Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mount Royal.
In the brief 10 minutes that I have to speak on this very important topic, I want to say what my interest in the subject matter is.
In December 2004 I was appointed as one of three representatives of the Liberal Party to review the Anti-terrorism Act. We worked long and hard from December 2004 until approximately October 2005. When we were about to begin drafting our report, it became obvious that an election was looming and we were unable to complete that report.
In the new Parliament, the subcommittee was reconstituted under the aegis of the public safety and national security committee. I was again appointed by my party as one of the Liberal representatives on the subcommittee, the other one being the hon. member for Etobicoke North. We worked from the time the subcommittee was constituted literally until last Tuesday to complete our final report which was then sent to the public safety and national security committee for its full review. That committee will review it and report no later than March 27. A tremendous amount of work has gone on in that time.
I want to point out to people who might be watching what we are debating today. We are debating a statutory order and it is very specific. It is very specific because it is proscribed by the language of section 83.32 of the Criminal Code. There is no wiggle room. We either extend these sections or we do not. That is what the section says and that is what the statutory order has to follow. Unfortunately, that is a major problem.
Both Houses of Parliament have been studying this legislation and have heard from a tremendous number of witnesses as to what is or is not good or bad about it and what should or should not be tweaked. Unfortunately, the Senate only reported last Thursday and as I said, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security will not even be able to report until more or less the end of this month, long past the time these sections will sunset unless they are extended.
These sections talk of two things. The first is investigative hearings. Under this provision, a peace officer, with the prior consent of the attorney general, can apply to a superior court or a provincial court judge for an order for the gathering of information. If it is granted, the order compels a person to attend a hearing before a judge, answer questions, and bring along anything in his or her possession.
The second deals with recognizance with conditions which is otherwise known as preventive arrest. With the prior consent of the attorney general, a peace officer, believing that a terrorist act will be carried out and suspecting that the imposition of a recognizance with conditions or the arrest of a person is required to prevent it, may lay an information before a provincial court judge. That judge may order that person to appear before him or her. A peace officer may arrest, without warrant, the person who is the object of the information, if such apprehension is necessary to prevent the commission of a terrorist activity.
This is what we are talking about. Both of these provisions are known to Canadian law. There are equivalents to investigative hearings which are investigatory and not intended to determine criminal liability within the context of the law related to public inquiries, competition, income tax, and mutual legal assistance in criminal law matters.
As well, there are provisions similar to recognizance with conditions that do not necessarily adversely affect rights and freedoms within the criminal law related to peace bonds issued to deal with anticipated violent offences, sexual offences, and criminal organization offences.
Both legislative measures are consistent with and grow out of provisions well known to Canadian law. Both provisions have sufficient protections to ensure that rights and freedoms are protected.
In relation to both investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions, there has to be prior consent of the attorney general. Judicial authorization is required, and a judge presides over the proceedings themselves among other protections set out in the Criminal Code.
The mere fact that a legislative measure has not been used, and these have not been used, does not mean that it is no longer required.
The committee which reported to this House believes they should be retained within the arsenal of tools that should continue to be available to counter terrorist activities. It also believes, however, that legislative amendments are required to this part of the code to restrict and clarify some elements of this part of the anti-terrorist law adopted by Parliament. The committee advised Parliament of six or seven specific amendments that it suggests.
This is Liberal legislation. I voted for it. On March 22, 2005, Anne McLellan, the then minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, appeared before our subcommittee. On March 23, 2005 the then minister of justice appeared before our subcommittee. In both cases they indicated that there was nothing wrong with these provisions and they urged the committee to recommend that they be continued.
In the new Parliament on November 16, 2005, the then minister of justice and the then minister of public safety Anne McLellan, appeared and advised us again that we should extend these provisions. On June 21, 2006 the minister of justice and the minister of public safety of the current Conservative government appeared and said the same thing. In fact, one would have thought they were reading the same speech prepared by the same bureaucrats notwithstanding that they were different governments.
This is the evidence that we heard. Given that, we have four arguments, as I see it, not to extend. Some would argue that these provisions are contrary to the charter. I simply dismiss that argument. It is simply not a valid argument. The provisions have been found to be constitutional. In fact that is what the ministers of justice told us. We have been told that they are not used. If these are sunsetted, then they are gone.
My recollection of history is that the sunsetting clauses were put in because there was great fear that these sections might be abused. Not only have they not been abused, they have not even been used, but that does not mean that they might not be used in the future. As one of my colleagues said in caucus last week, just because he has not had an accident and deployed his airbags does not mean that he is going to take the airbags out of his car. I could not agree with him more.
Some would say that the provisions are not needed any more. I would ask on what basis does someone make that statement? All of the people who have access to top secret information in this country, law enforcement officers, the ministers of the Crown of both the Liberal and Conservative governments, top bureaucrats dealing with CSIS and CSE and all of those organizations, urged us not to sunset these clauses. They are the people with the knowledge that we do not have. They are the people who have top secret clearance and get to see things that we do not.
I ask those who say that these provisions are no longer needed, what is the evidence upon which they base that argument, especially in the face of our committee specifically hearing time and again from people with the highest clearance possible that in order to protect this country, these clauses should not be allowed to sunset.
I do not say they are perfect and that is why our committee issued an interim report urging the government to consider certain amendments. These sections are going to sunset. If they sunset, they cannot be fixed. Yes, we can bring back legislation later on; to try to bring them back in a fixed form is entirely possible, but it is very difficult for me to comprehend why we would be told by those who have information to which we can only possibly guess that these sections should not sunsetted. It is difficult for me to understand why we would allow them to sunset.
It is a very difficult area. Someone else in my caucus said that this is an issue where reasonable people can reasonably disagree on an issue. I agree with that, but I have to look at the people who have the knowledge. They are the people who have top secret information and they have told us that these sections are required to protect our country.
What else can I say in contributing to the debate other than those observations.