House of Commons Hansard #151 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague on such an excellent speech. I know it is a bit of an oxymoron but I hope there was a thoughtful Liberal listening to what my colleague had to say.

The member for Wentworth—Burlington posed some questions with regard to lack of transparency being a concern. That certainly is a concern with this legislation and it is a concern in terms of all kinds of current Indian Act legislation and policy from the department.

Essentially many of the things that are done now are tantamount to giving a blank cheque not only in terms of money but in terms of issues. Bill C-49 gives essentially a blank cheque to these 14 band councils in terms of marital assets and marital splits.

This agreement creates no protocol. It leaves an absolute void in terms of how these local governments are to deal with municipal governments on servicing agreements and all those things. There needs to be protocol. That has been pointed out for the last two years. There is no change to the legislation.

There is thought about rushing this legislation to committee because somehow at committee it can be fixed. There has been about $10 million invested in this piece of legislation through government initiatives since the Tory years and it is still not right because of a philosophical problem. It has nothing to do with what should be here. It is philosophical. Committees will not fix it as long as they are Liberal dominated.

There is also no protocol for what happens when third party interests are affected as a consequence of this legislation, and there needs to be. Those are three obvious ones. The sixth month hoist is appropriate.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his questions.

With regard to the issue of transparency, I have eight reserves in my constituency. We also had people participating from four Métis settlements. In every single case there were many concerns expressed about a lack of transparency.

One person who participated said that the concept of actually fully disclosing and then having discussion among the band members as to how money should be spent was foreign to him. He said they had never heard anything like that before. Clearly transparency is not there now. There is no insurance that it will be there under the current rules, and the rules that are there are not enforced. That is something that was made very clear again and again. That is something that has to start happening.

If we are to make meaningful change and if the government really wants to move in the direction of more self-government, giving more control over their own destiny to aboriginal people, then we have to ensure through tough guidelines that are enforced that there is transparency. That has not happened.

It is complete folly moving toward giving any more power to chiefs and councils before that happens. What we have to do first is have the accountability, the transparency, then move toward giving aboriginal people more control over their own destiny in a way that they really want.

A blank cheque given to a band council on the issue of marital split is a concern I hear about quite often. I also hear about cases where a couple has split, divorced, moved apart, with one person being on the reserve and one off. If they lived on the reserve the only assets they would have had, in most cases, would have been on the reserve.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but he will have five minutes remaining in questions and comments when the bill next comes up for consideration before the House.

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-208, an act to amend the Access to Information Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

November 6th, 1998 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West—Mississauga, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West—Mississauga, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, needless to say, I am delighted that the House has taken this bill and accepted it as its own. It is now a House bill.

I would like to thank all members from all sides of the House for their co-operation and support.

The bill was amended with some reluctance. It was amended in committee, where there was a great deal of co-operation as well. This goes to show that none of us has the monopoly on anything that is good and wonderful in this House. We all have different ways of trying to get to the top of the mountain. Once we have decided that we have a common goal we can work together.

This bill is about accountability. We all want to be accountable to our constituents and we all want the Access to Information Act to be protected so that we can acquire information to be accountable.

I think all has been said that there is to say. This is not a very large or comprehensive bill, but perhaps it is significant. Once again I would like to thank all members.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-208, an act to amend the Access to Information Act.

I would like to commend the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga for bringing this legislation forward. It is a tribute to her efforts that we are debating a private member's bill at this advanced stage of debate.

Hopefully the Liberals will be more co-operative with opposition parties in the House to ensure that private member's business is treated in a better manner.

It is well known that the Access to Information Act does not have enough teeth. Even the former information commissioner has said so in his most recent report.

On that note, I would also like to take this opportunity to belatedly congratulate the hon. John Reid, a former member of this House, on his appointment as the new information commissioner. I am pleased that my colleague, the House Leader for the Progressive Conservative Party, was able to facilitate the appointment of a qualified, hard working person such as Mr. Reid.

Bill C-208 would create an offence for a person who denies the right of access under the Access to Information Act, who destroys, mutilates or alters a record, who falsifies a record, who makes a false entry in a record or who does not keep required records.

As amended by the justice committee, Bill C-208 would also create an offence for anyone who directs, proposes or counsels someone to alter or destroy official records.

This is an extremely important amendment because it extends responsibility to senior managers who may order someone to break the Access to Information Act. A person found guilty of this indictable offence would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both. We would have liked to see the maximum punishment of five years as originally proposed under Bill C-208 kept, but we in the House should focus on passing this bill.

In essence, Bill C-208 remains a very simple amendment to the Access to Information Act that will nonetheless strengthen the provisions of the overall act. For some time now Canadians have been losing confidence in their public institutions and especially in government. Canadians need to know their federal government is truly working on their behalf and truly working well, otherwise people feel that both their votes and their taxes are wasted.

The Access to Information Act is one of the tools for the public to achieve that objective and this amendment proposed in Bill C-208 is simply helping to make the law more complete. The amendment would give more visibility, more access and more teeth to the Access to Information Act by including strong penalties for those who do their utmost to prevent its application. This is not to say that more could have been done to improve the act.

For example, amendments could have been proposed to allow the public access to documents of the privy council which are currently confidential. In fact, many other amendments reflecting the concerns and expectations of information commissioners, past and present, could have been tabled in the same manner.

This is not a reflection of this bill or the bill's sponsor, the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga, but it is a reflection on the Liberal government that is obsessed with keeping secrets and covering up instead of being open and straightforward with Canadians. On the other hand, it was the Right Hon. Joe Clark during his tenure as prime minister who first acted on a longstanding call for an Access to Information Act. His Progressive Conservative government introduced such legislation in 1979.

Unfortunately, the Liberals and the NDP, out of their partisan interests, defeated that government and the bill died on the order paper. Several more years would pass until the legislation was reintroduced and took effect. Thankfully, Mr. Clark is returning to the scene and will no doubt bring the same fresh and innovative ideas to change government for the betterment of Canadians.

On behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, I am pleased to support Bill C-208. I encourage all members to do so. We believe it is a step forward in opening up the government to more public scrutiny and in giving Canadians a stronger sense of public control and identity with their public institutions.

I hope the government follows the example of the member for Brampton West—Mississauga and introduces more comprehensive amendments to the Access to Information Act.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is really an honour and a pleasure today to rise and first of all congratulate my colleague, the member for Brampton West—Mississauga, on Bill C-208.

As members of the House will know, it takes a combination of initiative and perseverance to get a private member's bill to third reading, and I congratulate her for that.

Before providing details on the bill, I want to make it clear that the Minister of Justice supports Bill C-208.

The justice committee recently reviewed the bill and, after making some necessary amendments, it unanimously supported its passage. I take this opportunity to thank all the members of the justice committee.

I hope all members of the House will follow the example set by the justice committee and will vote in favour of Bill C-208, regardless of their political affiliation. I say this because, in my opinion, this bill is crucial for Canada and for Canadians, and should therefore get the unanimous support of this House.

Without doubt, Bill C-208 is short but its importance greatly exceeds its length. The bill would add an offence to the Access to Information Act. The offence proposed in the bill would apply to anyone who, with the intent to deny a right of access under the Access to Information Act, destroys, mutilates, alters, falsifies or conceals a record or makes a false record.

The offence would also apply to someone who directs, counsels or causes anyone to do so. This last aspect is important because it means that a person will not be able to escape the offence by telling someone else, a subordinate, for example, to do the act.

When the bill was first discussed in the House, I on behalf of the Minister of Justice expressed reservations regarding the penalty that the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga had put in the original version of her bill.

This was one of the main issues discussed by the committee. I am pleased to report, as I said earlier in the other official language, that the committee unanimously adopted the amendment of the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga. It was agreed that the offence should be made a hybrid offence rather than a straight indictable offence. This means that the crown has the flexibility to proceed against an accused person, either by way of indictment or by way of a summary proceeding.

The flexibility I am referring to is required because the indictment procedure is more complicated and, therefore, summary conviction is simpler and more direct. This flexibility also applies to the possible maximum penalty.

The committee decided that, if a person is prosecuted by way of indictment, the maximum penalty should be five years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine, or both. If a person is prosecuted by way of summary conviction, then the maximum penalty should be six months imprisonment or a $5,000 fine, or both.

Before getting into the purpose of Bill C-208 and generally what it provides for, I would like to take a moment to share some general information with the hon. members of this House.

Canadians have been the beneficiaries of a federal Access to Information Act since 1983. It is not to say that this act could not be improved upon and brought more up to date. In fact we have an example of it today.

Canadians can be confident that the government will not ignore the issue. For a decade and a half Canadians have enjoyed a high level of access to government information. It is worth pointing out that Canada is only one of a handful of countries that has such legislation. For example, England does not yet have access to information legislation although Mr. Blair's government has issued a position paper in favour of creating it.

Under this legislation, only specific and limited exceptions may be invoked by the government for refusing to allow access to information. In such cases, the legislation gives individuals the right to file a complaint with the information commissioner and to have the government's decision reviewed by the federal court.

The purpose of the Access to Information Act is to help citizens play their rightful role in a free and democratic society. Unfortunately, in some societies, citizens do not have such rights and therefore have no means by which they can call their government to account.

When the justice committee first considered Bill C-208 in May of this year it asked the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga to state the purpose of her bill. She declared that her bill was about accountability. It is important to note that on the relationship between the Access to Information Act and accountability the Supreme Court of Canada is in agreement with the hon. member.

The supreme court has so far decided only one case involving the Access to Information Act and therein the court wrote:

The overarching purpose of access to information legislation is to facilitate democracy by helping to ensure that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process and that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.

I mentioned that Canadians are lucky to have the Access to Information Act but, on closer examination, this legislation is not as flawless as it seems.

An important omission has been identified with respect to the protection it affords: as things now stand, there is no penalty for deliberately altering or destroying a file. The former information commissioner had already pointed this out. In fact, he recommended that an offence relating to the destruction of documents be added to the Access to Information Act.

The law makes obstruction of the information commissioner an offence, and if there is any information relating to the commission of any offence against any law of Canada or a province on the part of any officer or employee of a government institution, the information commissioner may disclose this to the Attorney General of Canada. The bill before us today remedies that shortcoming.

We simply cannot have a situation in Canada in which people can with impunity completely block accountability by destroying documents to thwart access. Bill C-208 would prevent this.

Again I wish to say that the Minister of Justice fully supports Bill C-208.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon at report stage of Bill C-208, an act to amend the Access to Information Act.

I wish to begin by commending the bill. I would also like to commend my colleague from Brampton West—Mississauga for working hard in introducing this bill and all parties for supporting Bill C-208.

The time has arrived for parliament to ensure that actions with the intent to deny access to information through destruction, falsification or concealment of records are penalized. Clearly, manipulation of documents in this manner is not an acceptable operating principle. The issue of increasing the accountability of those denying access to information through the behaviour outlined in Bill C-208 is essential. Accountability is the essence of Bill C-208.

In Bill C-208, this parliament has before it an important private member's bill. The fact that Bill C-208, a private member's bill, has come this far is a testament to the worthiness of its content and intent.

I believe most Canadians want record abusers stopped and penalties enacted for abusers that include fines and jail terms. Bill C-208 ensures this outcome. As a consequence of ensuring accountability, this bill will forge better public trust and assurance. I urge this House not to let the opportunity provided for in Bill C-208 to pass by.

As we know, Canada is one of only a dozen countries throughout the world with access to information legislation. Bill C-208 demonstrates the Canadian resolve to offer access to information in an accountable and open manner. Strengthening the Access to Information Act through Bill C-208 illustrates Canada's approach that is unique to most of the world.

Bill C-208 provides for prosecution of an individual by way of indictment or summary conviction. This legal flexibility permits greater possibilities for prosecution thereby making the Access to Information Act more effective.

In strengthening the Access to Information Act, Bill C-208 strengthens democracy in Canada. Individuals scheming to manipulate records from public access need to be called to account for their actions. This is the basis of Bill C-208.

Passage of this legislation will be to this parliament's credit. It will be remembered as yet another instance when parliament endeavoured to protect and benefit Canadians.

I strongly support this bill. I urge all colleagues in the House to do the same.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.