Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-44. Bill C-44 was introduced shortly after the events of October 22, 2014, which shocked us all.
I know that this bill was not a response from the government to those events, something that was not clear in the speech that my colleague just gave. It seemed like he was saying that it was a response to the attacks that took place in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa, but it was not. Bill C-44 had already been drafted well before those attacks took place. This bill is therefore not a response on the part of the government.
We expect better answers from the Conservative government on what it wants to do to combat terrorism today. There was talk of an announcement around noon. We are anxious to see whether the government is going to present a balanced approach. I am still holding out hope.
With regard to Bill C-44, which is before us today, I would like to say from the outset that the official opposition, the NDP, is going to oppose this bill at third reading. I will try to explain why in my remarks.
I have a few things to say to my colleagues opposite after listening to their speeches. I noted a few things that they said. The sad thing about Bill C-44 and the pressure that the government is putting on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is that the government would have us believe that giving CSIS more power is a good thing. It would be if the government also gave the agency the resources and tools it needs. However, unfortunately, the Conservatives decided to go it alone and did not hold the necessary consultations on Bill C-44. There has also been talk about a balance between public safety and civil liberties, something that we do not see at all in Bill C-44.
The whole national security context is undergoing rapid changes. The nature of the attacks we are facing has changed, and in general, the attackers are not the same either. The problems are changing extremely quickly, particularly because of the new tools that terrorists have and their access to social media.
This brings me to the issue of resources within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. This is a fundamental part of the problem, but the Conservatives refuse to address it. All departments have been affected by austerity measures over the past few years. For example, cuts totalling over $100 million have been made to the Department of Public Safety. In 2012-13, cuts totalling about $15 million were made to CSIS.
When my colleague talks about striking a balance between security and civil liberties, I also think about the fact that the inspector general of CSIS position was scrapped, even though it was crucial to accountability at CSIS. That was not done in 2012-13, but because of cuts totalling around $24.5 million that will be announced in future budgets, it will be done in 2014-15. That was an extremely important position that helped balance civil liberties and national security.
In addition, we were disappointed to hear about some questionable spending, to say the least and to avoid unparliamentary language, by Michel Coulombe, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Here is just one example: during a trip, the director of CSIS actually spent over $750 on a hotel room for one night—this at a time when we are in the middle of an austerity program and his agency is suffering significant cuts. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable. The director of CSIS is spending more on himself right now than the Minister of Public Safety. It is totally unacceptable to see taxpayers' money spent like that. What are we hearing from the Conservatives right now? Nothing, radio silence. They have no response when we ask what will happen next. Will the director of CSIS be reprimanded for misusing public funds? We still do not know.
As far as Bill C-44 is concerned, many things were discussed in committee. In fact, I will come back to what happened, but to give my colleagues a sense of what is in Bill C-44, I would add that it does nothing to improve civilian oversight of CSIS, as promised. As the official opposition, we thought it was an excellent opportunity to correct the situation and work together to ensure that the government kept its promise and did more for civil liberties while sorting out the existing problems at CSIS.
Unfortunately, all of our amendments to that end were rejected. In fact, I will go even further: all the amendments that the official opposition, the third party and other members of the House proposed at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security were rejected by the government. That is absolutely unacceptable after members said they would try to work together, especially at such an important stage as review in committee, where witnesses give extremely important opinions.
I was also shocked by something else. This bill is only six or seven pages long, which is not very long. Under the Conservatives we have become accustomed to seeing bills that are often 100 or so pages long, so five or six pages is not very much. However, the Conservatives managed to create an omnibus bill out of those pages. I commend them. That is quite a feat. Bill C-44 affects not just CSIS, but also part of the Citizenship Act, which has nothing to do with what we are interested in here, namely the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
In fact, the Conservatives are playing petty politics. They passed legislation concerning the Citizenship Act and they want that legislation to come into effect sooner than they planned. They therefore included a provision in Bill C-44 to make the legislation they introduced come into effect sooner. In fact, no one in the House except for them agreed to that. This is absolutely unacceptable and illogical when we are dealing with something as important as our public safety and national security.
This brings me to the work in committee in general. We moved 12 very reasonable amendments to this bill. A number of expert witnesses were behind us. Our proposed amendments were mainly based on the evidence provided by experts to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and also that of groups of stakeholders that we managed to meet with over what I must say was a short period of time. In fact, Bill C-44 was rushed through committee very quickly. The number of hours of debate in the House of Commons was reduced, as often happens with this government, and we did not have many committee meetings. There were only two meetings where we were able to listen to witnesses and experts. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the director of CSIS, Michel Coulombe, and stakeholders associated with the minister and the director attended the first meeting. That left us with only two hours to question witnesses and experts not directly associated with the government.
As for the work in committee, I must say that the Conservatives allowed us to invite only a small number of witnesses. Clearly, you cannot have a large number of witnesses in two hours, but we had very limited time.
The committee did not hear from a lot of witnesses, and most of the witnesses came from the Conservative government. As a result, we heard very little from people who were not from the government side. This made the work very difficult because I would say that over the course of an hour, we had about six witnesses at once. This prevented us from really going into great detail on Bill C-44. The government had told us that we would all work together, that we would develop a good bill and come to a unanimous consensus on something. Unfortunately the government disappointed us yet again.
We voted in favour of this bill at second reading because we wanted to send it to committee. We thought that the Conservatives were serious about Bill C-44 and that they truly wanted to work together and put partisanship aside. There is no place for partisanship in discussions on public safety and national security or in discussions on civil liberties, when we are talking about CSIS.
It is sad to see that the government has disappointed us yet again and that we were not able to work together to create the best bill possible. Because the bill before us is not the best it could be, I want to talk about its constitutionality.
I asked the Conservative member who just spoke on Bill C-44 whether they had received legal opinions confirming that the bill is well and truly constitutional. He managed to evade the question just as well as the Minister of Public Safety and all the people who dealt with this bill. No one was able to offer any legal opinions to prove that this bill was constitutional.
This is therefore highly likely to be yet another bill that ends up before the courts in a test of its constitutionality. If that happens, millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent on something that could have been taken care of before the bill was introduced. The government is being irresponsible by introducing bills that it does not know for sure are constitutional. When we are trying to address public safety in the current global context, it is a very bad idea to introduce something that is not constitutional and that will probably be unusable until its constitutionality has been proven in court. This is extremely disappointing.
I talked about what is in Bill C-44. I would like to go back to that because I want to make one very important point about something in it. Bill C-44 contains one very important clause that will make significant changes to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, namely with respect to the protection of all the sources listed.
Bill C-44 ensures full protection of identity for all of CSIS's human intelligence sources. Those of you who know a little bit about the Canadian Security Intelligence Service will see that that is a very good thing: people doing secret work on the ground and sources will be protected. That is very important, and it is already being done. Sources involved in sensitive and delicate cases are already being protected. At any time, on a case-by-case basis, judges can already protect CSIS sources.
Under Bill C-44, all employees who are currently working, used to work, or may someday work for CSIS can be protected. That might seem right on the surface, but here is what is changing: this is directly related to what the government did not do, to the balance between public safety and civil liberties.
Should CSIS end up in court for criminal proceedings, CSIS human sources may well have to testify, if necessary. Legal experts have expressed concern that full protection of identity for human sources will make it more difficult to test CSIS evidence in criminal cases, which may create obstacles to the successful prosecution of those involved in threats to national security on the basis of CSIS information.
The ability of the accused to confront their accuser and to test evidence in court is a fundamental part of Canadian criminal law.
This will add complications, as it will require a separate process in Federal Court. This unnecessarily complicates many things. We can protect sources working on extremely important investigations on a case-by-case basis. This measure is then a rather grandiose way of protecting a lot of people at the head of CSIS.
After the events in Ottawa and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo or in Australia, a few weeks ago, people are worried and expect Canadian parliamentarians to work together to find the right solutions to national and international security problems. They expect us to work with our counterparts around the world to find tangible ways to deal with radicalization and terrorism.
Unfortunately, partisan measures and a box full of unnecessary tools are not going to be the solution. There are concrete ways to address radicalization and terrorism. First of all, we need to give more resources to people on the ground. Huge cuts are being made to important programs. For instance, the Conservative government did not renew the $400 million that used to go directly to police forces in Quebec. One of the things they used that funding for was to tackle the problem of radicalization in our street gangs. This is extremely serious.
In recent months, police forces have been telling us that they are seeing people become radicalized, but they do not have the resources to do anything about it. It is all well and good to give them a nice, big tool box, but if they do not have the personnel needed do something with it, it is pointless. We are not tackling the problem directly, and that is extremely serious.
We can also address radicalization and terrorism by working on the ground with people from certain communities, regardless of their nationality and their field of work. However, this government has never included this solution in any of its bills or plans. We need to look at what is happening on the ground and understand the needs that exist in order to come up with a consensus. The Conservative government does not do that.
I am very disappointed in this bill, which has many flaws and is probably unconstitutional. It does not improve civilian oversight of CSIS and only introduces measures to further protect CSIS when it finds itself in hot water.
I would like to stress how very disappointed I am, because I wanted to give the government the benefit of the doubt. Following the events that shocked us all, I thought we would be able to agree on a positive measure that would still allow us to preserve civil liberties. It is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure the public safety of the communities and people we represent.
Unfortunately, the official opposition cannot support this bill because of how it was put together and the blatant lack of consultation of experts and communities. I am saddened to see that we have once again been presented with an omnibus bill and, even worse, that the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and CSIS employees are not being given the resources they need to address the real problem of radicalization. Their budgets keep getting cut, which decreases the number of employees on the ground who could do the work and properly use the tools.