Mr. Speaker, I rise today to participate in the third reading debate of Bill C-17, an act to amend certain acts of Canada and to enact measures for implementing the biological and toxin weapons convention, in order to enhance public safety, otherwise known as the public safety act.
Our party will be reluctantly supporting Bill C-17 for two reasons. First, the events of September 11, 2001, have made legislation like Bill C-17 necessary. The United States, western Europe and most, if not all, of our major allies have adopted similar legislation as modern democracies attempt to deal with the terrorist threat from faceless cowards. To the extent that this type of legislation is necessary, I will support it.
Second, even as I support it, I must call on the government to adopt a higher standard both in the quality of legislation that it puts forward and in its willingness to be accountable to Parliament. In fact, it could be said that Bill C-17 and its predecessors are symptoms of what is wrong with the way Liberals govern our country.
If the true measure of a man is what he does rather than what he says, then the measure of a country must be in part its reaction to times of trial and stress. In the United States, 10 days after the September 11 attack, Senator Fritz Hollings was on his feet to introduce America's response, S.1447, a bill to improve aviation security, and for other purposes. With lightning speed, and despite an anthrax scare on Capitol Hill, both the house of congress and the senate quickly passed the legislation and President Bush signed it on November 19, 2001.
Members should think about this. Capitol Hill was under fire from all sides, yet dialogue happened. Politicians of different parties built a consensus on how a superpower would respond to a terrorist threat on its own soil and make its citizens feel safe.
In 1968, in his book Toward a Psychology of Being , Abraham Maslow identified his famous hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self actualization. The second of these is safety, otherwise known as security needs, and it is one of the few that the state can provide in a concrete way. United States governments of all political stripes have long understood that their first duty is to protect the safety security of their citizens and so when September 11 happened, Capitol Hill acted with a speed that was nearly dizzying.
A bill was proposed and amended. The house of representatives and the senate concurred and the President signed his approval. The whole process lasted a mere 10 weeks. During that same 10 weeks the Liberal government slept. In fact, it was a full three days after President Bush signed the U.S. law that the Liberal government tabled the first version of the public safety act, then called Bill C-42, on November 22.
Bill C-42 immediately drew fire from all sides. However, rather than seeking to build the kind of consensus that would allow a nation to respond quickly to a new threat, the government hid. The bill never went to any committee and was withdrawn April 24, 2002. Then, five days later, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-42's replacement, Bill C-55.
I have long believed that people in government should learn from their mistakes. One of Bill C-42's problems had been its complexity. It would have amended or introduced legislation affecting 10 federal departments. It was so complex that the portion giving airlines the legal authority to share reservations information with foreign governments had to be hived off into another bill, Bill C-44, so that some of the more useful clauses could get quick passage.
Bill C-55 showed that the Liberal government had learned little. It would have amended or introduced 19 federal statutes affecting some nine federal departments. In fact, Bill C-55 was so complex that a special committee was struck on May 9, 2002, solely for the purpose of studying it. That committee never met. Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper on September 16, 2002, when Parliament prorogued.
Given the speed with which the U.S. passed its legislation and given that most, if not all, of our major allies had similar legislation, one would think that passing Bill C-55 would have been a priority.
Certainly if we listen to the Minister of Transport he will tell us that Bill C-26, the transportation amendment act, is high priority. In fact, it is so high priority that he does not want the transport committee to travel when it studies that bill. The transportation amendment act is high priority, but on September 16, 2002 when Parliament prorogued, the public safety act was not.
Let me refer back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Safety is number two. Transport is not on the list, but transport rather than safety is a higher priority for the government.
The fact that Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper on September 16, 2002, almost a year to the day of the crises that spawned its creation, one gets a clear sense that while America was implementing tough new legislation to make its skies safer, Canada's Liberal government not only did not know what it was doing, but it had no idea of where to start.
In fact, the current legislation, Bill C-17, was not tabled in the House until some six weeks later, on October 31, 2002, fully 13 months after the September 11 attacks, and nearly 11 months after President Bush signed America's aviation and transportation security act into legislation as public law 107-71.
It is now May 27, 2003 and this bill is at third reading. Two things become evident very quickly. The first is that the government is under increasing pressure to be seen to be doing something, or in some case to be acting. The other is that it is terrified of real consultation and only accepts amendments when it has no other choice.
We see an example of the pressure that the government faced in the way it handled the sharing of airline passenger reservations systems information with various government agencies.
We are aware that part 1 of Bill C-17 introduces new clauses into the Aeronautics Act allowing the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the persons they designate, to require certain passenger information from air carriers and operators of aviation reservation systems, to be used and disclosed for transportation security purposes; national security investigations relating to terrorism; situations of immediate threat to the life or safety of a person; the enforcement of arrest warrants for offences punishable by five years or more of imprisonment and that are specified in the regulations; and arrest warrants under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Extradition Act.
The government has argued forcefully for these powers, yet it has dragged its feet in passing Bill C-17. In fact, the government has delayed for so long in passing the bill that some of the information-sharing clauses are now essentially moot.
Those clauses that would allow Canadian carriers to share information with foreign governments were contained in Bill C-44 which was introduced on November 28, 2001 and received royal assent three weeks later on December 18, 2001.
This timing was fortunate because one of the clauses of the U.S. law which was so quickly passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress in the aftermath of September 11 said that airlines would not be able to fly into the United States after January 18 unless they provided passenger reservations information to the U.S. customs service.
In Canada on October 7, 2002 the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency implemented its advance passenger information/passenger name record program that authorized airlines and passenger reservation systems to share information with various government agencies.
In the U.S. the government set an arbitrary deadline that this Liberal government had to scramble to meet. At the same time in Canada, a government department, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, essentially gave up on waiting for the government to act and used its existing and residual powers to implement its advance passenger information/passenger name record program three weeks before the government reintroduced Bill C-42 for the second time as Bill C-17.
If the passenger information issue shows the need for the government to act, the inexplosive ammunition component issue shows the need for the government to listen. The words “inexplosive ammunition component” first appeared in part 5 of Bill C-42, the first predecessor of Bill C-17, on November 22, 2001.
Within two months the Library of Parliament prepared a research paper pointing out the potential problems of regulating inexplosive ammunition components. Essentially as witnesses ultimately told the legislative committee on Bill C-17, regulating inexplosive ammunition components was tantamount to criminalizing brass and lead, or regulating little bits of margarine containers, little bits of cotton fabric and fishing sinkers.
Naturally our party hoped when the Liberals brought back Bill C-42 as Bill C-55 on April 29, 2002, that they had read the Library of Parliament report. They had not. On May 9, 2002, roughly a year ago today, the member for Yorkton--Melville told the House that the definition would potentially criminalize tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens who load their own ammunition for their legal pastime sports.
When Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper and was revived in slightly modified form as Bill C-17 on October 31, there were some who hoped that the Liberals had listened. They had not. On Monday, November 18, 2002 the member for Yorkton--Melville spoke to Bill C-17 at second reading and essentially repeated verbatim his May 9, 2002 comments on inexplosive ammunition components.
It might make it easier on the translators or perhaps those who maintain the Hansard if a member repeats a speech, but for me it is a way of underlining the complete lack of attention on the other side of the House to the opposition members and indeed the concerns that average everyday Canadians face from time to time. Even after having given the same speech twice, there was some doubt as to whether the Liberals had received the message about inexplosive ammunition components. The only thing I can confirm is that the term was deleted from Bill C-17 by the legislative committee studying the bill.
To the extent that the term “inexplosive ammunition component” was of considerable concern to many Canadians, the fact that the legislative committee deleted it makes Bill C-17 much more palatable to Canadians. However the fact that such a controversial and frankly unnecessary clause could have been in Bill C-17 and its predecessors from November 22, 2001 until May 7, 2003 shows Canadians a government whose ears and eyes are welded shut.
Another area where the government has shown no willingness to listen or to be accountable is interim orders. A very significant portion of Bill C-17 deals with interim orders. Ten parts of the bill amend various statutes to provide a new or expanded power permitting the responsible minister to make interim orders in situations where immediate action is required. Essentially the thinking behind interim orders is “trust me”, in other words “give me various undefined powers and when there is an emergency trust me to do the right thing”.
First, we cannot forget that the very same government that has taken more than 19 months to react to September 11 is the one now saying “trust me”. Second, we should not overlook the fact that if the government really knew what it was doing, it would define both its responsibilities and its powers in very clear language.
In the United States the U.S. aviation and transportation security act was drafted just in 10 days after September 11. Even then, while a shocked America pondered the unthinkable crisis that had just happened, American legislators knew that “trust me” was not going to cut it with the American public.
The U.S. aviation and transportation security act is specific. It delegates powers but it also assigns responsibilities. It contains deadlines. It specifies the amount of money that may be spent on particular initiatives. It sets management objectives and requires regular evaluations as well as audits. There is a clear understanding of who does what, why, when and with what authority. Checks and balances are present.
The U.S.aviation and transportation security act is a planned strategic response by a superpower to a defined threat. Canada in Bill C-17 uses interim orders while the U.S. uses specifics. The interim orders all follow a similar pattern. They allow a minister under certain circumstances to make an order that would normally have to be made by the governor in council. Thus, when the chips are down and cabinet cannot meet, an interim order lets a cabinet minister take actions that would normally need cabinet approval.
In most cases, in Bill C-17 the interim order has to be published in the Canada Gazette within 23 days, has to be approved by cabinet within 14 days, and expires at the end of the year. Similarly an interim order must be tabled in Parliament within 15 sitting days after it has been made.
Before the special legislative committee on Bill C-17, members from the Canadian Alliance, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP all tried to propose constructive amendments to the clauses of Bill C-17 dealing with interim orders. In the case of the 14 Canadian Alliance amendments, each was motivated by the spirit of the Emergencies Act. Its preamble reads in part:
Whereas the safety and security of the individual, the protection of the values of the body politic and the preservation of the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the state are fundamental obligations of government;
And whereas the fulfilment of those obligations in Canada may be seriously threatened by a national emergency and, in order to ensure safety and security during such an emergency, the Governor in Council should be authorized, subject to the supervision of Parliament, to take special temporary measures that may not be appropriate in normal times--
We therefore thought the standard of parliamentary scrutiny laid down in the Emergencies Act might be applicable to the type of situations in which interim orders might be made under Bill C-17.
Section 61 of the Emergencies Act reads:
(1) Subject to subsection (2), 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.
(2) Where an order or regulation made pursuant to this Act is exempted from publication in the Canada Gazette by regulations made under the Statutory Instruments Act, the order or regulation, in lieu of being laid before each House of Parliament as required by subsection (1), shall be referred to the Parliamentary Review Committee within two days after it is made or, if the Committee is not then designated or established, within the first two days after it is designated or established.
Each of our 14 amendments was motivated by the same philosophy. If during an emergency the government can subject orders and regulations to parliamentary scrutiny within two sitting days after they are made, there is no reason that a lower standard should apply to Bill C-17.
The Canadian Alliance was not alone in this thinking. Both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois advanced a similar philosophy. It is my hope that the three parties might be able to agree on a common approach so that the higher level of parliamentary scrutiny may be offered to interim orders made by a government that wants us to trust it 18 months after September 11.
However, the Liberal desire to escape parliamentary scrutiny appears intractable. Rather than agree to any new restrictions on interim orders, the only interim orders amendment that the Liberal members proposed at committee was one adding new clause 111.1 to Bill C-17 so that interim orders would be included in the Pest Control Products Act in the event that the act would receive royal assent before Bill C-17.
Other countries use clear language to define its government's responsibilities and its powers. The Liberal government uses interim orders. Previous governments believed that the standards of the Emergencies Act applied when Canada was threatened by a national emergency. The Liberal government believes in a dramatically lower standard of parliamentary accountability.
I conclude that the government's continued use of interim orders instead of defining its roles and responsibilities in a very clear language shows its unwillingness to either propose better legislation or to be more accountable to Parliament. Even if Bill C-17 passes third reading, it is possible that it will not receive royal assent before October. Members should think about this carefully.
September 11 happened and the U.S. had a law signed by the president and in place on November 18, roughly two months later. Canada will not have its law in place until nearly two years have passed, which is simply unacceptable. If it takes a Liberal-dominated Parliament two years to react to a major crisis, that is a very strong argument for a change of government.
It is quite clear that the committee state version of Bill C-17 is a definite improvement over Bill C-42 as first presented 17 months ago. It is also clear that Bill C-17 type legislation is necessary today. We will therefore be supporting the bill while calling upon the government to hold itself to a higher standard, particularly when asked to show leadership in times of crisis.