Mr. Speaker, first, I will be sharing my time with the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.
Today is Earth Day, and a debate on terrorism is wholly appropriate. The ordinary, unthinking actions of humans as a species are affecting the environment and, in turn, all life on the planet, but so are other, more deliberate actions. Terrorism targets innocent victims, men, women and children around the world. This saddens our mother nature, known to many as Gaia.
I truly believe that the earth senses all of these attacks against her. I wanted to make the connection here because I hope that all of my colleagues, no matter what their party, will realize the importance of our decisions and the collateral damage they cause.
Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act, has four main objectives. The first is to amend the Criminal Code to allow investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions. Its second objective is to amend the Canada Evidence Act to allow judges to order that potentially sensitive information concerning a trial or an accused be made public once the appeal period has ended. The third objective is to amend the Criminal Code to create new offences for persons who leave or attempt to leave Canada to commit a terrorism offence. The fourth objective is to amend the Security of Information Act to increase the maximum penalties for harbouring a person who has committed or is likely to commit a terrorist act.
Once again, the government is going to get carried away with definitions, and we will have to turn to the superior courts to define some of the vocabulary. Who is “likely to commit”? How will these acts or suspected acts be judged?
We New Democrats believe that these measures violate the most fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Those rights, which are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, are the principles recognized as the foundation for building a nation and a world where everyone will be treated justly and fairly, particularly in legal matters.
We are therefore opposed to this bill because it is an ineffective way to fight terrorism and because it is a pointless and inappropriate infringement of our civil liberties. We believe this bill therefore violates civil liberties and human rights, in particular the right to remain silent and the right not to be imprisoned without a fair trial.
The spirit of those laws requires that the state never use its power against individuals to compel them to testify against themselves. The Supreme Court has nonetheless found investigative hearings to be constitutional, but it still needs to be said that the NDP would hope that whenever the House considers bills like this one, we pay a little more attention to human rights than the constitutional requirements necessarily demand, even if the Supreme Court does recognize certain situations. We have the power, and it is up to us to demonstrate leadership.
In addition, we believe that the Criminal Code contains the necessary provisions to investigate people who engage in criminal activities and to detain anyone who might present an immediate threat to Canadians. This very day, even without this bill being in effect, we witnessed the arrest of two individuals in Quebec and Ontario.
When it comes to terrorism, we have to remember that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP and the provincial police forces work together closely and are in constant communication, since combating the scourge of terrorism is a priority in North America, Canada and the United States.
We do not need Bill S-7 to build cases and make arrests.
The fact that the provisions in the earlier bill, which was passed in 2001, were never used between 2001 and 2007 proves it. Although it might be politically risky to oppose measures that clearly set out to strengthen national security, our opposition is rooted in the belief that the measures are pointless and ineffective. We believe that our position reflects values that Canadians hold dear. We know very well that all governments in the Americas, including in North America, are implementing many different measures to combat terrorism. In our opinion, this bill fails to strike a balance between security and fundamental rights. There was greater protection in the 2001 version, particularly with regard to the role of the Attorney General and the reporting process.
The original aim of the Combating Terrorism Bill was to update Canadian laws to bring them up to international standards, including the United Nations’ requirements, and to put forward a legislative response to the events of September 11, 2001. All the provisions in the Combating Terrorism Bill, except for those to do with investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions, are already in effect. And as we have seen, arrests were made today, just the same.
However, a sunset clause was added to the original bill because of major concerns that came up during the legislative process in 2001. For the most part, they were unprecedented in Canadian law and could easily have been abused.
The NDP also feels that this bill runs contrary to basic civil liberties and human rights, including the right to remain silent and the right not to be imprisoned without first having a fair trial.
In the spirit of these rights, the power of the state should never be used against an individual. I am repeating this because it is fundamental to twhat we are doing here. We must not forget that the bill would make it possible to imprison a person for up to 12 months or would impose strict parole conditions on individuals who have not been charged with any crime. Just the suspicion of a crime. We believe this is contrary to the fundamental values of our legal system and our free and democratic society.
In addition, the mere fact that these provisions were used only once, and unsuccessfully at that, shows that police forces in Canada have the tools they need to combat terrorism using existing procedures without the risk to our civil liberties posed by the bill.
The provisions of this bill could also be cited to target individuals taking part in activities such as demonstrations or acts of dissent that have nothing to do with a reasonable definition of terrorism. I referred to definitions a moment ago, and this is extremely important.
The right to demonstrate is guaranteed by the charter, like the right of association and the right of free speech. The right to demonstrate is a necessary counterweight that sometimes helps to focus politicians’ minds. That has to continue. If we start saying that demonstrations are acts of terrorism, it will not end there. That is why I said earlier that it is essential for these terms to be defined.
In conclusion, how can the government talk about national security and public safety and at the same time impose all these budget cuts on our protective agencies and institutions?
Over $700 million will be cut from the budgets of the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The response being offered is a law that will have no effect on activities on the ground. Yet that is where we have to tackle terrorism; cutting $700 million from the budgets of those institutions and police forces is not how we are going to produce results for our constituents when it comes to safety.