Debates of March 14th, 2008
House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was equality.
- Question Period
- Judges Act
- Points of Order
- Unborn Victims of Crime
- Chantale Guay
- Fire Departments
- Arctic Winter Games
- Christian Population in Iraq
- International Day of La Francophonie
- St. Patrick's Day
- Government Policies
- André Manseau
- Tackling Violent Crime Act
- Queen Street Community in Toronto
- National Francophonie Week
- Ottawa Film Festival
- Government of Ontario
- Access to Information Act
- Foreign Affairs
- Canada-U.S. Relations
- Omar Khadr
- Manufacturing and Forestry Industries
- Citizenship and Immigration
- Government Accountability
- Government Policies
- Ontario Economy
- Aerospace Industry
- Regional Economic Development
- The Environment
- Citizenship and Immigration
- Government Appointments
- Foreign Affairs
- Points of Order
- Business of the House
- Government Response to Petitions
- Budget Implementation Act, 2008
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Committees of the House
- Status of Women
Sue Barnes London West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-31. It has now been through the justice committee and has returned to the House unamended.
It is a very short bill, but its amends a number change in the Judges Act, paragraph 24(3)(b), and thus creates the authority to authorize the appointment of 20 new judges for the provincial and territorial superior trial courts.
We know these judges are needed to deal with the increasing backlogs in the superior court system. In particular, superior courts in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut continue to experience delays and backlogs.
In a former parliamentary life, when the Liberal government was in power, I was a parliamentary secretary to the then minister of justice. I travelled through Nunavut and experienced the fact that unlike the rest of Canada, where we can travel by vehicle from one city to another, there were 26 different fly-in communities. It takes time and there are delays to which we must attend.
I remember at that time we also were starting to introduce our crime prevention programs. That is the other end of the justice system, from the trial and judgment to the prevention of crime. There needs to be a full emphasis on this aspect. It helps reduce criminal activity when people are actively engaged in different crime prevention activities. I wanted to make that point at this time.
Even in the other provinces, those that I did not mention, we are aware that there is a strain with simply population growth, especially stresses that could happen with the family court systems. In a family court system we cannot afford time delays. Children grow up and those issues have to be resolved sooner rather than later.
We also have the issues of mega-trials in the criminal law area. We know a lot of the criminal law is taken care of at the provincial court level, but there are those mega-trials and people can opt to go into the higher court level. The mega-trials are very complex and lengthy and consume a lot of justice system resources.
I know this is important to all Canadians. The introduction and background to Bill C-31 talks about the fact that we now have a specific claims tribunal, which will have the authority to make binding decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation or where negotiations fail. It is estimated by the government that this tribunal will require the equivalent of six full time judges to manage the caseloads of these types of claims.
The chief justices, I am sure, will have consultations with the minister or his designates to talk about the allocation of these judges. I know that B.C. and Ontario will need these resources, as well as some of the other jurisdictions, because specific claims should be settled.
It is important to have access to justice for all Canadians. It is true that justice delayed can be justice denied. In criminal law, the Askov case reminded us, very bluntly, of the importance of reasonable time limits and reasonable access to the court system. We do not want to have cases thrown out of court just because the delays have been too lengthy.
Apart from the judges needed for the tribunal work, these judges will work in the area of civil law, civil litigation, family law and criminal fields of law. They are expected to perform all their work for us with the independence and impartiality that I think Canadians expect from their justice system.
Judges apply the law to the facts at each case. They do so without imposing any of their own personal bias. Increasingly, as I have said, cases are complex and trials can become very lengthy. Delay is not wanted by Canadians. Canadians want to have justice delivered in their own language, be it English or French. This reflects the linguistic duality of our country.
It is important, and this is not a political or partisan point, that both French speaking and English speaking justices are needed in our courts. In fact, there is often interpretation provided for other languages. Some people before the Canadian justice system speak neither of these languages, but that is not the point with respect to the appointment of judges.
I have great respect for our judicial system in our country. We have an amazingly fair and independent system. I do not want to see that change in any way. I have respect for the judges who do that work. These people are somewhat limited in their association with the rest of Canadian society. There is an expected distancing so they can maintain that impartiality to do their work properly.
These increases for the number of judges have been needed for some time, and we expected the bill sooner. I will go forward. As of yesterday, March 13, even without this bill, 25 judicial vacancies were waiting to be filled. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling those. In other words, these new positions are in addition to the existing vacancies that have to be filled. This is an ongoing situation. I know we should be encouraging the filling of all positions because it is important for our system to work efficiently and properly.
As many in the House will recall, the new Conservative government stacked the judicial advisory committee to ensure that the justice minister's chosen representatives would have a majority on every provincial judicial advisory board. I will not go in to this too much at this time because it takes away from the most important discussion and subject matter of this bill, but I do note it.
It is important to keep the judicial independence in our country. I remember the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court making comment on this point. It is also important that the positions be filled and that there not be a great delay. Both of those points are important.
With respect to this short bill, we can agree in the House that it should move forward. I know my colleagues and our party want the smooth functioning of the justice system. This is one, but only one, aspect that can be assisted by this House. We must remember that there will not be a smooth functioning system if there are not enough prosecutors and if there are insufficient dollars for legal aid for people who need that assistance before the courts. We need all of the system to work cohesively, and the judges are one part of it. However, it is the full functioning of the court system that has to be brought to bear before justice is actually delivered to Canadians in a timely and effective manner.
I ask fellow members of the House to support this legislation so it can move rapidly to the other house and become law after their deliberations. This is one bill that the House can believe will be good for the country and good for the citizens. We need the expertise and the impartial judicial system in our country, which we all deserve.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish you a happy Friday, and happy Easter to you and your family.
First, I would like to tell my colleague from London West that I have wonderful memories of the time we spent working together on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
We all know that the government's record when it comes to its relationship with judges has not always been a good one. We also know that the idea of appointing police officers to various selection committees created quite a stir. And we know that would have subjected the judge selection process to an ideologically negative bias. This is something I would remind the House of, but that is not what my question is about.
I believe that our colleague from London West has a background in law, and I am sure she studied, or at least knows about, a ruling handed down a few years ago in Ontario, the province she represents. I am talking about the ruling in R. v. Askov, which nearly invalidated dozens of cases in Ontario on the grounds that they had not been ruled on, that the justice system had not been diligent enough, and that it was not compatible with the charter provision stating that everyone has the right to a fair and just trial.
Now, the appointment of some 20 judges has corrected that situation, but I would like the member to comment on the ruling in R. v. Askov and to explain why we need a diligent justice system.
I would also ask that she share her thoughts on the attitude of the committee chair, who has refused to call a meeting of the committee because he does not want anyone looking into the ethical issues surrounding the Cadman affair.
I would like the member to take a good five or six minutes to answer these questions.
Sue Barnes London West, ON
Mr. Speaker, for many years I sat with this colleague on the justice committee and found that he worked quite diligently on the aspects of criminal law and the bills. We worked well together in that committee.
He is also correct in that I did practise law for 15 years. I did some teaching of law, both at the bar class and at the university part-time continuing education level. Some of us with that training do understand an important decision like Askov.
The Askov decision impacted the criminal courts. In my province of Ontario, some people who were charged were let go without the continuation of those charges. Why? Because of delay. To have fairness in a justice system, we must have timely hearings, which means that we cannot keep putting off court dates. Witnesses disappear. They forget. We must have that court system functioning in a timely fashion so that the court functions at its optimal level.
In those cases, Askov had a great impact. It put a real chill on the system. It took us back. People who did not have their trials completed were let go because the system was not providing the systemic fairness that comes with timely work. That is very important. That criminal law case now applies everywhere in the criminal justice system. There is no case saying that in family law or civil litigation, but the principles are there, which is that both sides get procedural fairness. Timeliness is one very important aspect.
I have another comment. When I was in the justice committee, we always had our meetings. In fact, we had many meetings. I can remember that back in 1995 we were meeting all the time with pieces of legislation, sometimes until late into the night. But I believe there are two or three justice committee meetings now where the chair has refused to do his duty as the procedural chair of the committee and sit and take the votes. He has left the committee, leaving I think two vice-chairs, but this changes the numbers for voting systems. We in this House know that a procedural manual has been given to members of the government, which tells committee chairs how to operate, how to delay and how to get favourable witnesses.
I have chaired the finance committee, for example, three times in former parliaments. I made sure that the system was fair to all. I made sure that everyone could bring forth the witnesses they wanted to and that both sides of the argument were there. In fact, the chair's job was not to do a partisan job but to ensure that the procedural rules were followed.
I think most of us in the House can do that and I am surprised at what is happening in the justice committee. This is a committee that needs to work. This is a committee that has a high volume of legislation. I know that members sitting opposite were with me when we did hard work in that committee. We may disagree on our points of view and the way we want something to come out of the committee, but I also know that there has been a very strong history of everybody working hard in the committee. I think it is a shame that it is not continuing.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand up and share with you the position of my party, the great force of national liberation that is the Bloc Québécois, on Bill C-31. This bill may seem to be rather technical, but it has to do with the workings of the justice system. Bill C-31, which has been called for by people who play a role before or after the court system, is a short bill with only two clauses that will enable the federal government to appoint superior court judges.
At present, the federal government can appoint 30 judges, and there is a definite backlog in the court system. In the administration of justice, it is not uncommon for a year and a half, two years, two and half years, or three years to go by between the time legal proceedings start and the time a judge or a judge and jury hand down a decision. Obviously, we are not talking about the Supreme Court of Canada. We are talking about superior courts, which hear cases involving common offences under the Criminal Code. They do not rule on technical points of law, like appeal courts. And they certainly do not hand down decisions that speak to our values or clarify the constitutionality or validity of legal provisions, as the Supreme Court of Canada does. Superior courts deal with the cases that should be the least contentious possible.
Bill C-31 proposes to add 20 supernumerary judges, bringing to 50 the number of judges who could be appointed to the various superior courts. With your permission, I would like to take a few moments to explain to my colleagues in this House why trial courts should not be confused with superior courts.
Quebec will one day be a country that will enjoy all the elements of sovereignty, you can rest assured. For us as sovereigntists, when we talk about our plans, sovereignty means three things: keeping our own tax dollars, repatriating all powers to Quebec and, of course, deciding on our foreign policy.
As an aside, yesterday, I confirmed something with our research staff. It is estimated that in 2008, Quebeckers will pay $50 billion in taxes to Ottawa. Imagine how things would be different if the National Assembly could keep those tax dollars. Obviously, we would do some things differently. From the information gathered by our research staff—an excellent and very dedicated staff—I read that the National Defence budget will increase from $9 billion to $19 billion in the 2010s. Can you imagine? The military budget will double, primarily because of military procurement.
Do you think that a sovereign Quebec would have made the same decision? As my colleagues will agree, a sovereign Quebec would have placed much greater emphasis on international cooperation and development assistance. We would have been much more present in Africa, especially francophone Africa, and in Haiti, and we would have developed the cooperation practices that seem to be lacking in this government.
Accordingly, a sovereign Quebec would of course enjoy all the attributes of a separate state. However, that is not the case at this time. That is why everyone listening must understand that Quebec, the National Assembly and the Quebec justice minister appoint judges to municipal courts and the Court of Quebec. The Court of Quebec has two divisions: the civil division and the youth division.
By the way, I find it distressing that a bill will soon be before us, but we in the Bloc Québécois will not be supporting it. As I told the steering committee of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights the day before last, gone are the days when there was at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights a climate of frank camaraderie whereby members would give each other a friendly slap on the back or ask one another how they were doing, and there was the notion of caring about one another.
We know that the climate has deteriorated at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We have a chair who refuses to take his responsibilities and preside over the committee. How did we get to this point of no return?
It is like in a couple when it is obvious that a domestic spat will escalate to a point of no return. Of course, I am not speaking of myself. My home life is totally free from any stormy dispute because I am so blissfully in love.
At any rate, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has not been meeting because the member for Beauséjour introduced a motion inviting the committee to look into allegations made in the Cadman affair and conduct an investigation under section 119 of the Criminal Code. Naturally, that is within the purview of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Is it not our duty—and this question is for all my colleagues—to ensure that at all times, institutions and those who keep them running, parliamentarians, are above any suspicion when the media and a book raise allegations of corruption? Whether these allegations are founded or not is up to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to decide. Other committees could have addressed this issue, but for reasons I do not want to get into again, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was unable to.
The hon. member for Beauséjour, a generally respectable man with great self-control, did his job as a parliamentarian by tabling this motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which the Bloc obviously supported. When the chair of the committee deemed the motion out of order, we challenged the chair's decision, in accordance with the House of Commons Standing Orders. However, the chair refused to hold a vote to determine whether the motion would be challenged and he left the chair, leaving a terrible void that prevented the committee from functioning.
That said, I do not want to get off topic. Let us come back to Bill C-31.
The National Assembly of Quebec oversees appointments to municipal courts and the Court of Quebec. The Court of Quebec has two divisions: the civil division and the youth division. I dreaded the thought of having to deal with Bill C-25, which is a very bad bill.
Bill C-25 deals with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Before the five-year review of the bill has even taken place, the government wants to amend two provisions. The Bloc Québécois maintains that—
An hon. member
The Speaker Peter Milliken
Order, please. A member has pointed out that there is a problem because the hon. member for Hochelaga is not speaking about the bill currently before this House, which is an act to amend the Judges Act.
He should perhaps return to the matter at hand, debate on Bill C-31 at third reading, rather than discussing all other bills the government has introduced pertaining to the Department of Justice.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by your comments because Bill C-31 pertains to justice and judges. I believe that there are links to be made between other bills and I know you will allow me to establish these links.
Bill C-31 before us deals with the appointment of judges. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, but I was saying how disappointed we are that we did not wait for the Youth Criminal Justice Act to be fully reviewed before introducing a bill which deals with only two provisions. You will recall that, under your tenure as Speaker of the House of Commons, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, one of the best members ever of this House, tabled 2,700 amendments. That led you to make a ruling—and this is not a criticism—that tightened the criteria for introducing amendments.
Coming back to Bill C-31, I will be mentioning the Askov case. There are constitutional guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is not a legal instrument that the National Assembly finds desirable, of course. In 1982, the National Assembly almost unanimously passed a motion opposing the unilateral patriation of the Constitution. Pierre Elliott Trudeau's Liberals at the time disregarded the will of the National Assembly. Even Claude Ryan, the leader of the official opposition in the National Assembly at that time, agreed with René Lévesque.
In any case, this Constitution, which was patriated against the wishes of the National Assembly, contains a charter setting out legal guarantees. We are familiar with the major legal guarantees in the charter. Freedom must be inviolable: the freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of expression are protected. The will is expressed that trials be fair and equitable and concern is shown for the manner evidence is obtained. There is a provision in section 24 that allows evidence to be excluded if the manner it was obtained is unconstitutional.
Among the legal guarantees listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms patriated against the will of Quebec, there is the right to a fair and equitable trial. For a trial to be fair and reasonable, it has to take place within a reasonable time. Obviously, if a year and half, two years, two years and half or three years go by between the time when proceedings are initiated by prosecutors and the time when a judge, or a judge and jury, makes a decision, that violates this constitutional guarantee.
The Bloc Québécois supports the bill before us because it provides for the appointment of 20 new judges who will help unclog the judicial system and ensure that justice is rendered within much a more reasonable time, more expeditiously and more diligently. With respect to these 20 judges, we do not know the details yet about how many there will be for Quebec, Ontario or Newfoundland.
However, there is something I must tell the House, on behalf of my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, a friend of aboriginal peoples. He is a man of the law and a dedicated attorney, who has always maintained the balance between defending people who are in the system, and fulfilling the Crown's obligation to sentence individuals if necessary. It was a pleasure to have the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue attend the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This was at the time when the committee was meeting and the government accepted the fact that there was work to be done in this committee. This is no longer the case, since the Conservative chair refuses to convene the Standing Committee on Justice.
This is very difficult for me because I love my job. I am very happy with my life. I enjoy speaking at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but first I have to have a chance to do so. During the last three sittings I have not had that opportunity.
That said, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue spoke. He accompanied me to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to talk to us about aboriginal law. When I studied law at the University of Ottawa, I took a course on aboriginal law, and I become aware of how valuable it is.
As we know, one judge who currently sits on the Ontario Court of Appeal will very likely be appointed to the new aboriginal reconciliation tribunal. This means that the Ontario Court of Appeal will be short one judge. Obviously, we expect that in the arbitration, appointment, provision or allocation of the new resources provided for in Bill C-31, the federal government will take into consideration this potential appointment of an Ontario Court of Appeal judge to the reconciliation tribunal.
Being a vigilant person, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, who is a friend of aboriginal peoples, asked a question in this House when the Conservative government refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, setting us back 20 years. Yet all the opposition parties—the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberals—were calling for the ratification of this instrument. Only the archaic, backward-looking, old-fashioned Conservative government refused to ratify this agreement. The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue was good enough to make us aware of this legal tool that the first nations were calling for.
We all know how important the reconciliation commission will be. This historic commission will shed light on the abuse and injustices suffered by the first nations, our founding peoples. The government of René Lévesque recognized the first nations in 1985. When Lévesque was premier, he recognized the 11 first nations in the National Assembly. Hon. members will also recall that Jacques Parizeau's referendum plan, which was distributed door to door in 1995, recognized aboriginal peoples, just as it recognized the historic contribution made by anglophone Quebeckers to Quebec.
I do not want to stray from the issue we are debating. I do want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-31. We worked hard in committee to deliver this bill to the government as quickly as possible. This very short bill will mean that justice can be administered much more quickly. Everyone remembers the ruling in R. v. Askov, where the Ontario Court of Appeal released some accused persons because they had not been able to stand trial within a reasonable time. The case caused a stir in the justice community.
Since then, governments have been under pressure to appoint more judges to the various appeal courts. Every year, there are more trials, and they are often very complex. As well, stalling tactics are used to delay proceedings. We all know what happens in a court of justice. We should therefore applaud the fact that there will be another 20 judges. As I said earlier, we do not know how many there will be for Quebec. We hope that there will be at least three more, but we will wait for confirmation of this.
In conclusion, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. I will be happy to answer any questions my colleagues may have. I hope to again have the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, just like in the good old days.
Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Mississauga South on March 3, 2008, concerning the proceedings in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics at its meeting of February 28, 2008.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for their contributions.
In raising his point of order, the member for Mississauga South expressed concerns about motions adopted by the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee at its meeting of February 28, 2008. Of particular concern was the motion ordering the committee, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), to investigate the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party of Canada. The member for Mississauga South, indicated that, as chair of the committee, he had ruled this motion inadmissible as it did not include any reference to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members or any ethical standards that may have been violated but rather actually made direct reference to potential violations of the Canada Elections Act. His ruling was appealed and overturned, and the motion was adopted.
The member for Mississauga South contended that the access to information, privacy and ethics committee has now embarked on a study which is beyond its mandate as set out in Standing Order 108. Questioning the committee's authority to disregard the Standing Orders in this way, he maintained that his committee was encroaching on the mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The member for Hull—Aylmer and the member for Scarborough—Rouge River voiced their support for these arguments.
In his comments, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform spoke of the well-recognized procedural principle that committees are masters of their own proceedings.
In the absence of a report from the committee, he suggested that it would be inappropriate for the Speaker to pass judgment on the question raised by the member for Mississauga South and cautioned against prejudging the direction that the committee study might take.
After careful review of all the interventions on this point of order, it seems to me that the crux of the matter is determining first, to whom the House has given a mandate in matters related to ethics, and second, what differentiates one mandate from another.
Standing Order 108(3)(h) states that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has responsibility for overseeing the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans, of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, as well the commissioner’s annual reports on activities in relation to public office holders. It is important to note that reports on complaints involving public office holders are provided for in the Parliament of Canada Act and are filed with the Prime Minister, with no provisions to have them referred to a committee.
This committee mandate is not to be confused with that of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner whose remit is twofold: first, to support the House of Commons in governing the conduct of its members by administering the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons which has been in effect since 2004; and second, to administer the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders which came into effect on July 9, 2007.
Oversight of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's work related to members under the Parliament of Canada Act and with respect to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members is the responsibility of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is clearly indicated in Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vii) and (viii). The procedure and House affairs committee is also responsible for matters relating to the election of members as set out in subparagraph (vi) of Standing Order 108(3)(a).
As was pointed out in a ruling given by the then Deputy Speaker on June 3, 2003, at p.6775 of the Debates, concerning alleged irregularities in the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Transport:
I have said that committees are granted much liberty by the House but, along with the right to conduct their proceedings in a way that facilitates their deliberations, committees have a concomitant responsibility to see that the necessary rules and procedures are followed—
Similarly, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at p. 879 explains that:
Committees are entitled to report to the House only with respect to matters within their mandate. When reporting to the House, committees must indicate the authority under which the study was done (i.e., the Standing Order or the order of reference). If the committee’s report has exceeded or has been outside its order of reference, the Speaker has judged such a report, or the offending section, to be out of order.
Two particularly illustrative examples are included in the footnote to this citation. The first involves a report by the then Standing Committee on Finance, Trade and Economic Affairs regarding the radio and television broadcasting of all committee proceedings, which Mr. Speaker Bosley, in a ruling given on December 14, 1984, Debates page 1243, ruled out of order on the grounds that the committee had exceeded its order of reference. The second relates to a report presented by the then Standing Committee on Labour, Manpower and Immigration which likewise was ruled inadmissible by Mr. Speaker Bosley in the Debates on February 28, 1985, page 2603, again because the committee had exceeded its terms of reference.
Even this brief overview serves to remind us all that the House has taken great care to define and differentiate the responsibilities of its committees, particularly where there might at first glance appear to be overlapping jurisdictions. That said, it is also clear that the House has chosen to allow committees great flexibility and considerable powers, including the power to use their own initiative by undertaking studies within their mandates.
Inherent in the power the House grants to its committees is the basic principle that each committee will respect its mandate. Implicit in the flexibility that committees have traditionally enjoyed is the understanding that they will be judicious in the exercise of their powers. Can it be said that the ethics committee, measured against these standards, is acting appropriately in this instance? Frankly I find it hard to answer that question for a number of reasons.
First, as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader has reminded the Chair, successive Speakers have been reluctant to intervene in the proceedings of committees except in highly exceptional circumstances. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary goes on to caution against presuming on the direction that the committee’s study might take and jumping to conclusions about the nature of any report it might present.
I must acknowledge the validity of that argument. The Chair is not in a position to determine what interpretation the committee will give to the motions that gave rise to the point of order raised by the hon. member for Mississauga South. However, I do wish to make clear to the House that the question of committees respecting their mandates is not one which the House should take lightly.
For the present, I cannot find sufficient grounds to usurp the role of committee members in regulating the affairs of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. However, if and when the committee presents a report, should members continue to have concerns about the work of the committee, they will have an opportunity to raise them in the House and I will revisit the question at that time.
But, if the House will bear with me, I said earlier that I was not comfortable deciding on whether or not what the Ethics Committee had done was appropriate. I would like to return to that statement and I ask for members’ indulgence in hearing me out.
Any observer of the 39th Parliament will realize that the problem of the ethics committee is only one of the recent manifestations of the need for crisis management in committees.
Almost a year ago, in a ruling given on March 29, 2007, I referred to the challenges encountered in this minority parliament, saying, in part:
...neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.
I went on to refer to situations in committee where, because decisions of the Chair are subject to appeal, decisions that were procedurally sound had been overturned by the majority.
Since that time, appeals of decisions by chairs appear to have proliferated, with the result that having decided to ignore our usual procedure and practices, committees have found themselves in situations that verge on anarchy. Even the prestigious Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which, as the Striking Committee is the very heartbeat of the committee system, has not escaped the general lawlessness. Last week, I understand that the committee elected as its chair a member who stated unequivocally that he did not want the nomination.
What responsibility does the Speaker bear for quelling this anarchy that appears to be serially afflicting committees in recent weeks? I would refer hon. members to a comment of Mr. Speaker Lamoureux on July 24, 1969 when he said:
What hon. members would like the Chair to do...is to substitute his judgment for the judgment of certain hon. members. Can I do this in accordance with the traditions of Canada...where the Speaker is not the master of the house...? The Speaker is a servant of the house. Hon. members may want me to be the master of the house today but tomorrow, when, perhaps in other circumstances I might claim this privilege, they might have a different opinion....It would make me a hero, I suppose, if I were to adopt the attitude that I could judge political situations such as this and substitute my judgment for that of certain hon. members.... But I do not believe that this is the role of a Speaker under our system...
The rules that govern our deliberations and the practices that have evolved over time generally serve the House and its committees very well. As your Speaker, I will sometimes suggest that members take their grievances to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and ask them to look at whether changes to our Standing Orders might alleviate such difficulties in the future. But that would not be a helpful suggestion in the present circumstances.
Hon. members know as well as I do, or even better than I do since they are living with the consequences daily, that it is not by tinkering with the rules that we will solve our current difficulties. Nor do I believe, whatever certain media commentators may say, that our difficulties would be resolved if only I, as your Speaker, agreed to act in loco parentis and scolded hon. members into seeing reason. Frankly speaking, I do not think it is overly dramatic to say that many of our committees are suffering from a dysfunctional virus that, if allowed to propagate unchecked, risks preventing members from fulfilling the mandate given to them by their constituents.
To quote House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 210:
...it remains true that parliamentary procedure is intended to ensure that there is a balance between the government's need to get its business through the House, and the opposition's responsibility to debate that business without completely immobilizing the proceedings of the House.
The Speaker must remain ever mindful of the first principles of our parliamentary tradition which Bourinot described thus:
To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner—
It matters not that the minority in the 39th Parliament happens to be the government, not the opposition, or that the majority is held by the combined opposition parties, not the government.
The Shakespearean quote, “The fault...is not in our stars, but in ourselves...” seems sadly apt in the circumstances.
Like all Canadians, and indeed all hon. members, I realize and respect that political exigencies often dictate the strategies adopted by parties in the House. However, as your Speaker, I appeal to those to whom the management of the business of the Parliament has been entrusted--the House leaders and the whips of all parties--to take leadership on this matter. I ask that they address themselves to the crisis in the committee system that is teetering dangerously close to the precipice at the moment. I ask them to work together to find a balance that will allow the parties to pursue their political objectives and will permit all members to carry on their work. I am confident that working together in good faith they can come to an agreement that will return us to the equilibrium that our procedures and practices have been designed to protect. As your Speaker, I stand ready to lend whatever assistance I can.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for having raised the matters relating to the standing committee he chairs and the opportunity to address the larger picture.
I thank the House for its attention.
Unborn Victims of Crime
Statements by Members
Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB
Mr. Speaker, the public debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-484, is going very well. When people hear and understand the true purpose of my bill and are assured that it is targeted totally and directly to the pregnant woman who has chosen to give birth to her child, they agree that this legislation is urgently needed.
This bill would protect women because a person cannot get to the child without attacking the mother. Studies show that pregnant women are much more vulnerable to attack and the attacks are more vicious. My bill would protect them. A woman should not be left to stand alone in defence of her life and the life of her child.
Seventy-two per cent of Canadians support this legislation. Seventy-five per cent of women support it. Seventy-nine per cent of youth support it. Support crosses political lines, with the lowest level being at 66% for those who identify that they vote for the NDP. Every group has a majority of people in support of this legislation.
When a willing mother is having a wanted child, no one has the right to take that choice and the child that she wants away from her.
Statements by Members
Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC
Mr. Speaker, as part of Quebec intellectual disability week, I would like to pay special tribute to a woman of great merit from Laval, Chantale Guay, who passed away in December at the age of 51.
Ms. Guay was the executive director of the Laval association for intellectual disability for eight years. She loved and respected people with intellectual disabilities, giving generously of herself in her devotion to them. They were very dear to her.
For many years, she was a member of the board of directors of the Laval association of organizations for people with disabilities. She spearheaded the annual “Hats off” program, which honoured five people with intellectual disabilities from Laval who achieved exceptional personal growth.
Her commitment made a real difference in people's lives. Chantale Guay very much deserves this tribute on behalf of all of the people of Laval.
Statements by Members
Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I am pleased to congratulate the 24 firefighters from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Beauharnois, Sainte-Martine, Saint-Étienne-de-Beauharnois and Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague who were decorated with medals or bars for distinguished service. The awards were presented by the fire departments of those towns and municipalities.
Whether as a firefighter, chief, captain, lieutenant, deputy or director of a fire department, these men and women serve with dedication in a dangerous profession whose ultimate goal is to save lives, while they place their own at risk. The tragic events of recent weeks confirm, once again, that fighting fires can cause death. Their commitment is that much more praiseworthy.
I have nothing but admiration for these men and women who were recently decorated.
Arctic Winter Games
Statements by Members
Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT
Mr. Speaker, this week more than 2,200 athletes, coaches and officials from the northern regions of Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway, Finland and the United States have gathered in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for the 20th Arctic Winter Games.
This is a very special event for the people of my riding. Yellowknife hosted the very first Arctic Winter Games back in 1970.
The games focus on traditional sports such as soccer, hockey, skiing and gymnastics, along with unique Arctic sports, but also place emphasis on the diversity of northern cultures. The general theme of the games is a celebration of sport and culture.
Tomorrow I will be presenting bronze, silver and gold Ulu medals to athletes, and celebrating another successful games with thousands of participants at the official closing ceremonies.
I would like to extend my congratulations and sincere thanks to all who have helped make the 20th Arctic Winter Games the best ever, especially the dedicated volunteers who have worked so hard to make it all happen. I extend my thanks to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
Christian Population in Iraq
Statements by Members
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
Mr. Speaker, yesterday morning the body of Mar Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosel, was found riddled with bullets in northern Iraq. He was kidnapped in late February as he left church.
The death of Archbishop Rahho is a tragedy that illustrates the difficulties faced by Iraq's Christian population. This gruesome murder is just one example of the tragic persecution faced by Iraqi Christians. I would like to take this opportunity to draw the House's attention to the community's struggles.
Iraq's Christian population is dwindling in size because of this new wave of violence levelled against them. This community constitutes only a small fraction of Iraq's predominantly Muslim population. They are one of the oldest communities in Iraq, being distinguishable by their Christian religion, unique culture, and Aramaic language, which was spoken at the time of Christ.
Our government sends condolences to the Chaldean community and all the Christians of Iraq who suffer persecution.
International Day of La Francophonie
Statements by Members
March 14th, 2008 / 11:10 a.m.
John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON
Mr. Speaker, the International Day of la Francophonie allows us to highlight the importance of the French language for our country and also provides the opportunity to reflect on the role Canada should have among francophone nations, thanks to institutions such as The Toronto French School.
Canada must ensure that its participation in the francophone dialogue promotes the French language as well as francophone values among member countries of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
Our country can make our point of view known to other countries by setting an example and ensuring that member countries respect the same principles as we do, such as justice, transparency and democracy.
By participating fully in the promotion of la Francophonie, Canada has the opportunity to strengthen the credibility of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and to attract as members other countries with a francophone component.
The significance of the International Day of la Francophonie extends beyond the borders of our country and Canada should be its proud standard-bearer.