By Jack Dodds
Bill C-22 is the Liberal government’s bid to fulfill their election promise of parliamentary oversight of Canada’s security agencies.
As first introduced in the Commons, C-22 was criticized for creating an oversight committee that had too little power and independence to allow it to restore public confidence in the security agencies. After second reading in the Commons, it was referred to the Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU). After a lengthy study, including expert witnesses and briefs from organizations including CUSJ, SECU returned to the Commons an amended version of the bill, which addressed many of the criticisms. Yet in the Commons, the government rejected SECU’s most important changes to the bill (sections 13, 14 and 16). This is particularly strange since the amended version was supported by the Liberal majority of SECU.
What is troubling about this story is that SECU now has a more complete and balanced understanding of issues than the government itself. On whose expert advice did the government rely when deciding to ignore SECU and the many experts and citizens who participated in its study? The probable answer is that it acted on the advice of the security agencies, the very organizations that are to be monitored by the new oversight committee, that have been shown to have broken the law, interfered in the political process and given short shrift to the privacy of Canadians.
It is ironic that the previous Conservative government was roundly criticized for being dismissive of the SECU study on the infamous Bill C-51 short, by using the majority that it held at the time. The present Liberal government has allowed an extensive study by SECU, only to toss the results wholesale into the trash can.
The next step for C-22 is the Senate. The version passed by the Commons was introduced in the Senate on April 4. It is expected to be debated starting in the first week of May. After that it will be referred to a Senate committee for study. CUSJ will contribute to that study. While many of us question the value of the Senate, this seems like a situation tailor-made for the chamber of “sober second thought”. Could the Senate committee send a strong message to the government by reinstating SECU’s amendments?
The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (whose National Coordinator, Tim McSorley, will be the keynote speaker at the CUSJ AGM) is running an online petition to ask the Senate to act on C-22. Consider signing it!
A comparison of the first reading version of C-22, the changes made by SECU, and the third reading version adopted by the Commons, can be found here:
CUSJ’s brief to SECU on C-22 can be found here (click on “Briefs (4)”. There’s a French translation too.
– Jack Dodds