Mr. Speaker, we just had a 40-minute debate for a government that wants to prevent us from having these discussions in the House of Commons. Canadians will judge this government on its bid to prevent the debate we are now undertaking. Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your patience considering all of the points of order that the government has raised over the past 40 minutes in an effort to prevent this debate from happening.
I think it would be a good idea to reread the motion before us.
That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security that, during its consideration of 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, the committee be granted the power to expand the scope of the bill in order to: (a) ensure that the government works with Canadian communities to counter radicalization; and (b) enhance oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies.
As we all know, once a bill has been referred to the committee, the House of Commons has the right to instruct the committee by way of a motion authorizing what would otherwise be beyond its powers, such as, for example, examining a portion of a bill and reporting it separately, examining certain items in particular, dividing a bill into more than one bill, consolidating two or more bills into a single bill, or expanding or narrowing the scope or application of a bill.
It is very clear that what we are talking about is indeed a proper motion, and it is in order. However, most importantly, it is about something that we absolutely have to talk about in the House of Commons.
I am going to start off by talking about why expanding the scope of Bill C-51 considerations is important. As members know, last October, we lived through a couple of tragedies in Canada, which resulted in the deaths of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. All Canadians should be concerned about public safety. There is no doubt about that.
Bill C-51 is purportedly a response from the government to issues of public safety. I will start off by saying that I am very skeptical about the Conservative government's aims and objectives. When we look at its actual safety record, we see cause for some real concern about whether or not the government actually takes the safety of Canadians seriously. We just have to look at the cutbacks in food safety, the tragedy of Lac-Mégantic because of lax rail safety standards, and the ongoing tragedy of 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women in this country, about which the government has refused to do anything. That underscores for so many Canadians across the country some real skepticism about the government's concern about the safety of Canadians.
Second, Bill C-51, in many people's eyes, is seen as a highly partisan reaction. In a sense, Bill C-51 is being brought forward by the government, but not because it is really concerned about the safety issues and the number of times it has fallen far short of guaranteeing the safety of Canadians in the areas I have just mentioned, namely the missing and murdered indigenous women, food safety, and rail safety. This makes people skeptical about the real aims of Bill C-51. Many people believe it is a highly partisan reaction from a highly partisan Prime Minister, and what the Conservatives are trying to do is change the channel from what has been, according to the chief of the Bank of Canada, an atrocious economic performance on the part of the government.
That is not for consideration today, but it is something that, to many Canadians' minds, underscores why Bill C-51 is so problematic.
It is well documented. It has not just been the NDP that has opposed this, even though the Liberal Party is, tragically, supporting Bill C-51. It is also the fact that, across the country, we have seen an unprecedented outpouring of concern.
Over 100 of Canada's leading law professors, 100 of the most skilled law professors in the country, those legal minds that in a very real sense train the future generations of legal scholars, have all come out in opposition to Bill C-51. The Canadian Bar Association, tens of thousands of Canadian lawyers, has come out in opposition. Many human rights groups have come out in opposition. They have all raised similar concerns.
It is important to note that the bill was rammed through the House of Commons. We can recall that the government introduced closure after only a couple of hours of debate. The Conservatives wanted to ram it through as quickly as possible. Then it was brought to the public safety committee, where the committee used what can only be considered completely unparliamentary tactics to throw out the rule book, to throw out House of Commons Procedure and Practice, under which we are governed, the bible under which we are supposed to govern our actions. They threw that out and basically imposed a very shortened witness list that did not even include people such as the Privacy Commissioner, who obviously has a real stake in bringing forward recommendations around how a bill might be treated.
After all of that, the government only permitted a short list of 48 witnesses. That was perhaps a quarter of the number of witnesses who wanted to come before the committee. Of those 48 witnesses, 45 actually stated that oversight was a major problem with this bill. The lack of oversight was a fundamental flaw.
Of those I mentioned a little bit earlier, 25 of the 28 Conservative witnesses said the same thing. These were witnesses brought forward by the Conservatives. The Conservative side of the House recommended these witnesses. We know how narrow the scope is for Conservative witnesses at committee. The Conservatives only hear witnesses they believe are going to enhance their particular ideological world view.
We had 90% of Conservative witnesses, 95% of witnesses overall, all saying the same thing, which was that oversight needed to be enhanced. Many of those witnesses raised as well the concern around having the Canadian government actively working to counter radicalization.
Even with that smaller group of witnesses permitted by the government, one-quarter of the witnesses that should have been brought forward to committee, they virtually all said the same thing, which was that we needed to enhance oversight and ensure that the government works with Canadian communities to counter radicalization.
That is why the NDP, as the official opposition, is bringing forward this motion of instruction today. What we are saying is that the committee, which has had a Conservative majority up until now, is almost certainly a rogue committee. It has thrown out the rule book. I have come before you before, Mr. Speaker, to raise concerns about how the rule book has not been followed. They threw out the rule book, and I believe, and the NDP official opposition believes, that we, as a House, have to give very clear direction that permits the committee to look at expanding the scope of the bill to bring forward those two components: ensuring that the government works with Canadian communities to counter radicalization and enhancing oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies.
These are straightforward, common sense recommendations. I would expect that members of the Conservative government would actually vote in favour of this motion of instruction, because it would actually say to the 25 of 28 Conservative witnesses who came forward that we listened to them, that Conservative government members brought them forward to committee, where they talked about enhancing oversight, and they actually listened.
The real test will be, when we vote on this motion of instruction, whether the government actually listens and walks the talk and votes to ensure that the committee takes into consideration, or can take into consideration, enhancing oversight.
There is a reason, as I mentioned earlier, there has been such a fall in public support. In fact, this has probably been, certainly since you and I have been in Parliament, Mr. Speaker, one of the most dramatic falls in public opinion I have ever seen on any bill, whether for a government or a private member's bill.
I think it is fair to say, in light of October 22 and how all Canadians were feeling at that time about wanting to enhance public safety, that the government has not moved in all those areas I mentioned. It has not moved on food safety, rail safety, or dealing with the tragic loss of 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women. However, we thought there was some consensus about working on public safety. Instead, what we saw was what the government actually brought forward: a highly partisan reaction.
Initially, I think, Canadians, being very sincere and honest, right across the country, in how we interact every day, took the government at its word and said that the government must be sincerely looking at enhancing public safety. Therefore, initially, the level of public support was very high.
Then the debate started in this House. As I mentioned earlier, within two hours, all of a sudden, the government said, “No, we are going to shut this down”, because we had very impassioned and learned members of the official opposition, the NDP, speaking against this bill. Even though the Liberal Party is in favour and supports the Conservatives in this regard, the NDP spoke out on what we actually saw in the bill, what measures were there, what measures were not there, and what concerns we had, and we were joined by a growing number of Canadians from coast to coast to coast: 100 leading law professors, the Canadian Bar Association, human rights organizations, aboriginal organizations, and environmental organizations. They were all speaking about the same concerns.
Subsequent to that, we started to see support for the bill erode in a rapid manner. From 80% it went to 70%, from 70% to 60%, 60% to 50%, 50% to 40%, and the level of support is now below 40%. Most Canadians, and I am not saying that all of them are necessarily even Conservative, Liberal, or NDP supporters, have been following the debate over the past month or so and have said, “Hold on here. These are major concerns that are being raised by people who have a lot of credibility”.
What we saw subsequently was the fall in public support, and perhaps that is why we saw such opposition by the government House leader, who was trying to pull every procedural tool out of the toolbox and trying to accuse us of unconstitutional actions. I am surprised he did not accuse us of violating international law. Government members just seem to have a level of exaggeration and hyperbole that I have never seen brought for a simple motion of instruction that obviously was in order, but for 40 minutes they waged this procedural battle to try to shut down this debate.
We can understand why. It is because the Conservatives understand that not only is the public not with them any more but that they have lost that initial level of public support, when people accepted them at their word and initially said that this legislation must be necessary. Public opinion plummeted, because the government's own words and own actions raised real concerns in the minds of the public. Very learned, respected people stepped forward and said that this is absolutely not the approach the government should take.
in the public mind and in the minds of those who have been raising these legitimate concerns, repeatedly two areas have been brought forward that are the subject of this motion of instruction today: ensuring that the government works with Canadian communities to counter radicalization and enhancing oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies.
I just wanted to raise, on both the oversight and the radicalization sides, some quotes that are very germane to the debate we are having this morning, despite the government's attempt to stop the debate. First, I would like to quote the current Minister of Justice, who, in 2005, obviously agreed with the NDP today. His 2005 comment was:
...when you talk about a credible oversight body, I would suggest...that a parliamentary body is going to have more credibility because of its independence and because of the fact that there is also parliamentary accountability that will be brought to bear. To that end, I suggest that it would also cause a little bit more diligence on the part of the security agents themselves, just knowing that this oversight body was in place.
That is the current Minister of Justice back in 2005, I guess when he could think outside the board and actually raise the kinds of concerns the NDP is raising today in 2015. In 2005, the Minister of Justice would have been agreeing with the NDP.
Second, we have the Privacy Commissioner, who was denied the ability to go before the public safety committee to testify on Bill C-51, which is absolutely shameful. He said:
...the proposed changes to information sharing authorities are not accompanied by measures to fill gaps in the national security oversight regime.... This Act would seemingly allow departments and agencies to share the personal information of all individuals, including ordinary Canadians who may not be suspected of terrorist activities....
On radicalization, I know intimately what the lack of any real attempt to work with Canadian communities to counteract radicalization has meant. The mosque that is in my riding in Burnaby—New Westminster was the mosque the man who murdered Cpl. Nathan Cirillo attended. I travelled to that mosque within a couple of days of what happened on October 22 here on the Hill. What the mosque members told me was quite stark. They said that they knew he had profound mental illness. They knew that he had a drug addiction. They tried to seek help, and there was nothing available. This is something we have heard from communities right across the country.
It is just a common sense measure that the committee should be taking into consideration, and can take into consideration if we pass this motion, that would allow some ability to counter radicalization. The committee should be working to ensure that.
There are two quotes I would like to cite. The first is from a national security law expert from the University of Ottawa, Craig Forcese. He said:
The literature suggests that when it comes to...radicalization, the best tool might actually be what are known as...programs designed to steer persons away from taking that one last step from radicalized worldviews to actual violence.
That is something the committee should, of course, be taking into consideration.
We have also heard from the White House. President Obama has stepped forward to look to counter radicalization. He said:
We have seen attacks over the last several years in which consumption of propaganda over, and communication through, the Internet played a role in the radicalization of the attacker. The Federal Government will work to make communities more resilient to these messages of hate by raising awareness and providing tools. Informed and resilient communities are our Nation's first and best line of defence....
That is what the NDP has brought forward today. We have said that we should be enlarging the scope and that we should grant the power to the committee to expand the scope of the bill to ensure that the government works with Canadian communities to counter radicalization and to enhance oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies.
The polls tell us that about 60% of Canadians support those measures and do not believe that Bill C-51 passes those tests at all.
I would ask our Conservative members opposite, and the Liberal members that are supporting Bill C-51 as well, to take into consideration what the witnesses said before committee. Ninety per cent of Conservative witnesses and 95% of all witnesses said that we need to enhance oversight. Many of them also said that we need to have the government working with communities to counter radicalization.
These are common sense measures. I hope all members of the House will support this motion of instruction.