Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in opposition to Bill S-7 at third reading. I am doing so not without some soul-searching because I do believe that members of Parliament must address the issue of terrorism seriously. The question remains: is Bill S-7 the right way, and the right response to the threat of terrorism?
In my speech at second reading, I mentioned my personal and family connections to 9/11, a day when my mother was flying out of Washington, D.C. and one of my partner's close friends was flying out of Boston. My mother was fortunate and she was located, safe, later that night on the ground in Denver. However, my partner's friend was not so lucky in his choice of flights from Boston, and we were in the unfortunate situation of having to inform his parents in Indonesia that indeed their son had been on that second plane to hit a tower in New York.
What I did not talk about during second reading was my international human rights work. I have experience working where the threat of terrorism was a constant. I worked in the field in East Timor, in Ambon in Indonesia, and in Afghanistan. In each of these situations, bombing campaigns were a daily threat and all too often a daily reality. I have seen up close, communities torn apart by terrorist violence. I still remember the day in Ambon where my partner and I were working on a peace-building project between Christian and Muslim communities. That was the day that the market was bombed, and from our office we could see the smoke rising. That was the same market where my partner was supposed to be at that moment, but fortunately was late and was not there.
Therefore, I do have some understanding of the reality of terrorist threats, and I have always taken a clear and unequivocal position against terrorism. I have always said there was no justification, no excuse for the use of violence against civilians, none, never, and I fully believe that those who use terror should be met with the full force of the law. I take seriously that we must take measures that will protect us against terrorism, but I also believe we have an equal responsibility to preserve the rule of law and respect for our basic rights and freedoms. Otherwise, what is it that we are protecting? As so many of my colleagues have said, this is truly a question of balance. How do we protect our society in a way that protects its most fundamental values?
In my second reading speech, I spoke not just about my own experience, but also about the unfortunate history of the deportation of Japanese Canadians during World War II. When we look back now, it is very clear that fear, and fear alone, caused us to trample the rights of a minority in this country, using the War Measures Act, an act which the majority at the time argued was necessary to preserve our rights, despite the lack of any evidence at the time or subsequently that this was the case. I emphasize once again that not a single Japanese Canadian was ever charged, let alone convicted, of any collaboration with the enemy during World War II. However, our panic and our fear caused us to uproot a community and the lives of thousands of Canadians for no reason other than their heritage. This is a fear that I have, that we will make these same kinds of mistakes if we panic and adopt measures that would lead to the targeting of certain communities today based on their heritage.
Therein lies the dilemma. How do we keep communities safe without trampling the very rights that are the foundation of a free community and a tolerant society? Then the question is, what are those threats that I see to rights in Bill S-7? What do we in the NDP think is the problem with Bill S-7? There are two major problems, and one associated problem.
The two major problems are that investigative hearings and preventative detention both run against the grain of our fundamental rights in our legal system. Whether we view these measures through our British legal traditions, through our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or through Canada's international legal obligations under international covenants, both of these would challenge our fundamental values. Investigative hearings wreck the fundamental protections against self-incrimination that we have built into our system for 300 years. Preventative detention would violate the principle that one should be punished only for a specific wrongdoing. Bill S-7 would allow the incarceration for up to a year of individuals never even charged with, let alone convicted of, a criminal offence. And, as we discovered in the debate in committee, the government intended for those provisions for preventative detention to be quite broad and to perhaps include people who were merely associated with or inadvertently giving assistance to those who might carry out a terrorist act. While intention is a fundamental element of a criminal act in Canadian law, intention alone has never before been the crime. Therefore, I find these two measures excessive and threatening of those basic rights and values.
In committee, New Democrats pointed out the most basic flaws of this legislation and introduced 18 amendments to address the most egregious problems. However, as usual, the Conservatives were having none of that. As we have seen time and time again in committee, despite statements to the contrary by ministers when they introduce legislation, Conservatives are not actually prepared to consider reasonable amendments at the committee stage, not even in the case of Bill S-7 when it came to an amendment that simply asked that the rights of children be protected under these two measures so that children might not be caught up in investigative hearings and preventive detentions. Not even that amendment on the rights of children were the Conservatives prepared to accept.
The third party, at the other end of the House, which initially introduced these two measures in 2001, not only failed to introduce any amendments of its own but also refused to support the NDP amendments. Now Bill S-7 is back in the House for third reading unamended.
The argument the Conservatives seem to be making in favour of Bill S-7, insofar as they are bothering to make any argument at all—and I should point out that we do not see Conservative members rising to try to convince both the opposition and the public that this measure is indeed necessary—is that if Bill S-7 does not pass, we will not be kept safe from terrorism and that we need investigative hearings, preventive detention and new measures to make it illegal to go abroad for the purposes of committing a terrorist act.
This necessity argument, I believe, fails on several grounds. First, as it is easy to point out, there were no successful uses of investigative hearings or preventive detention when they were previously in force. If they are so necessary to protect against terrorism, why were they not used? Why do we not have examples of how they contributed to that safety?
The second ground on which I would argue that the necessity argument fails is the actual record of the RCMP, which has been able to apprehend those involved in terrorism and get convictions in the absence of these extreme powers. Examples include the Khawaja case, the Toronto 18 and even the arrests just yesterday. If these powers were so necessary, how have the police been able to make such progress against terrorism over the last 12 years? If for 12 years we have appeared to get along well in the struggle against terrorism without these powers, where is the argument for their necessity now? I have heard no one on the other side actually make the argument, in any kind of fashion, that we must have Bill S-7 at this time to keep us safe.
Of course, when it comes to going abroad to engage in terrorist acts, anyone who looks closely at the existing law will find that it is already illegal to do so. Therefore, what is Bill S-7 adding to the existing law? It is really not clear to me why this new provision is there.
If the measures proposed in Bill S-7 are neither effective nor necessary, then are we, in fact, left helpless in the face of terrorism, as the Conservatives' insistence on passing this bill would imply? The timing of the reintroduction of this bill in Parliament and the timing of the arrests yesterday on charges of terrorism are indeed suspicious, which is I guess the best word I can use. The coincidence seems too large to me. It seems to me that the Conservatives are trying to use a climate of fear to push forward this legislation. Again, I refer to the example of Japanese Canadians in World War II, when fear caused us to do things that destroyed an entire community in Canada, which has taken many years to rebuild, based on fear and fear alone.
I fear that the Conservatives are using this climate in the aftermath of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, and in the aftermath of very good police work done to bring charges against those who would have derailed a VIA Rail train through their connections with al Qaeda, to create a climate that will cause people to not ask the questions they need to ask about this legislation.
I was very proud that members in the House came together unanimously to condemn the tragic bombing in Boston, but I am a little less proud about the timing of the reintroduction of Bill S-7 in the aftermath of that bombing.
At the time of the bombing, I argued that we ought to be careful not to draw conclusions too quickly. I still argue that it is probably too early to draw many firm conclusions about how the U.S. should respond to what happened at the Boston Marathon. It is necessary to take reasonable precautions when we are met with terrorist acts, but it is also necessary to find out what actually happened before we can figure out what might be the proper measures to take.
However, I would argue that there is one quick lesson from the tragedy in Boston. The quick conclusion that can be drawn, I think, is that when law enforcement agents are given sufficient resources, they can produce results remarkably quickly. They can produce those results using traditional methods, and they can produce those results without resorting to extreme legal powers that threaten basic civil liberties.
The sad fact is that where the government is falling down when it comes to the everyday fight against terrorism is on the question of resources. Without resorting to a very long string of figures documenting budget reductions in everything from policing to emergency preparedness, let me cite just two facts. I think they are two very important facts when we talk about the struggle against terrorism.
The Conservatives are in the process of cutting 325 front-line CBSA officers and 100 intelligence officers from the CBSA. It is certainly good news for gun and drug smugglers and almost assuredly is also good news for potential terrorists. If we reduce our front-line resources, if we reduce our front-line intelligence activities, then, in fact, we increase our risks of terrorism. It is not a question of legislation. It is a question of resources at the front end to do the investigative and law enforcement work we need to have done, just as the RCMP has just done in the charges that came up yesterday.
Again, there are cynics who believe that the Conservatives are bringing forward Bill S-7 simply for political reasons and to create more support in their base community. There are cynics, and I guess in this case I include myself, who believe that the Conservatives are taking advantage of this atmosphere in which few are asked the hard questions about how we keep our communities safe without trampling the very rights that are at its heart.
When New Democrats have tried to address this fundamental question in debate in the House, I have frankly wondered if Liberals and Conservatives have even been listening. If this bill is so transparently necessary, why have the Conservatives refused to carry on a serious debate?
Instead, as far as I know, there has only been a single speaker at third reading from the Conservatives. It has been hard to take seriously their questions after opposition members have spoken, as their comments have been reduced to little more than sloganeering.
Yesterday afternoon in this House, I witnessed the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia and Winnipeg responding to a speech by one of my colleagues by asking about the NDP's “hug-a-thug” and “kiss-a-terrorist” policies.
I have referred to this member by his riding name only, even though he is a minister of the Crown. I did so not only because I believe that these comments fail to engage the substance of debate but because I do not believe that they are worthy of a minister in the Canadian government.
While the response of many Conservatives on this serious topic has disappointed me, the response of the Liberals has been perplexing. Here is the once proud Liberal Party, which likes to claim the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and which recognized the basic threat to civil liberties when they introduced the main provisions, which are coming back in Bill S-7, by including a sunset clause.
Here they are now taking part in the debate, actually almost even carrying the debate on behalf of the government in favour of Bill S-7, in favour of those very same provisions that were in the original Anti-terrorism Act but with a sunset clause. Now they are arguing for them without any sunset in sight.
In 2007, when the sunset date was approaching for recognizance with conditions and investigative hearings, and it was time to vote on the proposed renewal, the Liberals voted with the NDP to kill those provisions. Now, in 2013, they seem to be even more enthusiastic supporters of the bill than the Conservatives are themselves, reminding us, I suppose, that these ideas, which I believe threaten our basic liberties, were originally Liberal ideas in 2001.
I am probably coming close to the end, so let me start to conclude my remarks. I am speaking not with any hope today that Conservatives or Liberals will listen to reason on this bill. I do not believe that many of them have done the soul-searching that those on our side of the House have done about this threat to basic civil liberties. I am comforted only by my hope that most Conservatives are acting in good faith and out of a genuine belief that the measures proposed in this bill will actually keep us safe.
All I would ask is that a single Conservative stand up on that side and point to the evidence that investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions, or preventive detention, as it is called, would provide effective protection against terrorism. I have yet to hear from anyone on that side of the House making that argument and providing that proof.
I do not believe that these measures will make any contribution to our safety. Rather, they pose a genuine risk to the free society they are supposed to defend.
When I think back to my own experience with 9/11, which touched me in a very personal way, as it did many other Canadians who lost friends and relatives, I ask myself what was under attack that day. I believe that it was a free society that values tolerance and diversity and that protects the fundamental rights of all its citizens.
I think back to the time when I worked in zones of conflict, where bombing was a daily occurrence, where communities were torn apart over what in the end seemed to be trivial issues when compared to the losses in those communities. I think back to when we knew who were responsible and their supposed reasons for carrying out those attacks. It was impossible to understand how they could have inflicted such violence on their friends and neighbours over, when we take the time to step back from them, such fundamentally unimportant issues.
Instead of enacting measures that potentially undermine fundamental rights in Canada and measures for which there is no evidence of effectiveness, we should be strengthening our intelligence and enforcement programs in ways that would enhance as well as protect the rule of law and respect for rights.
Because of my experience on police boards and as a municipal councillor with the police force, I know that the vast majority of police officers are committed to the rule of law and are committed to respect for rights. I know that they would like to have the resources they need to keep our communities safe from terrorism. I again stress that my major concern with respect to terrorism is not the lack of legislative provisions or legislative powers. Rather, it is the lack of commitment by the Conservative government to providing the resources our front-line officers and front-line intelligence agencies need to do the hard, slogging work that keeps us safe from terrorism.
It is a parallel to the whole approach by the Conservatives when it comes to crime. They think the solution is to make more legislation, to make more acts criminal and to increase penalties. However, we know that in everyday policing what makes us safe are boots on the ground at the front-line doing the enforcement and the social services that help reintegrate people into their communities.
When people eventually draw conclusions about the Boston Marathon, the conclusions I believe they will draw will be that the main protection of a free society is its ability to accommodate and tolerate diversity, its ability to respect rights for all, its ability to protect free speech, and its respect for those fundamental legal traditions that say that no one should go to jail who has not committed a specific criminal act and that people should not be forced to appear in an investigative hearing to give testimony against themselves, which is one of our fundamental legal protections.
When we draw those conclusions, we will see that rather than offering support in our fight against terrorism, Bill S-7 undermines those very values we intended to protect when we founded this country, when we introduced the Charter of Rights and when we signed those international covenants.
I will conclude today with a final appeal to both the Conservatives and the Liberals, which I know will not be listened to. Think again about what is most important to this country of Canada: our tolerance, our diversity, the rule of law and respect for basic, fundamental rights.
For those reasons I will be voting against Bill S-7 at third reading.