Madam Speaker, I would also like to congratulate my friend, colleague, and neighbour from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for a fantastic presentation and all of his work in the previous Parliament as the NDP's public safety critic.
There are three main points I want to outline as part of my speech on Bill C-22. First, I want to outline the fact that I think the overall intention of this bill is crucial to protect the safety and rights of all Canadians. Good oversight not only builds public trust, but it makes our security services much more effective.
I would also like to note that Canadians expect a watchdog with teeth. This committee must have full access to classified information. It must have adequate resources and the independence to go along with it.
My third point is that the government is going to have to work hard to earn Canadians' trust after its support for Bill C-51 in the previous Parliament. This trust starts with a strong committee, but it must be earned by fulfilling the promise to repeal the problematic elements of Bill C-51.
The idea of creating more parliamentary oversight has been around for some time. I want to outline and underline that this is not a uniquely Liberal idea. In fact, it has been around as a recommendation for the past 35 years. Despite that, I am glad to see that the Liberals have come forward with Bill C-22. There have been previous Liberal governments that have altogether ignored this recommendation.
There are certainly some things in this bill that I do want to take a look at. It is important that we use public money responsibly, that we protect sensitive information, but that we also stop abuses of power in their tracks. If we can come together as parliamentarians to build a robust oversight committee, we can bring in the real accountability that Canadians expect.
We can protect Canadians while ensuring that they trust that their rights are not jeopardized by a rampant security state. Indeed, the national security green paper, 2016, by the Government of Canada noted on page 9 that:
...effective accountability mechanisms are key to maintaining the public's trust in these agencies. Accountability mechanisms provide assurance that agencies act responsibly, strictly within the law and with respect for Canadians' rights and freedoms.
We can look at the historical significance of this issue, and compare Bill C-22 with what is going on in other jurisdictions. We know that our allies in France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand all have similar bodies in place. It is about time that Canada stepped up to the plate, because for far too long we have been lacking in this very necessary oversight measure.
The change is very long overdue. We have seen abuses in previous years with the RCMP, going back to the 1970s. Of course, we here in the NDP know all about the RCMP spying that went on with the great Tommy Douglas, because of his link to left-wing causes and groups. This should serve as a reminder to all parliamentarians that the abuses of state can occur and have occurred. That is why oversight is needed. We need to make sure these kinds of things do not happen again in a free, open, and democratic society.
The McDonald commission was a royal commission used to investigate these unlawful activities of the RCMP. Of course it was also implicated in the illegal opening of mail and surveilling of members of other political parties as well, not just Tommy Douglas.
A part of that commission's report recommended the creation of CSIS, a civilian agency without law enforcement powers, but of course that was altered when we saw Bill C-51 come in.
The main recommendation that I wanted to point to today was that oversight committee of parliamentarians. I really think that Canada should be at the cutting edge of dealing with oversight in security apparatus. I am going to support this bill, but I hope that when it reaches committee it will be rigorously compared to models in other jurisdictions. I think there are some much-needed amendments.
For example, in Belgium, they allow their oversight body to seize documents and launch criminal investigations into wrongdoing by security officials. That body has real teeth. Even the United States, our closest ally and neighbour, allows its oversight committees almost real-time access to covert operations. If those parliamentarians in the United States Congress can have the oversight, why can we not as well?
My friend from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke went over in detail of the most egregious examples of what was wrong with Bill C-51, but one of the recommendation in the McDonald Commission was to have a civilian intelligence force without law enforcement capabilities. Those waters were muddied by the Liberals and Conservatives when they allowed CSIS the disruption element. The real confusing part is that the definition of unlawful activities is open to interpretation.
We know our intelligence agencies have been complicit in spying on home based environmental groups, and we have also very concerned with Bill C-51's information sharing regime, which dramatically loosens the strictures on how a government internally shares data. It introduces, as mentioned, the dangerously broad category of activities that undermine the security of Canada, which can include much illegal protest. This will be of very special concern to anyone who has studied the infamous Maher Arar case.
I want to underline this fact. Bill C-22 cannot be treated as window dressing. This will not absolve the Liberals for being in support of Bill C-51, and we can be sure that the NDP will be holding them to account in that regard, very publicly, I might add.
I would like to congratulate my friend from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. Yesterday he introduced Bill C-303, which would repeal Bill C-51. That is a great step. I am glad to see us living up to our election promises for once.
The Liberals can earn the trust of Canadians by voting for that legislation or otherwise living up to their electoral promises.
Going on to the problematic elements of Bill C-22, I would like to quote the national security green paper again when it mentioned that Parliament had several roles in national security matters. It holds ministers to account for the actions of the institutions for which they are responsible.
However, the structure of the bill seems to allow ministers to hold complete sway over the committee. In other words, the committee suddenly becomes accountable to the executive branch, and that is not the function of Parliament.
Allow me this opportunity to walk members through the text of Bill C-22. Under subsection 8(b), it states that if a minister determines that a review is injurious to national security, the minister can withhold information.
Under subsections 14(a) to (g), there are seven points that further limit what information the committee can have access to.
Section 16 states that the minister may refuse to provide information that is special operational information, or again, injurious to national security. Yes, that minister has to provide reasons for the decision, but, again, if we go further down the bill to section 31, it states that the minister's decision in subsection 8(b) and subsection 16.1 is final.
If the committee is somehow dissatisfied with that decision, it can write out a report, which is outlined in section 21. Again, that describes the structure of the report, but section 21 basically gives the Prime Minister, who basically probably gave the minister the authorization to withhold the information in the first place, complete authority to revise that report and redact whatever problematic elements there are, again, on the grounds of national security.
Sections 10 and 11 of the bill outline the security requirements and oaths to secrecy that the members of that committee have to take. They will be completely free and they will suffer the consequences if any information is leaked. I do not see why concerns of national security have to be withheld from a committee whose main purpose is to oversea national security. We are just going around in circles with the bill.
I would like to remind Liberal members of Parliament that there are members in the Conservative caucus who used to serve as cabinet ministers and who had access to some of the most sensitive secrets of Canada. They are still sitting in the House, but they are still bound by their oaths of secrecy. They are able to hold a secret. There is no reason why this committee membership cannot do the same.
As the legislation stands, the government can still hide things from this committee, and that is the problem. There will be absolutely no relevant oversight if the government denies access to files and witnesses. Not only will withholding information make it near impossible for the committee to do an objective job, but it will further deteriorate the trust of Canadians in our police and intelligence services.
The Prime Minister has already appointed a chair of this committee, the member for Ottawa South. Choosing the committee chair back in January despite the bill only being introduced in June is putting the cart before the horse. By appointing the the member for Ottawa South as committee chair with a salary almost equal to the lower levels of the Liberal cabinet, the Prime Minister has, in a sense, made him a mini cabinet minister on the committee, accountable only to the government.
I will just end with—