Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 10:34 [p.9988]
Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman somehow suggested that the opposition challenges the need for an oversight committee. I do not know how one could read the record of these proceedings and come to that conclusion. He commends the work of the public safety committee and fails to remind us that the government gutted that committee's recommendations.
Since this is a “somewhat historical bill”, to quote the hon. gentleman, how is it that we will be proceeding when the opposition is unanimously opposed to such an historic initiative?
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 12:25 [p.10008]
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to address Bill C-22 at third reading stage. Unfortunately, this is the final day of debate on an issue of national security that has divided the government from every opposition party.
Government members have remarked on the extraordinary nature of the proposed committee. They note that it would end our laggard status among the so-called Five Eyes, that it would allow some parliamentarians extraordinary access to classified information, and that it would enjoy a whole-of-government mandate. These claims are all true, but they are also the bare minimum requirements. They are simply the essential features of an oversight committee.
I hope government members are unsettled when they notice that every opposition party, and respected experts from across the political spectrum, are all pointing to the same flaws in the government's bill. I have spoken about these flaws in detail in the public safety committee and in this chamber. My colleagues and I have consulted with non-partisan experts to craft more than one dozen amendments to resolve them.
Let me summarize these flaws as succinctly as I can for Canadians.
This committee's job is to oversee the functioning and classified operations of every government agency linked to intelligence and national security. This 11 member committee will face a multi-billion dollar array of some 20 government departments and agencies, some of which have never yet been subject to any oversight. When these 11 members sit down together for the first time, all they will have to rely on is a dedicated staff, a limited budget, and the powers laid out in black and white in the bill. That is where they will begin to hit roadblocks.
Despite their top secret security clearances, this bill would bar those parliamentarians from accessing certain operational information. They would find themselves unable to summon witnesses or order documents. Instead they could only request information from cabinet ministers, who are permitted to withhold it.
While it clips the committee's wings at every turn, the bill bestows sweeping powers on cabinet and on the Prime Minister. Ministers can shut down investigations. The Prime Minister can appoint every member of oversight committees and censor its reports.
Canadians might well ask this. With such little power for Parliament and so much power for the cabinet, can this oversight body actually do its job? It is precisely in that context that the government has now shut down debate, after barely one-tenth of Canadians' elected representatives have been permitted to participate. That is the context for today.
I want to focus on what I see as the essential question for each member now, and that is this. Are the powers granted by this bill sufficient to create the degree of rigorous operational oversight that Canadians expect in the era of Bill C-51, and the extraordinary powers now granted to our security services? That is the important question because the test for this committee is not whether it can monitor uncontroversial activities. The true test is whether it can stand up to a government that is violating the law in certain circumstances, failing to protect Canadians, or encroaching on their hard-earned rights and liberties.
Let me be clear. I cannot support this bill in that context, in its current form. I believe it would fail that test and it would fail Canadians. At the very moment when they need it to be strong, independent, and effective, it would fail the test because it chooses to sacrifice transparency for secrecy, and favour executive authority over accountability.
In the wake of an intelligence failure that cost thousands of innocent lives, the American 9/11 commission report warned as follows: “Secrecy stifles oversight...current organizational incentives encourage overclassification. This balance should change...”. It also warned, “So long as oversight is undermined...we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need.”
That is what this is all about: giving Canadians not just empty assurances but hard proof that their security is protected and their rights upheld. Does this bill meet that standard when it comes to operational oversight?
In arguing against strengthening the committee, the public safety minister compared it to counterpart committees in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. He correctly noted that each of those allies allows the government to withhold sensitive information from the oversight committee, but he left out an important fact, and that is that none of them is an operational oversight committee. Canada's would be, and it would be only second among the Five Eyes.
How would its powers compare to those American congressional committees? What do the Americans require for the same kind of job we are asking our committee to do? In the United States, special committees of the House and Senate are kept informed in real time of all intelligence operations. They can cut funding and even overrule the White House to order the release of previously classified information, if it serves the national interest. This goes far beyond even what the opposition parties have proposed for Canada.
If we passed this bill without fixing it, we would be giving the committee a mandate but not the tools required to get the job done. Yet, the government resists all calls by the opposition and non-partisan experts to grant these tools to the oversight committee. This gets to the central question of trust.
To justify cabinet's sweeping powers to obstruct oversight, the government has hidden behind a straw man, the one limit to which nobody has ever objected, and that is the safeguard to protect individuals in the witness protection program. We heard all about that earlier today. One government member referred to the need to segregate especially sensitive information. With respect, this misses the point. Everything this committee would work on is, by definition, especially sensitive. Nothing should leak, and I am confident that nothing will leak, just as it has not in Britain in the 22 years that it has had a similar committee under way.
If the identities of protected witnesses were this committee's only blind spot, I would welcome it, but alongside the others, it has begun to serve as a litmus test for the government's trust in this committee. I say that because there is no meaningful distinction between that information and anything else within the committee's unique mandate. All of it is potentially damaging to national security and individuals' safety. It makes us wonder, if the government cannot trust the committee with the names of witnesses, why would it hand over operational details? The answer, I fear, is that it will not. If we passed the current bill, we would give the government the power to withhold that information at every turn. We would give the government the power to deny Canadians the operational oversight they were promised, and we would fatally undermine Canadians' faith in this new institution, because if cabinet does not trust the committee, why should Canadians?
Of course, the government insists that it would use these powers sparingly and only with the best intentions. The Liberals' faith in their own good intentions I believe is sincere, but it blinds them to the actual wording of the bill. Take clause 21 as an example. Several amendments have targeted cabinet's power to filter the flow of information from this committee to Canadians. No fewer than six government members have repeated the claim that the sole purpose of that power is to screen out classified information. Again, if that were true, I would support it, but it is simply not true. In fact, the relevant clause does not even use the word “classified”. In fact, it empowers the Prime Minister to censor any information he believes may be injurious to national security or defence, or even international relations. All he has to do is believe it and it is so, and it is not available.
A similar claim, repeated by five government members, is that this revision power could not be applied to the committee's findings. Again, I would support that clause, but it is not in the bill.
This has become a theme. Too often, government members assure us of the good intentions of this bill's authors and simply forget that legislation must be built to outlast the authors of the bill. We are making law not just for this regime but for the future.
The current Prime Minister may not intend to use his powers to suppress embarrassing committee findings, but another one may. The current cabinet may not intend to use its power to quash investigations or to hide mismanagement or scandal, but another one may. The current government may not intend to ban the official opposition from the committee or use appointments to control the agenda or hide illegal surveillance by withholding operational details on security grounds, but another government may.
Consider, for instance, the investigations taking place right now south of the border into President Trump's ties to Russia and his wiretapping claims. If Bill C-22 were the law there, President Trump could revise the reports of congressional intelligence oversight committees to remove information he felt could harm foreign relations. His cabinet could obstruct, and even shut down, investigations simply by asserting security privilege.
That is why Canadians are demanding that this committee be built to a higher standard of strength and independence, so that when the time comes, it can stand as a genuine check on the executive overreach and end operations that violate Canadians' rights or mismanagement that undermines their security. As it stands, it is simply not built to that standard.
However, I do want to recognize the progress that has been made and acknowledge the good work done by the members of the public safety committee. Because of an amendment from the NDP, the new oversight committee would now have a legal duty to alert the Attorney General to any potentially illegal activity within the entire national security apparatus.
While future prime ministers would still be able to censor reports on broad grounds, Canadians could now see exactly how much text had been revised in a particular report and the reasons the revision occurred. While cabinet ministers unfortunately retain the power to withhold information and even shut down investigations, Canadians could now monitor the use of those powers each year.
I want to personally recognize the hard work of every member of the public safety committee. They showed that progress is possible when the government is willing to work with opposition parties. However, before the government congratulates itself for accepting a handful of ideas from other parties, let us be clear about what it rejected.
The plan we proposed gave the oversight committee full access to information and the power to summon witnesses and order documents. It offered freedom to investigate any issue without interference by cabinet ministers. It let the committee choose its own chairperson from among the membership that would actually match the partisan balance of the House. It allowed the free flow of insights back and forth within the existing expert review bodies. Every last one of those proposals was rejected by the government.
While progress was made at the margins, the government is now asking Parliament to approve an oversight committee with only partial access to the information it needs to do the job for Canadians: a committee that can only request information from cabinet, not order it directly; a committee whose entire membership is selected by the Prime Minister, with no requirement that it even include members from the biggest opposition parties. This committee would not be out of place in Australia, New Zealand, or France, where there is no expectation of operational oversight, but it is entirely inappropriate in Canada.
I cannot accept the design set by the government for two fundamental reasons: first, it tilts the balance too far toward executive power at the expense of parliamentary accountability; and, second, it fails to meet the high standard of operational oversight that the Liberals made necessary when they joined with the Conservatives to dramatically expand security powers through Bill C-51.
It is against these two standards that the government's attitude toward this bill is so very disappointing. The government has adopted an approach which says that something is better than nothing insofar as parliamentary oversight is concerned, and that we should just be happy we got a little bit. It suggests to me the belief that national security is the exclusive domain of the executive branch and that Parliament is somehow an ungrateful guest on the government's turf. That is dead wrong.
Members will remember this question was addressed and answered by Speaker Milliken in 2010 when he ruled on the government's attempt to deny Parliament documents relating to the Afghan detainee affair. In denying Parliament's role as a watchdog for Canadians, the executive claimed that Parliament's general right of inquiry was limited by the executive's countervailing interest in protecting national security. Parliament, the government argued, was overreaching by demanding information on security matters and threatening the constitutional separation of powers. The parallels to our current debate are clear.
What was the outcome? After an exhaustive analysis, Speaker Milliken ruled that Parliament's right to access information, to do its job, to perform its duties is “absolute”. In fact it was the executive that jeopardized the proper separation of powers by attempting to censor information provided to Parliament.
The Canadians' elected representatives in Parliament must be named the ultimate watchdog in our system. That should be a point of unanimous agreement for everyone in this place. We all recognize, as Speaker Milliken did, that special safeguards must be put in place to allow Parliament to exercise that oversight role in sensitive domains like national security and intelligence.
That is why New Democrats supported many safeguards to protect sensitive information. For example, we supported security vetting for every member. That was a step that was rejected by the British Parliament. We agreed. Similarly, we think it is reasonable that members waive parliamentary immunity from prosecution should they leak information. We think that is entirely reasonable. That step, however, was rejected by another of our Five Eyes allies, namely, New Zealand.
These additional safeguards should be used to facilitate the greater flow of classified information required for operational oversight, but the bill turns those safeguards into shackles. It asks Parliament to accept that oversight cannot be exercised through a parliamentary committee, but only through an adjunct to the executive, the Prime Minister's Office. It asks Parliament to grant the executive veto power over its access to information against the advice of experts and the Speaker's analysis of parliamentary procedure as well. It asks Parliament to legislate limits on its own authority to investigate how well the government of the day serves the security interests of Canadians and defends their civil liberties.
Because we believe in upholding Parliament's place as the final watchdog, and because we cannot accept inadequate operational oversight of the powers that Liberals and Conservatives granted to our security agencies in Bill C-51 over the protests of so many Canadians, the New Democratic Party cannot support Bill C-22 as it stands.
However, we have everything we need to fix the bill. We have consensus among the opposition parties. We have the willingness to work together to compromise. We have all the tools we need. We just need the time.
I am asking all members to do what the members of this committee will soon be asked to do, and that is to set partisanship aside and consider whether this bill, with all the flaws agreed upon by so many security experts, meets the standards of operational oversight that Canadians rightfully demand in the context of Bill C-51, and if they have any doubt that it might fail to meet that test for Canadians, I would ask them to support the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“Bill C-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for the purpose of reconsidering Clauses 8, 14, and 16 with a view to assessing whether the investigatory powers and limits defined in these clauses allow for sufficiently robust oversight of ongoing intelligence and national security activities.”
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 12:48 [p.10011]
Mr. Speaker, how the member across the way concluded that I have no idea. To suggest that a committee of Parliament should have operational control over police or intelligence is, admittedly, absurd. If I confused the member, I apologize for doing so. What I have been saying is that any oversight committee that is supposed to look at the operational activities of police, national security, and intelligence services needs the tools to do its job.
The member said earlier that somehow experts thought that what happened was just fine. In January of this year, four leading experts wrote an article in The Globe and Mail congratulating the public safety committee for the report it produced, saying that it got it right. The New Democrats did a press conference confirming that we supported the bill as it read.
Then, when we were away a week or so ago, the government came in at the last moment with a bunch of amendments that basically gutted this bill. It is so disappointing. It is disappointing to Canadians, who thought we could get it right.
We could hold hands around that committee report and finally say, yes, we have it right. We would have access to the information we would need. We could summon people, and the level of scrutiny we would need to do the job would be available.
The government decided we should not have those tools. That is why all opposition members, as I understand it, are not going to support this bill, which is bad for Canada.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 12:50 [p.10011]
Mr. Speaker, whether Canadians would be misled or not, the facts are the facts. The facts are that we would not be giving this committee the tools it would need to do operational oversight. I do not know the intentions of the government. The Liberals are putting a happy face on what they are doing today, seeming to ignore the fact that everyone else in this place but the government members does not agree with them.
Today's Toronto Star has an article by Paul Copeland, probably one of Canada's leading experts in national security law, appointed by the hon. member for Niagara Falls, when he was attorney general, to be a special advocate. He wrote about the report by the public safety committee and talked about the proposals of the government that are being debated today: removing the oversight committee’s power to subpoena witnesses and documents, allowing cabinet ministers to withhold information from the oversight committee, and stopping the committee from receiving information about all active law-enforcement investigations, all the time.
The experts, including Ron Atkey, Craig Forcese, Kent Roach, and Wes Wark, have all agreed that the committee got it right. At the eleventh hour, the government brought in this bill, imposed time allocation on this place, and expects us to be happy with what it has achieved. This is too important to turn into a partisan football between opposition and government. This is the national security oversight committee for this country, and that is why this is so bitterly disappointing.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 12:53 [p.10012]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend and colleague from Winnipeg for connecting the dots between what is happening here with Bill C-22 and what is happening all this week, as Canadians have observed, as the government decides to change the rules of democracy in this place on its own. The Liberals are calling it a discussion paper, putting a happy face on it, and using words like “modernization”, as if somehow Canadians will miss the fact that they are changing it without the support of other parties.
I never thought we would be here. I honestly did not think we would be here on Bill C-22. I cannot believe that a compromise that was achieved in a committee to say yes to this would somehow now be the subject of 11th-hour changes that take away our ability to agree to this. I was so hopeful that we could get this together as Canadians and put together a committee, security-cleared, in a non-partisan way, to review classified information and other information and get to the bottom of operational activities of some agencies that have never had any oversight whatsoever. Yet here we are, and that is why we are so disappointed.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 12:56 [p.10012]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my honourable colleague for her excellent question. She put her finger on something that has not been said enough. It is not so much that the operational oversight would be solely about making sure, if you will, that the agencies stayed within the rules, and therefore Canadians' civil liberties would be protected. She pointed out that it is also about improving safety. If the committee has the tools to do the job, it might find mismanagement of certain agencies and that we could do better in protecting the safety of Canadians.
That is one reason that the idea of having a parliamentary committee was put in place. Just as Parliament oversees the executive generally, we have a specific focal point within Parliament to get the job done.
The hon. member also pointed out what this government, for reasons that absolutely escape me, does not want to do, which is to give the committee the power that every standing committee has, namely to subpoena information and get people to come with the evidence the committee needs to do its job. They do not even want to do that.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 13:18 [p.10015]
Mr. Speaker, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House for the following motion. I move:
That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the honourable member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue may provide written notice to the Clerk of the House of her desire to seek leave to introduce a bill standing in her name on the Order Paper and designate another Member to move the appropriate motions on her behalf; the designated Member may move the motions for the introduction and first reading of the bill provided that: a) the designated Member is eligible to participate in Private Members' Business pursuant to Standing Order 87; b) the notice is received not less than one sitting day prior to the introduction of the bill; and c) the Order for second reading of the bill shall stand in the name of the honourable member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-20 12:10 [p.9698]
Madam Speaker, I join with my colleague from the Conservative Party, the official opposition, in registering serious concern about the government's actions today.
The experts we have talked to on security and intelligence issues are frustrated by the fact that these amendments, done at the last moment at report stage, weaken the oversight that is available. That we would proceed with only government support for such a critical initiative on national security and intelligence is a matter that should disappoint all Canadians. This is the government's sole response to the controversial Bill C-51, which the Liberal government, while in opposition, supported. They agree that these amendments would weaken the job parliamentarians would be asked to do.
Why is the government not willing to allow time for all parties to try to seek consensus on this bill? My colleagues and I are standing ready to work with the hon. House leader and with these experts. Why is the government refusing to work with us?
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-08 15:47 [p.9533]
Mr. Speaker, in respect of Motion No. 4, which would remove the committee's power to subpoena witnesses and documents, why was this change removed? Why do we no longer have, as we would have had with the public safety committee's report, the opportunity to compel information? This is something that every parliamentary committee has but this one would not.
I understand that this was proposed, the idea of a subpoena power, by a Liberal member on that committee. It was also a feature of a Liberal private member's bill, Bill C-622, which was supported by the current Prime Minister, the current Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the future chair of this committee, among other current cabinet ministers.
Why, therefore, did the Liberals feel it necessary to remove such a fundamental power from this committee?
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-08 16:06 [p.9535]
Mr. Speaker, I supported Bill C-22 at second reading because the NDP is firmly committed to finally bringing effective and transparent oversight to our security and intelligence services. I recognized the flaws in the government's first draft, but I had faith that the parties could smooth its rough edges with the help of expert advice at the public safety committee. That faith was rewarded. All parties came together around evidence-based amendments. The bill that emerged from that committee is stronger, now has the endorsement of most experts, and could earn the support of all parties and the trust of Canadians.
That is why it is so very disappointing to see these last-minute proposals. They would roll back the progress made by all parties at committee and, in the words of four leading academic experts, “undermin[e] a new and historic Parliamentary ability”. I am firmly opposed to these proposals. We simply cannot reverse the progress made at committee and reject the evidence that guided it. With each passing day, the government's intransigence looks less like prudence and more like the reflexive rejection of contrary evidence that, sadly, became a hallmark of our last government.
Let me say a word first to the women and men of our security intelligence community, who no doubt are following this debate and wondering how it will affect the critically important work they do for us every day. As a former legal counsel to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, I know that to be effective, we need the trust of Canadians. To support the work, we need an authoritative, security-cleared committee of parliamentarians to bridge the gap between Canadians and their security services. Only when such a committee exists and speaks with authority can we give Canadians not just assurances but proof that their security and their civil liberties are protected.
The first thing we need to set straight about Bill C-22 is the idea that experts support the government's new design. This week, the public safety minister answered my criticism of these regressive amendments with a single brief quotation from a piece that Professor Craig Forcese wrote a year ago entitled “Knee Jerk First Reaction”. What has he said since? In November, Professor Forcese testified at the public safety committee as follows: “I would strongly urge...full access to information”. He warned that anything less would “give the appearance of accountability without the substance”. Calling for three key parts of the bill to be radically amended, he said, “These are all means to deny access to the committee.” He also said, “It is this triple lock on parliamentary reviews that I feel could well make the committee of parliamentarians stumble.”
What did the other experts say at the committee? The Information Commissioner of Canada rejected cabinet's ability to shut down investigations, saying it turned the committee's mandate into “a mirage”. Craig Forcese, Professor Kent Roach, and Ron Atkey, the founding chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and Parliament's own Interim Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security all recommended lifting restrictions on access to information and giving this committee full access. After all, people get 14 years in jail if they break a secret and leak information. After all, being cleared top secret is not good enough, apparently, for the government. The public safety committee implemented this expert recommendation, but now the government seeks to reverse it.
With that expert testimony in mind, let us consider the government's new proposals. First, the government wants to remove the oversight committee's power to subpoena witnesses and documents. I would remind Canadians that this is a power that is enjoyed by every single statutory standing committee of Parliament, every one of them. It would be truly bizarre if our public safety committee could compel a witness to give testimony on the theory of subpoena powers, but this new top secret cleared committee could not wield the same power to fulfill the national security mandate.
The government's second proposal is to allow cabinet ministers to withhold information from the oversight committee. It is interesting that these two features, full access to information and the power to call witnesses, were proposed in a Liberal bill in 2014, Bill C-622. At that time, the current Prime Minister, the current public safety minister, and nine other members of today's Liberal cabinet voted for exactly what they now oppose.
Third, the government wants to add a senator and another government MP to the committee so that the votes of the government MPs will always outnumber those of non-government MPs.
The government's fourth proposal is to stop the committee from receiving information about all active law enforcement investigations all of the time. As Professor Forcese testified, the 1985 Air India bombing remains an active investigation some 30 years later. A more recent example might be the October 2014 attack on Parliament. In the aftermath of such an attack, would the proposal prevent the intelligence oversight committee from receiving necessary information about investigations?
As with many of the government's proposals on this bill, I do understand the intent. Oversight functions should not inadvertently impede operations, but the solution is a judgment and discussion, not clumsy statutory roadblocks. Remember that the Security Intelligence Review Committee has full access to any information held by CSIS, and yet the heads of both organizations testified that they have no concerns about this arrangement. They resolve issues through negotiation, not legislation. As the founding chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee testified, “Sometimes, as in Bill C-22, there is a tendency to over-legislate”.
However, there is still hope. It is vital for Canadians to understand that Parliament now has a choice between two paths. The first path is to impose these last-minute changes, reverse the work of the all-party committee on public safety, and reject the expert evidence it listened to. The second path is to withdraw these rollbacks, accept the evidence, respect the work of all parties on that committee, and pass the bill we already have. The current bill could still earn the unanimous support of this place and would give Canada a world-class oversight body worthy of the respect of our allies and the trust of Canadians. That is what the government throws away if it insists on undoing the progress made so far.
Let me address one of the government's favourite arguments, and we heard it here today, which is that we must scale back our ambitions and accept minimal progress on the theory that something is better than nothing. In response, I would cite one last piece of expert testimony, and that is the recommendation of the last parliamentary committee to study this issue. In 2004, the Interim Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security recommended the creation of an oversight body with complete access to information. It explained as follows:
Though this arguably goes further than the legislation enacted by some of our allies, it is in line with developing practice.... We strongly believe that a structure which must rely on the gradual evolution and expansion of access, powers, and remit would be inappropriate for Canada.
The British had a committee like this one and in 2013, after public criticism, they completely overhauled that committee, strengthening its powers and its independence. Why do we have to reinvent the wheel?
Since the government seems to insist on such a course, I have one last solution to offer and that is my Motion No. 7 on the Notice Paper, which calls for removing clause 31 from the bill. That is the clause that would block judicial review of a cabinet minister's decision to withhold information or shut down an investigation. If the government insists on hobbling this committee from the start, then the least we can do is remove our restriction whose sole purpose is to prevent the committee's powers from maturing over time. I would ask all members of this place to support that amendment as a counterbalance to the government's proposals here.
In closing, I regret that the government has chosen this course, but I cannot endorse the rejection of good all-party committee work and the rejection of expert evidence. I hope that some members on the government side will join us in opposing these sadly regressive amendments.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-08 16:18 [p.9537]
Mr. Speaker, this is the government's first and only response to date to Bill C-51, which it supported.
Ron Atkey was referenced just a moment ago by the member. However, on January 27, he, along with three other experts, wrote the following in The Globe and Mail:
Should the government choose to force a return to the restrictive original bill, it risks potentially undermining a new and historic Parliamentary ability that it has enthusiastically championed. Failure to reach agreement with Parliament on this issue also imperils non-partisan support for future national-security reforms and changes to other elements of the review system for national security.
It is a shame that for something so central as this, we cannot find common ground, that the government wants to revert to a time before the expert evidence was heard and before the committee did its good work to a time when we had an inadequate bill. The experts supported that. The NDP, for what it is worth, supported the bill as amended by committee. Now the government wants to roll it back and say that we should be happy with a half a loaf. This is not even 20% of a loaf, I am afraid.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-08 16:21 [p.9537]
Mr. Speaker, that same Prime Minister was in favour of broader access before but now it has changed.
I want to remind Canadians that this committee is unlike any other. All committees of Parliament have the ability to compel information and get the witnesses they need to do their job, but this one does not. We have to rely on the Prime Minister's Office. It is essentially an advisory committee of parliamentarians, senators and MPs to the Prime Minister . It is very different. The Prime Minister chooses the chair, which he already has. One might wonder why that is a problem. I would point out that England went through same process. Now it is the members of the committee who choose the chair. Germany alternates between an opposition and a government member.
The Liberals did not need to do this. They have hobbled the committee. The member asked what the consequences are. It is the lack of trust that Canadians must have in our security and intelligence services and the excellent work they do to protect us each and every day. We need to have that trust. This committee will not do the job.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-08 17:00 [p.9543]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and member of the justice committee for his thoughtful speech.
I wonder if he could comment on the government's assertion we have heard over and over today that it is a good first step, it will be reviewed in three years, and we should be satisfied with the bill, notwithstanding that five of the eight MPs now, contrary to what I think I heard, are government members of Parliament, and the Liberals have another senator they have agreed they want to put on there. The chair would be appointed by the Prime Minister, not as it happens in England, or elsewhere where the committee chooses who its chair will be.
It is, of course, an advisory group to the Prime Minister's Office rather than a committee of Parliament as in other countries. With all of those changes that the Liberals want to bring in today, does the member believe that this is an approach we should accept, that this is good enough for Canada right now?
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View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-08 17:16 [p.9545]
Mr. Speaker, the member referred to Professor Wesley Wark who, along with three other experts, on January 27 of this year, wrote as follows in The Globe and Mail:
What united us was a concern that the government, in pursuing a laudable objective, had simply gone too far in restricting access by the Committee to secret information and in attempting to control the kind of reporting it could do.
He goes on to support the committee recommendations that, of course, we supported, as well.
A Liberal bill a few years back, Bill C-622, allowed the committee, in its oversight capacity, to subpoena witnesses and documents and get the information it thought it would require. That was supported by the current Prime Minister, the current public safety minister, the future chair of this committee, and many other current cabinet ministers. Does the member think they were wrong?
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