The Government of Canada is in the midst of a major renovation of this country’s national security framework.
Part of the work involves our border relationship with the United States. Both countries benefit from a long, open and highly successful international boundary, across which flow 400,000 people and $2.4 billion in two-way trade every single day.
As part of our common effort to keep that border safe and secure, but also efficient, expeditious and respectful, we have advanced legislation (Bill C-23) to bolster reciprocal Preclearance systems for both travellers and cargo moving in both directions and in all modes of transportation. We will also soon pursue a new unobtrusive way of taking note of all those who are leaving Canada (Bill C-21), the lack of which has been a longstanding security deficiency.
On another front, we are assembling a new national office to better coordinate and enhance the skills and capabilities of Canadians to deal more effectively with radicalization to extremist violence—of whatever kind. We want to be among the best in the world at recognizing the factors that trap people in an insidious downward spiral toward violent conduct, and have the research, talents and tools at hand to intervene early enough to head-off tragedies before they happen.
Later this year, we will also present national security amendments to emphasize the paramountcy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to underscore the right to protest and demonstrate, to bring more precision into the definition of “propaganda”, to upgrade the quality of appeals against Canada’s “No-Fly” list, and to provide for a full review of national security laws after three years. This follows extensive and inclusive national consultations, as promised, which elicited more than 75,000 responses from all across the country.
Most urgently, we are dealing with Bill C-22. That’s an Act to establish a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICoP) which will have extraordinary access to classified information to provide a whole new dimension of scrutiny over every federal department and agency that has anything to do with security matters. This new Committee will have a dual mandate—to ensure all our agencies are effective at keeping Canadians safe, and to safeguard the precious rights and freedoms that define the open, inclusive, democratic character of our country.
NSICoP represents unprecedented change in Canada. Most other western democracies have long had such a vehicle to help scrutinize security and intelligence (S&I) operations. Canada is the outlier. This deficiency has been highlighted by many past parliamentary investigations, various academic and private sector experts, several commissions of inquiry, the Auditor General and others—reaching back more than 10 years.
While suggesting additional ways to make NSICoP better, the vast majority of media and expert reaction to Bill C-22 has been favourable, since we first tabled it last June. Independent commentators described it as “a stronger body than the UK or Australian equivalents” and “a dramatic change for Canadian national security accountability”.
That was before the Bill was amended as it moved through the Parliamentary process. Our government has been receptive to much of what that process has generated, and as C-22 finishes its journey through the House of Commons it is now even stronger than when it began.
We listened to MPs and, on their advice, have:
- broadened NSICoP’s mandate;
- included a whistleblower clause;
- limited the voting rights of the chair;
- confined the authority to revise reports to matters that would endanger national security or infringe on solicitor-client privilege, and we have required the place where any such edit is made to be identified;
- sharply reduced the types of information that are beyond NSICoP’s jurisdiction; and
- required Ministers to provide reasons if they fail to comply with information requests.
Bill C-22 is the cornerstone of our approach to a better national security framework, providing a unique and important role for the MPs and Senators selected to serve on it. They will shoulder a heavy burden of responsibility never before known in our Parliament by other than a handful of key Cabinet Ministers.
Since this assignment is brand new to Canada, most domestic and international experts have advised us to proceed on NSICoP in a careful and measured way. They’ve told us to give the new committee the time and opportunity to learn the deadly serious task it is undertaking, to earn the confidence and respect of the intelligence and security agencies it will be scrutinizing, to develop sensible ways of interacting with the other expert review bodies that already exist, to get to know and understand the international S&I context, and to build trust among Canadians.
For these reasons, we have built-in an automatic review of NSICoP after five years to ensure that all the lessons learned in the meantime can be acted upon in a timely manner.
Taken together, this agenda through 2017 will fulfill the government’s original commitments on national security. But this field is constantly evolving and more work will undoubtedly be required to match changing events. The government’s goals will remain constant—keep Canadians safe and secure, while safeguarding the rights and freedoms that distinguish our way of life.