Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Transport, I am happy to rise once again to speak about public safety. Over the last few months, my colleague, the minister, had several opportunities to talk about safety and security.
Naturally, since September 11, the subject of public safety is unavoidable in various areas of human activity, especially those involving the Department of Transport.
I want to draw attention to the exceptional work accomplished by the minister who, within seconds of the September 11 attacks, assumed leadership for continental safety and security, if I can put it that way. At that time, our minister became responsible for all air traffic and, with the help of the whole department, operating in all areas of activities and especially air transportation, he helped thousands and thousands of people of various regions of the world. These people benefited from immediate action by the Minister of Transport, and everybody agrees that we should pay tribute to him for what he accomplished in those extremely difficult moments.
Obviously, as elected officials, it is our responsibility to discuss safety in all areas. This morning, I would like to talk more about development in resource-based communities, and health and research in key sectors, where the government has a fantastic agenda for sectors that are fundamental to the future of every region in the country.
I would also like to refute certain statements made by my Bloc Quebecois colleagues, who make a lot of noise here in the House. The statements refer to health care, to the federal share, and regional development. In all, there are initiatives that will be very productive for the regions and that we would like to highlight and perhaps seek to improve.
However, the reality of the situation is that any responsible government must also respond to the challenge of immediate needs as they arise. Safety is one such challenge that has become an undeniable reality in the last 13 or 14 months. Governments around the world, but particularly western governments, that are able to assume the costs related to safety in all fields, are now required to invest absolutely astronomical amounts to ensure the safety of citizens. This is an undeniable reality and we have no choice.
While I do believe that this expenditure of billions and billions of dollars for security is necessary, allow me to say that I would much prefer it if all of this support, all of this money invested in safety programs, were spent in sectors such as the environment, where there are some incredible challenges to be met, and in the area of health and medical research to help those who are coping with illness.
In summary, we must invest in safety, but I obviously would have preferred it if we had not had to deal with the attacks of September 11, which had the effect of radically changing the agenda for all countries around the world, or almost, for every western country, which forced all of our allies to invest an incredible portion of the financial resources at our disposal in safety.
The government has been fulfilling its responsibilities for several months now. Several billions of dollars have been invested. Several departments have done their part to help build a wall against international terrorism, as it were, and this work will not stop in the near future. Right now, there is a battle of civilizations. This is an everyday challenge.
Our government has assumed its responsibilities, particularly under the leadership of the transport minister, who went into action in a matter of seconds after the terrorist attacks to assume leadership and take all the measures required. He also coordinated the operations of all the departments involved in safety and security matters, with the assistance of course of all its partners, the other countries, which are very much concerned.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention what the International Civil Aviation Organization always said about the safety and security measures put in place by our government before and after the attacks. It is an example on the world scale.
This morning, I am pleased to say that, to deal with the situation, we face a huge challenge, and we must live up to that challenge. I will make a few comments about Bill C-17, a revised version of Bill C-55, which was introduced a few months ago and of course died on the Order Paper because of the prorogation of Parliament, last September.
This new bill is a definite improvement. The government took into account the views of both our colleagues in the House of Commons and of key players across the country. Moreover, it took into account the views of all the provinces and territories. It is and will be easy to show that the government has worked hard on this matter.
A government is like an individual. An individual or a government cannot lay claim to perfection. This is true about one's individual behaviour as well as the bills introduced in the House of Commons.
In connection with this issue, there is the whole aspect of the controlled access military zones. Among politicians, we tend to show some degree of partisanship. We must live with that. In my region, I am used to living with partisanship, and it is an everyday challenge.
The government took that reality into account because, had the debate on controlled access military zones gone on much longer, all of Canada would have become a controlled access military zone. That was not the government's intention. It is worth mentioning, concerning the concept established in the now defunct Bill C-55, that the government has designated three specific zones as coming under this definition, namely Halifax harbour, Esquimalt harbour and Nanoose Bay, British Columbia.
Obviously, our armed forces must have the tools needed to deal with emergency situations. In this case, I stress that the government quickly sided with all those who told us this was leading to a difficult and complicated debate, in spite of the fact that, at the time, we had made it clear that the purpose was strictly to preserve the equipment of our armed forces and of foreign forces sometimes involved in helping to resolve major crises. In the end, the government decided to take these concerns into account.
There is also the reality of upholding interim orders and the underlying principle. September 11 was a lesson for all; sometimes, the government, in cooperation with all the parties in the House and all the departments concerned, must respond rapidly to totally unpredictable events.
Governments have no choice but to equip themselves with important tools, to deal with emergencies. Extreme threats may arise completely out of the blue. We have experienced this and continue to experience it on a daily basis since September 11. We need only think of all the attacks occurring around the world.
Governments now have a priority in their agenda called the safety and security of all nationals. Any responsible government has no choice but to equip itself with the tools it needs to be able to respond rapidly.
With respect to interim orders, the government amended some important elements, namely the deadlines prescribed in previous Bill C-55. Bill C-17 amends those aspects. In some cases, the deadlines for interim orders have been shortened.
Deadlines are as follows: the interim order ceases to be in effect 14 days after having been made, unless approved by the Governor in Council. This is a new reference we are giving ourselves through this bill.
Within 15 days after the interim order has been made, a copy of the said order must be tabled in each of the Houses of Parliament. If one of the Houses is not sitting, the order will be filed with the Clerk of that House.
Also, within 23 days of the making of an interim order, a copy of the order will be published in the Canada Gazette . Except for the interim orders made under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, for which there is a two-year deadline, an interim order approved by the Governor in Council will cease to have effect within one year following its making.
As can be seen from the comments I just made on the chronology of interim orders, and as is implicit in the bill, an interim order can only have provisions which can be found in a regulation and which are immediately necessary to deal with a significant risk, direct or indirect, to health, security, safety or the environment.
In order to clarify a misconception that interim orders will not be made in the two official languages and will be authorized in violation of the Charter, I wish to say that under the Official Languages Act an interim order must be made in both two official languages. This confusion, which is being deliberately promoted, is absolutely false.
Furthermore, I would point out that the Charter applies to all government measures. In other words, the protection given by the Charter applies to emergency orders. Emergency orders must comply with the Official Languages Act and the Charter. I believe you will find that we have taken into account previous comments and that we have tried, if the power to make an emergency order is ever used, to ensure that it would be under close and transparent control.
I wish to call your attention to three new parts that were added to the bill. The first two, parts 5 and 11, were added in order to allow the sharing of information in situations arising under the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The third new part, part 17, amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act in order to allow for the operation of the data sharing system established by proposed sections 4.82 and 4.83 pertaining to the Aeronautics Act.
The information sharing system provides that an authorized person could ask for the communication of information on someone in particular. The air carrier or the operator of a reservation system for air carriers could answer without asking for the consent of the individual in question.
Unfortunately, in reality, the air carrier or the operator of a reservation system for air carriers would not be able to follow up on the request, since it could not accept the name or list of names submitted, because this list would not be authorized under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Part 17 corrects this minor yet very important problem, while ensuring compliance with the global objective of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Finally, I want to comment on the concerns raised by the warrants mentioned in clause 4.82 of the Aeronautics Act. The power to request information from airlines to identify a person for whom a warrant has been issued has been eliminated. This power, which raised a great deal of concern, has been deleted from Bill C-17.
Moreover, the definition of warrant has been changed to apply to serious offences, to be specified by regulations, that are punishable by imprisonment for a term of five years or more. This will guarantee that the information on passengers that is obtained from airline carriers cannot be used to help execute a warrant—and this is extremely important—except in the case of the most serious offences, such as murder or kidnapping.
I think that these changes concerning warrants help protect the public, while respecting the privacy of individual passengers except, as I pointed out, in the case of very serious offences. I am convinced that the debate will be interesting and that we will properly review all these provisions in committee.
I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to say a few words on this bill, a much improved version of Bill C-55, which had raised some concerns, particularly with respect to controlled access military zones, which are now limited to three strategic areas. There is also the whole issue of interim orders, which are also limited to extremely serious cases.
We will be very pleased to hear all members of the House of Commons, so that they can possibly make a contribution and help us continue to improve this legislation.