Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate on third reading of Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act, 2002, sponsored by the Minister of Transport.
I think it is important, while we are in the heart of this debate, to remember the context in which the bill was introduced and the context in which we must determine its relevancy.
Let us remember that on September 11, 2001, as everyone knows, the United States was hit by deadly attacks. The response came rapidly and there was an unprecedented movement to fight terrorism. The Bloc Quebecois was part of this movement. However, we thought about the matter and said that we must ensure that the measures taken reflect the necessary balance. The leader of the Bloc Quebecois and member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie put it very eloquently, and I quote:
The response must reflect and respect our democratic values.
Consequently, we must ensure that we can get at the root of the problem of terrorism, by taking the necessary repressive and security measures, while respecting our democratic values.
One thing is clear, the federal government did not deliver. Members will remember Bill C-36, the first bill the government introduced in response to the terrorist attacks. At first, we all agreed that we should pass anti-terrorism legislation, but the bill did not strike the proper balance. In fact, we believed that Bill C-36 did not effectively balance liberty against greater security.
For instance, we wanted to add a sunset clause to the bill so that the legislation would cease to have effect after three years, unless otherwise stipulated by the House. What that would have meant is that at an exceptionally tragic time in our history, we would have passed an exceptionally crucial piece of legislation that would not apply forever. We asked for a review of the legislation three years after its implementation, in 2004 or 2005, in order to be able to determine that the legislation was no longer relevant and not required in the short term or to allow the House to renew the act if need be.
The Bloc asked for an annual review to be carried out by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, following the tabling of a report by an independent commissioner. Some of the provisions of the bill severely limited individual freedoms. Therefore, we wanted to ensure that the federal government was acting properly.
We did not get satisfaction on that point, but we were at least listened to, and the bill is to be reviewed in three years. There is, however, no sunset clause that will put an end to the bill.
Following the same logic, the federal government reacted to the winds of panic, because adequate and well thought out measures could not be put in place. The federal government really failed in its anti-terrorism measures.
For example, the public security bill, known today as C-17, started life as C-42 and C-55. The first time it was introduced, the Bloc Quebecois spoke out against it, feeling that some of its proposed measures went much too far and that they had only a very tenuous connection with terrorism.
The federal government took advantage of the terrorism crisis to try to solve other problems and to acquire powers it could use in certain situations. The crisis at that time did not justify this.
For example, the new power of ministers to adopt interim orders allowed too much leeway for arbitrary decisions. In Quebec we have already experienced situations in which the Cabinet took steps that left leeway for arbitrary decisions. Our collective consciousness has been marked permanently as a result.
There was the invoking of the War Measures Act in 1970, and the way the federal government interpreted its legislation in such an elastic way at that time. CItizens' right to freedom were limited in an unacceptable way, there were arbitrary arrests, and we most certainly do not want to find that same type of decision included in a bill.
There was one other measure that went much too far. The military security zones were very poorly defined in the bill and their implementation left the door wide open for all manner of abuses. That bill was replaced by Bill C-55, and now by C-17. Neither one nor the other, however, manage to strike the necessary balance.
Let us talk about the Bloc position on military interventions. As far as the war against terrorism is concerned, we supported the strikes against Afghanistan, but called for them to be made under the auspices of the United Nations Organization in order to lend the necessary credibility to them.
As for sending Canadian troops, we supported that, but called for them not to be sent until there was a debate and a vote in the House of Commons, so that elected representatives could make known their positions on such an important decision.
Finally, we are very critical of the behaviour of the American administration, particularly the use of cluster bombs and the creation of military courts to try terrorists.
When we look at the two anti-terrorism bills the federal government put forward, we cannot but see it has failed in the fight against terrorism. The proposed measures do not strike a fair balance between freedom and security and, worse yet, the government is attempting to justify taking exceptional measures against terrorism when some of those measures are neither necessary nor justifiable.
We oppose Bill C-17 mainly because we believe it is fundamentally a bad bill. We give a failing grade to the federal government in its fight against terrorism.
As a matter of fact, this bill is a new version of Bill C-55, which dealt with public security, which was itself a new version of Bill C-42. Originally, our criticism targeted military zones, the interim orders I mentioned early, and the exchange of information from airline companies on passengers.
There again, the federal government was taking on a very broad mandate. In this respect, compared to the previous bills, the proposed amendments fall far short. The scope of the proposed provisions goes way beyond the fight against terrorism. They do not strike the right balance between security and privacy.
That is why we voted against the bill at second reading. In committee, we put forward a number of amendments and attempted to mitigate the problems created by the bill. Virtually every single one of our amendments was turned down.
For example, with regard to interim orders, the bill provides that they may be issued by various ministers without first checking that they are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its enabling statute.
We attempted to reinstate these initial checks but our amendments were rejected. For our sake and the sake of the balance we have been seeking since the very beginning, it is important that decisions made under interim orders respect the Charter of Rights and that advice be sought to make sure they do. That is not in the bill.
Under the latest version of the bill, interim orders should be tabled in Parliament within the first 15 sitting days after the order is issued. We find this to be excessive and tried to have the timeframe shortened from 15 to 5 days.
With respect to the powers of the RCMP and CSIS, it has become obvious in recent days that the RCMP's management of terrorism is far from transparent. Take for example the Canadian citizen who travelled to the United States and ended up in Syria, on the basis of recommendations from the RCMP according to U.S. government officials. This situation is forcing us to be very critical and to make sure that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
This bill includes provisions that confer sweeping powers on the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service with regard to passenger information compiled by the airlines.
We want to make the bill much tighter, to ensure there is a very tight net in place to prevent excesses. There is nothing in this bill in this regard.
We tried in vain to amend the bill to limit the powers to retain or use information collected as a result. We wanted to prohibit the use of this information to execute an arrest warrant.
We also wanted to ensure that the information collected would be destroyed within 24 hours after the aircraft carrying the passengers on whom information had been collected had landed, except if such information was reasonably necessary for transportation security purposes or an investigation related to national security.
In this bill, the timeframe within which such information must be destroyed remains seven days, which we still feel is inappropriate.
We in the Bloc Quebecois also tried to establish a mechanism to ensure that the Privacy Commissioner receives a copy of the reasons for retaining certain information. We wanted to have a watchdog of sorts with respect to privacy, to counterbalance the increased powers of the RCMP. Again, the government refused.
Thus, with respect to Bill C-17 now before us, which was unacceptable at the beginning because it did not strike the right balance, even after examining the amendments we do not find that balance.
For example, we attempted to make a number of changes in the sections concerning the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Implementation Act, and the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act, by suggesting amendments or voting against certain clauses. We attempted to make these changes in response to the concerns of various groups who appeared before the committee, but they were voted down.
The House will understand that we are clearly opposed to this bill. Beginning with the first version of this bill, we were opposed to a number of provisions that are still found in this one. Even though the Bloc had some success with respect to the first version, particularly in the delineation of military zones, this bill has not been sufficiently improved that we could vote in favour of it.
I was speaking of the concept of military security zones. It has completely disappeared from the bill. This is a sensible improvement that pleases us; we think it is essential. For example, the provision concerning the establishment of zones by order in council appears much more reasonable than in the previous version. We must ensure that no zones are created in Quebec without the consent of the Government of Quebec.
Remember that the initial bill would have made it possible that, in Quebec City, the Citadel, the Armoury and even the Quebec National Assembly could be included within the military zone. When we look at the past, the October crisis and the legitimacy of the Quebec National Assembly, it was completely unacceptable. We succeeded in getting it removed from the bill, and we are very happy about that. We did our job well, and Quebeckers can be proud of the results we obtained.
As for the interim orders, the bill still contains provisions that would allow various ministers to make such orders. Some minimal changes have been made requiring the tabling in Parliament within 15 days and the reduction from 45 to 14 days of the period during which the order would be in force without cabinet approval. But 14 days can still be a very long time, particularly when decisions are made. It can be realized afterwards that some people have felt for years the consequences of a decision taken further to an error in judgment. The way cabinet works, we certainly have to protect ourselves from this type of decisions.
We have seen it before and we still see it, particularly with national defence. It has been said for years that before going out to buy material, we should first decide what kind of armed forces we want to have, what the mandate would be and what kind of results we are expecting. Without clear policies, if an interim order is made by a minister and errors occur, the period during which the order would be in force without cabinet approval should be much shorter than what is provided for in the act.
What is worse, of course, is the fact that there is no prior assessment to ensure that—