Madam Speaker, I wish to say a few words on the bill before the House today. I am glad the solicitor general is in the House. Maybe he will take a serious note of some of the changes that people want made in the legislation.
I want to begin by saying that the bill is known as the public safety act, 2002. It replaces Bill C-42 which was introduced of course in the wake of the great tragedy in the United States on September 11. Today marks the official end of the cleanup of ground zero in New York. The appropriate ceremonies will take place there sometime today.
I suppose we can say that the bill represents an improved package for public safety initiatives over what we had in the previous package, which was the government's response in the wake of September 11.
September 11 was a great tragedy for the people in the United States. It was also a great international tragedy. Many people died, including many Canadians. I think some of the reaction of September 11 was to overreact in terms of our response to a very legitimate fight against terrorism.
I think the very first bill the government brought in was a bill of great overreaction. I guess that is probably a fact now. The government then withdrew the bill because of widespread public criticism throughout the country. There were all kinds of objections from civil liberty groups, parliamentarians from all political parties in the House of Commons, many commentators, people in provincial governments and the like. Bill C-42 was withdrawn and Bill C-55 has been brought in to replace it.
We in our party oppose Bill C-55 because it is still in our opinion an attack on human rights. It gives unprecedented powers to certain federal cabinet ministers, particularly the Minister of Transport. I think that is a dangerous way to go.
I was in the House of Commons in the 1980s when we had great pride in enshrining a charter of rights in our constitution. We went through a great debate about individual rights, the freedom of speech, the freedom of mobility, what should be in the charter and what should or should not be enshrined in the constitution.
After a long and sometimes acrimonious debate we decided to enshrine a charter of rights in the Constitution of Canada to protect the individual rights and liberties of every Canadian regardless of background or where we came from.
I suggest to members that the bill before the House today is an attack on those human rights. It gives far too much power to the Minister of Transport and certain other ministers of the crown.
We live in a parliamentary democracy. I think we need a great deal of parliamentary reform in terms of democratizing this institution and democratizing our electoral system in Canada. To give more power to a cabinet minister who can exercise those powers through an edict basically, through an order in council, through permission from fellow cabinet ministers around a cabinet table in this very building, I think goes too far.
I also believe that the present criminal code and the police powers we have are adequate. The present laws are adequate to deal with any terrorist threat, real or perceived.
Once we give this kind of power to a cabinet minister, regardless of who that individual may be, there is always the possibility of abuse of that power. I remember the War Measures Act in 1970. I remember the Trudeau government of that day. Pierre Trudeau was a person who was committed to civil liberties and civil rights. Despite the fact that he talked a lot about a new democracy and participatory democracy he invoked the War Measures Act to deal with the Front de Libération du Québec in 1970.
It was an overreaction. The Government of Canada under Pierre Trudeau took a sledgehammer to open a peanut. There were troops outside the House of Commons. It was my second year in the House. All kinds of innocent people were arrested under the War Measures Act. If I remember correctly there was a member of parliament across the way who was arrested under the act. He was the leader of the teachers' union in Quebec at the time. Other members of the House of Commons might have been in similar situations. I knew all kinds of people who were arrested under the War Measures Act in an overreaction by the federal government.
The leader of the opposition at the time, Robert Stanfield, supported the invocation of the act. When he left public life he said the biggest mistake he had made in his political career was to get up and support the invocation of the War Measures Act by then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Liberal Party. It was an overreaction.
I was one of the 16 members of parliament who stood in the House in opposition to the act. There were 23 of us in the NDP caucus and 16 of us stood in opposition to the invocation of the act. A feeling of hostility greeted us from some members of the House and many members of the public because of the fear being whipped up throughout the country at the time.
The government already has awesome powers. It and the military have tremendous powers under existing law. The criminal code gives police powers that are broad in scope. We have seen those powers exercised in the past. Additional powers do not need to be given to the Minister of Transport and other cabinet ministers to deal with the threat of terrorism.
There is nothing as fundamental as individual freedoms and civil liberties. That is why so many people are concerned about Bill C-55. That is why it should not be passed in the House of Commons before we recess on June 21. Sober thought should be given to the bill by all members of parliament over the summer months. I hope when we come back in the fall the Government of Canada will withdraw the bill and find it is not necessary in terms of security, peace, justice and freedom in our country.
Many of the freedoms we have were hard fought for and difficult to achieve. Taking them away by giving a cabinet minister this kind of power would be the wrong way to go. The powers the government wants to give itself are unnecessary. They would be an infringement on the rights of the Canadian people. We are a proud country in terms of trying to defend minority rights. I mentioned the War Measures Act as a sad reflection on our history where the Government of Canada overreacted.
As I watched the hon. member from Vancouver East walk into the House of Commons I thought of another time a Canadian government overreacted. Japanese Canadians were rounded up during the second world war and shipped to internment camps in the interior of British Columbia because they happened to be of Japanese ancestry. Canadians of Japanese ancestry were arrested and put into internment camps. That is part of the history of our country.
I am not suggesting this would happen again but it has happened in the past. Giving this additional power to a cabinet minister and the Prime Minister would invite overreaction in the future. That is why our party does not want to see Bill C-55 through the House of Commons. Bill C-42 which was in the House before and after Christmas was widely criticized as being draconian and dangerous for the freedom and liberty of Canadian citizens. I am sure that is why the government did not proceed with it. There was a public perception that the bill was an overreaction. Unfortunately, Bill C-55 offers little improvement.
In fact, this is the same bill. It may be slightly different, but this is essentially the same bill. This is why we must hold an extensive debate in the House and defeat this bill. This is crucial.
I hope my hon. colleagues in the Liberal Party will at least listen to one of their own members, a prominent civil rights lawyer from Montreal who expressed deep concern in the House that the bill would give undue power to cabinet ministers and diminish the civil liberties of Canadians.
Where is the liberalism in the Liberal Party? Why do its members not get up and defend the freedoms of ordinary Canadians? Is it not ironic that a Liberal Party is bringing in this kind of draconian legislation? I appeal to members of the Liberal Party to get up on their small-l liberal legs to speak out against this draconian piece of legislation.