Mr. Speaker, it is an honour, as always, to rise in the House and represent the great people of Timmins—James Bay, who put their trust in me to address issues in the House.
Today on the Hill outside Parliament, I was reminded why I love this country so much. I think of Parliament Hill, that great public space where people go to demonstrate, play drums, play Frisbee and, yes, smoke pot to draw attention on 4/20. This is a public space and in that great public space today, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people gathered in support of the people of Boston. It shows that, fundamentally, we are a world community and care for each other in those moments. I watched the crowd go off to the sounds of Sweet Caroline, one of the great songs I used to sing at weddings, but that is another story.
I thought of Fenway Park in Boston, where Neil Diamond showed up and sang Sweet Caroline, showing that Boston has great spirit and that senseless violence will not deter us from being a civil society. Whether it is the horrific killings in Boston or the crazy gun nuts in Newtown or Colorado, a fundamental principle of our society is that we are not going to let them win by growing in fear and undermining the basic principles on which our society has been based. That principle is based on the right of citizens to be protected from terrorists, but also from arbitrary arrest and detainment. That is the principle for which the House of Commons stands.
It is unfortunate that, as we saw the great outpouring of goodwill on the Hill, we see this debate being brought forward again in the House. I refer to The Globe and Mail editorial that stated:
The two-day debate in Parliament on the Harper government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation smacks of political opportunism, and it is regrettable that it will take place. The debate politicizes the Boston Marathon bombings....
It goes on to say:
More worrying is the fact that there are aspects of the proposed bill that raise questions about balancing civil liberties with the need to protect citizens. A wise course of action would be to postpone the bill’s final reading so that any emotional fallout from the Boston bombings doesn’t colour an important debate about public safety in Canada.
It is incumbent upon us when we see this political opportunism in the face of such tragedy that we do not just bend with the wind when the Conservatives say to bend. Our colleagues in the Liberal Party bent long ago on this issue. We need to raise the fundamental issues that are facing Canadians. We are talking about legislation that takes away basic fundamental rights: that people can be detained without trials and be made to go before special investigative judges without the right to remain silent. Those are fundamental principles.
If Parliament is going to undermine those basic rights on which democratic freedoms are based, there have to be some damn good reasons for it to take place. These original measures were brought forward by the Liberal government in the post-9/11 era. In the horror after 9/11, many people said that our traditional freedoms were outdated, that in the 21st century, torture, rendition and detention without trial were what we needed to do to protect society.
We saw many abuses of citizens' rights in the public realm under this sense of fear and panic, and the Liberal government at the time went along with that George Bush analysis and brought in the provisions that are being brought back. However, even at that time they were so unpalatable to the Canadian public that it had to guarantee there would be a sunset clause, that they would only be in effect for a period of time. Within that period of time, those provisions were never found to be necessary; not once. Yet the Liberals still want to break the promise they made to Canadians when they said they would sunset these clauses because they were such a threat to basic democratic and legal rights.
Now the Liberals are saying, “Let us do it; let us forget that sunset clause; let us forget the debate that happened in 2007 when the House of Commons said that those kinds of provisions would take away from people the fundamental rights of legal protection”. The House of Commons rejected that in 2007 and the Liberals voted with New Democrats. Now they are going back to where they wanted to be.
This is the party that always wraps itself in it. It was them; they represented the charter. However, these are fundamental charter issues.
They used the word "terrorism". It is certainly a very loaded word and a very dangerous issue we are facing. However, the issue with this bill is that, as parliamentarians, we have to make sure due diligence is done so that innocent people will not be drawn up into this net.
It was really telling that we brought forward a number of amendments to try to fix the bill and to work with the government to fix the bill, yet the Liberal members brought zero amendments. They just went along to rubber-stamp it. One of the motions we tried to bring forward was the issue of recognizance with conditions, where a person could be held by preventive arrest based on the word of a peace officer. That person could be held without a warrant and without charges. A person who knew somebody who may be a threat could also be held.
We tried to clarify the language so that we were really clear about what was intended, so that it was terror suspects and not just average citizens who were out there protesting in the streets or would get caught up in a sweep. The government refused that amendment, because it said it wanted a broad sweep. That is something that my hon. colleagues in the Liberal Party are supporting. They are saying that would pass a charter challenge. I certainly do not think so.
What preventive arrest and recognizance with conditions really mean is that we have to look at where it has been done. In the post-9/11 era, Maher Arar was arrested without any real evidence, went through rendition and was tortured. That was done under the nose of the then Liberal government, which thought that was the price we had to pay for freedom. We found out later that Maher Arar was completely innocent.
The Liberals are saying this does not mean that, if individuals serve a meal in a restaurant to a supposed terrorist, they will be arrested without a warrant. That is a ridiculous example. A more telling example would be to look at England during the 1970s and the horrific bombing campaigns that hit London and Birmingham. The Parliament at that time felt it had to get rid of the basic principles of habeas corpus and detention and trial. They arrested numerous innocent people, including Annie Maguire, whose story I have already mentioned today. She was just a housewife.
Not only Annie Maguire but seven members of her family were put in jail for 15 years based on no evidence, because they were thought to somehow be associated with people who were terrorists. The people they were associated with, their cousins, were innocent. We saw that a great miscarriage of justice was done with the Guildford bombings. People's lives were ruined, but it was considered okay at the time because they were all a threat. The crime then, of course, was that they were Irish in England.
However, civil society is based on the rule of law. It is based on ensuring that those situations do not happen.
I want to just talk about the term "terrorist". I was called a terrorist. I was denounced by the government of Mike Harris as an eco-terrorist because I was standing up against a massive garbage dump that many of the frontbenchers supported. As a citizen, when I was speaking up and protesting, I was being called an eco-terrorist. We see that the government uses that word all the time. If a person does not like a pipeline, he or she is an eco-terrorist.
What about all the young aboriginal activists who are on the streets? What about the people at the G20, who came from all over and got off the buses to participate in their demonstrations at the G20, which is their fundamental right? Under this law, a peace officer could believe that these people are possibly thinking of terrorist activity, and they could be held in detention for 24 hours without charges. Then, the peace officers could decide whether to let them go.
We saw what happened at G20 and that is exactly what they were doing. They were detaining people. They were kettling people. Of course, they missed all the bad guys who were running up and down Queen Street with black masks on. I do not know how they missed them, but they managed to run from Queen and Spadina all the way up Yonge Street, and a lot of innocent people were detained.
We have to be careful and we have to define exactly what we mean.
If police officers or people in authority are allowed to decide that they do not like a person and they think he or she poses a threat, then that person could be detained without a trial. In this bill, a person could be held for 12 months without a conviction.
The government says it needs this. However, in the years that these provisions were in effect, they were never used once. Under article 495 in the code, already, an order can be brought to have people appear before a judge, and a judge already has the ability to detain them, without releasing them on bail if he or she feels they are a threat. Those powers already exist.
We are talking about new powers that are much more arbitrary, that are much more subjective, that allow for people to be picked up and held without charges. That is a fundamental threat.
I would like to quote Paul Copeland, a lawyer with the Law Union of Ontario, who said in his opinion the provisions we were examining in committee would unnecessarily change our legal landscape in Canada. He said we must not adopt them. In his opinion they are not necessary. Other provisions of the code provide various mechanisms for dealing with such individuals.
It is unfortunate that within the opposition, the Liberals did not think to even challenge, not even clarify. There are some other amendments that are very much needed but that the government refused. For example, Bill S-7 is a law of general application. It cuts right across. The Young Offenders Act does not supercede Bill S-7. That is very concerning.
What happens to people who are under 18? Can they be detained? Can they be held? That happened in the case of Annie Maguire in Ireland. To say it would not happen is absurd. It has happened. Canada has legal obligations under the international Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children.
The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children proposed amendments to the bill to ensure that the implementation for children under 18 would consider the convention on the rights of children, including detention as a last resort. The government did not accept those amendments, and neither did the Liberal Party. That is serious.
What we are told here, and I have been here for a number of years, is that we are soft on this. What I find the government is soft on is the basic principle of the rule of law. If someone says “Hey, let us get rid of the rule of law; it will be more effective”. Certainly it would be more effective. Totalitarian states are always very effective in a certain thing because they do not have the rule of law.
We are different because we have the rule of law. I will point to Bill C-30 in this last Parliament, where the government came in with massive provisions to allow it undefined legal authorities to demand personal information on Internet users and cell phone users without warrants. The government thought that was perfectly okay. It needed this, and if we did not support it, then it said we were soft on child pornography.
What an ugly statement, considering the fact that the one who came forward, who was very soft on child pornography, was the architect of the whole Conservative revolution, Tom Flanagan. Tom Flanagan was soft on child pornography.
However, average Canadians who wanted to protect their privacy rights were attacked by the government. The other provisions within Bill C-30 at that time were forcing telecoms to put in spyware so that they could track people whenever they wanted.
My colleagues in the Liberal Party said nothing about it, because those were actually provisions that were brought forward under the Liberals.
At that time we saw a huge backlash, publicly. It was very impressive. Canadians care about their privacy rights. Canadians are not soft on child pornography. Canadians are not soft on terrorism. However, they were not going to sit back and allow the government to undermine basic rights, including the issue that if individuals are going to wiretap, they need warrants.
Recently we have seen the government come back with Bill C-55, which is on wiretap provisions. The government recognized the need to have warrants.
None of this precludes the issue that already within the court system of this country, if officers believe a life is danger, they can act. They can act without a warrant. That is a reasonable provision. If something is an emergency, if a child's life is at stake, they can act and they can then explain to the judge.
However, we are talking about something different. We are talking about someone who feels that a bunch of young activists from Montreal who come to Toronto for the G20 and get off the bus could be up to no good, and it is perfectly okay to grab them and put them in detention for 24 hours and then decide to maybe let them go. Maybe the demonstration will be over by then.
CSIS has been keeping tabs on young, aboriginal activists. Will they be drawn up in this because CSIS wants a broad sweep? Those were their terms: they wanted a broad sweep.
I tell people back home to really reflect on what the House is being asked to push through. The provisions of law have served us for hundreds of years. They are not arbitrary. We did not just come up with them. They exist because we have seen the abuse of civil rights. We have seen the abuse of individual rights, and we need the clear rule of law.
Even in the case of terrorism, we in the New Democratic Party say that we need the tools. If the government wants tools to go after cyber-terrorists, it should bring in a bill that goes after cyber-terrorists, but it should not bring in a bill that allows it to grab any information on anybody it wants at any time just because. Just because is not good enough.
I find it unfortunate that in the wake of the Boston bombing, that incoherent, horrific act, the government has been widely seen to be trying to force this through. It is wrapping itself in the grief of Boston to push through a bill, with its friends in the Liberal Party, that is undermining the basic rights of Canadians without having ever proven just cause.
In the years these provisions existed under the Liberals, before the Liberals agreed to a sunset clause, they were never used. We see that within the Criminal Code we have numerous provisions to give police the powers they need to go after the bad guys.
We as parliamentarians do not need to be frightened, told by the Conservatives that we all have to jump when they say jump, otherwise we are soft. We are not soft, and we are not soft-headed, unlike our colleagues over in the third party. We stand for the rule of law in this country, and if the government tries to fundamentally alter the political landscape of this country, it needs to prove it.
Second, it needs to stop politicizing it so that when amendments are brought before the committee to ensure, for example, that children are not drawn up in this wide sweep, the Conservatives will say that it is reasonable and that they will protect children.
We asked for amendments to clarify what are terrorists so that a guy in a uniform is not just picking some kid out of a crowd because he looks like he is about to do something. That is not the rule of law. That is what exists in totalitarian countries, and it is the difference between us and them.
Paul Calarco, of the national criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association, put it very clearly at committee. He said:
There is no question that the prevention of terrorist action is vital to preserving our society. This requires effective legislation, but also legislation that respects the traditions of our democracy.
Unfortunately, the bill fails to meet either goal.
The issue is the investigative hearings. Someone could be brought before a special judge, and the right to remain silent, which is a fundamental principle, would be taken away without any justification, without a necessary explanation as to why the individual was being stripped of these rights. It would just be on the subjective word of a legal authority.
As well, there is recognizance with conditions and preventative arrest, not just of the people who are suspected but of people who may know them, people who may be their relatives. A peace agent could arrest an individual without a warrant if he or she believed it was necessary and could hold the person for 24 hours. People could then be held for up to a year.
It is incumbent upon us, in the aftermath of this horrific and senseless act in Boston, to say that in civil society, we will not give in to knee-jerk reactions. We will not give in to fear. We will stand with the victims, but we will ensure that they are not used to undermine the very basis of what makes us a civil and progressive and democratic society.