House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.


The House resumed from March 8 consideration of Bill C-22, an Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.


Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

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.

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10:15 a.m.


Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech.

In 2014, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and nine other ministers voted for Bill C-622, a bill that would have established an oversight committee with unfettered access and subpoena powers.

Is the member disappointed? Why is the government trying to take tools away from the committee that Bill C-22 would establish?

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10:15 a.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for her question.

I want to point out that today is a historic day. A bill like this one to create a committee of parliamentarians to oversee, improve, scrutinize, and analyze the activities and operations of over a dozen security intelligence agencies is unprecedented in Canada.

These kinds of activities were carried out in the dark. We had to have faith, without any oversight as parliamentarians, and that must stop. I think this is worth celebrating, and I hope the member will join me.

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10:15 a.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, despite my colleague's speech, I think that Canadians expect Parliament to have a truly effective watchdog that has some real teeth.

If we want to strengthen the confidence of Canadians in our public security and intelligence agencies, we need to ensure real oversight. We need to give this oversight committee the tools and autonomy needed to be effective.

In 2004, an all-party committee looked at the issue of an oversight committee. After visiting some allied countries, members of that committee concluded that, without full access to classified information, the oversight committee would not be able to complete its task.

However, the bill before us today places a number of limitations on the rights of MPs, even though MPs would have security clearance and would be bound to secrecy.

Does the parliamentary secretary not have sufficient confidence in the members to grant them full access to as much information as possible, rather than trying to restrict that information?

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10:15 a.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the first part of the NDP member's question. We want an oversight committee that is as effective as possible. That is what Bill C-22 promises and I am proud of that.

I am also very pleased that we have a government that accepts amendments proposed by opposition party members. We are making history because for 10 years, hon. members were unable to contribute to improving government bills. Now, committees operate in such a way that members of all parties can contribute to creating a more effective framework. That is what the committee did and the government accepted several proposed amendments.

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10:20 a.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the most important duties of any national government is the safety and security of its citizens. That is what people look to the government for, that is what they trust their government will do, and that is indeed one of our most important obligations here in this House, but more importantly for any government in Canada.

I come to this debate as a former public safety minister. While aware of the national security threats that we face as a country and how we work to deal with those threats, it also means that I understand full well that there are very good reasons that one might not want to have a committee such as this. Those arguments have been articulated in the past.

On the one hand, for example, one could argue that our national security agencies conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and that the existing oversight mechanisms we have are adequate and do a fine job in providing oversight of those mechanisms to protect the public interest. I think all of us would agree that is indeed largely the case here in Canada today, and I think it is clear that the Liberal government has concluded the same, based on the approach it is taking to the bill.

The second argument that we hear from time to time is that we cannot really trust politicians, especially those with a partisan interest, with this kind of sensitive security information. If they see a partisan gain to be had, they will find some way to use that information to their advantage, even if it would hurt national security.

The Liberals have clearly concluded that they believe both of these two perspectives. However, they are stuck with a problem. The problem is that notwithstanding their conclusions on this front, they have this promise from the last election to establish an all-party national oversight committee. They feel they must somehow fulfill that promise. They noted when they were out campaigning that Canada is “the sole nation among our Five Eyes allies whose elected officials cannot scrutinize security operations”. Therefore, they come to us with a bill today that ensures that parliamentarians will not be able to scrutinize national security operations, i.e., their solution does not address what they say was their problem.

The Liberals' solution indicates that they do not believe we can trust politicians, which is one of those arguments for not having such a body in the first place. What we are dealing with here is a fascinating shell game. We are establishing something that has the name, national security committee of parliamentarians, but it is not a parliamentary committee; it is a committee of parliamentarians. It seems to belong to the Prime Minister as his personal group, but it is not a parliamentary committee. It has none of those privileges. It is simply an empty shell, with none of the powers we would think such a committee would have.

While we are going through a tremendous charade to pretend we are carrying through on a commitment to do something from the election, we are creating it in name but not in substance.

That is the problem we have in the Conservative Party. I believe it is legitimate to have a perspective where we make those arguments and say we will not have a parliamentary oversight committee because of those reasons, because our existing system works well: “We think our bodies do well. We are concerned about trusting politicians.” We could say that, or we could say that those statements are not true: “We really do need to have parliamentary oversight.” Then, we can actually create it. The bill does not create it. It is consistent. In fact, one of the ironies is that the underlying premise of the argument that we cannot trust politicians is proven by this bill. The Liberals went out there and told Canadians they would do something, and they are not. They are doing something very different. They are proving that very argument by their actions in this case.

This committee, as I said, is not a parliamentary committee. It has none of the associated powers and privileges of a parliamentary committee, and, by its structure, is isolated and cut off entirely from this parliamentary process. Members will see that it does not have the ability to appeal to the rights that one has as parliamentarians by virtue of our long-standing traditions in this House of Commons, and which for centuries of the Westminister system has worked.

The body is not a parliamentary committee; it is a committee merely of parliamentarians. The bill before us ensures that the body cannot scrutinize ongoing operations, and it says that when the operations are complete then of course it can reflect upon them. However, in this day and age, there is no such thing.

As a former public safety minister, I can say that no investigation is ever complete. The principal threat that we face, as the public safety department and the government assess in their national security priorities documents on the terrorism front, is the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism. Every time we have had such an incident, though, even when the incident is over and the perpetrator may be killed, the fact is that investigations continue with the people they have dealt with, in the context they have had, and the networks they have, and these investigations continue on and on. By their very nature, they do not come to a conclusion.

By the definitions of the exclusions that have been created for this committee, they are effectively, de facto, excluded from ever dealing with anything of substance that is actually happening on the national security front. Then, ironically, most of all, the authority that it would be given to seek information, to ask for documents, the mandate it would be given and the realms in which it can investigate, are more limited than the existing oversight bodies that are doing their work. They are duplicative, but more narrow. They are not even in other areas. They are in the exact same areas, but they are more narrow.

Therefore, it is a paper shell that is being proposed by the government. It is a meaningless shell. It certainly underlines those two principal arguments that I made in the first case about why the government probably has come to the conclusion that it would not, if it had its preferences and had not made such a rash promise in the last election, be proceeding with this committee.

Let us deal with the first of those arguments, whether our existing national security organizations do their jobs well and have adequate oversight. I can say, I think without compromising any oaths or laws, that our Canadian Security Intelligence Service is highly professional. We are very fortunate to have it working for us. I believe the men and women in that organization are second to none. They provide a service to Canadians that has kept us safe countless times.

They resist any temptation to put themselves in the spotlight, to tell success stories of their work, but there is a myriad of success stories of their work. The threats that they have shut down, which we have never ever heard about, that they have neutralized, prevented from happening, have identified, and appropriately tracked to protect us are numerous. We can be very proud of the work of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It is indeed highly professional.

I have heard occasional criticisms of individuals on the Security Intelligence Review Committee. After all, a lot of them are politicians and people like to criticize politicians. However, I have never heard any substantive criticisms of the work they have done being inadequate. We can conclude that both the organization and the oversight have worked very well.

Another one of the three organizations that we are dealing with, the Communications Security Establishment, is outstanding. It is a second-to-none, world-class operation, and we can commend its work. Fortunately, most of us do not know the work that it does, which is the way it is supposed to be, but I can assure everyone that it does outstanding work. I have never ever heard a single credible criticism of the quality of work done by the commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. Again, it is high quality.

The RCMP is a bit of a different body. One of the difficulties is that we ask our police to spread themselves across an incredibly large mandate, everything from local and municipal policing to counterterrorism investigations, to dealing with money laundering, to dealing with very sophisticated financial transactions. It is a mandate that is truly broad, so their work is not always perfect. However, that being said, the work of Ian McPhail and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission has been excellent. I have not heard any credible complaints. They are providing very high-quality reviews.

When I look at these, I can see that the government has concluded there is not a problem. However, Liberals have talked about it in opposition, whipping up a frenzy of concerns. They do not really share that. They do not really believe that. At the end of day, they honestly do not believe politicians should have oversight. That is why they have created this limited scope, this inability. In fact, as I said, this body would become a pale duplication. It is a duplication of the existing oversight, but it is a pale duplication. The committee of parliamentarians will have less power than those existing oversight bodies that we talked about that are doing their work.

Not only will it have less scope, but the government almost implicitly in this bill acknowledges embarrassment that it is creating a body that is merely a duplication with fewer powers. It does that with an entire clause, clause 9 of the bill, that requires the review bodies and this new committee to “avoid any unnecessary duplication of work.” The government has actually acknowledged it is asking this committee to do the exact same thing. Just a little slice of it is all the government is going to let the committee do and please, no duplication.

At one point in time when this was proposed, I thought that as a former public safety minister, it would be great for me to be on this committee. Now I look at this committee as it is being proposed by the government, and it is such a meaningless shell. I can assure every member in this House who is interested in serving on it that they are going to find it a very frustrating and empty experience, because they are not going to see too much and they are not going to have much power to actually do anything. Certainly, it is a far cry from a substantive committee such as we see, for example, south of the border.

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10:30 a.m.


Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues that will be addressed with this committee is if there are issues that arise in the RCMP or CSIS, that particular committee will be able to follow the evidence from the RCMP to CSIS, or from CSIS to the RCMP. Right now the review bodies cannot do that.

Would the member not agree that this is a big improvement with regard to that particular committee? It can follow the evidence from the RCMP to CSIS. Right now that cannot be done.

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10:30 a.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an optimistic hope. The committee might be able to do that on something that happened 25 years ago. However, the exclusions in this mean that the committee cannot deal with anything that is an existing operation. I have already laid out why anything that has happened in the past five to 10 years on the counterterrorism front still have threads out there as parts of active investigations. The committee is not going to be able to get the information.

The powers here, by definition, if there is an intelligence failure, the committee cannot go there and investigate that. If there is an abuse, the committee cannot go there because it is going to be part of such an ongoing evaluation, or it is going to be a threat or “injurious to national security”. Those are the magic words they are using.

If the committee thinks the priorities that the government is pursuing or that our intelligence agencies are pursuing are wrong, the committee cannot investigate that because that would be injurious to national security. If the committee thought that some of the techniques it wanted to look at were inappropriate, it cannot do that either because that would also fall under the exclusion that talking about that would be injurious to national security.

The fact is this committee would simply be a powerless paper tiger that exists for one purpose, like a window or hood ornament on a vehicle, to decorate the fact and suggest that the government has kept a promise that it has not really kept at all.

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10:30 a.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

It is incumbent on the committee to verify, in the most independent and effective way possible, whether the government is fulfilling its role of ensuring the safety of Canadians.

Is the hon. member not the least bit concerned about the government 's insistence that the chair of this oversight committee be appointed by the Prime Minister and not elected by the members of the committee, as is the case with most of our allies?

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my concerns are much deeper than that. By nature, any chair who comes out of Parliament is going to be a partisan person. That is life. That is part of why the government wants a committee of parliamentarians. It is putting value in that democratic oversight, if that is what it is doing. My concerns are much deeper than that.

I think people have a sense that somehow a committee like this could have some substantive oversight. Let us take, for example, a serious intelligence failure, where we had questions about whether our national security agencies had done the right things. Could the committee actually go there with this, if it cannot ask for information and cannot investigate things that are part of an ongoing operation?

Let us take the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an example. The year 2001 was a decade and a half ago. Guess what? Investigations into that in the United States continue. There are people in Guantanamo Bay still today related to that in one way or another. There are folks around the world where they are trying to come up with cases for prosecution to pursue them. These things are all still very active a decade and a half later. By definition, an intelligence failure that would have led to an event like that here in Canada would be foreclosed from investigation by this committee because it would be dealing with an ongoing operation.

The fact is this is a committee that exists in name and decoration only with absolutely no powers. That is what the Liberal Party is proposing. It is very different from what anybody believed the Liberals were proposing when they were asking for the support of Canadians to form government.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-22, the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians act.

We have now had the benefits of a healthy debate as we have witnessed today and prior to this, of course, at second reading and at committee stage. I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for their helpful analysis and of course for their hard work.

As many have said today and prior to today, this legislation is long overdue. We have heard stakeholders call it “crucial” and affirm that it would establish a Canadian committee stronger than its international counterparts. It would fill a significant gap that has existed in Canada for far too long, and would enable us to achieve our twin objectives of making sure that our national security agencies are working effectively to keep Canadians safe and that Canadians' rights and freedoms are protected. As members know, Bill C-22 would create a committee of parliamentarians with extraordinary access to classified information so they can closely examine intelligence and security operations.

This new Canadian committee would have a broader mandate and greater access to information than many of its international counterparts. The bill before us would allow the committee to review legislation, policy, regulation, administration, and financing related to national security and intelligence along with any related activity a department undertakes. By comparison, in Australia the equivalent committee can only conduct statutory reviews of legislation and review the expenditure and administration of their agencies requiring ministerial referral to look at any of the additional issues. In the United Kingdom, the committee requires a memorandum of understanding with the prime minister to look at anything beyond the work of three specific British agencies.

Therefore, from the start, Bill C-22 would provide the committee with a wider-ranging scope than those of some of our major international allies with similar Westminster-style systems. That was the case when the bill was first introduced, and the public safety committee has made amendments intended to move the Canadian version even further beyond the authorities and access that exist among our allies. I certainly applaud that objective and I agree with some of the amendments brought forward. Others, however, are problematic and I will explain which of the committee's amendments I would like to preserve and why.

As is the case with other similar national security committees in parliaments around the world, one of the key concerns is how to ensure that the committee has access to the information it needs to do its job, while ensuring that security is not compromised by the release of especially sensitive information. That is why the original bill listed certain types of information that would be exempt from the committee's purview and give ministers the authority to determine that certain information could not be divulged to the committee for national security reasons.

I support changes made by committee members that would expand the mandates of the new national security committee, notably by requiring ministers to give reasons for withholding information on national security grounds and to notify the committee when those grounds no longer apply. I also support the change that would only allow the chair of the committee a vote in the case of a tie. I support the requirement that public versions of committee reports must clearly indicate the extent and reasons for any redactions. I support the new whistle-blower clause added by the NDP. I also support changes to clause 14, which would give the committee access to information about ongoing defence intelligence activities in support of military operations, privileged information under the Investment Canada Act, and information collected by FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.

There are, however, certain exemptions to the information the committee would have access to that I would like to see added back into the bill. These concern information about people in the witness protection program, the identities of confidential sources, as well as information directly related to ongoing police investigations.

In the first two cases, there is the potential for individuals to be placed in serious danger if their identities become known, and there is no reason that the committee would need to know who exactly these people are in order to properly scrutinize any intelligence activities. As concerns ongoing police investigations, it is important to guard against even the perception of political interference in active investigations and prosecutions. Once an investigation is no longer active, the committee would certainly review it retrospectively.

I would also like to see clause 16 reintroduced. This part authorizes a minister to prevent a disclosure of special operating information as defined by the Security of Information Act when it could be injurious to national security. In such cases, the minister would have to give reasons in writing, and the fact that this discretion was used would be public. This is comparable to the way equivalent committees operate in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.

Indeed, our proposed approach to access the information follows the best practices established in other allied countries. In both Australia and the U.K., for example, a minister may prevent the disclosure of operationally sensitive information to the committee if it is deemed that disclosure would not be in the interests of national security. Nevertheless, the Canadian committee would have expansive access to information and the powers necessary to ensure that our security framework is strong and effective, and that Canadians' rights and freedoms are well protected.

The committee would be well resourced and supported to do its job as a fully independent body setting its own agenda. This would strengthen democratic accountability. It would ensure that national security and intelligence activities are being carried out in an effective way that respects the values we cherish as Canadians.

It would indeed set a higher bar for accountability to Parliament than many of our international allies. It would fulfill an important promise that we made to Canadians during the campaign.

I urge all members to support this legislation, Bill C-22, and some of the amendments.

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10:40 a.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, in an era when the Five Eyes have been accused of doing things like the Stuxnet worm and creating the Equation Group, which created hacks for hard drives, and otherwise doing things which are varying levels of creative, I am wondering what my colleague from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame thinks of the importance of having a committee of this type to oversee and make sure that whenever these kinds of actions are taken by any member of the Five Eyes, those actions are legal and ethical and are kept within the bounds of what we should and can be doing.

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10:40 a.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Mr. Speaker, I remember that we debated and discussed this some time ago, even in the last Parliament under the guise of private members' bills, several of those pieces of legislation, and how to keep track with the Five Eyes, in particular, the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia. We talked about how we wanted to create this committee of parliamentarians, not a parliamentary committee which has been pointed out several times today. It is a natural extension of oversight from civilian bodies such as our own that was necessary. There are parliamentarians who are far more eloquent in their explanation of this than I am, but nevertheless, I certainly believe in their enthusiasm. I certainly believe this is long overdue, as was pointed out by many in the House, and not just from this party.

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10:45 a.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have had the pleasure of working with our hon. colleague on the fisheries and oceans committee. I think our fisheries and oceans committee has been doing some great work. It consists of members of Parliament who bring a variety of skill sets, experience, and knowledge of the issues at hand, which has allowed us to do some incredible work, in terms of the Fisheries Act review, the northern cod study, our Atlantic salmon study, because we bring real-world experience to the committee. We have met with the minister, who has advised us they are going to take our recommendations forward.

However, with the national security and intelligence committee, the government, again, is essentially just fulfilling a campaign promise. It is ticking off that check box saying it is doing it. but then the revisions it has made in the most recent iteration of the bill are really not giving any form of authority or power to any of the committee members. As a matter of fact, it is weakening it. The government members are standing before the House, and before Canadians who are in the gallery and who are tuning in, and saying that this is going to be better than any other of our four ally nations and partners. The reality is that this is a shell game.

My hon. colleague has mentioned some things that he would like to see, but I guess the question I would ask him is, does he not recognize that the government has weakened the original intent of this committee with these recommendations?

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Mr. Speaker, the answer to his question is probably within his question. I appreciate his comments about the fisheries committee, incidentally. He mentioned that the powers contained within this legislation are more broad and more powerful than other allies', upon which they were modelled. Therein, I think, lies the answer to his question. It is not a shell game. Take some of the amendments that we have taken from committee that were pointed out to us, some of the automatic stuff, like subpoenas or the witness protection program, which is a fine example. The information, the narrative is laid out, it is just that some of the information is not disclosed, for reasons that are quite obvious. We talked about this before the last Parliament, and even before the campaign. We talked about the essential nature of this. This is why I brought some of this forward. I want to re-establish some of the things that were taken out in committee because I think they are absolutely necessary. We have listened to some of them and we have left them out. However, in particular cases, like the witness protection program I talked about earlier, they are an essential part. I think in the spirit of this, as was pointed out before, this is long overdue, and we have done it, and we are far more thorough than other nations.

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10:45 a.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to report stage of Bill C-22 today. The NDP was supportive of this bill at second reading because we are supportive of the idea that we need stronger oversight when it comes to our national security and intelligence agencies. We were optimistic that if the bill were to proceed to committee, we could work out details at committee that would make that oversight body of parliamentarians an effective means of oversight.

Our optimism was rewarded at committee. There was some good work done there. There was collaboration across party lines, which is really important to underline because part of the point of this committee of parliamentarians is to have that kind of co-operation across party lines. When it comes to issues of national security it is important not to make them partisan issues. Therefore, up to this point, the committee model for the legislation was working well as a model for the committee of parliamentarians. The kind of inter-party co-operation we would hope to see on that committee, once established, was actually taking place at the committee level.

It was not just committee members pulling ideas out of a hat and all agreeing on it; there were experts who testified at the committee and made suggestions as to how to make it better in the sense of ensuring that it would be effective. We can establish a committee of parliamentarians who can meet in secret, but if the government is controlling all of the information the committee gets, and if it does not have the power to subpoena witnesses and get that information that it deems is necessary for adequate oversight, and if government is able to control the release of its findings, rather than leaving it to its good judgment, then it is a horse and pony show. It is not really about providing meaningful oversight for our national security agencies, it is more about government placating Canadians, and having something it can point to that says, “We did something that really makes no difference operationally speaking for those security and intelligence agencies.” The committee was doing that. It was not just New Democrats and the Conservatives calling for those changes at committee; the Liberals on the committee were calling for those changes also. In fact, they made those changes.

The committee heard from experts. The experts gave good advice on how to make this a meaningful oversight committee. Amendments were passed in order to effect those changes. Then, when it came back to the House, the government presented a number of amendments, which we are debating now, to vitiate the substance of a lot of those amendments. That was disappointing because it means that if these amendments pass, structurally the committee would not be the kind of effective oversight body that Canadians and the committee members were looking forward to, including the Liberals on the committee. It is a disappointment in that sense, but it is also a disappointment, and I think foreshadows a legitimate concern for us and for Canadians, that the government is not taking a sincere and authentic approach to having this committee provide independent oversight. Here we had inter-party co-operation and it did not produce what the government wanted. We have seen this before. We saw it at the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, where again we had a lot of fanfare from the government about how it was going to do something totally different. This was precedent-setting. It was agreeing to the NDP's idea for a committee. It was even going to see it have a majority on that committee. Then, when the committee came up with something it did not like or did not already agree with, it said, “Forget it. We're not really serious about that.”

The substance of the government's amendments to the all-party work that was done at committee in order to make this a better bill foreshadows that same attitude on the part of the government. If it has that attitude toward the committee that did the work to create an effective oversight body, then I think it is reasonable for Canadians to expect that this is the attitude it will have toward the work of the committee itself. I think it is fair for Canadians to say, “Why bother with an independent oversight committee”, when the government is essentially giving itself a clear path to control the information that the committee would see, in other words, to make sure that, if there are things that would impugn the government, that independent oversight committee would not see that information, because the committee itself would not have the power to compel testimony and to get information for itself.

If the government is going to control it at that level, and it already have a history of ignoring the advice of committees that it initially said were going to be a great thing and were going to come up with something and were going to be an example of inter-party collaboration, then I do not think Canadians have cause to be optimistic that this committee would produce the results that everyone was so hopeful for. That is too bad. It is shameful in fact, and frustrating, particularly from a government that said it was going to respect the role of committees.

In the context of Wednesday night's vote on the genetic discrimination bill, the government had better start getting wise. It talks a good game about respecting the role of committees and the independence of parliamentarians, but it has actually been very heavy-handed in the way it treats committees and in the way it treats its backbenchers, at least in name. Instead of listening to its backbenchers up front to develop better policy, and instead of listening to its Liberals on committee who vote for good changes, it says it is not going to do it that way.

If it had listened to it backbench on the genetic discrimination bill it would have avoided an embarrassment. Essentially, Liberal backbenchers said they did not trust the Prime Minister's judgment when it comes to constitutional issues, because the Prime Minister came out and said he did not think the changes to the law were constitutional. The Liberal backbench disagreed. That is fine. That is their right.

All I am saying is it would be a better government and more consistent with what the Prime Minister has said if it had just listened to its members up front and listened to committees up front. If it had listened to the committee, and instead of taking out the committee amendments had gone ahead with them, we would have the gold standard in independent parliamentary review of security and intelligence agencies. It is because of the Liberal backbench, with no thanks to the government, that we are going to have a decent law on genetic discrimination in Canada. That is a good thing. Why the government feels it cannot do that as a matter of course, I do not understand. Perhaps some Liberals will want to shed light on that later.

There is a problem with the substance of these amendments in terms of what they do to the committee and its capacity for independent oversight. There are clearly problems with the process in terms of the government's attitude toward the work of its own members on committee, as well as the opposition. There is no better reason to oppose something when it is wrong on the substance of the matter and it is wrong with respect to the process. If it did not get the process right and it did not get the substance right, it is beyond me why members of the House would see fit to support these amendments.

The committee, if it were established, would simply be the first step, because there are other questions that play out in a number of different ways about how we provide effective ongoing oversight of our security agencies. Presumably, we want a committee that is going to have the information it needs in order to provide advice to government on whether we should have a super agency, for instance, that would supervise all of our security and intelligence agencies, or the current model, where we have a number of review bodies that specialize in the specific tasks and roles of particular security agencies, whether CSIS, CSE, or the RCMP. However, we need to give the committee a better mandate to collaborate more effectively, to make sure there are not any pockets where security and intelligence work is being done where there is no oversight.

We need a committee of parliamentarians who can provide good advice on that. However, we are not going to get it if that committee does not have the independence it needs. Also, if it does not have independence with respect to the information it receives, it does not have real independence as an oversight committee. That is why this change to the committee's ability to subpoena witnesses, and with respect to the minister's right to make judgments about what information the committee would receive, is so important.

It is for all those reasons, reasons of substance and process, that I am not prepared to support these amendments. It is for those reasons that if the amendments pass I will not be prepared to support the bill going forward.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will have five minutes for questions and comments when the House next returns to debate on the question. Now we will go to statements by members.

The hon. member for Mississauga—Lakeshore.

Advocate for People with DisabilitiesStatements By Members

March 10th, 2017 / 10:55 a.m.


Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to recognize Rabia Khedr, recently appointed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for her inspiring work in my community.

Commissioner Khedr has long been a staunch advocate for persons with disabilities. She is the founder of the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities and currently is the president and CEO of Deen Support Services. Through her hard work and dedication, Deen runs the Muneeba Centre in my riding, and I was honoured to attend its grand opening last year.

Many adults with developmental disabilities find themselves with nowhere to go and nothing to do after finishing school. As a result, they face significant deficiencies in their quality of life. The Muneeba Centre fills this gap by offering life skills, day programming, peer support groups, information sessions, and respite and residential services for individuals living with disabilities and their families and caregivers in a culturally and spiritually safe environment.

I invite all members to recognize Rabia Khedr for her inspirational efforts to build a more inclusive society.

Nuclear Hazardous WasteStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to share the concerns of some of my constituents regarding shipments of nuclear waste that could soon pass through the Niagara region. This material, from the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories facility in Chalk River, is being returned to the United States for processing.

Many Niagara residents have organized themselves to scrutinize the planning and approval process for these shipments to ensure that every precaution is taken. It is essential that this nuclear waste be transported in a way that fully protects the people along its path, and of course, the surrounding environment.

I call upon all levels of government and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to work with their counterparts in the United States to ensure that these shipments are completed safely and securely. If this project fails to meet the very highest standards for transporting nuclear hazardous waste, it should not be allowed to pass through Niagara.

Special OlympicsStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to wish the best of luck to Janet Charchuk, a young woman in my riding who will be representing Canada at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Janet has Down's syndrome but says that while it is a part of her, it does not define her as a person. A strong advocate for people with disabilities, she is the president of PEI People First and is a provincial representative on the People First of Canada board of directors. She also represented Special Olympics team PEl at last year's national games, where she won three medals in snowshoeing events.

This week, Janet's hometown of Alberton organized a special community event to wish her well before she travels to Austria next week to again compete in snowshoeing.

Janet is a role model. I wish her and all team Canada competitors the best of luck.

First Things FirstStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, five years ago, Penticton resident Fred Ritchie became concerned about the issue of climate change. He called a few friends, and half a dozen of us ended up sitting around his table. Before the meeting was over, we had formed an informal group that we called First Things First, because climate change was clearly the problem the world had to solve before anything else.

I have not been directly involved with the group for the last couple of years, but clearly, it is thriving. Last year, First Things First put on a one-day solar fair and more than 600 people showed up.

On April 22, the group is putting on a forum at the Penticton Secondary School called "Energy: Our Present, Our Future". Renewable energy systems, sustainable buildings, and the new energy workforce are among dozens of topics in this daylong symposium.

I will be there, continuing to learn how our society can create jobs and wealth while making the transition to a low-carbon future.

Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam Seniors Advisory CouncilStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to announce that the Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam seniors advisory council held its first meeting last week.

The seniors advisory council will meet regularly. Its members are from different backgrounds, neighbourhoods, and associations.

Our government has worked hard to meet the needs of seniors. We have restored the eligibility age for OAS and GIS and increased GIS for almost one million single seniors. After a lifetime of hard work and contributions, Canadian seniors deserve a dignified and comfortable retirement.

Members of my seniors advisory council provided me with their top three priorities: housing, health care, and pensions. We are meeting again in April. What I learn from seniors on my council I will bring right back to Ottawa to ensure that our seniors have a strong voice on the Hill.

Elmira Maple Syrup FestivalStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, spring is in the air, and having already attended the official maple tree tapping two weeks ago, this spring air smells of sweet maple syrup.

On April 1, I will once again have the privilege of serving at the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. This is the world's largest one-day festival. Thousands of pancakes flooded with fresh maple syrup is something people do not want to miss.

Mr. Speaker, if you will join me personally in Kitchener—Conestoga on April 1, I will be happy to serve you and any one of my colleagues joining me in Elmira. Not only is the festival filled with good food, sugar bush tours, pancake-flipping contests, and many other activities for all ages, but last year over $51,000 was raised in support of local charities and not-for-profit organizations.

I encourage all my constituents to get involved and join me in volunteering for the 53rd Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. On April 1, come to the greatest riding in all of Canada, Kitchener—Conestoga, and taste the tradition.

Team EagleStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to acknowledge a company in my riding at the epicentre of the rural renaissance that is going on in eastern Ontario. Team Eagle Ltd. is a global leader in the advancement of airfield innovations, from cutting-edge airfield operations software to anti-fire and de-icing equipment, to so much more in between. Team Eagle has also developed the world's largest snow remover for airports. It will revolutionize how airfield snow removal is done.

Team Eagle's new braking availability tester provides accurate information on runway surface conditions contaminated by ice, snow, or slush so that pilots can better calculate an aircraft's stopping capability on touchdown and avoid overruns that can be costly and sometimes fatal. This exciting innovation is being tested by Transport Canada. This is all being done in my riding of Northumberland—Peterborough South in a facility in a community of fewer than 4,000 people.

I look forward to sharing more eastern Ontario success stories in the near future.