Madam Speaker, this is indeed an important matter on which to speak.
I expressed some of my frustration in the question, and perhaps I will come back to it for a moment. If we go back to 2007, when we were considering this whole matter, it was our party, along with other opposition parties, that said we needed to work collaboratively and as quickly as possible to find solutions to ensure that police had appropriate powers but that we struck the right balance.
At the time, the government was all over us saying that if action was not taken immediately, the end was nigh and this would open the doors to all kinds of threats. It attacked us for even daring to ask questions or suggest that the matter needed to be studied appropriately.
Immediately, after the hue and cry about the urgency of how important it was, it disappeared from the radar. Off it went for a long period of time until it suddenly became enormously urgent again when the government re-introduced it in March 2009, again with much fanfare, saying that this was incredibly urgent. Two years had passed and it had done nothing, but suddenly now it was deeply urgent and a matter of national security that we did something immediately and with next to no debate.
Then the government forgot about it again for a while. We debated it in June. We ended up having a prorogation, which killed that bill and many others, and off it languished yet again.
Here we are some three years later, dealing with this bill. Again the government tells us it is urgent, essential and must be dealt with immediately. It just does not wash. It would appear the government is using the timing of the bill more as a distraction than having any genuine interest in getting something done. The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security should have been looking at this issue years ago and having detailed indepth conversations, which we were told we did not have the time to have.
This is a fundamental problem I have with the government. It raises an issue that it says is of such urgency and no one can ask any questions. It wants to ram it through and does not want us to ask any questions. It even questions our patriotism if we ask questions as if somehow we are soft on terror because we want to strike the appropriate balance. Yet the government takes three years on the very same thing that it said was so urgent. All we asked for a few months to have expert witnesses in front of a committee to ensure we got it right.
Why is it important that we get it right? There is such an important balance between collective security on the one hand and individual freedom on the other. On the one hand, every one of us, down to every last single Canadian, wants to ensure that if there is something that puts the country in immediate peril, the police officers have every reasonable tool at their disposal to dispose of that threat safely, to ensure that public safety is maintained and that collective order is preserved.
Of course we want police officers to have those tools, but we want to ensure they are only used in the most extraordinary of circumstances with the most rigorous of oversight and that it is never abused.
This leads us to the second point. This whole process of standing in Parliament, of asking questions, of having committees is about a process of protecting those individual freedoms as well, ensuring we do not go so far in the name of collective security that we erase our right as individuals to have freedoms.
Is that not the thing terrorism looks to erase in the first place? Is it not the very fundamental thing it is looking to destroy?
If we accept provisions without caution and we end up going too far, then we have situations like we had with Maher Arar, or Mr. Nureddin, or Mr. Almalki or Mr. Abou-Elmaati, individuals who got caught up in a system that went too far, that cut too many corners when it came to intelligence and ended up destroying the lives of innocent citizens.
When we have this debate, let us have it rationally, let us have it carefully and ensure we get it right. I certainly hope it is going to finally come to committee and that this is not just another opportunity to obfuscate and distract.
In that regard, when the justice minister congratulates the House leader, I am decidedly less optimistic that the reason it is before us today is because the government is suddenly excited for renewed action. I think it has a lot more to do with a very bad summer.
It is important to talk about from where the bill and the provisions came.
After 9/11, the Liberal government passed the Anti-terrorism Act, the package of measures, including Criminal Code amendments, to combat terrorism and terrorist activity. The act attempted to balance those measures with respect for Canadian values, fairness and human rights. Two new powers in the act, investigative hearings and preventive arrests, were considered sufficiently intrusive and extraordinary that a specific five year sunset clause was applied to them alone. The sunset clause was a Liberal caucus priority.
In October 2006, a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recommended extending the sunset clause, while also amending the Criminal Code to restrict the scope and application of investigative hearings and preventive arrest. The sunset clause came due on March 1, 2007. The Conservative government then introduced a motion to extend the provisions for a further five years, but in February 2007, the Liberal opposition, as well as the Bloc and the NDP, voted to allow clauses on investigative hearings and preventive arrests contained in the original Anti-terrorism Act, brought forward in the immediate aftermath of September 11, to sunset.
At the time, Liberal opposition offered to work with the Conservative government to find reasonable and effective improvements to anti-terrorism laws that would strike an appropriate balance between safety and protection of rights. After the defeat of the clauses, the government introduced legislation in October 2007 that would have brought back the two clauses with additional safeguards. It required law enforcement officers to satisfy a judge that they had used every other method to get information that they needed. It also required the attorney general and minister of public safety and emergency preparedness to report to Parliament on a yearly basis, explaining their opinion as to whether these provisions should be further extended.
It is important to note that most of these additional items that came forward were as a result of the Senate, and particularly Liberal senators who sought to improve the protection of individual freedoms in this matter. Most of those recommendations were contained in Bill S-3.
I will run through some of the important highlights of the improvements that were suggested to get the right balance: first, an increased emphasis on the need for the judge to be satisfied, as a mentioned before, that law enforcement had taken all reasonable other steps; second, the ability for a person ordered to attend an investigative hearing to retain and instruct counsel, something that previously had not been in place; third, new reporting requirements for the attorney general and the minister of public safety, who must now submit annual reports which not only list the uses of these provisions, but also provide an option supported by reasons as to whether these powers need to be maintained; fourth, the flexibility to have any provincial court judge hear a case regarding a preventive arrest; and last, a five year end date, unless both Houses of Parliament resolved to extend the provisions further.
I do not accept the argument that is posited by some that because these provisions have not been used with great frequency, that they do not have purpose. We have to be cautious to dismiss this just for that reason. There has to be a lot more than that. Clearly, these clauses should only be used in extremely extraordinary situations and we would expect and hope that if they were used, it would be an extremely rare occurrence. That unto itself is not enough to not support the bill.
I am, however, concerned with a couple of items and I they are items that we will have to explore at committee. One is oversight. We have to look at whether or not once every five years is an appropriate length of time under which to review this. We also have to look at the provision that would only have one of the Houses of Parliament review the bill.
We saw in this case, after the sunset clauses came, that the Senate did great work and was able to be very instructive with a number of recommendations that are now a key part of the bill and a key part of the debate. I would suggest that a review, perhaps, by both Houses of Parliament would also be appropriate.
I am concerned as well about the broader issue of oversight and particularly with how intelligence oversight is left right now. It would be inappropriate to have this debate without mentioning the fact that the government has completely ignored most of the key recommendations that came from Justice O'Connor, which were supported by Justice Iacobucci and were repeated by the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner before he was let go because he criticized and did a good job. That is what the Conservatives do with people who do a good job of criticizing. These recommendations were repeated over and over again, saying that our security and intelligence services did not have adequate oversight, that it had led to major mistakes and that there was an incredible need to reform them.
If we are going to proceed with giving additional powers on the one hand, how can we proceed without dealing with these problems of oversight? Just as an example, the RCMP public complaints commissioner, Paul Kennedy, and again, he was the public complaints commissioner, issued a great number of concerns about the fact that he could only investigate something if there was a complaint made to him. If he had concerns, he could not proactively investigate. If he wanted to get information, he could not compel that information. He could sort of ask, pretty please, for that information to be granted to him. If it moved outside of the RCMP, since most things involving intelligence are multi-agency and therefore involve many different departments, there was no ability for him to track that bouncing ball as it moved through different departments.
There were a number of recommendations I mentioned that said that we have to fix this. We have to make sure that when we have oversight, there are no dark corners we cannot look into. There has been a further recommendation that we need to make sure that we have a committee of parliamentarians that is empowered to look at documents and information to make sure that the law is being upheld and that individual freedoms are being respected. That, right now, unfortunately, has also been ignored by the government.
These recommendations, by the way, were not made last week. In some cases, they go back four years or slightly longer, which is almost since the inception of the present government. It is not that the government came forward and said that it disagreed with them and that these were bad ideas. No, in fact, the government came forward and said that it agreed and would implement them immediately. Apparently we have a different definition of immediately. Immediately for me would have been four years ago. For the government, it is apparently just a tactic to stall and to put off forever.
However, certainly at committee, and now, we have to demand that change in oversight. We cannot have agencies such as Citizenship and Immigration Canada or the Canada Border Services Agency, for example, that have absolutely no oversight whatsoever and continue to talk about granting new powers in the absence of fixing those problems.
The other issue I am concerned about that is important to mention is that the government will have to understand that the Canadian public and Parliament have a tough time trusting when it comes to matters of security and intelligence. Conservatives might have got away at the beginning, when they were a new government, as they called themselves, with people taking them at their word, “don't worry, we have things covered”. However, simply mentioning the words “terror” or “security” does not give them a free pass, not anymore, because we have caught them too many times when they have been less than direct with Parliament about what the facts are.
A specific example, as we know, is when Mr. Colvin came forward with concerns about the way detainees were treated in Afghanistan. Instead of turning and looking at those and having a proper investigation of what he raised as issues, the Conservatives attacked his personal credibility and attacked him personally. They then followed that up by trying to shut down Parliament's ability to take a look at the documents. It came to such a point that there was a crisis in the House, something that had to be determined by the Speaker. There was the whole Westminster system of parliamentary democracy he was looking at to rule on the fundamental right of Parliament to know the truth, to look at documents, and to demand information. Fortunately, the power of Parliament was upheld, but the very fact that the government would try to close down access to that information is deeply concerning.
When the government asks for more powers, to let it have more ability to do things without scrutiny and to just trust it, it will have to understand that there is a great deal of reticence to do so because of that history. There is a great deal of disbelief that it will fix the problem of oversight, because the pattern, as I mentioned earlier, and I am going to go through it specifically now, has not been to respond to thoughtful criticism with thoughtful answers or with review and reconsideration. It has been to go on the attack, to fire, to discredit, and to try to obliterate opponents as opposed to trying to actually respond to their concerns.
We saw Linda Keen, of the Nuclear Safety Commission, who came forward and expressed a number of concerns and disagreed with the way the government was proceeding. She found herself fired. I mentioned Paul Kennedy, someone who did his job with tenacity. I think anyone would have a tough time criticizing the work he did. He was critical of the government, because he kept pushing the Conservatives to make changes that he knew had to be made, reforms such those in the Brown report, which came out of the RCMP pension scandal, or the recommendations dealing with tasers that came from the disaster that happened with Mr. Dziekanski.
They were ignored. In fact, not only did they ignore him, but when he became more vocal and more concerned and more passionate in his plea to have something done, he was fired.
The victims ombudsman, who came forward and said that the government's approach to crime is unbalanced, will not work for victims, and is the wrong approach, found himself fired.
The military ombudsman spoke out on behalf of military men and women and criticized the government. The government often lauds what it supposedly does for the military, yet we had a military ombudsman criticizing it and saying that changes are needed, that there are things that are grossly unfair. People who are coming back from serving their country are not being treated fairly. The government responded by firing that individual. The public complaints commissioner for the military was also fired.
We know that Marty Cheliak, who was head of the Canadian firearms program, went across the country passionately speaking about how the gun registry saves lives, how it is an essential tool for police. He was pleading with the government not to destroy it, not on a partisan basis but on a basis of fact and truth. He was fired, gotten rid of.
Therefore, I am sure that the Conservatives can understand why opposition members and Canadians are reticent to just hand over new powers to them, carte blanche, and trust them. We do not, and those are some of the very many reasons why.
There is an issue, though, beyond trust and the way the government tries to hide things and fires people or discredits, attacks, and maligns those who would have the courage to speak truth to it. It is also a function of incompetence.
One can look at how it has handled other matters that dealt with security. Let us take the G8 and G20. Here was an opportunity for Canada to host the world. It was at a time when the meetings were going to be on austerity, on the need to rein in spending, on the need to find a way to deal with an international debt crisis. It certainly would have been a great opportunity to show leadership, to hold the meetings in a place that was easy to secure and to make sure that the meeting costs were toned down and that the focus was on policy and substance.
Instead, the government first tried to shove the entire thing into a cabinet minister's riding where it would not fit, and then it realized that it could not possibly manage it. The government then split it in half and tossed half to Toronto, basically telling Toronto, seconds before it was dumped on it, “You are going to be hosting world leaders in a downtown core in a security nightmare. Good luck to you”.
The government divided it up and completely mismanaged it. It showed no ownership of its mistakes. It did not come forward and say that we need a protocol going forward to make sure, for international meetings, that we have, basically, rules nailed down on who is going to lead and who is going to take responsibility. Instead, fingers pointed everywhere but at itself, and it said good luck to everyone.
Meanwhile, Toronto was left with just a complete disaster, something that unnecessarily portrayed the city in an incredibly negative light , something that could have very easily been avoided. Of course, we all know the price tag. It was well over $1 billion, probably more than even the $1.3 billion that is being reported right now, for what turned out to be nothing more than a photo op and a black eye for Toronto.
However, it does not end there.
I spent the summer touring across the country, and one of the things that really struck me was how deeply offended many of the communities across the country are by the comments of Mr. Fadden, comments that cast aspersions upon Canadians and upon their citizenship. He treated them like second-class citizens, with no proof and no explanation. The government so terribly mishandled the situation with Mr. Fadden. Now the Chinese community and others are left with a growing cloud of suspicion that hangs over them, no ability to clear it, and no promise that it will be.
How the government handled Mr. Fadden, how it handled the G8 and G20, how it is handling the gun registry, which I am going to talk about tomorrow, so I will not today, and how it has dealt with issues generally when it comes to security intelligence, tells us that it is incompetent and that to hide that incompetence, it tries to shut down any dissent or any other voices.
For that reason, we are going to have to be very careful with this on the committee, and very careful with the government as we go forward in this House.