Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in this debate on Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions). The short title is the Combating Terrorism Act.
It is important that we review what this bill actually sets out to do, because sometimes when we are debating it, we lose track of this over the course of the debate, and people who might be listening could lose track as well.
Specifically, what this bill will do is establish investigative hearings under the provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act, whereby individuals who may have information about past or future terrorism offences can be compelled to attend a hearing and to answer questions. No one attending a hearing can refuse to answer a question on the grounds of self-incrimination. Information gathered at such hearings cannot be used directly in criminal proceedings against the individual, but derivative evidence may be.
The other significant provision of this legislation is a provision for preventive arrest, whereby individuals may be arrested without a warrant in order to prevent the carrying out of a terrorist act. Detention in this case would be based on what someone might do in a certain situation. The arrested individual must be brought before a judge within 24 hours, or as soon as it is feasible. The judge determines whether the individual is to be released unconditionally or released under certain conditions, recognizance with conditions, which are in effect for up to 12 months. If the conditions are refused, the individual may be imprisoned for up to 12 months.
The bill also contains a five-year sunset clause, requiring a resolution of both the House and Senate for it to be renewed.
This is indeed significant legislation, and it is not the first time we have seen it come before the House. It came out of the Anti-terrorism Act that was enacted after the 9/11 events. At that time, when there were serious concerns about what had recently happened, everybody was worried and fearful, which is not too strong a word to use, about what was actually going on at that time.
These two provisions were included in that legislation, albeit with a sunset clause requiring that they be reviewed within five years. If Parliament did not re-approve them, they would come to an end. In fact, that is exactly what happened. When they were put to Parliament, Parliament did not agree to their extension.
Since that time, there have been several attempts by the Conservative government to reintroduce these provisions into our criminal law, into the Anti-terrorism Act. One was short-circuited by an early prorogation of the House, and others have not been given the priority that, if they were sufficiently important, they should certainly have received.
This is not the first time, in my term as a member of Parliament, that we have debated these issues. I have to wonder why, if this is so important, it was not given a higher priority by the government. It belies the importance of these issues that the government has not made sure this legislation got through earlier.
I also have to wonder why this legislation is necessary. I do not believe that we are responding to any serious failure of the Criminal Code of Canada to deal with terrorism, or any of the crimes that might be related to terrorism in Canada. I have not heard that we have failed to convict people who have committed terrorist acts or who are considering terrorist acts. In fact, post 9/11, we have convicted people under the provisions of the Criminal Code, without using these special provisions of crimes related to terrorism. We have seen the group in Toronto. We have seen others who have been convicted. This would say to me that there is not a problem with the existing Criminal Code legislation, that there is not a problem in investigating and actually charging and convicting people in the usual process of crimes related to terrorism.
I have to ask, then, regarding these special provisions, which go way beyond the normal provisions of our justice system, and which violate fundamental human rights in Canada, why we would want to go down that road. To my knowledge, no proof has ever been presented to the House or to one of the committees of the House, that the current provisions of the Criminal Code are not functioning when it comes to dealing with acts of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism. Why do we have these provisions before us?
It is important to consider the serious nature of these provisions. They have a serious effect on what Canadians have come to know as basic human rights, basic civil liberties. The proposal to compel testimony from individuals, to force people to testify in court, violates the right to remain silent. It violates the right not to incriminate oneself before the law. That is a serious violation. It is something that most Canadians appreciate in our criminal law. Before we go down this road, we need to consider carefully why all this is necessary.
The investigative hearing proposals in this legislation would force someone to testify before a judge if he or she were suspected of having information about terrorist activity that has already occurred or that might occur. It directly compromises the right to remain silent, one of the fundamental principles of our justice system. The refusal to testify at an investigative hearing can lead to one year of jail time. It can also reduce the right to silence for persons who are questioned by the RCMP or CSIS: if they are uncooperative with a police investigation, the possibility of having to go to an investigative hearing can be used to compel cooperation and compromise their right to remain silent.
We have to realize that not everyone who chooses to remain silent in such circumstances is guilty, that choosing to remain silent is not an admission of guilt or proof of guilt. People may have legitimate fears and concerns. For instance, they might be concerned about their personal safety. Given the broad definition of terrorism in the Anti-terrorism Act, I believe that this provision is a problem. The definition itself has come in for criticism in the past.
This provision and the one on preventive detention are serious departures from our justice process. They could be used against people who are legitimately protesting or who are viewed as dissidents by our society. These provisions could be used to harass or even imprison such people.
A number of people today have mentioned the G20 protest and the mass arrests that were held. For the most part, they appeared to be carried out for preventive reasons. In my opinion, this process violated the rights to peaceful assembly, protest, and the expression of political views.
The whole question of investigative hearings raises another serious issue about how we do justice in this country. It puts judges in the position of having to oversee an investigation, which is a real departure from the normal process in our system. It is not the practice of our justice system and it is not something that most judges have experience with. It is a major departure since investigations in our system are normally undertaken by police authorities.
In hearings the Senate had on the previous incarnation of this bill, Jason Gratl, the president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, put this concern in this way:
The primary difficulty with investigative hearings is that they distort the functions of the judiciary and the Crown. In essence, the course of order-making power of the judiciary is brought to bear on an investigation. That power places prosecutors in the role of investigators, which is unlike their usual role. It also places the judiciary in a position of presiding over a criminal investigation.
This is a serious consideration that we need to look at with this legislation and this proposal.
There is also the matter of preventive detention. Preventive detention, or recognizance with conditions, is the other key part of the bill. It compromises a key principle of our justice system, namely, that one should be charged, convicted, and sentenced in order to be jailed. This provision would allow for the arrest and detention of people without ever proving any allegation against them. It could make people subject to conditions on release with severe limitations on their personal freedom, even if they have never been convicted of any crime. That is a serious departure from what we would normally expect from our justice system.
Some folks may say this is necessary, but I believe that jailing people because we think they might do something is extremely problematic, to say the least. It is easily apparent how such a measure can be abused.
There is a good example to be found in our practice already, and I think it is a very bad practice. It relates to the question of security certificates, which is a measure under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. We have seen this in the post-9/11 period. It was intended to expedite deportation of non-citizens. Under this legislation, we have seen it used as a method of detaining people, a method of preventive detention for people that the state suspected may have been involved in terrorist activity. The most recent cases were the five men who were detained for years, some up to eight years, without ever being charged or convicted of a crime.
I think this was a distortion of the intention of the security certificate legislation. I also think it was a process that violated basic human rights in Canada. Some of these men are still subject to release conditions as a result of the security certificate that this government issued against them and that the previous Liberal government initiated.
There are serious problems, and we have seen some of these problems emerge in the court processes that these men have been involved in over the years. In fact, a number of the security certificates have now been thrown out because of the length of time they have been used and problems related to evidence.
I have to emphasize that these people have never been charged or convicted of any crime in Canada. The security certificate process has had nothing to do with that. I think this is an indication of how a legal measure can be distorted. Security certificates were intended to expedite deportation for people who had violated the conditions of their stay in Canada. But they have been used for other purposes. That is something we need to consider when we are looking at extraordinary measures like the ones in this legislation.
I point out that there is no issue related to terrorism that is not already covered by the Criminal Code. I think the NDP's justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has said this loud and clear on a number of occasions. The last time we were debating this issue in the House he put it very eloquently. I want to quote from his speech at that time. He said:
There is no act of terrorism that is not already a criminal offence punishable by the most stringent penalties under the Criminal Code. This is obviously the case for premeditated, cold-blooded murder; however, it is also true of the destruction of major infrastructure.
Moreover, when judges exercise their discretion during sentencing, they will consider the terrorist motive as an aggravating factor. They will find that the potential for rehabilitation is very low, that the risk of recidivism is very high and that deterrence and denunciation are grounds for stiffer sentencing. This is what they have always done in the past and there is no reason to think they will do differently in the future.
It is clear that there is no crime related to terrorism that is not already included in the Criminal Code. I can think of no circumstance of a crime committed as part of an act of terrorism that would not be dealt with in the strictest, toughest way by our courts. Some specific examples might be helpful. For instance, counselling to commit murder is already an offence under the Criminal Code. Being a party to an offence is also a crime. The crime of conspiracy is well established under the Criminal Code and deals with the planning of criminal activity.
Let us be clear. In the conspiracy category, no crime actually has to be committed for someone to be found guilty of conspiracy under the Criminal Code. A charge is possible even when no crime has been committed under the existing provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada.
We also have hate crime legislation that outlaws the promotion of hatred against a particular group, which may have some relevance in situations of terrorist activity.
The whole question of preventive detention also has an existing parallel in some ways in the Criminal Code. It should be noted that peace bonds provisions already exist in the Criminal Code and can be exercised where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person's life or well-being is threatened by another person. This provision has similar power to preventive detention, as discussed in this bill, but more significant safeguards are built into the Criminal Code provision.
No one has demonstrated to my satisfaction that this existing provision will not meet the needs of dealing with terrorist activity. It is crucial to be very clear about that. We have not seen any evidence that there is a failure of the Criminal Code to deal with acts of terrorism or the planning of terrorist acts in Canada. We have not seen that the existing provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada need these extraordinary measures, which are an affront to some basic and long accepted and long established, for hundreds of years, principles of our justice system in Canada.
We need to be clear that when it comes to dealing with terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism, we really need to focus on and put our energy into police and intelligence work. We have seen in the past that Canada was ill-prepared when it met the challenge of a terrorist act. The Air India bombing comes to mind. Canada did not have the ability to appropriately investigate that situation. Police authorities did not have the resources, staff or people with the skills they needed to appropriately investigate that kind of crime.
We have to make sure in this process that our police and intelligence services have the personnel and resources they need to investigate potential terrorist acts and to charge those responsible. That has to be the flow. We have to do the investigations and lay the charges and ensure the full gamut of our justice system is engaged in that process.
I do not think it is appropriate to say that we are going to do the investigation and come up with some evidence but shut down the rest of the process of charging and hopefully convicting someone who is alleged to have committed those crimes. The conviction is very necessary in all of that. For me that is one of the failings in the security certificate process.
We have to be aware that these provisions were first proposed in a time of fear, after the attacks of 9/11. People were not exactly sure what was happening at that time. We have to also be aware that legislating in a time of fear and uncertainty like the period immediately after 9/11 can lead to bad legislation. It can lead to unintended consequences, ultimately, such as labelling and stereotyping individuals and groups in our society.
There is much evidence that says when we do that kind of thing, we do not make good legislation. Denis Barrette, the spokesperson for International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, said at the Senate hearings on Bill S-3:
These laws are used in emergencies, where fear and panic are at the forefront—somewhat like what happened at the time of September 11, 2001.
Fear is never a good adviser. It is rather in moments of peace and quiet that the importance of preserving rights and freedoms should be rationally assessed. It is obviously important to defend them in difficult times, but we must plan for how to protect them in difficult times.
It is easy to protect rights and freedoms in peaceful times. We must provide for the unpredictable and ensure that, in a moment of panic, legislation does not result in innocent victims because it was poorly conceived or because it was dangerous or useless.
I believe that is what we have before us in Bill C-17, and that is why I strongly oppose this legislation.