Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-25.
However, before I begin my remarks, I simply have to address some of the completely fallacious, false and untrue comments made by the NDP member. She is completely wrong to suggest even for a moment to the Canadian public that Bill C-25 has anything to do with ballistic missile defence, the weaponization of space or star wars. Those are three completely distinct issues and completely distinct situations. For her information, and she should know this, BMD is not star wars. BMD is not the weaponization of space. This bill has nothing whatsoever to do with either of those things.
I also have a question to ask the member. We have threats in this world and the milk of human kindness does not flow through the veins of some people. The people we are talking about are individuals who have the capability of launching ballistic missiles in this world. We wish it were not so, but that is the case, as my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has mentioned. We have a responsibility and a duty above all others to engage in the protection of the Canadian people. That is a responsibility we will not shirk.
On this particular bill it is a pleasure for me to speak on behalf of the Minister of National Defence in regard to enacting this legislation that refers to remote sensing space systems in Canada. I am sure that my hon. colleagues would agree that we have been very successful in taking advantage of opportunities presented by space technologies. From Canadarm's role in the construction of the international space station to our astronauts' participation in several space shuttle missions, Canada is widely recognized as a leader in this area.
An important part of our space activities, of course, has been observing the earth using remote sensing satellites, like RADARSAT-1, which we have operated for nearly a decade, and RADARSAT-2, which will be operational in late 2005 or 2006.
Satellite images serve Canada in many ways. For example, this is an invaluable tool for emergency preparedness and disaster response. These satellites are used to facilitate the safe navigation of our coastal waters by ensuring that we have an accurate measurement of sea ice and the tracking of icebergs.
The Department of National Defence and our Canadian Forces use this satellite imagery to protect our sovereignty and our security day in and day out.
These satellites will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in understanding what is happening to our remote and coastal regions and consequently will be an active participant in securing our security and sovereignty.
For example, DND and the armed forces are, in cooperation with other government departments, currently engaged in an initiative called Polar Epsilon. Under this initiative, Canada's RADARSAT-2 satellite and other sensors will provide all-weather day and night surveillance of Canada's Arctic and ocean approaches.
The emphasis will be on generating information in remote areas where we really do not have any other capability of watching these areas. Increasingly, satellites are a critical part of our defence capabilities, and because effective surveillance of our territories and its approaches are of vital importance, it is important that we pass this bill forthwith. I am certain the defence planners are looking at the essential capabilities, particularly when it comes to our ongoing defence review, which should be coming in front of the committee in short order. Of course, with opportunity comes responsibility. The same capabilities that are becoming so useful to so many could also threaten our own security and defence interests.
If I may, I would also like to take a few moments to speak of the importance of this bill to the ability of our Canadian Forces to respond in a factual and effective fashion to our security needs.
The bill provides a means for our government to help ensure that those who might harm our interests cannot use images taken from our own satellites against us. I would remind my hon. colleagues that it is possible today for anyone with a credit card and Internet access to buy satellite images of striking clarity. I do not think I need to elaborate on what could happen if our adversaries got hold of critical information, particularly as it relates to our defence operations.
This is why the Government of Canada, following the example of our most trusted allies, took on the responsibility of issuing licences for exporting remote sensing satellites and regulating the distribution of satellite images.
Of course, the government has no intention of interfering in the enforcement of these responsibilities, nor is it seeking to limit commercial gains from satellites.
A number of government departments and agencies have worked diligently to respect the rights of Canadians and to strike a balance between Canada's defence, security and foreign policy interests and the maintenance of an important sector of Canada's industries. Let me give an example of how this would work in real terms.
The Department of National Defence would support the Minister of Foreign Affairs in licensing remote sensing satellites by providing advice on the potential impact of the satellite images on our security. DND would also provide threat assessments as the Minister of Foreign Affairs reviews agreements between the operators of remote sensing satellites and those who operate receiving stations on the ground or who want to sell images they produce.
Last, should it become clear that images from our satellites pose a threat to Canada, the Canadian Forces or our allies, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the national defence department could temporarily prevent a satellite from taking pictures of a specific area at a particular resolution. This is called shutter control and it can be invoked, but only under specific conditions to prevent the disclosure of information that could harm our interests or those of our allies.
I would stress that it is only the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs who can actually invoke this clause. I would also point out that the United States has this very same clause in its legislation and has never used it.
A second objective of our bill is to help ensure that the government has access to satellite imagery in emergency situations. In such cases, the legislation would give government requests for satellite images priority over other requests. The Canadian Forces, for example, might need a quick assessment and view, and they would get this information.
It is clear that the bill will help the government protect Canada's most fundamental interests, including sovereignty and security. It is clear that the government has done its homework in ensuring that the bill is a balanced one.
I will end by reminding my colleagues that Canada is far from alone in working to ensure that satellites are not used for the wrong purposes. Our friends in the United States have had similar legislation in place for over a decade. In 2000 Canada and the U.S. agreed that both countries would establish controls on remote sensing satellites, facilitating cooperation in Canada's RADARSAT-2 program. Several other countries are coming to similar conclusions about the unfettered distribution of satellite imagery.
I hope that this bill receives quick passage in the House and Parliament. To those who believe for a moment that this bill has anything to do with ballistic missile defence or with the so-called star wars program or the weaponization of space, it has nothing to do with either of those situations. I would emphasize for clarity that ballistic missile defence, the so-called star wars and the weaponization of space are entirely different situations.
The government has made it very clear that Canada is firmly against the weaponization of space. It is something that the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have made abundantly clear time and time again. I want to assure the members of the public who are watching that this is a position we will not stray from.