Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on Bill C-426, An Act to amend the Canada Evidence Act .
No one in this House is questioning the importance of the freedom of the press or the essential role of journalists in reporting events or conducting investigations to expose wrongdoings. The freedom of the press is a fundamental cornerstone of any free and democratic society.
That is not to say, however, that the bill before the House is the best way to protect the work of journalists and reconcile their work with other equally important aspects of democratic society, such as the right to a fair trial.
I agree completely with the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, who, during the first hour of debate at second reading, said of the freedom of the press that is was “too important an issue to play partisan politics with”. That is precisely why it is absolutely essential that the hon. members scrutinize this bill and understand the reasons for the government's strong reservations about it.
One of the major problems with Bill C-426 is that the proposed amendments are not being applied to the appropriate legislation. As all members well know, the Canada Evidence Act applies to all criminal and civil proceedings, as well as all other matters under federal jurisdiction. The act has a very broad scope. It applies to judicial proceedings, courts martial, federal tribunals and administrative tribunals, parliamentary committee proceedings and federal judicial inquiries.
Hon. members of this House will recall that the purpose of the Canada Evidence Act is to govern the submission of evidence, in accordance with the rules of common law, in the context of judicial proceedings and all other proceedings. Upon careful examination of the provisions of Bill C-426, it is very clear that, of the 11 subclauses, only two serve that purpose.
The other provisions establish the basic requirements that must be met so the Crown can force a journalist to disclose the identity of their source of information. The bill focuses primarily on considerations linked to criminal proceedings that include, as underscored earlier, only one aspect governed by the Canada Evidence Act.
The forms of protection cited in most of the subclauses of Bill C-426 seem to be linked to proceedings concerning the various stages of the investigation of a criminal trial. Theoretically, if it were decided that such protection is necessary, those provisions should be added to the Criminal Code, and not the Canada Evidence Act. This is such a fundamental shortcoming that it cannot be rectified through an amendment at the review stage in committee.
The bill poses another problem: the provisions of the legislation take precedence not only over the provisions of all other federal legislation—particularly the Security of Information Act—but also over all other provisions of the Canada Evidence Act. This means that these provisions would take precedence over the provisions concerning spousal immunity. They could also overrule the relatively new provisions of the Canada Evidence Act, provisions that give a detailed plan that establishes when it is possible to oppose the disclosure of information on the grounds of a specified public interest or because the disclosure would be injurious to international relations, national defence or national security.
It would be irresponsible for members of the House to study a bill that includes these provisions without a thorough examination of the implications of rescinding recent provisions that were drafted with such care. Such legislative amendments would undoubtedly have very significant operational consequences.
We should at least consult many stakeholders to ensure that the provisions of C-426 do not have a negative impact on other legislative provisions protecting interests that are just as important. I raise these concerns to highlight the crucial strategic and operational difficulties posed by this bill.
I would like to provide a constructive alternative to the immediate study of specific provisions of Bill C-426. It would be in the public interest to return this very important issue of journalistic privilege, as well as the repercussions on the justice system and on all procedures governed by federal legislation, to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights so that it may examine the bill more closely.
This would allow members to hear the comments of experts and to pay particular attention to the various significant issues pertaining to journalistic privilege, most of which are beyond the scope of Bill C-426.
Finally, I would like to thank the members for giving me the opportunity to speak to this issue of vital importance to all individuals.