Justice Committee on Nov. 17th, 2011
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts
- Committee Business
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
We'll call the meeting to order. This is meeting number 12 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, dealing with clause-by-clause of Bill C-10.
We had gotten to clause 7, Mr. Goguen.
Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
If it please the chair, I have a motion to make. My motion would be:
That, if the committee has not commenced the clause by clause consideration of Bill C-10 by 11:59 p.m. on November 17, 2011, that the Chair put all and every question necessary to dispose of this stage of the Bill forthwith and successively, without further debate, and then the Chair be ordered to report the Bill back to the House on or before November 18, 2011; and that the Chair limit debate on each clause to a maximum of 5 minutes per party per clause before the clause comes to a vote.
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Jack Harris St. John's East, NL
I'm speaking to the motion. Is that all right?
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Jack Harris St. John's East, NL
I'm shocked. I'm shocked that the government would seek to take a bill, a piece of legislation, that has over 200 clauses dealing with nine separate pieces of legislation that have been a matter of public debate across this country.... We know some of these bills were considered before, and some were considered at committee, but only some.
I'm wondering what kind of agenda we have here. Are we trying to shut down discussion in this country about matters of great public importance, matters that have engaged the provinces, community groups, police organizations, victims groups—people from all walks of life?
I myself have between 12,000 and 15,000 e-mails and letters. I'm sure other members have received significant input. There's a great deal of public interest in this.
We had a concern the other day, 15 minutes into the meeting, that this was going to be a filibuster. There's no evidence of any filibuster here. We're talking about legislation that concerns people, that changes the course of criminal justice in Canada. We've had experts come to talk to us about the difficulties they see in the legislation, the fact that the legislation will in their view turn the clock backwards on what we're doing in this country compared to other countries.
Specific individual sections of this bill have been the subject of reasoned learned comment by experts, such as law professors who have spent 20 and 30 years engaged in this process, whose views are quoted by the Supreme Court of Canada. And you're saying we're not going to consider this; we're not going to do this except for today, that today is the only day there is going to be consideration of this legislation? I think that is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, talk about putting the “mock” into democracy by having a bill of this magnitude, this degree of public interest and public debate, dealt with in two sessions.
We had one session the other day. We made some progress. I suspect if we had had another hour we would have made considerable progress. That's the nature of legislation. The role we play as legislators is to look at and examine these bills to try to improve them.
We heard Mr. Cotler the other day, another experienced legislator, a law professor, who has studied this legislation. He came up with a number—seven or eight—of well thought out and considered amendments for discussion. While they weren't accepted, they were put forth, and they were put forth for a reason. They were put forth because they deserved consideration and there were arguments to be made in favour of them.
The next section of the bill is on the child exploitation cases, and my suspicion is that's going to pass very quickly. I have a motion, which I believe will be accepted, to take all of those clauses and pass them at once. Then we would move on to other ones.
Why does the government feel it has to bring down the hammer of procedural closure in committee on a piece of legislation of this great import and complexity? That's something that ought to be considered as well. There's a great deal of complexity to some of these provisions: the corrections provisions, the provisions with respect to parole. These provisions are very complex. The provisions with respect to aspects of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are very technical; some of them need detailed consideration.
I suspect that the orders are from on high to the members of the committee opposite to shut down debate on this. And for what reason? Why today? What's wrong with next week? What's wrong with next Tuesday? What's wrong with next Thursday? Is there some other plan that the government has in mind, that we should shut down the entire debate, prorogue the House, and get out of here because the government doesn't seem to be getting a good response from its point of view?
Is this the agenda?
It's a mystery, and it should be a mystery to the Canadian public, as to why this government feels that because it has a majority of seats in the House, the so-called strong mandate with 39% of the popular vote, they then have the right to ram through legislation without due consideration.
It's irresponsible, frankly, absolutely grossly irresponsible for a government to treat the legislature in this way, to ignore the numerous representations to this committee to consider aspects of this legislation. To come in here with this motion on the second day of the hearing of this committee is absolutely unfathomable. I don't even know if there's a precedent. I don't remember when we've had a government do this kind of thing with a massive piece of legislation like this: to abhor debate, to refuse to consider public discussion, to refuse to take seriously the representations we receive from other governments.
On Tuesday during the committee an e-mail was sent to all members of the committee from the Minister of Justice of Quebec, following up on his suggestions as to how the bill could be improved and some of the concerns he had on behalf of his government and the people of Quebec. We're now being told there's not going to be sufficient time to give that due consideration, unless it's done today between now and twelve o'clock, without any notice. I'm not even sure if it's in order, Mr. Chair, to suggest without notice that we have a deadline of midnight tonight.
Frankly, I find it shocking that we were here at 8:45 in the morning, we have a meeting that's set for two hours, and the government, without any notice to anybody, not only the members of this committee but to all those in the public who have an interest in the course of this legislation, in the course of criminal justice in Canada, in the state of our correctional system and correctional services, in how people are going to be treated and whether they will go to jail and for how long, thinks that somehow or other, because they won an election in May and received a majority of 12 or 15 seats, they have the right to come in here and ram this legislation through without due consideration.
That's irresponsible, it's undemocratic, and it's contrary to the traditions of Parliament. This is an outrage, Mr. Chair, and I would urge members opposite to think very seriously before they proceed with this particular approach. I think it's wrong, it's unprecedented in my view, and it's something the Canadian public does not want their parliamentarians to be doing.
They're prepared to accept the fact--and we've always been prepared to accept--that this is a majority government. We understand. We weren't born yesterday. But a majority government is not a licence to ignore the democratic process, to ram things down the people's throats. A majority government is not a licence to stifle discussion and stifle debate and stifle a comment because you don't happen to agree with it.
This is a reasoned process. We're not engaging in rhetoric here. We had Mr. Cotler put forth legal arguments and legal references in a sincere attempt to improve the legislation. It wasn't a rhetorical flight trying to seek political points or anything like that. This was all about doing our jobs as legislators and making sure that due consideration is given to important legislation that changes the course of criminal justice in Canada.
To suggest that you have the right to do that because you have a majority is contrary to democracy. It's not what Canadians expect of their Parliament, and it's not what Canadians expect of parliamentarians who they elect to represent them in Ottawa.
Members of the Conservative Party aren't the only ones who were elected on May 2. There were 103 New Democrats elected on May 2. There were 34 Liberals elected on May 2. All of these people were elected by the people of Canada to come to this House and to these committees to air the views of those they are elected to represent.
It's not a game of numbers. It's not to say that we have more than you, so we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and we're prepared to do that. If that's what democracy is about, then I think Canadians have backed the wrong horse here. If they've chosen a government—a group of people—whose attitude toward democracy is that they have the numbers and they're going to do exactly what they want, regardless of what anybody thinks, then I think Canadians would wish they had their time back on May 2, because that's not what Canadians want in their government.
I've never seen any survey yet, I've never seen any poll yet, that suggests Canadians want to have a government with a hammer, a government that says, “We acknowledge we have a majority, and we can do exactly what we want, claim a strong mandate for it, and run roughshod over democracy and democratic principles and reasoned discussion about legislation.” That's what's happening here. We're having a government run roughshod over the whole notion of parliamentary democracy.
I think it's wrong, and we're going to oppose it, and we're going to continue to oppose it.
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Thank you, Mr. Harris.
November 17th, 2011 / 8:55 a.m.
Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Very quickly, I understand what Mr. Harris is saying, but the reality is that we have about 15 hours, which is, in essence, eight to nine meetings of straight time to get this done.
He asks why, and I bluntly have to say, after hearing witnesses' and victims' testimonies, that they want this done, and they've wanted it done for a period of time.
We've gone through six clauses in two hours so far, or thereabouts, and not even substantive clauses. Frankly, these bills and most of the clauses contained within them have been debated for years, in essence, Mr. Chair. We have had many parliamentarians deal with these acts in the past. I'm certain we've had the departments dealing with these matters for thousands of hours. These issues have been dealt with time and time again.
Even Mr. Cotler mentioned that he tried to put forward a bill in 2003 or 2002, which we're now dealing with today, eight years later. We want to get this done, and we're prepared to work at it today, as Conservatives, to get it done, and we're asking for his cooperation to get it done. Let's get at it. We have some time now. We're here to sit down and deal with this matter. Let's deal with the substantive motions. Let's deal with it and do what the people of Canada wanted us to do on May 2. We put our policy platform out there, we put it in front of the people, and they elected a majority mandate.
We're prepared to work at it. We're not pulling the hammer down. We have until midnight tonight. Let's get it done. Canadians want it done, and even if we get it done today, it's still going to take months to get through the Senate and to get royal assent. Canadians have been clear, and victims have been clear, that they want these bills put forward and passed into law.
So although I understand what Mr. Harris is saying, by the time we go through the leadership race of the NDP, we'll have a whole new cast of characters on the other side. We want to get this done. We have 15 hours today, which in essence is eight or nine meetings. Let's get it done, Mr. Harris. Let's do it. Let's deal with the substantive nature of these clauses.
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
There will not be a serious in-depth analysis of the bill. As Mr. Harris said, the work that's been done, at least on this side of the table, was intended to improve the bill. No one is claiming it's perfect. Indeed, any legal scholar will tell you that nothing in this world is perfect. Even if we adopt this bill with the intelligent amendments that have been proposed by both the members of the official opposition and other members on this side of the table, and the members of the government, we can never completely guarantee that the bill is iron-clad and will never be challenged in the courts.
To my mind, a bill that comprises 208 clauses certainly merits serious clause-by-clause consideration, and not just a single day's examination. If the Conservatives promised to have some bills passed by a set time, that's their problem, that's their promise. That doesn't mean that all of Canadian society should suffer as a result.
Some voices will not be heard. Some amendments have been proposed, but one entire province will not be heard. The Minister of Justice appeared before the committee, which is an entirely exceptional event. I'm convinced that he wasn't all that happy about coming here, since the various levels of government don't like to interfere in the affairs of other levels of government. The minister said it, loud and clear, that some aspects of this bill are inconsistent with the whole way my province, Quebec, handles things, including the Young Offenders Act.
These are not major amendments, but we'll have to clear them at the rate of the high-speed train that we still don't have between Quebec City and Windsor. It's absolutely extraordinary.
There are nevertheless so many clauses that we're in favour of. I could list them all. It's true that, in a single day, we studied only six or seven clauses. One day may seem long to those who are listening to us, but it's not, because it actually consists of only two hours. Examination of some clauses should go a little faster. It should be recalled that we were examining the Combating Terrorism Act, which is extremely technical. Different amendments were proposed to improve the bill. For example, when we look at the act respecting sexual crimes against children, you'll see that we'll adopt the clauses quickly. Dozens and dozens of clauses would thus be adopted very quickly, without any sort of amendment.
The Conservatives want to make sure there's as little time as possible for debate over the weak points of their bill, which will not serve the ends for which it was designed. The Conservatives have quite simply decided to speed up a process that is already very fast. The committee sometimes heard five, six or seven witnesses who each had five minutes, after which the members had five minutes to question them. This could not be more ridiculous, and it's unworthy of a so-called democratic country. It's outrageous. There is no expression strong enough to say what I feel as a legal expert and lawyer who takes her role as a legislator seriously.
The claim is that we're going to consider and examine the bill in the light of the testimonies we've received. In that case, we might as well say that we wasted the public's money by summoning witnesses here. Seriously, I don't think there's one word of what these people said that is going to change anything. There are even groups that the Conservatives were priding themselves on, that approved certain parts but not others. We could actually have demonstrated, by looking at the amendments, that in the end the Conservatives' way of thinking is not unanimous within the party.
As Mr. Harris said, this party, which was elected with the votes of 39% of the population, actually, is trying to ram down our throats a bill containing 208 clauses. This is absolutely crass indecency. Certainly it's the government that will bear the blame when its law is challenged left right and centre. The Crown attorneys and all the members of the Canadian Bar say that this bill poses serious problems. You seem to think that we'll have the time, in the coming hours, to do a serious examination. Personally, I take issue with this process. I think this is absolutely horrible. Still I'm not surprised by a government that has already imposed six gag orders on the House pertaining to substantial bills, such as budgets and other substantive files.
This government says it believes in freedom of expression. But it absolutely doesn't believe in freedom of debate. It quite simply tries to short-circuit the work that the population has asked its members to do.
As Jack Harris said, 103 New Democrats were elected last May 11. Members other than those of the Conservative Party were elected. Nevertheless, the government has decided to silence these voices. It's dreadfully sad. This is certainly a dark day for democracy in Canada.
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Thank you, Madame Boivin.
Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC
I'm astonished by the fact that this government has decided to draft a bill 100 pages long, nine bills in one, but that it doesn't even want to assume responsibility for going through it properly. We're not the ones who decided to put all that together, it's you. Some thought should have been given to it. Of course there are going to be lots of amendments proposed, because it contains 100 pages.
It's not that we wanted to stretch out the time or spend hundreds of hours on it. We are quite simply complying with the legislative process. It's the time it takes to get through a 100-page bill. I'm surprised that this government doesn't understand that you need a lot more time to get through a 100-page bill than to get through a 20-page bill. As far as I'm concerned, it's just simple arithmetic.
When we were elected to the House, we assumed responsibility for making sound legislation. We're responsible for making sure the best bills are drafted and passed; it's our responsibility to the Canadian population. Right now, we're not even complying with the legislative process, we don't even want to hear the amendments that would improve this bill and ensure that our streets are really made safer. But that's what we want.
We're completely in favour of certain parts of this bill. Moreover we tried to have certain parts of the bill adopted quickly in the House, and you completely rejected this idea. I think that some parts of this bill could have been adopted, since we were all completely in favour. But you were opposed to this initiative. In my opinion, that's completely unacceptable.
We've heard a lot of witnesses. We have spent money for them to come here so that we could hear what they had to say. I wish to point out that, even among the witnesses summoned by the government, no one said, except for one or two people, that the bill was perfect as is. It's arrogance to think that something can be drafted perfectly straight off. It doesn't happen, because we're not perfect; we're human beings.
We should listen to what these witnesses are telling us, the voices of the Canadian people, the experts and individuals who will be directly affected by this bill. You are not even prepared to do so. It's completely unacceptable. It's a lack of respect for the legislative process. Why do we have a legislative process if we don't respect it? The legislative process exists for a reason: so that we can examine this bill and be assured we've done all we can to make our streets safe and for the population to be truly secure. But that's not what we're doing now. We claim everything is fine. I repeat that this is arrogance.
We are 308 members. We cannot talk on behalf of everyone without having heard the people. If we're not ready to do that, why are we here? This isn't what the people asked us to do. The people elected us to listen to them. Why do we invite witnesses if we don't listen to them? I ask the question, because sincerely I don't see the use of spending money to have people appear before the committee. Some of the witnesses were victims. It was very hard for these people to testify, because they had to recall some unpleasant memories. By adopting this bill as quickly as possible, it's as if they were being told that their testimonies didn't count. That's not our responsibility, that's not the reason why we're here. We're here to listen to them.
You say you want to have this bill passed within the first 100 days of your mandate. This is a promise you've made. I'm not telling you that you shouldn't keep your promises, but you have to think before you make them. It's totally unacceptable not to spend time on a bill on the pretext that the deadline for its adoption is approaching. Just because you made a promise? I don't think this is a promise that you should have made.
This bill will have major repercussions for many people. Some provinces, like Quebec, have completely rejected the bill. An entire province wishes to make amendments to the bill, but we're not listening to it, because we won't even have a chance to table these amendments. Quebec doesn't want this bill and it's not the only one, moreover, in this situation. Ontario is also rejecting the bill. If the provinces are obliged to accept and respect this bill, they should at least be able to propose a couple of amendments. That's all we're asking for, but you want to adopt the bill without even giving it any thought.
I repeat that nobody has said the bill is perfect. As the representative of a population of 150,000 people, I don't claim to know what is best for these people. They must be heard. That's part of the democratic process. It's a matter of listening to people, consulting the experts, meeting the individuals affected and hearing about any problems we can foresee. In all honesty, we can't think of everything; we're only human beings.
We have to work together, without arrogance, without claiming to know it all, without claiming that everything is fine and there aren't any problems, without rushing things on the pretext that the deadline is approaching. Otherwise this is a complete lack of respect for the legislative process.
We were elected to Parliament to ensure that the best possible bills are passed. That's our duty. But this motion does not allow us to do our duty. You're saying it's perfect, there aren't any problems, you can pass the bill, when absolutely no one says it's perfect. You have to admit it.
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Thank you, Ms. Borg.
Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC
I too am very shocked by the government's intention to speed up the process of passing Bill C-10. You rejected all the amendments, all the changes proposed on this side of the table. Quebec and all of Canada will be penalized by this unilateral decision on your part.
We've seen it, Bill C-10 will deprive us of lasting protection, in addition to lifting the prohibition against identifying too large a number of youth. The effect of this will be stigmatize this group.
Furthermore, regarding the YCJA, Quebec's experience was rejected with a sweep of the hand. It has been noted, however, in Quebec and elsewhere in the country, that there is less crime among young offenders. The imposition of minimum punishments is inconsistent with the principle of differential treatment for young offenders, which is currently producing good results.
For all these reasons, I'm shocked. On my side of the table, we believe in prevention and rehabilitation. We also believe in social reintegration, because sooner or later young and not-so-young offenders return to society. Let's not forget the cost, borne by the provinces, which will rise tremendously.
For all these reasons, I'm very shocked by the government's intention to speed up the process of passing this bill, without examining all the amendments that might improve it.
The Chair Dave MacKenzie
Thank you, Mr. Jacob.