Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other acts.
In a sense, this bill has been a long time coming. It has been 30 years since this place turned its mind to the CSIS act. Much has changed. It makes sense to update or modernize this legislation.
We, on this side of the House, supported this bill at second reading, not because it was perfect, far from it, but out of recognition that there are many issues swirling around this and through the courts on matters of national security and intelligence services.
The bill has been returned to us, however, from committee unamended, in spite of the age of the current legislation and the issues confronting us on matters related to intelligence and national security. The bill had but four hours of scrutiny at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. True to form, amendments put forward by the opposition, recommendations put forward by expert witnesses, and cautions issued by experts were all turned aside, dismissed, and defeated.
We have before us a flawed bill, one not worthy of support. What this bill betrays is a government unprepared, unable, or incapable of doing the difficult but necessary work of ensuring that Canadians have both security and their civil liberties. Indeed, in this bill, and in the government's world view it would seem, civil liberties must wait for security.
It is arguable that in this bill and all that the government does, it tends to see civil liberty itself as a security risk. This would explain why the government so unflinchingly tramples over the rule of law, our own as well as that of others, and has such little concern about and does so little to provide civilian oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Here is my case for this. First, the bill provides blanket protection of identity for all CSIS human sources in legal proceedings, including criminal and immigration cases. There is no opportunity provided for the accused or respondent to confront the accuser and test the evidence. Such an opportunity is considered a fundamental part of our justice system.
How courts respond to such a denial in practice is left to be determined. It is unclear from here. Will the courts respond so that this becomes an obstacle to successful prosecution, will they allow this to enhance their probability of successful prosecution, or will the courts challenge the constitutionality of this provision? All of this is to be determined.
Second, the practical implications and, indeed, the threat of this amendment, become clear when one notes that this bill amends the Canadian Citizenship Act by accelerating the timeline for the revocation of citizenship for dual citizens found to be engaged in terrorist activities and other serious crimes.
It is out of our deep concern for the expedited revocation of citizenship in the broader context of this bill that we have proposed amendments before the House at this stage relating to these provisions.
Third, this bill tries to escape the views expressed by the courts starting in 2007 with respect to CSIS actions and surveillance abroad. Those views were eventually set out in a decision by the Federal Court in 2013 that declared illegal the practices of CSIS for obtaining warrants for conducting surveillance of Canadians abroad.
The response by this government through this bill comes in the form of essentially continuing its practices under the cover of the following language in the bill: “Without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state...”.
Fourth, and perhaps most tellingly, while the bill gives CSIS new powers, it does nothing to enhance civilian oversight of the organization. More than that, it does nothing even to repair existing age-old shortcomings in civilian oversight of CSIS. The Arar commission concluded in 2006 that improved civilian oversight of CSIS was needed, but was ignored.
Privacy and information commissioners of Canada have asked the government to ensure that effective oversight be included in any legislation establishing additional powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies, such as this one. That too has been ignored.
We echo their call. Civilian oversight is our means of ensuring that security and intelligence services can do their part to provide for the security and safety of Canadians without diminishing our civil liberties.
Under the bill, the government gives civilian oversight not even secondary consideration. It gets no consideration. Under Bill C-44, civilian oversight, such as it is, staggers forward. The current review agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, is a part-time committee of the Prime Minister's appointees. We have been through Chuck Strahl and Arthur Porter as chairs. Now we have former Reform MP Deborah Grey as interim chair. Two of the five vacancies on the committee have in fact been vacant for months.
In the 2012 budget, the Conservatives eliminated the position of inspector general of CSIS. The inspector general was the internal monitoring unit within the service, responsible for checking all CSIS activities for compliance with the law. The inspector general's responsibilities were passed along to the Security Intelligence Review Committee with its rotating chair and vacant seats.
NDP members of the public safety and national security committee proposed three very reasonable amendments to enhance civilian oversight of CSIS. The first of these flowed from the recent SIRC report. It called simply for a requirement that CSIS provide complete and accurate information to SIRC in a timely manner in order to facilitate proper oversight of the service.
The second proposed amendment would have ensured that those appointed to SIRC had the expertise necessary for the role, such as in the administration of justice and national security and so on.
The third proposed amendment called for appointments to SIRC to have the support of the Leader of the Opposition so as to extract ourselves from this process of partisan appointments to such critically important oversight roles.
These are all simple, reasonable amendments to a very important component of the security intelligence services, all rejected by the Conservatives, leaving civil liberties at risk, easily and unnecessarily sacrificed under a government that seems not to believe that civil liberties and national security ought, indeed, co-exist if we are to live in the kind of Canada that we desire.
Our democratic values must not be compromised in the pursuit of enhanced public safety. They need not be compromised. Protecting civil liberties and public safety are both core Canadian values, and improvements to one must never, and should not and need not, come at the expense of the other.
As Privacy Commissioner Daniel Carrion put it, it is understandable that the government would want to consider boosting the powers of law enforcement and national security agencies to address potential gaps, but any new tools should be accompanied by a beefed up role for the watchdogs who keep an eye on spies and police.
The fact is that despite all its shortcomings, this bill could have been improved when it went through committee, a process by which we can arrive at well-informed policy. Instead of giving the bill the careful study it deserved, it was rammed through committee, which only heard four hours of testimony from independent experts.
The Conservatives have once again rushed legislation through the House with total disregard for any recommendations for improvement. This, unfortunately, has become a defining characteristic of the government.