I am serious, Mr. Speaker, and the member knows that is what happens. It happens at my committee. Members follow that direction. They are members in their own right; they can stand on their own two feet. What I am saying is that the process has to change if we are going to make this legislation good legislation. I ask members to really look at this issue seriously and not to take direction in that fashion. There is concern about the civil liberties of Canadians and freedom of expression. We have to listen to those witnesses.
I want to give an example of what a couple of people I have talked to have to said, people whom we will put forward as witnesses. First, there is quite a series of articles in the press these days by two individuals, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach. They have a paper they sent us that is close to 40 pages long. They are doing a summary of the key concerns with the bill. This is what they say at the beginning of the summary:
If Bill C-51 passes, CSIS will be expressly authorized to “take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce” very broadly defined “threats to the security of Canada”. Where authorized by Federal Court warrant, these “measures” may “contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” or may be “contrary to other Canadian law”.
It does not matter whether I agree or disagree with that statement. There is a concern expressed there that we should look at seriously. These two individuals admit it themselves. They add an additional word relevant to this in a document dealing with CSIS. They say:
We are legal academics who have been researching and writing on issues of national security law (Canadian, international and comparative) for a sum total of 26 person years (between the two of us).... We are, in other words, an occasional and minor part of the national security “accountability sector”, to the extent that such a thing exists in Canada.
These people have a point of view. They have an expression of interest that we ought to listen to.
I also met with the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, which also has concerns. That association was founded in 1998 by a small group of Toronto based Canadian Muslim lawyers. It has over 300 members across Canada and active chapters in Ontario and Quebec. The association states:
Bill C-51 is deeply flawed legislation that should not become law. Before we begin to integrate and concentrate power in government agencies on national security matters, we should first implement the remedial findings of many commissions of inquiry into the matter, most notably the Arar Inquiry.
As national security functions become more integrated it makes sense that there is a concomitant and effective counterbalance in terms of independent review and oversight. Such a body would have jurisdiction over all national security agencies and functions, including CSIS, CSEC, the RCMP and a host of other agencies (some of them currently have no oversight).
That is their opinion. They are suggesting that there needs to be much broader oversight.
These are just two examples of witnesses that we need to listen to. However, in order to make the proper amendments, accept them, and bring in those ideas, the government has to be willing to make some amendments.
To turn specifically to the issue of oversight itself, sadly, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Safety, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and, today, the Minister of Justice have been misinforming Canadians. Let me repeat that. Some of the highest officers and political ministers in this land have been misinforming Canadians on what exists, and what is and is not in this bill. It really is troublesome that the top political office in the land either does not know the limits of the Security Intelligence Review Committee or has not been totally forthright. I do not know which it is.
Let me turn to what the Security Intelligence Review Committee itself has said. It said that it is not an oversight body. Let me turn to its annual report for 2013-14. On page 12 of that report, in section 2, it says:
An oversight body looks on a continual basis at what is taking place inside an intelligence service and has the mandate to evaluate and guide current actions in “real time.” SIRC is a review body, so unlike an oversight agency....
SIRC itself admits that it is not an oversight agency, but even if it were an oversight agency, which it is not, it is not broad enough to really review national security. If we look at schedule 3 of Bill C-51, another seven agencies have been included there. I think some of them were here before. We are adding the likes of the departments of health, national defence, and transport to SIRC, CSIS, CSEC, the RCMP, and police forces of local jurisdictions, all of which are involved in these security matters, and transferring information across departments. There needs to be a much broader oversight that even a slightly improved SIRC could handle.
I mentioned earlier the protections that we as a Liberal government put in place on the extended powers in the anti-terrorism act of 2001. There were sunset clauses in which laws would cease to exist. There was a mandatory review. In 2004, we recognized that there was still a greater need, which was for the oversight of all security agencies. As a result, an all-party committee was proposed and put in place. It held hearings and made some recommendations, and Bill C-81 was introduced. However, it died on the order paper. I will come back to that in a moment.
Simply put, a previous Liberal government introduced legislation to provide for oversight by parliamentarians similar to that of our Five Eyes partners, the U.K., the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Today, in The Globe and Mail, four former prime ministers put an article in the paper, signed by a number of justices and former attorneys general, et cetera, entitled: “A close eye on security makes Canadians safer”.
It starts by saying:
The four of us most certainly know the enormity of the responsibility of keeping Canada safe, something always front of mind for a prime minister.
They went on to say:
Yet we all also share the view that the lack of a robust and integrated accountability regime for Canada's national security agencies makes it difficult to meaningfully assess the efficacy and legality of Canada's national security activities. This poses serious problems for public safety and for human rights.
They went to say said:
Canada needs independent oversight and effective review mechanisms more than ever, as national security agencies continue to become increasingly integrated, international information sharing remains commonplace and as the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to expand with this new legislation.
People who have been in the same position as the Prime Minister are calling on the need for oversight. Such a security oversight agency was called for by a former public safety committee while the current Prime Minister was in office. In a report dated June 2009, tabled in the House of Commons, it called for that, in recommendation 5:
The Committee recommends, once again, that Bill C-81, introduced in the 38th Parliament [by a Liberal government], An Act to Establish the National Security Committee of Parliamentarians, or a variation of it, be introduced in Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
That recommendation was supported by six members who currently sit in the House: the member for Yorkton—Melville, who chaired that committee; the member for Oxford; the member for Brant; the member for Northumberland—Quinte West; the member for Edmonton—St. Albert; and the member for Wild Rose.
The previous recommendation for Bill C-81 was supported by the current Minister of Justice and the current Minister of State for Finance. What has happened to those members since the leadership changed and we have the current Prime Minister? How come they are not still calling for oversight? They know that SIRC is not oversight. SIRC has claimed that it is not oversight. Did they lose their voice? Do they not stand by what they previously believed in, what they held hearings on? Oversight is important, and that is what we must implement in this bill, as well as a number of other amendments we will be putting forward.
As a final point, I will report on what the British Intelligence and Security Committee does. The members of the committee are subject to the Official Secrets Act. In their annual report, they say this:
The Committee sets its own agenda and work programme. It takes evidence from Government Ministers, the Heads of the intelligence and security Agencies, officials from the intelligence community, and other witnesses as required.
They monitor on a day-to-day basis. They keep intelligence agencies honest. They protect on two sides, as Bill C-81 would have done. It would have ensured that security agencies are doing what they are supposed to do and second, that they are not going too far in terms of infringing on civil rights and freedoms.
Let me close with a quote from my leader in yesterday's speech:
We are hopeful that the government is serious about reaching across the aisle to keep Canadians safe, while protecting our rights and our values.
It can be done. We need sunset clauses. We need a mandatory statutory review, and we definitely need oversight. I am sure both the NDP and Liberal Party will have many amendments to improve the bill in other ways, but the government has to reach across the aisle and allow Parliament to work.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to this motion. I want to say right off that I appreciate the effort made by the hon. member to bring this matter forward. He is a very amiable member of this chamber, and I appreciate chatting with him from time to time on matters in the House.
I can fully understand, as I am sure everyone in the House understands, the frustration that would drive him to bring forward this motion. It is very hard for the independent members in this chamber, because they are not accorded the rights the parties are. That is what our system is. Why is the system that way? It is not that there are not a lot of changes that could be brought. New reforms have been proposed by the government side, individual members at least, and by our party.
Certainly, the way we operate in this place can be improved, but I think it is really important for us to recognize our responsibilities. We are here because we were elected, and we were elected in certain numbers, which resulted in three parties being represented in this place, and in certain numbers. We are between 90 and 100 members. The government has considerably more, another 20 or 30 members, and the Liberal Party has a certain number of members. Then we have some independents, who from time to time like to stand up and say that they are a party, but in fact, they are independent members.
Everyone here wants to make sure that everyone has a right to participate, because they too were elected by their constituencies. However, as a number have said who have been debating this motion, it is very important that we recognize the system and the way this place operates.
If I had my druthers, I would prefer that this place operate by consensus, but that is a dream for the far future. It is our dream in the New Democratic Party that this can best be achieved through proportional representation. Some of the members of the third party say they like that idea. Other members of that party say they like first past the post, because perhaps they could be the commanding party in the next election.
I think we have to recognize that our system is the system it is, and the electorate brings us forward and we are here representing the constituents. In so doing, we can change the system. We can try to improve it in some way.
One of the things we have tried to do on this side, certainly in our party, is try to be equitable in the way we represent our constituents. If others in this House had the opportunity to join our caucus, they would see a lot of the debate that goes on. One thing we have in common is that we agree that there should be gender balance. We agree that all regions of this country should have a voice in this place. We believe that both official languages should be represented in debates in the House, in question period, and in committee.
It is not always easy to bring that balance, but we certainly endeavour to do that, and we think it is a really important principle for this place that those basic principles be represented.
Unfortunately, while we know that the member means well and is trying to reform the place so that everyone has an equal, or at least a fair, voice, the proposals the member is bringing forward will not enable that to occur. Every member having a chance to ask a question per week would make it very difficult to provide any kind of cogent presentation in question period.
It is very important to recognize that the official opposition has a very important role in this place. It is our duty in the parliamentary system to hold the government of the day accountable, so it is very important that we have the opportunity to be strategic in doing that. To do that, we have to have the freedom to decide who will be raising the questions of the day.
The second aspect the member has raised is committees. Certainly in our party, we can recognize his frustration. We have our own frustrations as the official opposition. I myself have been very frustrated by the difference between this government and the same party but in a previous Parliament, where there was much more toing and froing on what we would discuss in committee, how we would discuss it, and the witnesses who would come forward. We also discussed amendments when the bill was before us, or even in a report.
There are enough frustrations. I do not think we need to make it more complicated with lotteries and those kinds of systems.
We have, from time to time, as some of my colleagues have pointed out, actually supported some of the initiatives of the independents. For example, we defended the rights of the independents when the government moved to constrain the right of independents to table amendments at report stage. We have been very clear. We should be given greater rights in this place.
We also supported the amendments to Bill C-23 proposed by one of my colleagues from the Edmonton area, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, that would have allowed independents to form riding associations and engage in fundraising between elections. We are open to good proposals that come forward and to giving everyone in this place who is duly elected greater opportunities to represent, speak to, and engage their constituents and speak for them when they come to this place.
Again, we have endeavoured to provide the same kind of balance in committees that we have in question period. We endeavour to have both official languages represented through our party, to have a gender balance, and most important of all, to develop expertise, which goes back to the proposals for changing question period. It is very important that the questions we bring forward are based in knowledge, experience, and work at the ground level on the issues of the day that are brought forward either by the government or other members in this place.
I would close by saying that I commend the efforts of the member in bringing the motion forward. He has taken his one spot to speak to a motion in this place to bring forward parliamentary reform. My hope is that the government will finally listen to our proposals and that we will bring together all the representatives in this place to come forward with procedures and policies to make sure that we actually work better together and co-operatively in the interest of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of tabling a petition signed by over 3,500 residents of Edmonton—St. Albert calling on this House to pass a resolution condemning the Chinese communist party's crime of systematically murdering Falun Gong practitioners for their organs and to amend Canadian laws to legislate against forced organ harvesting.
It is my pleasure to table this petition and I look forward to the government's response.
Mr. Speaker, I think the question was criticizing the platform the member was elected on. The electors of Edmonton—St. Albert sent him here to fight for income splitting, not to argue against it.
In terms of broad-based tax relief, that is exactly what the government has done with over $200 billion in tax relief, saving the average family $3,400 a year—that is before this most recent tax cut—bringing the total federal tax burden down to its lowest level as a share of our economy since the 1950s.
We are expanding the horizons of human freedom by reducing taxes, and we are proud of it.
The electoral district of Edmonton--St. Albert (Alberta) has a population of 126,447 with 95,226 registered voters and 233 polling divisions.
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