Tonight, the House of Commons voted on Senate amendments to Bill C-59, the National Security Act.
The Bill marks the biggest overhaul to Canada’s national security laws since the creation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in 1984. The Bill has been stalled in the Senate since 2018 and was finally sent back to the House with four amendments; two of which the government accepted.
In 2015, our government campaigned on a promise to repeal the problematic elements of the former Bill C-51, the Harper government’s contentious national security legislation, and introduce instead an approach to national security that balances public safety with our rights and freedoms. The National Security Act fulfils that promise.
As a member of the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I had the privilege to work on this legislation. As a Committee member, I took part in a study of the existing national security framework, which included a public cross-Canada consultation. I also participated in the study of Bill C-59 at Committee and clause-by-clause review of the Bill, where I introduced a number of amendments. Our Committee made some 40 amendments that further strengthened the Bill, including the creation of a new Avoiding Complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities Act, which outlaws the government’s use of information obtained through torture. One of the Senate amendments that the government has accepted will allow the governor in Council to expand the list of federal departments and agencies that the Act applies to.
Today is a historic moment for Canada and Canadians. With the National Security Act, we are enhancing Canada’s national security while safeguarding Canadians’ values, rights and freedoms.
This Bill upholds our commitment to fix the problematic elements of the former Bill C-51, notably by tightening the definition of “terrorist propaganda,” protecting the right to advocate and protest, upgrading no-fly list procedures, and ensuring the paramountcy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It also strengthens accountability and transparency by creating the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the position of Intelligence Commissioner. These new agencies will complement the work of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, created by our government in 2017.
In addition, the National Security Act will bring our security and intelligence legislation into the 21st century. Much of the legislation that formed the backbone of Canada’s national security landscape was drafted in the 1980s, long before the revolution in information technology that has transformed the national security and intelligence landscape. The Act will ensure that our agencies can keep pace with evolving threats to keep us safe, and that our laws also keep pace to protect Canadians’ rights and freedoms in a digital world.
University of Ottawa expert Craig Forcese and University of Toronto expert Kent Roach have written that the National Security Act represents “solid gains, measured from both a rule of law and civil liberties perspective…at no credible cost to security.” Both academics have also stated that the Bill “rolls back much of the unnecessary overkill of the Harper era’s Bill C-51.”
This is one of the most important pieces of legislation that our government has passed, and delivers on a key election platform commitment.