House of Commons Hansard #206 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was csis.


Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

If the hon. government House leader is rising on the question of privilege that was raised last week, I will hear him now.

Physical ObstructionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

May 4th, 2015 / 3:20 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to respond to the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley on Thursday, April 30.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons indicated, for our part, we wanted to look into the matter and ascertain facts. It is important to have facts in cases like this, and we thought we should have them before we came back to the House.

We have done that, now, Mr. Speaker, and I can tell you that the public safety minister's office has advised that that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reviewed the surveillance camera footage and determined that the green bus in question was indeed delayed for some 74 seconds on Thursday morning.

It is my submission that this case, which amounts to a mere momentary delay, does not rise to the threshold required for the Chair to find a prima facie case of privilege.

Before tackling the main issue in the question of privilege, I want to address, briefly, a second issue which the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley offered up during his remarks, namely, the motion adopted by the House on February 16 breached the House's privilege to regulate its own internal affairs. I cannot see how a motion to regulate our own internal affairs, properly based on notice, debated and adopted offends, the very privilege under which it was made. If anything, it was actually a vindication of the privilege of this House.

The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley did, however, correctly cite page 110 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice , second edition, which says:

Incidents involving physical well as occurrences of physical assault or molestation have been found to be prima facie cases of privilege.

However, the question becomes, what sort of physical obstruction ought to give rise to such a finding?

In my view, a momentary delay such as Thursday's is of such a de minimis character that it does not warrant your finding, Mr. Speaker, of a prima facie case of privilege. Members opposite might scoff, but the precedents bear out this line of thinking, if you will indulge me, Mr. Speaker.

Ruling on a question of privilege related to the Parliament Hill visit of then Israeli foreign minister, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux said, on May 25, 1970, at page 7255 of the Debates, in determining that there was no prima facie case to be found:

The report states that no one, that is, no member of the House and no member of our staff, was denied admission during the period. It is recognized, however, that there might have been a momentary delay if a member had to be identified...

In any event, I think I should reiterate the essential point made in the report submitted by the Sergeant-at-Arms, that in fact no member was denied access to the building on the occasion in question.

The precedent decision of your esteemed predecessor, Mr. Speaker, stands for the proposition that there was a distinction to be drawn between a denial of access, which I will admit breaches the privileges of the House, and a momentary delay, which does not. In other words, a brief delay, one of a de minimis character like Thursday's, is not a breach of our constitutional rights.

Further distinction was drawn in the case of the 2004 visit of the American president. In its 21st report, presented on December 15, 2004, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concluded that:

The denial of access, and significant delays, experienced by Members of the House constitute a contempt of the House.

Therefore, a delay can give rise to a contempt, but only if it is a significant delay.

The report, which was concurred in on May 17, 2005, offers this context, at the 13th paragraph:

According to Mr. Blaikie and others, Members were halted, and refused access across the security barriers, even after showing their House of Commons pins and identity cards. Although, in most cases, Members were eventually able to access the Hill, a number of them experienced substantial delays and some missed votes in the House. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that other persons were allowed to cross the security lines at the relevant times...

Put simply, a significant delay would be much greater than the one which was faced last week, certainly one with some extended amount of time or notable consequence. Unlike the 2004 case, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley did not miss the vote, but I will come back to that in a moment.

In his own submissions, the hon. member made reference to a prima facie case of privilege arising on March 15, 2012, when the Israeli prime minister visited Parliament Hill. Let me complete the reference to that case by citing the 26th report of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on this incident, which was presented to the House on May 31, 2012. This conclusion is set out in the 21st paragraph:

The Committee, after a thoughtful consideration of the matter, does not believe that this is an appropriate case for finding a breach of parliamentary privilege.

The September 2014 case of the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst was also presented on Thursday as an authority on point. The procedure and House affairs committee has recently finished its work on that matter. In its 34th report, presented on March 26, the committee did not state any finding of contempt. Indeed, what the committee did say, at page 8, was:

Having given careful review to the events of September 25, 2014, the Committee considers that the officers managing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the visit of the President of Germany, in a time-sensitive context where safety was a paramount consideration, were simply attempting to do their jobs within procedures they had no control over.

The fact that came out during the committee's study of this issue was that the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst was delayed for no more than 77 seconds, while the member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ensured the safety of his person, as the high speed motorcade of the German president was approaching the very street that the hon. member was endeavouring to cross. Nonetheless, no finding of contempt or breach of privilege, however technical, was found in this unanimous committee report.

I will concede that the two reports that I just cited from, 2012 and 2015, were not concurred in by the House, but that should be no barrier to the persuasive authority they offer. Joseph Maingot, at page 218 of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, writes:

The Speaker may refer to and rely upon decisions of the Chair in respect of matters that were found to be prima facie case of privilege, and in respect of reports from the privileges committee that were never adopted by the House.

At page 219, he adds:

—it is incorrect to say that these same reports...[not adopted by the House] are not the views of the House itself, notwithstanding that the House normally only formally adopted the motion to refer the prima facie case to the committee.

Since the committee declined to report that the 77 second delay was a contempt or a breach of the privileges of the House, largely because it was a mere momentary delay, I cannot see how the 74 second delay complained of by the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley somehow is.

I appreciate that when such a delay occurs during bells, it can create anxiety. As such, members in their anxiety, uncertain when the delay will end, tend to find the delay as being much longer than it is. Certainly, that is their perception. However, 74 seconds is still within a range of a stop light signal cycle and, as such, it is quite short. The difference is that with a stop light, we know it will change. In a circumstance like that occasioned by the hon. member, there is an anxiety period because he does not know that. That being said, it did remain a de minimus 74 seconds short delay.

The bus was, as he described, sitting in a left-turn lane on Wellington Street. Had the bus been stopped at an intersection's traffic lights, would he have wanted the city of Ottawa found in contempt because every light was not turning to green for the NDP finance critic? I hope not. Had the green bus stopped because of one of the stop signs posted on Parliament Hill, should the Department of Public Works and Government Services be held in contempt? I do not think so, even if, as the House will recall from a couple of years ago, the Leader of the Opposition had difficulty with our stop signs.

At this time of year, we have large groups of tourists visiting the Hill. There are occasions when a bus or car may be held up for two or three minutes while the pedestrians cross the driveway. Should the bus not follow the rules of the road and yield because the privileges for the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley might be offended? Should the tourists be found to have violated parliamentary privilege? That would be preposterous.

What if the bus stopped at a regular stop on its route to pick up a Liberal member's staffer. Is that momentary delay, because of the bus driver's usual routine, a contempt because the NDP MP was slowed down? No. That would be absurd, despite whatever goodwill still exists between those two parties.

These examples I just offered might seem silly and trifling, but if we consistently find every interruption in a trip to the Centre Block to be a prima facie breach of privilege, it is not hard to see where this reductio ad absurdum could quickly become a standard operating procedure around here. A measured, reasoned perspective is required instead.

In responding to points of order complaining about protests inhibiting access to the Palace of Westminster, Mr. Speaker Thomas, at column 38 of the official report for January 22, 1979, urged members of the United Kingdom's House of Commons to understand that the authorities outside could not be held to an absolute and strict standard. He said:

I think that the House must be reasonable in this matter. Of course, the police have their instructions from this House in the first Sessional Order that we pass, but it is entirely lacking in a sense of fair play and common sense towards those who are dealing with a major problem outside the House to say that under all circumstances they must get that crowd to make way to ensure that hon. Members may come through.

The 2004 report of the procedure and House affairs committee, which I previously cited, also noted in its conclusions that the privilege of access was not an absolutely unqualified right. At the report's 15th paragraph:

We acknowledge that there will be times when access cannot be allowed for anyone for reasons of safety and security or otherwise. The difficulty in this case was that Members were prevented from accessing the Hill, but other persons were allowed through the security cordons.

These sentiments are consistent with what is written in our Australian sister chamber's procedural text, House of Representatives Practice. At page 126, of the sixth edition, it is stated:

Security brings into conflict two principles basic to Parliament’s traditions and usage. On the one hand, there is the undeniable right of people in a parliamentary democracy to observe their Parliament at work and to have reasonable access to their representatives. On the other hand, Members and Senators must be provided with conditions which will enable them to perform their duties in safety and without interference. This is basic to the operation of Parliament and a balance must be struck between these two important principles.

It is further echoed in a discussion paper published January 2015 by our Senate's subcommittee on parliamentary privilege which reads, at page 56 and 57:

One issue that is in constant evolution is that of maintaining security through the Parliament buildings....and the grounds of Parliament....while not unduly limiting parliamentarians’ access to Parliament. While it is within the collective privileges of the Senate and House to administer the security within their zones, the contemporary context may also require collaboration and some compromise.

Later, at page 77, the discussion paper from the other place states:

It is under the authority of the1 Speaker of each House of Parliament and of the Houses of Parliament themselves to address prima facie questions of privilege arising from attempts at obstruction or molestation.

Some forms of physical obstruction, such as security or construction measures, might be necessary for the greater good of Parliament. Parliamentarians should be understanding in cases of reasonable interference or delay. In cases of abuse, however, members may claim a breach of privilege.

All of these passages are urging a balanced, responsible interpretation about privilege, and this begs the question, what is the purpose of the privilege at hand?

It is well established that the House of Commons has the pre-eminent claim to the attendance and services of its members. From that, it follows that a member has the right of access to the House to be able to give his or her attendance and service.

In Thursday's case, the House was not deprived of the attendance and services of the members who were on the shuttle bus in question. Page 2444 and 2445 of the Journals for Thursday confirm that the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, along with the three other passengers he named, participated in the vote which took place shortly after 11:45 that morning. As a matter of fact, I spoke with one member who was on that bus and he confirmed to me that not only was he able to make it to Centre Block, but he was able to find time to attend to another matter before he had to be in his seat to vote.

The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley made reference to his finance committee meeting. According to the minutes of the meeting posted to the parliamentary website, the hon. member was chairing the meeting when the bells to call in the members were rung, at 11:17 a.m., and the committee agreed to continue meeting, pursuant to Standing Order 115(5). That rule reads:

—the Chair of a standing, special, legislative or joint committee shall suspend the meeting when the bells are sounded to call in the Members to a recorded division, unless there is unanimous consent of the members of the committee to continue to sit.

Unanimous consent means that no one present objected, including the hon. member himself. The very reason we have 30-minute bells for virtually every vote is, given how spread out the precinct is now, to allow members a reasonable opportunity to make it to the House, notwithstanding whatever ordinary delays or interruptions might happen during their journey. However, the finance committee, meeting over at the Valour Building, did not adjourn until 11:34 a.m., when there would have been about 13 minutes left to go until the vote.

Now, while I understand that there were very noble and well-intentioned reasons for the finance committee to continue meeting through the bells, and also possibly the vote, in order to take evidence from several witnesses, including two participating by video conference from different European cities, it is not reasonable to hear the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley complain about a 74-second interruption in his answering the 30-minute bell, after he spent 17 of those 30 minutes keeping a committee meeting going. We have not heard any other member, present at that meeting, rise to seek a contempt finding, I would note.

Finally, this leaves me to want to canvass the motivations of the New Democrats in bringing this issue forward. The deputy leader of the NDP, the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, implored the Chair to make an immediate ruling on Thursday afternoon. It was a point he made three times. For his part, the House leader of the official opposition in turn stood to demand an immediate ruling. No further submissions were needed, implied he. In fact, he was so determined to see the ruling that he later rose and misrepresented the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. The latter, in truth, did not say that there was a breach of privilege, despite the claim of the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

At its heart, the NDP House leader's agitation was to get a debatable motion placed before the House straightaway, following which “there may be a little further discussion”. Of course, it was no coincidence that the New Democrats were trying to delay and disrupt government orders throughout that day. After all, we witnessed some three dilatory motions, with recorded votes, before we even got to the orders of the day.

Nonetheless, the very next day, in open defiance of the deputy leader and her House leader and their shared view that no further submissions were necessary, the NDP deputy whip rose in the House to offer a submission on this question of privilege. As it would turn out, the New Democrats were again working to filibuster the time provided for government orders. The hon. member for Saint-Lambert rose to make her submissions, unnecessary submissions, as her deputy leader and her House leader would have had it, to run out the clock on the time provided for government business on Friday following a dubious point of order offered by the hon. and learned member for Toronto—Danforth having failed.

Ultimately, what we have here is not some serious, legitimate effort to defend the ancient constitutional privileges of the House of Commons but rather a transparently shameless attempt to cloak petty politics with a high-minded veneer.

Mr. Speaker, it is my respectful view that this is an opportunity for you to lay down clear guidelines as to what sorts of instances will give rise to a prima facie case of privilege in respect of access to the precinct. The existing procedure for raising questions of privilege dates back to 1958, when the then-prevailing approach at Westminster was transplanted here by virtue of the publication of the fourth edition of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms. As O'Brien and Bosc explained at page 1,289,

This description of the British procedure soon became a handy reference seized upon by successive Speakers, beginning with Speaker Michener, as a way to curtail spurious interventions by Members

If we consider the hypothetical examples of green bus delays I offered up a few minutes ago, the effort to curtail spurious interventions might otherwise now be rendered moot. As we can imagine, it is not hard to see how an enterprising member bent on obstruction and delay in this chamber would start making every use of the brakes on a green bus, the Chair's dilemma, and the House's concern. That would just not be appropriate. Momentary delays, such as that witnessed on Thursday, simply do not warrant indulging the possible use of this House's awesome powers in respect of contempt.

There is one last point I want to raise. It is a precedent I received more recently, but it is an old precedent, and it is from the British House. It relates to a ruling on a question of privilege from July 26, 1951. It was a question of a member of Parliament, Mr. John Lewis, the hon. member for Bolton, who had been advised by the whips to come to a vote. On his way, he was interrupted by a police officer, who held him up for reasons of traffic safety. This was off the parliamentary precinct. He made the contention that his rights and privileges were interfered with. He showed the police officer his pass. The police officer was aware that the pass allowed him privileges to arrive and that he had obligations at the House. However, the House, in fact it was the committee, on that occasion and in that instance determined that there was no obstruction of the hon. member in his progress toward the House of Commons. It states:

There was no attempt to delay him deliberately. Any delay which occurred at Victoria Gate was due to congestion of traffic which the two policemen were doing their best to control in such a way as to facilitate progress. The honourable Member was not delayed by P.C. Cordingley's refusal to let him cross Bayswater Road into the Park through Victoria Gate. The honourable Member was delayed by traffic congestion which the police could not immediately remedy. Moreover, less delay would probably have occurred had the honourable Member taken the advice of P.C. Cordingley, D.421, and proceeded along Bayswater Road towards Marble Arch.

There was no delay or obstruction caused by P.C. Dale, A.411, who told the honourable Member to proceed without taking any particulars of name, address, licence and insurance certificate. So far from obstructing the honourable Member, the two policemen acted reasonably and sensibly and did what they could to facilitate the honourable Member's progress towards the House.

The privilege of freedom from obstruction in the coming to or the going from the House derives from the undoubted right of Parliament to the full service of its Members. It is a privilege of the House of Commons and individual Members derive their right from the privileges of the House of Commons as a whole, and the right and need of the House of Commons to protect itself, and in so doing to protect its Members.

It goes on to summarize that privilege, and then it concludes with this finding:

Your Committee have found that there was no obstruction or delay caused by either of the policemen and that no breach of privilege was committed by them or either of them.

I think we have here a prime example that is parallel to our situation, where there was a police officer attempting to manage traffic for safety. The delay was de minimis, as I pointed out.

Therefore, on the motive, the reason for it, the precedents provided there, and of course, its de minimis nature, I think, Mr. Speaker, it is appropriate for you to provide some advice to the House on the level of delay and the level of interference with the ability of that member to access the House that would give rise to a prima facie finding of privilege. However, I would certainly submit that a 74-second delay that did not deny anybody the opportunity to vote constitutes a de minimis delay and is certainly part of what we normally expect in any of our movements around the Hill and the parliamentary precinct in the normal course.

Physical ObstructionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. government House leader for the intervention.

The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth is rising on the same point of order.

Physical ObstructionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and having been involved in the drafting of the report on the previous incident involving the member for Acadie—Bathurst, I would like to take exception to the House leader's reading of that report. It is a misrepresentation, a very strong one, that any conclusion was drawn by the committee based on the time lapse of 77 seconds being somehow or other de minimis. That is nowhere in the report as part of the discussion and conclusion section.

Rather, in the spirit of this place, the report was more of a diplomatic effort, with a future-oriented reasoning. The committee says, at page 8:

It...considers its principle task to be that of mitigation against similar incidents arising in the future. Cases of privilege in which Members have had their right to unimpeded access to the Parliamentary Precinct denied have occurred in the recent past with all too great a frequency.

Mr. Speaker, I think you are capable of reading between the lines. Anything that is oriented toward mitigation against future incidents of the same sort rather suggests that the committee was concerned but chose to focus on the future.

Physical ObstructionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add that I would like to potentially come back on this issue. That was almost a filibuster done with the government House leader's almost half-hour presentation. I am sure it is because he does not want the House to talk about Bill C-51, which started out with a lot of support from Canadians and has ended up with the contrary. Most Canadians oppose Bill C-51, so the government House leader now is basically trying to take away the few hours of debate that remain. It is pretty transparent.

However, what he has done in his reply on the question of privilege is simply underscore the NDP position, which is that this should go to committee. What he has tried to do is investigate, do the committee's work, and come up with his own conclusions. That is not appropriate. That is not his job. It is the job of the House to seize what is a clear breach of privilege and to refer it to the procedure and house affairs committee. It is up to that committee to do that appropriate follow-up. The government House leader has reinforced the argument that this needs to be a motion submitted to the House.

My final point is that we said, when the government ran roughshod over parliamentary privileges and rights with its motion a few weeks ago, that this would lead to the executive making decisions that more properly belong to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the legislative branch. The government House leader has just confirmed that this is exactly what the government is doing. The Conservatives have undertaken their own investigation. The Minister of Public Safety did what is your job, Mr. Speaker, which is to do the follow-up and determine, based on your knowledge and on consulting with the security officers, whether it constitutes a prima facie case of breach of privilege.

Now we have the cabinet, the executive branch, doing that investigation itself, by which authority I have no idea. We will certainly be doing the follow-up on that, because these are the kinds of cases exactly that we were apprehensive about when the government bulldozed the motion through the House of Commons. The government House leader has just very clearly reiterated what the NDP and other opposition members raised as a concern as well.

I reserve the right to come back, but this is quite worrisome that we have the executive branch now doing what is not appropriate for it to do. We may come back later on.

Physical ObstructionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to be completely clear, because I may not have made this clear. The last precedent I referred you to, from the British House of Parliament, from 1951, was actually a committee report that was ultimately adopted by the House of Commons itself on August 1, 1951.

In terms of coming here, I think it is my obligation as a member of the government, with the information I undertook to provide to the House about the facts on delay, to then provide those facts to the House. I think it would be entirely inappropriate if I were to do otherwise than provide those facts. I am quite comfortable with that.

Finally, I will point out that notwithstanding the plea to you about the rules being changed around this place about who is in charge, the RCMP has been responsible for security and the conduct of matters outside of this building in the Parliamentary precinct for quite some time. Nothing has changed in this regard, so the member obviously has misstated when it says that it is somehow the consequence of any change.

Physical ObstructionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank all hon. members for their contributions, and of course, we will await anything further on this. The opposition House leader indicated that he would be coming back. We will wait for that, then.

Orders of the day.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

3:45 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have another opportunity to offer my views on Bill C-51 on behalf of the constituency of Parkdale—High Park.

Bill C-51 is a 62-page omnibus, so-called anti-terrorism bill that people are concerned is overly vague and too far-reaching, that beefs up the powers of CSIS, but sadly, does not provide adequate oversight.

There is nothing in the bill to counter radicalism in communities, to engage with communities, as has been recommended by the police and by several community organizations. At the same time the federal government is pushing forward on the bill, supposedly to confront terrorism, it continues to cut the budgets of agencies on the front line of terrorist threats, agencies like the RCMP, CSIS and CBSA. Each and every one has had its budget cut since 2012.

I do have to note that here we are again under time allocation. We are at the report stage. In other words, we are getting a report back from the public safety committee on the bill, on this very important, far-reaching legislation, and we have one day of debate.

Let me say, this is the 95th time that the government has put time limits on debate in this House of Commons, more than three times what any other government has ever attempted in terms of stifling debate and shutting down dissent. Frankly, I have to begin my remarks by saying how offensive it is and how fundamentally undermining to our democracy that we do not have a fuller debate on such an important bill, because it is very far-reaching.

Let me also clarify. Let there be no doubt that New Democrats understand that we are in a rapidly changing world. There are some very serious threats in the world that we should be extremely concerned about. I think social media has brought concerns about terrorism to our doorsteps and has shown us very graphically the kinds of horrible events that have taken place around the world and one very close to home right here in the House of Commons.

We understand that this threat is real. We do not minimize it, but we believe fundamentally, and our leader, I think, has expressed this eloquently and brilliantly that we should not be sacrificing our rights and freedoms in order to protect public safety. That is simply unacceptable, and New Democrats will not accept it.

Of course, we need concrete measures to keep us safe, but they should not erode our freedoms and they should not undermine our way of life. Once again, the Prime Minister has gone too far. Everything is about putting politics before people.

It really rang a note of truth when my colleague from Winnipeg Centre said this morning that perhaps it was the crash of the price of oil that has pushed the government to not wanting to talk about the economy. The Conservatives do not want us to look at that subject on which they have been saying they were so great for the last few years, because now Canada is not doing very well on the economy. The Conservatives put all their eggs in the oil and gas resources basket. Suddenly, we are facing serious economic headwinds and they do not want to talk about that, so now they are putting their eggs in the anti-terrorism and public safety basket.

We are concerned about the far-reaching nature of the bill, how sweeping it is, and we are really disappointed that the Conservatives chose to disregard the testimony at the public safety committee, because most of the witnesses, including the Conservative witnesses, in fact said there needs to be significant changes to the bill.

The leader of the official opposition has been very clear that he will not be intimidated. We will not be intimidated into giving a blank cheque to the current government and the Prime Minister. We will stand up to any Conservative law that erodes our way of life in Canada, unlike the third party and the leader of the third party. We are not going to be intimidated and will be voting against Bill C-51 and against the very dangerous measures that it would bring in.

I did mention that we are at the report stage of the bill. Therefore, the bill went to the committee and, shockingly, the Conservatives wanted to have just three two-hour meetings on this far-reaching bill. It was a very short period time. However, thanks to New Democrats, we were able to push the number of meetings to nine, but it was still a very limited process.

Again, most of the witnesses were very critical of the bill, and in a highly unusual move, four former prime ministers, including Conservative prime ministers, have come out with serious concerns about the bill. One hundred law professors in Canada, senior legal minds, have been highly critical of the bill and detailed their deep concern about the undermining of our charter rights and our basic legal rights in this country. Privacy commissioners have expressed their concerns about the far-reaching extent of the information sharing of the bill. However, I notice that the federal Privacy Commissioner was not able to appear before the committee because the Conservatives did not allow that.

I have to say that with the bill before us, I have never seen such a reaction as with Bill C-51. It is rare when I talk to someone in the community that they know the number of a bill. They might say, “that budget bill” or “the bill on public safety”, but it is rare that they know the number of the bill and are really informed about it. I have to say that the level of awareness has been extremely high.

Early on in the process when the government was saying that most Canadians still supported the bill, I have to say that in Toronto at City Hall, the public square was absolutely full, chock-a-block, in an anti-Bill C-51 protest. I was very proud that I and my NDP colleagues were able to speak at the protest and stand strong along with the leader of the Green Party in opposition to the bill. We were very well received at that time. I have had dozens of people come to me asking what they could do to stop the bill. People have said that they want to talk to their neighbours, knock on doors and explain to other Canadians exactly what is happening here. We have seen incredible community engagement on the bill.

In the time that remains for me today, I would like to bring some of the voices of my community of Parkdale—High Park to the House. On the government side, they may not think people are paying attention. Conservatives may not think people read and really know what is going on, but they do. People do know what is going on and I would like to share some of their comments.

Here is an email that was written to the Prime Minister and shared with me. It is from a constituent on Wright Avenue, who says:

Dear Mr. Harper;

Please advise all of your ministers to follow the advice of the many Canadians who opposed bill C-51. The broad language contained in it that will give sweeping powers to CSIS are particularly disturbing.

Rather than making Canadians safer, C-51 seems more likely to make Canadians more afraid: afraid to appear to be different, afraid of authority, afraid to speak out, afraid to be free.

It will also undermine one of our great strengths: our multi-culturalism, our acceptance of the many cultures that have made Canada strong and free.

Please advise everyone to vote against C-51, to drastically amend it, or better yet to kill it outright.

I look forward to your reply, assuring that bill C-51, in its present state, will be voted down.

I will read another one—

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

3:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. We are out of time. It is the end of the time allocated for the hon. member and we are going to go to questions and comments.

Before we do that, just a reminder to hon. members. Of course, the usual thing is to avoid using proper names of other hon. members and that remains so, even if they happen to appear in a citation that the member is using at the time of their remarks. That is just another reminder along those lines.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.

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3:55 p.m.


Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it quite interesting coming from a party across the way that actually has never supported a measure that we have done for the military, for our veterans or for the safety of the country, whether judicial or enforcement.

The constituents in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex wonder if it has actually gone far enough. Let me read something.

This is a message to Canada and all the American tyrants: We are coming and we will destroy you...


If you can kill a disbelieving American or European--especially the spiteful and filthy French--or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.

This was ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. This is the concern that Canadians have and that my residents in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex have. I wonder why they are so concerned about the freedoms and peace that would come if we do not give protection to Canadians. Then, actually, we do not have freedoms. I wonder if the member has a comment.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

4 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regret that I did not notice you giving me a signal earlier that my time was almost up. I apologize.

I appreciate the member opposite is citing one of his constituents. Let me respond with an appropriate response from my community. This is from a constituent.

While I agree that terrorism and radicalization are a real and legitimate concern, I do not belief that passing a bill that could be twisted to potentially encroach on the very freedoms we are trying to protect is the answer. Canada has shown again and again that we are adept at dealing with terrorism with the tools we currently have. This bill is a step in a direction that seems counter to the Canadian values that I hold dear. A step towards a society that values security over freedom, while in reality providing neither.

I have been extremely disappointed by the CPC and LPC the last several years.

And also:

I have not been a supporter of the NDP in the past, but please know that you have won a voter in the next election.

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4 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I look to the member for some clarification with respect to the New Democratic Party's position. I would like to provide a specific quote from her leader during an interview. He was being interviewed by Tom Clark from Global TV who asked the question, “If you become the government, would you scrap this piece of legislation?” The leader responded, “We would change it for sure”. He did not say in fact that he would scrap it.

Then a member in the House asked a question regarding scrapping it. The response from the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie was, “I think we have been very clear. We do not like the legislation. When we form government, we are going to change it”.

We get different answers from different members of the caucus as to whether or not they believe there is any merit to the legislation itself. Therefore, let me pose the question to her. Does she believe if the legislation passes and the NDP were to form government—heaven forbid—would it in fact scrap the legislation or, like some members, like the member for Winnipeg Centre has said, like the leader of the New Democratic Party has said, make some changes to it?

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4 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have said very clearly we oppose the bill. We want to scrap the bill. We can do it today if we can win enough support from Liberals and Conservatives, or we would do it when we form government.

However, I plead with the member for Winnipeg North for him, his leader, and his other caucus members to find backbone. They are very critical of the bill. I plead with them to find a backbone, stand up in their place and vote against Bill C-51.

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4 p.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the anti-terrorism act, 2015.

First, I am proud to note that our government's economic action plan 2015 included vital funding for national security measures, such as those found in the legislation. In particular, we have committed to doubling the budget of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, SIRC, which plays a critical role in reviewing the operations of CSIS. Beginning with this fiscal financial year, we will invest $12.5 million over five years and $2.5 million thereafter in ongoing funding.

Further, we have announced nearly $300 million in investments to combat terrorism. This is above and beyond the fact that we have increased national security budgets by one-third since coming to office.

We have done this because the international jihadi movement has declared war on Canada and her allies. Jihadi terrorists hate the fact that Canada is the best place in the world to work, live and raise a family. They would rather return to the seventh century. Contrary to what the Liberals and the NDP would have us do, we will not sit on the sidelines while we fight this terrorist scourge.

Turning to my remarks on the bill itself, I will focus on the provisions relating to the element that would create the security of Canada information sharing act.

Effective and responsible sharing of information between institutions is increasingly essential to the Government of Canada's ability to protect Canada's national security. This includes detecting, preventing and responding to phenomena such as terrorism, espionage, foreign-influenced activity, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and threats to Canada's cybersecurity and critical infrastructure.

In today's interconnected world, national security threats emerge, evolve rapidly and unpredictably, and often go beyond the mandate and capability of any single institution. In addition, information on threats can and often is found in different forms and locations across government. Therefore, in order to take the appropriate action to protect Canada and Canadians, this information must be gathered, analyzed and pieced together in order to form a coherent picture of the scope and nature of the threat. This means government institutions must work together and share information in a seamless and timely manner.

The ineffective sharing of information can lead to significant risks, such as failing to detect and prevent attacks. Of particular concern is the phenomenon of individuals travelling abroad to engage in terrorism-related activities. The threats posed by these individuals has reinforced the need to enhance the government's tools to identify them. While government departments and agencies already share a significant amount of information with each other every day, and more so during urgent circumstances, there are a number of legal requirements and limits that can delay or inhibit optimal information sharing for security of Canada purposes.

For example, some institutions lack clear lawful authority to share. Certain statutes contain explicit limits on how information can be shared and experience has shown that in some cases these limits are too restrictive. The complexity of the legal landscape can make it challenging for operators to determine the circumstances under which information can be shared, and rules are frequently misunderstood and interpreted on a case-by-case basis.

Allow me to provide a couple of real-life examples of how this works.

The Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada rely on a “consistent use” provision under the Privacy Act to share information that is collected pursuant to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with other institutions. However, this exception allows sharing only for a narrow purpose. In this case, it only allows information sharing for the administration and enforcement of immigration legislation and does not allow sharing for broader national security purposes.

Another example relates to the Canadian passport order, which does not currently contain an explicit information-sharing authority. As a result, CSIS relies on the investigative body exemption of the Privacy Act to access passport-related information to fulfill its own mandate. Not only can this create delays in accessing relevant information, but this exemption also does not allow for Citizenship and Immigration Canada to proactively disclose information to CSIS that could be useful in investigating and advising on threats to the security of Canada, for example, Canadians travelling abroad to engage in terrorism.

Information sharing can also be impeded by the ad hoc and complex nature of the legal regimes that govern it. In addition to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act, institutions are also subject to their own specific legal regimes which govern their information-sharing practices. There may be, for example, explicit limits in departmental legislation on how information can be shared.

The overall result is a legislative patchwork that creates a difficult operating environment wherein the rules are difficult to interpret. Over time, this can make information sharing less effective and efficient than is required to prevent and address threats to Canada's national security.

This brings me to how the anti-terrorism act, 2015 will address the issues. First and foremost, it will provide clear authority to all Government of Canada institutions to disclose information in a responsible manner to designated recipient institutions. Only institutions with jurisdiction or responsibilities related to the security of Canada will be designated to receive information relevant to their responsibilities.

It is important to note that this authority will be carefully circumscribed to ensure that the sharing is both effective and responsible and that the new act respects the privacy of individuals.

We are introducing amendments to certain acts to resolve existing barriers. For example, we will amend the Customs Act to allow CBSA to share customs information. We will amend the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act to allow the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development to share information collected under the act using the new authority. We will amend the Income Tax Act and the Excise Act to allow for the disclosure of taxpayer information when it would be relevant to threats to national security, to a terrorism offence, or to a money-laundering offence related to a terrorism offence.

I want to stress, however, that if other acts that are not amended by the bill prohibit the sharing of information, those prohibitions will be respected. In other words, the new security of Canada information sharing act will not override prohibitions in law.

The proposed legislation will go a long way in helping to keep Canada more secure. It will allow information to be shared more easily in some circumstances where there is a gap in the lawful authority to do so. It will help resolve the confusion and risk aversion resulting from current and ad hoc complex policy and legal framework, and it will provide a solid foundation for future information-sharing practices.

I want to be clear here, however, that these changes are being done with the full consideration of Canada's privacy laws. Indeed, this is not about collecting new information; this is simply about improving how information already being collected by organizations is shared.

There will be a number of checks and balances in place. For example, each organization will share information at its own discretion, not as a requirement. Institutions can also be excluded from the application of the act through the Governor in Council process. This is important as we recognize there are instances where sharing between some institutions is not appropriate. Institutions that receive information must continue to respect any caveats attached to the information or originator controls. Independent review bodies as well as the Privacy Commissioner and Auditor General will continue to scrutinize information-sharing activities.

Those are some of the robust controls that are in place to ensure Canadians that we are safeguarding their right to privacy. For greater certainty and clarity, our government moved amendments at committee related to these measures. Among these, we are ensured that the security of Canada information sharing act will explicitly exclude information sharing related to all forms of advocacy, protest and dissent. It will only authorize sharing of information that is relevant to national security.

In this day and age of complex and sophisticated security threats, federal departments and agencies must have the ability to seamlessly share information with each other. This is paramount to keeping Canada safe. With that in mind, we must move forward with this legislation without further delay.

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4:10 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. He praised the measures in the bill that he liked.

However, I did not find anything about deradicalization in the bill even though, when it comes to terrorism, that is critical in order to prevent rather than to cure. Communities need more help to fight radicalization here in Canada.

Where is the strategy to counter radicalization that will let us work on prevention with Canadian communities?

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4:10 p.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, obviously, legislation is important to combat terrorism, and our security agencies need these tools.

I sit on the public safety committee and we have already heard from the commissioner that the RCMP is working with other organizations throughout the country to ensure that they stop the radicalization of individuals which creates terrorists throughout the world.

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4:10 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Medicine Hat has focused on part 1 of the proposed act. As he will know from the evidence from experts before the public safety committee, many legal experts were very concerned that the definition of “activity that undermines the security of Canada” was so overbroad as to include absolutely anything. The definition includes “interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada”. Its overbroad language has been the target of enormous concern from experts, particularly proposed section 6, which would allow the sharing of further information being disclosed to any person for any purpose.

How can the member possibly justify the overbroad, loose language that has come under scrutiny from privacy and information experts within and outside the Government of Canada?

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4:15 p.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I am sure the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands knows, in fact there was an amendment to the bill that specifically changed that particular avenue in terms of providing information to anyone.

It is well known, and certainly it has been said time and time again and it is in the bill, that in fact there is nothing that will stop people from having peaceful demonstrations. These will continue as long as they are not creating terrorist activities on our government and our country.

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4:15 p.m.


Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my great colleague from Medicine Hat for his intervention on today's topic.

If members go back to the blues, I will not repeat it all, but certainly the threat that comes from ISIS itself to Canada to kill Canadians is not something that we take lightly, nor should we.

The opposition parties across the way have not supported anything for our veterans, for our military, for any of the judicial legislation that we have. Therefore, their speaking today not about the victims, which would be Canadians, is understandable I guess.

How in Canada or any country can one actually have freedom if one does not have security? That is actually what the opposition is saying about this. The opposition members are so concerned about it that they are saying not to worry about security because it would take away some of our freedoms. I would ask my colleague if he thinks as I do, that that is backwards.

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4:15 p.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct. One cannot have freedom without security. One has to go along with the other.

We have heard that terrorists want to create havoc and they want to kill people here. In fact, in Alberta, they actually suggested that people go to the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta. I am a resident of Alberta and I go there on occasion, as do a lot of my family members. Terrorists wanted to attack people there, attack that mall, and certainly to injure and kill individuals.

We need to make sure that we have the right rules and the ability for all of our national security agencies, the RCMP, CBSA and CSIS, to protect Canadian citizens.

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4:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Surrey North, Public Safety; the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, Health; and the hon. member for Quebec, Quebec Bridge.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Mount Royal.

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4:15 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-51 and will begin by setting forth the credo that has underpinned my approach to anti-terrorism law and policy for many years. In brief, an appropriate and effective strategy must view security and rights not as concepts in conflict, but as values that are inextricably linked. Simply put, terrorism constitutes an assault on the security of democracy like Canada, and on our individual and collective rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.

Accordingly, we must take the threat of terrorism seriously and address it with effective legislation. As well, there are other measures, such as anti-radicalization efforts and the allocation of adequate resources to law enforcement and security services. A culture of prevention is crucial here. At the same time, we must ensure that legislative initiatives that are taken are consistent with the rule of law, comport with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that they are always subject to robust oversight and review.

With these principles in mind, I will turn to the bill before us, which is not simply one bill, but omnibus legislation, a series of major enactments. I will discuss several specific aspects of the bill, particularly those that are cause for concern.

I must begin with a general critique and preface my remarks with respect to the process, or what I would call the abuse of process, by which this legislation has been considered. At the same time, I will make reference to some of the rhetoric surrounding this legislation under the government's approach. It has frankly inhibited the necessary, thorough, and constructive legislative process, while at the same time and in so doing has undermined our responsibility as parliamentarians, whether we are on the government side of the House or in opposition, for the oversight of such major legislation.

With regard to rhetoric, let us be clear that every parliamentarian, every witness who appeared before committee, and Canadians themselves, both proponents and opponents of this bill, share the desire to keep Canadians safe from terrorism. Yet there have been accusations made to the contrary, particularly directed by some government members at critics of Bill C-51 at committees. References have been made to it in the House.

Such accusations are frankly not worthy of the serious role and responsibilities that our constituents have entrusted to us with respect to this and other pieces of legislation. In particular, the threat posed by terrorism to the safety of Canadians must be taken seriously, but so must concerns about the impact of anti-terror legislation on our civil liberties. Those who raise such concerns should be appreciated for their contributions, not denigrated and diminished.

With regard to process, we may note that time allocation was invoked during second reading on Bill C-51. It was invoked during committee, and now that the bill has returned from committee, time allocation has been imposed by the government once again at report stage. Indeed, at committee, the Conservatives limited the time allotted to study the bill such that important witnesses were prevented from testifying. I note as but one example the extraordinary, I would even say incomprehensible, fact that the Privacy Commissioner himself was not given the opportunity to testify about a bill that would impact directly and significantly on the privacy of Canadians.

As University of Ottawa law professor professor Craig Forcese has written, "this process is night and day compared to the more important role Parliament played in both the enactment of the original CSIS Act in 1983/84 and that of the first Anti-terrorism Act in 2001”. I might add that during the discussion of that anti-terrorism bill in 2001 and following, there was robust and public debate within the government caucus at the time, as well as from the opposition, and an acceptance of recommendations made by the opposition in the course of such debate to the bill.

The problem with overheated government rhetoric and a rushed and inadequate process is that problems with the bill cannot be fully and constructively aired and addressed in an environment that proceeds at such a pace, let alone, as I said, the diminution of the responsibility for parliamentary oversight.

Nevertheless, I will do my best to highlight some of these problems in the limited time available to me, and to explain how some of these problems with the bill can and should be resolved.

To begin with, many of my concerns, and those that have been expressed by the experts who have been referenced in this debate, about provisions that broaden the powers of Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and the legislative language that provides or authorizes those powers, could be addressed and alleviated if they were accompanied by effective oversight, parliamentary and otherwise.

It is astonishing that the government has rejected all proposals, despite the overriding consensus by experts within the opposition in this House, and I suspect among members of the government caucus themselves, for the overriding need for robust oversight.

First, with respect to information sharing, the bill allows for the sharing of information about Canadians in order to protect Canada against activities that “undermine the security of Canada”, to quote the legislative language. Valid concerns have been raised about the overbreadth of that language and about how such powers to share information may be used or misused, and, again, the lack of corresponding oversight.

I recognize that the government effectively accepted two Liberal amendments, in accordance with recommendations also from the Canadian Bar Association and many others. First was to remove the qualifier “lawful” from the previously proposed exception for “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression”; and second was to narrow the provision that originally allowed for the disclosure of information “to any person for any purpose”. Yet there remains significant room for improvement to ensure that such information is reliable, that it is used and shared appropriately, and that it does not abuse privacy or liberty.

We know from the experience of Maher Arar, for instance—and I was particularly involved in that case, serving at that time as pro bono counsel—that a lack of safeguards with respect to information sharing can have and did have tragic consequences. These information sharing provisions should therefore be accompanied by effective parliamentary oversight of CSIS, in addition to mandated parliamentary review of the security of Canada information sharing act.

With respect to the Criminal Code, Bill C-51 would make several significant amendments, notably expanding and lowering the threshold for preventive arrest and peace bonds. I note that the Canadian Bar Association has expressed its support for the reduced standard for peace bonds, from the reasonable fear that a person “will” commit a terrorism offence, to the reasonable fear that they “may” commit a terrorism offence, and that police were reportedly unable to meet the existing evidentiary standard to secure a peace bond for Martin Couture-Rouleau before he murdered Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Therefore, a case can be made that the refinement of powers in this area for prevention purposes is worthwhile. Again, however, such powers should be met with effective parliamentary oversight and mandatory review. Indeed, in the past, provisions allowing for preventive arrest were understood to be exceptional measures, accompanied by sunset clauses that are absent in this legislation.

Bill C-51 also contains several measures that raise questions of constitutionality. Again, we have no reports regarding any consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as required. However, leaving that aside, the legislation effectively provides for measures that “contravene a right of freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”, if a judge issues a warrant to that effect in ex parte or in camera proceedings.

As we know, this turns on its head the role of judges as protectors of our rights. Despite the government's protestations to the contrary, the need to obtain a warrant is by no means equivalent to a suitable replacement for robust parliamentary oversight. That remains the crux of the problem with the government's approach.

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4:25 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate what might turn out to be one of the last speeches of our hon. colleague in the House because he will not be standing again for his riding. I thank him for the kind of speech we have come to know him for: thoughtful, scholarly, fair, and ultimately non-partisan.

I want to ask him, with respect to the last 30 seconds or so of his remarks, about this question of basically enlisting judges to pre-authorize charter infringements that can be saved through some kind of analogous reasoning to a section 1 process that judges go through when they are adjudicating, which is a different context. He has expressed extreme concern that this gets what judges do with respect to charter rights backwards.

I am wondering if he could comment a bit further about whether he does not see this as such a fundamental flaw of the bill that standing with the bill in the hope that it can be fixed in the future is not justified and we should be voting against it.

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4:30 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question that was put by my hon. colleague.

As I stated in my speech, and would even reiterate, if I have not stated it sufficiently and as expressly as it must be stated, judges should not be put in the position where they become enablers of violations of the charter. It is the responsibility of judges to protect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to protect Canadians through the interpretation and application of the charter.

Therefore, I expressed my concern with regard to this particular aspect, and, as we have said as a party, we have proposed a series of amendments on this and other issues. They will be part of our platform, and we will leave it to the Canadian people.

Let me be clear: this is not legislation that we would have enacted in this form. We have sought to reconcile the responsibility that a government has and that we as parliamentarians have on behalf of our constituents, to protect the security and safety of Canadians. That is mandated also, I might add, by UN Security Council resolutions, in a spate of resolutions that we should undertake and enact to enhance anti-terrorism legislation, given the nature of the terrorist threat.

Having said that, we need to ensure that they do comport, as I said, with the charter, with the rule of law, with the protection of the rights of Canadians, including privacy. That is why we have put forth the amendments that we have.