Reflecting on C51, C22 and the Parliamentary Security Committee

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-22. I had not thought that we would see government amendments at report stage that undo a lot of the good work that has been done by the committee.

I approach this issue by first saying I support the creation of a national security committee of parliamentarians. I learned a great deal about the intelligence business, the security business, and where Canada stands within our Five Eyes partners, in the efforts to fight Bill C-51 in the last Parliament. I still hope that the review that is being undertaken right now by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Justice will lead to massive changes in the five different bills, and others, that were amended through that omnibus bill known as Bill C-51, which set up CSIS, for the first time since its creation, as a body that can “disrupt” thoughts, act as having a kinetic function, as the experts call it.

There is nothing right now within our security agencies that ensures that there is any oversight, unlike our other Five Eyes partners, as the hon. government House leader mentioned. We do not have any oversight for a number of the bodies at all. We have no oversight for CSIS. There had been oversight of CSIS up until the moment of omnibus Bill C-38 in the spring of 2012, which eliminated an adviser to the Minister of Public Safety to warn him or her if CSIS was going amok. That position was eliminated, so there is no oversight of CSIS; rather, there is review of CSIS. There is no oversight of the RCMP; rather, there is review of the RCMP. There is neither oversight nor review of the Canada Border Services Agency. For the Communications Security Establishment Canada, which is a very strange body that collects and downloads massive amounts of metadata, there is neither oversight nor review.

We have all of these different intelligence agencies, therefore, it is of critical importance that we do two things. We must rein in and undo the damage and the potential chaos created for security agencies by Bill C-51. I say this parenthetically. I want to get to Bill C-22. However, I need to say that my opposition to what was done in the 41st Parliament in what was known as Bill C-51 was not exclusively with respect to concerns about civil liberties. Those are concerns, but I have heard from security experts in the course of a review of that bill. It is clear to me that, failing to ensure coordination between and among all of these agencies, while giving CSIS the right to be active in kinetic operations, to be able to have CSIS offer people they are surveilling basically a get-out-of-jail-free card, a prospective guarantee that they will never be arrested or put into the judicial system, without any alert to the RCMP that this has happened, the one hand will not know what the other is doing. The creation of the national security committee of parliamentarians will not address that threat, although we will have to address this concern. It has been one that has been well known since the inquiry into the Air India disaster where if there had been coordination enforced between the different security agencies, that disaster, the single largest terrorist act on Canadian soil ever, could have been avoided. That was certainly the opinion of the Air India inquiry.

Coming back to Bill C-22, I support the creation of a committee of parliamentarians. However, I am baffled by the changes that have just taken place. I turn to the leading Canadian experts in this, Kent Roach and Craig Forcese, professors of law, both of whom played a role in the Air India inquiry. They are the authoritative experts to whom I turn. Certainly, Professor Craig Forcese is baffled by the limitation on what parliamentarians will be allowed to know. I mentioned in my question earlier to the government House leader that these restrictions do not apply to the people who serve on the Security Intelligence Review Committee, SIRC, to which civilian non-elected people are appointed. For the purpose of pointing out that the appointment process can have gaps with respect to security, let us not forget that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed the now late committed fraudster Arthur Porter as the chair of SIRC. Arthur Porter did not have the restrictions that Bill C-22 would now put on parliamentarians, who are elected, who take an oath, and who have an understanding of their responsibilities.

My amendment to the bill is to delete section 12, which is the section that limits the MPs’ access to parliamentary privilege. It is what Craig Forcese has called the triple lock on what MPs and senators are allowed to know.

Parliamentarians sitting on this committee have already sworn allegiance to Canada. They will go through security checks. The way the bill is currently written, it is not as though there is no check on their access to information or risk of their revealing information. The Canada Evidence Act would apply, section 38. Even as these government amendments are rolling forward, Professor Forcese has noted that it would be probably better to rely on court and the Canada Evidence Act than on these very restrictive moves in terms of what parliamentarians can know, an overly generous discretion on the point of what ministers can withhold, as well as getting rid of what was a very good amendment achieved in committee of giving the committee subpoena powers.

I have to say that it is just simply baffling that the government has taken such a restrictive view on what parliamentarians can be allowed to know. I will just note that this is from an article by Professor Forcese titled, “Stronger Bill C-22 Goes Back to the House”. This was before the government amendments came forward. He noted that, “C-22 committee members will be surrendering parliamentary privileges and will be permanently bound by secrecy under the Security of Information Act (and therefore subject to criminal sanction for violating secrecy rules).”

I think the government, with all due respect, has overreacted to very good amendments that were passed by the committee, and this is a larger point as well. We are often told in this place that we should rush legislation through second reading so that it can go to committee where the committee will do the good work. We now have a fair litany of times where the Liberal government, with its majority, has decided to ignore the good work of committees.

The first was, of course, the committee that dealt with medically assisted death. That advice was completely overlooked in the drafting of Bill C-14. We have the committee work, on the committee on which I served, the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, and that is a very sad story because we need to get back to that, but very good work was done.

For the first time since 1867, when the British North America Act said Canada will use the voting system from Westminster until such time as its Parliament chooses its own voting system, we had Parliament recommend a voting system and a way forward, and that was rejected. Now this committee’s work has been rejected and, I think, hastily.

There is a way forward here. There is an appropriate balance. I do believe that the parliamentary committee struck that balance, and it is really important to remember that what the committee is looking at is already protected in many ways.

The U.K. parliamentary committee has never had a problem with breaching secrecy. One of the experts who testified in Bill C-51, Joe Fogarty from U.K. MI5, testified that there just simply were not problems. Parliamentarians instructed with the duty to maintain confidentiality have done so.

I also point out the precedent that the New Zealand Parliament has a very similar committee, and the New Zealand members of Parliament who serve on that committee do not have to surrender parliamentary privilege. It is explicitly preserved under the New Zealand model.

It leaves one wondering why the government has chosen to undo the good work of committee, further undermining the proper role of legislated deliberation in committee coming back to this place at report stage, doing serious damage to the work that was done by the committee, leaving, I fear, greater uncertainty as to how the committee will function and still wondering why is it that in taking measures to restrict the information that parliamentarians have, the independent expert national security review bodies, SIRC and the CSE commissioner, are not given the same set of handcuffs.

I do not think it makes sense. I urge the government to reconsider and accept my amendment.


Kevin Lamoureux – Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the words the leader of the Green Party has put on the record, and understand her concerns, but I would like to emphasize that this is important. As the government House leader has put on the record, Canada is now going to have this parliamentary oversight committee. The other countries associated with the Five Eyes, U.S.A., England, Australia, and New Zealand, already have a parliamentary oversight committee, so this is a very strong, positive step forward.

Within the legislation there is accommodation for us to review it. Would she not agree it is absolutely critical that as we move forward we get it right? There is always going to be room for improvement in the future. Even though there might be a sense of disappointment from some members of the House, there will be opportunities for us to review it. Would she not agree that the legislation being proposed through amendment is good legislation in its own right?


Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, as I said at the outset of my speech, I believe the creation of a national security committee of parliamentarians is a good step forward. I lament that what has been done today with government amendments at report stage undoing good work at the committee is both regrettable and unnecessary.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault – Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

With regard to the work that was done in committee, it is not unprecedented, but it is still rather rare for such changes to be made when a bill comes back to the House after being examined in committee.

We are talking about a committee with a majority of government members. I assume that they examined the bill in good faith. The committee proposed amendments to the bill to improve it. We expect the committees to improve bills when they examine them. I thought that that was what the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security did. However, when the bill came back to the House, the government undid most of the work that was done in committee.

Does the member think that government will show so little consideration for the work of committees going forward? What message does this send to all of the committees that examine government bills and that will be sending bills on other subjects back to the House?


Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I am afraid it is a very bad signal.

I thank my colleague from Sherbrooke. I completely agree. Genetic discrimination is another example, and we are going to be voting on that soon.

It is very lamentable this pattern of changes to bills that have been reviewed by committee. As the member noted quite rightly, with the exception of the parliamentary committee on electoral reform, all of the committees I have already referenced had a majority of Liberals present. The Liberal members on the committee that studied Bill C-22 must be feeling as cut off at the knees as I was when the mandate letter for the minister of electoral reform was changed.

This is a place of deliberation, and preferably non-partisan, collegial deliberation. I am afraid the amendments to Bill C-22 put forward today at report stage at the larger level of abstraction on how we function as a parliament will be damaged.