House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Madam Speaker, today I am answering the question asked in the House by my hon. colleague from Calgary Centre-North on the aboriginal residential school program.

The government is committed to fast and fair compensation for residential school victims of abuse. We are pleased with the uptake of the alternative dispute resolution process since it was launched by the government in November 2003. To date, more than 1,300 former students have chosen ADR to resolve their abuse claims relating specifically to sexual or physical abuse or wrongful confinement. Each month 100 additional survivors apply.

This process is about providing choice to claimants. The ADR process is focused on resolving claims in a timely, private and humane manner. We are giving priority to elderly claimants who are 70 years and older and to those in failing health. The underpinning of the ADR process is to resolve a significant number of outstanding claims within seven years and provide compensation to claimants. In addition, significant resources have been earmarked to ensure claimants will have access to counselling services and commemoration activities and that validation of claims occurs.

Of course, moneys will also be spent by the government on our operations and the government will continue to respond to litigation as it is obligated to do. It is unclear to me where the hon. member has obtained his cost estimates but they are clearly wrong.

Further, as my hon. colleague may not be aware, approximately 87,000 former students are alive today according to Statistics Canada. Of this number, over 13,000 former students have filed abuse claims against the government.

To date, nearly 2,000 claims has been resolved, the vast majority through out of court processes. Over 1,300 individuals have now chosen to resolve their claims through the new ADR process.

Furthermore, my hon. colleague seems to be suggesting that these claims should not be validated. The Government of Canada is committed to validating complaints of abuse. We are trying to establish an equitable process for all parties.

As part of that, we are hiring consultants to find alleged abusers to inform them that they have been identified in a claim. These consultants will not be researching former students who have filed a claim.

This work is not new. Locating persons of interest, alleged abusers, assists us in validating abuse claims and protects the rights of individuals by informing them that they have been identified by a claimant. Consultants will also inquire whether these individuals are interested in obtaining additional information or participating in hearings.

We have a year's experience in house locating these individuals. However we want to speed up the process by contracting these services to professionals. We are using the services of consultants on an as and when required basis.

We are sensitive to the fact that persons of interest are elderly. We are working with church entities to develop protocol and standards for this work.

When dealing with claims of abuse, rights are paramount with regard to proving the merits of claims, protecting the rights of claimants and ensuring accountability to Canadian taxpayers.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada did not protect the aboriginals in this case.

My hon. friend says that 1,300 cases are being resolved through the adjudication process. I have just received the numbers directly off the government's website and it refers to a total of 72 cases being resolved through the ADR process after the expenditure of over $125 million. That is 72 cases out of a pool of 86,000 people. Even his 1,300 person figure is less than 1.5% of the cases that exist.

Let me put this in comparison. Some 15 years ago a Conservative government dealt with a similar program in relation to the Japanese internment situation. That government resolved over 15,000 cases within one year. Within one year over 65% of the cases had been settled and within five years the entire program was opened and shut.

The present government, by contrast, after one year has expended over $125 million and it only has 1.5% of the cases in the process. That is paltry and pathetic and the Auditor General needs to find out what is really going on.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, we believe that we are on track to resolve the majority of the claims through ADR. In little over a year, over 1,200 people have chosen the ADR process as the means for resolving their claims. Each week the government receives more applicants for ADR and the adjudication secretariat continues to conduct its hearings.

What is most important to understand is that the program has really just completed its initial phase. We had to focus on consultations and program development before we could receive, let alone resolve, claims through the ADR. The government is confident that as more claims are settled, trust in the ADR process will grow.

At the same time, we know that our approach is not perfect. As members know, the Assembly of First Nations has renewed its engagement in the issue of compensating former students. Indeed, we invited and financed its recent review of our ADR process.

We think the program is working well and we look forward to resolving these claims in a fair and equitable manner.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

March 9th, 2005 / 6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am rising today to follow up on a matter that has been before this House since October 2002.

On October 24, 2002, the House voted unanimously to support the following motion which I had placed before it:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Prime Minister should take advantage of his upcoming meeting with President Jiang Zemin of China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation [APEC] conference to privately raise the issue of the continued imprisonment in China of thirteen [13] Falun Gong practitioners who have close family ties to Canada and to emphasize that Canadians would be more willing to strengthen existing ties between Canada and China if these individuals...were reunited with their families in Canada.

The motion named the 13 individuals, one of whom, Mingli Lin, is the subject of my special concern today.

Following the passage of this motion, many of the prisoners were freed and were issued visas to join their families here in Canada.

One of the 13 was denied a visa. Mingli Lin was freed by the Chinese authorities in 2003. Since that time, however, our consulate in Shanghai has repeatedly denied him a visa to come to Canada. The reason offered for the refusal by the officials responsible is that Mr. Lin might wish to stay here permanently.

I cannot say whether he would want to stay permanently in Canada. Frankly, if I were Mingli Lin, I would certainly want to stay in this country until such time as the danger of persecution in my native country had passed.

I should mention that no other Falun Gong practitioner among the 13 named in the motion passed unanimously in 2002 has been denied entry into Canada on this basis.

I note that every single one of the practitioners who has been admitted to Canada has been a model citizen of this country. This includes Mingli Lin's brother, Shenli Lin, who is also a Falun Gong practitioner who was arrested and imprisoned in China and was admitted to this country nearly three years ago.

For this reason, I asked the former immigration minister in a letter last March and again in the House in November if she would consider issuing a ministerial permit to admit Mingli Lin to rejoin his family here in Canada.

Each time I asked her, she gave me a vague response and then did nothing. I note that the lack of compassion shown by the former minister, who resigned in disgrace two months ago, does not reflect the general will of her cabinet colleagues.

In a letter written in March 2003, the Minister of Canadian Heritage wrote:

--I would like to add my voice to...other Canadians from across the country who are demanding the immediate release of all Falun Gong prisoners in China, and decry the continuing violation of human rights that Mingli Lin's imprisonment represents.

In a speech before this House on February 28, 2003, the Minister of Justice said:

--I call upon the Chinese authorities: to release the...Falun Gong practitioners with a Canadian and family connection from their imprisonment, and permit them to be reunited with their loved ones here in Canada....

The irony here is that although Mingli Lin still lives in fear of the Chinese government in China, it is the Government of Canada that for the past two years has been responsible for putting him in harm's way, subject to ongoing persecution in China.

Let me read to you from a letter that was sent to me last month in which a friend outlines Mingli Lin's current state, as reported by his brother Shenli in Toronto: “Mingli is still in a very difficult situation. As you may recall, while he was incarcerated in the forced labour camp they ruptured his esophagus while trying to force-feed him. He endured a lot of suffering during the two years of incarceration he was forced to go through. After his release, he was still kept under constant surveillance, routinely harassed and intimidated by the Communist authorities. He has no personal freedom to talk about”.

Mingli Lin still wants to come to Canada. His family in Canada wants to be reunited with him. Parliament voted unanimously to bring him here. Ministers of the Crown have spoken in favour, in this House, of bringing him here.

Will the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration do the right thing and issue a ministerial permit to permit Mingli Lin to rejoin his family on our shores?

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Madam Speaker, the hon. member knows that Canada's privacy laws prevent me from discussing the details of individual cases. However I do appreciate this opportunity to clarify several points regarding this issue.

The hon. member will recall that the motion passed by this House in 2002 mentioned nothing about automatically granting the individuals in question permits to come to Canada. Nor did it suggest that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada should in any way personally intervene in this matter.

The hon. member is now asking the Government of Canada to disregard the will of this House and proceed in a manner that will help to undermine the integrity of the immigration and refugee program. This is clearly not in the best interests of Canadians or of the individuals involved.

There are numerous ways for people to come to Canada, all of which are based on the principles of fairness, transparency, balance and compassion. The Government of Canada recognizes that in some cases refugees might need to make a claim from within their own country, which is why Canada allows them to do so in some cases through a resettlement application.

The Government of Canada also recognizes that family reunification is one of the cornerstones of the immigration program, which is why we have taken steps to ensure this important component of the immigration program remains flexible and expansive in a balanced and sustainable way.

We also recognize that many individuals might wish to come to Canada as visitors, which is why the rules make it easy for tens of thousands of individuals to do so each year.

The Government of Canada believes in having an equitable and open immigration program, which provides for the consideration of each application based on its own merits and not on the applicant's political affiliation or membership in any particular group. That is how we have proceeded in the past and that is how we will continue to proceed.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am appalled by that shameful response.

I am talking about a man who was tortured while he was in a prison in China. No one doubts the facts of his case. No one doubts that he was tortured, that he was in pain and that he is under intimidation by the Chinese authorities today. No one doubts that if a ministerial permit were issued on compassionate grounds and the compassionate grounds were there for all to see, that he would make a model citizen.

No one doubts that this House did talk in the motion about the reuniting of families. What does the parliamentary secretary think we meant, that the family should be shipped back to China? Of course we meant that they should be reunited here in Canada.

He talked about somehow bringing Mingli Lin to Canada and about issuing a permit. I am just so angry at this attitude, as if issuing a ministerial permit on compassionate grounds is in contempt of the House. That is a contemptuous answer.

Mingli Lin should be allowed to re-enter this country. He should be allowed to join his family here on these shores as Parliament unanimously decided he should be allowed. He should be allowed to do this for the compassionate reasons that are the very foundation of ministerial permits.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I find it interesting that on the one hand, certain members are suggesting that the Government of Canada should de-politicize its immigration decisions and on the other hand, they are saying that the minister should, in certain cases, flout the rules and institutions that have been established to keep the system impartial and fair.

The Government of Canada is determined in this regard to preserve the integrity of the immigration program by ensuring that all applications are reviewed on merit alone. We are committed to finding ways to ensure it continues to function in a fair, impartial and expeditious manner.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

For shame. You should hang your head in shame.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I am sure that outburst is not characteristic of that member.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to follow up on a question I asked last fall regarding the government's plans to deal with the crisis in marijuana grow operations that has exploded out of control across Canada in recent years.

Specifically I asked the Minister of Justice about mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of cultivating marijuana. I noted that the offenders were getting slaps on the wrist even for repeat offences. While we knew that to be true from many individual cases, we are now seeing harder evidence come forward in the form of actual statistics from the Vancouver police, which were leaked to my colleague, the member for Abbotsford, the official opposition's illegal drug critic.

Here is what he found: The average grow op was worth $300,000 at the street level. Only two-thirds of operators charged were convicted. That is unbelievable. Of those convicted the average sentence was four months, although with our lenient parole system the time served behind bars was actually much less. The longest sentence handed out was just 18 months. With parole, that convict likely only served six months. It makes a total mockery of the minister's plan to double the maximum sentence for production to 14 years when the longest sentence given is 18 months.

If the government's hand-picked appointee judges will not even consider a maximum sentence, then clearly the time has come to send the judges a message by imposing mandatory minimums. Can the minister give me a reason why we should not go this route?

Let me recite for the minister some of the cases which are typical. In November 1997 a suspect was caught with an estimated $440,000 worth of marijuana and was sentenced to a 30 day conditional sentence and a $5,300 fine. In September 1999 a suspect caught with an estimated $514,000 worth of marijuana was sentenced to a four month conditional sentence in the community.

The study further highlights a number of offenders who were given light or stayed sentences despite having long rap sheets. For example, in 1999 a grower was given a $10,000 fine and two years of probation despite having compiled previous charges involving assaults and kidnapping. What happened? He paid the fine and was later arrested on weapons charges. How is that for a justice system? In fact, what Canadians find most disturbing about the lack of concern shown by the Liberal government is the potential for violence.

We saw a war fought on the streets of Montreal a few years ago among organized criminals. Most people still remember that a 10-year-old boy was killed in the crossfire. Canadians are also aware that marijuana grow houses have come to their neighbourhoods. Despite shutting down 250 grow houses a year in Surrey alone, the police estimate that there are still hundreds more they have yet to get to and find. These grow houses are often booby trapped with chemical, electrical or explosive traps, or those tending the grow ops may be armed.

My question for the minister is, who is going to have to be hurt before he will start to crack down on these grow ops? Is it going to be a 10-year-old boy in Surrey? Canadians are becoming increasingly aware of how out of touch the Liberal government is. One only needs to look at this past weekend when the justice minister and his party embraced the former leader of the Marijuana Party and his agenda. Yet even some card carrying Liberals disagree with the minister's approach.

The president of the Liberal riding association from my riding agrees with me that there should be mandatory minimum sentences for convicted grow operators. On the weekend the Deputy Prime Minister finally admitted, after years of denial, that perhaps the government should consider tougher penalties.

Does the minister now agree that we need mandatory minimums for grow operations?

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's comments on Bill C-17, the cannabis reform bill and its effects, show a profound misunderstanding of the legislation.

Bill C-17 reflects a balanced approach to the laws on cannabis. The proposed legislation would allow for a ticketing regime for the possession of 15 grams of marijuana, and a ticketing option for the possession of more than 15 grams, up to 30 grams. At the same time, new offences under this proposed legislation will provide tougher penalties for those involved in the large marijuana growing operations about which the member is concerned.

The bill proposes that the cultivation of one to three plants be punishable by a fine of $500, or $250 for a young person. If a person grows 4 to 25 plants, the bill proposes a maximum penalty on indictment of five years less a day and 18 months and/or up to a $25,000 fine on summary conviction. In the case of 26 to 50 plants, the offender faces a maximum of 10 years. Where a person cultivates more than 50 plants, the maximum sentence would be 14 years, double the current maximum.

The hon. member for Surrey South—White Rock—Cloverdale wants this bill to include minimum sentences. This would run counter to the sentencing principles set out in sections 718 and 718.2 of the Criminal Code. More specifically, minimum sentences run counter to the principle of proportionality and restraint with respect to sentencing.

Research into the effectiveness of minimum sentences has shown that these have no dissuasive or educational effect and are no more effective than lighter sentences as far as crime prevention is concerned.

This was confirmed in 2001 by a study commissioned by Justice Canada. It concluded that there was no correlation whatsoever between the crime rate and the severity of sentences.

Moreover, the presence of minimum sentences encourages plea bargaining. For example, a study of section 85 of the Criminal Code reached the conclusion that two-thirds of charges with a minimum one-year prison sentence were withdrawn, rejected or cancelled. Not only do American statistics illustrate similar results, they also show a transfer of discretionary powers from the court room to its corridors or to prosecutor's offices.

Experience shows us that minimum sentences are treated as maximum thresholds in sentencing rather than being seen as minimal thresholds, and this type of sentence creates substantial costs for provincial and territorial correctional services and for Correctional Services Canada.

The undesired effects of using minimum sentences are felt not just in Canada. American research shows that minimum sentences do not incite the accused to plead guilty, and so increase the number, duration and accumulation of trials.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Madam Speaker, I find the member's comments not only surprising but extremely disappointing. He claimed that if minimum sentences were put in place they would become the new maximums. The sentences could not get any lighter. They could not get any smaller. People are getting off with nothing as it is, so how could those become the maximums? Sure minimum sentences have a consequence. Absolutely they do. They get people off the streets.

The member went on to say that they would lead to longer trials. Well, big surprise. When people are facing real sentences for crimes they have committed, of course they are going to fight a lot harder for their freedom and take more time to defend themselves. That is evidence of the justice system at work. To do anything less would be idiotic.

Why would the minister consider minimum sentences to protect kids from child pornographers as he did in response to a question on November 29, 2004 and not consider those same measures to protect the same kids from becoming drug mules for dealers?

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, Canadian and American police forces work together very well. This is part of the approach that we want to continue to take with respect to enforcement.

In the message accompanying the recent drug majors report submitted to Congress, President Bush stated, “The big picture is certainly encouraging. United States and Canadian law enforcement personnel have collaborated on a number of investigations that have led to dismantling several major criminal organizations”.

As for the concern in the report about the “lack of significant judicial sanctions against marijuana producers” which is what my friend is raising, Bill C-17 as was mentioned earlier, proposes doubling the maximum penalty for marijuana cultivation and requiring the judge to justify not imposing a sentence of imprisonment where more than four plants are involved and there are aggravating circumstances.

That is extraordinarily important. It changes the whole perspective of the way in which the legislation has been historically treated. We look forward to the standing committee's consideration of Bill C-17 and its recommendations for change, if it concludes that these proposals need strengthening.

Food and Drugs Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:08 p.m.)