Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to join the debate this afternoon on Bill C-11. The bill raises important issues about the privacy of Canadians. It is legislation that seeks to reform aspects of our privacy framework in Canada concerning the use of Canadians' data. I look forward to the debate and the study that is going to take place at committee because I know this bill raises many important issues. It is a very technical area: Canadians will want to delve into the details, find out what the impacts of the provisions are and whether the bill would do the things the government says it would do.
I have some initial comments about the issue of privacy and some of the main threats facing the privacy of Canadians, but I also have a couple of comments on the provisions of the bill. It would provide the Privacy Commissioner with important new order-making powers, it would bring in fines and give individuals the right to demand that their data is destroyed. It would bring in some new powers and provisions for the privacy protection of Canadians, as well as for the Privacy Commissioner. These are some important things to look at, and some study of the details is required.
Certainly, the Conservative caucus is very committed to protecting Canadians' privacy and ensuring that the details all check out with what the government has claimed. I am looking forward to the depth of conversation that I know is going to happen and needs to happen on a piece of legislation in an important policy area such as this.
I want to flag some concerns I have in terms of the process of this legislation, as well as the broader framework of privacy in this country.
This bill was initially tabled in the fall and it has had very limited debate between then and now. It underlines the confusion we have about the government's legislative priorities. It looks very much like the government is trying to set itself up to complain about its legislation not passing by scheduling a bill for an hour here and an hour there, rather than having the kind of focus we would typically expect from a government that is trying to pass legislation. Generally, if a government identifies a bill as an area of priority, it will schedule that bill for enough time to be able to complete debate and then it will proceed to committee. However, today alone we have had an hour of debate on a pandemic election bill, and this afternoon we have gone on to a completely different topic rather than the government picking one issue to move the debate forward.
On a process point, the other thing that is interesting to me about this bill is the committee the government is planning to refer this bill to. The industry, science and technology committee has an important role in looking at the regulation of business, promoting business development in this country and so forth, and the minister who just spoke and is leading this discussion is the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, but will this bill be referred to the industry committee? No. Once this passes second reading, the bill will be referred to the ethics committee. The ethics committee has a mandate that includes privacy, but I note in particular that there is a lot going on right now at the ethics committee. It is doing important work trying to get to the bottom of the WE Charity scandal.
If I was cynical about the government's motivations, I would think it was interesting that it had decided to bring forward legislation and then refer it to the ethics committee, given the tradition we have in this place of legislation receiving priority at committee. However, we have critical issues of government ethics and scandal that we need to get to the bottom of. It looks like a manoeuvre to try to push the WE scandal off the agenda. It is very striking to see that the government has been so desperate to avoid discussion of its own ethical lapses, around the WE Charity scandal in particular, that it has done all kinds of things to damage its own legislative agenda simply to cover itself on the ethical front.
In fact, the government prorogued Parliament, going back to last summer. There was important information that was coming out as part of the committee studies that were going on in relation to the WE Charity scandal, and the government prorogued Parliament.
Then this issue comes back in the fall, and we are trying to restart the study of it. The government threatens to declare something a confidence issue in order to avoid having a separate committee that could study it. If we had a separate committee, this would not be an issue, right? If we had a separate committee that was looking at these various issues of government corruption, then we would not have an issue with seeing this legislation studied at the ethics and privacy committee.
However, with this renewed discussion and with new information coming out right now as well, we see the government bringing back Bill C-11. It makes me wonder if the House leader thought, “We want to kill this discussion of the WE Charity situation at the ethics committee, but we can't prorogue Parliament again, right?” I mean, I suppose they could, but it sort of gets more and more obvious what they are doing, so they thought, “Let's bring back this bill that we haven't done anything on in months and try to get it sent to the ethics committee.”
These are just more of the kinds of games, I think, that we see from the government. If it was serious about our being able to get to the bottom of these ethics issues as well as moving forward with this legislation, it would be a simple matter of either allowing the creation of that special committee to look at the WE Charity issue or having this bill go to the industry committee. Again, it just raises the question: What is the government trying to hide here?
The government's ethics failings are well known, and it seems the next step in its plan to avoid discussion of its terrible ethical record will be to call an election, a particularly extreme step to kill all of its legislation and shut down important discussions in Parliament on a wide variety of issues, including government ethics.
If we have an early election, of course we are not going to get anywhere on this bill, so hopefully the government will resist the urge to put politics and its own political interests first and instead focus on the kind of policy work that we are doing and are prepared to do in this place to move important issues forward.
In this speech, I want to also zero in on an important issue of privacy, that being the threat to Canadians from foreign actors who are trying to access our data and who are, in many cases, trying to interfere in Canadian institutions, trying to intimidate Canadians and potentially trying to steal intellectual property. In the interest of Canadians, we need to take the threat to privacy that comes from foreign actors very seriously. It is my view that the defining national security threat of our time is interference and intimidation in Canada by foreign state-backed entities.
I have had the opportunity to work with many Canadians who have themselves been direct victims of this kind of intervention, threatening their security and privacy. We had a press conference here on Parliament Hill when I launched Motion No. 55, which is a private member's motion that I am putting forward with respect to foreign state-backed interference and intimidation. We had four people participating in that press conference who were from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world originally, who are now Canadian. They shared their own stories of foreign state-backed intimidation, and all of them expressed frustration at the nature of the response. They felt they were being referred back and forth among different institutions and that we did not really have the capacity to support them effectively and identify who is really responsible for addressing these issues. Is it CSIS? Is it Global Affairs? Is it the RCMP? Is it the local police? Who do they go to? Who responds to it, and then what is the response from the government?
The response from the government has been quite weak. In the case of this minister who is now responsible for this legislation, we had many of these discussions in his previous role as the foreign affairs minister. I would ask him about what he was doing in response to the likely and in some cases very evident involvement of foreign diplomats in the interference with and intimidation of Canadians, and he would kind of look at the camera and tell the diplomats not to interfere in Canadian affairs.
It is great to say that, but we need to have a policy framework and a strategy in place to protect the privacy of Canadians when it is threatened by malicious foreign actors, which are often state-backed or directed actors.
It is with this in mind that Conservatives put forward an opposition day motion, which passed, calling on the government to put in place a comprehensive plan to protect Canadians from this kind of interference and intimidation. The government just failed to respond effectively to that.
My private member's motion, Motion No. 55, reiterates the call of that opposition day motion, but it also particularly focuses on the issue of support to Canadians who are victims. My motion is saying that we need to do more to support Canadians who are victims of foreign state-backed interference and that the federal government's approach to privacy in this area needs to involve cross-jurisdictional co-operation.
It also says the federal government should seek to work collaboratively with provincial, territorial and municipal governments on responding to foreign interference, recognizing we do see manifestations of this foreign interference happening at other levels of governments, such as efforts to capture elites, control institutions, misdirect funds to their interest, and so forth. We see those attempts at intimidation happening at other levels of government, and the response needs to involve effective engagement of those other levels of government as well.
This is another area where the government could be doing more, and needs to do more, to respond to this primary issue of our vulnerability in terms of national security.
In the midst of us saying the government needs a plan and a strategy on this, the simple thing it could do would be to take on this principle of first doing no harm. If it really recognized the threats regarding security in this area, the first thing it would do would be to just say no to Huawei, because we know there are threats to Canadians' security and privacy associated with Huawei being involved in our 5G network.
There is really no disputing the close relationship between Huawei and the Chinese state. We know all private organizations based in China have a high degree of vulnerability to influence and control by the Chinese Communist Party, such as the requirement to defer to party committees, the requirement that information be shared with the Chinese military, and the requirement to respond to requests by the Chinese military.
We know the vulnerabilities that exist across the board, but it is especially the case when we look at a company like Huawei. Clearly, there is a long-standing and very close relationship between the state and this company. Nobody else in the world has trouble figuring this out. Four out of five Five Eyes countries have understood the importance of saying no here.
Our own interests are at stake here, as well as the opportunities for ongoing effective co-operation with our partners, who see these risks. We do not want to be perceived in Canada as being a point of vulnerability. If we want to be able to maintain the levels of co-operation that are so important for our interests, we have to work effectively with our allies and give them reason to have confidence in us.
Yes, the government needs to have a comprehensive plan to address foreign interference and protect Canadians' privacy, but why not just start by doing no harm and saying no to Huawei. As well, the government has just been absent in answering these very basic questions when it comes to the involvement of Huawei in our 5G network.
Going back, we had a previous public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, who said that they would make a decision before the election. We are not talking about the election the government is planning now, we are talking about the last election in 2019. The government said there would be a decision on Huawei before that election. We probably will not see a decision on Huawei at this rate before the next election, or maybe even the one after it, if Liberals stay in government. If Conservatives form government, there would be a decision very quickly when it comes to Huawei, but the government has put it off.
The Liberals have continually said that the decision is coming. Part of our opposition day motion dealt with Canadian intimidation and privacy issues around foreign-state-backed actors. Our opposition day motion included the requirement that the government make a decision with respect to Huawei, but the deadline came and went. The Liberal government, by the way, has a track record of ignoring the motions that are passed by a majority of Parliament.
I think the Liberals' effort to create this narrative about Parliament is not working. The reality is that Parliament is generally working, but sometimes it does things they do not like. Sometimes the opposition works together to pass motions the government does not want to see pass. Sometimes the opposition puts an issue on the agenda and pushes it so much that many government members support it, as we saw with the Uighur genocide, even though the government abstains.
To me, that is a sign of a Parliament that is lively, that is working and that is doing its job because it is holding powerful people to account. That is a big part of what Parliament is supposed to do. The government wants to spin this narrative of Parliament precisely because it is working: it just does things sometimes that the government does not like. Some of that is borne out of the leadership of our party. Some of it is borne out of the very good co-operation that has been on display among the opposition parties.
The point is, we had a motion pass that called on the government to make a decision on Huawei and it still has not. This is a huge issue for Canadian security, for Canadian privacy and for the protection of our national interests at this critical time in global affairs. We are seeing heightened competition, and Canada needs to be clear and principled in terms of standing up for, and standing with, other countries that believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Part of protecting the rule of law, of human rights, is emphasizing the importance of protecting the privacy of Canadians and excluding actors from our systems who we know will not respect that privacy: actors who say they have a legal obligation to provide data to a foreign military when asked.
Regarding Huawei, there is this issue of looking at the kinds of human rights violations that they and other Chinese-state-affiliated companies are involved in. We see, with the Uighur genocide, the technological enabling of human rights violations by companies such as Dahua and Hikvision: companies that the Canadian pension fund at one time invested in.
We are talking about the involvement of Huawei and other companies that are complicit in detailed monitoring, tracking and controlling. We see these horrific violations of privacy taking place inside China right now: horrific violations of privacy that are being enabled by the very companies that the government has not yet refused access to Canada. That should be a huge concern in any privacy debate we are having.
When the same companies are part of things like the social credit system, whereby individuals are tracked in terms of whether the government thinks they are behaving well, and their ability to travel and participate in events is determined automatically by algorithms based on intense monitoring and evaluation, a very Orwellian system is being brought in.
Then we have some of the actors who are involved in developing these kinds of technologies and deploying them. Those same actors are looking to do business here in Canada. That should concern us. The government needs to make some clear choices. It needs to decide where it stands on these issues and needs to start standing with us, in the opposition, who are taking a principled stand in defence of human rights, in defence of privacy and in defence of our national security. We are recognizing and responding to the very real threats that we see from various actors.
One of the other issues that I hope to see taken up at committee is people's privacy in terms of their intimate images, and some of the horrific abuses of people's human rights that we have seen perpetrated through the Pornhub platform. We have heard testimony at committee that people's intimate images, even involving minors, were posted repeatedly without their consent. That is another privacy issue that Parliament must act on urgently, without delay.