Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to join the minister in expressing my condolences to the family of our esteemed colleague Arnold Chan. His death was a great loss to everyone in the House, regardless of their party. We stand in solidarity with the Liberal caucus and Mr. Chan's constituents, family, and friends at this difficult time.
We are here today to talk about Bill C-21, which the government introduced in June 2016. The government is very enthusiastic about this bill. It is now September, and we are finally talking about it, so we can see how enthusiastic the government is about this bill. Perhaps the purpose of the bill is to pander to the Americans during the NAFTA negotiations. Who knows.
It is important to understand the context here. The minister, in answer to my question, and the member for Laurentides—Labelle in his comments talked about the bill as though it was a piece of stand-alone legislation, when in actual fact it is part of an information-sharing agreement between the Canadian and American governments. We can look at the measures set out in the bill, but they are part of a broader agreement and broader operational practices that are beginning to be implemented for our services at the border.
Things are very different now, and if we take a big-picture view of border issues, Canadians are clearly concerned. The same issues come up over and over. Take cellphones, for example. There is a glaring lack of protection when it comes to cellphone searches and what we call the briefcase law. People surrender a certain degree of privacy at the border. That interpretation of the law is fine if we are talking about someone seeing our unmentionables in a suitcase, but a cellphone that contains vast amounts of information about an individual is something else entirely. That is just one of the concerns we have about the border.
Things have changed now that Donald Trump is in office. In recent months, there has been discrimination at the border. Everyone knows that. The minister says that, statistically, fewer Canadians are being turned away at the border than in previous years. That is not an acceptable answer when people are being subjected to degrading treatment by U.S. border officers who ask them questions about their religious beliefs, their country of origin, and the colour of their skin.
This context is extremely important for understanding where our concerns for this bill are coming from. The minister tells us not to worry, that it is basic information that will be shared, information that is found on page 2 of one's passport. In reality, subclause 92(1) of the bill states that:
the Agency may collect, from a prescribed source, in the prescribed circumstances, within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner...
It goes on to describe what the Agency is authorized to do. The key phrase I want to draw to the attention of the House is “the Agency may”. It is left to the discretion of border services whether to keep the information or not. At a place like customs, where discrimination is on the rise because people are judged by their destination and their origins, this is quite problematic. This could lead to increased profiling. God knows that there is too much of that already at the border.
Let me go back to the agreement that led to this bill.
The entry/exit program is only just beginning and will grow. Despite the enthusiasm that Liberals and Conservatives might have for it, we are going down a very slippery slope here. Before we continue, someone needs to put on the brakes because what we are seeing here is further integration at the border. That might seem great if all that we are considering is efficiencies, but we want to consider people's rights at the border, but that is lacking in the conversations that are happening.
Where does it end? When we talk about the context that I described with regard to cellphones and the lack of legislation as to what people's rights are when they are asked to unlock their cellphones and provide that information, and when it comes to the profiling that is happening at the border, that also applies to what new tools we have brought into place. The current U.S. President has floated the idea of using biometrics at the border. Will that end up becoming part of this kind of entry/exit agreement on top of the biographical information that would be provided? We do not have answers to these questions.
The fact of the matter is that any information that is being collected and shared will lead us down a path that we have seen before, because, quite frankly, as I said in my question to the minister, some of the most egregious human rights violations that Canada has been a part of, even if by proxy, have happened because of the sharing of information. That is something we are doing more and more in a post-Bill C-51 world, which, by the way, was a bill that the Liberals supported. That is the reality that we have to take into account when we consider increasing the amount of information we are sharing. It is not only biographical information, but also about where people are going to and coming from. While that might seem fine for someone who is not being profiled at the border, there are certainly many law-abiding Canadians who know what the experience is like, who because of where they are going to or where they are originally from; because they might be dual citizens and because of the country from where other citizenship is from; because of the colour of their skin and their religious beliefs, suddenly that basic biographical information being collected and shared with the U.S. government takes on a whole different context despite the fact they are law-abiding Canadians. That is very troubling, and even more so when I hear the minister talk about the fight against radicalization.
Certainly it goes without saying that we all agree that radicalization is an issue that needs to be tackled. Here, I would add that we are still waiting to hear more about what the government is going to do with its grassroots approach to taking on the fight against radicalization. We have not heard much about that in a little while, but that is a sidebar.
The reality is that when I hear things like that and the Conservative member who just spoke, and this bogeyman that is raised of how we are going to go after terrorism, there is a code there and we know what that leads to at the border and the treatment that people go through afterward. That is not something we want to see happen. Sure, we can have faith in our CBSA officers, the men and women who do extraordinary work despite limited resources because of successive Liberal and Conservative governments, but we are also looking at what the U.S. is going to do with that information. That is where the danger lies.
President Trump has signed an executive order explicitly stating that persons who are not U.S. citizens are now excluded from the protections offered by United States privacy legislation.
That is extremely dangerous, considering that the Canadian government is rushing to partner with the U.S. government to increase the amount of information it shares with the Americans.
Given that the President of the United States says he may consider torture acceptable and given that Canada has a ministerial directive in place allowing for information to be shared with countries that engage in torture, we are facing a big problem. I am not saying that this is exactly what the bill says, but the upshot of this bill is that we will be sharing more and more information.
It is a very slippery slope, since we keep sharing more and more information with other countries, including the United States. Even though the U.S. is an ally, the statements coming from the current administration are cause for concern and make the idea of sharing information about public safety and national security extremely troubling.
In a post-C-51 world, the accountability procedures are wholly inadequate. Let us look at the facts. An article published by the Toronto Star in August said the following:
CBSA has quietly started receiving and sharing some information with the U.S. government.
That means some information sharing was already allowed even without this bill being passed. The bill will just settle things for good.
The risk is that this may be done more covertly, without proactive transparency. At the end of the article, it says that Canada Border Services Agency plans to update the privacy assessment once the bill comes into force.
It is far from reassuring that we are talking about doing another privacy impact assessment after the bill is adopted. In that spirit, the role we have as parliamentarians is to protect Canadian safety, but also their rights, and their right to privacy more specifically. As far as this bill is concerned, we should look at how much is left up to regulation in the bill. For example, under “Regulations”, the bill states:
The Governor in Council may make regulations for the purposes of this section, including regulations
(a) prescribing the information that must be given under paragraph (1)(a);
(b) respecting the conveyances in relation to which information must be given under subsection (1);
(c) prescribing the persons or classes of persons who must give the information under subsection (1);
(d) respecting the circumstances in which the information must be given under subsection (1); and
(e) respecting the time within which and the manner in which the information must be given under subsection (1).
Those are all things that the Governor in Council can do through regulations. That essentially means, for the people listening at home, that those are things that the minister can decide to do all on his own, without a proper vote in the House of Commons on a piece of legislation. That is extremely troubling. If we go back to the debate on Bill C-23, which is the sister legislation in the context of this more integrated border with the U.S., in committee, I asked public safety officials which regulations would be changed, as that bill also opened the door to all of the regulatory changes that could potentially change the scope of the bill. That certainly concerned New Democrats. I will give the Liberals credit. They got back to us and provided a list of regulations that may change, but the list was not exhaustive.
As parliamentarians voting on a bill and trying to protect Canadians' rights in the context of sharing more of their information with the American government, especially under the current circumstances or regime, if I can use that term, it is extremely troubling that there is so much latitude allowed for regulatory changes. We certainly understand that there is a place for regulatory changes in the way that our government functions, but when it comes time to prescribe what information is shared, who is sharing it, and how they are sharing it, which is the core of the issue with this bill, that cannot be left out of the accountability process, which obviously includes debate in the House and study at committee.
When I was in Washington with the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I learned about some new tools, such as digital fingerprinting and facial recognition, that the U.S. may begin using at its border. Those things are still in development, but they are getting to the point that the U.S. government will be looking to deploy them.
The minister is trying to reassure us by saying that he is in constant contact with his American counterpart, but people at Homeland Security envision using exactly those kinds of tools in the context of this information sharing agreement. We could very well see a higher level of integration. In the statement on greater integration of border operations that came out of the meeting between the Prime Minister and President Trump in Washington, they talked about the possibility of our border officials hosting American border officials.
Forget about all of the problems that co-locating two agencies from two different countries could cause, if only in terms of collective agreements and working conditions. Let us just talk about training. The minister took the time to point out that officials would be trained to protect Canadians' privacy and would always act in accordance with the law. I am not questioning the work that is going to be done, but when we debated Bill C-23, which would allow American officials on Canadian soil, we asked Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness officials what the plan was for delivering that training while ensuring respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, privacy laws, and even Bill C-23 itself, and we were not remotely satisfied with the answers.
The minister can be as reassuring as he wants, but it takes more than that. We need something tangible that truly outlines the process that will be put in place for protecting people's privacy. Even if the process is clearly spelled out to us, in an agreement like this with a bill like this, given the way in which Canadians' information will be shared with the U.S. government the minister must admit that the information will not enjoy the same protection in American hands, even if we have the best men and women working as Canadian border officers and the best legislation in place and if we are making every effort to protect people's privacy.
The minister can reassure us all he wants, but, as he so often says, the Americans can do what they want. That is reason alone to not only oppose the bill, but, as I said, to also rethink the agreement.
As I have said time and again, we are seeing a troubling tendency with the new information related to the public safety file globally, whether it is the Justice Noël decision related to illegal collection of metadata by CSIS; the Privacy Commissioner reporting last week that the RCMP has illegally obtained information from cellular phones six times in the last year; racial profiling at the Canada-U.S. border; people being asked to unlock their cell phones and provide social media passwords at the border, without clear legislation in that sense; or whether it is the fact that two years in we still have not seen any changes to Bill C-51. We finally tabled a bill in the dying days of the last sitting of the House, which does not go nearly far enough.
It is a troubling tendency we are seeing that is undermining the confidence and trust that Canadians have in their national security agencies and in the approach that successive Conservative/Liberal governments have had. There is a lack of understanding that rights and security are not a zero-sum game, and that the word “balance” implies that there is sacrificing of part of one or the other. We need to do both. Unfortunately, that is not the report card that the government can have.
We look at a bill like this, at these kinds of agreements more broadly, as we decide to share more and more information with a U.S. government that is being led by a president who has opened the door to the use of torture, and has removed privacy protections on information, not only for his own citizens but even more importantly for non-Americans. For Canadians, in that specific context the government cannot ignore it. Whether it is trying to fast-track this bill that was tabled in the House in June 2016, maybe to make nice for NAFTA negotiations, the fact is, it is about time that the government started to hit the brakes on this willy-nilly sharing of information.
I want to end on one piece. If the government is so proud of this agreement, if it really thinks it is doing the right thing, I have one question to ask. Unfortunately, I will not get to ask it, so I will ask it rhetorically. Why is it that on the first day back in the House of Commons, after a great summer of work that we all spent in our constituencies, that we are hardly going to hear any Liberal speakers? The minister has spoken, and there will maybe be a handful more speakers. However, it is mostly New Democrats and Conservatives who will be carrying the debate.
Maybe my Conservative friends can tell me what is so great about this bill, because, sadly, I do not think I am going to hear about it from the Liberals. They have certainly not made the case for it. The “just trust me” approach by the minister is not good enough when it comes to protecting Canadians' rights and privacy.