House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Points Of Order

11 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Last week, as a parliamentarian, I asked the House of Commons to make a correction to what is commonly called the blues. These are the preliminary transcription of what is said here in the House and sometimes corrections are made to it, sometimes not.

I had asked for a correction. Mr. Luc Bélanger and Mrs. Louise Brazeau, an editor, pointed out to me that the correction I was asking for could change the meaning of what I had said in the House and that the only way to make corrections was to listen to the recording in order to see whether a word or expression makes no sense the way it is written down. The purpose is to make the record of what was said as faithful as possible.

The only corrections that can be made are to improve the quality of the English or French as the case may be.

In connection with this, I commented to House Services that I had often had the impression in the past that substantial changes had been made to Hansard , far more substantial ones than what I was asking for.

They swore that was not the case, that all changes were from the tapes and that never would the editor in question looking at a potential change decide to alter the meaning of remarks expressed here in the House.

I advised the transcription group that I would be watching the operations of the service very carefully, given that I had been treated unfairly compared with what I had seen done in the past. I did not have to wait long to see that there was a double standard at least in this service of the House.

I would draw your attention to what the Prime Minister said in the House on March 21, 2001. In what are called the blues, the Prime Minister said, and I quote “We had no financial interest in that company in November 1993”. That was the statement and it was very clear. It was limpid.

In Hansard , we find: “Mr. Speaker, we did not have shares in that company since November 1993”.

I do not know under what authority the editor responsible for this or the head of the editing group changed “We had no financial interest” to “We did not have shares”. It is substantially different. The sentence was in perfectly good French and at no time was any correction whatsoever of the form necessary, as is clear from the blues.

In the corrected version the meaning has changed. Why? One might think that someone from the Prime Minister's Office had stepped in, because that is how things are done, and requested that the House editors change the substance, not the form.

Why, when the Bloc Quebecois House leader asks for a verb tense to be changed, is he told that it is impossible, that it is too great a shift, that it changes the meaning? Why are requests from the Prime Minister's Office treated differently than requests from the office of the Bloc Quebecois House leader?

That is the first point I would like you to clear up.

I am going to have to conclude that if the Prime Minister's Office requested a change between what the Prime Minister said and the official House Hansard , it is because that office had a special interest, and what was that interest? It resorted to what amounted to a coverup of an answer given by the Prime Minister. Why did the Prime Minister feel the need to make a substantial change in the statement he made here in the House from “intérêt financier” or “financial interest” to “parts” or “shares”. The two things are completely different.

Mr. Speaker, I therefore ask you to take my point of order into account. I think my parliamentary privilege has been somehow breached. I think the editors have not behaved appropriately. I think the influence of the Prime Minister's Office is so pervasive that it has managed to change the editing service's rules for handling our requests. Ultimately we will sort this out with the Prime Minister in oral question period.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The question asked by the hon. member for Roberval is very specific. I will inquire to determine if other members, whether it is the Prime Minister or another member of parliament, are treated differently than the hon. member for Roberval. I believe the question is properly put.

I hope to be able to provide the House with an answer after looking into the matter, but we must now proceed to the consideration of private members' business.

Does the hon. member for Roberval have another question?

Points Of Order

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously I would like the Chair to see whether the change was actually made. That is one thing.

I would also like the Chair to rule on whether the Prime Minister's Office had the right to ask for such a change. Why is a change of this nature rejected when it is asked by the opposition but accepted when it is from the Prime Minister's Office? Is there a special relationship?

Points Of Order

11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I understood all of that in the question put by the hon. member. I indicated that the difference of treatment, if that is the word in French, can be explained if there is indeed a difference, and that I will get back to the House on this issue. In my opinion, it is not necessary at this point to hear other members on this issue. This is an issue raised by the hon. member because of the way he was treated. I will inquire and I will get back to the House.

Points Of Order

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 11.12 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should show leadership on the international stage: ( a ) by taking action designed to increase the number of signatory countries to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; ( b ) by signing bilateral treaties that include commitments to respect custody and access orders as originally handed down by the courts; and ( c ) by taking the necessary steps within its own borders to combat international child abduction.

Mr. Speaker, it is with considerable joy as well as considerable emotion that I rise to speak to Motion no. 219 which I am introducing today.

Although I am aware that it is not traditional to do so, I would like to begin by thanking the standing committee on private members' business, not only for allowing debate on this matter today but for making it possible for members to express themselves clearly in a vote that will be held very shortly in the House of Commons.

I will touch on a number of aspects relating to international abduction, beginning with a general picture of the present situation both internationally and in Canada. I will also list some of the programs developed by the Missing Children's Registry.

As well, I will speak about the convention on the rights of the child, an international convention containing a number of provisions aimed at combatting the illegal transport of children. In my opinion, this is something a number of countries should take into consideration if we are to expand the fight against international child abduction so that it is not merely a Canadian effort but an international one as well.

I will also be speaking about the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, which has been signed by 54 countries. Unfortunately, too few countries have signed it at this point. Unfortunately too, it has certain flaws which need to be addressed if located children are to be returned to their country of origin.

I will also speak to the matter of bilateral agreements. In many cases, even if the international conventions have not been signed, particularly the hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, a certain number of countries have entered into bilateral agreements.

With respect to parents who are victims of child abduction, we will take a look at just how the conventions are applied to see whether parents can find an appropriate way to recover their child as a result of the signing of these agreements.

I will also look at the question of measures to be taken within Canada. It is not just a matter of showing diplomatic and international leadership on this issue, Canada must show leadership at home, within its own borders, in order to fight international abduction of children.

I will set out a number of appropriate measures Canada could consider and act on in order to fight this major scourge.

I will mention a number of recommendations appearing in a report drafted by the standing house sub committee on foreign affairs in April 1998 when the House considered the entire question and proposed a number of recommendations. In my opinion, the government should have between 1998 and today noted the report and come up with a number of solutions and measures to fight this scourge.

Finally, I will note that the fifth special commission on the Hague convention on the international abduction of children is being held from March 22 to 28. The Minister of Foreign Affairs should have been in attendance at this commission in our opinion in order to improve various aspects and measures of the convention.

Therefore, the motion I have tabled today, which will be debated, demands that the federal government exercise some leadership in order to increase the number of countries that are signatories to the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. It calls on Canada to sign bilateral treaties that include commitments to respect custody and access orders as originally handed down by the courts. Finally, it demands that the federal government take the necessary steps within its own borders to combat international child abduction.

Not only am I very pleased to speak to this motion today as a parliamentarian but from a personal point of view this debate also gives me the hope of seeing a fundamental issue finally resolved.

On January 17, 1993, my spouse's son, Karim, of whom she had legal custody for a few years, was abducted. He was three years old at the time. The father, a Canadian of Egyptian origin, took advantage of a Sunday outing with his young son to abduct him and take him to his native country. That was the beginning of a long process involving three lawyers and high legal fees, but above all, it was the beginning of a sad human and family drama that is still unresolved.

In Canada for 1999 alone it is estimated that 358 children were abducted by their father or mother, according to the number of cases reported to the Missing Children's Registry. Half of that number were the subject of a custody order from the court. In Canada, under our criminal code, such an offence carries a sentence of 10 years.

Unfortunately, however, the belief that abduction is the most serious violation of a child's rights is not yet widespread.

The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, the only multilateral instrument against international child abduction, which came into force on December 1, 1983, has been signed or ratified by only 54 countries.

In order to protect the interests of children, each signatory country agrees to respect custody arrangements made under the laws of other countries and to return an abducted child to his or her legal guardian in the country where he or she resided before the abduction.

Members must know, however, that the geographical scope of this convention is very limited since no country under Muslim law has signed it yet.

It would seem that Muslim laws and religious customs establishing the rights of parents and the influence of the family are the main obstacles to middle eastern countries signing the Hague convention. For instance, by law in Egypt, the child of a Muslim father must observe Islamic religious practices and a mother must be married to the father of her child for reasons of morality. In addition, Islamic countries apparently do not see the family as consisting of two equal partners, both with an equal right to access to their child.

The only recourse for parents whose children have been abducted are bilateral treaties with countries that are not signatories to the Hague convention, negotiations which could be conducted between countries and which could result in the conclusion of provisions similar to the convention. In this connection, it should be pointed out that Canada has signed a repatriation treaty with Egypt. Unlike the convention, this treaty is not binding and contains no obligation to comply with the custody and access order handed down by the initial court.

Canada must therefore show leadership on the international and diplomatic stage so as to increase the number of signatory countries to the Hague convention, and negotiate bilateral treaties with non-signatory countries by imposing legal obligations for the return of children to the country in which they resided before being abducted. In addition, Canada must take immediate measures within its own borders.

How is it that three year old Karim was allowed out of the country with his father, who did not have custody of the child, without the permission of his mother, who had a court order? What sort of document check was carried out, particularly with respect to the production of a passport for a child? Did customs officials and airline personnel have the required authority and training to prevent such a situation?

It is estimated that there have been approximately 200 cases where customs officials have suspected that a child was being abducted but were unable to stop the presumed abductors because they did not have the authority.

The fight against international child abduction is first and foremost a fight for the right of children and for the love of their parents. The solutions require the Canadian government to show international and diplomatic leadership and to foster close co-operation between the solicitor general, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the provincial ministers responsible for law enforcement.

As I said earlier, this is a general picture of what we are experiencing here in Canada. Moreover, we know that, in 1988 the solicitor general and the government created the Missing Children's Registry. The primary roles and objectives of this registry, along with a program entitled our missing children, are to intercept and rescue children who have disappeared, have been abducted and have crossed international borders to publish lookout notices at the borders, and to install placards of missing children at all Canadian border crossings. This organization also provides training to the personnel of law enforcement bodies and of other services, such as airline companies, so that child abductors can be found out.

The mandate and role of the Missing Children's Registry and of the related program did not achieve the results anticipated. The time has come to be more rigorous in the training provided to civil aviation staff.

The time has come to give more powers to customs officers. They must not merely monitor the importation and exportation of goods. They must also ensure that children do not leave the country without the previous authorization of both parents.

I referred to the mandate of the Missing Children's Registry. The mandate is even broader. The registry must also help, if necessary, all police forces during their investigations on missing children.

When victim parents appeared before the standing committee on foreign affairs in 1988, many of them told us that even though complaints were made to local police stations, it took more that 24 hours before an investigation was opened. It is important to realize that the first hours, the first days, the first minutes are the most important if we want to find the child.

We cannot wait 24 hours after a parent makes a complaint to his or her local police station to open an investigation. The protocol established for police has to be stronger and stricter to ensure that an investigation is undertaken in the first hours after a complaint is received and that the Missing Children's Registry officials and Interpol are informed. If the abductor is no longer in Canada, we should be able to station Interpol officers at various U.S. border crossings, if necessary, to anticipate the return of the child.

It is obvious that the protocol has to be strengthened, and of course that has to be done in co-operation with the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and municipal police forces.

Moreover, the registry's mandate is to check the Canadian Police Information Centre's file, also called the missing persons computerized system, to give more information or follow up on missing children investigations, as needed.

Would it not be more effective and better if customs officials had in their possession all the information on the custody order? If they saw that there was a custody order from a court and that a parent who did not have the custody of the child was trying to leave the country, that person could be arrested before boarding a plane belonging to a foreign airline. We should never forget that from the moment that the abductor parent and the child are inside the plane of a foreign airline company, there is nothing more we can do, even if the plane is still on Canadian territory.

Customs officials have a crucial role to play in the identification of abductors. They must be provided will all the means to do their job.

As we know, Quebec acts as the central authority in that regard, under the convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. Quebec is responsible for the implementation of the convention. As I said, the administrative law branch of the justice department of Quebec acts as the central authority responsible for the implementation of the convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, which helps to locate and repatriate children who are illegally taken to a foreign country by a parent.

Contrary to what is presently done in Canada, in Quebec we can identify, and this is easily accessible on the website of the Department of Justice, countries where abducted children have been taken.

This was one of the requirements made repeatedly to the House subcommittee on foreign affairs by organizations, namely The Missing Children's Network Canada, which come to the assistance of parents whose children have been abducted. They asked that a national register of children abducted in Canada be established to facilitate their identification.

We cannot help but note there is no such registry available that would allow us to intervene. As we know, Quebec has one. For example, we know of a number of cases in the United States, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Venezuela, Zimbabwe as well as in Egypt. We know that a number of children have been abducted and taken illegally into these countries.

It might be high time we had a national registry, as requested by the groups that appeared in March 1998 before the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs, and by others as well.

We must also know what the terms and conditions of the convention are. It is not that simple. Before one's case can be examined under the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, a number of conditions must be met.

I would like to point out a number of points I have brought forward but I want to remind the House that the fifth meeting of the special commission on the operation of the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction is being held from March 22 to 28.

On March 5, I asked the foreign affairs minister to take part in that meeting. Unfortunately, we cannot help but notice that the minister will not participate. I think it would have allowed the government to show leadership at the diplomatic level, as my motion is calling for today.

I wish that all members of parliament could vote for this motion, which essentially calls for action, as I said earlier, for the defence of children rights and for the love of their parents.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support Motion No. 219. International child abduction is a tragic phenomenon that affects too many Canadian families.

The motion calls on the Government of Canada to show leadership on this issue on the international stage. This is what Canada is already doing. Indeed, for many years the Government of Canada has been leading the efforts globally to find effective ways to prevent and solve international child abduction cases.

The Canadian approach toward child abduction has always been to ensure that children's best interests are a priority. The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction was drafted some 20 years ago and became a reality through Canada's efforts.

For a long time, Canada's priority has been to prevent international child abduction cases, whenever possible, and to find solutions when abductions happen. In the great majority of cases, these situations happen during or after the parents' breaking up, particularly when one parent or both have close family ties with another country whom they are citizens from.

Twenty years ago, Canada started negotiations that led to the drafting of the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. The Hague convention came into force on December 1, 1983. Canada is still the first among those who are trying to broaden the application of the Hague convention, the only multilateral instrument providing for effective assistance to children who are victims of transborder abductions.

According to the objective and guiding principle of the Hague convention, the child's interests are best served by him returning promptly to his normal or regular country of residence.

In 1983, when the Hague convention came into force, only three countries signed it, including Canada. Thanks to pressure by the foreign affairs department, more than 65 states are now signatories of the convention and that number is likely to grow.

The Hague convention is the only international agreement that one can refer to when dealing with international child abduction. Its accomplishments are impressive, and the commitment to make it work and to increase the number of signatory states remains one of the most important and constant priorities of the government.

The Hague convention puts the interests of children first.

In 1998 the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade published a report entitled “International Child Abduction: Issues for Reform.” In that document, the committee recommended that Canada continue to promote the Hague convention and to increase the number of signatory states.

The Canadian government's reaction to the recommendations was positive. The Minister of Foreign Affairs stepped up his efforts and approaches to many countries in order to set forth the benefits of the Hague convention. Representations have been made internationally, especially with several nations in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

For example, a team of officials of the foreign affairs and justice departments went to Vietnam in late February for bilateral consultations. Among the subjects discussed were the benefits of the Hague convention. Canada urged Vietnam to consider signing the convention and offered important practical advice on the implementation of the convention.

The same kind of initiative was taken several times in many countries throughout the world.

Canada has a leadership role in the preparation of the fourth special commission on the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. This meeting will be the most important international operational review since the convention came into effect. Many options have been suggested. The international consensus is that the best option to prevent and remedy the problem of international child abduction is to abide by the Hague convention.

But we know that all countries party to the convention do not always implement it as it should be. Procedural delays, non-compliance with court orders to return children, contradictory domestic legislation and legal interpretations not always in accordance with the Hague convention are some of the problems that can arise when proceedings are taken in other countries under the Hague convention.

To maintain the confidence of the international community in the Hague convention, member states must commit to fully uphold their obligations under the convention. To promote a cohesive interpretation of the convention, the justice minister will hand out a $15,000 grant to the Hague child project in order to set up a data bank where will be stored legal decisions pursuant to the Hague convention.

The fourth special commission will be a crucial meeting where decisions on how to better implement and enforce the Hague convention will be made. Canada is sending to this meeting a huge multidisciplinary team: representatives of the foreign affairs and justice departments, provincial delegates in charge of implementing the convention and judges who have to apply the convention.

Canada is a world leader in promoting the goals of the Hague convention. We do everything we can to increase the number of signatories to the convention. In fact, we are taking all appropriate measures to make the Hague convention more efficient, to help the Canadian families of children who have been abducted and to ensure that abducted Canadian children are returned to Canada safe and sound.

With your permission, I will now examine the question of bilateral treaties respecting custody and access. Canadian consular authorities have growing responsibilities in the area of family matters, including the abduction of children by the father or mother and other types of matters where the wellbeing of Canadian families travelling or residing abroad is a source of concern.

This increased volume of family matters requiring consular assistance is due in part to the increased numbers of Canadians with dual citizenship and the high mobility of Canadians and Canadian families.

Encouraging countries to sign the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction remains Canada's method of choice in managing cases of child abduction. However, given the concerns raised by the Hague convention in many countries in the middle east, where Shariah family law is in effect, Canada has negotiated innovative bilateral agreements that constitute an effective way of dealing with such cases.

As cases of international child abduction are not covered by official agreements, they can drag on, be hard to settle and become bilateral irritants. Parents are separated from their children, and children are taken away from familiar surroundings. The parents of a family in conflict try turning to the justice system of one country in order to establish living conditions or terms of custody of members of the family that live usually in another country.

International child abduction is a crime. Canada has put comprehensive and effective measures in place to fight this phenomenon. However, cases of abduction continue. The Government of Canada is determined to find new ways to prevent and resolve cases of child abduction. We must all work on this objective. It is in the best interest of our children.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the motion put forward by my colleague from the Bloc, the hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie.

In introducing the motion, my colleague has raised an important issue that few will disagree should remain a priority for the House, that is, the protection and best interest of the children.

For many years the international community has recognized the need for countries to co-operate in order to remedy child custody and abduction problems. In 1976 the Hague convention on private international law accepted a Canadian proposal to alleviate some of these problems. This proposal led to the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction.

The objectives of the convention are: first, to secure the prompt return of a child wrongfully removed to or retained in any contracting state; and, second, to ensure that the rights of custody and access of one contracting state are effectively respected in the other contracting states.

As a leader in these negotiations, Canada was the second country to ratify the convention which came into force in December 1983. To date, 53 countries, including Canada, have adopted the convention.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, over 300 Canadian children have been returned under the convention.

Although the convention is supported in principle by a number of countries and has been relatively successful in achieving its aims, some recent reports say that we are not doing enough.

Let us look at the 1999 report by the international forum on parental child abduction.

The report stated that although it:

—was a giant step forward in dealing with cases of international child abduction in a more uniform, consistent way...in too many cases, the Hague Convention appears not to be working as originally intended, and too many cases remain unresolved.

Some problems cited were: a lack of systematic data; wide variations in outcome and interpretation; undue delay in reaching resolutions; lack of public awareness; and lack of enforceability of return orders.

The Canadian government has not been entirely oblivious to these problems. The government's 1998 response to a committee report reviews 14 recommendations that address similar issues relating to the Hague convention, as well as domestic issues pertaining to child custody issues and abduction.

Many of the committee's recommendations are similar, if not identical, to the provision of today's motion, although it remains to be seen what action the government has taken to implement the recommendations.

The issue must not be left unresolved. Now that it has come up again in the House, we must find real solutions and initiate concrete action on behalf of children.

Let us consider the first provision of the motion that calls on the House to take action designed to increase the number of signatory countries to the Hague convention on civil aspects of international child abduction. There is no question how absolutely crucial this is. The convention can only be effective insofar as other nations are willing both to participate and to enforce once they have signed on.

Most of Europe and North America, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have signed on. However only five African nations are signatories. In Asia and the Middle East there are six, and in South America there are seven.

The difficulties in increasing the number of signatory countries are many. In particular, the laws of some Middle Eastern and African nations may make international co-operation on the matter more complex, especially in terms of parental abductions.

In many middle eastern and African countries, as my colleague from the Bloc pointed out, the father's permission is often required for his children to leave that country. The father will often have ultimate custody, despite the fact that the child may have dual citizenship in Canada or another country.

Bearing that in mind, it may be difficult to persuade countries with such laws to subscribe to or subject themselves to these principles. In taking any steps one must obviously bear that in mind. As my colleague from the Bloc has stated, Canada needs to show leadership.

Despite the difficulties, we must step up our efforts to persuade other nations that it is in their interest to co-operate to protect children both at home and abroad. It has often been said that it takes a village to raise a child. In this case, it will take all nations of the world working together to ensure that children's rights are secured and protected and that parents do not need to live in fear for their children.

The second provision, to sign bilateral treaties that include commitments to respect custody and access orders as originally handed down by the courts, is extremely vital. If we cannot persuade non-signatory countries to sign on to the convention, we must continue to negotiate bilateral treaties with those countries.

The third and last provision of the motion is to take the necessary steps within our own borders to combat international child abduction. Of course, any international initiative must and should begin at home. Authorities, such as the solicitor general, the RCMP, the police associations and provincial and territorial ministers, should work closely together to develop a policy instructing police officers to report suspected child abductors to the missing children's registry.

All missing children reports should automatically be entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre, CPIC. Although this already occurs to some extent, our missing children's registry is nowhere near as extensive as it should be in order to be truly effective.

Within our own borders, child custody and abduction problems are extremely serious. Outside our borders, however, we have almost no control over what happens once a child is abducted. This must change if we are to give Canadian children the level of security and protection they are entitled to.

Accordingly, I would ask that all members vote in favour of the motion.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the motion today. I compliment the hon. member for bringing it forth. He has a long track record of dealing with issues that concern young people in Canada and around the world. He deserves a lot of credit and recognition for his work.

It is obvious to all members that young people are our most precious resource and that child abduction is reprehensible. Whether a child is abducted by a parent who does not have custody or by someone else, using children to accomplish one's own purposes is wrong.

We compliment the member for his work. He has a long track record of bringing up issues with respect to young people and children. He has taken an avid interest in adoption laws, especially issues surrounding immigration and international adoptions. My party supports the motion and will be behind it all the way.

The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction signed in 1983 was a multilateral treaty to protect children from the harmful effects of parental abduction and retention across international borders and boundaries. The convention provides a procedure for attempting to bring about the prompt return of children. Sixty-five countries have already signed the treaty, including Monaco, Canada, Ireland, Great Britain, France and the United States.

The convention is one of three signed at the Hague with the aim of protecting children. We think the motion, if successful and turned into policy by the government, would enhance and increase the protection provided by the convention. That is one reason we support the motion and feel that it should be done through The Hague process. The motion, if passed, would certainly ensure the rights of custody and protect children.

The Hague convention applies to children under the age of 16. How can children under 16 look after themselves if they do not have protection or a choice of where to go if someone abducts them? The convention is certainly appropriate.

If a parent believes a child has been removed or retained in breach of their custody rights, they can apply to a central authority under the convention. The convention also details some exceptions to returning the child to his or her home state. For example, if in returning the child it could cause further harm, then the child may be able to remain in the new state, which is again appropriate. There is flexibility in the convention to protect children no matter what the situation.

To facilitate the return of children, the Permanent Bureau of The Hague Conference on Private International Law has established the international child abduction database which makes accessible all judicial decisions taken around the world on the abduction convention.

Motion No. 219 by the Bloc has three parts, and we support them all. One, the federal government should take action to increase the number of signatory countries to the hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. Sixty-five countries are signatories at present, and that is not enough. We would certainly like to see more countries sign on. The federal government should take the initiative on that.

In the wake of the fatal car crash in Ottawa involving a Russian diplomat, I have risen in the House on several occasions and asked the minister of foreign affairs to initiate a dialogue on changing the Vienna convention with respect to diplomatic immunity. Although we brought it up time and time again, the government shows no interest in taking that initiative. The same type of initiative could be taken with respect to the motion to bring more countries under The Hague convention. The government has an obligation to act and should act. I hope it acts in both these cases.

The second part of the motion says that the federal government should show leadership

—by signing bilateral treaties that include commitments to respect custody and access orders as originally handed down by the courts;

Such treaties would be as important as the overall convention, and more powerful in many cases, because they would involve one country dealing directly with another.

Third, the federal government can show leadership by taking steps within its own borders to combat international child abduction. The government can never do enough to protect children, yet its record leaves something to be desired. More children live in poverty now than 12 years ago when the House passed a motion to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. Years after the motion to eradicate child poverty, the government has still not addressed the issue.

In Liberal speeches from the throne, children's issues are mentioned. However I am not sure anything concrete has been accomplished or that any tangible action has been taken.

The PC Party has been concerned with this issue for many years. When we were in power we spearheaded the missing children initiative. In May 1980, before the convention was signed, a former colleague of mine, Mr. Benno Friesen, member for Surrey—White Rock—North Delta, tabled a private member's bill dealing with parental abduction and custody matters. He had introduced it in 1976. The bill received the support of the government of the day and its wording was quite close to that of government bills introduced in 1978.

I will quote Mr. Friesen from Hansard in December 1980, 21 years ago.

I have had many representations received in my office regarding this type of case. These are cases involving virtually helpless parents who have had their children snatched from them by the other parent, usually, but not always, the father. The parent with custody granted by the court becomes a helpless victim...There seems to be no elementary or emotional security for these children in their formative years. They sometimes become scarred for life through such an experience.

That was said in the House over 20 years ago and still applies today. I mention it to show that was the case even before the Canada treaty entered into force on December 1, 1983.

The Progressive Conservative Party takes the issue very seriously. Because of this, we support the motion and congratulate the hon. member for bringing it forth.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Motion no. 219, which deals with international child abduction.

Canada's record in solving cases of international child abduction by the father or the mother is well known not only here but worldwide. Let us not forget that in countries that are not party to the Hague convention child abductions are treated on a case by case basis.

Even though the desired outcome is generally the same, namely bringing the child or children back to Canada, each case must be dealt with based on its own particularities.

The main obstacles to the child's return may be related to the following: the relationship between the father and the mother and other close relatives; the marital status of the parents; the gender of the child or of the parent seeking the return of the child; family law and the religious system in the foreign country where the child is; and the nationality of the parents or of the abducted children.

The consular affairs bureau, which has a vast experience in dealing with child abduction cases in countries that are not party to the Hague convention, has succeeded in securing the return of children from foreign countries, including middle eastern countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria and Iran.

These past few years the department has managed to reunite more than 30 children taken to non-signatory countries with their parents who had legal custody in Canada. No other country with a similar incidence of child abduction by the father or the mother has such a high success rate.

The consular affairs bureau works in close co-operation with other agencies, particularly with the partners involved in the our missing children program, namely the passport office, the RCMP, Customs Canada and Immigration Canada. The high degree of co-operation between these bodies plays a critical role when disappeared or missing children must be rescued.

While there is no single or easy solution leading to success, some measures have, in a number of cases, helped the return of children, or helped maintain contact between children and the Canadian parent left behind. The measures taken by Canadian police forces to lay criminal charges against the parent who abducts a child are important ones. International search and rescue activities conducted abroad by police forces can be greatly facilitated when criminal charges are laid.

Then there are the measures to maintain or facilitate contact and communication between the abducting parent, the children abducted and the parent left behind. Except for our consular agents, parents who are left behind often have no one to turn to in order to get information on their children and to maintain contact with them.

Thanks to these efforts, consular agents have managed to negotiate visiting rights for the parents left behind. Visiting rights can be essential to preserving the relationship between children and the Canadian parent during the years that it may take to settle such cases. These rights are also important to restore confidence between the parents, which can sometimes lead to a voluntary return of children.

Patience also comes into play. Some cases were settled years after the abduction and in rare cases the abducted child sought consular assistance to come back to Canada when he was old enough to do so on his own.

Then there are the representations made to foreign authorities. Consular agents contact authorities in foreign countries and closely co-operate with them to settle these cases. Since most countries that have not signed the Hague convention share with the signatories the desire to reduce the incidence of international child abduction, they are always disposed to support and discuss these cases.

Other countries frequently find ways to help us, within the limitations of their own systems. This approach has, for instance, been used by the Canadian department to negotiate two bilateral agreements with Egypt and Lebanon in order to facilitate the settlement of cases of children that have been abducted and taken to these countries.

Unlike the Hague convention, the bilateral agreements do not include any mandatory provisions relating to the return of abducted children. These agreements are not intended to replace the Hague convention, which is still the preferred means for handling international abduction cases, but they are one of the outcomes of the constructive co-operation shown by the governments of Egypt and Lebanon in consular affairs with the Government of Canada.

These agreements provide an official framework at the diplomatic level for discussion and information sharing on specific consular matters, including cases relating to child abduction and child custody. The agreements set up joint advisory commissions comprised of representatives of the Egyptian or Lebanese departments of foreign affairs, justice and the interior, and representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and of the RCMP.

These bilateral agreements constitute a new approach that has been adopted by the Government of Canada to overcome the difficulties presented by international child abduction cases.

Nevertheless, far too many children are being abducted by parent. When children are taken to other countries, the mechanisms that can be used to obtain their return to Canada are imperfect in that they depend, of necessity, on co-ordination between different national legal systems. This is why the Government of Canada has put in place the most exhaustive measures even taken by any government to help the victims of international child abduction.

The challenge we must face, which reflects the commitment we have made to the public, consists in making these programs and interventions still more effective.

Canada has always urged other countries to be party to the Hague convention which remains, as I said before, the only international instrument that can be used to prevent and solve international child abductions by fathers or mothers.

Moreover, Canada is number one with regard to international efforts to ensure that the Hague convention is properly implemented by other countries. As mentioned by the member for Hull—Aylmer, Canada will be represented at the special commission which meets in March 2001 to have a look at the structure of the convention.

New supplementary agreements have been concluded, for example the 1996 Hague convention on protection of children. Canada provides significant assistance to Canadian parents who are dealing with abductions to countries where the Hague convention does not apply, always to ensure that the child is returned to Canada safe and sound.

To solve the problem of international child abductions by fathers or mothers, the government has come up with several measures, including bilateral conventions and agreements. I would even add that what Canada is doing now goes further than the proposals included in the Bloc Quebecois's motion.

Many of these initiatives have already been endorsed by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, for instance, the 1998 report entitled “International Child Abduction: Issues for Reform”.

I will conclude by saying that all these initiatives show that the Government of Canada has for some time made determined efforts to find ways to prevent international child abductions.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I support the motion moved by the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie. This is something that I would have preferred we not have to do but, in the past five years almost 300 children in Canada have been abducted by a foreigner, which also shows that we have considerable difficulty recovering these children.

I listened closely to the debate and followed the issue, since my colleague brought it to the public's attention. Often refuge is taken behind the fact that there are agreements, conventions and so forth. It is all very fine and well to sign agreements and conventions, but some means of enforcing them is also necessary. That is the problem we are facing. There is little that can actually be done to get these children back.

The member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie knows whereof he speaks because his spouse went through such a situation. I believe he is probably the member of this House who knows the most about this sort of situation.

It is unfortunate that the Liberal Party member seems more inclined to recite his briefing notes. Furthermore, I wish to point out to him that this is not a Bloc Quebecois motion but a motion by a member which is being debated under private members' business.

I am sure all Bloc Quebecois members and most, if not all, other members of the House will be pleased to support the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, so that measures are much more effective than they are right now.

I listened carefully to my colleague earlier when he said that from the outset people often have to wait too long before action is taken. Not only must the federal government take action but the police must also review the way they operate and there must be co-operation in the exchange of information. Customs officials must also play a key role and their authority should be increased.

For example, we talked about measures as simple as issuing passports to children. There are very concrete actions. The rules could be tightened so that we would have an increased intervention capability that would help us prevent such incredible human tragedy where a parent is separated from his or her child. I do not need to make a long speech on this issue because everyone is aware of the negative and disruptive consequences that has on the child, on the parents and on the community. It is a human tragedy.

If only we could take measures limiting such tragedies because when we hear about a case in particular, we feel that it is very exceptional. I was very surprised to learn that there were around 60 cases a year, on average. When I said that there were close to 300 cases in the last five years, it was way too much.

I do not have enough time to speak in detail to each of the measures. My colleague has done a much better job dealing with the issue. I invite all members to unanimously support the motion. I invite the government to go beyond statements of principle and to take measures that have more teeth than what we now have.

I congratulate my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie and I assure him of my support, as no doubt all members of parliament will. Not everyone will get to speak but everyone will get the opportunity to vote and show his or her support for such an important motion.

International Child Abduction
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 12.12 p.m., the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved

That in relation to Bill C-7, An Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other Acts, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the bill and, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for government business on the allotted day of the second reading consideration of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the second reading stage of the bill shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.