Mr. Speaker, before I was given the opportunity to work on my current responsibilities for crown corporations, I was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport and assigned the task of trying to shepherd this bill through committee. I have been away from it for a little while, but I am pleased to have an opportunity to comment on some of the issues that people are concerned about.
Members opposite, particularly the Canadian Alliance, tend to want to hold up the United States as the way to do things. The previous speaker said that President Bush did this and he did that following September 11. One of the things that is interesting about the U.S. system is that when a crisis occurs, the American people, the congress, the senate, and everybody in Washington tends to get behind the president regardless of his political stripe. They tend to rally around the flag.
One of the differences in our situation, for better or for worse, is that no such thing ever happens. In fact, I find that the opposition use every opportunity it can to somehow blame the government for everything from the weather to whatever we can imagine. It is an interesting approach. We give the member what he wants.
He said at the beginning of his remarks that he was pleased that the government had eliminated certain issues. Some witnesses who appeared before the committee, and I was there for many meetings until this recent appointment, expressed their strong concerns about the effect of the inclusion of inexplosive ammunition components in part 7 of the bill. This is an issue that this member, in his zest to fight anything to do with ammunition or gun control, was very adamant about.
It was not the government's intention to burden lawful shooting activities within part 7, and the witnesses from Natural Resources Canada indicated that in their testimony before the committee. The government listened closely to the concerns that were expressed by the stakeholders and decided to introduce motions to remove all references to inexplosive ammunition components from Bill C-17.
It is like people here cannot take yes for an answer. We listened, we heard, and we removed the references. While the member did say at the beginning of his remarks that he appreciated it, he then went on with other areas that I would suggest are not related to this.
How did the government react? Let me tell members that the current Minister of Transport, who was the minister on September 11, reacted by immediately closing down the skies. There were 5,000 aircraft flying around the skies over North America. Members should remember what happened in Gander. We should give credit to the people of Gander, and rightly so, for opening their hearts and their homes, their churches and their community halls to help these stranded people. However, do we think that all those planes were diverted to Gander miraculously and landed without incident?
We all saw the pictures in the news of the planes on the tarmac, lined up one after another. When they finally had to leave, just the management of the air traffic control aspect of that was incredible. Is there any thought how some 5,000 aircraft, which were diverted and many of which landed in various airports in Canada, including Gander, were managed? Did the pilots just talk it over among themselves and say, “let us go to Gander, I think it is safe there”?
Let us be fair and give credit where credit is due. The government gave the direction. It is not up to the government to actually physically do it. We have professionals in place in NAV Canada and Transport Canada. But it is up to the government, in this case the Minister of Transport, to set the tone, to give the direction, and to give the order.
I recall that this minister was on a cell phone in a car, driving from Montreal back to Ottawa, when this crisis occurred. Within minutes he took action that I would say could have saved lives; we will never know. But the fact that it was handled so professionally and so smoothly, members should at least be fair and say that it was an issue that happened on the watch of the government.
We do not need to stand and crow that we did it all because that is not true. We relied on the professionals in our employ and on the people of Canada to respond in such a positive way. But what do we hear? We hear members in the House saying we need to change the government because it did not act quickly enough. It is just such nonsense.
There may be reasons that members opposite think we need to change the government. There may be reasons why Canadians think we need to change the government. Who knows? They might change the government. That is why we have such a great democratic country because that option is there. However that is the wrong issue. We should be getting behind the government on this critical bill.
There was much debate in committee about whether or not we were going too far. Concerns were expressed by the Privacy Commissioner. The bar associations that were before us were saying that if we found information on a person travelling from Vancouver to Toronto and the indication was that person was a terrorist, their position was that we should not be able to go further in terms of reviewing the passenger list. However, if we did that and discovered that there was someone else onboard that aircraft who had an outstanding warrant for a crime that had been specified in this bill, a crime that would result in a sentence in excess of five years--and in this country that is a crime such as murder, kidnapping and that kind of thing, the most serious of crimes that one can imagine--we would not have the right to arrest that person when he or she got off the aircraft according to the bar associations.
I remember asking the lawyers who were there representing the bar associations to help me understand this. They were suggesting that I tell my constituents that even though, as a result of our work against terrorism and as a result of our work in following up on information provided by CSIS and the RCMP, we discovered a third party on an aircraft with an outstanding warrant for having murdered someone that we had to let them walk off the plane. Their answer was, yes, that is what they were saying, in the aid of privacy rights.
I believe the official opposition was onside with our position in that particular area. But we have members standing in the House objecting to criminals being given the right to vote and all of these issues. Yet, we are supposed to allow people to walk free when we have an outstanding warrant for their arrest for murder or for kidnapping or for some other vile crime. It just makes no sense at all.
This bill has taken time. Let us review the process. The government responded very quickly after we took the initial action on this bill. The initial action was to provide safe haven for tens of thousands of people. We did that, we did it well, and our officials acted responsibly. Our next step was to bring in a bill that would deal with some of the concerns around Bill C-17. Bill C-42 was introduced and there was a big furor over the bill. A lot of concern was expressed about that bill.