Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pick for federal privacy watchdog surprised both supporters of his nomination and those who oppose it when he said the government's controversial cyberbullying bill should be split in two.
Daniel Therrien, a longtime lawyer who currently works as assistant deputy attorney general for the Justice Department, appeared before a parliamentary committee Tuesday morning where MPs grilled him on his credentials and his views on privacy legislation currently before parliamentarians.
His nomination is expected to be confirmed on Wednesday.
"I would agree with the Canadian Bar Association that the bill should be divided and that there should be an independent review of privacy interests in the context of electronic investigations," Therrien said Tuesday morning after the New Democrats pressed him for an answer.
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"Did you just say that you do agree that the bill should be divided," asked a surprised NDP MP Charlie Angus.
"Yes and that there should be an independent review, because I think Canadians want to know more about why police and security agencies require information," Therrien said.
The Conservatives dismissed Therrien's proposition and reiterated that you can't make the distribution of "intimate images" illegal without giving law enforcement officials the tools to do their job.
"It would not make sense to introduce this new offence without updating the necessary tools to investigate these types of crimes," a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said on Tuesday,
"There is absolutely no need to split this bill," Paloma Aguilar said.
MacKay made it clear last week the government has no intention of splitting Bill C-13 in two, despite calls from opposition parties and independent experts to hive off the surveillance-related provisions of the bill into a separate piece of legislation.
'Privacy is at risk'
Therrien told MPs that "privacy is at risk" and that his main priority as privacy watchdog would be to improve what he called "control factors."
"More transparency by government and companies collecting information. More justification for collecting information without consent. More information by the office of the commissioner on the privacy risks faced by individuals. And more security safeguards so that personal information is safe from malicious intent."
Therrien said IP addresses should not be obtained without a warrant and that the issue of warrantless disclosure "is a concern."
He also said he is in favour of creating a parliamentary committee to oversee the various law enforcement agencies that collect personal information.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair maintained that Therrien would find himself in a "blatant" conflict of interest as privacy commissioner because of his work in various public safety, defence and immigration files within the Justice Department.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he was satisfied with Therrien's answers, but added he still has concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the process of appointing agents of Parliament.
Therrien invited next Tuesday
While Therrien was being vetted by MPs before the access to information, privacy and ethics committee in one room, the justice committee studying Bill C-13 was hearing from witnesses in another room.
Bill C-13 would make it illegal to distribute "intimate images" without consent. It would also give law enforcement more surveillance powers.
The justice committee was to finish hearing from witnesses Thursday — but in a last-ditch effort to hear Therrien's views on the cyberbullying bill, MPs agreed today to invite him to appear next week.
Jean-François Pagé, the clerk of the justice committee, told CBC News on Tuesday "the committee has invited the new commissioner to appear on Tuesday, June 10, at 11 a.m."
Liberal MP Sean Casey submitted a motion calling on the justice committee to call more witnesses, including provincial privacy commissioners.
"That the committee delay its review of clause by clause and amendments scheduled for Bill C-13, and that the committee chair be instructed to invite the privacy commissioners from among the various jurisdiction … as well as Canada`s privacy commissioner," Casey said in his motion.
Casey's motion has not been moved.