Government bills up for examination

Several important bills will be considered in the House of Commons.

After a brief recess the House of Commons will again be in session this week and one of the government bills up for debate for the first time is Bill C-55: “The Response to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. vs. Tse Act”.

This is in my view an important bill although it has to date not generated a considerable amount of public commentary as opposed to Bill C-30.

While Bill C-30 is now effectively a dead bill, it was frequently mischaracterized as the “Internet spy bill” even though Bill C-30 did not allow for any unauthorized spying to occur without judicial oversight.

Bill C-55 on the other hand, does pertain to the legislation that allows law enforcement agencies to engage in lawful but limited surveillance activities without judicial oversight.

I believe that any legislation that allows law enforcement to engage in acts of surveillance without a court order is important to Canadians and as such, I will spend much of this week’s report covering Bill C-55.

One key aspect of Bill C-55 is to recognize that it does not create new powers for law enforcement, but rather seeks to clarify existing legal tools available to police in matters of public safety as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada legal ruling.

Law enforcement at times requires the ability to respond very quickly in situations where there are urgent circumstances.

Kidnappings, hostage taking and bomb threats are a few examples where urgent actions are expected of the police to protect innocent victims and maintain public safety.

The kidnapping of 23-year-old Vancouver resident Graham McMynn in April of 2006 and the prompt response by the Vancouver Police Department in using all of the legal resources available to safely return McMynn to his family serves as a reminder of why legislation in a Bill such as C-55 is needed.

Currently the laws that govern police use of a wiretap (as it is frequently referred to as) without court authorization can only occur in situations where there can be imminent harm as defined in section 184.4 of the criminal code.

From a historical perspective this particular legislation was passed into law some two decades ago by a former government in 1993.

One of the oversights of the existing legislation is that there is no legal requirement for an individual who has been the subject of a wiretap to be notified of this fact after the incident has occurred.

The Supreme Court has ruled that if law enforcement intercepts private personal communications under section 184.4, there is an obligation to notify the individual that this action has occurred.

he Supreme Court has further directed government to respond to this matter by April 13.

I mention this last point as often I am asked what factors are involved in establishing the timing on when various bills are introduced into the House of Commons.

Bill C-55 proposes to add new requirements to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada.

One new requirement proposes mandatory notification for any person who has had personal communication intercepted under this act within 90 days unless a court ordered extension for the notification period is granted by a judge.

A second proposal is to publish annual reports on the use of “imminent harm” wiretaps so the public can be better informed on these practices.

The final proposal better clarifies and narrows the scope that allows police officers the ability to use this legislation. The current definition is broader in also including peace officers. Overall I believe the proposals in Bill C-55 will provide better balance and help to increase the transparency of a process that all Canadians should always be aware of.

Also occurring this week is continued debate on Bill C-48 “Technical Tax Amendments” and Bill C-42 “Enhancing RCMP Accountability Act”. Senate Bill S-7 “Combating Terrorism Act and S-12 “Incorporation by Reference in Regulation Act” are up for 3rd and 2nd reading debate respectively. Private Members Bill C-463 “Discover Your Canada Act, C-419 “Language Skills Act” and C-425 “An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act” are some of the private members business that will come before the House this week.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns on these or any Bill before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me by phone at 1 800-665-8711 or by email at dan.albas@parl.gc.ca.

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla. His blog is DaninOttawa.com and previous MP reports are available on line at www.danalbas.com