In Debate: C-42, Opposing Handing Over Canadian's Personal Information to the USA

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Madam Speaker, I deeply regret that the government has brought forward such a draconian piece of legislation as Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act.

As I indicated in previous remarks, Bill C-42 quite simply should be defeated. It is nothing more than data mining by foreign security services, primarily the United States, and is an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of Canadians.

Bill C-42 would amend the Aeronautics Act to allow for an exemption for airlines from the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, thereby permitting them to transmit to the United States department of homeland security personal information about airline passengers.

The U.S. department of airline security could then run this information through a number of databases to determine if the travellers should be prevented from entering U.S. airspace. If the U.S. department of homeland security determines a person may be allowed into the United States airspace, then the airline is given permission to issue a boarding pass.

This is a process set up under the United States secure flight program, and it mandates that only those the United States department of homeland security allows may enter into U.S. airspace, regardless if those individuals are landing in the United States or not.

While the Conservatives like to point to name, gender and birth date as the only items of information required, the secure flight final rules state that airlines must forward information that includes the passenger name record, which is a file that a travel agent creates when a customer books a vacation. It can include: credit card information, names of companions travelling with the individual, hotel and other booking information such as tours, rental cars, and any serious medical conditions of the passenger if the airline possess that information.

Unfortunately, it is sufficient information to allow the department of homeland security to data mine the travel reservation systems used by all airlines because these databases are physically located in the United States.

Previous to Bill C-42, this information was passed to the U.S. department of homeland security only for passengers travelling to the United States. There was an exemption for domestic Canadian flights. However, almost all flights within and to and from Canada pass through United States airspace. Bill C-42 would essentially allow the United States department of homeland security to determine who may enter and leave Canada by air.

Bill C-42 would also allow airlines to send personal information of passengers to foreign security services. What information would be forwarded is determined by requirements laid out in secret agreements with other countries. Details of these agreements have not even been released. However, it is known that Canada has signed or is negotiating agreements with the European Union, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

Details of the agreement between the European Union and the U.S., for the same information transfer, allows the information collected to be retained by the Americans for up to 40 years. As I have already indicated, this information may be forwarded to the security service of a third nation without the consent or even notification of the signatory, meaning the passenger.

The secure flight final rule also stipulates that no person may know what information is being held about them by the United States and may not correct that information if there are errors. In essence, the U.S. already has such an agreement with the EU that all such documents will not be publicly released for 10 years.

That means for an airline passenger seeking recourse in regard to a prohibition to travel, this would preclude any access to information requests. In essence, Bill C-42 gives the government agencies too much access to private information without protection for our citizens. It is also being spun by the government as necessary in our fight against terrorism.

There is no example of how this data mining has caught a single terrorist or any other criminal. Bill C-42 is an unacceptable invasion of privacy of Canadians by foreign security forces.

I have heard from many of my constituents who are most concerned that such an intrusion is an unacceptable invasion of their privacy and it undermines their personal security.

Maher Arar, who has already been mentioned, is an example of how this type of misinformation can be misused. In September 2006, in New York at the JFK Airport on his way home, Mr. Arar was detained by American officials. He was interrogated about alleged al-Qaeda links and 12 days later he was chained, shackled and flown to Syria. During his captivity he was beaten, tortured and forced to make false confessions. Despite a commission of inquiry, an apology and financial settlement from the Government of Canada, the United States authorities refuse to accept Mr. Arar's innocence and he remains on the American no-fly list. Clearly this is a terrifying example of how information can be skewed, misinterpreted and abused.

Many people have commented on the agreement being considered by the Government of Canada in regard to the proposed amendments to the Aeronautics Act. In May 2010, Dr. Mark Salter, who is an associate professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, told the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that governments want this information so that they can build profiles not just of risky passengers, but safe passengers as well. Research clearly demonstrates that in the United States and the U.K. government agencies are trying to collect as much data about travellers as possible.

What worries the experts about this particular legislation, Bill C-42, is the widespread distribution of the data. Flights that use polar routes from Vancouver to Hong Kong would have to go over Russia and China. Are we suggesting that they are reasonable destinations for the passenger data of Canadian citizens? Is the Government of Canada confident that the destination for this data can provide adequate protection?

What worries many of us on this side of the House is that neither the government nor other agencies have put protection in place for data that will now go abroad. It is dangerous to sacrifice our privacy and freedoms for the dream of zero risk or perfect security. This particular measure does not provide additional security for the aviation sector and it places an additional burden on Canadian citizens who are flying.

Quite simply, this bill makes Canadians more vulnerable to the security services of other nations. Canadian data should never be hostage to any regime that an air company chooses to fly over. The proposed change to these data protection regulations to include overflight states dramatically increases the vulnerability of Canadians' data while offering no means of redress or appeal.

The proposed changes to the Aeronautics Act are dangerous and without any clear benefit to Canadians. Dr. Salter is not the only expert in Canada warning that Bill C-42 sets out a dangerous path, one that we should not follow. Over and over we have heard the warnings from reputable experts and indeed the voices of concerned Canadians. Surely the government will listen to these warnings.

We need to defeat Bill C-42. Canadians deserve better than questionable leadership and an absence of due diligence from the government. How can anyone trust a government, its ministers and a Prime Minister so willing to jeopardize their privacy and security?

In the words of our Privacy Commissioner: “However, the Canadian government has a duty to protect the privacy and civil rights of its citizens.”

It is time the government understood that duty. It is time that it exercised due diligence for the sake of Canadians.

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I think the member's speech and arguments were quite well presented, but we do have a situation. The U.S. government and Canada have an agreement that is already in place which is directly related to the sovereign right to control their own airspace in the U.S. As the member knows, the thrust of the bill is to permit the request of the U.S. government for certain information, which, she is quite right, is still being discussed. The alternative is that the U.S. can say that flights would not be able to fly over U.S. airspace if they do not comply.

Given that the Privacy Commissioner before our committee on November 10 laid out some suggestions on how the security of the information could be safeguarded, she did not conclude it was an invasion of privacy and inappropriate disclosure. I wonder what the member's solution would be if Bill C-42 does not pass.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Madam Speaker, I find it interesting that there have been references made to previous agreements. I am not entirely sure that there was any wisdom in some of these agreements. It feels very much like the government is simply rolling over and playing dead.

What about the sovereign rights of Canadian citizens? What about our right to privacy and security?

This whole issue seems to revolve around threats from the United States. No matter how paranoid the Americans may be, it makes absolutely no sense to shut down the border or to preclude air flights from Canada. Yet that seems to be what is in Bill C-42. The American government is saying that even if we are not landing but simply flying over its airspace it has an issue with that.

In terms of safeguards, there has been a great deal of secrecy around these discussions. I have seen those safeguards and that is not acceptable.

Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague on a very well-reasoned speech and one of profound importance to Canadians. I believe we need to get right down to the nub of the matter.

The bill would force Canadian airlines to send personal information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Canadian travellers who are not even touching U.S. soil, but fly over U.S. airspace.

We know that the passenger name record has very detailed information, such as credit card numbers, where one is staying, who one is flying with and potential health concerns. We also have no way of knowing what third countries will get that information because this agreement permits the United States to send that information to third countries.

I am wondering about the question of reciprocity. Canadians want their government to defend their interests. Did the Conservatives, at the same time that they were selling out information on Canadians' privacy rights to the Americans, get reciprocal treatment so that American passengers who are flying over Canadian airspace have to let our security personnel know the passenger name record information on American travellers? I wonder if the government ensured that we would get reciprocal treatment in this regard.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:
Madam Speaker, it is my understanding that there is no reciprocity.

I find it absolutely amazing that the Canadian government is willing to give over information about credit cards and personal data without any assurance that information is secure or even accurate. It comes back to the whole problem of misinformation. As was the case with Maher Arar, people being denied access and refused the right to fly within their own country based on misinformation that they cannot correct. There is a stranglehold on the retention of that information and that quite simply should never be.