- MPndpFeb 26, 2015 7:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, this is the 89th time that the government has put closure on debate on a bill. It really is a very shameful record. It is an historic but shameful record in the history of this Parliament.
This bill, Bill C-2, is a particularly grievous one and is fundamentally flawed. I find it very ironic that the government itself sat on this bill for months and months—in fact, the better part of a year—before it brought it forward for debate. Now, all of a sudden, it decides it wants to rush it through at report stage and third reading at the last minute.
I want to ask why it is cutting off debate, why it sat on this bill for so long, and why members of Parliament, who have the right to a thorough debate at report stage and third reading of this bill and to discuss all of the arguments that came out of committee, a legitimate process, are now being limited and foreclosed in the House.
- MPndpFeb 24, 2015 1:25 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I do not know all of the reasons that the Supreme Court of Canada justices laid down one year. I could possibly speculate that they felt this was such a compelling issue affecting the dignity of people, their right to life, and their own decision-making process that they really wanted to make sure that Parliament did not just wander off and do nothing, or do whatever over whatever period of time. Therefore, the specific timeframe of a year, which I do not think is too short, is very important because it is now moving us to do something. It has been somewhat disconcerting that we have not seen anything proactive from the government on what it wants to do. If it has ideas, then let it bring them forward. Right now we have this motion that lays out a particular cause.
I would point out that if a special committee gets going relatively quickly, there is nothing to prevent it from meeting during the summer. We have committees that meet throughout the summer all the time. Therefore, from a logistical point of view, this is very doable. If we do not start now, then we are just delaying it further.
- MPndpFeb 24, 2015 1:10 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.
I am very pleased to participate in this debate today. I want to begin my remarks by reflecting on the importance of this issue and on it really being a non-partisan issue.
I want to thank the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia for the bills he has presented in the House. I know that there are also two members in the Senate, from two different parties, a former Liberal and a Conservative, who have presented a bill. I think it reflects the deep feeling that individual members of Parliament have on the issue of medically assisted dying.
In fact, the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia and I attended a forum in Calgary in August of last year. We did a forum together with Dying with Dignity Canada and other organizations. People were a bit taken aback that a Conservative member and an NDP member would be at the same meeting talking about the same issue. Yet I think it was a good discussion, and we shared very similar viewpoints on what needed to be done.
I also want to remember the incredible work that was done by a former member of Parliament, who is well known to us, Svend Robinson. He rose on many occasions in this House and spoke about medically assisted dying. In fact, he was one of the key people who worked with and helped Sue Rodriguez in her battle, both legal and medical. She had tremendous courage. Svend was someone who was by her side to support and assist her. He never gave up on that issue.
I also remember Francine Lalonde, who was a wonderful member of Parliament from the Bloc Québécois. She brought forward a private member's bill in the House on medically assisted dying. I voted for the bill. In fact, I voted twice for it, because she brought it back again. Ms. Lalonde has since passed away, but she was a tremendous advocate on this issue. We again thank her for her work.
Right there, members can see that this is a very non-partisan issue. I think it reflects the feelings on this issue in Canadian society.
I also want to pay tribute to my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for the hard work he has done on palliative care, because it is part of the debate in terms of ensuring that there is a continuum of care. To me, the issue of palliative care and medically assisted dying are not things that are mutually exclusive, where it is either/or. It is something that is part of a process and a choice people need to have. We need to have much better access to palliative care in this country.
Even with the passage of Motion No. 456 by the member for Timmins—James Bay and the debate that took place in this House, the fact is that we have made very little progress. I think there are some very serious questions as to why we have not seen the follow-through from the government, whose members actually voted for the motion.
I also want to point out the organizations in this country, such as Dying with Dignity Canada, and others. They have done incredible work, not just on the legal front but also in education and working with local communities and people who are interested in this issue.
I did a forum in Vancouver with Dying with Dignity Canada about six weeks ago. It was a very interesting meeting. There was a diversity of people who came to the meeting. We had presentations. This was before the Supreme Court of Canada decision. It was a serious discussion that reflected the seriousness with which people look at this issue. What really stood out for me was that people were very clear that this is an issue about consent and choice and that the state, and I think it is very well reflected in the Supreme Court decision, should not be in the position of making a decision for adults in terms of what they decide to do about the end of their lives, the care they have, or when they need to end their lives based on their unique and particular circumstances.
I passionately believe that members of Parliament can be opposed to medically assisted dying, but can still support the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada and the premise that this is about an individual's decision. That is not something that I or anyone else in this place should be able to pass judgement on.
I do believe that we have an incredible responsibility to follow up the decision by the Supreme Court, which was unanimous, to make sure that we do not drop the ball and we do not somehow push this somewhere to the back, because we consider it to be controversial, or for some other reason. This is an issue about here and now. This is about people now who are suffering and who have very compelling situations where they need to be able to make a decision about their own life and what happens. For that reason, I thank the Liberal members who brought the motion forward today.
I agree with the last person who intervened. If we do not start now, then when will we? I have heard arguments that there will not be enough time and that an election is forthcoming. We can always come up with 1,001 reasons why this is not the appropriate time or why we should not begin our work now. I can think of one compelling reason why we should start now, which is that for some people time is running out. Unless we do our job, we are completely abdicating the responsibility that has been given to us by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Like my colleague from Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, I wish that we were not following on the heels of the Supreme Court of Canada. I wish that we, as Parliament, had been able to arrive at this in our own way and through our own process, as happened in Quebec. The process there was really quite incredible. They went through the proper consultations and eventually came forward with their legislation.
There is a vacuum now. Unless we begin today or next week, we are letting down an awful lot of people. We are copping out, and we cannot afford to cop out on this issue.
Maybe this special committee is not perfect. Maybe someone thinks that it should be slightly different. I certainly agree with my colleague from Timmins—James Bay that we wish it included the issue of palliative care in a more formal way. Should this motion pass, we will do our best to ensure that these issues are also covered.
However, the fact is that this is the motion before us today and that we will be voting on today. I cannot see any reason why we would not support it, because it is about a process. It is about us as parliamentarians doing our job to uphold this very historic landmark decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In the name of Sue Rodriguez and all the people who have suffered and brought forward the current legal action and sacrificed so much, I really feel that we are compelled to take action here. It will be very disappointing if we do not meet that goal and if we do not meet that responsibility and we somehow just slough it off and say there is this excuse and that excuse. There are no more excuses.
This is a day for us to recognize what we are here to do as members of Parliament for our constituents. It is a day for us to get above partisan politics. In that way, I find the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada very affirming. It affirms what we need to do. Let us make sure that we take it up and affirm our responsibility to work with each other and set up a process to ensure that this consultation does take place, so that within a year, we can do the job that has been set out for us.
- MPndpFeb 24, 2015 12:35 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia for his very thoughtful comments and for tabling the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. I know that he has done a lot of work on this issue with his two private members' bill that he spoke about, as well as the bills in the Senate.
I think the member's point is well taken that we need to ensure that there is a parliamentary process that is non-partisan. It is too bad that it did not happen earlier, but now we have the Supreme Court decision, and it is critical that it be followed up in a timely way and that we not just let the year go by.
I would like to ask the member how he sees that process unfolding. We have a motion before us today that would set up a special committee that would do consultation. I wonder if he would tell us whether or not he thinks that is the general direction we should go to make sure that Parliament itself is engaged with this issue.
- MPndpFeb 23, 2015 8:30 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bring forward this important bill. He made wonderful comments in support of the bill, and I agree with everything that he said.
I am proud of the fact that over the years several former members of the NDP, including Svend Robinson and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and myself in the 40th Parliament, have had exactly the same bills. The bills tried to change the wording of our national anthem.
As I stand here today, I have to ask myself if it is 2015. As I was getting ready for this speech, I noted that a Conservative member would be speaking to the bill before me. I wondered what Conservative members would say in opposition to the bill. What could it be? This is totally a no-brainer. This is about gender equality. This is about a minor word change in our national anthem that would reflect our whole country.
I thought this would be a unanimous situation and that the bill would go through, which would have been great, but lo and behold, the parliamentary secretary stands up on his principle that no government could vote against the will of the people. Then I think back to that terrible omnibus bill on voter suppression; that bill was certainly against the will of the people.
The Conservatives say they cannot vote for this legislation because it would mean that the opinion of Canadians does not matter. That is just utter nonsense. This is about reflecting the present-day nature of our society.
I presume that the Conservative member is reflecting the general view of the government, although maybe not the view of individual members. What I find really disturbing is that the Conservatives seem to be resting their argument on upholding tradition, even though the original version from 1908 of our national anthem, as the member sponsoring the bill has pointed out, states “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. Even though the original version was gender-neutral, the Conservatives are stuck on the idea that when the wording was changed in 1980 to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”, those words suddenly became tradition, and they do not want to variate from that tradition.
What is tradition? Tradition is something that we value, and it is important, but tradition also evolves. Tradition evolves based on the diversity of society. Some traditions are really bad. If we rested on tradition and we use that as the principle of an argument as to why we would vote against the bill, we would not have seen same-sex marriage or racial intermarriage. God help us, we would not have seen women or aboriginal people voting. That would have been sticking with tradition at the time when those issues were debated.
This idea that somehow we cannot deal with this issue because it is about tradition and a legacy is absolute nonsense. I would hope that Conservative members, or at least every woman on the other side of the House, will support the bill before us today. It is offensive that the national anthem that we treasure, the national anthem that we sing on so many occasions, does not reflect who we are.
O Canada is sung many times in my community in East Vancouver at community events. It is sung many times on Canada Day. I already incorporate this change, as do many other people. We heard from the member for Ottawa—Vanier about some of the choirs that already do that, which is wonderful. This practice is already taking place. This idea that Canadians are not behind this idea does not reflect what is taking place in practice across the country.
We have noted that the change would not affect the French version and that this is a debate about the English version of our anthem, and I happen to think that the symbolism of the national anthem is important in this country. If we recognize the role and sacrifice of women in the Canadian Armed Forces and we recognize, support, and uphold the role and the value of women in our society generally as Canadians, then this kind of symbolic change is very important.
I want to appeal to the Conservative members to stick to the plan they had in 2010 when this issue was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne by the Prime Minister. I appeal to them not to suddenly retreat from what was a good position, a logical position, a position of respecting tradition while also respecting diversity. They are not mutually exclusive. I want to encourage members of the Conservative side to look at the bill and to think about history and who we are as a society, and to remember that we are approaching the 150th year of this country. This is a very timely and appropriate debate as we approach that very important anniversary.
I am very proud to say that members of the NDP get this. We understand that it is a very important symbolic but simple initiative, and it needs to be undertaken by this House. What are we here for? We are here to display leadership.
If we listen to what our Conservative members are saying, at least the parliamentary secretary, every time there is a poll and somebody says, “I am not sure about that. Do not do that. It is about tradition”, we would just do nothing, is that it? We would just all pack it up and go home and do everything by poll, which I really have to wonder about, being from B.C., where polls have become pretty suspect when we look at elections, for example, and even here in Ontario.
This is not legislation by poll. This is not about being a member of Parliament by poll. This is about reflecting on what our country is about and reflecting that it is 2015 and not 1980, and that women are not only prominent in this country but also need to be more prominent. If the national anthem cannot reflect us as women, then heck, we really have not come very far.
Let us get rid of the illusions. Let us get rid of the smokescreen of these polls and the idea that the Conservatives do not wish to go against the will of the people. We can all think of examples of the Conservatives throwing in the face of the Canadian people anything that they believed in to motivate their own political agenda.
I want to end on a positive note and say thanks to the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bringing this matter forward again. The fact that it has come forward on a number of occasions means that it is an enduring issue. It means that it is something that needs to be dealt with, and it will keep coming forward until the folks on the other side, or those who are nay-sayers, understand that we need to be in a modern-day society and that this change in our national anthem is long overdue.
I really hope, because it is a private member's bill, that individual members from all sides of the House will think about the bill, think about who they are, think about women in this country, and think about what this national anthem actually says. On that basis, they will come to what I think is the only conclusion that one can come to, which is that we should be supporting this change. We should be going out and celebrating that change. We should be talking to our constituents and the people who are worried about tradition. We have so many arguments to show how tradition itself evolves and can represent the diversity of Canada.
I thank the member for the bill. I look forward to hearing from other Conservative members and I hope very much that they will accept a modern-day bill and not be stuck in a sexist and discriminatory frame of mind. I hope that they will support the bill.
- MPndpFeb 19, 2015 8:25 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House, as I have on many occasions, to present more petitions concerning the fact that every year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are brutally slaughtered for their fur in a number of Asian regions. These animals live in deplorable conditions. The petitioners call upon Canada to join the U.S., Australia, and the European Union in banning the import and sale of dog and cat fur. We are the only developed country without such a ban. I have about a hundred pages of petitioners' names and have now introduced thousands and thousands of these petitions. These are from metro Vancouver and Victoria, but I know that the concern is spread across the country, so I am very pleased to introduce more of these petitions today.
- MPndpFeb 03, 2015 11:00 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a very special teacher in Vancouver East. Vancouver Technical Secondary School teacher Mark Reid is in the running for the $1 million Varkey GEMS Foundation Global Teacher Prize, given to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. It is widely referred to as the Nobel prize for teaching.
With nominees from more than a hundred countries, Mr. Reid is in the top 50 and one of only three Canadians being considered for this prestigious award.
The global teacher prize was set up to shine a spotlight on educators and to recognize and celebrate the important role teachers play in our society. It brings to light the dedicated work that teachers do.
To Mark Reid and all teachers whose hard work and caring motivation contributes every day toward nurturing and inspiring the young minds of tomorrow, I know Parliament extends its heartfelt thanks. Keep up the wonderful work.
- MPndpJan 30, 2015 8:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the government is still not responding to the question. Why is the Prime Minister refusing to show up at the meetings with the premiers?
The premiers will also be discussing the latest case of the government quietly downloading costs onto the provinces. The Conservatives' decision to slash disaster assistance funding was made with no consultation and will leave the provinces responsible for paying almost three times more.
Why have the Conservatives refused to work with the provinces on disaster relief? Why are they leaving Canadian communities without federal help in times of crisis?
- MPndpJan 30, 2015 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, they did not give us an answer as to why the Prime Minister is refusing to show up.
The first ministers are also going to talk about improving access to health care, just as a new report shows that in every province, Canadian seniors are waiting longer for medical care than the international average.
Federal leadership could help here, but only if they are at the table. Why are the Conservatives refusing to engage the premiers on the critical issue of timely access to health care?
- MPndpJan 26, 2015 12:20 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
With regard to Health Canada: for the last ten years, (a) how many drug safety inspectors has Health Canada employed, broken down by year; (b) how many inspections of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies has Health Canada conducted within Canada, broken down by year; (c) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies inspected within Canada have received a warning letter or citation from Health Canada, broken down by year; (d) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies inspected within Canada have had penalties imposed, broken down by year; (e) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies inspected within Canada have been subject to a ban, broken down by year; (f) how many inspections of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies has Health Canada conducted internationally, broken down by year; (g) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies inspected internationally have received a warning letter or citation from Health Canada, broken down by year; (h) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies inspected internationally have had penalties imposed, broken down by year; (i) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies inspected internationally have been subject to a ban, broken down by year; (j) how many notices of violation concerning companies operating in Canada has Health Canada received from foreign regulators, broken down by year; (k) how many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies has Health Canada inspected because of a notification received from a foreign regulator, broken down by year; (l) how many clinical trials has Health Canada inspected, broken down by year; (m) how many clinical trials received a warning letter or citation from Health Canada following an inspection, broken down by year; (n) how many clinical trials have been shut down by Health Canada following an inspection, broken down by year; (o) how many investigations has Health Canada conducted regarding promotion of off-label prescription of drugs by pharmaceutical companies, broken down by year; (p) how many fines or penalties has Health Canada levied for off-label promotions, broken down by year; (q) how many reports of side effects relating to off-label prescriptions of pharmaceuticals has Health Canada received, broken down by year; and (r) when will Health Canada begin including side effects related to off-label prescriptions in its public database?
- MPndpJan 26, 2015 12:15 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
With regard to Health Canada and drug shortages: (a) what is the compliance rate with the voluntary drug-shortage reporting recommendations; (b) what communications has the Department received from concerned health care providers, pharmacists, patients and caregivers related to drug shortages; and (c) what actions has the Department undertaken to respond to these concerns?
- MPndpDec 10, 2014 11:35 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister thinks there should be a continental-wide regulatory system for oil and gas. Given that he used that as an excuse for Conservative inaction, could the Minister of the Environment tell us about any proposals that she has given to the Americans for such a regulatory system? Where are these proposals, or are they just made up as well?
- MPndpDec 09, 2014 12:05 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, when it comes to advertising, pharmaceutical companies appear to have free rein. Apparently, the minister believes that these companies should just regulate themselves.
A newly released study shows that Health Canada is failing on its regulatory responsibilities for advertising, and when Canadians complain about public safety risks, a private chat with a company is all that is required, according to the government.
Why does the minister refuse to enforce her own department's regulations?
- MPndpDec 08, 2014 2:55 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comment and the very specific attention to detail that the member for Toronto—Danforth has brought forward. It serves as a good example of how some committee members do due diligence. We listen to witnesses and the suggestions they put forward. They are often experts, and my colleague has named one here.
Then we put forward amendments, but they just do not seem to mean anything anymore. What we end up with is a bill that has very broad powers, has extraordinary generality, and raises the possibility that either it will be challenged or that those powers will be abused. That is the problem, and that is what we are here to protect against. Unfortunately, when they are overruled by a majority in the House, those protections do not exist anymore.
- MPndpDec 08, 2014 2:50 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her perception. All I can say is thank God there are NDP members in the House who are willing to make sure that this debate takes place and that at least there is some public airing.
Our responsibility is to go through bills and to hold the government to account. We are the official opposition. We believe there is meant to be other opposition too, but apparently on this bill it has somehow gone silent. It is quite astounding that we have only had one government member and one Liberal member speak to this bill. What is with that? Why are we not going through this bill and debating it properly at report stage? Why are we not taking note of what happened at committee and thinking about what those witnesses said and why that was not reflected in an amended bill?
What does report stage even mean any more? Amendments come forward and are just summarily thrown out because, as my colleague has said, the government wants to impose its view of things. She is entirely correct in her assessment, and it is a very unfortunate day for Parliament.
- MPndpDec 08, 2014 2:40 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-44, especially after my colleagues have been speaking very eloquently with respect to the concerns we have with the bill. As I was reading through the notes on the bill, it struck me that it is a similar pattern to one we experienced on Bill C-2, which was also before the public safety committee very recently, having to do with safe consumption sites.
The bill was only approved at second reading on November 18. Here we are in early December, and already we are at report stage. That means the bill was rushed through the House and it was then rushed through the committee. In fact, there were three committee meetings. Witness testimony happened over two days, and then there was clause-by-clause at the third meeting. We have to remember that committee hearings are only two hours. We basically had four hours of testimony from witnesses and one meeting of clause-by-clause consideration.
I want us to stop and think about that.
What has happened to the legislative process in Parliament is really quite shocking. I do remember the days when a bill would have adequate debate in the House. When a bill went to committee, it was considered a very serious proposition. We might hear witnesses for a couple of weeks, over several meetings.
I know that you, Mr. Speaker, would remember. You were part of the justice committee and a very able representative for the NDP. I know you dealt with umpteen bills. Even when you were dealing with them, they were being rushed through. However, prior to that, there was a sense that as parliamentarians, as legislators, we were doing our job and we were really examining a bill.
Now we have come to this place where the attitude and the pattern of operation is to basically rush everything through, and if we dare to criticize and say that something needs a little more time, then we are told we are holding something up, that we are doing it for political reasons.
However, these are very significant bills that we debate. This one in particular has to do with the powers of CSIS. This is an organization that Canadians read about from time to time when something might come forward in terms of a particular case or situation. However, basically Canadians have very little knowledge about CSIS and how it operates, other than individuals who may have had direct contact with the organization because they were being investigated in some way.
When we look at the modernization of CSIS, and we understand that is what the bill is meant to be about, that is certainly very important. After 30 years, there is no question that it needs to be modernized. However, it does require full scrutiny. It absolutely requires full scrutiny by members of Parliament, by a committee, and by the witnesses who are called to committee.
It is shocking that of all the amendments that were put forward—I believe the NDP put forward 12, the Liberals put forward 5, and the Green Party put forward 6—as was similar to Bill C-2, none were approved. Not one.
I think we have a very serious situation. We have a majority government that basically calls the shots and does not even pretend to be interested in a legislative process and examining a bill as to whether it might be improved upon, or whether there are legitimate criticisms, flaws in a bill. In fact, what is concerning about the bill is that, as we have heard with other bills that have been before the House, if it goes through in its current form, it too may end up in some kind of constitutional challenge. Again, it is a pattern that is emerging.
I did want to put that on the record because it worries me. We come to work here to represent our constituents. We come into the House to participate in a process in good faith, but we find out that the process has been completely jigged. There is no space, no room, no engagement, to have a constructive review of an important piece of legislation. That bothers me.
In my riding of Vancouver East, I was at a very important gathering of aboriginal people, who were speaking about the missing and murdered aboriginal women and the need for a national inquiry. We think of the impact of that issue in terms of public safety, and yet we see very little movement from the government on the issue. We see a bill being rushed through here that would also have an impact on public safety and an impact on the public interest, and we see virtually no debate. It is a very sad day.
As many of my colleagues have pointed out in the debate at report stage today, the NDP did support this bill at second reading. New Democrats actually agreed that it should go to committee, that we should take a look at it. We worked diligently at committee, and I certainly want to congratulate my colleagues on the committee who brought forward the amendments. It takes a lot of time to bring forward amendments. They heard the witnesses. The witnesses themselves made a number of suggestions to improve the modernization of CSIS. With any expansion of powers, the most critical thing is to ensure that there is proper oversight.
We can go back as far as the Maher Arar commission, which surely is one of the pivotal moments in Canadian political history in terms of security. I was in the House when that travesty took place, trying to understand what happened to Maher Arar and calling for a national inquiry. Of course, that finally did happen and the recommendations of the commission of inquiry came out in 2006. I wonder what happened to those recommendations. In fact, we know that the inquiry called for a number of recommendations and urgently pointed out that measures needed to be put in place to have oversight of Canada's intelligence agencies. That was eight years ago. No one can forget the Maher Arar inquiry. No one can forget what happened to that Canadian, and the hell that he went through. If we have learned anything, surely it is an examination of our own intelligence procedures and methodologies. We have to live up to the recommendations of the commission of inquiry, and yet they have not been implemented. How awful is that?
Here we are with another bill that would change the way that CSIS operates overseas, and yet we have not addressed the fundamental question with CSIS that has been pointed out to us again and again, which is the need for proper oversight. We hear this, as well, from the privacy and information commissions of Canada. These are folks who need to be paid attention to. These are folks who pay close attention to privacy and information in Canada, and they know the balance on what is required in terms of privacy and information. Yet at their annual meeting, they also brought forward the need to have effective oversight included in any legislation established for any additional powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Where is it? Why are we dealing with this bill in isolation?
Now we are at report stage, and suffice it to say that New Democrats will be opposing this bill because the oversight has not been brought in. The Security Intelligence Review Committee, which has ended up being a part-time committee, is not adequate. We have seen that the position of inspector general of CSIS was eliminated in 2012, so even the internal monitoring of CSIS has greatly diminished. We are in a bad state of affairs.
We want to ensure that if there is any expansion of CSIS, that it be done by protecting civil liberties and it be be done with proper oversight. This bill would do neither, and therefore it deserves to be voted down. There should be a proper examination that takes place.
- MPndpDec 05, 2014 9:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I heard my colleague talk about the historic health transfer to the provinces from the federal government. As the health critic for the NDP, I have to say that the only things historic about it are that, one, it was done unilaterally by the federal government; two, in the long run it would shortchange the provinces by about $36 billion, and this has been shown both by the premiers and the parliamentary budget office; and, three, it has signalled a complete disengagement by the federal government on health care.
These transfers were always a matter of negotiation. There were always agreed-to outcomes. We saw the health accord from 2004 expire this year, on March 31, and nothing has replaced it. We have a vacuum in federal leadership.
I am very proud of the work that the NDP has done to put forward a plan for renewing and strengthening our public health care system, but I see nothing from the Conservative government. In fact, I see us going backward.
I wonder if the member could comment about whether he has taken note that the provinces are very unhappy with the status of the federal government when it comes to health care.
- MPndpDec 05, 2014 9:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I must say, you look very fine in the chair. You make a very good Speaker. It is very nice to see you there.
I listened very carefully to my colleague from Parkdale—High Park. She describes so similarly what I also face in Vancouver in terms of high housing costs, transit issues, climate change, and a dense urban environment where people are really struggling to make ends meet.
One of the things that is so disappointing is that there has not been a commitment by the federal government to a national housing plan. We have seen sporadic programs that come and go. Really, when we look at the scope of what is needed for affordable housing in this country, it is huge. It is actually a very solid investment in terms of jobs in energy retrofits for homes, for example. I wonder if I could ask the member if the need for affordable housing is a critical need in her city as well.
- MPndpDec 05, 2014 9:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, we know that this is another massive omnibus bill. It is almost 500 pages and 400 clauses and, again, is going in many different directions, so there is much that we could focus on in this bill that is very problematic.
However, one of the things that I want to single out is the clauses that deny access to social assistance for refugee claimants.
It is really perplexing that the Conservatives have, in effect, taken a private member's bill that came under a lot of fire in the media and now put it in this omnibus bill, which would allow the provinces to impose residency requirements for people without permanent status. This is something that would really hurt refugee claimants; certainly, in my community where we do have a lot of refugee claimants who are on very low income.
I want the member to really be transparent and tell us why the government made the decision to take a private member's bill that was getting a lot of criticism and try to hide it in an omnibus bill?
- MPndpDec 05, 2014 8:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the tragic murder of Zahra Abdille and her children shows how our system fails women fleeing violence. Women like Ms. Abdille need support, like legal aid and housing.
A Canadian Bar Association report said:
...victims of domestic violence are among the most vulnerable in society and require access to legal and other services to protect themselves and their children.
What measures is the government taking to improve access to legal aid and housing for women who are fleeing violence?
- MPndpDec 04, 2014 11:35 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the evidence is very thin on that action.
What we do need are serious policy initiatives and programs to support women fleeing violence at home and in their communities, to create a culture where women will feel unafraid to report sexual violence, to stop the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and to eliminate the inequalities that make women more vulnerable to gender violence.
I will ask the minister again. Will she commit today to addressing gender inequality in Canada, and support the motion by member for Churchill for a national action plan to end violence against women?
- MPndpDec 01, 2014 1:10 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, what absurdity. Neither the NDP nor anybody else is saying that the member should have a safe injection site in Cambridge. What utter nonsense.
This is about a local community itself feeling that it is an appropriate situation for an injection site, and yes, it should then have to go through a process for approval. Nobody is saying there should not be public consultation, but it should be consultation within that local community. I should not be able to weigh in on an application in the member's riding. It is up to the public health officials and so on in his riding to look at the appropriateness in that riding.
There is so much information being put out here. In terms of medicalized heroin, again, people had to go to the court system to uphold their right to have what was given under the special access approval. It was given under the current government's process and then overturned by the minister. I am glad that they did go to court and got it upheld, because now at least it is helping people.
- MPndpDec 01, 2014 1:05 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, InSite has now been up and running for 10 years, so it does have quite a long record that can be examined. I think members would be hard pressed to find any organization in Vancouver that would not say that InSite is part of the solution. It is not part of the problem. In fact, testimony at committee from the Vancouver Police Department representative made it very clear that InSite is very well known to the Vancouver police and that they actually refer people to it.
In regard to public health and safety, when we had a recent spat of bad heroin on the streets in Vancouver, the Vancouver Police Department put out a public advisory urging injection drug users to go to InSite, where they could at least inject safely and not die of an overdose, and could go into treatment if they so chose.
InSite has been very important, and not just in terms of saving lives and improving the health of people who are at the very edges of society and sometimes very hard to reach; it has also been shown that InSite has not increased crime and is a resource that has actually become a very important response to drug policy in the Downtown Eastside.
The record is there and it is very clear, yet with the Conservative government and the bill before us, unfortunately no other premises of this nature will likely be able to be set up in Canada.
- MPndpDec 01, 2014 12:55 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I feel so disgusted by the parliamentary secretary's completely misleading comments in the House in regard to Bill C-2. We would not be opposing the bill if it actually lived up to the decision that was made by the Supreme Court of Canada. We would welcome the bill if it lived up to that decision, but Bill C-2, now at report stage, is an absolute travesty.
As I will point out in my remarks, this is so far away from what the Supreme Court of Canada said on safe consumption sites and the right, under the charter, for people to have access to those medical services that were provided in the safe injection sites. It is really quite shocking that the Conservatives have gone to such lengths in Bill C-2 to stack the deck and make it virtually impossible for any applicant, in good faith, who does all the work required to get an application in, to ever be approved by a minister as it is laid out in this bill.
I wish I was not speaking today at report stage on this bill, but I am afraid we have to because it has come back from the committee. It really bothers me that we have moved so far away from an evidence-based public policy and that this political mantra from the Conservative Party has now taken over.
As I pointed out, when the Conservatives first introduced this bill, within hours they set up a website called “No heroin in our backyards“ to raise money. It is the politics of fear. It is the politics of division. It is the politics of exploiting people's concerns instead of dealing with something in a rational way and looking at serious issues in various communities across Canada, not all communities, where they feel it is warranted to have a safe consumption site for injection-drug users so they can uphold good public health and stop the spread of HIV-AIDS, stop people from dying and get people into treatment. That is what safe consumption sites do.
The Canadian Nurses Association summed it up for me, when it said:
Evidence demonstrates that supervised injection sites and other harm reduction programs bring critical health and social services to vulnerable populations — especially those experiencing poverty, mental illness and homelessness...A government truly committed to public health and safety would work to enhance access to prevention and treatment services — instead of building more barriers.
I would wholeheartedly agree with that.
When the bill was at committee, we were only allowed two meetings to hear witnesses on a bill that was so important. The boom was lowered. Censure was brought in and two meetings were held to hear from witnesses. We heard from maybe 13 witnesses overall.
The NDP brought forward 23 amendments to this bill. These amendments were reasonable, based on trying to ensure that the bill actually did meet the terms set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. Many of our amendments, for example, responded to concerns that had been put forward by provincial and territorial officials and were designed to ensure that during the application process, as laid out in the bill, when officials brought forward information about an application, it would be based on evidence and research and not opinions, as is laid out in the bill.
Imagine any other health facility being approved in Canada, first with such an incredible number of people who have to weigh in on the matter. I do not know of any other health facility that would require that. However, in this case, not only is there a lengthy list of officials who have to weigh in on it, they are only required to give their opinion, so it is not actually based on evidence or research.
The other thing we are very concerned about, as has been pointed out earlier in the debate, is that the so-called public process in this bill is absolutely absurd. It is proper to do public consultation. Again, the parliamentary secretary in his comments just now was entirely misleading and incorrect when he said that the opposition did not believe there should be public consultation. Of course we do, but we believe that public consultation should be done in the community where the application intends the site to be.
Yes, in the little town about which he spoke, of course there should be public consultation. As an MP, he can weigh in on it and say whatever he thinks, but in this bill the public consultation can be right across Canada. It can take place for 90 days. There is absolutely no suggestion in the criteria as to how the minister should weigh that so-called public consultation. If there was an application in Toronto, she could take public consultation or opinions from people who live in Calgary or northern Alberta and say that people are opposed to this, so she had better turn it down. It is an absurdity and a travesty of process.
I would like to put on the record some of the key witnesses who appeared before the committee.
For example, Adrienne Smith with Pivot Legal Society, the Health and Drug Policy staff lawyer, said in her testimony that she believed:
It will likely not withstand constitutional scrutiny, and it invites an expensive and pointless charter challenge.
As a representative of the Pivot Legal Society, an organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and marginalization... this bill will restrict access to a proven health care service, which will result in needless human suffering for some of the most vulnerable Canadians.
What a waste. This bill has come all this way. It is now at report stage, it is going to be approved, it is going to go to the Senate, and it is likely going to then go through another expensive course of litigation. Maybe it will go back to the Supreme Court of Canada because it is so flawed. I find that a travesty.
Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said in his testimony:
We are very sorry that this legislation is not coming before the Standing Committee on Health. After all, the primary purpose of supervised consumption services is to intervene in urgent public health contexts where vulnerable citizens are at high risk of serious and sometimes deadly consequences of injection drug use. Consumption services can mitigate this risk, including improving the health and safety of the communities where they might appropriately be located.
I know that commentary from Mr. MacPherson is based on his extensive experience as the city of Vancouver's drug policy coordinator. I know it is based on his review of probably more than 70 studies worldwide now, but at least over 30 in Canada about InSite in Vancouver's downtown eastside. He is entirely correct that these consumption services are about a very urgent public health intervention to save lives and improve the health and safety of the communities in which the facilities are located. In fact, that has very much been the evidence about InSite.
A third witness who I would like to quote for the record is Dr. David McKeown, Toronto Board of Health, medical health officer. He said:
My perspective is somewhat different from that of my law enforcement colleagues, because I come at it from a public health point of view. Toronto is one of several cities in Canada looking to implement supervised injection services as part of an evidenced-based, comprehensive approach to health services for people who inject drugs.
He went on to say that the Toronto Board of Health:
—also feels that the proposed bill is not consistent with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada... If Bill C-2 is passed...it will be a significant barrier for any community...
The New Democrats put in amendments at report stage to delete all sections of the bill. We had no other choice. We tried to bring in amendments at committee to improve the bill so it would meet the test of the Supreme Court of Canada. I hope members of the House will oppose this bill. It needs to be shut down, rewritten and it needs to uphold the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
- MPndpDec 01, 2014 12:50 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the parliamentary secretary very carefully and I find it so astounding. On the one hand, he says that if the issue of a safe consumption site is so supportable, then public opinion should not be a problem.
The problem is that within hours of introducing the bill in the House, the Conservative Party put out a huge propaganda machine and used it as a fundraising tool. What it was called? “Keep heroin out of our backyards”. How is that a level playing field? How is that an environment whereby we can have any confidence or faith that the government is willing to look at applications in a serious, meritorious way?
The fact is that it does not care about public opinion. In fact, the public opinion process that the government has laid out is contained to the local community where an application would be situated. That is fair, and extensive public consultation did happen at InSite. Under the bill, the public consultation can be all across Canada and the minister can weigh that however she wants.
I take serious objection to the parliamentary secretary somehow saying that if it is supportable, that public opinion is not a problem when the Conservatives have so manipulated this process and have used it as propaganda to their own base to raise funds. How despicable is that?
I would like the parliamentary secretary to answer that.
- MPndpDec 01, 2014 12:35 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her comments. I know she was at the committee. Like us, she tried to move a number of amendments but was shut down. I wonder if she would agree with me that really, our only goal has been to establish a level playing field and set out criteria, guidance, and fair rules around safe consumption sites.
The way this bill is currently written, it is so stacked that it would make it virtually impossible for any organization in Canada to successfully have an application approved. I do not know if the hon. member recalls the criteria, literally from a to z, an applicant would have to meet. Even if those criteria were somehow, amazingly, met, it would still be at the minister's discretion whether an application were approved. I wonder if the hon. member would comment on that.
- MPndpDec 01, 2014 11:00 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, on the occasion of World AIDS Day, we remember the countless victims of the AIDS epidemic, while paying tribute to the many who have devoted their professional work to advancement in treating HIV-AIDS, like Dr. Julio Montaner, whose groundbreaking “treatment as prevention” method has helped turn the tide on the global fight against HIV-AIDS.
As we celebrate the many medical advances in combatting AIDS worldwide, it is strangely ironic that on this day, Bill C-2 also comes back to the House. This is the government's anti-safe injection site bill. If passed as written, this bill has the potential to undo a decade's worth of stemming the spread of HIV and hep C among injection drug users. Research has clearly demonstrated that harm reduction prevents the spread of HIV-AIDS, and we in the NDP will continue to uphold the rights of individuals to health and well-being.
On this World AIDS Day, we salute the many organizations and advocates who work tirelessly for a world free of AIDS, both in Canada and globally.
- MPndpNov 28, 2014 9:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to present petitions from Vancouver regarding a fair electoral system.
The people who have signed the petition point out that our winner-take-all voting system results in a House of Commons where the number of MPs a party supports does reflect the number of voters who cast ballots for that party. They call upon the House of Commons to immediately undertake public consultations across Canada to amend the Canada Elections Act to ensure that voters can cast an equal and effective vote to be represented fairly in Parliament.
- MPndpNov 28, 2014 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, he said nothing about the 50 years.
The Minister of the Environment, the member for Nunavut, said in the House that stories about her constituents eating out of a garbage dump were “untrue”. However, it did happen as anyone who watches APTN can see.
Could the minister confirm that her office contacted Rankin Inlet and demanded an apology for making public the fact that people in her riding were eating out of a landfill?
- MPndpNov 28, 2014 8:10 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the co-op housing sector is in dire need of sustainable funding from the federal government because agreements between co-ops and CMHC are coming to an end.
In my riding of Vancouver East there are 30 housing co-ops. Approximately one-third of co-op households will be at risk of homelessness when these agreements expire. Thousands of vulnerable citizens will be burdened with severe financial difficulty.
In an expensive city like Vancouver, securing affordable and stable housing is incredibly difficult, and many people are already spending so much on rent they are just one paycheque away from homelessness.
Co-op housing occupies a vital and unique position because it is secure and affordable. The government has an obligation to ensure the ongoing success of the co-op housing sector by renewing federal housing assistance to low-income households and by building more co-op housing.
I call on the government to recognize that affordable, adequate, accessible, and secure housing like co-ops is a fundamental right for all Canadians.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 2:00 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague that I thought she made a beautiful speech. I also loved the way she began by talking about the birth of her staff person's new baby.
I feel we have all been touched by this issue in a very personal way. I have often chatted with various members of the House about people they know in their ridings who are thalidomide survivors or about letters and e-mails they have received. It has been very personal.
I just want to comment that last night members of the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force went home and were already getting back to work. With the help of Natalie from Campbell Strategies, they typed up a list of members of Parliament who were born in the years 1961 to 1963. I am not going to read that out because I do not want to embarrass anyone, but they had to do some research to figure that out.
I think they were making the point that there are many people touched by this tragedy, even people born in those years whose mothers did not take thalidomide, which I am sure they are very thankful for. It really makes people think if they were born in those years.
I wanted to put that on the record, because members of the task force did that work and thought about members of Parliament who were born in those years.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 1:45 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her very fine comments today. She was very thoughtful in her approach, as all members have been in the House today.
My colleague asked about settlements in other countries and whether that was something we should follow here. That is interesting for us to talk about. However, at the end of the day, this motion compels the government to act. It opens the door and allows the survivors task force to meet with the government. It sets a framework.
I do want to say that we will be watching that very carefully. We want to see that there is immediate follow-up. We do not want to see this dragged out. It needs to be resolved quickly.
I wonder if the member would agree when I say that with this motion, if it is passed on Monday, as I believe it will be, we, as individual members of Parliament, parties, and Parliament as a whole, have to be very vigilant. We have to work with the survivors to make sure that there is follow-up. We have to hold the government to account and make sure that it does live up to the spirit and the words of the motion so that progress is made.
We do not want any delays here. We want to see a process that can unfold quickly, and we want to see a resolution.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 1:30 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, this has been a very good debate today, and it is a very important issue. We often debate and talk about issues in very broad terms and examine legislation that can be very sweeping. We have even looked at 1,000-page omnibus bills that cover everything from A to Z. Therefore, I find it significant that today we are focusing in on something very specific. It is about 95 people who have survived under very difficult circumstances because of the drug thalidomide. We do not usually have this kind of debate.
We felt compelled to bring this forward in the House because we wanted to see Parliament speak with one voice. We wanted to see action. We wanted to see this issue dealt with in a way that was just and with a proper settlement.
The debate today has been very good. It kind of takes us out of our work in a way of looking at the big picture. It forces us to look at individual lives.
I was very fortunate to meet two of the survivors on Tuesday at the press conference we held. I was so inspired by both of the women for their courage and how down to earth they were in their approach to life. At the same time, I tried to imagine the difficulties they live with every day.
It strikes me that this also speaks to our health care system. In fact, many people in our society have conditions, illnesses and situations. The question on home care and caregiving is huge in our country, and I thought I would touch upon that. Obviously we need to pay attention to that. We have huge issues around supporting caregivers and a need to give much better financial support, because so many families are now facing this as an issue.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 1:25 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the support from the hon. member. I would agree with him that the real heroes are the incredibly strong advocates, the thalidomide survivors who have had the courage to speak out and to be visible. They have brought forward this incredible tragedy of what is happening 50 years after to full public light. For sure, the Globe and Mail article from last Saturday was pretty amazing.
We should also thank a public relations firm called Campbell Strategies, a former member of Parliament. People at that firm have been working truly pro bono with the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force for about a year and a half on this issue. We all recognize it is really hard to bring something forward and get that kind of national attention. When it happens and things come together, it is very powerful. That is what has happened. The very important role and ongoing work that Campbell Strategies has provided in supporting the thalidomide survivors with a communications strategy has helped them to bring this story forward.
The member mentioned Bill C-17. He also mentioned that in Europe clinical trials are fully disclosed. He is correct; that is the situation.
We debated Bill C-17 in the House and it was passed unanimously. In committee, the NDP brought forward probably 23 amendments, several of which were about full disclosure in clinical trials. Whether the trials are positive or negative, our belief is that we need to have full transparency and disclosure. This information is often used by researchers and it is often information that is used in other clinical trials. That kind of full and public disclosure is really important. Unfortunately, all of those amendments were defeated. The bill itself is a very important step forward, but I would agree with him that we still have more work to do on this file.
Does the member believe it is critical to have public oversight of these kinds of issues in terms of drug safety? We never want to see a repeat of what happened with the women who took thalidomide, thinking it was a safe drug. This kind of oversight is very critical.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 7:30 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I agree.
I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her very wonderful comments today and also for moving the amendment.
The amendment is important. We have held some discussions with the government, and I think the wording that is now being presented as an amendment would allow a better opportunity for the government to respond to the thalidomide survivors task force. I thank the hon. member for moving the amendment today in the House.
I have a comment and a question for the hon. member.
It seems to me that, for thalidomide survivors, the issue of daily living is critically important. There are clearly medical challenges, and the member pointed out in her speech that some of these medical challenges might even be beyond the regular nature of the health care system. It may well be that we will need to have special interventions.
I wonder if the member could speak a little more about some of the daily issues and concerns that have emerged for thalidomide survivors who are finding is so difficult to cope on a daily basis. I think the article in The Globe and Mail laid this out very carefully, and I wonder if the member could comment on that.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 7:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the member was at the press conference on Tuesday. I certainly appreciate her support and her words here today.
The story in The Globe and Mail, when it came out, was terribly important. As I said earlier, this is an issue that we have all heard about. We have even mentioned it in debate, in different circumstances
To actually examine the details and the history of what took place is something that is very revealing. It is something that we actually need to learn from, in terms of not only drug safety but how we treat people in our society.
I do think the other element of this motion today is that it is an expression that we cannot leave people in such desperate circumstances. We have to show compassion. We live in a society that should stand for social justice and should stand for ending discrimination and pain and suffering.
For many reasons, on many levels, this motion today is very important. I thank the member for her support.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 7:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is entirely correct that, of course, when we look at this issue, we are looking at an impact on a great number of people.
There are the thalidomide survivors themselves, but there are also their families. We know that one of the issues is that, as the survivors age, they are facing the prospect of their parents, who may have cared for them, passing away. They are being left in circumstances that can be isolated and difficult.
We can imagine the burden of worrying about caregiving and who will be there to assist. The burden on the families has been enormous. We even have to think of the families in which maybe the victim who took thalidomide has already passed away, and what those families went through over 50-plus years now.
We can begin to dig into this issue and think about it. While we all live active lives and those of us who are members of Parliament live in a very privileged position, by and large, these thalidomide survivors and their families, through no fault of their own, have lived in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, medically and financially and emotionally. It compels us to take this responsibility, collectively, to right the wrong.
I know that is what we are here to do today.
- MPndpNov 27, 2014 7:05 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
That, in the opinion of the House: (a) full support should be offered to survivors of thalidomide; (b) the urgent need to defend the rights and dignity of those affected by thalidomide should be recognized; and (c) the government should provide support to survivors, as requested by the Thalidomide Survivors Taskforce.
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
I am very honoured to rise in the House today to speak to this very important and historic motion from the NDP.
The motion before us calls on the government to right the wrong of the tragic consequences that took place, when, in 1961, the Government of Canada approved the sale of thalidomide as a safe drug for the treatment of morning sickness for pregnant women. It is so important today that we speak out collectively and with one voice, as Parliament, to understand and to address this urgent and tragic issue.
I would like to thank the member for Outremont, the leader of the official opposition, for agreeing to and giving his full support to this motion being brought forward today. I would also like to thank members from all sides because we now know that the government will be supporting this motion with a slight amendment. I am very thankful for that. We have had a lot of discussion. It is historic and important that today we will be speaking in this debate, and we will be bringing forward the visibility of this issue. I hope that on Monday we will be voting on this motion and that it will be a unanimous vote.
On Tuesday, I had the honour to be joined, with my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, by two members of the thalidomide survivors task force. Mercédes Benegbi and Josée Lake came from Montreal to join us in a press conference, where they spoke and shared some of their experiences of what it has been like, over more than 50 years, to be a thalidomide survivor. It was very moving to hear their words and to hear them speak about their deeply personal experience, and of the experience of 95 survivors in Canada. Hearing what they had to say is a day that I will not forget.
I am also very thankful that the people at The Globe and Mail decided to focus on this issue. We saw the original story that they did last Saturday, which was a very comprehensive piece. It gave us the history and background, and brought us to the current situation today, with so many survivors living in pain and suffering and with great financial hardship. To me, it was one of those moments when a whole bunch of things came together. We have to recognize that the thalidomide survivors have for 50-plus years been living in a way that has been quite invisible.
It is a story that we are aware of. I remember when we debated Bill C-17 in the House, on drug safety, a bill that we supported. I remember that when I debated that bill in the House, I mentioned the history of thalidomide. I did not know then that a few months later we would actually be debating the issue of thalidomide. There is some continuity here, and some historical importance to what we are doing. Of course, drug safety in this country is critically important, and although we would have liked to see some improvements to it, the bill that was passed a few months ago was a very important bill.
When we look at history and see what has taken place in this country around drug safety, and we look at this terrible tragic situation that took place in the early 1960s, it is so compelling. It speaks to the core of why we are here. As parliamentarians and legislators, we need to pay attention and ensure that there is proper regulatory oversight for drug safety.
When this drug was first brought on to the market in the early sixties, it was deemed to be safe. The tragedy is that when the story began to unfold and the consequences began to be known about women who had miscarriages and babies being born with terrible deformities, Canada was very slow to react. It took decades, right up until 1991, for there to be even some discussion around compensation.
If we look at the amount of compensation that was given in 1991, we can see how terribly inadequate the small settlements were to the survivors. It really did nothing to help them. They even had to sign gag orders that they would not speak out afterward. The small settlements they got in no way dealt with the long-term effects of what they were dealing with.
We know today that the consequences of thalidomide have left people dealing with very severe and debilitating pain. It has taken 50 years of work, which has taken a toll on them, not only emotionally and financially, but of course physically. Many of the survivors are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear on their bodies. It has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs to care for themselves, and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their mobility. It has impacted on their ability to gain employment. It means that they have often had to depend on others for very basic tasks, such as using the toilet, dressing, preparing meals, doing all of the daily things we take for granted.
Fifty years later, with this group of people who are aging, the health consequences of what they face have become even more serious. It is critical that we not lose more time. There are only 95 thalidomide survivors left in Canada. I believe there were originally about 120 people; some have already died. As these survivors age, their health and financial needs will only grow.
Time is of the essence, and it is very important that we take a stand today and that Parliament speak out. New Democrats call on the government to right the wrong and immediately sit down with the survivors task force to begin the work to arrive at a just settlement for the survivors. That is what this motion would accomplish if it is passed. I want to stress that time is of the essence. We cannot lose another day, week, or year.
There are some precedents in terms of what other countries have done. For example, the government in the United Kingdom is providing regular payments to survivors. Germany offered a one-time lump sum payment. The thalidomide survivors task force is asking the government to sit down and work with it in creating a program that would provide a one-time payment to address people's immediate needs, as well as ongoing payments that would assist individuals based on their own individual circumstances. It is something that needs to be done based on individual needs.
I have had a lot emails over the last couple of days, and I want to refer to one from a former colleague, Penny Priddy, who was a member of Parliament for Surrey. She wrote:
It was the summer of 1963 and I was working at HSC/Sick Kids in Toronto. Her name was “Maria”. She was about a year old. [...]
“Maria” was born without arms. [...] Her legs were not able to support any weight. Her mother had taken thalidomide. [...]
Given what we know, I expect her life was filled with challenges and barriers that required a strength that many of us cannot begin to imagine. [...]
Thank you...for listening to the voices of all of the Marias' who were victims of a system that was so rushed to get a questionable drug to market that they did not consider the unthinkable legacy that they were creating for its smallest citizens.
Today, with this motion, we have an opportunity to right that wrong, and I thank all members of the House who will be supporting it.
- MPndpNov 25, 2014 11:35 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, for over 50 years the survivors of thalidomide have been forced to struggle alone. Successive federal governments have failed to support survivors and address the wrong. We will never know how many lives were devastated because of the decision to allow this drug in Canada, but the least we can do now is to provide adequate support and compensation to the 95 remaining survivors.
Does the minister agree that we all have a responsibility to show support to meet the needs of thalidomide survivors?
- MPndpNov 20, 2014 11:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, this week The Lancet published evidence that NewLink has never made a vaccine, owns no manufacturing plan, and has never commercialized any drug.
It has now been four years since NewLink acquired the responsibility to develop an Ebola vaccine from Canada, but it only went to clinical trials last month, and only last Friday did it appoint a chief scientific officer for Ebola.
Therefore, why did the minister say this morning in committee that she had no concerns about the contract with NewLink Genetics to develop the Ebola vaccine?
- MPndpNov 05, 2014 11:25 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, they are offering nothing and a generation of young Canadians are paying the price.
Child care is another pressing economic issue. Families are now paying as much as $2,000 a month. Young people graduating into a dismal job market are worried about the cost of raising kids. The Conservative response is to borrow $3.1 billion to help wealthy families.
Will Conservatives shelve the tax cuts for the few and finally deliver on their promise of 125,000 new child care spaces?
- MPndpNov 03, 2014 11:45 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, it is not just in the field of publishing that the Conservatives seem to be ignoring scientific process. Last week, the Conservatives announced a ban on visas for travellers coming from West Africa. The WHO and the World Bank have clearly stated that banning travel is not an effective way to protect us from Ebola.
Why would the Conservatives implement such a ban when it is not backed up by expert scientific evidence?
- MPndpOct 31, 2014 8:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has to be kidding. This multibillion-dollar scheme will leave the majority of Canadians falling further behind. Who will not get any benefit at all? It will be single mothers, couples with no kids, parents who are divorced, couples making less than $44,000, and the list goes on. Who will benefit? Well, it will be many of the finance minister's former colleagues on Bay Street.
Will the Conservatives back down from their wasteful and ineffective scheme?
- MPndpOct 31, 2014 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, contrary to what we just heard, the Conservatives have presented a plan that will do nothing for the vast majority of Canadians. They were warned by their own finance minister that it was bad policy that would increase inequality, but yesterday they announced that they plan to do it anyway.
Why are the Conservatives deciding to spend billions on a plan that will do nothing for 80% of Canadians?
- MPndpOct 28, 2014 11:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the reality is that SIRC is already overstretched and is not getting the co-operation from CSIS it needs. The minister does know this.
In fact, the report tabled on Friday noted that this small oversight body, now with only three members, reported “significant delays” in receiving information from CSIS. In one case, it said it was “seriously misled”.
I ask the minister again: Will he ensure that there will be enhanced civilian oversight to go along with any expanded powers of CSIS?
- MPndpOct 28, 2014 11:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's words, but we also come back to the business at hand before the House.
The Arar commission concluded in 2006 that improved civilian oversight of CSIS was needed, but for eight years, the Conservatives have ignored this recommendation. In the 2012 budget bill, the Conservatives eliminated the CSIS inspector general, and now there are two vacant positions on the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
After three consecutive years of cuts, is the minister re-examining the resources available to CSIS?
- MPndpOct 27, 2014 11:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, today Parliament Hill has again opened its doors to the public, after last week's terrible events. This is an important statement about the openness and public nature of the House of Commons, which lies at the heart of our democracy.
Will the government update the House on security measures that have been taken at federal sites, such as Parliament Hill, to allow them to reopen?
- MPndpOct 23, 2014 2:40 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I think it is very relevant that we are looking at the question of mandatory minimum sentences because this is a feature in the bill. The question I heard from my colleague was about why the government continues to do this when it is being challenged and when there is now mounting evidence that there are problems with mandatory minimum sentences. In this case it happens to be six months in prison if a law enforcement animal is killed while helping a police officer enforce the law, so that is the particular provision that is included in the bill.
Unfortunately, I do not know that there is a rationale as to why Conservatives continue to do it. It has become a very political question. It is not a question of evidence. It is not a question of judicial oversight. It is a mindset, a rigid attitude that somehow a mandatory minimum is going to fix the problem and is going to make people feel better. It is a very emotional thing. It is not based on evidence. In fact, as I said, the evidence shows us that it is going the other way.
That is very problematic. I do not think we want a judicial system based on what we think people perceive as tougher. We need to base public policy decisions on evidence, merit and public interest overall. We are facing a very big situation and that is why we are focusing on this aspect in the bill, because it really bothers us that yet again we are seeing this same pattern emerge.
- MPndpOct 23, 2014 2:35 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the member has reminded me of yet another aspect that we need to consider when looking at the bill, and that is what has taken place in the United States.
I was doing a lot of work on the bill that came forward with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, and this was several years ago when it came forward in its first form. I did a fair amount of research in the U.S. about what was going on. This was before the election of President Obama.
I was so surprised to learn that in individual states in the U.S., there were various commissions being set up to look at the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing. In some states, and I do not remember all of the states, they were actually repealing it, because their prisons were absolutely overflowing, particularly with young African American men and mostly for drug crimes. These are people who are, in effect, sentenced for life, because their opportunity to come back into society and to contribute becomes more and more marginalized and limited.
I did find it really interesting that on the one hand, in the United States, even under the Bush administration, there was a movement beginning to get away from mandatory minimum sentencing, yet here in Canada we were embarking on this course. That seemed quite incredible.
I am glad the member raised this. For Canadians who follow this, they should be quite concerned that we are taking a very regressive path. We often think of ourselves as being so advanced compared to the U.S., whether it is with health care or enforcement issues, yet in some instances we are doing a lot worse, and this would be one of them. We are falling far behind.
I am glad the member raised this point. I think it is very important. Just as they are reviewing their sentencing procedures in the U.S., we should be doing the same in Canada. It is not too late to do that here. I thank the member for raising this point.
- MPndpOct 23, 2014 2:15 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, first, I am very happy to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-35. It is ironic and timely that we are dealing with a bill that deals with law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals.
I want to reflect for a very short moment on what took place in the House yesterday. Members have stood today to offer their personal reflections. It was really wonderful to hear the speeches this morning from the leaders of the various political parties, from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and to hear the statements in the House. I think it was one of those days that one does not forget.
I have been here 17 years, and I never believed that I would experience a day like we experienced yesterday. Yes, there was a sense of great anxiety and stress about what was taking place, because of course, we did not know what was going on around us, but I think what I am going to remember is the sense of camaraderie and professionalism and people staying calm and staying together. We all have our own personal experience of where we were, who we were with, and what we heard, but listening to pages, to staff, to the security personnel, and our own staff today, in the lobby, and hearing the perspectives of where people are has been really quite remarkable. I have come away with a feeling that, collectively, everyone kept their cool.
It does not sink in until later how really close we came to a terrible disaster, much worse than what happened, and we are grateful for that.
There are things to remember, but we are back at work. Certainly, that is the hallmark of this institution. It is the people's business. We come back, we get on with our work, and we get on to debating bills, because that is what we are elected to do. We do not do that with a sense of hardship; we do it with a sense of mission and a sense of sincerity about who we are and what we need to do. I am very glad to be back in the House today and to see my colleagues in the House from all sides, and in particular, to be debating the bill.
I heard the debate earlier in the day. I will be making some of the points some of my colleagues have made. I think cruelty to animals, intentional cruelty, is something that just about everybody cannot stomach. It is something that hits us all, and it is something we feel compelled to do something about. Of course, we have the law. We have our criminal justice system to provide protections not just to persons and property but also for animal welfare. That is very important, and I think Canadians support that very strongly.
As we heard in the debate today, the bill comes from a particular incident in 2013, when a police service dog was stabbed to death in the line of duty.
I think that as legislators, it is very important that we examine the bill very carefully, because on its surface, one could say that this is a bill that deserves support. It would specifically introduce a new amendment or create a new offence that would specifically prohibit anyone from killing, wounding, poisoning, or injuring trained animals who work for the police, for persons with disabilities, or for the Canadian Armed Forces.
The principle of the bill is something that is very supportable, and of course, that is what we are debating here today: the bill in principle, at second reading. We, in the NDP, will be supporting the bill to go forward to committee.
Having said that, as the official opposition, our job is to look at the details, go through legislation, get underneath the top layer, and figure out what the bill would really do and maybe, importantly, what the consequences of the bill would be. As we have come to know in the House, and with the current government, it is important to look at the details. How many omnibus bills have we gone through and found terrible surprises in? There have been really awful pieces of legislation that have chucked out other pieces of legislation. The details in a bill become very important.
That is no different for the bill we are debating here today. I would say it is concerning, looking at this bill, because while we have a bill that has good intention, when we look at the details, we can see that it would introduce minimum sentencing and that it does reflect a pattern we have seen from the government over and over again. It is very disturbing.
I have said in the House quite a few times that we should be keeping a list of how the Criminal Code has changed so significantly. We have had all of these bills come through. Some of them have been government bills. Many of them have been private members' bills. They are kind of like these little boutique bills, which one by one pick off this section or that section of the Criminal Code. I guess somebody keeps track of it.
I do recall that one of the terrible things that happened in the House through legislation was that the Law Reform Commission was abolished. I am sure the Speaker will recall this, because he would have debated it in the House when it came forward. It was the Law Reform Commission of Canada's job to go through legislation, evaluate it at a long distance, and give us an overview to give us an oversight. It was abolished.
There is a big question here over who keeps track of what all these changes mean cumulatively and what the consequences are. We certainly try to do that as the opposition. We try to keep track of all of these bills, look at all the little holes and changes they create in the Criminal Code, and see what the total effect is. That is a lot of work.
Here is another example of a bill that, on the surface, may look fairly innocent but, in the detail, does actually have consequences. It is a bill that would bring forward minimum sentencing and provisions around serving consecutively.
Some people may ask what the big deal is about that or whether there is any problem with that. The problem is that our judicial system is based on a history and tradition of prosecution, defence, and the role of the judge in terms of being able to use discretion. The judge is able to look at individual cases as being unique. When we create laws that become, in effect, a one-size-fits-all and that are so hyper-prescriptive, we create problems. This is because when we do it to an extreme, the law does not necessarily fit and cannot meet the circumstances of what a particular case might be about. That is why we have judges who can look at the law, apply provisions, and use this word “discretion”. I sometimes worry that discretion has become a dirty word in this place, yet it is a hallmark of our judicial system.
I am talking about creeping mandatory minimum sentences. I do not know how many bills we have now had in the House that have had those provisions now put in them. It is not just the current government, by the way. There were mandatory minimums with the previous government as well, and there always was the existence of some mandatory minimums. It is not as if there is never a situation where they should not apply, but now they have become so pervasive in the system that they have almost become the lowest common denominator—slap in a mandatory minimum.
I have this little picture in my head of a group of interns or staffers somewhere, who are combing through the Criminal Code section by section and saying, “Hah, mandatory minimum. We could put one there. We could put one here”.
I may be exaggerating a bit, but I sometimes feel that is what is going on, that there is this pattern of seeking out instances where mandatory minimums can be applied, and it is fundamentally changing our judicial system. It is certainly a problem with the bill before us, and I think it is very important that we examine the bill in great detail in committee.
I hope very much that when the bill goes to the justice committee, I presume, government members will not use their majority to then slap on time limits. We are facing that in the public safety committee right now on a bill that has to do with an issue very important to me, which is safe injection sites in this country. It is a complex and important bill, and I find it incredible that at committee there are two meetings for witnesses and that is the end of it—just two meetings. When we get to amendments, I think the motion says that there will be no more than five minutes or something like that. The censorship and limitation that are now placed on the debate and examination of bills is quite ferocious and, in and of itself, very harmful.
We are not here to hold stuff up. I mean, occasionally that does happen. We might have a bill that we just dig in and say that we will hold it up as long as we can, but by and large we are not here to hold things up. We are here to give proper consideration both in the House at second reading and in committee with amendments and then when it comes back to the House for report stage and third reading.
Therefore, when the bill goes to committee, I hope the committee will be fair and consider that there should not be limits placed on it in terms of the timeline for its consideration, so that the committee can look at some of the questions that I and others have identified today in debate.
I am not on the justice committee, but I am sure others will raise this. It is to look at Department of Justice reports that actually tell us that mandatory minimum sentences have not had a demonstrable deterrent effect. This is something to consider. We go to these extraordinary lengths to change legislation and have it go through the House, the Senate, and the whole process, yet there is really no evidence to show us whether or not it is a deterrent. In fact, the opposite may be true in that the misuse of mandatory minimum sentences, as my colleague said earlier, leads to a downloading to provinces, overcrowding, and skyrocketing costs. These are very real consequences. Provincial budgets are tight. Again, the question is who is tracking that.
I have seen some information come out on the impact of mandatory minimum sentences. I think the Canadian Bar Association has been doing some work on tracking what the impact is, and there has been some work done on a bill that dealt with mandatory minimums for drug crimes. In fact, there was a court case in British Columbia in which a judge refused to go along with the mandatory minimum aspect, and that is now under review.
There are some very serious questions that need to be considered in the bill. This needs to be done in the context of a larger impact in terms of the Criminal Code and our justice system. I think it is very important and incumbent upon us not to ignore that fact. If we just look at these as one-offs, we will never understand the full picture.
What bothers me the most is the strong sense I have that the way the government operates is that for every problem the Conservatives identify, they see the solution as a new law that is harsher.
Some of these questions are complex social questions, and there is no evidence to suggest that a tougher law, a law-and-order approach, is going to actually solve anything. In fact, it might very likely make the situation worse. These things really bother me, and I have certainly seen these changes taking place over a number of years.
However, to come back to the bill itself, we think there are some good aspects in it that should warrant our support. I know that my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and my colleague from Parkdale—High Park have put forward initiatives that deal with animal cruelty. I myself have a bill that also deals with this issue. I have presented thousands of petitions in the House about cruelty to cats and dogs in terms of the use of their fur from overseas, and how it should be banned as it has been banned in other countries.
There are numerous initiatives that we have within the NDP to protect against animal cruelty, and certainly we have a huge appreciation for the role that law-enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals play in our society. Again, I come back to yesterday when it was very visible. These are highly trained animals. They are well cared for. They are intelligent. We do not want to see them come into harm's way. We do not want to see vicious attacks on these animals, just as we do not want to see attacks on people. It is not as if we do not care; in fact, we care very much, and the bills we have put forward ourselves in private members' business are evidence of that.
Still, we have to worry about this bill. I have a concern that it is just going to flow right through and we will not have that examination, but we should and we want to ensure that the provisions in Bill C-35 are no different from the penalties and fines already set out in section 445 of the Criminal Code for all animals other than cattle. There is a lot to examine here.
I appreciate the fact that my colleagues have spoken today. We do want to say this for the government. Why is it so important that the government wants to take away sentencing discretion from the courts? Are the Conservatives aware of their own justice department's work about mandatory minimums and whether or not they are a deterrent? Are they aware of how mandatory minimums are undermining the entire legal process? I do not know if there is that knowledge on the government side, whether or not the Conservatives are curious to know the answers to those questions. I can only say that we are, and we think it should be followed up.
In closing, I would like to add my voice along with my colleagues in saying that we certainly support this bill going to committee. It does require further examination. It does need to be looked at in the context of other legislation where mandatory minimums have been brought in. We need to look at the impacts on the provincial system, we need to look at the costs, and we need to ask some tough questions. We need to be intelligent and rational about how we proceed on these kinds of measures. We need to look at evidence, not political doctrine. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. We are here to uphold the public interest. We are here to uphold the notion of merit, evidence, and analysis. Let us remember that when we consider this bill further, and let us hope we can make some sensible decisions.
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