Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this debate on Bill C-19, whose purpose is to re-introduce two provisions that the House did not want to approve when we dealt with them back in 2007.
I remember the debate we had in 2002. I was in the House then, having been elected a few years previously. If I remember correctly, Minister McLellan was responsible for public safety at the time and there was a legislative committee on which the Bloc Québécois was represented by the hon. member for Saint-Jean. It was not the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security or the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that dealt with these proposals. I remember the situation very well. It was just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. There was a kind of psychosis in the air and all countries felt the need to be much more vigilant about terrorism. This widespread psychosis made us realize just how vulnerable we were as a society.
I can remember reading documents and going to conferences where we were told about the new phenomenon of terrorism. It was mass terrorism, in which innocent civilians were attacked. We had seen examples on subways and in airports. The terrorists were pursuing ideological ends. These were not various groups confronting one another but people trying to find ways to destabilize and terrorize civilian populations. We were trying to find methods—and very legitimately so, I can easily understand it—to avert these threats.
It was a time when the American congress had quickly passed the Patriot Act. I think the United Kingdom passed some legislation too, as well as France. Canada did not want to be left out and passed an act.
It would be a mistake for the members to allow themselves to be guided by reasoning that is fundamentally flawed. The provisions proposed here give the impression the government wants to find people to convict. It wants to force people before judges without having to meet a certain burden of proof, and that is clearly unreasonable. They argued at the time there was an emergency. I am very proud that the Bloc Québécois never yielded to this psychosis. There was also a very strong feeling of sympathy for the Americans. Prime Minister Chrétien went to walk around Ground Zero, along with all the party leaders.
We obviously have a special relationship with the United States. In speaking of it, former President Kennedy said geography made us neighbours and history, friends. There really is a symbiotic relationship between Canada and the United States. Whether it is the border, the American dream or trade flows, we are integrated in ways that can sometimes be very harmful. It is not my intention, though, to talk about that now.
I am proud that the Bloc Québécois managed to resist voting for these provisions, which are not the right approach given our objectives. When members do not agree with these provisions—one of them more than the other, if I understood correctly, especially when it comes to preventive detention in section 83.3—that does not mean we are less concerned about terrorism, we are not vigilant, we do not think we should anticipate terrorist acts, or we think there is no such thing as terrorism.
It was even explained to me that, in the world right now, there is an alarming proliferation of terrorist groups and that the most threatening terrorism, the most active, should I say, is that guided by considerations that are often ideological based on religious practices. That said, we are parliamentarians, democrats. We do not lose sight of the balance that must be struck in Parliament between rights, and of course, the end, in this case, is to protect the public. In 2002, it did not seem to us that this balance was reached and that the means being proposed to us were likely to achieve this end. Through my colleague, Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who sat on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we are renewing our position and concerns of 2002, when we considered the provisions put before us then.
Why did we have concerns? Because, for a parliamentarian, the end can never justify the means. We can never take shortcuts with warrants, assessment of the evidence or detention, even if we are talking of 24 hours. We can never take shortcuts, because to do so in this matter, there will be no more limits and there would be a loss of vigilance that is beneath the office we hold.
People here lived through the 1970 crisis. I was a little too young, but I am well aware, having heard the oral history, of the extent to which 1970 was a blot on our collective history of individual rights. Freedoms were suspended and because of that excesses were committed against poets, women singers, people who were moved by freedom, who believed in a certain ideology but represented no threat to society.
In the Bloc Québécois, we are not prepared to give our support to this type of democratic shortcut, even less so when we consider the history of these provisions, a short history, I grant you. Investigative hearings are mechanisms by which a provincial court or superior court justice of the peace can be asked to compel a citizen to testify and answer questions. While certain mechanisms may prevent it from being prejudicial for later testimony, the potential for compelling someone on the basis of suspicions remains. These investigative hearings, while they are more clearly defined, still represent a threat to procedural balance and democracy. I will come back to this.
Investigative hearings, like preventive arrest and detention, exist in provisions but have never been used. That is rather surprising. I heard the government members telling us earlier that these are tools needed by the various law enforcement agencies. It is contradictory, not to say paradoxical, and perhaps even inconsistent to suggest that tools are vital to law enforcement agencies, when they have never been used. Could we take into consideration the fact that the reason we have never used them is that there are alternative means in law, provided in the Criminal Code, which the law enforcement agencies can use?
We all understand that when terrorism is involved, somewhat like when organized crime is involved, these are not things that come about through spontaneous generation. They are things that call for lengthy investigations and a huge amount of resources. The Bloc Québécois does not dispute that intelligence is needed or that wiretap warrants are required. I was also in this House when wiretap warrants were extended. Not only may those warrants be necessary, but there may also be surveillance operations.
Terrorism and the networks that make it possible are things that depend on organizations. It is reasonable for a state to be able to use all means available to it to try to anticipate what is going to happen. Not only is it reasonable, it is also our duty. Society would not feel safe without the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP and all of the organizations that are responsible for intelligence. I agree, and I understand, that the state must have agencies that will keep an eye on these various networks and will use wiretaps, surveillance, undercover operations and counter-espionage, and all lawful means available to its leaders, to anticipate, foresee and engage in extremely vigilant monitoring of these people’s behaviour.
Let us consider the question of preventive detention. Obviously there is a considerable risk of abuse and stigma. In our legal system, the first consideration is fairness. If the state, with its prerogative powers, uses coercion against individuals and intrudes into their private lives, it is reasonable for there to be something to offset this, that being the knowledge that the individuals will have evidence against them that will lead to a conviction. In order for them to know and understand that evidence, and be able to prepare their defence, they must know what they are charged with and they must be arrested in accordance with the procedure set out in the Criminal Code.
In the case of preventive detention, that balance is upset somewhat. If I understand correctly, in the case of preventive detention, individuals may be arrested based on grounds or suspicions. Suspicions, in legal terms, are much less sound considerations. When there are reasons to think that individuals will commit terrorist acts, we generally have information we can use to assess the situation. There are various provisions. Why not use the conspiracy provision? If I remember correctly, it is in section 467 of the Criminal Code. Why not use the conspiracy provisions?
If we want to force someone to behave in a certain way and enter into a recognizance to keep the peace, why not use section 810? There is a big difference between clause 83.3 in the proposed legislation and section 810. They both have the same objective, namely to avoid something and ensure that someone enters into a recognizance to keep the peace. Under section 810, however, the person is summoned before a justice of the peace but not arrested. That is the first very important distinction.
The justice can require him to sign a peace bond, and he is arrested only if he refuses. If I remember correctly, the person can only be arrested for 12 months, although I think that might have increased to 24 months, at least in the case of section 810.
Those are provisions, therefore, that can be used by the various people responsible for enforcing the law. Unfortunately, clause 83.3 goes much further than that. A person can be held for 24 hours. The justice can also impose conditions for keeping the peace, there is no doubt about it. There will also be a stigma attached to the person involved because he was brought before a justice of the peace and associated with things that lead one to think he was involved in terrorism.
Being stigmatized in this way can have repercussions on a person’s job. If his employer hears about it, his reputation could be tarnished in the organization he works for. His employer may well question his allegiance as an employee and even his contract.
If an employer finds out that one of his employees has been associated with terrorism, even if only suspected of it, he could very well lose confidence in him. This is understandable but very detrimental, especially as it is based not on a charge, or solid proof, or a trial conducted under the established rules but simply on a process that takes someone to a peace officer who sends him before a justice of the peace, all on the basis of suspicions.
Once someone has been associated with terrorism, even if only suspected of it, there are repercussions not only on his job but also on his mobility, for example if he wants to travel by plane or any other means.
In thinking about our objective, neither Canada nor Quebec is safe from terrorist incidents. We understand that. But why ask parliamentarians to take shortcuts with our democracy when there are no assurances that these shortcuts will ever be used by law-enforcement agencies? In fact, until there is proof to the contrary, they certainly have not been used so far.
In connection with the prevention of acts of terrorism, section 495 of the Criminal Code provides that a peace officer may arrest without warrant a person whom he believes on reasonable grounds is about to commit a criminal act. As we can see, the provisions are already in place.
I must say with no ill will, because I am totally incapable of it, that I am surprised by the attitude of our colleagues in the official opposition. The Liberals supported the charters and just society of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and I thought they always responded positively to the call to end practices that might be considered highly discretionary and of concern in terms of individual rights. I do not understand that the official opposition is today supporting the government. If my calculations are right, that means that Bill C-19 will likely be passed. Even if the Bloc and the NDP oppose it, we can realistically expect it to pass.
That is shameful, especially since the leader of the Liberal Party, when I was a law student, was recognized as an authority in individual rights. How can he today drop his guard and allow his party to support a bill that is extremely worrisome in terms of individual rights and the potential abuses it may lead to?
My time is up. I appeal for Bill C-19 not to be passed.