An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

France Bonsant  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of Dec. 10, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for the following family-related reasons:

(a) the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence;

(b) the disappearance of their minor child;

(c) the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; or

(d) the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.

It also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits while on leave.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • Feb. 16, 2011 Passed That Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), be concurred in at report stage.
  • April 28, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-343
Statements By Members

November 17th, 2010 / 2:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition proved once again that it is soft on crime and cares more about criminals than victims and law-abiding Canadians. The Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP banded together yesterday at the HUMA committee and supported and passed Bloc Bill C-343 that would reward youth criminals.

Bill C-343 would provide thousands of dollars from EI for parents to stay home and take care of youth criminals who were injured while committing a crime, such as robbery, arson, gang activity or other criminal acts. The bill would result in increased EI premiums for law-abiding Canadian families and business owners who would be forced to pay even more money to these criminals. It is shocking.

The bill is offensive to victims and to law-abiding Canadians. Our Conservative government will never support a bill that rewards criminals. Unlike the coalition, our government will continue to stand up for victims and for hard-working Canadian families.

Families of Victims of Crime
Oral Questions

November 17th, 2010 / 2:50 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, this government lacks all credibility when it comes to supporting the families of victims of crime. At the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Conservative members were the only ones who voted against Bill C-343, which provides financial support to victims' loved ones. The AFPAD, the murdered or missing persons' families' association of Quebec, has been calling for this kind of financial assistance.

Will the minister have the courage to tell us why her government opposed the Bloc Québécois bill meant to help the families of victims of crime?

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

November 17th, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave). The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House without amendments.

I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to the committee's study of the federal contribution to reducing poverty in Canada.

This study started during the 2nd session of the 39th Parliament. The committee, over the years, has held numerous meetings across the country and has finally completed its work.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee is requesting that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

I wish to thank all the members of the committee, past and present, from both sides of the House, for their hard work, contributions, support, and collaboration during this long study. I also want to thank the committee staff, past and present, for its professional and excellent support.

Employment Insurance
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

April 28th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, again today, I am presenting a petition calling for the adoption of my Bill C-343, to provide assistance to victims of crime and to their families by extending the employment insurance eligibility period and by allowing victims' families to take leave from work and keep their job for an indeterminate period of time.

Later this afternoon there will be a vote on this bill to refer it to committee. On behalf of the hundreds of people who signed this petition and all the victims' families, I would like to see a majority of hon. members in this House vote in favour of this bill.

These 160 signatures, added to all the others, show the public's concern for what happens to victims' families and their desire for the government to take action as soon as possible.

Canada Labour Code
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am presenting a petition that calls for the adoption of my bill, Bill C-343, which provides assistance for victims of crime, and particularly their families, by extending the eligibility period for employment insurance and allowing the families of victims to take time off work and keep their job for an indeterminate period of time.

On April 28, the House will vote to send this bill to committee. On behalf of the hundreds of petitioners and all the families of victims, I hope that a majority of this House will support the bill. These 35 signatures, in addition to all the others, show that the public is concerned about the families of victims and that they want the government to take action as quickly as possible.

Private Member's Bill C-343--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Government Orders

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader on December 10, 2009 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), standing in the name of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Joliette for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to Bill C-343, the parliamentary secretary stated that, in his view, the bill infringes upon the financial initiative of the crown. Specifically, he pointed out that the bill seeks to modify the Canada Labour Code to permit employees to take leave without pay for a number of family-related reasons. He explained that the bill would also amend the Employment Insurance Act in order to allow these employees to receive employment insurance benefits while on such leave for a period of up to 52 weeks, thus resulting in new government spending.

In his intervention, the member for Joliette argued that a royal recommendation is not required since the funds in the employment insurance account consist of premiums paid by both workers and employers and do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has examined the bill carefully, and it is quite clear that Bill C-343 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. The argument put forth by the member for Joliette regarding whether or not funds contributed to the employment insurance fund constitute public revenue was addressed in a Speaker's ruling delivered on November 16, 2009, at Debates page 6751, where it stated:

In essence, all monies received by the government, regardless of source, are deposited in the consolidated revenue fund and become public funds, that is, funds of the Crown. The Constitution Act of 1867 and Standing Order 79 apply to these funds. Thus, a bill proposing a new or increased expenditure of public funds, that is, an appropriation, requires a royal recommendation.

The employment insurance program operates under this framework. The funds in question are public funds and their management is subject to the financial initiative of the Crown.

By extending benefits to employees taking an unpaid leave from work for family-related reasons, Bill C-343 is increasing the expenditures under that act. These expenditures would be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1).

Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received. Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-343 introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead.

This private member's bill would provide leave and benefits to federally regulated workers whose family members have been victims of crime. It calls upon Parliament to amend both the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act.

All members of this House want to support victims of crime and their families. The question is whether or not this bill provides as comprehensive a solution as our Conservative government believes that it should. As mentioned by the parliamentary secretary previously, our government cannot support this bill as it currently is drafted. To do so would be to support a bill that lacks the scope to address the full nature of this very important issue.

To the families who, as victims of violence, are struggling with the loss of a loved one, to the children who have suffered serious injury as the direct result of a criminal offence, to those who have had to live through the nightmare of a child going missing, and to those who have lost a spouse, a common-law partner or child to suicide, as a father to four children and a grandfather of eight grandchildren, I personally empathize with them and I sincerely recognize their pain and hardship.

Looking after the needs of citizens who fall victim to crime is a priority of this government. It is a pledge we made in the 2007 Speech from the Throne indicating that:

In addition to tougher laws, our Government will provide targeted support to communities and victims.

In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, we gave a fair bit of detail about what we plan to do this spring. We said:

Our Government will also offer tangible support to innocent victims of crime and their families. It will give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. It will introduce legislation to give employees of federally regulated industries the right to unpaid leave if they or members of their families are victimized by crime. And our Government will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory, to better fund victim services.

Through budget 2010, the government proposed facilitating access to EI sickness benefits for eligible workers who have lost a family member as the result of a crime. To further demonstrate our government's commitment to ensure that the men and women who put themselves in harm's way have the programs and services they need, this measure will also be extended to immediate family members of military personnel who died resulting from a service-related injury.

Already our government has taken decisive steps to better support victims of crime. This includes investing $52 million over four years to provide programs and services that deal directly with the needs of these victims. We also created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, which is promoting the concerns of victims and ensuring that victims can gain access to federal services and programs. It is very clear that supporting victims of crime is consistent with the government's overall strategy to tackle crime and to strengthen the security of all Canadians.

I will take a moment to highlight the current provisions of the Canada Labour Code and the EI Act that provide access to certain types of leave for victims of crime.

For example, under the Canada Labour Code, a federally regulated employee who is a victim of crime or whose family member is a victim of crime may be entitled to unpaid leave under one of the current leave provisions, including sick leave, compassionate care leave and bereavement leave.

Also, certain employees may be eligible to receive EI benefits through the EI Act. Although the EI program does not provide benefits explicitly for those affected by violent crimes, persons affected in this situation are eligible for up to a maximum of 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits if they are unable to work due to health reasons. That includes stress caused by the injury or loss of a loved one.

In addition, EI compassionate care benefits are available to eligible workers who take a temporary absence from work when an individual considered to be a member of that family falls gravely ill and is at significant risk of death.

Unlike what is proposed in Bill C-343, although well-intended, these measures that we just suggested apply to more than just workers in the federal domain. They apply to all workers in insurable employment, and thanks to our government's recently introduced fairness for the self-employed bill, the special EI benefits I have outlined, including sickness and compassionate care benefits, have also been extended to self-employed individuals who opt into the program.

It is also important to point out that the provinces and territories are largely responsible for the administration of justice. All provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador, have some form of compensation program for victims of crime and their families. While the compensation available under these provincial programs varies from province to province, one type of compensation that is commonly available is for lost earnings. It is also worth noting that several of these compensation programs are more generous than what could be offered through the EI program and provide more broad-based coverage.

I would point to the good example that Quebec has set for the rest of Canada in the comprehensive way it approaches supporting victims of crime.

This legislation sets a strong benchmark to compare to other legislation. I believe the member who introduced this bill was headed in the right direction when she borrowed heavily from that particular text in Quebec.

Our government has sincere sympathy for the family members of victims of violent crime. Our legislative record demonstrates that we are continuing to work in this area to improve services and to improve support.

Although I and our party cannot support Bill C-343 as it is currently drafted, I respect the good intentions of the member opposite. However, as I have indicated in my remarks today, the government believes in a more comprehensive approach and such an approach can only be accomplished through a different piece of legislation and that legislation will be forthcoming from this government.

I can tell members that introducing new leave provisions, including unpaid leave for victims of crime, will be a part of that proposal, as it was promised in the Speech from the Throne.

I would echo the call of the parliamentary secretary for members of this House to be patient for a short while and wait for the proposal of the government to be tabled in this place. Members can then choose which proposal is more comprehensive in its approach on this particular important issue.

We all want to support the victims of crime and I believe all parties will be pleased when they see the measures that the government will be unveiling in the days ahead.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to take part in the debate at second reading of Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave).

This bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead has four components. First, it amends the Canada Labour Code to allow federal government employees to take unpaid leave from work under very exceptional circumstances: if their spouse, common-law partner or child has died during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; if their minor child has gone missing; if their spouse, common-law partner or child commits suicide; or if their minor child is unable to carry on regular activities, in other words lead a relatively normal life, following the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.

In addition to granting unpaid leave, the bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these same employees to receive benefits while on leave for a limited period.

There is no provision in the Canada Labour Code that would allow a federal employee to take unpaid leave for the loss of a loved one under circumstances such as the ones I just mentioned.

One of the legislator's roles is to review and reinterpret legislation in light of society's ever-changing needs. In this case, we are concerned about the needs of families that have been struck by tragedy: the death or suicide of a spouse or child. Moreover, we believe that victims of crime who are left with serious injuries need the support of their immediate family.

Our society has undergone huge changes in recent years. Spouses and parents usually work outside the home and have a fixed schedule. We know that women and mothers commonly work both at home and at paid jobs, so they can seldom take time off work, even for a reason as important as wanting to mourn with their family.

Other changes have also left their mark on our society. Our legislation has always been designed to punish the perpetrators of crime. But until quite recently, the plight of victims of crime has received little or no attention. For some time now, government has altered its perception of what causes crime and what constitutes appropriate punishment, but it has done so unevenly.

As part of this humanistic approach to crime, government is now focusing on victims' rights. This bill is designed to help victims' immediate family members by providing them with financial support for a given time. The fact that it has been introduced here is an indication that our employment insurance program and our labour code no longer meet the needs of Canadians, the vast majority of whom now hold paying jobs.

The sudden disappearance of a child or spouse is a traumatic event. Even though there is very little we can do to help a crime victim's family, it is clear that not having to worry about losing one's job and having access to employment insurance benefits can offer some relief.

When the Liberals were in power, they proposed providing financial support to families through compassionate leave. The goal was to help employees, regardless of whom they worked for, who were forced to leave work to take care of a seriously ill or dying relative. Since January 2004, eligible workers have received six weeks of employment insurance benefits for compassionate care leave along with eight weeks of job protection under the Canada Labour Code. Such individuals could leave work temporarily without worrying about losing pay or the job itself if a parent, spouse or child was dying or seriously ill.

Along the same lines, Bill C-343 seeks to help families in certain extremely exceptional cases for “family reasons” by providing them with employment insurance benefits and protection under the Canada Labour Code. However, this is only for federal government employees. It makes sense for the Government of Canada, as an employer, to set an example for businesses in Canada.

This bill should be studied in committee to give the House an opportunity to review and rationalize the entire concept of “family leave”, which already includes parental leave, compassionate care leave and maternity leave.

Right now, all of these components can cause some confusion with the way the law is written.

We are waiting for the Conservative government to follow up on the recent throne speech with a proposal for Canadians. We are waiting. We will have to make sure that the government's bill is not contrary to the fundamentals of Bill C-343.

We believe that there is a clear need for this bill. However, a number of elements require closer examination. This bill proposes that “close family members” should include spouses, common-law spouses and children, but it does not include the death, under similar circumstances, of the employee's mother or father.

Second, the duration of the unpaid leave requires further study. The bill provides for 104 weeks of leave for an employee if their child is injured during the commission of a crime and needs the constant presence of the parent. This amount of leave, as well as the 104 weeks of leave following the death of the spouse, common-law partner or child as the result of a crime, should be reviewed. Finally, the bill provides for 52 weeks of leave in the case of the disappearance of a minor child.

The bill raises a number of questions regarding the duration of the unpaid leave under the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act especially since the 2004 legislation provides only six weeks, or 42 days, of compassionate care leave with employment insurance benefits and eight weeks of employment protection under the Canada Labour Code.

There should be greater consistency in the duration of the different types of family leave.

What is being proposed in Bill C-343 is not new. Quebeckers in these circumstances are already protected by Quebec legislation.

We should take a closer look at Quebec's legislation in order to determine what it has to say regarding this bill when the bill is studied by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The newspapers and television often report terrible news about the death of an individual during the commission of a crime. Or we hear about an entire neighbourhood or village that has volunteered for days or weeks to help the police find an eight-year-old who disappeared without a trace while returning home from school.

Canada is not a country where families are afraid to walk in a park on a Sunday afternoon. However, crimes do take place here and we must recognize, in our Canadian legislation, that the state must help victims of crime and their families.

I will be voting in favour of Bill C-343 so that it can be studied in committee and I congratulate the member for Compton—Stanstead on her initiative.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave). I thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for tabling this important legislation.

The bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for the following family-related reasons: (a) the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; (b) the disappearance of their minor child; (c) the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; and (d) the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.

The bill would also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits while on leave.

Very clearly I support this bill. It is a very important improvement to our social service network in Canada. I support the bill because I believe it is a significant measure that would help people who are victims of crime.

We hear a lot of talk in this place, especially from the Conservatives, about supporting victims of crime, but here we have a measure that is a real and tangible assistance. It is very important to note that the member for Compton—Stanstead has gone out ahead of the pack, ahead of the government on this issue and developed an idea that has real meaning for victims of crime.

Helping people in these circumstances, when someone they love, a child, a spouse or partner, is directly affected by a criminal act or when they take their own life is most appropriate. It is one of those areas where we, working collectively as a community, can act to be of significant assistance.

Ensuring that people have time, that their employment is protected and that they have income, while they deal with the consequences of a serious crime, is a good thing. The member for Compton—Stanstead put it very well in her speech, when she said:

We know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of the victims. These events cause great psychological distress for many relatives and parents. The victims’ families wait and worry, mourn and frequently feel depressed, often over extended periods of time. In cases of murders and disappearances in particular, more than two years can pass between the criminal act and the resolution of the investigation. During this period, family members are deeply affected. They cannot pursue their regular activities. They have access to support and help, but they have no financial support. Additional financial worries are the last thing they need.

The member put it very eloquently in that quote from her speech in the first hour of debate on the bill. We know there are many needs associated when families are victims of crime in our society. We know there are many ways we can offer assistance. We know there are gaps in that assistance. The bill goes a significant way to fill one of those major gaps.

There are some people who would say that we cannot afford such a measure, and we have heard that kind of commentary from the government benches. I would say we cannot do without it. We cannot afford not to do it. It is very important.

Others will say that it is too generous, that it places too much of a demand on employment insurance resources. That is nonsense.

We know that in the past the federal government has collected far more in EI premiums and employer contributions than was ever spent on the program. I think $57 billion is the figure to be exact. That money could have easily be spent on improving the EI program, protecting workers, supporting families and communities, but Liberals and Conservatives used it to pay off the deficit that they were responsible for running up.

We could have had a program that supported workers during a recession. We could have expanded EI to assist workers when their families were victims of crime. However, no, that money was taken from workers and employers. We were told it would be used for EI, but it used for another purpose altogether. That was not right or fair.

The bill before us today shows us an appropriate use for the EI fund. I doubt that few workers, when pressed, would not support helping others in the way the bill proposes.

The current Conservative government seems to be heading down that road again, where we are increasing premiums for workers and employers, increasing the payroll taxes that they pay for EI. That measure was announced in the recent budget, and it will come in this coming year. Employers and employees will pay more into the EI program starting next year, there again, building a new surplus in the program. It is predicted to balloon to $19 billion in only a few years.

This might be okay if the money were being directed toward improvements in the EI program, but there is no guarantee of that in what has been proposed. If more people were made eligible for EI, if the qualifying periods were reduced, that would be a good thing, but that is not what will go on here. If the benefits paid to unemployed people were improved, that would be a good thing, but, again, that is not what has been proposed with this increase. If the waiting period were eliminated, that would be a good thing too, but, again, that is not proposed by the government with its increase in payroll taxes.

We know that is not the intention of what will happen with the increase in EI premiums. Again, we are about to face 800,000 Canadians ending their EI claims, coming off EI in the next few months and there is no program in place to extend that, no program to continue or extend support for those people. Many Canadians are going to be in crisis as a result of that. If we were using the resources that are collected from Canadian workers and employers to improve the EI program, that would be one thing, but there is no plan to do that.

I think Canadian workers and employers would accept increases if they knew there was a benefit to be had, if there were a benefit to workers who might lose their job, if there were a benefit to employers to ensure that the people who work for them would be taken care of, if there were a benefit to communities to ensure that people would continue to have an income to spend in those communities to support other businesses and local economies. There is not much question that Canadian workers and employers would support that kind of program.

The bill would provide a very specific benefit. It would provide benefits to workers and families who have been victims of crime. We know that is a very significant moment in anyone's life and it is a time when they can use all the support and consideration that can be mustered for them. The bill would be a significant addition to that.

We know employers would benefit from this kind of measure. Employers would not necessarily lose employees in whom they might have invested training, who knows their business, who knows how to do the job. If they are the victim of a crime and are forced to leave that position, there is a loss to employers, a loss to a business in that situation. The bill would help to ensure that does not happen in the future.

The bill would also assist communities because communities want to help people who are in these circumstances. They want to ensure that their neighbours are taken care of. They want to ensure that the people next door have the support they need when this kind of tragedy strikes them. The bill would provide those benefits. Therefore, it is a very significant measure in that way.

I am happy the Canadian Labour Congress has supported an earlier version of the bill. I am sure it supports this bill too. It knows it is a measure that supports Canadian workers and improves the lives of workers and communities. It knows it supports the Canadian economy, that it supports Canadian employers and that is why it has given this measure its support.

We know it is of limited scope. The Canada Labour Code, unfortunately, only affects certain workers in Canada, workers in federal jurisdiction, people who work in transportation, communications and banking for instance. However, this would set a new standard for support of workers, one that hopefully other provinces will copy. We know Quebec has certain programs in place already, but this will stimulate activity to support families and workers who are the victims of crime in other jurisdictions. It is a measure on which we should move forward.

Again, I want to thank the member for introducing the legislation and I am happy to say that I will be supporting it.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

March 18th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

moved that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am once again very proud to introduce Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), at second reading.

This bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for a period of 52 to 104 weeks for the following family-related reasons: the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; the disappearance of their minor child; the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; or the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.

This bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits for up to 52 weeks while on leave instead of the 15 weeks currently provided for sickness benefits.

In December 2007, the Quebec National Assembly showed the way by passing Bill 58, which allows employees and their families who were the victims of a criminal act or who are mourning a suicide or have a missing child to take unpaid leave and keep their jobs for a period of up to 104 weeks.

Unfortunately, the current federal legislation results in discrimination against people whose jobs fall under the Canada Labour Code. Since these people do not have their jobs guaranteed, they can take only 15 weeks of sick leave. The failure of the federal legislators to act in this regard has created two categories of workers: those who can get through difficult times with their jobs intact and those who are forced to choose between losing their jobs and returning quickly to work.

It is one thing to allow people to take some time off and return to the same kind of job, but the result will be the same if they do not have enough income to meet their needs: they will have no other choice than to return quickly to work. It is particularly difficult for them to rebuild their lives. In the view of the Bloc Québécois, which has always been very concerned about victims and their families, the federal government should immediately follow Quebec's lead for a number of reasons.

We know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of the victims. These events cause great psychological distress for many relatives and parents. The victims’ families wait and worry, mourn and frequently feel depressed, often over extended periods of time. In cases of murders and disappearances in particular, more than two years can pass between the criminal act and the resolution of the investigation. During this period, family members are deeply affected. They cannot pursue their regular activities. They have access to support and help, but they have no financial support. Additional financial worries are the last thing they need.

It is terrible to think that, at present, these people are left to their fate and have to keep working during this period as if nothing had happened because they have to meet their family’s needs as we all do. These people need time to get over such difficult events and gradually rejoin the work force at their own pace. Denying and ignoring that is simply adding insult to injury.

Sadly, several disappearances and murders have shaken Quebec in recent years. I think of Cédrika Provencher, Nancy Michaud, Alexandre Livernoche, Julie Surprenant, Julie Boisvenu, Jolène Riendeau and Natasha Cournoyer. We can also think of the 14 victims of the tragedy at the École Polytechnique, as well as the shootout at Dawson College that claimed the life of young Anastasia De Sousa.

In my riding of Compton—Stanstead, Isabelle Bolduc was assaulted and murdered in 1996. Last Friday, the incident in which Whitney et Tracy Hannah were shot to death in Belleville, Ontario, is another example of these terrible tragedies for the families.

I have given but a few examples, but it is for the relatives, friends and loved ones of all these families that I am fighting today and calling on the cooperation of all parties. After all, because of the pain and suffering and other impact of violent acts, are the victims' families not victims themselves? Grieving following a disappearance, murder or suicide takes longer than in other instances, particularly when rape or violence has taken place. There are more feelings of frustration, rage and powerlessness. This is especially true when a crime or suicide is involved.

This reality has been recognized by several members of this House, including Conservative members. For instance, the hon. member for Thornhill expressed with conviction compassion and concern for the lives of victims. Moreover, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada as well as the Minister of Public Safety made an official commitment in April 2009 to support the loved ones of victims. The former public safety minister and member for York—Simcoe said this, and I quote:

This Government recognizes that crime places a heavy toll on individual victims, their families, communities and society-at-large. Supporting victims takes a collaborative effort, and this Government is committed to continuing to work with our partners to help victims of crime—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour said:

All members here certainly sympathize with those whose loved ones have been victims of violent crime. There is no question about that. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from that kind of tragedy.

There were symbolic measures to go with these fine speeches. This government even established the annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week in 2005 and organizes symposiums on that occasion. Such well-intentioned events look good on the calendar and provide great photo-ops, but how do they provide tangible help to the victims' families?

Not only are these types of measures inadequate, but the Conservative members are talking out of both sides of their mouths. According to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour:

The employment insurance program already responds to the needs of Canadians in these difficult circumstances. Most provinces already offer a variety of supports...such as coverage of medical expenses, as well as access to counselling services.

I invite him to say that to families who have lost a child or a spouse to crime and ask them whether the medical coverage pays for groceries, rent and household expenses.

What is more, this government says that provincial compensation measures such as IVAC are enough for these families. But is $3,000 really enough to cover a family's expenses for months? As a mother, I would say no. The government is lying when it says that 15 weeks of employment insurance with a bit of additional compensation can cover the needs of a family as it heals from such a tragedy. The reality is that in 2010, people who are filled with sorrow have to return to work as though nothing ever happened.

Despite that, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour went on to say:

[Justice Canada] already offers a variety of programs and services, including...the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

That is all very well, but a structure that costs $1.5 million a year and serves “to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities” is really not enough. What families need is not more administrative layers, but rather money to live on. Bureaucracy is being fattened up, but the relatives of victims who want to take time off work to look after their family and deal with their pain remain just as badly off.

With last week's budget, the government provided for some $6.6 million over two years to increase support for victims of crime. Not only is this sum an affront, but what it covers and how it will be allocated remain a mystery.

Emailed questions to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are returned unanswered for reasons of security.

This dubious excuse is used so often for so many reasons by the members opposite that it is meaningless.

Not only is this bill furthest along in the legislative process, but it provides a much better response to the needs of the families of victims of crime than the bill referred to by the Conservatives in the latest throne speech. The potential Conservative bill—which does not yet exist—will be much more restrictive, since it will provide special benefits only to the families of murder victims. The Bloc's bill, on the other hand, includes the families of victims of crimes causing death and of suicide victims.

The potential Conservative bill promises these people access only to employment insurance sickness benefits, that is, to 15 weeks of benefits. The Bloc calls for benefits that could extend to 52 weeks, when the situation requires it.

On December 10, the Conservative government, the one that keeps saying how it wants to help victims, said that it would vote against Bill C-343. It added that it would introduce its own bill excluding any type of new EI benefits. If that happens, the public will rightly understand that this government prefers to fill prisons with minors rather than help those who really need it. That is a serious mistake. If the Conservative government were consistent, it would support this bill without hesitation and turn its words into commitments for affected families.

Since they came to power, these Reform Conservatives have talked ad nauseam about being tough on crime. Law and order for them is nothing less than a government priority. They loudly proclaim that their goal is the well-being and security of the public, focusing their speeches on cracking down on criminals. The measures adopted prior to prorogation on prison terms are law and order measures only. The parents and partners of victims are left to their own devices and too often forgotten. This is why it is not enough to fill the prisons. Support must be given to those affected by these crimes.

If the members of this House oppose this bill, they will no doubt say that these measures will cost the government too much, with the extension of EI benefits from 15 to 52 weeks. The members opposite are saying that the bill will cost over $400 million. As usual, they are either miscalculating or lying deliberately. Fortunately, the type of tragic event requiring 52 weeks of benefits does not happen often. There have been fewer crimes committed in recent years, which considerably reduces the number of such incidents and thus the number of people needing EI benefits for 52 weeks.

Similarly, there are not many people who would become eligible for EI after the adoption of the bill. Everyone reacts in his or her own way to the loss of someone, but for some eligible people, a loss of income is not an option. We can also see that for some people, remaining at work is a way to get back to a normal life after a while. There are also people who do not work or who cannot find an insurable job or who do not work enough hours to be eligible for benefits. For all those reasons, the $400 million projected by the government is far too high. It is certainly a far cry from the Conservative government's defence budget.

Employees and employers are contributing enough to EI to allow families affected by such traumatic events to collect benefits. The government does not pay into EI. The $56 billion surplus that simply vanished from the EI fund makes the low cost of the bill all the more obvious. It is clear that if the government really cares for victims and their families, it will not hesitate for one second to support the bill.

If, however, the government votes against the bill, the public will conclude with good reason that it is totally indifferent to the families of victims. People will not soon forget because they have always been very sensitive to that issue.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

March 18th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that the member for Compton—Stanstead has an interest in this particular bill. When my colleague read the portion from the throne speech, one could hardly say that it is a message of indifference. In fact, it is a message of compassion.

I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-343. The bill proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and would provide for unpaid leave for federally-regulated employees whose family members were victims of violent crime. It would also create a new EI benefit to provide temporary income support to eligible family members who take this unpaid leave.

Our government empathizes with those who have lost loved ones due to violent crimes or suicide. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from this kind of tragic loss. People need time to work through their stages of grief and to learn to cope. There is no particular magic formula for what is the right amount of time to deal with this kind of trauma or turns of events. That is especially true when grieving families are victims of violence.

What we need, therefore, is an approach that is flexible enough to meet the unique needs of families in these circumstances. We need an approach that is compassionate. We also need an approach that is as accessible as possible for those who need this kind of assistance. Looking after the needs of citizens who fall victim to violent crime is a priority for this government, has been a priority of this government and will continue to be a priority of this government.

As indicated in the remarks I made in the House on December 10, 2009, our government is concerned about the impact of violence on all Canadians. We are taking action in a manner that is balanced and fair. There have been several references to this bill indicating that this legislation is based upon legislation that was recently implemented in the province of Quebec. This legislation provides a strong example of how a government can support those who are suffering from a violent criminal act. It is my understanding that the Quebec legislation was largely due to the successful efforts of the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association and, in particular, its past president, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu.

Members may recognize his name as Mr. Boisvenu was named to the Senate by the Prime Minister on January 29, 2010. Mr. Boisvenu was recently part of the announced legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank yesterday with the Minister of Public Safety, and just days ago, he helped announce legislative amendments to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent repeat young offenders. We welcome him to the Senate and wish him every success as he continues to work on behalf of victims of crime to ensure they receive the support they deserve from every level of government.

The member for Compton—Stanstead is to be commended for bringing this issue before the House. We can all see the intent of this bill, which is to give comfort to families who are in a situation that can only be described as heartbreaking. That intent is laudable.

For any family member, the loss of a loved one is painful. It is almost unimaginable when that loss involves a child. I do not think any member of the House or any citizen of this country would ever expect a grieving family to simply carry on after a few days off. There needs to be more time to heal and a comprehensive plan to support these individuals as they come to grips with the impact this violent criminal act has had on their lives. I will be frank. We need to be broader in our approach than this bill permits.

Members on this side of the House understand the need to support victims of crime. This is why our government has had such a strong record of helping individuals whose lives have been fundamentally changed by violent crime.

It was our government that created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. This position was created to better meet the needs of victims of crime in areas of federal jurisdiction. It was with great pride that in April of 2007, the Minister of Justice named Steve Sullivan as the first ombudsman. Victims can contact this office to learn more about their rights under federal law and the services available to them or to make a complaint about any federal agency or federal legislation dealing with victims of crime.

In addition to its direct work with victims, the office of ombudsman also works to ensure that policy-makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims' needs and concerns, and to identify important issues and trends that may negatively impact victims. Where appropriate, the ombudsman may also make recommendations to the federal government.

It was our government that contributed $52 million to the victims fund to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system. This fund provides individual victims of crime with emergency funding to prevent undue hardship when there is no other source of financial assistance. It also provides funds for family members of homicide victims to assist them with the expenses incurred to attend early parole eligibility hearings or National Parole Board hearings. This is in addition to the support for NGOs that encourage the development of new approaches, promote access to justice for victims of crime, improve the capacity of victim service providers, foster the establishment of referral networks and increase awareness of services available to victims of crime and their families.

It is important to remember in the context of this debate the significant role provinces play, both in administrating the criminal justice system as well as providing supporting for victims of crime. This bill can only apply to federally regulated industries, which comprise around 10% of the Canadian workforce. That is why the provincial and territorial implementation component of the victims fund is designed to encourage implementation of federal, provincial and territorial legislation for victims of crime. This would include Criminal Code provisions, such as victim impact statements and testimonial aids as well as support for adherence to the Canadian statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime.

However, our work is not done and we have committed to doing more. That is why the following piece was included in the Speech from the Throne:

Our Government will also offer tangible support to innocent victims of crime and their families. It will give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. It will introduce legislation to give employees of federally regulated industries the right to unpaid leave if they or members of their families are victimized by crime. And our Government will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory, to better fund victim services.

This is not a new commitment by our government. During the first hour of debate in the second session of this Parliament on December 10, 2009, I signaled the intent of the government to bring forward its own legislation to assist victims of crime and their families.

While there may be similarities between the broad direction the government has indicated and the member's bill, I do not wish to unduly get the member's hopes up. When I spoke to the bill in the second session of this Parliament, I indicated that the government cannot support the bill. That position has not changed. While we share a common purpose, there are significant details in this bill that will inadvertently increase the cost of such a program or have unintended consequences.

There is also a need for a more comprehensive approach to this issue. While having time off to grieve is essential, our government has taken a more participatory approach to the criminal justice system. We have worked across multiple departments to address the needs of those affected by crime. Without revealing any details of the coming government announcement, I can only say that the government's approach will be more encompassing when addressing the needs of family members.

The member across may question why we would not simply be able to amend her bill at committee. The problem is that the government's proposed changes would go beyond the scope of her bill, and once that scope is established at second reading, it would be procedurally impossible to amend it at committee stage. That is why it would make good sense simply to have this bill traded down the order paper or be defeated at second reading and to support the government's legislation when it is introduced in the House.

For these reasons, we cannot support the bill. I would urge all members of the House to put off consideration of the bill until the government has a chance to table the measures that were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.

Canadians take great pride in being a society that cares for the most vulnerable and lends a helping hand to those who need it when faced with adversity. In that regard, there is much potential in the bill, but I would urge all members of the House to wait for the government's proposal to be introduced in its place.

Our government has deep sympathy for family members of victims of violent crime, and our legislation and legislative record demonstrate this. Not only are we providing victims of violent crime with the tools they need, we are also finding solutions to help protect our citizens from becoming victims of crime in the first place.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

March 18th, 2010 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this private member's bill, Bill C-343.

It was only December 10 that we were all assembled here. Primarily the same players who are making speeches tonight were making speeches that night. After that whole process, the Prime Minister prorogued the House, and here we are back again to repeat where we left off.

I have to commiserate with the member when the parliamentary secretary says to be patient, that the government is going to deal with the issue, is going to bring in a bill that she will like, so maybe she should drop her bill and give the government leeway to bring in its own bill. The same result may happen again. The Prime Minister may prorogue the House or we may get into an election and the government will escape once again.

I am mindful of the social programs in Canada being somewhat behind those in other countries. For example, the national health care system in England, I believe, was brought in in 1949 right after the war when the economy was in bad shape. England had the foresight to bring in a national health care program. In Canada it was 1966.

France has a terrific health care program, social program. For those members who have not seen Michael Moore's movie Sicko, I think it is worth seeing. He profiles France's system, where people who have cancer are treated. This particular gentleman, after his recovery, was sent to the Riviera for three months to recover. In France, pregnant women have people who come in and do the laundry and cook meals. Members can see it is a totally different thought process, a different approach than we have in North America.

In France, the Scandinavian countries and England, the approach is more to try to stay healthy, and people get through their lives and are more productive if they are healthy in body and mind. The North American approach seems to be the opposite. It is basically the rat race, the little hamster on the wheel. We race our way to the end of our lives, perform our work and have as little government as possible.

Canada has the right wing, the neo-Reaganites I guess we would call them, trying to roll back the clock. I can just imagine if these people had a majority government. The country has been saved now twice from a Conservative majority, and I really am very happy about that. Hopefully we can save the country in the future from a Conservative majority. The Conservative agenda is to roll things back. We see it right now with the race to the bottom in corporate tax rates. There is no enemy out there, but I guess the Conservatives see one.

The United States has a corporate tax rate of 35%. What did the Conservative government do? It took the rate down to 15%. That is supposed to create jobs, but it has no proof that that is being done.

Just look at the parliamentary secretary's arguments. I read Hansard and I was here when he spoke back on December 10. He was talking about how this bill is going to cost $400 million and saying, whoa, that is scary and we cannot do this. First of all, how does he quantify that?

With all the crime bills the Conservative government is bringing in, the parliamentary secretary has said the crime rate will go down. If that is the case, then all the great crime bills it is going to bring in will reduce the crime rates in the country, so the cost for the bill should be even less. But no. He obviously has a different view of where the crime rates are going because while the proponent of the bill suggests that the cost will be around $50 million, he says it is $400 million. He has it eight times as high. What does he think, that the crime rate is going to go up eight times, that we have to incur costs because of this bill?

I would recommend to the government, and I would certainly recommend to the House, that we proceed with this bill to second reading, that we make any amendments that we need, that we proceed and pass this bill, and get it as far along the way as possible while the government is considering its options.

I must say to the government, while it is considering its options, it should look at England, France, and countries that have really developed social programs, when it is developing its program, it should try to come up with and bring in ideas that work.

We already know that corporate tax cuts do not necessarily produce results that the government thought it would. We know that mandatory minimums, that were tried 25 years ago by Ronald Reagan, have resulted in huge expansive private prisons in the United States, filled to the capacity with inmates. The crime rates have gone up. There are so many prisoners that the governor of California, who we just saw a couple of weeks ago at the governors conference, is letting people out. The state cannot afford to keep them anymore.

Can you not learn from the mistakes of others? Do you not know that if you develop the prison system the way California has and fill it up with people, you are going to bankrupt the country and you will not be able to keep the people in prison anyway, at the end of the day?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members’ Business

March 18th, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, my Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead, who has been fighting to have this bill passed for three years now, introduced Bill C-343, which would provide assistance for the families of victims of crime or suicide.

As a mother, I am very honoured to speak to this bill. I must mention that this bill has the support of a number of individuals and groups, including the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association, whose current president told me that he supported the bill and wanted to see the Conservatives support it.

I think that when we are talking about human life and suffering, partisanship no longer matters. This bill is based on the recognition of a fundamental human reality, since up until now, families of victims of crime or suicide had to continue to work through their suffering, as though nothing had happened.

In a modern society like ours, workers who are confronted by tragedies like this must be able to have their jobs guaranteed. The federal government must follow Quebec's lead. Two years ago, with the passage of Bill 58, Quebec helped guarantee the jobs of these family members for up to two years. With Bill C-343, workers under federal jurisdiction will be protected, as are workers in Quebec. It is a matter of justice.

The bill does even more than that. As I said, the bill helps guarantee jobs, but it also allows these families to take a leave from work and to receive employment insurance benefits for up to 52 weeks. That would enable these people to deal with their suffering and work through their grief, although that can take a very long time. At least something would be done for them. Accordingly, the bill also proposes changes to the Employment Insurance Act.

On the face of it, this bill is not only important, but absolutely crucial for the families of victims of crime. How could anyone vote against it? I simply do not understand. Who could vote against this kind of bill, which proposes important measures for these families? Who? The so-called champions of law and order, who claim they want to work for victims and help victims? As usual, it is nothing but words, words, words. When the time comes to take real action and support a bill that, logically, should be supported, they do not want to. They do not show up.

Personally, and many Bloc members think the same thing, I would have thought that this bill would get the support of at least one Conservative—not two, one—at least the person who has publicly supported it from its inception and even helped create it. That would be only too logical. But yesterday we learned that the senator, the one Conservative who could have supported this bill, had gone back on his word. Suddenly, the bill was no good and, according to him, it was completely useless. He added that the Conservative solution, mentioned in the throne speech and the budget, is much better and that the Conservatives no longer needed to support this bill, which is completely useless.

But that is not true. What the Conservatives are proposing and what this bill proposes are two completely different things. What they are proposing—or what we think they might propose—is an ombudsman, as my colleague mentioned earlier. So far, he has said the ombudsman position has been created, but upon reading, we learn that it will be created. It has not even been created yet.

I do not know what he is talking about. I am not sure he even knows what he is talking about. There is no ombudsman, and if there is one, I would like to know. We would all like to know.

What are we being offered? $3.3 million. An ombudsman would cost $1.5 million. This would leave $1.8 million for the families of murdered children or other family members. There is nothing, however, for the families of family members who have been kidnapped. Naturally, there is nothing with respect to suicide. There is nothing for children who might have suffered severe injuries. Nothing. Can it be said that our bill and these proposals are one and the same? No. Logic dictates that they are not the same.

Our bill is much more generous. Incidentally, I thank the other two opposition parties for recognizing it outright.

Our bill was drafted with this person. To say that it is completely useless is tantamount to saying that the bill is useless to those having to cope with the disappearance of minor children, the death by suicide of a spouse, common law partner or child, and the families with minor children who have become disabled as a result of a crime, that it is useless and irrelevant to them. To say that this bill is completely useless shows contempt for all the families of victims of crime other than murder. I am sorry to say that I would never have expected such a degree of partisanship in this House.

Let us be clear. The Conservatives' proposal set out in the throne speech and the budget is a clunker, as they are called in the automotive industry. The reality is that we do not want their clunker.

As I said, we have the support of the new president of the AFPAD, the murdered or missing persons' families' association.

December 10th, 2009 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On November 6, the Speaker made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business. In particular, the Speaker raised concerns about Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), which in the Speaker's view appeared to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown.

Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-343 would add a new purpose to the Employment Insurance Act which would require new spending and therefore would require a royal recommendation.

Let me explain how the bill would require new spending.

Bill C-343 would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for four family related reasons: first, the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury as a result of a criminal offence; second, the disappearance of their minor child; third, the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; or fourth, the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child as a direct result of a criminal offence.

Bill C-343 would then change the Employment Insurance Act to allow all EI eligible employees to receive up to 52 weeks of EI benefits when they took the proposed new family leave under the Canada Labour Code. As a result, the EI benefit contemplated in Bill C-343 would add a new purpose that is not currently authorized in the Employment Insurance Act, which would require new government spending.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that Bill C-343 would cost the government between $340 million and $410 million per year, depending on the level of criminal activity in the country. Precedents demonstrate that legislation for new spending for EI benefits not currently authorized under the Employment Insurance Act require a royal recommendation.

On November 6, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) that “Bill C-269...extends coverage of the employment insurance plan to the self-employed. New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation. I must rule that...Bill C-269 requires a royal recommendation”.

Bill C-343 would add a new purpose to the Employment Insurance Act, which is not currently authorized and should therefore be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

December 10th, 2009 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to explain things.

Today, I am very proud to introduce Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), at second reading.

This bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for a period of 52 to 104 weeks for the following family-related reasons: the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; the disappearance of their minor child; the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; or the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence. This bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits for up to 52 weeks instead of the 15 weeks currently provided for sickness benefits.

In December 2007, the Quebec National Assembly showed the way by passing Bill 58, which allows employees and their families who were the victims of a criminal act or who are mourning a suicide or have a missing child to take unpaid leave and keep their jobs for a period of up to 104 weeks.

Unfortunately, the current federal legislation results in discrimination against people whose jobs fall under the Canada Labour Code. Since these people do not have their jobs guaranteed, they can take only 15 weeks of sick leave. The failure of the federal legislators to act in this regard has created two categories of workers: those who can get through difficult times with their jobs intact and those who are forced to choose between losing their jobs and returning quickly to work.

Although it is good that people can take some time off and return to the same kind of job, the result will be the same if they do not have enough income to meet their needs: they will have no other choice than to return quickly to work. In the view of the Bloc Québécois, which has always been very concerned about victims and their families, the federal government should immediately follow Quebec's lead for a number of reasons.

First of all, we know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of the victims. These events cause great psychological distress for many relatives and parents. The victims’ families wait and worry, mourn and frequently feel depressed, often over extended periods of time. In cases of murders and disappearances in particular, more than two years can pass between the criminal act and the resolution of the investigation.

During this period, family members are deeply affected and cannot pursue their regular activities. They need support, help and understanding and most importantly, no additional worries as a result of their financial situation. It is terrible to think that, at present, these people are left to their fate and have to keep working during this period as if nothing had happened because they have to meet their family’s needs like everyone else. These people need time to get over such difficult events and gradually rejoin the work force at their own pace.

Quebec has unfortunately been shaken, over the last few years, by a number of murders and disappearances. I am thinking in particular of Cédrika Provencher, Nancy Michaud, Alexandre Livernoche, Julie Surprenant, Julie Boisvenu, Jolène Riendeau and, just recently, Natasha Cournoyer. I could also mention, in this commemorative week, the 14 victims of the shootings at the École Polytechnique, as well as the shootings at Dawson College, in which young Anastasia de Sousa lost her life. In my own riding of Compton—Stanstead, Isabelle Bolduc was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1996. I have named only a few of the cases, but I am fighting today for the parents, relatives and friends of all these families.

After all, are the victims’ families not also victimized by the anguish, despair and other repercussions they suffer as a result of the violent act? When people are mourning a disappearance, a homicide or a suicide, it takes longer and is more complex than other kinds of mourning, especially when rape or violence was involved. There are greater feelings of frustration, anger and powerlessness, even more so when the death was caused by a criminal or by the victim himself or herself.

Parallel to these events, several citizens' initiatives arose out of the sense of solidarity felt by the families. For example, the Quebec families affected by these tragedies came together in 2004 to form the Murdered or Missing Person’s Families’ Association, which is a Quebec organization that comes to the aid of victims’ families. When our bill was introduced at first reading, the MMPFA strongly supported it. The members of this association work very hard to support the families and are convinced that the families should be able to face these crises in their lives without any financial worries hanging over their hands.

From the start of the session, this government has said again and again that we have to be tough on crime. For the Conservative Reform Party, law and order is a government priority. They loudly proclaim that they are thinking of the well-being of the population and its security by getting tough on crime. However, criminals now have more rights and get more attention than the victims' families, who have no legal recourse. Measures adopted in recent months concerning prison sentences focus on just one aspect of these tragedies. Victims' families and spouses are not taken care of and are all too often forgotten. Therefore, it is not enough to fill our prisons. We must give tangible support to the families affected by these tragedies.

In recognition of this fact, some members of the Conservative government have stated their support for victims' families. The member for Thornhill said, “It would be nice if all of the opposition parties showed as much concern and compassion for the lives of victims and their families as they do for the perpetrators.” Also, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada as well as the Minister of Public Safety made an official commitment in April 2009 to support victims' families. I will quote the Minister of Public Safety:

This Government recognizes that crime places a heavy toll on individual victims, their families, communities and society-at-large. Supporting victims takes a collaborative effort, and this Government is committed to continuing to work with our partners to help victims of crime...

This government even established the annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week in 2005 and organizes symposiums on that occasion. Such events are not enough. If the Conservative government is consistent, it will not hesitate to support this bill and will transform its words into concrete action for families. As they say; put your money where your mouth is.

Moreover, any members of this House who are opposed to this bill will no doubt say that these new measures will cost the government too much money because they extend employment insurance benefits from 15 to 52 weeks. Fortunately, though, these sorts of tragic events that would require 52 weeks of benefits do not occur frequently. By the same token, not many people would become eligible for employment insurance with the passage of this bill. We can assume that a certain portion of the eligible population is unlikely to experience a drop in income and that some people would want to go back to work after a time in order to resume a normal life. In addition, a certain portion of the population does not work, is not covered by EI or does not work enough hours to qualify for benefits.

Because of these various factors, our estimates put the total cost at roughly $50 million a year. A lawyer told me that when you want to get an answer to a question, you have to find the answer before asking the question. This is a minimal expense considering the annual federal budget, a mere drop in the ocean. Employment insurance is sufficiently well funded by workers to enable families who suffer such a traumatic event to receive benefits.

Considering the $56 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, it is even clearer that this bill would not cost much. If this government is really concerned about victims and their families, it will not hesitate one second to vote for this bill. But if it votes against the bill, the public will rightly see that as indicative of the government's total indifference to victims' families and will remember that for a long time to come.

In closing, I want to address all the families of victims of crime or suicide and tell them that the Bloc Québécois and I will work very hard so that this bill receives the support of a majority of members of this House. I dare to hope that if the members here are moved by the fate of victims and their families, they will rise with pride to vote for Bill C-343.

I went into politics to make a difference, and I sincerely believe that these measures will provide valuable help for families that badly need it. I therefore call on all my colleagues in this House to walk the talk. The well-being of crime victims' families depends on it.