February 3, 2011 (40th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Bill Siksay

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, which is very important legislation.
We have finally heard other opinions in debate about the legislation, and I want to congratulate the members of the Liberal Party for joining the debate. It would be nice to hear from some Conservatives, but it has been interesting to hear the various points of view.
The last member who spoke, someone I have great respect for, said that we would have to go along with the bill because we had no choice when it came to negotiating on issues of security with the United States. On that very issue, I would take him on. I believe we have a choice and the government has a choice. The government has a choice about whether we should stand up for the privacy rights of Canadians. I believe the bill diminishes the privacy rights of Canadians.
The key part of the bill is to exempt airlines from the provisions of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act so they can provide personal information about passengers on Canadian airlines to American security agencies. I think this is a very serious concern to Canadians. Just how much of our personal information will get into the hands of U.S. security agencies and where does it go from there? Who else is it being shared with? There are all kinds of questions that we need to be ask.
Rather than saying it is not a privacy issue, though I think it is, it is also an issue of sovereignty. How do Canadians make decisions about their personal information and do we have to fold every time the United States seeks to increase the security of its borders, which impacts Canada? We see that time and time again.
I wish the Conservative government was as aggressive on this issue as it is on the issue of the census, which is a no-brainer. It will defend the right of Canadians not to tell census takers how many bedrooms or bathrooms they have in their homes, but when it comes to sharing our personal information with American security officials, it is open season. It is incredibly ironic we have this debate about the legislation and that we should just holus-bolus roll over and send the information south.
The government claims to be great defenders of the privacy of Canadians, that somehow it is too intrusive to ask people how many bathrooms or bedrooms they have, when most of us know how that information is used and how much the personal privacy of the people who provide the information is protected in our country. It is an incredible irony to me that the same government is responsible for both of those positions.
Should we be concerned about our information going south? Time and time again we see that information crops up in places where it is a real problem. This morning we heard the member for Winnipeg Centre say that he was on the no fly list, that he could not get on a plane in Canada easily. It has changed now because he misspells his name to alert the airlines and security officials that he is the member of Parliament from Winnipeg Centre, not the guy who should be on the no fly list. What kind of bogus approach is that?
A Canadian member of Parliament cannot get his name off of the no fly list. What chance does an average citizen have? That is just one of the problems with this kind of security apparatus that has been established. When a mistake is made, it cannot be corrected.
I have a friend who is in exactly the same position as the member for Winnipeg Centre. He has to make the same kind of run around the no fly list because it has created havoc with his ability to travel, totally unjustly. There is no way of correcting that in the system. There is no way of finding out why a person's name is on the no fly list.
People are justly concerned about their personal information and what happens when it gets into the hands of a security agency that they have no ability to access, to appeal to or to make changes.
We see it in other ways. It is not exactly a parallel to the situation we are debating today, but it is another instance of what happens when a security agency outside of Canada gets hold of our personal information. Recently, a woman from Toronto was denied access into the United States because a U.S. customs and border protection officer at Pearson airport denied her entry for medical reasons because he had access to her medical report. He knew that she had attempted suicide in 2006. Apparently he knew this because police records were available to him that showed the police had attended at her house because she had attempted to do violence to self.
Why does this American agency have information about a non-criminal activity from the metro Toronto police? Why would it have what is essentially health information about this Canadian woman who is trying to travel to the United States? Why would the Americans deny her entry on the basis of that information?
She had to go through a whole rigmarole. She had to have a medical examination by a state department physician that cost her an additional $250. Then that report had to be screened before she was eventually allowed into the United States.
This is just another example of what happens to our personal information. In my opinion, from what I have read in the media and heard from her lawyer, this information should never have been made available to a foreign security agency. It has no relevance to her interest in travelling to the United States. There is no security issue with her travelling to the United States. Yet it was raised in that circumstance with her at the airport while she was trying to travel to the there.
No one can seem to allay my fear that this is the kind of thing that will become more common. More information will be shipped south about Canadians wanting to travel to the United States and even when they are not trying to travel there. It is very worrisome.
Another example is this. Most of us who travel at least have had pause to consider the placement of the full body scanners in Canadian airports. We have seen these expensive machines cropping up at all of our security checkpoints in airports. There are real privacy concerns about the kind of imaging they produce, the full body scan. Recently a new generation of these machines have been unveiled that gives an even finer, more exact naked image of the person being screened. I think people have legitimate concerns about that.
Today there is a report that the machines are being modified so not all images would be viewed by the person doing the screening, only those where there is an identified problem. One wonders why that feature was not built into the system from the get-go rather than weeks or months down the road when people raised concerns about it. It speaks to the enthusiasm for new security measures that are not tested appropriately and not thought through.
Again, why do we have these kinds of expensive scanners in airports? I have not seen the evidence that says the old scanning system was somehow flawed or that there had been incidents of major concerns, especially in Canada, that would cause us to need this new technology. Every time I see one of those I wish it was a scanner in a hospital rather than at the airport. If we could sink that money into scanners for medical purposes, I think Canadians would be extremely enthusiastic.
Somehow, because the United States started putting them at security checkpoints in its airports, we had to do it in Canada. I do not think we did it for our own reasons. I think we did it because the Americans wanted it. Once again, they said “hop” and we hopped and put them in here at the expense, aggravation and diminution of the privacy of Canadians. The perception of the Americans of their security needs demanded it. I do not think that is acceptable. It is not acceptable from a privacy standard or a sovereignty standard.
This goes back to the misapprehension that somehow the 9/11 attackers came from Canada. We know they did not. However, Canada accepted 30,000 people who were trying to fly into the United States without question. We landed them here, welcomed and took care of them when the United States would not let them into its country.
That says something about the difference between how we approach a security problem and how the Americans approach a security problem. I want us to remember that when we approach any kind of legislation that deals with the security demands of the United States and the sovereignty and privacy concerns of Canadians.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Strengthening Aviation Security Act
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