Canada, House of Commons Debates, “Emergencies Act”, 33rd Parl, 2nd Sess (11 July 1988)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 33rd Parl, 2nd Sess, 1988 at 17363-17366.
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MEASURE TO ENACT
Hon. Perrin Beatty (Minister of National Defence) moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-77, an Act to authorize the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies and to amend other Acts in consequence thereof.
He said: Madam Speaker, let me just thank the Hon. Member for Brant (Mr. Blackburn). It had been my intention to allow him to speak first and then to respond but it is probably more appropriate for me in moving the motion to speak now.
This will be a very short intervention because Parliament has had the opportunity already both in the Senate and in the House of Commons to debate this legislation. I will say that this is a very momentous day for Canada. With the acceptance of these amendments and the passage of this Bill from the House of Commons, we will see the abolition of the War Measures Act in Canada. Never again will we have a situation, as was the case in World War II, where Canadian citizens were interned on the basis of their racial ancestry. What we will have is a situation where there will be guarantees. Never again, for example, will there be the ability to use the War Measures Act to knock on the door in the dark of night, to sweep up our citizens, to hold them without charge and without the right of habeas corpus. What we will have, Madam Speaker, is a new and modern piece of legislation, one that is adequately safeguarded, one which protects the rights of all Canadians and one which gives to the Government the ability to protect the lives of Canadians, to keep them safe and to ensure that every Canadian has adequate protection in times of crisis.
As the House will know, Canada is virtually alone among modern western jurisdictions in not having this sort of flexible legislation. As a consequence, acceptance of these amendments and passage of this legislation will bring Canada into the 20th century. It will prepare us for the future in terms of the needs of this country.
I might simply mention that the Government is prepared to accept the two amendments which have been proposed by the Senate. One deals with the issue of conscription. While the Bill as it was passed unanimously on third reading in the House of Commons would have allowed conscription to take place by Order in Council, it would have simply maintained the status quo which existed under the old War Measures Act.
In the two instances where we have had conscription in the past, even though it would have been possible to do so by Order in Council under the old War Measures Act, the Government of the day felt it was appropriate to introduce special legislation. I would prefer in safeguarding the interests of all Canadians in times of emergency that that power still remain. The very nature of an emergency is such that it is impossible to predict the very dire circumstances which could take place. But I am satisfied that if a balance has to be struck that it is likely it would be possible in times of crisis, if Canada had to go to war, that there would be enough time for us to reconvene Parliament and for us to pass special legislation, if there was consent of the House.
Additionally, there is another minor change made by these amendments, namely, to change the structure of the joint parliamentary committee to ensure representation from both sides of the Senate. We are prepared to accept that as well. It does not go to the heart of the Bill and is something which obviously will reflect better the views of some of the members of the Senate.
I think it is appropriate simply to recall to the House the process that was used with this Bill. It was first indicated to Canadians that the Government intended to act in this area in the White Paper on National Defence which was tabled over a year ago. I tabled the Bill in June of last year prior to Parliament rising for the summer recess with the assurance that the Bill would sit on the Order Paper without being called over the course of the summer and that we would solicit from Canadians, from groups and individuals and from Members of Parliament their views, their responses about the Bill, their concerns and their suggestions about what improvements could be made to ensure that the Bill struck that appropriate balance between the rights of Canadians, the need of the state to protect its very survival and to protect the lives and safety of individual Canadians. I think it is a process which has worked well.
I want to thank members of the legislative committee and Members on all sides of the House for the co-operation which they have shown. We have the Bill which has been substantially amended over the course of the time in which it has been in Parliament. The vast majority of these amendments, in my view, make it a better Bill and better strike the balance between the rights of Canadians, the needs of the Government to provide for the safety of Canadians and for the integrity and survival of the state itself. It has been a process which has demonstrated that Parliament can work if goodwill is shown on both sides of the House.
I would simply like to thank all Members for their spirit of co-operation. That positive, constructive spirit has produced excellent results for all Canadians. Because of those efforts, we will have a more effective law that will better protect the rights of all our fellow citizens.
It is an example of Parliament working as Parliament was intended to work and, again, I thank all Members of Parliament for their efforts and co-operation.
I would conclude simply by saying that it is a very proud day for me to see this legislation passed into law. I think it should be a proud day for every Member of Parliament that Parliament is acting now to keep faith with Canadians with the commitment that was made some 18 years ago in the October, 1970 crisis that we would scrap the old War Measures Act and bring in properly balanced and safeguarding legislation to ensure that Canadians in the future would have a piece of flexible legislation with a range of capacities enabling us to deal with emergencies starting on the one hand with natural disasters and going all the way through to war emergencies. We will now have that legislation. I think it is a credit to this Parliament. It is probably a matter which is of great satisfaction and great pleasure for all Canadians that Parliament has acted in such a timely way and that before we rise for our summer recess we will have this sort of legislation.
Hon. Bob Kaplan (York Centre): Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Official Opposition I am pleased to note the achievement of today in getting an important piece of legislation as far as it has and to commend the Minister and other Members for the way in which the debate has been handled. I have to contrast this with the regrettable way in which in earlier Parliaments the issue of emergencies was treated when members of the then Opposition and now Government were certain that the Government had a plot in mind to introduce regulations under the War Measures Act from day to day and that there was a secret plan to subvert somehow or other the democratic process. To me as one who observed that process it was more than anything the impediment that existed in the past to try to update the War Measures Act and bring in more effective legislation. This is a Parliament which is less suspicious of the Government and less suspicious that there is a plan to declare an emergency jurisdiction in force in the country. We have turned our attention in a positive way to the real need for an updating of the War Measures Act and we have a satisfactory substitute before us.
I think the Minister should be commended for the attitude he took toward amendments. Many were introduced by people across the country who saw the Bill in its first version by Members of the House of Commons and finally, and significantly if I can touch on it for a moment, by the Senate.
The Senate is often criticized for its participation in the parliamentary process. It exists in our Constitution. It exists, in fact, down the hall from us, as the so-called other place, but when it tries to act and tries to make an input into legislation it is very often criticized and condemned for what it tries to do.
We have before us an example of a very effective contribution by the Senate dealing with the issue of conscription under the emergency measures legislation, a concern expressed by the Senators. The Minister recognized that, although the War Measures Act contained the power to bring in conscription by regulation, in the past, Governments, however troubled by the emergency at hand in World War I and World War II, chose not to bring in conscription by regulation but to proceed by a more democratic political process. The Senators have proposed an amendment, which I am glad to see the Government has adopted, which will assure that an emergency in the future will be dealt with in the same manner.
For me, it is an important moment as we pass a replacement for the War Measures Act, a legislation that can be used more moderately.
I would like to conclude with the idea that while it can be invoked more moderately, it does not have to be done that way. The legislation we are passing today still gives the government very broad powers, and there will always be a role for the lawmakers to play, that of watching to ensure that the four different categories of emergencies provided for under this
legislation are not used by the Government as an excuse to seize the power to rule by regulation.
We always have to be vigilant in this place, in the media and across the country, with whatever emergency legislation the Government has, to be certain that it is not being abused. If there is anything that has been learned in the course of this debate and in the course of the committee hearings, it is that Government, given any power, needs to be watched. While the War Measures Act was a very extreme piece of legislation, that very extreme feature was in a way a safeguard that it would not be used lightly. This legislation can be used lightly, and I think to be certain that it is not used lightly will be the continuing responsibility of vigilant Canadians, of the media and of Members of Parliament in this place.
Mr. Derek Blackburn (Brant): Madam Speaker, a couple of things have always troubled me in my parliamentary career with respect to the Liberal Party of Canada. That is its ability to turn no logic into logic and to support the insupportable and make it look as if there were logic in both.
The Hon. Member from whom we have just heard is a former Solicitor General of Canada. He was a member of several Liberal Governments. Between 1971 and 1984, the Liberals had some 12 or 13 years in which to do something about the infamous War Measures Act. They chose to do absolutely nothing. They chose to leave it on the statute books.
This morning, we heard the Liberal spokesperson say that somehow the Opposition bothered them through those years by suspecting all kinds of unquestionable thoughts that might be entering the then Liberal Government’s mind with respect to concentration camps and other nefarious business. I find it very, very strange, and from a logical point of view totally unacceptable and insupportable, that the Liberal spokesman would now stand up and somehow switch the blame around by saying that thank heavens today we do not have a suspicious Opposition and therefore this has made it easier for the Government to cope with the infamous War Measures Act. I fail to see any logic in those statements, and I fail to see how an intelligent, responsible Member of Parliament could support that kind of argument.
We all know that previous Liberal Governments had years in which to throw out the War Measures Act and bring in a new Bill, and they consistently refused to do so. That is the sum total of their disastrous record.
I might also add that during the very serious and productive discussions at the committee hearings, we went clause by clause and prior to that listened to representations from a broad spectrum of Canadian organizations and individuals. The Liberals hardly ever showed up at the committee hearings and, moreover, to make it even more disgraceful, they never offered one amendment to the Bill.
At the end, as the Minister said a few moments ago, the Bill was drastically changed as a result of the input from various groups of Canadians, from the New Democratic Party, from members of the Minister’s own Party who were represented on the committee and from the Minister himself, showing an openness and a willingness on his part to accept reasonable, intelligent amendments. I think we made some history in this Parliament, as it draws to a close, I believe, in that there was input from the Opposition, from the New Democratic Party, that was listened to and accepted by the Government, and we listened to and accepted government changes brought in at committee, but there were no changes from the Liberals. As far as I am concerned, they acted in nothing but a disgraceful manner throughout the entire proceedings of Bill C-77.
Having said that, I want to mention a couple of points in these, our final remarks on this very important piece of legislation. The first has to do with representations made by the Association of Japanese Canadians, but I think it would also apply to representations made by Ukrainians who came before the committee with respect specifically to the concentration camp episode in our history, a very black part of our history indeed.
The Association of Japanese Canadians, in a letter to me, and I believe also to the Minister, asked that the Government submit this Bill to the Supreme Court of Canada for a final and ultimate decision with respect to the override of the Charter of Rights. We were assured by the law officers of the Crown during committee that no Government could override the Charter provisions in this Bill without a separate amendment to the Bill. In other words, it would have to go through the regular parliamentary process even during an emergency. This apparently does not satisfy some of the critics, namely the Japanese Canadians, and I would think possible the Ukrainian group as well, although it did not send any representation to me and I do not think that the group sent one to the Minister. I would once again ask the Minister, as I have already in a letter, I believe, and also in my third reading debate, to put in motion as quickly as possible that request by the Japanese Canadians. I think it is a reasonable one. It would certainly allay all fears if the Supreme Court of Canada, as I think it will, decides in favour of the legislation, that no Government in the future could override the Charter of Rights in the application of Bill C-77 which is about to become law.
Another point concerns one of the amendments from the Senate which reads:
Page 32, clause 62: Strike out lines 3 to 7 and substitute the following: “(2) The Parliamentary Review Committee shall include at least one member of the House of Commons from each party that has a recognized membership of twelve or more persons in that House—
I am not suggesting that the Government should hold up the passage of the Bill at this point, but I am not certain whether it is wise to put in the figure of 12.1 think that should be deleted and I think it should be deleted at an early stage.
As the membership of this House increases, it is only reasonable to assume that that figure of 12 which would designate officially an opposition Party or a Party in the House
will also increase. The next move could be to 15 or to 17, depending on the total membership of the House. It is a minor point, but I think it is one that should be cleared up at the earliest possible opportunity.
Finally, obviously I am very proud to have been part of this process that has brought forward what I think it is a good piece of legislation on balance. We will never get perfect legislation out of this Chamber or any other Chamber of this kind, a democratic legislature, but certainly we can always strive to do our best. I truly believe that members of the committee, the chairperson of the committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister, and those of us who had the privilege to sit on it, did our best and worked hard to bring forward what I consider to be a good Bill of we can all be proud.
A great deal of the thanks has to go to a gentleman who obviously cannot be here today to speak on this Bill, Mr. Bill Snarr, the senior public servant involved in helping pilot this Bill through committee. He was of great help, I can assure you, to an opposition Member like myself. He worked in an extremely objective and helpful and certainly knowledgeable way. I think I can speak on behalf of Minister this morning in public and extend our heartfelt congratulations to Mr. Snarr. I believe he is reaching pretty well the end of his public service career and this is probably the last piece of legislation he will take an active part in. Therefore, on behalf of all Members of the House, I want to extend to Bill Snarr a very long and happy retirement.
I hope this Act will never have to be used, certainly not Clauses 3 and 4. We have no control, of course, over natural disasters. I hope future governments will use it with caution and responsibility, and I am sure they will.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Champagne): Questions or comments?
Mr. Beatty: Madam Speaker, I would like to use the vehicle of questions and comments to fully associate myself with the remarks of my friend from Brant with respect to Mr. Bill Snarr. Mr. Snarr has served Canadians for over three decades with a tremendously distinguished record. This Bill is certainly fitting testimony to the tremendous contribution he made. I know Members on all sides of the House have been tremendously impressed by his dedication, knowledge, flexibility and determination to ensure that legislation passed by this House is good and well prepared. I think he developed many friendships, particularly in committee, over the time the Bill was under study and certainly I felt priviledged to know Mr. Snarr, both as a member of the Government. He has retired from Emergency Preparedness Canada and is currently serving as senior adviser to me.
This represents, as the Hon. Member indicated, probably the last piece of legislation that he would be associated with, although there is still an important contribution for him to make the Canadians. However, the mere fact that this Bill has passed unanimously with the support of Members on all sides of this House certainly attests to the tremendous contribution which Bill Snarr made to Canadians. We will certainly miss his contribution to the public service.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in.