Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Québécois privacy critic, I am pleased to speak today to the government's Bill C-29, which the Minister of Industry introduced in May.
The Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-29 because it is yet another bill that shamelessly interferes in an area under provincial jurisdiction.
The Bloc Québécois vigorously opposed the adoption in 2000 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which this Bill C-29 seeks to amend.
Of course, we played an active and responsible role in the study of part 1 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, and we even proposed some changes in an attempt at damage control.
But the Bloc Québécois has always made it very clear that it definitely does not support the legislation that came into force in January 2001. And it was not alone.
In Quebec, the government, businesses, consumers, the Conseil du patronat, editorial writers, constitutional law experts and many others loudly criticized this renewed assault on Quebec's exclusive areas of jurisdiction.
In May 2007, the Bloc Québécois voiced its opposition to this new intrusion into provincial areas of jurisdiction in its dissenting report appended to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics' report on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Apparently, the recommendations in that report resulted in Bill C-29, which was introduced in the House today.
Both the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and this bill, C-29, which would amend the act, are perfect examples of the federal government preying on Quebec's powers yet again.
Basically, the Government of Quebec and the provinces have been arguing since 2000 that, despite the federal government's attempt to justify its bill based on its power to regulate trade and commerce, personal information protection is within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces because of constitutional powers in the areas of property and civil rights.
Constitutional law expert Jacques Frémont of the Université de Montréal was very clear about this when he commented on the original bill that Ottawa was trying to pass. This is what he said:
[This bill] violates both the spirit and the letter of the division of powers, as we must understand it in this country. It denotes an arrogant approach and constitutes an intrusion on the part of the federal government in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Protection of personal privacy is essentially a provincial power. In Quebec, for example, in the area of property and civil rights, it is the Quebec Civil Code that applies, as well as the Canadian and Quebec Charters.
Personal information is very well protected in Quebec. The federal legislation simply overlaps provisions that are already in place. First, section 5 of the Quebec Charter of Rights, adopted in 1975, explicitly states that every person has the right to privacy. Second, chapter 3 of the Civil Code, in particular sections 36 to 40, contains privacy provisions. Third, Quebec's Act respecting the Protection of Personal Information in the Private Sector has also been protecting Quebeckers' personal information since 1993.
In addition, companies under federal jurisdiction that operate in Quebec are already covered by Quebec laws. Quebeckers' privacy rights are fully protected by Quebec law, whether they do business with a company under provincial jurisdiction or a company under federal jurisdiction.
In September 2009, the task force on the future of the Canadian financial services sector published a report that focused on protecting personal information in which it states the following about Quebec's legislation:
On a literal reading, the Quebec law applies to banks as well as other financial institutions. … In the absence of federal legislation on a particular subject matter, validly enacted provincial law may apply to a federal undertaking unless the law prevents the federal undertaking from managing its operations or generally accomplishing its ends.
Moreover, the report stated that Quebec law already applied to interprovincial and international trade as well.
Moreover, the effects of the Quebec law will not be confined to the province. National institutions will face the Act's restriction on the extra-provincial transfer of personal information (about Quebec residents).
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act gives the federal government the power to render a Quebec law invalid. That is too much.
The federal act applies to all financial activities unless the Governor in Council orders, if satisfied that a province has adopted similar legislation, that it be exempted in whole or in part. In December 2003, the federal government issued an exclusion order applicable to organizations in Quebec. Unfortunately, not only is the power set out in paragraph 26(2)(b) left to the government’s sole discretion, but it applies only to information within Quebec and held by companies under provincial jurisdiction.
Pursuant to this paragraph, the Governor in Council could therefore, if it wished, order that the laws of Quebec be declared partially or wholly invalid, without even referring the matter to Parliament. This is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois. It cannot subscribe to any law that goes against the interests of Quebec and it believes that Bill C-29 should not even be discussed in the House: civil law comes under provincial jurisdiction.
Need I remind this House that the concepts of privacy and confidentiality are extremely important in the 21st century, as their application in daily life is becoming especially difficult? Privacy and confidentiality are, in fact, concepts tied to basic rights such as freedom and personal autonomy. Protecting privacy and confidentiality is simply recognizing every individual's right to a private life.
In other words, people have the right to determine when, how and in what way they will communicate information to other people. What I call the right to private life is being threatened today, more than ever, by problems stemming from new information technology, and every privacy protection measure has to take that into account.
The Big Brother George Orwell created in 1948 in his novel 1984 is alive and well among us, and I will not be the last person to talk about that.
Any privacy initiatives, today and in the future, must cover not only the monitoring of information about us, but also protection against unwanted access to our personal information by other people. In fact, that is why our governments have had to create organizations and legislation to protect privacy.
Quebec has been a true pioneer in North America in the area of access to information and protection of privacy, and serves as a reference for all western countries. The Quebec access to information commission was created in 1982, but as early as 1971, with the passage of the Consumer Protection Act, Quebec's lawmakers broke new ground by ensuring all persons the right of access to their credit records.
In 1975, the National Assembly passed the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, recognizing the right of all persons to respect for their privacy and their right to information. This was a historic legislative step that would lay the legal foundations for fundamental principles.
On June 22, 1982, the Quebec National Assembly passed an act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information, thereby creating the Commission d'accès à l'information du Québec. The National Assembly continued its efforts to protect privacy by adopting the act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector, which came into force on January 1, 1994.
In Canada during that time, part IV of the Canadian Human Rights Act created the position of Privacy Commissioner in 1977. The commissioner is an officer of Parliament who acts as a privacy ombudsman.
The federal government then passed two pieces of legislation, the Privacy Act in 1983 and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act in 2000. The first basically governs the federal public sector and the second, which is of special interest to us here today, has to do more with the private sector in all of Canada, except in provinces that have “substantially similar” provincial legislation.
Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have their own legislation, since the activities of the private sector generally fall under provincial jurisdiction. However, since the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act gives the federal government the power to invalidate a Quebec law, there is no way that we can support it.
The two federal acts dedicated to protecting personal information duplicate the Quebec legislation that was passed by the National Assembly to allow individuals to decide for themselves with whom they will share their personal information, as well as for what purposes and under what circumstances. In fact, we must always remember that what constitutes an invasion of privacy for one person, is not necessarily an invasion for another. We all know it is very difficult to ensure that our privacy is respected these days.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the globalization of information and transformation of means of communication have taken great leaps forward, thanks to recent technological advances. However, all these advances present just as many threats to human rights, in particular our right to privacy, and our right to control the distribution and use of our personal information.
Governments and corporations have an insatiable thirst for our personal information. The current Conservative government even believes that collecting a huge quantity of personal information will solve issues of national security and public safety. Under the pretext of implementing new anti-terrorist initiatives, it runs roughshod over the issue of privacy.
Need I emphasize that the private sector's appetite for information is just as great?
It wants to know our names, addresses, purchases, interests and preferences in order to classify, analyze, record and use them in marketing studies, marketing approaches, and to come up with marketable goods. The private sector's lust for our personal information is even more disturbing given that most companies that specialize in collecting this information do not adequately protect it. This information becomes vulnerable to hacking and identity theft.
Bill C-29 that we are examining today concerns the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which establishes the rules governing the collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the private sector, but only in the course of commercial activity
As I mentioned at the start of my speech, the Bloc Québécois will not support this bill, which essentially entails new intrusions into an area of Quebec's jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois has always clearly indicated that it does not support the federal law, which has been in effect since January 2001. Remaining true to itself and to the interests of Quebeckers, the Bloc will maintain this position.