Mr. Speaker, since this morning, I have been listening carefully to the debate about this very important bill. When I heard what the Bloc Quebecois member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel had to say, I decided to speak to the bill myself, given its importance.
The House will understand that this is an issue which the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has followed closely and on which he has done a considerable amount of work. He advises and informs the Bloc Quebecois members on this topic. I listened to him earlier and several things that he said about Bill C-44 caught my attention. I am thinking of such things as all the legislative measures that the government has put in place to fight terrorism, and the atmosphere that has been created as a result.
I simply had to speak because this is an issue that is terribly important to me, since it touches on key concepts, on the criminal code and related legislation. It is important for the legal system of Canada and of Quebec. I therefore decided to rise and speak.
As my colleague said, this is a very important bill, which will influence our justice system for years to come. To give a bit of context, it must be recalled that the government began by introducing Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism bill. This bill gave various powers to ministers, including the solicitor general and the Minister of National Defence, with respect to arrests without warrant, very broad electronic eavesdropping, and so forth. It is a very complex piece of legislation, whose principle we agreed with, and we thought we should support it. That is what we did.
But we had such major reservations that, in the end, we voted against the bill at third reading. At the time, we thought that this was the government's anti-terrorism measure. Surprise, surprise. We see that Bill C-35 contains all sorts of clauses giving increased powers to the RCMP, special powers to peace officers during visits by foreign heads of state. So there is another anti-terrorism measure.
Then came another such measure—this is basically how Bill C-44 came about—it was Bill C-42. Bill C-42 is highly complex. As we said earlier, it is about a hundred pages long. Once again, more powers are given to ministers, the solicitor general and the Minister of Defence. Interim orders may be taken and military zones may be created. This is another legislative measure to combat terrorism.
That is when we said “This is too much, this is going too far”. We cannot even support Bill C-42 in principle, because it disregards the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and gives far too broad powers to one single man or woman. We need to examine this more closely. We need to take time to study the whole issue.
Once again, the government is rushing us. The government is gagging us. It introduced motions to study all of these bills quickly under the pretext that we had to meet international requirements.
According to the government, Bill C-42 responds to important international requirements. Is this not strange? When the government realized that it was not able to rush the bill through before the holidays, is it not strange that it managed to limit to one page what had to be passed by then? It is as though all of the rest of Bill C-42 confirmed what we on this side of the House have been saying all along: the events of September 11 were a pretext for this government to turn upside down a number of statutory approaches.
The events of September 11 have provided the government with the opportunity to grab the powers it has always dreamed of, but lacked the political guts to.
This is so much the case that they have taken what was important on the international scene and put it into a bill to be called Bill C-44, the provisions of which fit on an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper.
These important provisions concern air travel, and I will be returning to that later.
What is of concern to me is the improvisational approach the government, which claims to be a responsible government, is taking at present. It is improvising legislation of great importance, seemingly not knowing where it is headed.
This is so much the case that, at one point, the government imposed a gag order for Bill C-36, and the next day we were forced to adjourn at 4 p.m., or maybe it was 5 or 5.30 p.m., I do not remember, because there was nothing left on the order paper. There was nothing more to look at. That shows lack of vision, not knowing where they are headed.
This improvisation goes back to the very start. For weeks on end, the response from the other side when opposition members, particularly the official opposition, were asking the government whether there ought not to be anti-terrorism legislation in Canada, was that it was not needed, that we already had all the legislation required.
Then overnight, two weeks later, a complex bill was introduced; a week later, another; a week later, yet another. Today, the government came up with a bill that we absolutely must pass before Christmas, one that is going to be divided in two. When it comes down to it, it all boils down to one clause.
I feel the government does not know where it is going. This is dangerous when something as important as rights and freedoms are concerned.
The objective we have always tried to attain, with bills C-36, C-35, C-42 and now C-44, is to strike a balance between national security and individual and group rights. This is hardly complicated.
We have an international reputation, and deservedly so, of being a country where rights are preserved. At least, that reputation used to be deserved. We have case law, lawyers to apply it, judges who bring down good decisions. There are some very important elements on which to focus, to invest. It is a good thing for the country, in a way,to live in a place where that balance can be sought.
In all these bills, including Bill C-44 currently before us, we have always been able to draw on the expertise of lawyers, people who for years have worked with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with individual and group rights. There are even experts among the Liberal government members, including the member for Mount Royal, who claims to be—and I think it is true—a great defender of individual and group rights.
They all, including the member for Mount Royal, criticized bills C-36, C-42, and C-44 now before us.
I read in the papers that the member for Mount Royal criticized Bill C-42, which is in a way the starting point for Bill C-44. He said it was problematic because it upset the balance between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. The executive is being given more powers. He says he will oppose it.
I should be rejoicing, but I will not be. Why? Because the member for Mount Royal said the same thing about Bill C-36.
Once the steam roller passed on the other side, he did what the majority of Liberals did, he voted in favour of Bill C-36. But those who appeared before the committee, the civil liberties union of Canada, the great and true defenders of individual and group rights continues to condemn this bill, which will come into effect one day, because it has been passed by the House.
I have no illusions about Bill C-42 and Bill C-44. However, I must say that the government opposite has a knack. It has a way of getting many people to swallow affronts. It has a magic potion that makes people accept things they would otherwise reject. It worked with us at first and second reading of Bill C-36. But it did not work afterward, because we saw them coming from miles away.
However, this way of doing things may work with the public as long as it does not see the real impact of the legislation. This is the case with Bill C-44.
The government tells us “We moved an amendment in committee, with the result that the privacy commissioner agrees with the whole thing. Things are fine. There is no problem”. Still, when I look at Bill C-44 and at the amendment, I am very concerned.
What is Bill C-44? It is an act which, once in force, will allow the government to provide information on air travellers. This information will not only include names, addresses and passport numbers: it will be much more detailed. The government says that, thanks to this amendment, the privacy commissioner agrees with the legislation and there is no problem, since everything will be secure. I will read the amendment.
No information provided under subsection (1) to a competent authority in a foreign state may be collected from that foreign state by a government institution, within the meaning of section 3 of the Privacy Act, unless it is collected for the purpose of protecting national security—
I have no problem with that.
—or public safety.
This is where I have a problem. Public safety is a very broad concept. What is public safety? For example, could a department such as Human Resources Development Canada get from the United States information relating to a monetary issue, for reasons of public safety?
It will be up to the courts to interpret this provision. But in the meantime, how will this provision be applied? Will there be abuse? We must never forget that, to fully understand the meaning of this bill, it must be examined along with all the other acts that will come into effect at the same time. We need all the pieces of the puzzle to fully understand the scope of the government's anti-terrorism legislation.
This is worrisome. I cannot see how this amendment can reassure the privacy commissioner, particularly since the governor in council will define through regulations the information that travellers will have to disclose to the government. The government had promised us that we would have the regulations.
As the member for Argenteuil--Papineau--Mirabel has said on numerous occasions, we asked for copies of these regulations. We asked for the information. The government always stalled.
At some point, we felt that we could not wait any longer, that we wanted something in our hands. It sent us a summary of what might be in the regulations. As everyone knows, a summary is always the minimum. When we see the actual regulations, it is clear that the government added little things that it never told us about. It is clear even from the summary that a lot of information is required, even a passenger's social insurance number, telephone number, itinerary, everywhere he has travelled. This is far-reaching.
Using public safety as an excuse, a minister can ask the United States for this information. In other words, it will be possible for someone to invoke public safety and do indirectly something that is outright illegal in Canada. This is using the events of September 11 for highly political ends.
The more we look at the legislative measures, such as Bill C-36, Bill C-35, Bill C-44 and Bill C-42, the closer we get to a police state. That is what is disturbing. I am not saying that this will happen tomorrow morning, but all the ingredients are there to set the stage for a rather ugly situation, a way of doing things which is foreign to Canada and to Quebec. I do not want to live in such a country.
Everyone knows our party's platform. This shows once again that it is high time that Quebecers cast off this central authority, which shows unbelievable arrogance in passing legislation as important as this.
The principle of the bill is understandable, as is the fact that we must have legislation to comply with certain international obligations and with American legislation. The Americans have the right to pass the laws they wish when it comes to their country's security. If they want to allow our carriers to land in their country, I understand that we do not have a big say.
This is why we will support Bill C-44. However, this is another example of the way the government really thinks. It uses an obligation to give itself even greater powers and to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. This flagrant lack of political courage needs to be stressed. But we should stress even more the ad hoc attitude this government has shown throughout the whole process by introducing piecemeal legislation to deal with terrorism.
The opposition would probably have had cooperated fully with the government if it had proceeded through a single bill. However, to do so you must know what you want to do. This may be where the problem lies: the government does not know where it is going, which explains why it deals with such an important issue in a piecemeal way. This is very concerning, because this approach will taint the legislation as a whole and the Canadian way of doing things.
I conclude by saying that we will support Bill C-44 reluctantly, considering that its object is to meet certain obligations. But the government should get its act together and deal with such an important issue much more seriously.