Mr. Speaker, we in the House are giving consideration to the bill before us, which is to address the Supreme Court ruling regarding the issue of security certificates. To quickly recap, security certificates themselves, or a process not unlike what we have had over the last few years, have been in place in Canada for some period of time, dating back to at least 1977.
Here is the situation in its most basic form. About 95 million people visit this country every year. The vast majority of those who decide to stay contribute in a very positive way. Approximately 260,000 of those are people who want to stay here. The vast majority of those people add greatly to the strength and stature of our nation. They bring their skills, values, beliefs, hopes and dreams for the future. Our country is strengthened by that and made a better place. But among the people who come here every year, there will always be a few who should be deemed inadmissible because they are a threat to our country.
Our country has a very generous system for people to appeal a notice of inadmissibility. The process of appeal can take quite a period of time. There are a number of different levels at which a person can appeal. What does a government do?
Any government's first responsibility should be the safety and security of its citizens. There are some people who arrive on our shores who are identified by intelligence agencies, because of information the agencies have, as possible terrorists or who have strong terrorist affiliations. They may be active members of an organized crime organization. They could be serious present and imminent threats to our own people. When people are told they are inadmissible and have to return to their countries of origin, they begin the appeal process, which can take years.
Actually, most people who decide to appeal a particular notice of inadmissibility or an order which does not allow them to come in are not security risks. They may have other issues, but they are not security risks. However, from time to time there are individuals who are deemed to be so dangerous and such a risk to our own citizens that we cannot contemplate allowing them to move around the country at will for possibly a number of years while they appeal the order to be removed. Therefore, a system of detaining them was put in place whereby a certificate would be signed.
The security agencies themselves, and in many cases it is our own intelligence service, will present to the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in confidence the reasons a person should be declared dangerous. They will ask that a certificate be signed. The person would then be detained while appealing his or her status.
It does not stop there. That security certificate has to go before a judge to make sure that it complies with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the vast framework of other guarantees and rights that are available to individuals. When a judge grants it, the security certificate comes into play and the person can be detained. If the individual's appeal process takes a year, two years or three years, the person is detained in a detention facility.
The interesting thing about the nature of that detention is that detainees are allowed to leave the facility any time they want, if they choose to go back to their countries of origin. Some choose not to do that for some obvious reasons.
This whole process was challenged and validated at a number of levels right up to the Federal Court of Appeal and found to be constitutional, until last February 2007 when the security certificate process was challenged. The Supreme Court, although not saying the entire process was unconstitutional, pointed out a couple of areas that had to be strengthened if the process was going to remain in place.
That is what we have done. We have taken the time not just legislatively but to consult with a variety of individuals, groups and organizations across the country to deal with the two areas mentioned by the Supreme Court.
The first is the notion of having a special advocate dedicated to the interests of the person being detained. That person can already have his or her own counsel, and in most cases already does. The special advocate has special powers to review all the confidential classified information that the intelligence services have brought forward against the person declaring him or her to be dangerous. That obviously is information which cannot be made public because it has to do with our national security. It has to do with people who work for our intelligence services and how they acquire certain information. That information does at least have to be seen in confidence by a judge.
Now we have arranged in the legislation for a special advocate with powers to see the classified information, for the ability to talk to the person who is being detained. There is still the provision that once they have seen all this classified information to do with national security, they cannot discuss that with the person being detained.
An addition has been made to the legislation, clause 85.2(c), which would allow the advocate to appeal to the judge for any other type of special power that he or she deems necessary to complete the work and properly protect the interests of the person being detained. It is a catch-all phrase to cover unanticipated circumstances that may come up.
The special advocate can also challenge the witnesses, the intelligence officers and the information itself.
Broadly speaking, we believe the special advocacy provision has been addressed and will give significantly increased protection to the rights of the detained individual.
The other area of concern to the Supreme Court justice was the length of time of detention without a possible review. Presently, if a person who is being detained is a permanent resident, he or she can have a review of that order within 48 hours and then automatically every six months. Until recently, foreign nationals could have a single review 120 days from the time the certificate was put in place. We have changed that to allow them to have the same footing as permanent residents. They can have that certificate reviewed every 48 hours and then every six months. We believe we have addressed that.
We have also looked at another clause called the privative clause. This is in the IRPA itself. As it exists now, that clause limits the amount of judicial review on a case like this. We have removed that to give even greater breadth.
There is a difference between criminal proceedings and immigration proceedings. In a criminal proceeding, a person has broken the law and proceedings start so that can be proven in a court of law. The person can be not just charged but convicted and in fact detained in a penitentiary, in the jail system, for punitive reasons and for rehabilitative reasons. That is entirely different from an immigration review process, which is done simply to determine and protect the safety and security of our citizens.
Those are the main elements of the bill before us. I would encourage all colleagues to set aside partisanship to realize that the security certificates have been proven not to threaten the individual rights and freedoms of Canadians. As a matter of fact, the security certificate cannot even be applied against a Canadian citizen. It can only be used on foreign nationals or those who are not Canadian citizens.
Further to that, since 2001, with about a quarter of a million people a year coming into our country, these certificates have only been applied in six particular cases, or it could be argued that it is seven cases. They have been applied in literally a handful of cases. This is where a judge has agreed, not just with me as public safety minister and public safety ministers before me but also with the intelligence information, that the persons who are deemed to need detention have either significant terrorist affiliations or are significantly involved or deemed to be involved with violent possibly international criminal organizations. These are people who are deemed to be so dangerous, with the necessary documentation provided to satisfy a judge, that they should not be allowed to be in our country. This provision has not been applied in a haphazard fashion. It has been done very carefully.
If we do not have these in place and pass the bill, the security certificate system will collapse. The Supreme Court gave us a year to do this. The year is almost up. I believe we have honoured the declarations of the Supreme Court and at the same time we have balanced individual rights and freedoms along with security interests.
Our country will be safer because of the security certificate provisions being in place, but our country and our citizens will be somewhat at risk if the system is allowed to collapse.
I ask members, especially those opposite, in a non-partisan way to consider the important nature of the provisions that we have attained today and to pass this bill.