C-51 is enough of an improvement that I am going to vote for it

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I find myself surprised to have a speaking spot tonight. For that I want to thank the New Democratic Party. We do not agree about this bill, but it was a generous gesture to allow me to speak to it.

I have been very engaged in the issue of anti-terrorism legislation for many years. I followed it when, under Prime Minister Chrétien, the anti-terrorism legislation went through this place immediately after 9/11. Although I was executive director of the Sierra Club, I recall well my conversations with former MP Bill Blaikie, who sat on the committee, and we worried as legislation went forward that appeared to do too much to limit our rights as Canadians in its response to the terrorist threat.

That was nothing compared to what happened when we had a shooting, a tragic event in October 2014, when Corporal Nathan Cirillo was murdered at the National War Memorial. I do not regard that event, by the way, as an act of terrorism, but rather of one individual with significant addiction and mental health issues, something that could have been dealt with if he had been allowed to have the help he sought in British Columbia before he came to Ottawa and committed the horrors of October 22, 2014.

It was the excuse and the opening that the former government needed to bring in truly dangerous legislation. I will never forget being here in my seat in Parliament on January 30. It was a Friday morning. One does not really expect ground-shaking legislation to hit without warning on a Friday morning in this place. There was no press release, no briefing, no telling us what was in store for us. I picked up Bill C-51, an omnibus bill in five parts, and read it on the airplane flying home, studied it all weekend, and came back here. By Monday morning, February 2, I had a speaking spot during question period and called it the “secret police act”.

I did not wait, holding my finger to the wind, to see which way the political winds were blowing. The NDP did that for two weeks before they decided to oppose it. The Liberals decided they could not win an election if they opposed it, so they would vote for it but promised to fix it later.

I am afraid some of that is still whirling around in this place. I will say I am supporting this effort. I am voting for it. I still see many failures in it. I know the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety have listened. That is clear; the work they did in the consultation process was real.

Let me go back and review why Bill C-51 was so very dangerous.

I said it was a bill in five parts. I hear the Conservatives complaining tonight that the government side is pushing Bill C-59 through too fast. Well, on January 30, 2015, Bill C-51, an omnibus bill in five parts, was tabled for first reading. It went all the way through the House by May 6 and all the way through the Senate by June 9, less than six months.

This bill, Bill C-59, was tabled just about a year ago. Before it was tabled, we had consultations. I had time to hold town hall meetings in my riding specifically on public security, espionage, our spy agencies, and what we should do to protect and balance anti-terrorism measures with civil liberties. We worked hard on this issue before the bill ever came for first reading, and we have worked hard on it since.

I will come back to Bill C-51, which was forced through so quickly. It was a bill in five parts. What I came to learn through working on that bill was that it made Canadians less safe. That was the advice from many experts in anti-terrorism efforts, from the leading experts in the trenches and from academia, from people like Professor Kent Roach and Professor Craig Forcese, who worked so hard on the Air India inquiry; the chair of the Air India inquiry, former judge John Major; and people in the trenches I mentioned earlier in debate tonight, such as Joseph Fogarty, an MI5 agent from the U.K. who served as anti-terrorism liaison with Canada.

What I learned from all of these people was Bill C-51 was dangerous because it would put in concrete silos that would discourage communication between spy agencies. That bill had five parts.

Part 1 was information sharing. It was not about information sharing between spy agencies; it was about information sharing about Canadians to foreign governments. In other words, it was dangerous to the rights of Canadians overseas, and it ignored the advice of the Maher Arar inquiry.

Part 2 was about the no-fly list. Fortunately, this bill fixes that. The previous government never even bothered to consult with the airlines, by the way. That was interesting testimony we got back in the 41st Parliament.

Part 3 I called the “thought chill” section. We heard tonight that the government is not paying attention to the need remove terrorist recruitment from websites. That is nonsense. However, part 3 of Bill C-51 created a whole new term with no definition, this idea of terrorism in general, and the idea of promoting terrorism in general. As it was defined, we could imagine someone would be guilty of violating that law if they had a Facebook page that put up an image of a clenched fist. That could be seen as promotion of terrorism in general. Thank goodness we got that improved.

In terms of thought chill, it was so broadly worded that it could have caused, for instance, someone in a community who could see someone was being radicalized a reasonable fear that they could be arrested if they went to talk to that person to talk them out of it. It was very badly drafted.

Part 4 is the part that has not been adequately fixed in this bill. This is the part that, for the first time ever, gave CSIS what are called kinetic powers.

CSIS was created because the RCMP, in response to the FLQ crisis, was cooking up plots that involved, famously, burning down a barn. As a result, we said intelligence gathering would have to be separate from the guys who go out and break up plots, because we cannot have the RCMP burning down barns, so the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was created. It was to be exclusively about collecting information, and then the RCMP could act on that information.

I think it is a huge mistake that in Bill C-59 we have left CSIS kinetic powers to disrupt plots. However, we have changed the law quite a bit to deal with CSIS’s ability to go to a single judge to get permission to violate our laws and break the charter. I wish the repair in Bill C-59 was stronger, but it is certainly a big improvement on Bill C-51.

Part 5 of Bill C-51 is not repaired in Bill C-59. I think that is because it was so strangely worded that most people did not ever figure out what it was about. I know professors Roach and Forcese left part 5 alone because it was about changes to the immigration and refugee act. It really was hard to see what it was about. However, Professor Donald Galloway at the University of Victoria law school said part 5 is about being able to give a judge information in secret hearings about a suspect and not tell the judge that the evidence was obtained by torture, so I really hope the Minister of Public Safety will go back and look at those changes to the refugee and immigration act, and if that is what they are about, it needs fixing.

Let us look at why the bill is enough of an improvement that I am going to vote for it. By the way, in committee I did bring forward 46 amendments to the bill on my own. They went in the direction of ensuring that we would have special advocates in the room so that there would be someone there on behalf of the public interest when a judge was giving a warrant to allow a CSIS agent to break the law or violate the charter. The language around what judges can do and how often they can do it and what respect to the charter they must exercise when they grant such a warrant is much better in this bill, but it is still there, and it does worry me that there will be no special advocate in the room.

I cannot say I am wildly enthusiastic about Bill C-59, but it is a huge improvement over what we saw in the 41st Parliament in Bill C-51.

The creation of the security intelligence review agency is something I want to talk about in my remaining minutes.

This point is fundamental. This was what Mr. Justice John Major, who chaired the Air India inquiry, told the committee when it was studying the bill back in 2015: He told us it is just human nature that the RCMP and CSIS will not share information and that we need to have pinnacle oversight.

There is review that happens, and the term “review” is post facto, so SIRC, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, would look at what CSIS had done over the course of the year, but up until this bill we have never had a single security agency that watched what all the guys and girls were doing. We have CSIS, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Communications Security Establishment—five different agencies all looking at collecting intelligence, but not sharing. That is why having the security intelligence review agency created by this bill is a big improvement.

Nick Whalen – Member for St. John’s East

Mr. Speaker, the member brings a lot of context to bear on some of the questions that were referred to earlier in comparing it to Bill C-59.

The member for Calgary Shepard actually asked me about a proposed amendment the Conservatives brought forward to Bill C-59 at committee about changing the word “promote” to the words “advocate” or “counsel”. There was a brief moment in the member’s speech when she referred to some reasons why that would not be a good amendment. Maybe she could elaborate on it. Her answer to the member for Calgary Shepard’s question might be better than mine was.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, this was a very troubling provision about what kind of information posted on social media could lead to criminal charges and jail. Bill C-51 talked about the previously unknown concept of “terrorism in general”. What did it mean? Nobody knew. The concept of promoting “terrorism”, on the other hand, or “counselling” terrorist activities, makes sense to anyone within a legal context. “Promoting” is vague; “counselling” is clear. “Terrorism in general” is vague; “terrorism” is clear.

Counselling terrorism is a clearly understood and defined offence and therefore useful for security and protecting public safety. The way it was phrased in Bill C-51 was thought-chill over who knows what, but it was essentially draconian.

Robert Aubin – Member for Trois-Rivières

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her remarks, which are always well contextualized.

We are talking about a fundament law that seeks to ensure the safety of all Canadians and protect their individual freedoms. Does my colleague not find it a bit odd that a time allocation motion has been moved on such a fundamental law?

Elizabeth May

We do not always share the same opinions and we sometimes vote differently, but does my colleague not find it odd that, rather than coming up with the best possible bill, the Liberals are putting us in a situation where we will have to vote on the least bad option?

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague.

I will always oppose time allocation motions. They are undemocratic and demonstrate a lack of respect for MPs. Unfortunately, in June 2018, closure has been imposed many times and the debates are too short.

Nevertheless, Bill C-59 constitutes a significant improvement when it comes to protecting Canadians’ rights and ensuring their safety.

Sean Fraser – Member for Central Nova

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure when the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has the opportunity to partake in debate, particularly when it is one as important as this.

Over the course of the debate and in the consultations ahead of time, much attention has been given to the specific wording used in the legislation, but I would like to shift gears and consider the social context in which an important piece of legislation like this exists, as compared to Bill C-51.

My wife was working for a civil liberties organization at the time Bill C-51 was coming through the last Parliament, and one of the things that greatly disturbed me was that there were members of the Muslim community she had worked with who expressed that because of the measures included in Bill C-51, and the general tenor of the government at the time and the anti-Muslim bent it had, there were people who previously came to some of their public education seminars who refused to keep coming, because they feared that the government would be watching them.

These are the very people we should be engaging with to ensure that they are bringing positive messages about the good relationship the government can have with minority communities back to their communities to foster a healthy relationship.

I am curious if the hon. member has any commentary on the importance of public education and outreach to minority communities when we are dealing with legislation that could impact rights, particularly when racial profiling is so important in this case.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I remember well the climate of fear that Bill C-51 created. I remember meeting with young, Canadian-born Islamic women who told me that for the first time in their whole lives, they felt afraid and did not feel welcome. That climate has been largely pushed back, and I give credit to everyone in this place, but it is on all sides and all parties to push back on Islamophobia.

Getting back to part 3 of Bill C-51, it is important that we not try to limit, in any way, the ability of, for instance, a local imam to reach out to people in that community and tell them, “Do not listen to so-and-so. That is a misunderstanding of Quran. This is the real Quran, which is one that has nothing to do with violence.” That is an important feature that Bill C-59 helps protect.