Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Etobicoke Centre.
I am very pleased to stand in the House today in support of Bill C-22, an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain acts. Bill C-22 fulfills the commitment made by our government to Canadians that it will bring forward legislation to create a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, otherwise known as NSICOP.
Throughout this speech, I will highlight three key points that outline the importance of the creation of NSICOP, namely: first, strengthening the accountability and transparency of our government; second, providing a comprehensive and reactive security framework through a wide-ranging mandate; and third, having extraordinary access to classified information in order to closely examine intelligence and security operations.
Bill C-22 is an essential component in the Government of Canada's efforts to ensure our country's national security is not beyond parliamentary oversight while simultaneously respecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians. This, I believe, is one of the most important fundamental duties our government can perform.
Many western democracies, including our Five Eyes allies—the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand—have parliamentary oversight bodies on national security similar to what is being proposed in the bill. Just like those parliamentary bodies, Bill C-22 permits an examination of the national security work of federal departments and agencies, and holds them accountable as concerns their actions and responsibilities.
Canada currently has several oversight bodies that examine the activities of government organizations and agencies involved in national security operations. While each body does important work, they are organization specific and do not engage parliamentarians directly with their reviews.
The creation of NSICOP would strengthen transparency, accountability, ensure the possibility for government-wide reviews, and warrant greater effectiveness and efficiency throughout the larger review framework. In addition, it would allow for the complete independence of a parliamentary body in reviewing matters while not impeding on national security.
I would also like to point out that our government remains committed to addressing the problematic features and concerns of Canadians surrounding Bill C-51, which was introduced by the former government, and present new legislation that better balances our collective security with our rights and freedoms. Bill C-22 is one step towards addressing that.
The first key message that highlights the importance of the creation of this committee is that it would fill the accountability gap that has been outlined for more than 10 years by private sector experts, commissions of inquiry, and the Auditor General regarding the lack of an independent parliamentary body to scrutinize security and intelligence operations.
To give the committee the time and opportunity to learn the serious task it is undertaking and to get to know and understand the security and intelligence context on both a national and international level, our government has built an automatic review of NSICOP after five years to ensure it can accurately instill all the lessons it has learned in a timely and appropriate manner. This shows that our government understands the ever evolving nature of security threats and shows that we are remaining vigilant, responsive, and accountable to our security framework.
The government put forward the bill. The bill was studied at committee and amendments were proposed. The government, after careful consideration, has agreed to accept a majority of what the standing committee has requested.
One of these amendments is to add a whistle-blower clause, clause 31.1, which requires the committee to inform the appropriate minister, as well as the Attorney General, if it uncovers any activity that may not be in compliance with the law. I believe that this amendment adds to Bill C-22's already strong legislation, as it ensures Canadians that we are remaining vigilant to further enhance our capacity to keep Canadians safe through increased responsibility and accountability.
Second, the committee itself would have a broad government-wide mandate to scrutinize any national security matter.
The committee would also have the power to perform reviews on national security and intelligence activities, including ongoing operations, and the ability to conduct strategic and systemic reviews of legislative, regulatory, policy, expenditure, and administrative frameworks under which such activities are conducted.
Additionally, the committee would conduct reviews of matters specifically referred to it by a minister.
Given its broad mandate to review any operation, including an ongoing operation, the minister would have the authority to stop a review if it was deemed to be detrimental to national security.
It is important to note that the minister would have discretionary authority to withhold special operational information on a case-by-case basis should it also be believed that disclosure would be injurious to national security.
While these ministerial powers are within reason, I want to stress that ministers would not be able to withhold just any information. They are only permitted to do so in special and specific circumstances involving legally defined categories involving the most sensitive national security information where disclosure would have harmful national security implications for Canada.
Our government has recently agreed to adopt the amendment put forth by the public safety committee regarding the narrowing of the minister's authority to determine that a study of the committee is injurious to national security, which applies only to ongoing operations. The minister would have to explain that decision to the committee and would need to alert the committee as soon as the decision changed or as soon as the operation was no longer ongoing.
Third, our government is also supporting amendments to clause 14, which is the section that lists the type of information to which the NSICOP would not have access. This amendment expands the level of access to the different types of information available to the committee. We have removed from this exclusions list information about ongoing defence intelligence activities supporting military operations, privileged information under the Investment Canada Act, and information collected by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
I believe the bill is stronger as a result, and I thank the members of the public safety committee for suggesting this amendment.
The committee will also decide on which national security and intelligence matters it will review. Additionally, the government may also refer matters for discussion at the committee.
The government is committed to protecting Canadians from national security threats. Bill C-22 would ensure that our national security framework will be working effectively to keep Canadians safe while not overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Such an accountability mechanism is crucial to Canada, and it represents what Canadians asked for. That is exactly what our government is delivering. Canada is taking a step forward so that Canadians can see real and positive results on the serious issue of national security.
Bill C-22 would provide parliamentarians with extraordinary access to classified information and bring Canada in line with similar parliamentary oversight bodies that are already in place in the countries of our national security allies.
Bill C-22 represents a promise made and a promise kept.