Radar Satellite

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): – Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-25, the act governing the operation of remote sensing space systems.

Now that we are at third reading of the bill and in the final stages, I want to say at the outset that when we were debating the bill in principle at second reading, the NDP and our critic in this area, the member for Halifax, were actually of two minds about the bill. We were very aware of the critical need for legislation outlining protection for Canadian interests and the privacy of Canadians, and for proper controls and regulations when it comes to satellites, the information used and how it is governed.

While we were very aware of the underlying need for this legislation, when we looked at the bill we became very concerned about the vagueness of the language in the bill. It really began to raise some alarm bells for us in the NDP in terms of exactly how the bill would be implemented and whether or not the public interest would be upheld.

I know that the member for Halifax, our critic, worked very diligently at the committee level. When the bill was referred to committee, she worked very diligently with NGOs and with community representatives who were very concerned about the bill and who in fact brought forward something like 18 solid amendments which would have provided the kind of clarification, accountability and transparency for this bill that would have allowed us in the NDP, had the amendments been approved, to then support the bill.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. Those amendments were not approved. Here we are at third reading, and although we agree with the underlying intent and principle of the bill, we have serious reservations that the bill does not go far enough. It does not do the job in protecting the interests of Canadians and ensuring that there is adequate public oversight of what happens with RADARSAT-2. I will just spend a few minutes detailing what some of those concerns are.

First of all, let us be very clear that it is Canadian taxpayers who have funded a major portion of the development of this satellite. About 75% of the development funds have come from the public purse. That is about $450 million. On a financial basis alone, after what has been invested in this program, we should have a huge concern about what is going on. The reality is that this satellite, RADARSAT-2, will be 100% commercially owned. It seriously raises the question as to why, as my colleague from the Bloc raised earlier, the Canadian Space Agency, for example, does not have some control and oversight of the development of this satellite and all that it will entail.

Why is it that the Canadian government appears to be moving away from its controlling interest and oversight of this? We will end up with a 100% commercially owned entity where the only connection and accountability will be as a result of this bill, which, as I have said, is very inadequate. We agree that Canadians must be assured that the information collected by RADARSAT-2, the satellite, will not be used against our national interest and will not violate in any way the privacy of Canadians. In fact, one of the amendments that we sought in committee was to entrench the privacy rights of Canadians, to ensure those rights in view of the imagery collected by this incredibly powerful, highly advanced, state of the art technology. That is what we are told about it by its manufacturer, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.

We wanted an ironclad agreement that the privacy of Canadians from images and information resulting from this technology would be protected. We know that the images created can come up to within one and a half metres of an individual, an activity or a location. I think people have a really deep concern about that.

We live in an era where data collection is massive. We live in an era where increasing privatization, which has been encouraged and supported by the federal government, infringes upon the rights of Canadians and their protection of privacy. We have to recognize that there is a very deep concern from Canadians about this issue.

One only has to remember what is going on in British Columbia, where the Liberal provincial government is working to allow medical records to also be handled by a U.S. corporation. There are huge concerns about the loss of privacy and the lack of adequate oversight and control around the handling of that data. Here we have RADARSAT-2, a state of the art technology, featuring the most advanced commercially available radar imagery in the world, to be developed by next year, massive Canadian funds that have been invested in it, yet what hangs on a shred is this bill and the protection of not only individual privacy and rights of Canadians but also national interests.

One of our major concerns about this bill is that it does not include the kind of protection that we would like to see, that we sought in committee, in order to have the protection of privacy of Canadians. Another serious concern that we have about this bill is that the language that is contained within it now is very vague and unaccountable in terms like international obligations and international relations. Again at committee, we tried to further define this and to get much better assurances from the government to ensure that where there is a conflict, where a conflict may arise in terms of information that is collected by RADARSAT-2, it will in no way violate or impact on Canadian interests or national security.

For example, Canada is a part of NATO. NATO makes decisions about engaging in military actions. It may be a military action that involves NATO going to war. It may be a decision that Canada does not agree with, but it leaves us with a scenario where information that has been collected could be used by other agencies and interests that would place in conflict Canada’s policies and international relations.

This is an area of great concern to us as well as the language that is within the bill right now. Basically, it is left to the sole discretion of ministers to decide whether or not there is a conflict with international obligations and national interests. We believe that this is something that should firmly rest with Canada. These are big questions and they were canvassed by the committee. They were on the table in committee where there was a lot of discussion.

We are concerned that the bill will now be approved. In fact, the parliamentary secretary earlier in the debate today made reference to a special in camera meeting that was held supposedly to assure members of the committee that the protections that they sought would be there. I was not there. I am not on the committee, but I know from our critic, the member for Halifax, that the meeting did take place.

However, in actual fact what transpired from that was an even greater concern that there may be other agreements between the satellite company and the federal government that were not even acknowledged. That is a very real concern. Yes, frankly speaking, there is a concern that information that is collected by this technology and this commercially owned operation can be used by other governments, for example, the U.S. for military purposes. It may be contrary to a decision that Canada has taken, for example, our non-participation in the war in Iraq. We know that it happened with RADARSAT-1.

I know the parliamentary secretary is going to get up and tell me, and try to convince me and other Canadians that the government has done the job, that it has protected everyone. However, upon our examination of the bill and hearing from expert witnesses and hearing from people who are tracking the bill and the system, there is no such assurance.

Therefore, we are standing before the House today and saying that we cannot support the bill. Otherwise we would be supporting it because we understand why the bill is needed. However, we cannot support it in its present form. It does not provide the kind of assurances and guarantees that we believe are incredibly important for this kind of highly sensitive, highly volatile information that is being collected.

I would speak further to one other amendment, of which there were a number put forward by the NDP, which was rejected. It recommended that a detailed report be filed with Parliament that would clearly outline for example how many times violations had taken place, how fines were being imposed, and whether the government had collected on those fines. We tried to bring in amendments that delivered on the accountability and transparency side, but again they were not accepted, so we are left in a position where we cannot support the bill. It is the kind of bill that can just easily slip through and before we know it the landscape has changed and all the rules have changed. Here we have a commercially owned operation where vast amounts of powerful information and images are being collected that can be used in a way that is contrary to Canadian interests. We have very serious reservations about that. We believe that the bill should not be rushed through. It should be debated. We should have a review of some of the amendments that have been put forward. There are two parties that have very strong reservations about the bill, but as it stands now it looks like it will pass. We do not think that is good enough and so we will be using our votes to clearly voice our opposition to third reading.

I encourage other members to take another look at it and consider their position. We think the bill as it is now is not adequate. It is not good enough. It does not provide the kind of protection that is being sought by members of the community, by our party and by other parties to protect the interests of Canadians.