Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate and I listened carefully to my friend opposite. First of all, I want to state unequivocally that this government is very concerned and takes the privacy issues of Canadians very seriously. That is the very impetus to this legislation, Bill C-13 and others. The government should also indicate that all government agencies comply at all times with Canadian law. It is surprising in some ways that I have to state that, but that appears to be the backdrop to some of the concerns raised by my friend opposite.
The activities of the government's law enforcement and security agencies in particular are all subject to independent agencies and oversight. Again, this is not as if law enforcement or the definition of peace officer enables individuals to, without jurisdiction, without proper oversight, simply access privacy and the private information of Canadians. They have to seek judicial authorization. That is embedded in the bill before the House and now before the committee.
I should note that we have worked closely with the interim Privacy Commissioner, as with her predecessor, in developing provisions within the bill that we think strengthen privacy protection for Canadians, including increasing the investigative powers of the Privacy Commissioner.
In regard to the issue of examination by experts, we now have the bill at committee. We now have a multi-party committee that is looking at the bill in detail as it would in the normal course of parliamentary procedure. It has the ability to call before the committee experts, more than just one expert. Committees are masters of their destiny. The committee can hear from experts with a specialized knowledge and I submit that there are certainly more than one, to speak to these issues and to bring to the forefront in a very public way, and answer in a very public way, concerns that my friend and others may have raised.
I want to come back to the substance of the member's argument with respect to splitting the bill. She would know and others would know that within the bill is an attempt to modernize our efforts to enable law enforcement to now police the Internet. To use the vernacular, it is giving the police the ability in the virtual world to enforce and protect Canadians the way that we see in the normal course of events in the real world in the law enforcement community.
Sadly, many of the provisions of the Criminal Code as they pertain to intimidation, to what we call bullying, the type of intimidation that very tragically led to the death of a number of young Canadians including Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, whose parents we had before committee. This is all about enabling the police to in some cases, pre-empt and prevent the type of very insidious activity that takes place online that caused these young people to feel so despondent that they took their own lives.
To pass a bill that has within its text the words that will create a new criminal offence that would prohibit the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and criminalize that type of activity that might have saved the lives of Parsons, Todd, and others, but not then enable the police to gather and present before the courts the evidence necessary to obtain a conviction, the necessary ability for law enforcement to uphold the law, would be an empty vessel. It would be a shell of a bill if we did not modernize those provisions of the Criminal Code that allow law enforcement to do their important work.
It pertains to more than just this new provision of the Criminal Code. It pertains to acts of terrorism. It pertains to acts of fraud, all of which and other acts can occur online, as the Speaker and others would know. To separate the bill, I would suggest, would be perverse. It would run counter to the intent of the government to allow police and law enforcement to do their good work.
Speaking of perverse, I find it somewhat contradictory that the hon. member would argue such a point and would suggest that we simply pass this law preventing cyberbullying from occurring, but not allow the police to actually enforce it.
The current sections of the code were put in place during the time of rotary telephones and prior to the Internet. This is very much an overall modernization attempt by the government. It does not pertain to just this new section of the Criminal Code.
What I also find somewhat contradictory in my friend's argument is that she says there is an urgency. She spoke, rightly, with real and genuine passion about the harm being done on the Internet. She was asked a question by a colleague from the NDP about the necessity, in fact I would call it a moral obligation on the part of the government and all members of Parliament, to act to protect young people from this type of activity.
Yet, almost within the same breath, the member suggests we slow down and not act with haste. I think the member used the word “stall”. We are not stalling just for the sake of stalling. That is in fact what would happen. This bill would not advance, it would not come into being, and it would not become law.
I believe there is urgency. I believe there are exigent circumstances, as the Supreme Court would say, that require this bill to become law and that necessitate action on the part of the government. That is why we are bringing this bill forward, holistically, in a way that not only puts new provisions in the Criminal Code but also gives the police the ability to enforce the law.
Bill C-13 specifically would not create new protection from criminal or civil liability for those who voluntarily assist law enforcement. It simply clarifies existing provisions. Further, the provisions would provide protection for those who voluntarily assist police where such assistance is not otherwise prohibited by law. Bill C-13 would not protect or propose to protect a mechanism that bypasses the necessary judicial oversight, as some might have suggested.
I want to come back to one of the witnesses, Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd, who was referenced by my friend. I, as a new father, personally cannot imagine the pain and suffering that she has endured, losing her beloved daughter. Clearly this is a subject that is very deep, very emotional for her. I reviewed her testimony. I heard her concerns. As a result, that very day, I reached out to her. I spoke with her in person. The very next day, she came to my office and we had a very detailed discussion about the concerns she had raised at committee. I am not going to go further than that, other than to suggest that I believe she came away with a much better sense of comfort and confidence in what the government was attempting to do.
I do note, and I think it bears repeating, that at the end of the day, and I know my friend will confirm this because she was there, Mrs. Todd and all family members who testified, all said in their testimony that they wanted to see the bill passed as quickly as possible.
That runs completely contrary to the impression that my friend has left, that somehow Mrs. Todd or other family members wanted this bill delayed, wanted this bill split, wanted this bill somehow put into a side track that would prevent it from becoming law. That is a complete mischaracterization of what was said. All family members said they want this bill to become law.
I felt it was incumbent upon me to correct the record on a number of those statements by my friend. I repeat again that this bill is central to our government's commitment to contributing further to addressing the issue of cyberbullying across this country. It is a key element of the government's agenda to support victims and punish criminals.
Again, I find it passing strange that my friend would suggest that somehow victims were being overlooked in this bill, that there was not specific reference or perhaps there was insufficient reference to victims. We have an entire bill dedicated to enhancing victims rights, a bill that was the result of extensive cross-country consultation with justice stakeholders, most importantly the victims and those who work with victims.
That bill is completely in keeping with the very premise and underpinnings of this legislation to enhance the rights of victims, to enhance their involvement in the criminal justice system, the respect they deserve, the information flow. The very critical epicentre of a role that they play in our justice system is contained in commensurate legislation known as the victims bill of rights. Therefore, somehow suggesting that this bill may be lacking in reference to victims I find disingenuous at best.
The issue of cyberbullying, I agree with my friend, is an age-old problem. Technology has irrevocably changed the nature and the scope of bullying. There is no denying that. Bullying is now conducted via the Internet. It is no longer simply happening in schoolyards with pushing, shoving, and fights. This now follows a victim home. It is carried with them in their pocket or on their hip with their handheld device. It is with them in the classroom. It is omnipresent because of the Internet. That necessitates action. It necessitates legislation empowering police to do more in terms of tracking, identifying, arresting, and charging those who are responsible for crimes on the Internet.
This problem, as was referenced, is not going away. It is in fact becoming worse. It is more prolific. It is more broadly spread than ever before. It does not respect borders. It does not respect jurisdictions. Many of these images are permanently in place. Therefore, this legislation, in addition to other things, provides action to remove offending images. It provides the types of pre-emptive acts that we hope might prevent the despondency that was felt by some of the victims, like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and others.
Over the past number of years this issue has become prolific. That is what I view as a clarion call for government action, not further study, not delaying it, not allowing experts who may have some other agenda in mind, but simply moving the bill into law. There are suggestions that somehow this is against police wishes because in some obscure way this could possibly necessitate a constitutional challenge. As sure as night follows day there will be challenges in the court, but the member opposite is well aware of the fact that the Department of Justice regularly, as a matter of routine, examines legislation for charter compliance. Will this prevent a charter challenge? Of course not. Are we to be reticent to pass laws because a lawyer, an interest group, or an individual may decide to launch a charter challenge? I would respectfully submit that that would be irresponsible, particularly knowing what is at stake. There are literally lives at stake. That is not rhetoric. That is not an overstatement because we know the result of inaction here. We have seen it far too often, and it is going on as we gather here.
We know that this type of action is also going to require much more than simply passing bills. It will require a very progressive and aggressive public education effort. It will require having teachers, parents, police, counsellors, public servants, and I respectfully submit, everyone we possibly can bring to this cause, talking to young people, talking to everyone, about the necessity for responsible action when using the Internet because it is a powerful instrument to have that information in the palm of one's hand but it also requires responsibility and responsible action.
That is what this legislation is about. That is what the bill intends to do. If it is irresponsible, illegal, and dangerous action, we want the police and public law enforcement to have the means to act and to call people to account who have defrauded the elderly of their money, who have perpetrated or attempted to perpetrate acts of terrorism, bullying, or other illegal activity.
The stories themselves, the personal tragedies, are there. They are heartbreaking. I have heard time and time again during consultations that I have been involved with, “What is the government going to do? When is the government going to do it?”
This is what parents are most concerned about. I have not had one parent say to me, “I wish you could just study this more. I wish you could somehow slow this process down so that we could hear from more experts”. They are telling us to do something about it. That is what we are attempting to do, not somehow derail the effort, which I would submit has thus far been quite a non-partisan effort. It has been one that has garnered attention, but only because the stakes are so high, I would suggest.
In fact, I would remind the chamber that we are acting on recommendations that came from federal, provincial and territorial working groups on cybercrime. The working group already studied it extensively, considered whether cyberbullying was adequately being addressed under the Criminal Code, and found it lacking. It found there was a need that had to be filled.
In July of last year, the Department of Justice, on behalf of all federal, provincial, and territorial partners, publicly released an extensive report that was available to the committee. It is entitled “Cyberbullying and the Non-consensual Distribution of Intimate Images”. All of that and more consultation led to this point, and the working group made nine unanimous recommendations with respect to the criminal law response. It is significant to note that the very first recommendation in that report calls for a multi-pronged, multi-sectoral approach to the issue of cyberbullying. It calls upon all levels of government to continue to build on the initiatives to address, in a comprehensive manner, this serious issue of cyberbullying.
Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse and support that recommendation. It recognizes that the current situation is intolerable and inadequate. I think most experts agree that something had to be done, and that is where we are. We are now at a point where criminal law reform represents part of this larger multi-sectoral approach that is required.
Returning to the bill before us today, I am pleased to note that all of the proposals contained in the bill were in fact recommended by the provincial, territorial, and federal working group, and supported by provincial and territorial attorneys general, I am quick to add. The bill has two main goals: create the new Criminal Code offence, as I have referred to it already; and, importantly, modernize the investigative powers of the Criminal Code to enable police to effectively and efficiently investigate cyberbullying and other crimes committed via the Internet, or that involve electronic evidence.
The preservation of evidence is a very important part of this. Specifically, the modernization portion of the bill contains amendments to the Criminal Code, the Competition Act, the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act to ensure that the laws are suitable for the technologically advanced world that we now live in. There is a common thread in these amendments, in this effort, and that is to provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need in the 21st century to fight crime, and continue, I am quick to add, to respect the civil liberties of all Canadians.
Let me conclude by saying that the proposed new offence and the complementary amendments that would fill an existing gap in the Criminal Code are aimed at providing broader protection for all victims and deterring criminal behaviour. This legislation is not a complete answer, and it would be untrue if I were to suggest that this was the final answer to all of the concerns expressed throughout this process. Yet, it is a key piece of the broader response that is necessary to address this complex issue.
I strongly urge members to support the continued examination of the bill at the committee in its current form, and not to interfere in that process, not to derail that process, not to in any way slow up the passing of this bill. The last thing that parents, particularly those who have children who have experienced this, want to see is any sort of delay or derailment of the process. I am quoting Glen Canning when I say he was of the belief that had this law been in place, perhaps his daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons, would still be with us today.