Mr. Speaker, I think that parliament has before it, as we often say, an exceedingly important bill. I really think it is the most important bill the House of Commons will pass. This bill responds to an event that occurred on September 11 and to much more than that as well. The bill, the way it is drafted at the moment, goes perhaps a bit too far.
Let me explain. If there is one thing we must make sure of it is that the House does not improvise in passing the bill, not with a bill like this one. We must take time to examine every angle of the bill. As many people as possible and the experts must be consulted in order to produce a law that meets our objective of fighting terrorism effectively.
The attacks on New York and Washington must certainly not change anything in the way we live and do things in Canada, but neither, given that the laws are passed here, must anything be changed in Quebec's approach either. To succeed in getting us to change and alter our practices would be the supreme victory for the terrorists. They would know we are afraid and would change the way we live and deprive our fellow citizens of their freedoms in exchange for security on paper.
In our reactions and attitudes we must look primarily for balance between heightened security measures and the need to keep freedom in the central and vital space it occupies in our society. We must protect ourselves, but we must also be aware of the fact that liberty will always be fragile whatever we do and whatever legislation we may pass in this House so long as there are men and women prepared to die for a cause and through hatred. No legislation will be able to stop them.
We can, however, have legislation that will enable us to prevent attacks such as the those that have recently taken place. We can have a bill that will help us gather information on terrorists, on the people we really want to target with such a piece of legislation, but caution is required.
We must not have just any old law to stop such people. Legislation is needed, but not at the expense of our collective and individual rights and freedoms. Sacrificing our freedom would in fact be capitulation, because freedom is, more than anything else, what defines life in a democracy. The choices we will be making are not, therefore, only choices for security, they are choices for society. Such choices, informed choices, cannot be made overnight. A sense of balance must inform our analysis of Bill C-36.
At the present time, looked at as a whole I believe the bill's purpose is laudable. The bill as a whole will be applied in conjunction with other existing Canadian statutes. The criminal code will continue to apply, as will the anti-gang legislation. Hon. members will recall that Bill C-24, now in the other place awaiting royal assent, enables police officers to commit illegal acts.
With the anti-gang legislation and this bill, Bill C-36, which amends over 20 Canadian statutes and a series of regulations, the powers of the police force appear out of balance with the liberties we enjoy.
I know it is not mentioned in the bill, but at some point the police, thanks to the anti-gang legislation, will be able to commit illegal acts under the law and perhaps break it. This was certainly not the government's aim, but we must not lose sight of the fact that these two laws apply concurrently. Neither blocks the other.
By allowing a police officer to act illegally under Bill C-24, we cannot be sure he will not use this part of the act to do things that are illegal under Bill C-36. Yet he would be justified in doing so for purposes of national security. Is this just rhetoric on my part? I hope so.
I do not think it is rhetoric to say that because it is important to watch what is going on and to try to produce the best legislation. I think this is what the people of Canada and Quebec expect of us.
A look at the federal government's anti-terrorism plan and its objectives reveals four major objectives. There is no reason to oppose them. Perhaps the way it goes about achieving them in the legislation gives us the right, in a country like ours, to question them.
The first objective is to prevent terrorists from entering Canada and to protect Canadians against acts of terrorism. I have no problem with this objective. I would certainly not defend the terrorists or say that their rights were protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was saying on the subject of gangsterism and organized crime, that it is not true the charter exists to protect them. I say the same thing about terrorists. However, the rights and freedoms honest people enjoy at the moment must not be denied them.
The second objective involves providing the tools to identify terrorists, bring them to justice, sentence them and punish them. This needs no explanation and there is no doubt that we support this objective.
The third objective is to prevent the Canada-U.S. border from being taken hostage by terrorists, which would have repercussions on the Canadian economy. That is obvious. Moreover, this is not the first time the Bloc Quebecois has questioned the work being done by customs officials on the borders of Canada and Quebec.
As far as money laundering is concerned, for at least five or six years now the Bloc Quebecois has been saying over and over that the borders between Canada and the United States are as full of holes as a sieve and that Canada enjoys the wonderful international reputation of being a country where money laundering is easy and where there may be the least monitoring of this.
I know that this is being corrected. I know that we have not been a voice crying out unheard in the wilderness for those five or six years. I know that the government has amended some laws in response to overtures by the Bloc Quebecois. I know that as far as Bill C-36 is concerned the criminal code is also being amended, with a far more specific objective: terrorist groups. This is a good thing.
I do not, however, think that the wake up call of the events of September 11 was necessary for this to happen. Actions could have been taken back when we started talking about the situation, back when we began to address the problem represented by Canadian customs and the Canada-U.S. border.
The final objective is to work with the international community to bring terrorists to justice and address the root causes of their hatred.
We can see that these are four praiseworthy objectives. On that basis one could not be opposed to a bill to implement provisions to attain those objectives.
However, the questions that arise have to do with the text we have before us. The bill is more than 170 pages in length and contains dozens, even hundreds, of amended sections and expanded definitions regarding the threat to national security among other things. There are increased powers conferred to some members of the cabinet. The Minister of Justice, the Solicitor General of Canada and the Minister of National Defence would all have increased powers when it comes to electronic surveillance, for example. They would be able to decide if an individual will be monitored. It is the minister who would be responsible for the final decision. Have they gone too far? That is a tough question.
Are we asking enough tough questions? I hope that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I emphasize the words human rights, will do just that in a calm manner with all the time it needs and that this bill will be carefully examined.
If Canada had pursued these four objectives by ratifying international treaties that it has already signed, by making them law, then in all probability I would not be standing here right now giving a 20 minute speech on this subject. In order to attain its four objectives, the government included two conventions in this bill.
The first one is the international convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism. It freezes terrorists' assets by preventing the use of assets belonging to a person who is involved in terrorist activities and in preventing the provision of property and financial or other related services to terrorists. These measures enable a Federal Court judge to order the freezing or seizure of property used to support terrorist activities.
This is the convention that had been signed but never had force of law in Canada. This convention is included in Bill C-36.
In order to achieve the objectives I outlined earlier, there is no problem with this approach and I applaud the government on this. Indeed, the government should have done this before September 11. This was its responsibility. It failed when it came to implementing the international convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism.
Frankly, I imagine that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service knew before September 11 that there were people raising funds for terrorism in Canada. I certainly hope it knew. If it did not, I have my doubts about the effectiveness of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. If it did, why was it waiting to tell somebody? If it did pass the information along, why did the solicitor general or the Minister of Justice do nothing when a convention had been signed to that effect? There is a problem somewhere.
The other convention is the international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings. This convention contains provisions on the targeting of places of public use, government facilities, infrastructure and transportation systems for attacks using explosives or other lethal devices, including chemical or biological agents.
Here again, I hope that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was on some sort of trail in Canada while groups were on Canadian soil and had certain similar objectives. It is perhaps not as clear as in the first convention, but I hope that CSIS, with the millions of dollars, close to a billion, which it regularly receives to manage its affairs, had a good idea of what was going on.
These two conventions are therefore implemented by Bill C-36. Once again we have no problem with this.
There is one point about which we have some legitimate concerns and I think that anyone interested in individual and collective rights and freedoms must share those concerns.
A large number of sections in the criminal code are amended and many new ones are added to deal with terrorism.
I invite hon. members to read the definition of terrorist activity; it is not a simple definition. It refers to ten conventions that Canada signed and implemented over the years. It is a definition that makes reference to other sections, to international conventions, to a large number of possibilities.
Terrorism as such is not defined, just like the federal government refused to define the notion of criminal activity--