The House resumed from September 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Hon. Candice Bergen (Portage—Lisgar, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and join in the debate on Bill C-22, which would establish a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians.
I will be sharing my time today with the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
National security has taken on even greater importance over the last number of years. Abroad, we have seen horrific jihadist attacks just months ago, in fact, month after month in countries like France, Belgium, and even the United States.
Right here in Canada, we saw a jihadi inspired attack in October 2014. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed in Quebec, and Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed while he was on guard at the National War Memorial, just steps away from where we are standing today. Many of us who served in the last Parliament will recall being locked down, and not knowing what was going on, and we remember that day.
It is important that our national security agencies have the tools they need to do their job, and keep us safe from terrorists. That is why the previous Conservative passed the Anti-terrorism Act in 2015, more commonly known as Bill C-51. Bill C-51 is good legislation that struck an appropriate balance between protecting national security and protecting the privacy of others.
In fact, the director of CSIS recently told the committee in the other place that CSIS agents have used the powers created under that legislation at least two dozen times. That record speaks volumes.
Today, I am not here to talk about that bill, but I am here to talk about Bill C-22, and how to ensure that the rights and liberties of Canadians are appropriately protected through extensive review and oversight of our national security agencies.
While our men and women in these agencies do excellent work each and every day to keep us safe, it is always important to have a third party watchdog. Currently, national security agencies have a substantial review mechanism. CSIS is reviewed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which is composed of former parliamentarians and other prominent Canadians. The Communications Security Establishment is reviewed by the CSE Commissioner, and the RCMP is reviewed by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
However, we note that the Liberals, in their platform, promised that they would “create an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities.” Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, depending on how we look at it, that is not the bill that we have before us today.
First, the bill does not provide for any oversight of national security agencies, in fact, the word oversight is not even in the bill. It is nowhere in the description or in the body of the bill. What it provides is a review mechanism for after-the-fact assessment, but it does so with enormous caveats. In fact, there are seven large caveats contained in section 14 of the bill.
These caveats allow the cabinet to deny the committee, a committee of duly-elected parliamentarians sworn to secrecy, the access to any confidence of the Queen's Privy Council, any military operation information, any information on the Investment Canada Act, and any information that may lead in future to criminal charges, among other things.
That pretty well covers off all of the information in the possession of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. That is pretty well all of the information that this so-called committee would need to do the so-called oversight that it is created to do.
Unfortunately, what we have under this legislation is a committee that does not actually have any access to any relevant information. What is more, it is not actually a parliamentary committee. Right here in black and white in subsection 4(3), the bill states that this would not be a committee of Parliament, rather it would be a committee made up of parliamentarians.
What we have right now is a committee made up of parliamentarians with no ability to collect information. We will also learn it has absolutely no teeth to do anything because it cannot report anything outside of the committee, and we have the Prime Minister and ministers able to cleanse the report before it is brought to Parliament.
We kind of have a glorified parliamentary friendship group here, and really nothing more, because the committee cannot review any information. It cannot do anything with the information that it finds because if the Prime Minister deems it is not appropriate for a number of reasons, the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's Office can change it. Really, this is a pretty hollow shell and nothing more.
I want to speak a bit about the fact that in section 12 parliamentary privilege is eroded by making it clear that a whistleblower could be prosecuted for making any of the information public. Let us think about that for a minute.
The Liberals have said they want this committee to fix the situation where they felt it left the public uninformed and unrepresented on critical issues, but they have established, through this legislation, a system where it would be a crime for a whistleblower to disclose anything from the committee. So, how can there be any access to the information by regular Canadians?
The bill before us does not even come close to meeting the Liberal platform commitments. In fact, it is a bill that further serves to centralize power in the Prime Minister's Office.
Typically, like in the United States and Great Britain, committees of this nature would report directly to the legislative branch rather than to the executive. Yet, in this legislation, the Prime Minister gets to play middleman between the committee and Parliament.
Under this legislation, it says in subsection 21(1) the Prime Minister will receive all annual reports, special reports, and other findings of the committee, so the Prime Minister is going to get everything before Parliament does. He will then have the opportunity to edit and change any report to suit his liking, and subsection 21(5) says that the Prime Minister can refuse to release information at his discretion.
The Liberals have said that this is to protect serious national information and security information, but let us read the text of the bill:
|| If,...the Prime Minister is of the opinion that information in an annual or special report is...injurious to...international relations...the Prime Minister may direct the Committee to submit...a revised version of the annual or special report.
I want to remind my hon. colleague, the parliamentary secretary, that the Prime Minister actually can direct the committee to submit a revised report. In this case, it would be if it contravened or hurt international relations.
What does that mean? That means that the Prime Minister and his office could delete or eliminate information that they thought might hurt international relations. From what we have seen recently, does that mean if this report said something that would show that the Chinese are doing something they should not be doing, that the Prime Minister would say not to say anything about the Chinese because we do not want to offend them? Maybe the Prime Minister would be concerned that his vanity project of getting a seat on the UN Security Council might be offended.
With the Prime Minister having the motivation, and the naïveté that he seems to be displaying, it is very concerning that this power would be in the Prime Minister's Office to vet this information, and eliminate information that he thinks would not be beneficial to international relations. This is not transparency in any way, shape, or form.
It is definitely not transparent that several months before this legislation was even tabled, we found out, through the media, that the member for Ottawa South was given the sweetheart deal as chair of this committee. That in and of itself is very disingenuous.
The government and the Liberals could have at least had respect for Parliament and for its own platform to have withheld that. I do not know why the Liberals felt they had to make that announcement, and do that so quickly unless it had to do with an inside deal that they were concocting.
How can someone become a chair of a committee that has not even been constituted by Parliament in legislation? With a partisan appointment like this, it is clear that the government is not taking the non-partisan goals of this committee seriously.
Let us look at the facts. The Minister of Public Safety and many of the Liberals who have spoken before me have touted that this proposed committee is modelled after the United Kingdom, but the Liberal partisan appointment of the chair is completely different from the U.K. model which allows its committee to elect its own chair.
Second, the committee reports to the Prime Minister, not to Parliament, and the Prime Minister has the ability to omit items and ask for revised reports.
There is more that I could say on this piece of legislation but at the end of the day we are seeing more and more that this is a hollow shell with no substance. This committee will be made up of parliamentarians with no power to do anything, with no power to get information, and with the Prime Minister vetting all of the information. It looks again like the Liberals want to look like they are fulfilling a campaign promise but they are actually not fulfilling it and they are disrespecting and being disingenuous by doing so.
Unless there are major changes to the bill I cannot support it.
Mr. Pierre Paul-Hus (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Portage—Lisgar for her speech, which brings me to mine. I am very pleased to speak today to share my concerns over Bill C-22, an act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain acts.
The first thing I question, and I am not the only one to have raised this in the past two days, is the part of the title that says “committee of parliamentarians”. When we read Bill C-22 we quickly understand the type of committee that will truly be created. Let us look at this together.
Clause 3 of the bill reads:
|| 3 The Governor in Council may designate a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada to be the Minister for the purposes of this Act.
It is therefore a committee of parliamentarians formed by the Governor in Council, the government, and therefore by the Prime Minister himself.
Along the same lines, subclause 5(1) stipulates that:
|| 5(1) The members of the Committee are to be appointed by the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, to hold office during pleasure until the dissolution of Parliament following their appointment.
The Prime Minister's approval is even required for the appointment of senators to the committee, as we see in subclause 5(2), which reads:
|| 5(2) A member of the Senate may be appointed to the Committee only after the Prime Minister has consulted with one or more other members of the Senate.
The words “Prime Minister” come up quite frequently. Even when it comes time for committee members to resign from their duties, they must inform the Prime Minister, as required by subclause 5(5), which reads:
|| 5(5) A member may resign by notifying the Prime Minister in writing
Since we have a Prime Minister who has the utmost respect for this institution and its elected representatives, what do you think he did? The Prime Minister also retained the right to control who will be appointed as committee chair. That is what it says in subclause 6(1), which reads:
|| 6(1) The Governor in Council is to designate the Chair of the Committee from among the members of the Committee, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
One quickly realizes from the way the bill is written that this is the Prime Minister's committee, not a committee of parliamentarians. He chooses who will sit on the committee and who will chair it. It is not a committee of parliamentarians. It is a committee for the Prime Minister so that he can show that the government is taking action on an issue that he has found it difficult to take a clear stand on.
The best response that the government was able to come up with was to create a fully sanitized committee over which the Prime Minister and his office will have complete control.
What is more, the so-called committee of parliamentarians will not report to Parliament as one would expect from its name. It will report, and I hope my colleagues are sitting down for this, to the Prime Minister himself. That is what it says in subclause 21(1), which reads:
|| 21(1) Each year the Committee must submit to the Prime Minister a report of the reviews it conducted during the preceding year.
Subclause 21(2) also confirms that the committee can present a special report to the minister concerned and the Prime Minister.
The work done by the committee of parliamentarians will not be tabled in the House to inform the other members of Parliament, because everything clearly has to go through the central office that controls everything about this committee. Whose office is that? The Prime Minister's.
It is quite disconcerting to read this, but it was written by experts on consultation, transparency, openness, and good governance.
I would like to again quote Bill C-22, specifically subclause 21(5) on the information that is excluded from the report:
|| If, after consulting the Chair of the Committee, the Prime Minister is of the opinion that information in an annual or special report is information the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations or is information that is protected by litigation privilege or solicitor-client privilege or, in civil law,...or the professional secrecy of advocates and notaries, the Prime Minister may direct the Committee to submit to the Prime Minister a revised version of the annual or special report that does not contain that information.
Consequently, if the Prime Minister does not like the reports received from the committee, he can ask that changes be made to the various reports in order to table a report that suits the government.
Subclause 21(6) refers to the tabling of the report:
|| 21(6) Subject to subsection (4), the Prime Minister must cause to be laid before each House of Parliament, on any of the first 45 days on which that House is sitting after a report is submitted under subsection (1) or (2), a copy of the report or, if the Committee was directed to submit a revised version, a copy of the revised version.
Only this sanitized report, which may be far from truthful, will be tabled in Parliament to inform Canadians. Even Maurice Duplessis could not have come up with anything better to hide the fact that the Prime Minister, and not the committee, has the final say.
Now that I have provided ample evidence that the government's proposed committee is not truly a committee of parliamentarians but a committee of parliamentarians who will do the Prime Minister's bidding, I would like to talk about another problematic aspect of Bill C-22.
In addition to selecting the members of the committee responsible for overseeing the activities of a number of agencies that play a significant role in keeping Canada and Canadians safe, the Liberal government is not giving the committee much latitude to do its work. In theory, the committee has access to all kinds of sensitive and classified national security information, but the government retains the right to refuse to provide some types of information the committee might request, as stated in subclause 16(1), which reads as follows:
|| 16(1) The appropriate Minister for a department may refuse to provide information to which the Committee would, but for this section, otherwise be entitled to have access and that is under the control of that department, but only if he or she is of the opinion that
|| (a) the information constitutes special operational information, as defined in subsection 8(1) of the Security of Information Act; and
|| (b) provision of the information would be injurious to national security.
Refusal of information is final and may not be appealed, as stated in subclause 31(1):
|| 31(1) The appropriate Minister’s determination that a review referred to in paragraph 8(b) would be injurious to national security or the appropriate Minister’s decision to refuse to provide information under subsection 16(1) is final.
Bill C-22 therefore provides no meaningful mechanism by which the committee can appeal the decision, which might be questionable and put the government in an awkward position without necessarily being a threat to national security. Bill C-22 provides nothing, as indicated in subclause 31(2), which states:
|| 31(2) If the Committee is dissatisfied with the determination or the decision, the Committee is not to bring the matter before the courts, but it may note its dissatisfaction in a report referred to in section 21.
The committee can note its dissatisfaction, but the government could choose to completely ignore the report, for the committee members will be inclined to say nothing, in order to continue sitting on the committee. On top of that, this protest report will never be tabled in the House.
From the way this was presented, the Liberals have a lot of work to do to get the unanimous support of the House. I strongly believe that something like this should have the unanimous support of all members of the House. We are talking about oversight of bodies that are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of Canadians. This is not about partisan politics. Unfortunately, from the way this bill was presented, it appears as though the top of the pyramid wants to make sure it can lead all of the work without any problems.
Let me be very clear: our intention is not to go public with any state secrets or any information that could compromise national security, far from it. We simply want to ensure that the committee is able to have the flexibility and independence needed to properly fulfill its mandate. If we are going to do something, we might as well do it right.
To sum up, what really matters to me is that a committee such as this be founded on trust. It must have the full confidence of all government members and all opposition members, across party lines. With this kind of committee on national security, we need to be working from a place of absolute trust. I will be the first to say it.
Let us listen to our colleagues in the governing party and let us all acknowledge these facts.
Mr. Arif Virani (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-22. The bill would create a committee of parliamentarians to oversee Canada's security agencies. For the first time in history, a multi-party group of members of Parliament and senators would hold Canada's security apparatus to account.
Bill C-22 represents a Liberal initiative that dates back to 2005 in fulfillment of a key part of our campaign commitment to Canadians to reverse the legacy of the old Bill C-51. I am proud to stand in support of it and the important idea that Canadian security must never come at the expense of our rights and freedoms.
I will start by turning back the clock to early 2015 and the previous government's introduction of Bill C-51.
In my riding of Parkdale—High Park last year, I heard about Bill C-51 over and over again at the doors. Residents in my community in Toronto are smart. They are engaged, and when they sense injustice, they speak out. They told me that they expect better from their government, that ensuring public safety is the preeminent responsibility of any government, but that it is not acceptable to pursue security at any cost. My constituents, and indeed all Canadians, want a government that respects Canadians' rights and one that will put in place mechanisms to protect those rights.
As a human rights and constitutional lawyer, I listened to those residents as a candidate in the past election. I communicated those very valid concerns to my party, and the party responded. In 2015, we committed on the campaign trail that if we were fortunate enough to earn the respect of Canadians and to form government, we would significantly amend that flawed bill and put in place the mechanisms that Canadians want to protect their rights while simultaneously keeping them safe. That is what Bill C-22 would start to do.
However, we cannot take all the credit. The idea of ensuring that parliamentary representatives oversee security agencies, like the RCMP, CSIS, and CSE, did not come to us as some sort of epiphany. It is exactly what our allies have been doing for many years. Every single member of the Five Eyes alliance but Canada has some oversight mechanism in place. Those are Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States.
The Auditor General identified the need for parliamentary oversight in a seminal report in 2003. Our party initiated this in 2005 when then public safety minister Anne McLellan introduced Bill C-81. That bill died on the Order Paper when the opposition parties voted down the minority government of then prime minister Paul Martin, triggering the election that brought us Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
A similar oversight committee was attempted no less than four more times in private members' bills, as introduced by Liberal Derek Lee on two occasions, in 2007 and 2009; by the member for Malpeque in 2013; and by the member of Parliament who sits right next to me, the member for Vancouver Quadra, Joyce Murray. On each of those occasions, the private members' bills were not passed in the House.
Mr. Arif Virani:
Madam Speaker, thank you.
I guess it is now six times lucky. Our majority government has introduced Bill C-22 at long last, after 11 years of attempts and continuously being stymied by the opposition, to entrench parliamentary oversight of Canada's security and intelligence agencies.
However, we are not just replicating what we have seen among our Five Eyes allies. We are going one better. None other than Craig Forcese, the renowned law professor from the University of Ottawa and one of the foremost critics of the old Bill C-51, has said:
|| ...this will be a stronger body than the UK and Australian equivalents. And a dramatic change for Canadian national security accountability.... This is a good bill.... I would give it a high pass....
Let me turn to the bill itself and see what people like Professor Forcese are enthused about.
This oversight committee of parliamentarians will have a broad, government-wide mandate to review any national security matter relating to all government security departments and agencies. Committee members will have top security clearance and can demand unprecedented access to classified material.
The committee is required to report back to Parliament annually, but can do so even more frequently through special reports, if it finds that a special report is required to protect the public interest.
The committee members are independent. They have the authority to self-initiate reviews of the legislative, regulatory, policy, financial, and administrative framework for national security in Canada. The committee members have tenure. They are appointed until the dissolution of the House.
This committee will not be dominated by government members, because government members will not make up the majority of the committee. Bill C-22 specifies that the committee will comprise nine persons, only four of whom may be government members of Parliament. The other five must come from the opposition parties. This is not a rubber stamp; it is actual accountability and oversight of government departments and agencies by a majority of opposition parliamentarians.
Allow me to provide an example. Throughout the extensive debate on the old Bill C-51, residents of my riding of Parkdale—High Park were very vocal about information sharing among government departments and agencies. Rightly, Canadians said that widespread information sharing may compromise privacy rights. Information sharing is precisely the type of thing this new oversight committee will scrutinize, because it will have a broad government-wide mandate over all national security departments and agencies. This can ensure that when information is shared for intelligence gathering, the rights of Canadians are not being violated or jeopardized. If a violation is identified, the committee can report that to all Canadians through Parliament.
Of course, there may be those who feel this legislation does not go far enough. The important response to those individuals is to note that Bill C-22 contains a mandatory review provision. Every five years, according to law, a committee must study this bill and report back to Parliament on how to strengthen it. In this way, the conversation of Canadians in my riding of Parkdale—High Park and around the country about how to balance security with the protection of rights and freedoms will not stagnate. It will remain dynamic.
This brings me to my third point. We want to hear from Canadians, not just in five years but now. Our government has commenced a Canada-wide consultation on our national security framework. These consultations will allow us to discuss the other campaign commitments we made to remedy the defects of the old Bill C-51, including entrenching a sunset clause, ensuring that no judge can issue a warrant that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guaranteeing the constitutional right to engage in advocacy and protest, and narrowing the overly broad definition of what constitutes “terrorist propaganda”.
This national consultation will allow us to hear from Canadians what else they want to see from their government. We do not just want to implement our campaign commitments, but to improve upon them. Throughout this, one thing will always be top of mind, that in seeking to balance security and the protection of rights and freedoms, we will work with Canadian communities, not against them.
Here, I address the House as a Muslim member of the Liberal caucus. The practice of our new government is not to vilify groups or to sow division, but to engage communities and to listen to their concerns. We have done this through our comprehensive efforts to counter Islamophobia. We have done this through our 2016 budgetary commitment of over $35 million over five years to create an office of community outreach and counter-radicalization. We have done this through our efforts to welcome, not shun, the victims of Daesh, which has translated into our accepting nearly 31,000 Syrian refugees to date. We have done this through our efforts today to improve the rights of those who inadvertently find themselves on no-fly lists, by creating a passenger protect inquiries office, and implementing a Canada-U.S. redress working group.
I know that Canadians prefer this approach. It is an approach they voted for in October 2015. It is an approach that seeks to address security concerns on multiple fronts, and one that engenders the confidence of all Canadians, including the very minority groups, like mine, that were disproportionally bearing the brunt of the previous government's surveillance.
I will end with this. It is a fine balance. Ensuring safety while simultaneously protecting rights and freedoms is not easy, but I am confident that Bill C-22 will help do just that. I am proud to support this legislation that has been 11 years in the making. At this time, I urge the members opposite to get behind it, rather than standing in our way.
Ms. Dianne L. Watts (South Surrey—White Rock, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-22, the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians act.
The bill was first introduced in the House of Commons on June 16. It looks to establish a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians.
We know that the committee's mandate, as laid out in the legislation, is to review the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative, and financial framework for national security and intelligence; any activity carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence; or any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister refers to the committee.
I believe that the overall principle of the bill is relevant and necessary, given what we are dealing with in today's reality. However, there is a significant amount of responsibility and understanding, and it requires knowledge and critical thinking on a number of fronts. This is why I find pieces of the legislation somewhat troubling, especially when the act does not require the members of the committee to have any experience in dealing with security or intelligence-related matters and information.
I will frame this up in order to put some context around the issue.
From a personal perspective, and as a former mayor whose city bordered on the United States and is the second-largest border crossing in the country, next to Windsor, Ontario, I have presented before the U.S. Homeland Security on a number of issues. I have presented and also had the largest RCMP detachment in Canada, and I have dealt with significant financial, legislative, and security issues, from the proliferation of gang activity, cross-border drug and firearms issues, and murder investigations to the importation of drugs from China, Mexico, the Middle East, and the list goes on.
I cannot stress this point enough. The people serving on this committee must have some understanding and experience of sensitive, confidential, and secure information as it relates to national security and intelligence.
The bill is about the security of our country and the committee and its processes must be transparent. Regardless of political stripe, we all bring something unique to this discussion and this debate.
The chair should not be appointed. Rather, the chair should be elected. I want to take a moment here, because at this point one of the government member's stated that the critic said, in a letter, that the chair should be appointed. However, I will reiterate point seven of the letter, which is that the committee should elect its own chair from among its members. This is the practice with the U.K. committee and other allied countries. The election of the committee chair was also a commitment made by the Prime Minister. This was a direct notation from the critic to the Minister of Public Safety.
There is no doubt that this is an issue. It is unfortunate that the chair of the committee was already selected and appointed by the Prime Minister before the mandate of the committee was even established. It undermines the integrity of the committee even before it begins its work.
We need to look at the U.K. model, which was reformed in 2013 to be a committee of Parliament that reported to Parliament, and the members are appointed by Parliament, except for issues of national security, which are reported to the Prime Minister.
The stark difference with Bill C-22 is that the Prime Minister appoints the chair, the members of the committee are recommended by the Prime Minister, and the committee reports to the Prime Minister.
Also, the bill states that:
|| If, after consulting the Chair [who is appointed by the Prime Minister], the Prime Minister is of the opinion that information in an annual or special report is information the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations or is information that is protected by litigation privilege or solicitor-client privilege or, in civil law, by immunity from disclosure or the professional secrecy of advocates and notaries, the Prime Minister may direct the Committee to submit to the Prime Minister a revised version of the annual or special report that does not contain that information.
While parts of subclause 21(5) of the bill make perfect sense, I believe it is also far-reaching and extremely broad in its context. Virtually, the Prime Minister can have any report from the committee rewritten if he does not like the content. I believe the parameters need to be much more prescriptive and narrower in scope.
Openness and transparency is what we all want. We all want to achieve this while still maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive or classified information. The current bill as it stands would not instill confidence in the process or the general public when the Prime Minister and the chair of the committee, whom he appointments, can revise and change the committee's report at will. Censorship of the committee just simply will not work.
As I stated earlier, I believe a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians needs to be struck. However, we need to get it right, because we are talking about the security of this country and its people.
Therefore, I put forward three points. First, the chair of the committee should be elected. Second, the committee should have full powers to summon any witnesses and require them to give or produce evidence that the committee deems necessary to meet its mandate. Third, the committee should submit an annual report to Parliament, but the committee, in consultation with the Prime Minister and their national security adviser, exclude from the report any information that may, if released publicly, jeopardize national security.
I believe that these three points would add a level of transparency, as the committee would be arm's length from the Prime Minister's Office, and instill a level of confidence within the general public.
I believe all members support the concept and the principles and really want to ensure that we get this done right. We want to make sure that the safety and security of our intelligence personnel is intact, and we do not want the polarization or politicization of the oversight of our national security operations.
Therefore, Bill C-22 in its current state, I will not be able to support.
Mr. Raj Saini (Kitchener Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, for much of human history, threats to a country's security came in the form of other nation states and state-like entities. While at times the odd vigilante, the lone assassin, or a disaffected group may have posed some threat to a state, these threats were rare and often insubstantial. Consequently, from Roman times until the mid-twentieth century, those responsible for state security were primarily concerned with threats posed by neighbouring states, great powers, and nearby armies.
Taken from this perspective, Canada is geographically fortunate. We are protected by shining seas on three sides, and with the exception of the War of 1812, more than half a century before Confederation, our close friendship with our neighbour to the south has meant that Canada has not truly faced tangible threats to its borders.
However, few would dispute the fact that the security landscape in the 21st century looks very different from any other point in our history. Where we once had vast oceans to separate us from invading armies, modern technology and the alarming growth of violent substate and non-state actors means that Canada's security is faced with new types of threats.
While our country is still a safe and secure place to live, ensuring that it remains so is a much more complex challenge than our predecessors could ever have envisioned. As our country has faced new challenges to our security, new tools have arisen to keep Canadians safe.
In our modern world, intelligence gathering and analysis has become a critical weapon in the fight against terrorism and other national security threats. In a globalized world, where the security threats we face are often shared by our partners and allies, Canada has become a member of a number of intelligence sharing agreements, including the Five Eyes alliance. This group, comprising Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia has been called one of the most comprehensive known intelligence alliances in history. This security alliance consists of some of our closest partners.
The Five Eyes alliance is an excellent example of international co-operation through the sharing of both best practices and intelligence.
Worryingly, however, our partner countries in the Five Eyes alliance, including some of the most formidable intelligence gathering entities in the world, all have placed a safeguard on their intelligence agencies, while Canada has not.
Specifically, Canada is the only member of this alliance without proper oversight of our own intelligence community. While Canada does have a committee on public safety and national security, our partner states long ago realized the necessity of ensuring specific and specialized oversight of intelligence gathering. In fact, the United States formed its permanent committees on intelligence in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal four decades ago, after the Church committee investigated intelligence gathering for illegality of the CIA, NSA, and FBI.
We are so very fortunate in Canada to have dedicated men and women who serve to protect us with great courage and fortitude. We have the opportunity to be proactive to ensure that proper oversight is put in place at a time when our security apparatus is transitioning to a new era. As elected representatives of the people of Canada, we need to be able to oversee our intelligence community to ensure that it continues to act in the best interests of Canadians. Our partner states realized the importance of this long ago. Establishing oversight of the intelligence community here in Canada is something I believe to be long overdue.
Let me be clear. Calling for oversight does not mean that we lack faith in our intelligence community. For decades we, as parliamentarians, have had oversight over our police forces and our military. This has had nothing to do with their ability to serve Canadians and do their jobs. Oversight is at the heart of our role as parliamentarians. We owe it to our constituents to make sure that government works in the best interests of all Canadians.
Ensuring that our intelligence and security agencies do just that is a crucial part of that work. As MPs elected to represent the views, beliefs, and aspirations of our constituents, we must ensure that we balance the need for an effective security apparatus with the duty to uphold the democratic rights of Canadians.
The creation of this kind of oversight in the form of a dedicated committee was something we pledged in the last election. This government is keeping that promise by proposing here today the development of a committee that would have a wide-ranging mandate and a free hand to review and scrutinize material related to national security. The committee would be able to perform reviews of both national security and intelligence activities, including reviews of matters referred by a minister and strategic and systemic reviews of the legislative regulatory policy, expenditure, and administrative frameworks under which these activities are conducted. The committee would have robust powers to access important information to conduct its review, information not normally accessible by parliamentarians.
This government believes in the importance of consultation, of listening to different opinions and points of view. We are here to serve the people who elected us, to ensure that Canadians are being listened to, and that their best interests are being promoted and protected. This is an integral part of our duty and public service, of which oversight is an important part. This oversight is one of the best ways we can ensure that our intelligence apparatus continues to remain accountable to Canadians.
Accountability is a fundamental aspect of our democracy, and in my opinion, striking a permanent committee to keep our intelligence community accountable is one of the best ways this government can ensure that the organizations meant to protect Canadians and our country are doing their jobs well.
This government also understands that accountability in Canada's security apparatus, and in all areas of government, works best when accompanied by discussions with ordinary Canadians. This is why I am so pleased to see that this committee is being struck at the same time the Minister of Public Safety is engaging in public consultations on national security. I strongly believe that so long as this government fosters discussion on national security, both within Parliament and throughout our country, Canada can find the best way forward to face new challenges to national security as we combat terrorism and work to keep our citizens safe.
We are in the midst of a brand new era of security, one that is changing rapidly and in unpredictable ways. As we go forward, we must ensure that we are able to use all the tools we have at our disposal. Like any good tool, however, it needs to be used properly and appropriately. By establishing this committee, our government is ensuring that our intelligence assets are being used to best serve the interests of Canadians.
This is a good day for Canadian democracy. This committee will make us safer, stronger, and more secure as we rise to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Mr. Michel Picard (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-22, which will create a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians. There can be no greater obligation than to protect the security of one's citizens, both here and abroad.
The government of a country such as Canada, which cherishes its hard-won freedoms, its democracy, and its rule of law, has another obligation, and that is to uphold the Constitution of Canada and to ensure that all laws uphold the rights and freedoms we enjoy as people living in a free and democratic society.
The need to simultaneously fulfill these two key obligations is at the very heart of the bill before us. This bill is a response to the threats and attacks that have targeted various countries in the world, including Canada and some of our closest allies. Faced with this violence, we must remain alert and never let down our guard.
In addition, Bill C-22 responds to the many calls over many years for enhanced accountability of departments and agencies working in the area of national security. Hon. members will recall that these calls intensified last year when the previous government introduced the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, also known as Bill C-51. At that time, our party made the argument that Canada's approach to national security legislation should avoid not only naïveté, but also fearmongering.
The threats are real, and so is the need to protect civil liberties. That is why we included improvements to our national security framework, including the creation of a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, as a major part of our campaign platform in the last election.
The bill before us would establish a committee with nine members. Seven of the committee members would be drawn from the House of Commons, and of these seven, only four can be government members. Two members would be drawn from the other place. This committee will be different from other committees and offices established to review security and intelligence matters.
Under the accountability framework, some review bodies can have access to classified documents, but only for a specific department or organization. The members of these committees are not sitting parliamentarians. Parliamentarians may be involved, but they do not have access to classified documents. Those external review bodies are the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews CSIS, the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. None of those bodies include sitting parliamentarians.
On the one hand, parliamentary committees review security and intelligence issues, but they do that primarily by listening to testimony during their public meetings. On the other hand, the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence has a broad mandate to examine legislation and national security and defence issues.
Moreover, in the House, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security studies legislation or issues related to Public Safety Canada and the other agencies in the public safety portfolio. They do extremely valuable work, but as a rule, neither of these committees has access to classified information. They have neither the mandate nor the resources to dig deep into the details of national security matters in order to hold the government and national security agencies truly accountable.
Under the bill before us, members of the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians would obtain the appropriate level of security clearance and would, therefore, have access to highly classified security and intelligence information regarding national security and intelligence activities across the Government of Canada.
I would also point out that our Five Eyes partners have review bodies that function in similar ways. In those countries, select parliamentarians have access to highly sensitive intelligence so that they can help protect the public interest with regard to civil rights while also helping protect public safety by ensuring that national security organizations are functioning effectively.
Until now, Canada has been alone among the Five Eyes partners in not having a committee where parliamentary representatives can access classified information. This bill would close that gap.
In fact, in some respects, our proposal goes a little further than that of our allies from Westminster parliamentary democracies. This committee will review all departments and agencies whose activities are related to security and intelligence. It will also have the authority to investigate ongoing operations.
When it comes to establishing a national security accountability mechanism, this bill sets a new standard that some of our allies might well follow.
Robust powers are given to this committee, its members, and its secretariat. The committee will be able to access any information it needs to conduct its reviews, subject to some specific and reasonable limits. As is the case with similar committees in other countries, while committee members are not in a position to disclose the classified information to which they will have access, they can bring tremendous pressure to bear on a given organization or the government in power by letting Canadians know that something is not right.
Clearly, this new committee represents a major step forward in strengthening the accountability of our national security and intelligence system. It will provide elected officials with a real opportunity to evaluate our national security policies and operations and to ensure that Canadians and their civil liberties are protected.
I encourage members to join me in supporting this vitally important bill.
Mr. Jamie Schmale (Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I rise today on Bill C-22, an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians
It goes without saying that safety and security of Canadians is one of the top priorities of any government. I am sure every member in this chamber would agree with that statement.
Like many members, I spent the last few months in my riding, travelling from one end to the other. I spoke with countless constituents about the issues that were important to them. For many, their highest priorities were, of course, jobs and the economy. As a Conservative, I am proud to say our record speaks for itself on those two files.
I also heard from people who were concerned about public safety and national security. Across the globe, terrorist attacks are taking place and have taken place. The idea that these types of attacks do not happen in Canada was a common belief a few years ago, but now, when we look at the political landscape, terrorism cannot be overlooked.
As we know, attacks have taken place in our own country, plans have been thwarted many times by our brave women and men in law enforcement. Do not misunderstand me, please, I am not attempting to strike fear into the hearts of Canadians, but I believe it is important that we are not naive about our place in the world.
The most prominent example of this was October 22, 2015, or even most recently in August, when our enforcement agencies stopped an attack. There have been attacks across Europe. We see them in France, Belgium, and Germany, among others, and of course, in the United States. I say all of this because it is important to provide context on what members of the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians will have to review.
Our law enforcement, intelligence, and military agencies have played a crucial role in keeping Canadians safe. This bill has legislated a committee of specific design. I think we agree on the essence of it, but there are parts of it that I have issues with, members on the Conservative and NDP benches seem to have the same issues.
The committee will consist of a chair recommended by the Prime Minister. The committee will have up to eight additional members of Parliament, to a maximum of four from the government and no more than two from the Senate. Members of the committee cannot be a minister of the crown, minister of state, parliamentary secretary, and are appointed by the Governor in Council on recommendation by the Prime Minister, and the leader of the other members' party.
The committee is intended to be non-partisan and highly independent, but yet, the Liberal government appointed the committee chair in January before the legislation was even created. This committee will review agencies that were highly specialized and effective in their designated fields; yet, there is no requirement that the members of the committee have any experience in public safety and security issues.
I also find it concerning that the government refused to consult with opposition parties, despite the public willingness by the Conservatives and the NDP to discuss this important committee. In fact, our official opposition critic wrote to the minister twice about this committee. The committee, as it is currently written, is appointed by and reports to the Prime Minister's Office.
I believe, and I think most members on this side believe, that it should be open and reporting to Parliament. The Prime Minister campaigned on a reduced role of the PMO. We all know actions speak louder than words.
The committee is mandated to review the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative, and financial framework for national security and intelligence, any activity carried out by the department that relates to national security or intelligence, and any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister refers to the committee.
I am going to quote the government's own backgrounder here:
|| The committee would have robust powers to access any information to conduct its reviews, subject to specific limitations such as to protect third parties, prevent interference in active military operations and maintain the independence of law enforcement functions. While the NSICOP would have a right of access to information it requests, the legislation would allow Ministers to withhold special operational information, but only if the disclosure would harm national security. The responsible minister would need to provide the committee with the rationale for their decision to withhold information.
|| The NSICOP findings and recommendations will be tabled in Parliament
However, and here is where some of the big concerns I have arise:
|| The government will review the committee’s reports before tabling to ensure that they do not contain classified information.
I find it deeply troubling that Bill C-22 provides for numerous exceptions, and permits government agencies and ministries to opt-out of providing information for review. This weakens the oversight, and does not permit the committee's mandate to be fulfilled.
I also find it concerning that the Prime Minister would basically have a veto on what is in the reports of the so-called independent committee. Would it not be even more appropriate for non-partisan officials or the committee to decide what can or cannot be released? The government in power should not have a veto on what the committee reviews or reports.
As with any committee, the chair provides crucial support and direction to the committee as a whole. It is, therefore, peculiar for a committee of this importance, for a committee that is claimed to be independent and non-partisan, that the government would have already selected who it is going to appoint to this position. We know it is the member for Ottawa South, and like all of us he is political. I have great respect for the member for Ottawa South.
There are many members in the chamber who I am sure would like to be on that committee, and I have no doubt had there been a free election of the chair, the member probably would have won because he is well respected by members on all sides of the House. However, the government will not even give those members the opportunity to select their chair. What happened to the Liberals' sense of accountability? What happened to their transparency? Real change they said. However, the chair, as I have mentioned, was appointed before the committee was even struck.
There are seven exemptions under section 14 in this legislation, including that the committee cannot look at ongoing investigations that may lead to criminal charges. If I am not mistaken, that basically covers every investigation, and operation of law enforcement and security agencies in this country.
It has been made clear that Canada is not the first country to create this type of oversight committee. Many of our allies have enacted similar oversight systems. This includes the British, the Australians, and New Zealand. I will not get into all of the details because it has been discussed by my colleagues.
I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Durham and the official opposition critic for public safety, for his work on this important file.
The importance of a national security and intelligence committee cannot be overstated, and we have heard that throughout the debate. It is, therefore, critical that legislation be properly drafted. As I said earlier, we all agree on the essence of the committee, but there are just some finer points that need to be tuned up in order to appease people on this side of the House.
The committee of parliamentarians should not report to the Prime Minister or the government. This is something the Liberals raised many times in the previous Parliament. It is something the Liberals talked about during the election. They said the PMO has too much power, and that power needs to be given back to Parliament. What do we see with this piece of legislation? The Liberal government is no different than any other government before it. It just has the sunny ways title to go with it.
As the legislation stands now, the government will have the ability to vet and veto the decisions made by this committee. This, therefore, would take away all the independence claims that the government has made. In effect, under the current legislation, the committee would be controlled by the Prime Minister's Office, and the Prime Minister's Office has appointed the chair already. This is an issue I hope all members on both sides of the House would agree that politics should be left out of. After all, the Liberals campaigned on it.
We as parliamentarians need to continue to ensure that our enforcement agencies have the tools and equipment they need to keep Canadians safe.
I would like to take a moment to thank the men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and those who currently serve or who have previously served at home or abroad, in conflict or peacetime. I appreciate their sacrifices. We shall never forget. It is all in the protection of our rights and freedoms. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces, our intelligence agencies, police, firefighters, first responders, we thank them for their service.
Mr. Arnold Chan (Scarborough—Agincourt, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and join the debate on Bill C-22. I want to use my time to focus not so much on why I am supporting Bill C-22, because I think the arguments have already been advanced quite significantly by the members of the government. I want to use my time instead to address some of the substantive concerns coming from the opposition parties, which is what I will do in the time that has been allotted to me today.
There are some broad themes that have clearly emerged from the opposition that I want to address and put to rest to try to allay their concerns.
The first, which has been advanced by the official opposition members, is the concept that the architecture of Bill C-22 undermines the independence of parliamentarians because of the apparent supremacy of the executive branch over the legislative branch. They have cited the various provisions in the act that deal with the Prime Minister's capacity to appoint the members of the committee under section 5, and the ability of ministers of the crown to withhold information in certain situations under section 16. They have highlighted issues with respect to the ability of the Prime Minister, in consultation with the chair of the committee, to redact certain portions of the proposed report coming from the committee that might be injurious to national security or might disclose information that might be subject to solicitor-client privilege or might be injurious to or impact international relations.
I appreciate this particular point because we do live in a Westminster model, wherein our branches of government, both our executive branch and our legislative branch, are fused into the same body. The supremacy of the executive branch is particularly exacerbated in this type of model, unlike, for example, in the United States, under a congressional model, where there are very clear and separate branches of government, and the executive branch is specifically divorced from the legislative branch.
I would remind my colleagues of a point that was specifically highlighted by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in his address to the House on the bill. The mandate of this committee is very broad. If we look carefully at the language of the legislation under section 8, it says that the committee's mandate is to review:
||(a) the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative and financial framework for national security and intelligence;
|| (b) any activity carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence, unless the appropriate Minister determines that the review would be injurious to national security; and
||(c) any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister of the Crown refers to the Committee.
Therefore, the oversight role, the review role, is very broad as set out specifically in the act. However, I would point out that the purpose of this piece of legislation is to do exactly that, to review the broad mandates of our national security and intelligence agencies. It is not to go and delve into the specific operational endeavours of the military or our police services to examine specific matters that are of a specific ongoing operational nature. I would submit that falls within the purview of the government's executive branch, to execute, in real time, responses to potential national security threats and to deal with those instances. The role of the committee is to look at these particularly broad mandates.
Some of the committee's other mandates are to review that our security and intelligence services have the right legislative tools, that the resources appropriated to our national security agencies are appropriate, that we have the appropriate interagency co-operation, and that the legislative framework allows for that appropriate exchange of information. I would also argue that it has to deal with some of the concerns that the third party has advanced, which is to ensure that the appropriate procedural and substantive protections are afforded to individuals who may be impacted by the actions of our security agencies.
I believe those are the appropriate measures of review, not the actual review of specific ongoing operational issues. The way I would frame it is that the role of the committee is not to play M in MI6 in a James Bond movie. Its role is to provide oversight and a check on the exercise of executive authority.
The second theme I wanted to address that I think has been overplayed by the opposition is with respect to the ability in terms of both access to information and the ability to redact information. Again, I would invite my colleagues on the opposite side to carefully review the actual language in the bill as it relates to those specific limitations.
Let me take, for example, the provisions that are dealt with under the access to information provisions in clauses 13 and 14, particularly as they relate to the exceptions under section 14. My colleagues on the other side have noted that there are seven exceptions, and they refer to them as being problematic. However, if we examine them carefully, they are very narrowly construed. Basically, they are construed with respect to other rights and immunities and privileges of other classes of persons other than parliamentarians.
Again, I think it is a bit of a mis-characterization that the supremacy of Parliament and the role of parliamentarians somehow supersedes the rights, privileges, and immunities of other classes of persons. I do not think that is a fair characterization. I think we have to always constantly engage and make sure that there is a balance.
We can take a look at the seven specific provisions in section 14. The first one is “a confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, as defined in subsection 39(2) of the Canada Evidence Act”. In plain English, that means cabinet confidences. The question is whether parliamentarians should be subject and be able to access information as it relates to the deliberations of cabinet. Again, I think not.
The second one refers to “information respecting ongoing defence intelligence activities supporting military operations”. My point is that those are operational decisions. Again, I do not think that it is within the purview of the committee to be reviewing ongoing military action.
The third is “information the disclosure of which is described in subsection 11(1) of the Witness Protection Program Act”. If somebody goes into the witness protection program, I do not think we need to know the identity of who that particular individual is.
The fourth is “the identity of a person who...has been approached to be...a confidential source of information, intelligence or assistance to the Government of Canada”. Therefore, if somebody is prepared to spy on behalf of Canada, again, I do not think we need to have that specific type of information.
The fifth one is “information relating directly to an ongoing investigation”. Again, that is an operational matter. We can certainly look at it retrospectively and review if there was a problem, but I do not think that this committee should be in a position to compromise an ongoing active investigation.
The sixth is information related to the Investment Canada Act, and seventh is information relating to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. Again, if we look at these particular sections, they are very narrowly construed.
Therefore, the exceptions that are articulated in the bill are very narrow. Again, I would argue that these are very narrow areas that are carved out, and that the mandate of the committee is in fact very broad.
The other point that has been raised is with respect to subclause 21(5), the writing of reports and the Prime Minister's capacity to edit the reports.
Again, I invite my colleagues to read subclause 21(5) carefully with respect to what it means. It does not mean that the Prime Minister rewrites the report. It means that a report that has been received by the Prime Minister is reviewed to make sure there is no sensitive confidential information that is then subsequently disclosed to the public. It is this information alone that would be redacted. Through consultation with the chair that information would be subject to review and allowed to be redacted on the basis of national security, on the basis that it might be injurious to international relations, or that the information is confidential because of solicitor-client privilege.
Again, it is very narrowly construed. I simply submit that to my colleagues—
Mr. Matthew Dubé (Beloeil—Chambly, NDP):
Madam Speaker, this is hardly my first speech in the House, but it is my first as public safety critic, and it is my pleasure to speak to such a crucial bill.
This is one of the many elements we debated during the previous Parliament in the context of Bill C-51 and the parties' election promises. I want to make it clear that we have a lot of criticisms, which I will cover in my speech.
We are willing to support the bill at second reading simply because it is a good first step. The NDP has long believed that we need to create this committee. However, there are some serious problems with the government's approach.
Before we get into the composition of the committee, I think it is important to point out many of the inconsistencies in the government's approach to this particular file, whenever it comes to proposing anything. We still have not heard, despite the minister's great grocery list in question period yesterday, what the actual plan is. There is no bill before the House, despite a lot of talk, as is becoming far too typical on the part of the government.
Well, there is one bill, the bill from my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, which seeks to repeal Bill C-51.
That said, we are hearing about all these grand plans from the government to bring specific changes, with no actual legislative plan in place.
The other problem is that we can form committees, create all sorts of mechanisms, but the fact is some already exist. One that springs to mind is the Security Intelligence Review Committee. That committee, which currently exists, reviews the activities of CSIS. The way things stand right now, in light of the budget the government brought down in March 2016 and according to the employees of that very committee, funding is expected to drop by $2.5 million annually. Over the next few years, this will lead to the loss of 11 employees assigned to overseeing CSIS. We can certainly form a committee, but we are definitely starting off on the wrong foot if resources are lacking due to budget cuts.
The other big issue is one that has come up a few times. With all kidding aside, we have been parsing the words. The Minister of Foreign Affairs seems to want us to distinguish between “discussions” and “negotiations”. In this regard, I would like the government to understand the difference between “review” and “oversight”. These are not the same thing, despite some of the speeches we are hearing from our colleagues on the other side of the House.
The key to protecting Canadians' rights and freedoms is to have proper oversight, not after-the-fact “review” done at the behest of the minister and the Prime Minister. This word “review” is the other one we seem to be having to parse, in response to the answer given by my colleague in the previous speech.
I will concede that the reports might not be edited, but it will be hard to figure them out under all the black Sharpie that will be left by the Prime Minister on the grounds of national security. That is cause for concern.
After all, the MPs on this committee will swear an oath and be trustworthy. The bill gives the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Prime Minister a lot of discretion and that makes me think of the Conservatives' argument when we were debating Bill C-51 during the last Parliament.
The Conservatives argued, or at least strongly implied, that we needed to trust the authorities, that we could not trust parliamentarians to do this type of review, and that independent committees already existed.
I find it downright disturbing because giving cabinet that much power reminds me of the Conservatives' argument. Again, though the government may have changed colours, its approach remains the same.
As I said, we support the bill at second reading so that we can try to make some important changes. At the end of the day, we cannot say no to forming this committee because, after all, it is what we wanted. Nonetheless, there are some serious flaws that need to corrected, as I said from the outset.
Clearly, the first flaw is the election of the chair. Ultimately, the chair will ensure that the committee will be independent, which will be difficult if the chair is chosen by the Prime Minister.
As I mentioned in my earlier question, we heard from our cousins from the U.K., when they came here at the invitation of the minister himself last week. They shared with us how important it was in the debate they had when creating a similar committee that the chair be elected. I heard the argument from my Liberal colleague before that this does not matter, because the opposition members will be in the majority on the committee anyway. That is not the issue here. The issue is not about which party is the majority. The issue is not leaving it up to cabinet who is carrying the committee. Parliamentarians from all parties need to have a say. I have no doubt that the Liberal members of the committee will make a wise choice to ensure the independence of the committee, much more independence that when it is coming down from the PMO.
We will have to make another important change. Once again, I am going back to the points I raised earlier. I am referring to the discretionary authority granted the minister and the Prime Minister. We have serious concerns about this and we want to debate it.
I am taking the opportunity to return to yesterday's news and the Privacy Commissioner's report.
I will read one excerpt from the chapter on Bill C-51 in the Privacy Commissioner's report. He said:
|| While our Office welcomed legislation to create a Parliamentary committee to oversee matters related to national security as a positive first step, we have also recommended expert or administrative independent review or oversight of institutions permitted to receive information for national security purposes.
What that says, and I certainly hope it will not be the case, is that the government cannot sit on its laurels now that it has tabled this bill. This is only one piece of a far larger, more complicated puzzle.
Nonetheless, the position of inspector general of CSIS was eliminated by the Conservative government. The NDP has been asking for a long time that this position be re-established to allow greater independent oversight by people who, unlike us parliamentarians, have some expertise in the matter. Those two items are closely related and that is the important thing.
To bolster this argument, I will mention the minister's response concerning the government's approach when we asked him about the ministerial directives concerning torture. I am taking this opportunity to officially state in the house that the NDP is calling for the repeal of these directives, because it is completely unacceptable that a country like Canada allows the use of information acquired through torture. The practice does not benefit public safety in the least, and quite frankly, it is immoral and goes against our international commitments.
When we asked the minister the question, he told us not to worry and that the government would establish a committee to deal with such questions and provide oversight. Come on. It is ludicrous to claim that striking a committee makes it okay to keep such a directive in place.
I will say this with all due respect, because it is worth repeating in both official languages that we in the New Democratic Party absolutely want to see this ministerial directive that allows for the use of information on torture taken off the books and gone. It is completely unacceptable that in a country like Canada, we would even ponder using that kind of information. This is not information that will ensure the safety of Canadians and it goes against our values and our international commitments. I will say once again, when the minister stands in the House and says that it is okay, because they have Bill C-22 and we should not worry because all of these things will be supervised, that is absurd. The Liberals are using the bill as an escape hatch, and we do not want to see that.
It is important to understand that this is a first step in the right direction. Although the bill before us may be vague and flawed, it is in keeping with the concept that was also proposed by the NDP. This is one of many issues that were raised in the debate on Bill C-51. I hope that the members opposite will listen to what we have to say.
I repeat that we are trusting the Liberal members who sit on this committee to elect a chair and access the information without the Prime Minister exercising his veto power and covering that information up with a big black marker.
After all, we certainly do not want Bill C-22 to become an excuse for not repealing or making major changes to Bill C-51, which violates the rights and freedoms of Canadians.