Mr. Speaker, I seek some clarity from you. First, I would like to commend my two friends from Selkirk—Interlake and Saint Boniface. It was noted that they did not participate in the vote. I think that was the correct thing to do, and we offer them our commendation for having chosen to take that step.
My question to you is this. We were engaged in the process of a prima facie case of privilege that the House was then seized with. It was only, by my estimation, 30 minutes into the conversation when the government sought to adjourn a debate on a question of privilege. In typical House procedure, that is something that properly dominates the business of the House and supersedes all other business, particularly a question as important as this one of members rightfully sitting in the House. Therefore, I seek some clarification from you in the use of adjournment to shut down a debate that had just begun on so important an issue to Canadians and all of us here in the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, may I add my comments to those of my colleagues that your ruling was considered, your ruling was certainly thought-provoking because it highlighted to all members in this place the difficulty the Chair had been placed with this issue. The process, frankly, that you have followed in making many rulings on questions of privilege in the past does not seem to be clear in this instance. You yourself noted the lack of clarity.
However, I also think the conundrum that you find yourself in, Mr. Speaker, the difficulty that you have in an almost untenable situation, is your ability to determine the rights of all members vis-à-vis the rights of the individual, particularly when we look at the sub judice convention, which, as all members know, prevents members from speaking in the House of an issue currently before the courts that might be prejudicial to the individual who is before the courts.
In other words, that very wise convention was put in place to prevent members in this place making either prejudicial or inflammatory comments that might then become part of the public purview and influence the court's decision on a matter currently before the court.
Mr. Speaker, how do you balance them, the rights of the individual as to the collective? Your suggestion to refer this to the procedure and House affairs committee is a very wise decision because there has to be consideration given to the process and the procedures of the House when dealing with a matter that we currently have before us, a procedure that has not been identified or articulated ever before, to my knowledge at least, in the history of this place, this institution.
Your observations and your words, Mr. Speaker, give us, I believe, as parliamentarians, much to consider. Also, it certainly would give the member for Selkirk—Interlake time to consider his options under Standing Order 20.
Therefore, while members opposite are arguing for a long debate this afternoon, it appears to me that there needs to be more time to reflect and to consider both your words, Mr. Speaker, and the implications of your decision.
In that light, and because of that, I move:
That the debate be now adjourned.
Mr. Speaker, the question and comment of my colleague from Toronto—Danforth reminded me of his rather loquacious intervention that he made with respect to this question of privilege. He raises the nub of the issue from our perspective.
My colleague from Scarborough, in a conversation, said that perhaps we were looking for some sort of interim relief, some sort of temporary relief pending either, ultimately, the disposition by the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba or a decision of the House with respect to whether the member for Selkirk—Interlake should continue to sit and vote. From our perspective, the prudent thing would be for the member not to sit and vote, because as I said, the legislation is prescriptive. It does not say “may” or ”might”, it says “shall”. We think the legislation is very clear.
In the absence of either a court decision that the House chooses to enforce or a decision of the House itself, the member for Selkirk—Interlake should not be sitting or voting during proceedings of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking you for having studied this important issue. It is clear that you looked closely at any precedents as well as House procedure, and we thank you for your careful consideration of this question.
I think all members will acknowledge, and the Speaker's ruling makes it clear, that this is not an easy situation, and it is one for which not many precedents exist. I think a great deal of merit has been given to the question of privilege raised by my colleague, the member for Avalon.
Mr. Speaker, you have obviously given a great deal of attention to the interventions of other colleagues on this question of privilege, and for that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you profoundly.
The issue has been and continues to be, from our perspective, the issue of members of Parliament having earned the right to take their seats in this House. Those of us who are privileged enough to represent our constituents in this great democratic assembly also have the obligation to arrive in this place having followed every single section, every principle and every precedent of the Canada Elections Act and the various court cases over the years that have interpreted the application of Canada's electoral legislation.
This is a relatively simple concept. Every voter has the right to vote in a fair election. The person who wins the most votes wins the privilege of representing their constituents in the House of Commons.
However, the election itself still needs to be fair, fair to all of the parties and all of the candidates who are running. When a candidate chooses to flout election rules, the vote is, by definition, unfair. Democracy pays the price.
As I stated earlier, I think, and I agree with the Speaker, that the procedure and House affairs committee of the House of Commons is the place for members to properly understand the application of the Canada Elections Act and also the rights and privileges of members of this House to sit, debate and vote with colleagues who arrive here having followed all of the prescriptions of the Canada Elections Act.
I think it would be instructive, as we begin a debate on this very important matter, for my colleagues to be reminded of subsection 463(2) of the Canada Elections Act, which my colleague from Avalon raised, which says:
An elected candidate who fails to provide a document as required by section 451 or 455 or fails to make a correction as requested under subsection 457(2) or authorized by 458(1) shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until they are provided or made, as the case may be.
I would draw attention to the words “shall not”. The legislation, from our perspective, is unambiguous. It is prescriptive. It does not say “may not”. It does not say “might not”. It says “shall not”.
That is why, Mr. Speaker, you were in the difficult position of having to reconcile that section of our election legislation with other sections that provide, for other offences or other non-compliance measures, an opportunity to seek a judicial review before the appropriate court of competent jurisdiction.
That is why we will continue to ask—and we will repeat our demands—that any member who does not comply with the law be stripped of the right to vote and sit in the House.
If, after the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has looked into the matter, the House concludes that in a specific case the member should have the right to sit in the House, the House of Commons has that power and privilege.
However, for the moment, the House has not ruled on this matter. That is why we continue to have serious concerns about the member's right to sit and vote in the House after having received an official letter from the Chief Electoral Officer regarding the section cited.
The statute passed by the House, the Canada Elections Act, is very clear. It says that members who are not compliant with the act shall not sit and vote. This is the case, as we now know, with respect to at least one member of the Conservative Party, the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
If the House, in its wisdom, chooses to stay this proceeding, having been informed by the Speaker, as you have just done, of the receipt of this communication, and it allows colleagues to continue to sit and vote, that is properly a privilege and right of the House. However, as we stand here today, we are in the absence of that opinion from the House.
Whether the law was well drafted, desirable for some Conservative MPs, pleasant, agreeable or nice, it is very clear: those members for whom an official communication has been received by the Speaker shall not sit or vote.
Once the procedure and House affairs committee, I hope at an early opportunity, is seized of this matter following your ruling, and I hope, following a vote in the House, it is our intention to continue the argument that in the absence of a decision by the House to the contrary, the legitimacy of these members is unquestioned. That comes directly from statutory authority, in the Canada Elections Act.
To conclude, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for your ruling. I believe that you have taken the time to reflect. You spoke about the difficult situation that you find yourself in because this is setting a precedent.
I do not disagree. Obviously, I would not disagree with the Speaker. I do not disagree in terms of the procedure and House affairs committee's role in this. However, I would ask colleagues, and we will ask our colleagues on the committee, to reflect on this question: In the absence of a decision by the House, as you correctly noted in your ruling, Mr. Speaker, how legitimate is it for members to sit and vote in the House when they have been subject to a communication under that section of the Elections Act, which is prescriptive?
If the House wants to change the elections legislation and that section of the Canada Elections Act, there is a procedure to amend that statute. We are obviously waiting. The government has talked often about making amendments to the Canada Elections Act. It does not seem to be in a big hurry to do so, although it has perhaps briefed the Conservative caucus, in its horror, on allegedly toughening up the elections legislation. It has since run for cover.
If Parliament wants to amend the act, that is a separate issue from the application of the current legislation to members who were elected in the general election of 2011. That should properly be the subject of the discussion in the House this afternoon.
I hope that my colleagues on the procedure and House affairs committee will act forthwith to rectify what is an untenable situation for the members themselves, who are subject to this communication, for the Chair himself, who received this communication, and for members of the House, who we believe have not had their privileges respected because of the continued presence of members who have not complied with the Canada Elections Act.
Mr. Speaker, election overspending is a serious offence, but Conservative MPs seem to think election laws are optional.
Elections Canada has now said that there are three Conservative MPs who are not entitled to sit or vote in this place: the member for Selkirk—Interlake, the member for Saint Boniface and now the member for Essex. Last week the member for Peterborough tried to abuse his parliamentary privilege and interfere with an Elections Canada investigation in his riding.
The law is clear. Why does the Conservative government refuse to enforce the Canada Elections Act?
Before I recognize the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, I will just inform the House that we are now moving into the section of debate where speeches will only be ten minutes and questions and comments five minutes.
The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake.
Mr. Speaker, I also rise to respond to the question of privilege by the hon. member for Avalon.
Having heard the arguments of the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, I will simply set out the relevant facts of my own circumstances. I agree with the procedural arguments advanced by my hon. friend. They would also apply to my own circumstances, so I would associate myself with them.
All available information has been provided to Elections Canada by me and by my campaign. Ultimately, the issue in dispute is simply a disagreement between my campaign and Elections Canada as to interpretations applicable to certain expenditures.
In the interest of maintaining my legal position, I too brought an application in the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba under section 459 of the Canada Elections Act. My application was filed on May 24, 2013.
For the same reasons argued by the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, it is my view that bringing proceedings under section 459 of the act puts subsection 463(2) into abeyance, pending the court's disposition of my application.
Mr. Speaker, the Chief Electoral Officer sent you a notice similar to that which he provided you respecting my caucus colleague. The filing of my May 24 application was confirmed by the Chief Electoral Officer in a May 30 letter addressed to you.
Like the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, I believe that I am in compliance with the Canada Elections Act. I did not break the law. For the House to be called upon to debate and decide upon a motion in this matter, which is what the hon. member for Avalon is seeking through his question of privilege, would undoubtedly prejudice my interest in the currently pending court proceedings.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I respectfully submit that clear grounds to dismiss this question of privilege are before you. First, the impact of section 459 of the Canada Elections Act is very clear, and this is, as we just heard, an interpretation that is apparently shared by the Chief Electoral Officer. Second, the sub judice convention is an equally compelling reason to reach such a decision.
Therefore, I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to reject the question of privilege put forth by the hon. member for Avalon, and I thank you very much for hearing my argument.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to Wednesday's question of privilege from the hon. member for Avalon.
The hon. member argues that subsection 463(2) of the Canada Elections Act should apply to me as a consequence of a request made under subsection 457(2) of the act.
As the government House leader said Wednesday, this issue is effectively a question of accounting interpretation. Some reports have erroneously speculated that the contentious issue between my 2011 campaign and Elections Canada is in relation to transfers between the Selkirk—Interlake Conservative Electoral District Association and my campaign. I can tell the House that this is not accurate.
Elections Canada is in receipt of all documentation relating to these transfers. These transfers include election costs incurred by our campaign but paid for by the association and reimbursed by the campaign. These costs include sign inventory, telephone bills and installation, office rent, new signs, a website and office equipment.
My campaign has complied with the Canada Elections Act. My campaign has been straightforward with Elections Canada and has worked in good faith. All of my documents have been filed in a timely manner, and appropriate amendments were made in accordance with the rules laid out by the act.
This is an accounting dispute between the campaign and Elections Canada regarding the value of certain used highway signs that were originally installed several years ago.
Elections Canada approved my campaign returns for the 2006 and 2000 elections but has now changed its interpretation and is contradicting its own ruling, which is not consistent with the act's provisions.
The Canada Elections Act provides me with the legal ability to challenge Elections Canada. I will be exercising my right to be heard by a court of law. My campaign will be challenging Elections Canada's new interpretation and looks forward to having our return properly adjudicated in a court of law.
As such, I have brought an application to Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench under section 459 of the act. That application was filed on May 23, 2013 in Selkirk, Manitoba. I look forward to receiving a judicial ruling on my campaign return, which will ultimately provide direction to Elections Canada and my campaign to resolve our impasse.
Paragraph 459(1)(a) of the act provides that a judge may make an order “relieving the candidate or official agent from complying with a request referred to in subsection 457(2)”.
Should the court grant my application under section 459, it dispenses with the requirement of section 457(2). In other words, it would be as if there never was any condition precedent triggering subsection 463(2) of the act.
It is my understanding, Mr. Speaker, that you have adopted, in my view, the clearly correct position that the bringing of proceedings under section 459 acts as a stay on subsection 463(2).
Page 307 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, describes the Speaker's role:
...to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution.
I believe that your position on section 459 upholds the rights of members under the Canada Elections Act and as members of the House. In any event, Mr. Speaker, you would not be alone in that interpretation of the effect of section 459.
In the Chief Electoral Officer's May 23 letter to you, a document that is circulating in the public domain through the media, Marc Mayrand appears to agree that an application under section 459 has that material impact, namely that subsection 463(2) is put into abeyance pending the resolution of a court challenge.
In the fifth and sixth paragraphs of his letter, Mr. Mayrand says:
A person who has received a request under subsection 457(2) may make an application to court seeking relief from the requirement to make the correction. However, to my knowledge, no application has been made in this case.
In the event that the corrected returns or an application to a court is subsequently filed, I will advise you accordingly.
Later, on May 27, Stéphane Perrault, the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, wrote to you. My counsel was copied on the letter, so I have a copy. I am hesitant to quote from private correspondence, but I think it is important in making my case.
In the last paragraph of the first page, Mr. Perrault said of the letter from May 23 I quoted earlier:
The purpose of the letter was to provide to you, as Speaker of the House of Commons, the information that would assist you in taking whatever action or position you believe to be appropriate in the circumstances. This includes whether it would be appropriate for [me] to continue to sit pending the outcome of an application under s. 459, should one be filed (to date, we have not received notice of such an application).
When I say “me”, I mean me as the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
As I said earlier, my application was filed on May 23. Mr. Speaker, the filing of my application was finally confirmed to you by the Chief Electoral Officer in his letter to you dated May 30.
My application is now before the courts. Therefore, I would respectfully submit that the sub judice convention should be respected.
Citation 505 of Beauchesne's parliamentary Rules & Forms for the House of Commons of Canada, sixth edition, advises that:
The purpose of this sub judice convention is to protect the parties in a case awaiting or undergoing trial and persons who stand to be affected by the outcome of a judicial inquiry. It is a voluntary restraint imposed by the House upon itself in the interest of justice and fair play.
O'Brien and Bosc, at page 100, comment on the sub judice convention in the context of questions of privilege:
The sub judice convention is important in the conduct of business in the House. It protects the rights of interested parties before the courts, and preserves and maintains the separation and mutual respect between the legislature and the judiciary.
Meanwhile, Erskine May, 24th edition, at page 441, succinctly lays out the following proposition:
Subject to the discretion of the Chair and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any matters of delegated legislation, matters awaiting the adjudication of a court of law should not be brought forward in debate.
Mr. Speaker, your own ruling on March 27, 2013, at pages 15292 and 15293 of the Debates, described a very clear parallel to my circumstances today. You said:
As Speaker, I must endeavour to find a balance between the right of the House to debate a matter and the effect that this debate might have. This is particularly important given that the purpose of the sub judice convention is to ensure that judicial decisions can be made free of undue influence.
Later in your ruling, sir, you concluded the following:
...the fact remains that the heart of this question of privilege is still before the courts, which have yet to make a finding. I believe that it would be prudent for the House to use caution in taking steps that could result in an investigatory process that would, in many ways, run parallel to the court proceedings, particularly given that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is already a party to the court proceedings and would be a central figure in any consideration the House might give this matter.
Like the hon. Attorney General in the case from three months ago, I am clearly a party to these court proceedings, and I have a very clear interest in their outcome, an interest that is of proportionally greater personal significance to me than the Attorney General's in that case.
In this instance, though, any finding of a prima facie case of privilege would not only amount to a parallel proceeding but would also interfere with the outcome of my court application. A decision by this House would clearly prejudice my interest in court, which prompts me to reference the sub judice convention.
The torqued rhetoric from some members in this chamber and outside crosses the line on two fronts. I think it violates my privileges as a duly elected member of Parliament for Selkirk—Interlake, and it jeopardizes my right, guaranteed under the Constitution, to a fair court process.
The opposition parties always say they respect the law and stand up for the Constitution, and they cry foul whenever they think their parliamentary privileges have been violated. However, they never think, not for a minute, about throwing all of that out the window for partisan purposes when they try to deny me my basic rights and compromise my due process in court.
Let me be very clear. I have not broken any law. I believe that I am in compliance with the Canada Elections Act.
My election as a member of Parliament was confirmed by the returning officer and the Chief Electoral Officer. The return of the writ is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the accounting method that should be applied to used highway signs, and that matter is before the court. This dispute does not change the fact that I have been returned as the member of Parliament for Selkirk—Interlake.
In conclusion, I would respectfully submit that the chair can dispose of this issue on the grounds of the role section 459 of the Canada Elections Act plays, an interpretation apparently shared by the Chief Electoral Officer, an officer of Parliament, and his deputy, and also under the sub judice convention.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to reject the baseless and cynical question of privilege claimed by the hon. member for Avalon.
Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order.
The Speaker, in the chair that he or she occupies in this place, is a position that has to be beyond reproach. I have been a member of Parliament for nearly 20 years in this place, and by your ruling, my confidence in the Speaker has been thrown into jeopardy. Let me explain.
My concern is based on the Speaker's response to a point of order raised by the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel immediately following question period about a letter from Elections Canada that referred to the member for Selkirk—Interlake and the member for Saint Boniface. The member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel asked that the Speaker table that letter.
In my view, a letter to the Speaker with that kind of content is a letter to us in the House of Commons. The response from the Chair was that the letter is on the Elections Canada website. We have now looked. That letter is not there. The letter is on CBC's website.
However, this concern goes far beyond whether the letter is available or not. A letter with that kind of content, referring to the ability of members to sit in this House of Commons and suggesting that two members should be suspended, is, I believe, a letter to all of us. That letter should be tabled, in my view, by the Chair.
I am certainly willing to accept that in the heat of the moment, your office thought that it might be available through Elections Canada. Maybe you did not have time to consult with the desk and respond accordingly.
However, Mr. Speaker, in all seriousness, this is a serious matter for our chamber and our confidence in the Speaker and how the Speaker operates.
I respect the position. I respect the individual. I think an error has been made here in terms of the kind of response to that question.
I am asking the Speaker to reconsider—maybe not right in this moment, but I am asking the Speaker to reconsider.
Mr. Speaker, we were told recently that the Chief Electoral Officer sent a letter through you to the House regarding the election filings of the member for Saint Boniface and the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to make that letter available to all members so the House can be informed of its contents.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege to discuss a matter of great importance relating to two Conservative MPs and whether they should currently be sitting in the House of Commons.
We learned recently that the Chief Electoral Officer sent you a notice, Mr. Speaker, in relation to the two Conservative MPs in question, specifically the member for Selkirk—Interlake and the member for Saint Boniface, indicating that he had made requests for corrections to their electoral campaign returns and that the corrections requested had not been made.
Before I start my arguments, I would like to quote the Canada Elections Act, which reads, in subsection 463(2):
An elected candidate who fails to provide a document as required by section 451 or 455 or fails to make a correction as requested under subsection 457(2) or authorized by 458(1) shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until they are provided or made, as the case may be.
It is quite clear that this subsection of the Canada Elections Act would require that these two members be suspended immediately, because the act says that they are to be suspended until the correction requested by the Chief Electoral Officer is made.
I understand that they may disagree with Elections Canada on the substance of their filings and that they have both made applications to the Federal Court on this matter. However, this does not change the fact that they should not sit or vote in the House until the matter is rectified, either by Elections Canada or by the Federal Court.
The precedence on this matter is clear. On March 1, 1966, in dealing with a similar question of privilege, Speaker Lamoureux ruled:
(a) That, even if there is a penalty provision in section 63 of the Canada Elections Act and whatever may be the terms of the order made by the judge pursuant to the said section in allowing an authorized excuse, the house is still the sole judge of its own proceedings, and for the purposes of determining on a right to be exercised within the house itself which, in this particular case, is the right of one hon. member to sit and to vote, the house alone can interpret the relevant statute.
(b) That the procedure followed in 1875 with regard to the precedent above referred to, which bears a resemblance to the case before us, seems to me to indicate that the question was dealt with at the time as being of the nature of a prima facie case of a breach of privilege.
(c) That it is not within the competence of the Speaker to decide as to the question of substance or as to the disallowance of a vote, and that such decisions are to be made by the house itself.
This ruling makes it perfectly clear that the House, not the courts, and with due respect, not the Speaker, determines whether the member for Saint Boniface and the member for Selkirk—Interlake have the right to sit in the House.
As for how this matter should be addressed, we are of the view that the question on this matter should be put to the House. According to Maingot, 2nd edition, on page 188, in reference to and from the same ruling, it says:
[T]he Speaker said that the right of the Member for Montmagny—L'Islet to vote subsequent to the date when he should have paid his election expenses was a proper subject of privilege, but that the House must decide that issue, and whether his votes should be disallowed. The Member who raised the matter did not move the usual motion to refer it to the committee and no further proceedings were taken.
Again, on page 247 of Maingot, 2nd edition, it says:
A...procedure akin to "privilege" (because it would be given precedence and discussed without delay) would be the case of whether a Member was disqualified to sit and ineligible to vote. These matters may only be resolved ultimately by the House, and they are "privilege" matters because the House has the power to rule that a Member is ineligible to sit and vote, and to expel the Member.
It goes on to say:
The determination of whether a Member is ineligible to sit and vote is a matter to be initiated without notice and would be given precedence by its very nature.
The facts are clear. The members have not made the proper filings or corrections, as requested by Elections Canada.
The act plainly states:
An elected candidate who fails to provide a document as required by section 451 or 455 or fails to make a correction as requested under subsection 457(2) or authorized by 458(1) shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until they are provided or made....
The review by the Federal Court does not provide relief from this section of the Canada Elections Act. Precedent clearly states that it is for the House to determine the member's eligibility to sit and vote in the House, not the Federal Court and not the Speaker. As such, I would ask that members of the House be provided the letter sent to the Speaker by Elections Canada on this matter.
This goes to the heart of our democracy. The fact that we are all elected to this place on the same footing, by the same rules and on an even playing field for all provides for a fair election to the House of Commons.
If Elections Canada, our independent elections agency, determines that rules have not been followed or have been broken, there are consequences. Those consequences are that those members do not deserve the right to sit or vote in this House as members.
Finally, if you do find that there is a breach of privilege, I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.
Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among parties, and I believe if you seek it you will find unanimous consent for the following motion, jointly seconded by the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake and the hon. member for Mount Royal.
That, this House condemn the mass murder of political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988 as a crime against humanity, honours the memory of the victims buried in the mass graves at Khavaran cemetery and other locations in Iran, and establishes September 1 as a day of solidarity with political prisoners in Iran.
(Motion agreed to)
Mr. Speaker, the Elections Act is explicit, and I quote: “An elected candidate who fails to provide a document as required by [subsection 463(2)]...shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until they are provided”.
Today, two Conservatives have not provided these documents and are therefore not allowed to sit in the House. Tonight we will be voting on the estimates. Is the Prime Minister seriously going to allow the member for Selkirk—Interlake and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance to vote illegally on over $65 billion?
Resuming debate. Accordingly, I invite the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake for his right of reply. The hon. member has five minutes.
I thank the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake for his intervention.
It is true that members should be sure to keep their comments relevant to the question before the House. In hearing the hon. member, he is making some connections in respect of his arguments. Having said that, I will leave it with the hon. member to make sure that he brings his arguments around specifically to the question that is before the House in the course of his arguments.
The hon. member for Manicouagan.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in support of the private member's bill proposed by the member for Selkirk—Interlake this evening.
Bill C-478, the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act, addresses a critical flaw in the current parole process, the revictimization of victims and their families, most particularly when it comes to the most heinous of crimes of murder, abduction, and sexual assault. These are the most heinous of crimes.
Four weeks ago when I stood to speak to my own private member's bill which deals with fairness for victims of violent offenders, I spoke about my experiences when I attended the Parole Board of Canada hearings with two constituents and their extended families in 2010 and 2011. To say it was an experience of raw emotion would be a vast understatement. I do not think words can accurately describe the range of emotions that existed in that room. There was the anger and frustration, the injustice and fatigue of having to go through the process once again. More than anything else, there was the overwhelming grief, sorrow, and pain of loss.
While I can only draw on what I saw on those two separate occasions, what I saw told me very clearly that a loss or losses which occurred three decades previous seems like only yesterday to a victim or a victim's family.
I met the week before last with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Ms. Sue O'Sullivan. She agrees it is a revictimization inflicted by the parole process and is most disheartening according to the countless victims her office has interacted with to date.
In July, my constituents will be attending the next Parole Board of Canada hearing of the murderer of their sister, niece and nephew, and I will once again accompany them to observe the process. However, I have no doubt that the day will trigger all the emotions again, and my constituent will weep openly from the moment she begins to read her victim impact statement. I suspect she and her parents are already experiencing periods of great sadness and anxiety in anticipation of that day.
I talk about what I saw in those Parole Board hearings once again in this debate on Bill C-478 because I think it illustrates the issue of revictimization. Just as my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla had a very painful personal experience with a victim's family with respect to a murderous crime, so have I. Our stories are representative of thousands of victims and families, and this grows substantially every year.
The triple murder was the subject of the Parole Board hearings I attended with my constituents, fortunately not matters that included abduction and sexual assault. I can only imagine how much more emotionally taxing that would be on the families. I can only imagine it would be exponential no doubt.
In the specific types of cases that Bill C-478 addresses, those of abduction, sexual assault, and murder, the parole process is particularly cruel because it is unnecessary. The criminals who commit those types of crimes are never granted parole. They are so sadistic that the intent of the law is to lock them up for life to keep them off the streets.
Whether it is Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, or Clifford Olson, we as a society know that parole will never and must never happen. However, under the current law, the Parole Board of Canada must hold a parole hearing for these depraved murderers every two years after the 25-year parole ineligibility period has expired.
Clifford Olson, though now dead, was never going to get out of jail, nor should he. Yet the families whose lives he changed forever had to face him every two years. They would be doing that today still, if not for his death. That is beyond cruel because it is completely unnecessary.
If we pass Bill C-478, the judge and the jury will have the discretion to extend the parole ineligibility period from 25 years to 40 years. That does not mean they will automatically choose the period of 40 years, but it will give the judge, as a professional determining the sentence for the crime, the tools to do so if she or he feels that should be the case in the best interests of society; if she or he feels it is warranted, given the inherent evil that would drive an offender to commit such a crime; if she or he feels this will spare the families of the victim, or in all too many types of cases, the victims from being victimized again and again.
As has been noted already in this debate, 40 years is what the maximum parole ineligibility period would be if each of the three crimes of abduction, sexual assault, and murder were treated consecutively; that is, 25 years for murder, 10 years maximum for abduction, and 4.6 years maximum for sexual assault.
The problem is clear and the solution proposed by the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake in Bill C-478 is straightforward. It prevents further pain and suffering and it is just. I applaud him for bringing this bill forward.
As I have said many times before, I believe one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to keep its citizens safe. Those who abduct innocent victims for sex and then murder them have committed an unspeakable crime. We cannot give the families back their son or daughter, husband or wife, cousin, niece or nephew, but we can prevent them from being revictimized by the process.
Before closing, please allow me to reiterate some of the comments from victims that I referred to a few weeks ago, because it is the voice of those victimized that has been missing from this debate in the past, and it is what we must listen to in consideration of Bill C-478.
This was stated in the Toronto Star on April 9, 2007:
“Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn't have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one's killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice.”
In reference to the Clifford Olson case, which I spoke about already this afternoon, a journalist in the Vancouver Province said:
Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure in revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.
In that same newspaper, the mother of one of Olson's victims put it quite simply:
“To have to relive this [parole hearing] every two years, it's so inhumane. It really is.”
Let us not forget those words as we continue to consider Bill C-478 and its efforts to prevent those unnecessary hearings in cases that really are the worst of the worst.
I have appreciated the opportunity to speak to Bill C-478. I thank my colleague for putting the bill forward. I hope that all members of this House, after thinking it through and understanding clearly what this means, will vote for Bill C-478.
Mr. Speaker, my constituents in Selkirk—Interlake are extremely concerned about whether or not Canada's justice system has all the tools it needs to keep them safe from high-risk individuals. Most recently, Vince Li, a man who brutally murdered and cannibalized Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus, was granted escorted day trips by the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board. This, in my view and the view of my constituents, is an outrage.
Could the Minister of Justice please tell the House about what action the government is taking to address these types of cases?
Mr. Speaker, first, the member for Selkirk—Interlake mischaracterized my position a little when he alleged that I said the bill was unwarranted. I did not say anything of that nature. However, I am looking forward to seeing the evidence that is out there to say we need the bill, and I am looking forward to hearing that at committee.
The bill would make explicit the fact that the review board needs to take into consideration public safety, which is the paramount consideration. I want to know if the boards are not already making public safety the paramount consideration. I have read the Criminal Code, and I think it says so explicitly. However, even if it did not, one would assume that would be the paramount consideration. Therefore, how would Bill C-54 actually do anything different?
We are out of time. The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, a short response.
Mr. Speaker, Canadians are concerned about crime, particularly violent and brutal murders that involve sexual assault and kidnapping. The justice system should do all it can to specifically denounce society's worst crimes.
Yesterday, the member for Selkirk—Interlake received the government's support for his legislation, which would ensure that victims are not re-victimized by the justice system with repeat parole hearings. Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice please inform the House how Bill C-478, the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act, would further complement our government's support for victims?
The electoral district of Selkirk--Interlake (Manitoba) has a population of 90,807 with 66,937 registered voters and 218 polling divisions.
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