PARLIAMENT HILL—Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale signalled Monday he’s hoping to bring in further national security legislation as he looks to the Senate to pass the Liberals’ first “major piece” of the government public safety and security agenda, Bill C-22, the legislation to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
“Bill C-22 is a major piece of the government approach to national security, but it is by no means the only piece. We are currently preparing additional proposals to fulfill the commitments that we made during the last election,” Mr. Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) told the Senate National Security and Defence Committee on Monday, June 5, accompanied by Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), who is sponsoring the bill. “I hope to be in a position to put those other proposals in the public domain in the weeks immediately ahead.”
The government has also promised to repeal parts of the Conservatives’ Anti-Terrorism Bill, C-51. On Monday, Mr. Goodale said it’s still his plan to table the bill by the end of June.
“That’s my objective, yes. There’s a lot of important work that needs to be done and, as you can imagine, an issue of that magnitude is not something you deal with either lightly or briefly, so we’re hard at work on it now,” said Mr. Goodale outside of the Victoria Building meeting room.
“I am going to try my very best to reflect what we heard in the legislative proposals when they’re ready to come forward,” said Mr. Goodale. “I hope to have a package that shows the very kind of common sense balance that Canadians were talking about.”
NDP House Leader Murray Rankin (Victoria, B.C.), meanwhile, has previously told The Hill Times he’s concerned that even if the legislation is brought in to repeal aspects of Bill C-51 in the next few weeks, it likely won’t be put on the schedule for debate until the fall.
“My fear has all along been that they won’t get around to it anytime soon and when they do, it’ll be pretty weak,” said Mr. Rankin.
During his testimony Mr. Goodale also said the coming proposals will include filling the current oversight review gap of the Canada Border Services Agency. Last month, the government hired former Privy Council clerk Mel Cappe to study potentially boosting CBSA’s oversight, according to a Canadian Press report.
But both Mr. Goodale and Ms. Chagger also told members of the Senate National Security Committee that Bill C-22 should remain in its current form.
The legislation would establish the new joint National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, the first of its kind in Canada. It will set up its scope, mandate, and outline its legal rights and restrictions. It also establishes a secretariat for the committee. The mandate of the committee is to review, monitor, and scrutinize the work of the country’s most secret intelligence agencies, including CSIS, the RCMP, the CSE, and the CBSA.
It was the Senate National Security Committee’s first meeting on Bill C-22 after the legislation had been brought up for debate five times at second reading in the Senate. Many of the Senators asked questions about the upcoming special committee’s powers and authorities and some took issue with the potential for political interference.
As it’s drafted, the committee would be under the purview of the Government House Leader’s Office, but the secretariat will be established through the Privy Council Office and the committee will report to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.).
In response, Mr. Goodale said that though there is a provision in the bill for the committee to have a minister recommend studying something, the purview and study plan of the committee will be left up to its members. As well, if members are not happy with the level of disclosure from the government of the day, they’re able to make that publicly known, something he sees as a strong deterring factor for the government not to be fully cooperative.
“If you have a committee of this stature that is saying that, that will have a powerful public, political impact. … It’s going to be a very uncomfortable period for the government of the day. My instinct is that governments will go out of their way to try and keep this committee happy and satisfied with a sufficient degree of disclosure,” said Goodale.
Before the bill was sent to the committee, Mr. Rankin told The Hill Times he heard that Senators will be looking to make amendments to the bill after the opposition MPs on the House Public Safety and National Security Committee were unsuccessful.
However, as Mr. Goodale described it, there were already “very substantial modifications” made during the House process, however, he also said the government would be willing to consider amendments from the Senate.
The vote at third reading on Bill C-22 in the House passed 167 to 128. The Conservatives and New Democrats voted against it and the government did not adopt their amendments.
The opposition parties had wanted to broaden the committee’s powers to subpoena information and to make it more of a challenge for ministers to refuse to provide information requested.
Mr. Rankin said the bill as it stands cripples the committee from being able to access the information it will need to do its work effectively and described it as an “advisory committee, essentially, to the prime minister.”
He said he expects there will be Senators with similar concerns who want to see the legislation amended.
The Hill Times has previously reported that the committee will likely be more expensive in its initial setup and annual operating costs compared to any other House and Senate national security-related committees.
It will also be comprised 11 members, including eight MPs, and three Senators.
Mr. Trudeau appointed five-term Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.) last January to chair the committee. Other members of the committee have not been chosen yet. As chair, Mr. McGuinty will receive an additional salary of $42,000 on top of his regular MP salary of $170,400 while other members of the committee will receive a salary top up of $11,900, the same as chairs of House committees. All committee members will have to secure security clearance and take an oath of secrecy.
Senator Daniel Lang, chair of Senate’s National Security Committee, told The Hill Times that he would like to have the bill reported back to the Senate by June 19.
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