Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-42, which we examined carefully at the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I would like to begin by congratulating all of my colleagues on the hard work they did in an effort to strike a fair balance between two conflicting yet fundamental notions. I was going to say “to get at the truth”, but that would not have been the right expression.
When I was a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Board of Internal Economy, we took a very similar approach. There we talked about the safety and protection of people and goods. In this case, this bill is about aviation security. At the time, following the tragic events of September 2001, we had to ask ourselves what kind of security was needed within the parliamentary precinct, here on the Hill. What kind of security check should pedestrians be subjected to? For vehicles, it was pretty easy, but for pedestrians, it was a different matter.
On the one hand, the people watching us here this evening, our fellow citizens, my colleagues and their family members must have access to the place that exemplifies democracy. On the other hand, security measures must be in place to protect people. It is not just parliamentarians who need to be protected, but also pages, security staff and everyone who works in the parliamentary precinct. That is enough of the analogy I wanted to make with security here on Parliament Hill.
I will not say that I suffered terrible insomnia or that I woke up at night in a cold sweat from anxiety, but I did put a lot of thought into this bill. I sometimes have the opportunity to go home to my riding by car. It is a 475 km drive from my office on Parliament Hill to my house. I usually use that time to decompress and reflect on many things.
When we studied this bill, we heard from opposite ends of the spectrum. We heard from those defending civil liberties, who stand up for the protection of personal information. There is a strong temptation, for a government or organization that receives personal information about people, to use it for inappropriate purposes. We joke about Big Brother watching you.
One of the fundamental elements of this bill is that it would have Canada provide the Americans with certain personal information about passengers on board aircraft flying over American territory. Those who defend civil liberties are very level-headed; they were not on a witch hunt. They told us that parliamentarians, members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, should think about the type of information that would be provided to the Americans.
As I mentioned in a previous speech, since the unfortunate events of 9/11 at the World Trade Center, no one has been crazy enough to say that the Americans got what they deserved. Anyone who says that has serious mental problems.
The young woman who worked for Xerox Corporation on the 85th floor, who was about the same age as our assistant clerk—the one who notes what we say off mike—and who was typing a report for her boss, did not deserve to have a plane hit her. She did not ask for that. She went to work that morning to support herself and perhaps to support her family.
Since that event, the Americans have been seized by panic, a phobia, a psychosis about terrorism. I am not an expert on terrorism. However, we should ask ourselves whether we believe that terrorists will again use the exact same tactics they used on the World Trade Center.
The planes that crashed into the World Trade Center were American planes making domestic flights. In addition, the terrorist pilots were trained in American flight schools in Miami, Florida. Since that time, the Americans have developed such an obsessive fear that they see terrorism everywhere. It is true that protection is needed and that we must always be vigilant.
Supporters of individual freedoms and civil liberties asked the committee to ensure that there were certain protective rules. Apparently, the information that we will be providing to the Americans under this bill could potentially be given to 16 other American agencies that do not necessarily need it. Supporters of individual freedoms and civil liberties expressed another concern: what guarantee do we have that this information will be destroyed?
I spoke about Big Brother. Personally, I am not a conspiracy theorist and I do not think that our information is put on file and that we are monitored. That is being paranoid. I watched the Super Bowl and, when members of one team formed a huddle, I did not think that they were talking about me. I knew that they were planning their strategy. We must not think that Big Brother is always watching us. However, this does not change the fact that the Americans will have our personal information. What guarantee do we have that this information will not be shared and that it will be destroyed after a certain period of time?
The Minister of Public Safety testified before the committee. I asked him, without getting angry—a rarity—what guarantee we have that the Americans will destroy this information after a certain period of time.
He replied that the Americans had told him so. How reassuring. What guarantee do we have that our hair will grow by the end of the week? The dermatologist said so. The Americans told him so. What a great answer.
The committee members were split between two approaches. We met representatives from Canada's tourism industry and representatives from airlines. We organized a meeting with Air Transat, Canada's leader in vacation travel. When I was elected in 1993, I was the transport critic. We had Canada 2000, and since we were getting close to the year 2000, I think it became Canada 3000. They realized that the name would be outdated. Later, the company went bankrupt. Then we had Nationair, Nordair, Intair, which all shut down. Now, the number one company in vacation travel in Canada is Air Transat, a company whose head office is in Montreal, whose primary language of work is French and which has an important base in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and a lot of pilots and flight attendants who are able to provide services in two, three or even four languages. Quebec is very proud of this.
We met with these people and they told us that, because the U.S. is a sovereign country, if we did not pass this bill, the Americans would prohibit us from flying through their airspace. Charter flights to the south or flights to London or Nice, for example, that leave from Halifax and take the Atlantic route do not fly through U.S. airspace. I am not picking destinations off the top of my head. Those are all destinations served by Air Transat. To go to Mexico or the Caribbean, for example, via the south corridor or the Atlantic corridor, the plane does not need to fly through American airspace. It is the same for Vancouver. Via the Pacific corridor, there is no need to fly through American airspace.
The people from Air Transat told us that if this bill is not passed, it will no longer be able to serve central Canada. It will no longer be able to offer flights from Calgary to Cancun, from Winnipeg to Puerto Vallarta or from Edmonton to Montego Bay, Jamaica, because those cities are in central Canada. They have no choice but to fly over the U.S. It would take four hours to fly to the Pacific Ocean and then fly south. A flight that normally takes three and a half or four hours with an Airbus 330 or 320 would take seven or eight hours. That makes no sense.
Something I thought of and have talked about before, but that bears repeating because some members were not here, is that we cannot forget that the Air Transat fleet includes Airbus 310s and 320s, and I believe it also has some Airbus 330s.
As it turns out, an Airbus with 350 passengers on board requires a little more time for taking off and landing. It is not like a Cessna that can touch and go and land in 150 metres. When landing in Montreal, depending on the runway being used—24 or 32—the pilot has to turn and fly over the U.S. It is the same thing in Toronto at Pearson airport. In other words, because of those flights, Air Transat would be doomed to bankruptcy.
As the Bloc Québécois transport critic, and with my colleagues who agree on this position, we had to take individual freedoms into account, but we also had to take into account feasibility and the viability of air carriers that have to use U.S. airspace. I moved an amendment that called for reciprocity. Many Americans fly through Canadian airspace and if the U.S. is requiring us to provide a passenger list, then we should be demanding reciprocity with the U.S. Unfortunately, my amendment was democratically defeated in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I accept that, but I find it unbelievable. If it is good enough for the Americans, why would it not be good enough for us?
In any case, we are at third reading stage and, in closing, I confirm that the Bloc Québécois is voting in favour of Bill C-42.