Mr. Speaker, I too rise to speak to the important matter of Bill C-17.
As you know, I will start by blaming the Liberal government once again for this gag order which limits the time allotted to parliamentarians to discuss such a crucial and important issue.
The legislative agenda has been rather thin lately in this parliament. There have been persistent rumours that the current session could end early due to the upcoming change in leadership on the other side, in other words the current Prime Minister will have to step down in favour of the member for LaSalle—Émard.
It would appear as a result that the government wants to push ahead with several bills and move the agenda faster. After unduly delaying bills and regulations, it now wants to make up for lost time. Attempting to make up for lost time by ramming through a bill as important as Bill C-17 is going a bit too far.
I would like to share an experience I had recently in Taiwan at a world convention in Taipei attended by about 23 countries. The conference was entitled “Democratic Pacific Assembly”. Those 23 countries tackled the fundamental issue of security and freedom of speech.
The motions that were unanimously passed during this important meeting said that the balance between freedom and security had to be maintained and that the unfortunate events of September 2001, that are starting to be distorted, should not serve as an excuse for legislation muzzling hard won freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, Ottawa does not seem to want to respect this fundamental balance between freedom and security. We must say yes to security, but not at the expense of our rights and freedoms.
We have seen what has been happening in the United States over the past two years. Freedom of speech has virtually been eliminated from the airwaves, especially on television; we saw the Bush administration trying to take over the media, use propaganda and justify its behaviour. We are all aware of the situation in which the U.S. administration and its president, Mr. George Bush, now find themselves, especially with their involvement in the war in Iraq. Again, in the United States, freedom of speech has been severely curtailed. Unfortunately the media capitalized on a show. Today, the show is over but the current president and his great thinkers are still trying to justify his actions by using the word terrorism.
With such a formidable neighbour, the Canadian government must be wary of adopting some of the provisions found in Bill C-17. If our neighbours south of the border go too far and get carried away on the issue of terrorism, we are not out of the woods.
As we all know, parliamentarians have been considering this important piece of legislation for two years now. Bills C-36, C-42, C-55 and C-17 were all brought before the House. Unfortunately, whatever the number of the bill is, it still contains the same deficiencies.
Let us review the history of this bill. The first bill introduced in response to the terrorist attacks was Bill C-36. Although we supported at first the need to pass anti-terrorism legislation, we thought that the federal government's proposal did not strike the proper balance.
At the time, the Bloc Quebecois thought that Bill C-36 did not effectively balance freedom with security issues. When Bill C-36 was first introduced, the attacks and the terrorist threat were at an all-time high and had created an exceptional climate. But since then, a lot of water has gone under the bridge.
I remember taking part in the debate on Bill C-36. I warned the government about the three-year limit. Things were changing so fast that we thought we could not pass legislation on such a crucial issue and maintain it for three years without reviewing and adjusting it.
If, at some point, the Canadian government needs certain tools to address a particular situation, we can provide these tools. However, the situation may change, and this is why we would like the legislation to be reviewed and reassessed every twelve months to see if it meets the expectations of the public and our security needs.
Members will recall that the Bloc Quebecois asked for a sunset clause to be added to this bill so that it would cease to be in effect after three years, unless the House decided otherwise. Parliamentarians always have the power to amend an act if the situation warrants. However, we do not know what the future holds for us. We are all trying to stamp out terrorism. We believe that laudable efforts have been made so far, and this is why we think that a piece of legislation as crucial and important as the one before us today must be reviewed periodically.
Regarding this particular piece of legislation, we also asked that it be reviewed automatically each year by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which would be the same thing. Every year, it would be referred to the committee for review. This means that members from all political parties gathered around a table would have a good look at it and would be able to make recommendations in light of the current context. Again, our suggestion was rejected.
Furthermore, it was also said regarding this bill that the Minister of Justice could withhold information normally accessible under the Access to Information Act, without any safeguard provided. This is also very dangerous. The bill will be reviewed only in three years' time. I have talked about this before. The Minister of National Defence will be able to intercept international communications simply by sending a written request to the Centre. He will not even need a judge's authorization.
In this regard, allow me to say that I am very concerned, especially after the events of August 14 and 15 when a power failure hit Ontario and the southeastern United States. We know that the person who was supposed to have all the information and to reassure the public, the Minister of National Defence, made a statement. All he did was further confuse matters. The sources were contradictory. Just imagine if the present Minister of National Defence were to intercept international communications. How could we take him seriously when he interpreted this information and particularly when he explained what was really happening in a given situation?
Continuing with the history of the public security bill, there was first C-42, then Bill C-55 and now Bill C-17. One thing is clear. The weaknesses that were part of the initial bill are still present in Bill C-17 and I will explain why.
Claiming to be trying to further improve security, the government introduced Bill C-42 on public safety.
As soon as the bill was tabled, our party stated its opposition once more, finding that some of the proposed measures went much too far, and that their link to terrorism was rather tenuous. The government must not be given an opportunity to abuse the situation.
The collective memory of Quebeckers has not faded away. We remember very clearly what happened during the October crisis in 1970. We all must remember it, because if we give police and military powers to this government, we know they may be abused. Consequently, when faced with such situations, the collective memory of Quebeckers reminds us of the sad events of October 1970. Today, in 2003, I want to reintroduce them into the debate because one never knows what may happen when a context changes.
In my opinion, that is the reason this bill tends to draw links—often very tenuous ones—with terrorism. I will return to the whole issue of the powers the bill would give to the RCMP and CSIS.
Bill C-55 was then replaced by Bill C-17, which is now before us. Unfortunately, these two bills do not come any closer to achieving the necessary balance. And yet that is the fundamental principle and we mention it constantly in these debates. The position of the Bloc Quebecois is to strike a fair balance between liberty and security at all times, and especially to prevent possible abuses by the Canadian federal government.
We have had some victories along the way during the debates to come up with new legislation. In Bill C-17, we see that the controlled access military zones that were mentioned in Bill C-42 have been withdrawn. That was a considerable victory for the Bloc Quebecois and that is why we keep on hammering away with these fundamental principles.
As I said earlier, it is terrible that the government is using a closure motion once again to prevent us from exercising our rights, presenting our point of view, and trying to eventually convince the Liberal government of the flaws in Bill C-17.
I would also like to address the powers that will be conferred upon the RCMP and CSIS. We are aware of the case of Maher Arar—on which my colleague from Mercier has been asking questions earlier. This Canadian was apprehended by the Americans when in the United States and was subsequently returned to his former country.
Judging from the RCMP's behaviour, if it had more power given to it, this would lead to almost an automatic connection between the RCMP and the Americans. This lays open to question the rights of citizens, of the people of Canada and Quebec.
So those are the powers. The bill includes provisions which confer extended powers on RCMP commissioners as well as the director of CSIS, in connection with the gathering of information on air passengers from the airlines.
The more we travel, the more we will be under surveillance. That is what this means. The more often we take a plane, the more the RCMP will interfere in our business. The more often we visit countries likely to have links with countries that have links to terrorists, the more likely the RCMP is to interfere in our business. It is unacceptable that so much power is being given to the RCMP, particularly when we have seen how it acted in this matter, which is getting so much media coverage and attention in the House.
We tried to amend this bill so as to limit the powers relating to retention and use of the information gathered in this way. We often hear reference to someone “flagged by the RCMP”. What does that mean? It means that the RCMP collects information on such individuals, based on the assumption of a link with terrorism. This information is on file with the RCMP and can be used at any time in order to violate the freedom of members of the public. It is really dangerous to give so much power to the RCMP with Bill C-17.
We also wanted to ensure that the information gathered would be destroyed within 24 hours of landing unless there were any suspicions about the passenger. What point is there in keeping information? But no, the time limit will be seven days. In other words, during those seven days the authorities are in possession of information on an individual which can lead to digging deeper into that person's life, far more than to just find out about his past, his background, when he takes a plane.
The current Bill C-17 includes such abuse, and these are fundamental democratic issues. All the government is doing is imposing Bill C-17 on us. It is forcing the bill on us and gagging us so we keep quiet. If this is democracy, we have a real problem.
I want to say once again that all the members of the Bloc Quebecois oppose this bill. We opposed various provisions in the initial version that are still found in this bill, a few of which I mentioned. Despite all the efforts to mitigate the problematic provisions, we continue to find them unacceptable.
I will repeat once again that it is time for the government to backtrack, and not adopt this bill this afternoon, during the vote to be held shortly. This is a serious situation given the bill's failure to ensure a balance between freedom and security. This is the most important point. If we have to give up rights and freedoms for improved security, why did we fight for them in the first place? In many countries, people are still fighting for freedom of expression.
I am reminded of my trip to Taiwan. In the neighbouring country, the People's Republic of China, there is no such thing as freedom of expression and respect for human rights. Yet we live in an age where information circulates freely. Furthermore, the Americans may promote free speech, but free speech that is controlled and planned by the Cabinet of the United States President, George Bush.
Given all these situations, Bill C-17 must include the desired amendments to maintain a balance between freedom and security so that Quebeckers and Canadians can live freely in the years to come.