Parliament is taking a summer break. Here’s what’s on pause until the fall

Click to play video: 'Questions will be answered in person during fall sessions of question period: Holland'
Questions will be answered in person during fall sessions of question period: Holland
Government House Leader Mark Holland said Monday, during a recap of the spring session and look ahead to the fall, that questions posed during question period in the House of Commons would be answered in person during the fall session of Parliament – Jun 20, 2022

Members of Parliament in Canada are heading home to their ridings after the House of Commons agreed to rise for the summer on Thursday afternoon.

While late sittings over recent days have sent a flurry of newly adopted bills over to the Senate for review, a number of government promises remain on pause until the fall.

Unlike the last two summers, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in 2020 and when he called an election in 2021, the legislation that didn’t make it over the finish line likely won’t have to start from scratch and be re-introduced when MPs return in September.

That’s because there is no election currently on the horizon following a Liberal-NDP confidence-and-supply deal struck earlier this year that is expected to see them work together to keep the Liberals in government until 2025.

Now, as is often the case in politics, no one can predict the future. But as it stands now, there’s no sign another prorogation is in the works, nor another federal election.

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So here’s where things stand as the House of Commons takes a summer break. This isn’t a conclusive list of the dozens of bills caught mid-process, but more of a big picture look at major promises.

Firearms reform

Last month, the federal government introduced a new bill they say will boost firearms safety.

Bill C-21 seeks to put a national freeze on handgun sales and to take away the firearms licences of anyone involved in domestic violence or criminal harassment.

As well, the bill promises to bring in what is known as a “red flag” law — effectively, a law that would let the courts force someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others to hand over their firearms to police.

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The bill is at second reading in the House of Commons right now, meaning it still needs to go through committee study and third reading before it can head to the Senate.

Banning sanctioned Russians

Canada has sanctioned roughly 1,000 Russians and Belorussians in connection with the invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign democracy now resisting more than 100 days of invasion.

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In May, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced the government was tabling a bill in the Senate — effectively, putting the legislation in reverse order through Parliament — to ban any sanctioned person from entering the country.

The bill passed in the Red Chamber but needs to go through the legislative process all over again in the House of Commons.

Getting the bill through the Senate first was expected to help speed up that passage, said one official.

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Cellphone border snooping

Also set to come back to MPs is a controversial bill that has gotten little attention so far, but is likely poised for a heated debate once it arrives in the House of Commons.

S-7, tabled in March, is titled An Act to amend the Customs Act and the Preclearance Act.

Those amendments, however, propose loosening the restrictions for when border guards can search the “personal digital devices” of any person entering Canada if the guard has “reasonable general concern” about controlled goods or substances.

The government has described the bill as attempting to create “clear and stringent standards” for when personal digital devices can be searched at the border, as a result of a court order in 2020 that deemed the current lack of any standards in the Customs Act to be unconstitutional.

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But privacy advocates have raised alarm bells at the potential for misuse.

Of particular concern for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is the “reasonable general concern” threshold, which is a standard that does not exist in Canadian law as it stands now and is markedly different from the typical threshold used in similar laws, which is “reasonable grounds to suspect.”

“Introducing such a low standard not only fails to protect individual privacy, but also fails to offer protections against racial and religious profiling that may stem from the excessive discretion such a minimalist standard will provide, and may even exacerbate such profiling,” the CCLA has warned.

The Senate amended that section of the bill to make the standard of searching “reasonable grounds to suspect,” but it’s not yet clear if the government will accept that amendment.

Expect a lot of questions as this comes back to the House of Commons.

Cybersecurity — and secret orders

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino tabled C-26 earlier this month.

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The bill seeks to grant sweeping new powers to the federal government to direct critical infrastructure operators on their cybersecurity plans and protective efforts. It will also create the powers the government says it needs to implement a promised ban on Huawei and ZTE.

But cybersecurity experts say that while the bill has “good bones,” the provisions allowing it to direct private sector companies in secret need to be amended, particularly in light of the fact such repairs or changes to companies’ cyber operations could prove expensive.

The bill comes at a time when critical infrastructure protection and cybersecurity are taking on renewed roles at the centre of conversations about Canadian national security.

Mendicino recently warned the government is on “high alert” for Russian cyberattacks.

Judges Act reform

Late last year, Justice Minister David Lametti tabled C-9, which seeks to amend the Judges Act.

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The bill would replace the Canadian Judicial Council process for reviewing the conduct of federally appointed judges. It would also lay out a new process for handling allegations of misconduct that “are not serious enough to warrant a judge’s removal from office.”

It lays out a requirement for the judge in question to undergo counselling, continuing education or receive a reprimand in cases where their conduct does not reach the threshold of warranting removal.

As well, the legislation would change the way that recommendations for removing judges from office are made to the minister of justice, and lays out an additional set of steps for removing public office holders other than judges who were appointed to hold their job during “good behaviour.”

Of note: NDP's algorithm reform bill

Private members’ bills are always a tough slog through the House of Commons, especially when that bill comes from an opposition party member.

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And while it may have little plausible path to passing, a private members’ bill from the NDP’s Peter Julian will be worth keeping an eye on amid growing awareness in Western democracies about the ways that social media algorithms are driving the spread of hateful and extremist content online.

As Global News has reported, it can take as little as four clicks to find extremist content online in Canada.

C-292 proposes making it a requirement for social media companies to disclose how they collect personal information on users and how that personal information is used by their algorithms “to make predictions, recommendations or decisions about a user and to withhold content from that user or amplify or promote content to them.”

It would require those companies to make sure their content moderation algorithms “do not use algorithms that use personal information in a manner that results in the adverse differential treatment of any individual or group of individuals based on one or more prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

The bill, like all private members’ bills, will face an uphill battle and an unlikely path to passage.

But when Parliament returns in the fall, debate on its proposals could provide interesting insight into whether the Liberal government plans to put forward serious measures targeting algorithms.

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