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House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was servants.

Topics

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberalfor the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Prepardness

moved that Bill C-6, an act to establish the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and to amend or repeal certain acts be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, one of the very first measures announced by our government, on December 12, was the creation of a department that could better ensure the safety of Canada and all Canadians, that could protect our solid economic foundations and that would give Canada an important role in the world, of which we could all be proud.

Today I rise in the House to speak to second reading of Bill C-6, an act to establish the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and to amend or repeal certain acts.

With Bill C-6, the Government of Canada is sending a very clear signal that protecting the lives and livelihoods of Canadians is a top priority for our government. The freedom and opportunities we all enjoy depend on the underpinning of a safe and secure society. We recognize that there is no more fundamental role for government than keeping its citizens safe.

We also understand that traditional approaches to safety and security no longer apply in the complex environment in which we now live. In the 21st century, threats come in many forms, whether from natural causes, accidents or malicious acts, and from all corners of the globe.

Canadians want to know that their government has a strategy to deal with the challenges of an ever changing global environment and a team ready and able to do the job. They want assurance that the nation's critical infrastructures--water, cyber, electricity, telecommunications and transportation--are safe, reliable and robust.

Canadians also expect the federal government to exercise leadership in resolving any security gaps along our border with the United States, closing it to criminals and potential terrorists while ensuring that Canadians continue to enjoy the benefits of an open society. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the longest undefended border in the world while at the same time facilitating the legal movement of people, goods and services essential to the growth of our economy.

At the same time, we must protect the rights and freedoms of our citizens.

Additionally, Canadians expect that the government will respond effectively to crime and to the threat of crime in their communities. They want us to address the root causes of crime, put in place more efficient crime prevention programs and ensure effective corrections and parole policies, all of which contribute to a just, peaceful and safe society.

The Government of Canada has made clear its commitment to ensuring our communities are safe and our country is open to the world. This commitment depends upon enhanced vigilance in identifying and intercepting threats of all kinds as well as strengthened linkages among the many partners with a role to play in protecting Canadians' safety and our national security. Bill C-6 helps to fulfill that promise.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada is dedicated to minimizing a continuum of risk to Canadians, from crime to naturally occurring disasters such as floods or forest fires, to threats to national security from terrorist activity. Its mandate is to meet the public safety needs of Canadians and ensure that public safety agencies are equipped to deal with a range of threats to Canadians and our interests abroad.

It does so by integrating the core activities of the previous Department of the Solicitor General, the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness and the National Crime Prevention Centre. The resulting new department, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, has close to 800 employees with an operating budget of $414 million.

Integrating these closely related roles and responsibilities maximizes emergency preparedness and responses to natural disaster and security emergencies. It advances crime prevention and it improves connections to provincial and territorial public safety partners. It encourages better leadership, coordination and accountability, which Canadian taxpayers expect and deserve.

Our new department provides policy leadership and broad portfolio coordination, ensuring a more strategic, coherent and robust structure for public safety. It also delivers programs and services in the areas of national security and emergency management, policing, law enforcement and borders, and corrections and crime prevention.

Allow me now to clarify that this new department is part of a larger public safety and emergency preparedness portfolio that includes the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Correctional Service of Canada, the National Parole Board, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canada Firearms Centre, and three review bodies. While the minister's relationship to these portfolio organizations varies considerably, each of them contributes individually and collectively to public safety, and each is accountable by law to Parliament through the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

All told, the public safety and emergency preparedness portfolio consists of more than 52,000 employees operating with a combined annual budget of $4.9 billion. Having these key agencies under one umbrella improves our capacity to identify and close security gaps, communicate with one another, and operate more strategically to protect Canadians. By pooling our respective resources and capabilities, we can be more efficient and effective in securing the safety of Canadians.

It is important to underline as well that our new structure includes key accountability and review mechanisms, including the Office of the Inspector General for CSIS, the Office of the Correctional Investigator and the RCMP External Review Committee. Two independent review bodies also form a critical part of the Canadian public safety community: the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, which reviews complaints against the RCMP; and the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews the activities of CSIS. This new portfolio structure, which brings together key public safety partners and review mechanisms from across government, recognizes that complex public safety challenges cannot be effectively dealt with in isolation.

Canada's national security policy released on April 27 of this year focuses on three core national security interests: first, protecting Canada and Canadians at home and abroad; second, ensuring Canada is not a base for threats to our allies; and third, contributing to international security.

The policy identifies the current threats facing Canadians and provides a strategic framework for action in six key areas. As well, it provides avenues to better collaborate with key public safety partners, such as the provinces and territories, in promoting the national interest and building consensus for its achievement.

The national security policy recognizes that we not only need to reduce the risks and respond to threats at our borders for the safety of our own citizens, we must also ensure that terrorists or criminals do not use our country as a safe haven or staging area for malicious acts against other countries.

The national security policy acknowledges that the best way to create a safer world is to work in a true partnership. It recognizes that building upon a culture of cooperation and engagement from the level of neighbourhoods up to nations is required to make public safety effective and meaningful.

Bill C-6 is necessary to advance this mandate and meet the expectations of Canadians and our allies. This proposed act provides the legislative foundation required to meet vital emergency preparedness, promote safe communities and fulfill key national security responsibilities.

This proposed legislation establishes the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Its provisions will assist the minister in coordinating the activities of all public safety and security entities for which she is responsible and in establishing strategic priorities relating to public safety and emergency preparedness.

In particular, Bill C-6 establishes a leadership role for the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in these two specific fields, while respecting the Prime Minister's prerogatives in questions of national security and, of course, the powers of other ministers as provided in legislation.

For example, if a national health emergency arose, the Minister of Health would be responsible for crisis management. But if the participation of other federal departments were required, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness would be responsible for co-ordinating activities.

This leadership role is of crucial importance in preserving public confidence during crisis situations.

Bill C-6 would allow the minister to coordinate and establish strategic priorities for the portfolio agencies while respecting their distinct lawful mandates. Canadians expect that our public safety and security organizations work in as integrated and strategic manner as possible. As a good example of this, one of our key roles under the national security policy is to establish a new government operations centre to better coordinate emergency response.

The legislation authorizes cooperation with provinces, foreign states, international organizations and others on matters pertaining to public safety and emergency preparedness because the responsibility for tackling these challenges must be shared.

Cooperation and collaboration with other governments are a key part of our safety approach not only here within Canada, but also internationally. Our department works on a daily basis with the provinces and with global partners, particularly the United States, to enhance the safety and security of Canadians and ensure the integrity of our shared border.

The act would facilitate the sharing of information among public safety agencies as is authorized by law. This provision recognizes the need to facilitate the flow of required public safety information among public safety agencies. In short, it would ensure the right information is available to the right people at the right time.

I understand the reference to information sharing may raise eyebrows. That is why I want to assure hon. members what this provision does and what it does not do. This provision does not give new information exchange authorities to the minister, the department or the portfolio agencies. This I want to make perfectly clear.

The act would allow for the minister to facilitate information sharing in areas such as choosing compatible technology, and adopting centralized policies and standards governing how information is managed, shared and protected. It also means the minister would ensure public safety officials are adequately trained in operational information sharing and increase system protection so that personal information is not compromised.

I want to make it perfectly clear that under Bill C-6 the laws governing the protection of privacy would apply in exactly the same way as they do now. The act would not mitigate any agency's obligation to adhere to the Privacy Act or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I also want to clarify that this legislation is a made in Canada response to security challenges we share with our global allies. We are often called upon to work together, but our collaborative efforts must respect the particular interests of different nations and the distinct values of their people.

Canada has already seen great success in working with our most important trading partner and ally, the United States, through such initiatives as the cross border crime forum. The forum is in fact heralded around the world by organizations such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Organization of American States as a model for international collaboration. The smart border accord is another excellent example of how our two nations are working together to address common areas of concern to protect the safety and security of our countries, the economic competitiveness of our businesses, and the health and safety of our people.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has been working closely with her U.S. counterpart, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, to ensure our borders are safe and efficient in order to facilitate the $1.9 billion in daily trade between our two countries. Secretary Ridge and the Deputy Prime Minister recently met to continue our progress in developing the next generation of smart border initiatives.

In short, the legislation integrates federal activities under strong leadership, maximizes the effectiveness of inter-agency cooperation, and increases accountability to all Canadians. It asserts Canada's interests while protecting Canadian values and freedoms.

I am very proud of this proposed legislation to better integrate government efforts to secure the safety of Canadians. I am committed to ensuring that we effectively protect against and respond to national crises, natural disasters and emergencies.

The proposed act would provide the Government of Canada with the necessary tools and machinery to deliver on our national security obligations. It promotes a coordinated approach and sound accountability structure to ensure public safety and security. It would help to advance our national interest and build consensus for its achievement.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada has a constructive role to play in fulfilling key commitments outlined in the recent Speech from the Throne.

We will be central to delivering on our government's pledge to nurture a more sophisticated and informed relationship with business and government in the United States. We have a fundamental role to play in fostering safe towns and cities, and protecting the most vulnerable in society. These issues go to the very heart of our portfolio's mandate on safe communities.

If this valuable and necessary bill is adopted, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada will officially become the hub for all federal government measures to enhance security in our communities and improve the socio-economic status of Canadians.

The new department will have the legal status to continue the progress it has made in the past 10 months since our organization was created. The bill will solidify the new structure and provide the legal framework necessary to do the work.

I call on all colleagues in the House to give support to the good work we have already done by endorsing Bill C-6.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the speech made by my colleague. I come from a province where we had a joint ministry, public security and civil preparedness. In fact, a former minister of that department sits across the way and used to be my boss when I worked for the provincial government.

One of the things that I have come to realize is that a lot of Canadians do not know about the smart borders accord which was signed between Canada and United States, and all of the advances that come under that particular accord.

Could the member provide the House with a little bit more information because I am sure that there are a lot of Canadians who are listening to the debate, since it is important? The interest shown by Canadians in CPAC coverage of the House of Commons has been heightened over the last 10 months for a variety of reasons that I will not go into right now. Would the member provide our colleagues in the House, and to Canadians, more information about the smart borders?

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine knows, the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, was here today and we had a very historic update of the progress on the action plan.

The smart borders agenda is all about recognizing the changed world in which we live post-September 11. It is also about working together with some common objectives to make sure we not only have secure borders but that we have borders that allow free movement of people and goods.

The United States is an important ally and economic partner with, as I mentioned in my remarks, $1.8 billion per day. We are striving to ensure we have a transparent and even flow of goods and people across the border that meets our security objectives and the security objectives of the United States, and also meets the economic interests of both our countries.

After three years of discussion, which was very hard slogging because a lot of details had to be worked out, a very momentous and significant announcement was made today by Secretary Ridge and the Deputy Prime Minister stating their commitment to work on pre-clearance and begin the pre-screening at Fort Erie, Buffalo. We are hopeful that the pre-screening will be implemented within a matter of months. We will then have a base to begin more extensive consultations and discussions with respect to pre-clearance.

What does this do for Canada and the United States? Pre-clearance in Canada at our land borders will be similar to the pre-clearance that some of us may have experienced already at the Pearson airport where customs people are on this side of the border and once individuals are cleared they go straight through.

When we are looking at a bridge, such as the bridge at Windsor and Detroit, the optimal world would be to have clearing done on the Canadian side so the trucks could just fly across the bridge and enter into the United States. If we had the infrastructure, which is what we are working on now, most of the work would be done on the Canadian side. Fast lanes could be created and the Nexus opportunities would allow for lower risk traffic to move expeditiously.

What this is all about is managing risks. We want the low risk traffic, be it people or goods, to move with relative ease, which is what Fast, Nexus and other programs do. These kinds of announcements like the one today will facilitate and accelerate that. That is just one part of it. I could go on at length but I realize that I have already taken too much time to respond.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question for the parliamentary secretary. I do want to express my appreciation for the briefing provided by himself and his staff from the department on the smart borders program and on the progress that is being made in that area.

I certainly agree with his comments with respect to the need to further coordinate our efforts on the security front and the benefits that will lead to on the economic front. I know he must be very frustrated by some of the anti-American rhetoric that has emanated from his own caucus from time to time, particularly from the member for Mississauga—Erindale. I would invite him to comment on his own frustration that must bring when his department is trying to ameliorate and blunt some of that criticism emanating from his own party.

Will these efforts, which he alluded to in his remarks, and this creation of a new department, allow us, in working toward greater coordination, both internally and with our American counterparts, to move in the direction toward what I would describe as a North American security perimeter using the economic model of the free trade agreement, which was put in place by a Conservative government, of having a coordinated effort around North America to secure our ports, borders and all ports of entry in the country? Does he see his government taking steps in this direction?

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I suspect the member for Central Nova is the critic on this file. I look forward to working with him and his colleagues. I am sure the minister is as well.

The language of perimeter has a certain cachet that needs more debate but certainly what we are trying to do is cooperate and facilitate the movement of people and goods across our border with the United States.

One of the elements I did not mention was the container security announcement we made. We are helping the United States to inspect containers outside of Canada when they are loaded so that if a container arrives in Canada or the United States that contains some volatile weapons or whatever, that they do not even reach our shores. That is the kind of cooperation.

We are also implementing what is called the IBET, integrated border enforcement teams. This is the 20th or so integrated border enforcement team where we work closely with the American police officers and public safety people. We are working on sharing and having interoperability of radio communications so that we can act collectively. With that we have to respect our sovereignty and the U.S. does respect that, but there are so many ways that we can work together and we are working together because we have the same objective. We want safe, secure borders and we want our goods and people to move with relative ease.

Perimeter is another question. I think it raises a host of other issues around totally harmonized policies. Frankly, everyone will have a different view of that. It is something that needs to be debated in the House but my own judgment is that there should be limits to that in the sense that we need to have a sovereign immigration policy. We need a sovereign policy with respect to firearms. We need to have sovereign policies with respect to a number of other issues.

Having said that, we can certainly participate and cooperate with the Americans, which we are, and any anti-American comments are not helpful at all. We have an amazing neighbour with whom we have a great partnership. Last evening at the reception with Secretary Ridge, I was talking to the U.S. ambassador. While the Americans certainly do not like the comments, they discount some of them. Whatever little amount there is of it and whatever the source, I do not think it is helpful at all.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in this House to participate in this debate on Bill C-6.

I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his remarks and his forthright response to my question.

The bill, as he has alluded to and outlined in his remarks, is really enabling legislation for the creation of the new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. It therefore amends certain acts and brings together certain other elements of departments that were previously in existence.

The House should be aware that this particular move by the government and the creation of this department was first announced when the Prime Minister's cabinet was first announced, which was some 10 months ago. The government is somewhat delayed in bringing about this enabling legislation.

Be that as it may, the bill takes the core responsibilities of the Department of Solicitor General, the Office of Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness, and the National Crime Prevention Centre, as well as establishing that the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is the person to whom “entities for which the minister is responsible”, such as the RCMP, CSIS, Correctional Service Canada, National Parole Board, the Canadian Firearms Centre and the Canada Border Services Agency, report through to Parliament.

Clearly the Conservative Party supports the efforts to coordinate these departments and bring about a greater synergy and cooperation within the ranks. This of course is with one notable exception and that is the continuation and extension of the Canadian Firearms Centre which remains one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated by a government on an unsuspecting public. We know that the billion dollars that continues to rise has no connection to public safety. It has not been borne at all in any statistical format nor in any way been connected to public safety. That money, from the Conservative Party's perspective, would be better spent by putting it into front line policing, helping with victims' agencies and the creation of a victims' ombudsman office with a budget directly tied to that of the correctional investigator. We would suggest that would be a far cry better in terms of money spent.

The bill, in reference again to the timeliness, could have been introduced last winter. The Prime Minister had an opportunity. While the minister carried on using the title of Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Parliament itself, as we know, was pre-empted by an election call last spring and the legislation was therefore delayed until today.

This problem is not one of style or substance. It is simply a matter I guess of the Prime Minister rushing to shut down the inquiry that was going on into the sponsorship scandal.

The Conservative Party believes that there has to be better coordination in the area of safety, security and intelligence agencies. We have members of the party, including my colleague from Crowfoot and our senator in the other place who participated in an ad hoc committee over the summer to set up a new oversight committee for the security agencies. That has no bearing on this legislation.

To that end, we support the general thrust of the legislation to establish under one department these agencies dealing with national security. This mirrors the direction that was taken, and my friend opposite would agree, by the office of homeland security. It is very encouraging to see Mr. Ridge visiting with our own minister and discussing these important issues of trade and national security.

This better working relationship, as the member opposite agreed, is something that Canadians should take heed. We cannot further exacerbate any tensions that might exist by having this anti-American rhetoric that seems to fall from the lips of some members in the Liberal government.

This is a time in which we have to focus our efforts in this country and around North America. We have seen the terrible results of what happens when there are security breaches, when information is not passed between various agencies, both here and it certainly has been experienced in other countries, including Great Britain.

Just last month the Canadian police chiefs called upon the federal government to convene a summit with the provinces, municipalities and all levels of police to determine a national strategy to improve the country's response to disasters and terrorism.

The signal coming from front line police and those who are empowered to enforce the law is that there is a need to coordinate efforts between all levels of government. That certainly goes right down to the municipal levels where in many cases they are still experiencing the pain of having had their budgets cut.

Chief Edgar MacLeod, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said that the federal government needs to take the lead in defining policing since local police budgets are becoming increasingly stretched to the limit. Chief MacLeod also noted that local police budgets not only deal with community matters but with threats of a global nature, including terrorism and organized crime.

That again leads to a comment with respect to the cuts that we have seen to the RCMP in the province of Quebec. This has serious implications, particularly when it comes to the area of drug enforcement.

I was dismayed to see the RCMP move forward with the dismantling of nine detachments across Quebec, when the government publicly stated that fighting organized crime was a priority.

Last April, the minister's national security policy stated that, organized crime is increasingly becoming part of a globalized network and that “a number of terrorist movements have advanced their activities by developing links with organized crime”.

One can assume, therefore, that the closure of these detachments by the government will signal to organized crime that it should move to the places the RCMP has left.

It is a bit of a contradiction in terms to see the government touting its approach to public security and tub-thumping about its efforts while at the same time closing nine detachments in the province of Quebec. It sends a very contradictory and poor signal, I would suggest, in the area of public security.

Another area where the Conservative Party has serious reservations and concerns is that of marine security. We believe that the disbanding of the ports police under the Liberal government should never have happened. This has left our ports and coastal communities particularly vulnerable.

And while it is essential that our large ports, particularly Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver, continue to receive adequate security funding--and the parliamentary secretary alluded to efforts made to examine containers--I would suggest that the government has very much neglected smaller ports throughout the country, leaving coastal communities and therefore our very country vulnerable.

In fact, I have heard it stated by some members of the Coast Guard and others who work at ports that if someone wants to bring anything from child pornography to a nuclear bomb into the country, it will happen on the water. That is not to sound alarmist; it is simply to point out the reality that we have a large coastal area in this country that is largely undefended. It is largely undefended in large part because of cuts to the Coast Guard and to our navy. However, I digress. I will not go into that area given the subject matter today.

At present, we know that in the city of Halifax, for example, there was a container stolen from the port. It again signals the seriousness of the problem when an entire container that would fill part of this chamber can go missing.

The Port of Yarmouth manager, Dave Whiting, recently stated that Yarmouth has spent approximately $80,000 on security systems and equipment. This is the municipality of Yarmouth. It is an international port. It has two ferries that operate to the United States, yet this port is making great efforts on its own to expand its business. Mr. Whiting said that Ottawa does not seem to be concerned where the money will come from when it comes to payment for security.

The Port of Mulgrave, in the Strait of Canso, is another thriving port in the country. It has the largest and deepest ice-free port in North America, yet it does not enjoy the support of the federal government.

In another bill introduced in the House we see that the Coast Guard will be going back to the Transport Canada department from Fisheries and Oceans. This was an ill-conceived idea in the first instance. This will enable the Coast Guard to focus on its operational responsibilities relating to pleasure craft, safety, marine navigation services, pollution prevention and navigable water protection. Again, it is encouraging to see this happening. As a Coast Guard official said to me quite recently, their job is to protect people, not fish.

I do not say that with any degree of sarcasm other than to point out the obvious. The Coast Guard, as we have seen with other departments, has been asked to do more and to patrol larger areas, and yet its budget, when it was transferred to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, did not follow it. So the one caution I have for the government is that if the Coast Guard is going to be transported back now to its original department, I am hopeful it will receive the adequate funding it deserves. What is not clear, as I said, is whether this budget will follow. Members in the House from previous Parliaments will recall that when the Coast Guard was transferred, the government did it in a very surreptitious way.

We had the Department of Fisheries and Oceans stretched to the limit trying to cover the new responsibilities. I want to reference what a Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans said at that time in its study of this move to bring the Coast Guard back to the Department of Transport. I quote from the report of last spring:

The merger of the Coast Guard with DFO was difficult and painful. Funding for both departments was significantly reduced in 1994 as a result of Program Review and the integration of two organizations with different structures and corporate cultures added significantly to the challenges faced. In the view of the Committee, the transfer of the Coast Guard to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been disastrous for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has virtually disappeared within DFO. The combined fleet has been reduced almost to half its pre-merger strength.

There it is. That comes from an all party committee.

Let me be quick to add that the average age of a Coast Guard vessel is over 20 years. Almost half the existing vessels now have less than five years of useful service left.

Again, not to go too far afield, we have seen what happens when equipment is stretched beyond its limit. We have seen it with Sea Kings. We are seeing it presently in the submarine program.

For practical purposes, the government is going to have to do more due diligence when it comes to equipping both our Coast Guard and our military if we are expected to patrol adequately the coastal communities and the waters of this country.

The idea that great cost savings would be realized by merging these two fleets was, in the view of the parliamentary committee, “largely an illusion. Lack of funding has hampered our security forces and our military for years”. That is a sad comment, but consistent with some of the themes and information that we have seen emerging just in the few weeks that we have been in Parliament.

Lack of funding was also a point raised by the Auditor General last spring. She noted that machines were being purchased to take fingerprints and electronically process those digital fingerprints, but no funding had been allocated to the electronic processing of this material. It is a process that is now in place, yet there does not seem to be the adequate follow-through to utilize this type of information.

It is poor planning, clearly, with more emphasis on the publicity for the implementation of this type of process than the practical application of it. Again, this is what the British would call “all swank and no knickers”. This government is very good at promoting itself rather than the practical application and the protection of Canadians through this new technology.

The Auditor General also found that the government lacked the framework to focus and prioritize these important threats. Departments and agencies are still unable to share information and their systems are not able to communicate with each other. Having this sophisticated equipment and yet not having the ability to share this information again defeats the purpose somewhat when one looks at the practicalities.

Most frightening, the Auditor General found that the watch lists used to screen entrants to Canada were not consistently accurate and that the current information about 25,000 Canadian passports lost or stolen is not yet available to front line officers. There are gaps in the system that cause serious concern not only to parliamentarians but to the Auditor General and Canadians generally.

The Auditor General's report coming this fall is expected to focus on the government's ability to handle civil disasters and threats from terrorists and organized crime. According to a news report, officials in the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness say the audit will show that the office is not adequately prepared to deal with a large scale national disaster or terrorist attack.

This should not come as a surprise, sadly. The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence has also released several documents and reports on Canada's ability to defend itself against terrorism. Last spring the committee released a report dealing with Canada's ability to respond in an emergency and these are a few of the findings of the report.

First:

Many municipal representatives did not know of the role of the federal Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP), or felt that the agency was simply not doing its job.

Second:

Health Canada has placed emergency supply caches across the country to be used in crises--but the vast majority of first responders don't know where the caches are located or what they contain. Nor have they been consulted about what they should contain.

It goes on to state that the department:

leaves emergency preparedness up to individual federal departments and agencies. So nobody is in charge of ensuring that whatever disaster occurs, the central government continues to function.

Many in the province of Ontario and my colleagues in the Conservative caucus of course will recall the Prime Minister's Office virtually operating in the dark when the great electrical failure of the summer of 2003 occurred. I remember being with my colleague in his riding of what was then Perth—Middlesex, now Perth—Wellington, when that massive blackout occurred.

States the report at page 26:

Inadequate federal funding is at least partially responsible for shortages of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protection equipment.

The report also states at pages 30 to 33:

Canadians have been hit by several national disasters in recent years. Each time lessons are learned about which types of resources work best and what went wrong. Yet there is no centralized system for collecting and sharing “lessons learned.”

The report goes on to say:

While the RCMP, which handles police duties in most provinces, can be seconded to help in emergencies, there is no formal arrangement to provide provincial police assistance in Canada's two biggest provinces--Ontario and Quebec.

Many municipal administrators of first response units told us that the federal and provincial governments seem confused about which level of government is responsible for helping authorities prepare for major emergencies. Either that or they are passing the buck to avoid financing improvements.

When major emergencies occur, it is imperative that Canadian broadcasters help spread the word about what is happening and what citizens should do to be protecting themselves. Yet there are no regulations requiring broadcasters to interrupt regular programing to assist during emergencies.

This is fairly damning information when one examines it in a fulsome way, and both the Auditor General and the Senate committee, who are impartial bodies, I would suggest, are commenting on the state of national defence and national security. It was reported quite recently. This information is current.

My colleagues in the Conservative Party do support in principle the enactment of this legislation. The department for all intents and purposes has now been operating for 10 months and is still, I am sure, coordinating some of its own internal efforts, but if this new department will help ensure that the security demands of Canadians are met, one is hopeful that their communication effort is not all that is going on. One is hopeful that these issues raised by the Senate committee will be addressed.

We will not let this new department become the panacea for Canada's terrorist threats and security needs, as alluded to by the security minister. Canada's threats need to be addressed. This department is a step in the right direction, but there remains much to be done.

Chief Julian Fantino of the metropolitan Toronto Police Service has highlighted the need for greater attention to and greater coordination with municipal levels of policing. We certainly embrace that. It is obviously now an issue of going beyond the rhetoric, the press releases and the public announcements and getting on with ensuring that information is shared and action is taken on these important files. We in the Conservative Party will certainly work with the department and the minister and provide our assistance at the committee level and here in the House in any way we can.

Points of OrderGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Jeanne-Le Ber Québec

Liberal

Liza Frulla LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Today, during oral question period, I quoted from a document, and the Chair asked me to table the document. As the minister responsible for official languages, I had, of course, to table it in English and in French. Since I now have the translation of it, I would now like to table the original document.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-6, an act to establish the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and to amend or repeal certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.

Scarborough—Agincourt Ontario

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to engage my colleague on this important issue.

He brought forth some points that we as a government have recognized and are working very fast to ensure that the black holes, the potholes that need to be fixed are fixed. That is why the Prime Minister, in his mandate in the past 10 months, has been working very hard with all parties, with due concern, to ensure we will fulfill the needs of Canadians. However, he touched on a couple of points on the transport issue such as the Coast Guard going back to transport, which is Bill C-3. When we discuss and debate the bill tomorrow, I welcome the opportunity for him to be here to make his comments because he has a lot to add.

However, I want to go back to what he said about us mirroring the homeland security in the United States. Homeland security in the United States has encompassed immigration, or INS. Right now the border security guards, or the old immigration INS, are a part of another department, homeland security. In Canada we have not done that. We have left immigration on its own.

I think my colleague across the way will agree with me that we have taken an important step to ensure that the fabric of Canada, our multicultural diversity or tapestry, is still welcomed and protected and that we are not encouraging people, as it is under the homeland security in the United States, to become a melting pot. Citizenship and immigration should remain where it is.

I remember back in 1993 when the then Conservative Party, under the then prime minister, Kim Campbell, came up with the idea of a national security or homeland security. At that time they put immigration under the RCMP, the Solicitor General and the whole nine yards.

Would my colleague across the way agree with me that we should leave immigration and citizenship where it is, or does he foresee us moving it into homeland security as the Americans have done?

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, my recollection of the creation of a homeland security model similar to what we see, acknowledging the absence of the immigration department, was that the Liberal Party of the day vigorously opposed the creation of a larger, more fulsome and encompassing national security approach at that time. It is good to see the Liberal government reversing itself, as it has done in the past, on ideas that emanated from the Conservative Party.

This is not about creating any kind of a stigma or in any way casting aspersions on new Canadians or immigrants to this country by virtue of inclusion of an immigration department which was envisioned back in 1993. The real issue is to ensure that information flows directly to our security forces when needed, that it shared within the department, within what we have sometimes seen as competing elements within the department, including CSIS and the RCMP, and to ensure that those who come to this country who would do us harm are being tracked. We know that many who have arrived in Canada through various means are now at large. We have no idea where they are. Immigration Canada has lost track of them. They are not currently being located and they may have since left the country.

It is about information sharing. It is about the accuracy of that information. It is about ensuring that this coordinated effort is actually happening, not just appearing in legislation and not just being touted in the media.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify one point and comment on another if I have time. It has to do with the member's reference to the closure of RCMP detachments in Quebec.

This is an operational matter that is within the purview of the RCMP. It is telling the government that this will provide better policing on the basis that we need a certain critical mass of police officers. It is better to have 15 police officers chasing two, three or four main crimes rather than one or two trying to track down 15 different crimes. The RCMP is telling us that this is the critical mass that is needed, especially with the focus on organized crime, and to have a better response to terrorist threats.

The same rationalization took place in Ontario just a few years ago. In fact there was a briefing offered by the RCMP earlier this afternoon. I was in the House but hopefully the officers explained the rationale for the decision, and I am sure they did. We should try to keep politics out of it. It is an operational matter that is in the best interest of the security and safety of our citizens in the province of Quebec.

The member talked about the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, which I hold in high regard. The association is asking for a conference on terrorism. The same organization has been steadfastly supporting the gun registry. We will get into that debate I know on another day, but there are something like 20,000 hits a week by police officers onto the gun registry. That tells me it is providing a useful tool for police officers. That is what the police officers are telling us as well.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, respectfully I am afraid I will have to disagree with my colleague opposite.

As we all know, the gun registry was touted by the then minister, Allan Rock, at a cost to Canadians of $3 million. That is but a wisp compared to what it has ballooned to now. I fundamentally disagree that there is no nexus whatsoever between public safety and this boondoggle related to the gun registry.

With respect to the closure of police detachments in the province of Quebec, my simple answer is hire more police. The police are not to blame for the fact that they have to now consolidate in certain detachments, just as it is not the navy's fault when they are forced to make very difficult decisions operationally because of budget cuts.

If we take money that is being frittered away in the gun registry, if we did away with some of the scandalous programs like the sponsorship scandal, the HRDC boondoggle, the purchase of government jets against the recommendations of the Chief of Defence Staff, if we did away with some of these absolutely heinous wastes of public money and put it into front line policing and national security, the navy and the RCMP would not be forced to make these very difficult decisions which involve downsizing and closing detachments. It shows a distinct lack of respect and commitment to rural Canada. Time and again that is where the hits and the cuts occur.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Central Nova for his thorough analysis of the proposed legislation. There was reference made to the digitizing of fingerprints and that this has not really proceeded in the manner in which it was supposed to due to underfunding.

In the member's opinion, would the elimination of the gun registry free up the necessary funding so this initiative could be put forth that would help the safety and security of the nation?

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I go to her question, I am reminded by the member opposite, a Liberal member, that it was in fact $2 billion. I stand corrected. It was $2 billion that was flushed away by the useless gun registry.

On that point, I want to just speak to the practicalities of it for a moment. The member is correct. The type of technology that is used for fingerprinting and iris identification can be extremely useful if properly implemented.

The problem with something like a gun registry, as sophisticated as we might try to make it, is criminals do not register their guns. They do not participate in the program. It is a voluntary act to gather the information. The last I checked the Hell's Angels were not lining up at kiosks at the mall to provide that information to the government. Just as we cannot expect them to provide accurate information to Revenue Canada for tax purposes, they are not about to register their guns. We are targeting law-abiding citizens and taxing them for the ownership or possession of a firearm.

To the member's point, yes, that technology is useful if it is properly funded and implemented and actually has a nexus to security. Identification of iris and fingerprints and that type of human data is very useful. Putting a laser sticker on an inanimate object like a rifle is no different from putting it on this glass of water, punching it into a computer then somehow suggesting that it will save lives. It is as practical as that. If the information is accurate, useful and can save lives, I say do it. The gun registry does not do any of that.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to say from the outset that we support this bill, even though some minor amendments might be in order. I would be ill-advised not to support a bill, which essentially seeks to group within a single department the three responsibilities of police, prisons and disasters. This is how I used to summarize the activities of my department in Quebec, when I was in charge of it. I also believe that these activities complement each other.

The bill is very short. It essentially establishes this new department. However, this is not a completely new department. Rather, it is a department that will consolidate duties that were fulfilled in other areas. It is a useful restructuring and, therefore, we do not object to it.

As regards the department's name, again, I would be ill-advised to criticize it. The term “solicitor general” was definitely no longer appropriate. This was not a very adequate title for someone in charge of prisons. For once, the French approach was used and the department is accurately named. Indeed, it is a department that groups together activities that ensure public safety and emergency preparedness. There was really no need to add the expression “emergency preparedness” to the department's title, but if this is the minister's or the Prime Minister's wish, so be it.

We are dealing here with areas of shared jurisdiction. I hope that the establishment of this department will not be another opportunity for the federal government to invade jurisdictions that are well exercised by Quebec.

In Quebec, I had the privilege of introducing in the National Assembly and moving through the adoption process a complete overhaul of the emergency preparedness system. We are not starting from scratch when dealing with emergency preparedness at the federal level.

In dealing with emergency preparedness, one thing is obvious: those who are in the best position to respond, at first, are the local authorities. That is true to a certain level of disaster where higher authorities with more resources at their disposal than the local authorities have to be called in.

Indeed, there are extremely expensive things and tools that even provincial authorities do not have. I can think of a number of helicopters or means of transportation, ships, ice-breakers and others that can be put into service. The federal government must not, however, tromp on an organization that is already very functional.

The principle of emergency preparedness organization applies to a rather large community. In Quebec, we decided on the regional county municipalities and urban communities. There are more than 100 RCMs in Quebec, each encompassing several municipalities, and the urban communities encompass several urban municipalities.

At the urban community or RCM level, an emergency preparedness plan is developed. What does developing an emergency preparedness plan involve? It involves taking an inventory of two things: risks and resources.

For the risk inventory, more often than not, the local authorities are the most efficient. For one thing, they have a smaller base of voters. So, they very often go door to door and are familiar with the area. They learn a lot along the way about where their voters live. In fact, they themselves generally live in the area they represent.

For instance, they know if there are potentially dangerous reservoirs on some farms. They know their territory. They know if there is a railway going through it. They have noticed that the railway is used to ship goods, so they are aware that a train derailment could be dangerous. They know about the plants in operation in their area. They know their region very well and are able to identify all these things. And if we get them involved in the development of the emergency preparedness program, they find out that they like it, they feel useful and competent, they are pleased to be of some help and usually do a very good job. By taking stock of the risks, they realize that some can be avoided.

So, there are already some prevention and emergency preparedness initiatives under way. After examining the risks, they go over the resources. For example, if there is a flood and 300 people have to be evacuated, where could they find shelter? They take an inventory of all available resources. If they have to do without power for some time, is there a plant nearby where they can have access to generators?

They discover their local resources, as well as their needs. They realize that they could buy this piece of equipment or that one or, if it is too expensive, that they can join with the neighbouring RCM to buy what could be useful in case of an emergency.

There has to be preparation, so that when there is a disaster, even unpredictable ones, they are not totally unprepared. They know what to do. Once these two inventories have been taken, intervention plans are prepared and implemented at some point, with exercises and simulations. This way the quality of communications between the various stakeholders is tested, the speed with which people can be reached, brought together, action taken and so on. This uncovers shortcomings in the plans, and as a result, the community is generally far safer.

Then there are specific projects. For example there have always been floods. I learned something odd about Quebec that I may be able to pass on to some others. I had never realized that we never had any flooding problems with the rivers on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, only the south. Why is that? Because, of course, when the spring thaw comes, it starts in the south and proceeds north. So water courses run high in the south and there are ice jams in the north, where the thaw has not yet arrived. This is why there are always more flooding problems with the rivers on the south shore. There are a few exceptions, north shore rivers that are particularly winding in particular. Since the thaw moves from south to north, the ice where the river empties into the St. Lawrence melts before what is upstream of it, and so the flow is generally better.

That said, there has to be provision for flooding. It is predictable. There is a need to know, because Quebec has a history of flooding. But there are also far bigger dangers, such as industrial dangers, dangerous gas emissions for example, major explosions setting off fires and so on.

The most important preparation is still the preparation that has to be done locally. It is a fact. That is why the Emergency Preparedness Organization is very important and, as far as I know, it might be unique to Canada. However, when the government comes barging in with the broad powers it often gives itself in statutes, it has to realize that throughout Quebec and in Canada, there is a place that is well prepared that deserves his respect.

This concerns primarily the public safety aspect. The department is already aware of what we do in Quebec.

I can also say that over time, we have noticed in Quebec it is true that the federal government has equipment that is useful to us, or could be. When I was saying earlier that resources are inventoried, I was talking about resources used for other purposes. It is important to know that these are things we can use in an emergency. For example, in disaster, people are often sheltered in gymnasiums. To welcome them, someone needs to know where the beds are, if there are beds, and so forth.

There is also some equipment that falls under federal jurisdiction. For example, we work in close cooperation with the Coast Guard. However, I do not see why this body comes under public safety.The Coast Guard has marine equipment that allows us to respond quickly to catastrophes on the St. Lawrence. It is most useful in preventing floods and breaking up ice jams.

For example, the Coast Guard bought hovercrafts, and that is easy to understand, given the difficulty of marking out with beacons the navigation channels on the St. Lawrence River. These crafts run on an air cushion, and they can move very well over water and could do as well on snow. They can also go ashore, provided the incline is not too steep. They are multipurpose vehicles. But experience helped us find out they could have another use they were not designed for originally. When a hovercraft moves over ice, it breaks it. So, a hovercraft being used to set the beacons that mark out the channels on the St. Lawrence River can help prevent flooding by breaking ice jams.

The hovercraft did not sell as well as hoped. There are relatively few of these craft in the world, making them rather expensive. Like all such equipment built some 20 years ago, they have to be taken apart and rebuilt every year. Good relations helped convince those responsible for this maintenance work to do it during the winter so that the craft can be used when ice jams are more likely to occur.

In the field, I know there is a generally good cooperation between the Quebec public security and federal agencies, especially the army. We have also noted that there is generally excellent cooperation between the various federal agencies.

The establishment of this new emergency preparedness department would facilitate this cooperation. Clearly, very useful means to be used in case of natural disasters can be found in many other departments. I hope this new department will allow for better cooperation and communications between the federal agencies that could be useful in emergency preparedness.

It is not obvious from reading this bill, but I think it would be important to include in this legislation some reference to the assistance provinces receive in case of a disaster. When a province suffers a disaster, such an enormous disaster that it causes great damage and endangers the fiscal health of that province, there is legislation to provide financial assistance.

This assistance is a function of the province's population, which seems to me to be a good criterion. The province is completely responsible for the first dollar per person. Then the federal government adds 75 cents per capita of the second dollar. Then it is 50%, then 25% and so on, right to the end.

Logically, these provisions that make it possible to provide relief to the victims of natural disasters would, we thought, have been incorporated naturally into the legislation for which the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is responsible. That is one of the things that seems to have been forgotten in this bill, but it would be good legal logic for this legislation to come under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness as well.

I take this first opportunity to speak to a bill, as a federal member of Parliament, to remind the legislator that the last section of each piece of legislation is a section that, given the courts' interpretation—at least 25 years ago, I think—allows the government to legislate not by adding to legislation, but by taking away from it.

We are in a Parliament with a minority government. It is possible that, on some occasions, we will introduce amendments to this legislation.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I see that the Liberals, who are used to having a majority government, think that an opposition party can never make a useful amendment to a bill. This shows that, if they were in the opposition, they might discover some advantages to it.

We will discuss this in committee, but I think it is appropriate to amend the last clause to say that all the provisions of the bill will come into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council, so that the government, having reluctantly or willingly agreed to an amendment by the legislator—of which the 308 of us are all a part—removes this amendment from the bill on the day that it comes into force.

This would also be more respectful of the distinctions that must exist, what is left of them, between the legislative and the executive power. If the executive power, which generally controls the House, absolutely believes that there is a part of the bill that cannot be implemented, it would have to come back before Parliament. Parliament will no doubt be able to understand as well as the government and make the amendments that are required.

I intend to propose this personal amendment to this clause and to others that will be similar during my time in Parliament.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his speech and his comments. In light of his experience and his career in the province of Quebec, I am confident that he will make a very significant contribution, in this House and in committee, to the debate on the issue of public safety.

The hon. member talked about the level of cooperation in emergency response. At the time of the big ice storm in Quebec or the flooding in the Saguenay, whether or not he was the minister at the time, could he describe what kind of cooperation existed between the Province of Quebec, Hydro Quebec and the federal government. What form did that take? Does he think there are still improvements that can be made in that area?

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. First, I should point out that, at the time, I was not the minister of public security but, rather, the minister of justice.

When such catastrophes occur, there is always a great spirit of cooperation. In fact, it is never difficult to find volunteers. There are many people who want to help. In the face of a catastrophe, the important thing is the relevance of the action taken.

Incidentally, it is following those two disasters that we learned from our weaknesses. It is also following these disasters that we set up two commissions of inquiry, both led by Mr. Nicolet, that we decided to draft a new act on emergency preparedness, and that we developed the emergency preparedness scenario that I mentioned earlier.

Cooperation is excellent. Generally speaking, a natural disaster triggers an emotional climate that leads to extraordinary mutual support. We can also see here some key elements to ensure the effectiveness of the operations. It is important to review the means of communication, for example. This is why these exercises are so important. We could see people walking around with four cell phones around their waist listening to the radio. It is a good thing to have a frequency for these situations. There are technical things that we can plan ahead to be ready to act.

Whenever I talk about the federal government, I feel uneasy because of the attitudes it has demonstrated in the past. Frankly, I do not think that the current minister will make that kind of mistake. Others, maybe. As usual, the federal government will develop the entire system in Ottawa and then try to impose elsewhere. I have no objection to the government imposing it on provinces that have not made all the improvements we have.

We have paid a hefty price for the lessons we have learned from the disasters we are talking about. I think we have a procedure now. It is a source of pride for me, as former public security minister, to see the speed of the response to the natural disasters in Quebec in the past two summers. This is where we have done our homework, established plans and can respond quickly. I am really proud when I see how quickly the compensation for the victims could be announced.

I recall the old method, and I wonder if it is still the one that is used at the federal level. Although this is not important for the federal government, since it intervenes much later. Before, we had to go through government orders in council, which necessarily caused a delay. Now, all compensation is provided for in the civil safety act. We can tell people about it. Victims find a lot of comfort in knowing right away what compensation they are entitled to.

I can say that relations have always been good in these situations. If we want to change the Canadian Constitution so that Quebec becomes sovereign, it is not because we think that Canada is mean or that Canadians are bad; it is because we think the institutions are assimilating us over time. People should eventually understand that it is not Canada or Canadians that we hate, but the current Constitution, which did not fulfill its promises and will ensure our assimilation in a few generations from now. However, that is another problem.

It is not because we hate Canadians. It is not because there has not been very good cooperation. This is a sector where we can fully cooperate, and we have proved it.

Concerning public safety, there is also police work. It is in Quebec that the three levels of police cooperated best in the joint regional units that I had the privilege to create and that fought the hardest against the worldwide criminal organization—the Hell's Angels. I hope that we will continue to cooperate, while awaiting more friendly discussions on constitutional changes.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, if there is one issue on which we should obviously not be partisan, it is public safety. We must also recognize our colleague's contribution to public safety in Quebec. The Carcajou squad comes to mind. Obviously we know the hon. member is keenly interested in organized crime. We have seen him riding his motorcycle, too. He is a motorcycle guy. We saw him during the police conferences.

I would just like to ask one question that comes from the Quebec Liberal caucus in this House as well as from the Bloc. It is the issue of RCMP presence in the regions. We know that a reorganization of RCMP detachments is currently going on. We would like to hear about his experience with that.

Does the hon. member think it better to group the forces together as in Drummondville, for example, or is it better, in terms of public safety, to have an effective RCMP presence in more distant corners such as Joliette, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Saint-Hyacinthe or Granby? Should there be a local presence in these places or is it better and just as effective to centralize?

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, let me reassure the hon. member. I have never ridden a motorcycle. I do not believe you have ever seen me riding a motorcycle. The member is mistaken. I did however attend an event where I was surrounded by motorcycles, however reluctantly. I did not think it was the best idea in the world, but that is the way it was. I was a young minister at the time and had accepted an invitation. I ended up with fifty motorcycles around me on the fifth floor of an hotel. It was quite strange, but since police officers had spent a lot of time polishing their bikes, it would have been a pity not to play along, especially since I was at a police convention. So, that explains it.

Moving on to something more serious. Yes, this redeployment is of concern to me from the security point of view. First of all—and this is one of the reasons given for the reorganization in Quebec—a proper fight against organized crime requires more than just intelligence gathering. For a police force to be able to fight organized crime properly, which is the main reason I reorganized the Quebec police, there must be very close connections between the cop on the beat and the people who carry out the investigations. I find it most strange, for instance, for the police to be moved away from the borders in order to protect them better. I find that quite odd.

The same mistake was made in the ports. In 1997 federal police were pulled from the port of Montreal. True, the reason was to enable them to concentrate on the major gangs. How was this carried out? Through informants and wiretaps, things that can easily be done out of an office some distance away. I understand the RCMP's motive of wanting to concentrate on this, but by so doing it has lost its local ear to the ground.

The same applies to the fight against organized crime. Why were organized groups setting up elsewhere? For Montreal, they were going to Sorel. For Quebec City, they were setting up in Saint-Nicolas. For Sherbrooke, they were going to the suburbs. They knew that police surveillance was not as close there. If they had stayed in Montreal, they would have been monitored more closely.

Why did the RCMP set up outside urban areas? My very clear impression is that organized crime could be very closely monitored in major centres, but because of shortcomings that I think I have corrected to a certain extent, but certainly not fully, organized crime cells ended up in specific regions.

I think that the RCMP--

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I am sorry to interrupt. The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me take this opportunity, because I have not spoken in the House when you have been in the Chair, to congratulate you on your appointment to the Chair. I know you will serve the members of the House very well and I am sure you are learning on the job very fast.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-6, an act to establish the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and to amend or repeal certain acts because it is an important bill. We have obviously looked at the bill and studied it as closely as we can. We know that at this point it is at second reading. We will look at the bill in principle and then it will be referred to the committee where we will go through it very closely.

The Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has been in place for about 10 months. It is concerning that the minister and her office has been there for 10 months without the authority of this legislation. That is not a good sign. We would have preferred to have seen the legislation come forward at a much earlier date so that it would be clear what the mandate, role and responsibilities of this department are all about. However, it has taken 10 months to get to this point. I think it does deserve very close scrutiny.

Members may feel that at a certain level this is just a routine matter of creating a department and transferring certain responsibilities. As members of the House, and certainly we in the New Democratic Party, we take our responsibility seriously because it is a new department.

It has a significant function. It has broad powers conferred upon the minister. We intend to scrutinize the bill very carefully to ensure that there is adequate oversight for what those responsibilities are and that there is scrutiny through the committee, and possibly amendments will come forward to improve the bill.

The NDP in general supports the creation of this department. It is important to have a clear function and responsibility for public safety and for emergency preparedness in this vast country that we live in where we are subject to all kinds of natural disasters. Certainly, we saw the devastating impact of hurricane Juan in Halifax.

I know that the member from Halifax was very involved in supporting her constituents and the people of that city. One of the issues that came up at that time, as well as other situations that have taken place in Canada, is the need to have a clear federal responsibility and role in coordinating a rapid and responsible response to people when they are in distress and when they need help.

When people are hit, whether it is a hurricane, a flood, the fires in Kelowna or some other kind of emergency, they want to know that all of these vast resources that are available within various government agencies and departments at various levels are there when people need them. We certainly understand the need for this department.

What is important is the need to ensure that there is full coordination, cooperation and resource sharing among the three levels of government. I note that Halifax is the only city where the three levels of government are housed in one building, and maybe it was easier to facilitate that kind of arrangement. That did happen, but that is not the case in other cities. We have seen it play out where, with the best of intentions, different levels of government may have different procedures or operations for how to respond.

We might have one agency doing one thing and another agency doing something else, and one level of government doing one thing and another level of government doing something else. That is something that is very critical in the establishment of this department. We need to assure people on the ground in local communities that when they are hit they know that all levels of government are working with one purpose and one intent, and that is to provide support, relief and resources that are needed.

All of us have seen that our Canadian armed forces are always there in those kinds of situations. The men and women of our forces go to extreme lengths to ensure that they provide the help that is needed in a local emergency. We have seen that across the country.

There are issues of overlap and jurisdiction. From that point of view this new department with a minister in place will be an important thing to have established in order to work out those kinds of procedures.

This is a good development. The bill is generally supportable. We should also recognize that this department and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness cover areas that have to do with security.

We have seen post-September 11 an enormous amount of emphasis on legislation, on various procedures and incredibly broad powers conferred on cabinet ministers, on the government itself, and on various agencies like the RCMP and CSIS around security. I would point out that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Correctional Service Canada, the National Parole Board, the Canada Firearms Centre, and the Canada Border Services Agency will now be under this new department.

We in the NDP do have concerns about parliamentary oversight and ensuring that this new department, if it is established, as it pertains to security issues, does not take us further down a road where people's civil liberties would be eroded. My community of East Vancouver is a diverse community made up of people from all parts of the world. Many immigrants have settled there as I know is true in most of the ridings that we represent in the House.

I am alarmed at the number of stories and experiences that I have heard about from individual Canadians and families who have been experiencing discrimination based on what I believe is racial profiling. My private member's bill makes it clear that racial profiling would be illegal in Canada. We have seen an increase in the targeting of Canadian citizens and permanent residents based on security concerns.

We have had other legislation and other debates on the lack of accountability and transparency. One only has to think of what happened to Maher Arar and the public inquiry that is now underway. That inquiry is investigating the role of some of those agencies that will now be under this new department. What role did they play in terms of sharing information with other intelligence agencies in the U.S. or possibly elsewhere that led to the imprisonment of Mr. Arar for such an extended period of time?

I raise this because I do think the idea of emergency preparedness and public safety are important public policy considerations. We must pay attention to the broadening net that is taking place in our society. We must respond to the real security concerns of Canadians. Canadians want to see defence and proper security.

More people are expressing their concern about legislation that has already passed and what it will mean now to have a department of public safety and emergency preparedness as it may relate to some of these security concerns. We in the NDP want to express that because it is something that we are monitoring very closely.

Our justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, will be examining this bill in committee. I know that he will be examining it very carefully from the point of view of how these agencies operate and how the minister responsible for this department will ensure that things that are done in the name of security and not infringing more and more on the liberties that we enjoy in our democratic society.

One of the intents of this bill is to avoid conflict between intelligence agencies. This is something that we have been extremely distressed and concerned about in some of these cases that have happened. In fact, if this bill, by creating this department, helps avoid that kind of conflict between agencies, where they are actually working at cross-purposes or with very little knowledge about what one or the other is doing, then we would certainly encourage and support the idea. We would applaud that development of better cooperation.

Again, I think we have to go through this bill. We have to examine it very carefully ensuring that this kind of department, that can very broad powers even in an emergency, does not infringe on the liberties of people, that there be a balance. I think it is something that members of the House may individually struggle with. What is the correct balance in terms of maintaining the public good and maintaining public safety, and yet ensuring that people are not being unfairly targeted, whether it is at the border, at airports, or through intelligence gathering?

For example, I have heard of cases where Canadian citizens have been denied the right to fly on Air Canada because their name appears on a list. Where does this come from? Why are people being targeted? There is no reason given.

I recently dealt with a situation where a man from Toronto travelled by Jetsgo from Toronto to Victoria. He paid for his ticket. He got to Vancouver and decided that he would continue his journey to Victoria. He paid for an Air Canada ticket and his name appeared on a list. He had ID, the whole thing, but he was suddenly taken off the flight list and no reason was given.

We have heard that the Department of Transport has intentions to bring in a no fly list that would apply to Canadians on domestic flights. This is something that is of huge concern. It brings us into this area of security and public safety. Yet there is a great sense of unease about what is taking place. Our job as parliamentarians and guardians of the democratic principles in our country is to ensure that legislation meets the test of protecting democratic values and principles.

That is why a bill such as this, that on the surface may appear to be fairly innocuous and supportable, actually requires serious examination in the broader context of security changes that have fundamentally changed for many people in this country the way they live and the way they can move freely about the country, and the fact that they may be under some sort of monitoring by security agencies.

We find that incredibly disturbing. We want to ensure that, first, we understand what is taking place and, second, that there is an accountability to legislation, to a parliamentary review, and back to a minister such as the one that would be at the head of this department.

I would say that the NDP at this point is generally in support of the principles of this bill. We understand that there is a need to have a clear federal role and responsibility in emergency preparedness and public safety. It is something that I think needed to happen many months ago when the minister was first appointed. The legislation is now trying to catch up to the reality of having that minister in place.

We will examine the bill very carefully when it gets to committee. It is very possible that our member for Windsor—Tecumseh will have some suggestions for changes in terms of accountability and the oversight that is involved in the six security agencies that are now within this department. We will be doing that when it gets to committee.

Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Chatters Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's speech and I was quite shocked and surprised at her reaction to our government and other governments creating a list of people that they deem to be a national or international security threat and preventing them from flying. On 9/11 there were four large airplanes full of innocent people who would have been saved if there had been such a security list of people who were a terrorist threat.

Quite frankly, it makes me feel a lot safer flying every week as I do to know that our security organizations are investigating and creating this list of people who pose a public threat and denying them the right to fly on an airplane with me and my family and others. I cannot understand why having that added security would not make the member feel better about flying and safer when she flies.