Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to join in the debate. It has been informative. Being neither a lawyer with a legal background or a member of the Canadian Armed Forces with a military background, I have certainly learned quite a bit from the debate here today. It has been worthwhile.
That being said, our caucus is blessed with a great depth of legal knowledge. My colleague, the member for Mount Royal, and my colleague from down the road in Halifax West have addressed many of the rights issues woven throughout this piece of legislation. I am certainly respectful of their opinion on it.
As well, our caucus boasts a number of people who have served our country in military service. The member for Winnipeg North is a former member of the Canadian air force. He was posted in Edmonton for a number of years. Our colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, is a former naval officer, a colonel, in the Canadian navy. He went on to become involved in the space program and was Canada's first astronaut. He is a man whose opinion is widely respected across the country.
Then, of course, from the red chamber, there is Senator Romeo Dallaire. His vast experience and understanding of all issues military has a great deal of equity in his opinion. When people of that calibre bring forward concerns on a particular piece of legislation, such as Bill C-15, obviously it is worth taking note.
One of the key provisions brought forward today is the provision for security of tenure for military justices until they reach the retirement age of 60, resign or are removed for cause on the recommendation of an inquiry committee. The outlining of sentences, objectives and principles is another provision. The legislation would also amend the composition of a court marshal panel according to the rank of the accused. The bill also changes the name of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board to the Military Grievances External Review Committee. One of the other key components is that it allows certain service offences to carry a criminal record.
In our party, we understand the need to reform the Canadian court marshal system and to ensure that it remains effective, fair and transparent. However, we also believe that Canadian citizens who make that career decision, that life choice, to join the Canadian Forces should not lose some of their rights before the courts.
We believe and understand that rights and equality are universal. Without an effective means for appeal, and no recorded proceedings, which was mentioned by my colleague from Halifax West, the current summary trial system is unbalanced and does not respect the basic rights of Canadian Forces members. Our party does not believe that introducing a criminal record for Canadian Forces members for certain service offences is fair and just, as the means of pardoning offences has been recently removed by the government.
Finally, we find it problematic that the VCDS can intervene and give direction in military police investigations. The VCDS is also subject to the code of service discipline.
Obviously, there are a number of disparities between the military and civil justice systems that should be narrowed as much as possible. While we recognize that updates to the military justice system must be made, the government is missing an opportunity to make these changes properly.
Many aspects of the MJS inexplicably remain unimproved or provide unnecessary powers. For example, Bill C-15 enshrines in law a list of military offences that will now carry a criminal record, and some are hardly necessary. Without a pardon system, which was recently revoked by the Conservatives, and summary trials set up with no records and no meaningful appeal, a Canadian Forces member would be left haunted by a record and unable to find employment upon release.
I would think it would have twigged on the government that many Canadians, after they finish their military service, have challenges securing that first job out of the service. Many times, the skills an individual acquires, even the technical skills, do not align with accepted or traditional construction trade skills.
The helmets to hard hats program, which works with members who try to seek employment after having left the military, is recognition of that. The Conservatives take a great deal of credit for it, but they have put only $150,000 into the program. The program is really run by Canadian building trades and a number of corporate sponsors. That being said, it is a program that recognizes some of the challenges members of the Canadian Forces face upon release. It would be nice if the government would play a more significant role.
That being said, if the Conservatives were attuned to the challenges of departing members, one would think they would understand that coming out of the military with a criminal record because of an offence that in our own court system would not be recognized as a criminal act becomes a burden in itself. That is yet another challenge that has to be overcome by an individual. It is truly unfortunate and unnecessary.
My colleague from Ajax—Pickering said that the testimony given by a couple of witnesses was somewhat extreme. Retired Colonel Michel Drapeau is a respected Canadian with a very distinguished military career. I will read into the record his quote from the testimony presented:
I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of these charter rights when facing a quasi-criminal process with the possibility of loss of liberty through detention in military barracks.
We cannot dismiss testimony from individuals whose opinions we greatly respect. We should take that into consideration. Certainly the testimony of both Retired Colonel Drapeau and M. Létourneau was very compelling and should be reflected going forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join my colleagues who have spoken so eloquently for equality for those individuals in the military who serve Canadians. This particular legislation purports to update our military criminal justice system, but in fact has some significant gaps.
It is always good to review our laws to make sure that they reflect present realities and that they are equitable, appropriate and consistent with our Constitution. The military criminal justice system is no exception. This legislation has been worked on for a long time but the Liberal Party of Canada believes it is not where it needs to be in order to get our support. The members for Winnipeg North, Halifax West and York West made that case in quite a specific and compelling way. We are being asked to support something that still has so many flaws; that is politics.
Clearly, many aspects of the military justice system remain inexplicably unchanged or give unnecessary powers in this bill. For instance, the bill enshrines in law a list of military offences that will carry a criminal record in the future, which is not necessary in many cases.
Given that the pardon system was recently revoked and that summary trials are what they are—with no record and no means of meaningful appeal—the members of the armed forces will find themselves with criminal records and unable to find employment upon release.
Clearly there are some flaws in the bill. The one I want to focus on in particular is the issue of human rights and equality. It really boils down to what kind of society we want to have in Canada, and I think Canadians are clear. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada is widely supported right across the country and is a very proud part of our framework for protecting rights but also for enshrining responsibilities in our country, to make sure those who are vulnerable have the law on their side to protect their right to equality.
It has been shameful and disappointing that the Conservative Party of Canada has chosen to minimize the importance of this very important part of our Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, essentially dismissing and not celebrating its great anniversaries. Last year was the 30th anniversary, and there was not much of a murmur from the government, but hundreds of millions of dollars went into celebrating the anniversary of a war.
That goes down to what kind of society we want to have. Do we want to have one that protects rights and freedoms, or do we want to have one that is all about punishment? We see changes to immigration. We see in Bill C-10, that grab bag of bad public policy, that the Conservative government is much more focused on punishment than on equality. That is reflected in this bill as well.
In his testimony before committee, retired Colonel Michel Drapeau noted:
...someone accused before a summary trial has no right to appeal either the verdict or the sentence. This is despite the fact that the verdict and sentence are imposed without any regard to the minimum standards of procedural rights in criminal proceedings, such as the right to counsel, the presence of rules of evidence, and the right to appeal.
In Canada, these rights do not exist in summary trials, not even for a decorated veteran, yet a Canadian charged with a summary conviction offence in civilian court... enjoys all of these rights. So does someone appearing in a small claims court or in a traffic court.
He goes on to say:
I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of these charter rights when facing a quasi-criminal process with the possibility of loss of liberty through detention in a military barracks.
Clear questions of inequality have arisen here. There are problems with the bill that are fundamental to the kind of society we want to have, not just a few tweaks that we could have put into the bill and that the government has not done. This does go down to fundamentally what kind of society we want to have. This kind of inequality is being unfortunately cemented into other bills and other laws brought forward by the Conservative government.
I want to refer to some comments made by my colleague from Mount Royal recently on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
According to Justice Létourneau, soldiers are citizens and they should enjoy the same constitutional rights guaranteed by the charter as any other citizen.
This is what he said:
“We as a society have forgotten, with harsh consequences for the members of the armed forces, that a soldier is before all a Canadian citizen, a Canadian citizen in uniform.”
In other words, they should be able to count on all of the rights and protections that citizens enjoy in our country.
Referring to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the member for Mount Royal raised a question of privilege in the House this past March and expressed concern that the government is failing to live up to its own statutory obligation, which is expressed in section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act.
In law, this is requiring that the government, that the Minister of Justice, examine each and every government bill introduced in the House to ensure it is consistent with the charter. That would seem like a simple step to respect our fundamental constitutional obligations as parliamentarians and as government in law-making and public policy-making.
How often has the government actually done that? How often has the government checked and done a review to ensure that its bills introduced in the House are consistent with the charter and receive the constitutional seal of approval? How often has the government reported any inconsistencies, or otherwise, to the House?
Does anybody have an answer to that question?
Mr. Speaker, it is an unlikely problem because I am sure the member's caucus would have in mind that there are too many members willing to speak. We have never had a situation where nobody wanted to speak and we would give the spot to another party. It would never happen. Today the whips find someone, or say which member will speak.
This motion would make it by alphabetical order. If I am unable to speak because I am away or for whatever reason and my colleague from Mount Royal had a pressing declaration to make about something awful happening in the world, which he does so well, I would be pleased to exchange with him. It would be my honour to do so.
Mr. Speaker, I want to ensure I understand from the comments by the member for Mount Royal that the Liberals are hoping to support this bill and are hoping that the Conservatives are going to then have some parliamentary reviews and oversight, as just mentioned. How likely does the member really believe that is, given the government has used closure on debate a record number of times? Currently, right now, the Conservatives are attacking their own leader.
It is a very naive approach to assume that the Conservatives will later on review this bill. How can the member believe that is going to be possible?
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, but he is absolutely incorrect in saying that this is a situation created by government. This is a situation created by the need of companies, especially in certain regions of the country. I can say from having been on the committee and travelling across the country, particularly in western Canada where there are acute shortages, that businesses would actually have to close their doors if temporary foreign workers were not available to them.
I might say that, if anything, the increases the member mentioned are driven by members of his caucus, like the members for Sydney—Victoria, Winnipeg North, Random—Burin—St. George's, Mount Royal and Cape Breton—Canso, who ask the minister for permission to bring in temporary foreign workers. That is what has driven it. It is driven by the need in this country and by persons from your side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I will advise you at the start of my remarks that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for St. Catharines, who does an excellent job with this file as parliamentary secretary.
I am pleased to take this opportunity to address the motion put forward by the member for Cape Breton—Canso regarding the temporary foreign worker program. First, let me very clear. The original intent of this program was to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages. As a member of Parliament from Alberta, I know all too well about labour shortages.
The media reports regarding the program of late are concerning, and we are investigating to ensure that the program is working to fulfill its original purpose. We have committed in the budget to fixing the program to ensure that Canadians always have the first crack at available jobs. On the subject of the budget, I would like to speak to the current state of our economy because this has always been and continues to be, of course, this party's top priority.
Canada has fared well despite the current global economic challenges. We have the strongest job creation record in the G7. Thanks to the strong leadership of our Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, Canada has seen the creation of more than 900,000 net new jobs since the darkest days of the recession, most of which are full time private-sector jobs.
As the economy continues to grow, the demand for workers whose skills are in demand will also increase. In some regions, the demand for certain skills has skyrocketed, which results in labour shortages in key occupations that are important to our economy and to our future prosperity. This mismatch oftentimes presents a challenge for employers, workers and, of course, government. That is why I was very pleased to read the human resource committee's report on skill and labour shortages. This work has already been concluded. The report that involved the committee travelling across the country to engage directly with Canadian businesses contained some excellent testimony on the challenges these employers face.
In fact, the member for Cape Breton—Canso was a member of the committee during the study and participated in the hearings, where businesses communicated precisely the ways in which the temporary foreign worker program is helping them address these challenges. I raise this because the motion today proposes to set up a special committee to examine an issue that the human resources committee is already empowered to study and has already heard the concerns of Canadian businesses and workers alike about the growing skills mismatch. This study, as well as other pre-budget consultations, was part of the reason we focused so heavily on skills and training in the recent budget. Through economic action plan 2013, we are taking a multifaceted approach to addressing labour market shortages and mismatches.
To start with, economic action plan 2013 invests significantly in skills and training to ensure that all Canadian workers, especially those currently sitting on the sidelines, are qualified to play an active part in Canada's economic growth. We are also increasing support to groups that are currently under-represented in the job market. These include youth, Canadians with disabilities, aboriginals and newcomers to Canada. We want to ensure that every Canadian can find a place in the job market, because Canadian employers need every last one of them.
Most notably, budget 2013 includes a new Canada jobs grant that would provide up to 130,000 Canadians a year with $15,000 to retrain, $5,000 of which would come from the federal government. Provinces and employers would also be expected to match that contribution. As the Minister of Finance said, for the first time the Canada job grant would take the skills training choices out of the hands of government and put them where they belong: in the hands of job creators and Canadians who want to work. Most importantly, the new grant should lead to one essential thing for unemployed or underemployed Canadians: a new or better job.
We are continuing to invest in reducing barriers to accreditation for apprentices. We will also reform procurement practices to encourage contractors to employ apprentices on federal construction and maintenance projects. Lastly, to make maximum use of the education and talents of recent graduates, we will invest $70 million over three years to support 5,000 more paid internships for recent post-secondary graduates.
However, we recognize that in some parts of the country there are skills and labour that are needed and cannot be found by local businesses. This is very true in my riding and this is why temporary foreign worker programs exist: to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages.
Indeed, the member for Cape Breton—Canso himself acknowledges the importance of this program as he has previously penned letters in support of bringing in temporary foreign workers. The member is joined by members of the Liberal Party, such as his colleagues from Sydney—Victoria, Winnipeg North, Random—Burin—St. George's and Mount Royal. Even the NDP, despite its rhetoric, has had an impressive number of members write in support of this program, including their House leader and even one of their deputy leaders.
It is quite clear that this is a program that has broad support from across party lines. This program allows employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill immediate skills and labour shortages when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available to do the job.
The program plays a critical role in meeting the short-term needs of business in dire need of workers, and I would like to emphasize the notion of dire need. The temporary foreign worker program was designed and should only be used by employers as a last resort.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the media reports concerning the program of late have been very concerning and the government is investigating to ensure it is running as it should.
Our government has committed to ensuring that Canadians always have the first crack at available jobs. Canada's economic action plan 2013 has emphasized that going forward we will work with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers are only called on when Canadians genuinely cannot fill those jobs.
We will expect companies to increase their recruitment efforts to hire Canadian workers before they will be eligible to apply for temporary foreign workers. For instance, they will need to increase the length and reach of advertising about job openings, and we will restrict the identification of non-official languages as job requirements for hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.
I would like the House to take note that CIBC World Markets reported in December 2012 that 30% of businesses in this country are facing a skilled labour shortage. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business stated in its business barometer report that 34% of small and medium-sized companies identified skills shortages as a constraint on their growth.
To meet these demands and to further our economic recovery, our government is increasing support for skills training and apprentices. At the same time we are focusing on creating job opportunities for those facing greater barriers to the labour force, such as youth, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities.
We recognize the need to make sure every Canadian has the opportunity to fully contribute to the Canadian economy. Our economic action plan is continuing to improve Canada's economic growth and long-term prosperity.
Throughout this time of economic growth, we will ensure Canadians get the first crack at all available jobs here at home. Instead of voting against investing in skills for Canadians, the opposition should support our economic action plan. I would encourage all members of this House to recognize that the time for talk is done, and to support concrete actions to improve the temporary foreign worker program.
For these reasons, I will not be voting in favour of this motion. The work has already begun. I thank the House for taking this time to hear me. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about my private member's bill, which I call “Discover Your Canada”.
This bill seeks to amend the Income Tax Act in order to make travel within Canada more affordable for Canadians by providing income tax deductions on the expense of purchasing tickets for taxpayers and their children, for non-business travel by airplane, train or bus, if travel covers at least three different provinces.
During the many speeches we will be hearing on this bill, some members of Parliament will erroneously discuss the potential high cost of the bill. However, this bill is intended to be about unifying Canadians and not about finances. As an accountant and former chairman of the finance committee, I am usually the first person to want to ensure that the numbers add up. I have written Bill C-463 in order that the federal treasury would not be impacted and that this bill would be revenue neutral, while perhaps even being an economic generator.
Therefore, the primary focus of this bill would not be financial. As is evident in the name “discover your Canada act”, I want more Canadians to have the option to travel across this country, something that is usually only an option for the more affluent. I want as many Canadians as possible to be able to visit other parts of their great country, and not as a layover to a foreign destination, not as a two-hour drive up to the cabin, and not as a business trip, where all they will see is an airport or perhaps a conference room. We want Canadians to see a part of Canada that is as distant and as different from their own little corner of this great land as possible.
I first got this idea years ago while I was in Vancouver chairing the finance committee during its pre-budget consultations. Anyone who has been to Vancouver can tell us that there are some impressive sights to behold. As a visitor walking the streets after a long day of witnesses telling us how the government should spend its money, I looked up and was astounded by what I saw. I thought that if more Quebeckers would see what I am seeing right now, none of them would want to separate. It was every bit as beautiful as my hometown of Montreal, but it was also very different. The vastness of the Pacific Ocean was different from the charm of the St. Lawrence River. The grandeur of the Rocky Mountains was different from the soothing humility of Mount Royal. The modern architecture was different from the classic beauty of Old Montreal. Pictures can never do justice to Canadian scenery, and one can never truly appreciate and feel like it is part of his or her natural heritage until he or she can see it and touch it in person.
In the past, even prior to being a member of Parliament, and afterwards of course, I have been to places in Canada as far east as Newfoundland, as far west as British Columbia and as far north as Yukon and the Northwest Territories. I have found in each place a newer and deeper appreciation for Canada. I am certain that all Canadians would have a better sense of their own national identity if they just had a chance to see parts of this country that are out of reach for some of them now. This is why I have chosen to refer Bill C-463 to the heritage committee instead of the finance committee. The discovery of Canada act would not be about dollars and cents; it would be about allowing Canadians to take ownership of their national heritage by providing them with a bit of assistance and incentive to see their own country.
Having said all this, it would be unlike me not to discuss costs at least a little bit. The deductions I propose in the Discover Your Canada Act are not extravagant. The deductions are also capped, and conditions to ensure that the deductions are not abused are written into Bill C-463.
As a result, the upper threshold of deductions will not be reached by most eligible travellers, as was confirmed by a Parliamentary Budget Office study I requested for this bill soon after it was introduced.
According to newspaper articles, the government says that this bill will cost money. However, even if the government is able to justify its estimate of the cost of this bill, nothing can compare to the $5.2 billion that Canadians spent in the United States in 2012.
During the second quarter of 2012, during trips to the United States, Canadians spent $3.4 million, the most money in 20 years. In June, they spent a record $1.9 million. This increased spending is a result of the increase in duty free allowances, which went from $50 to $200 for a stay longer than 24 hours, and from $400 to $800 for a stay of 48 hours. We are talking about travel abroad.
According to the government, this will result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in 2013-14. This is another gift for the American industry.
It is easy to add tax deductions. Administering them will cost the Canada Revenue Agency nothing extra. The Parliamentary Budget Office said so as well.
The last thing I want is for this bill to create more red tape.
When a new income deduction is proposed, there is always a measurable cost, but it is not so easy to calculate the economic spinoffs.
The Parliamentary Budget Office acknowledges that Bill C-463 will generate economic and financial spinoffs, but it cannot calculate those with certainty.
Generally speaking, I can say with confidence that increased travel within Canada is bound to generate positive economic and financial spinoffs.
Increased revenues from provincial and federal sales taxes are one such fiscal benefit.
I know that when I travel, I need to stay somewhere, I need to eat, and I want to take in some local attractions. I like to enjoy a night out on the town, and I enjoy bringing souvenirs back to family and friends. All this costs money and all this will contribute to government revenues in the form of federal and provincial sales tax.
Increased economic activity from more Canadians travelling domestically will also benefit the tourism industry in Canada in addition to industries that see spinoff benefits from increased tourism.
According to Industry Canada, almost 600,000 jobs in Canada are directly generated by tourism in every province and region of the country.
If that is not specific enough, I encourage each member in this chamber to visit the Tourism Industry Association of Canada website, where a breakdown of tourism jobs per riding is available.
I took examples from the ridings with the largest cities in the country. Tourism represents 4,905 jobs in Elmwood—Transcona, 5,460 jobs in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, 9,445 jobs in Vancouver South, 10,080 jobs in Calgary Centre, 11,150 jobs in Trinity—Spadina, and 11,170 jobs in Laurier—Saint-Marie in downtown Montreal. These are just a few examples. There is a list of all the ridings across Canada.
These are real jobs for real people in each and every one of our communities. We need to be cognizant of what stimulating this industry can mean to local economies and the national economy as a whole. The possible benefits are too big to ignore in my opinion.
I could go on, but as I stated earlier, the bill is not about dollars and cents.
Since I introduced the bill back in November, what has struck me most of all is how much Canadians have rallied around this idea. According to a Harris/Decima study released on November 7, 2012, total support for the discover your Canada act stood at 70%, and it enjoyed strong support throughout the country.
For example, the Atlantic region registered 78% approval, Quebec registered 68% approval, Ontario registered 69% approval, Saskatchewan and Manitoba registered 66% approval, Alberta registered 76% approval and British Columbia registered 74% approval.
The same study showed that 39% of Canadians would be more likely to consider travelling within Canada if the discover your Canada act were to become law, while only 5% would be less likely to consider travelling within Canada if the discover your Canada act were to become law, for a net gain of over 34%.
The same study also notes that the bill has the potential to address Canada's growing international travel deficit, which grew by $91 million in the second quarter of 2012 alone.
Beyond the numbers, I have been humbled by messages of support I have received from Canadians from all over the country who want to see the bill pass. One lady from Alberta wrote to tell me that “Despite not being one of your constituents, I am writing to tell you that I support your recent private member's bill, the discover your Canada act. I live in Alberta. However, I have strong ties to Quebec through my maternal grandparents. In such a vast country as Canada, I would welcome this initiative in assisting my travel within our own borders. Canada has so much to offer”.
I cannot go on all day quoting letters and emails, but this is just one of several letters of support I received. They all have the same theme: a desire for us as Canadians and as parliamentarians to implement this idea.
It is not because they want to save money or because they are looking for a handout, but simply because they love their country and like the idea of more Canadians visiting more places within Canada to strengthen their bonds to this country and to each other, especially when we have a travel deficit in this country.
It has long been said that Canada has too much geography and not enough history. In 2017, Canada will have precisely 150 years of history behind it. Our nation's history is no longer in question, but our geography remains both a source of pride and a challenge to our nation's cohesiveness. Facts are facts: there is no inexpensive way for people to traverse such a massive country as Canada. As parliamentarians, we should recognize this reality and react accordingly.
I have chosen 2017 for the coming into force of the bill, because I believe that for Canada's 150th birthday, we should give Canadians the greatest gift we could possibly give them: we should give them Canada.
The government will be investing all kinds of money in celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary, so I am asking the government to think about offering Canadians a choice of where they choose to spend their money and not have the government decide for them.
We do not know how much money the government will put towards the anniversary, but this investment is minimal. There will events across Canada, as I just stated. We should have Canadians plan today where they want to travel to get to know Canada much better so that they will not be watching the events on a TV screen because they cannot afford the trip. They will be able to watch and participate in these events, up close and in person.
We should remove some of the financial barriers that stop them from exploring this great land and tell them to go out and discover your Canada, because one thing I have learned is that financial incentives are one way to get people to change their behaviour.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Speaker. I am open to questions.
Speaker, I rise to respond to the question of privilege that was raised shortly before the recent constituency week. The member referred to allegations made by an official in the Department of Justice, which are currently the subject of litigation before the Federal Court. He has said that if those allegations are true, then the House was misled. I firmly reject that insinuation.
In the government House leader's remarks made in immediate response, he noted three procedural objections from the outset to this question of privilege: first, that it was not brought at the earliest opportunity; second, that it pertained to a question of law; and third, that the sub judice convention ought to be considered.
As noted by my hon. colleague, the plaintiff filed a statement of claim in the Federal Court on December 14, 2012. A motion in relation to this judicial proceeding was heard in Federal Court on January 15, 2013, leading to a series of newspaper articles and other stories about this case in the days following. However, no question of privilege was raised when the House reconvened on January 28, 2013.
When I appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on February 6, in relation to Bill S-9, the hon. member for Gatineau questioned me about section 4.1. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre had yet to bring forward his question of privilege, despite his colleague, the NDP's justice critic, being prepared to participate in a thorough discussion on the subject.
Moreover, I understand that the reporting requirement of section 4.1 has come up in no fewer than five different debates on the floor of the House since the start of 2013. Suffice to say, the hon. member could have raised his question much sooner than March 6, 2013.
The second matter raised by the government House leader was that the issue before us is a question of law.
Citation 168(5) of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, advises that the Speaker “will not give a decision upon a constitutional question nor decide a question of law, though the same may be raised on a point of order or question of privilege". This is a long-settled proposition.
The same statement is declared at page 180 of Sir Jean Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada. That book was published in 1916. The principle recited can be traced through many Speakers' rulings.
Mr. Speaker Milliken ruled on December 12, 2012, at page 2600 of the Debates, on a dispute about whether certain content in the Public Accounts accorded with the requirements of the Financial Administration Act. On this, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, said:
It is not of course for the Speaker to decide if the agency is acting in compliance with the law. As I have had occasion to mention in several recent rulings, it is a long-accepted principle that the Speaker does not pronounce on points of law.
There is clearly a difference of opinion...concerning interpretation of the legalities flowing from the facts of this case. That is a matter for debate and a variety of different opportunities are available by which the matter can be raised in this chamber or in committee. There is no procedural issue here and so I need not elaborate on that further.
Mr. Speaker Fraser's ruling on October 9, 1990, page 13620 of the Debates lends itself well to the allegations here. He said:
—it is not for the Speaker of the House to rule on constitutional matters. It is not for the Speaker of the House to try to interpret at any given time different legal opinions that may be expressed across the country.
Deputy Speaker Lucien Lamoureux, as he then was, declined to answer a question of whether a bill came within the constitutional jurisdiction of the Parliament in a ruling on October 25, 1963, at page 488 of the Journals. The authorities he quoted included even an 1864 decision of Mr. Speaker Wallbridge of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.
Far more recently, though, is a ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, delivered on October 24, 2011, starting at page 2404 of the Debates, respecting C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. You summarized the position in which you found yourself then and, I would submit, where you are now:
—it is important to delineate clearly between interpreting legal provisions of statutes—which is not within the purview of the Chair—and ensuring the soundness of the procedures and practices of the House when considering legislation—which, of course, is the role of the Chair.
The final point noted by the government House leader is that the allegations referred to by the member for Winnipeg Centre are before the courts. Until the matter is resolved, this House should exercise its usual restraint and avoid prejudging or prejudicing the outcome of the case in which I, as Attorney General of Canada, am a party. Nonetheless, I am compelled to respond to the case argued.
In the present circumstances, finding a prima facie case of privilege would require that there be some evidence that the House and its members have been impeded in carrying out their parliamentary duties. Despite the hon. member's allegations, he admitted in his submission that he has “no evidence to suggest that the incumbent Minister of Justice nor any of his predecessors have deliberately provided inaccurate information to the House, even implicitly”.
Page 141 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, observes, on questions of privilege:
The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day.
To accomplish this, the member for Winnipeg Centre would seek to have the Speaker rely upon the unproven and untested allegations made by a plaintiff in a court proceeding. I would respectfully submit that if this is to become the threshold for setting aside the business of the House sponsored by members, whether they be ministers or private members, we could easily paralyze the business of Parliament by taking up any number of litigants' unproven and untested statements of claim. Therefore, I discourage you, Mr. Speaker, from making a finding of a prima facie case of privilege on that basis.
However, it is incumbent upon me to explain why the member for Winnipeg Centre has not made such a case. While I exercise my statutory responsibilities with the assistance of officials, the duty to examine government legislation under the Department of Justice Act and the Canadian Bill of Rights is mine, as Minister of Justice. It is a duty that I, of course, take very seriously. As I will explain, this government has never introduced any legislation that I believe was inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Canadian Bill of Rights.
As to the manner in which I exercise that responsibility, my statutory duty is owed to the House of Commons. Our proceedings make this clear on a daily basis. As Minister of Justice, I regularly answer questions in the House and appear before parliamentary committees studying government legislation. Members can and do ask me questions about the constitutionality of government bills. For example, the hon. member for Mount Royal, a former Attorney General, has, on at least three separate occasions, asked a series of detailed written questions. However, my officials and I are legal advisers to the Crown and not to the House of Commons. As a minister of the Crown, I appear in this House and in committees to explain the government's legal position on the legislation it has introduced, but I am not the House's exclusive source of legal information. Members can and often do receive legal opinions from the law clerk and parliamentary counsel as well as the views or submissions of law professors and other members of the bar who appear before committees to assist them in evaluating the legislation being considered. A similar process unfolds in the other place.
My approach to the constitutionality of government legislation is consistent with that of my predecessors and is a matter of public record. Under the Department of Justice Act, as the Minister of Justice, I am the official legal adviser to the Governor General and the legal member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. One of my responsibilities is to examine government bills presented to the House of Commons and to ascertain whether they are inconsistent with the purposes of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to report any such inconsistency to the House of Commons. The Canadian Bill of Rights requires me to conduct a similar review for inconsistency.
The notion that Parliament has somehow been misled reflects a misunderstanding of how the system actually works. Proposed government legislation is reviewed for charter and other legal risks throughout the policy and legislative development processes. The process of examining government legislation for compliance is dynamic and ongoing. Section 4.1 is only one part of a broader process that involves three distinct components: advisory, certification and reporting.
The advisory component takes places throughout the policy development process, up to and including the introduction of legislation. This typically begins with the development of the policy proposal by government departments. It continues as the proposal is refined, as options are developed and put before ministers and throughout the legislative drafting process.
Senior officials, up to and including the deputy minister of justice, other deputy ministers and where necessary, other ministers and I are briefed about policy proposals where legal risks have been identified. The risks that are highlighted are not limited to situations where the proposed legislation is inconsistent with the charter. It is a broader analysis of risks along a spectrum, from low to high risk for charter inconsistency.
Certification of legislation is a separate process that takes place after government bills have been introduced in the House of Commons. It is a formal step whereby the department's chief legislative counsel confirms, that is certifies, that the requisite review of legislation for inconsistency has taken place. Certification takes place for all government bills.
Certification should not be confused with the reporting obligation in section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act and section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Certification is a task for government officials and takes place for all government bills. By contrast, the reporting obligation belongs to the Minister of Justice alone and would be triggered only if I, as the minister, formed the opinion that the government bill in question was, at the time of its introduction, inconsistent with the charter or the Canadian Bill of Rights. Section 4.1 and section 3 are quite clear in that regard. They require the minister to ascertain whether there is an inconsistency. This accords with the long-standing approach I and my predecessors have taken in that the minister makes such an ascertainment only when there is no credible argument to support the proposed measure.
A credible argument is one that is reasonable, bona fide and capable of being raised before, and accepted by, the court. This credible argument threshold is qualitative in nature, despite the allegations quoted by the member for Winnipeg Centre. It is not based on a predetermined numerical threshold. Section 4.1 uses very precise language. It does not require that there be disclosure any time there is a risk, only that I ascertain that there is inconsistency.
I must stress that the approach I have described is not new. It originates from the earliest days following the enactment of section 4.1.
Several of my predecessors have answered questions on this duty in the House or before our committees or those of the other place. For example, that could be found when the hon. Pierre Blais, currently Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal, was questioned about his responsibilities at the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in June 1993. Similarly, the hon. member for Mount Royal answered questions on the topic before the same Senate committee in November 2005. My immediate predecessor, now the Minister of Public Safety, fielded related questions from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during its study of Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, on June 29, 2006. I too have had the pleasure of explaining the government's legal position with respect to government bills such as a question in the House on November 23, 2007 about Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, or during my recent committee appearance on Bill S-9, the nuclear terrorism act, which I described earlier.
I could go on and quote from those exchanges, but I think the point is clear that this is nothing new and that Parliament possesses, and has long exercised, its ability to query and probe the constitutionality of bills.
Of course, we must remember that constitutional law constantly evolves. The only certainty is that someone will inevitably litigate constitutional questions against the government.
This explanation should put to rest the concerns of the member for Winnipeg Centre, and indeed, all hon. members.
Furthermore, under our constitutional system, all branches of government, Parliament, the executive and the courts have a responsibility to ensure that charter rights are respected. The system of charter review put in place under section 4.1 ensures that each branch performs its appropriate role. Within the executive branch, proposed legislative initiatives are reviewed, taking into consideration any charter risks that have been identified through the advisory process and recertification that the necessary review for inconsistency has taken place upon introduction of a government bill in the House of Commons. It is then for the houses of Parliament to debate the proposed law, including its constitutional implications, and to determine whether or not it will pass and become law.
The approach to reporting requirements in section 4.1 or section 3, as the case may be, and the underlying review process must reflect the role of all institutional actors, including Parliament, to consider, debate, weigh and balance charter interests in light of public policy objectives. Parliamentarians have their own responsibilities in relation to the charter.
In summary, I have great respect for the work of parliamentarians and for the role of this House in debating government legislation. I have explained how I approach my responsibilities under the Department of Justice Act. I take into account a variety of legal opinions and perspectives, which can differ, and then I make the decision.
There is no mystery here. Like all of my predecessors, the approach I apply under section 4.1 is robust and meaningful. Even after I make the decision that there is no inconsistency between the proposed legislation and the charter, it remains open for parliamentarians to debate the proposed legislation, including any charter aspects. If the legislation is passed, it can be challenged before the courts. This process has served governments and parliaments well.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, you have several procedural grounds on which you could reject this question of privilege, or you can accept the evidence from me, as a member of the House of Commons. The hon. member's claims, in my opinion, can be dismissed outright.
Finally, I understand that the hon. member for Mount Royal may be making an intervention again on this question of privilege. I would like to reserve the right for myself or a colleague to respond in due course should any new issues not previously canvassed arise.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill S-9, now before the House. It is called an act to amend the Criminal Code, but it is very directly related to the short title, which is nuclear terrorism act. It is an important piece of legislation on which my colleague, and dare I say friend, from Mount Royal, has said there is a consensus and probably has been a consensus for six or seven years in this country.
Therefore, it is quite a surprise that it has not been brought forward. As he pointed out, there are many instances where there can be a consensus on matters that could come before the House and be dealt with expeditiously, and some are, but there ought to be more of that. If we are going to be combative about certain things, I think that is the nature of politics. However, where there is a consensus, there can be a great deal more co-operation.
An ironic example of that was last year when the justice bill, Bill C-10, was before the House. It went to committee. The member for Mount Royal moved six or seven amendments at committee. They were defeated at committee. The government had to bring them into the House, but they were ruled out of order because they could have been done at committee. The Conservatives had to use the other place to deal with the passage of those amendments. It was quite embarrassing, I should think, that they showed their nature in terms of dealing with legislation and dealing with the opposition. However, that is one example of many.
Mr. Speaker, I was supposed to say at the beginning of my speech that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Beaches—East York.
The substance of the bill is something that we support. The bill has a number of objectives. It amends the Criminal Code in adding four new offences.The bill was introduced in the Senate a year ago. It could have been brought here earlier than this, but, once again, that is a sign of not moving as quickly as one would have thought on something as important as this.
The bill adds four new offences to the Criminal Code, having to do with possession, use or disposing of nuclear radioactive material with the intention to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment. That is an act against a nuclear facility or any of its operations. One has to do with using or altering a radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device with the intent to compel a person or government organization to do or refrain from doing any act being guilty of an indictable offence. That is a classic example of terrorism. Then, there's committing an indictable offence under a federal law for the purpose of obtaining nuclear radioactive material or a radioactive device or to control a facility, or to threaten to commit any of those other three offences.
These are significant crimes and would be given significant penalties in the Criminal Code as a result of the bill. It would be life imprisonment for the first three, as a maximum penalty, and 14 years as a maximum penalty for the threat to do any of these three things.
It is an important part of following through on two conventions that were agreed upon internationally: the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. Both of these conventions were an important part of a regime to attempt to control nuclear materials throughout the world.
As we were debating the bill this morning, I recalled growing up in an era where there was a real threat of nuclear war and nuclear annihilation. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, and in 1962 we all know there was a Cuban missile crisis.
I distinctly remember hearing air raid sirens being tested occasionally to remind us what they sounded like, and we had instructions. Some people were building fallout shelters in their back gardens in the event of a nuclear war. That was the reality. In schools, children were being told that if they heard the air raid sirens, they should get under their desks or under the stairs in their homes, and so forth. That was the way we thought about the world when we were children.
Happily, that is not something that children think about today, or have to think about, because the world is not in a state in which that is a likelihood or even a remote possibility at this point.
However, we do see proliferation. States such as Pakistan and India, with certain historic difficulties and disagreements that have not been resolved, are becoming nuclear powers. North Korea is attempting to engage in the development of nuclear weapons, as is Iran, as the member from Mount Royal has pointed out. Therefore, there are significant threats.
It is important to note that among the signatories to this convention are some important players, including the United States of America, China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Obviously we would like to see more. However, it is a framework that can be used to control international terrorism or attempts to use these materials for nefarious purposes.
More can and should be done. The area of prevention is extremely important. Canada and the countries who are signatories can play a role in assisting countries to ensure the protection of nuclear materials, because there are countries that do not necessarily have the technical ability to control those activities within their own borders.
Importantly, the 2005 amendments to the treaties made to deal with interstate transport and usage of these materials extended the scope to also cover domestic use, storage and transport and nuclear facilities used for peaceful purposes.
Historically, Canada ratified one of these conventions in 1980. Canada only signed the agreement, which does not make us a party until it has actually been ratified. This step is one of ratification of both these treaties.
What is also interesting as well is that this piece of legislation is called Bill S-9 for a reason. It was started in what we are required to call “the other place”. I think we are allowed to say “senators” and we are allowed to talk about people by name over there, but what are we doing? Are we now the chamber of sober second thought? Have we reversed the constitutional roles? Do we have legislation coming out of the Senate? Is that where we start?
The Senate has looked at this legislation and has fixed it by adding one of the measures that was in the convention but not in the bill. I am sure it could have been fixed here easily before it was sent over there, but the government wants to legitimize the other place somehow, and even though senators are unelected, unaccountable and unapologetic, as we have found out in the last long while, the government seems to rely on the Senate as some sort of an institution where it can start legislation and have it come over here. Are we here to ratify what the Senate has done? Is that the expectation?
I think we support the bill, but it should have been brought here five or six years ago, when the government came into power.
Mr. Speaker, I also want to compliment the member for Mount Royal on his excellent speech and intervention, and for his long career of work in international law and human rights.
I would like to ask him, and I will not get into the specifics of what he is proposing in other areas outside this treaty, whether he would care to comment on what appears to be the dilatory nature of states that are party to these two conventions in actually taking action.
We know the Americans, for example, have yet to ratify this, although they are signatories and support the objectives. Here we are in Canada, having signed one of these treaties in 1980, and we are only now getting around to ratifying it. We were signatories to this 2005 agreement, but it is seven years later and we are only now taking the steps to ratify this.
Would the member like to comment on the government talking about it being urgent but then waiting seven years to bring it forward?
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to discuss concerns about Bill C-42.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with government members or anybody introducing legislation for better transparency, better accountability or better working arrangements within any department. The unfortunate part is that Bill C-42 would leave out many issues.
I have been following the RCMP and have been a fan for many years. I have been following careers and have tried, through my Veterans Affairs advocacy, to ensure that veterans of the RCMP receive the benefits they so rightly deserve.
Let us go back to how some of these things have happened. It was the current government that appointed, for the first time in my memory, a civilian to be the commissioner of the RCMP. If the Conservatives had tried to do that to the military and make a civilian the CDS, there would have been a riot and an uproar. For whatever reason, they thought it was okay that a civilian, Mr. Elliott, could look after the RCMP. Right away we could see that the rank and file RCMP members across the country were really upset. Many of them in my own riding were upset. They said that was not the way to go.
Young people join Depot and do the training and put on the yellow stripe. Probably the proudest day in many of these young men and women's lives is to wear the red serge. Maybe someone has ambitions and wishes to grow within the RCMP and maybe one day be the commissioner of the RCMP. Basically, the Conservatives said, “Don't worry about it. We're going to hire one of our friends and make him or her the commissioner of the RCMP”. That was such a wrong thing to do. It is nothing against Mr. Elliott personally. It is just that he never wore the uniform. I honestly believe that the only person who should be the commissioner of the RCMP or the CDS of the military should be someone who has actually worn the uniform at one time. That is my personal belief.
Only the Conservatives can do this. The RCMP has an organization called the Pay Council, which negotiates with government its pay and benefits for future years. In 2009, after many months of negotiation, they negotiated a 3.5% increase, which was fair in 2009. That was negotiated between the Government of Canada and the Pay Council of the RCMP. It was an agreement. On December 23, in the afternoon, an email went out from the minister's office saying that the 3.5% they had negotiated was completely off the board now and that they were getting 1.5%, end of story. It was just before Christmas. It was the Conservatives who did that, not the NDP, not the Liberals, not the Bloc, not the Greens, and not the independents. The Conservatives did that. Just before Christmas, they rolled back the pay increases of RCMP members without consultation. Just like that, it was done. Mr. Elliott said that there was nothing we could do at that time.
Also, on the desk of the former public safety minister, Mr. Stockwell Day, there was a long-standing request for members of the RCMP and their families to have access to the VIP, the veterans independence program, which is a great program for those in the military who receive it, although many of them do not. It allows members of the military and their families to stay in their homes longer as they age and require help with groundskeeping and housekeeping services. RCMP veterans have been asking for the same program for many years. What did they get from the Conservatives? They said no, even though it has been a request on the desk for many years.
The third factor in the abuse of RCMP veterans is that recently the government had to be taken to court to settle the SISIP clawback. These are pain and suffering payments. They came back. That ended up costing taxpayers $880 million, $150 million of which was interest and legal fees, which never would have had to be paid if the government had only listened in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Especially in 2007, before the legal proceedings started, the government could have saved an awful lot of money and a lot of aggravation on the SISIP clawback. The veterans won their case, and now those cheques will eventually be going out. We are glad that it has happened.
Did the Conservatives learn from that mistake? No. What have they done now? About 1,000 disabled RCMP veterans in the country have a lawsuit against the government on literally the exact same thing, a clawback of pain and suffering payments from their superannuation. Did the Conservatives learn from the expensive SISIP clawback legalities they went through after five years of litigation? No. Their answer is, “Take us to court”.
Given these three examples of the Conservatives' attitude toward the men and women of the RCMP, RCMP veterans and their families, it is no wonder that we on this side of the House distrust them when they bring forward legislation that is faulty at best.
We agree with the fact that there are certain elements of the RCMP that need changing, internally and structurally. We understand that, and we are willing to work with the government to see that it happens.
When my colleagues introduced amendments at the committee stage to improve the legislation, with very little discussion, the response from Conservatives was, “No, we are not accepting any opposition amendments. It is our way or the highway”.
As I said before, the justice committee was doing a justice bill. My hon. colleague from Mount Royal introduced some very relevant and important amendments that would have strengthened the bill and made it constitutionally legal in many ways. He is one of the finest human rights people in the entire world. He is one of the most respected people I know. He does not do things on the fly or willy-nilly. He is a thoughtful and intelligent person. He introduced amendments, and the Conservatives said, “No, we're not going to do it”.
It got to third reading, when amendments cannot be introduced, and all of a sudden, the government realized that maybe it should have listened to him. The bill went to the Senate, where a senator introduced amendments that were almost word for word the amendments the hon. member for Mount Royal introduced at the committee. It is incredible. What level of arrogance does the government have when it thinks that nobody in the opposition has an idea that may improve something it is bringing forward? It is incredible.
I have said for many years that it took the Liberals a long time to develop that arrogance. The Conservatives developed it very quickly, and I do not know why. Individual members of the Conservative Party are very good people. I do not know why they think they are the only ones who have all the answers. Many people came before committee and brought forward amendments that we in the opposition took from them to give the government. The answer was no.
The three examples I have given show exactly how the government treats RCMP members and their families. It is no wonder there is distrust. It is no wonder the morale among some members of the RCMP is really low.
I have been helping a veteran RCMP member for many years with his case with DVA. He lives in my riding. He said the proudest day of his life was when he put the red serge on at Depot. It was the proudest day of his life. He said the happiest day of his life was when he took it off. What did the RCMP or the government at the time do to make him so upset with the organization he had been willing to live and die for?
We in the NDP want to tell the government that we understand what it is trying to do. We are willing to work with it in this regard. It is going to have to bend to make this bill an awful lot better. If it is not willing to do that, then obviously, we are going to have to oppose this legislation.
I say, in closing, that the men and women who serve the RCMP have unlimited liability. We in government or in the opposition have the ultimate responsibility to see that their needs and their families' needs are met.
Mr. Speaker, a while ago there was a justice bill going through this House, and our hon. learned colleague for Mount Royal proposed about eight to ten amendments. Every single one of those amendments was refused at committee, absolutely refused. However, when the bill came to third reading here in the House of Commons, the government realized it should have taken those amendments. The bill then went to the Senate, where a senator introduced almost the exact same amendments to the bill.
The NDP proposed some very proper and straightforward amendments to Bill C-42 that would fix the bill and address some of the concerns that my hon. colleague has outlined. Again, in typical Conservative Party fashion, the Conservatives refused any of the amendments, which is a huge mistake.
I would like my hon. colleague to comment on that, please.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to Bill C-425, which introduces three new grounds for citizenship, or its removal, under the Citizenship Act based on relations with the Canadian armed forces.
The bill introduces, first, a new ministerial power to shorten permanent residency requirements for members of the Canadian armed forces seeking citizenship. This would give a new power to the minister for the purpose of alleviating special and unusual hardship or to reward service of exceptional value to Canada. On application, it would also reduce the residency requirement from three years to two years for members of the Canadian armed forces seeking citizenship, so long as that member has both signed at least a three-year contract and has completed basic training.
Second, it contains a deemed application section for renunciation of Canadian citizenship if that citizen engages in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces and that same citizen is also a citizen or legal resident in a country other than Canada.
Third, there is a deemed withdrawal provision of an application for Canadian citizenship where a permanent resident who has made that application for citizenship has engaged in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.
I must start by pointing out a classic bit of hypocrisy, which we often see from the Conservative side of the House, where the parliamentary secretary stood up and lectured the member for Mount Royal for bringing up the musings of the Minister of Immigration this past week of adding a section that would also allow the government to strip citizenship of those accused of terrorism. The parliamentary secretary berated the hon. member on this side of the House for bringing that up and considering that. He then proceeded to do the same thing in his own speech.
One wonders whether basic elements of consistency and principle have any traction on that side of the House. By the way, I want to compliment the member for Mount Royal on a thoughtful speech that points out what Canadians really want to see in their immigration policy and in policy in general, which is well-thought-out, rational, policy-based, evidence-based and constitutional legislation.
The background to the bill and the context in which it occurs is important for Canadians to remember. Since March 2008, over 25 major changes have been made to immigration procedures, rules, legislation and regulation. These have increased dramatically since the Conservatives formed a majority government. Among other changes, the Conservatives have used their majority to freeze parental sponsorships, to weaken family reunification, to punish vulnerable refugees and to increase the number of temporary foreign workers to meet the demands of their friends on the employer side of the equation. Most of these changes are politically motivated, invariably heartless, always without evidentiary basis and frequently unconstitutional.
Bill C-425 attempts to fast-track the time within which certain permanent residents may apply for citizenship. New Democrats think the government ought instead to be working to address the exceptionally long processing times for citizenship applications, which Citizenship and Immigration Canada currently reports is an almost two-year wait for processing. In other words, no one in this country gets their citizenship recognized anywhere near the time they are legally entitled to, and as such Bill C-425 is making a hollow and, I would respectfully submit, politically motivated promise.
Two years is the average. I have constituents waiting for citizenship, and I think every member in the House does, who wait between two and five years. These are permanent residents who came to this country, did everything they were asked of by this country, have worked hard, paid their taxes and want to become citizens so they can vote in this country, fully express their democratic rights and get a Canadian passport.
Instead of taking care of these unbelievably appalling and outrageously long lines, the government does nothing and instead fiddles with these relatively arcane issues that do not affect very many people at all. This private member's bill would get at an extremely limited number of cases as the circumstances under which a permanent resident would be able to enrol in the Canadian Forces are currently extremely narrow.
The Canadian Forces website and the Canadian Forces Ottawa recruitment office have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that a permanent resident may not enrol in the Canadian Forces. A permanent resident may only enrol when the Chief of the Defence Staff of Canada or such officer as he may designate authorizes the enrolment of a citizen of another country, which would only happen if he is satisfied that a special need exists and that the national interest would not be prejudiced thereby.
How many permanent residents do we really think are in the Canadian Armed Forces who have served three years, who have completed basic training, who are permanent residents, who are applying for Canadian citizenship and are residents and citizens of another country? However, I can tell the House how many permanent residents are waiting right now for their citizenship: hundreds and hundreds of thousands. One might ask, why would any member of the House target a bill that might affect six people, a dozen or a couple of dozen, instead of dealing with 300,000 Canadians? That shows misplaced priorities.
In terms of the other part of the bill, deemed stripping of citizenship, I want to repeat the remarks of my friend, the hon. member for Mount Royal, who points out the very delicate matter of stripping citizenship from people.
It may be good policy, because I have noticed in the House that whenever the government gets in trouble, whenever one of its members gets criminally charged or is under ethical investigation or the government is having a bad week, the government turns to one of two things, a crime bill or an immigration bill. Invariably, it seeks to marginalize and attack a certain group.
Right now we have a member from Edmonton who is charged for failing to take a breathalyzer test; we have Senator Brazeau who is charged with domestic and sexual assault; we have four senators now who do not seem to know where they live despite the constitutional requirement to reside in the province to collect their money. In fact, they are collecting money and per diems from Canadian taxpayers to live in Ottawa based on the fact they are away from their homes, but they have homes in the Ottawa area.
Marginalizing and attacking certain groups is a constant theme of the government, but Canadians are not fooled. They are not fooled because if the government were truly interested in dealing with citizenship and immigration, it would be attacking the real problems facing people in this country, including appallingly long wait times to sponsor one's parents and unite one's family, for employers to get their workers here, and for skilled workers to immigrate to this country.
Right now, despite all the rhetoric and fast talk of the Minister of Immigration, the truth, as members will find out in talking to any immigrant community across this country from coast to coast, is that wait times are as long today as they were five years ago. There is no progress. People do not mind waiting six or 12 months, but wait times are now measured almost in decades. People wait 10 years to sponsor their parents.
I have a real case from one of my constituents in the armed forces, who is serving with distinction. He is from Vietnam. He applied in October 2006 to sponsor his widowed mother in Vietnam. The sponsorship was verified and first-stage approval was given in 2009 and it has been in transit for second stage approval, which was received in Singapore in 2009. The most recent status update that we did for this gentleman in December 2012 indicates that the application was received in 2009, that it is in queue and that there is a 49-month wait.
Thus, there is a four-year wait from now, plus the three years' wait from 2009, on top of the wait from the time he applied in 2006. This member of our armed force, who is proudly serving our country, defending our interests, putting his life on the line and who wants to sponsor his mother, has been waiting since 2006, some seven years, and has another four to wait. This person will wait 11 years to sponsor a parent. He is not alone.
Is the government doing anything to speed up the process? No, it is cutting the number of officers around the globe. It is cutting funding for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and wait times will get longer.
While all the fast talking is being done by the minister, Canadians know the truth, that the government is using immigration as a political football, not trying to improve the process.
I also want to point out that the parliamentary secretary said that the Conservatives had strengthened our Canadian citizenship. I ask, when was it weak? Who thought it was weak, because we on the New Democrat side of the House have always valued Canadian citizenship? We think all Canadians have as well. The Conservatives act as if Canadians took their citizenship lightly before 2006. In Vancouver Kingsway, consisting of some 70% new Canadians or at least second or third generation Canadians, these people take their Canadian citizenship extremely seriously. I do not know what kind of mind could conjure up the idea that someone is taking Canadian citizenship lightly, but it is surely no one on this side of the House.
I will conclude by saying that the New Democrats will support the bill's passage to committee, because we want to study the bill and pursue amendments. The idea of doing anything that might speed up citizenship for any member of our forces is an idea worthy of exploration, but let us be clear: Only a New Democrat government will ever bring in the kind of immigration reforms necessary to actually satisfy the needs of the immigrant community in this country. We will do that in 2015.
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments of the member for Mount Royal. It sounded to me to be a somewhat speculative perspective on what may or may not be an amendment to the bill. I would suggest to the member that he would be wise to use his time to speak specifically to the bill in front of us versus speaking about amendments when he is not sure what they are going to look like or what they are going to propose. It is the process we use here in the House of Commons.
Further, the citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism committee is going to be reviewing this private member's bill when it passes through second reading. He can rest assured that it will get the due process and time necessary.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the opportunity to rise and speak to Bill C-425, which is the private member's bill introduced by the member for Calgary Northeast. It is not surprising to me that such a bill was introduced by a member of Parliament who is an immigrant to Canada. I have found that naturalized Canadians often have a more acute understanding of the meaning and importance of Canadian citizenship, having made a deliberate choice, and often great sacrifices, to attain it. It says a lot that the bill was introduced by this member of Parliament, an immigrant to Canada himself, and that his bill has received overwhelming support from new Canadians especially.
I want to commend the member for Calgary Northeast for bringing forward a bill that is based on principle and on strengthening the value of our Canadian citizenship. In fact, no government has done more to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship than our Conservative government. For example, we introduced the new citizenship study guide, entitled “Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship”. The guide provides essential information for anyone preparing to become a Canadian citizen. This helps ensure that all newcomers have more knowledge of the country they are joining.
In our country, if someone sells 5,000 or 10,000 new books, it is considered a bestseller. What is interesting is that “Discover Canada” has literally been taken off the shelves across the country. Literally thousands of copies have been requested by individuals and schools. It is a testament to the fact that we actually have a document that shows that the honour of citizenship bestowed on an individual requires research, study and commitment from those who anticipate and expect Canadian citizenship.
To add to that, it provides a much better overview of Canada's traditions, our values and our history, including our immigration history, than its predecessor. The old guide contained no reference, for example, to the Remembrance Day poppy and little mention of the stories and symbols that made us who we are, including the first and second world wars. We are pleased that it has been a tremendous success and is popular, not only with applicants who are seeking Canadian citizenship but with established Canadians as well.
Furthermore, our government has taken action to crack down on citizenship fraud. We are ensuring that anyone who lies about who they are, their residency in Canada or hidden past criminal activities has their citizenship stripped. We have created a citizenship fraud tip line so that Canadians can anonymously report fraud. There are currently 11,000 fraud investigations underway, which include 3,100 Canadian citizens. We are sending a clear message that Canadian citizenship is not for sale. We are applying the full strength of the law to those who have obtained their citizenship fraudulently.
The first part of the bill should be something all members of the House can easily support, which is fast-tracking Canadian citizenship for permanent residents who serve in our Canadian armed forces. More specifically, Bill C-425 proposes to fast-track citizenship for members of the Canadian Forces who are permanent residents by reducing the resident requirement for citizenship by one year. This would be for Canadian Forces members who have signed a minimum three-year contract and have completed basic training within our armed forces.
It is true that permanent residents cannot easily join the Canadian Forces, but if the forces have a position that requires skills and expertise for which a Canadian citizen may not be available, they can recruit permanent residents for that position. While it is also true that this would not impact a great number of permanent residents, it does not make it any less important. It is important recognition of the loyalty, service and willing sacrifice shown to our country by the individuals, regardless of how small or large that number may be.
The second part of this bill has received quite a bit of attention recently. As currently written, it would result in anyone who commits “acts of war” against the Canadian Forces having deemed renunciation of their Canadian citizenship.
Recently the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism suggested that the bill could be expanded to include terrorist acts against Canada and its allies. The reaction from Canadians was perhaps not the same as from those who sit across from us in the House of Commons. However, certainly Canadians across this country responded to the recommendation. A poll commissioned by the member for Calgary Northeast himself on this bill found that almost 85% of Canadians agree or strongly agree with stripping Canadian citizenship from terrorists, and a petition posted on the minister's member of Parliament website was signed by an astounding 10,000 people in less than five days.
I know that since the introduction of this bill almost a year ago, the MP for Calgary Northeast and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism have been speaking about ways to enhance and expand this section, despite what the opposition claims, as it tries to desperately find a criticism for such a popular proposal. It sometimes does leave me astounded. When a good piece of legislation is brought forward in the House of Commons that is stripped free of partisanship, the simple thing the opposition needs to do is to support it.
There have been several examples in the past, unfortunately including very recently, when this has happened. The recent discovery that one of the organizers of a horrendous bombing in Bulgaria, which killed several innocent people, was a dual national Canadian citizen, disturbed Canadians across the country, including me, and I am sure all members of the House of Commons.
The 1947 Citizenship Act actually included the power to revoke citizenship from those who were guilty of treason. The removal of this provision, in 1997, made Canada's citizenship law an aberration, as virtually all other liberal democracies have the legal authority to strip citizenship for such crimes as treason and terrorism. In Australia, for example, and the United Kingdom, a person can be stripped of citizenship if it is in the public interest, a much lower and more vague standard than the sponsor of this bill or the minister have suggested. France, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil are a few examples of countries that can strip citizenship for treason or terrorism, among other things.
The fact is that Canadian citizenship is already not inalienable, as it can be renounced voluntarily, or revoked, as I mentioned, from those who have obtained it fraudulently. Like the 1947 Citizenship Act, the premise of the bill put forward by the MP for Calgary Northeast is that citizenship is predicated on reciprocal loyalty. If a Canadian passport holder maintains another nationality while waging war against Canada, this should be construed for what is so obviously clear; it is a deliberate renunciation of one's citizenship. In other words, renunciation of Canadian citizenship should be possible, not just through the legal formalism of signing an application, but also a logical consequence of one's violent actions against one's country.
The question that has been raised is whether this principle of deemed renunciation of citizenship should also apply to Canadian passport holders who are convicted of serious terrorist acts. Given that Canada is an enemy of terrorism and proscribed terrorist organizations in particular, it is very reasonable to suggest that participation in terrorist crimes be considered a voluntary renunciation of one's loyalty to this country and consequently of one's citizenship.
To conclude, the member for Calgary Northeast's thoughtful private members' bill, and the amendments that have been suggested by the government, would finally bring Canada in line with other liberal democracies and would strengthen, again, the value of Canadian citizenship. It would also send the message that Canadian citizenship has real meaning and cannot be used as a flag of convenience by violent terrorists.
I hope the NDP and Liberals will listen to the vast majority of Canadians. If they do not want to listen to this side of the House, they should listen to the vast majority of Canadians and support this important piece of legislation going to committee for a thorough review and study. Our government is strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship. I hope the NDP and Liberals will work with us instead of against us in this regard.
If the NDP and the Liberals do not want to listen to this side of the House, they should listen to the vast majority of Canadians and support this important legislation going to committee for a thorough review and study. Our government is strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship. I hope the NDP and Liberals will work with us instead of against us in this regard.
Mr. Speaker, tonight I am so pleased to have the opportunity to support Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons).
As I have listened to the speeches tonight. It warms my heart to see members in the House who have worked together, and are continuing to work together, to stop this heinous crime in our country.
The member for Mount Royal has done much over the years to stand up for human rights. His Bill C-49 did much to bring the awareness of human trafficking to the forefront, and I thank him for that.
I also want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. When I first started working on my Bill C-268, I remember your support and your questions. I remember your input in making that bill go through.
As parliamentarians we are standing up against the perpetrators who feed on innocent victims in our country. Now public awareness is coming to the forefront. This is a pressing issue that we are addressing. Human trafficking, as we all know, continues to be a violation of fundamental human rights whose protection forms a basis of our free and democratic country. I want to thank all members for the input we have heard today.
Before I turn to the proposals in the bill itself, I would like to make some general comments on the nature of human trafficking and its severe impact on the victims to underscore the importance of ensuring the strongest possible criminal justice response to this crime.
Traffickers force victims to provide labour or services in circumstances where they believe their safety or the safety of someone known to them will be threatened. If they fail to provide that labour or service, they are deprived of the very rights that underpin a free and democratic society, a society that we hold dear in Canada.
The reality is that victims often suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including threats of violence or actual harm to their loved ones. It does not only encompass the victims. One technique the predators have is to threaten their siblings and their relatives by telling them that they will be next. I have numerous cases where that has happened. That is how they control the victim from whom they earn so much money. Records show right now that a perpetrator earns between $250,000 and $260,000 a year from a victim. It is all about money. It is all about a despicable crime that is happening in our country that touches everybody. Everybody should be aware of it because sooner or later they will hear about it or be touched by it.
In Parliament today we are taking one more step to ensure that Bill C-452 is passed, examined in committee to make it even stronger. By working together, we can make this happen.
To further aggravate the human trafficking problem, the type of criminal conduct is not just something that happens occasionally on the margins of society. Rather, it is widespread in our communities as evidenced by the global revenues generated by it, which are estimated to be about $10 million U.S. per year. This puts human trafficking within the top three money-makers for organized crime. However, it is not just organized crime that is involved in human trafficking. So too are entrepreneurial people who feed off the suffering of innocent victims and control them so they can have money in their pockets to have a better life.
What are we doing about it? I am pleased to report that the government's response to this crime is strong and multifaceted.
First, we have a veritable arsenal of criminal offences that apply to this reprehensible conduct. In 2003 three trafficking offences were added to the criminal code. In 2010 a new offence of child trafficking was enacted through Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years), which was sponsored by myself at that time. This offence imposes mandatory minimum penalties on those who traffic in persons under the age of 18.
In 2012 former Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), which was another bill sponsored by myself, extended extra territorial jurisdiction for all Criminal Code trafficking offences and enacted an interpretative tool to assist the court in interpreting the trafficking in persons provisions. Why did that happen? When we sat in a court, we heard lawyers trying to prove that the victim initially was not afraid. Was not afraid, why? How perpetrators work is the victim is not afraid. Most perpetrators come on as the victim's friends. They give the victims everything they want. It is only after they separate them from their infrastructure, family, community and friends and get them alone and take all their identification does the relationship change.
That is when the victims are beaten, raped and shot up with drugs. They are unrecognizable when they are seen on the street corners. These are innocent victims who need the love, care and rescuing to renew their lives. Many young girls who have been rescued are doing phenomenal things.
I was at a special event for Walk With Me, with Timea Nagy, a former trafficking victim in our country. She has done much to rescue victims, much to help restore the lives of these innocent victims.
All of these things, in addition to the trafficking specific offence contained in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, section 118, which prohibits transnational trafficking and the numerous Criminal Code offences that address trafficking-related conduct, such as forcible confinement, kidnapping, sexual assault and uttering threats, are few examples of the arsenal of crime bills that we have to protect the innocent victims in our country.
That is not all. In recognition of the multifaceted nature of this problem, our government launched the national action plan to combat human trafficking June 6, 2012. The action plan recognizes that a comprehensive response to human trafficking must involve efforts to ensure what we refer to, and I know everyone here in the House is familiar with, as the four Ps: the protection of victims; the prosecution of offenders; partnerships with key players; and the prevention of the crime in the first place.
All activities are coordinated through the human trafficking task force, which is led by Public Safety Canada. This is without a doubt a comprehensive response to a complex problem, but more can always be done. Where more can be done, more should be done, especially when efforts serve to address a crime as insidious as human trafficking.
That is why I commend the member for Ahuntsic who has put forward Bill C-452, which proposes a number of reforms that would strengthen the response I have just described.
It seeks to impose consecutive sentences for trafficking offences and any other offence arising out of the same event or series of events. The bill would also create a presumption that would assist prosecutors in proving the main human trafficking offence. It would require a sentencing court to order the forfeiture of the offenders property unless they could prove their property was not the proceeds of crime.
The very first trafficking case that came to justice in Canada was a very short while ago. It was the Imani Nakpangi case where a 15 and a half year old girl was trafficked. He made a lot of money out of her, over $360,000 that we know of today. The forfeiture of the proceeds of that crime is so important. Bill C-452 has that element in the bill.
Although some amendments would be required to address specific legal concerns, Bill C-452 would undoubtedly strengthen the response to human trafficking and as such merits all our support.
Legal concerns would have to be addressed. For example, the bill should not overlap with amendments that have already been enacted by previous bills, such as Bill C-310, as this would cause confusion in the law. We do not want that to happen. The bill should also avoid compromising the government's efforts to defend the living on the avails offence along with other prostitution-related Criminal Code offences. These are the kinds of things that we will examine and work on in committee, and we are very proud to do that.
I want to thank the member once again for her hard work on this human trafficking issue. I want to thank all members in the House for taking up this cause and protecting the rights of innocent victims.
Mr. Speaker, I understand that the member for Mount Royal is on the committee and would have heard the testimony by Dr. Irvin Waller, president, International Organization for Victim Assistance. Dr. Waller pointed out something that I took a look at when I was a chief of enforcement and worked in the environmental enforcement field.
In 1984 the United States passed an act called the Victims of Crime Act that allowed the government to go after the major corporations that violated the law in a bigger way. I wonder if the member could speak to whether he thinks it is an adequate remedy to impose $200 on a company that might bilk investors out of millions of dollars or billions of dollars, or other major corporate crimes that may cause major harm to the health and safety of Canadians.
The electoral district of Mount Royal (Quebec) has a population of 98,888 with 68,211 registered voters and 182 polling divisions.
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