Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-26. This legislation will have endless repercussions on the lives of everyone in this country. It will have an enormous impact on everyone crossing our borders, including each member of this House, like nearly everyone in this country, as well as everyone who will come here in the future.
This is an ambitious bill, with an extremely broad scope. It is the result of the events of September 11, 2001, and I want to mention that the outline of this bill was drafted in the days after the unfortunate events unfolded in New York City over three years ago already. We must not forget that the world is a very different place now.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-26. It is however concerned by two things: in particular, the transfer of important duties and functions from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to the Canada Border Services Agency, a transfer that could eventually jeopardize the protection of the rights of immigrants and refugees, the right to collect, retain, use and release information with regard to the enforcement of border security legislation and agreements between the Canada Border Services Agency and other national and international entities.
With regard to repressive measures affecting immigrants and refugees, we cannot disagree with an entity that already exists in fact, whether by order in council or whether it has been in existence for ages already. We cannot question a reality. The reality is that the transfer of responsibilities from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the Canada Border Services Agency, as Bill C-26 seeks to do, has already occurred at our borders.
Nevertheless, we can and must remain critical of the implementation of measures that will transform this system and legally establish it. In the name of protecting individual freedoms, we must ensure that the potential changes in this system will not run counter to the very foundations of our society. After the events of September 11, 2001, discussions essentially concern the fine line between individual freedoms and the protection of national security.
The Bloc Québécois is opposed to national security outweighing individual freedoms. Our sovereign neighbours to the south can evaluate the situation any way they want and make their decisions accordingly. Canada should do that as well—remain sovereign—and it should not feel obliged to make its decisions on the basis of those of its neighbour. Thus, the measures taken in anger and bewilderment, immediately after the events of September 11, must not put Canada's inherent values on the back burner.
Although the Bloc Québécois has disagreed on many points with the decisions made by the federal government in the past, it also recognizes many shared values in the common history of Quebec and Canada. Values such as democracy, peace, privacy, human rights and many others are fundamental to both our cultures.
Such tragic events should not cast their shadow over the values that have built our common history for more than 400 years. We must be very cautious when the time comes to make major changes in the way we see and interpret the world. With respect to the circulation of passengers at the new smart border, I want to point out that, if Bill C-26 were adopted in its present form, some of these fundamental changes would contradict the vision we have had up till now, both in Quebec and in Canadian society.
Until now, we have shared the point of view, in Quebec and in Canada, that it was up to Citizenship and Immigration to manage the flow of new arrivals, whether they are immigrants, refugees or visitors. Under Bill C-26, all of these people will automatically have to deal with officers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.
Some try to reassure us by suggesting that these will be the same employees, the same officers, who previously worked for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. However, we must not be fooled. Two things can become one: these officers, with the change of bosses, will eventually change their mandate and their corporate mentality. They cannot change hats without changing their mission.
Furthermore, if these officers are currently the same and we agree that the uniform does not make the officer, then we must obtain assurances that when they change mandates their citizenship training—and I emphasize the word “citizenship”—will stay the same.
What I mean is that it is essential that we get assurances that these officers will not become agents of repression, but that they will uphold the precepts that unequivocally make Canada a welcoming land of liberty and an open country where rights and freedoms take precedence over all the rest.
We have a hard time imagining a public safety guardian—whose mission is to protect national security—becoming a guardian of human and individual rights. We want to stress the fact that these two mandates contradict each other and it is only natural that a person who takes care of one is not best suited to take care of the other.
On the Border Services Agency Web site it says it is “the first line of defence in managing the movement of people and goods into and out of Canada”.
It talks about defence as though an enemy army were flooding the Canadian battle fields. If this is not a way of seeing each passenger, individual, visitor or new arrival as a threat to national security, then I do not know what is.
The presumption of innocence is the foundation of the society we share. A fundamental breach of this tenet is announced here. Posting officers who are concerned with defence is the antithesis of an open border. We believe that the balance between national security and individual liberty is threatened.
We have no right to see every individual crossing our border as an enemy of the nation. While realizing that the world is not as safe a place in 2004 as it was in 1984, the Bloc Québécois nevertheless refuses to agree that it should be less free.
It is dangerous for officers of the new agency to have the authority to decide whether individuals crossing our borders have a right to enter and also to be entitled to stop, detain and deport people, all at the same time. I am talking about a single officer having the power to make all these decisions. That is not worthy of a free and democratic society. It sounds like a repressive society, which Canada is not.
Judging who is entitled to enter and who is not is a judicial responsibility. To date, all individuals dealing with immigration have had the right to defend themselves, the right to counsel and the right to argue their case.
The system may not be perfect, but the right to judicial review exists in immigration matters. This will no longer be the case if Bill C-26 is passed as it stands, because newcomers will simply be prevented from entering.
For Canada to act contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to deny individuals entering the country their basic rights is contrary to human rights. The Bloc Québécois does not agree with letting this government take that direction.
We reject the idea of initially considering anyone coming into Canada as a potential threat to national security. We want a fair process to be established, not exclusionary thinking. Our concern is that the agency may look for officers with this kind of thinking, whose main qualifications will be investigation, deportation and harassment. We find it most unfortunate that there is no review mechanism for people crossing the borders, no process for appealing the decisions made by these officers, that they are judge and executioner, and that, in other words, they have the power of life and death over people, without anyone overseeing their work.
When certain individuals cross our borders as a last resort and ask for asylum, if they are sent back to their country of origin, they often risk being tortured. Already, under our current system, there are deportation cases that end in real human dramas. And I am not talking about the consequences of the safe third country agreement, which will soon come into effect, and for which these same officers will be responsible. This agreement will have a devastating impact on the lives of many refugee claimants. But that is another issue.
I am not talking either about exceptional situations. Canada is not a country where one life may be less important than another. It is a free and democratic country where humanitarian values are paramount. It is important that Canada define its rules accordingly and not implement legislation that could possibly lead to abuse or to violations of its own intrinsic values.
I will go quickly over clause 118. It provides that the governor in council may take away other powers from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and give them to the Border Services Agency. Of course, it seems risky to leave to a single individual the authority to give powers to the agency, without debating the issue in the House.
We are told by IRB officials that the nationals of 10 foreign countries are specifically targeted. This of course goes against all the principles of our shared society, and we ask that a clause be included in Bill C-26 to prevent racial profiling. The September 11 events have already generated enough abuse and racial tensions. It is critical to put an end to this abuse, instead of encouraging it.
The Bloc Québécois is convinced that the last thing that Canada wants is to be identified as a racist, discriminatory nation, and this is why we want a special reference to this issue included in Bill C-26.
My second point has to do with the measures taken to control the exchange of information. In addition to all the measures that I just mentioned—and I have to hurry if I want to mention them all—there is a very important aspect of this bill that could lead to very dangerous potential abuse.
Once again, American pressure appears to be dictating the government's choices, an indication of outside interference. These are not Canadian values. I would again point out that the fundamental freedoms protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are the foundation of all the laws of this Parliament, which apply to all persons on Canadian territory.
If the government wants to expel certain individuals from its territory, so as not to have to honour its commitments, not only international commitments but moral ones as well, we condemn this. We would not want to attribute such an intention to the government. We therefore oppose all measures in Bill C-26 relating to the exchange of information.
Clause 119 permits the collection, retention, use, disclosureand disposal of information for the purposesof this act or for the purposes of application of the border legislation and the implementation of an agreementor arrangement entered into between the Border Service Agency and a foreign state, international organization or any other individual or organization. We do not wish to see that power extended any further.
Not only is there nothing to restrict the nature of these agreements, but there is also the possibility of information being exchanged between the Canadian Border Service Agency and any other individual or organization. This broad power to communicate information is a source of concern and of potential abuse. There is nothing stopping the minister from entering into a whole range of agreements with numerous entities. The problem lies in the fact that there is no definition of the purpose of the information sharing, nor any restriction on the type of agreements permitting such exchanges or with whom they may be signed.
It is dangerous to leave all this power in the hands of a single minister, a single individual. It seems risky for such a power not to be counterbalanced by measures to protect refugees and immigrants on whom information might be disclosed.
When a refugee claimant seeks asylum because of persecution in his or her country of origin, if there is an agreement permitting notification of that country, it is not hard to imagine the danger this places the individual in. International agreements on refugees require us to welcome these individuals, give them a place to stay, and respect their rights, but they also require us to protect them.
Once again, fears about national security must not open the door to the abuse of individual liberties. If some members of the House plan to rise, as they have already done, and reassure us, I say that defining our course of action is not the task of any one member, but rather is dependent on the legislation and conventions by which we are bound.
There is a current trend toward even greater disclosure of personal information. We must draw the line somewhere. We are saying here that the line between privacy and the protection of national security has been crossed, especially since it in no way serves the interests of Canadians to release such information to a third party.
We will not make any suppositions about the reasons why this measure was included. We will only recommend that protection of privacy and individual liberties be reinforced.
Once again, the texts of international conventions are the definitive reference on what we can and cannot do. Paranoia has no place in the decision to release confidential information, and the Arar case is a perfect example of the type of society into which such measures can lead us. This case is currently before a parliamentary commission; an indication of how contentious it can be to formulate legislation governing such behaviour.
When individual rights are curtailed, when individuals feel less free, is a country more progressive? The Bloc Québécois strongly believes the opposite is true, and Canadians clearly agree. So, before we make decisions that could lead to major changes in how Canadians live, to a fundamental shift in the values held by Canadians and Quebeckers, we must ask ourselves the following questions: are we prepared to sacrifice fundamental rights and at what price? In whose name? Are we safer or less free? Would our security be greater or our freedom more restricted? Have we truly reached the time when we must make such choices as if we were at war?
I would like to point out that we are discussing a bill. Before it ends up casting doubt on all the values underlying our shared history, before we decide whether we are creating a climate of war for ourselves, we must be prepared to accept the consequences, because they are momentous.
It is agreed that we have certain commitments to our American neighbours. But are we prepared to become unconditional allies, as their president put it during his most recent visit? Do we want to keep at least a bit of our sovereignty, or are were prepared to sacrifice everything for some vague reasons.
Bill C-26, in its current form, contains certain aberrations of a scope much broader than would appear. We must make just and enlightened decisions before there is no turning back.
For all these reasons—namely the abstract sharing of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's responsibilities with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which in the long run could endanger respect for and the safety of immigrants and refugees and everything related to rights and the collection and sharing of information about the people who cross our borders—the Bloc Québécois has reservations about the current application of Bill C-26.
We agree, nevertheless, with the principle of this bill and we recognize that the world is not the same in 2004 as it was in 1984. Still, we would hope that, even if the world is less safe, it is no less free. This is the unfortunate prospect that Bill C-26 opens.
Let us remain sovereign in the choices that we make in this House. Let us prepare bills consistent with our shared values and with the treaties and conventions that we have signed in the past. Most of all, let us not abandon one of our most important values: the presumption of innocence. Let us not put all our entrants in the same boat, and let us avoid any presumptions of guilt in their regard. That would be contrary to 400 years of free and democratic life.