Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and join the debate on Bill C-22. I want to use my time to focus not so much on why I am supporting Bill C-22, because I think the arguments have already been advanced quite significantly by the members of the government. I want to use my time instead to address some of the substantive concerns coming from the opposition parties, which is what I will do in the time that has been allotted to me today.
There are some broad themes that have clearly emerged from the opposition that I want to address and put to rest to try to allay their concerns.
The first, which has been advanced by the official opposition members, is the concept that the architecture of Bill C-22 undermines the independence of parliamentarians because of the apparent supremacy of the executive branch over the legislative branch. They have cited the various provisions in the act that deal with the Prime Minister's capacity to appoint the members of the committee under section 5, and the ability of ministers of the crown to withhold information in certain situations under section 16. They have highlighted issues with respect to the ability of the Prime Minister, in consultation with the chair of the committee, to redact certain portions of the proposed report coming from the committee that might be injurious to national security or might disclose information that might be subject to solicitor-client privilege or might be injurious to or impact international relations.
I appreciate this particular point because we do live in a Westminster model, wherein our branches of government, both our executive branch and our legislative branch, are fused into the same body. The supremacy of the executive branch is particularly exacerbated in this type of model, unlike, for example, in the United States, under a congressional model, where there are very clear and separate branches of government, and the executive branch is specifically divorced from the legislative branch.
I would remind my colleagues of a point that was specifically highlighted by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in his address to the House on the bill. The mandate of this committee is very broad. If we look carefully at the language of the legislation under section 8, it says that the committee's mandate is to review:
(a) the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative and financial framework for national security and intelligence;
(b) any activity carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence, unless the appropriate Minister determines that the review would be injurious to national security; and
(c) any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister of the Crown refers to the Committee.
Therefore, the oversight role, the review role, is very broad as set out specifically in the act. However, I would point out that the purpose of this piece of legislation is to do exactly that, to review the broad mandates of our national security and intelligence agencies. It is not to go and delve into the specific operational endeavours of the military or our police services to examine specific matters that are of a specific ongoing operational nature. I would submit that falls within the purview of the government's executive branch, to execute, in real time, responses to potential national security threats and to deal with those instances. The role of the committee is to look at these particularly broad mandates.
Some of the committee's other mandates are to review that our security and intelligence services have the right legislative tools, that the resources appropriated to our national security agencies are appropriate, that we have the appropriate interagency co-operation, and that the legislative framework allows for that appropriate exchange of information. I would also argue that it has to deal with some of the concerns that the third party has advanced, which is to ensure that the appropriate procedural and substantive protections are afforded to individuals who may be impacted by the actions of our security agencies.
I believe those are the appropriate measures of review, not the actual review of specific ongoing operational issues. The way I would frame it is that the role of the committee is not to play M in MI6 in a James Bond movie. Its role is to provide oversight and a check on the exercise of executive authority.
The second theme I wanted to address that I think has been overplayed by the opposition is with respect to the ability in terms of both access to information and the ability to redact information. Again, I would invite my colleagues on the opposite side to carefully review the actual language in the bill as it relates to those specific limitations.
Let me take, for example, the provisions that are dealt with under the access to information provisions in clauses 13 and 14, particularly as they relate to the exceptions under section 14. My colleagues on the other side have noted that there are seven exceptions, and they refer to them as being problematic. However, if we examine them carefully, they are very narrowly construed. Basically, they are construed with respect to other rights and immunities and privileges of other classes of persons other than parliamentarians.
Again, I think it is a bit of a mis-characterization that the supremacy of Parliament and the role of parliamentarians somehow supersedes the rights, privileges, and immunities of other classes of persons. I do not think that is a fair characterization. I think we have to always constantly engage and make sure that there is a balance.
We can take a look at the seven specific provisions in section 14. The first one is “a confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, as defined in subsection 39(2) of the Canada Evidence Act”. In plain English, that means cabinet confidences. The question is whether parliamentarians should be subject and be able to access information as it relates to the deliberations of cabinet. Again, I think not.
The second one refers to “information respecting ongoing defence intelligence activities supporting military operations”. My point is that those are operational decisions. Again, I do not think that it is within the purview of the committee to be reviewing ongoing military action.
The third is “information the disclosure of which is described in subsection 11(1) of the Witness Protection Program Act”. If somebody goes into the witness protection program, I do not think we need to know the identity of who that particular individual is.
The fourth is “the identity of a person who...has been approached to be...a confidential source of information, intelligence or assistance to the Government of Canada”. Therefore, if somebody is prepared to spy on behalf of Canada, again, I do not think we need to have that specific type of information.
The fifth one is “information relating directly to an ongoing investigation”. Again, that is an operational matter. We can certainly look at it retrospectively and review if there was a problem, but I do not think that this committee should be in a position to compromise an ongoing active investigation.
The sixth is information related to the Investment Canada Act, and seventh is information relating to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. Again, if we look at these particular sections, they are very narrowly construed.
Therefore, the exceptions that are articulated in the bill are very narrow. Again, I would argue that these are very narrow areas that are carved out, and that the mandate of the committee is in fact very broad.
The other point that has been raised is with respect to subclause 21(5), the writing of reports and the Prime Minister's capacity to edit the reports.
Again, I invite my colleagues to read subclause 21(5) carefully with respect to what it means. It does not mean that the Prime Minister rewrites the report. It means that a report that has been received by the Prime Minister is reviewed to make sure there is no sensitive confidential information that is then subsequently disclosed to the public. It is this information alone that would be redacted. Through consultation with the chair that information would be subject to review and allowed to be redacted on the basis of national security, on the basis that it might be injurious to international relations, or that the information is confidential because of solicitor-client privilege.
Again, it is very narrowly construed. I simply submit that to my colleagues—