Mr. Speaker, I was going to say that I am pleased to rise in the House, but I am not sure if I am pleased to rise in the House today over this particular discussion. However, it is important to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-3.
I am proud that the members of the NDP, along with some others, are standing in opposition to what is really fundamentally flawed legislation.
Others have spoken to this, but from the beginning, security certificates have been the wrong way to deal with an approach to terrorism, espionage and organized crime. The member for Vancouver South, although saying that his party will be supporting the bill, did say that a method such as the SIRC system would have been a preferable approach to take to this as opposed to this redone, renewed and recycled security certificate bill that we have before us.
When the security certificates were shut down in February 2007, I think many people were very pleased to see what they hoped would be the end of a really defective process. That did not happen. People are very disappointed that the government has chosen to reintroduce security certificates.
The Liberal opposition members have noted on a number of occasions that this is not the bill they would have brought forward, that it probably could have been a better bill and that there were other systems, but they are going to support it anyway because of the timeframe.
The bill was struck down in February of 2007. Its replacement was tabled on October 22, 2007. If this is such a grave and grievous threat to Canada, and I think we will all agree that terrorism, organized crime and espionage are such threats, why would the government wait nine months in order to bring this forward? Why would the government not have brought the House back in September when it was due to come back and allowed for further opportunity to debate it at committee and to call witnesses?
It is very puzzling that we found ourselves seeing it for the first time at the end of October. Witnesses who might have wished to present before the committee could not. Now I hear people suggest that it was not really what they would have done but that we have to pass it now because we have a time crunch. I understand the time crunch, but I am not sure that it is the best reason for passing flawed legislation. To me, the fact that it was not dealt with earlier is something that, to be quite honest, I simply fail to understand.
As well, I was bothered by the examination of the legislation at committee. Having waited nine months to reintroduce this, the minister then came to committee and said, “Please hurry up and pass this and please move it quickly through committee because it will expire in February”.
As a result, the Conservatives established a timeline at committee that excluded dozens of witnesses, among them experts, advocates and people with direct experience of the security certificate process. People spoke up. They said that this was not acceptable. They said that there were many more people from whom we needed to hear. Indeed, there were names added to the list of people testifying before the committee.
Again, what was interesting was that 17 witnesses testified before the public safety committee, of whom 13 were opposed to Bill C-3. There were 20 written submissions, and all but one said that Bill C-3 was flawed. Having heard that from all of these witnesses, for some members it was as if they thanked the witnesses very much for their information, but they had already decided the way they were going to go on it, and the way they were going to go was security certificates.
They had made up their minds, and while they said thanks to witnesses for coming in with their presentations, it was not going to influence their thinking. I think the Conservative members on the committee, and maybe the Liberals as well, although they acknowledged that there were some problems, ignored expert testimony and advice.
The basic premise of the right to defend oneself is interesting. It is one that has been raised here frequently. It is one that people who are opposed to this legislation are very concerned about. I heard an earlier speaker say that normally we assume that people are innocent until proven guilty, except in this case, where people are presumed guilty until proven innocent, except that we do not give them the tools to prove themselves innocent. They are not given access to the information to prove that they might be innocent, but we know that in at least one situation there was information that would have caused a different outcome.
It is interesting to know what we are saying about somebody who, we have said, is involved in terrorism. Terrorism is the example that gets used the most, but it could be espionage or gang crime as well. It is interesting to know that what we are saying is that we will send the person back to his or her own country to continue his or her work, so to speak. If that indeed is the individual's work, then he or she will perpetuate that, perhaps teach other people, come back to Canada and try again.
How Canada would be any safer as a result of that I do not know. Why would Canada not be safer if it used the Criminal Code to put people in jail? Surely that is what Canadian citizens expect of us in terms of protecting this country: that if people commit or are about to commit a crime of that nature, a crime that is a danger to the citizens of our country, they would be put in jail for a very long time so that their activity is cut off and they will not be engaged in that activity. I think that the right to defend has been totally suspended for this piece of legislation.
Another issue the NDP has with this legislation is the one around civil liberties. Public safety seems to me to be about a balance between freedom and security. There is no question about it: Canadians want to know that they are secure. They have every right to know that, but it is a balance. This legislation is just as imbalanced as the last piece of legislation, which was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Most lawyers who have expertise in this area have said they believe the legislation will be struck down again if it is taken before the Supreme Court. I am quite certain there are lawyers who will be prepared to take this back to the Supreme Court and we will be back here having the discussion again about why this does not work and why we should be including this in the Criminal Code with a different kind of system.
The provision of a special advocate, as is done by the U.K. and New Zealand, is, people have said, a compromise that will work, but in the U.K. there have been many challenges as to the effectiveness of the special advocates and the resources they have.
As for the lawyers here, 50 lawyers have applied here and I think people are expecting that many more, but the lawyers I have talked to do not want be in the position of knowing that if they see something in the file which would be of benefit to the detainee but needs further clarification, they cannot do it. Yes, lawyers can speak with the detainee and the detainee's counsel and then they have the right to see the file, but if they see something in the file that would be of benefit to the detainee and needs further clarification, they cannot do it. For one thing, they do not have the resources to do the research. Second, they do not have the ability to have that discussion with the detainee.
There are ways, and most lawyers will tell us that, of asking questions without giving away that information which other speakers indicated they were concerned about, information that would indicate to others that their cover had been blown or who had reported on them. We know that lawyers are able to ask questions. We saw that in the Maher Arar case, where they discovered later that some very simple questions would have been able to clarify the fact that he indeed was not involved in the activities that they thought he was.
Others have spoken of Ian MacDonald. Mr. MacDonald was a special advocate in the U.K. system. He quit over the failure of the British system to address the civil, justice and human rights needs of people who had been detained. Knowing that, the government still has chosen to adopt that system. People have said that under this system, we will still be able to ensure evidence will be brought forward that will not keep somebody in detention because we will not make errors in that way.
I was at an event last night where Maher Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, were awarded the British Columbia Civil Liberties Award. As people have read, Maher Arar was rendered back to Syria by U.S. border agents where he faced torture until his return to Canada a year later. Thanks to the work of Commissioner Dennis O'Connor and the Arar inquiry, Canadians now know that Mr. Arar's experience was due to errors by Canadian officials who placed excessive emphasis on national security at the expense of civil liberties and human rights. As a result of the work of many people and Monia Mazigh and his children, that was rectified. However, not everybody has that kind of support system available to them.
We know errors are made. We know information can be suddenly condensed. The original proceedings are gone and are now in a more modified form. Perhaps some evidence that could be used is suddenly not available to people. We see a bit of that now in the case in front of the court.
The Conservatives know the special advocate system is flawed. Mr. MacDonald has spoken in front of committee. He has shared his criticism of the special advocate process.
Five individuals have been confined under security certificates. One person, Mr. Almrei, is still in detention. The other four men, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Adil Charkaoui and Mohamed Harkat , are on bail with sureties on conditions that are set up almost to fail. If the men go to a mall and they have to go to the bathroom, their sureties have to go with them. It does not matter if it is the women's washroom or where it is. They have no breathing room. It is almost as if these conditions are set to fail.
If these people are guilty, they should be on strict bail conditions, but not on conditions set to fail. We do not do that to people in our justice system. If these people are guilty, we must have an opportunity to prove they have done what they are accused of doing.
Even if all civil liberties were protected in the legislation, security certificates are still legally the wrong way to go. Why would this not be done under criminal legislation? Can we not change our criminal legislation? It has a very different level of evidence. It has a very different level of seriousness in terms of how evidence is presented and the standard which one has to meet. It would be a much better method to deal with these instances.
We have seen the consequences of those kinds of allegations. We owe it to people to subject them to the highest possible standards of our justice system, not a lesser process. This is why I and the NDP caucus are fundamentally oppose to the legislation, as are the Bloc Québécois and at least a couple of members of the Liberal opposition.
In further debate I hope other people will be able to expand on some of these points. For these men and their families, to deny them the right to defend themselves, to not tell someone why they are charged, to be unable to produce the evidence for them or their counsel and to expect a special advocate to look at it and then be unable to use it in any significant way for that detainee is outside the realm of any understanding I think Canadians have of human and civil rights and the responsibilities of the justice system.