Mr. Speaker, I rise today to provide further clarification regarding the government's motion to extend the sunsetting provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act.
Let me begin by telling the House what the motion is not. It is not about security certificates. It is not about the detainees in Kingston. It is not about the war in Afghanistan. And it most certainly should not be about partisan politics. It is about continuing to provide two important tools to Canada's law enforcement authorities to assist in the investigation and the prevention of terrorist attacks, nothing more.
Prevention in medicine, as we know, is the most economic and efficient way to reduce and prevent disease. Also, in law enforcement, prevention of the crime is much more cost effective and much more effective in every sense of the word than investigating an actual crime.
There has been a great deal of hyperbole in this House in the course of this debate. The word “draconian” has been thrown around and there have been claims that these powers are an assault on the civil liberties of Canadians. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The recognizance with conditions power is not new or unusual in Canadian law. Similar powers exist in the peace bond provisions of the Criminal Code that aim to prevent the commission of personal injury and sexual offences as well as criminal organization offences. Parliament has clearly found it appropriate to take the preventative approach to these types of crimes. To argue that we should not do so for terrorist activity would be illogical.
I mentioned the recognizance portion of the two apparently very worrisome parts of the Anti-terrorism Act, worrisome in that some members choose to make more of these two provisions than they really should. As I mentioned, recognizance with conditions is already in the Criminal Code. These two provisions were inspired by existing provisions such as the recognizance with conditions power under section 810, where personal injury or damage is feared. As well, section 495 of the Criminal Code permits a peace officer to arrest without warrant anyone he or she believes is about to commit an indictable offence.
With respect to investigative hearings, that we compel witnesses to testify at the investigative stage is new to criminal law, but witnesses have always been compellable at trial. However, this has parallels in the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act as well as the Competition Act, in public inquiries and in coroners' inquests, so this is not new.
As for the investigative hearing power, it has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. The majority of the court held that it does not violate section 7 rights of the charter and does not infringe on the protections regarding self-incrimination. In doing so, the justices described the situation we face as follows:
The challenge for democracies in the battle against terrorism is not whether to respond but rather how to do so. This is because Canadians value the importance of human life and liberty, and the protection of society through respect for the rule of law. Indeed, a democracy cannot exist without the rule of law....
Yet, at the same time, while respect for the rule of law must be maintained in response to terrorism, the Constitution is not a suicide pact....
It is a complicated task for sure. We strive to maintain the rights and liberties that make Canada great while addressing a threat that strikes at the very basis of our society, but our Supreme Court has determined that Parliament got it right. Parliament got it right in the first instance. That is why we are here today, attempting to maintain that “getting it right”, to make sure of that in trying to maintain the delicate balance of rights and the protection of human life and property when we have to bring in acts such as the Anti-terrorism Act.
I would also refer to the words of the member for Mount Royal who, in 2005, provided a perhaps more nuanced description of the challenges we face. He said:
The underlying principle here is that there is no contradiction in the protection of security and the protection of human rights. That counter-terrorism itself is anchored in a twofold human rights perspective.
First, that transnational terrorism--the slaughter of innocents--constitutes an assault on the security of a democracy and the most fundamental rights of its inhabitants--the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
At the same time, and this is the second and related human rights perspective embedded in the relationship between counter-terrorism and human rights, the enforcement and application of counter-terrorism law and the policy must always comport with the rule of law.
The member for Mount Royal concluded his comments by stating:
The importance of this legislation cannot be understated. Canadians need to be reassured that their government has both done all we can to protect them against terrorist acts without unnecessarily infringing on their individual rights and freedoms.
We have also heard recently the comments of other prominent members of the Liberal Party. Anne McLellan, for example, has been quoted in the media as saying, “The situation today is, if anything, more dangerous and more complex and the powers have never been abused”. Why would we take these tools away from law enforcement? Former deputy prime minister John Manley also took the unusual step of issuing a statement in support of these powers. He stated, “I believe that cabinet and Parliament got the balance right in 2001-02,” and “I do not believe that anything has changed to make that balance inappropriate today”.
The extension we are proposing does not in any way threaten civil liberties. In fact, if the motion were defeated, Parliament would be putting at risk what the member for Mount Royal acknowledged as the most fundamental right we enjoy: the right to life, liberty and security of the person. The right to be protected from terrorist attacks is what we are addressing with this motion.
All members should also carefully consider the statements that have been made by the victims of terrorism in support of these powers. The Air-India families and others have made it clear that the investigative tools of law enforcement must not be curtailed. Many have reacted with shock and dismay at the prospect of losing the investigative hearing power which may yet provide the answers to the questions surrounding the deaths of 329 innocent airline passengers in 1985; 329 innocent airlines passengers who died as a result of one of the most horrific terrorist acts that has been portrayed on Canadian citizens.
British Columbia's solicitor general has also echoed these concerns.
In concluding my statement, I would like to clarify one other matter relating to reviews of the Anti-terrorism Act being undertaken by committees in both Houses. I do appreciate the fact that the House of Commons committee tabled an interim report last October on these powers. I appreciate its diligence and hard work. I am proud to say that in this House today there are two members of that committee. The government continues to await the final reports of both committees. I am proud to say that those reports are within weeks of coming to this hallowed institution.
Referring to the committee's reports, I can tell the House that all told, the work totalled some 44 meetings over 83 hours and literally hundreds of hours of research. The committee's report will be thorough and it will be comprehensive. I can assure the House of that.
Because of delays in the parliamentary review of the Anti-terrorism Act, the committees have asked their respective houses for more time to report. The government also needs more time. We need more time to delicately fine tune a piece of legislation that is already providing the kind of protection that this country needs.
I am asking for support to extend these provisions. The government is simply saying it does not want these important powers to expire while it is considering the House of Commons committee's recommendations and awaiting its final report. We also hope to soon receive the Senate's input. I believe we have recently done so.
This is why we are seeking only a three year extension, not five years, but a three year extension. It is a temporary extension that will allow for proper government analysis of the entire workings of the Anti-terrorism Act and the preparation of an appropriate government response and subsequent parliamentary debate.
We will be responding to the subcommittee's interim and final reports together. This has been our intention all along. But we must not allow timing issues to scuttle these important provisions. If the Anti-terrorism Act reviews had been completed by December 2005 as anticipated by the legislation and not interrupted by the last federal election or other delays, this would not be an issue today, but the parliamentary reviews were delayed.
Extending the powers for three years will give effect to the original intent behind the sunsetting and parliamentary review clauses of the act; namely, the debate on the sunset clause would be fully informed by the final reports of both parliamentary review committees, as well as by the government response to their recommendations. The government's motion will ensure that these measures are not lost by default in the absence of this informed debate.