Canada, House of Commons Debates, “Emergencies Act”, 33rd Parl, 2nd Sess (2 November 1987)


Document Information

Date: 1987-11-02
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 33rd Parl, 2nd Sess, 1987 at 10644-10648.
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[Translation]

EMERGENCIES ACT

MEASURE TO ENACT

[Page 10644]

Hon. Benoît Bouchard (for the Minister of National Defence) moved that 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, be read the second time and referred to a legislative committee.

Mr. Jean-Robert Gauthier (Ottawa—Vanier): Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to speak at length on this Bill, but I wonder if the Government might give us a few notes or a few explanations on the scope of this very important legislation which is being amended by Bill C-77 so that we may have a democratic debate on this whole question, namely that the Bill is “to authorize the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies and to amend other Acts in consequence thereof’. I would have thought that the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Beatty) would be here, or that a Minister might explain the principle of the Bill so that we could have an intelligent debate here in the House.

As I just said, Mr. Speaker, I do not have any notes on this question, but I vividly remember the October crisis and the severe criticisms which were made at the time about some of the provisions. I should think that this parliamentary initiative, this Bill C-77, is aimed at making some amendments to the legislation and making it more acceptable to Canadians. Therefore, I would have thought the Government would have provided explanations, without going too far, without encouraging them too much, to the Hon. Member for Saint- Jacques (Mr. Guilbault), the Hon. Member for Saint- Michel—Ahuntsic (Mrs. Killens), the Hon. Member for Westmorland—Kent (Mr. Robichaud), the Hon. Member for Algoma (Mr. Foster) who are here, as well as to the Hon. Member for Saint-Denis (Mr. Prud’homme), from Montreal, whom I see here—and would have told them what was proposed in the Bill. But, for lack of explanations, we will let the Bill through second reading and will take the opportunity of discussions in committee to obtain explanations, unless Hon. Members want to rise now.

Hon. Jean J. Charest (Minister of State (Youth)): Mr. Speaker, first you will excuse me for rising after the Hon. Member for Ottawa—Vanier (Mr. Gauthier). I was indeed going to rise to give a few words of explanation on Bill C-77 introduced today. Besides, those explanations are contained in a press release issued on June 26, 1987, that was made available to all Members of the House, including the Hon. Member for Ottawa—Vanier, who, I assume, is capable of reading the explanations and comments provided by the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Beatty) something like four months ago already, and those explanations were clear enough for spokespersons from the Official Opposition to be in a position to state their intent to let the Bill pass even before they had a chance to hear me. But to make a long story short, what is involved actually is the replacing of the War Measures Act which, as mentioned by the Hon. Member for Ottawa— Vanier, had to be used in 1971, a sad period in our history—

An Hon. Member: In 1970.

Mr. Charest: I cannot refer to 1970, excuse me, I was still quite young at the time—but to explain our intentions, Mr. Speaker, in making those amendments, whom better to quote than the Hon. Jean Chrétien, former Member for Saint- Maurice who, in his book La cage aux lions, mentioned the legislation at the time ensured that they needed very specific measures. I think he compared the legislation to a huge van in which a bicycle was to be placed because there was no other means of transportation nor more reasonable ways of doing the job at hand. That is his explanation, in his own way, his wellknown style, of the reason why the legislation had to be changed. This is what the Minister of National Defence did. He explained it in his press release that already dates back to June 26, 1987, which we would be happy to make available once more, provided however the Hon. Member for Ottawa— Vanier does not already have a copy in his office.

[English]

Mr. Blackburn (Brant): Mr. Speaker, are we debating Bill C-77 at this point?

[Page 10645]

Mr. Gauthier: Questions and comments after the Minister’s speech.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paproski): There are no questions or comments. The Hon. Member for Brant (Mr. Blackburn) has the floor on debate.

Mr. Derek Blackburn (Brant): Mr. Speaker, I had no idea that we would get to Bill C-77 so quickly today. It was my understanding that it would be called tomorrow or later in the week, and that we would be discussing Bill C-76. I understand it has passed second reading stage.

I sincerely hope that Bill C-76 will go to committee because it requires very serious scrutiny.

Mr. Prud’homme: Bill C-76 has been sent to a legislative committee.

Mr. Blackburn (Brant): Mr. Speaker, I have much to say about Bill C-77. As my Party’s defence spokesperson, I want to put on the record the very serious misgivings we have with respect to this new legislation that will replace the War Measures Act.

Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to lead this debate on behalf of the New Democratic Party. Let me say at the outset that New Democrats are determined that the War Measures Act should never be used again. That is why we are happy that the Minister has brought forward a proposal to replace the War Measures Act. It has been a long time in coming and I congratulate him for finally bringing this debate to the floor of the House of Commons.

His Bill is a good first try, in my judgment, although it is not perfect by any means.

I will use this opportunity to explain in detail my very deep concerns relating to Bill C-77.

First, I want to say that I hope the parliamentary process, particularly in committee, will be allowed to work. We have heard many nice words from the Government about the spirit of parliamentary reform. In truth, we have made some progress thanks to the work of the committee led by the former Member for St. John’s East and now the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland.

Now it is time for the parliamentary process to shine. We will need many hearings and a great deal of testimony from both expert witnesses and ordinary Canadians. This is an issue which touches the very lives and liberties of every Canadian. It involves an issue that cuts to the very heart of the Canadian consciousness. Is there anyone in this House who was not in some way touched by the events of October, 1970? Who could not be affected by the profoundly un-Canadian sight of Canadian troops in battle dress in the streets to suppress the domestic troubles of their fellow citizens?

I do not want to reopen old wounds. Instead, I hope that this Bill as amended will complete the healing process. Together with the evolution of our Canadian Constitution I hope that the replacement of the War Measures Act will close one chapter in our history and usher in a new era in which the rights and freedoms of all Canadians will be honoured and respected at all times and in all circumstances.

The roots of the War Measures Act are deep. They go back much further than 1970. The original Act was born in August of 1914 when the First World War broke out. The Government of the day found that it had virtually no laws to deal with the situation. So it rushed through this law. It was modelled on foreign legislation. It received almost no debate. It had virtually no consideration. In effect, it gave the Government a blank cheque. Parliament and the people of Canada surrendered all their rights at that time in 1914.

The War Measures Act allowed censorship, arbitrary arrest, travel restrictions and Government control of trade and property. There were no rights untouched. In effect, it provided for an authoritarian Government to replace a democratic Government without a shot being fired. I suppose that we should not be surprised by the problems this caused later on. It was a recipe for disaster. The process was so poor there was little thought that a bad law was perhaps unavoidable.

Let us not repeat this fatal error again. We need full debate. We must hear many points of view. We should deliberate in an air of calm and reason. There is no emergency at this time. We have time to consider what we are setting in place for future generations. There is no war. There is no apprehended insurrection, no violence, no upheaval. Now is the time to give it straightforward, serious, cautious and deliberate consideration.

It is the future that we must be concerned about. For if the War Measures Act shows us one thing” it is that people suffer for past mistakes. Following the Russian revolution suspected dissidents were interned in Canada because of the extraordinary powers in the War Measures Act. The Communist Party was outlawed. Even Jehova’s Witnesses were suspect. The political and religious freedoms that we are bound to uphold in this place were denied by Canadians. One of the most bitter of all ironies is that in the fight against communism we outlawed a communist party here in Canada which is precisely the same kind of authoritarian action that a communist Government would take. Therefore in doing so we reduced, or diminished to a considerable extent, the dynamism of our own democracy.

Again, in the Second World War thousands of Canadians of Japanese origin were interned. Racism raised its ugly head. The bitter legacy of this tragic episode still haunts the Canadian Government today. Japanese Canadians are still waiting for redress and for justice.

As I have already mentioned, many were arrested without warrant and held without bail in the October crisis of 1970. The Right Hon. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Turner) will

[Page 10646]

remember that well. I believe he was Minister of Justice at the time. Many other Members will also recall that sorry episode.

Again, I do not wish to appear as if I were looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, but it is always a tragedy of inestimable proportions when a legislative body such as this, the supreme legislative body of the land, deliberately and knowingly passes legislation that it knows will deny basic human rights and freedoms to the citizens of a democracy, one of the great democracies in the world today, our own country.

I know that New Democrats remember that period very well. We have our own reasons. The public approved of the measure and Parliament favoured the proclamation by a vote of 190 to 16. The 16 were ridiculed, but they stood firm and history has vindicated them. That is one reason why the memory of Tommy Douglas is held in such high esteem in this country.

Later, of course, successive Liberal Governments recognized their error and tried to reform the War Measures Act. But nothing ever came before this House. That is why it is galling to listen to Liberal Members criticize this Bill, as no doubt they will and have. They were in government for 14 years after 1970 and did nothing to correct this problem.

One effort to at least examine the problem came from the task force on Canadian unity. It recommended that the Government have the right to seek parliamentary approval within a specified time limit for any extraordinary powers. It also recommended that the Government state the reasons for its actions and the duration of the emergency powers in its proclamation. The task force further recommended that provincial powers and individual rights be safeguarded to various degrees depending on whether the nation was at war or at peace. I am happy to see the bones of some of those recommendations in the Minister’s proposals. We will try in the legislative process to improve upon them.

We will have help, of course. I do not pretend to have all the answers in this debate at second reading. I do not think anyone in this Chamber has. 1 hope that experts from such groups as the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and others will give us their professional suggestions. Perhaps some of those Canadians who suffered from the excesses of the War Measures Act should come before our committee. I want to know whether they would feel any safer with this proposed law on the law books. If this Bill would not prevent such disastrous mistakes from happening again, then in our judgment it is useless.

We shall also look forward to hearing from the Minister in committee. It will be interesting to know what thinking went into this Bill. For instance, the McDonald Commission did not think that the Government needed any additional emergency powers in peacetime.

What has changed since the McDonald Royal Commission report was published? We have had disasters such as the Mississauga train derailment that required mass evacuation, but that was carried out without resorting to the War Measures Act. Why does the Government need such powers now? This is something else that we should look at in committee. I am not suggesting that the Government should not have these powers, but I think that the onus resides with the Minister and his experts to prove to this House that he needs these extraordinary powers in order to deal with that kind of an emergency.

I have other specific concerns about this Bill as well. I would like to put some of them on the record this afternoon. Under the section dealing with public welfare emergencies the Bill speaks of an emergency as a “breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources”. That would seem to have very serious implications for the right to strike.

A recent Supreme Court decision said that the right to strike is not protected by the Charter of Rights and Lreedoms. So the Minister’s assurances about this Bill being subject to the Charter is of no comfort to working people who may from time to time find themselves involved in a strike situation.

Another recent example shows that this power may not be necessary. That is the recent rail strike. It was an unfortunate incident, but it illustrates the point that I am making. During that strike the Government brought forward legislation that returned the rail workers to their jobs. The Government was not prevented from acting quickly. It did not use the War Measures Act. Why then does it seek new, special powers in peacetime? This is a very touchy subject.

Those who belong to trade unions whose activities span the nation such as in transportation, whether it is air, rail, or shipping, those who are involved in communications, and those who are involved in the postal services, whether it is inside or outside workers, all of those persons could feel that their rights are being infringed upon, or potentially infringed upon, if this Bill is passed without any change.

In response to the Government’s back to work legislation, there were protests on Parliament Hill and elsewhere. Peaceful protest is the right of those affected. They had a right to register their displeasure. Under this Bill such a protest could have been prevented. I ask again, does the Government need such power? Should it have such power? These questions must be thoroughly discussed, debated, and reflected upon when this Bill goes to committee.

Probably the most contentious clause of this Bill is the one that deals with public order emergencies. This is the type of situation that gave rise to the use of the War Measures Act in 1970. This clause takes its definition of threat from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service Act. This fact alone should make us very cautious, because of the difficulties already encountered with CSIS, in determining what is subversion and what is legitimate dissent.

This has always been a very difficult issue to resolve in this Chamber, and indeed in other democratic bodies throughout

[Page 10647]

the world. In my view, one of the things that keeps a democracy healthy is the right of its citizens to dissent, to object, and to oppose. It is often of a very negative nature, but nonetheless it is the right of a citizen to stand up in public and disagree with the Government, disagree with a law, suggest that the law is changed, or state that the regulation is a bad one.

It is a far different situation if someone is actively engaged in planning or executing a subversive action. That is something quite different. Most intelligence gathering agencies and most counter-intelligence gathering agencies, whether it is the FBI in the United States, MI-5 in Britain, or CSIS in Canada, find it extremely difficult to delineate the difference between legitimate dissent in a democracy, which should be welcomed, and subversive activity, which is clearly illegal.

The CSIS Act cites activities “in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political objective within Canada or a foreign state”.

I would remind the Minister that the Prime Minister (Mr. Mulroney) and the Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Clark) recently met with Oliver Tambo of the African National Congress. The ANC has not renounced violence in its fight against apartheid. I hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State did not promise to support the ANC. Otherwise they might have to have themselves arrested under this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament. That may sound rather ridiculous and extreme. Nonetheless, if one studies the wording of the CSIS interpretation of subversion, it is found that it is a pretty wide open interpretation and could include or involve all types of legitimate legal activity. It may rub the Government of the day the wrong way, whether it is Conservative, Liberal, or NDP, but nonetheless Governments in a democracy do have to tolerate legitimate dissent.

Others on the government benches have had contact with the Reagan administration, which supports the effort of the Contras in Nicaragua. The Contras use violence, and President Reagan spoke of their cause in this very Chamber. Should that be illegal in Canada? I am quite sure that most of my colleagues across the way would disagree and say that that is perfectly legal, and I agree that it is perfectly legal. Again, if a narrow interpretation is attached to the CSIS interpretation of what is a subversion then, of course, Bill C-77 becomes potentially dangerous.

A public order emergency also gives Cabinet the right to prohibit public assembly. But how could a Canadian avail himself of the right to protest peacefully the declaration of emergency powers? His right to disagree with government policy would be extremely limited.

Similarly, a legitimate protest against the emergency declaration could be suppressed and no one would find out. The Government could censor the media or simply forbid travel to the troubled area. How could anyone find out if the declaration of an emergency was justified if no one was allowed in or out of the area? How could parliamentarians rally public support against an unjust proclamation if the public was being kept in the dark? That is all included in this Bill as presently written. In committee we will chop through those clauses, clean them up, and make the definition much clearer and more limited.

I also have concerns about the clause dealing with international emergencies. The definition of an international emergency is extremely broad. The Bill speaks of a threat to “any country in which the political, economic or security interests of Canada or any of its allies are involved”. That pretty well covers the global waterfront.

Our allies include the United States and western Europe which have very extensive trade interests around the world. In fact, it is hard to think of any country on earth where either Canada, the United States, or western Europe does not have some type of political or economic interest.

We have a perfect example right now in the Persian Gulf. The United States is escorting tankers through one of the most militarily dangerous stretches of water in the world. Other European nations are also involved because they have an economic interest in oil from that region. What would happen if another “Stark” incident blew up into a major confrontation? Canada could become involved under the terms of this legislation. There would probably be a great debate as to whether Canada’s vital interests were involved. But the Government would have the right to mobilize first and answer questions later. I would not want to wake up one morning and read that the Government had declared an international emergency and have to wait for the matter to come before Parliament after the fact.

One of the reasons that I would not be comfortable in that situation is the other extraordinary powers that the Government could assume during a perceived international emergency. For example, Cabinet could authorize search and seizure without reference to the courts. Why does it need to bypass the justice system? Are the courts not to be trusted in an emergency? Have judges in this country ever shown themselves to be less than vigilant in their devotion to national security? It is their job to balance the interests and rights of the state and those of the individual. Yet the Government wants the right to enter any home without reference to the courts at any level. Clearly this part of the Bill is unacceptable to those of us in the New Democratic Party.

Finally, Parliament must consider the total discretion granted to Cabinet under the terms of a war emergency. It is difficult to see any difference between this clause and the current War Measures Act. I wonder why some powers could not be set out in the Bill. Canada has been in two world wars. Does the Government not have any idea what powers it needs to mobilize the Armed Forces? Could they not be added to the powers listed in the other clauses of the Bill?

I see that my time today has run out, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to continuing debate at a later time.

[Page 10648]

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paproski): The Hon. Member will have 10 minutes for questions and comments the next time this debate comes up in the House. His time of 20 minutes has expired.

Mr. Blackburn (Brant): I was under the impression that, at second reading, the lead-off speaker for my Party has 40 minutes.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paproski): May I explain to the Hon. Member that there have been three speakers. The first was the Minister who moved the motion for second reading of the Bill, which immediately eliminates the first 40 minutes as he was deemed to have spoken. Then there were two other speakers, which eliminates the other two 40 minutes. We have heard three speakers for 40 minutes each, with no questions or comments.

The fourth speaker, the Hon. Member for Brant (Mr. Blackburn), has 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for questions and comments. I have given him an extra two minutes or three minutes after his first 20 minutes, and I will entertain 10 minutes for questions and comments the next time Bill C-77 is before the House.

[Translation]

It being 5 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members business as listed on today’s Order Paper.

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