Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to talk about Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act.
This bill is one of a series of anti-terrorism acts that started in 2001 following the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Bill S-7, the Combating Terrorism Act, aims to reintroduce anti-terrorism measures into our legal system. Those measures have been controversial since they were introduced in 2001.
In my opinion, those measures were introduced in 2001 because everyone was panicking. Everyone considers September 11, 2001, to be a turning point. We are all aware that everyone panicked and that we did not really know how to react to the attacks.
If I asked, every member of the House would be able to tell me where they were and what they were doing when the attacks took place.
For my part, on September 11, 2001, I was 17 years old and starting my college-level nursing studies; I was in my psychology class, and the professor entered the room to announce that there had been attacks in the United States and that a plane had flown into the twin towers.
One of my colleagues, somewhat in a panic, said, “My mother is in New York right now.” Everyone panicked. We all remember that day; we can all say what we were doing when we heard the news.
When all this happened, I was in my first year as a student in Sherbrooke, which is closer to the U.S. border further south, and my father, quite a sensible, brave man—I am really proud of him—called me to say that if I could return to Abitibi if I wanted. He understood that I might feel safer further north. A man like my father, whom I fully respect and who is really brave, was concerned and even in a bit of a panic knowing that I was far away. Everyone panicked.
Nobody knew what was going on, and laws were passed quickly because something had to be done. Elected representatives panicked, and so did the people. Something had to be done immediately. The main anti-terrorism acts passed after September 11, 2001, stem from that.
The text of the bill before us would amend the Criminal Code. It adds to and amends the list of terrorist activities, increases the penalties provided, particularly for harbouring a person who has committed a terrorism-related offence, and amends the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act.
It is true that terrorism in many forms is a threat to our society, and we must address it. However, it is always a good idea, when discussing crime bills, to consider what constitutes the hard line and what is the intelligent and effective line because the two may be synonymous at times and not at others. Consequently, we must take the time to consider exactly what we want, and I believe we must always aim for the intelligent and effective line.
These days, the opponents of a democratic regime are less and less likely the conventional forces they previously were; they are much more frequently rebel groups or terrorists, who obey no rules or international conventions, no treaties or rules for parties at war.
However, if our opponents do not abide by those rules, is it not appropriate for us to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to abandon those rules in order to guarantee public safety? Sometimes we have to take the time to think and ask ourselves whether we are not selling our soul to the devil by accepting things that go too far for the sake of public safety.
So we must be very cautious when we talk about these things. For example, should we endanger the human rights and individual freedoms that are truly dear to our country, to our democracy, and for which people have fought, for which Canadian forces have fought several wars? Should we set aside the progress we have made? The answer is no.
Why? The Combating Terrorism Act raises this question: are we discharging our public safety obligations? Anti-terrorism measures have previously been taken, and all those provisions remain in effect today, with the exception of those respecting investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions. A sunset clause, which expired in 2007, was put in place with respect to those provisions because they were viewed as a short-term solution to an emergency and because concerns had been expressed at the time. So it is somewhat as I was saying earlier: following the events of September 11, 2001, panic set in. We took measures, without knowing whether they should be maintained, in response, as it were, to the climate of panic that had set in.
Before they were eliminated, these measures were never useful. Before 2007 they were never necessary. They were used only one time, and it was not a success. But now the government wants to reinstate these same measures, which were never used in a situation that was considered to be an emergency situation at the time.
In more recent cases, it was not necessary to use these specific measures. The existing provisions in the Criminal Code were more than sufficient. We are in the process of bringing these individuals to justice, under the provisions and conditions that already exist in our Criminal Code. In 2007, when these measures came to an end, the House rejected the resolution to extend these provisions.
Our desire to be seen as doing something about law and order is making us lose sight of the notion of justice. Our system must not become focused on law and order instead of justice.
If we look at the application of our laws, we can see that the current provisions are already sufficient. Furthermore, the committees responsible for examining this issue heard the testimony of a number of stakeholders who said that existing Canadian laws were enough. For example, during the 2011 study by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on the old Bill C-17—which was the earlier version of Bill S-7—Denis Barrette, the spokesperson for the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group; Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations; Ziyaad Mia, the chair of the Advocacy and Research Committee of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association; and James Kafieh, the legal counsel for the Canadian Islamic Congress, spoke out against this bill. They said it was unnecessary and violated a number of civil liberties and human rights.
Mr. Speaker, I will share more of what these people said when we continue our study of Bill S-7 and you give me 10 more minutes.