Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on my party's behalf about Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions).
I must reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is opposed in principle to Bill C-17. The Bloc Québécois has what I feel is a responsible, logical process for analyzing such measures. Any measure that deals with terrorism must strike a balance between security and respect for basic rights. Therein lies the problem because the dichotomy makes this bill ambiguous. We have to ask ourselves this question. Yes, it goes without saying that we must keep people safe. We were reminded of that just last week during memorial ceremonies at Ground Zero in New York. Although it happened nine years ago, we cannot forget the terrorist attacks or those who lost their lives.
People deserve reassurance. We have to keep people safe. However, a wrong-headed government or one acting in bad faith could use the security imperative as an excuse to investigate, conduct searches or imprison any person who seems suspicious based on very subjective criteria. That is why we have charters to guarantee respect for basic rights.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes that both imperatives have to be respected and taken into account. We know what the Conservatives have shown us since coming to power and even before then, when they were in the opposition. I have been here since 1993, and we have seen their reform agenda. Let us not forget that the Conservative Party used to be the Reform Party. The Conservatives do not like to be reminded of that fact. Then they became the Canadian Alliance, and now they are the Conservative Party. Let us not forget, however, that the old reform base is still very much alive for many Conservative members. Still, I know that some of them have a more progressive approach. I would not want to generalize and be accused of demagoguery. We have to recognize the progressive elements in the party, and during face-to-face discussions, we can see that some of the party members do not share the party's ultraconservative views.
With this in mind, the Bloc Québécois became very involved in the review process of the Anti-terrorism Act and its operation, a review which is provided for in the act itself. As the previous speaker mentioned, under the sunset clauses, we must now proceed with this review again.
The Bloc Québécois has taken time to examine the issue thoroughly. I said earlier that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to this bill in principle. That idea did not just come to us out of nowhere. Opposing this principle was not a decision that just popped up like a jack-in-the-box.
From December 2004 to March 2007, the Bloc Québécois listened to witnesses, read submissions and interviewed experts, community representatives and law enforcement officials. We conducted a comprehensive analysis with those concerned by the application of this legislation. It is all well and fine to adopt an inapplicable or utopian law, but we have to realize that law enforcement representatives, especially those working on cases involving terrorism, have to enforce that law and apply it day by day.
During the Subcommittee on the Review of the Anti-terrorism Act's specific study of two provisions in Bill C-17, the Bloc Québécois made its position on investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions clear.
The Bloc Québécois felt that the investigative process needed to be better defined. We still feel that way today. In our opinion, it is clear that this exceptional measure should be used only in specific cases in which it is necessary to prevent activities where there is imminent peril of serious damage, and not in the case of misdeeds already committed. The nuance is important.
However, we were strongly opposed to clause 83.3, which deals with recognizance with conditions. Not only do we feel that this measure is of little, if any, use in the fight against terrorism but, more importantly, there is also a very real danger of its being used against honest citizens.
The Bloc Québécois finds that a terrorist activity deemed dangerous can be disrupted just as effectively, and in fact more effectively, by the regular application of the Criminal Code, without the harmful consequences that a preventive arrest can trigger.
Therefore, we recommended abolishing this approach, and we won our point on February 27, 2007. Today, our position has not changed. On the one hand, the investigative process should not be reinstated unless major changes are made to it, which is not the case with Bill C-17. The government would have had the opportunity to do so with the introduction of this bill.
On the other hand, preventive arrests have no place in the Canadian justice system, given their possible consequences and the fact that other provisions which are already in place are just as effective.
Of course, in the time I am allotted, I could speak more about the technicalities, but I would like to close by focusing on the fact that law enforcement officers are telling us that they can still use other provisions of the Criminal Code to arrest someone who is about to commit a criminal offence.
A criminal offence would also include a terrorist act. I think our police officers are competent. They are professionals who keep the peace and protect the safety of our constituents. There is no doubt about that. The Conservative government does not have a monopoly on discipline and law and order.
The Conservative Party is in no position to lecture anyone. Those best suited to enforce the Criminal Code are our peace officers and various levels of police, be they municipal other otherwise. In Quebec, we have the Sûreté du Québec, which is the envy of many police forces across the country and around the world.
The structure of the Sûreté du Québec and the professionalism of its members are often envied by other countries. And foreign delegations often come to study the Quebec police system, which is a credit to us, I believe.
I mentioned earlier that police can use the Criminal Code to make an arrest. For example, paragraph 495(1)(a) of the Criminal Code states the following:
A peace officer may arrest without warrant
(a) a person who has committed an indictable offence or who, on reasonable grounds, he believes has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence;
The officer has the discretionary authority and does not need to wait for a criminal offence to have been committed before intervening. Criminals have even gone to court saying that it was unfair that when they were preparing to rob a bank that the police waited on the corner for them to leave their car, about to rob the bank, before they intervened. That argument has actually been used in court, which is ludicrous. And unfortunately, there are lawyers that have defended such cases.
In other words, just because an officer is hiding does not mean that he cannot intervene. Rather, the officer plays a preventive role. He does not need to wait for something bad to happen. He is supposed to chase thieves, but he must also prevent criminal acts from happening. And this is why we feel that Bill C-17 is completely useless. We do not need it.
This bill, if adopted as is, could be used to label an individual as a terrorist based on flimsy evidence. In this regard, I spoke earlier of the erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms. We could compare this situation to that of Maher Arar upon his return from Syria, before he was exonerated by Justice O'Connor. Maher Arar's case is the most blatant example of a person who was judged according to completely subjective criteria, requiring Justice O'Connor's inquiry to exonerate him.
If this new, temporary provision of the Criminal Code had been used, a judicial decision could have imposed conditions based on the fear of terrorist activities.
That is what I wanted to say to my colleagues in the House and to the people watching us on television. I stand by what I said: the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the principles of the bill. I am well aware that the Conservatives react whenever we oppose one of their bills to amend the justice system and undermine the fundamental rights of citizens.
I will just make my prediction now, not because I have looked into a crystal ball but because, as usual, we know how the Conservatives operate. If the opposition does not like this bill and is opposed to the bill, they will say that the Bloc Québécois supports terrorists. I am saying it and we are about to hear it. Madam Speaker, just sit there until the end of the debate, read the papers tomorrow, and you will see the headline, the Bloc Québécois supports terrorists. It is like the time we were told that the Bloc Québécois supports pedophiles. Conservative demagogues said those things. Most of us are parents; some of us are grandparents. They said that the Bloc Québécois protects pedophiles rather than children.
This summer, I promised myself that I would not get angry. However, I am getting angry again because I am thinking about that. Yesterday, I spent the day with my two and a half year old grandson. Being told that we protect pedophiles is no laughing matter. That is Conservative-style demagoguery.
I am eager for an election so we can unmask the Conservative demagogues opposite.