House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was commissioner.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as Independent MP for Avalon (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 18% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply May 5th, 2014

Yes, Mr. Speaker, the committee has been doing some work on these and other issues. It just finished a study on protecting people's privacy online. We quickly learned through that particular study that the laws were made years ago, even if it does not seem that long ago, and technology moves pretty fast. Things change rapidly. There is more technology and there are more things happening. Our laws need to keep up to date with changing technology and also not be too restrictive. We have to keep an open mind. People's levels of privacy have changed over the years. We have to keep that in mind too.

We have to make sure that the independent agents of Parliament, such as the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, and the ethics commissioner, have the tools. If people do not trust us with safeguarding the information, they should trust them. We put our trust in them, since we select them.

The committee is a very good place to do this and to do it on a non-partisan basis. We are studying the issue of identity theft right now in committee. It is a very important and prudent study. We are learning a lot about it. If we can do that in a non-partisan way and tone down the rhetoric, it can happen.

Last week, the Information Commissioner said that this is something that needs to be addressed. We have a duty, as politicians and parliamentarians, to dive into it.

Business of Supply May 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is sad see, and we see the government more and more often go in camera, go into secrecy.

We are here to dive in and ask questions. Do we get political, aggressive and try to get a “gotcha” moment? Yes, we do, but something such as prying into people's information every 27 seconds is serious, and we need to protect that.

If our agents of Parliament, as was described, do not have the authority, the teeth, to do it, and we cannot do it, then who does it? Do we just toss our hands up and say that we will hand the information over?

The other aspect is, as the member mentioned, where does this information go after it is provided? Who is the caretaker of this information? When someone calls and says that he or she needs to know some basic information about somebody and it gets put into a database or file, where does it go? How does that information get protected? How does the privacy and information get protected?

This is another question to ask. The 1.2 million times information was requested, it was written down somewhere. It was typed into some computer somewhere. How do we know that information is being protected once it leaves the hands of these telecommunication companies?

Business of Supply May 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate today and talk about what we have learned in the last few weeks from the Privacy Commissioner regarding how much information is being requested of government agencies and the frequency with which it is being requested. It is also about the backstops, what things are in place to ensure this stuff does not go unchecked. In a democracy we have Parliament and commissioners. We have a number of different backstops to ensure that people's information is protected.

We will be supporting today's motion. I have a similar motion before the privacy and ethics committee, because it is important that we dive into this issue in a bit more detail. It is quite troublesome to realize that when the Privacy Commissioner comes out with this type of information, she has no way of knowing if government agencies and telecommunication companies are following the rules and which government agency is involved.

I would like to quote an answer from the Prime Minister the other day because it is a bit out of step with what is actually happening. He said, “What we do understand is that various Canadian investigative law enforcement and other agencies...”. Let me pause there for a moment.

What other agencies are we talking about? Are we talking about the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency? How broad does this go into the Canadian government? Are we talking about DFO when it does surveillance activities? Are we talking about Service Canada when it requests information on clients? We really do not know, so we really need to dive into what other agencies we are talking about here. The Information Commissioner does not know. Canadians have a right to know what government agencies are asking for this information.

The Prime Minister continued on, “...from time to time, request information from telecom companies”. Time to time is hardly 1.2 million times. The statistics came from 2011. That would be every 26 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That is hardly from time to time. These agencies are asking for this information quite frequently and we need to know when and how and we need some oversight on these agencies.

The Prime Minister went on to say, “They always seek a warrant...”. That is not quite factually correct either. It gets to the heart of the matter here.

There are warrantless requests and warrant requests. The ones that have a warrant involve an agency going to a judge, the judge reviewing the information and then disclosing a warrant for that information. Then there are warrantless requests.

There are two facets to this particular debate. The Prime Minister has said that the government always seeks a warrant when required to do so and it expects telecommunication companies to respect the law in all of their dealings. That gets to the heart of this issue. Which requests need a warrant and which ones are warrantless? What oversight is there for the warrant side of things.

We put a lot of trust in our judicial system. We expect our judicial system to respect the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with regard to people's privacy when it comes to a warrant. I have limited knowledge of what judges go through. I think they do fair due diligence when it comes to complying with a request from law enforcement or another agency to grant a warrant. I have confidence in our system that judges do that.

Are there emergency circumstances from time to time that would require protecting the public from harm? Yes, and those are already dealt with in current legislation. Our current legislation is designed that way. If there is an immediate threat to life or national security, telecommunication companies are required to co-operate with law enforcement agencies without a warrant. We understand that. That is not where we are going with this. It is the staggering number of requests that have come in for this information that we are concerned about.

People listening to the debate might wonder what telecommunications companies we talking about. The commissioner revealed that she had asked 13 telecom and social media companies for information on how often they were getting requests. The 13 companies she asked, on the telecommunications side, were Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Globalive. On the social media and companies on the other side, there were Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, Twitter, eBay and RIM. Out of that, nine responded anonymously through their lawyer.

That runs a red flag up the flagpole. If they are being so open and accountable, why do they need to go through their lawyer to reveal this information to the Information Commissioner? Would they not want to be transparent and open about that? What is even more staggering is that out of the 13, 4 companies did not bother to respond at all to the Privacy Commissioner.

It goes to the point that our Privacy Commissioner needs to have the tools and the teeth to compel these companies to release this information to her so her office can make a judgment. This is really about oversight. There is no oversight and there is no court oversight. As I said earlier, we have to take it to the warrantless and warrant disclosures and really get to the bottom of this.

One of the things that we have talked about today, and I asked a question on it a bit earlier, is basic subscriber information from an ISP, Internet service provider. What basic information was allowed in this legislation when other legislation was put into force? What is being provided and how far does it go? I asked the question a minute ago and a member of the government said that it was name, address, phone number, email address and IP address. One's IP address is a pretty detailed piece of information about oneself, because it can detect a lot of information about where we go, what we send. I am no technogeek, nor do I know enough about technology, but I know an IP address is pretty substantial in the information it provides about a person.

Experts in this matter also say that it goes even further than that, that it goes into transmission data or metadata, as they call it, that it is not only this basic information but they are interpreting this to go beyond that basic information. I learned about metadata from an article I was reading this morning. I believe it was Mr. Geist who was the expert so I will credit him to where I learned it. With metadata, it is like saying to Canada Post, “What is the information on the outside of the envelope? Where is it going and whom it has come from”. That is what is also being provided on our basic information. It is communication to and from and at which time. That is some of the basic information they are requesting.

It goes a bit deeper than that, and that is why we need to support this motion. We need to continue this debate and really get an understanding of the facets of this. As parliamentarians and as people protecting the public interest, we cannot just take the word of government or of our law enforcement agency. There need to be some checks and balances into this. All members should genuinely think this is very worthwhile issue to dive into to find out what is going on. I would be the first one to admit that hopefully it is all above board. Hopefully, the information it is providing on warrant is being done in a truthful and open manner and on the warrantless side of things as well. We should not hide under the guise of public safety and all that. It is our due diligence to really dive into this issue.

Another thing brought up this morning was the privacy bill that was in the Senate. There is a lot we could talk about that is coming forward in that legislation, but we should not confuse this issue today with the legislation before the Senate. These are two separate types of information and two separate things altogether. We should be very careful not to combine the two and muddy the waters.

The motion before us today is pretty clear. It talks about making public the number of warrantless disclosures made by telecommunications companies, the requests from federal departments and agencies and closing the loophole that allows indiscriminate disclosure of personal information.

The motion is pretty specific and something that needs further study. I hope we can study it before the privacy committee as well to see if it warrants more investigation and legislation.

It is a pleasure to support this motion and I hope all members do so.

Business of Supply May 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am going to ask what the member thinks about how many warrantless requests are out because this is what the motion is about today. We will get to the bill before the Senate and the Privacy Act, but how many of these are warrantless requests, and what information does not require a warrant? We are talking about many times that requests for this information are made without a warrant.

The member talked about basic subscriber information. What exactly is basic subscriber information? Would the member be able to tell us what basic information is okay to be provided? There is a lot of debate about how far this basic subscriber information goes. What is basic subscriber information?

Access to Information Act May 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add my voice to this private member's bill that would amend the Access to Information Act. The Access to Information Act is a piece of legislation that keeps governments to account. No matter what government is in power, giving people the right to access information keeps everybody on their toes. When we are governing this country, we have to ensure that Canadians have a right to information that the government collects on them, and a right to the information on the actions of a particular government. If we were not to participate in active and proactive access to information, it would create a lot of secrecy. We would not be able to keep a government to account.

Our access to information laws have been there for many years now, but there comes a time to review our legislation and update it with the times. This piece of legislation would help access to information commissioners do their jobs in getting information, compel governments to provide the information, and ensure there is recourse for individuals who do not get the information they are seeking to go to an information commissioner and put out a case.

Also, there is a need for timely disclosure of information. Quite often information is not disclosed in a timely manner. Some of these requests are legitimate. If there are many documents that the various departments have to go through, that is important to know.

However, over the years, governments have more and more not been compelled to disclose information. In an article, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression reported that from 1999 to 2000 the federal government disclosed information from requests under the act about 40% of the time. It is not acceptable that only 40% of the time it is disclosing information. However, by 2011-12, under the current government, that number dropped to 21%.

A recent study for the Centre for Law and Democracy reported that Canada ranked 56 out of 96 countries for the quality of its information laws. It clearly identifies a need to change our information laws. Whether it is by design that this information has been made available less and less, it is something that needs to be addressed.

As stated in its summary, the bill would do the following, among other things:

(a) give the Information Commissioner of Canada the power to order government institutions to release documents;

(b) require government institutions to create records to document their decisions, recommendations and actions;

(c) establish an explicit duty to comply with orders of the Information Commissioner; and

(d) provide that those orders may be filed with the Federal Court and enforced as if they were judgments of that Court.

Time and again, we see the Information Commissioner having to go to the court to compel the government to release information. This is a long and drawn-out process, and it needs to be updated.

With regard to order-making powers, we recently saw an example with our fair elections act bill, where the current Conservative government does not want to make order-making powers that would compel different commissioners of the House of Commons to provide information. This is something we have been calling for on that piece of legislation, but also on this one. It would give order-making powers to compel the release of documents to the Information Commissioner. We are not talking about just releasing it to anyone, but to allow the Information Commissioner to have the tools to do her job and to release the information to that office. That is the office that would make the decision on what information should be released.

Of course, there are always good reasons for information not to be released, such as to protect public safety, public security, the armed forces, individuals' rights of information, and commercial confidence. There is always a good set of reasons why information should not be released, but we should allow the Information Commissioner to have the ability to see that information, compel the government to provide the information to that office, and for that office to make the decision on whether the information is to be released. It should not be the government department in question.

Bill C-567 contains commitments made by the Conservative Party in its 2006 election campaign platform, “Stand up For Canada”. In 2006, after the Conservatives were in opposition for a number of years, they saw a need to update our access to information laws and thought enough of it that they put it in their platform. However, since they have become government, they have not done a whole lot on that. A lot of these commitments should be supported by all members of the House, including the government. The Conservatives are the ones who made these commitments in their platform, and it is important.

It would give the Information Commissioner the power to order departments to release information to her. A freedom of information request goes to a particular department, and each department has an individual or individuals who review that information and release the information to the person who made the request. Then, if the person who requested the information is not satisfied that all the information was received, he or she can ask the Information Commissioner to review the request to see what was and was not given. The only way to do that is if the Information Commissioner can obtain all of the documents and review them for herself. That is essential to freedom of information legislation.

Currently, if a department fails to release documents, the Information Commissioner may have to go to court to challenge the release. A lot of time and effort goes into making sure that people's information is released. When the Information Commissioner has to go to court, lawyers and the applicable department are involved, and it could take a long time. This is something we are trying to avoid. We should allow the Information Commission to be the one to look at the information and decide what information is to be released.

The commissioner has no authority to review information that the government has failed to release claiming cabinet confidence. Cabinet confidence is a very important part of our system, but at any time the government could say that everything is a cabinet confidence. If a piece of information is being requested, it is easy for the government to say it falls under cabinet confidence and it cannot release it. There needs to be a backstop. There needs to be an individual or a department, which is the Information Commissioner, to confirm whether it is cabinet confidence or not. The Information Commissioner is appointed to work on everyone's behalf, and that is the in between on that. Of course, cabinet confidences cannot be disclosed, but to have everything put into that broad window really does not give access to information any teeth in our country.

The current Information Commissioner has indicated her support for this particular reform. It has been on the table for several years now, and it is important. I am hopeful that we can move this piece of legislation through this place to committee to review it. It is a very important piece of legislation to keeping government to account on the governing of our country. My party will be pleased to support this piece of legislation, and I hope that all parties do.

Business of Supply April 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would not like to talk about it because I was not here; I was only elected in 2008. I have no intention of trying to go back in time to relive things that have happened in the past.

We can talk about the time that I have been here and the time for moving forward, and how we move forward in the future with these things. We can learn of the past practices from all political parties and all governments in all provinces, but I do not think it serves the debate.

Business of Supply April 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I did say clearly that we would support the motion and that the government must be held accountable for who flew on the taxpayers' dime and whether these reimbursements took place at an appropriate market rate. I did say that.

Regarding his question of getting access to the Prime Minister, people can get access to the Prime Minister in several different ways. It does not necessarily have to mean flying on his aircraft. It could be by lobbying and the number of times that one is lobbied. It does ask the question in the broader picture here of who has access to the Prime Minister and when.

Business of Supply April 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, that is a troubling fact. In this place, we are seeing more and more of that from the governing party. It is using these things for its own purposes and not using them for the collective good of Parliament. Many times there are good reasons, for the collective good, to do things in the world and represent all parties.

Ukraine is a great example of where all parties are supportive; there is no division amongst our support in the House. Canada is going there to talk about democracy and monitoring elections. What better way than to have all parties there, and to use government resources so that all parties can take part in this?

More and more, no matter what trip it goes on, the government tends to be more partisan. We only need to look at the recent trip to Israel, where the member for York Centre made it quite clear that his purpose was to get the million-dollar re-election shot. He was on the trip for his own personal re-election.

Business of Supply April 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will start with the first part of his question because I do not know who he asked the question to. I know all about unelected senators because I defeated a Conservative who could not get elected and then they appointed him to the Senate. Two years later, he quit the Senate to run against me again. He could not get elected again, and then was appointed back to the Senate.

Therefore, if he wants to talk about appointing senators and elected senators—they cannot get elected to here but they appoint them over there—go right ahead.

Business of Supply April 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure where that is going, but if he wants to talk about Senate reform, let us talk about Senate reform.

The member for Papineau has done more for Senate reform in the last six months than either of the other parties in the House in the last six decades. We are looking, on a going-forward basis, at appointing senators in a non-partisan way and removing the Senate from the powers of the Prime Minister. We are talking about senators being totally independent officers of Parliament, while the position of New Democrats is to abolish the Senate altogether. They clearly do not understand that they need the provinces to tell them that, and they know that is not achievable. Then we have the government on the other side wanting to continue appointing people. The Prime Minister has appointed more senators than he said he would.

I am not quite sure where that question was going.