Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to have an opportunity to speak on Bill C-12, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. That is the official name of it. Of course, the Conservatives, in their usual way, have called it something else that does not relate to it at all. This act may be cited as the drug-free prisons act.
As I will explain shortly, there is nothing in the act that contributes to or is about drug-free prisons at all. However, that is the Conservatives' way of using legislation as some sort of public relations gesture. Some have suggested that it is fundraising. Someone else has called it, quite rightly, “bumper sticker” legislation. It really has nothing to do with the bill at all.
I was just listening to my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, and I want to say what a great job he is doing as the official opposition critic for public safety. He brings his intelligence and his good sense. I will not say common sense because it is not that common, certainly around here. He brings his good sense, experience and articulateness, as well as his great commitment to social justice to this file. This is something that requires all of those things, because it is easy to have slogans.
The Conservatives like slogans. They like using them for fundraising. They like keeping things very short, and in some cases, they think it is meaningful to their supporters or the people who they would like to be their supporters. However, when we look just slightly below the surface, and we do not have to look very far, we find out that these slogans and sloganeering are really just a sham.
This is true of Bill C-12 as well, when we start with the act being the drug-free prisons act and then find out what it is really about. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act is about how we run our prisons, and in this particular case, how people are granted parole.
There are only two or three provisions in this act. In fact, there are five clauses, one of which is the one with the short title, which is clearly irrelevant to the rest of the act. Clause 2 would basically allow an offender to be granted parole. I am talking about someone who has been granted parole but has not yet been released. The clause would give the parole board the right to consider the results of a urine sample or the fact that someone has refused to grant a urine sample. It says that this could be taken into consideration. It would be reported to the parole board and it could be taken into consideration. If the drug urinalysis is positive, it would be reported to the board. That is number one. If a urine drug sample is positive, it would be reported to the board.
The second would allow the parole board, if it was going to grant parole, to either cancel it or impose conditions on it. That makes up the next two sections. The big “if” here is provided that the board is of the opinion that the parolee or prospective parolee no longer meets the conditions of the criteria set out for parole.
Those conditions are relatively straightforward. They would apply to all parolees or potential parolees. They are no different in this case. They would ask, based on the results of the urinalysis, if the opinion of the parole board is that the offender would not, by reoffending, present an undue risk to society before the expiration of the sentence that he or she is serving, and that the release of the offender would contribute to the protection of society by facilitating the reintegration of the offender as a law-abiding citizen.
These are the general principles of parole anyway. This is why parole is granted, and it is very important. Parole is granted, first of all, if there will not be an undue risk to society, and second, if the release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating the reintegration of the offender into society.
These are basic principles of parole. We are not changing those. The Conservatives appear to support those and they are not changing the legislation. All they are saying is that if the results of the urinalysis cancel out those matters, then the person will not be granted parole.
I do not know what that has to do with the notion of drug-free prisons. In fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the notion of drug-free prisons. What we are doing here, as previous speakers have noted, is something the parole board already takes into consideration. It already takes into consideration the results of a urinalysis or the refusal. There is some question as to whether it is appropriate for them to do it, and this would clarify it. It is already being done and this would clarify this power.
We support it. We are here to support it, and I think every speaker from this side of the House, certainly in our party, has stated that we support the principle of the bill to clarify the right of corrections officers to do this and for a parole board to take it into consideration.
What we do not support is the notion that somehow or another this would deal with the problem of drugs in prison. What we do not support is the current government's general attitude toward corrections and what it is doing to our prison system and how, in fact, it is making things worse for prisoners, for the society and for victims or potential victims of crime. The Conservatives talk a lot about victims, that they are on the side of victims and the other side is not.
Victims of crime, yesterday, today and tomorrow, are falling victim to people who commit crimes for whatever reasons. If the criminals are caught and imprisoned and if they are subject to rehabilitation while in prison, they are less likely to commit crimes in the future. One of the biggest problems of criminal activity in this country has to do with drug addiction. The percentage of prisoners who are addicted to drugs is remarkably high. I think the number is 69% for women and 45% for men. Am I quoting those correctly? I read the numbers earlier today. Sixty-nine per cent of women in prisons are addicted to drugs, and 45% of men.
What do we do to make our streets safer? We try to ensure that when these people are federal prisoners, and are in jail for two years or more, they have some program available to them so that when they are released they have a chance of no longer being addicted or of being on the road to recovery. If I were running the prisons, my number one priority for the protection of society would be to ensure that as many people as possible who go out of prison after their sentences are drug free and on the road to recovery. If I could do that, I could say to people in society that they would be safer because these people would have access to a rehabilitation program in prison and a better chance of not being a harm to society.
We have been steadfast as a party in our support for measures to make prisons safer, yet we have the Conservatives ignoring all the recommendations. That in fact makes prisons less safe, not only for correctional staff but for prisoners and for those in society who are going to be subjected to these individuals when they get out, if they are not better off.
We have measures that have been proposed by the correctional investigator who is a watchdog on behalf of the public and by corrections staff who have encounters with the prisoners day in and day out. They have made recommendations that would decrease violence, gang activity and drug use in our prisons, yet we do not see the government acting on these recommendations. We do not even see the Conservatives acting on recommendations that they themselves have made.
The public safety committee did a study in 2010 and produced a report. Their report, and I say their report, because the majority were Conservatives on that committee, was titled “Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System”.
These are the two main problems among prisoners: drug addiction and mental health problems. There were 14 recommendations from that committee, from the majority, which sits on the other side, the Government of Canada.
The Conservatives have had three years to come up with legislation or to do things to implement those recommendations. Not one appears in the bill before us, and not one has been implemented by the Conservative government. How serious are they when it comes to being committed to solving the problems of mental health and drug and alcohol addictions in our correctional system? The answer: not at all.
Instead, the Conservatives are focused on some sort of public relations campaign. They are calling something that basically clarifies an existing practice something else and are carrying out a campaign that claims that they are solving problems by reducing the crime rate.
Well, as my colleague for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out, the crime rate has been going down for 40 years. Yet in 2012, the highest number of persons incarcerated in Canada was achieved. It was the highest number ever in Canada. The all-time high was in July 2012, with 15,000 inmates in federal prisons.
What is the government's response to the lowering crime rate and the highest level of incarceration? It has done two things. The Conservatives have brought in a whole bunch of legislation that would actually increase the number of prisoners. In fact, the Correctional Investigator says that by March 2014, there is going to be an increase of persons in our prisons to over 18,000. Between 2012 and 2014, there will be a 20% increase in the number of federal prisoners from the all-time high of 2012, as the crime rate is going down. What are we achieving here?
By the way, we are also taking $295 million out of the Correctional Service budget. We have less money, 20% less, on top of the highest rate of incarceration ever in our history and a crime rate that has been going down for 40 years. We have a situation where prisons are getting overcrowded, and there is no money left for programming.
The Correctional Service of Canada devotes approximately 2% to 2.7% of its total operating budget on core correctional programs. That includes substance abuse programs. That means that funding for addictions treatment in prison is even less as a result of this $295 million decrease in its budget over two years. No wonder they are being criticized by anyone who has knowledge of the circumstances and the situation, such as the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
Let us look at somebody who should be seen as objective, the Correctional Investigator, who has been working on this for many years and is an expert in the area. He has been in our prisons, has talked to people in the programs, and has talked to all the stakeholders. He has issued reports about what goes in our prisons and the problems that have occurred as a result of the policies of the Conservative government. Mr. Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator, has listed several Conservative initiatives that he says have undermined the idea that prisoners can be rehabilitated.
The rehabilitation of prisoners is done for two reasons. Obviously, it is the humanitarian thing to do. People can end up in prison for all kinds of reasons, and rehabilitation gives them an opportunity to come out the other end less likely to offend and hopefully, able to contribute to society and to have an opportunity to overcome some of their difficulties, such as addictions, psychological problems, or whatever issue they may have. Hopefully they may learn something that would help them make a living when they are outside so that they can become contributing members of society.
The other reason is that we do not want people getting out of prisons angry, frustrated, with chips on their shoulders, more determined than ever to see themselves as separated from and outside of society. Instead, we want them to be able to contribute to society. We do not want people going out with a propensity to commit crimes, because we will create more victims.
The people on the other side of the House who claim to be in favour of supporting victims should realize that one of the best ways to support victims is to make sure that people who come out of prison have actually rehabilitated so they will not inflict harm on other members of society.
What we have instead is tougher sentencing rules, an end to automatic early release for serious repeat criminals and tough-on-inmate policies, as he calls them. These include charging for telephone calls, increasing room and board charges, eliminating incentive pay for work in prison industries, reducing access to prison libraries. What is gained by that? Do we want to make people who go to prison into hardened criminals, living in unsafe conditions, double-bunking, overcrowding, subject to gang violence, unable to learn by not having access to a library, unable to use the telephone to talk to their relatives and keep in touch with their loved ones so that they have some connection to outside society?
...making prisons more austere, more crowded, more unsafe and ultimately less effective.... We seem to be abandoning...individualized responses in favour of retribution and reprisal.
That is what the correctional investigator says, and he is saying that because it is less effective as a prison in terms of rehabilitating people.
My colleague from Halifax mentioned the issue of the prison population. Mr. Sapers said that the entire increase in our prison population over the last little while has been made up of aboriginals and members of visible minorities. Aboriginals now make up 23% of federal prisoners, though they are just 4% of Canadians. They are overrepresented in prisons by five and a half times their population. Something is wrong with this picture. Where are the programs that are available for these individuals?
The problem is that only about 12% of prisoners have access to these broad rehabilitation programs. There are wait lists of 35% of prisoners, waiting to get into programs. Their sentence is over before they get a chance to get any access to rehabilitation, and we have this revolving door phenomenon. The other side would call them repeat offenders. Yes, they are repeat offenders, and why? Because they do not get rehabilitated and they do not get access to programs while they are there.
We have a situation that Howard Sapers sums up this way:
You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these. And most troubling, the growth in the custody population appears to be policy, not crime, driven. After all, crime rates are down while incarceration rates grow.
We have a serious problem in our prisons. We are making it tougher on inmates, and some people like that. They have committed crimes. They deserve to be treated harshly. There are a few out there who do. However, if we scratch the surface, we say that these are human beings who deserve to go to jail because they are sentenced for a crime, and the old saying is, “You do the crime, you've get to be prepared to do the time”, so they do the time, but what happens then? Do they go out better off and less likely to commit a crime, or do they come out a hardened criminal and more likely?
If we want to protect society, we have to ensure that criminals are rehabilitated. We have to ensure that people in prisons have access to programs, including drug rehabilitation programs. We do that by paying attention to these issues, by listening to people who know what is going on and having a better prison system, not by having phony bills that are called drug-free prisons when they are really just implementing something that is accomplished already in our Parole Board.
Mr. Speaker, how exciting.
At the outset, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with my friend and colleague, the wonderful member for Laval—Les Îles.
Mr. Speaker, I like the phrase “bumper sticker justice” that my colleague from Gatineau came up with. That is exactly what we have here. I will support the bill because it does clarify an existing practice of the Parole Board, but it is such a narrow bill that it is hard to wrap one's head around it.
I have two concerns with it, and first is the title. We have been talking about the “bumper sticker” title. The bill is not going to make our prisons drug free. I think there has to be some kind of procedural way to prevent having bills named in a way that is clearly not in line with what the bill actually does. I would look to you, Mr. Speaker, for an answer on that.
It is an extremely misleading name for the bill. As my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out earlier, the title is there for political reasons rather than for sound policy.
The second problem I have with the bill is that it has profoundly little impact in the scheme of things. While it does formalize existing practices, it is not actually going to do anything about drugs or addictions in the prison system. It is not exactly a revolutionary idea that we are dealing with here; it is standard practice. Do I think that prisons will be drug free once the bill is passed? No. Do I think we are going to see a reduction in drug use? No. Do I think we are going to see safer prisons or reduced crime? No.
I am not alone in thinking this. First of all, when we look at zero-tolerance drug policy, we have heard my colleagues say this is an aspirational policy rather than an effective policy response to improved prison safety. If we look at the annual report of the Correctional Investigator for 2011-2012, the report said, “Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization”.
The bill does nothing to deal with drugs in prisons in real terms and it also does not deal with the myriad of other problems we have in the prison system, such as overcrowding or the fact that we are not engaging in real, substantive rehabilitation anymore.
The Conservative tough-on-crime agenda is not working. It is not tough on crime; it is pretty stupid on crime. If we are going to seriously tackle crime in our communities and safety in prisons, we need to leave behind this outdated tough-on-crime mantra and mentality. We need to look at smart justice and abandoning that old way of thinking, which is about applying simplistic solutions to really complex issues. It has not brought us very far.
We have heard in the House that since 2008 the Conservative government has spent $122 million on tools to try to stop drugs from entering the Canadian prison system. Members have heard it before, but it is worth pointing out again: this is vastly more money than exists for addiction and treatment services, and I would look to my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I think it is at around half. It is incredible that we are spending that much more money than we are spending on addiction and treatment services.
That $122 million is a lot of money, and it also sounds impressive, so we have to ask ourselves whether it is working. Is it actually doing anything? I do not think so. I think this continues the failed approach to justice.
We are seeing our prison population grow by about 5% a year. By March 2014, the Correctional Investigator estimates that with new legislation there will be over 18,600 inmates in our prisons. This is the highest number in Canadian history. It is unbelievable that we keep adding to the number of people we are putting in prison, when at the same time, looking at Statistics Canada numbers, in 2012 we reported the lowest crime rate in our country since 1972.
The former minister of public safety said that unreported crime was increasing. How do we know that? It is unreported. That is ridiculous. The crime rate and the severity of crime have been falling since 1991, but the number of people incarcerated—I am not talking about people charged or going through diversion programs, but incarcerated—and the length of incarceration are increasing with mandatory minimum sentencing and other government initiatives.
More people in our prisons obviously leads to increased double-bunking, which frankly leads to increased violence and increased gang activity. I know I would be angry if I were double-bunked. In addition, the majority of these people who are incarcerated suffer from mental illness and addiction. To add to that, we have lists of at least several thousand people who are waiting in line for addiction treatment rather than receiving it. We have had cuts to funding for support and treatment programs. It is backward logic.
We need to start looking at a smart justice approach on how we deal with these issues. Putting more people in prison while overcrowding them and cutting funding for harm reduction programs does not make any sense. These measures are damaging for rehabilitating people who have been incarcerated.
An article in The Kingston Whig-Standard in 2012, entitled “Sentenced to suffering”, said, “Addiction to drugs or alcohol, a history of physical or sexual abuse and previous attempts to harm themselves often follow inmates through the doors of a penitentiary”.
Why would we not act on those issues? Why would we not have a bill that does something to deal with these issues versus bumper sticker justice, saying that we are keeping drugs out of prisons when in fact we are not? The reality of the situation is that we can lock people up, but we cannot close the doors on these social issues that will inevitably affect individuals during the time they are incarcerated and afterward if they do not get the treatment and support they need.
The focus is on punishment and not on rehabilitation, which is overall more costly. When we do not focus on rehabilitation, it is also more dangerous for our communities. The key has to be rehabilitation. However, punishment is a much more splashy title than rehabilitation. It helps the Conservatives with their fundraising, and that is really what this is all about, is it not? Why else would they take a practice that is already happening, turn it into a bill that has nothing else in it, and wrap it up in a fuzzy title called “drug-free prisons act” when it will not actually lead to drug-free prisons?
Not one person on the other side could stand up in the House with a straight face and say that the bill would lead to drug-free prisons. That could be why we have seen such total and utter silence from the other side of the House. They are not standing up to defend the bill, to speak to it, to talk about whether it is good or bad. They are silent because they cannot stand up and say that this will lead to drug-free prisons, or even stand up and say that this will lead to slightly less drugs in prisons. It is enshrining a practice that already exists.
It is about scaring Canadians because I think fear is a powerful tool for keeping citizens in line. They are trying to scare us into Conservative submission. They are trying to scare us into donating to their fundraising campaigns.
We saw the same thing with Bill C-2, a bill limiting supervised injection sites. It flies in the face of a recent Supreme Court of Canada case. On that same day we saw a website launch saying “keep heroin out of our backyards”, showing an empty street and a needle and scary black and white photography.
It is not a call to action. It is not a call for the community to come together and solve the problem of intravenous drug use. It is to raise money. That is what this Bill C-12 is all about. That is why we have bumper sticker justice these days. It is a fundraising campaign.
Mr. Speaker, earlier on I heard a comment from my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, a gentleman I admire and respect. He is the co-chair of public safety committee, which I chair.
What he said about the whole thing, in essence, was, that he thought the NDP members would support the bill, that they did not really have a lot of objection to it, but they did not like the name of the bill. My goodness, if that is not a serious situation to deal with.
I recognize the hon. member as one of the strongest constituency members in Canada. He has the pulse of his community. What do his people really think of the bill?
Mr. Speaker, I agree with pretty well everything the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has said. I spent some time at the injection site in Downtown Eastside Hastings a number of years ago. They are there for health and for making progress in getting peoples' lives relatively back in order. These are people who are on drugs for whatever reason. We certainly do not want to see people on drugs. Injection sites do not encourage the use of drugs. They are recognizing the reality of the world and trying to find a reasonable solution to drug addiction. The member makes a number of good points.
Especially when the British Columbia government is on side, what is the reason, from his perspective, for the government going this way? Is it just that it believes in punishment or in ideology? These drug injection sites make sense from a health perspective, and I also believe they made sense from a crime perspective by reducing crime and trying to prevent peoples' lives from being destroyed.
Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely important debate. This is not an academic debate. This is a debate that really strikes at the heart of issues that Canadians are living from coast to coast to coast, and the issue is transportation safety. We have seen over the last few months an unprecedented number of accidents and deaths, and I would attest that there is a growing level of public concern right across this country about the actions of the Conservative government that have led to a deterioration in transportation safety.
We welcome the new minister here. Hopefully this will be a big change, a turning of the page, from what has been a series of profoundly irresponsible actions. The reality is that the Conservative government has to take transportation safety seriously; it has not, and in fact has done the opposite: it has cut back on the fundamental safety systems that Canadians have relied on in the past to protect them.
There are some small baby steps in Bill C-3 that we will of course support. There are some housekeeping items that are long overdue. However, the reality is that the legislation would do nothing to change the fundamental framework that has been put in place by the government and that has put so many Canadians at risk.
I will be speaking later to some of the other modes of transportation safety that have been sadly eroded. We are all aware of the tragic and profoundly sad circumstances that we have seen over the past few months in rail transport safety. We are aware of the increasing number of pipeline spills across the country because of the irresponsibility of the Conservative government. However, I would like to address just for a moment the whole question of marine safety.
For 30 years British Columbians have protected the coast of British Columbia by putting in place a tanker moratorium on the north coast. That is why there has been a good safety record. It is not because of the actions of the current government or the actions of any other government; it is because provincially and federally British Columbians said very strongly that we did not want to see tankers thrown willy-nilly around the coast of British Columbia. That is why British Columbia's coast has been protected.
Now the government is pushing to eliminate that respected moratorium and is pushing a number of projects that undoubtedly will lead to increased tanker traffic on British Columbia's coast if they go through.
The question then is this: what is the government's credibility on issues of marine safety? I would submit to the House that if we look at the record of the government and what it has done over the past couple of years, we see that it has done more harm to the coast of British Columbia, more potential harm to British Columbia's pristine coast and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on B.C.'s coast being pristine, than any other government in our history.
Let us look at the record.
Just in the last few months we have seen the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. The member for New Westminster—Coquitlam has been a strong advocate on this issue. He has risen in the House of Commons to speak repeatedly on this issue, but he is not the only one. New Democratic MPs from British Columbia have risen repeatedly to speak on this issue. I myself have spoken on it. The member for Vancouver East has spoken on it. The member for Burnaby—Douglas, the member for Newton—North Delta, the member for Surrey North, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca have all spoken on this issue. We have seen NDP MPs from British Columbia repeatedly raise this issue, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam being the most forthright.
Despite the fact that parliamentarians have raised this issue, despite the fact that the provincial government raised it, despite the fact that municipalities such as the City of Vancouver have raised it repeatedly, the Conservative government said it was going to close off the Coast Guard station and did not care if people were put at risk.
This is profoundly irresponsible. If it were just perhaps that one Coast Guard station, rather than a pattern, then perhaps we could say there was some justification, but there are a lot of expenses by the Conservative government that I profoundly disagree with. They include flying limousines around the world, the tens of billions of dollars that it wants to throw into an untendered fighter jet contract, a billion dollars for a weekend meeting, $16 glasses of orange juice. Speaking as a former financial administrator, I can say that Conservative financial management is an oxymoron. The government has been absolutely appalling when it comes to financial management. It is beyond comprehension.
Even if the Conservatives could justify the closure of the Coast Guard station, let us look at what else they have closed, which has been a repeated slap in the face to British Columbians and all those concerned with the safety of our coasts and the tens of thousands of jobs in fisheries and tourism that come from having a pristine coast. They also closed the Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre, which helped to facilitate and ensure safe transportation on the coast. They said we do not need that; let us throw it out.
Then the Conservatives decided to close the B.C. office for emergency oil spill responders. Conservatives will say there is a 1-800 number for an oil spill off the coast of British Columbia. It goes to some desk in Ottawa, but British Columbians need an immediate response. We need to feel safe about our coast, not with a 1-800 number going back to Ottawa that no one ever answers. That is the Conservatives' attempt to provide some damage control.
What else did they do? They actually closed a whole system of environmental emergency programs as well. This has been a systematic pattern of shutting down the safety mechanisms that were present on the coast of British Columbia. What they have done is simply to put British Columbia's whole coast at risk.
The then minister of natural resources decided that he would do a press conference in Vancouver to address the concerns raised by British Columbians throughout the province. It would show British Columbians just how good the Conservative government is at marine safety. He did his press conference. He even brought a rescue ship across the Salish Sea from Victoria. What happened? The rescue ship ran aground.
It just proves the point that we cannot trust Conservatives with the safety of the B.C. coast. However, we can trust New Democrats, and that is what British Columbians will do in 2015. That is for sure.
The Conservatives have shut down all of this. They had a debacle of a press conference that proved our point that transportation safety was being undermined. To date, although we have a new minister who we hope will address all the concerns being raised by British Columbians, we have not seen the fundamental problem being addressed.
When we look at the small steps in Bill C-3 that address in a housekeeping way some of the small things that obviously the Conservatives wanted to bring forward as a package to say they are saving the coast, we remain skeptical, although we certainly support the baby-step measures that are contained in it.
However, let us be clear about what the bottom line is for us. We believe that the Coast Guard closures need to be addressed, and that process can start by reopening the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It would respond to the concerns raised for British Columbia. We would like the Conservatives to reopen the marine traffic communication centre in Vancouver. That would start to address issues of safety concerns along the coast of British Columbia. We would like them to reopen the B.C. office for emergency oil spills. They can keep their 1-800 line, but let us have people who can respond to oil spills in British Columbia. If they do that, it would start to restore some of the confidence that we have completely lost in the Conservative government.
We proposed all of that. Just a few months ago the official opposition, the NDP, sent a letter to the transport minister and said that we support the tiny steps contained in their legislation. We disagreed with the title of the “safe coasts”. They must be kidding. After all the Conservatives have done, they simply are not guaranteeing safe coasts in any way, shape, or form. We said they should start including these elements in the legislation, and then we would actually have legislation that would help to address public confidence.
That is what we have put forward. The Conservatives have steadfastly refused thus far, but we are going to take this issue into committee and will be offering these kinds of positive amendments on behalf of British Columbians.
We certainly hope that B.C. Conservative MPs will step up to the plate and help support British Columbians, that they will step forward and say, “For goodness sake, there is a fundamental problem here. British Columbians have completely lost confidence in the government on marine safety, so we will address that by voting for the NDP amendment”. That is what we are hoping to see. We can support this on second reading to bring it forward, but let us see some action from the government. Let us see some positive action that actually addresses the concerns that British Columbians are raising.
With Bill C-3, there is no doubt that we see the Conservatives spinning around the northern gateway pipeline. The northern gateway pipeline has been shown, in poll after poll, that 80% of British Columbians reject it. They reject it because they are concerned about destroying the moratorium for tankers on the north coast. They are concerned about the lack of tanker safety. They are concerned about what the impact will be with the potential loss of thousands of jobs in the tourism and fisheries sectors. There are thousands of British Columbians who depend on a pristine coast. They are concerned about all that, and they have raised it repeatedly.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see a movie in Coquitlam, which is next to Burnaby—New Westminster. I am looking at the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam because I want to acknowledge that we are spending some money in his riding. Before the film came on, there was a paid advertisement from Enbridge for the northern gateway pipeline. This was a non-partisan movie crowd. We were all there to see the movie. We were not there as New Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals or people from any other political background. We were British Columbians who were out to see a movie, and Enbridge put on the ad. What was the reaction of the crowd? There were round boos. People were throwing popcorn at the screen. That shows the extent to which British Columbians reject the northern gateway pipeline. There will be 104 full-time, on-site positions created, but thousands of jobs are threatened by the northern gateway pipeline. That is why communities along the right of way, and British Columbians generally, have said no.
For the Conservative government to put forward Bill C-3 today, hoping that somehow that will change British Columbians minds about a project that does not provide any economic or environmental advantage, is simply wrong-headed. In fact, it will do the opposite. It threatens our environment and our economy. For the government to think that Bill C-3 will address those concerns is simply wrong.
British Columbians feel profoundly strong about our coast. Many of us gain our living from the coast. We will not accept a Conservative government that tries to ram through a project when it has so many negative environmental and economic repercussions.
For the Conservatives to think they can ram this project through is simply wrong-headed. I have said this publicly outside the House, and I will say it in the House as well. If the Conservative government tries to ram through the northern gateway pipeline over the objections of first nations, the communities and British Columbians, there will not be a single safe seat for the Conservative Party in British Columbia in the 2015 election. I can guarantee that. British Columbians will say no to the Conservative agenda, and they will say yes to having strong New Democrats representing British Columbia in the House of Commons.
With only a few minutes left, I want to touch on the other concerns that have been raised by Canadians across this country in regard to transportation safety. I am the energy and natural resources critic. My work as a former refinery worker is part of what I bring to that job. I have been in situations where, with an oxygen tank, I was cleaning out the oil drums at the Shelburn refinery in Burnaby, British Columbia. The reality is, I have a very healthy respect for the impact of petroleum products. They are very dangerous and they have to be handled carefully. I do not see the same due regard for safety being applied by Conservatives.
We see that in terms of pipeline safety. We have seen a clear deterioration in pipeline safety over the last few years on the Conservatives' watch. We have seen this in the number of pipeline spills, which have increased exponentially, by almost 200% over the last few years. That should bring cause to concern for any government that is concerned about safety measures. We are talking about marine safety, and the government is bringing forward very small baby steps. The concerns about pipeline safety are now front and centre, yet the government is doing nothing to address them.
This is a substance that we have to be very careful with. It kills. It destroys. There has to be a very strong and reinforced investigation and inspection process. We have to make sure, at all times, that we have the best safety equipment possible. That has not been the case with pipelines. It has not been the case with any sort of oil spill response. In fact, an audit that came at the beginning of the summer found that in 83% of the cases, oil spill response equipment is out of date. We see a situation where there is “a number of significant deficiencies in the program's preparedness capability”.
Whether we are talking about marine safety or pipeline safety, very serious concerns have been raised by Canadians. We are all aware of what has transpired over the last few months. There was the profoundly saddening tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. We have just seen the tragedy in Alberta. There have been various communities in the last few months that have been impacted in terms of rail transportation safety. I am not just talking about Gainford and Lac-Mégantic; I am talking about Sexsmith, Brampton, Calgary, Landis, Ottawa, Lloydminster, Gogama, Wanup, Okotoks and Jansen. We are talking about communities that have been impacted just in the last few months by the lack of serious regard for safety in the transportation sector.
These are unprecedented accidents that we have seen, and they are multiplying. We are seeing a government that simply does not have the due regard for safety that is required of any responsible government.
I have asked before, and I will ask the new Minister of Transport, that the Conservatives reverse all of the cuts, the irresponsible actions and the gutting of safety in the transportation sector. Whether we were talking about marine safety, pipeline safety or rail safety, they are all linked.
The official opposition has brought forward very constructive ideas. The NDP has said that there are things we could do now. Our transport critic, the member for Trinity—Spadina, brought forward a whole series of recommendations after the appalling tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. The government has not implemented them. We have brought forward a whole series of recommendations on marine safety. The government has refused to implement them. We have raised concerns about the lack of pipeline safety. The government has refused to act.
We are doing this on behalf of the populations of Canada. We are doing it on behalf of all of the communities that are suffering from the lack of due diligence and responsibility by the Conservative government. We have never seen a government that has been so reckless and irresponsible with our nation's public safety. We have seen an increase in the number of fatalities and incidents in a whole series of sectors.
Canadians want to see a change from the government. They want it to be responsible with the public's safety. If the government chooses to continue its reckless path, not only is it saddening and a tragedy, it also means that in 2015 New Democrats will be stepping forward with a safety agenda that we believe Canadians will support.
We ask the Conservatives to do the right thing. If they do not, we will. That rendezvous is in 2015.
Mr. Speaker, my only addition to this is a series of thanks. I join my friend across the way, the government House leader, in thanking the staff for the incredible work they do to support our work here as members of Parliament. This has been an extremely long last session, with long hours, and to my friends across the way and to our side, sometimes hours filled with somewhat acrimonious debate.
I would like to particularly point out and give thanks to the government side, my friends in the Liberal Party and the independents for their acceptance of this motion. The moves toward accountability and transparency contained in my friend's motion today are precedent-setting and important for the House, as are the modifications to Bill C-32, modifications that we looked for. I thank my friend from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca as well as the great work of all the folks on the citizenship and immigration committee, who I know pulled many long and arduous hours together.
Mostly, as I believe these are the final moments of this session, I rise to wish all hon. colleagues on all sides of the House a very enjoyable time with their families and friends. It has been a long session, a difficult session and sometimes even a productive session.
To you, Mr. Speaker, I wish you an enjoyable time with your family back in the Prairies, and all the best to you and yours.
Order. I do not mean to cut off the hon. member, but we need to leave some time for the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to respond.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca made a very thoughtful and reasoned speech. I am so delighted that I was able to hear him.
As the official opposition finance critic, I certainly am familiar with the austerity measures of the Conservative government and the many cuts it has made to various departments, programs and services. It is extremely difficult not only for ourselves, but also for the Parliamentary Budget Officer to get the details on these things. In fact, there is an ongoing court case on this matter.
I have to say how distressing it is to hear that 50% of the contraband tobacco is coming in through the port of Vancouver and that there are thousands and thousands of containers that are not inspected. I am from the city of Toronto. I see the rail yard and the thousands of containers there, and the member is telling me there is one inspector who is probably doing spot checks in reaction to problems that are highlighted.
In light of the very serious challenges that contraband tobacco has with respect to our children's health, and not even knowing what could be in contraband tobacco as the member rightly pointed out, does he believe we should have complete upfront access to all of the information about the CBSA so we can see person by person, city by city what the representation is?
As Canadians we want to be assured that we are not cutting border security services. We want to make sure that these products are stopped from entering our country. It sounds as though we should be beefing up our border security agency.
Could the member respond to that please?
I would remind hon. members that during this 30-minute debate most of the questions and preference are given to opposition members. We will do our best, of course, to accommodate all members. However, I remind all hon. members to keep their interventions to about one minute, and the same for responses.
The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
Mr. Speaker, when the leader of the NDP went to Washington, in between talking down Canada he managed to find time to have dinner with a man convicted of shooting a police officer. This individual shot Terrence Knox, a Chicago police officer, three times, leaving him permanently paralyzed.
The leader of the NDP seems to put a higher priority on bringing this dangerous and violent criminal to Canada than he does on creating high-paying jobs for Canadians. The leader of the NDP has been clear that bringing dangerous criminals to Canada is one of the values that guide him in what he does.
However, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has been somewhat silent on this matter. Does the public safety critic for the NDP agree with his leader that a convicted criminal who shot a front-line officer should be imported to Canada? I would encourage the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to stand up for victims by standing up to his leader and condemning this irresponsible NDP decision to support a violent criminal.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to join the debate today on Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
As my colleagues are aware, Bill C-279 would amend both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression. I understand that the member opposite now wants to change that with his amendments.
I am cognizant of the need to protect all Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes. I am proud of the fact that Canada is recognized internationally as a country that is deeply committed to the principles of respect for diversity and equality, but I would argue that the bill accomplishes neither of those goals.
The desperate attempt, I would say, by member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to amend the bill shows that the bill itself is not adequate. The bill is just not up to the level it needs to be in order for anyone to support it in this House. The amendments to the act as proposed by Bill C-279 are largely symbolic and vague, and I would say that they risk introducing confusion to the law. I would suggest as well that the amendments he is making do not add anything to it.
The bill is not properly designed to remedy the supposed social problem that it is aimed at addressing, and I would argue that it is largely unnecessary as well. For those reasons and a couple of others, I will be opposing Bill C-279.
I first want to speak about the fact the bill is unnecessary.
The courts and human rights tribunals in this country have already developed jurisprudence to protect transsexual and transgendered people. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already decided several complaints brought to it, and we heard about those earlier from my two colleagues. These complaints have been dealt with using the grounds of sex orientation or disability.
In fact, the grounds of sex in all anti-discrimination laws are interpreted broadly. They have evolved over the years and are usually understood to cover discrimination complaints based on not just sex but on all gender-related attributes, such as pregnancy, childbirth and, recently, transsexualism.
For those few complaints that have been brought by transsexuals—and I think one of my colleagues read four of them—the tribunal has used the existing grounds already contained in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and in fact there is no gap in protection. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has dealt with the four cases that were mentioned around gender identity and gender expression issues.
Furthermore, in deciding that transsexuals are already protected by federal human rights laws, the tribunal's approach has been consistent with that taken by provincial human rights tribunals as well. They have found that these grounds of discrimination are already covered by their existing codes.
All of these cases were adjudicated within the framework of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which designates sex and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds of discrimination. Both Susheel Gupta, as the acting chairperson and chief executive officer of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and Ian Fine, who is the secretary general of the CHRC, spoke at committee about that and the fact that it does not need to be extended further than it is now in order to deal with those complaints.
My second problem with the bill is that it is undefined.
I understand that the member is now starting to try to put definition into some of these things because he is afraid he is going to lose the bill, and I think that he should lose it. Expanding the definition of sexual orientation to gender expression and to gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code makes who and what is being protected even less clear than it is. If the member's purpose was to clarify the existing grounds, which I would maintain is unnecessary, he could have proposed adding an appropriate definition to the Canadian Human Rights Act. He did not do that. He has come back lately with an attempt to do that, but it was not his intention at the beginning.
In fact, the member's intention at the beginning was that the courts and the human rights commissions themselves would determine the definitions of these things. He was quoted in Xtra magazine as saying:
Once gender identity is in the human rights code, the courts and human rights commissions will interpret what that means.
I would suggest that even with the definition he is trying to add today, he probably is still thinking that hopefully the courts and the human rights commissions will define it. However, I would argue that it is inadequate for a legislator to proceed in this way.
If our role is to bring laws forward, they should be brought forward with enough content that the courts and commissions are not the ones who are defining what those bills are and what they say. I believe that is inappropriate. It is an abdication of our parliamentary responsibility to pass laws that would leave us in a situation like that. For parliamentarians to leave new and undefined terms to the courts and human rights tribunals, I would argue, is risky and irresponsible.
I also want to point out—and I think this is probably something that the member hopes will happen—that when the courts rule on these grounds, they usually assume that the old language was inadequate and that they should make new and broader interpretations and that such broader interpretations must be sought.
Therefore, I would argue that in this case it is not defined properly and that those interpretations are inappropriate for good legislation. The definitions are undefined and inadequate and because of that alone, this legislation needs to be rejected.
There are a number of other things I would like to talk about, and I understand I have some time in the next hour. However, I want to mention that the member said earlier at committee that the United Nations had supported proposals such as his. The reality is that while the Commissioner for Human Rights has called for some of these changes, the United Nations has not supported them. In fact, several of its commissions have turned away from supporting these notions that he has brought forward today.
I look forward to finishing my speech when we meet again.
There are nine motions standing on the notice paper for the report stage of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca's Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
While it is not usual for the Chair to provide reasons for the selection of report stage motions, in this case, I have decided to do so, as I have received a written submission from the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca outlining what he feels are exceptional circumstances surrounding the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill in committee.
As members know, consistent with the note to Standing Order 76.1(5), the Chair would not normally select motions that could have been presented in committee.
The hon. member who has submitted motions at report stage was also an active participant in the meeting scheduled for the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. As such, it would appear that the amendments submitted by the member could have been proposed during the committee consideration of the bill. In the present case, however, there appear to be extenuating circumstances.
In his remarks, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca explained that during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill on December 6, 2012, the committee passed two amendments to the first clause of the text as well as the clause itself, as amended. He stated that the committee did not continue studying the bill.
Even the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca's attempt to seek a 30-day extension for the consideration of Bill C-279 in committee was unsuccessful. As a result, clause-by-clause consideration of the bill did not proceed beyond the first clause, and pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, on December 10, 2012, the bill was deemed reported back to the House without amendment.
The Chair has had to rule on similar cases in the past, including one that came up on December 7, 2012—at page 13030 of the House of Commons Debates—regarding Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations). In that case, due to circumstances beyond its control, the committee was unable to complete its examination before the bill was deemed to have been reported without amendment pursuant to Standing Order 97.1. Accordingly, any amendments that had originally been submitted for the clause-by-clause examination of the bill in committee were submitted again at report stage. The Chair therefore selected those motions at report stage for debate, because it was clear that the members in question had attempted to propose their amendments in committee during the clause-by-clause examination of the bill.
In reviewing the sequence of events related to the bill now before the House, as well as the written submission from the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I am satisfied that despite the efforts of the member to have his amendments considered by the committee, he was unable to do so before the bill was deemed reported back to the House.
Accordingly, Motions Nos. 1 to 9 have been selected for debate at report stage, and they will be grouped for debate and voted upon, according to the voting patterns available at the table.
I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 9 to the House.
Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour to rise and speak about a subject that is dear to my heart, which is the replacement and eventual repeal of the Indian Act.
I have to commend my colleague for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for the courage he has shown in taking on this important issue. This is an individual who, as a first nation man, has conducted his whole life living under the Indian Act. He is someone who has been able to interact with his fellow first nation brothers and sisters for his entire life. This is consultation. It is a degree of consultation that no one in the House currently has, in my opinion, in their past. He has been meeting with people across Canada on this important subject. However, I do know of some recent bills that have not been consulted on.
The member for Edmonton—Strathcona has referred to article 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She is quite right, there is an obligation to consult with indigenous peoples. I wholly support that and I thank the member for bringing it up. However, there are cases where it has not happened.
Yesterday, I was at the justice committee. Currently, Bill C-279 is before the committee and we had witnesses from the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I asked the commission whether that bill had an impact on first nation people. Are first nation communities impacted by this act and does it have an impact on the lives of first nation people? Their answer was yes, that bill absolutely does affect first nation people.
My question then became whether there was consultation on the bill? In fact, there was not. The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca did not indicate that there was any consultation. I spoke with the Assembly of First Nations, which the member for Edmonton—Strathcona referred to as an important entity with which we discuss these issues. They are the bona fide organization of first nation people. However, they were not contacted on that bill. Also, during those deliberations, the member for Gatineau, in a cavalier way, just set aside that there was any obligation to consult with first nation people on that bill.
Therefore, I take offence to what the member is suggesting. The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River is truly a hero to me and others in the first nation community for the work that he is doing. To suggest that we are not reaching out to our aboriginal friends is, in my opinion, not reality. It is something that we are endeavouring to do.
I would ask the member to talk to some of her colleagues about some of the bills that they are proposing and the impact they have on first nation people. She shakes her head much like the member for Gatineau, who cavalierly set it aside that there was any obligation to consult with first nation people on a bill that would impact their communities.
As I said, this is an important day. The bill is timely and necessary. With each passing day, the Indian Act is revealed to be unfit for the times in which we live. When it was first enacted in 1876, it disenfranchised first nation people and it still disenfranchises everyone who lives under it today.
Just recently, we have seen a clear example of why the Indian Act must go in my home province. In fact, in Manitoba in Buffalo Point First Nation there are residents, women and children, living in that community who risk being put out on the street because of political disagreements with their chief. Because of these protests, they could have their homes taken away from them and be disenfranchised through the powers granted under the Indian Act.
Imagine if this were to happen off reserve. Imagine if someone disagreed with their city councillor and all of a sudden were evicted from their home and put out on the street. There would be mass outrage and nobody would stand for that. This is the exact point I would like to make about this community and unfortunately sometimes other communities as well.
Disenfranchisement is occurring. It violates not only any sense of justice or decency but all democratic principles, which is one reason and just one reason why the Indian Act needs to be replaced. It is an archaic, oppressive and unjust legislation. It denies aboriginal Canadians the rights they deserve. It denies individual rights. It denies matrimonial and property rights, leaving women in danger of losing everything due to disputes outside of their control.
Many people may not be aware, but the Indian Act denies first nations people the right to control their own wills and estates. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has the power to void the will of a first nations person if he or she so chooses. As my colleague has said, Bill C-428 would repeal the sections of the Indian Act that gives this paternalistic power to the minister. It would be a step toward true freedom and independence for first nations people.
Bill C-428 would also return the authority over the creation of bylaws on reserves where it belongs, with the leadership of that reserve. As it currently stands, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development must sign off on bylaws made by leadership on reserves. First nations people can govern themselves. They do not need this pre-Confederation prison to remain. As with the wills and estates rules, this is a further denial of independence and decision making for first nations people.
The Indian Act has no place in the 20th century or the 21st century. It is time to replace this act.
The member for Kenora, who was here earlier, has done great work as the parliamentary secretary to aboriginal affairs and has been a great advocate for the Métis people in my community and first nations Inuit people as well. I think back to previous members from other parties in that riding who have also done great work. A former member of the Liberal Party, Mr. Robert Nault, who was the then minister of Indian Affairs, brought forward some very innovative solutions, namely the First Nations Governance Act, which I thought was a step in the right direction. Many first nations did not like that approach, but many did.
One of the aspects of that bill on which everyone agreed was the Indian Act needed to be repealed. The starting point that everyone in the House agrees on is the Indian Act must be replaced.
I have had the opportunity to work with first nations people from across Canada. I have had the opportunity to work with first nations chiefs, councillors and regular community members. There is no question that everyone believes it is time for this act to be replaced. I believe the Indian Act is nothing less than a prison that shackles aboriginal people in our country and prevents them from achieving economic actualization.
We need to proceed with the initiatives that the member has proposed before the House. He started a debate that I am glad we are having. There are opinions from all sides on this matter, but what we can all agree on is that the Indian Act must be replaced. I would hope that at some point in the near future we can get to that moment where first nations people will be enfranchised and have the autonomy they deserve.
The electoral district of Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca (British Columbia) has a population of 120,669 with 91,003 registered voters and 229 polling divisions.
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