Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of our Liberal motion today.
Canadians understand and appreciate that part of their government's responsibility is to defend the realm and protect Canadians and our interests against terrorism and cyberattack. Part of the way we do this is through intelligence gathering. However, the way we gather intelligence has changed dramatically in recent years, and our structures for protecting privacy need to catch up.
I have no doubt that the men and women of Canada's security and intelligence agencies carry out their duties honourably. I do not doubt their loyalty or their commitment to the safety of our citizens. However, their job is hard and the world has changed. The very nature of national security threats facing open and democratic nations like Canada have changed. Gone are the days when our greatest security threats were adversarial states such as existed during the Cold War. Today, intelligence agencies operate in a rapidly evolved field of information gathering, where having and analyzing as much data as possible is essential. This need to collect data can potentially conflict with our fundamental right to privacy.
We have seen this several times recently, including with the Communications Security Establishment of Canada, an agency that is part of National Defence, which has been collecting the personal information of Canadian travellers who were transiting through Canadian airports. The member for Malpeque did a good job of explaining why this is a concern. This data was used to help conduct surveillance operations for weeks afterward and to track people's activities for the weeks before the data was collected through Wi-Fi users in the airport. That is seemingly a contradiction to CSEC's legal mandate. This was done without a warrant.
An analogy could be a government spy agency that begins to track individuals' mail, who is sending them mail, who they are sending mail to, where those letters are originating from, where they are sending their letters to, and where they are when they send those letters. It tracks people's mail, steams open the envelopes, but claims it is not reading the contents or opening it up and pulling out the letter. I do not think Canadians are comfortable with the idea of that kind of tracking. That kind of intrusion on the liberty and privacy of citizens is counter to the principles of our fundamental democracy. Therefore, to balance the need to acquire data and respect people's privacy and liberty creates a pressing need for a robust oversight of CSEC. It also means we need to have a detailed discussion about how we balance those interests in our society. That is the importance of our motion.
That the House express its deep concern over reports that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been actively and illegally monitoring Canadians and call on the government to immediately order CSEC to cease all such activities and increase proper oversight of CSEC, through the establishment of a National Security Committee of Parliamentarians as laid out in Bill C-551, An Act to establish the National Security Committee of Parliamentarians.
It is unfortunate that the government appears to want to block proper oversight, such as is being proposed in Bill C-551, put forward by the member for Malpeque.
What is happening in Canada is unique in the western world. Ann Cavoukian, the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner, talked about the response by the United States president, which demonstrates the kind of free, open, and candid discourse that society is undertaking on the subject of surveillance powers of intelligence agencies. However, while the U.S. is doing that, to quote the commissioner, “...our government is maintaining a wall of silence around the activities of the...(CSEC). This silence is putting our freedoms at risk”.
I ask why the Minister of National Defence is not listening to those who are raising red flags and sounding alarms about this intrusion and this wall of secrecy.
CSEC is an agency that is not being given proper direction by the government. At the Senate committee hearing last night, the director of CSEC made it clear that, should instructions by the government come that there should be a proper oversight and review by some other mechanisms, it would accept that. He was not arguing against the need for that; he was saying there was no political direction to do that. So that is a failure on the part of the Prime Minister and his defence minister.
Canadians need to have faith in their government that is elected to serve and represent them; so this is an issue of Canadians' trust in the government. I believe Canadians want to be free of unwarranted intrusion into their personal affairs. Right now they cannot trust that this is the case.
One of the senators at the committee hearing last night said that not only do Canadians need to trust but they need to be able to verify that the trust is warranted, and right now they are not able to verify and not able to have trust.
The Conservative members of Parliament in this debate have again and again repeated the idea that there is robust oversight, but that is simply not the case, and a range of people with expertise in this matter have commented on that.
One of them is Dr. Wesley Wark, who is a professor at the University of Ottawa. I am going to read a few comments that he made with respect to our current oversight situation, which is the CSEC commissioner.
According to Dr. Wark, who is an academic analyst on national security and cybersecurity issues, there has been no commitment on the part of the commissioner to conduct a specific investigation into the airport Wi-Fi project that is so concerning. The commissioner did not indicate the timeline for his “ongoing review of CSEC”. It has taken three years for the CSEC commissioner to conduct his first full review of metadata activities. That is three years, and it is important to note that this was never discussed in the commissioner's public annual report.
According to Dr. Wark:
The CSEC Commissioner's inability to bring any urgency to an investigation of metadata collection, his apparent unwillingness to engage in an targeted investigation of the Airport Wi-Fi project, alongside an abysmal prior failure to challenge CSEC's desire to keep even the term metadata secret, considerably (if not completely) undermines the value of that office as a watchdog.
This is not a robust watchdog. This is a starving, ineffective watchdog.
That is why the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has filed a lawsuit, the first yet on this issue, because it is concerned that “...unrestrained government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms”. It is filing this lawsuit to force the government to enact specific safeguards to protect the rights of Canadians. These are the very kinds of safeguards that our motion is proposing and that the member for Malpeque's bill would provide.
According to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, “There is no court or committee that monitors CSEC's interception of...private communications and metadata information, and there is no judicial oversight of its sweeping powers. CSEC's operations are shrouded in secrecy”.
It is ironic, as the member for Mount Royal noted, that the government cancelled the long form census based on supposed privacy concerns, a critical tool for understanding the demographics of our country and yet is defending the secrecy of an organization that is affecting Canadians' privacy.
Most Canadians would be far more comfortable telling the government how many rooms they have in their house than having government tracking their smart phone data and location and following them for weeks.
The government must listen to the concerns of the Canadians who want their agencies to respect the law and protect their privacy, and I call on all members to support this motion.