The Conservative government is pushing quickly ahead with a pair of bills that boost counterterrorism powers in the aftermath of last month's shooting on Parliament Hill – without hearing from some critics.
Bill C-13, a proposed anti-cyberbullying law with surveillance and counterterrorism powers packed into it, was passed by a Senate committee Thursday unanimously with no amendments. Bill C-44, which will boost powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency, was allotted just four hours of witness testimony this week by a House of Commons committee, which could pass it as soon as Monday.
The Conservatives have, along the way, sidestepped some critics of the bills by not inviting them to committee reviews, typically the closest look given to a proposed law.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien was among those frozen out. He asked to speak to the public safety and national security committee about C-44, but was left off the list of six witnesses called by Conservative, NDP and Liberal MPs. Opposition MPs criticized the hurried pace and short witness list. Bill C-44 gives CSIS greater power to operate internationally and protect the anonymity of its sources.
In a written statement, Mr. Therrien warned that an expanded international mandate "raises the possibility of broader information sharing internationally," which "can lead to serious violations of human rights," including torture. Clear rules are needed for CSIS's information sharing, he said. Mr. Therrien also criticized the government for giving CSIS expanded powers with no expanded oversight.
The committee heard criticism of C-44 from some witnesses.
Craig Forcese, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa, supports some parts of the bill but warned there are "several critical omissions" that could lead to litigation and uncertainty. The bill lacks clarity on when CSIS needs a warrant for foreign surveillance, he said. He also called for more accountability, saying "the more eyes on the spies, the better."
Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who studies national security issues, called the bill a "poor-quality Band-Aid," one that "fails to address the most significant legacy issues" facing CSIS since its creation 30 years ago.
The Senate committee considering C-13 unanimously approved the bill on Thursday morning and declined to make amendments or formal comments. Mr. Therrien and others have called for changes to C-13.
Among those who support C-13, however, are the parents of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Halifax teenager who killed herself after an intimate photo was circulated online. Police need the new powers in the bill, her mother, Leah Parsons, said in a statement. "Honestly, privacy concerns are not my priority. We are losing too many children to this type of photo-sharing and the harassment that follows," Ms. Parsons said, in a statement read to the committee this week by Rehtaeh's father, Glen Canning.
In arguing for the bill, Justice Minister Peter MacKay invoked Rehtaeh Parsons's case and that of Amanda Todd, who killed herself in 2012 after suffering bullying related to online images.
Her mother Carol Todd has called for more mental-health services and education to fight bullying.
Bill C-13 will now go back to the Senate for third reading, after which only royal assent is needed to become law. The committee studying Bill C-44 is scheduled to begin clause-by-clause consideration Monday, and the bill would then return to the House of Commons before, if passed, moving on to the Senate.