Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.
Today I rise alongside my colleagues, to speak against Bill S-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act. The bill goes against the values of Canadians. It infringes upon civil liberties and human rights, a repeated theme among the actions of the government, I must add. It has measures that have been proven to be unnecessary and ineffective.
I would like to be clear. The New Democratic Party believes that it must seriously address the issue of terrorism. Keeping Canadians safe is of the utmost priority. However, we also must ensure respect for our rights and freedoms. The provisions in the bill fail to balance our need for security and our basic fundamental rights. Both are equally important to Canadians and espouse Canadian values.
Bill S-7 is the most recent iteration and measure of a series of anti-terrorism laws that began with Bill C-36, tabled in 2001. The Anti-Terrorism Act, tabled in 2001, was enacted to update Canadian legislation and respond to international standards, specifically the requirements of the United Nations, as well as to actually present a legislative response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
The provisions of the act remain in place today, except for two of the troubling provisions: the investigative hearings and the recognizance with conditions. The bill was adopted in response to a horrific event on September 11, 2001, which we all know too well. It left people in a state of panic and fear.
The excessive provisions in the act expired four years ago. A sunset clause was rightly added to these provisions back in 2001, with certain provisions to expire in 2007. This was following concerns that were raised during the legislative process in 2001 that these measures, without any precedent in Canada, could have been used inappropriately.
In order to extend these provisions, both Houses of Parliament must adopt a resolution to that effect. In February of 2007, when they expired, such a resolution was rejected by the House of Commons, with a vote of 159 to 124, because the controversial provisions had not even been used. We now have learned that there is no empirical evidence to support such legislation. When the provisions expired in 2007, there had been no investigative hearing and no situations that required a recognizance with conditions. Actually, I must add that the investigative hearing has been used once since it was created in 2001, as part of the Air India inquiry, but that led to no conclusive results.
New Democrats oppose the bill because it is ineffective in combatting terrorism. In a parliamentary review of the bill, committees heard over and over from stakeholders and experts that the current Canadian legislation was sufficient. It begs the question, why is the government choosing to ignore experts? We all know this will not be the first time that the government chooses to ignore experts in the field and writes erroneous legislation based on its own ideology.
The committee heard that the Criminal Code has sufficient provisions to investigate those involved in criminal activity and detaining anyone who might be an immediate threat to Canadians. In a 2011 review by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-17, the former version of Bill S-7, a spokesperson for the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said that between 2007 and today, police investigations have successfully dismantled terrorist plots without having to resort to any of the provisions discussed here. Also, even since 2001, or for 10 years, among the investigations leading to accusations or convictions, none required the use of these extraordinary powers, including the Khawaja case, the Toronto 18 case, or more recently, the case involving four people from the Toronto region.
In addition to the fact that the bill will be ineffective in combatting terrorism, I want to stress the point that Bill S-7 stomps on basic civil liberties and human rights.
Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is fundamental to Canada and to Canadians. We cherish the charter. Yet over and over again, we see legislation from the government that tramples upon Canadian values.
What is even more alarming is that, as experts have indicated, this infringement on rights and freedoms is completely unnecessary and utterly ineffective. Yet, the government goes ahead anyway.
A spokesperson from the International Civil Liberals Monitoring Group said the use of arbitrary power and “a lower level of evidence” cannot replace the properly carried out work of the police. “On the contrary, these powers open the door to a denial of justice” and the substantial likelihood of ruining the reputation of innocent individuals, as was the case for Mr. Arar.
These kinds of decisions reveal a government that does not respect Canadians or Canadian values. We believe on this side of the House that Bill S-7 violates the most basic civil liberties and human rights, specifically the right to remain silent, the right to not incriminate oneself and the right to not be imprisoned without first having a fair trial.
Experts have warned that Bill S-7 would make it punishable by imprisonment for up to 12 months, or impose strict conditions on the release of individuals who have never been charged with a criminal offence. We believe this goes against the core values of our Canadian justice system.
Moreover, the provisions in the bill could be used to target individuals participating in activities, such as active protest, dissent, which has absolutely nothing to do with the reasonable definition of terrorism.
Canadians take their rights and responsibilities to protest to heart and use them to make their voices heard. The arbitrary nature of the provisions in the bill could certainly lead to an abuse of power, and we have seen that happen many times by the government.
Canadians would not be better protected by legislation that infringes upon their rights and freedoms, but rather they will be better protected with intelligence efforts and appropriate police action.
Canadians are tired of seeing actions and legislation that show such a lack of respect for our Canadian values. Let me conclude by reminding the members opposite that actions and legislation that show such a lack of respect for Canadian values creates a disconnect between policy-makers and the needs of the people they represent.
The Criminal Code contains all of the provisions necessary to fight terrorism. Yet here we are, discussing a bill that shamefully infringes on our civil liberties and human rights.
Sadly, the bill is yet another example of the government missing the mark on writing sound legislation. The bill, as it stands, has no balance between the need for security and the protection of the fundamental rights of Canadians. Therefore, I cannot support the bill.
As many experts in the field have said, it is quite unnecessary and full of holes. It introduces concepts that are foreign to our Canadian values and it risks causing many more problems than those that it actually solves.
Canadians expect the government to prioritize tangible job creation in our communities across the country, measurable environment protection and real action for community safety, not the infringement of our basic human rights and freedoms.