I am pleased to join this debate on Bill C-22, an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of Parliamentarians. It is a bill that would at long last enable Canadian parliamentarians to scrutinize our national security framework and our national security agencies as our Five Eyes partners have been doing for years.
The creation of this committee is part of achieving the dual objectives of keeping Canadians safe while safeguarding our rights and freedoms. It will also stand us in great stead among our international partners. In fact, the new Canadian committee will raise the bar for national security accountability worldwide.
I will touch on a bit of history behind Bill C-22.
For many years, a great many Canadians, including myself as an MP, have called for the creation of such a committee. The government of Paul Martin put forward a proposal that, unfortunately, died on the Order Paper.
Les questions liées aux besoins de mieux examiner les activités des organismes ayant des responsabilités en matière de sécurité nationale étaient discutées en 2008, dans le rapport du juge Frank Iacobucci, sur son enquête interne sur les actions des responsables canadiens relativement à Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati et Muayyed Nureddin, et en 2006, par le juge Dennis O’Connor, dans son rapport sur les événements concernant Maher Arar.
While the Conservatives were in power, both the private member’s bill, Bill C-551, from the member for Malpeque,and my own private member’s bill, Bill C-622, were tabled, as was a bill with bipartisan support in the Senate, all of which would have seen this committee created years ago.
My Bill C-622 called for the creation of a parliamentary committee of oversight, built on the two previous bills, and also included an additional set of measures to increase the transparency and accountability of the communications security establishment. It would have put metadata under the law and created a framework of accountability for acquiring, storing, or sharing information inadvertently or advertently collected. However, the timing of my bill was very interesting, because the final discussion and vote took place one week after the attack on Parliament, which had been preceded by two deadly attacks on Canadian soldiers. At that time, there was a great deal of concern about the security of Canadians due to radicalization and potential terrorism.
In the remarks following the attack on Parliament, it was remarkable that all party leaders confirmed their commitment to protect the rights, freedoms, and civil liberties of Canadians, even as security measures were to be analyzed and strengthened. Indeed, Canadians expect these fundamental aspects of their very democracy being guarded to be respected. That kind of attention to security measures and privacy is the underlying intention of Bill C-22.
At the time in 2014 that I was just speaking of, I invited members of all parties to support sending my bill to committee for further examination, and to signal the authenticity of their commitment to protect privacy at the same time as strengthening security in Canada. Unfortunately, instead, the previous prime minister instructed his Conservative members to vote against Bill C-622, even though all members of the Liberal Party and all other parties in the House, including one brave Conservative member, voted for it. The bill failed and was not passed.
However, I am now so happy to see the government follow through on the spirit of my Bill C-622. I was proud to campaign on the promise of delivering stronger national security oversight by parliamentarians, and Bill C-22 delivers on that promise.
It is regrettable that it has taken so long but we can be proud as the members of Parliament who will, I am confident, finally bring this essential parliamentary body into being. After all, as the federal and provincial Privacy Commissioners stated in the fall 2014 Communiqué, “Canadians both expect and are entitled to equal protection for their privacy and access rights and for their security. We must uphold these fundamental rights that lie at the heart of Canada’s democracy.”
J’ai suivi avec intérêt les travaux des membres du Comité permanent de la sécurité publique et nationale alors qu’ils étudiaient la mesure législative, qu’ils proposaient des amendements, qu’ils en débattaient et qu’ils modifiaient le projet de loi, souvent avec le soutien de plusieurs partis.
Je tiens à souligner à quel point il est agréable de constater un tel changement, après avoir poursuivi des activités sous le gouvernement précédent, alors que les membres du parti au pouvoir considéraient comme intouchables les projets de loi proposés par le gouvernement.
That was especially the case with laws concerning security measures. As we know, Bill C-51 followed shortly after the tragedies of the attacks on soldiers and on Parliament and was pushed through essentially with no amendments despite the deep concerns of Canadians.
J’estime que plusieurs modifications apportées en comité renforcent le projet de loi et le nouveau comité qu’il vise à créer.
For example, the committee amended clause 8 to expand the scope of the committee’s mandate. When it comes to examining activities carried out by national security or intelligence agencies, the power of a minister determined that the examination would be injurious to national security is now time limited to the period during which the activity is actually happening. Once it is no longer ongoing, the minister will be required to inform the committee and the committee can then undertake its examination. I support this change.
J’appuie également l’amendement qui n’accorde au président du comité le droit de voter qu’en cas d’égalité des voix, ainsi que l’ajout par le NPD d’une clause de dénonciation exigeant du comité qu’il informe le ministre compétent de la découverte de toute activité qui pourrait enfreindre la loi.
J’appuie également certains changements apportés aux exemptions qui figuraient au départ à l’article 14. Ce sont les types de renseignements auxquels les membres du comité ne pouvaient pas avoir accès.
I agree with the public safety committee that the new committee of parliamentarians should be able to receive information about ongoing defence intelligence activities supporting military operations.
I support that it should have access to information considered privileged under the Investment Canada Act, that it should have access to information collected by FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
There were certain changes made by the committee that were not accepted by the government for a variety of reasons. For example, the amendment currently before the House to reintroduce clause 16, which will allow a minister to prevent the release of information that constitutes special operating information under the Security of Information Act when disclosing it could be injurious to national security. This kind of authority exists in the case of other equivalent committees in similar parliamentary systems around the world. Moreover, Bill C-22 would still require the minister to give written reasons for preventing the release of information and Parliament would be informed of each occasion on which this authority is used.
This legislation is a major leap forward for Canadian national security accountability. The new committee of parliamentarians will not only provide Canadians with the assurance that their elected representatives, the MPs in Parliament, are on watch to strengthen the protection of their essential civil rights, it will also help identify opportunities to improve on current mechanisms for defending their security. In fact, effective protection of individual privacy and effective delivery of national security measures are not a balance, a dichotomy, or a trade-off. They are complementary and both are necessary.
The United States Department of Homeland Security, for example, considers safeguarding civil rights and liberties to be critical to its work to protect its nation from the many threats it faces. This third largest department of the U.S. government now explicitly embeds and enforces privacy protections and transparency in all of the department’s systems, programs, and activities.
In 2014, deputy secretary Mayorkas confirmed in a department of homeland security speech that not only is this an integral part of the DHS mission, and crucial to maintaining the public’s trust but has resulted in homeland security becoming a stronger and more effective department.
The original version of Bill C-22, as presented by the government at first reading, was already lauded by experts and it has only become stronger with the amendments accepted from the public safety committee.
Crucially, the bill requires that the act be reviewed by Parliament five years after coming into force, so all of the discussions we are having here in Parliament can be reviewed and the bills can be changed as appropriate.
I am proud to have contributed to the conversation leading to Bill C-22. I am pleased our government has taken this essential step forward in protecting fundamental Canadian securities and freedoms. Ultimately, the bill before us today would make Canadians safer, and help ensure our rights and freedoms are better protected. It has been a long time coming. I invite all hon. members to join me in making it happen.
For the full speech video, I invite you to check out my YouTube channel.