Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
I rise today to speak to one of the most important issues to be focused on in the House. For me, and for many members, as we have heard, that is the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war. I can say this personally, having been to the DRC a couple of years ago and having talked to people on the ground there as well as to people here who are involved internationally on the issue.
We have had forums here. A couple of years ago we had a very important forum with the All-Party Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, of which I am now the chair. We organized an event a couple of years back with Eve Ensler, the famous playwright, that included testimony from victims who suffered from rape as a weapon of war.
I do not want to sensationalize, but I do want to lend some stories to the debate and some facts about what has been going on.
It has been noted many times in the debate around rape as a weapon of war that the epicentre is Congo. Congo is the rape capital of the world. That is what it was called for many years. It remains a problem. Since 1998, over 5.4 million people have been killed in this ongoing conflict in which rape is used as a weapon of war.
People have used the term “femicide”, because in this war it is not soldiers who are on the front line. One former colonel in command of a UN peacekeeping mission in Congo said that in this conflict, it is women who are on the front lines. It is not soldiers. What he was referring to is the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war.
In the past, yes, rape was evident in conflict. Sadly, rape has been a by-product of war in the past. However, what we are seeing in the case of the Congo and in an increasing number of conflicts is its use as an actual strategy of war. Soldiers and rebel groups use rape to mark territory and to intimidate people.
There are people who are dealing with this on the ground, but it is really hard to conceptualize that 5.4 million people have died in a war that seems to pass us by. How does that happen? How is it that women who are on the front lines are repeatedly gang-raped by soldiers and militias and no one seemingly does anything?
There are people on the front lines, and I will talk about them in a minute. We had a UN peacekeeping mission as well, but most people either had no idea of this conflict in the DRC or chose not to look. Perhaps it was too disturbing. My theory is that most people just did not know.
I mentioned that the financing for these conflicts and these militias is coming directly from the supply chain that puts minerals into our technologies. Coltan is used in our BlackBerrys, our iPads, and our computers. It is actually a good thing to have in technology. It allows our devices to work by making sure they do not get too hot. It is really important. However, 80% of that mineral comes from the region. Most of it has been controlled and is still controlled by the militias that are using rape as a weapon of war.
It is frustrating, because when we come to understand the connection between supply chain mineral revenues and the conflict, we begin to think we should be doing something about that.
I know that the Dodd Frank initiative was brought forward in the United States, so the U.S. actually has a law now that forces companies to say where their supply chain is coming from. I want to give credit to some of those who have taken this on. We have seen good outcomes under this law in the United States. The supply chain for Intel, the company that makes the little chip, is now 100% conflict-free. The U.S. is doing what we did with blood diamonds.
We have to break the chain of revenue that goes to these militias, because that is what they are after. They are using child soldiers and they are using rape as a weapon of war. It is something that we have to stop, and we know how to stop it because we did it with blood diamonds back in the 1990s.
Who are the people on the front lines who are taking this on? I want to cite someone who has been extraordinary in taking on and dealing with the victims, and that is Dr. Mukwege who works in the Congo. His Panzi Hospital, which has been noted around the world, is in Bukavu, in the eastern part of the Congo.
As a gynecologist, he set up a clinic to help women. He was there to help women and women's health. What he ended up having to do, though, is deal with the outcomes of rape as a weapon of war. This is very disturbing. Instead of just doing basic health care for women and children, he ended up having to do surgery on women, rebuilding women's bodies because they had been so deformed from rape. Fistula, a medical term, occurs when a woman's body has been so abused that her body comes apart. It ruptures. That is what he was dealing with, not doing women's health. It is horrific.
Over the years, he has operated on over 50,000 women and girls due to rape, in just his clinic. These are girls, kids, and women who are older. This is what we are talking about.
When we debate this in the House, I think it is important to understand that this has been going on for a while. It continues to go on. Dr. Mukwege has said:
This will be the destruction of the Congolese people. If you destroy enough wombs, there will be no children. Then you come right in and take the minerals.
He is saying that because this is exactly what has happened. It is intimidation. It is a way, as we heard from one of my colleagues, to shame people, to take away their dignity. After this violence has occurred, they are left without support, sadly. It disrupts the whole society. That is what this is intended to do.
It is also heinous on the other side of the equation. This is socialized; these soldiers are socialized to do this. They start them off very young, as boys, to initiate them with rape. There is the whole social circle here. These young boys become soldiers. They are initiated in rape and then go in and continue the cycle. There are women who are raped multiple times, whose whole bodies become deformed and broken. It takes a very hard hit on a whole society. We have to consider that when we look at how we should respond.
This report is good. It is important. I challenge the government to implement it. I challenge the government to go back to the 1325 action plan on women, peace and security. However, I want us all to remember that there are things we can do as citizens. We should ask all of our providers and the people we buy technologies from what they are doing to make sure that all of our products are conflict free, so that we end the incentives for this horrific crime against humanity that has led to femicide in places like the DRC, and that we support the victims and those who, like the good doctor, are doing work on the ground.
Then we could say that when we found out there was a war against women going on, we did not just sit by, we acted and we acted with our values, obviously, as the cornerstone of our democracy, and that we actually reached out to those who did not have a voice and whose voices were too often extinguished.
This report is important because it gives us a chance to talk about an issue that is not talked about enough. It is something we should talk about more and, more importantly, something we should act on.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start off by commending you, because that does not happen very often in this place. Your reminder about relevance in reference to the speech that was just given by the member for Timmins—James Bay is very important.
Oftentimes in this place, Mr. Speaker, each one of us has aspects of our representation about which we are very passionate. In the case of the member for Timmins—James Bay and the first nations people who are in his riding, he is very concerned. The striking comment from the police officer when they found that young aboriginal woman's body and when he compared that to the fact that Canadians would be more concerned about puppies, that was of course a flashpoint for my friend from Timmins—James Bay.
I know you were attentive, Mr. Speaker, because you allowed that debate to go perhaps a little long, straying away and then bringing it back with his comments. I appreciate the fact that you had the understanding of the passion, and I just want to commend you for that. That is not something that is usually done in this place.
I think the other reason for the frustration level for members on this side of the House is not that we are not supportive of bills and legislation to protect animals and service animals like the police or RCMP dogs, horses, or other animals. In fact the NDP has supported bills in this House before. I recall Bill C-232 and Bill C-592.
It is the fact that here we are, having a fulsome debate on this, which is more than reasonable, following times when we have had far more complicated legislation before the House and have had time allocation forced on us, more than 80 times now by my reckoning. Once in a while that level of frustration will percolate to the top in the comments we are making.
I can understand my friend, the member for Timmins—James Bay, expressing those concerns earlier.
I also want to commend the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, the critic for the NDP, who reviewed Bill C-35, Quanto's law, for us and offered her recommendations and thoughts.
I might be able to bring a kind of unique perspective to this debate. In 1996, I was putting together, at that time, the largest civil demonstration in the history of our country in Hamilton. It was a protest against the Conservative government of Mike Harris at the time. We wound up with 105,000 people on the streets of Hamilton.
The point I wanted to make is that I had 28 years in the labour movement and, from time to time, either on picket lines or in various demonstrations, I have observed people who are taking part who quite often were provocateurs outside of the activists who had put together the particular event. I have seen on occasion where they had plans, for instance, to injure the horses of police officers with screwdrivers and implements like that.
I understand that when we are dealing with the use of service dogs and horses in crowd control in those circumstances, sometimes there are people who are very extreme.
In our case in Hamilton in 1996, we met with police services and the fire service, and I had individuals in charge of our security. We had 500 of our own marshals. At that particular event, we had about 40 troublemakers—I will not call them activists—who came with the intent of disrupting the event. We were able to discuss the matter with them and with our own marshals and limit their activities to the point where they peacefully demonstrated.
In the end, we can see the importance of having some kind of reaction to the abuse or killing of police service animals. We are in support of this bill going to committee. We do have some problems with the assignment of actual penalties, where the judge does not get to make the decisions. We believe we put our judges in courts to guide us and lead us in the law and to make those appropriate decisions.
Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely pleased to be here to speak to Bill C-26.
I want to take a moment before I begin to say that I know that many of us in the House are passionate about these very difficult subjects. As I was asking a question earlier of the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, there were some unkind things said by her about whether I deserve to be in government.
I have almost 19 years of police work behind me. I intend to go back to police work. I spent four and a half years in the child abuse unit. I assisted with more autopsies of children than I ever want to remember. I have seen horrific injuries that these children, those who lived, will live with for the rest of their lives. I have worked on every single one of the crime and justice bills put forward by our Conservative government, and I am proud to say that these are measures that will continue to protect Canadians.
I believe that my voters are the ones who decide whether I belong here in government, just as her voters decide. At the point where this young MP realized that what she said was inappropriate, she did come over to me and apologize. I believe it is a measure of character, when people say something publicly they want to retract, that they actually do so. I challenged her to do so publicly so that my voters understand that what she said was not very kind and that she did not mean it, at which point she refused to do so.
I am offended by the fact that a young girl who has come to this place to help her constituents would attack other members when we are talking about a bill that we are all passionate about. I want to mention that, because I want to give her the opportunity to show her sincerity in apologizing.
Now I want to talk about the bill, which will, in fact, get the support of many members in the House, including members of the NDP, the Liberals, and some of our independent members. For that, I want to thank them sincerely, because it is probably one of the most important bills we will see passed through the House in my time here.
One of the highest priorities of our government has been made clear since we were elected in 2006, and that was to tackle crime. We all know that law-abiding Canadians expect and rightfully deserve to live in a country where they feel safe in their homes and in their communities. Canadians want to know that their children are protected from sexual offenders, whether online or in the streets of their communities and neighbourhoods.
While law-abiding Canadians believe in the importance of rehabilitation for offenders, as do I, they also believe that the punishment should fit the crime. Our government agrees. This is what has guided our strong actions since 2006.
Since that time, our government has put forward a number of important measures to protect the vulnerable and to hold offenders accountable. We have toughened sentencing and bail for things like serious gun crimes. We have strengthened the sentencing and monitoring of dangerous, high-risk offenders. We have ensured that murders connected to organized crime are treated automatically as first-degree murders. We have imposed mandatory jail time for drive-by or reckless shootings. We have also established longer periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders. We have abolished the faint-hope clause that allowed early parole for murderers. We ended the practice of giving two-for-one credit for time served in pretrial custody. We ended the practice of granting early parole to white collar criminals and other non-violent offenders. We also removed pardon eligibility for child sex offenders.
We have also worked hard to prevent crime and to support victims. For example, we established the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to provide information on victims' rights and services for victims, to receive complaints, and to raise awareness of victims' concerns among policy-makers and in the justice system. We established the youth gang prevention fund, which provides support for successful community programs to help at-risk youth avoid involvement in gangs and criminal activity.
Our government has introduced legislation to address online criminal behaviour, including cyberbullying. While this legislation is aimed at protecting all Canadians, it is predominantly our youth who fall prey to this type of online crime.
These are just a few examples of what our government has accomplished for the good of all law-abiding Canadians. However, we know that more can be done, especially to protect our most vulnerable, our children. The bill before us today is aimed specifically at doing just that.
Before I expand on the proposed legislation, I will give a bit of background on the national sex offender registry. In 2004, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act came into force, allowing for the creation of a database containing information, such as the physical description, name, address, and place of employment of convicted sex offenders across Canada. The national sex offender registry data base is administered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and used by police across Canada to help prevent and investigate crimes of a sexual nature. Indeed, I remember very well using it in my time as a police officer. The registry is a shared initiative with the provinces and territories and is accessible to police forces across the country. Inclusion in the registry is based on conviction for a range of sex offences and not determined by an offender's risk level.
In 2010, our government introduced significant legislative reforms to strengthen the national sex offender registry and the DNA data bank to better protect our children and communities from sexual offenders. These reforms included amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Criminal Code, the International Transfer of Offenders Act, and the National Defence Act.
With these amendments, there was automatic inclusion into and mandatory DNA sampling of convicted sex offenders in the national sex offender registry, and an expansion of the registry to include its use for the prevention of sexual crimes, and not just their investigation. In this regard, police were permitted to access the data base for consulting, disclosing, and matching information, and for verifying compliance, and we also included vehicle plate numbers. Registration of sex offenders convicted abroad was included, and parallel amendments to ensure that the reforms apply to those convicted of sex offences through the military justice system were also added.
Those amendments, which came into force the following year, had widespread support from victims' families, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.
As of October 2013, there were approximately 36,000 sex offenders in the registry. Sadly, 24,000 of those individuals had a conviction for a child sex offence. That is why I am pleased to speak to legislative amendments that are aimed at protecting our most vulnerable from society's most heinous.
As I think about Bill C-26, I think about many of the investigations I took part in. If only I had had the strength of the amended sex offender registry when I was in the child abuse unit, some of those crimes might have been prevented. I am so thrilled and so proud to be part of a government that saw wisdom in allowing police officers to use that sex offender registry in a preventative way.
I want to share with members some of the cases I worked on which the proposed act would help with.
One case I worked on had 28 victims, all between the ages of 12 and 17. They were mainly boys who were forced into prostitution and sexually abused for years. Those boys, even though they had to go through the court system and to testify, never felt the justice that they should have been afforded, because the offenders who were found guilty were sentenced to such short time that the kids felt they had been betrayed.
Allowing us now to take every child into consideration, to make sure that every child matters by ensuring that the sentences for offences are appropriate and consecutive, would provide victims with the confidence that my NDP members have mentioned is lacking. I know this would assure our victims that there is hope and that the work they are doing in the criminal justice system to prevent others from being offended against will be improved, and that it will be respected and appreciated.
I speak on behalf of the many police officers across the country who will appreciate these changes. I even speak on behalf of offenders, who cannot bring themselves to get the help they need outside of an institution where they would be able to get the programs necessary to prevent further offences. I speak on behalf of the mothers whose children have been offended against. I speak on behalf of my own children who watched as their mother was heavily affected by many of these cases.
I hope that all members here will live up to their commitments and vote in favour, unanimously, to pass this very important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Newton—North Delta clearly outlined why the New Democrats will support the legislation. However, she also outlined some of our concerns.
I want to refer to the speech that was given by the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, in which she highlighted the fact that the New Democrats had two private members' bills before the House dealing with animal cruelty.
In her speech, she referenced Bill C-232 from the member for Parkdale—High Park. Her bill would remove animals from the section of the Criminal Code on property and create a new section for animal cruelty offences. In short, animals would be considered people and not just property. She went on to say that the definition of animal was inadequate, which Bill C-232 would attempt to address.
The second private member's bill is Bill C-592 from the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. That bill seeks to better define what an animal is under the Criminal Code and what is meant by intents and acts of cruelty.
Since 2006, we have seen a failure on the part of the Conservative government to address some very valid concerns with regard to animal cruelty. Could the member comment on the government's failure to address some of those other issues?
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in support of Bill C-584.
I am following on the heels of my colleague from Newmarket—Aurora, who has just told us some very positive stories based on her personal experience, and I have no doubt that there are positive stories and positive experiences with the extractive sector.
I am from the city of Toronto and our stock exchange, of course, is heavily invested in the extractive sector. I too have attended the Prospectors and Developers Association conference in Toronto for a few years now. It a huge, wonderful international gathering of representatives from the extractive sector. We were very proud to host that major international convention in our city of Toronto.
To begin with, let me say that there are very many positive role models and examples of companies in the extractive sector that we look to as leaders, both here in Canada and around the world. However, sadly, that is not the case for all companies in all parts of the world.
I will begin by citing an article from the CBC that was written last year, and it will speak for itself.
Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of Bucaramanga, the country's sixth-largest city, last month to defend their water supply from a Canadian-owned gold-mining project.
The chief target of their protest was Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals Corp.
The company is exploring for gold and silver in a high-altitude, environmentally sensitive area that is the main source of water for Bucaramanga's one million inhabitants.
This was the fourth anti-gold-mining demonstration in the area since 2010, and one of the biggest.
But Eco Oro shouldn't feel singled out. It is only one in a string of Canadian mining and exploration companies that have drawn the ire of local communities around the world.
On March 12, for example, more than 10,000 Greeks protested in Thessaloniki against several gold mining projects owned by Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold.
Then on March 21, Catholic priests marched with 5,000 locals in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, against a project owned by Vancouver-based B2Gold Corp.
Canadian companies have also been targeted in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Israel.
“Canada is very well represented in global mining conflicts because, in large part, Canada is the home of most of the junior mining companies of the world,” says Ramsey Hart, the Canada program co-ordinator at Mining Watch, an Ottawa-based advocacy group.
The reason for this, he says, is that Canada has a favourable environment for high-risk, speculative investments, the kind that drives international mineral exploration.
Unlike the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to bring American companies to U.S. courts for abuses committed in a foreign country, there are no mechanisms to hold Canadian companies overseas accountable for their social and environmental policies. "We've just completely dropped that ball," Ramsey says.
The article continues:
The last attempt to impose minimum standards on Canadian companies was a bill sponsored by the opposition Liberals that would have set international standards for human rights and the environment for oil, gas and mining companies operating abroad, and would have made government political and financial support contingent on compliance.
Bill C-300, however, was defeated by six votes in a minority parliament two and a half years ago.
New Democrats joined and supported that vote. However, 17 Liberals were absent, which is unfortunate because they would have made enough to carry that vote and we would have had action on this file.
Thank goodness for the New Democrat member of Parliament for La Pointe-de-l'Île and her bill on corporate social responsibility in the extractive sector. What is being proposed in her bill is exactly what we need. It is a bill that would create a corporate social responsibility ombudsman for the extractive companies doing business in other countries, which is exactly what this news article was talking about.
It would also allow Canada to live up to the reputation that we want to have abroad. Canada is a country that believes in social justice, protecting the environment and defending human rights. This is the image that Canadians surely appreciate of our country. When we travel abroad, it is the image that we want to portray. Whether inadvertently or intentionally, we do not want companies that can be seen as ambassadors to let us down on any of these fronts.
The bill proposed by our colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île would respect our commitments under international law and the international bill of rights by creating an office of the ombudsman. This would require corporations to report to the office on their extractive activities. It would give the ombudsman the responsibility for developing guidelines on best practices for the extractive activities and require the ombudsman to table an annual report on how companies around the world were doing to the House of Commons and therefore to the people of Canada. That is very important.
I began by saying that Canada was a world leader in the extractive sector. We are very proud of that. Close to 75% of the world's extractive companies are headquartered in Canada. However, many of the countries in which these companies operate sometimes have fragile democracies. They may not enforce human rights or environmental standards as well as Canadians or the citizens in those countries would like. Sometimes the mining companies, with their business endeavours, can create instability in these so-called host countries.
Sometimes these countries lack either the political will, the capacity or the ability to enforce protective measures that would actually defend the citizens they should represent. We believe Canadians do have some responsibility, and the measure that is being proposed in the bill is a measure that other countries around the world have taken.
I will give the government credit. It has taken some action. It created an extractive sector counsellor office. As the name suggests, it was really counselling businesses. It had no power to do anything. In essence, it turned the responsibility for corporate behaviour over to the very corporations that were responsible for the behaviour. That is a bit of a conflict of interest. It has not stopped the government when it comes to rail or food safety, or any other sector of the economy that ought to be regulated by the government, but that is what it has done here.
This counsellor has no ability to enforce anything or to do anything. The office has not been able to achieve anything. In fact, the only counsellor that the government appointed resigned in frustration with one year to go before the end of her term. That was last October, and the position today remains vacant. This is how seriously the Conservative government treats corporate social responsibility in the extractive sector. It clearly does not.
This is an important issue for Canadians. More than 600,000 Canadians have supported this campaign since 2006. The campaign has found friends in the corporate network for social accountability in groups like Amnesty International, Development and Peace and Mining Watch Canada. It has also found support in people like: Tony Andrews, the former executive director for the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada; Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada; and Reg Manhas, senior manager, Corporate Responsibility and Government Affairs, Talisman Energy Inc.
This is clearly long overdue. It is something Canadians want. It is something the government should finally achieve. The House should vote in favour of Bill C-584.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-584, although I have to admit I am disappointed with what I have just heard from the government side, which seems to suggest that everything is going along perfectly and there is no need to do very much. In fact, if one looks at what it has been doing, it has been dragging its feet for a very long time.
I would like to congratulate my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île for this initiative. She is headed in the right direction and the Liberal Party will support this bill, An Act respecting the Corporate Social Responsibility Inherent in the Activities of Canadian Extractive Corporations in Developing Countries.
I would like to begin by thanking the large number of my constituents who wrote to me about this bill and about their concerns regarding the activities of Canadian mining companies in foreign countries. We would not be hearing from them if everything was going along perfectly.
Many Canadians care deeply about these sorts of issues and want to see us holding ourselves to a higher standard. I share those concerns and wishes. As I will be arguing, it is in everyone's interest that Canada adopt the highest possible standards in this area.
Corporate social responsibility is an important issue, and Bill C-584 is one of several private members' bills that have been introduced in recent years that seek to better regulate the activities of Canadian corporations working in the extractive sector.
My own colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood, for example, introduced a bill in the previous Parliament. It was called Bill C-300. I have to commend him for this, because he really did make a very honest effort to address corporate social responsibility in the mining sector. It was a private member's bill that would have been the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. legislation passed in September of 2013, which requires mining and oil and gas corporations to submit annual transparency reports that disclose all financial payments provided by them to foreign governments for the purposes of furthering mining or oil and gas industry activities.
The bill before us today shares the same basic goal as the bill advanced by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, but approaches it from a different angle by proposing to establish an ombudsman who would be responsible for:
(a) creating guidelines respecting the best practices to be followed by corporations in their extractive activities in developing countries; and (b) monitoring the corporations’ extractive activities to ensure compliance with the guidelines.
Earlier I mentioned the importance of corporate social responsibility. This is important because it is through a good regime of transparency and ethical safeguards that corporations acquire the social licence to operate successfully.
My colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood put it eloquently in a past speech, when he explained that:
Social license is more than a stack of legal documents and geological surveys; rather it is the social permission of the people affected to mine the minerals. Sometimes the people are well represented by their government and sometimes not.
The Canadian government has an obligation to ensure that companies based here are not engaged in corrupt activities that encourage foreign governments to not act in the best interests of their own citizens. This happens more than we would like.
For example, in January 2013, as documented by the CBC, Human Rights Watch reported that a Vancouver-based company failed to ensure that forced labour was not used in the construction of a mine it operated in Eritrea. The agency said that Eritrea's conscripted workers, some of whom had been forced to work for over a decade, face torture or other serious abuse, and revenge is taken on their families if they desert their posts.
Sadly, all over the developing world there are other similar examples of corporations failing to live up to the ethical standards that they need to adhere to. Most do, and do a great job, but we are here to make sure that they all do.
A failure to respect the human rights of workers and residents in areas affected by mining operations can lead to social instability and failed states. We all end up paying the price when this happens.
In the example I just cited, there is some evidence that the Canadian company tried to address the problem on its own, but evidently whatever action it did take was insufficient to prevent these abuses from occurring. This is bad for Eritreans, it is bad for Canada's global reputation, and it is also bad for the mining company itself, which was subjected to considerable criticism.
The company might very well have benefited from independent guidelines regulating how it should operate in foreign countries and a watchdog to ensure it was compliant with those guidelines.
In fact, there is already a broad consensus among civil society, NGOs, industry, and some governments that there has to be something done about the problem of unreported payments and corruption involved in a variety of enterprises, particularly the extractive sector, and that we need to have increased transparency in order to curb corruption. The government claims that it shares this goal, yet I note that it failed to support the bill from my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood, which would have brought Canadian regulations up to par with American and EU standards. I suspect a similar fate, based upon what my Conservative colleague just said, will befall this bill presented by the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. I hope I am wrong.
The Prime Minister announced with much fanfare in June 2013—that is, a year ago—that the government would adopt a G8 initiative that requires companies to disclose any payments they make to foreign governments, but a year later, no such legislation has been introduced. My hon. colleague from the Conservative Party said, “We're on top of this and our corporate social responsibility plan is just working beautifully”.
We are told now that something will be forthcoming by April 1, 2015. There is no excuse for this two-year delay. We will see if the government is any quicker at introducing these rules than it has been so far in, for example, regulating carbon emissions in the oil and gas sector. That was promised five years ago.
One way that it might demonstrate good faith and show that Canada is taking this issue seriously is to allow Bill C-584 to be taken to committee.
With regard to the bill itself, let me reiterate again that it is a very well-intended piece of legislation. Liberals recognize that, and we are supportive of it.
That said, there are a few areas that can be improved. For example, clause 9 of the bill indicates that corporations would have to report to the office of the ombudsman on any extractive activities within one year of the act coming into force. However, a later section, subclause 10(1), gives the office of the ombudsman up to three years to develop the guidelines. If the ombudsman does, in fact, take three years to develop the guidelines, how will companies be able to report in the first and second year in the absence of those guidelines?
However, that is something that could be corrected in committee.
Another problem is in clause 8 of the bill, which would require companies to:
(a) take all necessary measures to minimize the negative impact of its activities on the environment or on human rights in the developing country
Without defining what “necessary measures” are, the bill would leave major loopholes for corporations that the bill is supposed to close.
There are a couple of other things; however, my time is coming to an end. I would encourage all members in this House to vote in favour of taking the bill to committee, because its objectives are good objectives for Canada, good objectives for the extractive industries, and the right thing to do.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île for her speech and for all the work she does in the House and her riding.
Does she know if the government asked for a legal opinion about this bill in order to determine if mandatory minimum penalties violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
The hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
I have seen a lot of legislation come and go in this House in almost 17 years. I have participated in vigorous debates in the House where we have opposed legislation, and some occasions where we have supported government legislation.
However, I have to say that this particular bill before us today, Bill C-23, the so-called fair elections act, is something I feel angry about.
First of all, it is being debated under a closure motion. We have now had over 50 different times in this House that the Conservative government has used closure, in effect to limit and gag debate. That, in and of itself, is very offensive.
However, what I find very problematic about the bill is that Canadians are being told that it is a fair elections act and that it would deal with, for example, the election fraud that was so widespread in the last election.
Let us remember that it is the Conservative government and the Conservative Party who have the worst track record on breaking election laws in this country, whether it was the in-and-out scheme, or the robocalls that were designed to suppress opposition votes.
The guise of the bill is to deal with elections fraud. However, when we examine the bill, we can see that there are so many other elements of the bill that are designed to undermine the role of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer.
I have dealt with Elections Canada many times over the years, in six different elections. I have often heard criticisms about how the voting worked, particularly in my community, in the Downtown Eastside, where people are sometimes turned away from polls because they do not have ID. I have had an ongoing relationship with Elections Canada and have pointed out concerns about lack of training and issues in my local community. I have always found them to be responsive to those issues when I have raised them after an election.
In fact, Elections Canada has a worldwide reputation as a first-rate organization and is used as a model globally of what an independent electoral organization can be.
It is very dismaying and concerning to see that the bill would in effect undermine the power of the Chief Electoral Officer. It would create a new entity. It would remove general public education.
In fact, in questions in the House this week, even today, we heard the minister for democratic reform blaming Elections Canada for a lower voter turnout.
This is a complex issue. To have this simple fix by removing the role of education and talking to voters about voting, whether it is young people, first nations, students, new Canadians, from the role of Chief Electoral Officer, it is inexplicable in terms of the rationale. One can only come to the conclusion that the current government has basically brought forward a bill—it did not even consult the Chief Electoral Officer, by the way—that would undermine the role and mandate and the foundations of Elections Canada.
That is one element in the bill that I think is hugely problematic.
The other element is that the bill would remove a number of provisions whereby people who are not normally on the electors list and have difficulty voting, because they do not have the proper ID, would now find it very difficult, if not near possible, to vote. I am speaking in particular about what is called the “vouching system”.
This is something that various organizations in east Vancouver have used extensively. For example, we had lawyers on East Hastings Street who would help people determine whether they were on the voters list. They would help them figure out whether they had enough ID, and if they did not, they would help them in the process of what was called an “affidavit vote”.
All of that would be removed.
We used to have the vouching system, where somebody who knew somebody in the community who was homeless or on the street but eligible to vote, a Canadian citizen, living in Vancouver, who was 19 years of age, would make sure that information was provided to people.
There were many organizations that did an incredible service in vouching for people, by saying, for example, “Yes, we know that person. They come to the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings every day. We know who that person is, and they should be able to vote”. On that basis, a person was able to demonstrate their eligibility and would be able to vote. Sometimes there were problems, and the deputy returning officers would turn people away. There were issues and we did follow them up. However, the system of vouching has been an important democratic tool for people in my community to be able to vote.
In a previous Parliament, Bill C-31 severely restricted the vouching system. I fought tooth and nail against that. I thought it was a terrible proposition. Again, it was designed to hurt people, particularly those of low income.
Now we get to Bill C-23 and the vouching system is completely eliminated. I feel extremely worried about the impact that will have in the next federal election, in 2015, as there were about 100,000 people who used the vouching system in the last election.
We have just heard from one member that there was a 25% error rate and therefore it is a terrible system that has to be thrown out. However, if one reads the details, one would find that most of the errors occurred because there was a lack of adequate training for poll clerks and deputy returning officers in administering the vouching system. Therefore, it is a question of better training.
The bill would throw out the whole system. I feel we are now setting up an election process that has two-tiers. If one is a property owner, one is guaranteed to be on the voters list, to get a voter card in the mail. A property owner would probably have a driver's licence or some other identification, and there would not be an issue. However, in Vancouver, 50% of residents are not property owners. They are tenants, students, low-income families, seniors, and people who may move because the housing costs are so high people. People are always seeking more affordable housing. Those people end up not being on the voters list, not getting the information they require. Therefore, having provisions that would allow people to be eligible to vote on election day, even if they are not on the list, is extremely important.
I am very distressed about Bill C-23.
If we look at this historically, we have come far on a spectrum of disenfranchising people. I do not know about other members in this House, but I remember the days when people could walk down their street and see the voters list tacked up on the telephone poll. People could look at the list and see if they were on it. I remember the days when an enumerator would come door to door asking who lived in the household, who was eligible to vote. They would go through the criteria and people would get registered. All of that is gone. However, it was not the current government that did that; it was a Liberal government.
I want to make this point because I think it shows us how much our electoral system has been eroded in terms of its primary function, which is to enfranchise people who are eligible to vote, and to make sure they have the information, tools, and the system in place to make that process smooth and as accessible as possible. The key word is “accessible”.
We have come so far along that road. Here we are debating the bill on the opening day of the Olympics. Who the heck is even going to be watching this debate? The Conservatives brought in a closure motion yesterday, so we have a few hours of debate and the bill will be rushed off to committee. Before Canadians even know what is happening, the bill will be approved, yet it would impact every single voter in this country.
I am very glad that as many members of the NDP as possible are taking the opportunity to speak about the bill, to get the information to the public, and alert people that Bill C-23 is not a fair elections act. The bill is actually about voter suppression. It is about gagging the Chief Elector Officer. It is about undermining a democratic election system.
This is a thoroughly bad bill, and we will do everything we can to stop it.
Mr. Speaker, with great interest I have been listening to the last couple of speeches which talked about some of the pros and cons of what we are about to vote on, and certainly what we are debating.
I want to sincerely thank the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt who brought this forward with a great deal of sincerity and compassion. His argument is quite good as to how this works.
I have been here for almost 10 years, and I have seen committees come and go. I have seen the makeup of committees change, but the game always remains the same. The chairs are always appointed by the executive within the House, as was pointed out by our colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills.
Something that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills said which caught my attention was that “you reform this place or reform will be forced upon us.” This is a very good quote. It is pertinent to this debate because that is exactly where we find ourselves, at a crossroads for all sorts of reform in the House.
This is one element that brings democracy and legitimacy to the House of Commons. On many occasions we take some of the basic functions of the House and farm them out to the executive and they have more control than we desire. We have a choice. We have the power to change that ourselves through a vote in the House of Commons, or we could just let it go on.
I want to thank the hon. member for bringing this motion forward. It states:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the Members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session....
I am a fan of the preferential balloting system. We have to achieve over half in order to get the position. What basically happens is that if 50% or more is not achieved by the person in the lead, then the last person is dropped and so on, until we get to that chair.
However, is it not refreshing that all 308 members in the House have the chance to put themselves in a place where they are chair of a committee based on their skill of being a member of Parliament and a decent chair? It is not based on what kind of favours are owed to them in a party structure or a reward given for good behaviour. Quite frankly, that is essentially how it works.
This takes that control away from the executive and brings it back to the House of Commons. After being here for 10 years, I can honestly say that it is stuff like this that reassures my faith in the power of the House of Commons. It brings it back to the individual member of Parliament. It is not whether they are a minister or parliamentary secretary, a critic or a party whip, but it is based on the position of being a member of Parliament. It is a measure of equality that brings us here to vote for this.
I would encourage all members to vote for this motion. Then the study would take place and we would be able to debate the issue in a very mature manner. By doing that we are saying we are going to restore power—I hope that is the conclusion the committee comes to—to the individual member of Parliament. The motion also states:
study the practices of other Westminster-style Parliaments in relation to the election of Committee Chairs; propose any necessary modifications to the Standing Orders and practices of the House; and report its findings to the House no later than six months....
My colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills brought up the matter of parliamentary secretaries sitting in the House of Commons. When I first came here I was on the heritage committee, in the fall of 2004. I remember the opposition of the day were perturbed that there were parliamentary secretaries from our party sitting at the committee table. I thought they had a pretty valid point. There is a function within the executive of the House. There are ministers, but there are also parliamentary secretaries as well, and in many cases they function as the minister, whether the minister might be missing for the day or whether it is answering late show questions and so on.
That is perfectly legitimate, given the fact that the minister cannot be here all the time. The parliamentary secretary can fill in, but that parliamentary secretary carries a title and a function that is of the executive. If parliamentary committees are to provide study of legislation that makes it way through the House, then that skews the matter somewhat, because people sitting on the committee could naturally take direction from the parliamentary secretary.
I say this from experience, because when I first came here, I was with the party that was in government, so I was sitting on the side of committee where the parliamentary secretary was next to us. Many times we would go to the parliamentary secretary for direction about how we would vote or how we would debate. It happens.
The thing is, it is still happening, which is the point my hon. colleague is trying to get at. The nub of the issue is that we need to break this pattern by having a vote and empowering the individual member of Parliament to allow that person to become a committee chair. That is part and parcel of the system. Whether a parliamentary secretary sits on the committee or not is an executive decision.
What I like about this motion is that the spirit of it is to ensure that the power of the committee rests right here within this chamber. If we keep farming out the functions of the House to the executive time and time again, it is that much harder to bring them back. There is enough blame to go around, for anyone who has been in government, as to how, in a piecemeal process, the power of the House has been farmed out to the executive. It is so subtle that we do not even notice it sometimes, yet year after year, slowly, some of the power gets drained from this place, to the point where we function simply as voting machines.
We should be engaged in what I consider to be a wholesome debate on every issue that comes to the House, but let us remember that a fundamental extension of the House is the committee and the work it does. We could debate within the confines of the House. I know I only have 10 minutes like everyone else. I certainly would like more, but at least at the committee level I could be engaged in that as well.
The committee chair takes on a function that is given to that individual by the House of Commons. My hon. colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île also brought up issues of gender parity and other issues of committee chairs being representative of the diversity of the House of Commons. I agree with her, but we have two elements at play here: we have that diversity being reflected in committee chairs, but for the committee to be answerable to the House, it has to be elected by the House. I know, by function, we play this scenario whereby people are elected to a particular committee. We play it out, but we know full well who that will be. We all know who we are going to nominate going in and we all know who will get it coming out.
This is why I commend my colleague for doing this. What it will do with the balloting system is allow a fair vote. It also makes it accessible. It is universal to every member of Parliament in the House, whatever one's party. One could be an independent, or with the largest party, or with the smallest party. Members still have the chance to put themselves in front of the House of Commons as an effective, and now legitimate, chair of a standing committee, which is an essential and proper function of the House of Commons of our country.
Therefore, I urge all my colleagues in the House to say yes. Let us send this to committee, have a reasoned debate within the committee, and make a solid recommendation as to how we can restore power to this institution that we respect so much.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, Ethics; the hon. member for York South—Weston, Health; the hon. member for Montcalm, Persons with Disabilities.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.
In my opinion the yeas have it.
And five or more members having risen:
Pursuant to an order made on Tuesday, November 26, 2013, the division on the motion stands deferred until Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.
The hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île not being present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice has been given, the notice is deemed withdrawn.
The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 6:39 p.m.)
We do have a period of five minutes for questions and comments.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île for her very interesting speech. I would like to congratulate her and to congratulate the people of La Pointe-de-l'Île who elected such a hard-working young woman, who is here beside me every day. I am very proud of her, and I am sure that the people of her constituency are too.
This bill is very important, but unfortunately, the Conservatives decided to include things that have nothing to do with cyberbullying. For example, there is a subclause on terrorists and something else on people who steal cable television signals, which has absolutely nothing to do with cyberbullying.
Can she tell me why the Conservatives would have done that?
The electoral district of La Pointe-de-l'Île (Quebec) has a population of 99,685 with 79,049 registered voters and 210 polling divisions.
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