Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in this House about Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act.
The official opposition is opposed to this bill because it will not solve any of the problems related to terrorism and it rides roughshod over civil liberties and values that are very dear to Canadians. Once again, the Criminal Code would be amended by the government, when there are already provisions that make it possible to protect society by investigating and detaining persons who commit offences. I am referring here to part II.1 and sections 83.01 to 83.33 of the Criminal Code. Moreover—and this is what is most worrisome, in my opinion—this bill creates an imbalance between security and the most fundamental rights that exist in society.
I will remind members of the four objectives of Bill S-7. First, it would amend the Criminal Code in order to include investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions. Second, it would make changes to the Canada Evidence Act. A judge could order the public disclosure of potentially sensitive information concerning a trial or an accused person once the appeal period is over. Third, new offences would be created in the Criminal Code concerning individuals who have left or attempted to leave Canada for the purpose of committing a terrorist act. Finally, the Security of Information Act would also be amended. The maximum penalty for harbouring an individual who committed or is liable to commit a terrorist act would be longer.
To begin with, one wonders why this bill was introduced in the Senate at first reading. That is always a legitimate question, and I hope that later in this debate, the government will give us an answer. Moreover, I would point out that my hon. colleague, the member for Gatineau and the justice critic for the official opposition, asked the same question in the House on October 15.
Secondly, I am confused about what motivated the government to introduce Bill S-7. I am going to read the remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in the speech she gave on October 15, 2012.
Since the horrific events of 9/11, the absence of terrorist violence on Canadian territory does not preclude the possibility of a terrorist attack. Canada's solidarity with the international community of nations in the fight against terrorism has rendered Canada a potential target.
I am troubled by such statements because, since 2007, nothing has happened in Canada. The country has not been subject to terrorist attacks. Leading Canadians to believe that our country could be a target for terrorist acts and then using that argument to put in place a legal arsenal that is very questionable in terms of our civil liberties and legal rights—we will talk about this later—is not the right approach. The NDP believes that terrorism will not be fought on the legislative field but, rather, by improving intelligence gathering and the sharing of information among the various intelligence agencies.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice went on to say the following:
It is our responsibility to lay down the rules by which terrorism is fought. We are responsible for tracing the difficult line between combatting terrorism and preserving liberties in a way that is effective and gives clear guidance to those charged with combatting terrorism on the ground.
Once again, I would like to express my disagreement with the hon. member. I repeat: this bill creates an imbalance between fundamental rights and security.
I would like to draw the House's attention to some provisions of this bill that could infringe on the rights of children. I would also like to talk about those that would be a welcome improvement in terms of intelligence gathering and the sharing of information among the various intelligence agencies in Canada, which are found in clauses 4 to 8 of this bill.
First, I am going to read the words of the hon. member for Gatineau with regard to Bill S-7 and the youth criminal justice system. These questions should be of great interest to all members of the House.
What will we do about minors living in these kinds of situations? Who will have precedence? Will it be the youth courts, which usually have exclusive jurisdiction over children under the age of 18? Will those provisions take precedence? There is a great deal of concern here. What rights are there? What do we do about the right not to incriminate oneself? What need is there for us to impose this kind of direction on a system in which we have no evidence of this kind of need?
A distinction must be made between a habitual criminal and a young person whose parents have forced him or her to commit a crime. That is not at all the same thing. I have the same questions for the government again today.
Based on Senate committee evidence, the bill clearly violates Canada's international obligations regarding the protection of children's rights.
Kathy Vandergrift, chair of the board of directors of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, has expressed some reservations about detaining minors, especially considering the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international agreements signed by Canada. She suggested amending the bill to ensure that it complies with international laws that apply to people under the age of 18. She said, and I quote:
The Paris Principles emphasize using detention only as a last resort, not as the primary response to evidence of unlawful recruitment activities. Recent research in Australia documents the negative impacts of even short times in detention for the healthy development of young people.
I would now like to focus on one particular aspect of clauses 4 to 8 of the bill. Those clauses create a new Criminal Code offence: leaving Canada or attempting to leave Canada for the purpose of committing certain terrorism offences.
My hon. colleague from Toronto—Danforth very clearly explained the problems associated with those provisions. I would like to quote something he said in this House on October 15, 2012, regarding border security and controls. This issue is of particular concern to me, since my riding of Brome—Missisquoi has an airport and border crossings.
At the moment, we all know there are no exit controls at all the borders, notably at airports, other than no-fly lists for those deemed to be a threat to aviation. Testimony before the Senate made it clear that co-operation protocols or memorandums of understanding would be needed among CSIS, the RCMP and the CBSA.
Mr. Fadden, the director of CSIS, went further and noted that would have to extend likely to CATSA, the agency of the Department of Transport that regulates security. How these protocols will be developed and what kind of accountability there will be for their operation remains a concern especially because the RCMP, a key link in the inter-agency collaboration that will be needed here, has been shown by both the Arar and the Air India inquiries to be an agency that suffers from lack of accountability and inappropriate oversight mechanisms. Yet, with the government's Bill C-42, we see that it has no intention of acting on the Arar commission's carefully thought through recommendations for RCMP accountability and oversight.
Perhaps the government could provide some answers today to this important question raised by my honourable colleague.
I want to list the risks and flaws associated with this bill. This bill would allow individuals who have not been charged with any crime to be imprisoned for up to 12 months or subjected to strict recognizance conditions. The NDP believes that this is contrary to the core values of our justice system. The provisions of this bill could be used for purposes other than to combat terrorism, such as to target individuals engaged in protest activities.
In closing, this bill to combat terrorism raises too many key questions with regard to protecting our fundamental rights and our civil liberties. The presumption of innocence, the right not to incriminate oneself, the right to be told quickly what we are accused of and the right to defend ourselves against those charges are essential concepts in a society where the rule of law prevails.
Accordingly, the NDP firmly believes that neither combating terrorism nor preventing terrorism should jeopardize these fundamental rights and civil liberties. For all these reasons, the NDP is opposed to this bill.