Madam Speaker, although Bill C-22 falls under the purview of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who is responsible for the machinery of government, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate.
Might I just, for the information of the hon. gentleman from Selkirk who has just spoken, inform him that the description of the appropriate committee he put on the record in the last half hour or so bears very little resemblance to the advice given by his own critic in a letter sent to me on March 1, 2016. The member for Durham recommended a committee under a majority controlled by the government, nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by Governor in Council. That was the advice the critic offered, so the description the hon. gentleman just put on the record in the House seems to be at odds with that of his own critic.
In the last election we laid out a clear agenda with respect to Canada's national security framework. It included these specific elements: first, stronger scrutiny of security and intelligence activity through a new committee consisting of parliamentarians; second, a new initiative on community outreach and counter-radicalization; third, faithful compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; fourth, full protection for the right to protest; fifth, clarity with respect to warrants; sixth, conscientious treatment of appeals about no-fly lists; seventh, a more precise definition of the term “propaganda”; eighth, a full review of all terrorism-related legislation after three years; and finally, genuine consultation with Canadians to help identify any other steps that should be taken to achieve two simultaneous objectives, ensuring that all security agencies and police forces are being effective at keeping Canadians safe and, at the same time, safeguarding our rights and freedoms and the open, inclusive, democratic character of our country—in other words, the qualities that make Canada Canada.
Bill C-22 is the cornerstone of that agenda. It fulfills our single most important commitment to Canadians. The legislation will establish a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, and it will give those parliamentarians from all official parties extraordinary access to classified information so they can scrutinize all the security and intelligence operations of the Government of Canada.
As distinguished Professor Wesley Wark has said, the creation of this committee and the passage of this legislation is long overdue. Virtually every other country in the western world, including all of our Five Eyes allies—the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand—have had a body of this kind for a good many years. Canada, therefore, has been the anomaly.
Over a decade ago, in 2003, the Auditor General identified significant shortcomings in Parliament's ability to scrutinize the activities of Canada's security and intelligence agencies. The following year, a joint House-Senate committee recommended the creation of a parliamentary body to fill that gap.
In 2005, the then Minister of Public Safety, the Hon. Anne McLellan, sought to address the problem by introducing a bill that is very similar to the one we are debating today. Unfortunately, when a different government was elected in 2006, the proposal was dropped.
Since that time, private members' bills to institute parliamentary scrutiny of national security and intelligence agencies have been repeatedly introduced, including by the former member for Scarborough--Rouge River, Derek Lee, and the current members for Malpeque and Vancouver Quadra. Former Senators Hugh Segal and Roméo Dallaire also brought forward legislation to this effect in the other place.
That is all in addition to a report by the House public safety committee in 2009, calling again for the adoption of Anne McLellan's bill or something very similar to it, as well as inquiries by Justices Frank Iacobucci and Dennis O'Connor, both of which highlighted the need for greater accountability of our national security and intelligence agencies.
In the wake of the terrorism tragedies in October 2014 at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and here in Ottawa, there came another opportunity to correct this major deficiency in Canada's national security framework. The whole country shared the grief of those sorry days. We were leaning on each other, on all sides, in this House. There was a clear sense that our security, intelligence, and anti-terrorism laws needed to be revisited and strengthened, and there was a palpable will, on all sides, to work together to get it right, because these are difficult questions. Getting it right would include strengthening scrutiny, review, and oversight of the process.
In the words of a large group of eminent Canadians, including four former prime ministers, who wrote in an open letter at that time, “Canada needs independent oversight and effective review...more than ever”. However, the government of that day resisted that argument, and the opportunity for collaboration and co-operation across the floor quickly evaporated.
That is why a central commitment in our platform last year was to deliver stronger national security oversight, which included the creation of an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities.
With Bill C-22, we are keeping that promise.
The national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians would be made up of nine members, including the chair. Two of the members would be senators. The other seven would be members of Parliament. No more than four would be from the government caucus. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries would not be eligible to sit on the committee. The law would require consultation with the Senate before senators were named, and consultation with the leaders of opposition parties before the appointment of opposition MPs.
The committee would have a broad mandate to examine the legislative, regulatory, administrative, and financial framework for national security and intelligence as well as any activity related to national security and intelligence carried out anywhere within the federal government.
There are nearly 20 departments and agencies within the Government of Canada that have some kind of security function, from the RCMP and CSIS to the Canada Border Services Agency, National Defence, Transport, Foreign Affairs, and many others. This committee would be able to look at all of them.
On its own initiative, the committee would be empowered to follow its investigations wherever they led, which means that it would get a full picture of what the government was doing in national security and intelligence matters. This would be in contrast to several of the Canadian committee's counterparts elsewhere in the world, where mandates are strictly limited to reviewing the activities of a particular agency or agencies or to examining general structures but not particular operations.
In fact, because of the wide-ranging scope of the committee's mandate, one of Canada's foremost experts in national security law, Professor Craig Forcese, has declared that this committee of parliamentarians in Canada would be a stronger body than its equivalents in either the U.K. or Australia.
Indeed, Bill C-22 would transform Canada from being a laggard to being a leader when it comes to parliamentary scrutiny of national security and intelligence activities.
To make certain that the nine parliamentarians on the committee could be as effective as possible, the legislation would also establish a secretariat to help them fulfill their mandate. The secretariat, made up of capable and knowledgeable individuals, would handle the research and administrative tasks necessary to ensure that the committee's work and the work products of the committee were of the highest possible quality and that the committee had the resources and the expertise it needed to get the job done.
The committee might also draw upon the help and expertise of existing review bodies, such as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the Security Intelligence Review Committee for CSIS, and others, and seek information from them, as appropriate.
The bill directs the committee and existing review bodies to work in close collaboration. I expect that by design and through experience, they would relate to each other in a way that would complement each other's efforts and ultimately produce for Canadians significant value-added and greater confidence in the activities of the respective agencies.
The committee would be required to prepare at least one annual report. There could be others. It could also prepare special reports as it saw fit. In other words, it would be able to report on whatever it wanted and whenever it wanted. Obviously, because of the nature of information related to national security and intelligence, not everything the committee looked into could be made public.
However, on this point, I would like to take a moment to discuss the recourse available to committee members should they uncover something they find truly problematic but that their oath of confidentiality prohibits them from disclosing.
Classified information must remain classified. However, without getting into specifics, committee members would command a great deal of attention and put a great deal of pressure on the government of the day if they were to tell Parliament and the public that there was something going on within the realm of security and intelligence activities that they believed was improper. The committee would be able to outline the problem in detail in its report to the prime minister, and the prime minister would be accountable to Canadians. Subsequently, the committee would be able to tell Canadians whether the problem had been adequately addressed, and the pressure would not go away until the committee gave the all-clear. That public pressure would be a powerful tool, and only a committee of parliamentarians could bring it to bear.
Finally, all of these aspects of the committee's operations would be reassessed five years after Bill C-22 came into force. The bill would require Parliament to conduct a review at that time to ensure that the committee was functioning effectively and to make recommendations about how to further advance its work.
We have included this statutory review in the legislation, because there will undoubtedly be lessons learned in the first years of the committee's existence, and we want to guarantee that there will be an opportunity for those lessons to be seriously considered and for any appropriate changes to be made as a result.
The goal is for Canada to have a national security framework that makes us a world leader in both effectiveness and accountability. The legislation before us today is an important step in that direction.
In our consultations with other countries that have had practical experience over the last many years with this concept, like the United Kingdom, for example, we heard repeatedly that it would be wise and prudent to move at this new initiative in a deliberate and measured manner, learning as we go, and to be prepared to accommodate further changes over time.
It is critical to earn trust on all sides: from the public, and after all, the public interest is what this committee would be designed to protect; and from the security and intelligence agencies that would be scrutinized.
Let me emphasize once again our two core objectives for national security for this new committee and indeed for all of our other initiatives in this domain. Number one, we need to ensure that all of our agencies are being effective in keeping Canadians safe. Number two, in lockstep with that, we need to equally ensure that Canadian rights and freedoms are safeguarded along with equality and the character of our democratic way of life.
Building that trust with the agencies and the public, all around, is crucial. That is why we are proposing a mandate for the committee that is not siloed to a few named agencies, as other countries do, but rather is a mandate that reaches across the full scope of government. Unlike other review bodies and other countries, this Canadian committee of parliamentarians would be able to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
In addition to looking at events and activities retroactively, this committee would also be able to examine ongoing activities, a unique power, subject only to basic, reasonable safeguards for classified information.
Again, please recall the full context of our national security agenda. The anchor piece would be the committee of parliamentarians that would be providing a brand new type and level of scrutiny and review, plus a new initiative, funded in the last budget, for community outreach and counter-radicalization, plus full compliance with the Charter of Rights, plus full protection of the basic right to civil protest, plus clarity about warrants, plus action to remedy issues with no-fly lists, plus a more precise definition of “propaganda”, plus a full review of terrorism legislation after three years, plus the first ever inclusive consultations with Canadians, parliamentarians, subject-matter experts, and the general public about other measures they deem appropriate, beyond the ones I have mentioned, and necessary to keep Canadians safe and to safeguard our rights and freedoms.
Already in the consultations we have undertaken we have received more than 7,000 submissions online, which indicates a considerable appetite to be involved and engaged.
In light of a report issued just today by the Privacy Commissioner, let me make one point about our national security consultations very clear: This is not a narrow exercise. All Canadians, including the Privacy Commissioner, can raise and pursue any issue they want to pursue under the rubric of national security and intelligence operations. The discussion paper we published a few weeks ago is not a statement of government policy. It is intended to provoke discussion and debate to get Canadians involved and engaged, and it is doing exactly that.
After we hear from Canadians, we will be able to put forward the appropriate changes in law or procedure that reflect the recommendations we have received.
I will look forward to hearing the full scope of what the Privacy Commissioner has to say about any and all dimensions of our national security architecture. Indeed, I understand that he may be appearing before the House security committee on this topic just next week to present his views on the national security framework. His ongoing input, advice, and oversight are important to me and to the government, just as we want to hear from all Canadians, an opportunity they have never had before.
Parliament has rightly been called the grand inquest of the nation. For too long, however, Canada's Parliament has been prevented from fulfilling that particular role in matters of national security and intelligence. Yet these are matters that concern the fundamental freedoms of Canadians, and they are quite literally matters of life and death. Parliamentarians, the people's chosen representatives, must be at the heart of our system of national security accountability, and at long last, Bill C-22 will make it so.
Before I close, allow me to pause for just a moment to recognize the tremendous work done by the brave women and men of our law enforcement and national security agencies, which they demonstrate on a regular basis. That was the case, in particular, in Strathroy, Ontario, this summer. They were exemplary professionals. The security agency plus at least four different police forces worked seamlessly and effectively, and they prevented a much larger tragedy. I know that we are all exceedingly proud of them and are grateful for their service.
I trust that hon. members in all parties understand the gravity of the issues we are dealing with and will approach not only the committee itself but the upcoming legislative process to establish it with the seriousness this topic warrants. I will be looking forward to good, useful, practical advice.