Mr. Speaker, on November 23, 2004, the Government of Canada introduced a bill to regulate the operation of remote sensing space systems. This is a bill concerning satellites capable of taking detailed pictures of the earth and objects on its surface.
On December 7, 2004, Bill C-25 was approved in principle by all parties in the House at second reading, subject to a clause by clause study by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Very recently, the committee tabled in the House a slightly amended bill for us to consider. Today, I will explain once again why this bill on remote sensing space systems is important for Canadians, for the Canadian industry and for our friends in other countries, and why this amended bill should be passed.
However, before I begin, I must express my gratitude to my colleagues who thoroughly examined this bill during its study in committee. Many expert witnesses provided important testimony during the study of the bill. Their testimony led to a number of proposed amendments. Four of these amendments are found in the bill submitted today to the House for approval.
The important point is a new section requiring the minister to cause an independent review of the provisions and the operation of the act to be conducted at least once every five years, and for these reviews to be laid before each House of Parliament. This section ensures that the legislation will be reviewed every five years, so that it can keep abreast of technological developments.
I want to add, however, that three trends in space activity are converging and making this bill imperative.
The first is the increasing availability of this technology to the private sector. Once upon a time, only government labs were able to create amazing technologies such as man-made satellites. Such a monopoly on space technology no longer exists. Today, private sector know-how allows us to create inventions at a rate that challenges the government to promote and regulate these new services in a timely manner. So, we must anticipate our needs and act accordingly.
The second trend is this: like the communication satellite industry before it, the remote sensing satellite industry is developing in Canada. Increasingly, the private sector is entering into partnerships with the public sector, as a prelude to purely private enterprises.
At one time, satellite communications were the sole domain of crown corporations. Telesat Canada is an excellent example of this. Today, Telesat operates as a dynamic private sector corporation, regulated by government and serving all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
During the transition period, satellite communications rapidly evolved from the simple delivery of communications between two fixed points using the first regional communication satellite in Canada, Anik A , in 1972.
Now, satellite communications also allow mobile communications via cell phones and direct broadcast satellite service, or DBS, so residences can receive high definition television. More recently, high speed Internet and other broadband communications have been added to this mix of signals.
Remote sensing systems by satellite might be as successful if operators and investors in this sector could rely on intelligent regulation by the government.
Bill C-25 makes such intelligent regulation possible and does not intervene in the market except to ensure Canada's security, defence and foreign policy interests.
It also ensures secure data access for the states in question. Consequently, this bill protects both the public interest and the private interests of Canadians in a new use of space.
Third, the confluence of private financial capital and private access to high technology has resulted in remote sensing space system capabilities that could harm our national security, defence and conduct of international relations were they to go unregulated. Earlier civil remote sensing space systems were limited in their performance by underlying technological and financial constraints. Security interests of government owners also set performance restrictions on the capabilities of the remote sensing space systems.
Research and development activities meanwhile have proceeded apace for military systems, aided by the inventiveness of private contractors. This developed technological base can now produce imagery with resolution sufficient to benefit a 21st century defence force. When sensitive data is distributed on a wide basis, undesirable entities could be emboldened to exploit this new-found information availability as an asymmetric threat for our nation. This could be done without ever making the hitherto necessary space investments themselves.
Were the distribution of satellite remote sensing products and raw data to remain unregulated, timely non-discriminatory access to sensitive data could harm the national security, national defence and foreign policy interests of Canada. On the flip side of these concerns, there is the incredible benefit that timely access to imagery by the government could have for coordinating humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
When disaster strikes, as it did with hurricanes Katrina and Rita recently, or as with the Indian Ocean tsunami before them, it is important that the first responders and humanitarian relief workers can quickly survey the extent of the disaster, decide where best to set up the relief operations and of course aid in the rescue of persons in distress. And over the past couple of months I can say plenty about that. Thankfully, those were all done in a very efficient way.
While there is every expectation that satellite operators in Canada will service this market on their own, Bill C-25, which is before the House today at third reading, provides a power for the government to order imagery on a priority basis, enabling us to help coordinate relief efforts and operations for Canadians and others in need at home or abroad.
Parliament must therefore act to secure these vital interests of Canada while at the same time promoting wide access to satellite remote sensing products and raw data for beneficial uses which are consistent with the peaceful use of outer space. Parliament must also regulate these systems regardless of whether public or private or private-public finances assembled the necessary funds to undertake these promising ventures. Bill C-25 does exactly that by establishing a single licensing regime for the operation of remote sensing space systems in Canada and by Canadians.
This bill is also concerned with the distribution of the data products generated by the operation of remote sensing satellite systems. Much of the benefit of Canada's remote sensing satellites accrues to Canadians, but foreign entities also stand to gain by cooperating with Canada and with Canadians. Under Canada's Export and Import Permits Act, the export of satellite technology, goods and services is controlled by the government. Controlling intangible technology such as remote sensing products and raw data under that act, however, would have generated significant efficiency and effectiveness concerns within the government and, of course, the private sector alike.
Rather than require every Canadian national to secure an export permit for each and every purchase of imagery or data by foreign customers under an amended EIPA, the government wisely chose instead to obtain the same underlying security guarantees by developing this bill with its primary focus on the control of access to such products and data at the source of that information, that is to say, the licensee's operations.
Given that a licensee's satellite operations can be located both at home and offshore and also that such licensees work with international partners to increase global market penetration, these foreign partners must also be able to derive benefit from their Canadian investments. This bill is purposefully designed to enable foreign participation in Canadian systems and distribution of remote sensing products and raw data internationally, provided that Canada's security, defence and foreign policy interests are protected.
By piggybacking these security requirements onto a clean licensee's business model, we can obtain an example of smart regulation that is efficient and effective for Canadians and their foreign business partners.
I am also sponsoring this bill in order to fulfill Canada's bilateral and international obligations. By virtue of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, Canada is responsible for the outer space activities of its nationals. Today satellites belonging to, and operated by, private interests are governed by the Telecommunications Act, the Radiocommunication Act and the Broadcasting Act, in order to protect the public interest in a variety of respects.
Passage of Bill C-25 will achieve a similar regulation of remote sensing systems, primarily from the points of view of security, defence and foreign policy. The bill also focuses on protection of the environment, of public health and safety and of private property.
This minimal intervention into the market responds to the concerns raised by this area of economic activity and respects Canada's international obligations.
The bill is also important from the point of view of Canada—U.S. relations. The government's decision to control its own remote sensing satellites, announced in June 1999, paved the way for an agreement between Canada and the United States which was signed in the June 2000, the Canada-United States Agreement Concerning the Operation of Commercial Remote Sensing Satellite Systems. This treaty was aimed at ensuring that private remote sensing satellite systems would be controlled in each country in such a manner as to protect shared national security and foreign policy interests, while promoting the commercial benefits to be derived from these systems.
Today we can meet the commitments contracted in that treaty. The statement of policy on controlling access that was announced in June of 1999 has become the bill you now have before you.
The launch of RADARSAT-2 from Canada is scheduled for 2006. I urge my colleagues to pass this bill so that we can show that Canada is walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
Before I conclude, I would like to mention that there was a lot of discussion, both in the House and in committee, about the private ownership of Canada's next remote sensing satellite, RADARSAT-2, its excellent performance and the need for foreign technology and launching facilities for these Canadian missions. RADARSAT-2 is indeed a good example of the need for this type of legislation. However, the bill must also apply to all future remote sensing space systems. Therefore, this bill covers all existing and future remote sensing space systems, which is exactly what Canadians want and expect from us.
Let me go back to the purpose of this bill to conclude my remarks.
The House should pass this bill that deals with remote sensing space systems because it is much better to create a smart regulatory framework for these high technology satellite systems than to risk compromising our national security, our defence and, most of all, our foreign policy.
We must pass this bill so that Canada can meet its bilateral and multilateral obligations in terms of regulating the space activities of its nationals.
We must pass this bill to ensure that Canadian businesses remain world leaders in the area of remote sensing and related services by setting a clear regulatory framework that can attract technological investments and help our businesses in terms of finding markets.
And we must pass this bill to ensure that every Canadian continues to draw maximum social and economic benefits from the use of space for peaceful purposes.
If we do not do it, other jurisdictions will take the lead and Canada will be the loser.