Mr. Speaker, I could have spoken for 20 or even 30 minutes on this bill. It is always a great honour to be able to address the House; however, I cannot say that I am pleased about the subject we are addressing here today, Bill C-51.
The bill has a very long title because, basically, it is an omnibus bill related to security issues that affect all Canadians. Of course, I am referring to An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.
The government in power is going to ram this very cumbersome piece of legislation down our throats this week, even though the bill is being criticized to a virtually unprecedented extent in the history of committees, as we will see later.
Bill C-51 would considerably expand the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. That is what people at home need to understand, aside from the fact that this bill has a ridiculously long title and that it is an omnibus bill. We are once again faced with the same problem with this government. A majority of Canadians, and even a majority of representatives from the official opposition, could support the main objective of the bill, which is to improve protections for Canadians, especially in light of some recent, troubling events associated with the threat from the Islamic State. In principle, we can understand the desire to do better.
Once again, the problem is in how the government is going about it. Once again, the government has introduced an excessively large bill, manipulated the debate, moved time allocation and presented positions that are completely out of touch with what Canada's leading experts are saying. The official opposition will therefore present 64 amendments to try to give a voice to the overwhelming number of experts who are systematically demanding that Bill C-51 either be withdrawn altogether or be significantly amended.
I am skeptical though. I doubt that the government will even look at our amendments. Unfortunately, there is no mistaking its intention to steamroll the bill through this week. Even so, I will try to bring forward some of the arguments these experts have made in the hope that the government in power will set aside its overly strong tendency to show contempt for the work of Parliament. In making an effort to present these legitimate arguments, I hope that someone on the other side will adjust even slightly his or her position on a bill that so many say is bad.
I would like to highlight the attempts that my NDP colleagues on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security have been making in recent weeks to do what I am trying to do today. I particularly want to draw attention to the work of my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. We are now at third reading, and we will soon run out of ways to try to prevent Bill C-51 from being passed. Nevertheless, my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has been proposing amendments ever since second reading. He made a number of very good points that, unfortunately, still apply after the committee's study.
Bill C-51 threatens our way of life by asking Canadians to choose between their security and their freedoms. There is something my friend, the leader of the NDP, often says. He points out, and rightly so, that in the French version of Canada's national anthem, it says that we must “protect our homes and our rights”. They are given the same priority. Even our national anthem notes the importance of applying our collective intelligence to ensure that we protect these two aspects of our lives. The remarks from across the way are veering more and more off track, suggesting that in order to protect our homes, some of our rights, including our right to privacy, may have to be negotiated or diminished. Let us not forget the wisdom of our national anthem, which emphasizes that the government has a duty to balance these two aspects and must never promote one at the expense of the other.
Another point that was made at second reading, is that Bill C-51 irresponsibly provides the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS, with a sweeping new mandate without equally increasing oversight. Later we will see how dire this problem really is. The bill also contains definitions that are broad and vague and that threaten to lump together legitimate dissent with terrorism. This point comes up all the time. The bill gives CSIS tremendous powers. If the net is cast that wide, are we really responding to an imminent problem of a potential terrorist threat or are we facilitating abuses that could violate Canadians' rights? The answer to that question is quite worrisome.
The Liberals voted against these amendments—and that is typically the Liberal way—despite the fact that former Liberal prime ministers wrote a letter stating that they strongly disagree with Bill C-51. From the beginning, the current Liberal leader painted himself into a corner by saying that he would vote for the bill, probably for a very sad reason. In fact, the first poll showed that 80% of Canadians were in favour of the bill. Support for the bill has subsequently collapsed and now 60% of Canadians do not support Bill C-51. However, the Liberal leader painted himself into a corner and unfortunately will vote for the bill.
There are some worrisome observations in the amendments presented by my colleague, and they are now shared by more than 60% or 70% of Canadians. I have never seen that. This is one of those rare bills that people know by name. In federal politics, it is very rare for people to ask me to assure them that I will vote against Bill C-51. It is obvious just how much Canadians are interested in and concerned about this bill, given that they are calling it by its official name.
In our opinion, not enough leading experts on privacy and personal information were invited to appear before the standing committee. However, most of the witnesses who did appear said that this bill should be struck down or heavily amended.
The debate on Bill C-51 is so important that I want to highlight some of what the witnesses said because this is an issue that goes beyond party lines. We need to have an opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that Bill C-51 should not be passed, particularly as it now stands. I will begin by quoting Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner. He said:
...the proposed changes to information sharing authorities are not accompanied by measures to fill gaps in the national security oversight regime.
That is what he said and he is very knowledgeable about the subject. The truth of his statement is obvious given that, in the 2012 budget, the Conservatives eliminated the position of inspector general of CSIS, who was responsible for internal oversight by ensuring that all of CSIS's activities complied with the law.
When an organization is granted vast surveillance powers, we always have to ask ourselves who watches the watchers, when their powers could, for example, threaten a person's right to privacy. Who watches them? Experts agree that the minister's and the government's answers are completely inadequate.
The Minister of Public Safety rejected the need for additional oversight of CSIS, calling it needless red tape. I fell off my chair. It is unbelievable that the minister would consider the need for proper oversight of those who have surveillance powers to be red tape. I am prepared to work 60 hours a week to ensure that business owners do not lose too much time to red tape. However, referring to the need to watch the watchers as red tape floored me. That is unacceptable.
Here is one last quote from the commissioner:
This Act would...allow departments and agencies to share the personal information of all individuals, including ordinary Canadians who may not be suspected of terrorist activities.
This is what the NDP and my colleague fear. Those were the words of the Privacy Commissioner. Canada's top privacy official concluded that there were some serious concerns with Bill C-51.
To conclude, in the debate on Bill C-51, we were faced with a string of time allocation motions and we had a limited number of witnesses in committee, despite the fact that almost all the experts demanded that Bill C-51 be withdrawn or significantly amended. I fear that this is not what will happen this week.
Bill C-51 will be rammed through the House and will be a threat to Canadians' privacy.