Pardon me, but I gave you your turn. You give me my turn.
Mr. Speaker, it is a fundamental offence to the people who have suffered. The government and these members talk endlessly about the rights of victims and the concern for victims. In this place is where we protect the victims, where we work together, or should work together, to protect them. In this debate, on something so fundamental as the rights of Canadians, the long gun registry is tossed in, the long form is tossed in. Anything to score crass political points is tossed into this debate.
Are they really standing up for Canadians? I do not think so.
In our history as a country, we have failed Canadians. We have failed people from around the world. There have been times in this country, in the second world war, where we detained our own citizens. Subsequently, we had to apologize. In my home community of Hamilton, in the spring of this year, there was a gathering of folks well into their eighties, remembering how they were interned and how their fathers and grandfathers of Italian descent were interned. That was a mistake that seemed to be right at the time, because people were fearful.
Again in 1970, watching television one night, 48 hours after Mr. Pierre Laporte and another gentleman from the British consulate were taken hostage, we had the War Measures Act proclaimed against Canadians. It was not against those people who today might be called terrorists. It was against Canadians. They went into the law offices. They went into offices of labour unions and took files that had absolutely nothing to do with it. That was a time when there was free rein in this country to do whatever one wanted, in the name of the War Measures Act.
We are sitting here today, looking at another place in history, another opportunity to say to ourselves that maybe, just maybe, because we have not used this since we put this act into place, it may not be necessary.
Earlier today, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh was talking about the War Measures Act. He said that we have learned in the last eight years that there was no need for that legislation. The justice minister said today that we might need it.
If it were not for the fact that we are dealing with fundamental human rights and liberties, there might be some merit to this and some logic to the argument, but these two sections of the anti-terrorist legislation contain a serious incursion into rights that have existed in this country since pre-Confederation, rights that go back 400 or 500 years.
As this debate continues in this, Canada's home of law and justice, our House of Commons, I want to give a brief history lesson that puts in place what the member for Windsor—Tecumseh was talking about. This is going to sound strange in the beginning, I assure everyone.
What happened in the year 1215? What was the major event of 1215? Of course none of us sits around thinking about it, but it was the Magna Carta. It was issued in that year and then issued later in the 13th century, a modified version. At the time, it had removed certain temporary provisions. Is everyone now hearing the words “temporary provisions”?
The bill that we are addressing, Bill C-17, had a sunset clause. I often find fault with the official opposition, but it did one thing right in the moment of fear following 9/11 when we were wondering what we should do as a country. Opposition members knew they were going to try to put into place legislation that would allow incursion into the rights of Canadians. When they did that, they said maybe it was not something that should be permanent, so they put in a sunset clause. The Supreme Court of this country ruled on it, as everyone will recall, and that is part of the reason we are here today.
I want to take everyone back to the Magna Carta. The charter was first passed into law in 1225 and then again in 1297 with the long title, “The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest”, which remains in the statutes of England and Wales.
People will remember that in 1215 King John was the king of England. It was his barons who forced him to proclaim those certain liberties. It is amazing that he had to accept that his will was not arbitrary. He accepted that no free man, which was the language of the day I say to my sisters here today, could be punished except through the law of the land. That is a right that exists to this day. That is the right that our veterans have fought for in conflict after conflict. It is enshrined in law in almost all the democracies of the world. No free man could be punished except through the law of the land.
What do we have today? In the name of terror, terrorism, or whatever the latest word is, we are going to change the law of the land to take away, permanently, the rights of Canadians. In Parliament, our home for establishing laws for Canada, following 9/11 we strayed from the goals of the Magna Carta. Maybe, just maybe, we began acting a little too much like King John and others who would seek too much control.
We saw a similar thing occur in the United States. I can still recall, following 9/11, the picture of the Congress and the Senate gathered together. They had been under attack. Several thousand people died and it was a country that was very worried about what was coming next, and rightfully so.
Nobody in this place will try to minimize the fact that there are people in the world who seek to do destructive things. The hardest balance that any government has to make, the one that faced this House of Commons about nine years ago, was to balance rights against protecting the people.
We have had nearly 10 years now where it has not been needed. Even though the sunset clause did not run its course properly, we could get into the why of that, but I think I will pass on that.
Where once the king, or in our case, Parliament, was tasked with protecting the liberties of its citizens, the government of the day set out to legally circumvent the rights inherent to all Canadians.
The Magna Carta was forced on an English king by a group of his barons. It was done in an attempt to limit his powers.
Here we are today, doing the reverse of that. We are trying to increase the subversive kind of powers of government, those powers that we do not want to have hidden behind doors.
In this place I have defended Omar Khadr repeatedly and called upon the government to do the right thing in Omar Khadr's case. My point is that if we look at Guantanamo Bay and how the United States government moved to Guantanamo to avoid being subject to the laws of its country and they still call it a democratic country, we are here today talking about doing something similar. We are not setting up a hidden place; we are doing it in the House, no doubt. However, in the year 1100, there was a Charter of Liberties, when King Henry I had to specify particular areas where he would allow his power to be impinged upon, or be pushed back, or be controlled. That was at the behest of the people, one more time.
The people in my riding who have talked to me repeatedly about the injustices that we saw with the Japanese in World War II, the Italians in World War II, the Komagata Maru at the turn of the 20th century and other mistakes that were made in Canada say, “Beware. Be cautious. Be careful. Do not so cavalierly give away the rights of Canadian citizens”.
In the 13th century, to refer again to the outcomes of the Magna Carta, nearly all of its clauses had been repealed by that time. We should think about that for a second. We had, back in the 12th and 13th century, a move toward rights and freedoms for people, and over the next centuries they were repealed and pulled back.
However, there were three main clauses that remained part of the law of England and Wales, and to a great extent they are to be found elsewhere in the world because they are the fundamental basis of so many important things in law.
Lord Denning described it as the greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of a despot.
They were thinking in terms of a monarchy, but when a government, any government, gives itself too much control, it is setting itself up for that accusation.
In the year 2005, in a speech, Lord Woolf described the Magna Carta as:
the first of a series of instruments that now are recognised as having a special constitutional status.
The three things that were important were the right of habeas corpus, or the Habeas Corpus Act; the Petition of Right; and the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement.
However, if we think in terms of habeas corpus, if we think in terms of what I started this speech talking about, the right of a person, a Canadian, to know the evidence against them, to face their accuser in a court of law, and to have the apprehension of that individual done in conformity with the laws of Canada, we had the situation recently of the Toronto 18. We had the apprehension of those folks. It went through the process and we had a turn of guilt in one instance. We have had, right here in this community, other arrests that have taken place.
I want to go back again to the charter as an important part of the extension of history's process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English-speaking world.
I keep talking about the foundation of our rights. In practice, the Magna Carta in the medieval period did not, in general, limit the power of the kings. However, by the time of the English Civil War, it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show the king or queen that they were bound by law.
What does this ancient document have to do with limiting the power of kings, and how has that happened within the structure of Bill C-17?
It seems that with the government, on this issue, as with the previous Liberal government, the rights of Canadians were denigrated and dismissed in the name of the war on terror. To the credit of the Parliament that sought to limit the rights of Canadians under the Anti-terrorism Act, the government added the sunset clause, which was referred to earlier, to see an end to these abuses in the year 2007.
Today the Conservative government argues that it needs the same oppressive tools again, those that we find today in Bill C-17. I would argue that the provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code are effective enough. Again, I refer to the Toronto 18. We had arrests and we had convictions in those cases.
In Canada we are not required to give testimony that incriminates us. Being a child brought up in the 1950s, I always called that the fifth amendment, because I did not realize that we were referring to the United States. It is a fundamental aspect of justice. One is not required to incriminate oneself.
We have rights under habeas corpus. We have the right to a speedy trial, to see the evidence against us, and to meet our accusers face to face. I would ask whether the members present are prepared to sacrifice the rights given to free people that have been in place since the time of the Magna Carta, that have evolved over the history of this country and other primarily English-speaking countries, the so-called British Empire countries.
Those are our roots. That is who we are. Again, the question is whether we will allow the government to become like the court of a kingdom that represents the interests of the king. Do we know any kings in this place? Will we stand with and for great Canadians everywhere?
In terms of the change in this country and the change that has happened to Canadian citizens as brought about by this government, there is a change in the fundamental direction and attitude of services provided and the protection of Canadian citizens, such as the G20 protection of Canadian citizens. I am sure that we will hear much more about it in this place. We saw protestors marching. In amongst those protesters there were people misbehaving. There were people breaking the law, but we saw wholesale arrest and detainment. I know the story of one lady who was picked off the line, put into a police car, driven for four hours, and then released.
Are we going to allow people to be picked off the streets, detained with no charge, and released and told they are free to go because the event is over? That is what happened at the G20.
On behalf of the constituents of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, I am supposed to trust a government to allow that G-20 type of activity to take place. It was a peaceful march, and they could have easily apprehended those people who were the problem that day. If it was allowed to go to the place it went, how am I supposed to trust the government with more powers and more authority?
I say that if we pass Bill C-17, what we are actually doing is giving away fundamental rights of Canadians and opening them up to the kind of abuse, in a broader way, we saw at the G-20.
I will conclude today by saying that I stand here proudly with the rest of my friends, and particularly with my friend from Windsor—Tecumseh, who gave such an eloquent speech earlier today. I almost tried to give the same speech again. It was so tempting, because he spoke directly to the heart of this issue.