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House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Business of the House

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14) to inform the House that the motion to be considered during consideration of the business of supply tomorrow is as follows:

That this House call upon the government to hold a referendum within one year to determine whether Canadians wish to replace the current electoral system with a system of proportional representation and, if so, to appoint a commission to consult Canadians on the preferred model of proportional representation and the process of implementation, with an implementation date no later than July 1, 2006.

The motion, in the name of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, is votable. Copies of the motion are available at the table.

The House resumed from September 18, 2003 consideration of the motion that Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees, be read the third time and passed.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. members on my own side for the warm applause. Obviously people are in a good mood this morning.

It is my pleasure to rise to address Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees. I have to say that this subject is of interest to me. In the past I have brought forward my own private member's bill on user fees in an attempt to ensure that there is some accountability when it comes to establishing user fees as well as accountability when it comes to ensuring that the services provided as a result of user fees are actually providing the public with value for money.

I want to say at the outset that this is an important issue. It is an issue that has been raised by the Auditor General in the past. The Auditor General has suggested that there needs to be more accountability and transparency when it comes to user fees. We completely support that idea.

It is also my pleasure to speak in favour of Bill C-212. My Liberal colleague across the way has done a lot of work on this. That is good. It is an important issue.

A few years ago there was actually a coalition of business groups that got together and demonstrated real concern about it. They felt that the government was not ensuring that people were getting value for money when it came to the services that were provided. As a result of the submission on user fees, typically from businesses, for different services, some changes have been made. The government has tried to react. The President of the Treasury Board has brought down some changes, but as the member for Etobicoke North points out, it really is not enough. The government has not gone far enough. I agree with him completely.

I want to talk about some of the specific things he is proposing in his bill. I will not speak for my party because it is private members' business, but I do think a large majority of people in my party would support some of these measures.

First of all he is calling for notification. In other words, if there is to be a change to a fee, it only makes sense that the people and businesses that will be affected should be notified. In some cases it is critical to a business that the service it purchases from government be provided. In some cases businesses pay a tremendous amount of money to get those services through user fees, so they want to be notified ahead of time if there is to be a change to a user fee. Obviously that is just common sense. It is safe to say that members of the Alliance, if I could speak broadly, would be very supportive of that and I certainly am.

A second point related to this is that there should be input on improving services. This is so important.

Let me give the House an example of a service for which there is a user fee where the public has had really no input at all, and that is on passports. Almost everybody at one time or another has owned a passport. Certainly now in this day and age when there are tighter security controls everywhere, whether it is at airports or crossing the border into the United States or into another country, we almost need a passport. The fees for passports are pretty rich, but on the other hand, the service providing them has become slower. I think people have cause to question whether or not that is appropriate.

It makes sense to me that there would be some input when it comes to determining what is a reasonable amount of time people should have to wait for a passport, given the fact that it costs $65, I think, to get a passport. I am not certain why it costs $65. It seems like a lot of money to me, but there does not seem to be any relationship between what a service costs and what the user fee is and how good the service is. In this case with passports we know that the government was not even meeting its own standards in terms of providing passports and turning them around as quickly as it should.

I remember that there were a number of questions asked of the foreign affairs minister last spring when people were making requests for passports and sending along their money only to find out it was taking a lot longer than they had bargained for and that the government had promised. There needs to be some input on improving services.

Another recommendation in this private member's bill is impact assessment. That makes sense to me. If the government is going to raise a user fee, pretty obviously it is important that the government determine how it will impact businesses, typically it is businesses, that are using that service. If it has a dramatic impact and if it makes those businesses uncompetitive with other jurisdictions around the world, the government should take that into account. Because the role of government of course is not to make the job of businesses harder, but it is in fact to facilitate and to make it easier for them to compete. This is a very common sense proposal contained in this private member's bill, Bill C-212, and I could be very supportive of that.

The bill also calls on the government to explain how a fee is determined. I touched on that a minute ago. Why does it cost $65 for a passport? A passport is a secure document and the government has gone to some length to ensure that it cannot be easily replicated so people cannot use fraudulent passports. It is not clear to me that it actually costs the government $65 to produce it and to process the paperwork when someone requests a passport. The fact is, we do not really know how much it costs because we do not have any information with regard to this. So it makes sense that there be an accounting, that the government must provide some kind of accounting to show that it costs that much money and that government therefore can justify charging that much money. Under the system as it is now, there is absolutely no transparency. We need to know how those fees are determined.

The bill put forward by the member for Etobicoke North suggests that there should be a dispute settlement mechanism. What he means by this is that if there is a dispute between people who use a government service, and pay fees for that service, and the government, in terms of how much it should charge for that service, there should be a way to settle that through an independent third party. That is important, because if there is no independent third party, pretty obviously the government, which gets to make the final call on this, may say, “It's my way or the highway”. It will just go ahead and charge that fee. The government may be doing it for reasons that have nothing to do with only recovering its costs; it may be doing that because it wants to make a profit.

We must remember that user fees bring in more than $3 billion a year to the government. They are a big source of revenue. If the government is using user fees not just to recover costs but to make a profit to be put into general revenues, that is not appropriate. That is not what user fees are for. User fees are there to cover the costs of government in providing a particular service.

Therefore, we very much support the idea of an independent third party who could settle disputes between government and those who are recipients of services purchased through user fees.

Finally, it makes sense that these fees should be comparable to those of other jurisdictions. Canada is in global competition. If services are provided for a company that is in the shipping industry, for example, and the fees are much higher here than for a shipping industry in another country, then perhaps that industry will ship to that other country so it can take advantage of the lower user fees. That should also be taken into account. We have no assurance that this is happening today. In fact, to the contrary, all we have is the government saying it is our way or the highway. We support that aspect of Bill C-212.

We support Bill C-212 in general, if I may speak for my colleagues. I have no authority to do that, by the way, as it is private member's business, but I certainly will recommend to my colleagues that we support Bill C-212. I congratulate my friend from Etobicoke North for bringing this forward.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak in favour of Bill C-212 in the name of the member for Etobicoke North. Not only has he brought forward this bill, I had a similar bill on the Order Paper and I have removed my bill in favour of his, so it is difficult for me to speak with anything but favour for this particular piece of legislation.

I should correct one thing. The member for Medicine Hat continually said that the cost of a passport was $65. I will clarify that. In fact, let me say for all those people listening, if there are any, that the cost is $85. The fee was increased not that long ago. If the member for Medicine Hat feels that in Alberta the fee is still only $65, he is mistaken. The fee is $85 and it is the same across the country. I ask that my office not be inundated with calls telling me that the people we have been helping with passports over the past numbers of months have been charged the wrong fee. They have not been. It is $85. However, that is the issue here: fee for service.

Conceptually, the idea of a fee for a service is not something that we could not accept. We do it all the time. We have a fee for service when we ride a bus. We have a fee for service when we go to a swimming pool. We have a fee for service when we are provided with any number of services, whether they be municipal, provincial or federal. Conceptually or philosophically, it is not such a bad thing to have a fee for service.

Those people who are in fact taking the service should in fact be the ones responsible for paying a portion of that fee. A passport is a perfect example. If you or I as an individual wish to apply for and receive a passport, which by the way is one of the finest documents that we as Canadians can ever own, then we should be responsible for some of the cost. But this is where the issue comes to a grinding halt. Just what is a fair cost? What is a fair fee for service? What value are we as Canadians receiving for that fee for service, for that cost recovery?

Conceptually what it was is that departments were supposed to recover some of their costs. There is a budget in a department. A department provides these services and attempts to recover some of the costs it has to pay out in staff time, office time and other operating costs. That in itself is fair.

But what is not fair is not being able to tell the people who are paying the fees for those services what they are getting for that service and what portion of cost recovery is acceptable to the department. That is where this whole thing falls off the rails and that is why Bill C-212 is so vital and absolutely important in trying to bring it back on the rails.

There is an advantage there, but there is also a huge disadvantage. I will give members a couple of examples. One that is dear and close to my heart, and why I was putting my bill forward as well, is a operational department within PMRA. It said that it had to recover a certain proportionate part of its costs to operate this department. Those costs to the users have been increasing quite dramatically over the past number of years.

Those users are saying that this is impacting them. It is impacting them now in trying to get a registration from what is now called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. It has been costing them a huge amount of money to get a registration for a product in this country, to the point where a lot of the producers of those products are backing off and saying it is now not economically feasible for them to go through all the regulatory process and pay all of the exorbitant fees for a very small part of the market. They are backing away, and my constituents, and in particular my farmers, do not have the advantage of these types of pest controls they need in order to continue in their agricultural pursuits.

There are other examples. Certainly with export licences, in agriculture particularly, it is now simply a matter of a piece of paper. There is not even much of an inspection that goes on when a person exports potatoes from Prince Edward Island, for example, into the United States. It is now simply a matter of a piece of paper that costs an extreme amount of money, with no inspection. Effectively it is simply a matter of a tax grab; it is trying to find more dollars to pump into the department. That has to stop.

What has to happen is identified in Bill C-212 by the member for Etobicoke North and it is pretty sound. As a party, we will be supporting it. It says, “Let us do a cost benefit analysis. Let us find out exactly what services are being provided for these costs”. It is quite simple. I agree with that and I think the department should agree with it. If we are providing the service to a group of individuals, then tell us exactly what services they are getting for that cost.

Let us also look at the overall cost recovery budgets of the departments to find out if it is simply a matter of grabbing taxes to pay for their operations without being more efficient in their operations. That is important too. We cannot have inefficiency running amok, which we see happening on occasion, in fact for most of the time in the departments on that side of the House. What we have to do is get more efficiencies built into our organization so we do not have to recover as many costs in the first place and that those licensing fees can be reduced accordingly. That is very important.

The best part of the bill and the worst part in reality is that if I am a user and I have to pay a fee that I object to I have to go to those same people who levied the fee. They may say that I am right, that it is inefficient, it is charging too much and that it will reduce the fee, but that does not happen. In reality those departments do not like to admit their mistakes.

However now Treasury Board is saying that we need an appeal but we need it to go to the same people who levied the fees. That is ridiculous. The bill is saying that we should have an independent adjudicator to whom we can go and, even if I do not win my argument, at least there is a perception that I am listened to, that someone will take this seriously and listen to my arguments so that maybe the fees can be reduced accordingly. That is embraced in the bill. I appreciate that and I think the bill should go forward.

I believe Treasury Board is moving to bring forward another policy statement. Let us not get caught up on this. Let us go forward with this private member's bill. Let us put it on the table and make sure the government has to deal with it because, quite frankly, the new policy that is being brought forward is no better than the old policy.

The member for Etobicoke North as well as others on this side of the House have caused a little bit of concern and consternation in the departments. Individuals are saying that there are some fires so they may as well put them out and bring forward their own policy. However that policy is no better than what is in place at the present time.

Let us not use that idea from the Liberal side of the House to say that they are already working on that so we can just forget about this private member's bill and let the departments come forward. Let us not fall into that trap. Let us make sure the legislation goes forward because it is sound. In my opinion it has better proposals than were brought forward by the departments themselves. Let us not make the mistake that simply because there are people looking at it from the department side it will fix itself. It does not fix itself.

The problem with user fees, as I said conceptually, is sound as long as there are two things: first, a cost benefit analysis for the service being provided; and second, we recognize that there is a certain percentage of the cost recovery based on efficiencies of the departments themselves.

The third issue has to do with the economic competitiveness that we have in the country now. We need to ensure we have the ability to compete in the global market and in order to do that we need to ensure we can control our business costs. This is an uncontrollable cost. This cost is currently workable but not acceptable. However that is not to say that the departments cannot at some point in time arbitrarily increase those costs without anybody having an influence as to why and how.

The question of the passport is a prime example. We do probably 250 passports a month out of my office. Arbitrarily the department made a decision one week to raise those fees from $65 to $85. We were not even notified of those increases until after the fact. When my constituents come to me for a service and I do not even have the right number or any argument as to why that number was raised, to me that is a ridiculous opportunity from a department itself.

I appreciate the bill coming forward from the member for Etobicoke North. It is a similar bill to one I had tabled originally with respect to cost recovery and licensing fees. I would suggest that on Wednesday everybody, not only this side of the House but on that side of the House, should hold the feet to the fire of the departments that arbitrarily increased those fees to an exorbitant amount.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in support of the bill. I believe it would create more transparency, which is greatly needed in Canadian society right now, for governing fees at all levels of government, be it municipal, provincial or federal. As well, it would provide an opportunity for the public and businesses to have greater scrutiny of the actual fees they pay and the services they receive.

I want to touch a little on my past experience as a municipal councillor because I believe the bill is a very important part of what already happens in some other parts of democracy and is a good example of what the public expects.

A municipal government often has fees for services that cost, not only the general public but businesses. It could be for building permits, for any types of administrative capacity required through a parks department, a public works department, or any of those things. What ends up happening is that those fees are scrutinized every year in a budget.

As part of the budget process the public is invited to come forward as delegations to look at the costs, to see how much the municipality is providing in terms of a service, the cost they will incur as an organization and a bureaucracy, and the value at the end of the day that the residents, the businesses or a community organization will receive for a permit, a fee, or whatever it might be.

That allows everyone the opportunity to be heard. They can come forth at committee levels for the city council, depending upon how they create their own bodies for recommendations to go to the greater body, or it can be actually at a budget hearing process. That also provides that notification that goes out to the public. By mandate of the municipal act they have to advertise their council agendas. It provides that opportunity to be upfront with the different groups and organizations.

I believe what is important about this private member's bill is that it would create that committee atmosphere, which I think would be appropriate, and it would provide that scrutiny.

Nobody has difficulty paying for a service as long as it is fair and just but at the same time it has to be one that provides input. One of the things I have often heard as a criticism of any level of government, including the federal one, is the fact that they feel no empowerment, that they do not have the opportunity to have input and that those fees are just imposed upon them and they can do little or nothing about it. One of the things that would be improved is that we would have a due process to ensure that there would at least be that give and take available.

It also allows the opportunity for the general public to evaluate where their politicians stand on different issues. I know that from the local level, for example our building fees, when there are permits and all those different things that go up in price and cost, if they are subsidized by the general taxpayers they will know how politicians stand on that issue, whether they are actually fair and just, and whether or not the politicians are actually using it as an economic generator. They get a chance to see those types of things which is really important because it creates a democratic debate about where money should come from and how it should be disposed of.

One of the things that has been frustrating as a local councillor, and we have seen this quite efficiently laid upon us by the provincial and the federal governments over the last 10 years, has been the downloading that has happened. The downloading, the cuts in services and grants without having the revenue sources to make up those things, has led to increases on the municipal broad spectrum at an exponential rate. That has been very frustrating. The bill would provide that venue, that opportunity for those things to be publicly vetted.

I want to read the summary of the bill here. It is important to touch upon this for those who did not hear it:

This enactment provides for parliamentary scrutiny and approval of user fees set by regulatory authorities. It also provides for greater transparency in the cost recovery and fee setting activities of those authorities, by requiring them to engage in a participatory consultation with clients and other service users before introducing or amending those fees.

That is the heart of it and that is what I have been talking about. It is above partisan politics. It is about making decisions on where the money and resources should go. People are asking for transparency. If they have to pay a certain percentage of tax people want to know whether it is going to health, to public services or to infrastructure.

We have heard that a lot on issues, for example like the GST which originally was supposed to slay the deficit. Other times we have heard it from people talking about the gasoline tax, that it should go back to hard infrastructure, into roads and improvements, all those different things.

I will wrap up my commentary by once again congratulating the member for Etobicoke North for putting forth this process which I think will instil public confidence and, more important, at least provide a venue. Sometimes people are very critical about the fact that they speak the words but sometimes no one is listening. At least the bill would provide that opportunity and it is a step in the right direction.

If the people who are making the decisions have closed ears then obviously nothing gets done. However if there is no arrogance and there is that opportunity for due diligence for vested interest groups or citizens then we will certainly see confidence restored and more transparency, which I think is very much needed by the Canadian public.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all those who participated in the debate on Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees. The debate on this topic has been very thoughtful and productive.

I would also like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Finance for the work they did in relation to the bill, and all the witnesses who appeared before the committee to speak to the User Fees Act. Furthermore, I also want to thank the clerk of the Standing Committee on Finance.

Later this week when we vote at third reading of the bill, if we do not vote on it here today, members of the House will have a very clear choice: continue to deal with user fees through government policies, albeit an enhanced policy environment because of recently announced user fee changes by the government, or embrace the legislative approach proposed by Bill C-212.

I submit to colleagues that Bill C-212 is the preferred route for the following three reasons. First, federal government user fees, which currently generate about $4 billion in revenue annually, while not taxes are akin to taxes and need the scrutiny of Parliament.

Second, these same user fees are priced by monopolies, by officials in departments and agencies with limited input from elected representatives.

Third, the policy approach to user fees has not worked in the past and is not working now. There is little likelihood that this approach will produce the needed results in the future.

Some members have said that users are generally satisfied with the government's cost recovery user fee policy. This is not consistent with the facts before us. The vast majority of users are not happy, nor do they have confidence that the government's new policy will make any real difference.

Bill C-212 builds in consequences should departments or agencies fail to meet their performance targets by more than 10%. In jurisdictions, like the United States and Australia, where user fees and performance are linked, service standards are met close to 100% of the time. The same will occur here in Canada if Bill C-212 is adopted. The end result will be a more innovative and competitive economy and better service to Canadians.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance unanimously approved Bill C-212. Over the years, it has reviewed the public policy on user fees and cost recovery a number of times. Members of the committee know the issue very well. Their work should be of great interest to my colleagues.

To enhance the bill I introduced a number of amendments at committee in response to feedback and comments. Some of these changes were more minor in nature but others were more significant. Allow me to comment on the latter.

Some individuals were concerned that Bill C-212 as it was originally written would compromise the ability of the executive branch of government to implement policies because the House of Commons had a veto power over any new user fees or any increase in user fees.

The amended Bill C-212 removes the veto power of the House of Commons but replaces it with a recommending authority. In lieu of this, penalties for non-compliance by departments and agencies for the failure to meet stated performance standards, as I described earlier, have been written into the bill.

Some were concerned that committees of the House of Commons would be inundated with user fee requests. Although a variety of evidence presented at the finance committee hearings seemed to refute this, an amendment was passed at committee stating that if a standing committee of the House of Commons does not report back to the House within 40 sitting days of receiving such a user fee proposal, the committee will be deemed to have approved the proposal. This provides the committees with the latitude they need to manage their workload and priorities.

There were other amendments which were adopted by the House of Commons finance committee and Bill C-212 is a better bill as a result of those changes.

The government, as I said, has introduced a new policy. It comes a long way and I thank the President of the Treasury Board for that. However in my judgment the revised policy falls well short in the following key areas. First, the new policy still lacks real teeth to deal with departments and agencies that fail to meet stated performance standards. With Bill C-212 there are real consequences if standards are not met.

Second, while the new policy improves the process for resolving disputes between users and federal government departments and agencies, this process is still an internal one; whereas Bill C-212 calls for an independent dispute resolution mechanism.

Third, Bill C-212 explicitly states that user fees are appropriate when private benefits are conferred; otherwise they are clearly taxes. The government policy is somewhat silent still on this point.

There are other differences between Bill C-212 and the new public policy. However, the ones I have underscored are the main ones.

Again, the choice is a clear one. I urge my colleagues to vote for Bill C-212 and support accountability, transparency and the legitimate role of members of Parliament.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is the House ready for the question?

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Since we have concluded consideration of private members' business, the sitting is suspended until 12:05 p.m.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:38 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12:05 p.m.

The House resumed from May 27 consideration of the motion that 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, be read the third time and passed.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

Noon

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words on the bill because I am not sure what else I can say. This will be the sixth time the bill has been resurrected.

A little over two years ago, we were in Edmonton attending a caucus meeting when our day, and everyone else's day in our country and probably around the world, was shattered when we saw a plane crash into one of the towers in New York City. While we were watching it and thinking that perhaps it was someone learning how to fly who had lost control, boom, a second one appeared in the picture and we saw a second tower being hit. That day changed the world in many ways and it has not been the same world since.

We often talk about the loss of innocence. Innocence was lost for a lot of us because prior to September 11, 2001, we lived in a different world, certainly when it came to worrying about ourselves in relation to safety and security. We knew there was always a crackpot around. Anything could happen anywhere at anytime, but with the security forces we had the likelihood of it happening were slim to none. We came to work each day not worrying about who was on the bus, who was walking behind us, what was in the knapsack, and who was in the gallery. We just took it for granted.

September 11, 2001, changed it all. All we have to do is come up to the Hill to see an entirely different setting. We see fences, security and screening. When we go to an airport, we see tight security which was not there before. Should it have been there before? Well, maybe to some degree. However, we should not overreact. Really, no one saw the need for it.

September 11 came along and changed the world. A lot of people reacted. Some people overreacted, and certainly, in the sense of the word, that is exactly what happened with our own government. It was completely caught, utterly unprepared, and probably not having the personnel to deal with such an issue in an expeditious, responsible and carefully planned way.

We saw the government react quickly. It said it would bring in legislation which would make us a more secure country. Over two years later we are looking at a piece of legislation that has bounced around all over the place. This spring the government closed the House early when there were lots of things on the agenda. If this were a fine piece of legislation that had to be implemented to ensure that our country was secure, then we should have dealt with it two years ago.

The length of time it has taken, the consequences that have ensued, and the changes that have occurred since put into question whether or not we should even be debating this specific piece of legislation.

Do we need to beef up security in our country? The answer is yes. Is our country secure? The answer is no. However, many of the things that could be done to make our country secure are not dependent on this legislation at all. Security could be done by strengthening a number of the mechanisms which we did, and presently do control.

When the legislation was introduced originally, it sent up a red flag. A lot of people said that what this would do is create a mechanism to give government complete control so that the minister could successfully suspend the rights and freedoms of individuals living in this country perhaps without any reason except his own, which he would not have to divulge.

That is a serious thing in a country like ours, where we so strongly defend the rights and freedoms that we have. We pride ourselves in the type of country in which we live because we have these rights and freedoms.

Should rights and freedoms ever be suspended? Yes, undoubtedly, most of us would say there are times for the good of all of us that these things could occur, provided the reason be serious and the mechanism introduced in such a measure be valid, solid and acceptable. That is not what we see in light of the legislation that is before us.

This legislation has been watered down because as time elapsed, changes occurred and some of the things that were suggested originally are no longer relevant. New incidents occurred around the world that created different issues and different responses.

One of the things mentioned in the legislation is the introduction of protected zones. It is great to talk about protected zones. We would pick areas, key harbours and airports, and ensure that we would create the type of defence mechanism that would ensure that no one could penetrate these zones. This would guarantee our safety.

We would ensure that there would not be any smuggling taking place through the harbours of Halifax or Vancouver or maybe even St. John's--however, St. John's is not mentioned. That is easy enough to say. So we bring in our legislation and we tell everybody about the great mechanisms that we would put in place to ensure no terrorists would come ashore in these areas.

Terrorists are not fools. They know where, when and how they can enter a country. We have in our own country, as admitted to by the Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans and National Defence, all kinds of gaping loopholes. We have had immigrants come to our country, land in secluded areas, and nobody would have known they were there except that somebody has accidentally run across them.

In my own riding, in the farthest eastern point in the country, a few years ago a ship just dropped into the ocean a couple or three lifeboats containing a number of Tamils. Local fishermen fishing in the dense fog accidentally ran across them, took them aboard and brought them to shore. This area is the foggiest part of North America.

It was amazing that these people were located by fishermen. If they had not been found and had continued to drift to sea, all of them would have ended up certainly being lost. It was more luck than design that they were found. Undoubtedly, the ship which dropped them off saw fishing boats in the area on the radar and took a chance on the boats finding these people, and they did.

As I say, the skipper is a good friend of mine. As he tells the story, he was sailing along and suddenly saw these little heads appear in the fog. Because the fog was low, the only thing he could see above it were the heads of a few individuals standing in the boat. Then he found the other boats involved and brought them to shore.

Why were they dropped there? Because they knew there was no Coast Guard around. They knew there was no radar surveillance to pick them up. We hear about boatloads of immigrants landing on the other coast in British Columbia. Are they spotted? Not until after the fact. Why? Because they land outside the areas where there is radar surveillance.

When I raised that issue with the minister, he said that they had corrected it. He said the one problem that they had was when boats approached our shore, they were always required to give us 24 hour notice so they then could track them to see where they would go, watch their progress, ensure collisions were avoided, et cetera. That has been changed. Now they have to let them know 96 hours beforehand so it gives them much more time to watch and plan.

This is very good for solid oceangoing traffic when people follow the rules and report as requested. Does anyone think for one minute it makes any difference when a ship is smuggling drugs or individuals into our country, if it calls either 24 or 96 hours beforehand? Of course not. They will sneak in to ensure they avoid radar coverage. If we know where the gaps are, surely they know. It is amazing and certainly not coincidental to see the boats land just a few miles outside the radar coverage in the respective areas.

These people are professionals. They know what to do and how to do it. How can we ensure they do not do it? One way is by greater radar coverage. Another way is to build up and strengthen our Coast Guard. I admire tremendously the work the people of the Coast Guard do with what they have. Their hands are tied. They tell us that security is not their job, however, the very words coast guard basically gives them some assurance that these people are guarding our coasts.

I know their duties are refined, defined and specific. However, we should ensure that the Coast Guard plays an extremely important role in guarding our coasts so that the traffic which frequents our coasts is not polluting our coasts and that oil tankers which travel our waters are solid and will not break up in the smallest storm causing major damage to our coastlines.

They also have to ensure that vessels which should not be in our waters are checked and the issue dealt with in relation to why they are here. If a ship does not have enough fuel to go from one harbour to another or if boats are tied up in port because government does not provide the funding to do the job and people are overfishing on one side or trying to land drugs or immigrants on another, then we have a major problem.

The government for 10 years now has been procrastinating over providing helicopters to our forces, helicopters that would play a major role in the security of this country. We have wasted three times the amount of money that the original helicopters would have cost if the government had accepted the deal instead of cancelling it back in 1993.

Our forces throughout are underfunded and mismanaged. We have major concerns with general security. Is it the fault of the people who work in that field? Is it the fault of the Coast Guard people who go to work every morning? Is it the fault of people who are in our forces? Absolutely not. It is the fault of the government which has totally and utterly neglected the forces and the security generally in Canada.

What we see now is reaction and panic. Instead of the government bringing the bill forward for further debate, it should perhaps scrap it completely, take it off the table, go back to the drawing board, look at the specific needs required to provide proper security in Canada and then put the money where its mouth is.

We are just regurgitating what has been said before, not only by us, but by all parties on this side and many members on the other side of the House. It is about time the government started to do things. Maybe when the new prime minister, whomever he or she might be, is in place we might see something. However that is not a reasonable expectation. The problems I raised such as lack of funding for our forces, cutbacks to fisheries, the Coast Guard trying to operate with practically no budget, show a complete and utter lack of planning. They all depend on funding.

Funding comes through the Department of Finance. The person who passes out the money, the person really responsible for such decisions is the Minister of Finance. The person most people think will be the next prime minister is the individual who for most of the past 10 years was the minister of finance. However it will not be the people who will pick him. He will automatically assume that job because he will win the leadership role in the party. The election might prove something else.

Maybe we should be asking who is responsible? Instead of people expecting so many things to change, they might say that this is not a new entity, that this is a person who has a record and that record should be reviewed. If we want to know what a person is like or what a person can do, we just have to look at what the individual has done. We should not listen to what the person tells us he or she will do.

In campaigning I prefer to tell people to look at what I have done and not listen to what I say I will do. All politicians make great promises. The individual should be judged on his or her record. In this case, as in many other cases, I believe the record of the minister of finance will probably paint an entirely different picture from the one being painted by his spin doctors.

Hopefully the government will do the right thing and bring in legislation with the money involved, legislation that will not take away the rights and freedoms of people, but will ensure that they live in a country where they have rights and freedoms and that they are also properly protected.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from St. John's West for his excellent comments.

As he was reminding us, the bill before us is in response to the events of September 11, which were quite a wake up call for our societies. He has referred among other things to the Coast Guard, and I would like him to talk to us more about that.

Since 1993, substantial cuts have been made in these organizations, which are responsible for our security, whether in the lighthouses, in the entrance of the St. Lawrence River, in the Maritimes or in the western part of the country. We have realized that because of all the cuts made since 1993, the Coast Guard has become obsolete, in my opinion, and unable to perform its duties. All these organizations have been abandoned.

The events of September 11 made us realize that, in fact, the reason the government was unable to fulfill its obligations was because of the cuts made by the former finance minister. The cuts were so drastic that it had become impossible for these organizations to provide proper security to Canadians and Quebecers.

I would like the hon. member to tell us more about the Coast Guard. I would like him to give us more details about what is happening inside that organization and about its past and even present inability to fulfill all of its mandate.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. friend from the Bloc. He is a gentleman who has always expressed a very keen interest in the Coast Guard.

Let me repeat what I said earlier. I have the greatest respect and appreciation for people in the Coast Guard and in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, under which the Coast Guard comes, and for their hard work and dedication. They must experience frustration with the countless cutbacks they face.

To answer my friend's question specifically, we have been told by people in the Coast Guard that their budget has not been cut. We would respond that it must be because the skippers have been told to slow down their boats at sea. Imagine telling the skipper how to run a ship at sea. The skippers are being told to only go when they have to go because fuel has to be conserved. I have seen a picture of five Coast Guard boats tied up one next to the other in St. John's harbour, yet so much work has to be done.

However it is probably true that budget has not been cut. In fact some people will say they are getting just as much money today as they did in 1993. People then say, “What can be said about that?”

People are not thinking. Does a dollar today buy what it did in 1993? The answer is certainly not. We might have the same number of dollars but we cannot get as much out of these dollars. Consequently, severe cuts have to be made. That is exactly what is happening.

Our Coast Guard properly managed and enhanced can provide a tremendous amount of security. It can also control many of the overfishing issues. The Coast Guard can be more vigilant in relation to pollution in our oceans. It can be more vigilant in relation to the type of tankers and their conditions, et cetera which ply our coasts. There are so many crucial issues for the Coast Guard.

We are one storm, one breakdown away from disaster on many occasions. The one entity that could prevent serious danger, whether it be a loss because of storm, or small boats that are pushed farther and farther out to sea because of the changing fishery or an oil tanker going ashore, is a well-maintained Coast Guard.

In Norway the coast guard comes under the department of defence. Norway takes its coast guard work very seriously. We asked representatives of Norway if they had have enough money to operate the coast guard? They said that it was well-funded and could do what was needed, and that is to protect the Norwegian coastline and the people.

Our Coast Guard can do that also if it is given the tools to do it.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to join in today's debate regarding Bill C-17. I want to point out that it basically is a reincarnation in many respects of Bill C-42 and Bill C-55, which brings me to my starting comments.

We all know what has happened since September 11. It changed not only the way we do things in terms of our day to day duties, but it also changed the long term, pragmatic policy decisions that impact not only on our country but on the world. At the time that the tragedy happened, it became clear to our community that we had a number of different deficiencies in terms of the services that were available to the local government. Provincial and federal government services had been cut back year after year. I am join those individuals who are raising the fact that Bill C-17 does not address some of the underfunding that has happened to our core services which has allowed some of the clear problems that we have today and which has opened them up in terms of vulnerabilities.

In our municipality in Windsor, what ended up happening is the local government had to take the lead once again. We have one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Actually 33% of the gross domestic product of Canada crosses at that border crossing to trade with 39 American states with which Canada is the number one trading partner. It was the local people who actually had to take the initiative and were called upon by the federal government to provide assistance.

As one classic example, our waterway along the Detroit River and our Great Lakes at both ends did not have the adequate resources. The municipal police force was called upon to use its boat as part of the actual policing of the area for other problems. That quite frankly is a sad statement because we have a municipal boat that basically is dedicated for policing water safety and has no capability to deal with transit ships that go through the actual system. This is one of the busiest waterways in the world between the pleasure craft and freighters that go through there. We were left with having to come up with some contribution to police the freighters with which there was concern at the time.

Bill C-17 is one of those things that is the thin edge of the wedge. We are looking at the issue of civil liberties and what information is being disclosed and monitored and at the same time shared openly with government bureaucracy in order to to track movements. That becomes problematic.

In my opinion, a good example of the government not acting responsibly is the tiering of our citizens by the United States. These are Canadians who have been here as a citizen for a year, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. They are now required to be fingerprinted and photographed and they have to check in and out of the United States just because of the country they come from. There are more than a dozen countries.

A good example is Lebanese Canadians. They are subjected to this and our government has not done enough to speak out about this. It has not said that our citizens are not a security risk. That is a big issue because it involves our trade. It involves the way that we communicate. It also sends a message about standing up for our own citizens, something that this government has not done. We still have not dealt with it. That has significant implications because if we are talking about Bill C-17 having the actual impact that it is going to and if our country does not stand up for its own citizens, it will not make any difference. That is important to note.

The lack of infrastructure funding is really evident. I can provide a classic example. Between our municipality and Detroit there is a train tunnel. People are using that train tunnel right now at their own risk. Some people are coming from the United States and some are leaving Canada. They are trying to cross the border undetected. They are doing that at a high degree of risk. Often there is not enough room in the train corridor in the tunnel itself and people actually die while attempting to cross the border. What is unacceptable is that the local municipality ends up having to police this area. It is a private asset that has some security measures but not nearly enough. People are actually using this as a route.

Once again, it does not matter what type of policies are put in place. If we do not have the basic services available in order to respond, they are not going to be there. That is a big problem for us.

We believe that Bill C-17 could actually dilute more parts of the government that have not had the adequate resources. It also goes once again to the philosophy on how the government responds. I use the example of the NSEERS program, the entry-exist registration system, and the tiering of Canadian citizenship, but it is also the way the government handles sovereignty issues. Over the summer there were two situations that gave me great concern due to the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Foreign Affairs not responding adequately enough.

In one situation American police officers from Detroit, Michigan were chasing someone through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. They came through the tunnel and past our customs people. They stopped the vehicle, arrested the person and took the person back to the United States. They came over, drew their guns in our plaza, on our soil, took somebody back to their country and did not even notify our local people. We have Canadian citizens there. We have visitors. We have a whole number of different confidence issues. What did the government do about it? Not a single thing.

Imagine if our Canada customs people went into the United States, apprehended someone, brought them back and we did not tell the American authorities, especially right in the middle of their customs and immigration centres. It is deplorable. They were Detroit police officers.

Another Detroit police officer came over to our country last summer. He was hiding a weapon. He was supposed to check in the weapon. He was caught and brought over. As he was trying to hide his weapon, it discharged and he shot himself in the leg. He was seriously hurt. Once again the government did not object. It did not file a protest. There was nothing done. The government allowed this to happen.

What good are some of these security measures if we do not have the proper discourse with different people, including our friends across the way? If we do not have that, we set ourselves up for loss and failure.

Bill C-17 once again calls for a number of different things that have serious civil liberty issues: how much data is kept on a person, how that data is to be used and more important, where it will go. We have raised concerns about that, as has the Privacy Commissioner. He stated:

It is in fact one of the various concerns you have heard and will hear as a committee, probably the easiest to fix, because it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on either transportation security or national security against terrorism, which of course are the objects of this bill.

It also quantifies together a whole group of Canadian citizens who are honourable, who have not had problems with the law, who have paid their taxes and are law-abiding citizens. The real concern about the bill is where that information will go and where it will be used.

I want to end my summary by once again noting that we need to improve our current infrastructure of resources, especially our security measures for our Canada customs people who are at the border, at Windsor and other places, where they rely on local officials. They do not have the RCMP active on site, for which I have been advocating. We need to provide those resources up front.

We will not be able to make ourselves more secure with more bureaucratic structures. We need to make sure those good men and women who are on the front lines have the proper resources and the support of a government that will actually back them up to ensure our safety. We need to do that first and foremost. If that does not happen, then the bill will fail.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the debate on Bill C-17, which is before the House.

It is always appropriate and essential to put any debate in the House into context. We know that this bill is one of the legislative measures proposed by the government in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York and Washington.

We are also aware that in the hours, days, weeks and months following this tragic event, in which more than 4,000 innocent people lost their lives, one of the elements that became clear once the dust had settled—no pun intended—was the need for any proposed antiterrorist legislation to maintain a balance between public safety—that is, protecting the public— and individual freedoms.

In fact, when the airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it was an attack not only on the United States and the West, but on a democratic way of life, an open way of life, where the exchange of ideas is possible in institutions such as the one where we sit today.

If Quebec and Canada, or the West in general, enjoy democracy and the rule of law, it is because the very foundation of our societies is individual freedoms. Any time that a government or, speaking generally, a state, wants to circumscribe or limit these individual freedoms, we must pay attention. In fact, wanting too much to limit individual freedoms, wanting too much to trample on individual freedoms justifies—after the fact—those who would attack this way of life. That is why we must pay attention.

Moreover, it is essential to be very clear. Thus, I will say from the start that the Bloc Quebecois is against this bill. From the first time this bill was presented—and it has had various numbers during the process—we have spoken out against some of its provisions, but they are still found in the bill currently known as Bill C-17.

It is not for lack of effort, nor lack of will, nor lack of reasoned arguments that we say that this bill is not what we want, because, from the start, we have said so. We have had a few victories, that is, the population at large, thanks to the Bloc, has had a few victories. Unfortunately, the government did not want to listen to all the arguments the Bloc has presented in the most constructive way possible.

We tried to alleviate various problems related to this legislation by tabling numerous amendments in committee. Unfortunately, our amendments were defeated by the Liberal majority. I want to share with the House the general tenor of our amendments, because it must be understood that the Bloc made an effort to be constructive and critical, while making an effort to ensure that this legislation does not destroy the balance between public security and individual freedom, which I mentioned in the beginning.

With regard to interim orders, Bill C-17 authorizes various ministers to issue such orders without first ensuring that they comply with the charter or the enabling legislation.

We tried to re-establish this preliminary check so that, before an interim order has effect, it is subject to the charter test, but the government voted this down.

With regard to the powers of the RCMP and CSIS, this legislation 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.

In good faith, we tried to amend the bill to limit the powers to retain or use information collected as a result. We wanted to prohibit this information from being used to execute a warrant of arrest.

We also wanted to ensure that the information collected would be destroyed within 24 hours after the plane, 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 legislation, the time period within which such information must be destroyed remains seven days.

Finally, we also tried to institute an mechanism to ensure that the Privacy Commissioner would receive a copy of the reasons justifying why some information had been retained; this was also voted down.

We also tried to make several changes, namely to 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 by voting against certain clauses. Unfortunately, despite our efforts and good faith, despite all the energy we invested, the government did not listen, and that is too bad.

However, all our time and energy, arguments found and made, were, at times—but not often enough—welcomed by the government, especially with respect to military security zones. Eliminating military security zones from Bill C-17 represents a major victory for the general public and all those who phoned us, or sent email and letters expressing how worried they were about these provisions. We are proud to say that this victory was gained by the work of the Bloc Quebecois.

As for the declaration of special zones, this measure strikes us as far more reasonable than before. However, I can assure you we will be keeping a close eye on developments, and will remain extremely vigilant in order to speak out against any potential abuse.

The Bloc Quebecois will also do everything in its power to ensure that no military security zone is created in Quebec without the express consent of Quebec's national government.

The bill still contains provisions that allow various ministers to make interim orders. Minor changes were made but there is still no prior test for compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the enabling legislation by the Clerk of the Privy Council.

The absence of a prior charter test, and anything that has to do with interim orders, is at the heart of our opposition to this bill and is one of the main reasons the Bloc opposes Bill C-17 with all the vigour we are known for.

Let me now turn to the issue of privacy. As members know, we have the fundamental right in our society to do everything possible to prevent “Big Brother” from becoming a reality. In western democratic societies, a citizen has the right to ensure that his or her privacy is not being invaded by the government. Bill C-17 raises some concerns about our right to privacy which is--I say it again because it is important--a fundamental right in our justice system.

This government bill allows two individuals, namely the Commissioner of the RCMP and the Director of CSIS, to obtain information on passengers directly from airline companies and operators of seat reservation systems.

This information may be requested if there is an imminent threat to transportation safety or security. As regards the scope of the bill for CSIS, such information may also be requested for investigations relating to threats to Canada's security. Bill C-55, the predecessor of the bill now before the House, provided that information could be required to identify individuals for whom a warrant had been issued.

Generally speaking, the information gathered by the RCMP and CSIS is destroyed within seven days of being obtained or received, as I mentioned earlier, unless this information is reasonably necessary to maintain transportation safety, or to investigate a threat to Canada's security.

As I said before, the privacy commissioner is an officer of Parliament and as such does not report to the government, but rather to the whole House. He serves the people, not the government.

On May 6 of last year, the privacy commissioner issued a letter in which he voiced his concerns about Bill C-55 with regard to the gathering of information by the RCMP and CSIS. I will say again that the privacy commissioner is a neutral and objective observer who has the responsibility to warn us about any threat to privacy, including following the introduction of a bill.

When such an objective and independent officer as the privacy commissioner—and the same goes for the Auditor General—tells us something, it is the duty of parliamentarians, and especially of the government, to listen to what this officer has to say and to take that into account.

The privacy commissioner expressed reservations about two sets of provisions, namely those that permit the RCMP to use the personal information of all air travellers for the purpose of seeking out individuals who are subject to a warrant for any offence punishable by imprisonment for five years or more, and those that permit the RCMP and CSIS to retain the personal information of passengers for such purposes as searching for suspicious travel patterns. One can see these are indeed very broad powers.

Concerning the first point I mentioned, there was a problem with several provisions, including the definition of “warrant”, the provision allowing the RCMP to collect information in order to find people for whom a warrant has been issued, and the provision allowing the RCMP to disclose information on people under a warrant of arrest.

The Privacy Commissioner suggested that these provisions be eliminated. Our understanding is that the government tried to tighten up these problematic provisions, but was unsuccessful. It could not do it, and this comes as no surprise.

Even if the RCMP is no longer allowed to collect information in order to find a person under a warrant, it can still disclose to a peace officer the information that has been collected under Bill C-17, if it has reason to believe thatthe information would assist in the executionof a warrant.

As a matter of fact, the RCMP itself decides when transportation security is threatened, and it can then ask an air carrier for information on passengers. There is nothing to control the use of this provision. Members would agree that this is tantamount to giving the RCMP a free hand. And once the RCMP has this information, nothing prevents it from keeping the information if it gives the reasons for doing so.

In Bill C-17, the government has tightened up the definition of “warrant”. In the previous version, it could be a warrant issued in Canada in respectof the arrest of a person for the commissionof an offence that may be punishableunder any Act of Parliament by imprisonmentfor a term of five years or more. The definition now provides that the offence in question will be specified by regulations.

About the second point I mentioned earlier, the Privacy Commissioner had important reservations concerning the retention of the information.

First, the seven day period during which the RCMP and CSIS may keep the information is excessive; a 48 hour period would be sufficient. The fact that the RCMP and CSIS may keep this information indefinitely for security purposes is of concern. I hope that members will agree with me that all this should be controlled. Neither of the two amendments suggested by the Privacy Commissioner, this officer who is independent from the government, was retained.

Consequently, on November 1, 2002, the Privacy Commissioner issued a news release concerning Bill C-17, in which he mentioned that the amendments made to the bill were minor. Thus, he felt:

The provision in question, section 4.82 of both bills, would give the RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to the personal information held by airlines about all Canadian air travellers on domestic as well as international flights.

He went on to say:

—my concern is that the RCMP would also be expressly empowered to use this information to seek out persons wanted on warrants for Criminal Code offences that have nothing to do with terrorism, transportation security or national security—

In Canada, it is well established that we are not required to identify ourselves to police unless we are being arrested or we are carrying out a licensed activity such as driving. The right to anonymity with regard to the state is a crucial privacy right. Since we are required to identify ourselves to airlines as a condition of air travel and since section 4.82 would give the RCMP unrestricted access to the passenger information obtained by airlines, this would set the extraordinarily privacy-invasive precedent of effectively requiring compulsory self-identification to the police.

We are not the ones who are saying this, it is the Privacy Commissioner, a representative of Parliament who is independent from the government. Let us listen to him.

Finally, the commissioner stated that the amendments proposed are an insult to Canadians' intelligence.

The changes that have been made in this provision in the new bill do nothing to address the fundamental issues of principle that are at stake.

The Government now proposes to have regulations limiting the Criminal Code offence warrants for which the RCMP will be searching. But this does nothing to address the fundamental point of principle that the police have no business using this extraordinary access to personal information to search for people wanted on warrants for any offences unrelated to terrorism.

As well, in the new bill the Government has removed the “dentification of persons for whom a warrant has been issued” as a “purpose” for accessing passenger information under the legislation. But this is meaningless--indeed disingenuous--since the RCMP would remain empowered to match this information against a database of persons wanted on warrants and to use such matches to bring about arrests. It insults the intelligence of Canadians to suggest, as the Government does in its press release accompanying the bill, that the RCMP may “incidentally” come upon individuals wanted on Criminal Code warrants--if the police are to match names of passengers against a database of individuals wanted on Criminal Code warrants, there can be nothing “incidental” about finding them.

The Privacy Commissioner ended his comments by launching an appeal to us in Parliament:

It is now up to Parliament to explain to these people that privacy is a fundamental human right of Canadians that must be respected, rather than treated with the apparent indifference that the Government is showing.

The Bloc Quebecois is acting on the appeal by the Privacy Commissioner, that independent officer of Parliament, independent of the government. He appealed to us as parliamentarians, saying, “You parliamentarians have a fundamental duty to protect the fundamental right of Quebeckers and Canadians to privacy. This government, with Bill C-17, is trying to limit that freedom, and you have a duty to oppose it”, and that is what we are doing.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier.

Allow me to also express concern about the issue he just raised, namely the powers being given to the RCMP. Like the Privacy Commissioner, I would like to hear more about this.

Having personally had a rather painful experience that could have cost me my life in the 1970s, I can tell you that giving too much power to the RCMP or any police force and seeking to suppress the right to privacy can have dangerous consequences.

In the 1970s, I faced a situation—it lasted all of one hour—which nearly cost me my life because the police mistook me for someone else. Afterwards, the only compensation I received was an apology.

When powers are given to a police force, enabling it to do just about anything, I agree with my hon. colleague when he says that we ought to think twice about it.

It is said that history repeats itself. I also remember that in the 1970s, in Quebec, the RCMP took actions it should never have been allowed to take. What was infringed upon was not only privacy, but also the rights of an entire community. Members certainly remember the mischief committed by the RCMP and crimes others were held responsible for, including some vocal demonstrators of the 1970s.

I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate on that, because the public must be made aware of the powers the RCMP is being given. He called on the public to be vigilant, but the government does not want to be vigilant. The Privacy Commissioner is also concerned, and I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate on the RCMP's past excesses.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Champlain for his questions. First, you will certainly agree with me that it would have been tragic for political life in Quebec to have lost a man of the quality of that hon. member in the 1970s. He is a man who has devoted many years of his life to public affairs. He was a member of the Quebec legislature in René Lévesque's government, and he humbly came back into service. He did not need to, but he decided to offer his services to his fellow citizens, and to the ideal he always cherishes, to make Quebec a country. It would have been a serious blow to Quebec in the 1970s to lose the hon. member for Champlain in the prime of life. That is the first point I wanted to make.

The second point is that, unfortunately, we live in a society where there are more people who believe Elvis is still alive than people who trust politicians. This is a pity, but true. That is why I quoted, backwards and forwards, this report by a neutral observer. This observer has no ties to any political party, be it the government party or the four—soon to be three—opposition parties. This neutral but committed observer, well versed in the ins and outs of the debate, mentions that any society that disturbs the necessary balance between public safety and individual freedoms is heading in a potentially very dangerous direction.

My hon. colleague mentioned the abuses by the federal police during the 1970s. Everyone knows about these abuses. This is just one more reason not to give too many discretionary powers to the police arm of the state. As Nietzsche said, “The state is a cold monster”.

Parliamentarians have the duty, as the people's elected representatives, to restrict the powers of the state and to control its ever-increasing desire to control and manage our lives and, I would add, to trample on our right to privacy.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration recently said that he wanted to introduce a national identity card. This too is an invasion of our right to privacy.

We are mandated by the people to defend their right to privacy, which is the most basic right of all. The Bloc Quebecois urgently and earnestly accepts this mandate.

In closing, I ask my hon. Liberal colleagues to do the same and to tell the Privacy Commissioner that they accept this mandate from the people and that they will fight to protect the right to privacy of all Canadians and Quebeckers. It is their duty to do so, and I hope that they will.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to digress a little to tell you how happy I was to learn through the media that your son's health was improving every day. I am very happy to hear that and I am sure that you feel greatly relieved.

I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-17. This bill was introduced in the house a long time ago, in fact just after the September 11 attacks.

I remember that, at that time, the first thing the government did was to ram through Bill S-23, an act to amend the Customs Act and to make related amendments to other acts. Even then, we had questions. The main question was: where does security end and where do privacy and the Charter or Rights and Freedoms begin? This was a great concern, one that we still have today.

Allow me to briefly review what has happened with this bill to date. The first bill introduced was Bill C-42, and everybody was against it. The government had an opportunity to back off a little, to amend it, to rewrite it, to change it and to try to hide things. This is how Bill C-55 came into being. That bill has indeed been changed a little, but not enough to satisfy the opposition, especially not the Bloc Quebecois.

This afternoon, we are finally beginning to consider Bill C-17. Fortunately, because of the Bloc Quebecois, the government has abandoned several points, but not enough yet, unfortunately.

My first concern with this bill is related to the famous military security zones. We have managed to get the government to establish three controlled access zones—as they are now termed—the ports of Halifax, Esquimalt and Nanoose Bay. Unfortunately, we feel this is insufficient, because the bill allows cabinet to establish other zones on security or other grounds. This leaves the door open to the creation of other zones, if the cabinet really wants to do so.

As for the grounds on which the ministers will make that decision, we have absolutely no idea what they are. We were told about it at a briefing by a DND lawyer. That is what he thought. He also referred to “restrictions on civil suits for damages”, as was the case before. But the applicable changes are not in the bill.

The Bloc Quebecois position on the striking of the military security zones is that this is a considerable victory. As for the creation of zones by order in council, this strikes us as far more reasonable than the previous mechanism.

We will, however, monitor these new zones. We do not wish to see any such zone created in the provinces, and particularly not in Quebec—since I represent a Quebec riding—unless the consent of the provincial governments, particularly the Government of Quebec, has been sought and obtained.

My other concern about this new Bill C-17 on air control and security relates to the interim orders. Once again, these strike us as too lengthy, even if the time limit has dropped from the initial 45 days to 14. We still believe they should be far shorter.

Our real problem, though, is with the lack of any preliminary check by the Clerk of the Privy Council regarding compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its enabling legislation. This is a major problem. It means that ministers, or anyone else, can issue interim orders without checking whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being respected.

The other major problem—and I share the concern expressed by the hon. member for Champlain—is the role the Commissioner of the RCMP and the Director of CSIS will play in collecting information on the passengers on such and such a flight from airline companies or any travel agency, that is individuals who book seats or sell tickets, in the name of security.

While I am all for security, I wonder what use will be made of the information collected. The Bloc's position is that it should be destroyed within 48 hours of it having been obtained. Instead, it will be kept for seven days, and the RCMP will be permitted to make arrests with warrants and to disclose the information to others. This is a dog's breakfast. And what I am saying does not come from the Bloc Quebecois; it comes from the Privacy Commissioner.

As my hon. colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier indicated, the commissioner is a senior government official. He is not just anyone. This person is available to the government party as well as to the opposition parties. His role is to ensure that privacy is protected. He is non-partisan; he is neither a sovereignist nor a provincialist nor a federalist. His role is to look after the right to privacy of individuals. He is someone who should be listened to.

On many occasions, he wrote letters and tried to open a dialogue. Unfortunately, as he pointed out, this did not seem to have any effect on the government, since it did not act on anything he said.

On behalf of all the residents of my riding and all the residents of Quebec and the other provinces, I call on the government and on the promoters of Bill C-17 to take into consideration the concerns expressed by former Privacy Commissioner Radwanski. The Privacy Commissioner works for the taxpayers and is there to protect their privacy.

Finally, as you can see, this bill does not have unanimous support, far from it. It is too vague. It is not tough enough and not clear enough about the powers to be granted, in particular to the RCMP and CSIS.

The bill does not control the RCMP and what it will do with the information it gathers. We are told the information will help maintain the safety of Canadians and keep undesirable individuals out of our country. The RCMP and CSIS could then couple their information with the data bank set up and maintained by the Customs and Revenue Agency. This is one more scandal, one more anomaly mentioned by the Privacy Commissioner in many of the documents he wrote on this issue.

To conclude, I would urge the members opposite to talk to the transport minister and try to convince him not to scrap Bill C-17, but to improve it. It is not yet ready to be voted on. It needs to be improved. Special attention should be given to the right of privacy of all Canadians, and especially of Quebecers.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member referred often to the data bank and obliquely to the security issues. Does he feel there is a balance of database or information collection that is necessary to be able to have the information that is necessary to protect the safety and indeed the sovereignty of Canada?

It really comes down to this issue, I believe: How do we respond to the realities that September 11 imposed on the world to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians?

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's question. Yes, there must be some control to ensure security. Yes, certain information must be obtained to ensure the country's safety and Canada's contribution to international security.

However, my concern and the Privacy Commissioner's concern is not obtaining the information, but what will be done with it. This is where the problem lies. Is it going to be widely circulated? Will the RCMP be able to take this information, as the bill is suggesting, and send it to a police service, because there is a warrant for the arrest of a person and so on?

This is where the problem lies. The problem is not collecting data, but the length of time it will be kept, what will be done with it and how it will be used. Hence, we must ensure the protection of people's privacy.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will take this opportunity again to ask a question because the protection of privacy is to me a major issue, the one that affects me the most. We cannot compromise people's privacy under the guise of wanting to protect humanity.

As I said earlier, to understand what is at stake here one has to have gone through something similar to what happened to me. For half an hour or an hour—in my case it was short, but in other cases it was longer—one has to have been looking down the barrel of two guns without even knowing what one has done to deserve such a thing. For one hour, which seemed endless to me, I really thought that was the end of the road for me. In my case, it was a police error.

If we keep putting more and more powers into the hands of the police or the RCMP with fewer and fewer limits, the risk of serious privacy-related incidents will become greater and greater. I believe that it would be possible to find a way, in the bill, to set limits on the powers granted to the RCMP. I would like my colleague to comment on that. It is not the last time that I will raise this issue because, when it happened to me, I promised myself that when I got to be a member of the House, I would never allow a piece of legislation to go through if it were to open the door to violations of privacy, as was the case for me.

I want to ask my colleague if he sees a way of asking the RCMP to protect us but requiring that it act responsibly with regard to privacy issues.