Mr. Speaker, in light of some of the reports we have heard on CBC over the past week, clearly, it seems appropriate to ask some questions. There were reports of incredible abuses committed against Canadian citizens who were literally sent to be tortured at the request of various Canadian agencies. That is precisely why I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-22 at second reading.
My good friend, the member for Victoria, has been handling this issue skilfully and intelligently. I will therefore be voting in favour of the bill at this stage so that it can be studied further in committee. As always, that is where the real work is done for the benefit of Quebeckers and Canadians.
We certainly commend the government's initiative in bringing this bill forward. Not only does it respond to a very clear call from various commissions of inquiry over the past several decades, but it also fulfills a promise made during the election campaign last fall regarding some recent issues.
This bill to create a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians is crucial. The committee has to be formed not only with the greatest of care, but also with the necessary tools to be credible in the eyes of everyone, citizens and politicians alike, as well on the international stage. Half measures are not an option.
When it comes to credibility and legitimacy regarding national security, the truth is that the previous Conservative government missed the mark with Bill C-51 in the last Parliament. They went in exactly the wrong direction. A critical mass of national security experts were against that bill that was rammed through.
The NDP was the only party that firmly opposed this bill, and Canadians overwhelmingly rejected this intrusive approach that did nothing to balance national security with the protection of the individual freedoms of Quebeckers and Canadians.
Let us be clear: the Liberals have to keep their promise to get rid of the problematic provisions in Bill C-51. We will hold them to it. If we as parliamentarians, and the government MPs in particular, want to win back the trust of Quebeckers and Canadians, then this is definitely the right first step.
Honestly, the public's trust in our institutions should be among the primary objectives of Canada's security policy. Let me explain.
We live in a world that is constantly evolving and, unfortunately, as shown by the tragic events in Istanbul, London, New York, Paris, and Brussels, it is unpredictable and quite dangerous. The length of this list should be enough to attest to that.
We must ensure that our national security organizations, the RCMP, CSE, and CSIS, have the necessary tools and resources to do their job, but that they also do not operate without administrative transparency, so that Canadians can know that they are effective and that they protect Canadians' rights in the best possible way.
Make no mistake, the world in which we live is not a John le Carré or Ian Fleming novel set in the cold war. The duty to protect is particularly important, but entails a responsibility.
I agree, our national security organizations already have oversight bodies, but the truth is that these bodies operate somewhat haphazardly and do not have full and systematic access to sensitive information.
The mandate of oversight and review bodies is limited to examining the work of their target organization. They are unable to follow the thread that connects them to various government organizations.
I want to remind everyone that the annual budget for CSIS, the RCMP, and CSE is close to $4 billion. That responsibility, not to mention the significant amount of taxpayer money involved, justifies the creation of this committee of parliamentarians. I know that every MP represents his or her constituents admirably. That is the spirit in which the members of this parliamentary committee will be tasked with overseeing these operations.
To get back to my first point, the committee must be put together very carefully. All of our allies have parliamentary committees for international security, but they differ in their makeup and especially in their mandate. We can learn from both their experience and their flaws to ensure that our review committee is robust.
Quebeckers and Canadians want a watchdog with sharp teeth. The new committee must have full access to classified information, sufficient resources, and independence. Within reasonable limits, it must be able to share its findings with Canadians in an informative and transparent way.
Twelve years ago, an interim committee of parliamentarians on national security recommended that, should such a committee be created, it should have complete access to all of the information it needs.
Of course, the NDP will be working hard to ensure that this new committee has access to that information.
In that regard, Kent Roach and Craig Forcese, legal experts and authors of a book that was recently published on Bill C-51 and Canada's anti-terrorism laws, have said that without full access to classified information, the committee would not be able to accomplish its task. Mr. Forcese added that this is a good bill, albeit one with inevitable flaws, which likely reflect compromises designed to reconcile elements within the government. Bill C-22 is a good start, but even the best review mechanism in the world cannot make up for flawed legislation, such as Bill C-51. It is therefore important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. These are very clear statements from very competent individuals.
It seems obvious to me that the new parliamentary oversight committee must act as a sufficient counterbalance to restore Canadians' confidence and, more importantly, prevent the kind of abuse that we have seen or bring it to light.
On that note, in order to demonstrate why we need an oversight committee with adequate powers, I would like to draw the House's attention to fact that the excellent journalists at CBC/Radio-Canada managed to report that, from 2001 to 2004, Canadians were imprisoned and tortured in Syria with the complicity of Canadian authorities.
Following the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York, CSIS and the RCMP wanted to find al-Qaeda cells located within the country. In the end, that contributed to massive human rights violations and complicity in the torture of three individuals in Syria. CBC/Radio-Canada had to comb through some 18,000 documents to bring this story to light.
Let us be clear: complicity in torture is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for our authorities to use such an approach. While waiting for a proper parliamentary committee with the right tools to be set up, it is up to talented reporters, like the ones at CBC/Radio-Canada, to ensure that our national security institutions do not engage in this sort of abuse.
I think it is high time that we had this tool so that Quebeckers and Canadians can have confidence in the institutions responsible for protecting us.