Debates of Nov. 24th, 2009
House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.
- Question Period
- Government Response to Petitions
- Child Protection Act (Online Sexual Exploitation)
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Criminal Code
- Ukrainian Famine
- Eid al-Adha
- Le Carrefour de Gatineau Composite School
- Kapyong Barracks
- Fire Chief of the Year
- Gladys Winifred Fowler
- Skate Canada International Competition
- Women and Politics
- Child Pornography
- Conservative Party of Canada
- The Economy
- Post-Secondary Education
- Malalai Joya
- Child Pornography
- New Member
- New Member Introduced
- Climate Change
- Election Expenses
- Political Party Financing
- Royal Canadian Mint
- Electric Vehicles
- Tax Harmonization
- Port of Saint John
- Election Expenses
- Aviation Safety
- Presence in Gallery
- Points of Order
- Business of Supply
- Points of Order
- Criminal Code
- Support Measures for Adoptive Parents
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise here to speak to a bill for the second time today, but first of all, I must say I will probably be less critical of Bill C-31 than I was, and I will continue to be, of Bill C-36, if that bill ever comes back to the House. That being said, this is an interesting bill, and the Bloc Québécois will support it so it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for a more thorough study.
I hear some Conservative Party members applauding. I invite them to save their applause for five or ten minutes from now. I am not sure if they will still want to applaud, but for now, I cannot help but notice their applause, and I think it is interesting.
I do not know why, but the Conservatives tend to insert what we call a poison pill into an interesting bill. We were reading the bill, which has about 30 pages and 40 clauses, and everything was going well until we got to clause 39, which would amend the Identification of Criminals Act. I will come back to this. Our criminal law includes a very important principle, which the Supreme Court has reiterated on a number of occasions, and that is the presumption of innocence. A person is presumed innocent until found guilty by a jury or a judge who knows the law, on the basis of evidence introduced before his peers. The Supreme Court has said this time and time again. I would remind the members that we do not believe that subsection 2(1) of the Identification of Criminals Act can be amended, because that would go against the presumption of innocence.
I will take this argument further. The main downside to this bill is one small paragraph on the last page of the bill that seeks to amend paragraph 2(1)(a) and that reads as follows:
(a) any person who is in lawful custody after being arrested for...
That means that this paragraph would apply to everyone who is arrested for any reason. People could be fingerprinted and photographed from now on. It is clear that, if the government maintains its position and insists on amending this section, we will fight to the finish to vote against this bill and against this clause, and it is clear that we will try to have this clause removed from the bill in committee. We hope to do so with the support of the Liberals and my NDP colleague.
Why remove this clause? Because it would open the door to all sorts of abuses. My colleague from Edmonton—St. Albert can say what he likes, but you have to know the territory, as we say, you have to have argued cases and know criminal records to know that the police have a tendency to go overboard. Often, they are willing to keep a record on anyone for anything. Obviously, this is not always true, and it is not true of all police officers. But there are safeguards in place, and one of them says that a person cannot be fingerprinted until he or she is charged with or convicted of an offence. That means that at present, an individual who is convicted or who is charged—because the person has to be charged—can be photographed and fingerprinted.
In general, this is how it works. A person receives a summons requiring them to appear in court. They must plead guilty or not guilty and then they may be fingerprinted and photographed.
This process must not change and we will do everything in our power to ensure that it does not change because it is the fundamental right of an individual to be presumed innocent until found guilty. This presumption of innocence is extremely important in our criminal law.
It is unfortunate because it overshadows good intentions. I come from an area 600 km north of Ottawa that is regularly visited by the itinerant court. I also argued before this court when I was a lawyer. The itinerant court travels to Inuit and Cree villages on the shores of James Bay, Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay as well as in regions such as ours.
I will return to the main point of Bill C-31: telewarrants. We believe that the process must be modernized. Police forces are quite right to ask that telewarrants be easier to obtain and that they be made available more quickly.
For the benefit of our audience, telewarrants are search warrants or other types of warrants. The first example that comes to mind is this. Someone is stopped after a motor vehicle accident. The police approach the vehicle and smell alcohol. The person is in his car and unable to give his consent because he is unconscious or too drunk. In any event, he must be taken to hospital. The police accompany him to hospital and obtain a telewarrant over the phone. A justice of the peace, located in an office somewhere in Quebec, will authorize the taking of a blood sample from the individual to determine his blood alcohol level. We agree with the legislator that this telewarrant process should be retained and made more accessible.
The police are right. At present, in 2009, if they suspect that a criminal act has been or is about to be committed, and if they must quickly obtain a search warrant, they have to go before a judge, have him sign a document and then proceed with the search.
We think that the bill is a good idea, because it would modernize the Criminal Code. Even though I am a criminal lawyer, I think that we need to make it easier for police officers to do their jobs and gather evidence. One way of doing this is through telewarrants.
We feel that improving access to telewarrants is a good thing. Police officers must have the possibility of obtaining telewarrants, whether or not they are written or used.
This bill deals with many other things, such as fleeing to another province, and the amendment in response to the Supreme Court ruling in R. v. Six Accused Persons, which amends section 184 of the Criminal Code. There were a number of amendments to be made to the Criminal Code.
There are many details. This bill is long and very technical, but it is interesting. However, there are two main points I want to talk about. The first is representation by an agent, or non-lawyer.
I have a hard time accepting that an agent could represent a client in court, when the client is being charged with a summary offence. The Bloc Québécois has a hard time agreeing with this proposal for a number of reasons.
Representation by a lawyer is extremely important, especially in criminal law. When it comes to appearing, we could probably make some concessions. But I have some serious problems with having an agent question and cross-examine witnesses for and on behalf of the defendant.
I have the same concerns as the Quebec bar, which has provided us with information on this subject, saying:
The Barreau du Québec is concerned that this proposal, as written, causes confusion about the meaning of “agent”, and could lead to lawsuits against individuals for illegally practising the profession.
I am also very worried about this proposal. In Quebec, lots of people have acted as lawyers and have represented individuals, such as claimants before Quebec's occupational health and safety commission. The same thing has happened at the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. People with no legal skills whatsoever have represented others before the board of referees because, they said, they were friends of the claimants. If that same system were to apply to the Criminal Code, we would start having serious problems.
I am very surprised that the government would propose such a thing at the provinces' request. I can confirm that the Quebec bar does not support this proposal. I would be very surprised to hear that the Government of Quebec requested this kind of third-party representation. I believe that the committee will have to pay special attention to the issue of representation by lawyers when it comes time to study this bill.
The other point I want to raise has to do with the amendment to section 2 of the Identification of Criminals Act. I want to discuss this because I think it is important not to create this option. Above all, we must not give the police unrestricted power to take a person's fingerprints and photograph, because there is no telling where that information might end up. Such records, known in our jargon as anthropometric records, could make their way to the Canadian border, to customs, or elsewhere.
If that happened, an individual who has never been charged with anything might be prevented from leaving Canada. The police might go so far as to arrest people for dangerous driving or a highway safety code violation, and tell them to go to the police station for fingerprinting and photographing. The police might even have photographic and fingerprinting equipment with them at the scene of the arrest. I think this goes very, very far. We have to create a process for destroying the fingerprints and photos of people who are not charged with anything and will never be charged, people against whom no complaint or charge will be filed.
At present, not only do we have an individual's fingerprints and photograph—the anthropometric record also included that information—but we know that genetic records can be kept on people who have given a drop of blood, saliva or a single hair for the purposes of DNA identification. We must not forget that.
However, section 10 of the DNA Identification Act contains a provision for the destruction of genetic material.
We think this clause needs to be amended to include the destruction of photos and anthropometric records if no charges are laid within a given timeframe.
One needs to have practised criminal law to understand that it is very rare for clients to come back to us when no charges are laid to ask that their fingerprints and photos be destroyed, even when they have been lawfully taken.
When someone is acquitted of the charges laid against him, his fingerprints and photos should be destroyed automatically, but that is not the case at this time. That is not what happens. Needless to say, this certainly is not more likely to happen if we allow the Identification of Criminals Act to be amended.
We believe that the title of the legislation says it all. It is called the Identification of Criminals Act. So why should someone who has not yet been declared a criminal be forced to submit his photos and fingerprints? In our opinion, this makes no sense, and we find this extremely prejudicial for someone who is arrested.
We think this bill is important. It is an interesting bill and I will close by talking about fighting. I listened to my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and also to my colleague from Windsor. They asked a very important question. There is prizefighting and now throughout the United States there is this type of extreme fighting where violence is involved, of course, but also bets and so forth.
However, we have to be careful because there is very well organized fighting. We know about boxing, but in terms of the Olympic movement, judo and karate have now been introduced. These are extremely interesting sports that are gaining in popularity in Canada.
Judo and karate events are organized under the supervision of national and international agencies. International agencies including the International Olympic Committee, the International Judo Federation, and the World Karate Federation have asked us to ensure that the Criminal Code is amended. I will give an example related to this type of fighting. Canada cannot host the world cup of karate or judo because under the Criminal Code, such fighting is illegal.
We think it is important that this be amended in the Criminal Code. That is what a number of provinces and Quebec are asking for. Judo-Québec, the Fédération québécoise de karaté, the National Karate Association of Canada and Judo Canada, following representations by the International Olympic Committee, which would like to hold major competitions in these two sports, cannot take part.
I see that my time is almost up, but I will close by saying that this is an interesting bill that we will have to address in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. There are two points, and I have mentioned them, but I think it is important that we respond to the requests and modernize the Criminal Code
Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB
Mr. Speaker, before I ask the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue a specific question, I want to say that with respect to a question posed by the member for Mississauga South with respect to briefings, it is my understanding that the critics of all the parties did receive briefings with respect to this bill, but, of course, neither he nor the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe are Justice critics. However, I believe their Justice critic, also from New Brunswick, would have received the briefing.
With respect to the speech by the member opposite, who sits on the Justice committee and who likes to point out that he is an expert in criminal law and that I have not practised criminal law, I have a question with respect to agents.
I am troubled, quite frankly, by his description of the perceived flaw in the bill with respect to court agents. He indicated that the Quebec Bar Association would be opposed to this, and that should be of no surprise to anyone. Bar associations protect lawyers and they protect the businesses and clients of lawyers. However, does the member not believe that individuals who cannot afford lawyers are still entitled to some representation? Court agents are very valuable in remote places, in northern remote localities and native populations where native court workers give sage advice to individuals who have trouble navigating their way through the court process.
Nothing in the bill precludes an individual from retaining a lawyer if he can afford one or if legal aid will provide one. It just expands the mandate in areas and situations where the provinces and territories can put programs in place to expand the use of paralegals or what they are commonly referred to as agents.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for this clarification because that was not my understanding when I read the bill and comments. However, having seen and worked with them myself, I can assure my colleague that paralegals do exist, even in Quebec, especially in aboriginal communities, especially among the Inuit.
It should be understood that paralegals provide advice as my colleague stated quite correctly. They provide helpful advice, for example, what time to appear in court. They say: “Do not forget to go to court at such and such time”, and so forth. That is not what the bill states. In any event, from what I have read, these people can also ask questions. And that has left me wondering.
Having been a lawyer for more than 30 years, I can say that the Criminal Code and the decisions in case law are so complex that they are difficult to navigate even for a lawyer who does not go to court regularly. As for paralegals, I agree with that. I think it is a good idea, that they should continue and that there should be more in certain areas.
Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC
Mr. Speaker, the member does good work on the justice committee and, more often than not, we disagree on the bills that are before us, but he is a hard-working member of the committee and he did raise the issue of prizefighting and the fact that Bill C-31 would modernize how we deal with prizefighting in Canada.
As members know, that portion of the Criminal Code has not been revised for decades. The member knows that from his own province of Quebec heralds a world champion of mixed martial arts, Georges St-Pierre. The member also referred to the fact that the Olympics include judo and karate. He forgot wrestling but that is also one of the elements of mixed martial arts.
The member was not able to clearly state whether he supported changes that would allow mixed martial arts to take place in Canada, so I would ask him if he could clarify that and take a position on it here in the House.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have several years of experience working on the Olympic committee and at the international level, so I will answer briefly. Wrestling is not a combative sport. According to the Criminal Code, combative sports are fights involving fists. That is why wrestling is not considered a prohibited combative sport under the Criminal Code. That is why the World Wrestling Championship was held in Montreal and is sometimes held in Canada.
As to the other sports, I agree. As a former member of the Olympic committee, and having helped introduce karate and judo as Olympic sports, I believe that if we want our athletes to develop, we have to allow these kinds of competitions in Canada, competitions like world cups, nations cups and world championships. Right now, because of the Criminal Code, we cannot host the world judo or karate championships or world cup judo and karate competitions because that would violate the Criminal Code. It cannot happen for a number of reasons. Insurers do not want to insure these events, and cities do not want to host them because they are against the Criminal Code.
That is why we think this Criminal Code amendment is a good idea.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleague about the fingerprinting issue and the taking fingerprints prior to charges being laid, which this bill would authorize.
Since the member has perhaps the greatest amount of criminal law experience in the courts of any member in this House, does he see the argument that somehow this is more convenient for the police and will make their job easier? I must tell him that that has not been my understanding of how the process works from my observation when I did criminal work. I am just wondering if he might be able to enlighten us as to whether the police have a valid argument in that regard.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, the answer is no. This should not be done just because it would make life easier for the police. We will look carefully at the Identification of Criminals Act. I did not invent it; it is there.
At present, this act says that an individual who is charged or convicted—someone who is charged with an offence—and who receives a document ordering him or her to appear in court may be fingerprinted and photographed. It is up to the individual to ask that the fingerprints and photographs be subsequently removed from the record. But when someone is arrested for something like speeding, on a suspicion or for whatever reason, it is illegal to take that person to the station and take fingerprints and photographs in case they are needed later. And it should continue to be illegal, or else we will open a door that we may never be able to close again.
We are opposed to this part of the bill, because it could lead to abuses. That is not the goal, and it should not be the goal.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, we should tell my colleagues that they cannot ask any questions, because I will not finish my speech before time runs out, not that I could not handle any of their tough questions, of course.
I rise on Bill C-31. There is general agreement among all political parties that the provisions of this bill are long past being needed. A number of the amendments will bring us into the 21st century with regard to processes that our police forces are required to go through in laying or prosecuting charges. There is general support for this bill. We will be supporting it at second reading. It will go to the justice committee along with lots of other bills and we will get to it eventually.
I want to say this, because I always attack the government on this. In the four years that the government has been in place, this is realistically the first bill that has been prepared in a proper way to deal with the problems we have with the Criminal Code. By that, I mean that it is the first bill of any consequence that one could call an omnibus criminal law bill. There have been a couple of other ones that have involved two or three sections of the Criminal Code, but this is the first one that is an omnibus bill.
I am emphasizing this point because if the government had done this in a number of other cases and had brought a whole bunch of individual bills together into one, we could have expedited a number of the amendments that we have in fact passed, oftentimes with all-party support over the last four years, and we would probably be at least a couple of years ahead of where we are right now.
I want to praise the government for finally listening to me in this regard. I want to encourage it to follow my advice more extensively in the future so that we will have other bills, because there are a number of other provisions in the Criminal Code that need amending and, in particular, modernizing so that our police officers, prosecutors and judges can use the Criminal Code more effectively than they can now. There are all sorts of conflicts in the Criminal Code as it stands right now, as well as those sections of the Criminal Code that are just clearly out of date. I urge the government to take my advice more regularly as it has taken it on this particular bill.
With regard to the contents of the bill, members from both the Liberals and the Bloc and I have serious concerns about the provisions that deal with the issue of the taking of fingerprints before a person is charged. The taking of fingerprints and this point of not being allowed to take fingerprints unless our police are going to charge an accused person goes way back. It has been in the Criminal Code for more than half a century, since shortly after we had the technology of fingerprinting. It goes way back into the last century.
Again, as we heard from my colleague from the Bloc, the need to have a charge laid before fingerprints are taken is in keeping with that significant presumption of innocence that underlies a great deal of our criminal justice system. This is really cutting away at that principle of presumption of innocence. I in no way want to cast aspersions on our police forces, but we know from time to time that we have individual police officers in particular who abuse their authority and power.
Unfortunately, if this amendment were to go through, it would allow for the potential for abuse of that kind by a police officer. It is wide open to being used as a fishing expedition. Our courts in the past have said quite clearly that it is offensive to practice within our criminal justice system and, more specifically, to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I have great concerns as to whether the clause as presented to the House in this regard would survive a charter challenge. I do not think it would. I believe it is clearly a breach of the charter and the only way that could be overcome is, under article 1, by demonstrating that it is necessary in a free and just society to infringe those fundamental rights in the charter.
Again, as I said in one of my questions earlier, I have spoken with police officers and chiefs of police, and the only explanation I have had is that this is convenient for them. Quite frankly, even when I explore that, I do not understand the explanations I get as to how it is convenient and how it is going to make their jobs easier. I do not see how they are going to meet the charter test, but, of course, that will be explored much more extensively when this bill goes to committee.
We have heard a fair amount today as well that one of the highlights of the bill involves the amendments to the prizefighting section of the code, section 83, and that this bill will modernize that. There are some concerns about it. Having listened to members of the other parties, I would say it sounds as though we have all been lobbied on this issue, but I know that the province of Ontario has some serious reservations about expanding the definition. I am not sure they are justified, I have to say, because I have looked at the section, but it is something that we will need to explore.
What has not been raised here is the parimutuel amendments, the betting amendments in the code. I will address those more extensively and perhaps go back to the prizefighting issue as well either tomorrow or the next day when this bill comes before the House again.
The House resumed from October 30, consideration of the motion.
Support Measures for Adoptive Parents
Private Members' Business
Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 386, a motion that recommends that the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities examine current federal support measures available for adoptive parents.
While many of the laws involving adoptions fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, there is one fact that we cannot deny: families regardless of what form they take are the basic building blocks that form the foundation for a healthy and prosperous country. That fact affects all Canadians regardless of where they live in this great country.
By understanding the issues that face our families, we can help develop social policies that allow us to build a strong base that allows families to prosper.
The government has come a long way in recognizing the needs of adoptive parents, and the changes to our human resources service have made it, for lack of a better word, normal to be an adoptive family. Yet there are many workplaces across the country that treat biological families and adoptive families differently: there are different parental leave standards, different benefits, and comments from people who do not mean any harm but who are not aware of the sensitivities of adoptive families.
Many issues are not necessarily tangible, but they form hurdles nonetheless that add to the difficulties faced by adoptive families.
All families have challenges. However, Motion No. 386 concentrates on adoptive families, and if nothing else it brings awareness to parliamentarians and all Canadians. With awareness comes understanding. With understanding comes acceptance. With acceptance we can all move forward together.
When a new child arrives in a family, the emotional and physical stress are often overwhelming. Many know the feelings that a biological family goes through. However, for the rest of the time allotted today, I will concentrate on adoptive families.
Over the years, governments have recognized that regardless of whether one is a biological parent or an adoptive parent, many of the issues are pretty much the same. Financially a new addition to the family will warrant new expenses: the baby's room, toys, clothes, car seats, and the list goes on.
Adoptive families often have added costs that go with the adoption process amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Creating financial barriers to otherwise capable parents and preventing many parents and children from forming families is not fair to all Canadians and makes it difficult to have good solid families go ahead.
Emotional stress is likely the hardest part of adopting a child. The first step to adopting a child is coming to the realization that one has this option and that one wants to proceed. The reality for most parents is that they have gone through a long arduous process of trying to conceive and have come to the realization that they cannot have children biologically.
This is a very difficult point to come to. Thank goodness for family members and friends who are there to lend support and help the couple come to this realization.
They may decide to live without children and have a life that would be childless. It is not an easy decision for someone who has dreamed of a family with children all their life. Some buy pets in the hope that they will fill the void that is left in a childless family. I can tell the House from personal experience that this does not do it.
So a couple decides to adopt a child. Unlike the biological parents who have decided to have a child, adoptive parents have to go through a home study that examines their relationships, their family ties, and their friends. As well, there is a list of intrusive questions that ask the adoptive family to bare all.
I am not saying that this is a bad process. I honestly believe that this is a necessary part of the adoption process. What I am saying is that it is an emotionally draining process, which, unless one has gone through it, is very difficult to understand.
Another emotional stress that is borne by adoptive couples is the waiting period that takes place between the acceptance of the home study by the province or territory and the actual day that the child is in one's home.
This period can go from a few months, which is highly unusual, to many years, which is more than likely the norm. Once individuals find out that they will be parents and that they have a child that they can proudly call their son or daughter, there is another waiting period.
Domestically, it is normally 30 days to ensure that the biological parents can confirm that they will allow their child to be adopted by the waiting family. Internationally, the adoptive parents often have a long waiting period to confirm their travel date. They often have a photo of a child, all the vital information of the child, but they do not have a set date to travel. We can imagine the anticipation of waiting for that date to come, so that the parents can pick up their son or daughter in a foreign country.
In other cases there is travel to the country of origin of the child, meeting with the child, and travel back and forth before the adoption is completed, often compounded by long stays in the country of origin of the child. This travel back and forth is normally done with the child remaining in his or her home country while the parents are tormented by having to leave their child behind, or to stay at great expense in a foreign land.
I would like to tell the House about an adoptive family who were waiting to travel. They had the picture and the vital information of a beautiful little girl in Hunan, China. The little girl, for all intents and purposes, was their daughter. The couple, as members may imagine, was very excited and waiting for the travel dates. They were out one day and decided to go to a department store to pick up clothes for the orphanage in China. Suddenly, the father felt helpless. A panic came over him. Suddenly, he had tears in his eyes and he was shaking. His wife asked what was going on. She had never seen him like this. He was just incapacitated. All he could say was, “My daughter is thousands of miles away on the other side of the world and I have no control over what is happening to her”. Mr. Speaker, I was that father. My daughter is now 12 years old and I can honestly say that Samantha coming into our lives has been the best thing that has ever happened to us.
Families come in various forms, and as I mentioned earlier, we should assist all families in succeeding, so that we have a strong foundation in Canada based on strong families. The more we know about the issues that affect us on a daily basis, the better we can face challenges that confront us and raise stronger, more vibrant families.
Motion No. 386 speaks to bringing awareness to adoptive families and their needs, and is a good start to help Canada build toward a strong future.
Support Measures for Adoptive Parents
Private Members' Business
November 24th, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.
Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be in the House today to speak about this important issue, Motion M-386.
The challenges that face adoptive parents are not often discussed. This means their struggles often go unnoticed and uncorrected by this country's legislative bodies.
This motion, though it does not offer any solutions to these struggles, does draw attention to the situation adoptive parents find themselves in and as a result, allows for more discussion on what measures are in place and which measures are lacking.
The motion tabled by the hon. member for Essex calls for:
--the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to examine current federal support measures that are available to adoptive parents and their adopted children, recognizing and respecting provincial and territorial jurisdictions in this regard and, following completion of its study, report back to the House with its findings.
Though the motion's ultimate goal can be achieved through other means, it does not detract us from its purpose, to take stock of what resources are currently available for adoptive parents and find out where there is a lack of support.
Let us now look at some of the challenges facing adoptive parent families.
This past summer was devastating for many adoptive families across Canada, and my riding of Sudbury was no exception.
When Imagine Adoption made its bankruptcy announcement on July 14, over 500 families were thrown into limbo. Imagine Adoption is a federal adoption agency registered with the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services and a registered non-profit agency.
When the bankruptcy was announced, Imagine Adoption closed its doors and its accounts were frozen, leaving hundreds of families financially and emotionally devastated. The adoption agency is now only a closed website that redirects families to the bankruptcy trustee's website where parents can read about the group's restructuring plans.
Constituents of mine, who I met numerous times, were in the middle of adopting a child from Ethiopia when the news hit of Imagine's bankruptcy. With no adoption agency to turn to, the two of them were left to navigate the highly complex bureaucratic channels in Ontario and with the High Commission in Nairobi to find out where their paperwork was, what stage the visas were at, and what representative was dealing with their file in Ethiopia.
In this person's own words, “This turn of events has left those of us with files in waiting full of dread that our files will be pulled and our spot in the queue lost; this is to say nothing of the absolute fear being experienced by those families who have actually been matched with their child”.
This couple are not the only constituents who have contacted me on this issue. I have heard from numerous families that were also concerned.
These Sudburians understand that adoptive parents face tough challenges, not to mention a remarkably complex approval process and uncertainty levels when dealing with adoption cases overseas.
This is why we need to look into what resources are available for these parents. Moreover, this is why we need to take action now to help those who are still in limbo, still waiting for their families to be complete.
The challenges facing adoptive parents are not news to New Democrats. Rather, we have been listening, listening to the biggest concerns raised by adoptive parents and doing what we can to make their lives better.
I would like to touch on the good work that two of my colleagues are doing on this issue, the first initiative from my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster and the second from my caucus member from Trinity—Spadina.
In January of this year, my caucus member from Burnaby—New Westminster introduced Bill C-413, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code (extension of benefit period for adoptive parents).
If passed, this bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code to ensure that an adoptive parent is entitled to the same number of weeks of leave as the biological mother of a newborn child.
Under the current employment insurance program, adoptive parents are given 35 weeks of paid leave and a further 15 weeks of unpaid leave afterwards. Only birth mothers are able to take an additional 15 weeks of maternity leave.
This inequality between birth parents and adoptive parents received national attention in January of 2008, when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal by an adoptive mother from British Columbia, Patti Tomasson, who was fighting for the same maternity leave benefits as birth mothers. Ms. Tomasson applied for maternity leave after she adopted her two daughters, Sarah, who is now eight, and Hannah, who is now four.
The Supreme Court was upholding an August 2007 decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that ruled Ms. Tomasson did not qualify for maternity benefits because she did not undergo the psychological experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada was upholding antiquated laws, laws that need to be reviewed and revised in order to be fair to both birth and adoptive parents.
Adoptive parents like Ms.Tomasson need the extra leave to bond with their children. Recent studies of adoptive parents have shown that many would have liked to have the extra 15 weeks in order to help them better support their children.
As another parent, Heather Rowe, said:
The emotional time is as important as the physical," she says. "In fact, mothers who haven't given birth maybe need more time to envelop the child. As soon as you find out you've been approved you fall in love, but because you don't have the physical presence of the baby inside you, you don't start the physical bonding until you are actually holding the baby.
In fact, adoption professionals and researchers around the world identify a few of the issues as: post-adoption depression for the adoptive parents as a result of the adoption process; attachment and bonding from parent to child and child to parent; health issues or developmental issues; large barriers and cultural adjustment, as well as onerous adoption processes; and in the case of international adoption, issues of trauma, abuse, neglect or multiple foster care placements which make it difficult for the parents to build an immediate trust relationship with the child.
The bill introduced by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster would take these challenges into account by installing parity between adoptive and biological parents in this regard. The Adoption Council of Canada, a federally incorporated, charitable body, calls for the same measures to be taken.
Another worthy initiative that my caucus has put forward is Bill C-397, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (persons born abroad). As of April 17, the date Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act from the 39th Parliament came into effect, the children and grandchildren of Canadian expatriate and adoptive families have had their citizenship downgraded, or worse, stripped away.
Families who were recently able to pass on their Canadian citizenship for their born-abroad children have had such rights stripped away. Changes in citizenship and immigration law that were meant to restore citizenship to lost Canadians have instead created a new generation of lost Canadians.
The bill introduced by my caucus member for Trinity—Spadina would restore equality among all Canadians no matter where they were born and ensure the citizenship status of children and grandchildren of expatriated Canadians and adoptive families is not downgraded or outright stripped away. It would also treat citizenship in a manner that reflects and promotes Canada's economic, social, intellectual and humanitarian engagement with the world, and these initiatives are just a start.
I thank the hon. member for Essex for initiating this important conversation once again. I hope that in doing so, others begin to recognize the importance of updating our current laws to make life fairer for adoptive parents and their families.
Support Measures for Adoptive Parents
Private Members' Business
Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to contribute to the debate on Motion M-386 brought forward by my colleague and friend, the member for Essex. This private member's motion has to do with support for adoptive parents, which is an extremely important issue.
I find it interesting. The motion comes up for the second hour of debate at the same time a motion passed unanimously in the House, which said that we would continue to work toward ending child poverty. I would suggest that there is no more effective way of ending child poverty than having a child become a part of a family, a family that can support and wants to support the child, which is the case when it comes to adoptive parenting.
I really wanted to speak on this issue because I know, as do most people in the House, one couple in particular that has been married 10 years. The couple has tried to have children for 10 years and desperately want children. About five years ago, the couple found out that was not likely to happen. The couple then started the process of trying to adopt a family. It has been an extremely difficult process and it has not been successful so far.
The motion discusses an issue which is extremely important and emotional, not just for that couple but for everyone, I suggest, who thinks about this.
I know the joy of children. My wife, Linda, and I have five grown children.The youngest two are 26. The oldest is 31. We have two sets of twins. I know the joy they have brought us, and continue to bring us. I cannot imagine my life without our children. I know my wife feels the same way. Now there are grandchildren, which is just a lovely, wonderful experience. We are blessed that two of our children have had children. We have three grandchildren, the youngest being a four-month-old granddaughter, Claire, who is just absolutely gorgeous and a delight, as are the two, two-and-a-half-year-old grandchildren.
The joy of children and family is something that most of us understand. It is something that, quite frankly, is more important than anything else I can imagine.
I applaud the member for Essex for seeking to assist families that have been brought together by adoption.
What he has proposed in his motion, specifically, as was mentioned by previous members, is that the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to examine current federal support measures that are available to adoptive parents and their adopted children, recognizing and respecting provincial and territorial jurisdictions in this regard, and following completion of this study, to report back to the House.
What does my friend, the member for Essex hope to get from the study? I really cannot speak on his behalf, but I know what I hope will come from this. I sincerely hope this group, after examining the situation, will come back to the House and recommend that adoptive parents be given the same maternity benefits that are now available to parents of children who are not adopted.
I believe family is the basic building block of our society. Everything starts with the family, as my colleagues who have spoken before me have said. Helping families has been a key priority of our government since 2006, and I want to talk about this a bit.
In all our actions to support family, this government has been guided by the principles of choice and opportunity. We believe Canadian parents can be trusted to be do what is best for their children. Our role is not to dictate their choices, but to give them the resources they need to act on this decision, whatever it may be.
Let me start by putting this issue into context by giving a brief outline of the benefits and plans that now exist for parents, specifically, with reference to the employment insurance special benefit system.
The system provides help to Canadians for periods when they cannot work, such as sickness, caring for loved ones or, in the case of the context here, the birth or adoption of a child. When it comes to the issue at hand, the employment insurance special benefits are intended to support parents in balancing the demands of work and family by providing the flexibility they need to stay at home and care for a newborn or newly adopted child.
I can also happily add that our government has put forward Bill C-56, which would extend all of these special benefits, including maternity and parental benefits, to self-employed Canadians, for the first time, on a voluntary basis, which is an important component. I support this measure. Hard-working Canadians do not have to choose between family and work responsibilities any longer.
Maternity benefits are available in the weeks surrounding childbirth and can start up to eight weeks prior to the expected date of birth. These benefits are available to biological mothers, including a birth mother who places her child for adoption. In effect, the 15 weeks of maternity benefits allow a birth mother to be protected from an earnings loss caused by her physical inability to work or to seek work in the weeks surrounding birth.
Some concerns have been expressed that adoptive parents do not have the same access and number of weeks of benefits as biological parents do, which is 15 weeks of maternity benefits offered exclusively to birth mothers. Who knows, this might come out of a study done by the committee.
However, in 2007 the Federal Court upheld the 15 weeks of maternity benefits when it confirmed that there was a distinction between biological mothers and adoptive parents. Biological mothers endure the physiological burdens of pregnancy and childbirth. It is for those reasons that the 15 weeks are offered. Maternity benefits are provided to replace the lost income for those reasons.
The Federal Court endorsed the constitutionality of that arrangement and the Supreme Court, in 2008, declined to hear an appeal in the case. I believe that is appropriate. It is certainly not up to the courts to make our law. That is the role of Parliament. What we are discussing here is the possibility of changing the law and making new law when it comes to this maternity benefit.
As well, all parents can access 35 weeks of parental benefits for the purpose of remaining at home to take care of and bond with their newly born or adopted child. That is available already. These benefits can be shared by both parents.
To return to adoption itself, in Canada, as many in the House are aware, this is an issue that falls under provincial jurisdiction. However, the federal government has a role. The committee that does a study and any debate that may take place in the House certainly would respect the jurisdiction of the provinces when it comes to these issues.
Our Conservative government introduced and saw pass Bill C-14 two and a half years ago. It grants permanent resident status or Canadian citizenship to internationally adopted children and makes that process much quicker and easier. This measure was widely praised and I think it is an example of a job well done by our government.
In the time remaining, I cannot go through the rest of the things our government has done to help families. In most cases, the things our government has done apply to families whether they have adopted children or not.
Once again, I thank my friend and colleague, the member for Essex, for bringing this motion to the House. I support the motion and I encourage every member in the House to support it. It simply asks for a study to be done to determine what is available and perhaps come up with recommendations on what should be available to parents who choose to adopt children.
Support Measures for Adoptive Parents
Private Members' Business
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to follow the hon. member. I think this is a very important measure that the member for Essex has introduced. In fact, I noted a press release that he sent out on October 30, 2009, where he called on Parliament to examine current federal support measures available to adoptive parents and their children. He said:
Let us agree there is equal value for parenting whether one is biological or adoptive. And let us also agree there is equal value for children whether biological or adopted. And let this fundamental accord ultimately find full expression in the policy choices of government.
I thought that was very well put and a very good introduction to what he wants to do here. The resolution itself reads:
That the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to examine current federal support measures that are available to adoptive parents and their adopted children, recognizing and respecting provincial and territorial jurisdictions in this regard and, following completion of its study, report back to the House with its findings.
He is recommending that the committee look at the process and experiences of adopting families within the existing framework with an eye to ensuring that the federal government is providing full support to all Canadian families while recognizing the respective provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
For the 23 years that I was a member of the provincial legislature, I did see many developments in the adoption area. Certainly, many constituents would come to my office to deal with the problems that they had. There was a myriad of problems that people would run into. However, I do want to draw attention to some of the history of adoptions in this country, even in the working lifetime for most people in the House. In Manitoba, we basically had a government-supported policy of encouraging the adoption of aboriginal children not only outside their reserves but outside the country.
Many aboriginal children were adopted into the United States. It was mainly the northern United States. It was only a matter of 15 or 20 years later that an inquiry into the process showed that the results were not the way we wished they would all be. There were some very good success stories, but there were also some very bad stories that came out of this. There were different types of abuse, children being forced to work in slave-type conditions and so on. Of course, that pointed to adopting a more rigorous process for accepting adoptions. That is another complaint that I have heard over and over again.
People think the process is too complicated. On the other hand, it has been admitted that this complicated process is there for a reason. Errors have been made in the past and the results have shown that. While we might have 80% or 90% of cases or higher where people are 100% qualified and above board, there is always going to be a small percentage of people who take advantage of the system and abuse the rules. I guess that is the same with any area of legislation and the law.
We basically set up laws to govern that 5% or 10% who do not follow the rules. All we have to do is look at all the security regulations that we are all having to deal with today at the airports and even in the Parliament Buildings. We find ourselves putting elderly people through radiation scanners, scanning them and making them strip down before they enter buildings. All of this came about because of one example of somebody who got into a building and did some bad things. I suppose there are a certain amount of regulations with which we are always going to have to deal.
With regard to the adoptions that I was referring to in Manitoba, when a number of these people were being repatriated to their birth parents, because that is what happened in some cases, a lot of requests and inquiries came to my office from people trying to find their children and vice versa, people trying to find their birth parents. That became another big issue where I probably think we lost some friends over because the birth mothers did sign off at the time when they gave up the child, but after 10 or 15 years the birth parent wanted to find out what happened to the child so they came to the legislator's office. I am sure all MPs have had people ask them for help in trying to locate their children, or vice versa, people trying to find a parent.
We had a law in Manitoba that said that once parents signed off on the adoption, they had no right to find out where the child was or who adopted them. Just in the last five, six or seven years, the Manitoba government and perhaps other governments have taken measures to make it easier for people to get reunited and to track down their birth mothers or their children. Of course the rule has been put in place that both parties must agree to this before they are allowed to get together.
Sadly, there are examples of where one of the two parties does not want to co-operate and then we find a certain gentleman in my office trying to find his daughter. The searches are made and then it comes back that the birth daughter did not want to find her father. That is even more heartbreak on his part. I have not checked in lately to see how well he is doing with that. It is a very complicated and stressful issue.
The member has taken a great step here and he recognizes that the adoptions are more of a provincial issue, but it is certainly incumbent upon a federal government to look at these issues and to look at all sorts of equality issues.
Our member, the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster, has a bill before the House, Bill C-413, which would amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code to ensure that adoptive parents are entitled to the same number of weeks of paid leave as the biological mother of a newborn child. I have assisted him in introducing some of his petitions supporting his bill in the House.
The member for Burnaby—New Westminster has a very interesting and comprehensive petition that he has passed around and submitted literally hundreds and hundreds of names. We have sent around petitions for signing and, out of a group of eight or ten petitions, the two petitions that seem to be the most popular that people grab are the air passenger bill of rights,which I must say is certainly popular, but the--
Support Measures for Adoptive Parents
Private Members' Business
The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer
I must stop the hon. member there as his time has expired.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Crowfoot.