Before we resume debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for York South—Weston, Housing; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, The Environment.
Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights.
That concludes question period. The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands on a point of order.
Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on what the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands referred to in terms of the bill. It is straightforward. The mandate is clear, and I actually think it is worth repeating:
The purpose of the Canadian Museum of History is to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of events, experiences, people and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada’s history and identity, and also to enhance their awareness of world history and cultures.
The member said he thought the move of the Museum of Civilization to the Canadian museum of history was in some way not Canadian. Based on the mandate, based on the objectives that are trying to be accomplished through this piece of legislation and the Canadian museum of history, would he please explain to me why he would say that it is not Canadian to create the Canadian museum of history?
Mr. Speaker, this topic was just discussed by the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo in her address on this issue about 40 minutes ago.
The member put an interesting fact before this House: the present situation, 80% of the cases that the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is talking about that were appealed because of dangerous circumstances, even including the appeals, were found not to be the case.
Clearly this provision, if I can say it euphemistically, has been overused. I think it does deserve tightening. It the Minister of Labour's responsibility, and she is an excellent person to ask about this issue. I certainly support the Minister of Labour and her changes to the Canada Labour Code.
Mr. Speaker, I would disagree that there is no empirical evidence. The evidence is in the numbers, over one million net new jobs created. We talk about it a lot because it is really important. We are talking about lowering taxes for small business. We are talking about lowering taxes 160 times for ordinary average Canadians.
If my friend and colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands does not believe that lowering corporate taxes for businesses creates jobs, then we do have a fundamental disagreement. I think that when government takes away from the bottom line of corporations or businesses, they are going to look into reinvesting that and expanding. When they expand and reinvest, they need to hire more people. That is how it works, and that is why we lower the taxes.
I will continue to do my best to try to encourage all members to observe the rules of decorum during question period and I will pay particular attention in the next few days to the issue the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has raised.
I suspect the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley will be posing the Thursday question.
On a point of order, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
Mr. Speaker, I heard the comment from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and I take offence to it.
The reason I take offence is that when I stand in this place, I am typical of any member of my party or another member of Parliament. It is offensive to suggest that I am not doing it because it does not matter to my riding when $15,000 came from my riding to a person it should not have. That is wrong.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act.
Over the last two weeks, the justice committee has heard a great deal of compelling testimony from mental health experts, legal professionals, law enforcement and victims who courageously shared their heart-rending experiences of pain, of loss, of anger and frustration and of their efforts to grieve and overcome. One of those experiences was shared by the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I want to thank him and all the witnesses who provided personal accounts that were often heart-rending, but all the more important for it.
On the whole, the testimony we heard confirmed our reasons for opposing this legislation. I want to note that my belief is grounded in statistical analysis and in expert opinion that Bill C-54 would prove counterproductive by complicating treatment for the mentally ill and, as a result, increasing the danger to the public.
The testimony at committee also demonstrated something else: that the government's approach to this bill has had the effect of pitting mental health and legal experts against victims of violence, and it does not have to be this way.
I offer as evidence some quotations from committee testimony, as follows:
It is not about putting them in prison, it is about getting them the help they need.
One witness said, “I believe strongly in increased supports to help those with mental illness in our communities”.
Another witness said:
I am in favour of rehabilitation and I understand the suffering caused by a mental illness.
It may surprise members that those words came to the justice committee from victims and victims advocates. They were saying this.
The following quotation that I will read are from the testimony of mental health and legal professionals who are opposed to the bill.
...the association supports an approach that fully addresses victims' needs...it also recognizes that there are major flaws in the support services and financial aid offered to victims...
Another witness said, “we wholeheartedly support changes that create greater involvement for victims in the process. Without a doubt we want all victims affected by crime to be part of the process”.
Those words came from people who supported victims, but opposed the legislation.
Common ground exists between victims and the mental health and legal communities, irrespective of their views on this bill. The victims who spoke were not simply out for revenge. They recognized the importance of effective treatment for the mentally ill, including accused found not criminally responsible, or NCR.
At the same time, those opposing this bill have demonstrated genuine compassion for victims. It is disappointing therefore that the government did not endeavour to find this common ground before it prepared the legislation.
To be clear, opponents of the bill do not oppose victims, as has been callously and hyperbolically suggested. Indeed, we and other experts support measures to increase the notification of victims and the provision for no contact orders between victims and NCR accused.
It would have been, and, indeed, it still is quite possible, given good faith and openness to the perspectives of all concerned, to draft a bill that first, simultaneously protects the safety of the public; second, respects the interest and wishes of victims; and third, facilitates both preventative and rehabilitative treatment for the mentally ill. Those three things could have existed simultaneously in the bill.
Not only would such a bill have received more widespread support, it would have been less suspectible to constitutional challenges and it would have been far more effective.
I regret, however, that this was not the government's approach. Stakeholder after stakeholder and expert after expert came before the justice committee and stated that the government had not sought their input. Shockingly, while preparing a bill that deals specifically with mentally ill individuals, the government apparently had a grand total of one preliminary meeting with a mental health group before the bill was tabled.
It never consulted, for instance, with Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which is Canada's largest mental health and addiction treatment facility, or the Schizophrenia Society of Canada or the Canadian Psychiatric Association, among many others.
The Canadian Mental Health Association was granted one meeting, and that was after second reading.
On the legal side, the government ignored no less an authority than the Canadian Bar Association. It consulted with crown attorneys whose input is important, but not with attorneys who represent the mentally ill, whose input is equally important.
The government's choice not to consult with so many of the relevant experts is yet another manifestation of a trend to which we are now regrettably accustomed to in the House, particularly with respect to justice legislation. The government does not base its policies on facts. Indeed, one of the principal reasons the Liberals oppose this bill is that, despite flaws in Canada's overall approach to issues of mental health and justice, the evidence demonstrates that the not criminally responsible regime works well in its current form. Undoubtedly, there are shortcomings with respect to the notification and involvement of victims. There are shortcomings which the Liberal Party has sought to address through amendments. There are also major improvements needed in terms of preventative treatment so people with severe mental health problems can get an early diagnosis and be treated before they commit serious violence.
Moreover, as was recently argued in a feature in L'actualité magazine about Isabelle Gaston, whose children were killed by Guy Turcotte, we might also consider re-examining the way our courts approach expert testimony at trial.
However, the crux of the bill before us does not address most of these problems. Rather, Bill C-54 is focused on changing the way our system deals with mentally ill individuals after they have been found not criminally responsible, yet this is the aspect of Canada's approach to mental health and justice that already works very well. We know it works because several studies have been done on the subject, the most recent of which was finally tabled by the minister last Thursday in its corrected form.
Before continuing, I want to acknowledge and thank the minister for doing so, even if I still do not understand why he tabled the incorrect report in March, one week after being provided with a revised draft, or why the government continued to cite the incorrect figures for months.
While I am on the subject, I must also express my dismay at public statements made by the minister's office and by his parliamentary secretary, questioning the credibility and competence of the researchers they commissioned. In fact, the researchers behaved in exactly the manner top level scientists and academics should. Instead of saying, as the minister did on Thursday, that “mistakes were made”, as though mistakes can make themselves, the researchers did the right thing by immediately acknowledging their error and correcting it. The minister should also do the right thing and apologize to them for tarnishing their reputations.
As we now know, according to the corrected version of that research, only 6.1% of individuals found not criminally responsible in a serious violent offence had a prior NCR finding. The recidivism rate for NCR accused released by review boards was 7% for serious violence. I said that in the House when I made my very first speech. It came from reputable people, from forensic experts to people who worked in the criminal justice system to mental health authorities. In other words, it is demonstrably exceptionally rare for an NCR accused person to be found not criminally responsible of a second violent act upon release. Naturally, the rarity of the occurrence is of no comfort to those who have been victims. It is certainly worthwhile to seek to improve the system further.
However, if we are to make significant changes to a largely successful system, such as creating an entirely new category of NCR accused deemed “high risk” on the basis of medically suspect criteria, we must take great care to ensure the changes we make do not have unintended negative consequences. Regrettably, witnesses at committee warned of that potential, that this bill would have several troubling unintended consequences, complicating treatment for the mentally ill and therefore increasing the dangers to the public.
Here are some of the reasons. By keeping the NCR accused institutionalized for longer periods of time, this legislation would risk overburdening treatment facilities. As Dr. Sandy Simpson, co-chair of the Canadian Forensic Mental Health Network, testified:
Most forensic services nationally are at or near capacity. If you look at Ontario, most of us are running over capacity. Clearly, if one gets overcrowding within secure mental health facilities, your risk of violent behaviour, both patient to patient and patient to staff, rises, and those environments become more dangerous and less therapeutic.
Repeated questions about whether the government considered this potential effect of Bill C-54 have been met with evasive and even dismissive responses.
Second, the bill may result in more mentally ill offenders going to prisons instead of hospitals. Dr. Simpson warned that this could happen as a result of overcrowding, since patients are often detained in prison while waiting for a forensic bed to become available in an institution.
Moreover, as Paul Burstein of the Criminal Lawyers Association argued, the punitive restrictions placed on NCR accused deemed high risk could cause certain defendants, who would otherwise be found NCR, to plead not guilty instead. If these individuals were acquitted, they would be discharged without receiving treatment of any kind, and if they were convicted, they would likely receive either inadequate treatment or none at all. When they rejoined society after their sentence, they would be at least as dangerous as they were before.
At committee, some Conservative members were skeptical about whether this would actually be the case, claiming that defence attorneys have a fiduciary responsibility to advise their clients to plead NCR if such a finding is appropriate. However, if the consequence of such a finding is likely to be inappropriate in its result and its sentencing—for instance, overly punitive restrictions or a longer detention than necessary—it would be entirely correct for a defence attorney to advise against an NCR plea, especially given that many NCR accused are already detained for longer periods of time than if they had remained in the prison system.
Third, and perhaps most critical of all, the bill contributes to the stigmatization that makes many who suffer from mental illness reluctant to seek treatment in the first place.
The rarity of violent acts caused by mental illness in no way diminishes the pain of victims. I want to stress that. However, by using rare occurrences as justification for significant reform, and by designing those reforms so as to limit the role of medical expertise, the government overstates the problem of violence by the mentally ill and understates the potential effectiveness of treatment.
Yet fear of the mentally ill is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We find mentally ill individuals are largely dangerous; that is the idea we are giving here. We discourage them from acknowledging their illness and they go back into hiding, to being underground, not wanting anybody to know they are ill. A person whose severe mental illness goes undetected is far more dangerous than an NCR accused who has been treated and released by a review board.
Consequently, it is incumbent upon the government to temper its rhetoric and base its policy on facts instead of headlines, thereby reducing stigma and encouraging early diagnosis and intervention.
My colleague, the justice critic from Mount Royal offered numerous amendments at committee in an attempt to address these concerns. Some of his amendments would have introduced or reintroduced principles established by the Supreme Court with respect to NCR accused, such as that NCR accused are not to be punished or left to languish in custody.
The Conservatives explain their opposition by saying that there is no need to codify prevailing jurisprudence, and yet by specifying that public safety is to be the paramount condition of review boards, Bill C-54 would do precisely that. Indeed, two review board chairs testified at committee, and they were already bound by jurisprudence to make public safety their primary concern.
My colleague also proffered amendments to deal with the problematic aspects of the bill, according to which the “brutal nature” of a past act committed by an NCR accused would be an important factor in determining whether the accused posed a future risk, which is a medically dubious causal link. I can assure members of that.
However, Conservative members rejected his efforts in this regard, even going so far as to reject his proposals to define the term “brutal” using existing case law. They preferred the ambiguity that the Canadian Bar Association testified might very well contravene the charter.
The government also refused to include the supports and resources available to the accused upon release as criteria for courts to consider when determining risk, despite expert opinions that such support can be a significant factor in lowering risk of recidivism. Perhaps most egregiously, the Conservatives rejected repeated attempts to ensure that the decision of courts and review boards would be based on medical expertise.
Thus we have before us a bill with little evidentiary basis. It is rife with the potential for unintended consequences. Due to the breadth and vagueness of some of its provisions and the possibility that it will subject NCR accused to unduly punitive restrictions, the bill is likely to raise a whole host of charter concerns. Moreover, because the bill does not even attempt to address primary prevention, it misses the nub of the nature of mental illness altogether. As one of the victims said at committee:
Primary prevention completely failed us.
The member for Kootenay—Columbia, a former RCMP officer, echoed this sentiment by pointing out that when police officers approach individuals who have mental illnesses to try to apprehend them, they are often powerless to ensure that these individuals receive sustained, appropriate treatment. In an effort to address the problem, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto recently instituted a program to screen inmates for potentially dangerous mental health issues as soon as they come in contact with the system.
With federal government support, this kind of program, rather than Bill C-54, would do much to protect the public. Indeed, to address this and other problems related to mental illness, health and justice, members of Parliament must work together and with mental health and legal professionals to develop an effective, evidence-based approach that would support Canadians with mental illnesses and their families and protect the public.
For that reason, I am very pleased that Senator Cowan has introduced a bill that would establish a Canadian commission on mental health and justice. This commission would collect data on the ways mental health and justice intersect, highlight areas that require improvement and facilitate co-operation and the sharing of best practices across jurisdictions. I am hopeful that his Bill S-219 will receive broad-based support so that future policies with respect to mental health and the law would be ground in comprehensive, reliable research and expertise.
In 2005, when he was minister of justice, the member for Mount Royal introduced the most recent reforms to the NCR system. Members of all parties supported both the content of that legislation and the collaborative process through which it was developed. At the time, the current Minister of Public Safety said, “I am pleased to add my support to this bill”.
The Conservative member for Yorkton—Melville said, “The entire debate of the bill in the House and in committee should serve as an example of how Parliament should work”.
I wish I could say the same about Bill C-54, but the legislation we are debating today is regrettably a step backward for the NCR regime, for public safety and for the cause of collaborative evidence-based policy. To keep Canadians truly safe, we must rely on the facts to determine which aspects of our mental health and justice systems are working well and which are in need of improvement. The facts clearly demonstrate that the new high-risk accused category is a solution in search of a problem. As such, Liberals have sought to remove that section from the bill. I support the efforts of my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands to also do that.
At the same time, there is much that can be done in the way of mental health and justice policy to support victims of violence by the mentally ill and to reduce the occurrence of such violence in the first place. These are goals that all Canadians support. It could have been possible, through an evidence-based consultative process, to develop effective legislation with similarly broad appeal.
I hope that in the future, mental health and legal experts will not be pitted against victims but will be consulted and included alongside them to better enact effective policies and keep Canadians safe.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this debate, and it is a pleasure to rise in any debate in the House of Commons.
Let me start by saying that we heard some comments a bit earlier about the quality and level of debate in the House over the last little bit. In defence of all members of Parliament, I would say that this is a place where debate does happen. It is a Parliament where 308 people can discuss, debate and talk about issues, and sometimes that gets a bit lively and sometimes people get a bit upset. However, I would rather have that than 308 bumps on logs sitting here collecting $160,000 a year and not earning it. This is the place where we have that debate, and we should all be proud of the fact that we actually have that type of debate here, that we do debate back and forth. Sometimes we get frustrated with each other, but we should all be proud of that and maybe we should all stop talking down about the good quality of work we all do on both sides of the House.
This is a difficult topic for a number of reasons. We cannot talk about contraband tobacco and about this bill unless we talk about the problem of smoking and cigarettes in general.
Maybe this was not common in other homes, but when I was a kid my father smoked a lot. He smoked about two packs a day. I remember actually going to the store to buy milk or something, and I would also get a pack of cigarettes for my dad. I remember at home during dinner my dad would be smoking, and when we were in the car he would have a cigarette. We did not think anything of it, but we have come so far since then.
I bring this up because smoking is one of those things that is a very frustrating vice. It does not make me happy to say this, but I could tell those watching and some of the younger people who are in the galleries tonight that my father died a horrible, painful, miserable death because of cigarettes. It was a terrible death. He was only 49 when he died, and a big majority of the problems he had were because he started smoking when he was 16 and he smoked two packages of cigarettes a day right up until the end. Even in the last couple of days in the hospital, he would still want to have a cigarette. At that time back in 1983, people could actually smoke in the hospital—not in their rooms, but they could go into the hallway and have a cigarette.
I remember further back to both of my grandfathers who also died with problems related to cigarette smoking. My mother died at 61 years old. She was never a smoker, but she lived with a person who smoked two packages of cigarettes a day from the time she was 19 to the time my dad passed away. This is something that is just a brutal, disgusting, terrible vice.
For those people who smoke, it is a hugely difficult thing to quit. I think we all know people who yearly make resolutions that they are going to quit smoking, and we see how much they struggle to quit smoking. Some can go two or three months or even longer. I have an uncle who has not smoked for 25 years, but every day after dinner he still craves a cigarette. He has to put something in his hands to mock the motion of smoking, because he still has that craving for a cigarette, 25 years later.
I think it was the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands who brought up the fact that smoking at one point in time was marketed as a luxurious thing to do; it was somehow glamourous. However, the marketers did not tell people about the addictive nature of cigarette smoking. Provinces and the federal government have made huge progress. We have made huge progress in helping to reduce the amount of cigarette smoking we have. We have seen the labels on the packages, the horrifying images that show the results of prolonged cigarette smoking. When we see smokers with those packages, we often wonder how they can smoke when they see those images right on the package. It is very difficult for them to kick that habit.
We have done a heck of lot, working together, to try to reduce it. The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour talked about how cigarettes have to be hidden now. They are not on display behind the counter. In Ontario, and maybe a lot of other jurisdictions—I do not know, but I can speak to Ontario—one has to be 18 to buy a package of cigarettes. When the package is scanned, the machine will display “Show ID”, so the person buying the cigarettes has to show ID. The vast majority of retailers are very hard core on this. They make sure they do not sell to minors.
This is where we get into the dilemma of contraband tobacco. Any form of crime is obviously annoying. It is annoying for so many different reasons. I will just take a minute to congratulate the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety and all members of Parliament who actually support the bills and the initiatives we bring forward with respect to reducing crime in this country.
The justice system is what it is supposed to be. It is a justice system. We have to put the rights of the victims ahead of the criminals. The justice system also has to be just. It has to show the victims of crime that there will be justice.
We know crime costs billions and billions of dollars to the Canadian economy every year. I should not cite a number, but I think one of the reports I read at some point said crime costs the Canadian economy $100 billion annually.
It is not just that. When we take a look at organized crime, which is responsible for a lot of this contraband, we see that its impact on our communities across this country is unbelievable. What we have is the big crime bosses who set their own crazy targets for what they want to accomplish and where they want to go. Then they recruit other people who will carry out their objectives. It is not just the drug smugglers. We are talking about contraband tobacco, and there is lots of money for organized crime to make. Organized crime gangs fight over this in communities across the country. They put the lives of our police officers at risk. They put our young people at risk. Sometimes the gangs fight it out on the streets over turf. We have to do something to combat that. That is why this is so very important.
One of the members opposite talked about how she had just quit smoking 12 days ago, and she also talked about the tax revenue that is generated from smoking. It is vexing in the sense that she is right. When something is taxed and it becomes profitable to go contraband, then there has to be a balance.
What makes this even more offensive is that these contraband cigarettes take away the revenue that would then go to pay for things like health care for the people who actually get sick because of cigarette smoking, and for those programs that we could then put in place that would help smokers stop smoking, kick the habit. Contraband cigarettes take away from the resources we have to combat crime.
It is offensive on so many different levels. That is why I am very happy that we brought this legislation forward.
Some of the members opposite have talked about budget considerations with respect to this initiative. Obviously the government has been focused and seized with the global economic downturn, on which we have done a spectacular job as a government and as a nation, working together, making sure we could create the million jobs and keep the economy going.
We were also focused on restoring balance to our criminal justice system. We have been focused on that since we were elected. What we are seeing, because of that focus on justice issues and because of the focus on trying to rebalance our justice system, is that crime rates are coming down. They are coming down in so many different areas.
That is allowing our police forces and communities across the country—our provincial police forces where we have them, including the OPP in Ontario, and our national police force, the RCMP—to redirect resources into areas where we have not seen the same amount of progress.
When we talk about budgets, it does not always necessarily mean that the only way we can solve the problem is by putting more money toward an issue. It means that when we have solved problems and made progress in certain areas, we can redirect resources to combat something that has become so important and this clearly is something we have to address.
We have heard many members on this side of the House and I suspect on the other side of the House talk about the problems that contraband tobacco is causing in their ridings and communities. We are hearing it on a number of different levels. We are hearing it because they do not want organized crime in their communities. However, we are also hearing it from a small business point of view.
I am no fan of cigarettes. If tomorrow there would be no more cigarettes at all sold in stores across the country, I would be the happiest member of Parliament. I am sure we would all celebrate that. However, as long as they are being sold, they have to be sold legally. They have to be sold in a controlled way, so only people who are old enough can do that and they have to pay their share of the taxes that come with that. When we do not tackle this issue, we are telling small business owners across the country that although they have to play by the rules, other people do not. We have to ensure that everybody plays by the rules and that is why the government has brought this forward.
As the Minister of Justice mentioned, part of this is a 50-officer RCMP anti-contraband task force. That is very exciting because also as part of the bill we will see a better opportunity for the federal government to work more closely with our provincial and municipal partners. This is an issue that one 50-member RCMP task force working in isolation is not going to solve this problem. We have to work more closely with our provincial counterparts.
The bill allows them to do that and puts a more direct approach into combatting this. I think we can all agree in the House that the RCMP is second to none when it comes to making our communities safe. I am very proud of the fact that there are a number of former RCMP officers within our caucus and sitting in Parliament who have had an opportunity to share their input on this, to share their frustrations as RCMP officers in dealing with this issue and how they would like to see the government tackle this problem.
When we talk about input, I look at the RCMP officers who are sitting in the House and the years of experience. I think it was the member for Kootenay—Columbia who was a very distinguished RCMP officer. He has been used for a tremendous amount of advice on this. The member for Northumberland—Quinte West, a former OPP officer, dealt with a lot of this in the constituency he represents now. He gave advice on how we should deal with this, and a number of other members. We took the advice of members of caucus, the member for Peterborough, the member for Wetaskiwin. We asked what some of the issues were for residents in their communities surrounding contraband tobacco. The member for Yukon, who was also in law enforcement, has dealt directly with this.
A number of members on this side of the House and I suspect on the other side of the House have talked about the problem with contraband tobacco. One of the things that made me want to get involved and be elected was some of the issues with respect to the gangs such as the biker gangs that were a problem in Quebec and in Ontario.
Organized crime is not only involved in things like drugs, tobacco and alcohol. We see the influence it has in things like the construction industry, not only in Quebec but other parts of the country. We cannot allow it to get a foothold in any part of our economy or communities. We have to take action. No matter how small the transgression, we have to show that the Parliament of Canada is very serious about those who seek to take advantage of our people and communities.
Make no mistake about it, this is one of the worst groups of people. When it comes to contraband tobacco, the people being targeted are kids, not parents, and those who maybe cannot afford to go to the store to buy cigarettes at full price. The people being targeted are the people we should be saving from organized crime.
When we talk about some of the things that will be brought in, the minister has also put in the bill, after a number of consultations with groups of people, minimum mandatory penalties, which we have seen in other bills. We see that they actually work, but they work for a number of reasons. They work because it shows the people who seek to commit these crimes that we are serious about justice in our country. Yes, it is important to rehabilitate, we have no problem with that, but the justice system is about justice to the people who have been aggrieved. When we bring in minimum mandatory sentences on issues like this, we show just how serious we are.
I am pleased those penalties are contained in the bill. I know it has been talked about a lot, but I will mention some of them. The penalties for a first offence are up to six months imprisonment on summary conviction and up to five years if prosecuted on indictment. Repeat offenders would face minimum mandatory penalties of 90 days on a second conviction, 180 days on a third conviction and two years less a day on subsequent convictions. It shows just how serious we are.
I have listened to the debate and a lot of members on both sides of the House are very supportive of this initiative. It is quite clear that almost all of us agree this is something that has to be tackled. We have to do a better job of protecting our communities. We want this bill to go to committee so we can get even more input.
I know the minister and the member for Burlington, who is the chair of the justice committee, have worked very hard to bring other people on board when it comes to legislation. When amendments are brought forward that make sense, that do not water down bills, that do not put the rights of criminals ahead of victims, we will listen. If we can make a bill better, of course, we will make it better. We will take that opportunity. This gives us an opportunity in our ridings over the coming weeks to communicate better with those who are involved.
I am very excited that there is support from all sides of the House to move this forward.
Again, I want to congratulate the Minister of Justice for another very important piece of legislation that will help us take the $100 billion a year that crime costs the economy, that is taken out of the pockets of hard-working Canadian men and women and put it back in their pockets. We are going to deal with the people who seek to take advantage of the youth, who are so important to us. With 55,000 more young Canadians working, it is even more important that we ensure we protect them. We are going to tell those involved in organized crime that if they are going to take advantage of people in society, the Parliament of Canada is going to go after those who seek to take advantage of others and we are very serious about it.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand in this House today to speak to Bill S-6. I thank the hon. member for Lethbridge for sharing his time with me tonight. I am glad he is back in the House. I congratulate him for his contribution to the discussions tonight.
I serve as the chair of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee, and over the last number of months we have been seized with a number of pieces of legislation that I believe are important to equip and empower first nations to move forward on a number of fronts.
Today, we have the opportunity in the House to continue a discussion on an important piece of legislation that will transform and modernize the elections of first nations, those first nations that choose to be empowered by this act. It is not an act that is being placed on first nations if they do not want it, but they have an opportunity to opt in if they want.
That is what is unique about our government. We are a government that recognizes that first nations are different. From one part of this country to another, first nations are as different from coast to coast to coast as communities are different from coast to coast to coast. It is important that we do not put a one-size-fits-all solution on folks from every part of this country and that we let first nations communities create their own environment to move forward in the way that best supports their priorities.
That is unlike the Indian Act. I think everybody in this House can agree that the Indian Act is an outdated piece of legislation that has lived out many parts of its usefulness. However, it obviously has a great amount of history and it would take some time to move us out of that.
I respect the fact that members are calling for an overhaul and a complete turning of the page. We can recognize as we look from one issue to the other with regard to the Indian Act that there are first nations that have different ideas as to how to move into the future. It is important that we give each community the ability to be empowered, so that they are able to articulate a vision for the future that would reflect the interest and the desires of first nations membership within their communities. That is different in every community.
The Indian Act does spell out issues surrounding elections in first nations communities. I just note that the last time this portion of the Act was updated was sometime in the 1950s.
A lot has changed between now and then. It is important to reflect on the thinking at that time. When they were revamping the Indian Act in the 1950s, it should be noted that the rules as they related to elections were really geared toward holding first nations governments accountable to the minister, rather than holding first nations leadership accountable to their electorate or to their members.
The bill goes a great distance in rectifying this. I think it is so important that we work together collaboratively to see this legislation move forward.
It has been articulated by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands that we move forward with a complete overhaul of the Indian Act, but even in the discussions that led up to the change in this portion, just in the issue of elections, there are different visions and different ideas from one part of this country to the next. It is important that we bring forward legislation that provides options for first nations. That is exactly what this legislation does.
However, we do it in a pragmatic way, not in a way that may have a lofty goal without ever being implemented. We have a policy right now that will really create opportunities for those first nations that do want to move forward on this.
We have been undertaking a number of things that will give rights to first nations that they have been limited to receiving in the past as a result of the Indian Act.
Members will reflect on the fact that it was our government that in 2008 repealed section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It finally gave first nations people living on reserve the right to recognition under the human rights act. First nations communities had been waiting decades for that. Unfortunately, the Indian Act had separated them from the right that most Canadians enjoy and take for granted. That was one of the things we did.
Just recently, we extended matrimonial real property rights to first nations women to protect families and those people who were vulnerable in first nations communities.
We are continuing to bring the rights that most Canadians take for granted to those people who live on reserve.
The legislation continues the process of giving rights to first nations people, the same type of rights that other Canadians have come to expect and take for granted. Unfortunately, those rights have not been there for first nations and this bill would go a great distance in providing first nations with additional rights.
I should note that approximately 240 first nations across the country undertake their elections according to sections 74 through 79 of the Indian Act. This regime is not satisfactory for a number of reasons, the least of which is it imposes two year term limits on the time which chiefs and councils can serve in office.
Those of us in elected positions know that two years is really not enogh time for us to become equipped to serve in the capacity of our roles and to take a mandate and try to get it completed, then to continue that and have any type of stable governance in any community. A two-year time limit gives enough time for MPs to learn the basics of our job and then immediately be thrust back into an election campaign. That is not a sustainable structure for governance. Anybody in the House, when reflecting upon it, would say that a two-year term limit is really unreasonable for any elected official, and first nations people should have the right to extend it if their community so desires.
It has been recommended by the Atlantic Policy Congress as well as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that the term limits be extended to four years. This is now articulated within the legislation. When we consider the recommendations that came from these two organizations, it makes a lot of sense.
A two-year term limit barely gives enough time for MPs to get trained in their jobs before they are running for re-election, but there are other practical reasons as well.
A two-year term limit is difficult for a new council, especially those people who have run for election for the first time. A new council would find it very difficult to build the necessary relationships to move their communities forward within two years.
One of the most important things that a local council can do is build relationships with neighbouring jurisdictions, with other municipalities or neighbouring government organizations. There is a limited opportunity as well to build relationships with financial organizations and with those people who might want to invest within these communities. This two-year extension is very important.
We believe very strongly in allowing first nations to build an environment within their communities where they will be able to foster an opportunity for the private sector to invest in their communities. Extending the term to a four year limit will allow these first nations communities to have a stable council, a stable government that will be able to negotiate and build an environment so private investment is undertaken within their communities. This would lead to opportunity, prosperity and hope for people who live in these communities, leading to better education, better health care and better outcomes generally.
Mr. Speaker, cluster bombs are morally and ethically reprehensible. They are inhumane. There can be no prevarication. There can be no qualifying of our condemnation. We should be absolute and thorough in our condemnation. We should not dedicate two whole pages of the enabling legislation to provide an exit strategy, an out, a loophole that we can drive a truck through to, where we can do anything in terms of handling, enabling, aiding and abetting. As my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands pointed out, subsection 3 is a road map for how to continue using cluster bombs.
The Parliamentary Secretary over there was the chief apologist, a champion of cluster bombs, it would seem. He was the number one apologist for justifying when and where they are applicable and necessary. That is not the tone we want to set in the Canadian House of Commons.
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, International Trade; the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Taxes.
Order. Before I go to questions, I would ask all hon. members, if they are staying in the chamber, to take their seats and listen to the debate; it would be greatly appreciated.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands
I thank the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her additional comments on the matter and will get back to the House as necessary on the matter.
Mr. Speaker, first, let me note that it is great to have such an advocate in the member for Calgary Centre-North. Her commitment at the environment committee and to Parks Canada is simply incredible.
She is absolutely correct that it is a mistake for the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands to try to block or build support against investing in Parks Canada and against creating national parks. It does an incredible amount of good. When it comes to ecological protection, I think this is something all Canadians value to ensure the partnership created with first nations and with the Government of Nova Scotia is honoured at the multi-level agreement. We should honour that ecological protection. I am so proud to be part of a government that is so committed to doing so.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly share the view of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands in the sense that within our national parks, there is obviously a tension between any development that may occur to ensure that people have the opportunity to enjoy these parks and ensuring that the ecologically sensitive areas and the natural state people want to go there to enjoy is actually preserved.
In this case, with respect to Marmot Basin, the ski area has offered to remove from its lease and return to the park 118 hectares of ecologically sensitive land. In exchange, 60 hectares of land in a less ecologically sensitive area will be made available to that operator. I think this is, frankly, a very good solution going forward.
I go to Elk Island National Park on a regular basis, just outside the city of Edmonton. I love going there. I love hiking through the park, but I realize that every time I go there, I am, to some extent, as a human being, disturbing that natural area. We have to stick to the paths and recognize that we are in the beauty of a national park, but we have to very much recognize the human impact. It is very much a balance, and the government, in this case, has actually found that balance very well.
Mr. Speaker, I want to advise the previous speaker that the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, herself a proud Nova Scotian, did not malign any one individual. She mentioned the very serious concerns about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, which I myself have very serious concerns about as well.
I want to start off today by thanking the government for entering into discussions to ensure that Sable Island possibly could be a preservation site and conservation site for as long as this planet exists.
I just want to understand a couple of things. This is the same government that had massive cuts to Parks Canada. This is the same government that we hear speech after speech from the Conservatives talking about how great this legislation is, how great it would be for Sable Island, yet what do they do? They invoke time allocation on this debate. Sable Island was there long before any of us were here. Hopefully, Sable Island will be there for many years after we are gone. Therefore, moving time allocation on important legislation like this is unconscionable. I would truly love for someone over there to explain to the Canadian people why they felt it necessary to invoke time allocation, unless they plan to prorogue Parliament very soon and thus they know that this bill would end up dead.
I am in favour of turning Sable Island into a national park reserve. However, like my hon. colleague for Halifax, I have some concerns that need to be addressed. That is why the NDP will be supporting that this legislation go to committee. We do not have much trust in that side, but we hope and trust that my colleague from Halifax will be able to invite any and all witnesses that her party wishes to bring forward, that the Liberal Party would be able to do the same, and that the Green Party could make submissions as well, to ensure that every single person who has reason to be concerned about Sable Island in the future would have the right to say so. We are talking about the Mi'kmaq, the first nations, the provinces, the oil and gas sector, the conservationists and the fishermen. All these people need to be heard.
It is too bad the Conservatives could not make a national park out of the Senate. That would be great. Lots of people could go and visit that room and the $92 million that is spent on the Senate could go to preserve Sable Island and all of the other parks we have in Canada and maybe even create a few more. Then those senators could be added to the Species at Risk Act. That would be a wonderful thing.
Here is the problem. I have heard these great Conservatives say time and time again that Sable Island would be preserved for future generations to come. That is wrong. I wish the Conservatives would get that out of their heads. Sable Island is not for human beings. It is not for people.
Farley Mowat, who is a great World War II veteran, a conservationist and a fantastic author, said time and time again, and my colleague, the member from the Green Party knows this well because we were together when he said it, “We, as humans, have an obligation to ensure to protect our environment. We have an obligation to protect 'the others'.” What he meant by “the others” were things like bugs, snakes, horses, plants, birds and seals. The other species that inhabit this earth deserve to have their place as well.
Sable Island is not like Banff National Park. It is not like Kluane in the Yukon. It is not like South Moresby. It is not like Nahanni. It is not like Kejimkujik. It is not like any other park out there where humans can go and interact and have fun and enjoy the beautiful parts of Canada that are absolutely gorgeous. Sable Island is so fragile and so special that we should limit, with the most extreme caution, the number of people who actually go to that island.
My colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's bragged about the fact he has been there dozens of times. He has been there two dozen times and I say he has been there 23 times too often. I have had the opportunity to go to Sable Island. I can assure members that it is a spiritual experience. It is beautiful. However, I felt guilty being there. I felt that I should not have been there. The reality is that with those horses, the plants and the birds, it is absolutely outstanding.
There are reasons why some people are very concerned about the bill and are very concerned about the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.
I remember very clearly, as a private citizen, in 1995, attending a meeting at the Waverley fire hall in Waverley, Nova Scotia, which is now in my riding. The Sable gas people were there and the petroleum boards were all there. They had maps of the ocean, which had a dark black mark on Sable Island. It was blacked out. The first question I asked was why it was blacked out. They said, “That's Sable Island. We have no intention of touching it, ever. We are leaving it alone. It's too fragile”.
I understand the need for oil and gas exploration. I drive a car, I have a house that burns oil and I fly back and forth all the time. I understand that. I was so proud of the fact that these experts were saying that Sable Island was going to be left alone, with a mile buffer around it. I felt really good about that.
However, we were betrayed by the gas and oil sector. We were betrayed by other people. In fact, they did do seismic testing on that island. I remember it very well how—I cannot say what I want to say—upset I was that we were lied to at these meetings. These were professional people, and they lied to us. They said they would never do seismic testing on Sable Island, and they did.
My very serious concern is that if we do not do this bill right, if we do not put in the concrete measures to ensure we never allow seismic testing on the island ever again, I will not have a good night's sleep, assured that those horses, those birds, those plants and other species that inhabit that island are able to do what they do in God's wonder, to do what they have done for hundreds of years and, hopefully, for hundreds years more.
That island is not for people. The island is for the others. I wish everyone in this Parliament and across Canada would get that into their heads. This is too fragile an ecosystem and it needs to be, as best we can, left alone.
I appreciate the Minister of the Environment and the parliamentary secretary indicating that, yes, in some certain cases, in emergencies, oil and gas workers or people who find themselves in serious trouble could go to the island for rescue, because it is the graveyard of the Atlantic. I understand that, and under strict controls and under strict protocols that is something I think we can all accept. I appreciate that fact.
However, we need assurances from the Minister of the Environment and the government that when this bill gets second reading there will be no shenanigans at that committee, that there will be no time allocation, that there will be no rushing into in camera, as every committee here in this House does. We need to ensure that this is a public forum for all Canadians who are concerned about this precious jewel in the Atlantic and ensure that we do exactly what we are saying here today; that is that we protect the integrity of Sable Island for many years to come.
At the same time, the government has made massive cuts to Parks Canada. We have never heard anything, yet, about funding this. We would like to see where the dollars are going to come from, where the money is coming from. One of the ideas the member for Halifax indicated, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment also indicated, is a historical and interpretive centre in Halifax. Who is going to pay for that? Where is the money going to come from? What is it going to look like? We cannot have everybody going out to Sable Island to see it. It would be much better to have that interpretive centre in the community of Halifax or another community; I am not really particularly concerned about that. I just want to ensure that the dollars will be there to ensure that all Canadians, in fact, all world visitors who come to the area, will get to know that 290 kilometres from the east coast lies one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
It is important that we get it right. That is why the NDP, led by our critic from Halifax, has indicated our support for this legislation to second reading.
However, if we see a lot of games being played there, there is no guarantee that support will come afterwards. My colleague from Halifax has said very clearly that she so desperately wants to work with the parliamentary secretary, so desperately wants to work with the Minister of the Environment, and with the Conservative government, in order to ensure we get the legislation right.
That is uncommon in this place. Normally, anything the Conservatives do would just shut it down. Anything we say, they shut us down. This is an opportunity, in a bi-partisan manner, to work co-operatively together and get it right. I am not sure why the Minister of the Environment or the Prime Minister would not want to pursue that and show Canadians that, yes, Parliament can work together as it has on many other issues.
I was here when the protection of the Sable Island gully was there. In fact, I was quite proud of that because that was where the northern bottlenose whale lived. They offered limited protection to that area. It is a beautiful gully just off of Sable Island. It is absolutely gorgeous. I have never been to the bottom of it, but everything I have seen of it and the species that live under those waters is unbelievable. The Liberal government at the time worked co-operatively to get that done.
We need to ensure that the resources for our Coast Guard, Parks Canada and Environment Canada are there to ensure the integrity of this legislation is matched not only in words but in dollars as well. That is what we need to discuss at the committee stage as well.
We have been betrayed before. Not by the Conservative government, though, I will give it credit for that. It was not in power. We were betrayed by the provincial and federal governments at that time.
I can assure the House that there are a lot of environmental groups out there. I know the Ecology Action Centre and Mr. Mark Butler, one of the great environmentalists we have on the east coast, are very concerned about this legislation. Our colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands indicated the concerns of allowing the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board any kind of management say on anything regarding this Island.
Those are serious questions that need to be asked. I am not saying that someone is right or someone is wrong, but let us get the experts in. Let us get the people in at the committee stage in an unhurried manner, where we can take our time and do it right. If we do that, we can truly leave a legacy not just for people, but for the others with which we share this beautiful planet. That is the beauty of Parliament, when we can work together and achieve something that is greater than ourselves.
I will give the government credit. I used to live in Yukon near Nahanni, which is absolutely gorgeous. When that size increased, I was shouting from the rooftops. I thought that was absolutely wonderful. I remember our colleague, Svend Robinson, was arrested defending South Moresby. Look at it now. It is one of the most beautiful and enchanting areas on the planet on the Queen Charlotte Islands. He risked everything to ensure that happened.
We want to ensure that people do not have to protest in the streets of Halifax to ensure the protection of Sable Island. It simply does not have to happen. We can work in a co-operative manner and get it done.
I will offer some advice for the minister, though. There are a lot more protected marine areas that we need to have in our country and I am proud to hear him say Lancaster Sound. I am proud to see the areas of the Bay St. Lawrence and also on the west coast. I have had the opportunity to live in British Columbia and Yukon and now in Nova Scotia.
This is truly an absolutely gorgeous country. When we are connected in this regard, it is amazing what terrestrial and aquatic areas we have to enjoy in many cases. However, there are certain areas of the country which, in my personal view, should be left alone. Sable Island is one of them.
I give top credit to Zoe Lucas. She is only about 5'2" or 5'3", but she is dynamite. She knows more about Sable than the House collectively will ever get to learn. She is amazing, but she is one person. We need to ensure that it is not just her, because one day she may not be with us. She has worked in the preservation, acknowledgement and awareness of Sable Island. She has brought that to many people in Canada and around the world to ensure the integrity of that beautiful island.
The minister knows as he has been there. He understands the spiritual nature of that place. The last thing we need to see is hundreds of people showing up, taking pictures of horses and running around trying to pet them, stepping on their grounds and grass and everything else.
I have another concern. When I was on the fisheries committee for many years, we had a very serious issue with grey seals. Sable Island is the home of many grey seals. Their population has exploded.
One thing that we in the NDP will never accept is the cull of a wild species, where people shoot and kill the animals and they sink to the bottom and become crab or lobster bait. That is unacceptable. However, we will support a harvest of seals as long as the seals are utilized, whether turned into animal feed or other product. We would not allow an opportunity to go and kill 20,000 or 30,000 seals and then let them sink to the bottom. That does not make this country look very good internationally. However, if we utilize that seal product in a proper humane harvest, that would be good husbandry of the species, and would also protect the integrity of the island.
The minister probably knows that when that many seals congregate on a shifting sandbar like that, it can cause havoc and a lot of damage. We want to ensure that the grey seals do not overrun the island and cause even greater damage. We want to control the species in a manner that is not only humane but offers economic opportunities for some fishermen, and utilizes the seal to its maximum potential. To just go out and kill a whole bunch of them and let them sink to the bottom is not the proper thing to do, and it is also very un-Canadian.
Therefore, we need to know this from the minister, and hopefully we will learn this at committee: If indeed there is a time to harvest some of these seals to reduce the numbers, would the Sable Island park reserve allow limited hunting of those seals in that particular area? If it does, would it be done from the land or from boats? Having that many fishermen tramping all over the island could not be a good thing.
These are the types of things, in terms of strict protocols, that we would need to address to ensure that this legislation is done correctly. We are very proud of the fact that the federal government and the great Province of Nova Scotia and its wonderful NDP government are working collaboratively on many of these issues. However, we still do not have all the answers we are looking for. My colleague from Halifax has done yeoman's work in this regard. I can assure members that when this gets to committee, she will be like a pit bull on a bone to ensure that this legislation is exactly what it should be.
The reality is that she is the only member of Parliament of the 308 of us who has Sable Island in her riding, and that is a wonderful thing. Not many people get to say that. I know I do not. I am surprised she has not changed the name of her riding to Halifax—Sable Island. I do have McNabs Island, by the way. If members ever get a chance they should come down and see McNabs Island. It is absolutely beautiful. It is the same with Lawlor Island, but people are not allowed to go on that one.
The reality is that these are jewels in the Halifax area and off the coast of Nova Scotia that are absolutely gorgeous. I invite my colleague over there from Kitchener to come on down and I will give him a personal tour of McNabs Island and the other island. However, I will not give him a tour of Sable Island. I would encourage him to leave it alone. We will have an interpretive centre, which hopefully the federal government will pay for, and we will walk him through that. In fact, my colleague from Halifax will walk him through it as well, and tell him all that he needs to know. However, we just encourage him with the greatest of respect not to go on the island, because that many people on the island, even if it is strictly controlled, could have unforeseen consequences.
We want to ensure that the bill is done correctly. We want to work in a co-operative manner with the government. We do not like time allocation on this bill, and I would hope that maybe the Minister of the Environment could stand in his place and ask why the Conservatives moved time allocation on this very sensitive legislation.
I hope that, with our colleague from Halifax and the great NDP working with the Conservatives and our Liberal colleagues and Green Party colleagues, we will ensure that we get the right legislation to ensure perpetuity for Sable Island park reserve now and in the future.
There is a point of order from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
The electoral district of Saanich--Gulf Islands (British Columbia) has a population of 115,724 with 91,822 registered voters and 228 polling divisions.
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