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Bill C-59 in the Senate: Enhancing national security and protecting our rights

Bill C-59 is a reasonable, responsible, and necessary response to the real security threats we face, and one which enhances our security while respecting the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians, says Senate sponsor Marc Gold.

This piece by Independent Senator Marc Gold was originally published in the Hill Times on Sept. 10, 2018.

Following a lengthy period of study and debate in the House of Commons, Bill C-59, the National Security Act, has arrived in the Senate for consideration. The bill represents a comprehensive and much-needed modernization of the law governing our national security agencies, designed to enhance the security of Canadians while safeguarding our constitutional rights and freedoms.

The threats facing our national security are real, complex, and growing, but our current legislation falls short in two important respects.

In some cases, our security agencies simply lack the tools to do the job. This is especially acute in the cyber area, where our legislation has not kept up with the new and evolving threats facing Canada. Bill C-59 clarifies the mandate of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and provides it with the necessary powers to protect our national security from cyber-attacks.

In other cases, the mandate and powers that the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (former Bill C-51) granted to our security agencies were poorly drafted and overbroad, rendering them constitutionally suspect. This is especially acute with respect to certain roles conferred on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), but is true in other areas as well. Bill C-59 addresses these issues by putting the mandate and powers of our security and intelligence agencies on a more solid constitutional footing, thereby enabling them to act appropriately and effectively in defence of our national security. In addition, the bill also narrows the definition of certain terrorism offences to ensure that they comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The centrepiece of Bill C-59 is the creation of two new institutions to provide critical review and oversight of all our security agencies. These represent a major step forward in enhancing the transparency and accountability of our national security infrastructure to both constitutional norms and democratic scrutiny.

The bill creates the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), with a broad mandate to review and report on the lawfulness of all national security and intelligence activities across government. The bill also establishes an independent, quasi-judicial intelligence commissioner, with the responsibility to assess and review certain ministerial decisions regarding intelligence gathering and cyber security activities. This would ensure an independent consideration of the important privacy and other interests implicated by these activities, in a manner that is appropriately adapted to the sensitive national security context. These review and oversight structures will ensure a regular and critical scrutiny of our security agencies and their actions, and bring Canada up to date with the best practices of our democratic allies.

More generally, C-59 takes the administration of our national security out of the shadows and establishes clear definitions in law for what actions are appropriate to safeguard Canadians. In this way, the bill better protects our national security by addressing the constitutional vulnerabilities that the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 introduced into the law, thereby providing a proper legal foundation for the actions that our security and intelligence agencies may need to take.

Bill C-59 was the product of extensive consultation, and was carefully studied by the Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which introduced several significant amendments to improve the bill. Now that it is before the Senate, it will benefit from further critical review to ensure that it achieves its objectives and respects our fundamental constitutional values. That is the added value that the Senate brings to the legislative process, and I am confident that my colleagues will approach the study of this important bill in a serious, principled, and open-minded manner.

In my view, Bill C-59 is a reasonable, responsible, and necessary response to the real security threats we face, and one which enhances our security while respecting the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians. That is why I am proud to be the Senate sponsor of this bill.

Quebec Senator Marc Gold, who was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is member of the Independent Senators Group.

Bill C-59 in the Senate: Enhancing national security and protecting our rights