Mr. Speaker, I cannot help in this debate but start by asking what could have been. What could have been done properly with respect to this institution and the people who operate in it, regardless of political stripe, and with respect to finding the balance between national security and civil liberties?
Based on the knowledge we now have of other countries in terms of their national security legislation, and the review agencies that provide oversight on their security agencies, this Parliament could have produced a model for the world in terms of anti-terrorism legislation. However, the bottom line is that we have done anything but that.
We have a piece of legislation that deals somewhat with security concerns, and we support that part of the legislation. However, we are the odd person out in terms of providing protection under the law, through a national oversight sunset clause and other means, to ensure that the citizens of Canada have their civil liberties and freedom of expression protected.
We also want assurance that the national security agencies in total, not just CSIS, but any agency or department that is involved in national security, are properly monitored by people who should have the responsibility, the parliamentarians, on a day-to-day basis. This would ensure that on the one hand these agencies are abiding by the law and doing everything they can within the law to keep Canadians safe, and on the other hand that they are not going beyond the law to impose or infringe on Canadian's civil liberties, or for that matter a foreigner's civil liberties.
Legislation similar to Bill C-51 is required, as is evidenced in virtually every country that Canada is allied with or has shared values with. There is no question that countering the growing threat of foreign and domestic terrorism is a reality which must be confronted by the modern state. However, in combatting that threat, it is important for any government to ensure that the steps taken to combat it do not impose a different threat to its own citizens.
The Liberal Party supports the needed security provisions of Bill C-51 and has made that position clear from the outset. We are not shy about taking a leadership position in that regard. It is easy to oppose, but if we oppose the bill, then we are not dealing with those immediate needs. The policing agencies, CSIS, and even witnesses who have opposed the bill, have come before the committee and said there is a need for security provisions at this time. However, I submit that there is a real problem on the other side.
Sadly, there is a real dilemma here with the bill before us, as with many others. We get caught in what I could call a partisan vortex. We are accused by some, NDP members in particular, of supporting the government. We are not supporting the government. We are supporting certain aspects of Bill C-51. The government, on the other hand, is accusing the NDP and others of supporting terrorism. We all have national security concerns in this place. The problem is that the current Government of Canada does not allow this Parliament to work the way that it should.
We have also maintained that there are provisions in Bill C-51 that are excessive, and will in our opinion represent an intrusion by the state security agencies into the lives of Canadians. They are far too severe.
These provisions, as I have said, could have been narrowed; they could have been amended. There were decent amendments put forward by all parties, and most of them were rejected. Three of our amendments, and the NDP also had some, were indirectly accepted through the four amendments that came forward from the government.
Early in the debate on Bill C-51, my colleague, the member for Mount Royal, and I joined four former prime ministers, including three Liberal prime ministers and others, in issuing an open letter underscoring two fundamental responsibilities of government: ensuring the safety of Canadians, including protecting Canadians from terrorist attacks; and ensuring that initiatives in this regard are consistent with the rule of law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and are particularly subject to comprehensive oversight, review, and accountability measures.
In the course of the committee hearings, we proposed many amendments, as did others. As I have said, three amendments were indirectly accepted within government amendments. One of the key ones was certainly taking the word “lawful” out before “protest”, et cetera, about which civil activists groups were rightly concerned.
Three critical amendments from our slate of amendments, though, were rejected: the need for oversight of our intelligence and security agencies; building in provisions in the bill for the review and sunsetting of certain provisions of Bill C-51; and the need to ensure that any new authorities given to CSIS and others under Bill C-51 are charter compliant. There is a very strong risk, and I believe a reality, that some of those provisions in the bill are not charter compliant.
The issue of oversight of our security and intelligence agencies has long had the support of the Liberal Party. In the wake of 9/11 and the first anti-terrorist legislation, it was a Liberal government, with the support of members of the government at the time and the NDP, that brought forward Bill C-81. It created a committee of parliamentarians that would provide that oversight. As I said, that came out of a committee report that the previous minister, Anne McLellan, appointed. I happened to be a member of that committee as well as one of the co-chairs, as were the current Minister of Justice and the current Minister of State for Finance.
It was a unanimous report of the committee. That legislation was proposed, but it died on the order paper. In June 2009, in a report on the review of the findings and recommendations arising from the Iacobucci and O'Connor inquiries, the public safety committee recommended that Bill C-51 be adopted. It provided for national oversight.
It is interesting that six members of the Conservative government were on that committee. The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, the member for Oxford, the member for Brant, the member for Northumberland—Quinte West, the member for Wild Rose, and the previous member of the Conservative Party, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert were on that committee. What has happened to them that they are not now in favour of national oversight?
I recognize that my time is short, but at the very least I would encourage the government to bring forward a parallel bill, in terms of oversight, for national security agencies. There are private members' bills on the books that would do the trick and could be brought forward.
We need three things. We are saying that while we support the bill, we will put these three things in the election platform of the Liberal Party because the government has failed to do so.
First, we need a national oversight committee of parliamentarians similar to that of our Five Eyes partners. Second, we need to put in place sunset clauses to ensure that sections of the bill cease to exist in three years. Third is a statutory mandatory review so that the bill itself, the good, the bad, and the ugly, is looked at by future Parliament, in three years' time, to make the bill the best that it can be.