House of Commons Hansard #156 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Minister's Letter to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Kitchener--Waterloo also gave notice on the same point, I believe.

Minister's Letter to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question relates to the same letter dated May 16, 2007 sent to the chair of the committee and copied to all members of the committee.

My question of privilege flows from an attempt by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to intimidate the standing committee on the subject by limiting the testimony of witnesses appearing before it.

The minister's letter dated May 16, 2007 proposes to put in place guidelines and severe limitations on the testimony of witnesses. These proposed limitations are contrary to the law, privileges and customs of Parliament. They amount to a serious breach of my privileges as a member of Parliament and to the privilege of the House itself.

I want to be clear in stating that the committees are entitled to seek information from witnesses through both testimony and evidence. In this context, where public servants are called upon to testify, there must be a way to ensure that committees obtain the information they require while respecting the public servants' professional duty to the crown.

The minister will want to look at the appropriate provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act which specifically authorize committees to swear in witnesses. An attempt to deny that part of the law is an assault on my privilege and those of every member of the committee and of the House.

Furthermore, the language in the minister's letter regarding the style of questioning is nothing short of offensive to the committee and also a breach of my privilege as a member of the committee, in that it claims the committee members harassed, demeaned, belittled, humiliated and embarrassed witnesses. All these qualifiers are grossly exaggerated.

In fact, in part of my presentation to the committee, I commended one of the witnesses, Mr. Davidson, rather than criticize him. I commended Mr. Davidson for pointing out to the committee that the previous Liberal government had budgeted $20 million for producing a new updated Citizenship Act and how the Conservative government withdrew that funding.

The principle at stake is the ability of members of Parliament in a standing committee to carry out their legislative work and to fulfill their duties as members of Parliament, independent of the government of the day.

Upon reviewing the minister's letter and checking the minutes of the standing committee meeting of May 2, 2007, I am sure you will find a prima facie case for breach of privilege, Mr. Speaker.

I will table the letter in question with you, Sir.

Minister's Letter to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the point raised by the member for Scarborough—Agincourt.

I begin my comments by saying that I am a new member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. This was in fact the first full meeting that I had attended of that committee. What I found at that committee that day was absolutely shocking.

First of all, I believe that both members have not presented a prima facie case for a question of privilege. What the minister has done is to instruct junior officials to be careful witnesses and to be careful in the information that they relay to parliamentarians to ensure that members on that committee get good information. Of course they are going to be very careful witnesses because members opposite made a big production about swearing in those junior officials of the department. It was an incredibly intimidating meeting for the junior officials that appeared before our committee.

The mood of the entire meeting was most distasteful. The junior officials were berated. If anyone is guilty of intimidation of a committee, it is the member for Scarborough—Agincourt. It is also the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country and also the member for Kitchener—Waterloo.

I believe, Mr. Speaker, if you were to look at the blues from that committee meeting on that day, you would be shocked and amazed at some of the tactics used by members of the opposition to berate junior officials. These officials are good public servants who go to work every day and do their jobs and pay their taxes and raise their families.

At that meeting we dealt with lost Canadians. The only motives of these officials were to deal with this matter and to help to identify who falls within the realm of a lost Canadian. They are doing an incredible job, despite receiving tens of thousands of phone calls. I believe they are down to 75 individuals who are in dispute as to whether or not they are lost Canadians. They are doing an incredible job.

Mr. Speaker, if you were to check the blues from that committee, the word “liar” was thrown out many times by members opposite. The member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country accused the officials of being guilty of a snow job. He said that he knew a snow job when he heard it and they were guilty of creating a snow job that day at committee.

Those poor officials were berated by members of the opposition. I want to commend the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration for standing up for these good public servants, for standing up for these officials and saying to them that if they are not sure of their answer, to take some time, make sure they get it right and then get back to the committee.

There were only three people in that room that day that were guilty of intimidation. They are the members opposite that I have already mentioned. I want to congratulate the minister.

This clearly is not a point of privilege.

Minister's Letter to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, my colleague only joined the committee that particular day. He is not aware of what happened the first time that the minister came to the committee.

In the same vein, a question was asked of the minister and also was asked of a senior official, none other than the deputy minister, and the question was very plain, “Have you advertised?” The minister, not knowing, looked at the deputy minister and the deputy minister said, “I assure you we have advertised”.

Later on the deputy minister sent out a letter apologizing for misleading us. He even sent me a personal letter because I put the question to him, apologizing personally for having misled me.

The whole thing on this file, and I did not raise the file here today on the report, I raised the request for you, Sir, to take a look at this letter and how it is intimidating.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to examine the blues. If the minister wants to examine the blues and my colleague from Palliser wants to examine the blues, do nothing else but examine the whole thing. This has done nothing else but to trample and infringe on the rights of the members of the committee.

Minister's Letter to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am prepared to deal with this matter immediately. I have heard enough. We are getting away off the point of a question of privilege and getting into what happened in the committee which in my view is irrelevant to this issue.

We have here a case where the minister has sent a letter to all the committee members from the copy that I have received. It is marked “copy” to all the members of the committee. It is addressed to the chairman of the committee. It is dealing with the giving of evidence before the committee.

It is not a matter of the privileges of the members of the House. It is a matter for the committee to decide whether this directive is something that is satisfactory to the committee. That discussion must take place in the committee and not here on the floor of the House.

It is not for me to decide what evidence committees hear or what restrictions the committee may put on members or what restrictions the minister may be allegedly putting on witnesses who are appearing before the committee.

The minister is entitled to give directions to her employees in the department. She is entitled to write to the committee and express her views and pass on to it what she is telling the people in her department. It is for the committee then to make decisions whether or not this is satisfactory to the committee and its members, and not for Speaker on a question of privilege in the House.

If the committee reports that in some way its ability to do its work has been restricted or impeded, that is another matter and it will be dealt with by the House if such a report should come to the House, as the minister has pointed out.

However, it is not for me today to make a decision on whether the minister's letter constitutes a breach of members' privileges. It does not, it cannot, unless the committee finds that in some way its ability to do its job has been impeded or impaired. We have had no such finding from the committee.

I am not going to hear a whole lot more argument about what happened in the committee in terms of answers to questions. That is simply not the business of the Speaker, nor in my view is it the business of the House at least until such time as the House receives a report from the committee indicating some problem.

I urge hon. members to raise this matter in committee. They can have a fulsome discussion there. The chairman of the committee has the letter. There is nothing secret about it. The discussion can take place in committee and in my opinion, that is exactly where it ought to take place.

Therefore, I cannot find a question of privilege here today.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Prior to oral questions, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine had the floor. She has seven minutes for her remarks. She now has the floor to speak on this bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to resume where I had to interrupt my remarks. The Liberal Party of Canada is not against minimum sentences. However, it considers that they do not represent the best way to combat crime in Canada. That is why we believed that Bill C-10, as amended in committee, constituted an excellent compromise because it dealt in a serious and coherent manner with major crime in Canada. As I have explained, this compromise was destroyed by the deplorable union of the Conservatives and NDP.

Without trivializing crime and the problem of access to weapons, the bill, newly amended by the Conservatives and the NDP, serves to establish and reinforce the neo-conservative ideology that is trying to impose itself in this House. It promotes increases in mandatory minimum sentences, so generously used but really only effective in very specific circumstances. It is important to mention that the Liberal Party in no way opposes minimum sentences but like a majority of the stakeholders in the criminal law community, it considers that they must be limited in use to already existing offences. They cannot constitute a new response to crime management.

Finally, I must remind members that the Liberal Party proposed a multitude of amendments designed to improve the original bill during discussion in committee. We tried the same thing at the report stage. Unfortunately, this government and its loyal allies in the NDP obstinately voted against my party’s initiatives on this issue. That is why the value of their joint bill is so diminished

I therefore invite my fellow members to reject Bill C-10 at third reading, in large part, because of the amendments adopted at the report stage.

“The fight against criminals won't be won with more police officers and bigger jails”. That is not only my view and that of my Liberal colleagues. It is a quote from Ben Anderson, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

If front line witnesses of crimes, victims of crimes, our police in Canada, consider that crime needs to be tackled through social development in large part, maybe it is time for this government to show leadership in that direction. I suggest that effective justice is more than just a slogan.

I would like to talk about what a new Liberal government would do.

We would immediately convene a round table meeting of the federal, provincial and territorial ministers, together with representatives of key organizations representing the police, to commence discussions on developing a long term, sustainable, cost-sharing arrangement for additional police officers. This is a step the Conservatives have refused to take despite their campaign promise to hire more police officers.

We, a new Liberal government, would give the RCMP money for 400 additional officers to help local police departments deal with guns and gang activity as well as organized crime and drug trafficking.

We would ensure that more money is made available to the provinces to hire more Crown prosecutors or Crown attorneys. We would continue to support, as we have done, the reverse onus bail hearings for those arrested for gun crimes.

We would establish a fund that would help at-risk communities cover the costs of security of their places of worship and other gathering places, whether it be schools, community centres, for instance, which was started by the previous Liberal government but which has been abandoned by the Conservatives.

We Liberals would strive to set up organized crime secretariats, like Ontario's anti-guns and gangs task force, in every province, ensuring that each of the provincial secretariats would be seamlessly integrated across the country, kind of like organized crime is. But the Conservative government does not seem to realize that.

A Liberal government would also strengthen legislation aimed at preventing Internet luring. While passage of the above-mentioned bill would assist law enforcement in tracking down predators who use new technologies, new offences are needed to address explicit online conversations initiated by adults with children that are intended to groom the child for future attempts at luring the child.

We would also act on the recommendations of the Privacy Commissioner to update and toughen current legislation to deter and prevent identity theft.

There were almost 8,000 reports of identity theft in the past year, resulting in losses greater than $16 million. Too often, the victims have been seniors whose lifetime of hard work and savings can vanish in an instant.

A new Liberal government would also amend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA, to make it mandatory for organizations to notify people of data breaches involving their personal information. We would act immediately to implement all 22 recommendations made by the federal task force on spam, which have been completely ignored by that Conservative government.

These recommendations include: introducing legislation that would make it an offence to use false or misleading headers or subject lines, construct false or misleading URLs and websites for the purpose of collecting personal information under false pretenses, and the harvesting of email addresses without consent.

Those are just some of the initiatives that a new Liberal government has made a public commitment that it would implement immediately upon return to power.

However, I want to come back to Bill C-10. The Conservatives use retail politics when it comes to the fight on crime. They are not using effective measures that really would result in effective justice because were they doing so, they would be listening to the experts, and the experts, yes, include our law enforcement.

What does our law enforcement tell us, whether it be the Association of Canadian Chiefs of Police or the Canadian Police Association? They tell us one thing very clearly. They want the government to invest in our children and to invest more money in targeting our at-risk youth, and our communities, which are at risk of either being victims of crime or being perpetrators of crime.

One of the ways to do this is by actually investing in the organizations that deal with our youth in those communities where there is a high level of crime, where there is a high percentage of youth being swept up into street gangs or into organized crime. Investments, funding and opportunities need to be provided for the local law enforcement in the field to be able to work with those communities. We have seen it happen.

I urge every single member in this House to vote against Bill C-10 at third reading because it is not effective justice. It is simply sloganeering.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, if those are all the wonderful things that the Liberals would do if they formed government again, then my question is somewhat rhetorical. How come they did none of those things in the 13 years when they were government, most of the time a majority government where they could have done whatever they wanted? They did not do it.

I have one daughter, a daughter-in-law and five grandchildren. I am thinking of the following situation. Someone assaults or rapes either one of my adult female children or one of my grandchildren and that criminal has a gun and/or a knife. Let us say that when the perpetrator was found, it was discovered that this was not his first, not his second, but his third offence. I do not know the family situation of the member opposite. I have never investigated whether she has a daughter or not. If this were her daughter who was brutally attacked by an individual with a weapon who had three previous offences, I wonder what she would do in order to address the situation.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite said that if a new Liberal government were prepared to do all of these things, why did it not do it when it was in power? Let me talk about some of the things the previous Liberal government members did when we were in office.

The previous Liberal government brought in the national strategy on crime prevention, which directed moneys into local communities that needed to work with their youth at risk and to ensure better levels of security. They were able to coordinate with the local law enforcement, community police officers, the health organizations and the schools to bring down to the grassroots real effective programs to ensure we had lower crime rates. That is an example of what a previous Liberal government did.

The previous Liberal government brought into being the dangerous offenders system. It was not a Progressive Conservative government, it was the Liberal government. It was a Liberal government that brought into existence the long term offender system. It was a Liberal government that recognized minimum mandatory penalties in very targeted areas could send a clear message and could be effective in the sense of removing the offender from the community and ensuring that the victim and the community were not re-victimized.

We are the ones who brought in minimum mandatory penalties for firearm related criminal acts. It was not a Conservative government. It was not a Progressive Conservative government. It was a Liberal government that brought into effect integrated law enforcement teams. Whether it was for the border enforcement, or for financial money laundering, or for whatever, it was a Liberal government that brought those into effect.

It was a Liberal government that brought into effect all the new provisions, which are no longer new, to the Criminal Code to create the ability for law enforcement to seize drug money and to define a criminal organization and organized crime.

The Liberal government did all of that.

I believe the member opposite should go back to the school benches, learn the actual history and cease taking the rhetoric and sloganeering of his party, which has tried to paint Liberals as not being tough on crime. Tough on crime does not do it. The supreme court of the United States of America recently ruled that its determinant sentencing, under the American federal sentencing guidelines, what it calls mandatory minimum penalties, was unconstitutional and should be used as an advisory only. In other words, in the United States federal mandatory minimum sentencing is considered to be unconstitutional and should only be used as a guideline.

I am appalled that the Conservative government would want to take a failed model, which is the escalating minimum mandatory sentence system that existed in virtually all of the states in the United States and for which 25 of the states since 2003 have eliminated or severely reduced, and impose it here in Canada.

Effective justice is not sloganeering. Effective justice is not retail politics. Effective justice means taking the time to educate people. It means putting the taxpayer money where it will reduce crime. It is not pandering. The Conservative government panders and it conducts retail politics. It is not too lofty for the government to stoop to the most base accusations, disinformation, untruths in its quest to try to portray itself as being tough on crime.

Being tough on crime means taking the effective measures that will actually make a difference on the ground. We had expert after expert come before the justice committee, whether it was on Bill C-35, or other bills, which the government has lauded to try to make Canadians believe they will make them safer. The experts have said that they could not really oppose them because it would not make any difference.

The de facto reality is that it already happens. Whether it be reverse onus for bail for gun related crimes, it already happens. If one is accused of a criminal offence and a firearm is involved, judges do not give bail. Therefore, we would simply be codifying an actual de facto practice.

That is one of the reasons why the Liberals are able to support Bill C-35, but we are unable to support Bill C-10. It is not effective justice. It is retail politics, and shame on the NDP for supporting it.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine might like to know that the question lasted two minutes and the answer six minutes, so there are two minutes left. Let us hope the question will take about 45 seconds and so will the answer.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the thrust of Bill C-10 has to do with the subject matter of mandatory minimums. It has been suggested by some members on the government side that the Liberals are opposed to mandatory minimums. I do not believe that is the case. Could the hon. member inform the members of our history?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

May 17th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was a Liberal government that brought in mandatory minimum sentencing for firearm related crimes. There is a whole category of them where currently it is a minimum of one year. There is second category of designated offences where currently it is four years. In committee, and again at report stage in the House, the Liberal members attempted to increase the one year to two years and the four years to five years.

What we oppose is escalating mandatory minimum penalties. That is where if a person reoffends, the judge will have no discretion. The studies have shown and the experts have stated that it does not work.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the debate I have heard today is an interesting one. We are involved in a very serious and complex discussion.

The New Democratic Party is supporting the bill, with the amendments that our justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, brought forward.

I realize the Liberals and the Bloc are not supporting it. I heard an earlier comment by the member of the government that it must mean the people approve of criminals. In fairness, I do not think anyone who sits in the House approves of criminals, whether they support the legislation or not. It is not a matter of supporting criminals. However, I do think it is a matter of how we approach it.

First, I have asked myself some questions. How do I, as the member for Surrey North and as a member of the House of Commons, ensure that the public can have faith in our justice system? I can assure the House that much of the public with whom I speak do not have faith in the justice system. These people have not necessarily found that because someone comes before a judge on a firearms offence, that they are not released on bail. We would have many examples where this was not the case.

Second, we have to look at what is the appropriate use of this legislation on crimes committed with a gun. In all the debate this morning, if people were sitting at home listening, they would fail to recognize that we are not talking about a general discussion on mandatory minimums. It is a discussion about crimes committed with a firearm. By the way, firearms today are much more technical, much more deadly and much more powerful than the image people might have of firearms that may come from a different place.

Third, I have to ask myself is what are we doing, other than the sentencing, to reduce gun crime. I have heard many people say either one is tough on crime or soft on crime, depending on where one stands on the bill. I do not think that is the case at all. We talk very much about being smart on crime. It is not hard or soft on crime. It is being smart in the way we approach crime.

Think about this. When someone picks up a gun to commit a crime, they automatically know there is a risk of someone being killed or critically injured. There is not a question in anyone's mind that this is what a gun will do, unless we are talking about a child picking up a gun. Anyone who is going to commit a criminal act with a gun knows there is an extreme risk to the person who will be the victim of that crime, not that any crime is acceptable.

I come from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, from Surrey. Many of the things I have experienced around gun crime do not fit some of the things that I have heard about in the House. I hear people talking a lot about gun crime in inner cities. The gun crime I have seen, some of it certainly is inner city, but much of it has nothing to do with youth raised in inner cities. Some of it has to do with youth raised in affluence.

We must be careful not to stereotype this by saying that it is only inner city people who are vulnerable to being involved in a gun crime.

Over the last 10 or 11 years, 100 young men in the lower mainland and some in Surrey have been killed in a gun crime, which is not an insubstantial number. Is anyone behind bars? No. Was it the person's first offence? I do not know for sure, but I know with some it certainly was not their first offence.

We must remember that what we are doing is being smart on crime.

Although I am in support of the bill, with the NDP amendments, and having talked to the parents whose daughters and sons have been killed in a gun crime or critically injured, I do not feel that I have turned into a neo-Conservative. I do not know if anybody has ever called me a neo-Conservative before.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

You would remember.