Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased to speak to the motion because, it would appear, because of a significant shift that I think we are now seeing in the Liberal Party, the motion will be defeated.
In the interests of civil liberties and human rights in this country, I see that as a significant victory.
The motion before us takes us back to 9/11 and to the response of the House and the federal government as to how we were going to deal with our concerns over terrorism. The response of the Liberal government at that time, supported by the Conservative Party, was Bill C-36, what became known as the Anti-terrorism Act.
Bill C-36 was a huge bill, encompassing amendments to a large number of pieces of legislation, the Criminal Code, the Evidence Act and financial acts. It was a very complex bill and very extensive in its reach. It was rushed through in a little less than two months with little debate. We heard this repeatedly from those witnesses who did appear in front of our committee in the review that is still ongoing.
It is a classic, in terms of this legislation, that when we are faced with a crisis that we repeat so often the errors of history by overreacting and panicking in passing legislation that strikes at our fundamental values, our fundamental principles and our fundamental rights. That is what we did with Bill C-36.
I am proud to say that the NDP at that time, led by the current Deputy Speaker, led the opposition to the use of this kind of draconian legislation and we voted against it. We have maintained our opposition to it throughout this entire period of time. We continue to do that today.
I have to say that the sections that gave us the greatest concern, as well as all civil libertarians and people concerned about justice, were the two that we are faced with extending today. Those sections involve investigative hearings, which is almost an academic terminology. It is really the compulsory attendance and giving of evidence. It is a compulsory breach of our fundamental right to remain silent but we breach that with that section.
The second one is again euphemistically referred to as a recognizance section but it really is about preventative detention, as much as the advocates in favour of it would want us to believe otherwise.
In a panic and gross overreaction and in undermining some of our long-standing values, principles and rights, we passed that bill in late 2001 and it came into effect in the year 2002.
Even those members of Parliament at that time who were supportive of the bill recognized how fundamentally flawed and how risky and dangerous it was to our rights so they put in a sunset clause. This was after great pressure from my party, from civil libertarians across the country and from a number of specific communities. I think of the labour movement, the Muslim community, a number of ethnocultural communities and first nations who were very concerned about it.
In response to the very well defined and well articulated fears, the government of the day put in provisions that those two particular clauses--and they are quite extensive clauses and we are not talking a paragraph or two, we are talking pages and pages--would be sunsetted after five years unless there was a vote in both Houses of Parliament, in the House of Commons and in the Senate, supporting an extension.
However, the motion cannot be amended. Even if one of the opposition parties wanted to move an amendment to the motion before us today, it would not be allowed by statutory compulsion.
The legislation also provided for a mandatory five year review. That review was given over to the justice committee in the last Parliament and a subcommittee, on which I sat, was appointed to deal with it. We did not complete that work before the last election but we have started it again in front of the public safety and national security committee, a separate and permanent standing committee of the House. A subcommittee of that committee has been appointed.
We came forward with a majority and a minority report. I want to acknowledge the very fine work done by the previous speaker, the Bloc member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who, along with myself, wrote a minority report expressing grave concerns about the continuation of these two sections and advocating for their swift removal from our laws.
On the other hand, all the Liberals and Conservatives on the subcommittee and the full committee supported an extension of the sunset clauses to five years at which time there would be another review requiring another vote.
After listening to the speakers from the Liberal Party, I am happy to say that they have now decided not to hold that position. I understand from their statements that they will be voting against the motion. With a great deal of optimism and relief for a number of our communities, I believe the motion will be voted down at the end of the day.
The one final technical point I need to make is that the vote must take place by next Thursday, since votes are not held in the House on Fridays, because the deadline is next Friday, February 16. If the two resolutions from the two Houses have not been voted on affirmatively by that time, the motion would fail automatically.
I believe it is important for Parliament to speak in opposition to these types of draconian measures and, when we do speak against them, we do that formally by way of a vote in this House. I hope we will have the vote next week and that these sections will be struck from our law.
It is important to recognize the work that went on in committee, both in the previous Parliament and in the current Parliament. When Parliament resumed after the 2005-06 election, it was determined, although I am not sure I agreed to it, that we would not have any additional witnesses. We decided we would rely on all of the witnesses we had heard in the previous Parliament. That review had been going on for almost a full year. I did not count the number of witnesses we heard but I know we heard many.
The witnesses we heard from the government side, and I do not mean that in terms of partisanship but in terms of the people who worked within the government structure, whether it was the RCMP, CSIS, the Department of Justice or any of the other intelligence agencies, all of them supported the continuation of the legislation. I do not think I have ever experienced that in any other committee work that I have done. They agreed that the legislation was basically perfect and that, other than some changes in commas and punctuation, it really did not need any changes.
After receiving between 50 and 100 presentations from academics, civil liberty groups, ethnocultural groups, international witnesses and others, what was so striking was that, with only a few exceptions, the overwhelming evidence was that it was not needed in the first place. Almost everyone agreed that we should get rid of it because the existing criminal had the provisions needed to deal with every problem the legislation was attempting to address.
This is one of those times when we need to learn from our history, such as the abuse by government action toward the Japanese Canadians during the second world war. I often ask a rhetorical question in that regard. If we had asked average Canadians before 1939 whether they could see their government ever attacking an entire community because of their racial background or country of origin, even if they had been here for generations and generations, to then confiscate all their lands and, in effect, imprison them for an entire period of the war, we would have had an overwhelming and, I would suggest, an absolute answer of no.
Similarly, before the October crisis of 1970, if we had asked average Canadians if they could imagine that because of the conduct of a dozen to fifteen people in the province of Quebec that the War Measures Act would have been invoked against the entire population of Quebec based on a totally false assumption of an apprehended insurrection, I believe the answer again would have been an overwhelming no, that they could never imagine seeing that happen.
Similarly, we could have asked people before 9/11 whether this type of legislation would ever be passed. If we were to study the history of what happened after the War Measures Act was invoked and then repealing it and then moving into emergency legislation that was much more appropriate in terms of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, bringing into play in that period of time the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, average Canadians would have said that they did not need the legislation, that they would never pass that kind of legislation and that they would not have preventative detention in this country, but we did.
On all three of those occasions, we have the same dynamics: a crisis, real or imagined, and then an overreaction in a time of panic. However, we are beyond that. We have a responsibility to look at the role that terrorism plays, not only in our country but internationally, respond to it in a manner that says that we absolutely will protect our citizens to the nth degree as much as we possibly can but that we will not give in to terrorism, we will not breach our fundamental values and we will not break the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If we deal with it from that vantage point, if we ask what it takes to protect our people, which is our fundamental responsibility as members of Parliament and the responsibility every government has to its citizens, and to ensure their safety to the nth degree, then it is a pyrrhic victory if we say that we do that by passing this kind of legislation or as, in this case, a vote that is required here as we continue.
What it really means is that we have given in, out of fear and panic, and as for those people who would use violence to achieve their ends, they won. That is really what happened in 2001-02 when we passed this legislation. The terrorists won because we gave in to those fears.
Canadians and all members of Parliament have to show courage. We have to say yes, there are methodologies that we need to employ and additional resources that we need to put in to fighting terrorism or people who use acts of violence to achieve their ends, whether that is organized crime or people doing it for a political or an ideological motivation. When we do that, that is when we respond most effectively: when we put into place additional resources as required.
One of the things we saw clearly, not only in Canada but across the globe, was that our intelligence services were not well enough coordinated. I would have to say, from all the experience I have had in the last several years of investigating, that this continues to be a problem. We have resolved it to a great degree in Canada, but it is not finished. There is additional work to be done.
We learned, for instance, that we did not have enough members of our intelligence services who were fluent in enough languages, so the gathering of information and intelligence was diminished. Our ability to do it and the effectiveness of it were diminished because of that. Those are the kinds of programs we have to look at putting into place. We looked at increasing technology, but the reality was, after looking at the American experience in particular, that it was not the best way to go. What we really needed was more people on the street doing traditional intelligence gathering.
Those are the kinds of methodologies that we have to look at. Those are the kinds of resources that we need to deploy, but using this kind of legislation, quite frankly, is useless. Again, let us go back to the comments of my friend from the Bloc, and we all recognize this, who said that these sections have not been used. Attempts were made to use them on one occasion, but they have not been used and that is a reflection of the need, or lack of need, for them.
It is also a reflection, and I think this is the most accurate assessment, of the fact that we already have the tools. If we need to do investigations and we need to lay charges and we need to move to try to convict, those tools are already all there.
We heard from the witnesses over and over again that we do not need to be doing this, that it is better to spend our time, effort and resources in other areas because our criminal justice system is already functioning effectively to the degree that we want it to function against this kind of conduct.
I am going to end at this point. Again, going back to our responsibility, there is not a member of this House, no matter which party he or she belongs to, who for one second would say that we are going to do anything less than the absolute in what we need to do to protect our citizens. It is really about how best we do that. This legislation is not the way to do it.
In fact, in some respects, it is a false credibility that we give: that we have done everything. I think that was one of the reasons we reacted the way we did. We said that we had to do something, that we had to say to the electorate that we were doing something. The easiest way to do that is to pass legislation. Whether it works or not seems to be a secondary consideration, but it gives the electorate a false sense of confidence and a false sense of security.
If we really want to give that sense of security to them, to all of our citizens, to all the residents of Canada, then we do that by applying some of the methods I have talked about, not by passing useless pieces of legislation. I am going to be very proud when the NDP stands and votes against this motion next week because it is bad legislation. It strikes at the core of our values and it is time to get it off the books.