Bill C-22: Oversight for national security and intelligence activities
This bill establishes a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
Bills will often pass the Senate without amendment, but that doesn’t mean that the Upper Chamber doesn’t have advice to offer the Government after conducting its review. For example, a committee will regularly append observations to a bill to counsel the Government to pay attention to certain concerns going forward. Such was the case with Bill C-22.
In April 2017, Bill C-22 arrived in the Senate. Its purpose was to establish a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Until Bill C-22, Canada was the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence community (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and the U.K.) without such oversight of its country’s national security and intelligence activities.
The Senate’s Role
The debate on Bill C-22, sponsored by the Government Representative in the Senate Peter Harder, was detailed and thoughtful. Most Senators recognized that the committee was necessary—Parliamentarians are the eyes and ears of Canadians. Concerns were raised by Conservative Senator Paul McIntyre regarding the reporting structure and limitations to available information; by Senator Mobina Jaffer, a Senate Liberal, relating to the number of senators on the committee; and by Independent Senator Diane Griffin, who took issue with the lack of parliamentary privilege normally afforded Parliamentarians.
Bill C-22 was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. The committee heard from 29 witnesses, including two Government Ministers, national security specialists, academics and former Parliamentarians. The committee recommended that Bill C-22 should pass unamended, but it offered meaningful advice to the Government through its observations, suggesting that in future the Government should:
- Expand the list of bodies to whom the committee can speak to include the Privacy Commissioner;
- Create a mechanism to monitor the Government’s use of a provision that allows it to prohibit the oversight committee from reviewing activities that are ongoing investigations; and
- Widen the role of the committee so it can report on activities involving unnecessary and unreasonable exercise of authority.
In his speech to the chamber at third reading on June 20, 2017, the chair of the National Security and Defence Committee, Conservative Senator Daniel Lang (now retired) said: “There was no question that there was a consensus that we should proceed with the principle of the bill…. Your committee also signals its intention to hear regularly from the chair of the Committee of Parliamentarians or its executive director to speak to its work and activities especially in relation to these observations.” The bill was adopted that day.