Remarks by Justin Trudeau on the Anti-terrorism Act

February 19, 2015

Check against delivery

Mr. Speaker, I do not have to tell anyone in the House today about the threat of terrorism and the fear it can instill within those who have witnessed it.

We all remember clearly the feelings we had in October as we heard and learned that an armed man had entered Centre Block with the intent to kill. We are still thankful for the heroism shown by our security services that day in keeping us safe during a difficult and confusing time.

Coming as it did only days after another, shameful, attack on members of our military, it was a horrible reminder of the murder in cold blood that some people are capable of committing.

No matter the motives, terrorism is designed to make us freeze in fear. It is designed to make us constantly question not only our own safety, but also the democratic institutions we have established to keep us safe. It is designed to make us question what is familiar and to suspect what would normally be insignificant.

Terrorism is designed to take us so far that we question everything we have built and everything that is good in our fair, just, and open society.

That is the point of terrorism, and it is when we willingly walk over that edge of our own accord that terrorism is ultimately successful. So let us step back from that edge.

Make no mistake, the Liberal Party is alert to the threats and we know that keeping Canadians safe in a manner that is consistent with Canadian values is our most sombre responsibility as legislators and community leaders. To ensure that we never lose sight of our Canadian values and never forget who we are, we should always aim to have both the security of Canadians and the protection of their rights and freedoms in mind when we set out to combat those threats.

I believe that Bill C-51, the government’s anti-terrorism act, takes some proper steps in that direction. We welcome the measures in Bill C-51 that build on the powers of preventative arrest, make better use of no-fly lists, and allow for more coordinated information sharing by government departments and agencies. However, Bill C-51 ought to be amended for a few reasons.

As I stated outside this House recently, the Liberal Party plans to bring forward amendments to Bill C-51, and I am happy to outline some of those proposed changes now.

One notable aspect of Bill C-51 is the changes it would make to the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Services, or CSIS.

In its current form, Bill C-51 would amend CSIS’s mandate, enabling the agency to intervene directly to address security threats, through clandestine and open operations.

That is a significant change to the current role of CSIS, which is to gather and analyze intelligence, while the RCMP is responsible for enforcing the law and taking action to counter security threats.

Yet we are now set to imbue CSIS with broad powers to disrupt not only real or perceived terrorist threats, but also real or perceived threats to economic and financial stability, critical infrastructure, and the security of other states.

The Liberal Party will be bringing forward amendments to narrow and clarify the overly broad scope of the new powers that have been a source of concern for many Canadians. If CSIS is given these new powers, we on this side believe that its mandate must be subject to much stricter supervision and review.

Canadians owe a lot to the security officials at CSIS, and the results of their work in the past have been evident. We know CSIS played key roles in disrupting plans to carry out violence against Canadians, including a plot to place bombs on VIA Rail passenger trains. However, we would now ask CSIS to do something new, and this new direction must be monitored so that we can be sure we are getting it right.

At the moment, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, or SIRC, reviews the work that CSIS does and reports to Parliament on those operations; but there seems to be some confusion in this House as to what SIRC actually does and what it does not do. This distinction is important, and it is the crux of a crucial change that we believe should be made to Bill C-51.

A couple of weeks ago, on February 4, the Prime Minister stated that “[SIRC] provides robust oversight”. However, this is not entirely correct.

SIRC is a review body and it does not fulfill an oversight role. The difference between the two is not merely a quibble over language. The two words are not synonymous. In fact, SIRC states so publicly itself. On page 12 of its annual report, SIRC clearly lays out the difference between a review function and that of oversight. 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.”

That is crucial and must be amended, if we are giving CSIS the new powers proposed in Bill C-51 in its current form.

Right now, SIRC can only examine the past activities of CSIS. It does not conduct any real-time monitoring to ensure that those activities are in line with our expectations and fall within the parameters that have been set.

There is no mechanism for fully transparent oversight of what is done for Canadians and against Canadians by our intelligence and security agencies. A part-time oversight agency is unable to keep up with CSIS’s rapidly changing operational environment, and it is unable to provide the necessary oversight.

One may ask what kind of change would ensure that these new powers CSIS is to be granted in Bill C-51 would be properly monitored. A solution can be found not far beyond our borders, as our closest allies have already addressed this issue, and I feel that we can mirror their experience to suit our needs.

Great Britain, our partner in the Five Eyes intelligence community, has established a working and viable oversight body that we can emulate here in Canada. Over there, they call it the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. It is a committee of parliamentarians that has been tasked with the direct oversight of intelligence and security matters in the U.K., including the “expenditure, administration, policy and operations” of things like MI-5, MI-6, and GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters. This committee is also able to scrutinize work carried out by other parts of the U.K. intelligence community, including Britain’s Joint Intelligence Organisation and the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, Defence Intelligence in the Ministry of Defence, and the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office. This is exactly the kind of committee we should be establishing here in Canada.

Fundamentally, our discussion of Bill C-51 is about what we are trying to protect. In that discussion, we should at all times be doing our best to protect the fundamental tenets of our democratic system: responsible government, and Parliament as the trustee of the people. This means that the only way an oversight body of this nature would be legitimate is if it were composed of elected officials. However, at the moment, Canada is the only nation of its kind without national security oversight being carried out by parliamentarians.

That should have been corrected a long time ago. Therefore, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of making this correction now, when we are giving new and broader powers to our intelligence and security agencies.

Consequently, the Liberal Party is proposing to create this oversight body. We believe that there should be a committee composed of parliamentarians to provide appropriate oversight—and not just review—of the activities of various agencies, including CSIS, the Communications Security Establishment, the RCMP, and the Department of National Defence.

Therefore, we propose the following: first, that the members of this committee be sworn to a lifetime oath of secrecy; second, that the members be unable to claim immunity based on parliamentary privilege with regard to the use of the communication of information that comes into their possession or knowledge as members of this committee; and third, that this committee should not be a parliamentary committee, but a committee of parliamentarians.

I will note here that this is not the first time Parliament has discussed introducing a committee like this. Back in 2004, it was the Liberal government that introduced Bill C-81, which would have established a national security committee composed of parliamentarians. Again, in 2009, after the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security reviewed Justice O’Connor’s report, it was again recommended that Bill C-81 be reintroduced to establish such a committee.

The Conservative government at that time did not follow through on that recommendation.

We also believe that Bill C-51 requires changes to ensure that its provisions are not granted in perpetuity. This means that Bill C-51 ought to be subject to mandatory review. There is a precedent for this too. In 2001, following the attacks of 9/11, the Liberal government at the time introduced an anti-terrorism act that contained changes to our Criminal Code and to other relevant statutes. One of those changes was to lower the thresholds for police to be able to detain and monitor, with conditions, someone suspected of planning a terrorist activity.

This change to the law was subject to a mandatory review by Parliament and a sunset clause. In fact, the last time that these provisions were reinstated, in 2013, it was agreed that they would be subject once again to a review in future by a committee that would report to Parliament.

This is necessary for Bill C-51, because, like the anti-terrorism legislation introduced in 2001, it also makes changes to our Criminal Code. This is why Liberals plan to introduce an amendment to have a mandatory review of Bill C-51 in its entirety after three years. This has been the way we have responsibly introduced anti-terrorism legislation in the past and it strikes me that there is no credible reason to break this pattern.

Finally, Liberals believe that Parliament should consider the resources Canada currently allocates to combatting terrorism. The government should ensure that our security services have what they need to do their jobs, without the risk of depriving them of key resources in other areas.

As I said earlier, there are elements of the bill that we support. However, there are changes that should be made before the bill becomes law. Bill C-51 can be improved. This is why, though we support the bill, Liberals will propose the amendments I have highlighted on oversight, on review, and on narrowing the overly broad definition of national security.

We are prepared to work with our colleagues from the other parties to ensure that Canadians have the best, fairest, and clearest legislation to keep us safe. Issues such as those that affect national security should not be partisan.

That is why we want to take a constructive approach and improve this bill. That is what the Liberals are prepared to do, and we will act in good faith to that end. We hope that the government is serious in its approach and that it will set aside partisanship in order to keep Canadians safe while protecting our rights and values.

Concerns about this bill have been expressed outside and inside the House, and I would like to reassure those who expressed them that they have been heard. We are confident that we have the necessary tools and plan to improve this bill, and we will do everything we can to achieve that goal.

Further, I want to affirm once again to our friends and fellow citizens in the Muslim community that Canadians everywhere know that recent acts of terror committed in the name of Islam are an aberration of their faith. We believe that continued, mutual co-operation and respect are critical. The government should develop and fund a structured community process that brings people together and helps prevent the influence of distorted ideological propaganda posing as religion.

Rest assured that as a Liberal, I believe that when a government asks its citizens to give up even a small portion of their liberty, it is that government’s highest responsibility to guarantee that its new powers will not be abused. It is not enough, especially after all we have learned in the past 14 years since 9/11, for governments to simply say, “trust us.” That trust must be earned, it must be checked, and it must be renewed.

This is what Canadians expect of us at all times, but it is perhaps never so important as it is with issues of national security. If we are indeed engaged in a fight of good versus evil, as has been said, we should remember that the side of good cannot win by ceasing to be good. In much the same way, our democratic laws and values will not win out if they stop being based on the fundamentals of democracy: fairness, justice, and the rule of law. Let us not walk over the edge to which terrorism tries to push us.

We are a proud democracy. We are welcoming and peaceful, a country of open arms, open minds, and open hearts. Nobody should be allowed to intimidate us into changing. Instead, we must continue to rely upon these values and principles.