Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today and, as the Canadian heritage critic for the Liberal party, express my support for Bill C-624, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), sponsored by our indomitable colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
It is a seemingly simple bill, perhaps one of the simplest bills we have ever debated in this House. It simply changes two little words in the English version of our national anthem. However, since that change will have immense symbolic significance, we would not expect it to receive unanimous support right away.
I therefore want to examine the arguments made against this bill with an open mind, and demonstrate that they do not outweigh those in its favour.
The bill proposes making the English version of the national anthem gender neutral by changing two little words in one of the verses. Thus, the verse “True patriot love in all thy sons command” would become “True patriot love in all of us command”. They are two small words, “thy sons” to “of us”, but they are an important symbol.
Why change it? It is because the new gender-neutral wording would make Canada's anthem gender inclusive, thus catching up with the evolution of Canadian society and confirming one of the most important values espoused by Canadians, which is the equality of women and men.
This is the only, but important, purpose of the bill.
Who, then, would want to oppose such a change and why? Do all of us here in the House not support gender equality? Of course we may not always agree on how to promote equality, but I am quite certain that we all agree with the objective.
Moreover, it would be completely unfair to accuse everyone who opposes the bill of also opposing gender equality.
My understanding is that those who disagree with the proposed change argue that O Canada is a historical artifact that must be preserved in its current form for purposes of heritage and historical integrity. They argue that the past has contributed to the Canada of today and serves as an indicator of how far we have come as a society and a nation.
We have to recognize that that is a valid argument. Take the French version of O Canada, for example.
Some might say, and rightly so, that it is not inclusive enough for today's Canadian society. The French version of the anthem begins with making reference to the land of our ancestors, when the ancestors of many Canadians were not born on this land. It urges us to wear the cross, when many of us are not adherents of the Christian faith.
Nevertheless, in response to those arguments, I think we might say that the beautiful poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier in 1880 is part of our heritage and must be respected. It reminds us where we came from and helps us determine together where we want to go.
Let us call it the heritage argument. Today's Canada was born of yesterday's Canada and did not come out of nowhere. Our national anthem serves to remind us of that. That argument has merit. By the same token, it is not an absolute. There are other arguments to consider.
When we weigh all sides of the issue, it seems that the small change proposed in Bill C-624 is quite justified. Better still, it is desirable and I have two arguments to back that up.
Firstly, the heritage argument in this specific case supports changing the two words as proposed by Bill C-624. If we look at the heritage side of this matter, then it would be more accurate to say that we are reverting back to the original version rather than making a change.
The original version, written in 1908 by Judge R. Stanley Weir, had “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. The bill proposes returning to this original historical form, though using contemporary English, so it would be “in all of us”.
The English lyrics for O Canada have been amended a number of times since 1908. They were amended in 1913, 1914, 1916, 1927, and 1980. That does not mean they changed these lyrics without very valid justification, but it shows that they are not untouchable, particularly when the proposed amendment would, in one fell swoop, bring our national anthem closer to its original 1908 form.
It also shows that while the words have been amended on various dates, what has stood the test of time is the spirit of patriotism that continues to be embodied by Canada's anthem and Canadians who rise to sing it.
Secondly, the two-word change proposed in Bill C-624 is not only true to our heritage but it is also likely inevitable. If we do not make that change now, it will be made another time.
It would be better for us to get on the right side of history by making this change ourselves right away rather than leaving it for the legislators of tomorrow to do.
If “thy sons” does not become “of us” today, it will tomorrow.
A similar evolution happened in Austria, where, in December 2011, legislators voted to add three little words to the first verse of their national anthem. Thus “homeland of great sons” became “homeland of great daughters and sons”.
The English lyrics of Canada's anthem were adopted in 1980. They have been criticized ever since for excluding women, so if we do not fix the problem, the debate can only grow with time. Between 1984 and 2011, no fewer than nine bills have been introduced in Parliament to make these lyrics gender neutral.
Even the current Conservative government, in the 2010 Speech from the Throne, proposed to amend the anthem to make the lyrics gender neutral. It stated, “Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem”. The government supported reverting to the original 1908 poem, replacing the current “in all thy sons command” with “thou dost in us command”. Although the government changed its mind 48 hours later, general support for such a change has only increased since.
In 2013, an online campaign entitled “Restore Our Anthem” was launched to make the English version of the national anthem gender neutral. Prominent Canadians such as Margaret Atwood, Kim Campbell, Vivienne Poy, Nancy Ruth, and Belinda Stronach have lent their support to the campaign.
An increasing number of Canadians are willing to embrace this change because it is so simple and consistent with today's values of equality.
Choirs and musical groups across the country, such as the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Vancouver Children's Choir, and the Elektra Women's Choir, have already taken up the new language. It is inevitable that the words “thy sons” will be replaced with “of us”, if not today, tomorrow.
Therefore, let us support Bill C-624 for all of us. Let us support the small but important change our colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, rightly proposes. Our anthem will thus remain true to its original lyrics and most importantly, true to our daughters and sons both, who equally stand on guard for thee, the true north strong and free.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bring forward this important bill. He made wonderful comments in support of the bill, and I agree with everything that he said.
I am proud of the fact that over the years several former members of the NDP, including Svend Robinson and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and myself in the 40th Parliament, have had exactly the same bills. The bills tried to change the wording of our national anthem.
As I stand here today, I have to ask myself if it is 2015. As I was getting ready for this speech, I noted that a Conservative member would be speaking to the bill before me. I wondered what Conservative members would say in opposition to the bill. What could it be? This is totally a no-brainer. This is about gender equality. This is about a minor word change in our national anthem that would reflect our whole country.
I thought this would be a unanimous situation and that the bill would go through, which would have been great, but lo and behold, the parliamentary secretary stands up on his principle that no government could vote against the will of the people. Then I think back to that terrible omnibus bill on voter suppression; that bill was certainly against the will of the people.
The Conservatives say they cannot vote for this legislation because it would mean that the opinion of Canadians does not matter. That is just utter nonsense. This is about reflecting the present-day nature of our society.
I presume that the Conservative member is reflecting the general view of the government, although maybe not the view of individual members. What I find really disturbing is that the Conservatives seem to be resting their argument on upholding tradition, even though the original version from 1908 of our national anthem, as the member sponsoring the bill has pointed out, states “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. Even though the original version was gender-neutral, the Conservatives are stuck on the idea that when the wording was changed in 1980 to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”, those words suddenly became tradition, and they do not want to variate from that tradition.
What is tradition? Tradition is something that we value, and it is important, but tradition also evolves. Tradition evolves based on the diversity of society. Some traditions are really bad. If we rested on tradition and we use that as the principle of an argument as to why we would vote against the bill, we would not have seen same-sex marriage or racial intermarriage. God help us, we would not have seen women or aboriginal people voting. That would have been sticking with tradition at the time when those issues were debated.
This idea that somehow we cannot deal with this issue because it is about tradition and a legacy is absolute nonsense. I would hope that Conservative members, or at least every woman on the other side of the House, will support the bill before us today. It is offensive that the national anthem that we treasure, the national anthem that we sing on so many occasions, does not reflect who we are.
O Canada is sung many times in my community in East Vancouver at community events. It is sung many times on Canada Day. I already incorporate this change, as do many other people. We heard from the member for Ottawa—Vanier about some of the choirs that already do that, which is wonderful. This practice is already taking place. This idea that Canadians are not behind this idea does not reflect what is taking place in practice across the country.
We have noted that the change would not affect the French version and that this is a debate about the English version of our anthem, and I happen to think that the symbolism of the national anthem is important in this country. If we recognize the role and sacrifice of women in the Canadian Armed Forces and we recognize, support, and uphold the role and the value of women in our society generally as Canadians, then this kind of symbolic change is very important.
I want to appeal to the Conservative members to stick to the plan they had in 2010 when this issue was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne by the Prime Minister. I appeal to them not to suddenly retreat from what was a good position, a logical position, a position of respecting tradition while also respecting diversity. They are not mutually exclusive. I want to encourage members of the Conservative side to look at the bill and to think about history and who we are as a society, and to remember that we are approaching the 150th year of this country. This is a very timely and appropriate debate as we approach that very important anniversary.
I am very proud to say that members of the NDP get this. We understand that it is a very important symbolic but simple initiative, and it needs to be undertaken by this House. What are we here for? We are here to display leadership.
If we listen to what our Conservative members are saying, at least the parliamentary secretary, every time there is a poll and somebody says, “I am not sure about that. Do not do that. It is about tradition”, we would just do nothing, is that it? We would just all pack it up and go home and do everything by poll, which I really have to wonder about, being from B.C., where polls have become pretty suspect when we look at elections, for example, and even here in Ontario.
This is not legislation by poll. This is not about being a member of Parliament by poll. This is about reflecting on what our country is about and reflecting that it is 2015 and not 1980, and that women are not only prominent in this country but also need to be more prominent. If the national anthem cannot reflect us as women, then heck, we really have not come very far.
Let us get rid of the illusions. Let us get rid of the smokescreen of these polls and the idea that the Conservatives do not wish to go against the will of the people. We can all think of examples of the Conservatives throwing in the face of the Canadian people anything that they believed in to motivate their own political agenda.
I want to end on a positive note and say thanks to the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bringing this matter forward again. The fact that it has come forward on a number of occasions means that it is an enduring issue. It means that it is something that needs to be dealt with, and it will keep coming forward until the folks on the other side, or those who are nay-sayers, understand that we need to be in a modern-day society and that this change in our national anthem is long overdue.
I really hope, because it is a private member's bill, that individual members from all sides of the House will think about the bill, think about who they are, think about women in this country, and think about what this national anthem actually says. On that basis, they will come to what I think is the only conclusion that one can come to, which is that we should be supporting this change. We should be going out and celebrating that change. We should be talking to our constituents and the people who are worried about tradition. We have so many arguments to show how tradition itself evolves and can represent the diversity of Canada.
I thank the member for the bill. I look forward to hearing from other Conservative members and I hope very much that they will accept a modern-day bill and not be stuck in a sexist and discriminatory frame of mind. I hope that they will support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for so ably outlining the history of the anthem in English in this country. He has pointed out, of course, that the original version was “in all of us command” and that over the years it was changed to “all thy sons command”.
As the member pointed out, this is a minor change in wording, and in some ways is largely symbolic in terms of recognizing gender equality in this country. I need only to point to the House of Commons, where women make up only roughly 21% of the members.
I wonder if the member for Ottawa—Vanier could highlight the importance once again of this symbolic change, where women still do not have equality in this country.
Mr. Speaker, the government needs to understand that there is a world of difference between the government and Parliament.
We are talking about the security of Parliament, not the security that the government is responsible for. The fact that it would attempt to ram this through without agreement is unacceptable.
I think all of us here accept that we have to act with some urgency. This is not something that can sit on the back burner and have a review of it happen whenever it happens.
I want to add my voice to support the members for Ottawa—Vanier, and Saanich—Gulf Islands. The member for Ottawa—Vanier asked, at the very least, whether we could not stop for a moment to see if we cannot reach an agreement whereby all the members here are comfortable going forward.
This is not a matter of whether we should do something, whether we should combine the two services in terms of security, the other place and here. We all agree with that. That is the easy part. The hard part is who is in control. In this Parliament, and in all parliaments, the separation of government from parliament is superior. We need to ensure that no matter how this is structured that the government at the end of the day does not call the shots, pardon the pun, on what happens vis-à-vis security in Parliament. That is the problem with the government rushing it through.
There is ample time for the government to consult with all members in all caucuses, to ensure that for once something that they say is the right thing, we can actually say is the right thing. The government saying it is not good enough, and it does not address the important parliamentary principles that are stake. There is a separation between the government and the Parliament, and this motion crosses every line. It is unacceptable and fixable, if the government, for once, would just be reasonable and allow others to have their say.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
To the consternation of my colleagues, I was not attempting a bait and switch there. I apologize, but I am sure that members have the deepest respect for the member for Ottawa—Vanier, as I and his constituents do.
I want to start by saying many of the points have been brought out already, and by way of background I want to say that I am a firm believer in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where in section 3 it says everyone has a right to vote, providing they are a Canadian citizen and 18 years of age or over. The bill raises a lot of questions as to stifling that ability, and that is why I have questions. As another colleague pointed out, obviously with the majority in the House, this bill will end up going to committee, assuming that all members of the governing party vote in favour of this, and when it goes to committee, serious amendments should be sought. I mean serious.
There is one instance where it is positive. The rest, however, raises many questions, and as my colleague pointed out, may result in some chaos, certainly in the administration of our elections, regarding electors outside of the country temporarily or permanently.
I want to talk about some of the things in Bill C-50. I will get to the Frank decision in just a few moments, but first of all, I want to talk about eliminating the register of electors who temporarily reside outside of Canada and incorporating the information found in it into the register of electors. Basically there is a harmonization process that is going on with the process of special balloting.
When we hear Conservatives and the minister, in particular, talk about the same set of rules for both, a lot is being missed, in the sense that the circumstances are different either way. Remember that what is tantamount or most important is not the administration of this and the efficiency of the administration of this. What is most important is that nobody's rights are violated by denying them the right to vote, which is what people talked about with Bill C-23 and now Bill C-50 regarding the suppression of vote. That is the absence of any accusations of that being the intent.
Nevertheless, there is a level of suppression that is a continuation of what we had last, from vouching now to this, not to mention what the voter information card dismissal brought about in the last round of legislation.
The bill would require Canadian electors who reside abroad to apply for registration and a special ballot after the writs are issued at each federal election, stipulating that electors may only receive a special ballot for the address at which they last resided in Canada.
There are a couple of things here. What made it easier in the past was that people could register to vote living outside the country. Now they could only do it when the writ is dropped, and as pointed out before, the time period is of the essence here. The time period would become so narrow. Again these are special circumstances where voters live outside of the country, so we are making it particularly hard for them to do that, in light of the fact that they do have the right to vote.
The bill would require an external auditor to report on election workers, compliance with special ballot voting, procedure, and requirements for every election, and add the offences of attempting to vote by special ballot while knowing that one is not qualified to vote. It refers to electors temporarily residing outside of Canada, electors residing in Canada improperly attesting to the residence of more than one elector, and attesting to the residence of an elector when one's own residence has been attested to.
What we look at here is that we know the government wants to cut down on election fraud. We have heard all this before. It does not want to send a ballot to an address outside of Canada that could be picked up by a non-Canadian citizen. At the same time, we are reverting to a previous argument. The theme is a solution that is looking for a problem. Once again we find it within Bill C-50.
One thing that was brought about in the bill—and I will get to this right now because we agree with it—is authorizing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information to help the CEO to delete the names of non-citizens from the register of electors.
We grant that it is a process that should be done and should be looked at. Virtually everyone in the House would agree that this is the type of measure that should be taken for the sharing of information to make sure we can exercise our right to vote.
The history behind people outside of the country being allowed to vote goes back to the First World War. The soldiers who fought valiantly for us while overseas were given the right to vote. That is a natural extension of being a Canadian and living in the country that we do, which is so great and wonderful. That extension still applies. There are extensions for people who work for the Government of Canada, whether they work for the military or several embassies around the world, to be able to vote as they would if they were residing in this country.
The question I have, and it has yet to be answered, is with respect to the families, particularly spouses or partners, who are eligible to vote but face different rules than do the people who are employed by the Government of Canada. That is problematic because they have to go through the process of re-registering every five years and the others do not. Therefore, there are different rules applying to two different people who are living in the same residence in another country for the same reason. I hope that some of the amendments would address this issue as we get closer to looking at it in committee.
In 1993, the rules were changed further to allow more people the right to vote. However, we again had the five-year rule that if they had been outside of the country for more than five years they were not eligible to vote, which is their right, despite the fact they are above the age of 18 and Canadian citizens. The Frank decision recently decided that was not good because it denies those Canadian citizens above the age of 18 who happen to reside outside of Canada, whether long or short term, the ability to exercise their right to vote under the Constitution.
In looking at the Frank et al decision, I see that section 3 of the charter states:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
The Frank decision posed this to the government to take action. However, there is some confusion in Bill C-50 as to whether that was done. I am not a constitutional expert, but in reading it I have yet to square it as to where the vote of these people who are more than five years outside the country has been protected, because it is not protected at all. I think an administrative nightmare has been created for many of them to do that. In the past they could register once they were outside the country. They cannot do that anymore. They have to wait for the writ to be dropped. That puts them in a tricky situation as far as timelines are concerned. I understand there are some online mechanisms that the minister has pointed to that would remedy this, but by the same token there is still that process.
The verification of signatures for those people outside of the country appears to be absent from this, or I have yet to see it. I hope the minister can clarify the situation. That qualification is no longer there. It would have made it easier to identify and verify those people based on two signatures, one on the ballot and one on the application form, and that would have gone a long way toward helping Elections Canada. That is something we have to look at.
I would also like to talk about vote shopping. The government has stated on several occasions that vote shopping is a problem. For those Canadians who are not aware of what vote shopping is, in its base form, those people can choose the riding in which they want to vote. However, Elections Canada has never stated that it was a big problem or that there was too much abuse and the law had to be changed. I again go back to the theme that it was a solution looking for a problem. Unfortunately, it would impede their ability to vote; it would impede their right under section 3 of the charter. Therefore, in looking at this, we see the government wants to cut down on an abuse that we are not sure existed to any extent, by making it problematic for those who want to legitimately vote in the riding they left when leaving Canada. That raises many questions.
My final point is with respect to this coming into force in only 60 days. I cannot see how Elections Canada can administer all of these rules in that 60-day period.
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House did attend His Excellency the Governor General in the Senate chamber His Excellency was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
C-3, An Act to enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 29.
S-213, An Act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day—Chapter 30.
C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act—Chapter 31.
C-8, An Act to amend the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 32.
S-1001, An Act to amend the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Act.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, Consumer Protection.
That concludes question period for today.
Introduction of private members' bills, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
Before I go to the member for Ottawa—Vanier, I know the member for Trinity—Spadina is new and I welcome him to the House. If he could direct his comments to the Chair rather than directly to his colleagues, it would be greatly appreciated. Also, the Chair will give you a cue when your time is approaching its end.
The hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier tonight.
I rise tonight to speak about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa where the situation is dire and getting worse every day, where the international response has been inadequate, and where the global community must dramatically scale up its response. The worst Ebola outbreak in history has hit Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and has reached Nigeria and Senegal. It has been blamed for more than 2,200 deaths. Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick patients, making doctors and nurses especially vulnerable to contracting the virus, which has no vaccine or approved treatment. Without immediate international action we are facing the potential for a public health crisis that could claim lives on a scale far greater than the current estimates and set the countries of West Africa back a generation.
As U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, “This is a perilous crisis but one we can contain if the international community comes together to meet it head on.” As a result, she has asked the 193 UN member states to come to a meeting with concrete commitments to tackle the outbreak, especially in hardest-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
Health practitioners and scientists know how to contain Ebola and it is important that we must avoid panic and fear, but our collective response to date has not been sufficient. We must tackle Ebola aggressively and in a coordinated manner.
Very briefly, Ebola virus disease, formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe often fatal illness in humans. Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90% and have primarily occurred in remote villages in Central and West Africa near tropical rainforests. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. Fruit bats of a particular family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
Our health critic and I first wrote to the Minister of International Development on August 3, 2014, about Ebola and asked, among other requests, whether the government would consider providing additional funding to help fight the Ebola outbreak. We were pleased to see the government provided an additional $5 million in funding on August 8, 2014. I am looking forward to receiving answers to our other questions.
The needs on the ground have changed significantly since the beginning of August and Canada can and should be doing more. At that time, the World Health Organization was asking for $100 million, but it is now asking for $600 million to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months and to prevent the international spread of the virus in West Africa.
Moreover, in many areas of intense transmission the actual number of cases may be two- to fourfold higher than that currently reported, and the aggregate case load of Ebola virus disease cases could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency. The top U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official has warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a real risk to the stability and security of society in the region.
While I recognize Canada's contributions to date, I would like to know what more the government is considering to assist its international partners to provide aid in the affected regions, particularly as the international response has been inadequate and the world is losing the battle to control Ebola.
The reality is that we need to dramatically scale up international response. Nearly 40% of the total number of reported cases has occurred within the past several weeks. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an international rescue call for a massive surge in assistance on September 5, warning that “the world can no longer afford to short-change global public health.” Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more doctors, nurses, beds, and more equipment.
The European Commission and the U.S. have given more than $250 million in additional funding. The U.S. has a 26-person disaster response team in place, and the U.S. military has trained 230 armed forces of Liberia personnel on the proper use of personal protective equipment, safe handling of patients, securing health sites, and escorting humanitarian and medical personnel. The United States has also sent more than 70 disease control experts to West Africa who are providing technical expertise to national public health institutions and agencies to help protect and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, and have put in place a second Ebola testing laboratory.
Does the government accept that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a real risk to the stability and security of society in the region? Does the government accept that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more doctors, nurses, beds, and equipment?
Does the government accept that the international response has been inadequate and that we need to scale up international response? Is the government considering responding to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's international rescue call and the World Health Organization's request of $600 million? In light of the United Nation's international rescue call, will Canada do more to help?
Specifically, how is Canada working with other countries, particularly through the Global Health Security Action Group and the global health security agenda? How is the government working across departments and what specific departments are involved in each of preparedness, response and recovery, and what is the lead agency for each? What specific actions are each of the departments undertaking?
What is the government doing to ensure the safety of Canadians travelling to West Africa to undertake humanitarian work, commerce and trade, and to safeguard the well-being of those who are there now in areas where Ebola is spreading? What guidance is being provided to Canadians before they leave and while in areas in which Ebola has been reported? If they think they have symptoms compatible with Ebola, what should they do upon their return to Canada?
How specifically was the April 18 funding of $1,285,000 used to address the outbreak? How many specialists and in what disciplines did Canada send to work with the World Health Organization and/or to West Africa to help? How specifically was the August 8 funding of $5 million to address the outbreak spent?
What specific plans were put in place to monitor the health of the three-person mobile team from Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory as they were brought home from Sierra Leone and afterward in voluntary isolation, and for how long were they in isolation?
Although the risk is low, is Canada ready to isolate and care for someone if affected? Does the Public Health Agency of Canada have a public awareness plan to help Canadians understand the prevention, transmission, and signs and symptoms of the disease?
Canada can and must do more. We are asking the government to show leadership in responding to this deadly, devastating outbreak.
As the United Nations said, a humane world cannot allow Africa to suffer on such an extraordinary scale.
Mr. Speaker, our thoughts and prayers go out to my colleague's family on their loss. I cannot imagine how they are reconciling all their feelings about what has happened in their family. My colleague understands that deep pain and must sympathize with the families of these missing girls.
Nigeria has enormous potential. In my comments, I referred to its GDP of $510 billion. It has enormous resources, yet that country is not investing in its own youth.
My colleague from Ottawa—Vanier talked about the tremendous disparity we saw in Abuja between rich and poor. We saw the palatial homes in Abuja, yet right outside the city was poverty at its worst.
My colleague has invested much of his life in education. I wonder if he has any thoughts on how Canada might work with the Nigerian government to help that country establish an education system for the future that would give its young people hope and opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague and friend, the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
Like all Canadians and people around the world, I am heartbroken about the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria. My thoughts and prayers are with the girls. I cannot begin to imagine how frightened they are. Their anguished families and communities and the people of Nigeria want to bring their daughters home.
In these girls, we see all our children, their hopes and their dreams, and our hearts ache. It is absolutely abhorrent that these girls are alleged to have been abducted to prevent them from attending school. Despite the fact that their school had recently been closed because of terrorist threats, they were so determined to have education they insisted on coming back for exams.
We must all work together to push for more action, both nationally and internationally, regarding this brutal act of violence, this crime, this terror attack, this unconscionable unending nightmare. We must all take whatever steps we can to ensure that the girls are returned to their families unharmed, and that they and all girls in Nigeria can continue their education in a safe environment.
As we all so tragically know, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in remote northeastern Nigeria on April 14, and has since threatened to sell them into slavery. Another eight girls were taken from another village on May 5. We should all ask why Canada condemned a separate terrorist attack in Nigeria on April 14, but waited over two weeks to condemn the abductions of the schoolgirls. In fact, why did the international community at large wait for close to two weeks before expressing outrage?
The UN Secretary General is deeply concerned about the schoolgirls. He repeats, “...the targeting of children and schools is against international law and cannot be justified under any circumstances”. The UN is sending a high-level envoy to discuss how the world body can support the government of Nigeria.
The UN Security Council has also expressed its profound outrage, and condemned the abduction of the schoolgirls, demanded their immediate and unconditional release, suggested some acts may amount to crimes against humanity under international law, and that perpetrators must be held accountable.
Ensuring the return of the girls and holding perpetrators accountable goes a long way to ending impunity, and will send a strong message that Nigeria places paramount importance on the protection of girls.
The members of the Security Council have also expressed deep concern at the terrorist attacks conducted by Boko Haram since 2009, which have caused large-scale and devastating loss of life, and represent a threat to the stability and peace of central and west Africa.
The Nigerian president believes the girls are still in Nigeria. The United States, Britain and France have pledged to send specialist teams of intelligence and communications experts to help Nigeria search for the missing schoolgirls. American and British officials have already arrived in Abuja to supplement an American team already on the ground there. They will help Nigeria's government look for the missing girls, plan rescue missions and advise on ways to subdue Boko Haram. We have heard today that Canadians are on the ground and aiding in the effort to find the missing girls, and we are thankful.
There are tough questions being asked after an Amnesty International report accused Nigerian military commanders of knowing the terrorist group was on its way to raid the boarding school at least four hours before the girls were abducted, but not able to raise enough troops to respond. The military counters that it was asked to provide reinforcements that came under attack. CNN reports that what it is hearing on the ground supports the Amnesty International report.
The Nigerian government, which has come under growing criticism at home and abroad for being too slow to react, says that it does not believe the Amnesty International allegations are true, but it is investigating.
Sky News reported that the search for the schoolgirls was closing in on a huge forest near the border with Cameroon, and that the girls had been divided into at least four groups, which would make the rescue more difficult. BBC reported last night that the abducted girls had been sighted, and today we saw video of the children.
What makes the abductions so horrific is that they are not an isolated incident on our most vulnerable, on our most precious. Prior to 2011, most attacks on schools in the north targeted infrastructure and were carried out at night when schools were empty. However, since 2012, teachers and students are increasingly targeted by militants, resulting in abductions, killings and threats.
Between January and July 2013, more than 50 schools were attacked. Dozens of school teachers have been murdered, and universities have experienced heavy casualties by gunmen firing indiscriminately, and in some cases using bombs.
Nigeria has 10 million children out of school, the highest number in the world. Almost one in three primary aged children is out of school, and roughly one of four junior secondary aged children is out of school.
The clock is ticking. The more time passes the greater the risk, including the girls being sold into marriage or engaged in the worst forms of child labour, sexual exploitation and violence and recruitment into armed groups. The time to act is now.
The girls must be returned safe and sound. UNICEF, for example, stands ready to work with the Nigerian government and provide psychosocial care and other necessary assistance to the girls and their families.
An attack on one school, on one child, is an attack on every school and every child. When a school is under attack and students become targets, not only are their lives shattered, the future of their nation is stolen. There is a broader issue here: children's rights to live free from violence, and girls' right to an education. What happened to these schoolgirls could happen tomorrow to other girls in other countries.
Let us ensure the government supports the efforts of the Nigerian government to secure the girls safe return to the protection of their families. All of Canada's efforts should be undertaken in coordination with the government of Nigeria and key partners, and should be in line with the best interests of the girls and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
How is the government working with our allies to ensure that our efforts are coordinated and targeted and will help bring these girls home? Will Canada call on and support neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and Chad to coordinate search efforts with Nigerian authorities?
Whether it be Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan or Syria, the government should continue to call for compliance by all parties with international humanitarian law, including the prohibition of attacks on schools, students and teachers. Will Canada support the Nigerian government to bring the perpetrators to justice?
Let us, each and every one of us in the House, raise our voice through this hashtag, bring back our girls movement. Once the girls are safe, will Canada advocate for a post-2015 development goal and indicators that aim to end violence against all children? What will Canada commit to over the next four years at the global partnership for education replenishment meeting on June 26 in Brussels?
Fifty-seven million primary school-age children remain out of school, and half of these children live in conflict-affected areas and disaster zones. We hope that Canada will participate in the summit that will be hosted by France.
The failure to rescue the girls has sparked worldwide outrage. In the words of the Nigerian people, “Enough is enough, the abductions must stop”.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier, who put it very well. These are two fundamental principles that are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is what these acts pertain to. Section 3 talks about our inalienable right to vote. That is why we want to focus on this today.
The members from the NDP have said that they are going to support this. I do not know if they are speaking on behalf of everyone. We are also asking for the backbenchers of the Conservative Party to call for this. I am making an assumption that the front bench is not going to vote for it, but maybe I should not do that, in light of what I have said in debate. I hope the Conservatives feel that this is a fundamental opinion we are putting forward in the House, which is that we cannot limit debate on two fundamental acts so crucial to our democracy: the Parliament of Canada Act and the Elections Act.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 6, 2014, by the member for Sherbrooke regarding a technical briefing offered by the Minister of State in relation to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the hon. House leader for the official opposition, and the members for Ottawa—Vanier, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and York South—Weston for their interventions.
The member for Sherbrooke explained that, at the technical briefing he attended on Tuesday, February 4 on Bill C-23, the interpretation provided was often inadequate and, as he described it, “[a]t times, there was little or no interpretation or it was of poor quality.” This, he felt, had the effect of preventing parliamentarians from participating fully in subsequent debate on the bill.
The member went on to note that the protection of official languages in the House is fundamental to ensuring equality among all members.
For his part, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform recognized that no professional interpreters were present for the briefing, but claimed that parliamentarians had been provided all information in both official languages, including the presentation, information sheets, press releases, and the bill itself.
As has been pointed out by the member for Sherbrooke, the guarantee of access to and use of both official languages in parliamentary proceedings, in the record-keeping of those proceedings and in legislation is no less than a constitutional requirement—a cornerstone of our parliamentary system. As your Speaker, it remains one of my principal responsibilities to ensure that members are not impeded in their ability to carry out their parliamentary functions and that their rights and privileges are safeguarded.
In the case of official languages, the House has a long-standing practice of ensuring the availability of professional interpreters during House and committee proceedings. Indeed, this practice extends to many other activities, such as caucus meetings, briefings or any number of parliamentary activities and events. In such cases, if interpreters are not present, the activity is delayed until they arrive, or, if they are not available, the activity is rescheduled. Likewise, if a technical problem arises with the equipment, proceedings are suspended until the issue is resolved. Members will be familiar with this as it has sometimes happened here in the House.
To the Chair's knowledge, during government-sponsored activities, similar norms are observed. This is illustrated in a case brought to the attention of the House on October 23, 2013, when a technical briefing on a budget implementation bill was organized but cancelled when it became apparent that no simultaneous interpretation was available. In the Debates for that date, at page 303, the government House leader apologized to the House, and stated that:
...arrangements have been made to reschedule this meeting and to hold it properly in both official languages with that capacity available for everyone. It is certainly the expectation of this government that all business be properly conducted in both official languages.
Clearly, in that case, the government viewed the absence of professional simultaneous interpreters as a serious matter.
When a situation is brought to the Chair’s attention, it must be assessed within the somewhat narrow confines of parliamentary procedure and precedents. In this case, the member for Sherbrooke is asking the Chair to find that problems with interpretation prevented members from being able to access departmental information and that this constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
To arrive at such a conclusion, the Chair must assess whether the member has been obstructed in the discharge of his responsibilities in direct relation to proceedings in Parliament.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition, at page 109, states:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
In addition, at page 111, it indicates that:
A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means. In ruling on such matters, the Speaker examines the effect the incident or event had on the Member’s ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary responsibilities.
The question before the Chair is simple: does attending a departmental briefing that was delivered without full interpretation meet that litmus test? Speaker Parent's ruling of October 9, 1997, is very instructive, when he states at page 688 of the Debates:
...activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
Today's case is analogous in that, whether a member is seeking information in order to prepare a question or to participate in debate on a bill, the same fundamental definitions and principles apply. Whether a member who is preparing to participate in proceedings—whether through a technical briefing or some other means—is not participating in the proceedings themselves. While such preparation is no doubt important, it remains ancillary to, rather than part of, Parliament's proceedings.
Furthermore, in this case a government department is responsible for the situation which the member decries. On this point, Speaker Bosley stated on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
My own ruling of February 7, 2013, reached the same conclusion, when at page 13869 of Debates, I stated:
It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
The Chair must respect the strict confines of parliamentary privilege in reaching its decision. Therefore, while it appears that the hon. member for Sherbrooke has a legitimate grievance, the Chair cannot conclude that this situation constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
That being said, this decision does not diminish members’ need for full and equal access to information about legislation nor does it discount the value placed on the provision of such information in both official languages.
While I cannot provide the member for Sherbrooke a privilege-based parliamentary remedy to his grievance, he may wish to explore other means at his disposal by direct discussions with the minister or raising the matter with the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I thank the House for its attention.
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, particularly for raising the issues of women and children.
As my hon. colleague and friend from Ottawa—Vanier said, the priority is security. Does my colleague think that Canada should increase funding to the UN trust fund to support the African Union MISCA force? Should Canada consider sending technical advisers to assist the force in establishing proper command and control functions, as well as consider providing logistical support, as many of our partners have done and as we have done in the past?
Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the remarks by the member for Ottawa—Vanier. He basically talked about workers' rights in Canada, especially in the public service.
We have been very fortunate in this country to have always had a reliable, non-partisan public service that was, until the last number of years, able to give advice to ministers, without fear of repercussions, in a non-partisan way. However, when I talk to people within the public service in this day and age, there is a tremendous fear. It is as if they are being attacked by ministers, by the President of the Treasury Board, and by the government itself.
There are a lot of public servants in the member's riding. I am seeing a real fear within the public service, and that has to be having an impact on morale and productivity.
I wonder if the member for Ottawa—Vanier is seeing the same thing, which is that ministries clearly do not accept advice they do not agree with. They have the right to turn it down, but instead of accepting that advice as good advice to consider, they seem to turn it around and attack the public service. I think all Canadians are the losers.
Mr. Speaker, co-operatives are businesses that are driven by democratic values and principles. They employ over 155,000 Canadians. They pay taxes on more than $50 billion in revenues, and they create jobs and offer goods and services in all regions.
The difference between the co-operative model and other business models is how the profits are used and that their focus is on long-term strategic planning, growth, and success. Co-operatives are more durable, and research has shown that new co-operatives are more likely to remain in business than any other new enterprises and are more resilient in economic downturns.
I am proud to be a supporter of the Canadian co-operatives industry, and I look forward to working with them to create even more jobs in our communities.
Tonight, please join me and my colleagues from Ottawa—Vanier and LaSalle—Émard in celebrating co-operatives at their annual reception at the Parliament Pub. I will see everyone there.
Mr. speaker, Reverend Moses Coady started the co-operative movement many years ago during the depression in Cape Breton. This effort helped rural communities across the Maritimes to improve their economic and social circumstances.
Mr. Coady led a movement that spread across Canada and around the world. Today, co-operatives in Cape Breton are thriving.
Two weeks ago, our co-operatives' advocate, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, travelled around my riding in celebrating Co-op Week. My colleague accompanied me to credit unions, co-op grocery stores, the United Farmers Co-op country store, the Bras d'Or Farmers Vegetable Co-op and the Victoria Fisheries Co-op in Neil's Harbour.
There are 9,000 co-ops across the country, with 14 in Cape Breton.
As rural Canada continues to struggle with economic hardships and out-migration, the co-operative movement, with more assistance from the federal government, could help them prosper.
I support my colleague's efforts to create a special parliamentary committee to determine the needs of Canada's co-operatives so we can help build on this model for many years to come.
Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on the observation made by my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier when he referenced an article from The Globe and Mail on the weekend about the Chief Justice. The article was on the issue of mentally ill offenders, and it said:
At least once a year, their status is reviewed by expert panels. After treatment, most of them return to society and resume normal lives. But under a federal proposal, it will become more difficult for those designated as high-risk offenders to be released.
Chief Justice McLachlin points proudly to a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision, R v. Swain, as the key move that created a new template for giving mentally ill offenders regular reviews.
“It said you can’t just lock up a person who has been found not guilty by way of their illness, and throw away the key,” she says. “That was the breakthrough.”
Endorsing the review-board system, she says: “The interesting thing is that the hearing process is staffed heavily by psychiatrists and I think it is well-supported by the medical side of things, by the police and by judges.”
At the ‘intake’ end of the system, however, Chief Justice McLachlin says offenders are too often warehoused...
The Chief Justice of Canada, who will likely be tasked with reviewing this legislation at some point in the reasonably near future, has said that the system actually works very well as it is.
Essentially, this is a reaction to an egregious set of facts and ultimately an attack on those who are the most vulnerable in our society, namely those who are mentally ill, dressed up in the name of victims. The ultimate irony of this entire process is that the victims who deserve every sympathy that we can afford them will actually be potentially victimized once more because of the system that the hon. Minister of Justice is proposing.
My simple question is to the Minister of Justice. Why will he not listen to his Chief Justice, who thinks that this is the wrong direction?
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the principle behind the question from my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier.
One of CBC/Radio-Canada's purposes is to be present in every region of the country in French as well. However, the member should communicate his idea directly to Hubert Lacroix and to the board of directors of Radio-Canada.
I know that Radio-Canada will be having a meeting this Tuesday or next. The opposition's suggestion is one that Radio-Canada should hear. He should talk to them about it. I want to be clear: this is a national Canadian broadcasting corporation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
In my time, I would like to focus on two main items. The first is the contention we hear all the time from the government that Canada is doing relatively well. It is quite easy to be doing relatively well compared with the eurozone for example, which is in recession. However, I would acknowledge that relative to many countries, Canada is doing—
The electoral district of Ottawa--Vanier (Ontario) has a population of 101,611 with 81,373 registered voters and 242 polling divisions.
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