House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agencies.

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The House resumed from March 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-567, an act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add my voice to this private member's bill that would amend the Access to Information Act. The Access to Information Act is a piece of legislation that keeps governments to account. No matter what government is in power, giving people the right to access information keeps everybody on their toes. When we are governing this country, we have to ensure that Canadians have a right to information that the government collects on them, and a right to the information on the actions of a particular government. If we were not to participate in active and proactive access to information, it would create a lot of secrecy. We would not be able to keep a government to account.

Our access to information laws have been there for many years now, but there comes a time to review our legislation and update it with the times. This piece of legislation would help access to information commissioners do their jobs in getting information, compel governments to provide the information, and ensure there is recourse for individuals who do not get the information they are seeking to go to an information commissioner and put out a case.

Also, there is a need for timely disclosure of information. Quite often information is not disclosed in a timely manner. Some of these requests are legitimate. If there are many documents that the various departments have to go through, that is important to know.

However, over the years, governments have more and more not been compelled to disclose information. In an article, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression reported that from 1999 to 2000 the federal government disclosed information from requests under the act about 40% of the time. It is not acceptable that only 40% of the time it is disclosing information. However, by 2011-12, under the current government, that number dropped to 21%.

A recent study for the Centre for Law and Democracy reported that Canada ranked 56 out of 96 countries for the quality of its information laws. It clearly identifies a need to change our information laws. Whether it is by design that this information has been made available less and less, it is something that needs to be addressed.

As stated in its summary, the bill would do the following, among other things:

(a) give the Information Commissioner of Canada the power to order government institutions to release documents;

(b) require government institutions to create records to document their decisions, recommendations and actions;

(c) establish an explicit duty to comply with orders of the Information Commissioner; and

(d) provide that those orders may be filed with the Federal Court and enforced as if they were judgments of that Court.

Time and again, we see the Information Commissioner having to go to the court to compel the government to release information. This is a long and drawn-out process, and it needs to be updated.

With regard to order-making powers, we recently saw an example with our fair elections act bill, where the current Conservative government does not want to make order-making powers that would compel different commissioners of the House of Commons to provide information. This is something we have been calling for on that piece of legislation, but also on this one. It would give order-making powers to compel the release of documents to the Information Commissioner. We are not talking about just releasing it to anyone, but to allow the Information Commissioner to have the tools to do her job and to release the information to that office. That is the office that would make the decision on what information should be released.

Of course, there are always good reasons for information not to be released, such as to protect public safety, public security, the armed forces, individuals' rights of information, and commercial confidence. There is always a good set of reasons why information should not be released, but we should allow the Information Commissioner to have the ability to see that information, compel the government to provide the information to that office, and for that office to make the decision on whether the information is to be released. It should not be the government department in question.

Bill C-567 contains commitments made by the Conservative Party in its 2006 election campaign platform, “Stand up For Canada”. In 2006, after the Conservatives were in opposition for a number of years, they saw a need to update our access to information laws and thought enough of it that they put it in their platform. However, since they have become government, they have not done a whole lot on that. A lot of these commitments should be supported by all members of the House, including the government. The Conservatives are the ones who made these commitments in their platform, and it is important.

It would give the Information Commissioner the power to order departments to release information to her. A freedom of information request goes to a particular department, and each department has an individual or individuals who review that information and release the information to the person who made the request. Then, if the person who requested the information is not satisfied that all the information was received, he or she can ask the Information Commissioner to review the request to see what was and was not given. The only way to do that is if the Information Commissioner can obtain all of the documents and review them for herself. That is essential to freedom of information legislation.

Currently, if a department fails to release documents, the Information Commissioner may have to go to court to challenge the release. A lot of time and effort goes into making sure that people's information is released. When the Information Commissioner has to go to court, lawyers and the applicable department are involved, and it could take a long time. This is something we are trying to avoid. We should allow the Information Commission to be the one to look at the information and decide what information is to be released.

The commissioner has no authority to review information that the government has failed to release claiming cabinet confidence. Cabinet confidence is a very important part of our system, but at any time the government could say that everything is a cabinet confidence. If a piece of information is being requested, it is easy for the government to say it falls under cabinet confidence and it cannot release it. There needs to be a backstop. There needs to be an individual or a department, which is the Information Commissioner, to confirm whether it is cabinet confidence or not. The Information Commissioner is appointed to work on everyone's behalf, and that is the in between on that. Of course, cabinet confidences cannot be disclosed, but to have everything put into that broad window really does not give access to information any teeth in our country.

The current Information Commissioner has indicated her support for this particular reform. It has been on the table for several years now, and it is important. I am hopeful that we can move this piece of legislation through this place to committee to review it. It is a very important piece of legislation to keeping government to account on the governing of our country. My party will be pleased to support this piece of legislation, and I hope that all parties do.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay.

I am very proud to support my colleague from Winnipeg Centre on this bill dealing with the right of Canadians to access information. This is not a policy-wonk issue. This is about ensuring the government is held accountable to the people, and not as is the case of the government, where the people are supposed to be somehow accountable to the government, with its widespread snooping that we know is going on across the country.

The principles of this bill are very straightforward. In 2014, it almost sounds radical, in terms of a government that is so obsessively opposed to ensuring that the officers of Parliament have the tools they need to ensure any levels of compliance in following the laws of this country by the government.

We will go through the principles that the bill lays out. The principles are to give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of documents, and to expand the coverage of this act to all crown corporations, offices of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers' money or perform public functions. It is to consider the exclusion of cabinet confidences. The government says all the time, “Oh, you cannot see those documents. They belong to our cabinet”. The bill would have them reviewed by the Information Commissioner to see whether or not those exclusions are fair. It would oblige public officials to create records to document the decisions that the government makes when it decides it is not going to release documents. It would provide a general public interest override for all exceptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of government. It would also ensure that all exemptions from the disclosure of government information are justified only on the basis of the harm or injury that would result from the disclosure, not simply blanket exemption rules.

The world where Canada was once a world leader in access to information and accountability for citizens is now behind Russia, Colombia, the gangster state of Honduras, and Nigeria, in terms of its citizens getting access to information. It has fallen year after year.

These recommendations sound almost radical, very reformist, but these five recommendations were the five promises made by the Conservative Party in the 2006 election. These were the first five promises that were broken by the government.

When we look at this, we can see why the Conservatives set out, after misrepresenting themselves and telling the Canadian people that they would stand up to end the culture of secrecy in Ottawa, to break those promises first. By excluding information, creating black holes of documents in ministerial offices, and continually obstructing the work of the officers of Parliament, the government has been able to create an unprecedented level of obstruction, secrecy, political misinformation, and just plain thuggery.

The Canadian people need to understand that the officers of Parliament are the referees, the ones who make sure that the government plays by the rules. Yet, we see unprecedented attacks, ensuring that the officers of Parliament do not have the ability to challenge whatever the Prime Minister and his thuggish minions decide.

The former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, was attacked and undermined. We see the government even attacking the head of the Supreme Court of Canada. We see that attack on Marc Mayrand, Elections Canada. We see the insinuation and the lies that are told about people who protect the interests of the Canadian people.

Let us look at what has happened under the government. I will talk about the recent report, released just a few weeks ago by Suzanne Legault, on the interference and the breach of law by Conservative staffers in interfering with the quasi-constitutional right of Canadians to get information.

This is what Suzanne Legault says in her report about the government:

The Access to Information Act is the legal framework that confirms a quasi-constitutional right of citizens to access government information and establishes an objective and non-partisan process for obtaining that information.

The integrity and neutrality of the access system depends on strong leadership from the top.

Well, they are obviously not going to get that from the government.

Ministers and senior managers must ensure their employees know their responsibilities with regard to access to information, and the limitation of their roles. Political and institutional leaders must ensure that their organizations follow the policies and procedures governing...access....

What Suzanne Legault found in her report was that political staffers Sébastien Togneri, Marc Toupin, and Jillian Andrews interfered with the rights of Canadians to get information; that the ministerial staff testified that they were aware that they did not have the delegated authority under the act to interfere with the information; that they also were aware that those with delegated authority had made the decision to release documents to the public because it was in the public interest; and that despite being aware of these facts, these political staffers in the Conservative Party undermined the law, by refusing and overriding the delegated authorities in the civil service, to keep the documents suppressed. According to Commissioner Legault, this was part of a culture of keeping the minister happy.

What we see now, and this is where this gets into the unaccountable world of the government, is that the commissioner does not have the legal authority to press fines or to hold these political staffers to account for the possible breaking of the laws of Canada. No, she has to go to the minister and ask the minister to decide whether the minister will hold the his or her own staff to account.

The Information Commissioner has written to the minister saying that these five files on which the commissioner has concluded there was interference will be forwarded to the appropriate body. The appropriate body is the RCMP, because we are talking about crimes committed in a minister's office. What does the minister respond?: “it would not be a prudent use of the RCMP's limited resources to refer these...files to them”.

We have a minister daring to speak on behalf of the RCMP about crimes committed in her own office.She says that it is not prudent, because the RCMP does not have the time to look into it. That is the notion of accountability in the government, which is that it is okay for Conservatives to break the rules, that it is okay for them to break the laws. They will choose to speak for the RCMP on whether laws have been broken, based on political expediency. It would not be prudent, they say. The Information Commissioner has to ask the people who committed the crimes, who oversaw this in their own office, to see if they will turn it over to the appropriate authorities.

This is a far cry from another promise made by the Prime Minister to the Canadian people, which he broke, and it is probably one of the most cynical statements that has ever been made. He said, in 2006,

There's going to be a new code on Parliament Hill. Bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison.

He did not tell us, though, that he only meant it if one is a Liberal. If one is a Conservative who breaks the rules, he or she will be promoted. If a Conservative breaks the law, he or she can work right in the Prime Minister's Office, perhaps as his lawyer or one of his chief advisers. If one is a fraudster like Bruce Carson, one could actually get promoted and work in the Prime Minister's Office.

This is the culture of contempt Conservatives have for the Canadian people. It comes down to one of their fundamental pillars, which is their ability to retain secrecy. We see situations now where the Department of National Defence says that it is perfectly okay to refuse to allow documents to be released for at least 1,000 days. Other documents are simply blacked out page after page.

This is not democratic accountability. This is not in any way meeting the basic tests laid out in the laws of Canada. We see a government that believes it is above the laws of Canada. We will talk later today about the Conservatives' online snooping. We find now, contrary to the laws of this country, that every 20 seconds, someone from a government agency picks up the phone and demands information on Canadians, and they get it, for whatever reason.

The bill is about whether the Conservatives lied to the people of this country in 2006. They made these promises. This was part of their election platform. We are saying that they should stand up on the promise they made to the people in 2006, or my God, how far they have fallen.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today in the House in support of an act to amend the Access to Information Act, Bill C-567.

There is a critical issue at play here, and that is the transparency of government. Many have spoken through many years in simple and profound terms about the centrality of this characteristic, transparency, in a good, and importantly, democratic government. The concept is simple enough. Absent the ability of citizens and elected representatives to see into the workings of government to access information concerning the decisions and decision-making processes of government, government is free from scrutiny.

Access to information is a precondition for the kind of government we want, one that is accountable to the opposition and to the electorate. Importantly, we are talking about a continuous state of accountability, and by extension, constant access to the information necessary to ensure that condition.

We all agree, in words if not in deeds, in principle if not in practice, that accountability should not rise and recede with the electoral cycle. No one professes the least satisfaction with a system that would allow government to disappear and operate behind a curtain between opportunities to throw it out.

One can find a long and interesting history of this bill and the principles of transparency and accountability that motivate it. A good place to start is 2005. With the Access to Information Act nearly two decades old, then information commissioner John Reid put forward a package of legislative reform for consideration. My colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, put forward that package in the form of private member's legislation in 2006, 2008, and again in 2011. While it never passed, it is not as though there was not support outside of this House for greater access to information.

In February 2009, then federal information commissioner Robert Marleau released his 12 recommendations for strengthening the Access to Information Act. The House access, privacy, and ethics committee issued a report in June of that year endorsing some of those recommendations. In 2010, there was a call from information and privacy commissioners across this country for more open government.

There are calls for reform of the act. I remember not long after being elected that a constituent, who was at one time a journalist and an editor for more than one national newspaper chain, came to my office for a chat. At the time, I was the critic for military procurement, and the government's plan to purchase F-35s was a hot topic. In that context, we were talking about access to information.

“As a general rule”, he advised, “if you want to know what's happening in Canada, cross the border into the United States and ask from there. Government is far more open there”. I confess that I was shocked by that, but my experience has proven this to be true.

More importantly, greater authorities have done ample analysis on this issue to support the contention that here at home, we find ourselves in very sad shape on this important measure of democratic government. For example, an international report comparing Canada to four other parliamentary democracies, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, put Canada in last place on access to information. That report graded us an “F”, for fail, in fact.

In 2011, a joint project by the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy and the Madrid-based Access Info Europe ranked Canada in 51st place against measures of access to information.

In 2013, Canada's information and privacy commissioners and ombudspersons passed a resolution on modernizing access and privacy laws for the 21st century that included recommendations to improve access to information. Just last November, Suzanne Legault, our federal Information Commission, tabled her annual report to Parliament, which highlighted weaknesses in the information system that need to be urgently addressed.

According to the Information Commissioner:

All together, these circumstances tell me in no uncertain terms that the integrity of the federal access to information program is at serious risk....

It is imperative that the problems in the system be fixed promptly and substantively.

Here we are today with a substantive and obviously prompt response to problems in the system.

Now, this is not the full package of reforms to the act the member for Winnipeg Centre previously tabled in this House. Instead, Bill C-567 is, in his terms, “a modest effort and seeks to address only those aspects of reform on which there is a stated and documented consensus”.

The bill, therefore, contains six key clauses.

The first would give the Information Commissioner of Canada the power to make orders to compel the release of information that in his or her view should be released.

The second would expand the coverage of the act to all crown corporations, officers of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers' money or perform public functions.

The third would subject the exclusion of cabinet confidences to the review of the Information Commissioner of Canada.

The fourth would require public officials to create and retain documents and records necessary to document their actions or decisions.

The fifth would provide for a general public interest override for all exemptions so that the public interest would be put ahead of the secrecy of the government.

The sixth and final part would ensure that all exemptions from the disclosure of government information would be justified only on the basis of harm or injury that would result from the disclosure and not on blanket exemption rules.

Let me applaud my colleague for Winnipeg Centre for being such a consistent, indeed stubborn, advocate for greater openness and transparency, not just over time, but importantly, within this House. Over time, there have been just a handful who have led this cause from a seat in this place. There are others who have called for reform of the act and for greater openness and transparency, but rarely from inside this place. The former selves of the Conservative government are one such example.

In fact, the substance of the bill, the six simple points set out above, as the member for Winnipeg Centre happily acknowledges, is lifted straight from the 2006 electoral platform of the current Conservative government. Throwing back the curtains and shining a light into the dark recesses of government was once a good idea, they thought. In fact, they raised the principles of openness and transparency and accountability into an ideology unto itself. Fair enough, but now, having listened to this debate and having read the speeches from across the aisle, we find, again, that they left the white horse they rode in on tied up outside.

We have a government justifying keeping those curtains shut tight and the light out, justifying governing hidden from the gaze and scrutiny of those whose lives and country they govern. “How can we be open and honest all at the same time?”, they ask, in opposition to the bill and in opposition to their former selves.

It is a government obsessed with ensuring its own privacy but equally obsessed with knowing the business of Canadians. The Conservatives' objection to governing in the light of day comes coincident with news, further evidence, I should say, that they have virtually no regard for the privacy of Canadians, it just being revealed that the current government has made 1.2 million requests for private information from telecommunications companies. So egregious is this level of warrantless snooping into the phone and Internet records of Canadians that we, the NDP, are dedicating the rest of the day in the House to a motion calling on the government to take better care to safeguard the privacy of Canadians and to put an end to indiscriminate requests and the disclosure of the personal information of Canadians.

There is an opportunity here today for reconciliation, for the government to reconcile its current self with its former self, for the government to reconcile what it proposed in opposition with what it does in government, to reconcile its brand with its product and its ideology with its practice, to reconcile its obsessive grip on its own privacy with its disregard for the privacy of Canadians. I urge it to support Bill C-567.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today on behalf of the people of Gatineau to wholeheartedly support the bill introduced by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, Bill C-567, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document).

I never would have thought that we would need to go to the Conservative government and make such a direct, clear and strong case for this bill. This is a common-sense bill, and people have been calling for it for decades. A society that lacks transparency and access to information is crippled in many ways.

This is all the more surprising considering that back in 2006 the Conservative government promised to be more transparent and accountable than previous governments. I know because I lost my seat in 2006. I remember full well that people bought into that Conservative promise. People put their faith in the Conservative government, but they have been regretting that decision ever since. It is unfortunate.

Open access to information is the foundation of government accountability. Our system is in crisis, but I will come back to that a bit later.

In September 2013, which was not very long ago, I was a member of the Barreau du Québec. To maintain our licence, we have to participate in professional development. That is why I had the pleasure of taking part in a day-long seminar at the University of Ottawa for Right to Know Day and Germain Brière Day. It was fascinating to listen to the panellists who participated.

We heard many things during that day. I just about fell over when I heard access to information experts say that, according to a recent Centre for Law and Democracy study, Canada ranks fifth worldwide when it comes to access to information. They also said that Canada performed poorly in a comparison of the Access to Information Act with provincial legislation. Unfortunately, in Canada, various levels of government tend to take their cue from each other, which means things are likely to get worse over time.

What are the leading-edge standards for access to information? Various panellists talked about that. I especially enjoyed the panel on the need and the right to know, which included Robert Fife, a CTV journalist and host and a recipient of the Charles Lynch Award for outstanding news coverage, and Benoît Pelletier, the former minister of intergovernmental affairs and a constitutional law expert. That day, Guy Giorno, a partner at Fasken Martineau, delivered an extraordinary presentation. Everyone knows him because of his connection to the Prime Minister.

I was so impressed to hear these people agree that Canadian society should be a lot more open and transparent and that the general public should have more access to information. As many people said to Mr. Giorno, a man I respect, it might have been nice had he given that kind of advice to his boss back in the day. Given the Prime Minister's Alliance and Reform background, we had high hopes, because that was what he hinted at in several respects.

As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, in 2006, the government was elected in the wake of the sponsorship scandal. The former auditor general was the government's shining star and it hid behind her. With hard work and the help of her team and the media, she managed to uncover what was likely the biggest scandal in Canadian history so that such a thing would never happen again.

I think that is very sad. It would be nice to believe that we learn from history and that the negative aspects, at least, do not repeat themselves, but unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, we got a government that made a point of promising us a law on government accountability with more teeth and then finally introduced a really weak bill. As a result, we are seeing scandal after scandal from the Conservative government.

We are talking about access to information legislation, yet we have never had such a secretive government in the entire history of Canada. If the Prime Minister has been looking for a legacy to leave behind, he has found one. After all these years as Prime Minister, I think that he will go down in history as the most secretive Prime Minister this Parliament has ever known. Soon we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada. Unfortunately, those 150 years include these Conservative years, which we will remember with a bit of a shudder. I hope these years will soon be behind us.

Whether we are talking about the Auditor General—who was a superstar when it suited the Conservatives but is now an outcast—the Chief Electoral Officer or the Parliamentary Budget Officer, all of these individuals in our major institutions have become persona non grata. That is very unfortunate.

There was also the controversial appointment of Justice Nadon. As the justice critic, I nearly fell off my chair when the Prime Minister said that he was yielding to the Supreme Court's decision. That is what everyone usually does because the Supreme Court is the highest court and an extremely important pillar of our democracy. When the highest court renders a decision regarding the legal situation in our country, we yield to it and move forward with it in a positive manner. At least that is what we thought until the Prime Minister showed us what I believe is the most striking side of his personality: his vindictiveness and his refusal to accept different views. That is unfortunate.

When preparing this speech, I consulted statements that the Prime Minister made to his caucus at various points in time, whether it was with regard to the Federal Accountability Act or quite simply their way of being. I came across the following:

“Back in 2002, before the Accountability Act saw the light of day, [the Prime Minister] had some thoughts to share with the House about the idea of a legacy as he criticized the then-Liberal government’s recent Throne Speech, as well as then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin”:

We heard grandiose rhetoric delivering little or even the opposite of what it promises. We heard communication strategies that talked around real issues, ignored previous failures, gave no details, no plans and no price tags. Why? The most obvious explanation is that yesterday's throne speech was not really about anything except two men: one desperate to leave a legacy and the other whose legacy will simply be leading, if only for a short period....

He continued by saying, “What is a legacy? The word is bandied about a lot here. Why does the government not have a legacy after nine years? Creating a real legacy was the reason my party was founded.” Boy, did I laugh this weekend when I read that phrase. “It was not the lure of power nor the attraction of the spotlight. It was not to pad our resumes, reward our friends...”.

Do I have to remind the House about all the nominations the government did in the Senate and elsewhere? I could go on, but I think I will conclude with a letter I received from one of my constituents, Sylvia Renaud.

I asked her for permission to share her cri de coeur and she said, “Go for it”.

Referring to the Prime Minister, she said:

I cannot stand to see that guy leading our country. He gives me panic attacks.

That man is in the process of destroying, and quietly to boot, everything that holds our country together. He is making it hard to provide necessary services to the public (the government keeps cutting and cutting the big bad public service),...cutting transfers to the provinces (health care and education), cutting home mail delivery, at a time when the population is aging...What is this government thinking?

The government buries parliamentarians under mountains of bills and bundles of hastily made amendments in order to confuse people and leave little time for properly studying or reacting to them. Isn't this starting to look like anything but a democracy?

Now he is helping himself to our personal information without asking for permission? He was never given that mandate. Aren't you starting to scared?

By using the highly calculated strategy of remaining silent, by draping himself in a cloak of silence, the Prime Minister has given himself a great power, which is amplified by the fact that he has a majority government:...the justification for all the abuses.

When you think about it, isn't it surprising to see our Prime Minister remain so silent, even invisible, as he runs the country? Isn't it surprising to see this lack of explanation and justification, this refusal to engage in conversation, enter into dialogue, or even listen to the challenges the public is really facing?

My constituent continues on like that. I am issuing the same cri de coeur to the backbenchers who were elected on a platform of transparency, openness and representing their constituents.

For goodness' sake, I urge them to support Bill C-567. It cannot hurt.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to reiterate what has been said by my colleagues, but unfortunately, it is necessary, to try to communicate across the way how the government has let Canadians down on what it has promised for so long. Many of my colleagues have read back what the Conservatives promised in 2006, and it continues to espouse that it is the government that believes in open, transparent and participatory government. However, bill after bill shows that it is going in exactly the opposite direction.

It is really important at the outset to read out what the Conservative government promised were when it ran on a platform of open, transparent and participatory government. In fact, at that time it was commended by Duff Conacher from Democracy Watch as having the best accountability package, and therefore Canadians should consider supporting the Conservatives.

What did the Conservatives promise? They promised: first, they would give the information commissioner the power to order the release of information; second, expand the coverage of the act to all crown corporations, officers of Parliament, foundations and organizations that spend taxpayer money or perform public functions; third, subject the exclusion of cabinet confidences to review by the information commissioner; fourth, oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions; fifth, provide a general public interest override for all exemptions so that the public interest would be put before the secrecy of the government; and finally, ensure that all exemptions from the disclosure of government information would be justified only on the basis of the harm or injury that would result from disclosure, not blanket exemption rules.

Here we are. How long has the government been in power? How many elections has it gone through continuing to promise to have an open, transparent government? What are the exact measures it has failed to bring forward in its accountability legislation? It is exactly those measures.

It is absolutely reprehensible that it is up to the official opposition to table the very measures the government has promised. Therefore, it is very logical, and Canadians out there can very logically presume, that we will have the full support of the government of the day to this excellent bill, Bill C-567 tabled by my colleague. He has tabled exactly the measures that the government long ago promised and that are necessary to ensure we have an open democratic government.

Why would we want to have open disclosure of information to the public? There are a good number of reasons. How about, simply, we have fact-based law-making? How about, when the government is actually delivering on its constitutional duty to consult, consider, and accommodate first nations interests, does it not seem normal and reasonable that it would be necessary for both sides to have access to the same information so they can proceed in a constructive way based on the same facts and information?

The government is actually bragging that it has received 27% more requests for access to information, as if that should mean it is an open, transparent government. It is quite the opposite. It is absolutely reprehensible that there has had to be a 27% increase in the public having to go through the complicated process of a formal access to information request. While the law requires a 30-day response to that information, people have to wait much longer. Why is that critical? Because decisions are made every day by the government that impact Canadians, whether it is health, the environment, drinking water or equal access to education. They need that information to ensure their rights are being considered and looked after.

What are the main provisions Bill C-567 is bringing forward? One of the most important provisions, and as a person who used to draft legislation I fully concur with the proposal, is the first amendment to clarify the purpose of the law and to expand it to make government institutions fully accountable to the public to make good record-keeping necessary by government institutions and that it be fully accessible to the public. Very clearly, that is exactly what an access to information act should provide for. I commend my colleague for coming forward with that proposed amendment, which is very straightforward.

Why is that necessary? Because we have lost track of the times where people have sought access to information and have been denied. Those of us who were in the previous session of Parliament recall when the government absolutely refused to disclose information on the Afghan detainees and were up against the wall. Canadians should have the right to information about the way the government is conducting itself, not only in our country but overseas. It is very important to the reputation of our nation.

The second proposal the member has recommended goes to the application of the law and that the duty to disclose the right of access should take precedence over other laws. The way the law is written right now is it is an exception. The proposal in this private member's bill says that we would still have reasonable exceptions to that, including national security and under the Privacy Act.

The third provision the member is proposing is on record keeping. That is just common sense. How is the public going to gain access to information if the government does not actually record its decisions? We have seen circumstances arise in which the government simply says that there is no record or a record has not been kept because so much of the information has been exchanged by tweet, email or text. This provision is very sensible and would require the documenting of decisions, actions, advice, recommendations, and deliberations.

Why would that be important? We can think of a good number of critical decisions before the country right now, for example, the approval of pipelines to the west coast. Even though departments are mandated by legislation to give ministers the powers to make decisions, those decisions are increasingly concentrated in the cabinet. Why is that significant? Because the legislation right now excludes decisions by the cabinet and the PCO. The recommendation in the legislation is that there should be more open access, in fact a lessening of the exclusions and exemptions, and that cabinet confidences should not necessarily be automatically excluded. I am advised that Canada is the only commonwealth nation that actually provides for cabinet exclusion.

There is also a recommendation to add a public interest criterion. That seems to be common sense. Obviously, when the government is measuring whether it should be holding information in confidence, if it would be in the public interest rising above all other interests, then that information absolutely should be released.

Duff Conacher with Democracy Watch has called this law, rather than the Access to Information Act, “The Guide to Keeping Information Secret”. That may sound like a rather humorous description of the act, but when we see example after example of the struggles that Canadians go through to simply gain access to information, it is probably an apt description.

Suzanne Legault, who is the Information Commissioner, has actually called for substantial reforms to the legislation. Because the government has not taken action, it is incumbent upon all members of the House to take a serious look at this bill. It contains the kinds of measures that she has been recommending. They are the kinds of measures that a good number of legal experts have been recommending. They exactly parallel the amendments that the government promised to make in 2006, and has still not done so.

I would like to close by simply speaking to an area that I am deeply concerned about and have had the opportunity to work in for a number of decades, and that is the area of the protection of the environment. Nowhere is it more important to have access to information than the protection of the environment: access to timely science; access to deliberations by the government, whether it is a regulated a toxin or whether it will make a decision to protect a river; and on its goes.

It is important to keep in mind that the government often forgets or ignores undertakings that it has previously made. The government is committed to the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, in which it has an obligation to promote transparency and public participation in environmental decision making. It actually has an obligation under article 4 of the agreement to publish in advance any such measure it proposes to adopt and provide interested persons and parties reasonable opportunity to comment. There is obviously not much point in commenting unless people can see the details of what the government is considering.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to close the debate on my bill, Bill C-567. I appreciate the member for Victoria who seconded the bill.

I thank all my colleagues who have entered into the debate. I am surprised and disappointed that no members from the government side have seen fit to enter into the debate on this important subject.

In the few minutes that I have, let me say that this is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, that the public has a right to know what their government is doing with their money. The instrument by which they are allowed to exercise that right is the Access to Information Act, our freedom of information laws.

The reason I put have forward this bill is that our access to information regime is broken. It is dysfunctional. The wheels have fallen off it. If I was in Newfoundland, I would say “Da arse is out of er.” The alarm has been sounded by better speakers than I in this whole regard.

Part of the problem is that the government treats information as if it were theirs, as if it has some proprietary right to information and it will ration it out in little tidbits, only when necessary and only when it serves its purpose. The government is completely off-centre on this. It is not the government's information. It does not belong to the government. It does not belong to the bureaucracy. It does not belong to the public servants who created it. It belongs to the people, the taxpayers of Canada, who commissioned that information and whose tax dollars paid for its creation. The public has a right to know.

The government members used to profess this. Members on the government side will recognize all six points in my private members' bill, because all six points come from this very document, “Stand up for Canada”, the Conservative Party of Canada's federal election platform.

Some of the members across stood on doorsteps and promised Canadians, with this very document, that if they were elected, they would give the freedom of information commissioner the right to compel evidence and documents, the duty to document. All of the six points I put in my bill are directly from this document.

Either the government members are going to support their own promise to Canadians, or we are going to witness the outer limits of hypocrisy. They are going to push the envelop and expand the notion of hypocrisy to something that Canadians have never seen.

Never before has a government been challenged by its own words in so obvious and clear a way. It was tempting for me, as the chairman of the access to information, privacy and ethics committee, to put forward a whole rewrite of the bill. God knows, there are many clauses of the bill that would benefit from amendment. However, I used some restraint and I limited my bill to exactly the promises the Conservatives made.

How, in all good conscience, will my Conservative colleagues stand later this week and vote against their own promise to Canadians?

It was the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish in the Liberal years. A lot of Canadians believed the Conservatives who said that when they were elected, things would be different. I guess in their minority government, they could have used the excuse that it was a minority, but if they had a majority, they would fulfill all the lofty promises they made to Canadians.

Well, they have had a majority for years, and now they have the opportunity to make manifest those lofty promises they made at the doorstep by voting for this bill, at least sending it to committee, so we can, for the first time since 1983, have a serious review of the Access of Information Act at a parliamentary committee.

In my closing remarks, I will quote the former information commissioner, “A government, and a public service, which holds tight to a culture of secrecy is a government and public service ripe for abuse”. Secrecy, I could not agree with him more.

The seeds of corruption are planted in the dark, and the black shroud of secrecy will become the most lasting hallmark of that administration if it does not stand, be honest with Canadians and vote for what it promised it would do as soon as it can on Bill C-567.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed

No.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Yea.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Nay.

Access to Information ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 7, 2014, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should follow the advice of the Privacy Commissioner and make public the number of warrantless disclosures made by telecommunications companies at the request of federal departments and agencies; and immediately close the loophole that has allowed the indiscriminate disclosure of the personal information of law-abiding Canadians without a warrant.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by stating that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Timmins—James Bay.

I am very pleased today to move this motion to ensure that justice is served for Canadians. However, I am very disappointed to have to rise once again to protest this government's extremely reprehensible actions.

I would have thought that, after three years, it would have finally understood. However, once again, the government has been caught spying on its own people.

With such ridiculous statements as, for example, if we did not support bill C-30 we were siding with pedophiles, the government has constantly tried to minimize the impact of its proposed measures on the lives of Canadians, all the while boasting and insinuating that it is proposing reasonable and necessary measures, which has been proven to be false by many impartial stakeholders.

The Conservative government called our assessment “speculation and unwarranted fearmongering” or a series of outlandish conspiracies made up by the NDP. After being harshly criticized by the public, media, and civil liberty and rights groups, as well as by privacy experts, the government finally listened and withdrew these bills or let them die on the order paper.

However, we still need to point out that exploiting the personal information on Canadians without reasonable cause and without a warrant is a huge violation of their privacy. I do not think I have heard about 1.2 million criminals being convicted of accessing personal information in 2011.

Last week, new revelations showed that government agencies and departments allegedly asked telecommunications companies to share personal information with them without a warrant. Not once, not a hundred times or a thousand times. They asked 1.2 million times.

We condemn this highly questionable tactic, since there is no legislative oversight to determine whether the government's reasons for accessing this information were valid.

Like many Canadians, I understand and support the need for security authorities to have the tools they need to fight crime in our country and to make us feel safe at home.

However, how can the government justify 1.2 million requests in a single year to achieve that goal? That happened in 2011, and the government was not required to explain what this information was necessary or how and for what it would be used.

When I think of the majority of Canadians who abide by the law and who could be affected by these requests, I find it unacceptable, disgusting and incomprehensible that the government is treating them like criminals.

The privacy of Canadians has been taken lightly by past Liberal and Conservative governments for far too long, and Canadians affected by the thousands of data breaches in government agencies are paying the price. To hear that the government is snooping on them as though they were common criminals when they have done nothing wrong is another blow on top of it all. Last week the government tried to make us believe these requests were made for public safety reasons, but let us look at the case of the CBSA.

In response to my order paper question, after reviewing the number of requests made from the CBSA in one year, we find that no requests were made in exigent circumstances. The 18,849 others were made in non-exigent circumstances. From these requests, only two were made for national security reasons, none for terrorism alerts, none for foreign intelligence, and none on the grounds of child exploitation, so it is hard to believe the government when it says that these millions of requests were made for national security reasons when the numbers speak a very different truth.

Canadians understand that law enforcement institutions need information to identify, catch and judge criminals. However, when the government makes 1.2 million requests for Canadians' private information from telecommunications companies per year, that is not just about cracking down own crime; that is spying.

The vast majority of Canadians are law-abiding. There is no reason for the government to engage in such broad spying activities. If the Canadian government decides to spy on its own citizens, it should do so only if it has reason to suspect them and only with a warrant.

If the law permits this kind of warrantless spying, the law must be changed immediately, and that is what the NDP is trying to do today. If the government needs a warrant to listen to Canadians' phone conversations, the same should apply to their online activities.

We understand that certain extremely urgent circumstances do not permit the obtaining of a warrant. However, the information we received from the Privacy Commissioner last week goes far beyond the imaginable: 1.2 million requests for subscriber data without a warrant is unacceptable and unjustifiable.

In Canada, we are very lucky to have a legal framework for obtaining a warrant. That framework protects Canadians and prevents abuses by the authorities. Unfortunately, there is a loophole in the system the Liberals introduced.

Today, the Conservatives are taking advantage of that loophole to spy on their own citizens. Clearly, the government is no longer in control of the warrantless disclosure procedures.

As I said earlier, the Conservatives' spying cannot be justified on national security grounds. Moreover, it is done in secret. The Privacy Commissioner is not even informed.

If the government had a real, viable motive for snooping on Canadians, it would have no problem whatsoever with warning Canadians when they were being snooped on, it would have no issue working with the OPC, and it would strengthen our laws to better protect Canadians against these types of abuses.

We do not know why, how often or how long the government has been spying. What is even more incredible is that the Conservatives have long been trying to expand the legal framework around requesting information without a warrant. If the government decides to spy on Canadians, there should be just cause, it should be overseen by the courts and it should happen only under exceptional circumstances.

What is even more ridiculous than the government's unwillingness to protect Canadians' privacy is its complete lack of understanding about the scope of the problem. Just last week, the Privy Council Office asked that all departments provide details about the number of personal information requests submitted to various telecommunications companies over the past three years.

That proves that the government has abused the loophole in the law to the point where it has lost control of its departments on this issue.

The Conservatives have proven that they are unable to protect the privacy of Canadians. The Privacy Act dates back to 1983, before the arrival of the Internet, and PIPEDA has not been updated since 2000, before the age of social media.

Instead of strengthening the laws and increasing government accountability, the Conservatives are moving in the other direction. Instead of protecting Canadians' privacy, Bills C-13 and S-4 will increase the likelihood that the government will spy on its own citizens. From an ethical standpoint, that is extremely problematic.

With Bill C-13 alone, the government would expand the number of people who can make requests for subscriber data so that even people like Rob Ford could access our personal information. It would create legal immunity for voluntary disclosure of personal information and it would expand the circumstances under which personal information could be disclosed.

As if that were not enough, the government is using taxpayers' money to spy on them. Government agencies pay telecommunications companies between $1 and $3 for each information request. That means that, at the very least, Canadian taxpayers have paid between $1.2 million and $3.6 million to be spied on. I say that is the minimum because only some of the telecommunications companies have disclosed how often they provide information to the government.

If all of those information requests were justified, and if the telecommunications companies were not worried about disclosing their practices, I would likely not be making this speech today. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are trying so hard to hide their spying that it is worrisome.

What are they using all that personal information for? Can they even justify the importance of the information? It is clear that the government believes that Canadians are criminals because it spies on them without their knowledge, as though it suspected them of something. This motion defends the privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians, and it is meant to counter the government's nefarious attempts to get information by the back door.

Since becoming the critic for digital issues, I have risen dozens of times to draw attention to and criticize the alarming state of our privacy laws. Laws that are meant to properly protect us in the digital age should have been revised years ago and are now unsuitable for protecting the public and our children.

In my time as opposition critic for digital issues, I have seen not one but four different pieces of legislation introduced in the House that would facilitate government snooping instead of fixing the problem.

Canadians are worried. They are right to be. The Internet that they have known as an open and free space for social and political discussions is threatened by the snooping of their very own government. Law-abiding citizens should be able to benefit from the Internet without the threat of being treated like common criminals.

I ask all my colleagues to vote in favour of our motion in order to restore Canadians' trust in matters concerning the protection of their privacy and of the Internet as the social and political tool it should be.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague. I have great respect for the excellent work she does for Canadians on this very important file.

I would like to ask her about the spin we are hearing from the government. Conservatives keep changing their story about how they actually somehow care for Canadians' private information, and the Minister of Industry is telling us that Bill C-13 and Bill S-4 will fix the problem. They will fix it, all right.

Under Bill C-13, anyone designated as a public officer will be able to gather information without a warrant. It is in the bill. Under clause 20, what a peace officer or public officer would be in the Criminal Code would include wardens, reeves of small towns, sheriffs, justices of the peace, and persons designated under the Fisheries Act, meaning that the Fisheries Act would be able to get information from the telecoms about folks in Timmins—James Bay who are out fishing. Of course, mayors are included as well.

It seems to me that the government is now moving backward to actually legalize widespread snooping and open up snooping to all manner of people who have no business being able to find out personal information, what people do on the Internet, or who they phone.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague why she thinks the government is telling Canadians that allowing widespread snooping by wardens, reeves, sheriffs, mayors, and people designated under the Fisheries Act will somehow protect Canadians' privacy.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his work on this very important file. I was pleased to take over for him. I have a lot of ground to cover, considering all the work he did.

To answer his question, indeed, it is quite contradictory for the government to claim to be introducing a wonderful bill that does everything to protect Canadians' privacy, when in fact, there is another bill that supposedly deals with cyberbullying and contains 60 or so pages on lawful access alone. The government is in the process of broadening the circumstances under which personal information can be obtained without a warrant and increasing the number of people who can access that information.

We know that the government alone has already made 1.2 million requests for information. I ask Canadians to imagine the impact that the change in definition will have on the number of requests for access to personal information made to telecommunications companies without transparency and without the need for a warrant.

This is a serious problem and I sincerely hope that the Conservatives and Liberals will take the first step in protecting Canadians' privacy today by supporting our motion to correct the flaws in the bill.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the member for Terrebonne—Blainville, who does a lot for her constituents. I witnessed that on a few occasions when I went to her riding. She is also responsible for some major files in the House. This is another example of her wonderful work.

We can see that the Conservatives do not really want to ask questions. Members will recall that, in the last election, the Conservatives complained about a census question and said that asking how many washrooms Canadians had in their homes was an invasion of privacy. The Conservatives said that it was not appropriate.

Since coming to power, they have submitted more than one hundred thousand, actually more than one million, requests for personal information to telecommunications companies. We do not even know what kind of questions were asked.

Today, when we are simply asking for a process and a mandate to be outlined, why does the member think that the Conservatives seem to be rather reluctant to prevent the type of abuse that has been taking place for some months?

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the question.

Indeed, this reluctance is very troubling. As we know, they are only supposed to request personal information in cases pertaining to national security. As I said in my speech, only two of the 18,000 requests from the Canada Border Services Agency pertain to national security.

If we demand transparency, perhaps we will discover that the requests are not just about national security. That is something I am wondering about as well.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on this very important issue. The New Democratic Party calls for accountability and an explanation on behalf of Canadians into the widespread spying and interference of Canadians' Internet use and their cellphone use under the current government.

What we are asking for today is eminently reasonable. We are asking simply to ensure the powers of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the member who represents us as a parliamentary officer, who represents the Canadian people, and that she have the authority to ensure that the laws of this land are being followed.

Now, we have a government, of course, that will do anything it can to obstruct the work of the offices of Parliament because right now the offices of Parliament are about the only bulwark standing in the way of the numerous underminings of Canadians' legal rights, and even the illegal activities that are being undertaken by the Conservative Party.

It has been said that one of the foundations of a democracy is to ensure maximum transparency for government and maximum privacy for citizens. However, the current paranoid and secretive government has flipped it. The Conservatives have maximum privacy for their black holes of administration where they refuse to answer the simplest questions, and they are getting maximum transparency on the lives of Canadian citizens to the tune of 1.2 million requests of telecoms last year.

Now that is a conservative number, and I say “conservative” in the way the Conservatives have begun to use this, because not all the telecoms bothered to even respond to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. That is a very disturbing trend.

What does the 1.2 million requests mean? It means that every 27 seconds someone from a government agency, who, we do not know; for what reason, we do not know; for what possible motive, we do not know; picks up a telecom and asks for information about the private lives of Canadian citizens, and gets it without warrant.

Let us debunk the excuses we have heard from the Conservatives on this.

First is the bogeyman excuse. Conservatives use the bogeyman all the time. The bogeyman is out there roaming the streets. The member for Oak Ridges—Markham the other day made it sound like his neighbourhood was a case of Shaun of the Dead. There are these violent criminals and terrorists all over the place and so the Conservatives have to be able to call up a telecom immediately to gather any information they need whenever they want it.

Those laws already exist and it is fairly straightforward to get information if a violent crime is occurring. However, we are being led to believe that the bogeyman is out there and the current government has to stop it.

How does the government define terrorists?

I think we should say that, in this whole piece on spying, we are dealing with the revenge of Vic Toews. I refer members back to February 2012 when Vic Toews branded the new anti-terrorism strategy, “building resilience against terrorism: Canada’s counter-terrorism strategy”.

The government was going to go after terrorists, which included domestic extremism that is “based on grievances--real or perceived--revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights...environmentalism and anti-capitalism”.

If a person is against the Northern Gateway Pipeline, under the current government's framework, he or she is a potential terrorist. Therefore, the government can decide to follow his or her movements, as he or she is one of the bogeymen.

A concern about animal rights is not that of concern for animal rights such as our Prime Minister's wife who tells us that 1,000 murdered or missing women may be a great cause, but they are here for abandoned cats. The government is probably not spying on the Prime Minister's wife. However, someone else who might have concerns about animal rights, and it is in there, is a potential terrorist and worthy of picking up the phone.

One of the other excuses is that the Conservatives are not asking for anything that is not already the norm. It is just like picking up a phone book and looking up a number. Calling a telecom and demanding private information on Canadians is just like using a phone book.

The Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Ann Cavoukian, says that is a load of bunk. She said the following about getting even basic subscriber information such as ISP numbers:

...customer name and address information ties us to our entire digital life, unlike a stationary street address. Therefore, “subscriber information” is far from the modern day equivalent of a publicly available “phone book”. Rather, it is the key to a much wider subset of information.

Then the Conservatives say, “Don't you trust our police?” We certainly would trust the police. However, we also see that Ann Cavoukian has said that at no time have Canadian authorities provided the public with any evidence or reasoning that Canadian law enforcement agencies have been frustrated in the performance of their duties as a result of shortcomings in the current law. The privacy commissioners in their joint letter, also write to the Prime Minister saying, “The capacity of the state to conduct surveillance and access private information while reducing the frequency and vigour of judicial scrutiny” is the heart of the issue.

We all remember when Vic Toews stood up in the House and told Canadian citizens who were concerned about the fact that they were being spied on, that they were basically in league with child pornographers if they had the nerve to stand up for them. That was such a boneheaded move and it caused such a blowback on the government that they had to retract the legislation. Why would the Conservatives show intent on pushing that through? We now know, they were trying to legalize what has become the common practice. Their shadow world of spying on Canadians is not legal. Gathering this information without warrants is not legal. This is why they put forward Bill C-30, to attempt to deal with it. We all remember Vic Toews had one of those pieces, “The Minister may provide the telecommunications service provider with any equipment or other thing that the Minister considers the service provider needs to comply with” their ability to spy on Canadians.

That seemed like such a bizarre request at the time, but we have seen with the NSA and the widespread spying on American citizens and citizens around the world is exactly what Vic Toews was getting at, which is the ability to create mirror sites. The fact that we just learned in Der Spiegel that the NSA tapped the underwater cable network between Europe and U.S.A. to listen in on what ordinary citizens were doing on the Internet. The Conservatives have the same vision. They wanted to legalize that ability, and they were frustrated.

We are hearing the biggest excuse from the Conservatives. They realize the Vic Toews approach of accusing ordinary Canadians of being like child pornographers really did not work, but now they would reassure Canadians that they would fix it. They will fix it all right. They will fix it so that not only they will get to spy on Canadians, but anybody who wants to will be able to spy on Canadians: corporations can spy on Canadians, and all manner of very dubiously named authorities now will be able to spy.

Let us go through some of the issues on Bill S-4 and Bill C-13. According to Michael Geist, Bill S-4 will “massively expand warrantless disclosure of personal information”, because under Bill S-4, “an organization may disclose the personal information without the knowledge and consent of the individual...if the disclosure is made to another organization”. Not the laws of the land, not the RCMP, not anti-terrorism units, but if an individual is in dispute with a corporation over some contractual obligation, it can call their telecom, have their information handed over and they will not be told.

The Conservatives will certainly fix it. They will fix it to make widespread snooping of everything we do all the time perfectly legitimate for any corporation that just phones up and says it wants to know what they are doing on the Internet.

That is not all. Let us look at Bill C-13, which will give a public officer or a peace officer the ability to call telecom, demand information, and the telecoms will receive legal immunity for passing over this private information.

An interesting article in the National Post points out that Rob Ford will now be able to make these requests, because, oh, yes, he is a public officer, and under the act, if Rob Ford wants to find out what his neighbours are doing, interfering with the drug gangs in Rexdale with whom he might be friends, he would actually be able to make the calls.

The Criminal Code describes these peace officers, public officers, as including reeves of small towns, county wardens, who would be able to get information, and even people designated under the Fisheries Act. However, there is another element that is really important. Under the present laws, even with all this snooping that is going on, it has to be part of an investigation. The government would remove the caveat that says this snooping, this spying on the rights of Canadians does not have to have anything to do with an investigation. If the Conservatives want a fishing trip, if they want to keep tabs on them, they will be able to do so.

This needs to be dealt with. This is a government that is spying on law-abiding citizens and treating them as criminals, and it needs to be held accountable for this abuse of Canadians' rights.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his great speech. He mentioned that Bill C-13 will expand the abilities of government agencies and public officers, and even those of certain mayors and certain people in the fisheries department, which is somewhat odd. However, one thing it does is give legal immunity to telecommunications companies that decide to disclose voluntarily customer data.

Although this is a huge loophole in the law that we have created and today we are hoping that we can close this loophole through our motion, one of the things a telecommunications company might think before disclosing data is whether it could get in trouble, be sued, and so forth. That is the one little tiny threshold that we have in place right now. We are removing that with Bill C-13.

I want to ask my colleague this today. Is he scared that we might be creating somewhat of a quasi-governmental spying agency through telecoms?

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out to the folks back home that they have probably noticed that the Conservatives have gone to ground. They do not want to stand up. They do not want to ask questions. They do not want to be accountable for the fact that they believe that in Canada in 2014 anybody who calls about what one does on the Internet or about one's cellphone use should be allowed to get that information.

My colleague's question is excellent and right to the point. I would like to point out to her thatnot only does this vastly expand the ability of anybody, it seems they should have exceptions of who cannot call and get personal information on people, but the immunity provisions for telecoms will mean that nobody is ever going to check up. If police officer X wants to keep track on his ex-wife and who she is meeting, he just calls up. He does not need an investigation. The telecoms are refusing to hand that information over to the Privacy Commissioner.

Will there be abuse? There is going to be lots of abuse, but this abuse will now be perfectly legal. Right now it is not legal and it has been exposed by the Privacy Commissioner, but under the changes to the law, when the industry minister tells Canadians, “Don't worry, we're going to fix it”, they are fixing it all right; the immunity clauses will allow the transfer of private information of one's Internet use or one's cellphone use to anybody under any circumstances. It will not have to explain it and we will never know.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is exactly right. We have a government that seems to have a bit of paranoia as to what is actually happening in the background.

To have 1.2 million requests for personal information is unbelievable. My colleague mentioned the government indicated that it would be willing to give any equipment needed to do that work, yet we have people who have a hard time getting their CPIC clearance until months later and should be going back to work. Is that not what the government should be doing, working to get people to work instead of providing the police with the tools that it needs?

What are people doing already with this information? My colleague here from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek rightly pointed out a situation where someone had tried to travel abroad and was turned around because of her mental health issue that someone found out about. She did not have a criminal record.

Why is the government going in this direction and not speaking up on the safety of Canadians and their privacy?

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have to ask ourselves what is going on in this country when every 27 seconds some unknown person calls and demands information on ordinary Canadians, when this government is stonewalling an inquiry into over 1,100 murdered and missing aboriginal women.

We know in this country that under this government there are two kinds of victims, there are two kinds of criminals. It sits back and tells us that there is no need to investigate what happened to 1,100 young girls and young mothers who were kidnapped, disappeared, or were murdered. That is not of concern to it. However, it wants to know if someone is speaking up on Facebook against the northern gateway, under the 2012 designation that is considered part of its building resilience against terrorism, Canada's first counterterrorism strategy. The fact that it is using our police resources to spy on Canadians when it is failing in its fundamental duty to protect certain segments of our society just because they happen to be aboriginal, I find an abomination.

Opposition Motion—Safeguarding of Personal InformationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 5th, 2014 / 12:30 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney ConservativeMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I am proud and pleased to rise in the House today to speak on the important topic of the privacy of Canadians and public safety.

I will be sharing my time with the hard-working member for Chatham-Kent—Essex.

All governments are responsible for enforcing the laws and protecting national security, and they are also responsible for enabling law-abiding Canadians to live their lives without government interference. The government's role is to protect Canadians and ensure that their privacy is not violated.

It is always important to be mindful of this balance by ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to do its job while law-abiding citizens continue to be free from any form of government harassment. It is with that in mind that I can assure the House that our government and I will strongly oppose the motion put forward by the NDP member for Terrebonne—Blainville.

I will strongly oppose the motion moved today since it does not provide any means of securing Canadians' information and it affects public safety.

Our Conservative government believes that protecting the privacy of law-abiding Canadians is very important. All government agencies, including those responsible for enforcing the law and for protecting national security, are always required to abide by Canadians laws, and that is what they do.

In fact, these agencies are subject to robust, independent oversight and review.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is subject to thorough review by the Security Intelligence Review Committee. SIRC is keeping an eye on CSIS. This committee has significant powers to review decisions and compel documents.

Additionally, it is made up of many eminent Canadians, including a former provincial NDP member, and it boasts as a former member the new premier of Quebec.

The new premier of Quebec was a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Just like former members of the NDP, these members are Canadian citizens who are responsible for ensuring that the agency giving information to the government is complying with the law.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is also subject to review by the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. These are independent agencies created by Parliament to ensure that public complaints about the conduct of RCMP members are reviewed fairly and impartially.

These two agencies ensure that everyone complies with the law. We even increased the powers of this RCMP oversight agency. Unfortunately we did not have the support of the New Democrats. People can count on our Conservative government to protect the privacy of Canadians and ensure their safety.

Now let us examine the type of information that the motion and the NDP are opposed to allowing law enforcement to access.

Only the most basic information, such as the name and phone number, may be released.

In all cases, this is done voluntarily, meaning that a company could decide not to co-operate at any time if it did not feel a certain request met the expectations of its customers.

This information is essential for compensating victims of wrongdoing and finding viable leads in an investigation. I am proud to be responsible for Canada's public safety. Every year, our department releases its annual report on the use of electronic surveillance.

Let me take this opportunity to clear up a misconception being advanced by members opposite. Any form of invasive surveillance, such as a wiretapping interception or looking at the content of any communication, requires a warrant. That is not what we are talking about today. We are talking about phone numbers, names, and addresses.

Let me be clear. What we are talking about today is voluntary disclosure by private businesses to law enforcement. That is the way this model works. This is a Canadian way, but it is also a standard practice that has taken place for many years. Indeed, it was implemented under the previous Liberal government, supported by the NDP, and we find it in G7 countries.

While we need to make sure the privacy of Canadians is protected, we must also ensure that those who break the law face the law, and face it with its full force.

That is why, since 2006, we have implemented over 30 measures to crack down on criminals, often without the opposition's support and even despite its interference. We want criminals to stay behind bars.

Unfortunately, the NDP has voted against such common sense measures. Let me provide examples of these measures: giving victims more information about convicted criminals, ending early parole for white collar fraudsters and drug dealers, cracking down on drug dealers who target our children. This is the law of the land, and I am proud to have supported those measures along with my Conservative colleagues. That is why Canadians know that only the Conservative government can be trusted to keep them safe.

We put a high priority on ensuring law enforcement can do its work, but this is not free-for-all information.

A spokesperson for Bell Canada recently said that Bell will provide law enforcement and other authorized agencies only with basic 411-style customer information such as name and address, which is defined as non-confidential and regulated by the CRTC. Any further information, or anything related to an unlisted number, requires a court order.

My colleagues are also going to talk about a measure that we put forward, a bill that seeks to ensure that Canada enters the digital era and that Canadians' privacy is protected while making sure that our security agencies are able to get the information they need to thwart plots and protect Canadians' lives.

It is a bit ironic that, today, we are debating a motion that seeks to restrict agencies' power and ability to protect Canadians, given that they have to follow the law.

I am proud to say that Canada is safer, more prosperous, and a better place to raise a family than it was prior to our government being elected in 2006. Over these years, it has been clear that this government is committed to protecting victims. It is committed to keeping criminals behind bars, but it is also committed to making the privacy of Canadians a target. That is why I will support our bill bringing Canada into the digital era, but I will oppose this motion.