Debates of Feb. 6th, 2008
House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was language.
- Question Period
- Lunar New Year
- Black History Month
- Supply Management
- Social Housing
- 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games
- Black History Month
- Government Policies
- Suicide Prevention Week in Quebec
- The Conservative Party
- Government Policies
- Tackling Violent Crime Act
- Member for Vancouver Kingsway
- The Conservative Government
- Foreign Affairs
- Tackling Violent Crime Act
- Community Development
- The Francophonie
- Canadian Grain Commission
- Softwood Lumber
- The Environment
- Government Contracts
- Child Care
- Tourism Industry
- Manufacturing and Forestry Industries
- Canadian Wheat Board
- Presence in Gallery
- Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
- Death Penalty
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees of the House
- Mathieu Da Costa Day Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Motions for Papers
- Request for Emergency Debate
- Criminal Code
- Official Languages Act
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, the member for Yukon is a stalwart member of the justice committee. He works very hard at ensuring the interests of justice are served. More than that, he does a lot to ensure that his region of this great country is recognized.
After hearing the explanation of the Minister of Finance and him paying all that money to discover that Canada ends at the Rocky Mountains, I want to assure Canadians that Canada goes from east to west. It also goes far north. It goes to the riding of Yukon. The member has expressed many concerns about the aboriginal community.
He is completely right. Bill C-13 was Bill C-23, which could have been law except for, as he says, the ridiculous measures and attitude of the government. The Conservatives was so afraid of a private member's bill that they flushed the drain on all other business, including good business like this. It is sad, cowardly and ridiculous.
Here we are, months later, and the provision that delays the sentencing procedures so an offender can participate in provincially approved treatment programs, which already exist and are in place, should have been put into effect many months ago. The member for Yukon knows that.
The member for Yukon has also addressed language rights with respect to aboriginal peoples. We are evolving as a democracy. We have done fairly well on language rights, despite the actions, the backward, Luddite actions, of the government in cancelling the court challenges program.
We have done pretty well on language rights with respect to bilingualism, meaning French and English. However, what about those minorities in Yukon and in the northern territories and throughout the country?
The Conservatives are supposed to care about western Canada, but there are a lot of aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our justice system, in the sentencing procedures, who may not be served in the language of their mother tongue.
There has been no movement on this because the government does not care about anything but its shrinking 30% or so of the population it serves. The rest of the people in Canada, if they speak another language and the Conservatives do not represent it, they do not matter. If they get any opposition from a wee private member's bill, they will flush all the legislation down the drain to the detriment of the country. They should be ashamed.
The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer
Order, please. The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe had quite a lot of assistance with his answer. I do not think he needed it. I think all hon. members should remember that when someone is answering a question, we should give him the respect and allow him to do so in peace.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, has debate resumed?
The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer
Before the hon. member for Hochelaga takes the floor, pursuant to Standing Order 38, it is my duty to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the member for Mount Royal, Darfur; the member for Gatineau, Official Languages; the member for Outremont, Airbus.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-13, which is fairly technical. It deals with the language of juries, procedures for service of documents and also, the aspect that interests us most, the whole issue of official languages and the provision of trials in the official languages. Consequently, it addresses access to justice by minority groups.
We support this bill and are in favour of the amendment tabled by our Liberal colleagues. If I have understood correctly, this amendment clearly recognizes the responsibility of a judge to inform the people before him in a court of law, the people who will be participating in a trial—whether or not they are the accused—that they have the right to a trial in either official language, naturally in the language of their choice. This ensures that justice will be served.
In general, I would like to remind the House that Bill C-13 initially proposed that an accused who does not speak the same language as the majority of a group of accused should not be penalized. It suggested as well that it would be possible for a judge or the chief court coordinator to ensure that a co-accused who does not speak the same language as the majority appears before a bilingual judge or has a separate trial. That is part of our constitutional guarantees. It is also in the Criminal Code and is one of the factors we should always remember as parliamentarians, that is to say, people must always have access to justice in their mother tongue.
For example, when francophones outside Quebec are put on trial—especially when the trial involves multiple charges or there are several accused at the same time—there is always a danger that they will be assimilated because the majority rules, and obviously that is not what we want. The bar expressed its concerns in committee that justice could be denied to minority groups at various points in our current trial procedures.
In regard to linguistic rights, the current system provides that at the request of the accused, a judge will order a preliminary hearing. We all remember that the preliminary hearing is the stage before the trial itself when a judge assesses the evidence that the Crown has and commits the accused to trial. It is a very important stage. The legislation currently provides that, at the request of the accused, a judge will order a preliminary hearing and trial before a judge alone or a jury that speaks the official language of the accused. There is always a concern, therefore, that no one in a minority language situation should be denied knowledge of the evidence against him and the legal procedure or prevented from interacting with the officers of the court and the judges, so that there is always the possibility of ordering a trial in the language of the accused.
I also want to remind the House of similar concerns surrounding the entire question of legal documents. When an accused asks to have his trial in the official language of his choice, in accordance with section 19 of the bill, the Crown must have the documents containing the charges, the information and the indictment translated into the official language of the accused or the language that he best understands. After everything is translated, if that would help the accused understand it better, it is turned over to him.
Changes have also been made in regard to the examination, cross-examination and preliminary hearing. I mentioned that the preliminary hearing is very important because it is here that the Crown reveals its evidence. This is when it is determined whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
It should be noted that witnesses can use either official language at the preliminary hearing and the trial. Clause 20(2) of the bill enables the prosecutor, if authorized by the judge and if the circumstances warrant, to examine or cross-examine a witness in the witness’s official language.
Let us look at the case of a francophone accused of a crime. For example, suppose the member for Québec, a francophone, were accused—let us imagine the worst—of having killed her husband. She is ordered to trial and there is a person who saw her kill her husband, Mr. Lemieux, a man who gave her more than 20 years of his life, a veritable saint of a man. If the person who saw her kill her husband is an anglophone, he or she will be summoned to testify as a witness. In this case, the crown prosecutor is bilingual. One may ask in what language the prosecutor will ask questions of the witness. Thanks to the amendments to Bill C-13, it will be possible for the person conducting the examination of the witness, even if he or she speaks a different language than that of the accused, to communicate directly with the witness, thereby avoiding the need for interpreters. Thus, the member for Québec, a francophone, kills her husband; an anglophone witness is called to testify and the prosecutor who laid the charge is bilingual. The cross-examination could be conducted in the language of the witness. In my example, I referred to my colleague, the member for Québec, but honourable members will recognize the fictitious nature of my example because the member for Québec is well known as a peacemaker, without excess of any kind, far removed from anger and possessing total self-control.
That said, I want to say a few words about the amendments that the other place, the Senate, has proposed.
In my opinion—it was a recommendation of the Senate and it is a recommendation of the Liberal opposition—it is desirable that the judge should personally ensure that the person who appears before the court, whether at the preliminary inquiry stage or during the trial on the merits of the case, is clearly aware of his or her linguistic rights, including the right to request a trial in either official language. In a case were there are co-accused, one accused person can even ask for a separate trial when necessary.
Obviously, there are many people involved in the trial proceedings who could inform the accused that his or her linguistic rights must be respected. The prosecutor or the accused’s attorney could do so, or others. In my view, it is a wise move to make certain the judge is able to do that.
Our colleagues in the other place, the senators, have also asked that the legislation be reviewed in three years. This kind of review mechanism, I believe, is now quite common in our bills.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports this amendment. The Senate has submitted different cross-referencing provisions, particularly with regard to Bill C-2, the omnibus bill tabled by the government. I have been told there was a bit of a delay in the Senate, which provoked some anger from the parliamentary secretary. As I recall, Bill C-2 was a combination of five previous bills, namely, C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentences), C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make consequential amendments to another Act, the bill on dangerous offenders, the bill on reverse onus in bail hearings and a bill dealing with impaired driving and the new charges that could be laid.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-13 and the amendments proposed by the Liberal opposition. However, I cannot conclude without talking about the court challenges program.
How sad it must be for all parliamentarians to see how this government has taken an insensitive measure. I thought the Minister of the Environment would join his voice to that of the Bloc Québécois and defend francophone minorities. If I am not mistaken, he was responsible for this issue when he was a member of the Mike Harris cabinet. Mike Harris will not be remembered as one of the most progressive parliamentarian in history, but I thought that the Minister of the Environment wanted to follow the philosophical saying to the effect that taking the middle road is doing the virtuous thing. How can one support abolishing the court challenges program and thus move away from the middle road and virtue?
As members know, the Bloc Québécois is a very responsible opposition party. It is the number one political force in Quebec, and it will continue to be so, if such is the wish of Quebeckers. So, the Bloc Québécois brought forward an amendment at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, and also at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to resurrect the court challenges program. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the Conservatives' response. The Conservative Party can no longer be called “progressive”. The fact that they removed the word “progressive” from their name is quite telling.
So, the Bloc Québécois brought forward an amendment in both of these committees. As we know, had it not been for the court challenges program, the French fact outside Quebec—for which our ancestors fought—would not be what it is now. And the Minister of the Environment must raise his voice in cabinet, regarding this French fact.
It is being said that the Minister of the Environment is part of the progressive wing of cabinet. How could he have supported this decision? I will have to tell the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, because I believe he has some influence with this man. I believe that the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will have to make the Minister of the Environment understand that he has failed in his responsibilities by not crossing party lines and by leaving francophones outside Quebec to be denied an extremely important tool in this way.
Why is this important? Take the example of school boards. In Quebec, we call them commissions scolaires, but outside Quebec they are conseils scolaires. Governments have not always spontaneously decided to grant resources and equip francophones in some communities with all institutions, from Prince Edward to Alberta, and including Saskatchewan. By using the court challenges program, with public funds, they were able to bring challenges in the courts. The case went as far as the Supreme Court of Canada and forced the establishment of school boards in francophone communities outside Quebec, which are of course minority communities.
How bizarre, not to say stupid, is the reasoning of this government, which claims that it never enacts or introduces unconstitutional laws? Well, I have been sitting in this House for 14 years and I have seen legislation and regulations repeatedly challenged and held to be invalid. Remember that the tobacco regulations, for example, were declared invalid by the Supreme Court. A number of decisions that have been made have been held to be invalid. It is not simply a matter of laws being ruled invalid, it is a matter of getting new ones recognized.
For example, Michael Hendricks, a resident of Montreal, used the court challenges program to have same-sex spouses recognized.
Today, people whose sexual orientation is homosexual can marry, can have proper weddings and experience the joys of marriage—and of course sometimes also the anguish of divorce. Had it not been for Michael Hendricks and his spouse, René Leboeuf, we would never have moved so speedily toward full recognition of rights for the gay and lesbian community. So you can see that the court challenges program has served both francophone communities outside Quebec and gay men and lesbians well.
When we come to examine the Conservative government’s record, the debit side will include the insensitivity it has demonstrated. I can only mourn the fact that no one in the Quebec caucus of the Conservatives felt the need to stand up for francophones outside Quebec. In fact, I say “francophones outside Quebec”, but there is nothing in the court challenges program that made the anglophone minority automatically ineligible to use it. Of course I will be told that the National Assembly has long made sure to respect the anglophone minority in Quebec. In the plan he put forward before the 1995 referendum, Jacques Parizeau said that it was a founding minority of Quebec.
In Quebec, the constitutional rights of anglophones were recognized, and still are. For instance, anglophones have access to learning institutions from kindergarten to university. Even though Quebec is not officially bilingual, a whole range of programs and measures is available to anglophones outside Quebec.
Valéry, a famous name in history, wrote that one can measure how great a civilization is by how it treats its minorities. Of course, in Quebec, we have every reason to be proud of how we have treated the anglophone community. We are equally proud of how we have treated our aboriginal communities. It is well known that René Lévesque was the one who gave recognition to aboriginal communities. Indigenous languages are still used by aboriginal people, and mechanisms maintained by the state allow them to assert themselves as founding nations of Quebec.
In summary, we support this bill. It deals with a number of technical details, but where language rights are concerned, we feel that it is a good piece of legislation, particularly with respect to the right of the co-accused to be tried in the language of the minority, provided that it is one of the official languages. We also support the Liberal amendment that will see the judge presiding at the preliminary hearing or trial be put in charge of recognizing the rights of those appearing before him or her and having them recognized.
In addition, we condemn the Conservative government's insensitivity to minority communities. Hopefully, by the next election, the government will have had a burst of conscience and lucidity and restored the court challenges program.
Finally, I hope that the Minister of the Environment will rise and put a question to me.
John Baird Minister of the Environment
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the speech made by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois. He made a very interesting suggestion. He talked at length about the court challenges program. I will ask him a few questions on that subject.
Would he agree with the idea that the federal government would give money to citizens groups to challenge provincial legislation in Quebec? We, on this side of the House, believe that it would be an encroachment into provincial jurisdictions. If that is the Bloc's position, will the member call his boss, Pauline, to ask her if this is a new change within the sovereignist party?
I would like to mention that Mike Harris, when he was premier of Ontario, created 12 French-language school boards throughout the province. Never in Ontario history had a premier done such a thing. Moreover, again thanks to Mike Harris and for the first time in Canadian history, there was equity in education funding. For more than a century, French-speaking students had been receiving less funding, and it took a Conservative government to correct that. I would also add that, as Ontario minister of francophone affairs, I was very proud to say that the Montfort Hospital would stay open.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the Minister of the Environment, for his question. However, I cannot help but notice that he becomes emotional at the mention of Mike Harris' name. I urge him to remain rational in this debate. I want to remind him that the court challenges program has to do with guarantees under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. We are not suggesting that the court challenges program allow provincial legislation to be challenged. Correct me if I am wrong—in which case I would like the minister to show me one case where provincial legislation was overturned—in my understanding, this has to do with federal responsibilities and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights.
Let us talk about the Conservatives' record when he was minister. Apparently he was quite close to Mike Harris and it is even said that the Minister of the Environment has three idols: Brian Mulroney, Mike Harris and Stephen Harper. I hope he remembers that when we look at the Harris government's record on francophones outside Quebec, there was the issue of the Montfort hospital. The hon. member, chair of the caucus, had to get funding. There was an unprecedented mobilization of francophones because that government wanted to close the Montfort hospital. I hope he is not saying that this was something positive and that the Harris government has a good record when it comes to francophones outside Quebec, because that is the furthest thing from the truth. The hon. member for Richelieu-Yamaska even had to appeal to Bloc members, who contributed with great pleasure. The Bloc members were involved in saving the Montfort hospital. We reached into our pockets and we donated money to keep the Montfort hospital open. That was a total lack of sensitivity by that government.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, as members know, this week's theme is the failure of the Conservative government's agenda on crime, resulting in them being very soft on crime.
I know the member is are a very intensive member of the justice committee, but I will give him nine quick areas where he can show how the Conservatives have been a failure and soft on crime, and I know he can think of these himself.
First, we found out in committee the Conservatives were not following the recommendations of the justice department.
Second, expert after expert showed them how to be tough on crime and they went totally against their recommendations and would not withdraw the bad legislation.
Third, they would not be tough on crime by following the court challenges program and supporting it.
Fourth, they would not be tough on crime by supporting law reform, fixing up the law through the Law Reform Commission.
Fifth and sixth, by trying to remove alternative sentencing and restorative justice, which were reducing crime, they are soft on crime.
Seventh, they had terrible written laws. One law was seven words. As members know, it has taken a whole year because it was so bad and the Conservatives did not consult.
CBC had a wonderful program last week about our prisons. Prisons are where we can be hard on crime and stop the reoffending, but they do not have the educational or anger management courses.
Eighth, the Conservatives have done nothing to reduce the overpopulation of aboriginal people in the justice court, which is another way they have been soft on crime.
Finally, the Conservatives prorogued Parliament. From which department do the majority of bills come? The Department of Justice. Once again, they were being soft on crime.
There are a lot of areas the member could talk about on how they could improve the government's agenda and actually reduce crime in Canada.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, last June, my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue and I put forth about 12 proposals that will become a bill. We think the priority should be to put more money in the crime prevention program to help community agencies do their work.
We also believe that it is important to examine the issue of parole. We believe in the principle of rehabilitation. However, on the issue of accelerated parole review, we believe that if a court of law sentences an individual after a fair and equitable trial, it is perhaps too early to release that individual after he has served only one-sixth of his sentence. We also made proposals about section 719 of the Criminal Code. We asked that members of criminal organizations be prohibited from wearing crests.
Even though there is a law defining criminal organizations, it is not right that in our society, the Hells Angels can walk around wearing their crests. We proposed measures so that once a group is recognized as a criminal organization, its members cannot wear symbols to identify themselves.
The Bloc Québécois has a number of ideas when it comes to justice. I thank my colleague for the question.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am almost looking forward to the opportunity Bill C-13 gives me to attack the government and the other chamber for their misconduct, if I can put it that way. That is the emotion on one side, which is a positive one in terms of getting my adrenalin flowing.
However, on the other hand, I feel some significant regret because Bill C-13 and its prior incarnation in the form of C-23 is badly needed to be law, not to be deemed played with as a political toy, which both the government and the Senate are doing.
The history of the bill is that it was first brought before the House by the government in 2006. It went to the justice committee where a number of amendments were made that improved the bill. The bill addressed points of issue in a number of areas, particularly our police but also our prosecutors and the judiciary to more efficiently administer our criminal justice system.
A number of these amendments had been needed for quite some time. The Liberal administration, prior to the Conservative one, had allowed a number of these points to go unaddressed, some of which are as old as two decades and needed to be addressed. Requests had been coming from the police, the prosecutors and our judiciary over that period of time looking for these amendments and they just were not addressed.
The Conservatives came forward in their administration, packaged a number of them into one bill and sent them to the justice committee. We made further amendments that improved the bill. We sent it back to the House and it went through the House with all party support. It went to the Senate around the time the government decided, because it did not have enough of an agenda and did not know what it would do when it returned in the fall of 2007, to prorogue Parliament. The end result was that Bill C-23 died on the order paper in the Senate and had to be brought back.
It came back as Bill C-13 in the new House in the fall of 2007. It did not go to the justice committee. We just passed it and sent it over to the Senate because we had already done all the work that we wanted to do on it in the House.
What happened? The Senate decided that it would stick its fingers, as an unelected, non-responsive, I would say, irresponsible body--
John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Keep going. That's good.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
The environment minister wants me to keep going on this. The thing is that it was his government that gave the Senate the chance to do that. The government keeps attacking the Senate but it keeps giving the Senate the chance to do this. If it were really serious about dealing with the Senate, it would do what the NDP has advocated for decades now and abolish it so that we are not faced with this kind of delay to legislation that our country badly needs.
Let us look at some of the things that are in the bill. The government talks about being tough on crime. There is a section that is badly needed for our judges to be able to deal with the plague of child pornography. Right now the Criminal Code has no provision that gives a judge, once someone has been convicted of child pornography, to seize the equipment that the person used to create the child pornography, whether it is photographic equipment or computer equipment. None of that can be ordered seized by the court after a conviction.
The section is there now but it should have been law by now. However, because of the determination by the government to prorogue Parliament and cause further delay to some of the crime bills, this one in particular, we do not have it yet. That is added to by the other chamber being grossly irresponsible in further delaying the bill. The government gave the Senate the opportunity to do it and the other chamber took the opportunity to further delay. It is really sad to say that our criminal justice system is, in this case, at this stage.
There are provisions in the bill that would allow for the expeditious use of technology today to obtain warrants and have other paperwork processed rapidly and transferred among the provinces. We have a major problem with this and have for a long time. Paperwork needs to be done in a very limited, specific way that really hinders the work our police officers are doing across the country because of so much more paperwork they have to do.
A number of the amendments would help clear that up and bring it into the 21st century. The amendments would allow the police officers to produce paper from computers and emails rather than having to rely on printed material, having to send it through the mail or having it delivered by messenger. It is crazy that we are at the stage that we have not changed this a long time ago.
We cleaned that up and made it possible for them to come into the 21st century and use technology much more efficiently and process the files much more efficiently. It is sitting in this House. I suppose only someone with much more wisdom than I will figure out whether it goes back to the Senate and it decides to do further amendments.
There are other provisions in here that were necessary for the law to be clarified. As we heard from my colleague from the Bloc, some provisions with regard to the rights to have a trial in the other official language other than the dominant one in the province where the charges were applied. Again, this is one area where there were some good amendments at committee and they were passed on to the Senate. The Senate has now decided that it wants to tinker with this more and further delay the use of it.
One other amendment that my colleague from the Liberal Party has referred to was the need to update the level of fines. It was an amendment that the government brought forth to increase the fines up to $10,000. I, quite frankly, got an amendment at committee that reduced the fines to $2,000 from $5,000, given that these are for more minor crimes. They are crimes that would be more likely to be committed by people who are unable to pay a fine of $10,000 and would have ended up spending extended periods of time in jail simply because they were in the lower economic classes of our society.
We got all that through. There was a fair amount of work done on this at the justice committee and then sent back to this House, passed in a democratic process and sent on to the Senate to involve itself in a totally undemocratic process.
The Senate has put forward six amendments. The government is prepared to accept them, which is wrong. I have to say, on behalf of my party, that, because the bill is so important and we need it so badly, we will accept these amendments, the four the government recommended and the fifth amendment that the Liberal Party has now moved. I would have taken the sixth one because generally these amendments do not do anything of any importance and, to avoid further delay, we would support it.
The other chamber felt that it had the right to tell this chamber that we should do a review of this bill, ignoring the reality that the justice committee is responsible for, by last count, something like 20 or 25 laws on which we are supposed to have done reviews and that we are behind in doing.
By imposing on us a mandate, which the government has accepted to do, that in three years we will review this law, it is impractical. We will not be able to do it given how busy the schedule is for the justice committee. However, that is one the government accepted.
Amendment No. 1 would impose a responsibility upon the judges. I have heard from the other opposition parties that they are prepared to accept this. I want to say that this is not the process that I see that should be applied by judges.
The existing law requires a judge to ensure that the persons before him or her is aware of their right to have a trial in the other official language. The Senate now says that is not good enough and wants to impose this duty on the judiciary to tell individuals their rights.
I want to take issue with my colleague from the Liberal Party who said that this is usual. It is not usual. This is not the role of the judiciary. It is the role of defence counsel, the legal aid system and it may be the role of the prosecutor. The role of the judge is to ensure that it happens but it is not the judge's responsibility to give legal advice.
Amendment No. 1 from the Senate would impose that role on our judiciary. It is extremely rare for the judiciary to tell the petitioners before them their rights. That is a role to be played within the advocacy system that we have, either by the defence or the prosecutor. This amendment is wrong in law and wrong in terms of the practice it would impose on our judiciary. On top of everything else, it is meddling by an unelected, irresponsible body.
Some of the other Senate amendments are technical because of the initial amendments it made. Other amendments needed to be made in order for the legislation to make sense and be cohesive.
I have one final point to make with regard to the amendment, which I think all of us are opposing. The amendment would impose the responsibility to gather data on the provinces. Under our constitutional framework, the administration of justice, which would include gathering this statistical material, is the responsibility of the provinces. If that duty is to be imposed upon them, it must be imposed, in my opinion, by the legislatures of the provinces, not by this federal legislature. I do not know if the Department of Justice has actually looked at that amendment from that vantage point, but it is definitely improper in my opinion given the constitutional relationship between the federal government and the provinces.
An argument could be made, although I do not think it would be sustained, that under our criminal law we, in this legislature, have the right to impose that responsibility on the provinces. The administration of justice power given to the provinces is the dominant one here, so that amendment is wrong and would be found to be unconstitutional.
As a result of the government's own ineptitude, it has caused a further delay in the passage of badly needed legislation that would affect a number of our laws that have needed to be amended for a number of decades. It delayed the legislation by several months because of its prorogation decision. The legislation finally gets to the Senate where that unelected body decides to tinker with it unnecessarily and produces amendments that are either unconstitutional or unnecessary and of a minor nature. However, that does not in any way justify the delay that we have been put through and will continue to be put through, especially if an election intervenes. We all know we are sitting on the edge.
Therefore, as a result of a really bad decision by the government and gross misconduct on the part of the other chamber, the bill may not even get through this Parliament and be delayed again, not just months, but it could be delayed again for another year or two before we can access its benefits.
We are dealing with a bill that is badly needed in a number of areas. We are also dealing with an unelected body that is obviously intent on meddling in and delaying this legislation just simply to justify its existence.
It has been a long time practice, when speakers from my party have risen in the House, to use the opportunity to emphasize the need to get rid of the other chamber, to bring us into the 21st century, to recognize that this is a democracy and should be a full democracy. I hope I have been able to convey that message clearly today on behalf of my constituents and my party.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I want to make a note for the record. There is another correction I would like to get in the bill, but not at this time. I will wait until the next round, but I want to ensure that people are aware of it.
Under section 530.01, it talks about a trial being in the official language of the accused. That is great. Then it says that once it is in that language, the information of the indictment, which is the small document with the information on the indictment, will be translated but on the application of the accused. That should be automatic. Why would the accused not be given this short document?
Arguments were made in committee that it would be too onerous for the provinces. However, the witnesses from the Department of Justice said that it could only be one or two pages. It could be a couple of dozen pages in an entire year across the country.
In the rights of justice, in the future I would like to have paragraphs 530.01(1)(a) and 530.01(1)(b) altered with that minor improvement to make it more just for the person. I hope if this comes up some time in the future, the member will support that change.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, this did elicit a fair amount of debate in committee exactly along the lines that he suggested. Why is it necessary? If in so many other areas the accused person is entitled to the material in writing, then why here would the accused have to make a special application?
We ended up leaving it alone because the limited information we could get our hands on at the time was that it would impose an onerous responsibility. My colleague from Yukon and I had some doubts about that, but rather than impose further responsibility on the provincial governments to respond to this, we left it alone at that point, expecting at some point in the future we would revisit it and perhaps at that time have more information as to whether this would impose an onerous duty on the provinces.
We have seen more than enough downloading by the present government and the previous Liberal government on the provinces in terms of shifting responsibility to them without providing additional financial resources to meet that responsibility. Overall, the committee felt it was simply not prepared to do that in this case without having more specific information.
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to enter the debate on Bill C-13. The bill in its original form was passed by the House of Commons in October 2007. It went to the Senate and the Senate has come back with some amendments. The amendments the Senate is proposing are more in the area of reviewing the bill after certain periods of time and also various reporting mechanisms to ensure the bill is working the way it should.
My colleagues, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and the member Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, have been the lead on the bill, so I am not here to debate the bill generally. The bill deals with some of the mechanisms of the justice system. Generally it is seen as an improvement on the Criminal Code with respect to criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing, et cetera. Some of the amendments make certain processes more effective and efficient through the greater use of technology and by consolidating and rationalizing existing provisions.
The reason I am standing here today is to question a couple of the provisions of the bill. It seems to me if we are to write law in Parliament, the law should be practical, relevant, enforceable and generally have the support of the people. In some cases the latter criteria cannot always be met. Sometimes governments have to take some action that citizens generally would not appreciate. However, generally laws to be effective need to be feasible, operable and enforceable and enforced, otherwise people lose their respect and confidence in the Criminal Code.
I will speak specifically to the question of Internet betting. My riding of Etobicoke North has the Woodbine Racetrack, Canada's national racetrack for horses, thoroughbred and standardbred. It operates year round. It was the host of the Queen's Plate and the North America Cup. It brings a lot of economic activity to Etobicoke North.
The development of a two or three hundred acre plot next to the racetrack will be known as Woodbine Live. It will be a whole gathering of entertainment areas, hotels, shopping and other attractions. This operation brings in many jobs and economic activity to the riding of Etobicoke North. I know the Woodbine Entertainment Group is anxious to employ local people to help build the Woodbine Live project and to help operate it. It is committed to that as am I.
The reality is the racetrack is a legal gaming operation. The Woodbine Entertainment Group used to be the Jockey Club and was renamed some years ago. The group and I have been quite frustrated with the growth in illegal Internet betting, which essentially takes market share away from its legal gaming operations based on the racetrack. We have laws right now on the books that prohibit certain aspects that go on as we speak, and in large volume.
I will go over some of the provisions currently in the act. Bill C-13 would make certain changes to the provisions in the Criminal Code as it relates to unlawful Internet gambling. It perhaps provides greater clarity on what is illegal, and that is a good thing and a positive development. However, it needs to be enforced by the authorities, or we need to change the rules to level the playing field and allow organizations like the Woodbine Entertainment Group to get into the area of Internet gaming, and it would be quite happy to do that.
Right now, because Woodbine Entertainment Group is licensed provincially and because Internet gambling is generally unlawful, it would not engage in unlawful activity in the first place. Second, if it were to, it would jeopardize the Ontario gaming licence.
The Woodbine group is caught in a Catch-22. It is seeing its market share eroded because of activities that are illegal in Canada, but not forced. Yet because of its stringent licensing provisions and its respect for the law, it is unable to get into the Internet betting.
One of the solutions would be for us to ease our restrictions on organizations like Woodbine to get involved in Internet betting. Frankly, I do not see it going away.
We can regulate things like that to death. We can bring in laws, but organizations like the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police are not enforcing these provisions. In fairness to them, if they are dealing with drug dealers, terrorists, illegal migrants and other criminal activities, it only stands to reason that enforcing illegal Internet betting is not high on their priority list.
At one level, I can understand that, but at another level, if we have laws on the books, we either enforce them or we get rid of them. Otherwise we create a climate where people have a disrespect for the Criminal Code of Canada.
Allow me to go over some things by way of background. If we look at the situation in Canada, advertisement of gambling on Internet casinos, including foreign lotteries, is currently illegal if not done by the provinces.
We all know about the various lotteries that go on in Canada. Advertising those lotteries, promoting them is legal because it is done by the provinces. Provincial governments in Canada are permitted to conduct, manage and advertise computer-based lottery schemes like Internet gambling, but they cannot license others to do so.
Part VII of the Criminal Code generally prohibits gaming in Canada, but provides for certain exceptions. Among the exceptions are certain gaming activities which can be carried on pursuant to a provincial licence. A broader range of lottery schemes can be conducted and managed by provincial governments. The racing and the gaming activities associated with horse racing by the Woodbine Entertainment Group at the Woodbine Racetrack is authorized and licensed by the province, and constitutes a legal gaming activity.
Let me tell the House what is happening and happening now in greatly increased volumes and having a detrimental impact on racetracks across the country.
It has been a crime for many years to operate Internet gaming websites in Canada, but that has not stopped many offshore companies from soliciting bets from Canadians. These companies have now become so bold that in addition to placing ads in Canadian newspapers and at sporting events, they are now running seminars in Canada to attract people to their websites. When they meet with people, they say that laws in Canada are pretty soft and undefined, so this kind of activity can go on.
Sometimes we see adverts for poker when we turn on the television. They have an interesting segue. They will have a cometopoker.com or whatever it might be. They will allude or suggest that it is a tutorial on how to play poker, but they all have a very simple segue into poker playing for money. Generally they are complying with the law in one sense, but they are abusing the spirit of the law, and I am afraid the government has not done much about it.
The government says that it wants to fight crime and criminality, but many hard-working Canadians are being ripped off and people who work at race tracks that are part of that economic activity are threatened. Legitimate gaming industries in Canada, such as the Woodbine Entertainment Group in my riding and other provincial gaming operations are being impacted by these illegal Internet gambling websites. It is costing them millions in revenue and it is putting Canadians out of work. It is creating jobs and some economic activity offshore.
I must say in fairness that our Liberal government did not take a lot of action on this either. Part of the problem is that law enforcement agencies have so many other priorities that they cannot enforce it. That is why I am coming around to the conclusion that instead of clarifying elements of the Criminal Code, which Bill C-13 does with respect to Internet gaming, and making it more clear, hopefully there is an intent to enforce it, but I do not see that.
I should say that the relevant sections of Bill C-13 are in clause 5, which reads:
5. Paragraph 202(1)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(i) wilfully and knowingly sends, transmits, delivers or receives any message that conveys any information relating to book-making, pool-selling, betting or wagering, or that is intended to assist in book-making, pool-selling, betting or wagering; or
The part of the code that is not being amended is saying that this is a criminal offence. I think that makes it pretty clear, but if it is not enforced, I am not sure that it has any impact.
I have looked at changes to the code but frankly do not see what that will do. It has led me to look at a private member's bill that would call on the banks essentially to intercept Visa, MasterCard, or other credit cards or debit cards that are being used for activities that are illegal.
I think that has actually been done in the United States, but unfortunately it is being challenged under the WTO rules because they limited the exposure to offshore Internet operations. However, there are a lot of onshore Internet operations in the United States also that are conducting these illegal Internet gaming operations, so someone has challenged it under the WTO rules. I suspect they will win that one because it is differentiating between onshore and offshore.
I have a draft bill which I am prepared to move forward with that would call on the financial institutions in Canada to set up regimes that would intercept these types of transactions. The bill would provide for the establishment of payment systems to identify and block financial transactions in the course of unlawful Internet gambling.
I have alerted the banking community, which is not thrilled with this because it is a big cost. It essentially transfers the burden of compliance and enforcement to the banking sector because our Criminal Code is not being enforced right here in Canada.
In the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe they have taken a different tact. They have acknowledged that Internet betting, like other activities that take place on the Internet, are almost impossible to police. We have to take action on some of them of course, such as with respect to child pornography and any criminal activity like that, but it is a tough job finding those links. People are very clever when they set up these linkages. In Europe and certainly in the United Kingdom, they said that they had to create a level playing field. They said that they would just legalize it so that those organizations that are involved in legal gaming activities under licence will not have their licences jeopardized if they get in and compete with those operators who are operating illegally.
That really is the point I would like to make with respect to Bill C-13. Of course I will be supporting the bill because my colleagues have looked at it in some detail. In fact it was passed by the House of Commons last fall. The amendments perhaps add to the bill. The bill does, with respect to Internet gaming, provide greater clarity around what that constitutes.
If we write laws in Canada that are not enforced, or that are impractical, all we do is create a gap of credibility that we all suffer as Canadians. There is no point in putting out the smoke and mirrors and saying we are defining it more carefully if law enforcement officers in Canada are not prepared to enforce the law. Frankly, given some of the other priorities, I can empathize with that position.