House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sudan.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

The House resumed from September 28 consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--Status of Women
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 3:04 p.m., pursuant to order made on Thursday, September 28, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion of the member for Beaches—East York relating to the business of supply.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #36

Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

Order, please. I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded division, government orders will be extended by 12 minutes.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a brief point of order arising from question period.

During question period, the House leader of the official opposition, the member for Wascana, said that I had apologized for having deliberately misled the House, or words to that effect.

I would like to put on the record that I said no such thing. I believe it is still unparliamentary to accuse a member of having deliberately misled the House. I did not do so and, therefore, did not apologize.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand to speak to Bill C-18, which is a bit of an omnibus bill but a small omnibus bill, with regard to the use of DNA technology in our criminal justice system.

As we heard earlier today from the minister, the bill is specifically designed to address a number of points that were missed when we initially set up the system back in 2000 and then again in the 2004-05 Parliament when we had some rather significant amendments to the bill that passed and became law. Even since then it has become clear that additional amendments need to be made.

I must admit that I approach this bill with some trepidation in terms of expressing support for it. I believe the government is once again, when it comes to bills that are related to crime in this country, to the Criminal Code, to a criminal justice system, taking a piecemeal approach that is not justified by the reality of what we are confronted with in this House and, in particular, with what we are confronted with in the justice committee and the huge agenda because of the large number of individual bills that are coming from the government. Unfortunately, this bill is another example of this happening.

It is particularly compounded in this case because we were mandated, under the legislation that was passed to set up the DNA registry, to do a parliamentary review of that at the five year mark. The five year mark expired in 2005. The previous Liberal government did not get to this review and the present government still has not announced when we are supposed to be doing that.

Bill C-18 should be part of that overall review that we will be doing. We will end up duplicating significantly the amount of time that we spend on the issue of a DNA registry because of this.

This is also a flagrant example of some hypocrisy on the part of the government, which, when in opposition, had a number of private members' bill, one of which was sponsored by a member of the current cabinet and would have set up additions to the registry. The bill was entitled Lindsey's Law and it would have set up a separate registry for samples of DNA found at crime scenes that had the potential to be samples of deceased individuals.

We have the tragedy of family members, loved ones and close friends disappearing but we have no way of using the DNA technology that we have, which would be very useful in tracing these people.

The concept of setting up this separate registry has all party support and yet the government did not see its way clear to include that provision in this bill so we could consider it at committee at this time. The government did not do the overall review. It is being done piecemeal again just on these limited number of sections and it ignores what has been a long-standing policy on its part to create this new registry. It completely ignores it.

When we asked the minister about it earlier today, his response was “we'll get to that some other time”. That is simply not acceptable. It almost begs the question of where the government is going with regard to the criminal justice system. How is it dealing effectively with crime problems in this country? As I say, it begs the question, but the answer is fairly obvious. The government does not know where it is going and it is not doing it at all effectively or efficiently.

I will now speak specifically to the provisions of the bill. As I have said, we have no problem approving the bill in principle and then having it go over to the justice committee. The bill would fill in some problems with the existing infrastructure of the DNA system but we do have some concerns and we will be raising them in committee.

The amendments we passed, which became law in 2005, had some retroactive provisions. The concern at committee at that time was that those retroactive provisions may contravene the charter. We do not know, and I am not sure the government knows, whether there have been any challenges to that section. However, if there have been it brings into question the retroactive provisions that are now in this bill that will cover a relatively small number of charges but where we will be getting samples from people who have already been convicted and are currently incarcerated. This is one of the issues we will need to raise.

Several other provisions raise issues of privacy and our rights under the charter. With regard to one of the issues, which is only an example because there are several others, there are provisions within the bill that would allow the DNA data bank to release information where the sample that is being examined is not a match that needs the top standard. We have various standards in this regard. We obviously have provisions where there is no match at all. We have provisions where it is a match almost to a full 100% and then we have gradations in-between.

What the bill proposes is that the data bank be allowed to communicate information on a sample where it has only been a moderate match. As that may raise a charter issue it will need to be explored at committee to see whether we can tighten up the language or perhaps not provide for it at all.

The other provision I have spoken to in the House is the provision that would allow for facilitating of court orders that direct the destruction of DNA samples because they were taken improperly. Usually that occurs where the sample was taken relative to a crime that was not within the regime of the existing legislation. The difficulty we have is that when we took evidence in the 2004-05 Parliament, it was clear from the people at the data bank that it posed a significant problem, because in the destruction of certain samples others may be destroyed. We will need to explore that matter.

However, if that does go through, there is an additional problem in that the bill would allow the prosecutor, the crown, to apply for the destruction of the sample taken improperly but it would not require the government to provide any notice to the individual whose sample was taken and whose sample is now being proposed to be destroyed. Out of fairness, if the sample was taken improperly, the individual should be notified that it will no longer be on the record. I think that is an issue around privacy and, quite frankly, just fairness that they be given that notice.

One of the big issues that we will be debating when we get to the review of the existing legislation from 2000 will be the issue of whether we will be expanding the number of crimes for which people have been convicted for which samples can be taken. The system works right now on a two tiered basis but all of the crimes that are under the regime now are quite serious crimes: murder, attempted murder, serious sexual assault, serious physical assault and crimes of that nature.

We have seen other regimes, notably the U.K. but also a number of the states in the U.S., that have extensively expanded the use of taking samples for DNA. The committee was a bit shocked when we heard that in England the authorities can demand and obtain samples of DNA from an individual who has been charged with not a crime but a quasi-crime, which is a driving offence under the highway traffic act.

We will get into debate on how far, if at all, we will be extending the list of crimes where samples can be ordered and taken.

We are doing that, though, in the bill. It says to me that we should be doing the review at this time rather than waiting to do it some indefinite time in the future, because we are expanding the list of crimes. We are adding at least two more and potentially one or two that are subcrimes under that.

It is a situation where the process we are going through is very inefficient. I believe it does not allow the House, the committee and, ultimately, the country the opportunity to do that review of the 2000 legislation, of the regime that we have now. I recognize, quite clearly, that a number of the reservations we had back in 2000 were constitutional and charter issues.

We have had the decision in R. v. Rogers earlier in the spring this year when I believe we had a clear signal from the Supreme Court of Canada, where that decision ended up, that some of the reservations we had earlier are no longer applicable, but it is not a blank cheque. As opposed to what I heard from the minister this morning, I believe the Supreme Court still has some reservations about the use of DNA in certain charges, such as the lower end charges, around the issue of privacy and civil liberties.

We should not be dealing with the bill in the absence of a full review because we need to strike a balance. I am concerned that we are going ahead with these amendments at this time without fully considering where we properly strike that balance. The Supreme Court has made it very clear, as it did in Rogers and other decisions, that there is a fundamental issue here of invasion of the person's privacy, particularly when we take blood samples to be used for DNA purposes, but even when we take a swab of saliva or other bodily substances.

As we took evidence from other parts of the world, notably the U.K. and the United States, it was interesting to see how effective this can be as a tool for our police officers and our police agencies, both in terms of obtaining convictions and in terms of establishing innocence at early stages.

In some of the wrongful conviction cases we have had in Canada, the primary ability that we had to overturn those wrongful convictions came from the use of the DNA data bank that we had at that time and the use of that technology. In Canada we know particularly well that it can be used not just for convictions, but for assisting in clearing people, oftentimes, at a very early stage.

There is no question that we want to proceed with this. The real issue is the message that we need to send to the government that it has to stop doing the legislative process this way, that when we are looking at a problem that involves crime or the criminal justice system, we badly need to look at it in its full context. We need to use omnibus bills of legislation in this area much more often.

Every time I get on my feet to speak to a new bill I have repeatedly said that we badly need to have a complete revamping of our Criminal Code and other bills, such as our drug legislation. We have needed that for probably 20 years. Some sections in the Criminal Code are completely contradictory and are, in a large number of cases, confusing. It is much too long and there is a great of duplication.

I cannot help but point out that one of the groups that could have assisted us with that was the Law Commission. It was one of the duties we could have assigned it in preparing what would have been a draft policy paper on how the code needed to be revamped.

This allows me to get in a pitch for the need to have the government overturn that decision and reinstate the Law Commission so it can take this responsibility on. It is clear that the government does not have the ability or even the inclination to do it. Therefore, we can assign it to somebody else and the job, hopefully, will get done in a reasonable period of time.

In summation, we, as a party, are supporting, in principle, the bill going to committee. I have certain reservations, both around the retroactivity and privacy and charter issues. I believe those can be resolved relatively easily at the committee. Hopefully, we can look forward to a time when the government gets its head wrapped around the reality of the need for omnibus legislation in our criminal justice system.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before I call for questions and comments on the hon. member's speech, I would like to deal with a point of order raised this morning by the hon. member for Vancouver East, relating to the motion adopted by the House under the provisions of Standing Order 56.1. The hon. member contended that the motion was inadmissible and that it was not being used as a routine business motion aimed at fixing the sitting or adjournment times of the House, or arranging its proceedings, but that it was tantamount to a motion for time allocation or closure. I believe the words she used were that the motion was designed to “cut off the debate”. In her argument, she quoted from a ruling I delivered in 2001, in which I expressed concern that Standing Order 56.1 was being used for purposes that had not been envisaged when the Standing Order was adopted.

The House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 571, describes Standing Order 56.1 as follows:

If, at any time during a sitting of the House, unanimous consent is denied for the presentation of a “routine motion”, a minister may request during Routine Proceedings that the Speaker put the motion. For that purpose, a “routine motion” refers to motions which may be required for the observance of the proprieties of the House, the maintenance of its authority, the management of its business, the arrangement of its proceedings, the establishment of the powers of its committees, the correctness of its records or the fixing of its sitting days or the times of its meeting or adjournment. The motion, which is neither debatable nor amendable, is immediately put to the House by the Speaker. If 25 members or more oppose the motion, it is deemed withdrawn; otherwise, it is adopted.

In the case before the House, a motion has been adopted that the House “shall not be adjourned before such proceedings have been completed”. This is meant to apply to a motion for second reading of a bill, a motion, I might add, to which an amendment and a subamendment have been moved. As was seen earlier today, debate has ended on the subamendment and a vote is scheduled tomorrow at the conclusion of government orders. So the House is left with an amendment and the main motion. In fact, the effect of the motion is not unlike the effect of adopting a motion under Standing Order 26, which provides for the continuation of debate on a matter before the House, which is to say that it provides for an open-ended extension of the sitting for purposes of continuing debate on a particular matter. This, it can be argued, can be seen as the House managing its business and arranging its proceedings.

As I read the motion moved by the hon. the government House leader and adopted by the House, every member wishing to speak to the amendment and the main motion, who has not already done so, will be able to participate. The motion does not set a deadline for completion of the proceedings, as would be the case under time allocation or closure. Instead it simply extends the sitting of the motion then before the House. That is a significant difference. The precedents available to me, including my own previous rulings, are therefore insufficient in my view for me to rule the motion out of order on this occasion.

This does not, however, take away from the concerns raised by the member for Vancouver East about the nature of the motions moved pursuant to Standing Order 56.1. My predecessor and I have both encouraged the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine the appropriate use of the Standing Order. To date I am not aware of any report by that committee on this question.

I thank the hon. member for Vancouver East for bringing this matter to the attention of the House, but I believe the motion, as adopted, is in order.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member pointed out in his comments, we have seen many justice bills, and I would like to thank him for his participation in them.

This bill is a reintroduction of a bill from the last Parliament, Bill C-72, technical amendments to the DNA database. The member may want to refresh our memory about the general mood of the House with regard to the importance of the DNA database as a tool to assist authorities in the resolution of matters of a criminal or judicial nature.

I would conclude that if they are technical amendments, the member has raised some interesting points and there may be a good basis for having the bill go to committee to complete the work that was started in the last Parliament.

The member raised one question, and I ask him for some clarification. He shared some concern about the number of justice bills raised and whether there was some ulterior motive or some concern about the volume in that it was affecting the ability of Parliament to function.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my speech yesterday I raised the point about the ulterior motives of the government.

My colleague made the point that this bill was in draft form in the last Parliament. Therefore, it is not part of what I see as a clear intention on the part of the government to piecemeal hot button crime issues into the House one bill at a time, with no expectation that we will get through them before the next federal general election, which we all know will be upon us sooner rather than later. Matters already before the justice committee have been prioritized. They are so extensive that anything coming out now, including probably this bill, is not going to get back to the House before there is another federal election.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh raised a couple of points in his speech about the retroactive provisions, about the very real need for a review of the Criminal Code and about some of the constitutional and privacy issues. Toward the end of his speech he eluded specifically to the usefulness of the Law Commission and how it could have been used in these circumstances. Under the cuts announced by the Conservative government last week, the Law Commission is on the chopping block.

Could the member talk about the specific role the Law Commission could have played in this issue as well as perhaps in the whole review of the Criminal Code?

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, a day or two after the Treasury Board announcement of these cuts, and specifically the killing of the Law Commission, one of the witnesses before the justice committee was from the National Chiefs of Police Association. He made the same point I just made with regard to the need for an omnibus review of the Criminal Code. The piecemeal approach being taken by the government is disliked by the police association because it is confusing for the association, its officers and the general administration of justice.

I asked him if he knew of anybody in the country, other than the Law Commission, that would have the ability to prepare a model criminal code, a policy paper in effect, on how we would restructure the Criminal Code. He did not know of any other group that would be capable of doing that, and this is a very accurate answer.

I am not aware of any other group, other than the Law Commission, that would have the ability to bring together the resources in our country to prepare an omnibus review, which we so badly need, of our criminal justice system and specifically of the Criminal Code.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, we support this bill. However, I find it a bit worrisome to be expanding the powers of the RCMP with regard to managing the transmittal of genetic information in view of the O'Connor report tabled in this House

This report revealed that serious errors were committed by the RCMP. Justice O'Connor discovered, in his inquiry, that false information about Maher Arar had been forwarded by the RCMP to the American authorities, leading to the deportation of Mr. Arar to Syria. As a result of this false information sent by the Canadian government to the American government, Mr. Arar was tortured.

It is becoming extremely urgent for the RCMP to assume its responsibilities in this matter. This is not happening as no one has been accused. Thus, I am concerned because by supporting this bill we will also be sanctioning the transmittal of genetic information from Canada to other countries.

How can we control the dissemination of this genetic information? My question is for the NDP member. How can we prevent other mistakes, such as those involving Maher Arar and others that have occurred in the past, from being made? How can we amend this bill to avoid these pitfalls?