Elizabeth May on Bill C-51 (adjournment proceedings)

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to pursue an answer to a question I have asked repeatedly. The first time I asked it was February 2. I will review the question and the response I received from the hon. Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The question relates to Bill C-51, and it was this. I rose and stated: “I want to make it very clear that I completely agree with every word in today’s Globe and Mail editorial. I think every MP should read it.

This Parliament must not allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force. The words that are found in the definition of activities that affect the security of Canadians are so overly broad that I believe they could apply to almost anything.

Despite the inclusion of saying that it does not apply to lawful protest, would the minister tell us if this will apply to non-violent civil disobedience, such as that against pipelines?”

The response from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness was as follows: “Mr. Speaker, we live in a society of right. Any violence is going against the Criminal Code. Terrorism is a criminal act and those who go against the Criminal Code will meet the full force of the law. That is the country I live in and I love.”

Perhaps I can go back to review what The Globe and Mail had actually said that day, since that was the premise of the question and I thought everyone would have it fresh in their minds. The editorial in The Globe and Mail of February 2, 2015, was headlined thus: “Parliament must reject [the Prime minister’s] secret policeman bill”. I will excerpt one line from the first paragraph, which states: “Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.”

Just to focus on the point of the question that day, there is a great deal to discuss about Bill C-51. It is in five different acts and is therefore an omnibus bill. It focuses loosely on the concept of terrorism but is far broader and has implications, I believe, for all forms of all privacy for all Canadians, and those views are echoed by those of our Privacy Commissioner, Mr. Therrien.

It also extends the powers of CSIS to act not just as an intelligence-gathering operation but as an active operation. Law professors are referring to these actions as the “kinetic activities” of CSIS. Bill C-51 also has implications for the use of torture and obtaining security certificates, which is in part 5.

However, I was asking about the carve-out, so to speak, under part 1 of the act, which deals with the exchange of information throughout the Government of Canada. It has a definition of “security threats” that is extremely over-broad and could amount to almost anything, but says it does not apply to lawful protests, et cetera.

Earlier today in committee, the Minister of Justice was asked by the parliamentary secretary if there was any reason to be worried about the use of the word “lawful”, and he feigned complete ambivalence toward it. It was a complete surprise. Why would anyone be concerned?

I direct members of the House to the debates that took place in 2001 on changes to the Criminal Code when the anti-terrorism bill was first brought forward. In that instance, there was a specific debate around the use of the word “lawful” for the very reasons I raise: that it could catch non-violent civil disobedience and protest, particularly in a case like this, in a political climate in which opposition to pipelines has been conflated with opposition to Canada and has been treated as a potential security threat. We have RCMP reports on this sort of thing.

Back in 2001, the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, took out the word “lawful” so that it would cover all protests, but now nonviolent civil disobedience is clearly included in this bill, and the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness have refused an amendment to take it out.

Roxanne James: Mr. Speaker, before I answer some of the categorically false assertions made by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, I would like to remind this House of what might seem to be a very obvious statement.

The international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada and its allies; countries that believe in openness and tolerance. These terrorists hate our society and the values that it represents. We only need to look at recent events in France, Australia, Denmark and right here in Canada to know that there is no country that is immune to terrorism. That is why our Conservative government brought forward the anti-terrorism act, 2015. This legislation includes concrete measures that would protect Canadians against jihadi terrorists who seek to destroy the very principles that make Canada the best country in the world in which to live.

The member has raised concerns regarding information sharing, which is part 1 of the bill. Information sharing is absolutely essential. We think Canadians would expect that, if one branch of government has information pertaining to national security, this branch of government should be able to relay that information to another branch of government.

I think that most Canadians think that is actually already taking place. In fact, to be honest, before I was elected, I thought it was also taking place. However, that is simply not the case. We heard it again today in committee from our two ministers, from the RCMP and from CSIS, that this is absolutely not the case today. There are legislative gaps, and this bill is meant to fill those gaps from some of the concerns that our security agencies have indicated.

In fact, this legislation has adequate safeguards built in to protect the privacy of Canadians. We are not going to privilege the rights of terrorists over the rights of law-abiding Canadians.

I would remind members that the CSIS Act expressly forbids the investigation of lawful advocacy, protests, or dissent, which is a prohibition from which CSIS has never deviated. In fact, CSIS has a 30-year history of compliance with the law.

I would also remind members that it is the jihadist terrorists who seek to take away our freedoms and not the security agencies that are here to protect us.

Canadians understand that personal freedoms and security go hand in hand. Canadians expect the government to do both, to protect both, and that is precisely what we are doing in this legislation.

I would like to conclude my remarks tonight by quoting Dr. Barry Cooper, a research fellow at the Canada Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, who said recently that: “So let us state the obvious: Bill C-51 is aimed at violent Islamic jihadi terrorists, and those are the persons against whom its provisions are to be enforced. The reasons are clear enough provided one makes reference to facts and events of the real world, today…. Unlike their critics, the authors of Bill C-51 are sensible enough to have recognized the danger.”

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I wish I had more than a minute to respond to that effort of blaming the jihadist terrorist movement being at war with Canada. I agree with the leader of the Liberal Party on this, and I think that kind of language is unhelpful. We need to focus on terrorism, yes, and respond to it, but to state that Canada is at war, when we clearly are not at war, is unhelpful.

This bill does not aim at terrorists exclusively. It casts a very wide net. That is why four former prime ministers and former chief justices of the Supreme Court of Canada are very concerned about this bill. People who have looked at it and read it can see very clearly that the bill is not well drafted, it is confusing and it will not make us safer. Security experts can recognize that when we set up a secret police under CSIS that has no responsibility to report to the RCMP or share information with the RCMP, we make our society less safe.

I would point out in finishing that the member has ignored the question I asked once again by repeating again the words “lawful protest” and refusing to answer the question about non-violent civil disobedience.

Roxanne James: Mr. Speaker, the comments from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands are very concerning. In fact, just today she indicated and said that we are engaging in torture. She also said that we are engaging in extraordinary rendition. In fact, earlier, she even tabled a petition in this place disputing a tragedy that took place in the United States on 9/11.

I will say this as clearly as possible, as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness did earlier today: protesters are not the target of this legislation, but terrorists are.

Thirty years ago when the CSIS Act was first enacted, those opposed to security measures made precisely the same arguments, the same claims that the member opposite is making today. The advent of CSIS did not end democracy in Canada, as some had predicted. In fact, I would argue it made Canadians demonstrably safer. The same is going to be true of the legislation that we are discussing here today.