Mr. Speaker, as the House may know, prior to question period I was discussing Bill C-19, which engages the issue of civil rights in this country.
I would like to point out the valuable work that is done in our country on behalf of the civil rights of ordinary Canadians and, in fact, on behalf of people all over North America, by people like James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, John Murphy, an international vice-president, the Canadian president of Teamsters Canada, Robert Bouvier, international vice-president and long time British Columbia teamster, Don McGill, Ontario teamster Larry McDonald and the very fine work done at the grassroots level fighting for the rights of people every day by British Columbia teamsters Jure Kelava, Maureen Roberts and Larry Sargeant.
These are the kinds of people who go out every day and help support and strengthen the civil and human rights of Canadians in our country. It behooves everyone in the House to remember the efforts of such people when we are debating bills, such as Bill C-19.
Getting back to the gist of Bill C-19, prior to the break I was speaking about the first problem with the bill, which is forced testimony under compulsion of prison under the Anti-terrorism Act.
The second thing in the bill, which is highly objectionable to anyone who cares about human rights, is the provision respecting preventative arrest, meaning that the state can imprison someone for up to 12 months, without ever laying a charge, on the mere suspicion of being involved in a terrorist endeavour.
Clause 1 of Bill C-19, which re-enacts section 83.3 of the Criminal Code with substantially similar provisions, deals with recognizance with conditions and preventative arrest to prevent a potential terrorist act. Under this re-enacted section, with the prior consent of the Attorney General, a peace officer may lay information before a provincial court judge if he or she believes that a terrorist act will be carried out and suspects that the imposition of a recognizance with conditions or the arrest of a person is required to prevent it.
Such a detained person must then be brought before a judge within 24 hours or as soon as feasible thereafter, which is not spelled out, and at that time a show cause hearing is held. If a judge determines that a person should enter recognizance, the person is bound to keep the peace and respect other conditions for up to 12 months, to which it is unlikely a terrorist will not agree. However, if the person refuses to enter into a recognizance or disagrees with the conditions in any way, the judge can order that person to be imprisoned for up to 12 months.
As I said before the break, our school children know about the right to remain silent. They also know of the presumption of innocence. They believe strongly in the western British tradition that informs the justice system in Canada, that people cannot be jailed on mere suspicion. They should not be jailed without being arrested, charged or convicted on any charge. That is exactly what the bill does.
First, New Democrats are opposed to the bill because it is an ineffective way to combat terrorism. Second, it is an unnecessary and unwelcome infringement upon our civil liberties. As I said before, we cannot protect freedom by offending it. We cannot protect human rights by infringing them. We cannot strengthen due process by abandoning it.
The Criminal Code already contains the necessary provisions for investigating those who are involved in criminal activity and for detaining anyone who may present an immediate threat to Canadians. We believe terrorism cannot be fought with careless and rights offending legislation, but it can be fought with intelligence efforts and appropriate police action.
I am proud to say that the NDP is once again taking a stand against the Conservative government for going too far. I am not taking this position just to take a stand against the government, but I will take a stand against a government that goes too far in pursuing a national security agenda that violates the rights of Canadians. We all believe it is important to protect national security, but it cannot be done at the expect of civil liberties.
Ensuring public safety is essentially about protecting Canadians' quality of life. We hear the government side say that all the time. But quality of life can be defined in many ways. If we talk to our family members, neighbours or people in the community, I would dare say they would define quality of life in a variety of ways. However, it would be by defining the right to live in peace, the right to pursue liberty and happiness and the right to be protected against offensive incursions of liberties by a state.
I think that two other things come out. While they are in favour of protecting Canada against terrorism and in favour of having a country that is secure, they are also in favour of freedom and civil rights. Security means feeling safe. It means feeling that our country and communities are safe and that we can safely go out into the streets. However, it is also about feeling that our federal government, provincial governments, courts and country are protecting us. That means protecting our civil liberties and human rights.
In addition, Canadians want to see any kind of security legislation balanced against these rights, because freedom and rights are as dear in principle to Canadians as national security. For some reason, the Conservative government is either unwilling or unable to find that balance, as has proven by introducing Bill C-19 and also the security certificate legislation. With both of these pieces of legislation, the Conservatives take the wrong approach. They take an unbalanced approach to fighting terrorism in Canada.
Do we need to fight terrorism in Canada? Of course we do, but there are many tools at our disposal currently in the Criminal Code that could be used as opposed to introducing yet another piece of legislation.
Let us look at the facts. I have said that this legislation is unnecessary. It was not used once in the first five years of its being introduced in 2001. The government says that it is necessary. If it is so necessary, why has not one person been brought before a judge on it?
Second, is it effective? Again, not one person has ever successfully been brought before a judge on it, so how can we say?
However, I do know there has been one case of someone being successfully prosecuted in this country under the Criminal Code for an alleged conspiracy to commit terrorism, and that is Mr. Momin Khawaja. The important lesson to be learned is that under our normative criminal laws right now and our current legal framework, we are successful at prohibiting and interrupting any attempt by anybody in this country who might wish to commit a terrorist act. This legislation is not necessary.
However, I can say that there are at least five examples of Canadian citizens in the last eight years who have had their rights offended because of the Anti-terrorism Act's provisions that hearken back to 1950s McCarthyism. The Anti-terrorism Act in this country allows trials to be conducted in secret. It allows testimony to be heard behind closed doors. It truncates the ability of accused people to have their counsel of choice cross-examine and test evidence that is presented in private.
Who am I talking about? I am talking about people like Maher Arar. I am talking about people like Mohamed Harkat. I am talking about Messrs. Nureddin, El Maati and Almalki, who have been rendered to foreign prisons because of secret, untested testimony. They were tortured in Syrian and Egyptian dungeons. Mr. Harkat has been under a security certificate for five years for absolutely nothing.
The same reasonable and probable grounds that the members on the opposite side say have to be demonstrated before any of the imprisonments, security certificates or violations will be implemented will not protect them. The same testimony by CSIS, which resulted in all five of those men losing their liberties and being tortured, has now been cast under a cloud of suspicion.
Just two weeks ago, the Federal Court issued a stinging decision that questioned the compliance of CSIS with court orders. It raised the possibility of prevarication by CSIS witnesses. For everybody in this House, “prevarication” is the polite way for a judge to say “lying”. It found that CSIS buried and actually kept evidence from the special advocates appointed to defend Mr. Harkat, which cast doubt on the reliability of the secret witnesses against him.
When my friends on the other side of this House talk about there being protections in this legislation, tell that to Mr. Harkat. Tell that to any of the five people who have either had their rights offended or been tortured or been subject to house arrest for the last five years. They are Canadians, too, and their human and civil rights have been offended.
Again, Bill C-19 would do two things that are offensive to anybody who believes in a just society, in civil liberties and human rights, who believes in a fair justice system. It would force people to testify without the right against self-incrimination and it would force them to go to prison if they do not. It would actually allow the state to imprison people for up to 12 months without being charged with anything.
We say we want to preserve our way of life, that we want to preserve our freedom in this country. Is the way to do that to offend our freedom? I say, no.
We all understand that the Anti-terrorism Act was introduced by the previous Liberal government in 2001. The Liberals were all in favour of it then. They opposed that legislation two years ago when they voted with the NDP and did not agree that the sunset clauses be reintroduced. Now it is hard to know what they think about it. I cannot get it clear from them. It sounds like a classic Liberal position.
We can understand why such legislation may have been passed in the high emotion and nervousness in the aftermath of 9/11. It was wrong, but we can understand it. However, we cannot understand why any parliamentarian would stand in this House and violate precepts of parliamentary democracy and Canadian civil rights when there has not been one example in the last eight years of anybody who was successfully brought before a judge that would make this legislation necessary .
In calm, rational and sober thought, in a moment where we can actually address our minds to the needs and what this legislation would really do, no parliamentarian ought to stand in this House and violate Canadians' rights. I do not care what the justification for that might be. States have always justified incursions into civil liberties by appealing to some fear. They have always tried to truncate people's freedoms with the justification of some bogeyman of some type, but it ought to be rejected.
The members opposite talk about protective provisions in this bill. Again, let us talk about the case of Mohamed Harkat. All those provisions and protections were in the legislation then. There was judicial oversight. There were court-appointed defence counsel for him called special advocates. There were court orders issued to CSIS to produce information to his lawyers. Did that help? Tell that to Mr. Harkat. He is the victim of a security certificate that has been in place for years, and now we find out it was probably because there was some witness testifying against him in secret and it turns out he had no credibility.
I want to move my remarks to the overarching point, that if we have learned anything since 9/11, it is that our fundamental freedoms and guarantees of due process are critical to our rights as citizens. It is what we are protecting. It is the rationalization for why we would even propose any kind of legislative framework in this country.
The complete Orwellian irony of having a government propose legislation that would violate those very rights in the name of protecting them needs to be explained by the members opposite.
The civil rights we enjoy, the right to remain silent, the right to not be detained in jail before the state has proved a case or a charge against someone, are important bulwarks against the potential abuses of state power. These are not purely theoretical rights. These make up the fabric of our country, the fabric of our constitutional rights as citizens.
New Democrats are going to stand strong and firm to make sure that the rights of Canadian citizens are protected in every respect and that we create a functional and effective security establishment in this country that also respects fundamental civil liberties and rights as Canadian citizens, because that can be done.