Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on Bill C-25, an act governing the operation of remote sensing space systems. This is an important piece of legislation before the House and one in which the NDP's foreign affairs critic, the member for Halifax, has taken a very keen interest. She participated in the various discussions in committee on this legislation.
The summary of the bill states:
This enactment regulates remote sensing space systems to ensure that their operation is neither injurious to national security, to the defence of Canada, to the safety of Canadian Forces or to Canada’s conduct of international relations nor inconsistent with Canada’s international obligations.
In order to accomplish this, the enactment establishes a licensing regime for remote sensing space systems and provides for restrictions on the distribution of data gathered by means of them. In addition, the enactment gives special powers to the Government of Canada concerning priority access to remote sensing services and the interruption of such services.
It is clear that this is important legislation and covers an important piece of technology that is very sensitive in our world these days.
There are some very important issues that must be raised in relation to this bill. At second reading the NDP did not take a clear position on the bill. We wanted to hear what the discussion was at committee. We wanted to hear from various organizations and individuals about what they saw was important in this legislation, although we did understand the basic underlying need for the legislation. We agreed with some aspects of the bill, but the vagueness of the language in this bill raises alarm bells about how the government intends to use the legislation.
The member for Halifax was impressed by the many arguments and witnesses who appeared before the committee. She believes that had the government truly listened to the many witnesses who raised serious concerns regarding things like transparency, accountability and the privacy of citizens, the NDP would not be voting against Bill C-25 at third reading.
One key aspect of that is the privacy of citizens. Everyone will notice that when I read out the summary of the bill it outlined many of the causes of concern that this bill was intended to address, but the privacy of individual Canadian citizens was not part of that list. We think that is a serious omission from the legislation.
I want to be clear that RADARSAT-2 is a commercially owned satellite. It is billed by its manufacturer, MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates, as incorporating state of the art technology, featuring the most advanced commercially available radar imagery in the world. That is a pretty dramatic claim and technology that we understand is not over-embellished. This satellite will do what it is billed as capable of doing.
We also want to be clear that the Canadian taxpayers have funded approximately 75% of the development of the satellite. That is $450 million of Canadian tax dollars that were invested in the satellite that will be 100% commercially owned.
I know that raises other serious concerns. What is the involvement of the Canadian Space Agency or why is there not any involvement of the Canadian Space Agency in the control and development of this satellite? I know other opposition members have also raised that concern with regard to RADARSAT-2.
We agree with the government that Canadians need to be reassured that information collected by RADARSAT-2 would not be used against our national interest and that is why we agree with the overall necessity of this legislation. However, as I said, we are concerned with the way it has been presented.
We want to make sure that the purchasers of RADARSAT-2 imagery are subject to licensing requirements but within that we also believe some clarity was desperately needed. To that end, the NDP put forward 18 amendments that would have helped clarify the intention of this bill and the requirements of the use of this technology and the information that it provides.
In committee, the NDP proposed that we define vague and unaccountable terms like “international obligations” and “international relations” more clearly and definitively. The NDP supports the government in having priority access to RADARSAT-2 images, but the vagueness of the two terms “international obligations” and “international relations” leaves the door open so wide that apparently even RADARSAT International, which was consulted several years before parliamentarians had access to the bill, requested that these terms be better defined. When RADARSAT International believes that there is a vagueness in the legislation and a vagueness in the proposal it behooves us to be very clear and respond to that concern.
The NDP, as part of our work and our critic's work at the committee, suggested that this required cabinet decisions and not solely ministerial decisions on issues where international obligations and Canada's national interest collide. We wanted to make sure that these decisions around these important issues would be taken at the highest possible and not by individual ministers.
The NDP also proposed that the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of International Cooperation have the same privileges as the Minister of Foreign Affairs since the majority of RADARSAT-2 images would be used in cases of national disasters at home and around the world.
We wanted to make sure that the ministers who had direct responsibility in the situation of responding to a natural disaster had equal call on the information provided by this technology and that they did not have to work through another department an all that it implies.
The NDP also suggested that we subject the sale of RADARSAT-2 images to export control guidelines to ensure that images are not sold to nations that work against Canada's best interest. I think that is a clear and straightforward suggestion and for the life of me I do not understand why it would not have met with some success at committee.
The NDP also put forward an amendment at committee which did not go forward that a detailed annual report on corporations that violate controls on the use of RADARSAT-2 images and the government's effort on an annual basis to prosecute violators be required. In other words, we were pressing for better accountability and transparency on matters of national importance.
Given the sensitivity, the ability of this technology to zero in literally on the everyday activities of Canadians and indeed people around the world, I think accountability and transparency given the national importance and national interest in this was desperately required.
It is important to note that RADARSAT International has sold imagery from RADARSAT-1 to the U.S. military. This information may have been used by the United States in its war in Iraq. I think that is a concern that many Canadians have. This is a war that most Canadians do not support and we want to make sure that Canadian technology is not being used to support the illegal war in Iraq. If the legislation does not address these kinds of issues then it is severely flawed.
Canadians deserve to have an ironclad assurance that the government approved sale of RADARSAT-2 imagery will not be sold to the U.S. for war, for promoting war or for any other military purpose that Canadians do not support. I think this is the bottom line with many Canadians. We do not want to participate in any way in an illegal war like the one that is currently being fought in Iraq.
It is worrisome that the government also saw an obvious link that one can make to the use of RADARSAT-2 as part of the U.S. ballistic missile system. It raised this directly. It is no wonder that the first words out of the mouth of departmental officials were words assuring us that there was no connection between RADARSAT-2 and missile defence.
It is interesting that this concern was the first issue raised by departmental officials when they appeared before the committee to discuss the legislation. It goes to show why we need absolute clarity and detailed assurance within the legislation that this RADARSAT-2 technology would not be used as part of the U.S. ballistic missile system, as part of the star wars proposals that come out of the United States.
Canadians have also been extremely, utterly and absolutely clear that they do not want any part of the star wars program.
The NDP also urged the government that it must be clear in the House and in committee when it states in the priority access clause of Bill C-25 that such access is warranted if “the minister believes on reasonable grounds it is desirable for the conduct of international relations or in the performance of Canada's international obligations”. Those were the terms that were not defined sufficiently to allow us the ability of supporting the legislation.
I mentioned earlier the privacy of citizens. Given the ability of this technology to zero in on individual activities and on individual locations within the space of about a metre and half, I think it is really important that Canadians be assured that their privacy is a high priority within the legislation but there is not a clear delineation of that in the legislation.
A little while ago a colleague from the Bloc Québécois raised the whole question of foreign ownership and whether technology like this should remain 100% under Canadian control. That is an important concern and one that should have been addressed as well in the legislation.
Unfortunately, in working this bill through the parliamentary process and through the committee process, the government chose not to work constructively with opposition members on the committee. In fact, apparently some government members even objected strongly to holding hearings on the bill, which I think is very troublesome. Given the absolute importance of the legislation, the strong implications for privacy and for participation in military actions, I cannot imagine why any government member would try to block holding hearings and hearing from people who know this technology, who know its capacity and who have opinions and testimony to offer about the legislation. Thankfully, that did not carry the day.
Unfortunately, however, a lot of that testimony was ignored by the government, especially when the member for Halifax put some of those concerns into amendments to this legislation. They were turned down and did not go forward, so a lot of that important testimony was ignored.
Some of that behaviour just goes to confirm our concerns about the bill. It goes to show that those concerns perhaps are justified and that there is more going on here than meets the eye. We want to make sure that there is transparency and the attempts to block transparency, even in the discussions on the bill, certainly do not make us rest any easier about the legislation.
The government's refusal to take into account the advice of experts before who repeatedly expressed concerns with the vagueness of the legislation, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the exclusion of the Ministers of the Environment and International Cooperation from having any priority access to images unless they ask the permission of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to act on their behalf, is a very serious concern. That is a bottom line for the NDP. We have many concerns but those things form our bottom line and lead us to not support the legislation at this reading. The NDP will be voting against the legislation.
It is important legislation. It is important technology and very sensitive technology, and the NDP, after the process that we have gone through in the House of Commons and in committee, remain concerned about the legislation. We see many questions unanswered and still much vagueness in the bill which is less than helpful in the long run for Canadians.