Mr. Speaker, I looked at this bill briefly when it was first presented on the last day that the House sat before it recessed for the summer. I would like members to think for a moment about the timing at work here.
The Conservatives entered the election in 2006 saying they would stand up for Canada. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that meant they were going to stand up for Canadians. Here we are now at second reading of this bill. But it was presented on the last day that the House sat in the middle of June 2010. I asked myself: Who is standing up for Canadians? What would this bill do? It is a very brief bill. It is a paragraph of some 14 lines.
The bill outlines four separate areas that deserve the attention of every member of Parliament who proposes or espouses to defend the interests of Canadians, whether on issues of privacy, sovereignty, commerce, or security.
The first statement in the bill says that, notwithstanding whatever is in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA, every Canadian operator of an aircraft is obliged to hand over any information in its control that is required by the laws of a foreign state. The carrier does not have an option. Imagine that.
We have been paying attention to the United States for such a long time in this debate that I have to use it as an example, but this does refer to the U.S. exclusively. The Americans have passed the Patriot Act, and under that act they justify requests for information that go beyond anybody's imagination. This bill says that it does not matter. Whatever protections Canadians think they have under PIPEDA, for example, or the Privacy Act, they have no longer, because the Americans, according to the competent authority that flows from the Patriot Act, have the right to ask for that information and to use it in any way they wish.
I am not paranoid by nature, notwithstanding the profession we are in, but the bill says “any foreign state” over which a Canadian operator of an aircraft flies. The operator does not necessarily have to land in that foreign state.
I want to change the boundaries of the discussion and think for a moment about someone who leaves Ottawa, Montreal, or Toronto to fly to Dubai. If I am not mistaken, if an individual flies on a Canadian aircraft that individual is probably going to fly over the United States, maybe Portugal, probably Spain, or alternatively, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and any of the Emirates. This legislation says that any of those countries can demand information from that Canadian operator. Without that information, any one of those countries can deny our aircraft the opportunity to fly over its airspace.
No one contests that every country has its own right to demand certain conditions be met in its airspace. I think that is called sovereignty, which I will get to in a minute. If we want to respect other countries' sovereignty, we must at least understand that we live in a grown-up world and that a few of the countries that I just cited might have an interest that goes beyond simply trying to find out if Paul Smith or Peter Szabo is actually on that flight. They might actually have an interest in promoting the affairs of their own carriers, and one of the ways to do it is to initiate a series of debilitating actions in law that require our carriers to go through a series of demands that they must satisfy. That would be the business world.
Here we have focused on the United States, forgetting, of course, that there are a lot of other countries over which Canadian carriers must fly in order to maintain a competitive and an economically viable business. We just said, with this piece of legislation, that if any of those carriers want to do business, they can, provided they can convince their passengers that they are up that proverbial creek without that paddle, because the Canadian government will not come to their defence. The Canadian government, under this bill, has completely washed its hands of anybody who boards a plane and flies outside of Canada. If passengers are prepared to expose their entire life, their business practices, whatever private matters they have to a foreign authority, they should not count on the Canadian government coming to their defence.
I know what they would say. They would say so what because that is already the case. The Canadian government is walking away from everybody who runs into trouble, whether they do it deliberately or whether they are caught in a jam abroad, so why should passengers be any different?
According to this bill, if people board a Canadian operated aircraft in Paris and they want to fly to Canada, if the English, the Irish and the Scots demand to have information on them, they cannot get a boarding pass until that aircraft operator provides that information to those three countries, because, of course, that is part of the route to get back into Canada.
We focused on the United States. I understand the problem with the United States. If people come from the interior of Canada, as I do, for example in southern Ontario, they have two options. If they want to travel down south, whether to Cuba, Mexico, Latin America, South America or anywhere else, they can go across the lake into Buffalo and use its airport and they do not need to worry about anything. They maintain their privacy. People could board a plane at Pearson and then have to go through this, because the Canadian government just said that their option is to go down the 401 or the Queen Elizabeth Way and go to a foreign country to board another carrier because the government will not help out its carrier. Why will the government not help them out? Because Canadian carriers are already bending over backwards and breaking the law to provide information for homeland security defence in the United States, otherwise they cannot do business there, or they will increase the costs to their business by taking a circuitous route to a further destination, i.e. they will not be competitive with the other carriers in North America.
What does the Canadian government do? Does it stand up for Canada and Canadians? No, it abandons them completely. This bill is a total abnegation of our sovereignty responsibility. Can anyone imagine letting a foreign authority, not the government, but a competent authority within the government of another country, determine what it must know about whatever passenger boards a plane in Canada to go someplace else or another place in order to come to Canada.
A border security agent is the person making decisions for what happens to Canadians either aboard a Canadian carrier here or abroad to come home. The Canadian government stands up for Canada where? It has given up on Canadians and has said ”to heck with that airline business, let the airlines do something else because we need to ensure that we comply with a foreign state's demands”.
The alternative is that it could negotiate. I heard one of the parliamentary secretaries say that we negotiated exemptions. I do not know who the “we” were. I thought the Conservative government wanted to wash its hands of everything that was Liberal, but the negotiations and that exemption took place under a Liberal government. I think somebody said that it was in 2001. I could have sworn it was a little later, but it does not matter. It certainly was not the Conservative government because it refuses to negotiate. It gave up on negotiation.
The government presented this in the middle of the last day that the House sat before it recessed so it would not have the scrutiny of Parliament on running and hiding from its responsibility to protect Canadian sovereignty, Canadian sovereignty, as expressed through commercial interests, through the harassment of the interests of Canadian carriers and through the privacy concerns of every Canadian. Even if Canadians do not understand or do not care about their own privacy, it is integral to what we think is a Canadian.
We have the right to maintain our own decisions regarding the dignity of information that relates to us as individuals unless we give it up. The Conservative Government of Canada just said that it was not worth a tinker's damn. I have it here in 14 lines. It said goodbye. The government does not think it is worthwhile and if there are foreign states that want it, the government will give it to them. If people think they would like to take the aircraft operator to court for giving up their privacy rights, it says here that they should forget it because they will not have a base in court on which to stand.
One of my colleagues from the Bloc was talking about the security issues and the problems of being on a no-fly list. The government made a big deal of having a passenger protect system. That is a no-fly list. People do not know how they got on that list. There are all kinds of ways. Only one person can take someone off that list and that is the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. However, let people try to get a hold of him when they are being prevented from boarding a plane. He has to contact people at homeland security and they do not answer the phone.
Is there a way to keep Canadians safe? We should think about that for a moment. When the Americans asked for this, they told everybody in Canada to forget about the nonsense of $11 million to buy 40 full body scanners because they would not make Americans feel any better about the kinds of people who board Canadian planes. That is essentially what they are doing.
Last spring, the Minister of Finance said that the government would raise another $3.2 billion so that it could invest a further $1.5 billion in air security. In other words, Canada would make a further investment in ensuring that the Americans think that whenever people board planes in Canada, they will be okay. What did the Americans say? They said, “We don't believe you”. I am being polite. They said, “We just don't believe you”.
What did we do? Did we protest? Did we negotiate? Did we go to them and tell them about all of these things that we were doing? Did we tell them that we had spent $11 million on 40 scanners and that we will be spending another $1.5 billion on securing our borders and ports to ensure that anybody who goes anywhere near American territory will be receiving a stamp of approval for safety and security that only Canada can provide and that America will respect?
Did the government do that? No, it did not stand up for Canada. Its current slogan is here for Canada. I do not know where it thinks Canada is. Is it not in our midst? Is it not to protect the interests of Canadians no matter where they go? Is it not to be there to negotiate with other neighbours here in our hemisphere? Should it not be telling them what we have done to ensure that our backyard is safe so they can feel safe and secure ?
No, it did not do that. The government came up with Bill C-42, which basically says that the government can beat anybody in a 100-yard dash as long as it is moving away from trouble. It is just insane.
I know some of my colleagues from the other parties think this will be remedied and rectified when it goes to committee. That will not happen. The patriot act goes into effect in December. The Americans warned the Canadian government last year that it had one year to comply or to negotiate.
The government said that there was a better tactic. It said that it would go to sleep for six months and then in June it would present the amendment to the Aeronautics Act that washes its hands of any responsibility to Canadians and Canadian businesses, and then it would send the bill off to committee. By that time, of course, the House will either have been prorogued or it will be close to Christmas and it will say that it has already been done and the message has been sent off.
That is not governance and that is not standing up for Canada or for Canadians. That is an abnegation and abdication of responsibility and authority. If the government asks Canadians for the right to govern this country, it is because it wants to do something that protects their interests and advances their progress. This does neither.
When we are so concerned about security issues, economic issues, privacy issues and sovereignty issues, the government, with this legislation, is taking the fastest route available to sell out on all four. I would have been embarrassed to have been the minister who had to present this legislation.
I was not happy then as the critic for transport to look for ways to be supportive. We always try to look for ways to co-operate. I was looking for the proverbial silver lining in this legislation. I wear glasses but I took them off, got a microscope and went through everything with a fine-toothed comb. I could not find that silver lining.
I was a little distressed to hear that everybody thinks that the silver lining will be in committee. Well, one of the people who will be called as a witness just happens to be a great authority on privacy issues. The Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Chantal Bernier, already came to the committee this past spring. She was asked what the Americans or anybody else would do with this information. As my colleague from the Western Arctic will recall, as he was sitting in that committee, she said that they could keep that information for from 7 days to 99 years. For what will they use that information? They could use it for anything they want.
Who is standing up for Canada? Who says that it is here for Canada? Who is being deceptive? Who is being duplicitous? Who is acting in a fashion that can only be called cowardly? I think Canadians are asking us to point in the direction of the Conservative government.