zone without even consulting the concerned province in order to obtain its approval.
For these reasons, and for many others, the government decided to withdraw the bill. However, today it becomes apparent that with this government, the bureaucracy has a lot of sway.
In fact, the people who want more control managed to put the bill back on the agenda, thanks to a defence minister who, we have seen, did not necessarily have all of the abilities required to do the job. As a result, a bill has been introduced, which, when it comes down to it, has had a few changes.
The government did listen to the Bloc Quebecois' arguments by tightening the eligibility criteria for creating controlled access military zones. However—and this is a big however—it is still the minister alone who has the authority to designate controlled access military zones. As such, in the present case, it was the same minister who neglected to inform his government of the Afghan prisoners of war.
It seems as though errors in judgment run rampant in this government. Canada is involved in an international engagement in Afghanistan, and we learned through photos in The Globe and Mail that Afghan prisoners were captured by the Canadian military. The Prime Minister himself was not even informed when it happened.
This serves to illustrate the type of mistake that can be made and that could hurt many Quebecers and Canadians. Today, we have a new minister of defence who has no special expertise in the field and who may have to make swift decisions.
Imagine if this bill were passed as is. This would mean that, next fall, the new Minister of National Defence, who will just have had enough time to get up to speed on the various issues, might have to make a decision of this type without necessarily having any guidelines in the legislation that would prevent mistakes from being made.
We are not talking about mistakes that would have minor consequences. We are talking about the impact of designating controlled access military zones. If mistakes were made by the military, the citizens who are the victims of these mistakes would not have the right to take legal action. It is clearly stated that they could not seek compensation from the government.
One may indeed wonder why, after withdrawing Bill C-42, this government, which really had before it all the arguments to justify withdrawing the bill, came back with another bill that is not much clearer.
Why is it that, once again, somewhere in the upper echelons of the federal public service, it was decided to introduce monitoring standards, which give more and more power to the bureaucracy?
They must have thought that, if they were lucky enough to have a minister that was not really thorough in his examination, he would become their mouthpiece and they would have this huge power.
This issue was raised by the Bloc Quebecois. I hope the government will change its position and correct the situation so that a single minister does not have the power to designate controlled access military zones.
There is another aspect, namely that the approval of the government of Quebec or of a province is not required in establishing controlled access military zones.
Would it not be a good safety mechanism to see to it that, whenever the minister, under the influence of his senior officials and high-ranking officers, wants to designate a controlled access military zone, he consult the province concerned to ensure that it agrees?
If it is justified, if the decision is warranted, they are all capable of taking the right position in the end. However, if we do not give ourselves such a safety mechanism, then this power becomes much too broad, which is unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois because the government of Quebec has no say. This seems important to us.
Let us think about everything that is in the vicinity of the Citadel in Quebec City. The National Assembly is very close to military installations. When the military decides on the zone—even if they keep telling us it is about protecting everything that is military property in particular—it is obvious that in very restricted buffer zones, such as that between the armories and the Quebec National Assembly, a totally unacceptable situation could be created. Sparks could fly, highly unreasonable provocation could ensue, and that is why this bill is not acceptable as it is.
They talk about the “reasonably necessary” criterion for the creation of these military security zones. This has not really changed since Bill C-42. It is still highly discretionary. This government is very big on this discretionary aspect, as we have seen in a number of instances in recent months. We can see how dangerous this can be. On occasion, it gives them an opportunity to encourage their cronies, but it could also result in decisions that would penalize the public in an unacceptable manner. I think that this aspect needs tightening up.
There was one other aspect I spoke of, the fact that people who have been wronged cannot take legal action for loss, damage or injury. There has been reference just now to controlled access zones in urban areas. It could easily happen that an officer or soldier could act in an unacceptable manner. The way the bill is worded, it comes down to this, “Tough luck, fella. You are in a country where military personnel has this type of power and can exercise it, even mistakenly”. There is no obligation for them to defend their actions. The result of this is encouragement of a mind set that could be expressed as follows, “It is a free for all, we can do as we like. After all, we cannot get into trouble for it”.
In this connection, I feel that the bill still needs some fine tuning. It ought to be sent back to the drawing board. This time, they ought to make sure that it is really the result of work by parliamentarians rather than senior public servants.
Bill C-42 also refers to such things as international relations, defence or national security as grounds for creating military security zones. These are dropped from Bill C-55. There is no longer such a specific list of criteria and grounds for creating these zones. The minister is given greater discretion and the problem which existed in Bill C-42 becomes even worse. This is something else that must be corrected.
I think that it is also a good idea for all citizens to give some careful thought to the exchange of letters which took place between the ministers concerned and the privacy commissioner. People realized that there were many shortcomings in this bill and that the privacy commissioner was seriously concerned that the government was creating the equivalent of a police state. There are some important areas that need correcting in this regard.
As for interim orders, here again, too many things are left unclear. With respect to information, many of the provisions mean that information can be provided to the RCMP and to CSIS. The procedure is not really clear and specific.
For all these reasons, it seems to us that the bill, as drafted, even though it bears a different number, is just another bad version of the idea originally contained in Bill C-42.
We must indeed wage war on terrorism and ensure that it may be defeated, but we must not do so by eliminating rights and creating a state which will ultimately serve terrorists' ends because it creates a society which is less free and balanced.
In this sense, I think that the arguments against presented by the Bloc Quebecois, which led to the withdrawal of Bill C-42, deserve to be heard here again so that the government will overhaul Bill C-55.
It is for this reason that I will be voting against the bill and encouraging members of the House to do likewise, so that many amendments can be made. Should the bill not be withdrawn, at the very least extensive amendments should be introduced in committee in order to make it acceptable.