Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak today to Bill C-13. It is a sad moment because this bill contains all the flaws it had at first reading.
I want to also put on the record that I regret the Speaker’s decision. I understand the Speaker’s reasoning, but I would have fully supported the request by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for that amendment to be selected. That is an important issue of gender identity and ending discrimination, and I think it is a shame that we missed the opportunity today to have that amendment before the House of Commons.
The point was well made just moments ago by my hon. colleague from Charlottetown that it is a terrible shame that the bill was not divided. There is no doubt that easy passage would have created a bill that genuinely dealt with cyberbullying and did not, once again, resurface efforts at what is called “lawful access” but which is generally known in common parlance as Internet snooping by the state into the private lives of Canadians.
There are many troubling aspects on the Internet snooping or lawful access part of the bill that has bedevilled the part that we all would want to support to genuinely deal with cyberbullying. Therefore, my comments will be in relation to those portions that should have been split out, dealt with separately, and not brought forward as though there is nothing wrong with them. Those are the sections that relate to so-called lawful access.
Those sections that deal with the release of private information and private communications of Canadians under much less stringent circumstances than in the past, contrary to what the Minister of Justice said just moments ago, is very worrying. Had it not been worrying, we would not have seen such strong statements from various of our privacy commissioners, our former federal privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, and the Ontario privacy commissioner, Commissioner Cavoukian.
Many privacy experts have spoken out and said the bill would, as have so many other bills that have been put forward by the Conservative administration, violate our charter rights, certainly violate our privacy rights. The Canadian Bar Association and the Criminal Lawyers’ Association have spoken out strongly, saying sections of the bill, with modest changes, could be made acceptable. However, those changes were all shot down in committee.
This is a case where, as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands and as leader of the Green Party, I was invited—I suppose that is the right term, “coerced” might be the one that comes to mind more often—by the new process that applies to members in my position, those with fewer than 12 members in the party in the House or independents, with 48 hours notice to come before various different committees. I brought forward a dozen or so amendments on Bill C-13 to the committee on this issue to try to deal with those sections where we would now ask for deletions. We would like to see the bill improved even now at report stage. Unfortunately, all my arguments were shot down and all the amendments were defeated.
In short form, I will cover the basic themes of what we find. Of course, some of themes have been well touched on by the hon. member for Gatineau in her quite strong explanation of what is wrong with the bill.
The provisions that allow for the telecom companies’ voluntary disclosure of private information to be held harmless against any subsequent prosecutions are unnecessary. In fact, we now have the Spencer decision, which has been referenced as well this afternoon, that makes it clear that the bill is out of step with the Supreme Court. We do not need to make it easier for telecom companies to voluntarily turn information over without a warrant and without some of the protections that we used to see in other descriptions of when such information could be turned over.
The fact that we can see various levels of public officials asking for such information is worrying, in and of itself. The fact that they can do it voluntarily and be immune from prosecution is a further worry that we will have significantly more invasions of privacy in the guise of doing something about cyberbullying.
The second area of concern is the lack of accountability and oversight. We used to require that the police have reason to suspect. Now it is a watered-down provision.
We need to have more oversight when we are dealing with issues of privacy. In this Internet age, we are more aware than ever that the private information of Canadians, the kinds of things that we used to keep in our homes under lock and key, that a stranger would have to knock down the doors and rifle through our cabinets to get, now through technological breakthroughs and the Internet is easily accessible by the state through the simple process of pressuring a telecom to release the information to us. This is a significant threat to privacy rights in Canada.
Should this bill pass as currently before us? If it does, it would be a significant violation. It would inevitably lead to violations of the privacy rights of Canadians.
The other piece that has been widely criticized in this bill is the scope of public officers who can have access to this information. It has become too broad.
Justin Ling, who has a good sense of humour, had an opinion piece in the National Post on May 4, 2014. I know it was something of a spoof, but it was certainly a telling way to make the point that the list of public officers who would have unprecedented access to the private information of Canadians would extend to the current mayor of Toronto. Now, while he certainly is dealing with a personal tragedy in his life, and we hope nothing but the best for his health and recovery, the point was made that we do not want to have the private information of Canadians so widely accessible to such a broad group of individuals. Of course, it would also include CSEC, the Communications Security Establishment Canada. It would also include CSIS, as well as public officers of all kinds, including mayors.
This is not the kind of oversight, accountability, and control Canadians would come to expect when the apparatus of the state decides to reduce the tests and lower the threshold for having access to the private information of Canadians.
We will certainly have debate on this. In know that the hon. member who is now the Minister of Justice will have defences and will say that it absolutely does not reduce privacy rights. Why then do so many privacy commissioners think it does? If it does not intrude on civil liberties, then why do the major law organizations and legal scholars in this country say that it does?
There are a lot of members of Parliament on the other side of this place who describe themselves, in their own conversations, as libertarians. They distrust the state. They distrust government reaching into their private lives. I ask them this: How have they gotten so far from a distrust of the state to a cult of Big Brother? I am wondering how it happened that we have moved from a nanny state to a Big Brother state. If the government wants this information about Canadians, those of us on this side of the House who want to defend privacy rights, as a former minister, Vic Toews, said in this place, somehow “…stand with us or with the child pornographers”. Are we to continue to hear that when we stand for the privacy rights of Canadians, we do not care enough about ending cyberbullying?
It is not too late, still, to split this bill and allow us on the opposition benches to strongly support the measures that will protect the vulnerable from cyberbullying, but please, let us draw the line at letting Big Brother have more access to private information. This bill goes too far, and they know it.