Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to speak to Bill C-46 on behalf of the New Democratic caucus. The bill amends the Criminal Code, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, and is colloquially known as the investigative powers for the 21st century act.
New Democrats agree that we must be tougher on crime. We must be tougher on Internet-based crime. We have to have zero tolerance for child pornography or any offence targeted at children or any particularly vulnerable people in our society. In this regard, we support modernizing our laws to make sure that cellphones, email, the Internet and all modern forms of communication through which crimes may be committed are not a haven for criminal activity.
The New Democratic caucus is pleased to work with the government to ensure that these changes are made, but also that they are made in a correct manner so that they are effective and efficient and achieve the goals to which they are directed.
New Democrats support this bill in principle, but look forward to examining it in detail to ensure that it will be effective in combatting cybercrime while protecting the privacy rights of ordinary, law-abiding Canadians and in following long-held, cherished and established precepts of civil liberties and law in this country, which I will speak to in a few moments. There are a number of provisions in this bill that we think are positive and we are pleased to support.
First, this bill creates a new Criminal Code offence to prohibit people from agreeing to or making arrangements with another person to sexually exploit a child. I am going to pause there. That is a positive amendment to our Criminal Code with which we think it is impossible for any right-thinking individual to disagree. We would point out, however, it is probably the case that there are presently Criminal Code provisions which, arguably, cover such an offence now, but if it helps the police community, the judiciary and our prosecutors, and more important, if it makes it clear as a social denunciation by our society that it is absolutely unacceptable and intolerable that anybody would even think of sexually exploiting a child, then we think this is a positive amendment.
Another provision in this bill that we are pleased to support is the creation of another new Criminal Code offence for possessing a computer virus for the purpose of committing mischief. This pales in comparison to the previous amendment I just discussed. However, it does modernize our Criminal Code to take into account something in the digital world that has become a pressing problem and creates economic and social dislocation in our society.
Much of the rest of the bill is taken up with amendments to the definition of various terms to reflect modern technologies. As an example, the Criminal Code presently discusses the warrant system with respect to telecommunications. This bill proposes to modernize the language by making it clear that when we speak of telecommunications, we speak of things such as Internet transmissions, email transmissions, website visits and website creation, as well as cellular phone transmissions.
In that respect, we think this is a positive and long overdue amendment to the Criminal Code that will again help our judiciary and prosecutors and, indeed, everybody associated with the judicial system to expedite and make our warrant system better.
While we have not been presented with any compelling evidence that the current definitions are impeding police and investigations, we are not opposed to updating this language in our laws to reflect this new technological reality.
I will pause there to comment that many people in civil society and experts in the digital and technological world have pointed out repeatedly that there does not seem to have been a case made where any police force in this country has not been able to use the current definitions and provisions in the Criminal Code to get warrants in a case involving new digital technology. A number of organizations have repeatedly asked for such examples and, to my knowledge and understanding, not a single example has been forthcoming.
Nevertheless, sometimes it behooves Parliament to act in a proactive manner and to identify gaps in our law or needed improvements in our law without waiting for mischief to actually take place. In this respect, this is a positive step.
Concerns have been expressed by experts in the digital world, including those who have a particular interest in ensuring that citizens' privacy interests are always taken into account by Parliament, including the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and privacy commissioners of various provinces. They are concerned that this legislation has some deficiencies and may not strike the right balance between individual privacy and the legitimate needs of the authorities. The Privacy Commissioner has set forth a number of very helpful and valid benchmarks that will help us as parliamentarians as we consider this bill and other bills that touch on these areas. Let me mention some of these considerations.
Any intrusions of our civil liberties must be minimally intrusive at all times. We must impose limits on the use of new powers and ensure that appropriate legal thresholds, including judicial oversight, remain in place for all court authorizations. We must require that draft regulations be reviewed publicly before coming into force. We must always include effective oversight whenever we are talking about expanding or creating new police powers, particularly when those relate to intercepting communications from our citizens.
We must provide for regular public reporting on the use of these powers. In particular, it would be considered very helpful to include a five year parliamentary review of this bill and others like it, which I will speak about in a moment, that also deal with Internet privacy and the need for us to modernize our laws in terms of technological and digital communications.
We look forward, as New Democrats, to working together to address these concerns and others during the committee study of this bill.
The current telecommunications provisions in the Criminal Code that speak of intercepted communications were drafted in a time when telephones were the primary mechanism over which certain crimes were being committed. It is called telephony, and in the telephony world our police forces used wiretaps. The digital world has changed the type of technology and the type of investigative tools that are needed to deal with crimes.
In terms of the content, we need to have laws that are geared more toward production orders and preservation orders so that when a crime is committed digitally, the information is not erased or overridden quickly in order to destroy the evidence of those crimes before there is a chance to intercept it. It is very important that we give our police forces the tools to effectively police and intercept these kinds of communications, which is one thing that this bill is geared to do. The provisions in this bill to create production orders and preservation orders in the digital world are sound and new.
However, there are some concerns about this bill that New Democrats have heard through our early consultation with people who are very familiar with the digital world, and in particular with crimes as they are being committed in that world. One concern is that the bill appears to lower the standard for getting warrants. At present, in order to get a warrant to get a telephone intercept, a police officer would have to appear before a judge and would have to provide information or evidence that would give reasonable grounds to believe that a crime was being committed or was about to be committed.
This bill uses different language. It departs from that long, well-litigated, well-known standard. It talks about having police officers appear before judges to get production orders or preservation orders based on a reasonable suspicion, having reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime may be committed.
Using different words, “belief” as opposed to “suspicion”, we of course know will result in a different standard before our courts. A number of civil liberty groups in this country have expressed the concern that this would result in a diminution of the standard test used to get a warrant. This matter is something that I believe the committee will be looking at very carefully, calling witnesses to appear before it who have expertise both in criminal law and in civil liberties jurisprudence, to ensure that Canadians' rights would not be unduly affected by this.
There is also a concern in the digital community that this bill, while positive in its own right albeit with some of the reservations I have mentioned, when combined with some of the government's other legislation, would represent a holistic problem.
I am not going to get into too much detail, but there is a companion bill to Bill C-46 before this House, and that is Bill C-47. Bill C-47 is a bill that would require telecom service providers to install equipment that would allow them to preserve data about their subscribers so that they would be subject to a warrant later on. In that respect, we on this side of the House, in the New Democratic caucus, think that may be a positive and necessary development in our law.
However, Bill C-47, as it currently stands, would also allow police, without a search warrant, to demand that those telecom service providers give the police personal information about their subscribers, including their name, their address, their Internet service provider, ISP, and the number in their cellphone that would allow it to be digitally tracked. That has raised grave and serious concerns, not only among experts in the digital community, but also with every Canadian who uses the Internet or web surfs, because that provision represents a serious departure from our law under which Canadians' personal private information ought not to be disclosed to the police without judicial oversight.
Now, the concept of having Bill C-46 and Bill C-47 together is something that we, as parliamentarians, have to be very cognizant of because, as all members of this House know, bills do not operate in isolation. Laws do not operate in isolation. One law may have impacts on another. In this respect, New Democrats are going to be working very hard to achieve a balance between preserving Canadians' privacy and ensuring that our police and our judiciary have the tools they need to effectively fight crimes committed over the Internet or in the digital world. Case closed.
Let there be no mistake. My friends on the Conservative side of the House seem to think they have a unilateral lock on concern for victims in this country. They seem to think that they are the only people who care about safety, or the only people who care about crime, or the only people who care about victims. I would point out that people on this side of the House, New Democrats, have always championed the most vulnerable people in this society and we have always supported laws that make our citizens safe in this country.
With the greatest of respect to my colleagues on the other side of the House, I think they are prepared to sacrifice civil liberties and privacy rights in order to achieve safety, whereas New Democrats believe that it is important to have a balance whereby we can live in a society that is safe, democratic, and secure for our citizens and at the same time respects the privacy and civil liberties of those citizens.
That is the balance that we believe needs to be achieved in this bill and when this bill is read in conjunction with Bill C-47.
We on this side of the House will be working hard in order to achieve both of those objectives.
I just want to move briefly into some of the details of Bill C-46 so that Canadians who are watching us here today or those who are interested in this bill can understand what it would really do.
Bill C-46 would allow for warrants to obtain transmission data, thereby extending to all means of telecommunications the investigative powers that are currently restricted to data associated with telephones. In other words, it would modernize our warrants and our production orders, bringing them from the telephone age into the digital age.
The bill would require the production of data regarding the transmission of communications and the location of transactions, individuals or things. Again, this would be a positive step reflecting the fact that in the digital world, crimes can be committed in a nanosecond and evidence of them destroyed in a nanosecond. Through the use of cellular phones and mobile computers, that data can be moved. We need to take care of that.
Bill C-46 would create the power to “make preservation demands” and “orders to compel the preservation of electronic evidence”, which I spoke about a bit earlier. If data on these crimes can be created, that data can be erased. Sometimes police need the ability to go in and freeze the status quo, and that is a very important power that our police may need to have.
The bill would provide for warrants to allow the tracking of transactions, individuals and things, within legal thresholds that would be appropriate to the interests at stake.
Under this bill, police would be able to remotely activate existing tracking devices. Forty years ago a telephone line went into a house and that line did not move. Now, a cellular phone is mobile and it goes wherever the person who has it goes. It is important to modernize our laws to deal with that.
I am going to pause here to emphasize that we need to make sure that the legal thresholds for giving police these powers remain at the current levels, to make sure that police must still appear before a judge and must demonstrate before a judge that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been or is about to be committed so that Canadians' privacy rights are not restricted or impinged upon when it is unjust to do so.
The bill would create a new offence, which would involve someone using a telecommunications system, such as the Internet, to agree to make arrangements with another person for the purpose of sexually exploiting a child. The offence would carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. I touched on that earlier. There is nothing more odious, in New Democrats' view, than a crime that involves the sexual exploitation of anybody, but in particular, a child.
Further, this bill would amend the Competition Act, for the purpose of enforcing certain provisions of that act, in view of new provisions being added to the Criminal Code concerning demands and orders for the preservation of computer data.
This bill would amend the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act such that it would give Canadian authorities responding to requests for assistance some of the new investigative powers being added under the Criminal Code and it would allow the Commissioner for Competition to execute search warrants under the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.
Overall, we think Bill C-46 would be a positive step that would help modernize our laws. It would help give our police the investigative powers they need to catch up to the digital world and the digital age.
New Democrats will support this bill as it moves forward to achieve that aim, while we remain at the same time a strong and unceasing voice to make sure that the privacy interests and civil liberties of Canadians are kept firmly at the forefront of our mind at every step of this equation.
We can have that balance in Canadian society. One of the reasons Canada is one of the best places on earth to live is that we have always managed to achieve that balance between safety, security and liberty and civil liberties and civil rights. New Democrats will continue to work hard to achieve this balance, and we encourage all members of this House to join with us in making sure that Canadians are safe and free.