Mr. Speaker, since the fall of 2016, our government has been dramatically reshaping Canada’s security and intelligence apparatus to ensure that it has the authorities and the funding it needs in order to keep Canadians safe. At the same time, we have been ensuring that those agencies, which we trust with tremendous power, have strong and robust independent review mechanisms so that the public can be confident that they are using their powers appropriately.
These mechanisms instill confidence in the public that these agencies are using their powers appropriately. Since 2018, following the passage of Bill C-22, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP, has been reviewing classified national security information. The committee, which is formed of three senators and eight elected members of Parliament, recently released its first annual report. This brings Canada into line with all four of our other Five Eyes alliance allies when it comes to parliamentary or congressional review of national security activities.
Bill C-59, which is currently awaiting third reading debate in the Senate, would create a national security and intelligence review agency. This would be a stand-alone review body that would incorporate the existing Security Intelligence Review Committee, or SIRC, which reviews the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS, and the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, which reviews the Communications Security Establishment, CSE.
The agency would also have the powers and authorities to review any department with a national security function. Some academics and experts have dubbed this idea a “super SIRC“. They have argued for years that such a body is needed so that it can follow the thread of evidence from one department to another rather than ending its investigation at the boundaries of a single agency. The Federal Court has also suggested that this kind of super review agency needs to be created. We have done all of this so that Canadians can be confident that our security and intelligence community has the tools it needs to keep Canadians safe.
This brings me to Bill C-98. The one piece missing from this review architecture puzzle, should Bill C-59 pass, of course, is an independent review body for non-national security-related reviews of the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA. Bill C-98 would fill in that gap by creating PCRC, or the public complaints and review commission.
The new agency would combine the existing review body for the RCMP, known as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, CRCC, with the yet to be created review body for the Canada Border Services Agency. It would add a mandatory new deputy chair position to the new agency. Budget 2019 has provided nearly $25 million over the next five years to ensure there is enough staff to take on this new important role.
I would now like to walk members through how the PCRC would work in practice. A Canadian who has a complaint about the actions or behaviour of a CBSA member would lodge a complaint with either the Canada Border Services Agency itself or the PCRC. Regardless of where it is filed, one agency would alert the other to the complaint. There will be no wrong door for Canadians to knock on. The system will work for them in either case.
The CBSA would then be required to investigate every complaint, much like the existing CRCC does for the RCMP. If the chair believes it would be in the public interest to do so, the PCRC can initiate its own investigation.
The vast majority of complaints to the CBSA are already handled to the satisfaction of the complainant. For those who are not satisfied, complainants would be informed that they can request a subsequent complaint review from the fully independent PCRC. The review agency would have full access to documents and the power to compel witnesses in order to ensure it can undertake a thorough investigation. If, upon review, the PCRC were not satisfied with the CBSA's investigations and conclusions, it would make a report with any findings and recommendations.
There are several areas that the CCRC would not be able to investigate because there are already existing bodies which could handle those types of complaints. For instance, officers of Parliament like the Privacy Commissioner and the Commissioner of Official Languages are best suited to deal with complaints that fall within their jurisdiction.
Should someone file a complaint with the CBSA or the CCRC that falls within those realms, either body would decline the complaint but inform that individual of the proper course of action.
The chair of the new PCRC would be able to conduct reviews of CBSA activities, behaviours, policies, procedures and guidelines not related to national security. National security reviews would, of course, be handled by NSIRA. The Minister of Public Safety could also ask the agency to undertake such a review.
In addition, the PCRC would be notified of any serious incident in which the actions of a CBSA officer may have resulted in serious injury or death. This includes immigration detainees who are being held in provincial corrections facilities on behalf of the CBSA. Further, the Minister of Public Safety or the president of the CBSA may deem that in incidents of such significance, the PCRC must investigate.
Bill C-98 would complete the review architecture for the public safety portfolio by creating a review body similar to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, or the Office of the Correctional Investigator for Correctional Service Canada. This is another important step that would ensure Canadians have confidence in our border agency. However, it is far from the only improvement that our government has made over these past four years.
Let us take, for instance, the new immigration detention framework and its focus on best rights of the child, increased resources to combat gun and opioid smuggling at the border, and new money for detector dogs that will help to ensure African swine fever-contaminated meat does not enter Canada and decimate the stock of pork producers.
There is the new entry-exit legislation, which closes a major security gap by allowing us to know when someone is leaving the country, and the new Preclearance Act, which allows for the expansion of pre-clearance sites in all four modes: air, land, marine and rail. In addition, this act provides cargo pre-clearance to reduce wait times at the border.
Our government takes the security of Canada’s border seriously and knows that it not only needs to be secure from threats that would enter, but also be open to the legitimate travel and trade that drives our economy.
The time left in the 42nd Parliament is, unfortunately, growing short, and I am convinced that this piece of legislation would be, by leaps and bounds, an improvement over the status quo. There is a reason we committed to doing this particular action. We know that having independent oversight bodies will make a difference. We have worked hard to make that happen with the RCMP, and now our other national security agencies have the same kind of mechanisms. It is all about instilling confidence in the public that the powers our national security agencies have are being used appropriately and that their privacy, rights and freedoms are being respected. At the same time, our national security agencies are working hard to keep them safe.
One of the most significant steps forward was the implementation of Bill C-22 and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, because now we have representatives from Parliament actually having access to classified security information and making judgments about where we should go, what the priorities are and what the major threats are, and the committee members can share that information among themselves in a non-partisan way.
The chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians went before committee and talked about the work it does. It has issued its first annual report. The chair talked about the ability of this committee of parliamentarians to act in a non-partisan nature. That is what allows it to do the kind of work we need it to do. There are three senators and eight elected members of Parliament, and it is working. The other Five Eyes alliance countries have a parliamentary or congressional review body, and now Canada does too.
Bill C-59, which we have talked about, would create the national security and intelligence review agency. This stand-alone body would incorporate the existing Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews CSIS, and the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, which reviews CSE. Having this review function under one single umbrella would give it the flexibility and ability to focus where it believes it needs to be done. It would also have the power and authority to review any department with a national security function.
I like the name super-SIRC. I think it is representative of what we are trying to do, which is create an oversight organization that has the bandwidth and authority to review any national security agency's work to make sure that it is being done in terms of the legal authorities it has and that also has the ability to go across national security agencies if it needs to find information that pertains to a particular issue.
We have argued for years that we needed such a body that could follow a thread of evidence from one department to another, from one national security agency, across boundaries, to another. Even the Federal Court agrees that this kind of review agency needs to be created.
It comes back to having national security agencies that have the confidence of their people. I believe that now, with these independent oversight agencies that have been put in place, Canadians can be confident that our security and intelligence community has the tools to keep them safe while at the same time respecting their privacy, respecting their freedoms and respecting their rights.
The Canada Border Services Agency was the last piece. In Bill C-98, we would create the public complaints and review commission, the PCRC. This new agency would combine the existing review body for the RCMP, known as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, with the yet to be created review body for the CBSA. It would add a mandatory new deputy chair position to the new agency.
I would like to walk the members through how the PCRC, the public complaints and review commission, would work in practice.
A Canadian who had a complaint about the actions or behaviour of a CBSA member would lodge a complaint with either the CBSA itself or with the public complaints and review commission. There would be two options to file a complaint. The system would be designed so that once a complaint was filed with one agency, it would automatically be transferred to the other agency. Both would know what was going on, and both would be responsible for addressing the particular complaint. On top of that, even if a complaint had not been issued, if the chair of the public complaints and review commission believed that it was in the public interest to do so, the public complaints and review commission could initiate its own investigation.
If one submitted a complaint to the CBSA and was not happy with the result, one could request a subsequent complaint review by the fully independent public complaints and review commission. This would give the agencies two opportunities to address complaints from the public. This review agency would have full access to documents and the power to compel witnesses to ensure that it could make a thorough investigation.
I am convinced that this piece of legislation is, by leaps and bounds, an improvement over the status quo. While some may want to improve some parts, I think most of us would agree that Canadians would be better off if this bill were to receive royal assent before we rise this summer. As we all know, Parliament can move quite expeditiously when we are all of a mind to do something in the public interest. If any of my colleagues in this chamber, on either side of the aisle, would like to discuss the prospects of this bill's passage, I would be pleased to have that conversation with them.