Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-22 as reported to the House of Commons by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
We have been discussing the need for such a committee of parliamentarians for more than a decade, so this is an idea whose time has come. We lost 10 years. In fact, Canada has some catching up to do with our closest allies.
We, along with Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have an intelligence-sharing arrangement that dates back to the early days of the Cold War. Our alliance is known as the “Five Eyes”.
Every other member of the “Five Eyes” alliance has a body of legislators with special access to classified information relating to national security and intelligence matters. Further, I submit that the broad scope of the Canadian committee’s mandate will make it an even stronger body than many equivalents elsewhere.
I would like to explain to the House how the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP, as proposed in Bill C-22, will compare to frameworks that our allies have established to provide parliamentary oversight of security and intelligence activities.
I will limit my comparison to models in the other Westminster parliamentary tradition in the Five Eyes, namely Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, or PJCIS, and the U.K. and New Zealand, which have each established an Intelligence and Security Committee, known respectively as ISC-UK and ISC-NZ.
There are several similarities between the proposed Canadian committee, called NSICOP, and the parliamentary review committees of those three countries.
The membership of these three committees ranges from 5 to 11 members, appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with opposition parties. We currently have before us a motion from the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to increase the size of the NSICOP under Bill C-22 from 9 to 11, which will allow for one additional member from each House of Parliament.
I support this amendment, as it provides the additional flexibility to ensure that the NSICOP’s membership reflects a diversity of views within Parliament. Canada’s NSICOP will be similar to our allies' committees in that committee members will be bound to secrecy.
The mandates of our allies’ committees include the authority to examine matters related to the administration, policy, legislation, and expenditures of national security departments and agencies, but they differ markedly in the examination of operations. I will come back to that shortly.
Each country imposes similar restrictions on the public reports of their committees to ensure that no classified information is is disclosed.
In the other Westminster systems, as in Canada, the work of the committee is supported by staff that is required to have the appropriate security clearances.
When it comes to access to classified information, the other Westminster democracies also define the scope of that power by legislation. Generally, there are limits on the power to access certain information.
For example, details about sources, methods, and operations, or whether the information was provided by a foreign government may not be disclosed to the committees.
Each of the Westminster countries authorizes the executive branch, namely the minister responsible for the department or agency under review, with powers to withhold sensitive information to ensure that the national interest and security are not harmed.
The standing committee has made some significant changes to this area of Bill C-22. In particular, it deleted almost all of the provisions in clauses 14 and 16 of the bill. This includes provisions that protect important types of information such as the identities of sources and persons in the witness protection program.
I am pleased to see that the government has carefully considered the spirit and intent of the standing committee's changes, and is suggesting a compromise approach. We have before us a motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to restore clause 16 and partially restore clause 14.
Under this approach, the national security intelligence committee of parliamentarians would be provided with access to as much information relevant to its mandate as possible, with restrictions applied only where necessary to prevent harm to individuals, ongoing police investigations, or national security.
I believe this is a responsible, balanced approach, and I urge all members to join me in supporting these amendments.
I have, until now, described similarities between what is proposed in Bill C-22 and what is already in place among our Five Eyes allies, but the proposed national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians will be different from parliamentary review elsewhere in some significant ways.
The differences among the Five Eyes allies relate to the scope of the committees’ mandates, that is to say, the extent to which each committee can examine various institutions involved in national security. The other three Westminster models limit the jurisdiction of their committee to the main national security agencies. The UK and New Zealand allow for additional agencies or programs to be added, but only if the government agrees.
Bill C-22 will give Canada’s committee of parliamentarians a broader mandate. Committee members will be able to examine any national security and intelligence activity conducted by the Government of Canada, regardless of which department or agency is conducting this activity. This will include the main security and intelligence agencies, that is to say, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the other 17 or so other federal organizations that have national security responsibilities, such as the Canadian Border Services Agency.
One of the amendments reported to us by the Standing Committee will make it clear that the committee of parliamentarians' mandate and access to information includes crown corporations. I support this amendment, which is entirely consistent with the committee’s government-wide mandate.
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to the mandate that the committees have over operations, the Five Eyes countries differ considerably in their approaches. The committees in Australia and New Zealand have no mandate to consider operational matters. In the U.K., the committee may review operations, but only if it meets certain conditions, namely, that the Prime Minister has agreed that it is not part of an ongoing operation and that the matter is of significant national interest.
The U.K. committee may only review an ongoing operation if the matter is referred by the British government. Under the bill before us, the Canadian committee would have a broader mandate to review national security and intelligence activities. It would, for example, be able to examine ongoing operations on its own initiative, with the proviso that the minister could stop a review for reasons of national security.
I am pleased to see that the standing committee has strengthened this aspect of the bill by clarifying that operational reviews may only be stopped for national security reasons during the period that the operation in question is ongoing, and that once the operation is complete the parliamentary committee may resume its review. Furthermore, the instances in which this authority is used will be part of the committee’s annual reporting to Parliament, ensuring government accountability in this area.
Another unique feature of this bill is the ability of the committee to engage with the three existing Canadian review bodies that are dedicated to reviewing particular agencies, that is to say, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the Security Intelligence Review Committee for CSIS, and the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. This ensures that the committee’s work can be informed by the work of these highly focused and expert review bodies.
I have outlined the similarities and differences between what is included in Bill C-22 and how our allies among the Five Eyes implement similar oversight and review of security and intelligence matters. We have taken some of the best practices from our allies and gone further to establish a strong, accountable, and transparent review of Canada’s security and intelligence community’s activities.
This is truly a made-in-Canada approach to parliamentary review of security and intelligence. Our country may be late in creating a parliamentary review committee, but Canadians will now have a bold and forward-looking framework for this committee of parliamentarians. Establishing the committee underscores our commitment to be more open and transparent and keep our country safe.
I commend the government for engaging with the standing committee in a constructive and thoughtful manner to improve Bill C-22. I urge honourable members to join me in supporting the amendments proposed by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the passage of this important bill.