Mr. Speaker, at first glance, one might think that, basically, all this bill is about is a change of designation, from Solicitor General Canada to Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada. Even just that would be an improvement. The responsibilities of the new department are certainly better defined.
As this bill is introduced, with the importance it is clearly given by the Prime Minister by putting in charge of this new department his Deputy Prime Minister, I think that it represents a significant change and I hope that it will continue to be considered as such within the government.
Before making my point, I will say that this is certainly a topic on which Quebec and the rest of Canada think very much alike. In fact, I think that the cooperation that we should be getting and that I hope to be getting in this respect would be a good example of the kind of cooperation that could exist between two sovereign nations within a real confederation, which is the objective I have pursued throughout my political career.
The reason this particular bill is so important is precisely because it is being introduced at a time when great challenges have to be met. After World War II—I was born in the early days of the war—I spent my life dreading another world war or, worse yet, an atomic war that might spell death for the planet. The greatest threat at the time was indeed clashes between the Communist bloc and the free world, while other countries stood by. That was the main military threat.
Canada, at the time, with the second largest landmass in the world but a fraction of the world's population and wealth, was perfectly aware of the fact that it was unable to provide adequate protection for this huge landmass and its inhabitants. Therefore, throughout the 20th century, Canada consistently relied on its participation in major international alliances, in which it has played a heroic part on occasion and many Canadians have also played a part. In this spirit, it continues to support UN operations conducted under an international flag.
What is the greatest threat to the security of Canadians and Quebeckers in this 21st century? Which countries are likely to threaten to invade us and deprive us of our freedom? Clearly, the cold war is over. There are new alliances. Unfortunately, at the dawn of the 21st century, more precisely on September 11, 2001, we discovered a new threat to civilized countries, and countries as a whole, namely terrorism.
Consequently, since terrorism is the greatest threat, we must refocus our forces and our defence system to counter this new threat.
As a matter of fact, it could even strike here. Terrorists who struck Bali could just as well strike Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. Moreover, even if there is no immediate threat here, I think we all see it as our role to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and make sure that nobody on our territory is planning terrorist attacks on our allies or even other countries.
Essentially we do not fight terrorism with traditional weapons. If we take the terrorist threat seriously, we should expect a significant transfer of resources from the Department of National Defence to the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Whatever resources we devote to intelligence gathering, the fight against terrorism mainly involves the systematic gathering of information, secret information of course, since by definition terrorists operate in secrecy. Occasionally countries harbour terrorists. In such cases, the world community has every right to forcefully remove any government that is encouraging the spread of terrorism from its territory. That is what we did in Afghanistan with our allies under the United Nations flag.
Once that has been done, terrorism remains a secret activity and the way to fight terrorism is to establish networks of informants and to develop our secret services.
No matter what the resources we are going to devote to security information, we can be pretty well sure that they will never be enough to provide us with the assurance that we will never fall victim to terrorist attacks.
The only way to gain that assurance would be to live in an environment similar to the former communist regimes, with their multiple controls and lack of freedom. That, obviously, no one wants. I might add that the terrorists would have scored a great victory if they had managed to change us into that kind of a society.
We must therefore expect a major increase in undercover surveillance activities. This, of necessity, puts the respect of fundamental rights at risk. Even cooperation with our allies presents risks to individual freedom as we see it, and our respect for privacy.
We have seen the disastrous effects on Canadians of giving information to allied undercover services, disastrous effects we had not intended. The major challenge is to find a happy medium between increased security information gathering activities and the respect of human rights
There is a great fascination for such undercover activity. It has inspired numerous popular novels and films. It is far removed from reality, however. The reality is patient information gathering, it is patience, intelligence, the ability to link scattered information together so as to eventually identify groups, guess what they are planning, gather evidence, and take timely action. There is no room for failure.
Nevertheless, people involved in the secret service are a source of fascination for people. The fascination of seeing into others' lives, somewhat the way people are now fascinated with reality TV. There is a tendency to abuse this ability, which is why it is very important to set effective controls, not only to protect people's privacy and the values we subscribe to—freedom and respect of privacy—but also simply for the sake of efficiency.
As I said, there will likely never be enough resources. So the best use must be made of the ones we have. They are not to be used for frivolous purposes not to restrict the activities and freedom of people who have no intention of resorting to violence. We have to know when enough is enough.
It is also dangerous because it provides the government with powerful tools they can use against their political opponents. Since these activities are kept secret, the government might be tempted to use the resources put at its disposal to fight terrorism to get information about its political foes, which would give it an edge.
This is one of the concerns the committee on which I sat noted in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and England. Parliamentary controls were developed. So, there is a risk that we need to address here. The huge challenge facing the minister today has to do with balance.
Let me say, in all honesty, that I think the Prime Minister probably chose the best person he could to try to achieve that balance. As a former justice minister, a former law professor, a great supporter of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms adamant about its enforcement, she has maintained balance in her public life.
I do hope she realizes the importance and enormity of the task ahead. I also hope that she is aware she will have a tough time keeping abreast of the secret activities of her department, since secret services are usually wary about political leaders. What will make her work even harder is that the management of all the increased resources she is getting is too much for one person. It would be naive to assume that there will not be any abuses, hence the need to have monitoring agencies whose resources are already too limited.
We have them, but many people complain that budgets and resources are insufficient. They will obviously need even more resources if we increase the resources given to the secret services. Their increase must be proportional to the increase of the resources provided to these secret services.
It is also necessary to establish, as in other democracies, a parliamentary control, as promised by the Prime Minister. This committee must be representative of Parliament, thus of the people, of those who, although they want major changes to current institutions, pursue and have always pursued their action in a democratic and peaceful context.
It is not against even the major changes that the secret services must work, but against the use of violence to provoke changes. This is certainly an objective shared by all of us who are democrats in the first place.
This is why I am still a bit concerned when I see the minister's attitude toward the suggestions made by the privacy commissioner, Ms. Stoddart. She has rejected a little too lightly her suggestion to have an officer dedicated to assessing the unavoidable infringements on privacy that intelligence activities require.
For my part, I believe that having such an officer may be useful not only to ensure the necessary protection of privacy or limit the unnecessary violation of privacy, but also to ensure the efficiency of the secret service. As I said earlier, when you start to unnecessarily encroach on privacy, it means that you are not doing your work properly, that resources are not focussed where they should be focussed, resources that are, as I said, probably always scarce and should be entirely dedicated to counter plotting by those wanting to use violence to bring about changes. We are a democratic society able to bring about changes.
The minister is a good choice, but only time will tell if she is up to the important task she has been given.
Similarly, her ability to have important resources transferred from the Department of National Defence will be an indication of her political weight. It will also be an indication of whether or not the Prime Minister is truly aware of the new security challenges of the 21st century.
I will now go to the specifics. We put forward an amendment the government seems to say it will reluctantly accept. Let us be clear. If the federal government had never encroached on provincial jurisdictions, this amendment would not have been necessary.
I might elaborate on that at another time, but I sincerely believe that federal encroachment in provincial jurisdictions is somewhat of a natural phenomenon since it is the manifestation of the Canadian anglophone nation's will to give the government it controls the means to tackle problems it perceives as the most pressing.
Quebec also acts as a nation. Quebec would like its government, which it controls, to look after what it considers the most pressing problems.
I think the federal government's mentality also goes against the spirit of a true federation. According to its way of thinking, it is the senior government and, in areas where we have to work together, it has to take initiative and establish the rules. I do not want things to be that way. I want, as the parliamentary secretary to the minister said, for there to be cooperation between the provincial and federal governments. However, I want even more. I want there to be respect between the two parties.
It is certainly not impossible. I have seen this respect myself when we were working on the fight against biker gangs and we established the Carcajou squad. It was directed alternately by an officer from the Sûreté du Québec and an officer from the Montreal police, and RCMP investigators agreed to cooperate. I think they were proud of the work that was accomplished. We are one of the only places in the world that has succeeded not in completely eliminating, but in truly breaking up the dangerous Hell's Angels organization.
As the crown prosecutor said—and I agree with him—the fight against organized crime is like housework: it never ends. However, with the new legislation the Minister of Justice has given us, it will be more difficult to establish such a powerful organization.
Thus, it is possible for the federal government to act, cooperate and find its place while respecting provincial organizations.
In conclusion, we already have teams to fight against a biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attack and we have here a good example for making these teams available to all Canadians.
Now you can understand our full agreement with this department's creation and our view of this department's importance. We are prepared to cooperate, but rest assured we will keep a close eye on you.