Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill S-7 today because it is a bill that comes to us from that wonderful other place. That other place is the gift that keeps on giving. This is one of those rare and special opportunities to see the senators at work during their very, very long mandate. We might forget they exist sometimes. Alas, Eppur si muove, and yet it moves, as Galileo said.
I would like read the title of Bill S-7 to put things into context. The title is: An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act. Behind this rather banal title lies a series of measures that seek to amend our anti-terrorism laws. All these changes originate in the panic that followed the events of September 11, 2001, and for good reason. The west woke up one morning with a very real threat at its doorstep. Our American neighbours were hit hard, and we all came to realize that the North American fortress might be much more vulnerable than we ever thought.
Since then, we have been trying as best we can to balance our fear, our lack of understanding and our ability to defend ourselves. It is quite normal to want to protect one's country against terrorism. It is also quite normal to want to help one's neighbour and closest ally. In spite of their great expertise, Americans have had to face terrorism in the worst possible way: their country was attacked and their citizens killed without warning.
However, Canada has little experience with terrorism. Our country has practically never been attacked by a foreign power, other than the United States, and it is probably not a top target for anyone. That does not mean that we must not be prudent. Just the same, I want to remind everyone that the threat, although possible, is really a perceived threat.
For Canadians, acts of violence and terror over the years have amounted to the occasional shooting, except for the Air India incident in 1987. The destruction of the Air India Boeing by a bomb off the coast of Ireland was a brutal wake-up call for our security services. It is a shameful tragedy that laid bare our weaknesses. One year later, there was the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. Air safety is no longer what it used to be before that.
Shootings in Canada—I am thinking of École Polytechnique and Dawson College—are not acts of terrorism. We were all shocked and alarmed by these horrific incidents, but they were isolated attacks and not politically motivated. To prevent these desperate acts of violence, we created the long gun registry, which the Conservatives are trying to abolish as quickly as possible. Bill S-7 would not have prevented these isolated acts of terror that took place in Canada on a number of occasions.
I lived in a country where terrorism is an everyday threat. People always have to be on their guard in Moscow. Before getting onto the subway, they glance suspiciously at the other passengers. In very busy public places, people are always gripped by the fear that something could happen. There are often serious attacks in Russia.
Simply sending a parcel through the Russian postal service is quite an undertaking. People have to wrap their parcel in front of the postal worker, who then seals the package with special tape. It can easily take 30 minutes. It is a simple act of everyday life that has become very complicated by the fear of fear. I am not criticizing the Russians; they manage this situation the best they can within their means.
No matter what anybody says, Canada has never known such a climate of fear. Although some members of this House like to describe certain current political parties in Quebec as extremist, I would like to remind everyone that Québec solidaire has nothing to do with the Front de libération du Québec. Really, people can rest easy.
We could also talk about domestic terrorism, which is a much more insidious threat, because no one wants to imagine that it is possible. Two years ago, who could have predicted a terrorist attack right in the middle of Oslo, Norway, the most peaceful, most prosperous, most educated and nicest country in the world? No one could have.
What does Bill S-7 propose to combat terrorism and better protect Canadians? I would not say nothing at all, but almost nothing. The original aim of the Anti-terrorism Act was to update Canadian laws to meet international standards, particularly UN requirements, and to provide a legislative response to the events of September 11, 2001.
Since 2001, we have had an opportunity to review that legislation, which was passed in response to a specific event that threw people into a state of panic. We have since learned that there is actually nothing to justify such a law. When those provisions expired in 2007, there had never been any investigative hearing required or any situation that called for recognizance with conditions.
Canada's Anti-terrorism Act was brought in line with similar legislation passed by our traditional allies. Furthermore, the Criminal Code contains plenty of provisions to deal with such matters efficiently and quickly, and without violating anyone's basic human rights.
Bill S-7 would also take away fundamental civil rights. We understand that the threat of terrorism is elusive, unpredictable and can easily escape our vigilance. But we must not become completely paranoid. As I said earlier, although it is always possible, Canada is not a target for anyone.
The whole spirit of Bill S-7 is much more about the need to protect the United States. It is as though we were implicitly accepting that Canada itself is not threatened, but could be used as a conduit. We are afraid of being a waiting room for the United States, where jihadists come to prepare their bombs. Is that it? We have to wonder whether this is simply a request from the United States, as was the case in 2001, but I doubt it. It is definitely no longer 2001, and the United States has turned a page and is no longer putting the same kind of pressure on Canada.
So why insist on bringing back clauses that expired in 2007? Why the urgency? Why is the Senate sending us this uninspired legislation that is 10 years old? What are we to make of this unforeseen development?
I can think of two explanations. First, this bill has come to Parliament to distract Canadians from the government's paltry legislative agenda. The government also has to show that it uses its Senate caucus from time to time. If it is going to serve us legislative leftovers, it might as well send them out from the Senate kitchen. Canadians do not know where the senators are coming from. Maybe they are stuck in some kind of parliamentary twilight zone. The senators have nothing to worry about because they are not accountable to the Canadian public and will not have to answer to voters in three years. We might as well say they are accountable only to God himself.
The other possible explanation is that the Conservative government wants to get rid of these sunset clauses once and for all, since they are no longer applicable because they were never used. I think that the government does not even want them and is debating Bill S-7 without really believing in it. I cannot wait to see the results of the vote at second reading, because I think that Bill S-7 is nothing more than an attempt to show that the senators do work. That is too bad; there were bills from the other place that were much more relevant and substantial. The Senate is filled with talented, intelligent, accomplished people. It is time to make use of them.
One of the things that bothers me the most about this Senate bill is that this is not the first time we have debated this issue. Witnesses have come and told us in no uncertain terms that some provisions of this bill create glaring problems. The legislation that is being introduced again has never been used and may never be. People explained that to us in great detail. Clearly, no one is thrilled about these provisions. They are not of interest to anyone and do not serve anyone. In fact, they create more problems than they solve, which is somewhat counterproductive.
I have also lived in a country where the police had too much arbitrary authority and where almost anyone could be arrested anywhere, at any time and for any reason. There are not 75 different ways to become a police state. The first step is to give too much discretionary power to security services on the pretext of all sorts of potential and invented threats. We must not take that step.
Why start compromising our civil liberties now, 11 years after the events of September 11, when the days of the war on terrorism started by President Bush are pretty much over? Why?
I would like to quote one of the witnesses, Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. He said:
Some legal commentators have argued that there is a narrow gap within the Canadian context in which preventive detention has utility. However, there are significant risks associated with overreaching state powers, such as the ability to detain someone for up to 72 hours. To jeopardize civil liberties for a potential yet unrealized circumstance pushes the boundaries between civil rights and concrete national security concerns.
In other words, it is like getting on a train when we do not know exactly where it is going to take us. We have never acted this way in this country. We will not do it now, and we will never do it. We are more intelligent than that, and if ever there are threats that need to be dealt with, I am convinced that our existing laws will be sufficient to get the job done.
In conclusion, I would like to remind the hon. members that this bill is a rather sad collection of provisions that do not amount to much of anything. These issues have already been debated. The bill goes against what everyone agreed upon and is extremely disappointing. I have the right to expect that, when the other chamber thinks it is appropriate to send a bill to the House of Commons, it will make the effort to suggest relevant solutions. That is not the case here, and I am very disappointed.