Mr. Speaker, some of the steps the member outlined, particularly his phrase, “we must all come together”, speaks to the need to get on with this.
I am concerned that the member for Kitchener Centre and the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin have already decided that the “notwithstanding” clause should be implemented, and that the member for Vegreville—Wainwright already thinks there is not enough time and that the Conservatives need an extension.
Could the member explain to me why it is important for not only for his caucus to have a proper conversation? Why can we not do what Preston Manning has said and let the the people speak in Parliament in a transparent way so we can get this right? What would be the way to all come together and listen to Canadians, rather than a conversation in some backroom with where Conservative members of Parliament are told what to do?
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin.
I am honoured to have an opportunity to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights act.
There were a lot of consultations, including in my own riding of Edmonton Centre. As we all know, the bill does propose significant changes to Canadian criminal law.
It is thanks to some great work of the tireless staff in the Department of Justice, people like Pam Arnott, working closely with the Minister of Justice, who have brought the bill to the House. Most important, the bill would create the Canadian victims bill of rights to enshrine enforceable rights of victims of crime in federal law for the first time.
These rights fall into four main areas.
The right to information would give victims the right to general information about the criminal justice system, available victim services and programs, as well as specific information about the progress of the case, including information related to the investigation, prosecution and sentencing of the person who harmed them.
The right to protection would give victims the right to have their security and privacy considered at all stages of the criminal justice process, have reasonable and necessary measures to protect them from intimidation and retaliation, and to request their identity to be protected from public disclosure.
The right to participation would give victims the right to convey their views about decisions to be made by criminal justice professionals and have them considered at various stages in the criminal justice process, and to present a victim impact statement.
The right to restitution would give victims the right to have the court consider making a restitution order for all offences for which there are easy to calculate financial losses.
In addition, the bill would amend other legislation, such as the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide greater specificity to those rights.
Bill C-32 is the most recent example of our government's commitment to improving the experiences of victims of crime. Because of the transformative nature of these reforms and the significant impact they will have on the experiences of victims in the criminal justice system, the Canadian victims bill of rights is a milestone in the quest for justice for victims of crime.
This government has long been aware of the need to do more for victims of crime. Indeed, it has been one of our top priorities. Since 2006, we have designated more than $140 million to give victims a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.
We have seen the results of this investment in concrete terms, such as through the creation of more than 20 child advocacy centres across Canada that help children and their families navigate the justice system.
We have also undertaken a robust legislative agenda that has included many reforms benefiting victims of crime. These have included Bill C-37, Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act, which reformed the victims surcharge provisions in the Criminal Code; Bill C-14, Not criminally Responsible Reform Act, which addressed the needs of victims accused persons found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder; and, most recent, Bill C-13, Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, to address cyberbullying.
While we are proud of everything we have done for victims of crime, the victims bill of rights is truly a significant achievement. Ensuring the rights of victims at the federal level recognizes the difficulty that victims can experience as they participate in the criminal justice and corrections systems. It would provide concrete means to ensure that the needs of victims would be respected.
The rights enshrined in the Canadian victims bill of rights and the amendments to the other acts that are included in Bill C-32 would apply to all victims of crime.
However, some of the proposed provisions would have special significance for vulnerable victims, such as victims of sexual offences, and that is where I would like to focus my attention today.
Bill C-32 proposes amendments to the Criminal Code scheme that governs the production of third party records. To be clear, this scheme applies to documents of all kinds for which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and which are being sought as evidence in criminal trials involving sexual offences. The proposed amendments are consistent with the rights of victims to privacy and security, which would be enshrined in the Canadian victims bill of rights.
Four amendments are proposed to the third party records regime.
First, the amendments would ensure that all historical sexual offences would be included within the procedures governing the release of third party records by replacing the current list of historical sexual offences with a general description to ensure that all victims of sexual offences would be protected by this scheme.
Second, the period of time for which an accused must serve their application for the production of third party records would be doubled from 7 to 14 days.
Third, the court would be required to inform the complainant or witness of their right to be represented by independent legal counsel during the in camera process.
Finally, a court would be required to consider the right to personal security of a complainant or witness when determining whether to produce a record for inspection by the court or whether to produce the record to the accused. This would codify the Supreme Court of Canada's jurisprudence in this area.
Bill C-32 also includes a number of amendments that specifically address the needs of victims of sexual offences when they testify as witnesses in criminal proceedings. The benefits of testimonial aids, such as support persons, use of a screen that spares the witness from seeing the accused, or testimony outside the courtroom by closed-circuit television, are well documented.
Bill C-32 would make testimonial aids more readily available for adult vulnerable witnesses, including victims of sexual offences, by providing the courts with greater discretion to determine whether to order their use. Currently such testimonial aids may be ordered for adults when a court determines that they are necessary for the witness to provide a full and candid account. Amendments proposed in Bill C-32 would allow a court to make such orders for adult witnesses, including victims of sexual offences, when they believe it would facilitate the giving of a full and candid account. The language is important here.
Additionally, a court would be required to consider the security and protection of the witness, and society's interest in encouraging the reporting of offences and witness protection in the criminal justice system, when deciding whether to order a testimonial aid.
The Criminal Code provision governing the appointment of counsel to conduct the cross-examination of a witness when the accused is self-represented would also be amended to benefit victims of sexual offences. The amendment would presumptively prohibit a self-represented accused from personally cross-examining a victim of sexual assault, unless the judge is of the opinion that the proper administration of justice requires it. This presumptive approach is currently the case with victims of sexual harassment, and recognizes that victims of certain crimes are more vulnerable while they participate in the criminal justice process.
A victim's right to privacy and protection under the Canadian victims bill of rights would also be supported by amendments to section 486.5 of the Criminal Code, which governs publication bans for adults. Currently a judge may order a publication ban for an adult victim or witness, if the order is deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice. Bill C-32 would allow a court to order a publication ban for adult victims and witnesses when it is in the interest of the proper administration of justice. Once again, the language is important.
When determining whether to order a publication ban, the court will consider factors, including whether the witness can suffer harm, rather than significant harm, as is currently required, if their identity were disclosed. These amendments would be particularly beneficial to victims of sexual offences, who are often more vulnerable due to the nature of the offence.
This bill has been thoroughly examined by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The standing committee held nine days of meetings and heard evidence on many critical aspects of the bill. It has also been the subject of comprehensive debate in the House of Commons. In fact, this bill has enjoyed the support of all parties, at all critical stages of parliamentary consideration. There has never been any question in anyone's mind on both sides of the House about the need to recognize victims of crime and the positive and long-reaching impacts that this bill will have on their experiences in the criminal justice system.
The time has come for this House to conclude our study and debate of this bill. I hope that all parties will work with us as we ensure that this landmark piece of legislation is passed as swiftly as possible. For too long, victims have voiced the concern that their perspectives have not been heard. This government has made a commitment to improve this situation, and has in fact made significant progress in improving rights and services to victims through many legislative and program initiatives.
Victims have waited a long time for this bill. Let us not make them wait any longer.
I would like to invite the hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin for his five minute right of reply.
The hon. member.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-560, an act to amend the Divorce Act in relation to equal parenting and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
My heart goes out to all those struggling through the breakup of a marriage, divorce, court cases for custody, and wanting more time with their children.
While I appreciate the terrible anguish of parents who want to spend more time with their children and the mover of the bill's intent—namely, to have two caring, engaged, and loving parents in children's lives—I believe the bill is fundamentally flawed in putting parental rights before the rights of children, the most precious and vulnerable among us.
The former Conservative minister of justice and Attorney General of Canada, in speaking to the Canadian Bar Association's annual conference in 2009 about equal parenting and the predecessor to this legislation, namely Bill C-422, stated that the best interests of the child are always paramount, and should be.
Bill C-560 was introduced by the member of Parliament for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin on December 12, 2013. This is not the first time the hon. member has introduced a bill regarding this matter.
The most significant changes that the bill would bring to the Divorce Act include the following: removing the current definition of custody from the Divorce Act and replacing it with parenting, defined as “the act of assuming the role of a parent to a child, including custody and all of the rights and responsibilities commonly and historically associated with the role of a parent”; creating a presumption that “allocating parenting time equally between the spouses is in the best interests of a child” and that “equal parental responsibility is in the best interests of a child”; adding factors that courts must consider in making custody orders; and altering the law on parental mobility.
The bill would represent a disservice both to children and to families by taking the focus away from children in favour of parental rights, detracting from the individual justice required by the Divorce Act, and promoting further and more fractious litigation.
The Divorce Act currently establishes that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in child custody cases. In other words, the rights of the parent are subordinate to the interests of the child. Bill C-560 seeks to weaken this in favour of the rights of the parents.
The best-interests-of-the-child test has been a fundamental part of most legislation relating to children for many years. It is used in federal legislation under the following acts: the Citizenship Act, the Divorce Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is also used in some provincial legislation dealing with matters such as adoption legislation; child protection legislation; and custody, access, and child support for unmarried couples.
Equal parenting as defined in the bill appears to have received support from some observers, particularly certain parents' groups, but so far it has not received much support from the legal community.
The Canadian Bar Association, or CBA, represents some 37,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students from across Canada. The CBA's mandate includes improvement in the law and the administration of justice. The CBA family law section includes family lawyers from every part of the country. They are collaborative arbitrators, litigators, mediators, parenting coordinators, and practitioners. Their clients include children, fathers, mothers, grandparents, step-parents, surrogates, and so on.
The CBA family section believes that any discussion of “parental rights” is misguided when resolving arrangements for children and that the sole focus must be what is best for children. The CBA therefore opposes Bill C-560, as it would shift the way custody is determined under the Divorce Act to parents' rights and away from what is in the best interests of children.
Lawyers assist all family members during what are often impossibly difficult times in restructuring their responsibilities and arrangements following separation and divorce. As a result, the CBA family section sees the issue from all sides. The CBA firmly believes that the only perspective to foster outcomes that are best for children is to require that the courts and parents focus solely on the children's interests in making decisions.
While the bill refers to equal parenting, it would not actually advance equality. Rather, it would change the primary focus in custody and access matters from what is best for children to equal parental rights.
“Parenting is not about adults claiming rights”, says Patricia Hebert of Edmonton, vice-chair of CBA's national family law section. “It is about the desire and ability to put children's interests first”.
The bill is based on the faulty assumption that equal parenting time will work for all families, regardless of abilities, circumstances, needs, history, challenges or attitudes of all those involved. In reality, the proposed change is clearly about promoting parents' views of equality at the expense of the interests of children, who are affected by their parents' separation.
The CBA agrees that shared parenting is a good outcome for many families. Where equal time and responsibility can be shown to be in the best interests of children, judges can and do make that order under the current law, but the CBA understands that one size does not fit all.
The CBA objects to the proposed legislation, which says equal parenting time and responsibility must be ordered in every case. This would require judges to justify any other outcome by ruling that the best interests of the child would be “substantially enhanced” by a non-equal regime. This clearly makes children's interests a very low priority, which is contradictory to the stated goals of Canadian family laws as well as Canada's obligations under the Hague convention on the rights of the child.
Finally, I would like to bring forth questions asked by my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Charlottetown, of the current Minister of Justice regarding Bill C-560 at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. My colleague asked:
A private member's bill is coming before the House, C-560, dealing with the Divorce Act. Back in 2009, your predecessor...indicated that the best interests of the child are always paramount. Given that this question is about to come before the House, what are your views on that, sir?
The Minister of Justice answered:
I can tell you, having practised some family law—as you have in Prince Edward Island—that the long-held legal maxim and the jurisprudence definitely supports that the best interests of the child will remain the primary concern. I see no change in that regard.
In closing, children must always be our primary concern. This legislation seeks to weaken that. This is not acceptable to the Liberal Party of Canada. This is not acceptable to the Canadian Bar Association. This is not acceptable to the present Minister of Justice or to the former Minister of Justice. This is why we will oppose the bill.
I would remind hon. members to try to keep their summaries very brief so we can get through petitions.
The hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege pursuant to section 48(1) of the Standing Orders.
I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, as do many of my colleagues, receive numerous email correspondences through our personal email as an invitation, a spam, if you will, across all accounts for a showing of an anti-choice film being hosted by the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin later this evening. This is important to all considerations of members of Parliament because the reason we have these personal email accounts that go to our BlackBerrys is to avoid such spamming and allow our staff to filter out the noise from the things we actually need to address. I believe there are many findings in O'Brien and Bosc and previous speakers. I will quote from O'Brien and Bosc, page 108, which states:
—Members have regularly brought to the attention of the House instances which they believed were attempts to obstruct, impede, interfere, intimidate or molest them, their staffs or individuals who had some business with them or the House.
We can have a worrisome trend in this place where MPs start spamming all other members of Parliament with unwanted, unsolicited emails. Particularly when it is such a sensitive subject as a woman's right to choose, I find the use of our personal accounts by the member as raising a question of privilege. These accounts exist for a reason, and the abuse of these accounts by the member is something that should be of concern to all sides in this place.
I believe this constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege and I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion if you rule in my favour, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to express the concern and outrage I am hearing from Canadian women across the country. They have raised their voices to say that when the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin awarded medals of honour to anti-choice activists he crossed the line.
In the Conservative Party of Canada, the anti-choice movement has found a powerful ally. Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner, both convicted criminals, represent a major threat to our hard-won reproductive rights. Every time they violate the provincial injunctions to keep women safe, they give strength to those people who think women deserve to be harassed, assaulted and even physically harmed when they seek health care in Canada. For the member opposite to be honouring this kind of behaviour is nothing short of outrageous.
This is not the first instance of a Conservative war on women's rights, but the latest in a pattern of anti-choice actions. From Motion No. 312 to Motion No. 408, we are witnessing just how far the Prime Minister will allow his caucus to push back the clock on a woman's right to choose.
Thankfully, the New Democrats will not stand for it and neither will the women of Canada.
Order. I will just remind the House of two guiding principles when it comes to presenting petitions. One is that we do not read the petitions and the other is that we provide a succinct summary. There are lots of members rising to table petitions, so we will try to move a bit quicker.
The hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin.
Mr. Speaker, deny, blame, change the channel; every day the Conservatives come up with a new story to divert attention away from Conservative election fraud. The problem is their story is starting to stumble on itself.
Early last week, it was the kid from Guelph. Then the Prime Minister told us it was Liberal call centres in the United States and the Conservatives had never hired any call centres, which was false. Now we find that the Conservative Party thinks it is Elections Canada that was behind robo fraud.
What is it this week? Do they now agree with the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, that Elections Canada is trying to make the government look bad? Who is it?
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for an excellent presentation regarding the motion today.
The fact of the matter is, as I indicated earlier, those 13 Saskatchewan MPs on the government side were the last people to be on board. The NDP leader in Saskatchewan, Dwain Lingenfelter, has been in front of this issue for a long time and drumming up support against it.
In response to the comments from the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin this morning, the fact of the matter is that the NDP has supported foreign investment in the past.
For example, the NDP did not oppose the Italian Fiat takeover of the Chrysler Corporation. During the carve-up and sell-off of the former technology leader, Nortel, the NDP did not oppose the sale to foreign companies of any Nortel division except LTE Assets, which had a national security component that the Conservatives chose to ignore when they let a foreign company buy that division, even though it was raised by many others, including the business community.
As well, when Cirque du Soleil, a renowned Canadian artistic and cultural champion, was having a majority stake purchased by the Disney Corporation, a foreign company, the NDP did not object to that. Also, there was the China Investment Corporation's majority purchase of a Penn West division, an oil and gas takeover, that was not opposed by the NDP.
For the Conservatives to say that somehow the NDP is chilly towards foreign investment is just not borne out by the facts.
The electoral district of Saskatoon--Wanuskewin (Saskatchewan) has a population of 72,867 with 55,327 registered voters and 172 polling divisions.
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