Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here today in the House to discuss Bill C-22, the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians act.
I stand here after reading hours of previous debate from this parliament as well as previous parliaments, media reviews of this bill as well as the bill itself. The bill is extremely misleading and should have a disclaimer that states "read the small print”. The bill truly deceives Canadians. The government has deceived Canadians by introducing a bill that would not provide true parliamentary oversight, but is a facade that it is doing something.
Just a year ago many members of the House sat through electoral debates. It was during this time that the current Prime Minister campaigned on real change and less power of the PMO. Yet, in this bill, the Prime Minister would have even greater power than we can even imagine when it comes to the actual inner workings of the proposed committee.
Let us start by pointing out that the Prime Minister would personally choose the chair of the committee, and he chose that member and provided a handsome bonus for this position. Let us point out that the make-up of the committee would not be like one of the standing committees in the House of Commons. These committee members would be approved by the Prime Minister. This committee would only be able to receive information approved by the Prime Minister and his cabinet. This committee would report directly to the Prime Minister, and the report that would be tabled in Parliament would be vetted by the Prime Minister. Let us not forget the Prime Minister would have the right to edit this report. I truly think I see a theme in these things that I am stating.
On another note, this committee would be made up of parliamentarians who would not require any experience in security, policing, or defence. Am I wrong for thinking that a hand chosen committee with political imbalance is right for Canada?
I would like to point out that the information that would be reviewed by the parliamentarian committee would already have been cleansed by the cabinet and the Prime Minister. Information that would be reviewed by the committee would have been approved yet restricted. I will share a section of a speech given by the hon. member for Durham, citing former speaker, Peter Milliken:
The insinuation that members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities.
This legislation would do exactly opposite of the statement by the former and reputable Speaker.
We all understand that there would be sensitive information presented to this committee. However, the fact that the committee would not be seen to have this privilege is very disturbing. My thoughts on this committee can be compared to a family dinner. The committee is not old enough and not wise enough to sit at the grown-ups' table. As well, how could there be true oversight if the information received were already edited? It is sort of like reading a letter that has black marker all over it, except in this case it would be done all by the Prime Minister's Office.
I am unsure if the members of the committee would even know there was edited information that they would be receiving, so that when it came to them it would already have been edited so therefore they would not have all points of view and they would not have the opportunity to look at all of the information necessary to make the appropriate decisions. I say that because there has been little information provided on this actual committee, just the limitations it would be given.
The government is introducing a committee to be more transparent to Canadians, the Liberals say. However, we know that transparency is truly not the case here. I speak as an average Canadian with the honour of representing the great constituents of Elgin—Middlesex—London, an average Canadian who hopes the government will recognize this flawed bill and make important amendments, such as the amendment requests that were presented to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and completely ignored, amendments that were not only reviewed by the official opposition but were shared with the critic for the NDP for its input as well.
These suggestions include: a set number of members and senators; the ability for the committee to summon any witness required; the election of the chair; the request that all parties should have the right to select members who have the necessary experience and who are familiar with security, intelligence, and defence issues; and as well become a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council and swear an oath of secrecy for the work conducted.
These are just some of the suggestions presented to the minister, and as I just stated, with no response.
Changing gears, I have reviewed numerous suggestions indicating some sort of support for the bill. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association supports the introduction of the bill; however, it notes that there are many considerations that need to be addressed. These include the government's power to halt a committee investigation, the Prime Minister's power to redact the committee's report, as well as the decision that the Prime Minister personally appoint the chair.
A law professor at the University of Ottawa, Craig Forcese, has stated that he has concerns about the government’s ability to veto the committee’s plans, limit its ability to see secret materials, and redact its reports. A University of Ottawa historian stated that this is a “good bill”, but he too adds that the real test will be finding the right members.
Even when people look at the bill who actually support it, they too have questions. We have seen academics, lawyers, and many people react to the bill by saying that it is just not right. It needs to have amendments made to it, and it needs to have suggestions from the opposition parties as well.
The bill is not perfect. Therefore, I urge the Minister of Public Safety to start looking at these suggestions and start listening to the opposition members. My colleagues and I are not saying that third-party oversight is not important, but we see a government setting up a new branch of the PMO, not a committee that is allowed to do its job.
Currently, there are watchdogs in place, including the Security Intelligence Review Committee that reviews CSIS, the CSE commissioner who reviews the Communications Security Establishment, and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission that reviews the RCMP.
This is a committee that is not and will not have the tools and resources available to be effective. This committee already has limitations set out by the Liberal government. The committee is already hampered by the government's decision on the development of the parliamentarian committee.
I ask my colleagues to review this piece of legislation and proposal for the committee, and ask themselves whether this is what Canadians are really looking for. Did they ask for a committee that is another branch of the Prime Minister's Office, or did they ask for third-party oversight? Did they ask for hand-picked members, including a hand-picked chair that reports to the Prime Minister directly, or did they want to see a committee that truly has the rights of a committee and can do its work with all resources available to them?
The legislation is very worrisome to me. If the Prime Minister is hand-picking, then can we be sure that he is not also setting the agenda? How can we be sure that the agenda is allowed to be scrutinized by members, ministers, and the Prime Minister himself, or is this committee just fluff?
I am not against watchdogs and whistleblowers. However, the legislation is not that at all. The legislation would not provide the true parliamentary oversight that is necessary. This committee is window dressing, and it does not have the teeth to be able to do anything. This committee reports to one person and one person alone, and that person is the Prime Minister of Canada. It is he who will decide what is actually tabled in the House. National Security is extremely important and the Prime Minister would not allow the committee to do its work.
I urge the Minister of Public Safety to scrutinize the bill and provide something to Parliament that is meaningful. I urge the minister to work with all members, government and opposition, to do what is best for all Canadians. Please work with the recommendations made by former security lawyers, our Armed Forces members, and former RCMP and police officials, who now sit in the House, to make this a better piece of legislation that we can all support.