House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was claims.

Topics

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased on behalf of the New Democratic Party to join the debate on Bill C-6 at third reading.

I would like to compliment the speech made by my colleague from the Bloc Québécois, a member of the aboriginal affairs committee. His speech contained very thoughtful remarks and a well researched analysis of this very flawed bill.

We intend to emphasize many of the same points as would have been heard from the Canadian Alliance when it opposed the bill and from the previous speaker from the Bloc Québécois as he opposed the bill. Virtually everybody associated with aboriginal claims issues is opposed to the bill, as the hon. member from the Bloc pointed out, with the possible exception of the minister and his immediate staff.

I will mention some of the organizations and communities that have contacted the NDP to express their very strong dissatisfaction with the bill. They include the Assembly of First Nations, as has been pointed out before; the Alliance of Tribal Nations from New Westminster, B.C.; the Saddle Lake First Nation of Saddle Lake, Alberta; the Adams Lake Indian Band from Chase, B.C.; the Lucky Man Cree Nation from Saskatoon; Long Lake Reserve No. 58 from Longlac, Ontario; Eagle Lake First Nation from Ontario; The Society for Threatened People from Austria; the Tlowitsis First Nation from Campbell River, B.C.; the Battlefords Tribal Council from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; the Blueberry River First Nation from Buick, B.C.; the Boston Bar First Nation from Boston Bar, B.C.; and the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council from Prince George, B.C.

There is also the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. from northern Manitoba. I believe MKO represents some 50 communities in northern Manitoba. There is also the Opaskwayak Cree Nation from The Pas, Manitoba whose chief, Oscar Lathlin, is currently the minister of aboriginal affairs in Manitoba.

Also on the list are the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Manitoba Inc. from Winnipeg; the North Shore Tribal Council from Cutler, Ontario; the Six Nations of the Grand River from Ontario. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, a plenary umbrella group from Saskatchewan is on the list.

The list also includes the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte from the Mohawk Territory, Ontario; the Pasqua First Nation from Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan; the Okanagan Indian Band from Vernon, B.C.; the Nanoose First Nation from Lantzville, B.C.; the Tsuu T'ina Nation from Alberta; the Halfway River First Nation from Wonowon, B.C.; the Northwest Tribal Treaty Nations from Terrace, B.C.; the Nipissing First Nation from Garden Village, Ontario; the Union of New Brunswick Indians, Fredericton, New Brunswick; the Seabird Island Band from Agassiz, B.C.; the Algonquin First Nation of Timiskaming, from Notre Dame du Nord, Quebec; the Wolf Lake First Nation from Quebec; the Buffalo Point First Nation and Chief John Thunder from Buffalo Point, Manitoba; the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Kamloops, B.C.; and the Barriere Lake Algonquin First Nation from Quebec, just bordering the city of Ottawa.

That is a partial list of the groups that have come forward. Some made representation to the committee and some simply contacted our offices, appealing to the opposition parties to do all they could to stop Bill C-6 because it does not meet their needs. It is not what they are looking for. It is not what they desire in terms of a truly independent claims commission as claimed by the minister.

The most compelling thing I bring to the House today is a petition that was brought to my office. Unfortunately it is not in a format which I could present to the House of Commons. I will not be formally tabling the petition because unfortunately, my office was not contacted first to get the proper format.

Those people went to a great deal of trouble. There are over 50,000 names on those sheets of paper which are in boxes in my office as we speak. I would like to read into the record at least the preamble of that petition, even though I know full well it cannot be presented formally.

It is a petition by the Jubilee Petition on Aboriginal Land Rights called “Land Rights, Right Relations”.

Dear Prime Minister,

In keeping with the Jubilee theme of Renewal of the Earth, we the undersigned call for a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples based on mutual respect, responsibility, and sharing.

As part of this ongoing process towards a new relationship, we are seeking justice for Aboriginal peoples.

We join the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the United Nations Human Rights Committee in calling on the federal government to act immediately to establish a truly independent commission with the mandate to implement Aboriginal land, treaty and inherent rights.

The signatories are from all over Canada. I should point out that they are not primarily aboriginal people. The vast majority of the signatures on this 50,000 name petition are not of first nations people. In fact, the sample I am holding are people from downtown Guelph, Ontario: Debbie Armstrong, Cindy Donafeld, Erin Stather and Mike Elrick; these people all identify themselves as being from fairly suburban urban Canada.

Perhaps it was long-winded but I wanted to share with everyone the depth and breadth of the opposition we are learning about to Bill C-6. There are ordinary Canadians as well as first nations communities who do not accept that Bill C-6 is what it is touted to be, the long awaited and much ballyhooed bill that was looked for with great optimism.

Many aboriginal people I met, leaders through the Assembly of First Nations, authorities in the field of land claims, worked on the joint task force for years leading to the formation of an independent claims body. Many expressed their dismay as soon as the hon. minister of aboriginal affairs presented the idea two years ago that he would be introducing this new claims commission by legislation and advanced preliminary sketches of what the bill might look like.

The Assembly of First Nations made it clear at that time that the government had missed the point, that it did not fold in the important key recommendations of the joint task force. That round table met for, I believe it was 18 months, leading up to the development of its position paper which called for a truly independent Indian claims commission.

There was advance warning. The minister cannot feign that he was somehow blindsided by this. He was advised from the very outset that the bill being contemplated and proposed would miss the mark and did not satisfy or pass the test of the truly independent claims commission that was being called for by first nations leaders.

With that as a preface, I suppose I will outline once again some of our objections to Bill C-6 and give an overview and legal analysis of Bill C-6. I do not think we need to get too technical because it is the position of the New Democratic Party when it put forward umpteen amendments at the committee stage. Every single one of them was rejected. It is now our position that the bill is not redeemable.

The bill in its current form unamended is not worthy of our support and will not be getting our support. Therefore I am not going to bore the House of Commons or anybody watching at home with the gritty details of the minutiae, the technical details. That was done by the Canadian Alliance for 40 minutes half an hour ago.

Our initial review of Bill C-6 identified a number of departures from what was agreed upon in the 1998 joint task force report. We believe this compromises the ability of the new body to assist in resolving claims in the expeditious, fair and impartial manner that was contemplated by the task force. Bill C-6 fails the test of being able to introduce a commission that is truly fair, impartial and expeditious.

There is deep concern, and we expressed it from the very outset, with the conflict of interest in the minister's role in managing the independent claims board process. This point has been made over and over again, and not just by opposition critics in the House of Commons but by authorities who have studied this issue for decades in civil society, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal.

How can the commission be truly independent when the minister's discretionary authority is enhanced in the bill rather than diminished and when the commissioners are appointed by the minister? We believe the independence of the commission and the tribunal are undermined by the retention of the unilateral federal authority over appointments and by the unilateral federal authority over the processing of claims. This is the key fundamental point upon which Bill C-6 falls short of introducing a truly independent Indian claims commission.

As many people were, we were shocked and disappointed to see that appointments would be made upon the recommendation of the very minister charged with defending the Crown against such claims. How can anyone not see the blatant conflict of interest? The minister would get to appoint the commissioners, and it would be the Crown against which these claims would be made. Can people not see what is fundamentally wrong with this picture?

We have tried to articulate it as clearly as we can and still we get no relief from the minister or from the Liberal majority on the standing committee. Our representatives on that committee, using the rules of the House of Commons, legitimately tried to have that amended and corrected. Had we achieved that amendment, we would be supporting the bill. Just as no one in their right mind could fail to see the blatant conflict of interest, no one in their right mind could fail to hope that some of the 550 outstanding specific claims could be settled expeditiously, at least in our lifetimes.

I share in the frustration of aboriginal people, many of whom have waited 30, 40 and 50 years for resolution, not to a general land claim but to a specific claim, which I should explain. Let us use an example.

There have been cases where a military air force base expropriated a certain amount of land from an Indian reserve for a specific purpose. When that function was finished and it came time to return that land to the band, it gave back less than it took. The aboriginal people involved said, “Wait a minute. You borrowed 100 acres and gave us back 85. What is going on here?” They filed a specific claim. I am pulling that abstract out of my head. There are about 550 of those.

Here is another example. The amount of money transferred to aboriginal communities is based upon a per capita basis. There may be a dispute between what the first nation says is its membership and what the federal government has counted as membership. A claim would be filed to address that grievance. That is the type of very specific issue with which we are dealing, but unfortunately without a satisfactory resolution mechanism, the band has no recourse but to clog up the courts with these claims.

As I said, no one in their right mind would not want to see a speedy and expeditious settlement of these outstanding grievances to give remedy to these, in many cases, historic injustices.

We are frustrated and we share the frustration of aboriginal people. It has yet to be determined if all the claims are legitimate. Hopefully, a fair and impartial arbitrator will decide that. However now we will not have that mechanism. The long awaited and much ballyhooed mechanism to finally give satisfaction to these outstanding claims is not forthcoming. These people will have to go forward with what they perceive to be a biased mechanism, a mechanism that is tainted and clearly prejudiced, or at least there is a conflict of interest. It remains to be seen if fairness can still be achieved.

There are no effective timelines provided under the commission process. We believe that this is a shortcoming of the bill. We would be far more likely to achieve satisfactory resolves, if people could not play the waiting game. Certainly the government has been playing with many claims for all these years.

Using timeliness as a delaying tactic is reprehensible in my mind. There is a phrase “justice delayed is justice denied”. It is even more unkind when the government throws it back in the face of aboriginal people by saying that they are always clogging the courts with all of these claims.

The reason the claims are in the courts is because the government refuses to sit at the table and resolve these issues. It takes two to tango. It takes two to create an impasse. Aboriginal people want these claims settled. The government has a vested interest in stalling and delaying because if the claims are resolved, as they are in most cases, it will cost the government money.

If we stipulate ourselves to a dispute mechanism that is supposed to be fair and expeditious, then timelines should be imposed so that these delaying tactics could no longer be used as a tool by the federal government. There are far too many opportunities for federal delay built into this process.

From where did the $7 million cap figure come? It was pulled out of the air. I cannot say whether it should be more or less for specific claims, but anytime a line like that is drawn there will be cases that fall right on the line. I will give the House an example of a worse case scenario.

Let us say a first nation has been waiting 30 years for satisfaction on a specific claim and it has spent $2 million on legal fees. The claim is worth $10 million. It could carry on in the courts, because this is optional, and spend another $2 million fighting for what it knows to be right, or it could go before the independent claims body and have it settled to a maximum of $7 million. This may coerce, out of necessity, first nations to accept less than what they deserve and what they have coming because they cannot afford to fight for another 50 years.

As the previous speaker mentioned, this generation of aboriginal people may not be quite as patient as their forefathers were in achieving justice. They need it and they want it now. However because of the cap the maximum that will be handed out will be $7 million. We believe this is a cost saving measure contemplated, vented and executed by the federal government in imposing this cap into the bill.

My party is further critical of the definition of a specific claim that has been narrowed from the existing policy. Believe it or not, we are supposed to be moving forward toward resolution of these outstanding grievances with the bill. Instead we are going backward. The definition of what constitutes a specific claim for treatment under the independent new commission is narrower than things that could go under the existing independent claims commission.

The bill does not provide for a substantial financial commitment and is more about limiting federal liability than about settling claims. That is the simplest way I can express our objection to the bill. It does not provide for a substantial financial commitment. It is more seized with the issue of limiting federal liability than it is about settling claims. Bill C-6 offers little hope for addressing the growing backlog of specific claims in the foreseeable future.

I appeal to the minister to step back and look at the whole suite of legislation he has introduced, namely, Bill C-6, Bill C-7 and Bill C-19. There are those of us on opposition benches who would like nothing better than to enthusiastically support legislation that will amend the Indian Act because we think the Indian Act is fundamentally evil. We believe it is responsible for 130 years of social tragedy. If I do nothing else in my time here as a member of Parliament, I would like to say that I moved the issue of aboriginal people one step forward.

I appeal to the minister to take a step back and rethink why the entire first nations community is opposed to these measures. I appeal to him to introduce something again, in a co-operative manner, something of which we can all be proud. The government will then have the enthusiastic support of the New Democratic Party instead of the opposition we have expressed toward the bill.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Winnipeg North Centre has done an outstanding job in bringing a sense of understanding of what the fundamental flaws are in the bill.

Today the minister of aboriginal affairs talked about consultation and defended government practices. He said that the government was involved in negotiations and consultations with first nations. Yet, as the member has pointed out, the bill itself is a total contradiction of the very principles the government has claimed to be put forward.

Could the hon. member outline some of the opposition that has come forward from the aboriginal community to the bill and look at it in the context of the other bills that come forward and that go completely in the opposite direction to where the government claims it wants to be?

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to answer this question and I will do so as plainly and simply as I can. I really want people to understand why the NDP opposes the bill. It is not just for the sake of opposing everything the government tries to do.

Perhaps this is the single most obvious thing about the bill that points out why it is not worthy of our support. Usually all legislation dealing with aboriginal people include non-derogation clauses. This bill does not. Most bills have a very specific clause at the front saying, “Nothing in this bill shall be interpreted by the courts or anyone thereafter so as to diminish or derogate from existing aboriginal treaty or inherent rights”.

The first thing that leaps off the page is the absence of a non-derogation clause in this bill. One can only assume that, because it was deliberately left out and because the amendments were deliberately turned down to add that clause, there is something in it that will derogate and diminish existing aboriginal inherent rights. That is only reasonable to assume. There is a point in law that says a person can be presumed to have intended the probable consequences of his or her actions. People who read the bill know that the probable consequences of leaving out the non-derogation clause is that there will be derogation. It is a pretty straightforward issue.

To further answer the hon. member's question, the experts, authorities and people who have studied these matters for years are the researchers and the elected leadership who constitute the Assembly of First Nations. They read the bill and pointed out that it did not create an independent and impartial committee. Why? For the reasons I pointed out already.

First, the minister appoints who will be on the commission to make these determinations, even though the very things the commission will be ruling on are a cost factor to the federal government. I do not know how much more clearly I can put it. If people cannot see that, there is something dead between their ears.

What is further frustrating, and I agree with the hon. member for Vancouver East, is that so many qualified people worked with real hope and optimism on the joint task force which dealt with this very issue. They really threw themselves into it. They wrote a meaningful report with meaningful recommendations, only to have those recommendations yet again ignored by the minister and the bureaucracy. The legislation, as crafted, does not accurately reflect the work of the committee.

Why ask people what they want and need, then ignore them by tabling a bill that does not reflect what the government has been told. It is an insult. It makes a mockery of the concept of true consultation. Without getting too technical, this is the fundamental point as to why first nations cannot accept the bill and why the NDP will not support it. The NDP wants to support the first nations people who the bill affects.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Madam Speaker, listening to the hon. member who just spoke, he outlined some areas and some organizations that are totally opposed to the manner in which this has taken place. When we talk about negotiations to come to a deal to satisfy groups of people, we negotiate to satisfy the majority of the people.

From what I see here, the bill has definitely angered a lot of people within the organization. As a result of that, we in the Progressive Conservative Party will not be supporting it. We firmly believe that these are not negotiations that have transpired. This is the government saying that this is what it wants, rather than what the people want.

The minister has stated that there are 550 claims in the system right now, which will take approximately 30 years to do under the current procedures, and he believes that the new system would resolve 80% of them. If 80% of the outstanding land claims are easy to resolve, why have they not been resolved?

I know the claims may be complex, but if the government does not sit at the table and negotiate with all the groups it will never get done. However, we need to have open negotiations. We need to listen to the first nations people. It cannot be all one way. Right now it is all one way. It is the government's way or no way.

The minister also stated that the first claims policy statement arose out of the Supreme Court decision in 1973. Since 1973 it has been the same old story. We are still waiting for first nations to have their land settlements resolved, which is unfortunate.

We cannot continue in that way. We need to make peace with our first nations people. We need to make sure that the court ruling is upheld. They are entitled to their land claims. Let us settle these claims now and get them over with so we can work as a nation. However we all know that is not what the government wants to do.

My hon. colleagues before me mentioned many points. One of the things is that after an initial review of Bill C-6 we identified a number of departures from what was agreed upon in the 1998 joint task force report, which may compromise the new body to assist in resolving claims in a fair, expeditious and impartial manner.

Where are we going with this? We need to have impartiality. We need to make sure that it is done in a certain timeframe so that the system works for everyone. We cannot continue to say that if it does not work we will put it into the courts to take care of the larger issue. If the smaller issues were resolved, then the big issues sometimes take care of themselves by sitting down to negotiate and talking sensibly.

There is a big concern about a conflict of interest. It has to have independence. We cannot have the government appointing people to do certain things because then it is not impartial.

A lot has been said about this issue and a lot will continue to be said. What we need to do is to get back to the table to settle the land claims, to sit down and speak to our first nations people and to all the people to whom we need to speak, so we can move forward to make sure that the best deal is given, not only to the aboriginal people but also that it be fair to the government.

I do not see that happening because there are two sets of rules, one for the people and one for the government. We need to make sure that it is good for the country and good for the people. The government cannot get its own way all the time.

As a result, the bill does not answer a lot of the concerns of the first nations people. The Assembly of First Nations had a lot of concerns. I have seven of them here, most of which were addressed today: the cap up to $7 million; the patronage appointment process; the lack of first nations input; no significant increase in the budget for the new process; conflicts of interest; and the minister's role in managing the process.

The other item that was of great concern had to do with the compromises built into the new body that was done in the joint task force of 1998.

There is so much that is unsettled with this new bill that the parties in the House cannot support it. I would recommend that the minister go back to the table, go back to the people and speak to the committee. I know the committee members were upset. I am not a member of the committee but I spoke to members of the committee who were very concerned about the direction in which the bill goes.

I know the minister has the greatest of intentions to make sure that the land claims are all settled and that first nations people get what they rightly deserve but if the bill becomes law it will not give them what they deserve. It will cause major fighting, major bickering and major unsettling of our people.

I firmly believe that the minister should go back to square one and listen to the people. Yes, we need to compromise but in negotiations. He talked about his past negotiating skills but I can tell him right now that in negotiations we give some and we take some. It is a compromise. However, when it is all finalized and we come away from the table, both parties should be happy and settled with it. If not, in the real world, if it were union negotiations, they would be on strike.

Right now we could almost say that the people who are opposed to this are on strike. We need to get back to the table, sit down and discuss this reasonably and rationally and, most important, let us get a deal that is good for the country, good for the people and one in which all Canadians will benefit greatly.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Madam Speaker, I was wondering if my colleague across the way would elaborate a little more with respect to how fair a process it is when it is only the government that decides who sits on the commission and on the tribunals.

What is the record in his part of the country, elsewhere in the country, nationally, in terms of when the process is totally controlled by the government and there is no proper and valid input from first nations people on appointing those members? What does that leave us open to?

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Madam Speaker, it has to be a fair process. If government is controlling the panels or controlling the whole process, then government will put in the people it wants in order to spread its word.

The process needs input from the first nations group. They need be involved in the process to make sure it will work. If there is no input and no concise message from the people we are concerned about, then the government gets its way because it is only putting forth its way.

Members of the first nations need to be involved in the process. The process will fail if they are not and we will be back to the beginning.

It seems that the government has left out this group of people but it needs their input. We need to make sure that their voices are heard and that they have input into the final decisions that are made.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, it is very important for us to resolve the issues of Bill C-6 in an equitable and fair way.

One of the things that the bill provides is for a tribunal which has a cap of some $7 million on things that it can decide on. Beyond that, it is beyond its scope. So there is a limitation. If there were an impasse on a certain inquiry, then we would have the situation where the tribunal would not be able to solve the problem and we would have the same kind of impasse that we have had for the last 20, 30, 50 years.

I would like the member's comments on the cap and the tribunal process.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Madam Speaker, the government of course has placed a cap on the process. It expects that when there is a disagreement among the larger groups it will go to court. However the government has gone to court but it failed the people.

The government does not care about spending a wasteful amount of money on programs such as the firearms registry. If it were serious about settling the claims of our aboriginal people, it would move ahead and put the money in place. Whether it is $8 million $10 million or $12 million, we should move ahead and do it.

Let us get peace back in the nation. If we do not settle these claims we will always have unrest and we will have people not getting their just reward. What we are telling the people is that we will cap these claims at $7 million but that all other major decisions, if they are controversial, will go to court where they could be tied up for years.

Let us put the money where it is due. Let us get it over with. We have been at this for 30 or 40 years. Let us move to put it behind us so that we can bring Canada to a stronger position and a stronger global level in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member discuss the issue of negotiations and the fairness of those negotiations. From his point of view, how would he see those negotiations clarified and how would he see those negotiations conducted so that there is fairness throughout?

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Madam Speaker, as with any negotiations, we sit down at the table with a selected group of people, the ones who can go back to their people and tell them what we will accept and what we will reject.

The key is to get back to the table with the major groups so we can have open dialogue and discussions. It is no good having people at the table who cannot go back to their people and tell them what deal was arrived at. We need to have people at the table who can make decisions. It is no good having people at the table who cannot make decisions.

I would say that we need to have a process whereby we could have people at the table from all sides with regard to the land claims. We would then be able to iron out our differences and come to a final conclusion so the people of the first nations could be given their just reward.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member will have another four and a half minutes to answer questions and comments when we come back to debate the bill.

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 18, 2002 consideration of the motion.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

February 7th, 2003 / 1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank and congratulate our colleague who is raising an issue that can no longer be ignored. As ironic as it may seem, however, debating this issue is all too often avoided on the grounds that it concerns the social and personal values of individuals. I am therefore pleased that Motion No. 192 was declared votable, as we begin today the second hour of debate on this motion.

The motion reads as follows:

That a special committee of the House be appointed to review the solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade workers.

In recognizing the existence of sex trade workers, this motion shows both realism and responsibility. It is certainly not by putting our heads in the sand that we will contribute to the betterment of society. If we want to build a better world, we must face the facts. Prostitution is a fact, not a figment of our imagination. It is the world's oldest profession, as the saying goes, and it is definitely not about to disappear. But what exactly do we know about this profession?

Some will argue that I am going the wrong way on this issue. It is true that I enjoy straying from the beaten track. Yet it is very likely that we know less about this than we say we do. Besides the fact that prostitution can be classified as a service, in that money is paid in exchange for sexual favours, we really know very little about prostitution.

Nonetheless, we do know a few facts. For instance, solicitation for the purpose of providing sexual services is prohibited under the Criminal Code; at present, prostitution rings are run by the underworld; it is mostly women who are involved in prostitution; the women who make a living from this trade often do so in a context of violence and terror; while prostitution has been around since the beginning of time, it is still unregulated; and unfortunately, society is all too willing to turn a blind eyes on anything that goes against its values and challenges its taboos.

I could go on almost indefinitely on what we have heard on this issue, what we can read in the newspapers and see on television. I hardly need bring up the tragic disappearance of 63 women who were prostitutes in downtown Vancouver. We know today that at least 15 of them were killed, and that the other 48 probably met the same fate.

It is worse than shameful that it has taken such a tragedy to open our eyes to the need to consider this issue, when we have known for a very long time that violence runs rampant in this environment. Can we tolerate such cruelty to women who, when it comes down to it, are merely trying to earn a living? As legislators, do we have the right to close our eyes to avoid dealing with such a sensitive issue? This is a question of the respect that is each person's due, the right to integrity without consideration for a person's job or values, as long as no one else is harmed.

The motion of the member for Vancouver East is quite reasonable since it is asking the House to appoint a special committee to review solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall.

Some studies are necessary. In fact, in 2000, the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve chaired a working group that examined the various issues relating to prostitution and suggested possible solutions to these problems.

Without getting into details, the working group's first proposal stated that it is important to take prostitution out of the Criminal Code. Indeed, we should ask ourselves some serious questions about the relevance of criminalizing consensual sexual relations between two adults, even if one of the two partners offers money in return for services.

What is criminal in this arrangement other than the fact that the income is not declared for taxation purposes, thus making this undeclared work? However, the reason this income cannot be declared is because the government does not want to recognize that this trade exists, and it tries instead to eradicate it. This, as we know, is impossible.

In fact, during the first hour of this debate, the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve rightly pointed out that it is not prostitution as such that is criminal but, rather, soliciting in a public place, to which people quite rightly object.

Like all of you, although everyone has their own little fantasies, I do not feel like being a captive spectator to someone else's fun. Likewise, it is unacceptable for sexual favours to be offered in a residential area, close to a school or at a church door. That is why prostitution should occur in designated zones.

Moreover, there is—and this is a known fact—much greater tolerance by the police for so-called hidden prostitution than for street prostitution. For example, if the police were really interested in locking up all sex-trade workers who do not work in the open, they would be guaranteed weeks and months of work. Look at the escort services section of the yellow pages; every phone call would be like winning the lottery.

I do not wish to explore any further the various solutions that could be put forward, but these few examples show that an in-depth review by a special committee could make a strong contribution to this debate.

We need to hear from sex-trade workers, stakeholders, law enforcement representatives and all the specialists in this area. We can then move on to the second part of the motion, which recommends changes that will reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade workers.

How would this be done? What are the proposed recommendations? Only an informed debate could guide us. One thing is certain, forming a committee would allow us to address the issue without prejudice.

In conclusion, I would like to quote a small maxim:

We are all prisoners, but some of us are in cells with windows and some without.

Is it not time that we throw open our windows and give these workers the help they need and deserve?

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Laval East
Québec

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, as my colleague for Laval Centre has said, I am certainly very pleased to be able to open a little window of positivity on the matter we are addressing today, and to announce my support for the motion to strike a special committee of the House in order to recommend changes to reduce the exploitation of sex-trade workers and particularly to stop violence against these workers.

Our goal, and that of my colleague from Vancouver East, is to create safer communities for all, and we certainly share the same motivation.

In fact, I must congratulate my colleague from Vancouver East for presenting this motion. With it, she is reaching out a hand to a vulnerable sector of the Canadian population, the sex-trade workers, many of whom are prostitutes, and the very large majority of whom are women, it must be admitted.

They call prostitution the world's oldest profession. My colleague from Laval Centre just said that herself, before yielding the floor to me. We must admit that the passage of time has not improved the situation of those who prostitute themselves, nor the safety of the communities where there is a very active sex trade.

Today sex-trade workers are in very great danger of disease, violence, even death. The world of prostitution is a subculture of our society where people live and work and where the protection of the law and respect of basic human rights are largely absent.

There is nothing new about calls for social justice for prostitution, nor about the realization that the vulnerability and lack of security for sex-trade workers are linked to issues of gender equality and women's fundamental rights.

In 1910, political activist and feminist Emma Goldman said that, whether the reformers admitted it or not, the economic and social inferiority of women was responsible for prostitution.

There is great merit to what Mrs. Goldman said nearly a century ago. Today's statistics show that the vast majority of sex trade workers are women. They are women from the most vulnerable sectors of our society: aboriginal women, women raised and living in poverty, victims of violence, women with substance abuse problems, and women who have been trafficked from other countries.

On an ongoing basis the people of Canada express their growing concerns about the safety of prostitutes and the harm that the activities of the sex trade can cause to the community.

The hue and cry on these issues has risen with the growing awareness of the plight of the missing women of Vancouver's East Side, and of other vulnerable women in communities across this land. We must do something to address these issues.

Our government is committed to taking positive action for social justice in ways that can achieve lasting positive change for these individuals and communities, and others at risk.

In the Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada expressed its commitment to helping poor families and children to break out of the welfare trap. We are committed to ending the cycle of poverty and dependency that prevents children from getting a good start, that makes families vulnerable to poverty and violence, and that limits women's opportunities for self-determination.

Toward these ends, it is important that we carefully consider prostitution-related criminal issues. This motion is admirable. It is consistent with the government's commitment to children and families. It tries to find a way to help vulnerable persons and communities that have consistently been marginalized.

Through the concentrated study and dialogue that a House committee would generate, we can more deeply explore issues, consult with Canadians and develop strategies for action.

As some hon. members of the House have pointed out, prostitution is a complex and multi-faceted problem. It must be addressed on many fronts, including through legislative reform, community supports, social interventions and other related areas.

It must also be addressed in collaboration with a wide range of partners. That is why my colleague, the Minister of Justice, is speaking to the issue today. We must have the collaboration of a number of partners including other federal government departments, provincial and territorial governments, and municipal jurisdictions across the country.

As a reminder, my government has committed $32 million, that is $32 million annually, to a national crime prevention initiative. It has also invested $7 million in a family violence initiative.

In 2001-02 Status of Women Canada approved $3.9 million in funding throughout our women's programs. This funding supports initiatives that address the root causes of violence against women. A recent example includes Saskatoon Communities for Children, which my department supported as an initiative related to children involved in the sex trade. The goal was to generate legislative changes to ensure tougher action against sexual predators.

Other objectives include: developing strategies to raise public awareness about child sexual exploitation, forming partnerships to establish safe houses for youth, and enhancing efforts to open satellite homes for the rehabilitation of sexually exploited children.

Such efforts reach out and address the issues of some of the most vulnerable members of the population. They support and build on the safety and quality of life in affected communities. Working in partnership, we have created momentum that must be sustained if we are to make a difference for Canada and the people who live and thrive here.

I am therefore very proud to repeat that I am pleased to support this motion to establish a special committee of the House, which will develop recommendations and proposed changes to reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade workers, and to create safer communities for all people in Canada.

Once again, in closing, I want to commend my colleague from Vancouver East on bringing this motion before the House.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon and speak to the motion put forward by the member from Vancouver East.

Motion No. 192 reads:

That a special committee of the House be appointed to review the solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade workers.

I certainly support that. I am pleased that the government is willing to strike a committee to look at this. I would like the issue to be expanded to look at the entire issue of prostitution in Canada.

I know the reason why I wanted to rise and speak to this is because it is of great concern to a number of communities in my huge rural riding of Prince George--Peace River, especially the city of Prince George. I have had some meetings with the town councils and with concerned citizens who are particularly concerned about the problems to the community and to the sex trade workers themselves by what is called residential prostitution and the problems that arise from that. Perhaps it is an overlooked or neglected area of the justice portfolio.

All of us who have spent much time in this place recognize that there is a myriad of issues of great concern to Canadians in the justice portfolio. It seems like there is never enough time to properly address all of them.

I know as a past member of the justice committee that it is one standing committee of the House of Commons that is constantly bogged down, not only with legislation, but with study. The amount of work for that committee to do just never seems to end. It really points to the depth of the problems that our country faces in our justice system or with changes needed to our justice system and the difficulty, in all fairness, of dealing with some of these issues because we certainly have a wide range of opinions on them.

I believe this is one of those areas that has been overlooked. It is high time that we as Parliamentarians take a long, hard look at this whole issue of prostitution and everything that goes with it.

One of the areas, of course, that is closely connected to the sex trade is drug abuse. A number of members have already mentioned that. We cannot look at one without looking at the other because as has been said, in many situations, sex trade workers fall prey to substance abuse as drug addicts. If we are going to look at their safety we must look at that particular aspect of it as well.

What can be done? Part of this is under provincial jurisdiction. One of the things I was looking at is that obviously we need more services available to address the problem. We need to ensure that we have proper enforcement at the local levels and the proper resources for our police forces, and for our social workers who are trying to help these individuals.

There is a program in the city of Prince George conducted by the RCMP and it deals with trying to identify those who prey, the so-called Johns, on the sex trade workers themselves. It is called the deter and identify sex trade consumers (DISC) program. Unfortunately, the program is underfunded as are so many programs of the RCMP. That is one area that we could look at to ensure that our law enforcement has enough revenue to properly address the issue.

As I said, it is an area under provincial jurisdiction and I recently wrote a letter to the hon. Geoff Plant, Attorney General of British Columbia, on this issue of residential prostitution specifically in the city of Prince George.

I know for a fact that my colleague from Edmonton Centre-East has raised this issue in connection with his community of Edmonton on a number of occasions and has done a considerable amount of research on it. I commend him for the work that he has done in that respect. I know he continues to work on it because it is a serious problem in that city as well.

If this committee is struck and seriously looks at the issue, research would show that it is a serious issue in communities large and small all across our nation.

In my letter to the Attorney General of British Columbia I made note of what the province of Manitoba had done to deter residential prostitution. Manitoba amended its highway traffic act so that it could seize the vehicles of Johns involved with picking up sex trade workers.

Another unfortunate reality that has been pointed out by the parliamentary secretary is the exploitation of children. There are a couple of things we can do about this. The Canadian Alliance is pushing for the age of sexual consent to be raised to the age of at least 16 from 14 years, and perhaps even higher following a good debate in the country.

I made another suggestion in my letter to the Attorney General of British Columbia regarding the fact that many of our young children are getting lured into the sex trade. I wrote:

Too many of our young children get lured into the sex trade. In 1999, the Alberta Government enacted legislative measures under the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act. This law allows police officers to hold sex trade workers under the age of 16 years for up to 96 hours at a protective safe house. During this time, these children are provided with counselling, health care treatment, and an opportunity for a better life.

I suggested in my letter that perhaps British Columbia could take a look at that piece of legislation from Alberta and consider incorporating it into the laws of B.C.

In dealing with this issue we must go well beyond just looking at the single issue of safety. As other speakers have noted, it is sad that it took a tragedy the scope of what is unfolding in Vancouver to draw attention to this problem. As someone noted, 63 prostitutes went missing and now DNA from at least 15 of them has been found on a farm. A trial is underway in Vancouver to hopefully hold those responsible accountable for those horrendous acts.

I support the thrust of the motion before us today. Perhaps my only criticism would be that it does not go quite far enough. Once the committee is up and running I suspect it would be mandated to look at the issue. It would go in a lot of different directions.

I particularly want to support the part of the motion that talks about improving the safety of communities overall. In other words, not just looking under a microscope at only the safety of sex trade workers themselves, but everyone else who comes in contact with them, whether citizens on the street, their families, their loved ones, or people who care about them. This is a big issue and it is not just about the prostitutes themselves.