Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to make some comments on Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act.
I want to begin by paying tribute to our transport critic, the member for Western Arctic, for bringing to the attention of this House the slippery slope represented in this bill and the potential for the erosion of some of the most fundamental rights and freedoms by which we define ourselves as Canadians.
Let me begin my remarks with two points. Canadians have a right to know what their government is doing with their money. They have a right to know about the government's policies and programs. Every step of the way Canadians have an absolute right to know. In fact, the right to know, freedom of information, is the very oxygen that democracy breathes. However, the inverse is not true.
The government does not have a right to know everything that its citizens are doing. That is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. That is one of the fundamental freedoms we enjoy in a western society and a western democracy. It is a slippery slope and I caution members of Parliament that we must be ever vigilant to ensure that even a subtle erosion of those fundamental rights and freedoms does not take place.
Any time there is legislation put before the House of Commons that threatens to erode those fundamental freedoms or threatens to fail to augment and expand other freedoms, such as the right to know, we have to stand up and denounce it. That is what I rise to do here today.
This government bill, Bill C-42, should be defeated. It should be denounced. It should be condemned. In fact, Canadians who care about our national sovereignty should gather together and protest the very introduction of this bill because representatives of the Government of Canada are negotiating away the very fundamental rights and freedoms by which we define ourselves as Canadians.
This bill should be defeated. It is nothing more than data-mining by foreign security services, primarily those of the United States. It is an unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of Canadians. Believe me, I am not overstating things when I say that the Government of the United States has no right to know when Canadians board an aircraft in this country, which is one of the things contemplated by this bill. It is an expansion of a great affront to Canadian sovereignty, that is, the American do-not-fly list.
I have some personal experience with that atrocious do-not-fly list in the United States. For a long time, even though I am a Canadian member of Parliament, I was unable to get a boarding pass to get on an airplane in this country to travel on a domestic flight from my home city of Winnipeg to my place of work, the House of Commons in Ottawa, even though the flight does not even go through American airspace.
This list is created, maintained and housed entirely in the United States. Canadians, like myself, even an elected member of Parliament, have no right to know how they got on that list. There is no avenue of recourse for grievances. There is no methodology to get off that list.
Yet, when I go to the airport in my home city of Winnipeg and check in with Air Canada to get on a domestic flight, the women who work at the check-in counter know me by name and when they enter my name into the registry of passengers for that flight, a big red flag comes up on their computer. They say, “I am sorry”, member for the riding of Winnipeg Centre, “I cannot issue a boarding pass for you, because you are on this do-not-fly list.”
Forty-five minutes passes while we phone the Department of Foreign Affairs. The people there cannot help. Then we have to phone this magic number in the United States, and the Americans do some research to see if this individual, me, is the same individual who is on their do-not-fly list.
I cannot board a plane in my own country. Canadians should be furious at that intrusion into our Canadian sovereignty. It is absurd.
This went on for years. I must have been stopped 30 or 40 times from getting on domestic flights until finally we had to misspell my name deliberately, which is fraudulent. That was the big recommendation, that I should book my flights under a different name and there would be no problem. That is the solution to the problem because there is no mechanism to convince the Americans to get the heck out of our business.
This is an extension of that absurd situation, except in this case the Aeronautics Act would be amended to allow airlines to send personal information of passengers to foreign security services, primarily in the United States. That information is laid out in secret agreements with other countries. We cannot find out what the secret agreements say, but we know the details of the agreement that exists between the United States and the European Union. We can assume that the details being negotiated in agreements with other countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the United States, are similar to the framework agreement between the United States and the European Union.
Some of the details of the agreement between the United States and the EU would make one's hair curl. For instance, the information forwarded would be the passenger name record, which would include the name of the travel agent used to book the vacation, credit card information, who the person is travelling with, the hotel the person will be staying at, other booking information such as tours or car rental and any medical conditions of the passenger. It is basic personal information up to and including a person's credit card information and personal health records.
We are not talking about people on flights landing in the United States. We are talking about domestic Canadian flights that may pass over the United States for about two minutes. There are little extensions of the Canada-U.S. border that dip down so that when flying from Montreal to Winnipeg a plane may fly over a bit of the United States en route.
Any of that information would be in the hands of the United States government, a foreign national government. Get this: It can keep that information for 40 years and, I suppose, use it against someone, possibly put the person's name on its infamous do-not-fly list. The information may be forwarded to the security services of a third nation without the consent or notification of the other signatory. The information could be traded like party favours among partner nations in the war on terrorism. A person's personal credit card information, who the person travels with and personal health records could be passed around. It is an abrogation of the duty of the Government of Canada to protect the right to privacy of its citizens.
Let me repeat the remarks I opened with. We, as Canadian citizens, have an absolute right to know what our government is doing with our money, policy, programs, et cetera. The government does not have an absolute right to know everything about Canadian citizens. We have an absolute fundamental right to privacy. It is in the Constitution. We have an officer of Parliament dedicated to protecting those rights. They cannot be negotiated away. One cannot negotiate one's way out of the Constitution and no one has a mandate to do it on our behalf.
The government enters into these arrangements and then tries to have them codified and ratified by Parliament through a bill such as this one. It has no right or mandate to trade away our constitutional rights to privacy, but this is what it has done. Why the other opposition parties cannot see this is beyond me.
We owe a debt of gratitude to my colleague, the member for Western Arctic, for blowing the whistle on this otherwise seemingly innocuous bill as it worked its way through the House of Commons and the transport committee. Fortunately, witnesses appeared before the transport committee on this bill and testified in no uncertain terms that this bill erodes and undermines the fundamental rights to privacy of Canadians.
The agreement signed between the United States and the EU, which we believe is the template model for agreements that will be signed with the other partner countries, goes on to say that no person may know what information is being held about them by the United States and may not correct that information if there are any errors. In other words, there is no avenue of recourse.
Again, it is a principle of natural justice that there should be a grievance procedure. There should be an avenue of recourse if mistakes are made about a person and where the veracity of the information being held could be challenged. However, the whole thing is done with such privacy and secrecy that individuals would have no way of knowing what their dossier says about them and what information is being handed around from nation to nation.
This is how horror stories like the Maher Arar situation came to light. This is the kind of nightmare experience that Canadians know all too well from the front pages of the national news of our country year after year as we struggled to understand how such a thing could happen to a Canadian citizen when travelling innocuously within the secure zones of those who seek to make our world safer.
Terrible mistakes are and can be made. It gets to be a runaway freight train without the restraints of reason and logic. Without the underpinning of those fundamental freedoms upon which we built our country, then the war on terrorism does infringe on basic rights.
The other point of the agreement made between the European Union and the United States that we think may find its way into the international agreements with other partner countries, if it has not already, is that the United States may unilaterally amend the agreement as long as it advises the EU of the change. There has already been one amendment whereby all documents held by the EU concerning the agreement shall not be publicly released for 10 years. In other words, there is no access to information requests. That basic fundamental freedom that I introduced in the opening of my remarks of the absolute right to know what your government is doing does not apply apparently. This is a rights-free zone.
What we are contemplating in Bill C-42 ignores our right to know. It ignores what I argue is the very oxygen that democracy breathes. It ignores the fact that the sunlight is a disinfectant and when we shine the light of day on the behaviour and actions of government it automatically elevates its ethical standards. All those things are torn up and thrown out the window and with it Canadians' expectation of the right to privacy.
I just heard a member from the Liberal Party say that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is not concerned with Bill C-42. He obviously was not at the transport committee meetings when it heard testimony on Bill C-42.
Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner, the officer of Parliament charged with the responsibility of upholding Canadians' fundamental right to privacy, in fact, said that Bill C-42 raises important questions about sovereignty. She said that the Canadian government has a duty to protect the privacy and civil rights of its citizens and it may not go to international forums and barter away those rights. The government cannot negotiate its way out of constitutional rights and privilege.
It is up to us. This House of Commons is the check and balance where we ensure that these erosions do not take place, that we do not embark down that slippery slope, that this is not the thin edge of the wedge in a wholesale abrogation of the duty of the government to uphold our constitutional rights in terms of privacy and freedoms.
It concerns us greatly that we are being asked to buy a pig in the poke to lay the framework for the implementation of this agreement without even knowing the details of the information trading regime that will be agreed to. For all we know it has already been signed off because the details have not been released.
As I did my research into this bill, I was reminded of how we are following the Americans down this dangerous road. We all know that the Americans were attacked. We all know that they have a legitimate right to make their nation more secure. Nobody is arguing that.
A government's first obligation is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. We wish the Americans well with that and we want to co-operate with that. But we do not believe that the sharing of this information will lead to a safer world. We are also concerned when we throw those fundamental rights and freedoms over the side for the sake of expediency to implement security measures, that will become less secure in an environment without those basic freedoms.
Researching this bill reminded me of another national trend initiative. For 30 years, in their war on getting tough on crime, the Americans were deluded into thinking that longer prison sentences, tougher punishments, mandatory minimum sentences, and locking up a whole generation would make their streets safer. The reason I raise this in the context of Bill C-42 is because we now know, and the Americans have now realized, that they were wrong.
Leaders like Newt Gingrich, of the right wing Republican tough on crime movement, have published lead editorials in The Washington Post acknowledging that they were dead wrong. The Americans are spending billions of dollars on more prisons. They are stacking up prisoners like cordwood with longer prison sentences and their streets are no safer. They are bankrupting the coffers of their state legislatures and their federal government trying to house all of these prisoners.
The Americans have turned a corner. They are now saying that their money should be reinvested in crime prevention, drug rehabilitation, counselling, and services to keep people out of the criminal justice system. They are now saying that they should not be building more prisons to stack prisoners up.
At the same time, at this very same juncture, the Government of Canada is embarking down the road that has just been abandoned by its neo-conservative mentors in the United States.
The same reasoning applies to this bill. We do not have to go blithely down the road of the United States in what some believe is an over-reaction to its national security issues because it is not always right. The United States is our closest neighbour and our biggest trading partner. Sometimes friends have to tell friends when they are wrong.
In their zeal and their enthusiasm over national security the Americans are dead wrong in thinking they are making their country safer by undermining fundamental rights and freedoms of a western democracy. Democracy is a fragile and tenuous construct. It is held together by thin fabrics of rights and freedoms. As one by one those fabrics are strained and stressed, and worn, or even broken, that valuable construct of democracy is very vulnerable.
It is no surprise that there are only 20 federations in the world because democracy is such a difficult form of government to hold together. We have to be especially vigilant in a federation like Canada. We need to ensure that we never allow the fundamental freedoms of the right to know what government is doing and the right to privacy for its citizens to be taken away. If anything, those fundamental elements of our democracy should be enhanced and strengthened by this House of Commons, not eroded and undermined by a reactionary piece of legislation that we believe will have adverse and contrary effects that are the polar opposite of the spirit and the intent of this legislation, which is to combat terrorism.
This bill should be defeated for a number of fundamental reasons.