Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take this opportunity to speak on Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, alternatively cited as the response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Tse Act.
My colleague and our public safety critic, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, outlined why this bill is necessary in his original remarks in the House. I will not go back and quote those reasons, but he certainly outlined very extensively why the bill was necessary and why we are now supporting Bill C-55 to overcome the problems that were actually created by the government itself in bringing in Bill C-30 and by the remarks of the minister at the time, which the previous speaker talked about, which created such great controversy in the country.
I might mention as well that about two weeks ago the member for Winnipeg Centre spoke at length on the fact that government bills are not reviewed by legal counsel to see if they meet the test of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He raised raised a point of privilege, in fact. What he was talking about, and I agree with him, was this regime's lack of testing legislation against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
We have a Senate made up a majority of senators appointed by this Prime Minister. More senators have been appointed by this Prime Minister than any prime minister in Canadian history. It has become as if the senators who are appointed are loyal to the Prime Minister, and they are not doing their work as a sober second thought. The Senate is almost a rubber stamp to the government.
The next safeguard, as the member for Winnipeg Centre said, is the courts in the country, not only the Supreme Court but other courts as well. Legislation passed in this place, which we as members assume has been tested by Department of Justice legal counsel and others to see if it meets the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in fact has not been. Then legislation is in fact tossed back, and that is in part why we are dealing with this particular bill today.
We know we have a problem with the way the government operates in introducing legislation without first having it tested by legislative counsel on how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to it, and I know, Mr. Speaker, that in your role as speaker you will be coming forward with a decision on what the member for Winnipeg Centre raised in his point of privilege on that matter.
I will get into the specifics of the bill in a moment. This bill, or rather the need for this bill, is symbolic of what is wrong with how this place is now functioning under the guidance of the current regime. I would call it the undermining of our democracy.
There are several areas that I have to mention. First, as noted, the government brings forward legislation that we know now has not been tested, as it is supposed to be tested, in terms of how it applies to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Therefore, without that application, it is definitely going to make more unnecessary work for the courts further down the line.
Second, in this place we see omnibus bills put forward with almost everything in them but the kitchen sink. As a result, parliamentarians are unable to take all the parts of a bill to the appropriate committee where members of Parliament who have taken on the responsibilities for specific issues—and I would not call them experts, but they are knowledgeable in those areas—can test that legislation. Instead, these omnibus bills coming forward cover so many areas that Parliament is not given the proper discourse, discussion and debate to find any problems, as we have seen is needed in this specific bill.
Third, another aspect we have seen all the time with this regime in the undermining of democracy is the use of closure. The government only allows a bit of debate and prevents the representatives of the people from doing the proper analysis and research and coming forward with amended legislation. It has introduced more closure motions to limit debate in its short term as a majority government than any government in Canadian history.
Our critic for justice has put forward all kinds of amendments for justice bills, but because they are coming from an opposition party, the government ignores them. It does not accept amendments mainly put forward by opposition parties, even when the amendments make improvements to the bill. That is a problem.
I see the parliamentary secretary for international trade shaking his head over there.
There is another undermining of democracy that does not necessarily show in the bill but that is clearly a problem around this place: at the committee level, when we move motions in committee, whatever they may be, the Conservative regime moves the committee in camera, in secret, so that Canadians cannot even see the simple debate on a motion as simple as asking the minister to come before a committee. What do the Conservatives have to hide? It is another aspect of the undermining of democracy.
The last point I want to make before I get to the specifics of the bill is with respect to the Senate. As I said a moment ago, the Senate has become a rubber stamp for the Prime Minister, because he has appointed most of the senators. I know that my senator is not even a resident of the province and region that he is supposed to be representing, which is a constitutional requirement. However, my key point with respect to the Senate is this: it is no longer the body of sober second thought; it is almost a rubber stamp to what the government does.
I make all those points on the undermining of democracy to point out that for bills such as Bill C-55, it is the undermining of democracy that allows a bill that does not meet the tests of the courts to be passed and become law in this country.
I will now go to the specifics of the bill. I would like to quote from a Library of Parliament report. As the House knows, the Library of Parliament does very good research. I want to quote from its report, because it is the best there is in terms of a summary.
Its report on the bill states:
On November 18, 2011, the SCC heard an appeal in the case of R. v. Tse concerning the constitutionality of the emergency wiretap provisions. In this case, police used s. 184.4 to carry out warrantless wiretaps when the daughter of an alleged kidnapping victim began receiving calls from her father stating he was being held for ransom. Approximately 24 hours later, the police received judicial authorization to carry out the wiretaps. The trial judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia found that s. 184.4 contravened the Charter right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure.... The decision was appealed by the Crown directly to the SCC.
The Supreme Court then believed in its decision that section 184.4
...strikes a reasonable balance between an individual's right to freedom from unreasonable searches and society's interest in preventing serious harm, insofar as it allows warrantless interceptions to be used only in exigent circumstances. However, the Court found that in its present form, s. 184.4 violates s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. It was the lack of any accountability measures, particularly notice to persons whose communications have been intercepted, that proved fatal. The appeal was therefore dismissed, and the SCC suspended its declaration of invalidity for 12 months
—in other words, giving time for this place to deal with it appropriately—
to allow Parliament to make it constitutionally compliant by adding safeguards.
That is the background on what happened. The Government of Canada had previously passed legislation allowing those warrantless wiretaps, and the Supreme Court is basically saying that safeguards need to be put in place.
To summarize what the safeguards in the bill are and why we support it, the safeguards are basically these: the bill requires the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Attorney General of each province to report on the interceptions of private communications made under section 184.4. That is a good step.
The bill provides that a person who has been the object of such interception must be notified of the interception within a specified period, and I will get into that in a moment as well.
The bill narrows the class of individuals who can make such an interception.
Finally, the bill limits those interceptions to offences listed in section 183 of the Criminal Code.
Therefore, Bill C-55 adds three major safeguards to section 184.4 of the Criminal Code. It first restricts the use. It narrows the offences for which the wiretapping can be used, and they are spelled out in sections in the bill. Second, it names specifically the category of the people who can use those measures. Basically it narrows the category of people who can use it to police officers only. Previously it was debatable as to which people with authority could introduce wiretaps. It might be fisheries guardians or others who do not have formal training in the law or on the seriousness of wiretapping measures. The third point is that wiretapping measures could only be used to prevent an offence as listed in section 183 of the Criminal Code.
One of the most important questions for our party, for Liberals, going into committee consideration of this bill was why the use of section 184.4 would be limited to the offences listed in section 183. It was done despite the Supreme Court of Canada's advice to the contrary.
The Supreme Court specifically said:
There may be situations that would justify interceptions under s.184.4 for unlawful acts not enumerated in s.183.
However, the minister, to his credit, and department officials testified that this change was necessary to bring section 184.4 more in line with the rest of part IV. The change was also supported by a witness from the Criminal Lawyers' Association, who said that the narrower any provision of the Criminal Code can be, the better.
The definition of “police officer”, which we had a concern about, was also discussed at committee at length. The term “police officer” is obviously preferable to “peace officer”, for reasons that I think are pretty clear. It is not as broad. It is narrow.
However, committee members sought assurances that the definition of “police officer” in Bill C-55 could not be construed to include private security guards or mall cops, as they are called, for example. The minister clarified that this term has been interpreted a number of times by the courts. Therefore, it is not security guards, mall cops or commissionaires; it is Sûreté du Québec, Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP, and provincial law enforcement agents.
We accept the interpretation by the minister. We think, therefore, that the bill should be allowed to pass, because the minister, in his interpretation, is quite narrowly focused on what a police officer is. They are the only ones, in our understanding, who would have the ability to authorize the use of this power.
In the time I have left, it may be important, I think, to go back and review one of the key points, which is why the Supreme Court of Canada made the decision it did and to look at the safeguards put in place as a result of the Supreme Court decision.
Clearly, the Supreme Court, in its original ruling, basically said that there was a serious lack of accountability in the use of the warrantless wiretaps. It recommended that notice be given to the subject of an interception and that the notice be provided after the fact. That is kind of standard procedure. It happens in other areas with wiretaps.
Bill C-55, therefore, would require that either the Minister of Public Safety or the relevant provincial Attorney General provide notice of the interception, in writing, within 90 days of the day the interception occurred.
Extensions could be granted, but those would certainly be, in the case of ongoing interceptions, if it related to organized crime or to terrorism.
The other important point, and I will close on this point, is that reports from ministers at the provincial level or at the Attorney General level within the province, or from the Minister of Public Safety, ultimately—whoever is responsible—on the number of interceptions made under section 184.4, the number of notifications given and a general description of the methods of interception used for each of those interceptions must be tabled in the House and in others if it is their jurisdiction, outlining what those are.
For all those reasons outlined above, we, as a party, will be supporting Bill C-55, which we believe overcomes the concern of the Supreme Court of Canada as it relates to warrantless wiretaps.