House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

National Day of Mourning
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about the importance of April 28, which has been declared a National Day of Mourning. Each year, on that day, we remember the workers who have been killed or injured on the job or who suffer from occupational diseases.

Last year, I was among the families and co-workers honouring the people who had died as a result of workplace accidents. We gathered on that day of mourning to remember. One event particularly touched me and made me more aware of the importance of such a day. As I was giving my speech, I saw, in the crowd in front of me, a woman tenderly holding a photograph. When I finished speaking, I felt the need to go over and talk to her. After a short, emotional conversation, the woman handed me the photograph she was holding. It was a photograph of her son, a young man barely 20 years old, who had died in his workplace. I saw the enduring pain in the woman's eyes. It is impossible not to be affected by this sort of encounter. That woman gave me a better understanding of the impact an accidental death has on the victim's family and workplace.

A safe and healthy workplace is a productive workplace that benefits the workers, the employers and the economy. As Minister of Labour, I often talk about healthy workplaces that are free of racism, sexual harassment and psychological harassment. When a workplace is safe and healthy, society benefits: employees are happier and, consequently, more productive. The employer also benefits, and our economy and the workplace are better off.

I believe that the National Day of Mourning is a day for remembrance. It gives us an opportunity to express our condolences and sympathy for the victims, their families, their friends and their co-workers, and to remember that we still have a lot of work to do on workplace health and safety.

I have some statistics. In 2005, 1,097 Canadians died of work-related causes and another 337,930 work-related injuries and illnesses were reported. On January 25, I met with the ministers of labour from the provinces and territories in Fredericton to look at this issue, particularly how it relates to young people who have work accidents, and in some cases fatal ones. We noticed that more young people are having these types of accidents because they are receiving a little less training. There is perhaps also a little less awareness. The ministers of labour committed to promoting this issue and ensuring that it is talked about in schools, so that young people are aware of the importance of what they do, and so they realize that health and safety is important to them, to their colleagues, to their families, and to everyone.

I believe that the best way to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives is to work together to improve health and safety in all workplaces, thereby reducing injury, illness and death in Canada.

I would also like to take this one step further. Who is responsible for workplace safety? The minister brings in legislation, of course. We are doing everything we can to eliminate such incidents in the workplace. Of course, employers and union leaders are also responsible for workplace safety, but there is more to it than that. Every one of us is responsible for safety every day. At home or at work, when we see something dangerous, we must stop and take action. We must not pass it by and tell ourselves that it is not serious and that someone else will take care of it. No. Each one of us is responsible for informing the person in charge that something dangerous is happening.

In our society, both groups and individuals are responsible for taking action.

I would like to give one of my favourite examples about safety in the home. Almost everyone has climbed up on a chair to change a light bulb with no thought to the consequences of a fall. What would be the consequences for our wives, our children, and ourselves? What if we had to take time off work? We must be aware of the risks every day and take personal responsibility in our everyday lives.

On this day of reflection and commemoration, I would like to invite you to join me in working to promote safe and healthy workplaces.

National Day of Mourning
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal Party and my leader, I want to join with the minister in commemorating the National Day of Mourning.

Today we pay tribute to and honour workers throughout Canada, particularly those workers who have suffered injury, illness or have died as a result of their workplace.

Every day, Canadians go to work in order to make a living for themselves and for their families. Sadly, though, on average, three workers each day die in Canada and many more are injured. Just this week we learned of two Chinese workers who came to Canada to make a better life for themselves and their families and, in the midst of their work, they died tragically as a result of a workplace accident.

Whether they be workers in the oil patch, the police, firefighters, highway workers or people fishing, farming, mining, and so many other ways to make a living, we are reminded today of the danger so many of our workers face in the workplace.

As we reflect, though, it is important that we act. We need to work together to ensure that all Canadians are able to go to work in conditions that are safe and healthy.

On behalf of my party, I wish to extend our deepest sympathies to all the families who have been affected by death or injury in the workplace. Their sacrifice and that of their families must serve as a lesson to us all.

National Day of Mourning
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to emphasize the importance of the day of mourning to be observed this Saturday, April 28. This day has been set aside to remember all workers who have been killed or injured on the job, or are suffering from an occupational illness—just one day to remind us that we must increase our efforts in the area of workplace safety.

Despite the actions taken thus far, there are still too many accidents and deaths every year. In 2005, in Quebec alone, some 223 deaths and over 121,000 accidents in the workplace were reported to Quebec's occupational health and safety commission. Prevention continues to be the best tool to reverse those statistics, but that must not diminish the reality of the human tragedies that occur on a daily basis and that touch us all at some point in our lives.

More work needs to be done to improve workplace designs and conditions, in order to ensure that workers are less exposed to possible dangers. The slightest effort is sometimes all it takes to save a life.

This Saturday, we will remember all workers who have been killed or injured on the job, or are suffering from an occupational illness. Let us use this commemoration as an opportunity to reflect on the best way to do something about this and then let us take action.

National Day of Mourning
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I stand today on behalf of New Democrats and our leader to honour our sisters and brothers who have lost their lives or suffered injury and illness in the workplace. We stand in solidarity on National Day of Mourning recognized on April 28.

Every day, three working Canadians lose their lives on the job. The Canadian Labour Congress, provincial labour federations and labour councils across Canada have fought hard to bring attention to these issues and the thousands of workers who suffer because of lax safety standards and because efficiency is put above workers' safety and workers' lives.

The CLC first marked the event in 1984 and since then it has grown into a worldwide event observed in over 100 countries.

Approximately one million workplace injuries a year occur in Canada, every seven seconds each working day. Deaths from workplace injury average nearly 1,000 a year. In Canada, one worker is killed every two hours each working day. Deaths from workplace diseases go largely unrecorded and uncompensated. They likely exceed deaths from workplace injuries.

Despite this, many governments are weakening health and safety rules and their enforcement. Back to work legislation and the defeat of anti-replacement worker legislation are examples of how governments are chipping away at workers' rights.

Sadly, last week we learned that a railway worker was killed on the job. Just yesterday, two workers were killed and four others were injured on an oil sands construction site in northern Alberta, all of whom were foreign workers from China. We need to ask why the government is expanding the foreign worker program without real safeguards to prevent exploitation and ensure compliance with working standards.

We can and we must meet the goal of safer and healthier workplaces. Governments and businesses must start chipping away at labour rights. Laws protecting workers' rights must be stronger and they must be enforced.

Workers' rights are human rights and, in respect and honour of the lives lost and the families affected by death, injury and illness in the workplace, the NDP commits today to renew its fight for safe and healthy working conditions for all Canadians. We call on the government to commit to the same.

Canadian Wheat Board
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I would like to present a petition to the House from my constituents in Winnipeg South in relation to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Summer Career Placements Program
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, here today, I would like to present three petitions concerning the cuts made to the summer career placements program.

The citizens of my riding have rallied to present 800 signatures. They are objecting to the changes made by the Conservative government. This is why I am presenting these petitions here today.

Visitor Visas
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to table requesting that the visa requirements pertaining to people from Poland coming to Canada be lifted.

The petitioners point out that currently people from Poland are limited in their ability to visit Canada on a quick basis because of the requirements. They point out that there is a double standard, that in fact Poland does not require Canadians to have visas to get into Poland. They would like to see this requirement lifted.

They call upon Parliament to ensure that it does everything it can to increase family vacations, tourism and cultural exchanges, as well as trade missions between Canada and Poland.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by 12 minutes.

Ministers' Responses Regarding Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning I gave the appropriate notice to the Speaker with regard to a matter of a question of a breach of privilege in relation to the whole matter of Afghanistan and more specifically with regard to Afghan detainees.

There can be no question about the confusion of the House in this matter. I believe there appears to be some indication that the misinformation to the House may have been deliberate and in fact has breached my privileges and those of other members of Parliament.

I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Marleau and Montpetit at page 66, in which it refers to the issues of privilege and contempt. It states:

Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House. There are, however, other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges. Thus, the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions;....

I also had an opportunity to look at Erskine May, at page 144, which repeats much the same information and guide for members. It does say, though, that “the Members or its officers” must be free “from improper obstruction or...interference with the performance of their respective functions”.

There can be no question about the issue of Afghanistan, the recent deaths of nine of our soldiers and the allegations with regard to the torture, coercive interrogation and in fact execution of Canadian prisoners turned over to Afghan authorities. Yesterday in question period there were 23 questions posed in the House with regard to this matter.

The Prime Minister answered 10 of those questions, the Minister of Foreign Affairs answered 11 of those questions, and the Minister of National Defence, who is the principal responsible for this matter, answered only two questions. In fact, I noted in Hansard--I will not quote it, but members and the Chair can certainly look at the responses given--it was basically deny, deny, deny from all those who provided answers to the questions of parliamentarians.

When Parliament is told that all is well, there is no cause for concern and there is no evidence of problems with detainees, members of Parliament must take that at its face. We operate here on the premise of the presumption of honesty. That involves not only what is said, but it also must, I argue, relate to what is not said.

Mr. Speaker, you will know that within an hour of the end of question period the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs had before it the Minister of National Defence. I was not there. I did observe on news reports, but it is also reported in a print publication, and I would like to read into the record what transpired. The article states:

The Minister of National Defence yesterday announced Canada had struck a new deal to monitor Afghan detainees, but the existence of the arrangement appeared to catch the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of the Defence staff [Mr. Hillier] by surprise.

It goes on to say:

[The defence minister] made what appeared to be an improvised announcement of the new detainee-monitoring deal after intense questioning at the Commons foreign affairs committee.

It states that he said at committee:

Within the last few days we have basically made an arrangement with the government in the Kandahar province so that we can have access to our detainees. So henceforth, our military, but it can be anybody, can have access to our detainees.

This is not information that was disclosed to Parliament during direct questioning in question period just an hour before.

In fact, the Prime Minister, in answering 10 questions, and the foreign affairs minister, in answering 11 questions, made no mention and gave no indication, but simply continued to deny that the allegations were true and that there was any problem.

I believe that the House, I as a member of Parliament and all members of Parliament in fact have had their privileges breached. When questions are asked directly of the government on matters of national importance to all Canadians, Parliament is entitled to receive information directly.

What should happen?

Not only did the minister make some detailed disclosures within committee, but then after the committee meeting when he was chased down the halls and was cornered in an elevator, he gave another account of details with regard to this apparent deal.

There is a contradiction. There is an apparent cover-up. It may, in fact, as far as I can see, involve dishonesty. It may involve contempt. It may involve incompetence. It also may be all three.

It is my view that we need to have this matter fully aired and that Parliament should be advised of what was the truth. Parliament was not given the full information. It was deny, deny, deny, when in fact the Prime Minister must have known. The foreign affairs minister must have known. The Chief of the Defence Staff must have known.

But it seems, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of National Defence is alleging that he is the only one who knew of this deal. He said it was several days ago. I take him at his word. If it was several days ago, he has had the opportunity all week to make that representation to Parliament to allay the fears of Canadians and to represent the best interests of the Canadian military.

Mr. Speaker, if you find a prima facie case of breach of privilege, I am prepared to make the necessary motion.

Ministers' Responses Regarding Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The government may wish to respond now, or if it did not have notice of the motion it may wish to respond at another time. The Chair is prepared to reserve judgment. It is up to the government.

Ministers' Responses Regarding Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for recognizing me in response to my hon. colleague. I would make a couple of points.

Number one, we will be making a response to the hon. member's contention of breach of privilege, but I would suggest it is unfortunate that the hon. member did not give adequate notice so we could have had the appropriate ministers on hand to respond today.

However, I also want to point out to the House and to anyone who may be watching that in response to the hon. member's allegations that the Prime Minister answered 10 questions, the Minister of Foreign Affairs answered 11 questions, and the Minister of National Defence answered only two out of the 23 questions posed by the official opposition, the report in question was a report issued to the Department of Foreign Affairs. So it is only appropriate that the minister responsible for foreign affairs take the majority of the questions.

The member is trying to imply by his line of questioning that the Minister of National Defence should have been the one standing up and fielding these questions when in fact the very report he is alluding to was a report given to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I would suggest that what we have here, quite frankly, is the hon. member playing petty politics with an issue far too important to the lives of our Canadian troops and to the lives of Canadians in general to play this type of partisan politics game in this House.

We will be responding in due course, but I would suggest to the member opposite that the next time he tries to promote his own partisan politics on an issue of such importance, he do so in a manner that is a little more respectful.

Ministers' Responses Regarding Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, in brief, I wish to join this debate to support the member for Mississauga South. The Bloc Québécois also has the impression that parliamentary privilege has been breached by the attitude of the Minister of National Defence, who could not have been in the dark about what was happening in Afghan prisons. A report prepared by senior officials at Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been available since 2006. Therefore, it is a question either of incompetence—and in my opinion, of breach of parliamentary privilege—or of hiding the truth. The latter seems more plausible to me.

This morning in Le Devoir, a journalist spoke of the collective duplicity of the government. For example, after the Bloc Québécois asked 40 questions on what happened to Afghan detainees, we were given the impossible answer that it was all rumours and allegations, even though this report actually does exist.

The proof that the government and the Minister of National Defence acknowledge that we were right to ask these questions is that we were told yesterday that a verbal agreement with the Afghan authorities on the treatment of Afghan detainees was made between 3 and 4 o'clock.

Therefore I am also joining the debate and saying that the Minister of National Defence breached parliamentary privilege and therefore I am asking the Speaker to call him to order.