House of Commons Hansard #192 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was life.


The House resumed from May 21, 2002 consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, an act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

May 27th, 2002 / 5 p.m.


Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, we know that Bill C-55 is the follow-up to Bill C-42. It was as a result of comments, pressure, and even questions that we got the federal Liberal government to see how far-reaching Bill C-42 was and the risks of passing such a bill.

The government backed up and introduced Bill C-55. Obviously, in response to the Bloc Quebecois' representations, on a number of points in particular, the government at least reduced the magnitude of the problems. But it has not eliminated their impact entirely.

In my view, all the interim orders represent a very serious problem. For the benefit of taxpayers and those listening, this means that, under this bill, a number of ministers have authority to make interim orders. What are interim orders?

Under this bill—I will give an example—if a minister feels that a situation is a threat to national security or the health of individuals, he can immediately implement an order in council. The problem with this resides in the fact that orders come under the Statutory Instruments Act. Orders must meet the criteria in the Statutory Instruments Act, except that this bill is exempt from the application of sections 3, 5 and 11 of the Statutory Instruments Act.

What does this mean? I will tell those listening about these three important sections of the act. When a bill is considered with respect to a regulation, or an order in council—it is the same thing, just a different term—one applies the same legislation, the Statutory Regulations Act. However, this bill says that section 3 does not apply.

Among other things, section 3 tells us that “where a regulation-making authority proposes to make a regulation, it shall cause to be forwarded to the Clerk of the Privy Council three copies of the proposed regulation in both official languages”.

And then, what happens at the privy council? First, the proposed regulation must be examined to ensure it is authorized by the statute pursuant to which it is to be made. Second, it must be examined to ensure that it does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which it is to be made. Third, it must be examined to ensure that it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and is not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.

Members will see that there is no obligation to determine, among other things, whether the interim order violates the charter. It is indeed a form of abuse, because a minister will have the power to make an interim order without having to conform to this obligation of ensuring that it does not go beyond the charter.

A minister could, overnight and for a certain period, make an interim order to designate a controlled access military zone because, as I was saying earlier, there are objective concerns regarding a security or health problem for people in that zone. That allows the minister to designate such a zone for a certain period.

All this is totally undemocratic. Why? We have a good example with the minister of defence. In Bill C-55, he himself made sure that he had the power to make these orders and to designate these security zones.

We saw how a single person, the Minister of National Defence, admitted his errors in committee. A person can make a mistake. It is not because a person is the Minister of National Defence or the Minister of Justice that he cannot make mistakes. That person is a human being who can make mistakes. We demonstrated on a number of occasions that mistakes were made. So, the bill is dangerous and undemocratic for this reason.

Why does the government want to create a security zone? Let me give an example. An instance could be the G-8 summit, in areas where there may be problems. It could be the summit of the Americas. When we considered Bill C-42, we saw that it was very important to remove this provision because of its wording. Under Bill C-42, a security zone could even cover an entire province. This is no longer the case. The zone is now smaller and it is simply established to protect defence equipment.

However, the interpretation of this provision may be too broad. There is still a risk, even though a zone can only be designated to protect military equipment. The minister may create this zone or ask his staff to do so without, for example, asking Quebec what it thinks about it. Where is the urgency, and where is the consultation? The federal government can go on the territory of Quebec, or of any other province and, without asking the province what it thinks about the idea, include the corresponding airspace above, and water and land below the earth's surface. The Minister of National Defence alone may decide to create this controlled access military zone without the approval of Quebec, the provinces or the territories.

Once again, this bill undermines democracy and relations between this government, Quebec and the provinces. How can the government dare give itself such powers without consulting Quebec to find out if such an important zone can be designated?

Just imagine if this zone were located in an axis or territory so important that it would be governed by the National Defence Act. This bill on public safety will violate the rights of all those who live inside this controlled access zone.

When we speak of controlled access military zones, here is the problem: the zone has no limits. We are told “The zone is limited to ensure the protection of military equipment and facilities”. Take the example of a visit by President Bush to Quebec. He is protected by the army or by people with the necessary military equipment. What happens? This bill allows the minister to establish this zone and, once again, there are no limits. They refer to a reasonable time in order to protect military equipment. But let us think about the possibility of some kind of threat when the president is in a place like Quebec. What does “immediate” and “to protect” mean? Does it involve all the borders, or all the city of Montreal, if he should come to Montreal? Is it the entire St. Lawrence River, because the president is out on it in a boat? We have no demonstration of the limits as far as this bill is concerned.

Again, what is regrettable is that they backtracked on Bill C-42 because of our interventions, but this bill contains no substantial changes. Before setting out a provision for orders in council to set up these zones, there must be consultations with Quebec and with parliament so that it is not one minister alone who has the power to decide, or several ministers, the minister of health or some other. This bill amends a number of laws.

I see my time is up, unfortunately. This bill creates an emergency situation and must be opposed.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a real privilege for me to talk about this very important and truly antidemocratic bill. I share the views expressed by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois on the matter. I would like to say clearly, as my colleague from Churchill, the NDP's transportation critic has said already, that the members of the New Democratic Party will vote against this bill. We will do all in our power to try to stop it and to ensure that it is never adopted in Canada.

In the days since September 11 we have witnessed a number of very serious assaults on the most fundamental civil liberties and human rights of Canadians. All of us of course support a fight against terrorism which is targeted and respectful of basic human rights. Indeed, there are some elements in this legislation, as my colleague from Churchill pointed out, that we support.

For example, we support the provisions with respect to money laundering, the new criminal offences for bomb threats, the implementation of international conventions to fight the proliferation of biological weapons, explosives and people smuggling by organized crime.

We do not oppose those. What we had hoped is that the government would have listened to Canadians from coast to coast to coast who voiced their outrage and anger about the provisions of Bill C-42. Instead what we see is legislation now tabled, Bill C-55, which while it purports to improve some elements of Bill C-42, is some very draconian and dangerous provisions that were not encompassed in the previous legislation on Bill C-42.

We have seen too often in Canada and in other countries the fight against terrorism being used as an excuse to suppress fundamental human rights.

We have seen this already in the case of Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism bill. Only one political party voted against this bill at the second reading stage, the New Democratic Party. I was really disappointed to see that my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois had not heard the strong voices of all Quebecers who exposed the possible abuse Bill C-36 could lead to. They even supported this bill at the second reading stage. This was far from acceptable.

As a number of international human rights organizations have pointed out, it is precisely at times such as this that civil liberties and human rights are most vulnerable. As the UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, stated:

Excessive measures have been taken in several parts of the world that suppress or restrict individual rights including privacy, freedom of thought, presumption of innocence, fair trail, the right to seek asylum, political participation, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

My colleagues already have pointed out some of the concerns about this legislation, such as the sweeping and unaccountable discretion that is given to cabinet ministers, who only have to report back to parliament after a number of days, and the fact that there is no guarantee whatsoever that there will be any accountability to parliament. All they have to do is table their reports.

We know as well that the concerns with respect to the so-called controlled access military zones are very serious concerns. Canadians spoke out against this in the context of Bill C-42. While there have been some modifications, overall there is still a very grave potential for abuse in this area as well.

In the context of Kananaskis, my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois has pointed out that these provisions could indeed be used there, despite the denials of the minister. Many of us are very concerned about the growing atmosphere of intimidation of those who would peacefully and non-violently dissent at the upcoming G-8 summit in Kananaskis.

In fact just last week a senior brigadier general from the Canadian military threatened to use lethal force, lethal weapons at Kananaskis. This is shameful. He said “We are very serious...we have lethal weapons and we will use force if we think there is a serious threat”. He warned protesters and others that they would be risking their lives by protesting at the G-8 summit.

We do not want to give these kinds of sweeping and unaccountable powers to the government such as those proposed in Bill C-55.

One of the most dangerous provisions of this legislation is a new section that was not included in Bill C-42 at all. That is the possibility of sweeping access by the RCMP and CSIS to passenger lists for airlines. We have to ask ourselves why this is needed. Is it strictly needed to target potential terrorists? In fact that is not the case. The legislation includes some 150 offences under the criminal code for which this dramatic expansion of privacy invasive police powers is possible.

I want to pay tribute to the privacy commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, who has sounded the alarm bell in the strongest and most eloquent terms against these abusive and dangerous provisions of Bill C-55. He said in a direct warning to parliament that:

It appears to be, quite simply, a power grab by the police. More precisely, since the police in a free and democratic country like Canada cannot seize power for themselves, a provision like this could only go forward into law as an award of unnecessary and unjustified new powers to the police by naive or indifferent political authorities.

What has been the response by some Liberal members of parliament to this cry of anger and concern by the privacy commissioner who has the mandate to protect the privacy of Canadians? Has it been to have another look at the legislation, to go back and say that maybe he has raised some serious concerns here before parliament? No, shamefully it has been to attack the privacy commissioner, in some cases in very personal terms.

We have heard for example the Liberal MP from Aldershot who said that he was condemning parliament and that he had gone way too far. George Radwanski, the privacy commissioner, is not condemning parliament. He is condemning a Liberal government that is prepared to abuse its powers to trample on the most basic privacy rights of Canadians. In fact, far from condemning parliament, he is sounding an alarm to parliament, one which it appears that Liberal members of parliament are quite prepared to ignore.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

An hon. member

We disagree with him.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

It is one thing to disagree, and the member from Mississauga says they disagree with him. That is all well and good, but instead of disagreeing, Liberal members of parliament are attacking the messenger. They are attacking the privacy commissioner himself and surely that is not acceptable.

We know that the privacy commissioner has raised these concerns with the solicitor general. He has raised these concerns with the Minister of Transport. As my colleague from Churchill has pointed out, the Minister of Transport has been totally silent on this important legislation. Where is his leadership on this assault on privacy?

Here is what the privacy commissioner had to say about the response of the solicitor general to his concerns on the bill. He said that these are “highly misleading statements, half-truths and assumptions”. Those are very strong words from the privacy commissioner.

We in the New Democratic Party want to voice our strongest possible opposition to the legislation. When the government brought forward Bill C-42 we urged it to go back to the drawing board, to reject this attack on the most basic rights of Canadians.

It was done without any consultation with the provincial governments and the Government of Quebec and without any consultation with Canadians.

Instead of going back to the drawing board and coming back with a finely crafted piece of legislation, what the government has done is come back with a sledgehammer that is an assault on human rights and the privacy rights of Canadians. We as New Democrats will do everything in our power to stop this abuse of power by the Liberal government.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to compliment the previous speakers for their remarks, which I think were very good and right on the money.

This whole thing seems ironic to me. We are talking about a bill that is a response to the assault of September 11, and it turns out that like so many bills the Liberals have now it is an assault on parliament. It tries to restrict parliament's control and role in so many things. Just a few minutes ago we talked about Bill C-56 and the same concerns were raised in that debate. The same concerns were raised with the bill prior to that one. The problem is that the government is trying to restrict parliament from doing its duty and is trying to remove the role of parliament from many aspects of government legislation.

It is ironic that Bill C-55 is here only because parliament complained so much about Bill C-42 that the government withdrew it and replaced it with Bill C-55. I believe that is proof positive that parliament does play an important role in reflecting the interests and concerns of Canadians. However, this bill again restricts the role of parliament in so many ways and it goes along with so many actions by the government to adopt and establish agencies that are out of the reach of parliamentarians and committees. It has adopted foundations that distribute money and has privatized organizations like Nav Canada so that we can no longer have access to information for reports on safety and on the aspects of aviation that are so important to Canadians. This is a constant thing. Every single bill that comes forward seems to have an element in it that takes away our role in parliament, even though the very existence of this bill is proof positive that parliament does play an important role.

The bill takes tremendous powers from parliament and gives them to a minister. It is hard to believe that the government has even proposed such a bill. The interim orders that a minister can establish can remain secret for 23 days. They can go 45 days without cabinet approval. A minister can create a military security zone and not even seek cabinet approval for 45 days. What can possibly be the excuse for that? Why would it take 45 days to get the cabinet together if there is an emergency that justifies such a measure? Why is that not a few hours? Someone has proposed 72 hours. Why is that not acceptable? Why do we have to wait 45 days to get cabinet approval, much less keep it secret for 23 days? This is just absolutely amazing and there is no need for it. It must be an attempt by the Liberals, or the officials working for the Liberals, or someone, to establish power, maintain it and take it away from our parliament.

If we compare this to the Emergency Measures Act, which is designed to do much the same thing, only for different reasons perhaps, it really brings out the differences, the anomalies and the unacceptable conditions in Bill C-55. The emergency measures must go to parliament within 7 days, not 45 days. They must come back to parliament and we must vote on them here in parliament. Under the actions in Bill C-55 we would never vote on that. Why? Why would the Emergency Measures Act require a vote in parliament and Bill C-55 not require a vote in parliament?

Parliament could actually turn down an emergency measures recommendation or order by a minister. Under Bill C-55 parliament cannot even touch a recommendation. Under the Emergency Measures Act every regulation must come back to parliament and must be reported within two sitting days. Under Bill C-55 they never have to come back to parliament. Bill C-55 would come into effect immediately. There is not even a declaration of the implementation required under Bill C-55. There does not even have to be a petition to bring it in. Bill C-55 must be reported only 15 days after the House returns to sit again. If it does not sit, this is not reported at all. There is no requirement. There is no debate, no accountability, no nothing. It cloaks every aspect of Bill C-55 in secrecy. Parliament is left literally completely out of the loop.

This is a public safety bill but we should almost have a parliamentary safety bill to protect parliament. We should bring in a bill to protect parliament and our role to make sure that we still have a role in issues such as these, issues such as security and safety, a role that the bill tries to take away from us.

As the privacy commissioner said, as reported by the previous speaker, he takes total exception to this and says that the Liberals are trying to create a totalitarian society. Their response is to attack the privacy commissioner. This is a new strategy of the Liberals. They recently had an array of members of parliament attack the auditor general when she came out with a report they did not like. Now they have attacked the privacy commissioner. The Liberals establish these positions and support them, but if these people do not agree with them, they attack them. Then there is the ethics counsellor, who just does exactly whatever the Prime Minister wants him to do.

It is a serious issue. Many Canadians are concerned about the direction the government is going in. They are concerned about the intrusion of the United States on our sovereignty with this whole security aspect and the demands of the Americans to have their customs throughout Canada at our ports and in our airports. They want to take over our military by creating a perimeter security philosophy. What they really want to do is to control it; they do not want to share it. They want to control the customs officers in Canada. Again it seems that the Liberals are falling for this and going along with it. Although the United States is a very important friend to Canada, we must maintain our distance and our sovereignty. I hope that we do not move any closer and comply with some of the requests that the Americans continually are coming up with.

Our industries are now finding that the Americans are changing the rules every day. When truckers arrive at the border with a load of goods or even seeds or agricultural products, they find that the rules have changed and that they cannot proceed in the same way they did last week or the week before. The Americans are trying to control trade, security, the police and the military. This is a very dangerous direction to take and Bill C-55 plays into those hands.

Under the bill, the powers given to a minister require that cabinet be notified only after 45 days. I come back to that again because I think it is so unacceptable that cabinet does not have to approve some of these actions that a minister can take. It puts tremendous power in the minister's hands. That should be changed, if nothing else.

We support the amendment today because of these actions, because they put so much power in the hands of a minister when it is not necessary. I have no idea why the Liberals have come up with these conditions in the bill for transfer of the power to ministers. It is not necessary. They have lost total respect for parliament. They want to keep parliament out of the loop. They want to have just a very small number of ministers over there, not even the entire cabinet, making all the decisions and having all the power, and they want to have all the Liberal members stand up like trained seals and say yes, that they support it and they will do it. It is amazing that they continue to do this.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-55. It is an interesting bill from the point of view that it contains an awful lot of what the government is so adept at, which is to sweep everything together in an omnibus bill. It is not specific. There are many very problematic parts of the bill. However until we see the regulations we will not really understand the intentions of the government.

This is so much a pattern of the Liberals that it is getting to the point where, as former Prime Minister Trudeau used to say, MPs are nobodies when they get away from the Hill. It seems to me that the current Prime Minister has taken that to mean MPs are nobodies even when they are on the Hill because we are asked to come to this place and enact omnibus legislation with few, if any, regulations. We have only the broadest intent from the government as to where it is going with the legislation and we are supposed to be prepared to cast an intelligent vote on its legislation. I say shame on the Liberals because this is absolutely a pattern, specifically with respect to Bill C-55.

I note from a comparison of the transportation issues in the bill that it really is a pale reflection of its American counterpart. The U.S. introduced, debated, amended and enacted much more comprehensive security legislation within a period of eight weeks. It has taken this government eight months just to introduce our legislation.

The problem is the bill does not get to the problem areas facing Canada. There is a problem of invalid documents. All persons who do not have documents should be detained automatically until they can prove their identity or a criminal check is run overseas. Our government does not have the intestinal fortitude required to stand up and be counted on behalf of Canadian citizens and people in this country who should be properly protected. This does not mean that any person with invalid documents should be detained automatically. If people present valid documents when they get on to an aircraft, how do they become invalid by the time they reach Canada?

There is a change in that there is no provision in the bill to send people back if they have come through a safe third country. We have said for the longest time, particularly with respect to our friends in the United States, that it does not make any sense to us that people would be in transit through the United States having landed in the United States. The difference is that they have landed in the United States and they then refugee shop and come to Canada.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that it was the Canadian Alliance that raised the bill and put the Deputy Prime Minister on the spot with respect to the bill and in spite of the scandalous comments that came out of the mouth of the immigration minister, we still maintained our position. Lo and behold, only a week after we brought up the issue, the government changed the rules and negotiated an agreement with the United States. Indeed, what we recommended as being just plain common sense will now be in place and we will see that people will not be able to refugee shop.

The concern I have and the reason why I specifically want to speak to the bill is that the bill invests a lot of power in the ministers through interim orders, giving the power to pass an immediate order equivalent to regulations passed by cabinet. This is a power grab. The interim orders need to be approved by cabinet 45 days after they are declared. This is 31 days more than the 14 days currently required by section 6.41 of the Aeronautics Act. Given that sweeping powers already exist in the Emergencies Act to declare a public order emergency, an international emergency or a war emergency, the new interim orders are probably not necessary in most cases.

I am always concerned when the government sees fit to pull to itself powers that are unnecessary. I was the solicitor general critic for the Reform Party during the time of APEC when we clearly saw the Prime Minister's Office involved in running the police actions against some of the more aggressive protestors in Vancouver in 1997

I am committed to the concept that our democracy is defined as being a country where we are protected by the police but we are also protected from the police. Anytime we have politicians giving directions to police, we have the starting point of anarchy, even in a civilized country like Canada. It was this Prime Minister who was involved in that activity through his operative Jean Carle. I saw it, I heard it and I witnessed the testimony that occurred before Justice Hughes in the APEC inquiry.

I have a tremendous amount of difficulty with respect to this section of the bill. If only for this section of the bill, I would be compelled to vote against it. Giving politicians more power and the ability to move against ordinary citizens is just plain wrong.

There are some good sections to the bill. Job protection for reservists if called out “in respect to an emergency” is an important provision which has long been called for, but clarification will be required to ensure these provisions are adequate. We highly value reservists in our Canadian forces. They are men and women who are prepared to give up their time and work within their jobs around on our behalf. We must respect the fact that these people are prepared to put themselves in harms way. Therefore job protection for our reservists is a very important part of the bill.

In the bill there is little controversy about the provisions for greater sharing of information among financial institutions and regulators to comply with the money laundering act. I was involved in another parliament in the negotiation behind the scenes between political parties, particularly with respect to the money laundering act. Canada's money laundering act has the proper balance at this time. The relationship of this bill to the money laundering act is not problematic at all.

However I will restate the main reason why I wanted to speak on this issue. We must always stand on guard. Our national anthem says that we stand on guard for Canada. It is the role and responsibility of members of parliament to stand on guard for Canada. It is our role to ensure that any legislation we are involved in does not give to the government of the day any more power than it absolutely needs for us to have a proper civilized civil society.

I will oppose this legislation, but I look forward to the amendments that may occur during committee process.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:35 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

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.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-55 is a replacement for the original anti-terrorism bill which garnered so much opposition and outrage that it was scrapped.

The purpose of the bill is to strengthen the law against acts of terror. All Canadians want to have strong measures to protect us against possible terrorist attacks or terrorist activity in our country. We want to be safe.

Unfortunately the bill also has some very glaring flaws. It would amend 19 different acts of parliament, implement one international treaty and have an impact on nine different ministries.

There are three problems with the bill. The first one is that it is pretty much a poor imitation of the U.S. aviation security act. This is a government that likes to always deride and decry anything that comes from the U.S. but here it is bringing in an important bill which is really an imitation of a U.S. bill and not even a very good one.

The second and most important problem with the bill is that it really amounts to a huge power grab by the cabinet.

The third problem with the bill is that it is too little too late. The U.S., which the Liberals are imitating here, put a bill together in about six weeks after September 11 despite an anthrax scare it was dealing with where even members of government were receiving anthrax through the mail.

The government has now had eight months and all the bill would do is put in place timid half measures and make a power grab.

The problem with the bill with respect to the power grab is that it gives a number of ministers the authority to issue what is called interim orders. These interim orders would allow those ministers to act without consulting anybody. They would not have to consult cabinet, let alone parliament or anybody else.

The ministers who would have this power would be the environment minister, the health minister, the fisheries and oceans minister and the transport minister. However, the increase in authority that would be given to these ministers is not accompanied by any specifics. No framework has been put around the kinds of instances when ministers might exercise this kind of unfettered authority.

Canadians watching the debate might say to themselves that does not make sense. If there is a huge, immediate crisis they are probably saying that someone should be able to act immediately to deal with it.

On the face of it everyone might agree but I see three problems with it. The first problem is that we have not seen the kind of competence and trustworthiness on the part of government ministers that would allow us to be comfortable with that huge amount of power.

It does not give me any joy to say that, even as a member of the opposition. I as a Canadian want to see ministers with whom I might disagree from time to time or criticize from time to time but who I believe are fundamentally competent, honest and credible individuals.

As we have seen over the last few weeks, as Canadians we have to question whether that is in fact the case. Just yesterday a very important minister, the minister of defence, had to be toasted by the Prime Minister because he had lost all credibility and the ability to act on behalf of Canadians.

We had other ministers who had to be moved out of a place where they were clearly not performing up to snuff.

If the government wants to give this kind of power to ministers, then it has to be and can only be on the basis that these ministers have performed in a way that would allow Canadians to have that level of trust in the ministers.

I would argue, and unfortunately I think most Canadians would agree, that we have not seen that level of competence, trustworthiness, gravitas and ability on the part of our ministers that would allow us to give them that kind of authority.

The second problem with giving ministers that kind of authority is that it is too wide open. If we are going to give people unchecked power, then we should at the very least define the circumstances and the kind of framework around the exercise of that power. The bill does not even attempt to say under what kind of circumstances. Ministers would be able to do whatever they wanted to do without consulting even their cabinet colleagues.

One might argue that in an emergency someone might need to do that. That is all well and good but there should be some attempt to categorize, define or put forward a guideline whereby a minister could act unilaterally.

It is unbelievable that a bill would just say that a minister can do whatever he or she wants without even suggesting when this might be appropriate.

I would say that even ministers would want to see some kind of guideline to guide and assist them and their advisers as to when they should leap into the breach without talking to anyone and when they should take a few minutes to consult.

For parliament to just throw this authority on the back of a particular minister without giving him or her any kind of guideline, assistance or advice as to when this would be appropriate, is really an abdication of parliamentary duty.

The third problem I see with this kind of unchecked power is that there is no suggestion of the kind of resources that can be deployed by a particular minister. If the minister deploys certain resources, such as people, laws, rules or whatever else is available to the minister, he or she will need to communicate this to the people in his or her department and to other departments because no department ever acts alone. If the minister consults and communicates with all the players in his or her decision, why would he or she not take time, and why would other senior people who are elected and who have senior responsibility not be brought into the loop? No one has suggested why that could not be done.

If I or you, Mr. Speaker, were a minister I am sure that before we took a unilateral, strong, immediate action, we would at least obtain some input from the most senior, thoughtful, respected, and knowledgeable people that we could find.

It seems to me that the whole premise of the power that is being given in the bill simply does not make sense. It flies in the face of what a reasonable, thoughtful, competent person would want to do.

It seems to me that allowing ministers to do whatever they want is very open-ended. It does not make sense. It opens up the system to improper activities. It is another symptom of the federal government simply saying that it will do whatever it wants. We are not to question what it does because it is sure it has the best interests of the country at heart.

I do not think Canadians are buying that. I do not think it will give us good results. I do not think it would really serve to protects us effectively. I would say to members of the House that the matter needs to be dealt with before we put this law into place.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:55 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on Bill C-55. As some of my colleagues have already mentioned, this bill only shows this government 's need to control everything, arguing that it is acting for the benefit of the population. Nowadays, I get very concerned when I hear that the government wants to be in full control.

With what we have all learned recently on this government, it is hard to believe that it is in fact acting for the well-being of all Canadians. Let us say that it is rather doing things for the benefit of a small part of the population. How can the government prove that it is acting for the benefit of the population when only one person will be able to judge?

As far as I am concerned, I will summarize all this by saying that this will be a one-way ticket if the responsibility to judge what is safe for the Canadian population only rests on one person. With such an anti-democratic bill, the government will only circumvent what the country has tried to build in the last century, that is a real democratic process. The Canadian population needs to be reassured, but this bill is not the best tool to do that.

Thousands of people are dying every year, either at work or as the result of the acts of one person, of a family member or of an acquaintance. These lost lives deserve our attention, but this has to be considered within a democratic parliamentary process as this bill should be.

The NDP is not entirely against this bill and it even supports some specific aspects of it, such as the fight against the financing of terrorist groups, the new criminal offences relating to bomb scares, the creation of international conventions to fight the proliferation of biological or explosive weapons, and the fight against smuggling of people by organized crime.

However, the bill goes much further. For the rest, we consider that this bill greatly exceeds the power that we believe a minister should have.

Remember what happened at the APEC summit. We did not even have a bill such as this one that the government is proposing and the RCMP used pepper spray. We saw the images on television. A person was sitting quietly and the RCMP officer arrived with pepper spray and said “you have to leave”. He got up to leave and got pepper sprayed. With the new bill, he would have no way of defending himself. It is unacceptable. It is unbelievable that in a democratic country like Canada, it has come to this.

Everywhere people say “You live in the nicest country in the world” and they want to take away our democracy like this. Our dear Prime Minister was asked questions on this incident—today people are doubting his government—and he gave the following response, “Personally, I put pepper on my steaks”. It is as though what took place in British Columbia was a joke; it is as though it was a joke that he was not taking seriously.

The G-8 will take place in Kananaskis. The Prime Minister has said “We will be protected, there are bears in the woods that will keep the demonstrators from coming”. There should be a bill that allows bears to go throughout Canada to protect the government. It is an embarrassment having a Prime Minister who makes that kind of statement.

We are putting our democracy on the line for a government that is no more serious than that. In recent weeks we have seen what has happened here. The government is making parliament lose its credibility with all of the scandals that are happening, yet there are honest parliamentarians. Today, according polls, Canadians gave parliamentarians 18%. This is unacceptable and unbelievable. And we are going to put our democracy on the line with this kind of bill, when Canadians have always had the right to protest under the charter of rights and freedoms, and under civil rights. Yet today, we are giving all of this up.

We have no choice but to oppose this bill, because it deprives us of fundamental rights.

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, it is not in Canada that these aircraft hit buildings. Canadians live in a democracy and they want to continue to do so. Our country is respected throughout the world because of this.

I will refrain from reporting certain things I was told last week when I was abroad, but I will say that people abroad respect Canadians, the way our laws are drafted and the freedom that we enjoy.

Under this bill, the RCMP will be able to know everything on people who fly. Why does it need to know that? Why does it need to have the list of all those who will fly today when the important thing is to ensure that those who do fly are not dangerous people?

Security measures have been taken. I think that it is not easy to breach security in Canada. I have travelled to cities like London, Bucharest and Belgrade, and I can attest that security was not as strict there as it is here in Canada. Our country is not at war. It is not plagued by the problems that affect other countries. Today, we could lose our democracy because of what is going on elsewhere.

This is why we must be careful. Our democracy is in the hands of people whom only 18% of Canadians trust. This is quite a problem. We must take a serious look at it.

With regard to civil rights, the Liberal member for Mount Royal—for whom I have a great deal of respect—said:

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.

The Liberal member for Mount Royal himself admits it. Hopefully his colleagues on the other side of the House will also. At least one Liberal had the courage to rise in the House, oppose the Liberals and say that what they are doing is wrong. I congratulate the hon. member for Mount Royal. He went on to say:

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 “is in his opinion” believed necessary for reasons of international relations, national defence or security.

However, from the moment the Minister of National Defence decides to send out military personnel during a demonstration, the whole area automatically becomes a military zone. This is what happened in Quebec City when people demonstrated during the summit. The forces used guns with rubber bullets, which hit innocent people who were exercising their rights.

It happened, and there was no legislation like Bill C-55 at the time. In Canada, the problem is that the government has sold the country to globalization. This is what happened. They are now bowing down to other countries and trying to protect them when they come here and try to get hold of our assets. They want to protect them with bills such as this. Canadians will not even be able to defend themselves and to face these groups, which want to destroy our country and Canadian democracy.

Let us hope that this government will change its mind, that the bill will not be passed the way it intends it to be and that positive amendments will be introduced to Bill C-55, to ensure the preservation of the civil rights of Canadians.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

6:05 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is very important to speak to this bill, which deals with terrorism. This bill, which was formerly introduced as Bill C-42, was modified to take into account some harsh criticisms made by the House, by the Bloc Quebecois in particular. Bill C-55 is totally unacceptable as it now stands. That is why we would prefer that it be considered in committee and that significant amendments be made to it.

I will take a different approach to criticize this bill. I am the Bloc Quebecois foreign affairs critic. Some time ago, I had to debate a bill, Bill C-35. All the clauses in that bill had the unanimous support of all parties in the House, except one clause consisting of three elements.

What did the bill say? I will refer to the fact that in these military zones that we have heard so much about, we are thinking about security at Kananaskis. Here is what Bill C-35, that we passed, says:

10.1(1) The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has the primary responsibility to ensure the security for the proper functioning of any intergovernmental conference in which two or more states participate, that is attended by persons granted privileges and immunities under this Act and to which an order made or continued under this Act applies.

It says “for the proper functioning of any intergovernmental conference”.

In the following paragraphs, it says:

(2) For the purpose of carrying out its responsibility under subsection (1), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police may take appropriate measures, including controlling, limiting or prohibiting access to any area to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances.

(3) The powers referred to in subsection (2) are set out for greater certainty and shall not be read as affecting the powers that peace officers possess at common law or by virtue of any other federal or provincial Act or regulation.

I want to draw to the attention of the House that the military security zones in Bill C-42, which became controlled access military zones in Bill C-55, are being proposed, among other functions, to protect people or property that would be deployed here during international conferences or when public figures are present on our soil.

At the outset, I could ask the following question: which legislation will have precedence? How will the security measures that the RCMP and the armed forces will provide be negotiated, particularly since, in Bill C-55, clause 260.1(12) says:

(12) The Canadian Forces may permit, control, restrict or prohibit access to a controlled access military zone.

As is also the case for a perimeter determined by the RCMP.

The arguments that are being used are the same. One may ask: who indeed will be responsible? What is even more worrisome is that the spirit is the same. The spirit is to prohibit access. However, on this issue, at the foreign affairs committee, we heard very direct and blunt evidence from some witnesses. We were told that the government cannot prohibit such access without violating the existing rights under Quebec's charter of freedoms and rights and under Canada's charter of human rights. It cannot do so without attacking these rights.

Yet, nothing in these bills, be it Bill C-35 or Bill C-55, can lead us to believe that the citizens would be in a position to defend themselves, to negotiate and discuss things. Even the provinces are in no position to do so.

When we debated Bill C-35, which creates security zones or perimeters, we said “Why change the present dynamics?”. In this respect—let us take the Quebec summit of the Americas for example, where all was not perfect, but lessons were learned so as not to repeat the same mistakes—there were some positive aspects.

There were negotiations between Quebec, the RCMP and the Quebec City security forces. Finally they came to an agreement in a context of respect for the police force which normally enforces the law in Quebec City.

With Bill C-35, this obligation to take into account the local police force no longer stands. Bill C-35 gives full authority to the RCMP.

As far as the creation of controlled access military zones is concerned, the full authority is given to the defence minister. He is the one who can create those zones. Now they say that this authority is more limited than it was in Bill C-42, the previous bill.

However, it is still clear that this boundary can shift. It is always interesting to read legislation. I always enjoy reading it. Although it is sometimes a bit obscure, one can still see the intentions of the legislator.

Subsection 260.1(3) in Bill C-55 provides that:

A controlled access military zone may consist of an area of land or water, a portion of airspace, or a structure or part of one, surrounding a thing referred to in subsection (1),—

This has to do with defence establishments, and so forth.

—or including it, whether the zone designated is fixed or moves with that thing.

So the zone can shift.

The zone automatically includes all corresponding airspace above, and water and land below, the earth's surface.

Subsection 260.1(2) in the same bill provides that:

The Minister may designate a controlled access military zone only if it is reasonably necessary—

Bill C-35 also contained the word “reasonable”. It would be helpful if a court could be asked to determine the meaning of “reasonably” or “reasonably necessary”. But this cannot be done after the fact. And again, we know how long this can take.

This means that these words can be used at the total discretion of the Minister of Defence, in the case of Bill C-55, and of the RCMP, in the case of Bill C-35.

Clearly, a controlled access military zone can be designated. For instance, one could be designated in relation to:

—a vessel, aircraft or other property under the control of a visiting force that is legally in Canada by virtue of the Visiting Forces Act or otherwise.

Clearly, President Bush's plane in flight may be sufficient grounds for the designation of a military zone.

The public must realize that it makes no sense for the minister of defence to be able to make decisions on these zones alone, to have full discretion and be required to go to parliament only within the next 15 days, and that is if we are sitting. If parliament is not in session, he can take the 15 days but can make the decision and, anyway, we know that any debate will be a theoretical one, thanks to the party over there.

This means that the minister of defence has the full and complete power to create controlled access military zones wherever he pleases, without Quebec's consent—and I speak for Quebec—or that of the province concerned. He can use force to extract from that zone people who should not be there, people who do not have a right to be there even if that is where they live. They are not entitled to any compensation. This is most regrettable.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks I want to commend the previous speaker. She is a member of parliament who always adds a great deal to the debate. She does significant preparation for her remarks which is obvious in her presentation.

This bill, like many others, is one that comes before the House as a result of events that shook the world and carries with it a certain amount of trepidation. The public safety act is a rehash--

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. I regret to inform the hon. member that he has already spoken at the amendment stage of this same bill, so I must seek the floor for someone else to intervene. The hon. member for Prince Albert.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have passed Bill C-36 and now we are on Bill C-55. As my colleague was just getting into, these pieces of legislation are designed to deal with a new paradigm, a new phenomenon that we have the world today, the threat of international terrorism which became so evident last September 11.

The problem is we have this new paradigm but how does the civilized world deal with that problem? What are the facts with this phenomenon of international terrorism?

For the past decade or decade and a half throughout various locations in the Middle East thousands and thousands of people have been trained to become international terrorists. They are distributed throughout the world in the form of sleeper cells. It is a highly sophisticated network. It was designed to operate without a central command system. Perhaps we have destroyed or fragmented the central command and design behind the network but the sleeper cells exist.

What has the government's response been to this new paradigm? It seems to think if there is more government bureaucracy, more regulations, more laws, more infringement of the rights and privacy of Canadian citizens and more taxes that somehow the problem will go away, that it will have been dealt with.

The bill is deficient, as is Bill C-36. We are missing the boat. The way to deal with this matter is in the areas of security, our armed forces and immigration and refugee policy. Maybe I am missing something but I have not seen a whole lot of action by the government in regard to those three areas. The military and the security system are starved for resources. The immigration and refugee policies seem to be virtually the same as they were before.

Warren Buffet, the president of Berkshire Hathaway, has interest in some of the biggest insurance companies in the world. At the annual meeting not very long ago he made it abundantly clear there is an absolute certainty that these sleeper cells will strike again and will cause no end of harm and damage to the western world. About 10 days ago U.S. Vice-President Cheney reiterated that it is an absolute certainty that these people will strike again and that they will strike very hard.

A concern I have and one which the government certainly should have is that it has been sleepwalking through this. I think many government members believe that the crisis is over, that it has passed and we can get back to normal business. They seem to think that a $24 air security tax will solve the problem.

What will end up happening, but I hope it does not happen, is that we will wake up some day with a repeat of September 11. Something else will happen. I hope the people behind that action will not have come from Canada. If that were to happen, my prediction is that our trade with the United States would come to a slamming halt within 24 hours. This country would be in serious difficulty. People would look back at this period of time and say that the government had the opportunity to put policies in place to deal with this threat but ignored it. They would say that the government was too busy with cash for contract agreements and all sorts of other things to deal with the issues that were very apparent to Canadians.

I am talking about foresight. I know hindsight is 20:20 but the government has not addressed the real root of the international terrorist threat. It has ignored the core problem and is not dealing with what we should be concerned about. I cannot emphasize it enough.

If we had a repeat of September 11 and it could be pointed out that a leaky immigration or refugee system in Canada caused the problem I am almost absolutely certain the border with the United States would never be the same again. We would pay a heavy price in every sector of the economy. The problems we have experienced in the last year would be minor compared to what we would be facing at that stage.

I wish I could look through a bill like Bill C-55 and see real action by the government with regard to the three areas I have mentioned. However I do not. Creating military zones and giving ministers more power would not deal with the problem. We would be dealing with something after the fact rather than before. The government should be more concerned about taking the necessary steps to prevent something from happening in the first place rather than trying to react to it afterward. Reaction to this sort of problem would be too late. Our country would be in serious difficulty at that stage.

What is a bit perturbing about the legislation is that rather than dealing with the real problems we are facing as Canadians and taking steps to minimize the risk, it would concentrate more power in fewer hands with less accountability. That is not a good thing in a democracy.

Our society was built on being open. It was built on the rule of law and transparency. It was built on giving citizens freedom, liberty and the ability to make decisions. These things are the backbone of our western way of life. Any time governments get more power and are not accountable they can do things in secret, rise above the law and trample on privacy and other issues. That is not a healthy sign. In a democratic society a government moving in that direction like the Liberal government has been doing is in a lot of ways helping international terrorists.

International terrorists want to destroy our way of life. They do not value our individual freedom and liberty. They do not respect our economic or political freedom. They do not respect the rule of law or our open civil society. In their minds it is the enemy and they are out to destroy it.

The government is rushing to create more power for the cabinet and Prime Minister in a secretive, star chamber atmosphere without any transparency. In doing so it is not dealing with important issues like the need to increase our military resources and security forces. It is not taking a hard look at how to close the leaks in our immigration and refugee system. Under the guise of dealing with security the government is seeking to grant more power to the Prime Minister and his little group of people. That is not the answer to the problem. It will not deal with the issue.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There being only one minute remaining for government orders, is there unanimous consent to see the clock as 6.30 p.m.?

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, Liberal ministers have been caught breaking sections of the government's conflict of interest guidelines by helping friends and supporters get government jobs and contracts. The auditor general has called in the RCMP to look at the awarding of contracts by Public Works and Government Services under the scandal plagued tenure of Alfonso Gagliano and his successor in the portfolio of public works who is the Liberal House leader once again.

With new revelations of scandal surrounding the disgraced former defence minister the situation would appear to be the tip of the iceberg. There has been a long Liberal history of such corruption starting with former Liberal minister Pierre Corbeil's conviction for influence peddling and culminating in the recent scandals at public works and defence.

The corruption problems further highlight the lack of ethical standards and integrity shown by the Liberal government. A full and complete investigation needs to be conducted. Canadians deserve the truth about the extent to which Liberal ministers have played fast and loose with taxpayer dollars by giving patronage contracts to their friends and supporters. It is clear that the Liberals should honour their 1993 election promise to have an ethics counsellor who reports to parliament. Mr. Wilson is nothing more than a figurehead with no real power.

Canadians need to know the extent of corruption surrounding the Liberals. This can only be realized through a full and independent inquiry into how the government has abused the contracting process. The extent to which the government's sponsorship program slush fund has been abused by the Liberals is now exposed. It is so riddled with corruption the auditor general has been called in to investigate. Government contracts should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny instead of backroom deals between Liberal bagmen and their supporters.

In question period I asked why it is that when the Liberals were in opposition and there was any hint of conflicts of interest, patronage payoffs or scandals of that nature they demanded full, independent investigations into the incidents but now that they are in government and all these conflict of interest situations are developing they refuse to conduct a full and independent public inquiry.

The minister's response was that my question was as clear as mud. I repeated the minister's own words in the House when he was in opposition. He had demanded that the House examine all aspects of government contracts including those relating to advertising. He had talked specifically about advertising contracts. He had tabled a motion in the House demanding a parliamentary investigation.

I finished my question by asking if the minister would guarantee that all sponsorship program slush fund contracts would be examined by a parliamentary committee and that the government would adopt the auditor general's recommendations regarding the scandal. His response was that my second question was only half as clear as the previous one.

The minister is completely avoiding the questions. They are clear, simple and straightforward. I want to know why there is a double standard. The Liberals called for independent inquiries into conflicts of interest, patronage and scandal when they were in opposition. Now that they are in government and being plagued by the same problems, why will they will not do it? It is a simple and straightforward question. I would like it answered.

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario


Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised a number of questions which have been evolving over recent days and weeks.

As the member knows, when these allegations with regard to Groupaction came forward, immediately the former Minister of Public Works and Government Services co-operated in a very forthright manner with the House. He provided documents to all parties. In addition he immediately initiated steps to ensure that there was no exacerbation of the situation, including the moratorium on any further draw downs under standing offers with regard to sponsorship programs.

As that matter evolved there was a question in the minister's mind about whether or not the resources available to him and the information forthcoming was enough to answer all of the questions of all hon. members. As a consequence, the minister concluded no. It was that minister who referred the matter to the auditor general for a complete and thorough review.

As the hon. member knows the auditor general has done her report and has reported back. It is regretful that the auditor general specifically mentioned two senior civil servants who appeared to have broken the procedures of the department, and the whole matter is now subject to an RCMP investigation.

The government has been forthright in responding to these evolving circumstances.

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the auditor general she did not say that these individuals appeared to have broken procedures. She said senior public servants broke just about every rule in the book. That is why she referred the matter to the RCMP.

My question has still not been answered. When the Liberals were in opposition, in response to allegations of corruption, political kickbacks, payoff schemes and conflict of interest, they demanded that full independent public inquiries be conducted. Today the Liberal government is ridden with scandals such as the breaking news over the weekend and the resulting resignation of the Minister of National Defence, who clearly broke guidelines by awarding an untendered contract to his ex-lover.

In light of all these scandals, the advertising schemes and all the apparent conflict of interest allegations, why do the Liberals not take their own advice from when they were in opposition and order a complete, thorough and transparent public independent inquiry?

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the auditor general is an independent officer of parliament and perfectly capable of dealing with this matter. The auditor general has committed to a thorough review of this area and will be reporting back in a prescribed timeframe. In addition, for the matter initially looked at with regard to the three Groupaction contracts, an RCMP investigation is underway to determine if there is any illegality, not that there is any knowledge of specific illegality.

I will close by suggesting that the language used by the member about corruption, kickbacks, payoffs et cetera all refer to illegal acts which I would assume someone would have to be not only accused of but convicted. That is not the case. The member should tone down the rhetoric and understand that in this place we have to be respectful.

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today because I failed to get an answer to specific questions for three consecutive days from the industry minister. Therefore I feel I have to raise it in the late show. The issue arose at the end of April. It was in a Winnipeg Free Press article concerning the industry minister and his assistant, Mr. Satpreet Thiara. It stated:

Industry Minister...has failed to provide travel records to explain the purchase of more than $5,200 in airline tickets for an aide at the centre of allegations that taxpayers' money is funding [the minister's] Liberal leadership campaign. A three-month Free Press investigation, which involved a request for travel records under the Access to Information Act, found that in the last two weeks of November [the minister's] previous ministry, Health Canada, booked six airline tickets worth more than $5,200 for special assistant Satpreet Thiara. Five of the tickets involved travel to Winnipeg. The date the tickets were used, or whether they were used at all, is not known. [The minister's] office has yet to provide a single expense report showing who authorized the airline tickets, or details of any expenses incurred by Thiara such as meals and lodging. [The minister's] office has refused numerous requests by the Free Press to explain the absence of expense claims and other travel records related to the airline tickets.

Further on the article stated:

Thiara has been a central figure in federal Liberal leadership politics in Manitoba. In an interview last fall, Thiara admitted that [the minister's] leadership campaign spent more than $60,000 to buy party memberships and delegate fees to flood the Liberal party's executive elections in Manitoba on Dec. 1.

Thiara confirmed in that interview he had been in Manitoba frequently during November on government business, which frequently allowed him to work on [the minister's] leadership campaign during his spare time on nights and weekends. Thiara said he had not asked for a leave of absence from his job because he was still primarily involved in government business.

For three days straight the opposition stood in the House and asked the industry minister some very simple questions, basically all coming down to what his special assistant does for him. What does Satpreet Thiara do? What is his job description? Canadians could then know that he is in fact working on government business and he is in fact not just working full time on the minister's Liberal leadership campaign.

I would like the government to give a response to that very specific question which we have asked over and over again. What does this assistant to the industry minister do on official Government of Canada business?

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by the member opposite with care and I find it a bit baffling. While it is a complex issue, perhaps I could just distill the essential elements for him.

Earlier this spring treasury board clarified its guidelines with respect to the release of personal information requested under the Access to Information Act as it concerns ministers and their exempt staff. Names and expenses can be released. The Prime Minister has made it clear that his ministers and their exempt staff should consent to the release of their expenses when it relates to the expenditure of public funds.

The Minister of Industry has always stated that his office complied with both the spirit and the letter of whatever guidelines were in place.

Let me now turn to the specifics of the member's original question.

Given the short explanation I have just given, members can conclude for themselves that the disclosure made by the minister's office complied fully with treasury board guidelines as well as with the Prime Minister's directive with respect to the disclosure of expenses. In fact the Minister of Industry himself has confirmed this on numerous occasions as was mentioned by the hon. member.

I know that the minister takes his responsibility to account for public funds very seriously. He has explained many times that any expenses submitted for reimbursement at the public expense were incurred on government business and that any expenses not related to government business were not claimed.

All expenses incurred on public business were claimed and the information has been produced. Clearly, the minister and his office have been quite forthcoming.

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that information has not been produced. That is what the issue is about.

Beyond that, let us get to the question I asked I believe three times in the House. Could the Minister of Industry tell Canadians today what specific work Mr. Thiara does for the Department of Industry? There has been no answer to that. Will the minister not explain to Canadians what his staffer, Mr. Thiara, does at public expense?

I ask the minister yet again and I do not want to hear whether documents were tabled or not. It is a simple question about his personal staff. What does Mr. Thiara do for Industry Canada? What does he do?

Obviously we in the House who are members of parliament or cabinet ministers know what the job descriptions of our staff are. I do not want to hear anything about documents because there is a disagreement about that. It is a very simple question. What does Mr. Thiara do for the Government of Canada to justify earning taxpayers' dollars?

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I reviewed Hansard . As a matter of fact I was present in the House at least on one of the days on which the question was raised. It seemed to me the question indicated that maybe not enough expenses had actually been claimed. In fact there were questions raised, as has just been raised again, as to why there were not other expenses declared.

As I have already said, the minister takes his responsibility seriously. He has accounted for public funds in an open and positive way, the way which has been defined both by the treasury board rules and by the Prime Minister's directive. There has been a full and complete disclosure by the minister.

Public Safety Act, 2002Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, on April 23 the Minister of Justice must have misunderstood my question because he did not answer it. Consequently I ask it again.

The provinces have registered 18.1 million vehicles in Canada, each one with the owner's name on it. The justice department has spent $700 million to register only 3.3 million guns without the owners' names. How can the provinces get it so right and the justice department and the federal government get it so wrong?

The minister went on to brag and I would like to quote from his answer:

The registration, licensing and mechanisms are working quite well.

That is not a joke. That is what he said. This will come as a big surprise to police on the street who continue to ridicule the gun registry and all the bonehead mistakes made by the justice minister and his bureaucrats.

Everybody knows what happens when a police officer checks their driver's licence and vehicle registration. It will be interesting to see what will happen when a police officer checks someone with a gun in their car.

After confirming the identity of the driver of the car and matching it up with the firearms licence, the officer will turn his or her attention to the firearm in the vehicle. The driver will say he is going out to hunt gophers on a nearby quarter section of land. The officer will examine the firearms licence to determine if the hunter is authorized to be in possession of the type of firearm in the car.

Then the police officer will ask for the registration certificate and the hunter will produce the certificate because the law requires it. But the police officer will see that the firearms registration certificate does not have the registered owner's name on it so the officer will ask the hunter if it is his gun. When the driver answers yes or no, the police officer will have to check the computer system to see if the driver is telling the truth.

In this case the driver who is in possession of the firearm will tell the officer that he borrowed the rifle from his neighbour, which is perfectly legal as long as the rifle and registration certificate are together. In order to confirm that the driver is telling the truth, the police officer will be forced to go back to verify this information on the police computer system.

There are two possible outcomes to checking a gun registration certificate on a police computer system. The officer finds the record of the gun or he does not.

In scenario number one, because of the hundreds of thousands of errors in the registry, the officer will not find a record of the rifle in the registration system. The officer will seize the firearm until the ownership can be confirmed.

In scenario number two, the officer's check of the gun registry computers will confirm that the rifle is indeed owned by the hunter's neighbour. To be sure that the hunter is telling the truth, the officer will call the neighbour, but the registered owner of the gun will not be at home and the gun owner's wife will have no knowledge of the firearm being lent to the neighbour. To be on the safe side, the officer will seize the firearm until he can confirm the legal ownership of the firearm with the registered owner.

A week or two later this routine stop by the police officer will be successfully concluded when, first of all, the officer is finally able to sort out the computer errors and confirm that the firearm is in fact registered to the driver's neighbour or when it is confirmed that the hunter did in fact borrow the rifle from his neighbour.

In those scenarios the embarrassed police officer, who has wasted scads of police time checking out the perfectly legal lending of a firearm between two individuals and who has completely irritated and frustrated two law-abiding firearms owners, will be forced to return the perfectly legal firearm to the hunter he took it from and apologize for the mix up.

All this extra work will have been caused by not putting the name of the registered owner on the firearms registration certificate, one colossal bureaucratic blunder caused by politicians trying to meet impossible arbitrary registration deadlines.

Does anyone really think a police officer will go through this complicated, time consuming, useless process a second time? I do not think so.