Bill C-31 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Judges Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Rob Nicholson Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
February 24th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer
Absolutely. I think this is the advantage of the appearances.
The business hours are established in the legislation for every region of the country. If the act is to be amended, that would require the attention of the committee, because Elections Canada has no say over the opening and closing hours of polling stations.
As for staff recruitment and employment insurance penalties for the unemployed who would like to work on election day, you are right. There are two aspects to this. First, work done by an election worker does not represent insurable earnings. Second, if a person who is already receiving employment insurance is paid an amount that is more than 25 % of his or her benefit, he or she will see an equal amount deducted on the next employment insurance cheque. As an example, I would say that an election worker who is paid $195 and who is also unemployed and receiving benefits of $400 will see the next benefit cheque reduced by $95. That reduces the incentive to work for the elections. In any case, these are issues that would require amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. This would at the very least require amendment to the regulations. However, this is completely beyond the mandate of Elections Canada.
You talked about identification issues. This is a new procedure. As I mentioned, generally speaking voters have adapted to it quite easily. I mentioned a few groups who faced certain obstacles. I would simply advise you to be cautious concerning the article that you mentioned. The article is based on a study that was done following by-elections that concerned only four ridings, and it was the first time that identification was required for the vote. I always wait for the general election for a result of surveys. I do not believe we can apply the results of by-elections held in four ridings on a national scale. We must be prudent in that regard. I would prefer to see the results of the national survey that was just held following the last election in order to see if those figures are confirmed.
I finally have Ms. Davies' letter. We will answer her, absolutely.
You raised the issue of access to public spaces, that is to say private spaces that are accessible to the public, whether it is a question of government properties, shopping centres, residential properties, etc. Bill C-31 increases the access of candidates to these sites. You are not doubt correct in saying that it would be beneficial to organize a public information campaign. For the last election we issued a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer recognizing candidates' right of access. This was sent to all candidates. They could easily present that letter to anyone who objected to their presence or to their activities. The feedback I got on this issue was that it generally worked very well, but we did get a few complaints from candidates who found themselves denied access to areas that were accessible for campaign activities.
June 18th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord--Chapter 23
Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act--Chapter 26
Bill C-287, An Act respecting a National Peacekeepers' Day--Chapter 27
Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act--Chapter 30
Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
May 16th, 2008 / 10:30 a.m.
John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the kind comments from my friend.
On the issue of what goes on the reserve, in any municipality in Canada one must be a resident if one is going to vote for a council which puts in place zoning by-laws. That should prevail on native reserves as well. If we are to establish local government and responsibility for local government, then the responsibility should be local. The only people who should vote on land use plans on any reserve in the country should be people who are actually resident on the reserve.
One of the issues, and it is an issue that needs addressing by Parliament, is the impact of Bill C-31. It is quite clear, when we look at membership lists, and it is very difficult to get hold of those membership lists, and talk to people on the Tsawwassen Reserve, many of them, who have lived on the reserve all their lives and whose families have never left, are offended by the fact that some who left generations ago are now reserve members and will share the benefit.
Birth is instant and with the instance of anyone living on the reserve, they are the people who, since the beginning, have put up with the noise, light and air pollution from the existing Roberts Bank terminal of the Vancouver port. It is right off the shore of the reserve. They are the ones who over the last 50 years have lived with the disturbances caused by that port. Yet the benefits of the arrangement that has been cut with the port will accrue to people with the name of Martinez who live in Los Angeles or people who live in Ottawa or Winnipeg. They are not the ones who are suffering because the port was built. It is the people who live there. Therefore, the very basis for this treaty, in fact, is undermined.
The other question about the non-aboriginals living on the reserve is a special case. This instance happened with the Westbank arrangement a couple of years ago. My view is that these people need to have the same rights as any other citizen, that if a band wants to set up an enclave where non-band members live, then those non-band members need to have the same voting rights on their taxes as other Canadians do. There can be no other way. If that must be somehow physically separated from the rest of the reserve, then so be it.
However, people should not lose their democratic rights in this way because the fallback will always come to Parliament. In the future we will be asked to justify why we allowed that to happen, and it is an explanation that I would not want to have to give.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 13th, 2008 / 11:55 a.m.
Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC
Mr. Speaker, I think the member is talking about two different issues. I realize they both may end up in the courts one way or another, but the effort in Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework because of the Supreme Court rulings on the application of provincial MRP laws. They just do not apply on reserve lands. What we are trying to do with Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework so that, and it is not just first nations women, but primarily first nations women will have the protection that others take for granted in a provincial court system.
Right now the unfortunate reality is if there is a marriage breakdown, or if there is violence against a spouse, frequently or mostly against women, someone needs to intervene to get a restriction, a court order or some sort of legal means to keep the house in the possession of the woman who is raising the kids and needs the protection of the matrimonial home to that. A restraining order or a way to restrict the individual from getting close to the woman is needed and we do not have the tools to do it.
This bill is for the protection of women, for the development of individual MRP laws on each reserve over time, but a law of general application in the meantime that would allow us to have a provision which says we have to look after those interests. Although some homes are owned by the band office, for example, they might be owned collectively, social housing perhaps, many other homes are built by and owned by individual first nations people. The trouble is if there is a marriage breakdown, no laws apply. The guy with the biggest, broadest shoulders wins the argument and that is not fair for first nations women.
This bill will not solve all problems and it does not address the Bill C-31 issues, but it does attempt to fill the gap that otherwise will continue until we do fill it. The system is quite hit and miss across the country. There are some good examples of good leadership on reserve under the First Nations Land Management Act, and there are examples of many first nations which have introduced their own MRP laws, but it is too hit and miss. It does not capture the rest of aboriginal women who deserve the same protection as others.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 13th, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's speech, and in a few minutes, I will have an opportunity to reply to him with the Bloc Québécois' position.
I would like the minister to comment on one thing. Aboriginal women are very concerned about this bill. I believe that my Liberal Party colleague will also talk about this in her speech in a moment. One thing women have been wondering about is how Bill C-47 differs from Bill C-31. Aboriginal women got the short end of the stick, as they put it, with Bill C-31, which was passed and gave back some rights and other things. How is Bill C-47, which the minister is asking the House to adopt, any different? How will it apply on reserves? Of course, I will have a chance to talk more about this later.
An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
May 12th, 2008 / 12:50 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague who just spoke that if he asks me the question at a later time, I would be pleased to answer it.
This morning I travelled some 580 kilometres from my riding to Ottawa. We are in Algonquin territory here. I was thinking about how I would broach the subject of Bill C-30, which we will discuss during the next few hours. I do not often congratulate a minister in the House, but today, it must be done.
I would like to congratulate the minister who succeeded in bringing Bill C-30 this far. Everyone worked hard, including my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre, who just spoke and is the Indian affairs critic for her party; my other Liberal colleague from Nunavut as well as my NDP and Bloc colleagues, to ensure that this bill respects the wishes of first nations.
Numerous groups repeatedly told us that first nations want us to listen to them. They want decisions and agreements to be respected. If those are not respected, they want legal recourse so that a court would resolve the dispute between first nations and the federal government.
We must be honest and speak only the truth here in this House. For far too long now, the federal government was both judge and judged in first nations claims. It was the federal government that decided when the negotiations would begin and end, and what aspects they would focus on. First nations peoples were consulted very little or not at all. When the government decided that perhaps the issue should be resolved, it set the parameters for the schedule, the meetings and the central focus of the claim. This way of doing things went on for too long. Since 1947—we are not talking about last week—that is, for more than 50 years, first nations peoples have been asking the federal government to stop being both judge and judged in their comprehensive and specific land claims.
For those watching at home, that is what is happening with Bill C-30. This bill is important for a number of reasons. The first important point for the Bloc Québécois and me is that the tribunal would become independent. In committee, on several occasions, a number of first nations people asked us if it would be possible to appeal a decision rendered by the tribunal. First of all, I have always opposed that idea and I did not want to make it possible to appeal those decisions, so as to prevent the federal government from once again appealing such cases when it was not happy with the decision handed down, thereby delaying the payment of money owing to first nations peoples.
Everyone must understand one thing: first nations peoples have specific claims and have the right—they were here before us—to receive payment for the damages they have suffered.
I will give an example that everyone can understand. In an aboriginal community near my riding, at some point, Ontario Northland—whether it was this company, Canadian National or Canadian Pacific does not matter because this happened all over Canada—decided that the railroad would cut right through the middle of a reserve. The communities living on these reserves or lands that belonged to them were never compensated.
I understand and respect the minister when he says that the federal government cannot give them land because there is none or it is so far away that it would be pointless. Thus, they are trying to find a way to compensate them.
When the value of the strip of land on which the railway runs is established, it is possible to determine the loss to the First Nations and the compensation owed by the federal government. It was the federal government that authorized the railway companies—in the 1800s and early 1900s—to build a railway through their land. Therefore, the federal government must compensate the first nations.
This is a good bill and we will vote for it. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which the first nations have been awaiting for 60 years. It is about time that this goes through and that the matter is settled. That is why we will be voting for this bill.
This bill may have some small deficiencies, but overall, the first nations are satisfied. Without being partisan in the least, the government must recognize that, without the cooperation of the opposition parties in a minority government, this bill would not be before the House today. We are in agreement on it.
I hope that I will not hear in this Chamber that the Bloc Québécois has never done anything, is never able to do anything and never will do anything. I can say one thing for certain: with respect to Bill C-30, the Bloc Québécois has played a very active role with the other opposition parties to amend it, to ensure that it fulfills the obligations undertaken and, above all, to ensure that the first nations' claims are taken into account.
I know that some first nations would have liked the limit to be increased by $150 million. I examined all the claims, some of which are specific claims. We need to explain this clearly to the public. We are not talking about land, giving land back, expropriating land or evicting people from their land. We are talking about specific claims. Earlier, I mentioned a railway line that ran through an aboriginal community. In Quebec, there may well be claims pertaining to a hydro line running through a community. The first nations of Quebec will have to invite the Government of Quebec to get involved in cases that might give rise to specific claims.
Let us look at the specific claims that are pending. In Alberta, there are 33; in British Columbia, 306; in Manitoba, 25; in New Brunswick, 12. In Quebec, 68 specific claims have not yet been settled; in Ontario, 111. These numbers are important, and so are the dates of some of these claims. As hard as it is to believe, a number of these specific claims date back more than 20 years. This made no sense, and something had to be done.
That is why this bill was introduced in Parliament. I hope—and that is what I asked the minister—that it can be implemented very quickly, because it is an extremely important bill.
Of course, it will not make up for the lost land. It cannot award land. However, it can at least award financial compensation.
It is easy to understand. I will give another example. When a dam is built to hold back water, the land is flooded. As much as the federal government may want to, it cannot give the land back because it no longer exists; it is flooded. What is flooding the land worth? What is the flooded parcel of land worth? We know the land was probably flooded to regulate the flow of a river or to build a hydro dam, etc. This is part of a number of specific claims.
I can understand and appreciate the minister's response. He answered the opposition member's question quite honestly. The federal government cannot give the land back because it is does not have it. The government can be involved, it can help and ensure that a province can give some of the territory back to the first nations. To do so, there should be a debate on that. For now, what is important is that we take a step forward, as they say.
Since 1973, of the 1,297 specific claims submitted, 513 have been settled. Again, this is since 1973, not 1960 or 1947 or 1950. For most of these specific claims an average settlement of between $15,000 and $1.25 million was awarded. As one might imagine, some claims might be worth a lot more than that. Just consider Caledonia or southern Ontario. Obviously any highway that was built on Mohawk territory—Highway 406, 405 or 401—is worth a lot more. I am talking about billions of dollars. We can continue to debate the situation and the specific claims in other forums.
For now, what is important is that more than 780 files could start to be submitted to the tribunal as soon as this House adopts this bill. That is what the minister and the representative from the Assembly of First Nations told us in committee.
I would like to talk about the tribunal, because it was not clear. I know that the first nations would have liked to play a part in selecting the judges. I have been a lawyer for 30 years, and honestly, I do not know of any lobby groups or groups of any kind that participate in the selection of judges. The goal is to find independent-minded judges. I can understand that judges need a team of researchers so that they are able to make informed decisions. The judges that will sit on the specific claims tribunal must have access to all the necessary expertise, including the experience elders can provide. In fact, elders will probably be called upon to appear before the tribunal to explain, for example, that they have been in a particular location for 200 or 250 years, that they trap in a particular area, and so on.
However, the Bloc was uncompromising when it came to participation in the appointment, selection and designation of the judges who will sit on the tribunal. I think that it is very dangerous to open the doors to different lobbies—with all due respect to my colleagues opposite—whether they are police officers, the military or gay rights groups that may want more gay judges. We would open the doors to almost anyone. It did not make any sense.
That is not to say that our aboriginal brothers' claims do not deserve special attention.
That is not what I am saying. I am saying that superior court judges will be appointed. I also worked on Bill C-31, which concerns the appointment of superior court judges. It is extremely important that the department do its job in order to provide information and explain that when a specific claim reaches the superior court, the judge cannot deal with it overnight, saying “Hurry up. Give me your evidence. Send it to me in writing and I will hand down a decision.” No, the judges who hear these cases must be prepared to take as much time as is necessary.
They will have to take as much time as they need to hand down a decision after hearing all the parties. In my opinion, in a forum such as the specific claims tribunal that will be created, an independent presiding judge who does not owe anyone anything, who does not owe his appointment to a lobby group, is far more neutral when handing down a decision. That is the first thing I wanted to say. There were different opinions on this issue, and I am prepared to discuss it with the first nations that wanted to have a say on this. I will not compromise on this issue. I believe that that part of the bill will remain unchanged, and that is a good thing.
Second, there is the limit of $150 million. We were asked to raise this limit. In my opinion, a limit of $150 million will be sufficient for a great many specific claims. I would say that it will be sufficient for about 80% of claims. At least 50 of the 800 claims are for far more than $150 million, but other claims are for $15,000, $20,000, $1 million or $25 million. The limit for specific claims is $150 million. That is very attractive.
What is also attractive is that the government has allocated a certain amount of money. I hope that this is not an empty promise. I want to remind the minister and the government that in committee, we were told that the government had earmarked $250 million a year for the next 10 years. If my calculations are correct, that amounts to $2.5 billion. The government will have to include that amount in all its upcoming budgets to send a message to the first nations that once the tribunal has handed down a decision, the federal government will pay compensation without delay.
The third issue I want to discuss is the idea that a decision is final and cannot be appealed. I was in litigation for 30 years and, at that time, we had the possibility of going to the Court of Appeal and, if we were not satisfied, to the Supreme Court for very specific cases such as interpretation of the Criminal Code or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What seemed important to us here is that the tribunal can rule that a decision is final and cannot be appealed.
Why a final decision that cannot be appealed? I have said it, and I will not shy away from it. Many settlements have been delayed because the government was judge and judged, it set the limits itself and so on. I would be worried that if we had a level of appeal, the government would use it to appeal a case and therefore delay the settlement.
I see that I have approximately 30 seconds left, so I will quickly say that this is a very interesting bill. I will finish by saying that it is about time we were presented with a bill prepared in collaboration—again, in collaboration—with first nations. There is nothing better.
During the week, we will be studying one or two bills, but the debates will be different. Before us now, we have a bill prepared in collaboration with the first nations, and the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill.
Business of the House
April 17th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, in last fall's throne speech, our government presented five clear truths to Canadians.
We said we would get tough on crime, maintain our prosperous and vibrant economy, improve the environment and health of Canadians, strengthen our federation and restore Canada's place in the world. Over the past few months we have made significant progress in all of these areas with lowering taxes and debt, extending the military mission in Afghanistan, and passing the Tackling Violent Crime Act to get tough on crime.
This week is indeed stronger justice system week. We have been successful so far in moving forward on our plan to tackle violent crime with Bill C-31, a bill to amend the Judges Act which has been sent to the Senate, and Bill C-26, our anti-drug law which passed second reading.
However, we will not rest on our laurels. Today and tomorrow we will wrap up our stronger justice system week by hopefully returning our bill on criminal procedure, Bill C-13, to the Senate. We also hope to debate our bill to reinstate modified provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act, Bill S-3, as well as Bill C-45, dealing with our military justice system.
Next week's theme is “putting voters first” because MPs will be returning to their ridings to consult Canadians in their communities.
The following week, we will be examining another priority: “improving the environment and health of Canadians”.
As members already know, our environmental plan announced in the throne speech was adopted by the House last fall.
There is, however, more to be done. We will start by debating Bill C-33. This bill requires that by 2010, 5% of gasoline, and by 2012, 2% of diesel and home heating oil be comprised of renewable fuels. This bill will help reduce greenhouse gases and represents an important part of our legislative plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
In addition, we will begin debate on two very important bills concerning food safety and consumer and health products in Canada, namely Bill C-51 to modernize the Food and Drugs Act and Bill C-52to establish An Act respecting the safety of consumer products.
Taking together, these two bills represent an extraordinarily tough and thoroughly new approach to consumer safety. I hope that the opposition will work with the government to ensure these pass through the legislative process in a quick and timely fashion.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
I like to think that governments live and learn. None of us are perfect and I would suggest that neither is the government. When it decided to prorogue it may not have realized the implication to the many bills important to Canadians that would be hindered by that decision.
We all live and die by the decisions we make here in the House of Commons. It will be up to Canadians to decide whether we are fast enough or the government is fast enough at producing legislation. There has been a lot of justice legislation tabled, some of which we have supported, and we will continue to move forward in the best interest of Canadians.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for York West for her continued input on criminal justice issues.
Yesterday, there was a great deal of discussion about judges, particularly the fact that there are 31 vacancies already and another 20 are sought to be authorized by Bill C-31. It also came out that there had been no analysis or projections done on the demand for the court system. Now I see in Bill C-13 that we have even more elements of whether there will be greater demands placed upon our courts.
I wonder if the member would care to amplify on the fact that the government has delayed this legislation. It could have been passed easily enough had it not prorogued and introduced a different type of bill, effectively to do the same kind of thing.
We saw that yesterday as well. A number of bills in the first session were already well advanced and yet the government decided to consolidate them in an omnibus bill, thereby requiring that the whole process start all over again.
It seems that the government is not committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system is proceeding in an efficient fashion.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, we should not even have that discussion. Frankly, there are two official languages in Canada, period. Throughout Canada, regardless of what community, individuals have the right to be serviced in either language.
Yesterday we dealt with Bill C-31, which was the appointment of judges. The issue of finding bilingual judges was raised several times. I know it may be easier to find anglophone judges and so on but we have two official languages in Canada. It has been a strength for Canada.
As Canada grows, I think we will find that two languages are much more positive than any barriers. We need to work to overcome those barriers and encourage the whole issue of bilingualism as a strength for our country.