Mr. Speaker, there are essentially three parts to Bill C-55. First, the most innocuous part relates to the Aeronautics Act and certain amendments to the National Defence Act respecting reservists. These proposals can easily be separated from the rest of the bill and are worthy of serious consideration in committee.
Second, the bill seeks to give ministers emergency powers including military powers which the government already possesses in the law under the Emergencies Act. The law already gives ministers the power to act against terrorism or in other emergencies. The only difference is that the existing legislation lets parliament stop abuses of that power and Bill C-55 would put no restraint on abuse by ministers of the government. The bill is not about fighting the threat of terrorists. It is about enlarging the power of the government to act arbitrarily.
Third, the bill seeks to remove parliamentary control. That is new. It is the most insidious and dangerous part of Bill C-55. It would take away the existing ability of parliament to review, amend or revoke emergency measures which ministers might take. The Emergencies Act, the existing law, specifically spells out the powers of parliament: the power to review; the power to amend; and the power to revoke. The existing law, the Emergencies Act, respects the principles of a free parliamentary democracy. Bill C-55 would violate those principles.
We were faced with a similar legislation in the past. It was the War Measures Act. That legislation gave the government power to act in an arbitrary way, without any constraint. History has shown that the Liberal government of the time, of which the current Prime Minister was a member, abused these powers. Invoking the War Measures Act, they threw people in prison without reasonable motives, without verification and, in too many cases, without reason.
Because of that abuse the War Measures Act was finally withdrawn in 1988 and replaced by the Emergencies Act. The major change was to establish the ultimate power of parliament and limit the arbitrary power of government. That protected the public interest against both the threat of terror and the threat of arbitrary action and abuse. Bill C-55 would throw away the protections of our free system and drag Canada back to the arbitrary powers of the War Measures Act.
I invite members of the House to look at the law that already exists. Section 3 of the Emergencies Act defines a national emergency as:
--an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature that
(a) seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians...or
(b) seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada--
That is in the law that already is in effect. Section 16 of the existing law says a public order emergency:
--means an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and that is so serious as to be a national emergency--
That covers each of the threats referred to in Bill C-55.
The power being sought already exists in the law of the land. It is there to deal with critical situations of a temporary nature. How long is temporary under the existing law? It is from one to four months. That is long enough. It can be extended under the law by bringing it before parliament.
Under the existing law, the Emergencies Act, a declaration of emergency is effective the day it is declared and it goes to parliament within seven days. Sections 57 and 58 of the existing law clearly outline the procedure for parliamentary supervision. Section 59 of the existing law outlines the manner in which a declaration of emergency is revoked by parliament if it is bad or dangerous. Each time the government wants to extend a declaration of emergency under the existing law, a law the government wants to put aside, it must lay before each house a motion either amending or extending the original order.
The Emergencies Act provides for orders and regulations that might have to be issued. In subsection 61(1) of the existing law, the law under which we act now and under which the government is empowered to respond to emergencies like terror, there is the following. It states:
--every order or regulation made by the Governor in Council pursuant to this Act shall be laid before each House of Parliament within two sitting days after it is made.
Every order comes here to be reviewed, revoked or scrutinized. We have the power to deal with it here under the law which exists, a law the government is trying to take off the books and replace with this dangerous, draconian and secretive piece of legislation.
Some orders are confidential. That is fine. The existing law provides a means to keep classified orders confidential but it also provides a parliamentary oversight that guarantees that kind of confidentiality. Those are the matters the present government wants to keep absolutely secret under Bill C-55.
Let us look again at the law we already have, a law the government is trying to get rid of, a law that gives power to parliament and to the people. Subsection 61(2) of the Emergencies Act states:
Where an order or regulation...is exempted from publication in the Canada Gazette by regulations made under the Statutory Instruments Act, the order or regulation...shall be referred to the Parliamentary Review Committee within two days after it is made--
That is a committee bound by an oath of secrecy.
The Emergencies Act is in force. It has not been struck down. Why then does the government want to enact another law that would provide the same powers to its ministers? It is simple. The only difference between the existing Emergencies Act and the power grab version the government calls Bill C-55 is that the Emergencies Act renders the government accountable to parliament while Bill C-55 would circumvent parliament totally.
Under the existing act, all emergency measures taken by ministers must be authorized by parliament. There is even the power to revoke or amend such measures. That is not the case with Bill C-55. Parliament has no say at all under the new bill. Bill C-55 would make parliament irrelevant at a time of emergency. It would leave the rights of Canadian citizens unprotected.
There is another invitation to abuse in Bill C-55. The interim order sections in the new bill are exempt from sections 3, 5 and 11 of the Statutory Instruments Act. That means it is exempt from examination by the Clerk of the Privy Council and the deputy minister of justice to ensure that “It does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority to which it is to be made” and “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”. That is the law that exists.
The new bill would trample on the basic rights and freedoms of Canadians that are constitutionally guaranteed and it would trample upon them at the whim of a minister with virtually no checks and balances on that power.
The Prime Minister has adopted a very cavalier attitude, as far as the violation of the charter and the limitation of Canadians' rights are concerned. He is telling parliament to go ahead and pass a bad bill. Parliament can ignore the charter because, and I quote the Prime Minister:
The courts will determine if certain provisions are illegal. That is how the system works.
That is not how the system should work.
Terrorism presents a real threat to the fundamental freedoms of Canadians. We need to be prepared. We need to recognize that in an age of terror governments can sometimes act in extraordinary ways, but we must also always be conscious of the other threats to freedom: the threat of arbitrary action and the threat of abuse of power. The bill adds materially to those threats to freedom by authorizing the government to act arbitrarily without scrutiny or control, yet it adds virtually nothing to Canada's ability to fight the threat of terrorism. We have those powers already. We have them in a form that protects against abuse. We should use the law we already have. We should not return to the dark age of the War Measures Act.