Good morning, Madam Speaker. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak in support of BillC-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. With this bill, our government would fulfill a key commitment it made to Canadians to ensure that our national security framework is working effectively to keep Canadians safe, and to ensure that our rights and freedoms are safeguarded.
Far too often, I have heard in the House that the great imperatives of every government to keep its citizens safe and to safeguard their rights and freedoms is being spoken of as if we are required to make a choice, a compromise, or a calculation. The very nature of the public discourse suggests that it may be necessary to sacrifice one in order to achieve the other. I respectfully disagree. I believe it is the responsibility of every government, and by that I mean every member of the House, to ensure that we achieve both safety and freedom in equal measure.
I have had the opportunity over the course of my life to be involved in operational matters of national security. From these operational matters, I want to share some of my experience. There is always a tension between those who are responsible for gathering national security intelligence, those responsible for gathering evidence for prosecutions, and those who are responsible for ensuring that nothing bad happens in any of our communities. That tension is often resolved through certain guiding principles.
The principles that guide the work of those dedicated men and women who are responsible for keeping our communities safe while adhering to the rule of law are precisely these things, including the highest in this country, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is their responsibility not only to obey those laws but to uphold them, to uphold them to be respected and honoured throughout the country.
We are also guided by the important principles of public interest. It is important that those who are responsible for keeping us safe do the right thing. That means, of course, not merely obeying the law, because this can lead to situations that in my old business we used to call “lawful but awful”, but respecting the public interest, ensuring that we are doing the right things and in a way that will engender the respect and trust of the public.
That brings me to the most important principle that always has to guide the work of those responsible for and tasked with keeping our communities safe, and that is maintaining the public trust. Maintaining the public trust is based upon a number of things. Certainly the rule of law and acting in the public interest are important, but it also requires transparency and accountability. This is particularly difficult in circumstances where the work is done in secret, where we are engaged in activities that are clandestine, covert, or are classified and secret, when it is not in the public interest to disclose to the public what we know or the means by which we came to know it. It is not in the public interest for that information to become known to those who would do harm in our communities.
How can the public be assured that those tasked with safeguarding their security and their rights obeyed the rule of law and acted in the public interest? It comes down to who guards the guards. I believe that Bill C-22 would allow for a more fulsome answer to this critical question in Canadian governance.
I have been the beneficiary of both good governance and bad governance, and I can say from my experience that doing the job right requires good governance. Indeed, the effective operation of a national security framework requires that we have in place governance and oversight mechanisms that work for us.
We already have a fairly robust system of oversight for national security. We have ministerial oversight, and many of our laws require the explicit consent of the relevant minister for those enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies to proceed and for those involved to do their job. Much of their work requires judicial oversight to ensure that certain legal thresholds are met. The organizations and the individuals who are responsible for this work are guided by internal policy. In addition to that, we have other important review bodies. CSIS, for example, is governed and overseen by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which has access to certain classified information to review the work of CSIS. The work of our RCMP officers and other police services is subject to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission and other oversight bodies to ensure that they are obeying the rule of law and acting in the public interest. CSE is overseen by the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner.
In addition to that work, Parliament has a number of parliamentary committees. Here it is important to acknowledge that the committee being proposed in Bill C-22 would not be a committee of Parliament. It would not be a committee of either house of Parliament. Instead, it would be an additional review mechanism to assure Canadians that we are effective in our oversight and control of the extraordinary powers that are given.
I can tell the House from my experience that those who are tasked with this responsibility welcome oversight. They welcome that accountability. It is important to them that oversight and governance exist, because without public trust in the important work they will be doing, they cannot succeed in their dual mission of both maintaining safety and upholding the rights of our citizens. This measure is an important one to fulfill our commitment to provide effective governance and oversight of national security matters and to protect the rights and freedoms of our citizens.
The committee, from its proposed composition in the bill, would be an effective mechanism to ensure that matters are dealt with across various government agencies. In my experience, keeping our country safe and upholding our laws and freedoms is the responsibility not of a single agency of government, but of all agencies of government.
In far too many cases we have seen that oversight by one body is insufficient to review all of the activities of those other bodies engaged in this important activity, and that as a result there have been a number of gaps in information sharing, and our effectiveness has been compromised. Through the introduction of this new review committee, our government will be able to assure Canadians that those gaps are closed and that all committees are operating in a collaborative and more effective way.