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House of Commons Hansard #177 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was terrorism.

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National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

February 23rd, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved that Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the bill entitled “an act to amend the National Anthem Act”. The bill proposes a simple change in the English version only. It proposes that “True patriot love in all thy sons command” become “True patriot love in all of us command”; therefore, changing only two words: “thy sons” with “of us”.

There are many reasons we would want to sing “in all of us command”. We love our country and all of its people. Our anthem is important to us, and we want it to clearly include every Canadian. All of us are proud to sing O Canada, and O Canada should embrace all of us.

These two words that we want to reintroduce in O Canada are small yet meaningful, and would ensure that more than 18 million Canadian women are included in our national anthem

As Canadians, we continually test assumptions, and indeed symbols or anthems for their suitability, as we did with our flag 50 years ago. It is a sign of courage and thoughtfulness that, as a nation, we are willing to say this is just not good enough for us. We have done the right things many times. We have the opportunity to do the right thing now with respect to the English version of our national anthem.

Hearing the words “True patriot love in all of us command” would make the anthem crystal clear and inclusive, which is the essence of what it is to be Canadian.

The French version of O Canada was popular and remained unchanged from the moment it was sung on June 24, 1880. However, it took some time for the English version to emerge. Lest us not forget that the English version is not a translation of the French O Canada, even though they share the same music. A number of poems were set to Calixa Lavallée's music, including one written in 1908 by Judge R. Stanley Weir, of Montreal, in honour of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.

Here are the words from the first verse that Judge Weir wrote, in 1908:

Our home and native land!
True patriot love thou dost in us command.

As members can hear, “us” is exactly what we are trying to put back in our anthem

Judge Weir is known to have amended his poem in 1913, 1914, and 1916. By 1913, he changed the second line of the poem to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”. Many believe the change was in response to the events leading up to the First World War, in which men and women from Canada proudly took part. We do honour the Canadian men who fought for liberty on those battlegrounds. We honour them and all who died. We honour them in our anthem.

Canadian women also served in the First World War, not as soldiers, but in other functions, especially, as nurses, and many died. We have commemorated them in Parliament's Hall of Honour; however, we have not commemorated them in our anthem.

In 1927, the 60th anniversary of Confederation, the government authorized Judge Weir's song for singing in schools and at public functions, but kept the second line from the 1913 version, not the original 1908 gender-neutral version.

Incidentally, other words were changed in 1927, and again in 1980, when it was enacted by Parliament. The National Anthem Act was introduced, passed, and given royal assent, all in the same day, on June 27, 1980. The rapidity with which this was done did not allow sufficient time to deal with some concerns, such as the lack of inclusiveness of the English version. A commitment was given that time would be devoted in the following session to further considering O Canada, including in particular the words “thy sons”. Unfortunately, it did not happen.

Since 1980, there have been nine private members' bills introduced in Parliament to change the second line of the English anthem so as to include both women and men. Unfortunately, until now, none have been debated or voted upon in the House. Today could become an interesting moment. I invite my colleagues to engage in this debate, which could lead us to deciding to include our daughters and granddaughters in our national anthem.

Thirty-five years is a long time to wait to bring about a simple yet meaningful change, especially with the 150th anniversary of Confederation quickly approaching. The House now has the opportunity to rectify the 1980 oversight.

We can restore words that were written and sung 107 years ago. We should not fear such a change. The English lyrics for O Canada have already been changed five times since 1908. The first version, the 1908 one, was inclusive, but then the words were changed. The line “thy sons command” perhaps seemed more appropriate because of our soldiers' participation in the First World War; however, it is not inclusive enough for our time.

Some may wonder or ask why. In the century since the introduction of “thy sons” in our national anthem, numerous events justify returning to the “us” of the original version from 1908. Here are some of these noteworthy changes:

Women were first granted the federal right to vote in 1918, by the government of Sir Robert Borden.

Canada held its first federal election in which women were allowed to vote and run for office in 1921. It was the year that Agnes Macphail was elected to the House of Commons, making her Canada's first female member of Parliament.

There was the 1929 Persons Case, where the Famous Five succeeded in having women recognized as persons and thereby eligible for appointment to the Senate. A few months later, in early 1930, Canada's first female senator, Cairine Wilson, was sworn in.

Less than a minute into 1947, once the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect, the first born Canadian citizen joined us, Nicole Cyr-Mazerolle, a woman.

The Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, started admitting women as students in 1980. Now women serve as soldiers, and just recently a woman was promoted to the rank of major-general, Ms. Christine Whitecross.

The adoption of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in 1982, has led to the gradual and rigorous implementation of equality between men and women, which the charter guarantees. We would be taking a very important symbolic step by ensuring that our anthem respects our charter.

Let us remember and celebrate the fact that our Canadian women won more medals than our men during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. It is no longer just “he shoots, he scores”; it is also “she shoots, she scores”.

When I took the oath of office for the Privy Council, I swore allegiance to the Queen of Canada. Three times, she has been represented by female Governors General, and we have had and have many women Lieutenant Governors. Why are Her Majesty and her representatives not included in our anthem?

Chris Hadfield, my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie, and the other men who have risked their lives in space are included when we sing “thy sons”, but their colleagues, Julie Payette and Roberta Bondar, are not. This is far from appropriate.

In 2013, the Restore Our Anthem campaign was launched to change the English words from “thy sons” to “of us”.

Former prime minister, Kim Campbell, internationally renowned author, Margaret Atwood, Senator Nancy Ruth, and former senator, Vivienne Poy, have lent their support to the campaign. The hon. Belinda Stronach also supports this.

Author Wayne Johnston said, “This is a no-brainer. All thy sons? Citisons? All of us, of course. Sing it loud and proud. My wife, sisters, mom, nieces...us”.

Jacquelin Holzman, former mayor of Ottawa, sings “all of us” already. CFRA talk show host Lowell Green told me that he supports this change. Ms. Maureen McTeer, Canadian lawyer and author, wife of the Right Hon. Joe Clark, 16th prime minister of Canada, sent me a note supporting this initiative. Former MP and leader of the NDP, Mr. Ed Broadbent, also confirmed his support to me.

Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal said:

Our national anthem should reflect the women and men who have led and sacrificed to shape our history. [Sing all of us] is right about what needs to be done.

Jonathan Kay, of the National Post, stated:

Perhaps the best argument for bringing O Canada into the 21st century is the fact that if our government doesn’t do it, ordinary Canadians will.

In fact, that is what is happening. Choirs across the country have already taken up the new language. Some musical groups that are now advancing an inclusive national anthem are the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Vancouver Children's Choir, and the Elektra Women's Choir.

The Ottawa Citizen supported my bill in an editorial titled, “What's so scary about an inclusive anthem?” The following is an excerpt from that editorial:

It’s a little bizarre that so many people consider the anthem’s current lyrics to be sacrosanct when the very line in question is the result of a change to the lyrics.

In a similar move, the Austrian legislature changed its national anthem in 2011, adding the word “daughters” to make the lyrics inclusive. If Austria can do it, why can't we?

Even our neighbours to the south have taken note of the inequality of our English anthem. The New York Times had this to say:

Although Canada's public schools are trying to eliminate sexism from the curriculum, every morning when "O Canada" is sung in English, half the population is effectively excluded.

It is actually a little more than half of the population.

Last, but certainly not least, let us not forget Nichola Goddard, who, in 2006, became the first female Canadian solider to die in combat. She died in Afghanistan serving us. She deserves to be included in our anthem just as much as our sons. Her mother also supports this symbolic, yet very meaningful change to our anthem.

We have come a long way. The strides made by women in our society have been significant and should be fully recognized. Our anthem should not ignore the increasingly important contribution of 52% of our population. There are Canadians everywhere in our country in support of the change being advocated with this bill.

There are also some who are opposed to it. They believe our anthem is fine as it is. This reminds me of the debate that we had in Canada 51 years ago about adopting a new flag. It was a fierce, sometimes acrimonious, debate. In the end, the right decision was made. The proof is that today our flag is embraced by an overwhelming majority of us. I repeat the words, “of us”. I believe that including all “of us” in our anthem will yield the same results.

The only goal of this bill is to honour the contribution and sacrifice of our Canadian women, as well as those of our men, in our national anthem. I look forward to a respectful, and hopefully non-partisan debate, and eventually to a free vote.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for so ably outlining the history of the anthem in English in this country. He has pointed out, of course, that the original version was “in all of us command” and that over the years it was changed to “all thy sons command”.

As the member pointed out, this is a minor change in wording, and in some ways is largely symbolic in terms of recognizing gender equality in this country. I need only to point to the House of Commons, where women make up only roughly 21% of the members.

I wonder if the member for Ottawa—Vanier could highlight the importance once again of this symbolic change, where women still do not have equality in this country.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, I have said that it is two simple words, however, they are very meaningful ones.

If we are to respect our charter, if we are to respect the equality of men and women in our country, we should do so in our national anthem. I know some colleagues think by singing “thy sons” we include everybody, but we do not. We exclude 52% of our population.

I have three grandchildren, a grandson and two granddaughters. I want my national anthem to command “true patriot love” not only in my grandson but in my granddaughters, and that is the right thing to do.

It is going back to the original version, which was all inclusive. I do not understand why we cannot do that. I hope my colleagues will reflect seriously on this and do the right thing.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing this forward again. I know a number of members in this place previously brought this proposal forward, including the member for Vancouver East. I look forward to her comments on this bill.

It is important for us to keep in mind, when we consider the bill and eventually vote on it, that many women society serve in our armed forces, many women are in senior positions in our armed forces, and they put their lives at risk.

I am proud that I am from Alberta where the famous five were from. If they were here today, I think they would be cheering on the member and those who support the bill.

What is really important, as the member has done, is going back to the original version but putting it into plain language, which we have undertaken to do in our law-making.

Could the member speak to any conceivable reasons why on Earth we would only honour half of our population when we give honour to our country?

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I suspect what happened in 1913, as I mentioned, was that we were at war. We joined World War I and sent our soldiers. At that time, only men were on the front lines as soldiers.

That is no longer the case today. Women and men serve as soldiers on the front lines. I mentioned the first woman who died as a soldier.

If the rationale in 1913 to use “thy sons” was because we only had sons fighting for our freedom, that is no longer valid. We no longer just have sons fighting for our freedom; we have daughters are fighting for our freedom as well.

Let us revert back to the 1908 version and include us all in our national anthem.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have to honour traditions because they are very important. However, we recognize that changes happen and that we have to make changes as we progress.

Take, for example, Canada's flag, whose 50th anniversary we just celebrated. It has been changed over the years. When we take a look at that, we see that Canadian society has evolved, as have our policies, and if those policies are discriminatory or do not recognize the fundamental need for equality, we have to make changes.

The Prime Minister said that there would have to be changes, but we doubt that he will be supporting this excellent bill.

Can my colleague comment further on that?

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

We must not forget that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was introduced in 1982 and came into force in 1985, guarantees gender equality.

Cabinet decided not to vote in favour of this bill, and that is why I am calling for a free vote. I believe that enough MPs have enough respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and for the fact that 52% of our population is not recognized in the English version of our national anthem to vote to revert to the 1908 version that included all of us.

I think it is the right thing to do. I hope that my colleagues will agree and that a majority of us will recognize and accept that women are just as important as men in our country.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act with respect to gender, which seeks to amend the act to replace the words “thy sons” with the words “of us” in the English version of the national anthem. The intent of this change is to make our national anthem gender neutral. The verse would then read “True patriot love in all of us command” rather than “True patriot love in all thy sons”. O Canada is not a direct translation. Therefore, the lyrics of the French national anthem would not be affected by the proposed bill and would remain the same.

In addition to O Canada, Canada also has a royal anthem, God Save the Queen, that is performed in the presence of members the royal family and as part of the salute accorded to the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors at ceremonies and events across our country.

Canada has a rich history of other patriotic songs as well, such as the Ode to Newfoundland and The Maple Leaf Forever, that preserve our heritage and history in song.

National symbols and anthems are very important aspects of a country. They are very important to national identity. They represent the beliefs and values of citizens and tell the story of a nation, its people, environment, history and traditions. They can be used to instill pride and unity in a nation's population, and this is particularly true of our national anthem.

Every country has its own set of symbols that establishes its identity and sets it apart from other countries around the world. Our symbols are as diverse as Canada's history and include the coat of arms, our motto, the national flag of Canada, our official colours, the maple tree, the beaver, the national horse of Canada, our national sports, the tartan and, of course, our national anthem. Together, these symbols help explain what it means to be Canadian and express our national identity. For Canadians, these symbols provide connections across space and time, and are a source of unity and pride.

As we head toward 2017, our government will focus on increasing Canadians' awareness and fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of our country's history, symbols and institutions as we celebrate our 150th anniversary.

The symbols of Canada can heighten not only our awareness of our country, but also our sense of celebration in being Canadian. Our national anthem represents a legacy that has been passed down from our predecessors. It is a source of national pride. A 2012 survey found that 78% of Canadians believed our national anthem to be a great source of pride. Another poll conducted in the same year found that 74% of Canadians believed that our national anthem best reflected what Canada really was.

Our government is committed to promoting and protecting our symbols and institutions. These pillars of national cohesion are key in building awareness and appreciation of shared experiences and pride. National symbols represent the country and its people. The lyrics of the national anthem have remained untouched since it was adopted as the official national anthem in 1980.

Although many bills have been tabled seeking to modify the national anthem to make it gender neutral, none of the bills was successful.

In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, our government committed to looking at changing the lyrics for gender neutrality. However, following this speech, the public strongly expressed its opposition to changing the anthem and the government opted not to modify it. Further research to seek Canadians' opinion on this subject was conducted and there was a clear indication that Canadians loved their anthem and wished to see it kept as it is. A 2013 study found that 65% of Canadians opposed the change. Only 25% supported the change and 10% had no opinion on the issue.

After that clear message, how can we possibly support the bill? Canadians across our country, men and women alike, are against the change and have voiced that. Supporting this bill would be telling them loudly and clearly that what the majority of Canadians want does not matter and that their opinions do not matter to the government.

As mentioned, our symbols are a celebration of who we are as a people. They are designed to unite a population that possesses similar views, outlooks and goals. If our anthem is a celebration of who we are as a people and represents the beliefs and values of citizens, how can we change it without the consent of those very same citizens? It is the opinion of Canadians across our country that counts. No government can go against the will of its people.

I believe gender equality to be a very important issue. Our government has come a long way in ensuring that the many contributions and achievements of women are recognized and that their role in society is highlighted. This is accomplished through the designation of special days such as International Women's Day and Women's History, by presenting awards, by highlighting the significant role women continue to play in the building of our country during commemorations and celebrations, and by making specific investments through Canada's economic action plan.

For example, since 2007, our government has provided over $146 million in funding through the Status of Women Canada's women program, which aims to achieve the full participation of women in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.

There is certainly work left to be done to ensure that gender equality in all aspects of Canadian life is realized. It is incumbent upon all of us to continue to work toward that key objective. However, given that Canadians oppose changing our national anthem, our government will not support this bill. Our government will continue to recognize women in the various tangible ways it has been doing and will remain committed, with conviction, to protecting and preserving our national symbols.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bring forward this important bill. He made wonderful comments in support of the bill, and I agree with everything that he said.

I am proud of the fact that over the years several former members of the NDP, including Svend Robinson and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and myself in the 40th Parliament, have had exactly the same bills. The bills tried to change the wording of our national anthem.

As I stand here today, I have to ask myself if it is 2015. As I was getting ready for this speech, I noted that a Conservative member would be speaking to the bill before me. I wondered what Conservative members would say in opposition to the bill. What could it be? This is totally a no-brainer. This is about gender equality. This is about a minor word change in our national anthem that would reflect our whole country.

I thought this would be a unanimous situation and that the bill would go through, which would have been great, but lo and behold, the parliamentary secretary stands up on his principle that no government could vote against the will of the people. Then I think back to that terrible omnibus bill on voter suppression; that bill was certainly against the will of the people.

The Conservatives say they cannot vote for this legislation because it would mean that the opinion of Canadians does not matter. That is just utter nonsense. This is about reflecting the present-day nature of our society.

I presume that the Conservative member is reflecting the general view of the government, although maybe not the view of individual members. What I find really disturbing is that the Conservatives seem to be resting their argument on upholding tradition, even though the original version from 1908 of our national anthem, as the member sponsoring the bill has pointed out, states “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. Even though the original version was gender-neutral, the Conservatives are stuck on the idea that when the wording was changed in 1980 to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”, those words suddenly became tradition, and they do not want to variate from that tradition.

What is tradition? Tradition is something that we value, and it is important, but tradition also evolves. Tradition evolves based on the diversity of society. Some traditions are really bad. If we rested on tradition and we use that as the principle of an argument as to why we would vote against the bill, we would not have seen same-sex marriage or racial intermarriage. God help us, we would not have seen women or aboriginal people voting. That would have been sticking with tradition at the time when those issues were debated.

This idea that somehow we cannot deal with this issue because it is about tradition and a legacy is absolute nonsense. I would hope that Conservative members, or at least every woman on the other side of the House, will support the bill before us today. It is offensive that the national anthem that we treasure, the national anthem that we sing on so many occasions, does not reflect who we are.

O Canada is sung many times in my community in East Vancouver at community events. It is sung many times on Canada Day. I already incorporate this change, as do many other people. We heard from the member for Ottawa—Vanier about some of the choirs that already do that, which is wonderful. This practice is already taking place. This idea that Canadians are not behind this idea does not reflect what is taking place in practice across the country.

We have noted that the change would not affect the French version and that this is a debate about the English version of our anthem, and I happen to think that the symbolism of the national anthem is important in this country. If we recognize the role and sacrifice of women in the Canadian Armed Forces and we recognize, support, and uphold the role and the value of women in our society generally as Canadians, then this kind of symbolic change is very important.

I want to appeal to the Conservative members to stick to the plan they had in 2010 when this issue was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne by the Prime Minister. I appeal to them not to suddenly retreat from what was a good position, a logical position, a position of respecting tradition while also respecting diversity. They are not mutually exclusive. I want to encourage members of the Conservative side to look at the bill and to think about history and who we are as a society, and to remember that we are approaching the 150th year of this country. This is a very timely and appropriate debate as we approach that very important anniversary.

I am very proud to say that members of the NDP get this. We understand that it is a very important symbolic but simple initiative, and it needs to be undertaken by this House. What are we here for? We are here to display leadership.

If we listen to what our Conservative members are saying, at least the parliamentary secretary, every time there is a poll and somebody says, “I am not sure about that. Do not do that. It is about tradition”, we would just do nothing, is that it? We would just all pack it up and go home and do everything by poll, which I really have to wonder about, being from B.C., where polls have become pretty suspect when we look at elections, for example, and even here in Ontario.

This is not legislation by poll. This is not about being a member of Parliament by poll. This is about reflecting on what our country is about and reflecting that it is 2015 and not 1980, and that women are not only prominent in this country but also need to be more prominent. If the national anthem cannot reflect us as women, then heck, we really have not come very far.

Let us get rid of the illusions. Let us get rid of the smokescreen of these polls and the idea that the Conservatives do not wish to go against the will of the people. We can all think of examples of the Conservatives throwing in the face of the Canadian people anything that they believed in to motivate their own political agenda.

I want to end on a positive note and say thanks to the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bringing this matter forward again. The fact that it has come forward on a number of occasions means that it is an enduring issue. It means that it is something that needs to be dealt with, and it will keep coming forward until the folks on the other side, or those who are nay-sayers, understand that we need to be in a modern-day society and that this change in our national anthem is long overdue.

I really hope, because it is a private member's bill, that individual members from all sides of the House will think about the bill, think about who they are, think about women in this country, and think about what this national anthem actually says. On that basis, they will come to what I think is the only conclusion that one can come to, which is that we should be supporting this change. We should be going out and celebrating that change. We should be talking to our constituents and the people who are worried about tradition. We have so many arguments to show how tradition itself evolves and can represent the diversity of Canada.

I thank the member for the bill. I look forward to hearing from other Conservative members and I hope very much that they will accept a modern-day bill and not be stuck in a sexist and discriminatory frame of mind. I hope that they will support the bill.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today and, as the Canadian heritage critic for the Liberal party, express my support for Bill C-624, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), sponsored by our indomitable colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

It is a seemingly simple bill, perhaps one of the simplest bills we have ever debated in this House. It simply changes two little words in the English version of our national anthem. However, since that change will have immense symbolic significance, we would not expect it to receive unanimous support right away.

I therefore want to examine the arguments made against this bill with an open mind, and demonstrate that they do not outweigh those in its favour.

The bill proposes making the English version of the national anthem gender neutral by changing two little words in one of the verses. Thus, the verse “True patriot love in all thy sons command” would become “True patriot love in all of us command”. They are two small words, “thy sons” to “of us”, but they are an important symbol.

Why change it? It is because the new gender-neutral wording would make Canada's anthem gender inclusive, thus catching up with the evolution of Canadian society and confirming one of the most important values espoused by Canadians, which is the equality of women and men.

This is the only, but important, purpose of the bill.

Who, then, would want to oppose such a change and why? Do all of us here in the House not support gender equality? Of course we may not always agree on how to promote equality, but I am quite certain that we all agree with the objective.

Moreover, it would be completely unfair to accuse everyone who opposes the bill of also opposing gender equality.

My understanding is that those who disagree with the proposed change argue that O Canada is a historical artifact that must be preserved in its current form for purposes of heritage and historical integrity. They argue that the past has contributed to the Canada of today and serves as an indicator of how far we have come as a society and a nation.

We have to recognize that that is a valid argument. Take the French version of O Canada, for example.

Some might say, and rightly so, that it is not inclusive enough for today's Canadian society. The French version of the anthem begins with making reference to the land of our ancestors, when the ancestors of many Canadians were not born on this land. It urges us to wear the cross, when many of us are not adherents of the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, in response to those arguments, I think we might say that the beautiful poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier in 1880 is part of our heritage and must be respected. It reminds us where we came from and helps us determine together where we want to go.

Let us call it the heritage argument. Today's Canada was born of yesterday's Canada and did not come out of nowhere. Our national anthem serves to remind us of that. That argument has merit. By the same token, it is not an absolute. There are other arguments to consider.

When we weigh all sides of the issue, it seems that the small change proposed in Bill C-624 is quite justified. Better still, it is desirable and I have two arguments to back that up.

Firstly, the heritage argument in this specific case supports changing the two words as proposed by Bill C-624. If we look at the heritage side of this matter, then it would be more accurate to say that we are reverting back to the original version rather than making a change.

The original version, written in 1908 by Judge R. Stanley Weir, had “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. The bill proposes returning to this original historical form, though using contemporary English, so it would be “in all of us”.

The English lyrics for O Canada have been amended a number of times since 1908. They were amended in 1913, 1914, 1916, 1927, and 1980. That does not mean they changed these lyrics without very valid justification, but it shows that they are not untouchable, particularly when the proposed amendment would, in one fell swoop, bring our national anthem closer to its original 1908 form.

It also shows that while the words have been amended on various dates, what has stood the test of time is the spirit of patriotism that continues to be embodied by Canada's anthem and Canadians who rise to sing it.

Secondly, the two-word change proposed in Bill C-624 is not only true to our heritage but it is also likely inevitable. If we do not make that change now, it will be made another time.

It would be better for us to get on the right side of history by making this change ourselves right away rather than leaving it for the legislators of tomorrow to do.

If “thy sons” does not become “of us” today, it will tomorrow.

A similar evolution happened in Austria, where, in December 2011, legislators voted to add three little words to the first verse of their national anthem. Thus “homeland of great sons” became “homeland of great daughters and sons”.

The English lyrics of Canada's anthem were adopted in 1980. They have been criticized ever since for excluding women, so if we do not fix the problem, the debate can only grow with time. Between 1984 and 2011, no fewer than nine bills have been introduced in Parliament to make these lyrics gender neutral.

Even the current Conservative government, in the 2010 Speech from the Throne, proposed to amend the anthem to make the lyrics gender neutral. It stated, “Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem”. The government supported reverting to the original 1908 poem, replacing the current “in all thy sons command” with “thou dost in us command”. Although the government changed its mind 48 hours later, general support for such a change has only increased since.

In 2013, an online campaign entitled “Restore Our Anthem” was launched to make the English version of the national anthem gender neutral. Prominent Canadians such as Margaret Atwood, Kim Campbell, Vivienne Poy, Nancy Ruth, and Belinda Stronach have lent their support to the campaign.

An increasing number of Canadians are willing to embrace this change because it is so simple and consistent with today's values of equality.

Choirs and musical groups across the country, such as the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Vancouver Children's Choir, and the Elektra Women's Choir, have already taken up the new language. It is inevitable that the words “thy sons” will be replaced with “of us”, if not today, tomorrow.

Therefore, let us support Bill C-624 for all of us. Let us support the small but important change our colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, rightly proposes. Our anthem will thus remain true to its original lyrics and most importantly, true to our daughters and sons both, who equally stand on guard for thee, the true north strong and free.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act with respect to gender.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the act to make the lyrics of the anthem more gender neutral. Specifically, the bill seeks to replace the words “thy sons” with the words “of us” in the English version.

The lyrics of the national anthem have remained unchanged since it was adopted as the official national anthem in 1980, as members have heard today. Several attempts have been made to change the lyrics, so we have been down this road before, but these attempts have not been successful.

Additionally, as the media has reported and recent studies have demonstrated, Canadians have voiced their opinion that the anthem should not be changed. A 2013 study by Forum Research found that 65% of Canadians opposed the change, only 25% supported the change, and 10% had no opinion on the issue.

First, let me mention the many ways the Government of Canada is recognizing women and their significant role in society. One of the ways Canadian women are celebrated across Canada is through the designation of special days, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, such as International Women's Day and Women's History Month. Our government is also recognizing women through awards commemorations and investments in the economic action plan.

International Women's Day has been celebrated since 1911. This global day of recognition and celebration provides an opportunity to highlight the contributions women have made and are continuing to make in society. It is also a time to reflect on the progress in advancing women's rights and equality and to reflect on the challenges that are still facing women, not only in Canada but all around the world.

On March 8, 2015, Canada will once again participate in this special day with events and activities to raise awareness and to pay tribute to the economic, political, and social achievements of women. International Women's Day is celebrated not only by the government but also by organizations, charities, educational institutions, women's groups, corporations, and the media.

Another form of recognition for women in Canada is the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, a landmark victory for Canadian women, which has also been mentioned this morning. These awards, which were created in 1979, the year in which Canada celebrated the 50th anniversary of the persons case, annually honour five recipients. The award continues the tradition of the famous five, and it recognizes Canadians who have made an outstanding contribution to the goal of equality for women and girls in Canada.

The entire month of October is designated Women's History Month. It provides an opportunity to build understanding and to recognize women's achievements as a vital part of our heritage. We celebrate the accomplishments of Canadian women and recognize their contributions in this way.

Activities for Women's History Month take many forms: events, exhibits, film screenings, and classroom activities. Canadians are encouraged to learn about and better appreciate women's contributions to history and their fight for equality, which is a powerful, ongoing social movement.

It is another opportunity to bring to the forefront the work of the famous five: Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, from Alberta. Their tireless efforts created a new precedent for women. It is also an opportunity to recognize other women in Canada's history who achieved important firsts or other significant accomplishments, women such as Cairine Ray Wilson, the first woman in the Senate of Canada, or Harriet Brooks, Canada's first woman nuclear physicist, or Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut.

Canada is proud that women have the opportunity to participate in every aspect of Canadian life. From entrepreneurs to astronauts to world-class athletes, women are making their mark, changing their nation for the better, and inspiring future generations.

This is not to say that equality has been fully realized, but Canada is making real progress toward this goal. As we look forward to Canada's 150th birthday, the Government of Canada is marking important milestones that have shaped our nation. The commemorations of the First and Second World Wars are under way. These commemorations are opportunities to celebrate Canada's heroines, who served their country with dedication and courage.

Yes, today women are part of every aspect of military life. All of us in this House probably know of at least one or two or more strong women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. However, in 1913, when military involvment was mandatory, that is, conscripted, only men were conscripted.

I believe this Liberal member's intentions are honourable but tend to the sentimental, if not revisionist. Women's contributions on the home front should be honoured and commemorated. Canadian women not only served in military roles but also assumed unprecedented roles, working in factories, offices, and volunteer organizations that supported the war effort.

In my own riding of Mississauga South, a small arms building is still in existence. It was a factory for Lee-Enfield rifles and Sten machine guns. In fact, there were over 5,000 women working there at any one given time creating and making these Lee-Enfield rifles for the entire allied efforts. I know the contributions women made in the great wars.

The 1914 change reflected the reality of the appalling toll in young male lives, reflected as the price paid for their so-called “true patriot love”. The reference to “thy sons” is clearly a military reference to the Great War. It is not about sexism or discrimination, as the NDP member opposite said. I see it as respect for Canada's history.

It is not simple either, as one of the Liberal members mentioned. With two small words, the Liberals would have us believe that this is insignificant, but erasing history does not accomplish the goal of gender neutrality or equality for women. Concrete actions taken to improve the lives of Canadian women accomplish this goal.

As I have said, our government recognizes women and their significant role in society in a variety of ways, including with special days, awards, commemorations, and investments through the economic action plan. These tangible forms of recognition show the value placed on women in Canadian society.

We have heard from Canadians on this issue, and they have spoken loudly and clearly. They overwhelmingly do not want to open the issue. This is an issue for the Ottawa bubble, not for ordinary Canadians, including strong women from coast to coast to coast who want us to reject this bill.

Our tradition of the anthem will remain intact in its current form, and the Government of Canada will continue to show its support for women in positive and tangible ways that celebrate their accomplishments, recognize their contributions, and support their future success in Canadian society.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Victoria.

Bill C-51 is now before us so that we can debate something that is of great importance to the people of Canada. I think its short title is the “anti-terrorism act, 2015”. There is a real question as to what it is really about.

In fact, The Globe and Mail, one of the oldest and most prominent newspapers in Canada, says:

On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may”—not “will”—occur.

That is a pretty fierce condemnation of a piece of legislation by what purports to be a serious government interested in dealing with terrorism.

Let us make no mistake. Terrorism is a real threat and everyone agrees that public safety is a top priority for any government. However, Canadians do not have to choose between their security and their rights. This is in fact a false choice presented to the people of Canada by the current government and by the Prime Minister.

When the member for Ottawa West—Nepean was announcing his retirement as foreign minister, he quoted John Diefenbaker that "Parliament is more than procedure—it is the custodian of the nation's freedom.”

I believe that is right. What we are doing here today on this side of the House is what we can and must do as parliamentarians to protect the freedoms of Canadians, because that is the issue here. The issue is that we need to have concrete measures that would keep Canadians safe without eroding our freedoms and our way of life. Unfortunately, time and time again, the current Prime Minister and the current government is putting politics ahead of principle.

Once again, The Globe and Mail stated, on February 1:

Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he [the Prime Minister] now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.

Canadians should not be willing to accept such an obvious threat to their basic liberties.

Where does that come from? It comes from the provisions in the bill itself, which would give additional powers to CSIS that it does not already have and, arguably, does not need; and which would allow for information-sharing broadly between 16 government departments. The bill does not specify this would be limited in nature. It would cause problems that have been described and outlined by many prominent citizens—former prime ministers, former leaders of political parties, academics, legal expects, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada—all of whom have condemned the legislation as going too far and giving unnecessary and dangerous powers to government agencies with a profound lack of parliamentary oversight.

The government's position on oversight is that we already have enough, that we have a robust system. We do not. We do not have any system of oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency. We have an appointed body, SIRC, that deals with CSIS, but it is not an oversight agency. It says so itself in its most recent report and it makes the distinction between oversight and review. It says it is a review agency that looks at things some time after the fact. It does not have oversight on a continuous basis over what is going on in the moment on the day. Therefore, it is not an oversight agency. It says so itself and recognizes that oversight is a different value and is required.

Its provisions have been put before the House to provide the kind of oversight that we could use, oversight that some of our Five Eyes friends have over intelligence. Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America have robust parliamentary or congressional oversight with the power to know what is going on and to keep an eye on things.

This has been rejected outright by the government. There was private member's bill, Bill C-622, that would have modernized a piece of legislation that was before the House in 2006, a piece of legislation that arose out of the committee that you, Mr. Speaker, sat on, along with the current Minister of Justice, who said at that time that this would be a desirable, necessary, and important measure to be undertaken. That bill died on the order paper, but Bill C-622, which proposed modernizing that legislation to some extent—which I am not saying we agreed with entirely—was before the House and was defeated by the government at second reading.

Also before the House is Motion No. 461, a motion that I presented to the House on October 24, 2013, calling for a special select committee of the House, like the one the Speaker and the Minister of Justice sat on, to devise the best and appropriate form of oversight by Parliament that might be required given the change in circumstances since 2004 and the experiences of other jurisdictions, for us to devise the best system for our Parliament.

Although it was offered up for debate, the government House leader refused to allow it to be debated, saying there was no necessity for any more oversight than already in place. That flies in the face of all the experts, the academic experts and people who have studied this time and time again, such as lawyers, judges, former leaders, and former prime ministers, who have all said that parliamentary oversight must be present in a system that protects the rights and freedoms of individuals in this country when we are dealing with this kind of legislation.

The bill is is extremely intrusive. It gives significant police powers, including the power to disrupt activities. I heard the Minister of National Defence—who all of a sudden is the spokesperson for Public Safety, as I do not know what happened to the Minister of Public Safety, who seems to have disappeared off the map since the new Minister of Defence was appointed—say several times over the weekend in various interviews that “No, no, no, we're giving powers to the judiciary, not to CSIS”. That is wrong. The power to disrupt in section 42 of the bill would be given to CSIS directly. It would only be when CSIS decided that whatever it wanted to do would actually violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that it would have to go a judge, and the judge supposedly would be allowed to tell CSIS that it could break the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I do not think that is constitutional. I do not think a judge can have a licence by legislation to violate the Constitution of Canada, which is what the bill would allow. That is how bad this legislation is. that in itself is enough to say that the bill is bad, wrong, unconstitutional, and cannot be supported. I will leave it at that.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member just finished saying that the legislation is bad, unconstitutional, and cannot be supported. The New Democrats were saying last week that they would vote against this bill at second and third reading, and that in principle it is a bad bill. Over the weekend we heard the leader of the New Democratic Party saying that if in fact the New Democrats were elected as government, they would not revoke the legislation, that they would leave it in place. There seems to be some inconsistency in the NDP position on the issue.

In principle, if the New Democrats support the legislation if it ultimately passes—and that is what the leader of the New Democratic Party is saying they would do if they formed government—then why would they be voting against it in principle here? In the Liberal Party, we have indicated that we support the bill in principle, but that it has to be amended. We are pushing hard for those amendments.

Why will the New Democrats not join the Liberal Party and be more transparent in their position and just say what needs to be said, that in principle the legislation has some steps worthy of support but that it must be amended, and then push for those amendments?

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the member gets his information. I am sure he must have misunderstood whatever might have been said by the Leader of the Opposition, because we are clearly not going to support it, nor would we keep in place if it were passed, as it is unconstitutional legislation. I cannot imagine how the son of the father of the charter of rights can ask his caucus to vote in favour of legislation that clearly would give a judge the power to override in secret, on an individual case, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I say to the hon. member that if they are pushing hard against it, they are pushing with a straw.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his address on this bill, which I am sure he could speak to for several hours with his concerns about it, but which he put very succinctly in the brief time he had.

What the hon. member from Newfoundland and Labrador has raised is one of the most significant aspects of the bill, the misleading, uninformative statements by the Minister of National Defence on it. In fact, as the member pointed out, the bill would add very strong additional powers to the intelligence body. As the member said, the minister has said that the new powers would be only for the judges.

Could he elaborate on my understanding? It would only be in the discretion of CSIS to choose to think that if it were maybe acting beyond the bounds of the law, then it could go to a judge.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the discretion to decide whether there is a violation of the charter of rights is quite astonishing. In fact, clause 42 says, “The Service shall not take measures to reduce a threat to the security of Canada if those measures will contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”, unless they go to a judge.

The determination would have to be made by CSIS officials that they would violate the charter. Who is CSIS to make these determinations in the first place? Only if the people at CSIS were sure that it would, would they then go to a judge.

When we look at the experience of CSIS in dealing with the judiciary already, it has been found to have misinformed—in other words not told the truth—to Mr. Justice Mosley in an application in relation to getting secret powers. There is a real question here as to whether this would be abused, would likely be abused, or would be possible to abuse, particularly if there is no oversight.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise with great sadness today to debate Bill C-51. I am sad because the Conservatives appear to be using national security as a wedge issue, using fear to divide us at the very time Canadians rightly demand non-partisan collaboration to keep us safe from very real threats and to protect the very rights and freedoms that define our precious democracy. I am sad because it did not need to be this way.

Canadians will remember the touching speeches given by our Prime Minister and all leaders in the House in the aftermath of the shooting incident in Parliament in October.

On October 23, the Prime Minister said, “In our system, in our country, we are opponents but we are never enemies. We are Canadians, one and all”. Then he introduced this bill in a campaign-style rally away from Parliament. He used rhetoric of war and spoke in front of the largest Canadian flag I have ever seen.

I am also sad the Liberals did not stand up. I guess they fear that they will have to support a bill like this because the polls say that. It is very difficult to explain on the doorstep their position on such critical legislation.

On a personal note, I do understand the very real threats to security in our country. For many years, I was legal counsel to the Security Intelligence Review Committee. I received a top secret clearance and conducted terrorism hearings. A couple years ago, the present Minister of Foreign Affairs, then justice minister, appointed me as a so-called special advocate to do national security work under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act where national security issues arise. I do understand the need to take action on national security. Would that we can do it while holding hands across the aisle, as we did on October 23.

The government has simply failed to make the case for the new powers it seeks. This is another omnibus bill by the Conservatives, containing 62 pages, and amending a great number of statutes. It would expand the powers of CSIS dramatically but would fail utterly to strengthen oversight and review powers. Noted anti-terrorism expert and University of Toronto Law Professor Kent Roach told me a few days ago that we already had a dozen anti-terrorism sections in the Criminal Code.

The government has failed over and over again to give a single example of how the amendments it seeks in Bill C-51 would be used. It has added offences such as “communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general”. Most lawyers who I have consulted with have no idea how words as vague as “terrorism in general” appear in a legal text.

Terrorism, let us break that down. When the Attorney General of our country, the Minister of Justice, was asked what that meant, he said, “Look it up in the dictionary.” What do the words “in general” have to do in a legal text. Under section 7 of the charter, unconstitutionally vague language is bound to be thrown out by the courts as soon as they get a chance to see it.

The Minister of National Defence, who appears to be the new spokesperson on this bill, argued that it was wrong to describe Bill C-51 as a bill that would give new powers to police and intelligence agencies. In his view, it would award new authority to judges and courts to approve the use of the extra discretion afforded in the bill.

How is that working so far? In its annual report last year, the Security Intelligence Review Committee said, “In one investigation, SIRC...had been seriously misled by CSIS”.

As well, my colleague from Newfoundland has reminded us that in 2013 Mr. Justice Mosley said that CSIS “withheld information in a deliberate decision to keep the Court in the dark”. That is, in and of itself, very disturbing.

The government has refused calls for more oversight of our national security apparatus, notwithstanding that information sharing among many departments would now be permitted, despite the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's serious concerns about what that would mean as information of a personal nature goes across the bureaucracy unimpeded.

We are already limiting debate on this bill. We will have had three days to debate this important bill. Notwithstanding the fact that former prime ministers, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and all sorts of experts have looked at it and said that it is unconstitutional and should not be adopted, the government appears to be willing to bull ahead and will probably not accept amendments that will be offered, which is disturbing.

When I was at SIRC, I was very proud, after consultation with all three of the parties in the House at the time, to work under Rosemary Brown, former B.C. cabinet minister, wartime expert in security, Saul Cherniack, who had been cabinet minister in Manitoba, Frances Lankin, Liberals, NDP, Conservatives, all working in the national interest. That is now how the Conservatives have let it unravel at this point.

What does “consultation” mean? Apparently, the Leader of the Opposition gets a phone call from someone saying, “We're going to appoint this person. How do you feel about that?” There is no one in whom the official opposition would have any confidence in this work. The proof in the pudding is that the person who was appointed to chair, this, by his own admission, with little or no vetting, is now serving time in a Panamanian jail. That is how this proud agency has been deformed.

Let us talk about lack of money and lack of new powers to deal with the kinds of new powers that have been given to CSIS, such as disrupting. This was supposed to be an intelligence agency. Does nobody remember what happened when barns were burned in Quebec and we said, after the McDonald Commission of Inquiry, we should have an intelligence-gathering agency. CSIS will not be that anymore. Apparently, now it will be given the powers to disrupt, whatever that means, and to do so not only in Canada but anywhere else it wants. The Conservatives are turning that agency into another law enforcement agency. That is not what was intended in CSIS. They have utterly deformed the bill.

As my friend from Newfoundland so ably pointed out, one really has to ask what the Conservatives understand by the rule of law. They would amend section 42 to apparently allow the agency to decide what is contrary to the charter or unlawful. It is shocking what this section would appear to do. Do not take my word for it. Read clause 12.1 as it would be amended by this statute. Apparently, the service would be able to take measures that would contravene the charter and other laws if it were authorized to take them by a warrant that a court would give, as if that is supposed to make us happy.

Notwithstanding the lack of oversight that I have tried to describe, it would provide new powers that are frightening to many people in my community. The job of the official opposition is to inform and engage with its communities. All opposition members do that. This Friday night there will be a town hall meeting in Victoria, which I know will be packed with national security experts, my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, the NDP public safety critic and me, all speaking to this.

I was on people's doorsteps this weekend, and they are very concerned. We hope they will rise up and fight, like they did against the unfair elections act, to try to get the government to actually see why all of these former prime ministers and supreme court justices just might be onto something.

The government will tell us not to worry, that lawful advocacy protest and dissent does not matter, that the act will not affect dissent. If people are blockading a road, if Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King were engaging in civil disobedience, that is, by definition, unlawful. People may be blockading a road on a mountain. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was arrested in the Burnaby protest against Kinder Morgan. He has reason to fear once these powers are used against him, which, of course, will spread across 16 government agencies and possibly go abroad as we share information with other intelligence agencies around the world.

People are concerned, especially when the Conservatives call us who opposed, for example, the Enbridge pipeline eco-terrorists or foreign-funded radicals. Does anyone think there is a reason why people in my community may be a tad worried about what the government is doing? We are worried. Canadians should be worried. This is overkill and it is unnecessary.

I was proud to be in a party that stood up against another government when 465 people were thrown in jail, not one of whom was ultimately convicted, when the War Measures Act was passed. We stand up against this bill proudly because our constituents demand us to do so, and we will.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, could the member provide some clarification on actual position of the New Democratic Party?

I will quote a Global news story from yesterday. The headline is that the NDP leader “won't commit to scrapping anti-terror bill, if ever in power”. It states:

Though vehemently against the bill, NDP Leader...if in power, would not necessarily scrap the Conservative’s “anti-terror” bill—but he would definitely change it, he said in an interview Sunday.

When I posed the question to his colleague, the member for St. John's East, he was very clear that the NDP would revoke the legislation. Who does the member believe is correct, the leader of the New Democratic Party who says that the party would revoke it or his colleague from St. John's East who says that it would not revoke it?

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me be perfectly clear. As others have said, we are voting against the bill.

I understand my colleague from the third party believes it is coherent to say that the bill is bad, that we need new powers and that we need to change oversight, but they will support it anyway. In my view, that is not coherent.

If there is any doubt about it, let me just say it as loudly and clearly as I can for my colleague that we will vote against this unconstitutional, unnecessary, inefficient legislation.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleague from Victoria mentioned the matter of unlawful. The Minister of National Defence mentioned many times over the weekend that we should not worry, that lawful protests and dissent were okay.

However, so many times, whether it be a strike that is not exactly in keeping with the existing labour laws, protest movements like Idle No More, or some of the matters that the member mentioned, they are clearly not authorized by law, which is the proper definition of “unlawful”. It seems to me that it is a very serious problem. It is fooling people into thinking that it is harmless, because if they are not breaking the law, they have nothing to worry about. However, the issue of lawfulness is a real problem for the application of this legislation.

Would the member care to comment on that?

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have heard the government defend that somehow, the magic incantation of lawful advocacy, protests and dissent is the Holy Grail, and that we need not worry about it. However, as the member properly points out, the word “lawful”, as with so many of the key terms in the bill, is completely undefined. The member is right that it is not authorized by law.

What I have tried to say in my remarks is that sometimes civil and or criminal injunctions are transgressed by people. That, by definition, is unlawful, I presume. They are engaged in civil disobedience because they understand that there is a consequence of civil disobedience. That is what the sense often involves in the labour context and in the environmental context.

I have had indigenous leaders come to me, frightened by what this might mean as they engage in the kind of dissent that is obviously taking place up and down our coast against the Enbridge northern gateway pipeline. They have asked for legal advice and what this would mean. Would CSIS be going after them, disrupting their activities, infiltrating them?

Do we need our intelligence gathering agency to do that? We have a perfectly competent RCMP that does that, and has done it well, and that understands the need to gather evidence carefully, and so forth. To turn an intelligence agency into some kind of law enforcement agency like this is really reprehensible.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, 2015, and I want to mention at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the member for Yukon.

This is a very important bill. Over the last few years, I have noticed a real change in what is happening across the world and in Canada. Hardly a week goes by that I, like many Parliamentarians, do not wake up to news of extreme incidents or threats somewhere in the world. A couple of days ago we heard that al Shabaab was threatening Canadians in malls, malls where our children go, malls where grandmothers go. The West Edmonton Mall was named specifically.

Clearly, times have changed. Times are a lot different from what they were in the sixties and the seventies, before communication changed and before the Internet. If I mention places like Copenhagen, Brussels, Sydney, Paris, and Ottawa, one would think I was listing some of the freest cities in western democracies. Sadly, however, this is a list of the locations of the most recent jihadi terrorist attacks.

Let us make no mistake: the international jihadi movement has declared war on Canada and war on our allies. That is important. We are seeking to degrade and destroy the so-called Islamic State through the committed and professional work of our Canadian Armed Forces, and I think everyone in this House should be very proud that when Canada calls, they do the job we ask of them and they do an amazing job. We are taking important measures to strengthen the protection of Canada.

I have been listening carefully and I think the NDP has been sowing some confusion about what is contained in the bill. I will reflect on some of the comments made by the leader of the NDP and share some of the inaccuracies in his comments last week.

The leader of the NDP has accused Bill C-51 of being both overly broad and not doing anything. That is a bit of a square circle. How can a bill be overly broad on one hand and not really do anything on the other?

That in itself reflects an issue in terms of the approach of New Democrats to the bill, whose leader said that the provisions to criminalize the promotion of terrorism generally have no business in the criminal law.

It is currently not a criminal offence to advocate or promote terrorism generally. The ability to arrest someone who is, in general terms, advocating or promoting the activity of terrorism does not exist. The threshold for arrest in the Criminal Code is specific to someone who knowingly instructs, directly or indirectly, any person to carry out a terrorist activity.

As an example, the jihadists are saying, “Go hurt Canada.” In the case of the threat to the West Edmonton Mall, are the jihadists instructing specifically or more generally? We need to make sure we capture those sorts of threats to Canadians.

The anti-terrorism act of 2015 would make it an offence to advocate or promote terrorism in broader terms. It states:

Every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general

—which could mean malls or hurting Canadians—

—other than an offence under this section—while knowing that any of those offences will be committed or being reckless as to whether any of those offences may be committed, as a result of such communication, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.

By way of example, if someone posts a video on YouTube calling for death to infidels wherever they may be, as was done by a recent Canadian-linked jihadist, it is not currently a criminal offence. I am sorry if the opposition does not believe that should be a criminal offence, but frankly, I believe that if someone makes that kind of threat, it clearly should be defined as a criminal offence. This legislation will change that.

The leader of the NDP has also said that the legislation before us today would allow the targeting of legitimate protesters, and that too is inaccurate. Again, it is an attempt to fearmonger about this particular bill.

Under the legislation, the threshold for CSIS to engage in disruption is met if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada. Previously, CSIS did not have disruption powers, allowing it only to collect and retain information. We previously heard that this was an issue. To be quite frank, if CSIS knows of an imminent threat, I want it to be able to act, not turn the information over to another agency so that maybe some action will be taken after whatever has been planned has been completed.

“Threats to the security of Canada” are qualified by the following points, but “threats” do not include lawful advocacy, protests, or dissent unless carried on in conjunction with any of these listed activities, which would not be amended by Bill C-51: first, espionage or sabotage that is against Canada or is detrimental to the interests of Canada, or activities directed toward or in support of such espionage or sabotage; second, foreign-influenced activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person; third, activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious, or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state; and four, activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts or directed toward or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of the constitutionally established system of government in Canada.

What the leader of the NDP may be getting confused about is the power of the sharing of information between government institutions. The bill states:

...a Government of Canada institution may, on its own initiative or on request, disclose information to the head of a recipient Government of Canada institution whose title is listed in Schedule 3, or their delegate, if the information is relevant to the recipient institution’s jurisdiction or responsibilities under an Act of Parliament or another lawful authority in respect of activities that undermine the security of Canada, including in respect of their detection, identification, analysis, prevention, investigation or disruption.

The NDP leader's claims are simply false. Absolutely no change would be made to what constitutes a threat to the security of Canada. The measures he is pointing to deal with information sharing between government departments.

Further, the CSIS Act specifically states that threats to the security of Canada do not include lawful advocacy, protest, or dissent. The new legislation states that activity that would undermine the security of Canada does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression. It is very clear, and again I think some fearmongering has gone on.

We reject the arguments that every time we talk about our security, our freedoms are threatened. Canadians understand that freedoms and security go hand in hand. Canadians expect us to protect both, and there are protections in this legislation that would do exactly that. The fundamental fact is that our police and our national security agencies are working to protect our rights and our freedoms, and it is jihadi terrorists who would endanger our security and who would take away our freedoms.

We have covered what the bill would not do, but we should look at what it would do. I have a lot of things to say about what it would do, but it looks as if I will not have time to discuss them all. I will quickly try to fit in a few.

Bill C-51 is a comprehensive package that would criminalize the advocacy or promotion of terrorism. It would counter terrorist recruitment by giving our courts the authority to remove things that are online. It would enhance CSIS' power to address threats, in that we are not going to sit and wait for threats but are going to address them. The bill would provide law enforcement agencies with enhanced stability to disrupt terrorist offences and activities.

Another issue is the passenger protect program related to people who are travelling by air for the purpose of engaging in terrorism. The bill would make it easier for our law enforcement agencies to do the job that we ask them to do and share relevant national security information.

Many of my colleagues will speak to other components of the bill. This is important legislation, and we are doing the right thing for Canadians. We have hit the important balance between security and the protection of freedoms.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives eliminated the position of inspector general of CSIS and left two agency positions open for months and months.

Why are the Conservatives insisting on reducing civilian oversight rather than enhancing it?