5 bills to watch before Parliament breaks for summer
Online crime, digital privacy, election reform among bills needing attention
When members of Parliament return to Ottawa next Monday, they will have four weeks left to get work done before the House of Commons is scheduled to break for summer recess.
While the federal government could extend the sitting or decide to adjourn early, June 20 is the date MPs have circled in their calendars.
As MPs enter the home stretch of this spring sitting, here are five bills worth keeping an eye on:
1. Bill C-13, the protecting Canadians from online crime act
Bill C-13 would make it a criminal offence for anyone to post or transmit "intimate images" of another individual without that person’s consent. The bill also includes a number of other measures that would give police greater powers.
Ontario's privacy watchdog Ann Cavoukian said she is concerned with "overreaching surveillance powers" contained in the cyberbullying legislation. She is calling on the federal government to split Bill C-13 by removing the surveillance-related sections from the bill and moving ahead with those that directly address cyberbullying.
Bob Dechert, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, has said the surveillance-related provisions in this bill are needed to update the Criminal Code.
2. Bill S-4, the digital privacy act
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos said Bill S-4 would "establish stronger rules to ensure that the privacy rights of individuals are protected, while at the same time allowing businesses to use personal information to support their normal, day-to-day business activities."
The bill would amend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, commonly known as PIPEDA, which sets out the rules for how businesses collect, use and share personal information.
In her preliminary remarks on the bill, interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier said "there are some very positive developments for the privacy rights of Canadians in relation to private sector companies." She promised to provide more detailed comment after studying the bill at further length.
On the other hand, Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has warned that Bill C-13 along with S-4 would allow organizations to disclose subscriber or customer personal information without a court order. Bill S-4 would go even further by expanding the potential of warrantless disclosure to anyone, not just law enforcement, Geist said.
3. Bill C-23, fair elections act
The Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre amended the bill following a massive outcry from experts worried the bill would be undemocratic. The opposition parties, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand and even former auditor general Sheila Fraser were among those who registered their opposition to measures in the original bill.
Harry Neufeld, the author of the report often cited by government officials to support the original bill, said he was happy to see Poilievre compromise on the bill, but still has some concerns with it.
The amendments were passed at committee and the amended bill was adopted at third reading before MPs returned to their ridings prior to the Victoria Day break.
4. Bill C-24, strengthening Canadian citizenship act
The government has proposed sweeping changes to Canada's Citizenship Act, from changing the eligibility requirements for would-be citizens, to granting citizenship to so-called "lost Canadians," to expanding the grounds for revoking citizenship.
The Canadian Bar Association has welcomed some of the new measures proposed in the bill, but said it also has "serious concerns" with several aspects of the bill.
The bar association said some of the more controversial measures are “likely unconstitutional" and raise "serious human rights concerns."
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said this bill is "entirely in line with the requirements under the Constitution."
5. Bill C-31, the economic action plan 2014 act, No. 1
The federal government will likely want to see its omnibus budget bill passed into law before MPs leave Ottawa for a two-month summer recess, but independent experts and opposition parties alike are still calling for several sections of the bill to be stripped out altogether.
Bernier, the interim privacy commissioner, said that her office is "encouraged by provisions that require FINTRAC to destroy personal information not related to the suspicion of criminal or terrorist activity," but it also has concerns about changes to the Income Tax Act.
Bernier said she was concerned with the government's proposal to allow Canada Revenue Agency officials to voluntarily hand over taxpayer information to police if they have reason to believe such information is evidence of a crime — without a warrant or court approval.
The Bar Association also has reservations about a provision in the budget bill that that would see 11 independent tribunals merged into one and is calling on the government to remove it.
Several experts have also raised concerns with the bill's provisions related to the sharing of tax information with the U.S. under the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA.