Mr. Speaker, rising to speak to Bill C-55 does not require one to redefine in detail the context we find ourselves in since September 11, since the impact of those attacks has been discussed more than once, along with the steps to be taken to prevent, or at least deal with, such events.
The Bloc Quebecois has, moreover, proposed some clear paths toward solutions that would eliminate one of the most fertile grounds for terrorism: the abject poverty in which millions live in this world. We have moreover agreed that it was also important to protect our territory from any possibility of attack. Public safety must be ensured through peactical measures and clearly defined legislation that has been the object of informed debate.
We must, however, take care not to go to the opposite extreme and enact legislation with potential negative impact on the rights and freedoms of those we wish to protect, under the guise of fighting terrorism. We do not have to go far back in time to recall the late unlamented Bill C-42, so criticized for its negative effects on fundamental rights and freedoms.
At the time, the government was busy boasting right and left of what an ardent promoter of public security it was, rejecting the criticisms that were being made from this side of the House. Now here we are again, starting off a new debate on a similar bill, although a few changes have been made.
Why are we having this new debate? Simply because the public, which is not stupid, condemned, like the Bloc Quebecois, Bill C-42, since it violated civil liberties and made us fear the worst by bringing back bad memories, including what happened in 1970 with the War Measures Act. So, the government had no choice but to recognize that the public's judgment can make the Liberals blush.
The bill now before us is a new version of Bill C-42. How is Bill C-55 different? Is it an improved version? These are two fundamental questions that must be answered.
First, in what way is it different? Unfortunately, there is very little difference. In the first draft of this bill, because it is certainly appropriate to call Bill C-42 a draft, great power was given to a single person, namely the Minister of National Defence.
How could the government put such power in the hands of a single person, this at a time when the authority delegated to the executive branch is being questioned, at a time when we are asking the legislative branch to have more of a say in the decision making process? The situation is all the more alarming because the decision to suspend people's fundamental rights will be based on the minister's judgment.
A lot of things have happened since Bill C-42 was introduced. Indeed, we were able to witness the very high degree of judgment of the Minister of National Defence, who omitted to inform the Prime Minister of the capture of Afghan prisoners and their handing over to the Americans. Everyone still clearly remembers the uproar created in this House by this whole story. Under Bill C-55, it is that same person who would have control over our rights and freedoms. Mr. Speaker, if you feel a chill running down your spine do not worry, it is not the flu; you are perfectly normal, you are a person of judgment.
Just think about this for a moment. This minister can, all alone, decide to create controlled access military zones and determine their dimensions. If he deems it appropriate to keep the whole thing secret, he also has the power to do so. It is legitimate to hope that the criteria under which he would make all these decisions are well defined and specified in the legislation, but this is not the case at all.
The bill simply says that the minister must base his decisions on what he believes is reasonably necessary. Could the wording be any more discretionary? I doubt it. Not only are we talking about judgment, which is hardly objective or reassuring, but then on top of that is says reasonably necessary.
Allow to me raise the following question: what does reasonably necessary really mean? How can such a qualifier restrict and limit a minister's actions?
I, for example, may find it reasonably necessary to remove these terms from the bill and define specific restrictions on the minister. I may also believe that it is reasonably necessary, given that we live in a representative democracy, for parliament to be consulted prior to proposing such measures. Will my interpretation be similar to that of the minister's? The answer is obvious.
When it comes to controlled access military zones, the minister does not need the approval of the provincial government. Which includes, obviously, all of the consequences of this power. Should this information be made public? No, not really, the government will tell us. How else are we supposed to react, other than to be suspicious and remain vigilant about this situation that, incidentally, seems to have survived the demise of Bill C-42 only to resurface again in Bill C-55.
Another issue related to these famous military zones that has left us perplexed is the lack of recourse before the courts for persons wronged by a controlled access military zone. For those who are wronged by the creation of such a zone, there is no recourse available, even if the government claims otherwise. The bill states clearly, and I quote:
260.1 (14) No action for loss, damage or injury lies by reason only of the designation of a controlled access military zone or the implementation of measures to enforce the designation.
If the designation of a military zone violate a person's rights in any way, and causes this person to be wronged, there is no legal recourse available to them. What is more, the following subsection stipulates:
(15) Any person who suffers loss, damage or injury by reason of the exercise of any of the powers conferred by this section shall be compensated from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
How lovely. It is the Consolidated Revenue Fund that will determine the compensation I am owed.
This should give us pause. Why? Because we have made the decision to live under the rule of law. What has now become of this principle? With a stroke of its electronic pen, the government decides to change things on us? In certain situations, the rule of law prevails, while in others, we just have to put up and shut up if we are wronged?
Members will recall that it was not so long ago that the government was proudly commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They will also recall that it neglected to mention the unilateral patriation of the constitution, probably not thinking it was reasonably necessary. Now, just a few dark nights and one brief burst of sunshine later, this same government is prepared to set aside these rights and freedoms in the name of the fight against terrorism. How is it that while, on the one hand, the Liberal government is proudly extolling the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on the other, it is crushing those same rights and there is nothing to stop it? A bit of consistency would do this government a lot of good, but perhaps we are dreaming in colour.
Mr. Speaker, if the designation of a zone has harmed you in some way, that will be just too bad for you. But you can take comfort in the fact that the maximum length of time for which such a zone may be designated is two years. Members will admit that that is a bit long. Here again, the government will tell you that there is no use claiming that your rights and freedoms have been violated and that, wonder of wonders, we live in a country which operates under the rule of law.
The bill has carefully retained the provisions allowing various ministers to make interim orders. However, there is a slight difference which is worth pointing out. The initial duration of interim orders has gone from 90 to 45 days. Then, orders will have to be tabled in each house of parliament on any of the first 15 days on which that house is sitting after the interim order is made. So far, so good. But then we find out the real nature of these interim orders. It is clearly set out in subsection (4) that an interim order is exempt from the application of section 3 of the Statutory Instruments Act. In plain language, this means that the interim order does not have to be consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.
Does that not prove that this government is seeking the power to restrict our rights and freedoms with total impunity? What we fear and what was deliberately included in this bill in order to set aside the most important elements of our democracy is the loss of total respect for the rights and freedoms of every citizen.
Some were pretty harsh in criticizing Bill C-55, including the privacy commissioner. He stated clearly that the government drew its inspiration from practices commonly used by totalitarian states. The commissioner did not even give this new antiterrorist legislation a passing grade. It is not very good for a supposedly liberal government, particularly since it cannot label as partisan the comments made by the privacy commissioner.
I have other interesting comments, but I will pass them on to my colleagues, who may be able to use them.
In closing, at the beginning of my speech, I mentioned two questions. The first one was: is Bill C-55 different? The answer is no. To some extent, it is even worse. The second question was: has it been improved? Obviously, the new bill does not meet our expectations nor does it allay our fears.
In these times where respect for each and every individual is more essential than ever, we cannot tolerate that fundamental rights and freedoms be taken away on the grounds that we are trying to fight terrorism. The very people whom we want to protect from terrorism must also be protected from abuse. Nothing leads us to believe that this would be the case, should Bill C-55 go through.