Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate on Bill C-22, an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians. It is a bill that would at long last enable Canadian parliamentarians to scrutinize our national security framework and our national security agencies, as our Five Eyes partners have been doing for years.
The creation of this committee would be part of achieving the dual objectives of keeping Canadians safe while safeguarding our rights and freedoms. It would also stand us in great stead among our international partners. In fact, the new Canadian committee would raise the bar for national security accountability worldwide.
I will touch on a bit of the history behind Bill C-22.
For many years, a great many Canadians, including me as an MP, have called for the creation of such a committee. The government of Paul Martin put forward a proposal that, unfortunately, died on the order paper.
Issues pertaining to the need for better oversight of national security organizations were discussed in 2008 in Justice Frank Iacobucci's Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin, and in 2006 in Justice Dennis O'Connor's Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar.
While the Conservatives were in power, both the private member's bill, Bill C-551, from the member for Malpeque, and my own private member's bill, Bill C-622, were tabled, as was a bill with bipartisan support in the Senate, all of which would have seen this committee created years ago.
My bill, Bill C-622, which called for the creation of a parliamentary committee of oversight, built on the two previous bills and also included an additional set of measures to increase the transparency and accountability of the Communications Security Establishment. It would have put metadata under the law and created a framework of accountability for acquiring, storing, or sharing information inadvertently or advertently collected. However, the timing of my bill was very interesting, because the final discussion and vote took place one week after the attack on Parliament, which had been preceded by two deadly attacks on Canadian soldiers. At that time, there was a great deal of concern about the security of Canadians, due to radicalization and potential terrorism.
In the remarks following the attack on Parliament, it was remarkable that all party leaders confirmed their commitment to protect the rights, freedoms, and civil liberties of Canadians, even as security measures were to be analyzed and strengthened. Indeed, Canadians expect these fundamental aspects of their very democracy being guarded to be respected. That kind of attention to security measures and privacy is the underlying intention of Bill C-22.
At the time, in 2014, I invited members of all parties to support sending my bill to committee for further examination and to signal the authenticity of their commitment to protecting privacy at the same time as strengthening security in Canada. Unfortunately, instead, the previous prime minister instructed his Conservative members to vote against Bill C-622, even though all members of the Liberal Party and all other parties in the House, including one brave Conservative member, voted for it. The bill failed. It was not passed.
However, I am now happy to see the government following through on the spirit of Bill C-22. I was proud to campaign on the promise of delivering stronger national security oversight by parliamentarians, and Bill C-22 delivers on that promise.
It is regrettable that it has taken so long, but we can be proud as the members of Parliament who will, I am confident, finally bring this essential parliamentary body into being. After all, as the federal and provincial privacy commissioners stated in the fall 2014 communiqué, “Canadians both expect and are entitled to equal protection for their privacy and access rights and for their security. We must uphold these fundamental rights that lie at the heart of Canada’s democracy.”
I followed with interest as the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security studied this piece of legislation, proposed and debated amendments, and amended the bill, frequently with the support of several parties.
I want to emphasize what a pleasant change this is from working under the previous government, whose members viewed government bills as sacrosanct.
That was especially the case with laws concerning security measures. As we know, Bill C-51 followed shortly after the tragedies of the attacks on soldiers and on Parliament and was pushed through, essentially with no amendments, despite the deep concerns of Canadians.
I feel that many of the committee's amendments improve the bill and the new committee it will establish.
For example, the committee amended clause 8 to expand the scope of the committee's mandate. When it comes to examining activities carried out by national security or intelligence agencies, the power of a minister to determine that the examination would be injurious to national security would now be time limited to the period during which the activity was actually happening. Once it was no longer ongoing, the minister would be required to inform the committee and the committee could then undertake its examination. I support this change.
I also support the amendment that gives the committee chair a vote only in the case of a tie as well as the NDP's addition of a clause requiring the committee to inform the appropriate minister of the discovery of any activity that may not be in compliance with the law.
I also support some of the changes to the exemptions that were in clause 14 initially, the information to which committee members were not entitled.
I agree with the public safety committee that the new committee of parliamentarians should be able to receive information about ongoing defence intelligence activities supporting military operations. I support that it should have access to information considered privileged under the Investment Canada Act and that it should have access to information collected by FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
There were certain changes made by the committee that were not accepted by the government, for a variety of reasons. For example, there is the amendment currently before the House to reintroduce clause 16, which would allow a minister to prevent the release of information that constitutes special operating information under the Security of Information Act, when disclosing it could be injurious to national security. This kind of authority exists in the case of other equivalent committees in similar parliamentary systems around the world. Moreover, Bill C-22 would still require the minister to give written reasons for preventing the release of information, and Parliament would be informed of each occasion on which this authority was used.
This legislation is a major leap forward for Canadian national security accountability. The new committee of parliamentarians would not only provide Canadians with the assurance that their elected representatives, the MPs in Parliament, were on watch to strengthen the protection of their essential civil rights but would also help identify opportunities to improve on current mechanisms for defending their security. In fact, effective protection of individual privacy and effective delivery of national security measures are not a balance, a dichotomy, or a trade-off. They are complementary, and both are necessary.
The United States Department of Homeland Security, for example, considers safeguarding civil rights and liberties to be critical to its work to protect its nation from the many threats it faces. This third-largest department of the U.S. government now explicitly embeds and enforces privacy protections and transparency in all the department's systems, programs, and activities.
In 2014, deputy secretary Mayorkas confirmed in a Department of Homeland Security speech that not only is this an integral part of the DHS mission and crucial to maintaining the public's trust but it has resulted in Homeland Security becoming a stronger and more effective department.
The original version of Bill C-22, as presented by the government at first reading, was already lauded by experts, and it has only become stronger with the amendments accepted from the public safety committee. Crucially, the bill requires that the act be reviewed by Parliament five years after coming into force, so all of the discussions we are having here in Parliament can be reviewed and the bill can be changed as appropriate.
I am proud to have contributed to the conversation leading to Bill C-22. I am pleased that our government has taken this essential step forward in protecting fundamental Canadian security and freedoms. Ultimately, the bill before us today would make Canadians safer and help ensure that our rights and freedoms are better protected. It has been a long time coming. I invite all hon. members to join me in making it happen.