Mr. Speaker, at the conclusion of my remarks, I intend to move a motion.
It is with a genuine sense of disappointment that I rise to speak against Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, 2015. I am particularly disappointed to be doing it under time allocation, which will have the effect of not allowing many of my colleagues to actually speak to this important bill. It will also have the effect of making it difficult for Canadians to understand the full extent of what is in this bill.
This is a very important bill. I would remind all of us that all of Canada, and indeed much of the world, was shocked at the deaths of two Canadian soldiers here at home last October. Certainly those deaths, along with the attack on Parliament Hill, were sobering for all of us.
All of us here in the House, and I believe all Canadians, were proud to see their MPs back at work the next morning, standing together in our determination not to be cowed by violence. At that time, all of us made the commitment to work together to meet the terrorist threats Canada now faces in this new world we live in.
What happened to those lofty promises to work together? Just days later, when the new CSIS bill, Bill C-44, was introduced, suddenly the government, by itself, had all the answers. The government argued that the urgency of the threat meant that there was no time for debate at second reading, no time for a full study at the public safety committee, and no time for serious consideration of amendments put forward by the official opposition.
New Democrats supported Bill C-44 at second reading, still hoping the government was serious about co-operation between the government and the opposition on this important topic, still hoping that there would be adequate time for debate and consideration of amendments to improve the bill.
We ended up voting against that bill, a bill of questionable constitutionality in its attempt to have judges authorize illegal activities abroad and a bill without an ounce of improvement in CSIS oversight, despite granting new powers to CSIS. It was also a bill lacking any direct connection to the events of October. The government said to wait for the next bill.
Here we are, four months later, with a new bill in front of us. Unfortunately, this is another bill of questionable constitutionality, this time attempting to get judges to authorize illegal and unconstitutional activities right here at home. As well, it is another bill without an ounce of improvement in oversight of our security agencies.
However, this bill goes even further. This is a bill that will wreak havoc on the privacy rights of all Canadians in the name of threats to national security. Further, it is a bill that contains definitions so broad and so far-reaching that it risks lumping together legitimate dissent with terrorism. It is at one and the same time broad, dangerously vague, and most likely ineffective in confronting the threats we face. This is a bill that still lacks any direct link to the actual events we faced in October or the ongoing threats we face today.
The government has rushed ahead with this bill and with changes to security on the Hill, again without consultation, and without even waiting for full reports on the October incidents. It is my understanding that when the Prime Minister was asked at his campaign-style event in Richmond Hill, where he unveiled this bill, instead of in the House of Commons, where it should have taken place, whether this bill would have prevented either of the October events, he had to say that he was not sure.
New Democrats have given this bill careful consideration before coming to our decision to oppose it in principle. We have consulted broadly with groups potentially most directly affected by this bill, with legal experts, and with our constituents when back in our ridings last week.
We have repeatedly asked the government to explain what some of the broad wording in this bill would cover and what specific new security actions will be authorized by this bill, all to no avail. The response more often that not has consisted of reciting general talking points about the severity of the threats we face, in a transparent attempt to use fear to marshal support for its bill, support that it obviously hopes will carry through to the ballot box.
We have not taken this decision to oppose Bill C-51 lightly. We have done our due diligence before pronouncing on a bill that would make major changes to over two dozen pieces of legislation and that would potentially have major impacts on privacy rights, rights to peaceful dissent, and fundamental freedoms, like freedom from detention without charge.
It will clearly have impacts on Muslim Canadians in particular because of the unfortunate tendency of the government to stray into Islamophobic rhetoric and bizarre claims by the Minister of Justice that terrorism is somehow culturally based.
It will clearly have an impact on those concerned with climate change and other environmental issues, especially when read in concert with the RCMP's 44-page memo on so-called anti-petroleum activists, a memo that, just as this bill does, tends to lump together both dissent and extremist and violent activities.
Neither the Muslim community nor environmental activists or first nations activists will be surprised to find themselves targets of the new measures in this bill. What I hope Canadians will come to understand is that it is not just the Conservative government's tendency to divide Canadians that makes some of us targets of this bill; it is the tendency of the government to overreach that makes all of us potential casualties of this bill.
Let us look at the changes the government is proposing that would have the biggest impact. Here I would start with part 1 of the bill, entitled “Security of Canada Information Sharing Act”. I believe that this part of the bill would have the broadest potential impacts for all Canadians.
This bill would allow all federal departments and agencies to share information that may be relevant to national security with Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The NDP agrees that government departments and agencies should be able to share information about real threats to public safety, but it must be done with appropriate safeguards that do not catch innocent Canadians in the net.
The Privacy Commissioner has expressed concerns that this bill would allow the information of many law-abiding Canadians to be collected and shared with a long list of other government agencies and used for purposes other than those for which it was collected. This would clearly undermine a fundamental principle of our privacy rights when it comes to the government's use of our personal information. Many of the departments and agencies that would now be allowed to share information do not have adequate privacy protections in place, nor do they have any oversight mechanisms governing their information sharing activities.
A second aspect of this bill with very broad implications is the section granting new powers to CSIS. They are powers that would change the nature of CSIS as an organization, moving it from being an intelligence gathering agency to an active arm of the government in opposing threats to security and to the economy, infrastructure, and a wide list of activities, which potentially raises the question of whether the government would be able to use CSIS for political purposes.
This rolls back the clock more than 30 years and ignores the lessons of the McDonald Commission, which resulted in the creation of CSIS. It abandons the important lesson that combining intelligence gathering activities with disruption activities not only is mostly ineffective but almost inevitably leads to the kind of sordid activities the RCMP engaged in in the 1970s in Quebec. These kinds of activities undermine public confidence in police and security agencies, and when we undermine public confidence in these agencies, we undermine the very co-operation with the public that is necessary for their success.
Bill C-51 would now give CSIS the ability to conduct threat disruption. These provisions would allow CSIS to take measures at home and abroad to disrupt threats when CSIS decides that it has “reasonable grounds to believe” that there is a threat to the security of Canada. Activities to disrupt threats that would contravene a right or freedom guaranteed under the charter would require CSIS to seek authorization from a judge. However, here is the important point on this question. The government likes to say that this amounts to oversight of CSIS activities. The point I would raise is that CSIS would not require a warrant for any and all disruption activities, only those that CSIS itself judged might involve illegal or unconstitutional activities. Once a judge issued a warrant, the judge would have no further oversight role over what CSIS did with that warrant.
If we look carefully at the Mosley decision, we see that the judge said that not only was CSIS not fully forthright in the material it presented to the court to get a warrant but that once it had the warrant, it did not carry the warrant out in the manner it had prescribed to the judge. In other words, it did not do what it said it would do with the warrant.
For me, the important point is that it would still be left for CSIS to decide if the warrant application was necessary, and it would be left to CSIS to decide on its own and without oversight what activities that warrant authorized and how it would carry them out. As I mentioned, CSIS's record before the courts leaves much to be desired on this point.
When asked in question period, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has been unable or unwilling to provide examples of the kinds of activities that would be allowed under threat disruption. We have asked him repeatedly to give us a single example of what those kinds of thing are.
The presumption always is that disruption activities would always be illegal or unconstitutional, but we know quite well that this bill would authorize CSIS to do things like shut down someone's Internet service, maybe shut off someone's phone service, or conduct surveillance on private conversations carried out in public places.
There are all kinds of things here that will not require a warrant, and there are all kinds of things, as I said, that we would leave to CSIS to decide if a warrant were even required. Remember, the power to disrupt includes giving CSIS the right to enter any place, open or obtain access to anything, as well as obtain or copy any document, install or remove anything, and to do any other thing that is reasonably necessary to take those measures. I submit that this is a pretty broad mandate when it comes to these activities.
In other words, in taking measures to reduce a threat, Bill C-51 would give CSIS a free rein. It would only prohibit CSIS from killing or causing bodily harm, violating the sexual integrity of an individual, or obstructing justice.
I know that those provisions were put in to reassure us, but I do not find it very reassuring that those are the only limitations on CSIS' disruption activities. These are not very robust limits for an organization carrying out secret activities, and not very reassuring for an agency with such weak oversight and review.
The government always likes to say that there is active, robust oversight of CSIS, pointing to the activities of SIRC. However, it is not just a technical point to say that when the government eliminated the position of inspector general in CSIS, it actually eliminated the one independent officer who provided oversight in real time of the activities of CSIS. It was the mandate of the inspector general of CSIS to make sure that CSIS' activities conformed to the law. Those responsibilities have in theory been transferred to SIRC, which has no capacity and no access to the information it would need to provide that kind of active oversight, and to make sure that CSIS were always acting legally.
I will refrain from talking about whether those appointed to SIRC have always been the best appointees, because of the limited amount of time I have. However, I only need to mention Arthur Porter. Also, I would question whether part-time appointees and non-specialists can be expected to successfully carry out the kind of oversight we need for a body like this.
If we look at the last annual report of SIRC, SIRC itself said similar things to Justice Mosley. It said that CSIS did not always provide full and timely information when SIRC was trying to investigate CSIS activities. It said that in some cases, CSIS had not been fully forthright in providing information to its review body. Therefore, we do not have robust oversight and review; we have problematic oversight and review, and now we would expect that same body to take on oversight of this much broader mandate we would give CSIS.
A third aspect of the bill that has broad implications is the provision that criminalizes the promotion of terrorism and the related provision that authorizes the removal of online terror propaganda. Bill C-51 would make it a criminal offence to knowingly advocate and promote “...the commission of terrorist offences in general”. This provision is designed to make the general promotion of terrorism an offence, in addition to the existing legislation that outlaws advocacy of specific terrorist acts. The new offence would be punishable by a prison term of up to five years.
Again, when the leader of the opposition asked the government to give us an example of what would now be illegal but is not already illegal under existing legislation, a question that I think he asked five times, he did not get an answer from the government. However, such a provision would certainly place a chill on free speech by its very enactment. It would also lower the threshold for what is considered promotion of terrorism.
The existing hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code criminalizes communication that advocates violence, where such incitement is likely to lead to breach of the peace. Why is that not adequate? Certainly we have seen RCMP able to lay terrorism charges frequently, and very recently here in Ottawa. Again, we ask, why is this new much broader provision needed?
Under the new provision, a person may be convicted if their statements are simply “being reckless” as to whether or not any of these offences may be committed. Again, this new offence would expand the existing Criminal Code offence, which makes promoting a specific terrorist act a crime, without explaining how this would help reduce threats to our security.
There is always a danger when we have limited resources—and certainly, the current government has severely limited the resources available to both the RCMP and CSIS—and when we spread the net too wide that we will miss the real terrorists, that we will miss the real threats to society, because we will not have enough resources to actually take on the hard work necessary to identify them. As one person said, “Searching for terrorists is like looking for a needle in a haystack and the last thing we need people doing is adding extra hay”. To me, when we spread this broad net, we start adding extra hay that makes it much more difficult to identify the real and urgent threats to our security.
Under the new law, a judge would be able to order Internet service providers, website administrators, and so on to remove any material when he or she has grounds to believe that the material might be terrorist propaganda. The judge could also order the custodian of a computer network to provide the court with information about who posted it. Moreover, the court would be able to order the seizure of physical materials. In both cases the authors or owners of the materials could appeal the decision before the material is destroyed.
This brings back shades of the old government bill that sparked the creation of the “tell Vic everything” campaign, by its expansion of government access to information about the online activity of perhaps any of us.
The inclusion of amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act also raise the question about how the government is proposing to spend the limited resources police and security agencies have. Again, in Richmond Hill, I understand that the Prime Minister was asked whether the bill would apply to teenagers in their parents' basement. He said yes. My question is, do we really want to waste time chasing kids in basements at the possible cost of letting the real terrorists slip through an overfull net?
A fourth element of the bill that should raise general concerns is the changes to preventative arrests and peace bonds, which threaten one of our most fundamental rights, the right to freedom from detention without charge.
I have heard many people comment that this is something that has been in place for something like 800 years in our legal system. Again, there is a serious question of what value this new provision has, especially when weighed against its negative aspects.
We should remember that legislation allowing for preventative arrests was first adopted under the Liberals after the events of September 11, 2001. This allowed police to detain someone for up to three days without laying charges. However, between 2001 and 2007, that clause was never used, before sun-setting in that latter year. Nonetheless, it was reinstated by the Conservatives in 2013.
Now, Bill C-51 proposes to lower the threshold required for a judge to authorize preventative detention from reasonable grounds that a terrorist activity “will” be carried out to “may” be carried out. The RCMP would now need to establish only that a terrorist activity might happen, instead of the previous grounds that there was some certainty that the person would commit a terrorist act. One lawyer described to me that what we had in the previous preventative detention was the lowest possible evidentiary standard, and now we are lowering that.
While keeping in mind that law enforcement agencies never found the preventative arrest provisions useful, we also need to remember the historical record of Canada on detention in times of crisis. Japanese Canadians were interned on the west coast despite the lack of any evidence at the time, or thereafter, of a single Japanese Canadian aiding the enemy in World War II. Ukrainian Canadians were similarly interned. At the time of the FLQ crisis in Quebec, hundreds of Quebeckers were arrested and detained without charge, and no one so detained was ever charged with, let alone convicted of, a criminal offence.
Certainly fears of political injustices resulting from the interaction of this bill with the apparent ongoing practices of racial profiling in Canada will need to be addressed.
Therefore, I am voting against the bill and hope that we can have a full airing of the issues. However, we have not had a very good indication of that today with the introduction of time allocation. I remain disappointed that the Liberals have given the government a blank cheque on Bill C-51, offering their support for the bill even if it is unamended.
Do I have confidence that the government will listen to evidence, experts, or the communities affected by this bill? Frankly, I do not. Therefore, I move:
That, the motion be amended by deleting all the words after “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-51, An act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, because it: (a) threatens our way of life by asking Canadians to choose between their security and their freedoms; (b) was not developed in consultation with other parties, all of whom recognize the real threat of terrorism and support effective, concrete measures to keep Canadians safe; (c) irresponsibly provide CSIS with a sweeping new mandate without equally increasing oversight; (d) contains definitions that are broad, vague and threaten to lump together legitimate dissent with terrorism; and (e) does not include the type of concrete, effective measures that have been proven to work, such as working with communities on measures to counter radicalization of youth.