Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today in support of Bill C-22, an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians.
The proposed legislation fulfills a key campaign promise of the 2015 election, and represents a thoughtful and long overdue modernization of Canada's security framework.
Allow me to begin by referring to the Prime Minister's mandate letter to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which unambiguously referenced the overarching goal of “keeping Canadians safe”. It reads:
This goal must be pursued while protecting the rights of Canadians, and with an appreciation that threats to public security arise from many sources, including natural disasters, inadequate regulations, crime, terrorism, weather-related emergencies, and public health emergencies.
What we are discussing here today is at the intersection of defence policy, foreign policy, and national security. The rationale behind this mandate is self-evident. We live in a world of new, ever-evolving, and unprecedented security threats. Just this past March, a lone wolf attack on a Canadian Forces recruitment centre in my riding of Willowdale underscored this point. While I am grateful for the incredible bravery and professionalism the RCMP and others displayed in responding to the attack, the fact remains we are largely operating in a brave new world where groups and individuals can pose serious challenges to our safety and security.
Meeting these challenges, while maintaining our respect for the cherished rights and freedoms of Canadians, requires a robust and responsible parliamentary framework. While the previous government curiously failed to recognize this, something I can assure members I heard repeatedly on doorsteps, it is my belief that Bill C-22 rectifies the obvious gaps within our existing security framework, namely, by establishing a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians. This committee would be provided extraordinary access to national security information and an unprecedented ability to scrutinize federal departments and operations. In doing so, Bill C-22 rejects the notion that we must choose between prioritizing security concerns on the one hand and respecting civil and charter rights on the other. Rather, it establishes a framework that balances both.
The issue of accountability boils down to this. Does Canada have the institutions it needs to protect the safety of Canadians, while at the same time safeguarding our rights and freedoms? Bill C-22 ensures that we can answer that question in the affirmative.
The concept of establishing a parliamentary security oversight committee is hardly novel. The idea can be traced as far back as the 1981 McDonald commission report, while more recent efforts include a 2003 Auditor General's report, recommendations from the 2004 Interim Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security, the 2005 national security committee of parliamentarians act, a 2009 recommendation from the House of Commons public safety committee, a 2011 Senate report, and private members' bills introduced in 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2014, most recently by my Liberal colleagues from Malpeque and Vancouver Quadra.
Over the past decade, these efforts were repeatedly obstructed and denied by the previous Conservative government, despite widespread support amongst experts, stakeholders, academics, non-governmental organizations, and the Canadian public. While there is no making up for this lost decade, I am proud to say that Bill C-22 finally provides Canadians with a modern and meaningful security oversight mechanism.
In keeping with our government's commitment to evidence-based decision-making, Bill C-22 notably aligns Canada's security regime with accepted international best practices. As colleagues before me have highlighted, Canada is currently the only member of the Five Eyes alliance lacking a security oversight committee that grants sitting legislators access to confidential national security information. In an era in which security threats are increasingly global and interdependent, Canada cannot afford to be an outlier on this issue. This absence of oversight has limited the ability of parliamentarians to examine national security issues in depth. The previous government argued that there was no need for parliamentarians to have access to confidential national security information. On this side of the House, we disagree. Giving parliamentarians access to such information will benefit Canadians who want their government to be open and transparent, including our national security agencies.
As Professors Craig Forcese of the University of Ottawa and Kent Roach of the University of Toronto recently noted in their working paper to modernize Canada's inadequate review of national security, a robust national review framework rests on three pillars.
First is a properly resourced and empowered committee of parliamentarians with robust access to secret information, charged primarily with strategic issues, including an emphasis on efficacy review. Second is a consolidated and enhanced expert review body, a security and intelligence community reviewer or super SIRC with all-of-government jurisdiction, capable of raising efficacy issues but charged primarily with proprietary review. Third is an independent monitor of national security law, built on the U.K. and Australian models, with robust access to secret information and charged with expert analysis of Canada's anti-terrorism and national security legislation and able to work in concert with the other bodies on specific issues.
It is my belief that the bill meets these criteria. Professor Forcese would appear to agree, writing as he did that Bill C-22 represents a good bill. He goes on to say that it creates a stronger body than the U.K. and Australian equivalents and that it constitutes “a dramatic change for Canadian national security accountability”.
I believe the legislation is well intentioned, well considered, and well rounded. In particular, I would like to highlight five notable elements of the bill.
First, Bill C-22 allows the committee to analyze and study laws, policies, and operations in real time, increasing the discipline, responsiveness, and accountability of our security framework.
Second, the legislation before us tasks the committee with the invaluable capacity to monitor classified security and intelligence activities and report findings to the Prime Minister. Rather than reviewing security activities on an ad hoc and siloed department-by-department basis, Bill C-22 provides the opportunity for comprehensive security oversight.
Third, the provisions regarding ministerial discretion on limits to access to information contained within the bill are clearly delineated and follow the best practice models established by the United States, Australia, and others.
Fourth, Bill C-22 guarantees that the government will constitute a minority within the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, thus ensuring increased accountability.
Finally and perhaps most significant, Bill C-22 represents an important counterbalance to the sweeping powers introduced through Bill C-51. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, the bill represents the fulfillment of a key campaign pledge on the part of the government to rein in the excesses of Bill C-51, while ensuring the collective security of all Canadians. The introduction of a committee of parliamentarians tasked with overseeing Canadian security and intelligence represents a much-needed return to accountability.
The bill, however, merely represents one part of the puzzle. Our government has also committed to amending Bill C-51 to better protect the rights of assembly and protest, and to better define rules regarding terrorist propaganda, mandating statutory review of national security legislation, creating an office of community outreach and counter-radicalization, and increased consultations with Canadians from coast to coast on how best to balance security concerns and civil liberties.
This process, both within and outside Parliament, will allow us to strengthen the security and intelligence system of Canada. It will also provide Canadians with confidence that in protecting their safety and security, the government stands firmly behind their rights and freedoms.
I urge all hon. members of the House to join me in supporting the bill.