I am delighted to speak about the proposed legislation before us as it will allow us to deliver on the commitment we made to Canadians to improve scrutiny and review when it comes to the national security and intelligence activities of the Government of Canada.
As members have heard, Bill C-22 will allow for the establishment of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, a multi-partisan committee that will examine and report on the government’s national security and intelligence activities, an area that many Canadians feel is far too opaque.
Before I get into the details of this bill, I think it’s worth reminding honourable members that there have been calls for this kind of committee to be created for quite some time. There has also been legislation repeatedly introduced in this House, as well as in the Senate, in an attempt to do just that.
Two years ago, for example, I was pleased to introduce Bill C-622, which would have created the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. That bill was debated at second reading barely one week after the attack in this building, and the tragic shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo down the street, and just ten days after the killing of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.
As I said in this place at the time: “In the wake of the recent deadly attacks on our soldiers and on Parliament itself, all party leaders confirmed their commitment to protect the rights, freedoms, and civil liberties of Canadians, even as security measures are analyzed and strengthened. Indeed, Canadians expect these fundamental aspects of the very democracy being guarded to be respected, and that is the underlying intention of the bill.”
Unfortunately, that legislation was defeated by the Conservative government of the day, just a few short months before it introduced Bill C-51.
At the time, the Conservatives argued that existing review mechanisms were adequate, and that the creation of a committee of parliamentarians to scrutinize national security operations would be, to quote the former Parliamentary Secretary, “not in the best interests of national security” and “not in the best interests of Canadians.”
Mr. Speaker, I couldn’t disagree more. Time after time, over many years, we have heard from experts, from the Auditor General, from judges, from MPs and Senators, and from ordinary Canadians, that in fact, such a committee is not just in the best interests of Canadians, it is in fact vital to our national security and to our values as an open, inclusive, rights-based democracy.
Indeed, the bill before us today is a key component of our government’s ambitious national security agenda, one that is focused on achieving a dual objective: keeping Canadians safe and safeguarding the rights and freedoms we all enjoy as Canadians. That is why it was a central focus of our platform, and that is why we have put it before this House.
I will move now to discussing this legislation in greater detail.
First, in terms of structure, the proposed Committee would be a statutory entity whose members would be drawn from the ranks of current parliamentarians, across party lines.
It would be comprised of nine members. That includes seven Members of Parliament, with a maximum of four being from the governing party, and two Senators. Given the nature of its mandate, the Committee would be granted unprecedented access to classified material. A dedicated, professional and independent secretariat would support the work of the Committee to ensure it has the tools and resources that it needs to carry out its work.
The next element I want to touch on is the proposed mandate of the Committee. Indeed, one of the ways in which we will ensure that the committee is effective is by giving it a broad mandate.
It would have the ability to review the full range of national security activities in all departments and agencies across the Government of Canada. This is a key tenet of the bill and it is crucial to what we are trying to achieve. Some 20 different departments and agencies are involved, to varying degrees, in national security and intelligence activities.
The Committee will be able to look at all of this work, and in this way, it will gain a full picture of what government agencies and departments are doing in national security and intelligence matters.
In terms of this mandate, the model we have envisioned goes even further than that which exists in most countries in the world where a similar type of committee currently exists. Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that this kind of parliamentary body exists in most Western democracies, including all of our Five Eyes allies.
The Committee will have the authority to self-initiate reviews of the legislative, regulatory, policy, financial and administrative framework for national security in Canada. In other words, it will be able to analyze whatever, in its opinion, needs analyzing, in order to ensure the effectiveness of the framework as well as its respect for Canadian values.
Beyond this power to look at the national security framework, it will also be empowered to review specific national security and intelligence operations, notably including those that are still ongoing.
While, due to the inherently sensitive nature of the material examined by the committee, there will be reasonable limits on what the committee can share with the public, committee members will still be able to bring pressure to bear on the government of the day by telling Canadians if they have uncovered something problematic, and by letting Canadians know, thereafter, if the problem has been adequately addressed.
Mr. Speaker, our Government is incredibly proud of this bill because it will fill a gap in the national security accountability framework in our country, an assessment with which I know many members of this House would agree.
As I noted at the outset, it is a shortcoming that several parliamentarians, past and present, have tried to address with other legislative proposals in the past, and we certainly look forward to hearing any input from them and indeed all members throughout this legislative process.
I know there may be some who say that that review and accountability already exists when it comes to national security.
It is true, of course, that a number of review bodies already provide a review function for their own specific organization, for example, as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission does for the RCMP and the Security and Intelligence Review Committee does for CSIS.
But, at a time when departments and agencies have been granted new mandates and new powers to disclose national security related information to each other, it is incumbent that Parliamentarians be able to meaningfully review Canada’s overarching national security framework, as well as the operations of our national security agencies, so that we can make informed decisions about our laws and the effective use of our resources in protecting our national security.
That is what this bill is all about.
Mr. Speaker, that is also, in fact, why we will be encouraging the new Committee to cooperate and collaborate with the existing review bodies, to avoid overlap and build on the great work that is already being done. In fact, the text of the legislation mandates cooperation.
To give an example of how that might work, receiving copies of the reports the review bodies draft would be beneficial for the Committee for a number of reasons, including avoiding inadvertent duplication of effort, keeping abreast of potential areas of concern, and being able to follow-up with its own reviews when deemed necessary.
It is important to note, however, that the existing review bodies would remain autonomous institutions with distinct mandates, and such collaboration, while desirable, would be voluntary.
In terms of reporting, the Committee would be required to prepare a minimum of one annual report. After the appropriate vetting to safeguard classified information, that report would be tabled in Parliament.
It would also have latitude to issue other reports on any topics it deems urgent and in the public interest.
So, as members can see, the proposed Committee will go far in helping us re-establish the balance between democratic accountability and national security. This is of crucial importance to our Government because it is of crucial importance to Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, we look forward to engaging in constructive and thoughtful debate with members on all sides of this House on this, and other issues related to improving our national security.