Mr. Speaker, I would like to note that I will be sharing my time with the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
It is a privilege to rise today to speak to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision regarding physician-assisted dying. As we all know, end-of-life issues are deeply emotional. Questions about how our family and loved ones hope to go through their final days will not be answered easily. However, anyone who has had to support a family member during a difficult time will understand that these conversations are essential to respecting the wishes of our loved ones and ensuring that we all have dignity in our final days.
We also know from recent polls and media coverage that this is not an academic topic. Canadians are having these discussions around the dinner table, and it is important that government is equally engaged. Despite the differences Canadians experience in their respective lives, be it the jobs they have held, the lifestyle they have chosen to adopt or the contributions they have made to society, all people ultimately have one thing in common; this being that we will eventually face the end of life.
Given advances in modern medicine and care practices and the fact that we are living longer lives, the reality around this experience has changed. In the past, when deaths resulted from serious or contagious diseases, accidents or otherwise natural causes, many Canadians died in their own homes in the midst of their family and community members. Now Canadians more typically spend their last days in the clinical environment of hospitals, often after a long and arduous course of battling debilitating illnesses, disease or coping with chronic conditions.
Those who are in need of palliative and end-of-life care and who are admitted into hospital settings often find themselves surrounded by medical professionals, strangers who strive to provide the best care even when death is imminent. In such cases, people are provided with very well-meaning care, but there may be little that can be done to make patients more comfortable near their lives. These situations are distressing for both the patients and the families.
That leads me to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision. I will quote from its conclusion, which states:
—prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who...clearly consents to the termination of life and...has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.
It is important to reflect a bit in terms of those different pieces, which I know some people who have already spoken have done. When we hear that 80% of people actually support this measure, I really think they do not understand the full scope and if they did understand it, they might have a different perspective.
I thought this was well said, when Andrew Coyne stated:
When most people think of assisted suicide...they have in mind not only a competent adult, capable of giving consent, but someone suffering unbearable physical pain and in the last stages of a terminal disease, for whom suicide is no more than a way to hasten an end that is already both inevitable and near.
He goes on to say:
First, it is clear from the ruling that the “enduring and intolerable suffering”...is not limited to physical pain, but also psychological pain—which, besides being a murkier concept by far, raises the question of how competent the subject really is. Nor is suffering defined further: it is enough that it is intolerable “to the individual.”
Second, nothing in the words “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” the court’s other requirement for the exercise of this right, suggests that death is near, or even likely.
Certainly many people share that perspective with respect to people who are near their end of life. However, I have heard many concerns with respect to the comments “intolerable psychological pain”. The disability associations have spoken to this very articulately. We must also look at other countries, such as Belgium, where I understand assisted suicide is now provided to children. Those comments tell me that we have to be incredibly careful in how we craft the legislation.
It is important to look at the concerns I have regarding this motion.
The first and most obvious concern is the timeframe. The leader of the third party stood up in the House and talked about how Quebec took four and a half years to craft its legislation. It took an important length of time for Quebec to get it right. As well, it took the Supreme Court of Canada well over a year just to strike down the legislation.
Crafting careful legislation will require important conversations. My colleague talked about the special committee on missing and murdered women and girls. It is important to recognize that the committee was struck for 12 months, yet it still required an extension to complete its work. It is also important to note that it was through a unanimous motion put forward by the Liberals, which we supported. However, when we got into the special committee structure that they had presented, they soon realized that there was a real flaw in terms of a special committee's structure. We needed the Native Women's Association of Canada to be an equal partner at the table, but through the unanimous motion of the House they had not struck a committee that allowed for the important partners to play a role in that conversation.
The Liberals like to use that as an example, but there were some important flaws in how that process moved forward.
One obvious partner that I see missing in this is the Canadian Medical Association. It is going to be, and must be, intimately involved in terms of the kind of legislation that ultimately comes out.
Those are my concerns with the timeframe.
We know that there will ultimately be a committee structure to deal with this particular issue, but more importantly, how many of our 308 members of Parliament will get to sit on such a special committee? There will be only 12. Therefore, all 308 members of Parliament have a responsibility right now to be talking with groups and individuals in their communities. If every single member does not send a letter to the Minister of Justice outlining the consultations they have had, they are, in my opinion, not doing the job properly.
We do have a critical job ahead of us. We have to get it right. The motion before us today is, in my opinion, very restrictive in terms of the timeframe, and it is very restrictive in terms of the structure to be used in moving forward, since there would be no critical partners at the table. We know that committees can do great work, but they have limitations in terms of the number of witnesses they can hear from and for how long.
Again, we must do this right. Having dealt with people with ALS and terminal cancer, we know that compassion needs to be shown in what we do and how we do it. We need to move forward, but to be quite frank, the motion that the Liberals have put forward is not going to provide the comprehensive response that we are going to need.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and I would like to commend the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for this initiative. This bill is very important because it will help protect and improve passenger transportation in Canada. Canadians deserve a suitable, safe and efficient passenger train service, and this bill is the way to fill that need.
Before I forget, I have to say something about the hon. member for Ottawa South. He said that this was a way for the Conservatives to privatize Via Rail and that this was where they were going. I agree with that. That is what all their cuts to Via Rail are leading to. Nonetheless, the Liberals have no lessons to give on this, when they are the ones who privatized CN, a crown corporation. That is where it all started. When they privatized CN they also gave CN priority rights to the tracks.
Take the example of the train that runs between Halifax and Montreal, known as the Ocean. It is an important train for passengers. Our ancestors worked hard to build the railways. At the time, the idea was to develop our country and, at the same time, to provide passenger service for Canadians. I do not believe that our ancestors wondered whether they were going to make money with freight or passenger trains. That is not what they were concerned with. They wanted to give Canadians a service allowing them to travel from one end of the country to the other.
I will just give a small example of what is happening in my area, between Halifax and Montreal. Is it acceptable for the train that leaves Moncton at 3 p.m. to arrive in Bathurst at 8 p.m.? It takes about two hours to travel from Bathurst to Moncton by car. It takes five hours by train. Who wants to ride on a train travelling at 50 kilometres an hour? As everyone knows, there are no freight trains between Miramichi and Bathurst, and the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour. If you travel by train often enough, you can watch the deer overtake it. Perhaps we could use it to go hunting. The current VIA Rail schedule is really ridiculous.
The government has a responsibility because it is not a private company. It is a crown corporation. I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport tell us that the government should not intervene. It is as though he was saying that the company is already privatized. He is saying that the government does not want to pass legislation to bother VIA Rail. That is ridiculous.
I would like to thank the NDP members from Nova Scotia and Quebec, as well as my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who worked very hard with us to secure the railway between Miramichi and Bathurst. If we had lost this railway, we would have lost VIA Rail between Halifax and Montreal.
We have to try to make them understand that if you take all the people on the Acadian peninsula and in the Gaspé, from Rogersville, Miramichi, Bathurst, Campbellton and Amqui, to Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, there are about 300,000 people. The government was eliminating that service. They kept saying:
It is arm's length from the government. We are not allowed to get involved.
It is funny that the $10 million was given by VIA Rail, but it was the minister who came to Fredericton to announce it. The member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe is the one who presented it and then the minister was thanked by the member for Miramichi. The entire Conservative family took credit for a crown corporation that they want to keep at arm's length.
The last person to speak was the president of VIA Rail, who practically thanked the minister for giving him the money. The train is important to us since it has always served the people back home without a car who have to go see a specialist in Moncton, Halifax or Montreal.
However, things changed two years ago when VIA Rail decided to reduce the number of trips to three days a week. Before, a person could leave Bathurst at 8 p.m., arrive in Montreal at 8 a.m. and see a specialist at one or two in the afternoon. Then, at 6:30 p.m., they could board the train back to Bathurst without having to pay for a hotel room in Montreal. This was done in one trip. It is inevitable that there are now fewer passengers on the train.
On Monday morning, because of the storm, I took the Bathurst train. The train left Bathurst at 5:30 a.m. Bathurst is an hour's drive from Campbellton. We got to Campbellton around 7 a.m. and had to stop to fill up with diesel. We were not able to go on until 11 a.m. There was a snowstorm, so I am not blaming VIA Rail, but would that be acceptable in France or the United States?
The bill introduced by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine would give passenger trains priority on the tracks, but the Conservatives seem to think that is some kind of sin and believe that passengers should have the right of way to travel.
When I travelled to France and other places, I found that the passenger trains were given priority and that they were full. As a result, there are fewer cars on the road, which is better for the environment. That is not the case here. Not only are passenger trains not given priority, but the government does not care about them at all. The government is taking funding away from VIA Rail, saying that the company should be able to support itself and even make a profit.
That is not the vision that our forebears had for VIA Rail when they put trains on the tracks. They wanted to provide a service to all Canadian taxpayers. The politicians at that time were not thinking about taking money from taxpayers. Quebeckers and Canadians want this service. They do not mind contributing to a railway that runs from one end of the country to the other. It is shameful that the government is not supporting VIA Rail's projects. I am proud that the NDP members are saying that they will support VIA Rail.
The least they could do is vote to ensure that this bill can be studied in committee, where they can find a way to refocus VIA Rail's vision on providing services to Canadians. I am proud of the fight we led to maintain VIA Rail service between Halifax and Montreal. In Bathurst, Rogersville, Halifax, Campbellton and Miramichi, people spoke up to say that they wanted VIA Rail and passenger rail service. The government cannot ignore that. Let us hope that the government does not follow the example of the Liberals, who were champions of privatizing our crown corporations. As a result, we have now lost them all.
I sincerely hope that this bill passes at second reading and that it goes to committee so that we can hear from experts.
If the Conservatives cannot support it, it is because in their minds, this is just like Canada Post; they want to privatize all of our crown corporations. That is not the Canada I want to live in.
Mr. Speaker, I stand before my hon. colleagues tonight to close the second hour of debate on Bill C-208, my bill that aims to make English-French bilingualism a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
I also want to thank my NDP colleagues who have spoken tonight and in the first hour and who support my bill. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and the Liberals who supported my bill in 2008, in 2010 and again today.
Everyone can see that the Conservatives are the only ones saying no.
This is my third attempt to get this bill through, and I hope that all my colleagues on the other side of the House will vote in favour of the bilingualism requirement for Supreme Court judges when we vote on May 7.
In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit a few universities and a few communities to talk about Bill C-208. I went to Sudbury and had the opportunity to present my bill to students at Laurentian University. I also presented my bill to students in the faculty of law at the Université de Moncton and law students at the University of Ottawa.
People in my riding support my bill enthusiastically. Everywhere I went, people said that the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges was important for the equality of both official languages and equality in the access to justice.
Let me now tell the House about the support I have received from various stakeholders in the fields of official languages and justice.
In his letter of support for Bill C-208, the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, said:
...since 2008, I supported the principle that all Supreme Court justices should be bilingual, and that is still my opinion. I believe, out of respect for all Canadians, that it is a matter of ensuring that they are all served by judges of the highest distinction and greatest ability, who can hear and understand a case in either official language
The Barreau du Québec also supported my bill and said that:
[It] has always believed that functional bilingualism should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice...
The Quebec Community Groups Network also supports this important bill. Its letter of support for Bill C-208, it stated that the QCGN supports the requirement that Supreme Court Justices be capable of executing their responsibilities in both official languages without the aid of an interpreter on the same basis. In addition, the letter stated that the QCGN believes that Bill C-208 strengthens the principle of the rule of law upon which our society is based.
The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, or the FCFA, and its members have also shown their support for Bill C-208. In its letter of support, the FCFA indicated:
...we find it completely unacceptable that, in this day and age, French-speaking Canadians still cannot be heard and understood by all of the judges who sit on the highest court in our country without the assistance of an interpreter.
I would like to thank all the people, groups and associations who shared with me their support for the important issue of the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges.
I would like to remind hon. members of the importance of my bill. This is a matter of access to justice. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and it is very important for its judges to be able to understand both official languages without the help of an interpreter.
Second, having bilingual Supreme Court judges would ensure the equality of both the official languages. We have to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized the equality of French and English.
In conclusion, I urge all my colleagues to vote in favour of my Bill C-208.
We must protect the equality of our two official languages and equal access to justice. In particular, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec and the members who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and the member for Saint Boniface, who is the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, to ask their Conservative colleagues to support my bill, which seeks to ensure that Supreme Court judges are bilingual. It is a matter of justice and equality.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for his question.
Studies have been done, and the Commissioner of Official Languages, whom all Canadians respect, also ordered his own office to conduct a study. The pool of bilingual judges is large. That is why I asked a question during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during which the most senior Department of Justice officials confirmed that there were plenty. Anyone who wants to be a Federal Court judge has to fulfill the same criteria. There are criteria to be met. My Conservative colleague just talked about those criteria.
The pool of judges for the Supreme Court includes judges who are already in superior courts, which means they meet all of the criteria. It would never occur to me that the government, which appoints Supreme Court justices, does not abide by those criteria. Moreover, the Department of Justice says there are plenty. I asked the witness to repeat that two or three times because I could not believe my ears. This contradicts the Conservatives' argument. My colleague was at that meeting, so he knows the answers given by the Department of Justice.
moved that Bill C-208, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise for the third time in the House to speak to Bill C-208, which would require Supreme Court justices to be bilingual so that they can respond to Canadian citizens.
Thirteen years ago, on February 28, two hours before I made a speech in the House of Commons about taxes on mechanics' tools, I was thinking that my grandson Jonathan, who was born two days later, might one day use these tools if he decided to become a mechanic.
Today, as I wish Jonathan a happy birthday, I hope that my other grandson and my granddaughter will be able to be heard in the official language of their choice, which is French, if they ever need to go to the Supreme Court.
Today, my New Democrat colleagues and I are back with my Bill C-208, which would make being bilingual in French and English a new condition for appointing justices to the Supreme Court of Canada.
This is my third attempt to get this initiative passed. In 2010, this bill, known at the time as Bill C-232, was passed by the House of Commons. To my great disappointment, the Conservative senators used their majority in the Senate to block the bill. The bill then died on the order paper when the 2011 election was called.
The Conservatives have repeatedly shown their contempt for official languages by appointing two unilingual anglophone justices to the Supreme Court and by appointing a unilingual auditor general.
The NDP thinks that there is another way to do things. The NDP is the only party that is proposing concrete measures to promote and protect our official languages. Thanks to the NDP, the House recently passed Bill C-419, which corrects the Conservatives' mistake by ensuring that officers of Parliament will now have to be bilingual when they are appointed. It is time for us to make understanding both official languages an essential condition of being appointed to the Supreme Court.
I would like to speak to the importance of this bill. This is a question of access to justice. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and it is very important that the justices be able to understand both official languages without the help of an interpreter. I have the utmost respect for the work of interpreters, but we know that interpretation has its limits. Numerous lawyers have noticed errors and omissions in the interpretation of their arguments before the Supreme Court.
I am thinking, in particular, about Michel Doucet, a law professor at the Université de Moncton, the former dean of the law faculty at the university and a language rights expert. He spoke to the issue when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages:
In the week after I had argued a case before the Supreme Court, I had an opportunity to hear the English version of my arguments on CPAC, and I understood why I had lost the case five to four. The translation did not allow me to understand my own words. I wonder how justices can fully understand the matter at hand when they have to go through translation in which significant aspects of a submission are missing. When you win 9:0, there is no problem, but when you lose 5 to 4, you automatically wonder whether you should not have argued in English.
There are many examples of questionable interpretation at the Supreme Court. A lawyer arguing his case before the court mentioned a Monsieur Saint-Coeur and the interpreter rendered it as “Mr. Five O'clock”. Even the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, has weighed in on the importance of understanding the arguments presented without the help of an intermediary.
In June 2009, he told members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights:
Given the complexity and the extreme importance of the cases heard by this court, judges should be able to hear arguments presented to them without using an interpreter to understand nuanced and complex legal arguments.
According to Sébastien Grammond, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, interpretation may lead to “loss of precision which, in some cases, can even involve the omission of certain sentences”.
This loss of precision can also be found in the documents submitted by the parties to the proceedings. These documents are not translated by the court. Unilingual judges must rely on the briefs prepared by court clerks, who are often young lawyers with little legal experience.
The presence of unilingual judges on the bench of the Supreme Court also poses a problem during closed-door deliberations without an interpreter. Francophone judges must always express their opinions, ideas and knowledge in their second language. Therefore, there is a risk that they will be much less precise.
If the justices can function in both official languages, everyone can work in the language of their choice. The bilingualism of judges is therefore a question of the equality of francophones and anglophones in terms of access to justice.
The bilingualism of Supreme Court justices ensures the equality of both official languages.
We have to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized the equality of French and English.
Laws are drafted in both official languages. Both versions have the same weight and neither one takes precedence over the other.
Our language duality is part of our Canadian identity. We have to embrace it.
Is there substantive equality when a francophone appears before the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is not there to reward ambitious lawyers or judges. It is there to dispense justice for all Canadians.
Serving on the Supreme Court is not a right, but having fair access to justice is a right. Remember that the court is there to serve Canadians, not the interests of the judge.
The issue of requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual has been debated for several years.
I think it is wrong for francophones to have to make themselves understood by unilingual judges through the filter of interpretation, especially before the highest court in the land.
If Canada's two official languages are to be truly equal, it is important that bilingualism be an essential requirement when judges are appointed to the Supreme Court.
Lastly, my bill would ensure that the Supreme Court can serve all Canadians equally, whether their mother tongue is English or French.
The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, who is highly respected by all Canadians, has said several times that he supports requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual.
The Barreau du Québec has supported this bill for years now:
The Barreau has always believed that functional bilingualism should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice, and it deplores that even today federal legislation has no provisions requiring that the nine Supreme Court judges be proficient in both official languages.
Many stakeholders in the official languages community support my bill, particularly the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne and its members:
The FCFA believes that all citizens have a right to be heard and understood before the highest court of Canada in their official language of choice, without the assistance of an interpreter.
Lastly, various linguistic rights experts have spoken out in favour of my bill, including Sébastien Grammond, Dean of Civil Law at the University of Ottawa, Gérard Lévesque, a very well-known lawyer for language rights, and Serge Rousselle and Michel Doucet, both law professors at the Université de Moncton.
Let me remind members that the NDP is the only party that proposes concrete measures to advance Canada's linguistic duality.
Bill C-419 on the mandatory bilingualism of officers of Parliament, introduced by my colleague, was passed by the House of Commons in 2013.
Let us not forget that the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre remained open thanks to the pressure that my NDP colleagues and I put on the Conservative government, which intended to close this centre, the only French-language marine rescue centre in Canada.
The Conservative government has not shown any respect toward our official languages. I want to remind the House that it is the Prime Minister who appointed two unilingual judges to the Supreme Court. It is also the Conservative government that appointed a unilingual Auditor General to Parliament. Even the minister responsible for official languages is not in favour of my bill. Her riding of Saint Boniface, in Manitoba, includes thousands of francophones. What an insult to that community.
I also want to remind the members opposite that this former bill, Bill C-232, was passed by the House of Commons in 2010.
All the Conservative members voted against that bill, even the members from Quebec and those who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the members for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and Madawaska—Restigouche. Despite the opposition of the Conservative members, Bill C-232 was passed by the House of Commons; however, the unelected Conservative senators, including a number of francophones, held up the bill until the 2011 election was called.
The majority of the members in the House of Commons, who were elected by Canadians, voted in favour of this bill, but the unelected senators defeated the bill. Do not try to tell me that the Senate stands up for linguistic minorities.
In closing, I ask the members of all the parties to support this bill so that it can move along and be considered at the Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights. We must protect the equality of our two official languages and equal access to justice.
In particular, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec and the members who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the members for Madawaska—Restigouche, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and Saint Boniface, to pressure their colleagues to support my bill, which seeks to ensure that the Supreme Court judges are bilingual.
If the Conservatives thought that bilingualism was necessary for becoming an officer of Parliament, then there is no reason why they should not do the same for the judges who sit on the benches of the highest court in the land.
The bill is a matter of justice and equality.
It is a matter of justice and equality.
Canadians have the right—it is more than just a privilege—to appear before a judge at the Federal Court of Canada and be heard and understood in the language of their choice. The same applies to the Federal Court of Appeal. It should also apply to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country.
I was at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this week, and I asked officials from the Department of Justice whether there are enough bilingual judges in each province. If Canadians were to read the committee minutes, they would see that the response was yes. I then asked whether there are a lot of judges, and they said that there are enough.
I am waiting to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice tell us that the pool is not big enough, even though officials from his own department clearly told us in committee that it is a big pool. They told us that there are enough bilingual judges in every province.
I hope that the Conservatives will support my bill and bilingualism in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-489. I would think that all members would support the intent of the legislation in principle, the necessity for those who have been victimized to be assured of some degree of security that the offender will maintain a certain distance from them.
The question that was often raised during discussions of the legislation at committee was whether the legislation, as drafted, was necessary and would withstand a constitutional challenge.
We have increasingly seen that the courts are beginning to respond negatively to the blank mandatory minimum sentences that the government has been imposing on virtaully any and all offenses.
No one argues that in some cases mandatory minimums are not required. No intelligent person argues, given the current government's use of this practice, that a full review of those sentences should not be conducted.
When the sponsor of the bill was asked in the House during second reading about his consultations prior to the bill's introduction as to whether the amendments proposed in the bill would meet a court challenge related to the charter, the member indicated that he had consulted, but he provided no evidence as to whom he had consulted. That I did find troubling.
Changes to public policy, and especially changes to the Criminal Code, should be done to meet a specific and widely held need. This is national legislation that would impact all Canadians. It is not a bylaw in a community or one that might apply to a specific part of a small community. It is the Criminal Code of Canada, and amendments to it should be based on evidence and due diligence.
In that regard, I would put on the record the following exchange. It does not minimize the impact of criminal activity on any individual but places in context the wider concern, which may not exist, according to the member who proposed this legislation.
On November 5, 2013, the following question was posed to the member:
Do you have any numbers on how many people who would be impacted by this bill specifically have found themselves in a situation of having the offender within two miles of their residence?
The answer from the member for Langley was “no”.
Again, the intent of the bill is worthy of support, but what remains troubling is that no evidence as to the extent of the problem is apparently available, and it should be.
Extending from these issues is that the bill itself was subject to a number of amendments in key areas that were of concern to members and witnesses. As a case in point, the bill in its original form mandated that an offender could not reside within two kilometres of the victim and that there would be a requirement that the offender be obligated to have knowledge of the residency of the victim or where the victim could be present.
When asked how the two kilometres was reached, the member indicated that his intent had originally been to set it at five kilometres, and it was reduced to two kilometres to take into account smaller community situations. However, the two kilometres appears now to have been arbitrarily set, the same way five kilometres was. The bill has now been amended in regard to both provisions.
On strict adherence to the two kilometres, government members, on behalf of the government, eliminated the mandatory two-kilometre restriction, allowing judges the discretion, which they currently have under the Criminal Code, to allow, and I will quote the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe at committee, who moved the amendment, “the courts to impose greater or lesser geographic restriction where it is reasonable to do so”.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this debate today. I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
One of our government's top priorities is to keep Canadian families safe. We have delivered on this commitment time and time again during this Parliament, and we are building on the success through the bill before us today, the respect for communities act. The bill details proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, a piece of legislation that exists to protect public health and maintain public safety.
Substances that fall under the act include dangerous and addictive drugs that can have horrible impacts on Canadian families and their communities. Currently, under the act activities involving controlled substances, including possession, import, export, production, and distribution, are illegal except as authorized under an exemption obtained through its section 56 or its regulations.
This section gives the minister of health the authority to grant exemptions from the application of the act in order to respond to unanticipated situations or a legitimate activity using a controlled substance that is not provided for in the regulations.
These exemptions may be granted if in the minister's opinion the exemption is necessary for medical or scientific purposes, or is otherwise in the public interest. An exemption is required in emergency or unanticipated situations. An example would be the Red Cross needing to have access to controlled substances for natural disaster relief efforts.
We know that substances obtained illicitly often contribute to organized crime and increase the risks of harm to health and public safety, especially when those substances are unregulated or untested. This can have a profound impact on our families and on the communities in which we live. Given this, any exemption that allows for the use of controlled substances obtained from illicit sources should only be granted under exceptional circumstances.
In order to demonstrate these exceptional circumstances, applications for exemption should be subject to specific, clear criteria. Only by addressing rigorous application criteria would the Minister of Health have the information required to be able to balance effectively the public health and public safety needs of a community.
Our government is therefore proposing a new approach that would separate the exemption authority found at section 56 into two regimes, one for the use of licit or legal substances and a second for activities using illicit substances, which oftentimes amount to street drugs. This new approach would provide further transparency for applicants seeking to conduct activities involving the use of these street drugs at a supervised injection site.
For applicants who are applying for an exemption to use controlled substances obtained from legitimate sources, the process to obtain a section 56 exemption would not change with the passage of the bill. It would remain as it is.
Currently, Health Canada receives a significant number of exemption applications each year, most of which are for routine activities such as clinical trials or university-based research. These activities involve controlled substances obtained through legal sources, such as licensed dealers, pharmacists, or hospitals, and as I stated, the exemption process would not change for these applicants. What is being proposed in Bill C-2 is a new approach to deal with exemptions involving activities with controlled substances that are obtained through illicit sources.
There is a very high risk associated with the use of these substances for individuals and for communities, so it is important that public health and safety concerns be balanced and that relevant information be considered thoroughly to determine whether or not an exemption should in fact be granted.
In a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision the court identified five factors that the Minister of Health must consider when assessing any future section 56 exemption applications to operate a supervised injection site. The legislation would amend section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to include a section specifically on supervised consumption sites and codify rigorous and specific criteria that builds upon those factors identified by the Supreme Court. Once the bill is passed, an applicant seeking an exemption to undertake activities with illicit substances at a supervised consumption site must address these criteria before the Minister of Health would consider such an application.
One of the factors established by the Supreme Court of Canada in its decision relates to the need for the applicant to provide evidence of community support or opposition for any future sites. It is this element of the court's ruling that is particularly crucial when evaluating the merits of the bill before the House today. That is a key point.
Recently I read in the Ottawa papers about a local group that wants to apply for an exemption in order to build a safe injection site in the Sandy Hill area. Without passing any kind of prejudgment on its merits, I do find it concerning that this group thinks that by accelerating its application it can avoid consultation with the community at large.
I would like to dwell on that point for a brief moment. Our government is seeking passage of legislation that would help ensure that communities have a say on the use of street drugs in their neighbourhoods, and an organization is so opposed to this principle that it is trying to circumvent that very issue. Let me assure the House that our government will ensure Canadian communities get the respect they deserve through actions that include the passage of this very legislation. Government needs to hear from those Canadians who will be living and working near sites where addicts will be using dangerous and addictive drugs. It is that simple.
Given this, the respect for communities act provides opportunities for community and stakeholder input related to their support or opposition to a proposed supervised consumption site. In this new approach, the Minister of Health would have the authority to post a notice of application once an application is in fact received. This would provide for a 90-day public comment period. This public comment period provides an opportunity for members of the community to make their views known to the Minister of Health and any relevant feedback would be taken into account in the consideration of the application.
This consultation process is an essential part of the legislation. We need to know what those living, working or going to school near the potential supervised consumption site think of the proposal. We need to know their opinions.
Under this new approach, the government will also require that applicants provide letters outlining the opinions and concerns of key community stakeholders who are important to the success or failure of that site. For example, valuable input and local perspectives will be sought from the provincial ministers responsible for health and public safety, the head of the local police force and the local public health professional in the province. In these cases, the applicant would be required to provide a letter from the stakeholder indicating their opinion on the proposed activities.
I did not misspeak on that particular issue with regard to the respect for communities act. I did say when dangerous and addictive drugs are sold. An important factor for members to consider with the bill is that it provides for consultations, notices and data of all sorts in this application process. However, at the end of the day these sites will not supply addicts with the illicit drugs they are abusing. They will have to bring these substances to the centres themselves through buying them on the street, in effect creating a lucrative market for drug dealers.
I will be voting in favour of the bill. It is common sense for Canadians to be consulted when centres for dangerous and addictive drugs are looking to open down the street from our families in our communities.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of personal privilege that I think will have some relevance to my colleague across the way, the House leader for the government, as well as the House leader for the Liberal Party.
I rise on a question arising from some troubling insinuations made last night over the course of debate. I have been reviewing yesterday's debate and I was surprised and, not somewhat, but very concerned by some serious allegations that were made by one of my colleagues across the way. These statements call into question the integrity of the House and the House leaders and I wanted to raise them with you today, Mr. Speaker, as soon as possible.
During the debate on vote 1 on the main estimates, while referring to Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code sports betting, the MP for Wellington—Halton Hills mentioned:
In fact, what transpired on Friday, March 2, 2012, was that the House leaders worked together to force debate to collapse before the full two hours of third reading had transpired, preventing members like me from “standing five” to request a full standing division on that piece of legislation.
By saying that, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills is insinuating that the House leaders had come up with some kind of conspiracy to bypass the parliamentary process. Not only does this show a lack of understanding of the legislative process, it puts the credibility of the officers of the House into doubt. Moreover, Mr. Speaker, it puts your credibility into doubt by insinuating that you would allow such a conspiracy to take place.
My friend across the way knows this place well and knows the rules that govern the House. He has been here for some time now, so I find it passing strange that he has gone so far as to suggest that there was a coordinated effort to trample his rights as a duly elected member of Parliament. Perhaps a brief review of what happened in this case can help clarify the situation for him and for all, and perhaps invoke some retraction or apology to both yourself, Mr. Speaker, and the House leaders.
Bill C-290 was debated at second reading on November 1, 2011. During the debate, all MPs had the opportunity to express themselves on this bill. This opportunity was seized by the member of Parliament for Windsor—Tecumseh, the member for Windsor West, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert and the member for Charlottetown. Following these interventions, because no other member rose to speak, the Speaker put the question to the House, as is proper.
This is the normal procedure at any time when no further members rise to speak on a bill. If the debate collapses, the bill can be adopted or rejected at that point, or a recorded division can be requested by any five members in the House. In the case of this bill, there was not a single MP from any party who expressed their opposition to the bill being read a second time and referred to the committee.
The member for Wellington—Halton Hills could have expressed his concerns at this time by simply standing up. He chose not to. During the committee study, any MP could have submitted their concerns on the bill or encouraged the committee members to recommend that the House not proceed with the bill at all. This is good legislation, so no member availed themselves of this opportunity and the bill was passed by the committee, once again without opposition.
Members had a third opportunity to express themselves at the report stage on March 2, 2012. Indeed, as prescribed in the Standing Orders, when a bill comes back from the committee and there are no amendments, the Speaker automatically puts the question at report stage. Once again, the bill passed through this stage without any opposition whatsoever.
The debate at third reading provided a fourth chance for the members to examine and debate the bill. Once again, representatives from all three recognized parties took the opportunity to address the bill. It was a lively debate. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills, as well as other MPs, had the chance to give a speech on the bill at that point, but they did not. For a fourth time, the bill was passed by members of the House, without opposition.
The MP for Wellington—Halton Hills had all of these occasions to speak on Bill C-290 and to move any amendments or changes, but he chose not to. The order paper shows us well in advance when a bill is to be debated. It is not a secret. However, instead of standing to speak his voice, he chose to stay in his seat or not be present. Now he claims that there was somehow a conspiracy against him, blaming his House leader, myself and the House leader for the Liberal Party of having conspired to prevent him the opportunity to use his democratic voice.
Moreover, the MP for Wellington—Halton Hills seems to think that it is unheard of for a private member's bill to go through all steps without a standing vote. Since the beginning of this Parliament, at least two bills from opposition MPs went through all stages in the House of Commons without a standing vote. This was the case for Bill C-278, An Act respecting a day to increase public awareness about epilepsy, as well as Bill S-201, An Act respecting a National Philanthropy Day.
There was also Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective contact lenses) and Motion No. 319 from the MP for Ottawa—Orléans.
These four private members' business items all passed through the legislative process without a standing vote in the House. We heard no such cries of conspiracy or condemnation from the member who is raising the complaints now or from any other member because this is the practice of the House. My friend from Ottawa—Orléans knows this practice well and used it.
These assertions that have been made are broad sweeping and undermine the integrity of the House officers of the various parties by calling into question the work that we undertake on behalf of our parties. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills is calling into question the integrity of this House and the legislative process, a process he knows well. I hope that this is not what the member was suggesting or insinuating last night. Maybe it is just that the member has misplaced certain rules of the House.
If he feels that his rights to express himself in the House have somehow been violated, I also invite him to discuss this with his House leader or others who try to maintain an orderly and conducive debate in this place. He does not have to try and intimidate those of us in this House. We New Democrats, more often than anyone else in this place, believe in and defend the institution and the rights of members of Parliament to speak. We have opposed the 42 motions that have been moved by this government to shut down debate every single time. The insinuation that there is somehow a conspiracy to prevent certain members from speaking on a piece of legislation, simply because they are in opposition, is both offensive to myself and I would suggest to the other House leaders, although they will have their own positions and feelings about this.
I would also argue that this assertion puts your credibility into doubt by insinuating that somehow you would allow such a conspiracy to take place. I believe that these allegations constitute a prima facie breach of privilege.
If you come to the same conclusion that I have, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion to have this studied by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I look forward to the interventions by my colleagues across the way.
The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
Mr. Speaker, for months now, we have been telling the minister that her changes to employment insurance are devastating for seasonal workers in Canada.
Workers from New Brunswick and from Newfoundland and Labrador were on the Hill today to demand immediate changes to the reform package, which penalizes seasonal workers.
Even though she refuses to consult with Canadians, perhaps she will listen to her colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, who is also asking for changes.
Will she change her mind about her reform package, as the New Democrats, as Canadian workers and as her own Conservative colleagues are asking her to do?
Mr. Speaker, employment insurance reform is so messed up that even Conservative members, who are usually heartless, are now asking the minister for changes.
The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe has just realized that his constituents are not happy.
It is about time. We have been saying for six months that the reform does not reflect regional economic realities.
If the Conservatives had held consultations, this would not have happened.
Is the minister going to listen to her colleague from the back benches and support the NDP position now? The government's reform makes no sense.
The words “lie” or “liars” or words to that effect are very clearly spelled out as unparliamentary. I would ask the member to withdraw that term and he will have about 30 seconds to finish his S. O. 31.
Mr. Speaker, the bill is really two bills and probably should not be drafted in this way.
If we deal with the part that it appears all parties agree with, and perhaps picking up where my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe finished off, section 494 of the Criminal Code as it is now places restrictions on the use of citizen's arrest. In particular, in the simple reading over the years there have been two conditions where it is not a police officer who does the arrest. The first is the arrest has to occur on or immediately adjacent to the property where the crime occurred and it has to be done contemporaneous with the event.
I think everybody in the House and the vast majority of Canadians know the situation in the Toronto Chen case. The individual was suspected of committing a crime of theft once before. He returned to the property and was confronted by the owner. He fled and then was seen subsequently by the owner and then apprehended, away from the property and clearly not contemporaneous with the potential additional theft that it was suspected he would have perpetuated on that day. The shop owner was subsequently charged.
I have had a great deal of discussion with police officers, including chiefs of police, across the country. Generally there is this sense that they would have found other ways of not charging the shop owner in that case. However, they recognized, as well, that to clarify the Criminal Code, section 494, at this period of time, both because of that case and because of other incidents where police officers and prosecutors had been caught by a strict interpretation of that section, they had to proceed with charges when they would have preferred not to.
As my colleague from British Columbia mentioned earlier, and we have heard repeatedly in the House, our colleague from Trinity—Spadina had proposed some amendments to the section some time ago, shortly after the Chen case became public and notorious. It was to introduce two concepts of reasonableness, a reasonable length of time and with a reasonable apprehension that the person would not be brought into custody and charged because there were no police officers available.
The government has added an additional provision to clarify the issue around the role the owner of property must perform. It is not only that it has to be within a reasonable period of time, but the government has put in specific wording, in addition to the reasonable time test, that the individual citizen who considers making a citizen's arrest must also “believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest”.
We have heard a number of comments in the public, from the legal community and occasionally from a police officer, around vigilantism being fostered or encouraged by this amendment. The very fact that we have put in this criteria that people have to make the apprehension within a reasonable period of time and be under the belief that if they do not make the arrest, there will be no police officer available to make the arrest, the individual will escape responsibility for the alleged criminal act.
The government's proposed amendment to section 494 is very similar to what the NDP had proposed, with that one additional strengthening of it, which we would be in support of and, as we heard today and previous days, the other opposition parties would be in support of that as well. Unfortunately, the bill does not end there and it should have. We should have run this through quite quickly with all party support.
Instead, the government has lumped in a bunch of other amendments, which it so commonly does. It has taken sections 34 to 42 of the Criminal Code and compressed them down into sections, which would now be sections 34 and 35. I am not sure what the government will do with the numbering of the rest of the code because it would shrink by six sections, if my math is correct, if these amendments were to go through.
The government seems to be somehow drawing an analogy of the principles that are contained in section 494 with those in sections 34 to 42, and that does not follow. If we look at the rest of the sections around section 494, they are very much about the authority of police officers to arrest, either with or without warrants, and the role of both the prosecutor and the judiciary in that regard as well.
There are a number of sections, starting at around 492-493, running down through to about section 200, that deal with that issue. Section 494 should properly be there. The concept of citizen's arrest fits in very appropriately there. It is not the same as the provisions in sections 34 to 42.
If I do a quick summary, what is in sections 42 down to 34 are provisions for self-defence of our person, defence of our principal residence, defence of commercial property with regard to trespass and other crimes on those properties and our right to defend our ownership of personal property, from cars to jewellery to furniture to clothing, et cetera.
The sections in that part of the Criminal Code, and it is early on in the Criminal Code, reflect law that has been in the code since it started back in the 1890s in Canada and back to even before we had criminal codes and criminal legislation in England. These would have been fiats from the king when these concepts began to evolve, and they have evolved over hundreds of years, to the point where we have them now encoded in the Criminal Code.
What is being proposed, and I cannot put it any other way, are radical changes to those sections. I have looked at it quite closely over the last few weeks since we first saw the initial draft of the bill. What jumped out at me was some wording that, clearly, the government had taken from interpretations of those sections 34 to 42, which are judicial decisions. Because the language was more modern than what was in the Criminal Code, it thought it would be a good to add it. Unfortunately, it also seems to have left out some very important legal principles, and I say this from the vantage point of both lawyers who prosecute offences and our police and defence lawyers who defend.
I will use as one example the provisions in those sections 34 to 42 with regard to the concept of provocation. I will do it in a three-step process.
If the perpetrator of the provocation is assaulted, that perpetrator is then entitled to self-defend but to a lesser degree because that individual caused the provocation of the assault. There is a sort of quasi-defence there, both to the assault and then the defence of that assault. That concept has evolved and been interpreted by our courts and is quite well understood, not by the average citizen but by lawyers and judges in our criminal courts.
I do not see any reference at all to the concept of justification. This one is certainly more complicated, but it is not the same as provocation. People have reason to believe they can use physical force on other people and similarly they can use perhaps excessive force to repel what is perceived as an assault on either them or their property. That concept does not appear in either of the sections that are purported to replace sections 34 to 42.
Another concept that appears vaguely is the concept of what we used to refer to either as colour of right or claim of right. I feel like I am back at law school. I have instructed at university and I feel I am back doing that same kind of thing. These are very basic legal concepts that are usually taken in the first term of first year law school, but are sometimes repeated in later years if specialty courses are taken in criminal law.
The concept of colour of right or claim of right crops up quite regularly in matrimonial disputes. Someone says that he or she is the registered owner of the property and threatens to throw out someone who has been living at that property as a partner for a lengthy period of time. The person being evicted has a claim of right to stay there. That concept does not appear, at least clearly, in the proposed amendments.
There is a similar type of concept in commercial relationships involving multiple business partners. One person may be the registered owner of the business, with the majority of shares, and the other person may want to come back on the property to remove stuff or whatever. This claim of right allows an individual to go back on to the property. That only appears once in the proposed amendments and it seems to be absent in other areas.
Going back to my first year at law school, I have to wonder if this bill was drafted as we were dealing with the issue of Mr. Chen and his citizen's arrest. These principles should be in the amendments. It may be done in a different way. An argument could be made that the sections are being modernized, brought into the 21st century. I am a strong advocate of the need to bring our Criminal Code into the 21st century because there are all kinds of problems with it.
I do not know if the government was trying to do that. I do have serious doubts, at least in part, that the it did not accomplish that in terms of keeping those principles but modernizing the wording around them. If that is what the government is doing, then I have serious problems with the bill because it did not accomplish this.
On the other hand, there may be another agenda here, and I am not sure what it is other than to move toward a more U.S.-style of what we in law talk about as self-help. Perhaps the agenda is to move more toward that which is allowed much more broadly in the U.S. criminal justice system than it is in Canada, Britain, Australia or New Zealand, countries that have similar jurisdictions both in terms of the way our law developed and the way we deal with the issue of crime and the ability to use self-help to fight crime.
Whether that other political ideological agenda exists is not clear, but there must be concerns that with some of these proposed changes we may in fact go that way.
Due to our support of section 494 and wanting to correct the problem in the Chen situation, I believe most of us will support the bill to go to committee. However, when the bill gets to committee, we will need very clear explanations as to the drafting behind the bill and whether the concepts of provocation, justification and claim of right have been done away with in most cases.
Having set out those parameters and limitations in the bill, it goes without saying that this will be a source of great wealth for lawyers. Both prosecutors and the defence bar will literally spend years reinterpreting the concepts in the bill because the historical principles that applied around the use of self-help appear to have changed so radically. After listening to the speeches from the government, I have determined that we have not had any rational explanation as to why it has made this move. It just does not seem to add up.
It is unfortunate that the government coupled it with the amendments to section 494. It would have been nice to get that as a separate bill. I know my colleague from Trinity—Spadina had offered the government to make it a short separate bill containing a two-paragraph amendment to the existing section 494 to be able to get it through the House rapidly.
As it stands now, once this bill gets to the justice committee it will be backed up behind other bills that are already there. We will need to spend a great deal of time to determine if there are unintended consequences, whether long-standing legal principles will be undermined and, if so, what that would mean to the practice of law in Canada and the right of citizens to defend themselves and their property, whether it be their home or their commercial interests. We will need a great deal of evidence in order to understand that.
As I have indicated, the NDP will be supporting this going to committee because of our support for the amendments to section 494 and the whole concept of making it clear when the power of a citizen's arrest can be used. However, we have very grave concerns about the balance of the bill. That will require a great deal of work at the justice committee in order to understand it.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate at third reading of Bill C-576.
I had an opportunity to speak to the bill at a previous stage and expressed, as the official opposition justice critic, the position I am encouraging my caucus to take on this private member's bill, which is to support the bill.
We already know that the issue of identity theft has become almost an epidemic in Canada where people's identity is being stolen and frauds and thefts are being created.
What many people may not know is that in recent years there appears to have been an increase in the number of individuals who are personating peace officers in order to commit other crimes. There is the Penhold case, which was the subject of much discussion at second reading debate. My colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, who sits on the justice committee with me, gave an eloquent speech in which he discussed the Penhold case. That case resulted in an amendment to the Criminal Code in order to establish a five year maximum sentence for someone convicted of personating a peace officer.
This bill would add the conviction of personating a peace officer to be an aggravating factor or circumstance in the sentencing of that individual of other criminal infractions or offences for which that individual was been found guilty.
As was explained just before my speech by one of the Conservative MPs, someone who personates a police officer in order to unlawfully enter a home under the pretext of executing a warrant search to seize certain stolen property would be believed by the owners of that home to be an actual police officer and that the police officer had the legal right to enter their home and seize property.
There was an article in the newspaper about some incidents involving two young men in Montreal. In March 2010, the police arrested two young men with the intention of charging them with extortion, theft and personating a peace officer. They were alleged to have set up their SUV with a siren and other accoutrements that would lead one to believe that it was an official police vehicle and they would intercept motorists on the streets of east end Montreal and inform them that they were part of an undercover operation. They would check licences and papers and, if the motorists had an expired licence or permit, the two men would tell the motorists that if they paid some money they would let them go, otherwise they would seize their car and the motorists would have to pay the towing charges, the storage charges and any extra fines.
It is alleged that those two young men conducted such criminal activity over the course of approximately two weeks before a motorist became suspicious and called 911. The police were then able to apprehend the two alleged criminals, and I assume they have since been charged because in the report of March 3, 2010, the police spokesman said that they would be charged.
That is a case where innocent motorists, innocent citizens, were lulled into believing that they were dealing with actual police officers and that these police officers were corrupt. One must understand how reprehensible this kind of activity is.
I do not think there is anyone who would not understand how reprehensible that kind of activity is. Not only was a crime being committed, but an additional crime of personating a police officer was being committed in order to facilitate the commission of other crimes, whether they be crimes of theft, crimes of property or crimes against persons, such as sexual assault.
As the Liberal critic for justice, I am recommending that members of my caucus vote in favour of this bill. I think I have explained succinctly why I am in favour of this bill and why I will be urging my colleagues to support it.
The electoral district of Moncton--Riverview--Dieppe (New Brunswick) has a population of 89,334 with 74,660 registered voters and 199 polling divisions.
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