Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add some comments on Bill C-42. I think there is some information which would have been clarified by the committee had members looked at the committee testimony dealing with international rights and the rights of countries to protect their sovereign airspace and land.
Substantively, this is a furtherance of the wish of the Americans to respond to the terrorist threats upon the U.S. They are our neighbour and our largest trading partner. However, the intent of the U.S. clearly is not directed at Canada in terms of interfering with Canada, but rather protecting their sovereign space.
It is easy to give a speech in this place on privacy rights. One speaker just said that the Americans would have our health card and health care information. That is not actually the case. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner was before committee and laid out the disclosure, and it is basic disclosure.
We have had evidence that this kind of information is provided when we cross the border in automobiles. We have to provide our passports. That opens up any file on times of travel. The Americans keep records. There is probably a fair bit of information on people who travel to the United States, much more than people who fly over it.
The bill is very straightforward. It requires Canada to provide information about people flying either to the United States or over the United States.
The testimony at committee was not 100% onside. Some people argued on the privacy issue. However, when it got down to it, there was no disagreement whatsoever on a sovereign country protecting itself and prescribing certain conditions and requirements to enter its airspace. That is not in dispute. The question really becomes this. To what extent is the information necessary for that sovereign country, whatever it be, to protect itself?
In reviewing some of the discussion at committee, I heard and read that they were looking for an appropriate balance between protecting our security, while protecting the civil liberties and privacy rights of Canadians. I think that is where the committee landed.
As I said, the international law recognizes a state's right to regulate aircraft entering its territory. The United States has the Chicago convention to which Canada is a signatory. It requires our compliance with the regulation that states that the laws and regulations of each contracting state is related to the admission, or departure from its territory, of aircraft engage in international air navigation or to the operation and navigation of such aircraft while within its territory. We are already signatories to that agreement.
The issue now is to the point where there is kind of an understanding and acceptance of the sovereign right of Canada to have certain information requirements for people visiting Canada in a variety of situations, whether it be people arriving without documents or some problem like that. There are all kinds of examples where Canada requires information from those wanting to get into this country and, without it, they are detained and work is be done to establish why they are here.
Some of the other discussions at committee had to do with such things as if we did not pass this bill and in fact we refuse to provide the information then aircraft flying from Canada to some country other than the United States, but travelling over it, would not be able to do that. It would not be given permission to enter U.S. airspace. The consequences of that could be enormous. The number of aircraft that fly over U.S. airspace but do not land in the U.S. is enormous. The economic cost and impact of something as simplistic as fuel costs, the time involved and inconvenience would be devastating not only to an airline but certainly to its customers and the country.
These arguments and the bogeyman approach to legislation regarding the protection of privacy rights of Canadians because secret information about them will be provided and it will be used for nasty things really cannot be taken seriously. We are a signatory. We have a responsibility to support the requirements of the U.S., which has a very significant and legitimate reason to protect its airspace, its country and its people. We expect nothing less from Canada.
I believe early in February the Minister of Public Safety said:
For our part, we have worked closely with the Americans to ensure this is implemented in a way that recognizes our security interests and the privacy concerns of Canadians.
Now it is up to the Liberal-led coalition to stop playing politics and support this needed bill.
That is the political part of it, but the operational part is working with and having a balanced approach to respecting sovereignty rights. If anybody votes against this, it had better not be because he or she wants to ignore the sovereign rights of any country. That is not a starter. The only argument there could be is with regard to what information is there.
When appearing before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Privacy Commissioner made it very clear that although it is an issue of concern this in fact is not a violation of Canadian privacy rights under PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
I believe there is an understanding. I must admit that Canadians obviously would respond to the issue of perhaps disclosing certain information. However, in the normal course they are told that if they want to go to Mexico and fly over the U.S. they have to give their name, address, passport number, et cetera. That is something that we do. In fact, the disclosure that Canadians make in the normal course in terms of transacting their day-to-day lives is much more broad. Many people have given their Visa number to a supplier to buy something over the Internet. What protection do they have if that supplier continues to process charges against their cards until they are caught? It can happen.
Having been the former chair of the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee, I have heard many of these arguments. The Privacy Commissioner has a stellar record of acting swiftly and strongly with regard to the privacy rights of Canadians, most recently with regard to the lax provisions under Facebook, and has worked collaboratively internationally to ensure that we protect those rights.
However, when we have someone with the experience, the expertise and the earned respect of our Privacy Commissioner saying that the disclosure required under Bill C-42, and considering the sovereign right of the United States to protect its property, it is not unreasonable disclosure. In fact, it is disclosure that is necessary.
I heard the debate at second reading. I looked at some of the testimony at committee and although I have heard both sides of the story, it is not enough for members to use simple rhetoric to say that they have to protect the privacy rights of Canadians and therefore they are voting against the bill. What they are really saying is that they will not pass the bill. They want Canadians to say, “Let us stand up to the United States, not give it the information, and we are prepared to spend the extra money to fly around the United States. By the way, if we ever want to go to the United States, we will not give them that information either”.
The airlines will not stand for it. It cannot happen. It is not economical to operate an airline if it has to basically fly around continents. It is not a starter.
With regard to entering the United States, we have been looking for a range of opportunities to enhance greater cross-border activity and travel with the United States, not only for the general vacationing public or visiting for brief periods, but more important, for the economic impact. It is the economic side of the argument that is very important.
We cannot ignore the fact that this would have some serious economic implications. That was brought out very clearly at the committee hearings. Our transport critic tried to make the case that there are issues we can negotiate and deal with. I do not think anyone has provided the comprehensive list because I do not believe it exists as to the specific disclosures that will be required, but I would say that it would be minimal, compared to what some members have suggested. There is absolutely no security information in knowing somebody's health card number. It really is astounding that people say the Americans will get this.
I heard the argument in one of the speeches that if the United States is to have this information, it could go to a database to get it and there are linkages. People do business abroad and also have medical treatment there. There are computer records with people's information and that is why it is very important that we be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But in this regard, it is very clear that the appropriate step is to continue to work for a balanced approach to providing the information necessary, to respect the sovereign right of the United States to restrict travel over its airspace without having an opportunity to vet who might be on the plane.
That is a security issue. It is not matter that security trumps privacy rights, but it is a legal obligation that we have pursuant to agreements that we have already signed with the United States. Virtually every country around the world has the same requirements that airlines will not be able to travel in their airspace without having the authorization to satisfy whatever conditions are required.
It is not easy. It would be so simple to explain how our privacy rights have to be protected, but at what cost? Are we talking about privacy rights in the extreme or are we talking about a person's name, address, telephone number and passport number, all of which are generally available. When people enter the United States, they have to fill out a card which asks if they are taking large sums of money, if they have any fruits or vegetables, if they have any firearms, what hotel they are staying at and the phone number where they can be reached. We already do that naturally, yet that is a lot of information. It is a lot more than is being asked for with regard to Bill C-42.
Where is the discussion about all that disclosure? It is because if we want to land in the United States that is the information it requires. We understand that because it is its right to ask for it, otherwise, we are not getting in. I appreciate the comments of some members, but to somehow argue that privacy rights are being infringed upon is a false conclusion and it is sustained by the testimony of the Privacy Commissioner, Ms. Stoddart, before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that this not a breach of the privacy privileges and rights of Canadians.