An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration)
Dick Harris Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Committee Report Presented
Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-316.
- May 16, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- May 16, 2012 Passed That Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
- May 16, 2012 Failed That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
- Nov. 30, 2011 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.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 15th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
Jack Harris St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak, but I am not very pleased to speak to this bill because it is Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, which would seek to further penalize individuals who find themselves in jail as a result of the commission of an offence, or perhaps they are awaiting trial and may even be acquitted of the offence.
The hon. member opposite has seen fit to take a piece of legislation that is designed to ensure that people who have earned through paying premiums the right to employment insurance and deprive them of some of those benefits in addition to whatever penalty they receive.
In fact, what it says is that there are two people who are equal before the law, one of whom happens to qualify for EI and the other does not. It wants to make the system work as follows. If people happen to be in receipt of EI, they are going to be punished differently and more heavily than another person who is not in that circumstance--
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 15th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC
Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I have spoken to Bill C-316. Before I begin my speech I would like to say that the NDP is often accused of protecting prisoners, but we agree that someone who commits an offence should be incarcerated and pay his debt to society. That is a principle of justice. That is the world we live in.
However, we must not forget that we are dealing with human beings. Our duty in the House is to ensure that these people are rehabilitated and that they have the opportunity to find a job. Some have had hard luck in life. That does not make them hardened criminals, as I have been hearing in speeches in the House over the past few months.
There are two types of criminals. There are people who are in prison for stealing food. Many single mothers with no income get caught stealing food and end up in prison. We have to give people like that the chance to rehabilitate and not kick them while they are down. We live in a society. We have a duty in this House to help these people.
The Conservatives are claiming that inmates can be granted privileges and receive benefits for 52 to 104 weeks. Pregnant women do not have that right. That is why I am rising in the House. The hon. member explained that this represents a minimal cost. Since this privilege represents a minimal cost, rather than getting rid of it, we would be better off extending it to pregnant women who lose their jobs or who become ill and are not entitled to employment insurance benefits. It is true. That is the reality right now.
Rather than also extending this privilege to pregnant women, which would be the logical course of action, the Conservatives would prefer to take it away from inmates. Is this not a good example of the lack of vision or the wilful blindness of the government, which is motivated by its own ideology rather than by common sense?
First, I would like to explain the reason for these 52 weeks. The hon. member explained it very well earlier, as my other colleagues in the House have done. People are entitled to these 52 weeks in accordance with their qualifying period and the unemployment rate in their region.
The Conservative members are simplifying the facts and distorting reality. Inmates are not eligible for benefits while they are in prison. These are privileges that people are granted. Inmates do not have rights in prison.
The people who benefit from this special measure are those who worked enough hours to obtain benefits. They deserve to get them when they get out of prison since they contributed to the employment insurance program. It is workers and employers who contribute to this fund. It is not the government. The government simply manages it. The government has managed the money in our employment insurance fund so well. We can see what is left today.
That being said, Bill C-316 seeks to repeal the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended as the result of time spent by the claimant in a jail, a drug treatment centre or another similar institution. When someone goes to a drug treatment centre, it is because he needs help. If we kick him when he is down, we just make matters worse. It will make it harder for him to get back on his feet.
The Conservatives want to abolish the exceptional provision that encourages former inmates to rejoin the labour force and regain their self-confidence. If my memory serves me correctly, it was even the Conservatives who introduced the 52 to 104 weeks in the 1960s. They did so to help people find a job, get training and receive benefits in the meantime. When people get out of prison, that does not look good on their CVs. That is why it is difficult to find a good job after serving a prison sentence. Things are not easy for these people. Rather than helping them, we are digging them a deeper hole. We are penalizing them. We are penalizing them instead of giving women this right. If we were to give women this right, it would cost between $70 million and $75 million, according to our estimates. Pregnant women would be entitled to these privileges when they lose their jobs or fall ill after a pregnancy.
The Conservatives are abolishing an exceptional provision that encourages inmates to rejoin the labour force, regain their self-confidence and have access to paid training. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have failed to come up with any solutions to help pregnant women who are the victims of injustice in this area.
We in the NDP want this to apply to pregnant women.
Can the Conservatives tell us how they intend to assist pregnant women in this area?
Personally, I get the impression that the Conservatives would prefer to waste energy and punish everyone, and that the injustice of this bill is only a pretext for a government that is intent on being tough on criminals, come what may. This bill is a good, though pointless, example. We need to stop it from spoiling the future of thousands of Canadians who would benefit from a second chance.
Sometimes, in life, we are out of luck. Someone here might enjoy a cocktail or two in company. Instead of having two cocktails, that person might have three, and get caught.
That does not make us hoodlums or hardened criminals.
This bill is not good enough for Canadians. The question is not about equality for Canadians with regard to the employment insurance system, nor is it about the alleged favouring of prisoners in the employment insurance system. It is about making the necessary changes to an unfair piece of legislation, and rectifying a situation that is unfair to women on maternity leave. It is my duty to highlight the Conservative government's incompetence in this area, despite the fact that the Conservatives consider themselves the standard-bearers of family values.
The Conservatives do not distinguish between different types of crime. They do not give rehabilitation a chance and their only strategy to prevent repeat offences is to throw people in prison. Yet, in Canada, the figures show that our social rehabilitation system works well and that the crime rate is steadily falling in most provinces.
Regardless of what the member for Cariboo—Prince George says, helping inmates escape the cycle of crime has always worked well in Canada, and we are currently reaping the benefits of this system. It is thanks to these measures, some of them exceptional ones like the one we are debating today, that we have been able to build a solid system. It may be imperfect, but is well intentioned, and it suits us. It is our duty in this House to look after people by making decisions on their behalf. That is the duty of parliamentarians.
In general, former inmates have a lot of trouble finding work after they get out of prison, and their time in jail has a lasting negative impact on their income. Of course, when you have bad luck and you lose your job, when your CV says that you spent six months in prison for stealing a litre of milk from a corner store, it is not very good when you are looking for a job. However, these people deserve a second chance, especially since former inmates are more likely to be unemployed or to hold jobs that pay less than the jobs they held before they went to jail.
Someone who has spent more than a year in jail cannot receive benefits until he has accumulated enough insured hours of work after leaving prison, while if he spends less than a year in jail, he can qualify for employment insurance because of the hours he worked during the extended qualifying period. Employment insurance also provides access to vocational training and to officers who provide job-search support. In a number of cases, the employment insurance program has changed lives in a positive way.
There is a major problem with this ridiculous bill. We must point out that an innocent person may be in jail while waiting for a verdict to come down that clears him. That could be detrimental and costly, and the person could also be refused access to employment insurance.
The solution to the inequities in the employment insurance program is not to abolish an exceptional measure that provides assistance to inmates, but to make a clear-cut change to the legislation in terms of the maximum number of weeks of regular and special benefits.
The Employment Insurance Act must allow new mothers as well as workers who have lost their jobs to receive sickness benefits when they need them. It must allow a mother who is on parental leave to benefit from the same extension of the qualifying and benefit periods as an individual who has been in prison, not the opposite. In this case, the government is taking something away from inmates and not looking after mothers. It would be better to keep what is left for inmates, because it does not cost too much. They said it. They were not even able to give us the real numbers. It would be much better for us to take care of our people.
Moreover, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development acknowledged that there was a problem with the interpretation of the Employment Insurance Act with regard to women on maternity leave and access to the special sickness benefits and regular benefits. She must now make a commitment to rectify this situation, which is unfair to Canadian working women, rather than looking for feeble solutions that are only good for pleasing people who support the Conservatives’ hard line on crime.
It is quite clear that this bill does not reflect the values of Canadians. It does not represent the views of Canadians, and the government must recognize that a mistake is about to be made. We cannot let this bill go forward; it is harmful and adds absolutely nothing useful to the employment insurance system. We must concentrate on the real priorities of Canadian families: jobs, health care, quality of life and workers' rights.
I oppose this bill. We want to correct a situation that we think is unfair. These people have paid in and they are going to have that money taken away. But if we do that, it will not mean that we can give this money to women on maternity leave. We must be fair with everyone and apply this to women on maternity leave, so they are at least entitled to employment insurance if they become sick or lose their job when they return to the work force. That is social justice. That is what it means to help people, to work together and take care of people. Here in the House, we are supposed to make decisions to take care of Canadians.
We in the NDP oppose this bill because it punishes people and takes things away from them, without being able to help others. On the contrary, we should be able to give this to women on maternity leave who still have rights. They will have less to worry about when they go back to work and if they lose their job when they do go back.
The NDP will be voting against this bill.
The House resumed consideration of Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of Motions Nos. 1 to 5.
Motions in Amendment
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 15th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to these amendments, but I am not pleased to support them. Neither would the member for Cariboo—Prince George, for sure. By amending each of the five clauses in the bill, by deleting them, it takes all the provisions out of there and only the title and the enactment provisions will be left, and I suppose that would go as well.
It is fair to say that the government will not be supporting these amendments for the reasons that are obvious, based on what I just said.
Last year, our government passed legislation to prevent federal inmates over the age of 65, who were sentenced to prison for more than two years, from collecting old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. This relates to the qualifying period, and I do not think the legislation pretends to say it deals with receiving or not receiving employment insurance while in prison. It deals with extending the qualifying period and the benefits period.
We brought forward the previous legislation because Canadians told us it was not fair that criminals could collect retirement benefits while they were incarcerated, especially since their living expenses were already covered by taxpayers. We are supporting this further reform to our social programs in the interest of fairness and justice for law-abiding Canadians.
Under the Employment Insurance Act as it now stands, people who have been in jail can get an extension, as the member has mentioned, of up to 52 additional weeks of their employment insurance qualifying and benefit periods. We think this EI extension is unfair as it provides preferential access for convicted criminals to benefits over law-abiding citizens.
Let me outline how employment insurance works.
Employment insurance is intended to provide temporary income to replace lost wages while the claimant looks for a job. To be eligible for EI regular benefits, people must have paid EI premiums and have worked a certain minimal number of insurable hours, depending on the region of the country in which they live. They must have worked those hours in the 52 weeks before the interruption of the earnings. This is what is called the “qualifying period”.
When people qualify for EI benefits, a 52-week benefit period is established during which they may collect EI benefits to which they are entitled. Normally claimants must be able and willing to work. However, the qualifying period or the benefits period may be extended for up to two years for people in special situations. People who are unable to look for work because of illness, injury, pregnancy or quarantine are given an extension or they may apply for an extension so they do not lose their right to EI benefits because of the special circumstances or situations that are beyond their control.
To be clear, we are all in agreement that extensions to individuals should be granted for life circumstances beyond the control of the individual, such as injury or illness. However, this is not the case with the person who commits a crime.
To be convicted of a crime, an individual makes a choice resulting in a criminal act. This choice is within the control of the individual. However, the current EI legislation treats imprisonment as a circumstance beyond a person's control. This logic does not follow. It does not make sense to most Canadians who feel this is not fair because people do not commit crimes by accident.
Going to prison is not something that just happens to a person. It is a matter of bad choices, perhaps a series of bad choices. It is not like getting a serious sickness or disease or being involved in a car accident. It is something that people bring on themselves by the actions they have taken. These are people who are convicted and the view is that they should not be given preferential treatment or access over law-abiding citizens who are limited to 52 weeks instead of 104 weeks. As a result, there would be an increase in the cost of the program to ordinary working Canadians if the extension were not removed.
Extensions of the qualifying and benefit periods are not available to most EI claimants, and that is an important distinction and something at which we need look. Why should there be an available extension to someone who is a prison inmate?
That is why I would urge the House to support Bill C-316, which will correct this aberration, and not support the amendments which would take that away.
Now, some will argue that amending the Employment Insurance Act to remove the right of inmates to an EI extension would be unfair to innocent people who have simply been detained before trial and were eventually not convicted. That is a fair point and we agreed with it.
This is why the government moved amendments to the bill that would allow qualifying and benefit period extensions for people who were on remand prior to a verdict, but who were ultimately found not guilty. We have said that just the fact of being in prison or incarcerated is not going to disentitle someone, but actually being convicted will. Anyone who was in prison but not convicted would still be able to apply for the extension.
An extension may be granted for the time spent incarcerated if the person is acquitted, the charges are dropped or there is a mistrial. This is because individuals were unavailable for work because they were charged with a crime they were not guilty of, and it was not something of their choosing. These individuals could apply to Service Canada for an EI extension as long as they could prove they were found not guilty of the offence for which they were detained.
Another objective I have heard about the bill is that denying EI benefits to prisoners is cruel because it leaves them with nothing to live on when they are eventually released. That may have been the case in days gone by, but there are halfway houses now. There are programs in place on which they can rely.
Our government supports legislation to fight crime and improve security for all Canadians. To that end, we believe our initiatives ought to highlight responsibilities as well as rights. People who break the law should understand they are accountable for their own actions.
Bill C-316 should be supported by all members of the House to improve fairness in the EI system.
In previous debate on this bill in both houses and in the committee, I heard the opposition go to great lengths to defend this distinction. I think it is one that most Canadians would not want us to defend.
In other cases, like paternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits, our government has gone further in helping Canadians balance their work and family life and responsibility.
That is why, for the first time ever, we have granted access to EI special benefits to hard-working people who are self-employed as well. These EI benefits come from premiums that are paid employers and employees. Every time there is an extension, it costs the program and it relates to the premiums that are paid. People want to be sure, as we do, that those premiums will result in benefits that can be justified.
We also wanted to be fair to members of the Canadian Forces who were ordered to return to duty while on parental leave or whose parental leave was deferred as a result of a military requirement.
Our government introduced measures to extend the time that EI parental benefits could be taken for these families. We wanted to be fair to people who could not work because they were caring for loved ones or who were seriously ill. That is why we modified the eligibility criteria of the EI compassionate care benefits to broaden the definition of family members.
This is the type of legislation that Canadians want us to proceed with, but they do want to be sure that where the system is found not be fair and equitable that corrections are made. They want to be sure that those discrepancies are taken care of.
It is not fair to say that those who are incarcerated by acts of their own choosing should somehow have an extension to their benefit and qualifying period by an additional period of time when ordinary Canadians do not benefit from an extension such as that.
There is a clear distinction between getting a special benefit or being able to apply for a special benefit when people have been met with circumstances beyond their control and getting a special benefit in a situation where they do have control and their action caused them to lose the ability to make that application.
I think most fair-minded Canadians would say that if individuals have committed a crime, they should not, because of that, be entitled to some kind of special benefit that other Canadians who have not committed crimes are not entitled to. That is the logic and that is why it is important to for us to correct the system. Even though it would result in millions of dollars of savings, it is the principle behind this that most Canadians would find offensive, which is why they want us to take action.
We will take action, which is why we proceeded with this bill. I would ask for the support of all members of the House.
Motions in Amendment
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 15th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC, seconded by
Motion No. 1
That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 2.
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 3.
Motion No. 4
That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 4.
Motion No. 5
That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 5.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend from Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia for seconding these amendments.
Bill C-316, a bill put forward by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, I believe has a lot of people confused about the nature of employment insurance for people who have been incarcerated. There has been a lot of media coverage of this and I will just summarize it before I explain why I have put forward these amendments.
The media coverage and the comments from Conservative members of Parliament have tended to be of the nature that average Canadians are shocked to find that people who have been incarcerated get better employment insurance than law-abiding Canadians. If that were true, I would be shocked and I would also support any efforts to take away preferential treatment for people who have been incarcerated.
However, when we look at the act, that is not the case. I have before me the Employment Insurance Act, particularly subsections 8(2) and 8(6). What these subsections do is to establish when people are entitled to their employment benefits. They have to have, of course, an adequate number of weeks of work. They have to show that they are unemployed and, at that point, because they and their employer have paid into the system, they are entitled to collect benefits. However, they are not entitled to sit back and wait, not work for a while, and then go for their benefits later. Instead, they have to apply immediately.
Now, there is an exception to this qualifying period, and it can be extended. According to subsection 8(2) of the Employment Insurance Act:
A qualifying period mentioned in paragraph (1)(a) is extended by the aggregate of any weeks during the qualifying period for which the person proves, in such manner as the Commission may direct, that throughout the week the person was not employed in insurable employment because the person was
(a) incapable of work because of a prescribed illness, injury, quarantine or pregnancy;
(b) confined in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution;
(c) receiving assistance under employment benefits; or
(d) receiving payments under a provincial law—
—relating to danger to an unborn child, et cetera.
Therefore, let us just be clear on what the current state of the law is.
People in jail do not get to collect employment insurance benefits. They are, by definition, not searching for work, not capable of work. They are in jail. When they leave prison, do they get better benefits than anyone else? No, they do not. This piece of legislation only says that for the people who are entitled to their employment insurance benefits because they have worked and are unemployed, if the period of time in which they could normally have applied for employment insurance was interrupted by illness, pregnancy, and a number of other conditions, including if they happened to be in jail, their qualifying period will be extended.
Most of us hope that we will never be in jail; we are all law-abiding citizens here. However, let us imagine the kinds of situations in which we would now deprive people of the employment insurance benefits to which they are entitled.
Believe me, as I stand here speaking against Bill C-316 and calling for the amendments that we have put forward, which would, to be clear, eliminate the entire bill, I am aware that my position could easily be mischaracterized as though I wanted people who have gone to jail to get preferential treatment, as though I am not siding with law-abiding Canadians against people in jail.
However, let us look at the public policy question here. If someone is incarcerated for more than two years, this act would not help that person. The employment insurance regulations or the current status quo would not extend benefits for so long that someone who has gone to jail for a serious offence could get out of jail and then apply for employment insurance. That would not work.
By definition, the extension of their qualifying period, not an extension of cheques or any additional money, would only apply if they had been incarcerated for a year or less. That applies to certain types of offences.
Under the new omnibus crime bill, that would potentially apply to someone who had grown six marijuana plants, or, to use a real-life example from this chamber, to someone who had refused a breathalyzer test, for example, and might be sent to jail for a year or less.
Let us then imagine the public policy implications of what is essentially punishing this person again. In this light, I would like to read into the record some of the testimony given in committee by a representative of the John Howard Society to explain why it opposes these measures.
Let me commend the committee for the amendment that clarified that the first version of the bill would have applied to someone who was awaiting trial and then found innocent. We now have an amendment, which certainly improves the situation, that says people will only be deprived of employment insurance opportunities, in other words their entitlements, if they have been in jail because they were found guilty of something.
Let me read into the record what Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, said at committee. She stated:
—Bill C-316 would disentitle people to the benefits of an insurance scheme to which they and their employers had contributed. It would create unfairness for claimants...For those convicted and sentenced in a criminal court, it would amount to an additional ex post facto penalty to a criminal sentence that is dubious in law and could lead to a disproportionate penalty.
It would also undermine public safety by jeopardizing employment prospects and denying insurance payments to a vulnerable group as they seek to successfully reintegrate into the community. For these reasons, the John Howard Society of Canada urges you to oppose Bill C-316.
The Elizabeth Fry Society did as well, pointing out that there were a disproportionate number of marginalized people in jail, particularly low-income women, first nations, et cetera.
I would like us to step back and reconsider. It may be fun to pretend that our current employment insurance scheme gives a disproportionate benefit to criminals. It does not. It might be fun to let people think that people in jail collect employment insurance cheques. They do not. All I am saying is that if people go to prison, they have, in the words that we are so used to hearing, paid their debt to society. Now we are going to say no, that they have not quite finished paying their debt to society and we are going to pull the legs out from under them. If they were entitled to employment insurance benefits to help them get back on their feet, to help them find work, to be meaningful members of our society, we will kick them while they are down and say that they will not get employment insurance even if they or their employers have paid into it.
There are some crimes that one might describe as victimless crimes, particularly crimes that would apply to this legislation, where people were in jail for one year or less. The trend of the current flood of legislation in the House that seeks to punish people who have made mistakes, that says they can never pay their debt to society, or get back on their feet or be given a chance is worrying. The employment insurance scheme is for people who have been incarcerated for a year or under, maybe for shoplifting, which is not commendable. Driving under the influence and refusing a breathalyzer is not commendable, but we have to give people a chance.
When they have paid their debt to society and get out of prison, they are entitled under the current statute to, at that point, put in their claims. They will not get any more money than others who find themselves unemployed. They simply have the opportunity to have their qualifying period extended. If people were entitled to employment insurance when they went to jail, they are entitled to employment insurance when they get out. They can get back on their feet, hopefully find jobs and swear off whatever it was they did wrong in their lives. Goodness knows, a lot of good people can make mistakes and end up in jail. We ought to give them a helping hand and not pass additional punitive legislation that takes away their right to employment insurance.
With that, I would ask all members of the House to give serious consideration to the amendments we have tabled today.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 15th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton
There are five motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-316.
Motions Nos. 1 to 5 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.
I will now put Motions Nos. 1 to 5 to the House.
The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as reported (with amendments) from the committee.
Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Committees of the House
February 13th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.
Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration). The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.
February 8th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.
February 8th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.
Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON
Sure. I move that Bill C-316 be amended by adding after line 9 on page 1 the following:
Paragraphs 10(10)(a) and 152.11(11)(a) of the Employment Insurance Act, as enacted by sections 2 and 3, respectively, do not apply to the benefit period of a claimant or a self-employed person, as the case may be, in respect of any week for which the claimant or the self-employed person was confined in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution before the coming into force of this act.