Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise and speak in the House of Commons. Today we are dealing with an important matter, Bill C-55, which the government introduced late last month.
This is an improved package of public safety initiatives. They are in support of the government's anti-terrorism plan. The bill that is under discussion today known as the public safety act, 2002 replaces Bill C-42 which was introduced in the wake of September 11 last year. The government sat on it for more than four months and then dropped it quietly from the order paper and came back with Bill C-55 on April 29.
It will come as no surprise to people who follow politics and know the proud history of the New Democratic Party when it comes to standing up and speaking out for civil liberties. We will be opposing Bill C-55 vigorously because it amounts to nothing short of a sneak attack on human rights and gives virtually Orwellian powers to certain federal cabinet ministers, particularly the Minister of Transport.
We are appalled at the powers the government wants to give itself to spy on passenger lists of people travelling on our airplanes to domestic and foreign destinations. The government introduced the anti-terrorism Bill C-42 and it was widely criticized at that time as being too draconian and dangerous to the freedom and liberty of Canadian citizens. That may have been why the government did not proceed with it.
We do not know that but the new version has not been improved. It is still heavy-handed. Some people have said it is draconian and that is unfortunate. It is understandable when bills are formulated quickly with a knee-jerk reaction in the aftermath of a tragedy like September 11. However, having given time to reflect it is unworthy for this to come back in this sleight of hand way.
It is not just New Democrats who are speaking out. The privacy commissioner has deep concerns about the legislation, so much so that he took the relatively extraordinary step of releasing publicly the letter that he wrote to the transport minister on the topic and he was dealing specifically with clause 4.82. His concern was that the bill's provisions could fundamentally and unnecessarily alter the balance between individuals and the state that exists and should exist in a free society such as Canada's.
In other words, what he was saying was that he feared deeply for the privacy and civil rights of Canadians. The privacy commissioner is not alone in his concerns. There is a backbench Liberal that irrespective of party policies all of us listen to with great interest. The member for Mount Royal, a prominent civil rights lawyer, says the bill gives undue power to cabinet ministers over the civil liberty of Canadians and he too has expressed his deep concerns. The privacy commissioner, Mr. Radwanski, has called on the government to go slow on the legislation because of its importance and its ability to invade the privacy of Canadians.
The New Democratic Party is making the same call for caution and prudence in the protection of civil liberties just as its predecessors did when the War Measures Act was introduced in this Chamber some 32 years ago. People like Tommy Douglas and David Lewis stood up and spoke out against what was a heavy-handed piece of legislation. That was at a time of emergency. This is on reflection and it is unworthy of the government to proceed in this way on this bill at this time.
It has waited for months to introduce the bill and now all of a sudden we are told that we must rush this through the House of Commons. We must get it through before the House adjourns for the summer recess probably in about a month's time. What is the rush? Where has the government been since September 11 when the bill was introduced in November and then sat for four and a half months?
Since then we have been dealing with relatively miniscule items. All members are seized with the fact that we have not been overwhelmed with heavy-duty legislation. There was ample time to come back and discuss this. Now all of a sudden after months of inaction we get the bill and we get the charge that we must rush it through in short order without ample consideration.
The New Democratic Party believes that it is our duty as parliamentarians to give the legislation the kind and depth of scrutiny that it deserves and requires. We are asking the questions that Canadians want answered, and in doing so we want to give them time to hone in on exactly what the government is doing with Bill C-55.
We oppose the legislation. We call upon the government to reconsider the tight timeframe that is indicated and give us the space necessary to consult Canadians and parliamentarians on Bill C-55. Perhaps a way that this could be done, that would give it the in depth scrutiny it deserves, would be to have a special subcommittee of justice, or perhaps transport if that is the case. A group of experienced politicians could look specifically at the legislation in depth, deal with it and bring it back modified to protect the civil liberties that we are concerned about here, particularly with airline passengers.
I want to read into the record some of the comments that Mr. Radwanski made in his extraordinarily transparent letter to the Minister of Transport regarding any initiative that would infringe on the privacy rights. He talked about four criteria:
It must be demonstrably necessary to address a specific problem or need. It must be demonstrably likely to be effective in addressing that problem or need. The limitation of privacy rights must be proportional to the security benefit to be derived.
After studying that with care Mr. Radwanski concluded that this particular bill did not meet that criteria. He ends by asking in his open letter to the Minister of Transport the following question:
What considerations lead you to the view that this very serious limitation on privacy rights would be proportional to the benefits to be derived?
The privacy commissioner is signaling to members of parliament on all sides of the House that we need to be extremely concerned about this piece of legislation. We cannot rush it through the House in the dying days of the parliamentary session. We must give it the time and serious reflection that it needs and deserves. That is why we are calling upon the government to amend its decision, perhaps send it to a committee, and not deal with it in this last moment rush before the House rises for the summer.