House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vehicles.

Topics

The House resumed from November 15 consideration of the motion that Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate Bill C-481, which was introduced by the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles.

The proposed legislation seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit federally-regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age.

I believe there is a lot of merit in pursuing what is proposed in Bill C-481. Specifically, I would support the elimination of exceptions set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act that allow the setting of mandatory retirement ages. I would also be prepared to support the bill's proposal to amend the Canada Labour Code to remove the provision that denies employees' severance pay upon involuntary termination if they are entitled to a pension.

While I can support the intention of Bill C-481, there are a few flaws in the proposed legislation. I will outline the two amendments to Bill C-481 that would be required for me to fully support the bill.

First, the bill would need to maintain paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This section provides for minimum and maximum ages of employment to be set out in regulations that were made by the Governor in Council.

Second, a coming into force provision would be required to allow the employers the necessary timeframe to implement these changes.

I will fully explain the aspect of the bill that I would support.

Bill C-481 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to remove two blanket exceptions, as well as the regulation making power that provides defences for mandatory retirement. Those blanket exceptions apply either in cases where a union expels a member who has reached the normal retirement age or where an employee is forced to retire upon reaching the normal age of retirement for individuals in similar positions. Eliminating blanket exceptions for mandatory retirement, while allowing employers to continue to establish bona fide occupational requirements, is consistent with current legislative trends and employment practices.

All provinces and territories have already amended their human rights legislations to remove blanket exceptions for mandatory retirement. This bill would bring federal legislation in line with current provincial legislation on the matter. However, the possibility of defending mandatory retirement policies still remains if there is sufficient evidence to show that they are required for health or safety reasons.

The average age of retirement in Canada today is 62 and only about 10% of the population continues to work after 65. Therefore, mandatory retirement policies in the federal jurisdiction affect very few employees in practice. In fact, less than 2% of federally-regulated employers have a mandatory retirement policy and only about 10% of large employers with 100 employees or more have a mandatory retirement policy.

Also, I would like to correct some comments recently reported in the press. Employees of the federal public service are not required to retire at age 65. In fact, mandatory retirement was generally eliminated from the federal public service in 1986, allowing employees to continue working as long as they wish.

In addition, evidence is suggesting that several large employers may actually abolish the practice of mandatory retirement in the near future.

There are areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction, such as the Canadian Forces and interprovincial and international transportation activities, where there may be circumstances that warrant a mandatory retirement policy. Repealing paragraph 15 (1)(b) would pose a significant challenge to the Canadian Forces' operational capability, not to mention the efficient management of military personnel and cost containment. The Canadian Forces must maintain an active and ready force. It must be able to recruit within its ranks. Therefore, it requires a continuous flow of personnel to ensure appropriate experience and expertise throughout its ranks.

Moreover, managing an older workforce would require increased financial and personnel resources, which would be funded from a fixed envelope at the direct expense of other priorities. Therefore, the Canadian Forces needs to maintain its current mandatory retirement policy.

I will now turn to my next point, which is amending the severance provision in the Canada Labour Code. Currently, under the code, employees whose employment is involuntarily terminated are entitled to severance pay. However, an existing provision, paragraph 235(2)(b), denies severance pay to those eligible for pension benefits, whether that t is the Canada pension plan, OAS, old age security, or private pension.

This creates differences in how otherwise similar employees are treated regarding a work-related benefit. For example, an employee with 20 years of service whose employment is terminated a month after becoming entitled to a pension loses entitlement, while someone two months younger with the same service is entitled to 40 days severance pay. I believe this to be unfair. Therefore, I support repealing this provision.

Bill C-481 needs a coming into force provision. This would allow employers and unions to make adjustments to prepare for the elimination of mandatory retirement and would give them time to reconfigure any policies or benefit plans that would be affected. It would help determine whether existing age-related practices need to be defended as bona fide occupational requirements and would further assist in negotiations of new collective agreements that comply with the legislation.

Provinces and territories did put in similar transition periods when the elimination of mandatory retirement came to their books. Additionally, eliminating blanket exceptions for mandatory retirement could raise a low charter risk to the extent that it might substantially interfere with any current collective agreements. Discussions between the government and affected parties about the transition provision may reduce this risk even further.

Abolishing the practice of mandatory retirement within the federal jurisdiction would not only be advantageous for workers but it would also be beneficial for our economy. Canada is facing the challenges of an aging population. It is projected that the proportion of Canadians aged 65 or older will increase from 13% to roughly 25%. In addition, the ratio of pensioners to workers is expected to shrink from four workers for every retiree to two workers for every retiree, and all of this will happen by 2030.

Within that period of time, these massive demographic changes will mean added fiscal pressures on Canadians' ability to manage increasing health care and pension plan costs. Canada will need to retain its skilled, seasoned workers and make greater use of their talents for longer periods of time.

There is abundant evidence that suggests that older workers are actually more likely to remain in the workforce when organizations have human resources practices that accommodate their needs and preferences. In other words, if they feel valued, they will continue contributing to the prosperity and well-being of Canada.

Bill C-481 would establish greater fairness for older workers and values their contributions.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-481, a bill that would, among other things, eliminate the exception in the Canadian Human Rights Act that currently allows federal public sector and federally regulated private sector employers to have a mandatory retirement age for their employees.

Currently, only about 10%, or 840,000, of the Canadian workforce is subjected to mandatory retirement, and these individuals work within federally regulated sectors, such as transportation, telecommunications, the postal service and, of course, the armed forces, which we just heard about from the minister a moment ago.

Before going further, I want to make it clear that mandatory retirement provisions do not mean that people are not allowed to work beyond a certain age. Mandatory retirement provisions only apply to a specific workplace or pension plan.

When the government supports the lifting of mandatory retirement, it typically tells us that retirement is increasingly a lifestyle choice, as people are living longer and leading more active lives. Both the Governments of Ontario and Nova Scotia have in the past used similar language in support of the elimination of mandatory retirement rules.

However, we in the NDP know there is much more to the situation than this. It is a very simple argument that we are hearing so far. Saving for retirement has become increasingly difficult for Canadians. One-third of Canadian families have no retirement savings at all and two-thirds of Canadians do not have a company pension plan.

Equally troubling is the situation of those workers who are forced to retire at age 65 only to have to take another job immediately afterward at a fraction of the pay simply because they do not have a proper pension plan.

The NDP believes that older workers should have real retirement choices. For example, I think of the working conditions in the steel mills in my home town of Hamilton, the suffocating heat from the furnaces, the air thick with particulate matter and the long hours drenched in sweat. No one wishes to endure these circumstances any longer than they need to. When workers, such as those, choose to work past age 65, they do not do so because they want to. It is because they must. There is often a mortgage that remains to be paid, or college or university tuition for their children still waiting to be cleared.

For many, the freedom to work past age 65 is fast becoming an obligation to work as long as one is physically able. Eliminating the remaining mandatory retirement rules may be helpful to workers who lack a workplace pension but it will do nothing to guarantee that their income will be adequate. For New Democrats, income adequacy is the issue. We have called for an immediate increase to the GIS to lift seniors currently living in poverty out of it, and for a phased-in long-term doubling of the CPP.

The concern I have with respect to the issues of mandatory retirement is the suspicion that businesses push for it because doing so averts attention away from the inadequacies and inequities of Canada's retirement income system. Allowing people to work longer is for them a substitute for programs that would work to ensure that every Canadian has a solid and secure pension on which to retire. Working longer is, for the business class, what we might call an anti-poverty program for seniors, one that requires no contribution by way of taxes and one that leaves the onus on the individual. In other words, from their perspective, perfect indeed.

Meanwhile, these employees who support banning mandatory retirement do so largely because they are already financially secure and work in non-physically demanding jobs. Let us face it, people are living longer. It makes a certain amount of sense that individuals who hold non-physically demanding jobs and who work in safe and comfortable work environments might want to stay on the job longer than someone who, for instance, works pouring concrete all day.

Many of us here in this august chamber probably feel this way. As the member for Hamilton Mountain recently observed, this place does not exactly have a physical workload. It may be stressful to many but it is different from pouring concrete.

Let us be clear. Working longer is not nor will ever be a substitute for an adequate retirement income system.

We have had a number of debates in the House about the inadequacy of public pensions and the increasing incidence of solvency deficiencies of private pension plans. To date, the government has merely paid lip service to improving these pension systems. While they wait for the government to act, literally thousands of Canadians who have worked hard all their lives and who have played by the rules are finding it impossible to make ends meet on their meagre pension incomes.

Meanwhile, New Democrats have been calling for a suite of substantive reforms to improve the situation. As I mentioned before, we have called for an immediate increase to the guaranteed income supplement to lift all seniors out of poverty and for a phased in long term doubling of the CPP.

We would also like to see Canada's bankruptcy laws amended to ensure unfunded pension liabilities, that is, the moneys that companies promised but failed to contribute to workplace pension plans, are given the same status as unpaid wages and go to the front of the line of creditors for payment during bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Bill C-501 is being debated in the industry committee at this time and it is designed to do just this.

New Democrats are also calling for security for workplace pension plans through a mandatory pension insurance program paid for by the pension plan sponsors and guaranteeing pension payouts of up to $2,500 a month in the case of a plan failure, and also a national agency managed by the CPP investment board or a similar body to adopt pension plans of failed companies and continue to take advantage of market conditions and to maximize the payouts.

Members can think of our proposed pension insurance plan as being akin to the deposit insurance required of Canadian banks to guarantee the security of bank accounts for Canadians. The banks pay for that insurance. In this case, pension sponsors would be responsible for purchasing pension insurance to guarantee minimum pension payouts for their plan members.

In recent months, ex-employees of insolvent companies such as Fraser Papers or of course Nortel, while having to endure the indignity of taking a massive haircut to their pensions, have watched their American counterparts who work for the same companies located in the United States have their underfunded pension plans propped up by the United States pension benefits guarantee.

Now many of these pensioners will certainly have to work past 65, but they should not have had to do so simply because their government does not care enough to secure their pensions in a way that the great bastion of free market to the south of us has already done for its workers. A national pension insurance plan would ensure that Canadian pensioners are no longer left in the lurch like this while their American cousins are able to retire with a pension that they had been promised.

Getting back to the specific issue of Bill C-481, at this point let me say that I will be supporting sending the bill to committee. I very much look forward to hearing from Canadians when the bill is dealt with there.

I suspect that once in committee, we will hear from many sincere individuals who wish to continue their professional pursuits. Nevertheless, I still have serious reservations that eliminating mandatory retirement rules is in the interest of the people of my riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I believe there should be meaningful and comprehensive reforms to the retirement income system of Canada.

Forcing Canadians to work longer should not be just a way for the government to download some of its pension obligations. Working past 65 should be a real choice, one not driven by the fear of destitution but by the genuine desire to continue with a rewarding work life.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age), as introduced by my hon. colleague from Laval—Les Îles.

I will begin with some background on why this legislation is important. I will also discuss how the bill deals directly with the Canadian Human Rights Act, how it affects the federally regulated private sector, some safety concerns with the bill, and arguments against banning mandatory retirement. I will also address concerns of one of my constituents who could benefit from the bill.

The bill is designed to prohibit federally regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age. Let me begin by providing a bit of background. Currently there are no laws in Canada that require a person to retire at a specific age. As we know, federal civil servants are not obliged to retire when they reach age 65. However, there is an exemption for non-civil servants in the federally regulated sector such as AECL, Air Canada, CN, CMHC, Petro-Canada, et cetera, where mandatory retirement can be a condition of an employment contract, collective agreement or workplace policy.

The Canadian Human Rights Act, CHRA, is designed to protect Canadians from discrimination in many different areas, including age. The act applies to all federally regulated industries employing nearly one million Canadians. The act needs clarity.

Subsection 15(1)(b) protects the employer against allegations of discrimination based on age and years of service. Then subsection 15(1)(c) protects the individual based on age of retirement established for employees working in a similar position. The validity of this provision was challenged by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision in Vilven and Kelly v. Air Canada. As hon. colleagues know, these two employees were reinstated with full pay and seniority.

Bill C-481 seeks to clarify the provisions in the act that do not allow an individual to file a complaint based on age. This undoubtedly would impact mandatory retirement in collective agreements and in workplace policy.

The bill also amends the Canada Labour Code to provide for payment of severance even if the terminated employee is entitled to a pension. There are no changes to the regulations for public servants as mandatory retirement was removed in 1986.

I realize the issue of safety is important and must be addressed for particular industries. I understand that mandatory testing would need to be conducted to ensure that the individual is still capable of doing the job. For pilots travelling on international routes, there are provisions in place for the countries they land in; however, in most cases it refers only to the captain. For example, there is no reason that the captain could not be the copilot for some of the flights using larger aircraft.

Some would argue that mandatory retirement creates opportunities and job promotions for younger workers. Some unions argue efforts to have benefits between the ages of 60 and 65 would be undermined.

In particular, I would like to address the concerns of a constituent of mine. This constituent contacted my office in August and we have been corresponding with her ever since. This legislation is something that could help her directly. Joan works for a federally regulated company. As she reached, and has passed, the age of 65, unfortunately, her job came under review. The company she works for agreed to extend her employment on a yearly basis subject to one rule, that she not receive sick pay. She has been told that her last day of work will be October 31, 2011. She is not ready to retire and she will be searching for temporary work after that date. She feels vulnerable, and quite frankly, who would not?

The current legislation discriminates against the needs of women who opt out of the workforce to raise their children or those who need to take care of aging parents and have not accumulated enough pension benefits to do so. These are the everyday problems Canadians want us to address with Bill C-481.

While there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed by eliminating mandatory retirement, we must face some of the realities that affect our labour force, such as retirement savings, pensions, skills and labour shortages.

We all know that the baby boom generation is beginning to retire. This will lead to a lack of qualified labour. Often women and immigrants need to work longer because they may not have accumulated enough pension or savings to retire with dignity. People are living longer and healthier and want to continue to work.

The United States, New Zealand and Australia have eliminated mandatory retirement with no major consequences. It also allows some older workers with seniority to work part-time or to work flexible schedules. The provinces have eliminated mandatory retirement; however, there are provisions for mandatory retirement in jobs where physical ability is a requirement, such as in firefighting and policing. We should also take into account mental ability, particularly as it relates to airline pilots.

It is imperative that we do the right thing for the right reasons in this place. More importantly, it is our responsibility to keep our laws current, effective and adaptable with the times. What was acceptable and commonplace 20 years ago no longer is today.

I would like to reference a specific court case from 1990. I am sure most hon. members are familiar with it.

The case dealt with a professor at the University of Guelph. It was felt that even though the Ontario Human Rights Code violated section 15 of the charter, the code was saved as a result of section 1 of the charter because of the law at the time. In writing for the majority, Justice La Forest pointed out that mandatory retirement does involve a complex balancing of competing interests on which expert opinion is divided. In this regard, the courts should accord legislatures considerable room to manoeuvre in striking a balance. This balance is what the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles seeks to obtain with the passage of her bill.

Research shows and the available workforce evidence suggests that abolition of mandatory retirement is unlikely to have a major impact on the average retirement age or years of work in Canada. Further research shows that two-thirds of elderly workers choose to retire before the age of 65, and that 43% retire before age 60. The average age of retirement for all workers was 61 years in 1999. Of the Canadian population 65 to 69 years of age, 11.8% were active in the labour force in 2001. Immigrants and newcomers can spend more time in the workforce, and need to spend more time in the workforce, to build up their pensions. Employers are better able to plan for their workforce skills replacement. Elementary economic principles show that job displacement only takes place for a short period of time. The average is nine months to a year.

I support this bill. It is something on which we must move forward. Obviously, there are some concerns around safety and labour force impacts that need to be addressed, but I believe they can all be reviewed in committee. I thank the member for her hard work on this file. I will be voting in favour of this bill and I encourage all hon. members to do the same.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the bill before us today, Bill C-481, introduced by the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles.

This bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to eliminate the provisions that allow federally regulated employers to set a mandatory retirement age as an exception to the general rule prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age.

I am happy to say that I am in favour of doing away with mandatory retirement. However, for the reasons I will mention in my speech, I believe that this bill, as it currently stands, is much too broad.

However, I would first like to talk about our commitment to supporting Canadian seniors. As members already know, our government is working very hard to improve the lives of seniors in many ways. We created the position of minister of state for seniors. This is to bring the concerns of older Canadians to the cabinet table and to stand on their behalf. In 2007, we created the National Seniors Council to provide advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors. This year, one of the priorities of the National Seniors Council is labour force participation among seniors and near seniors.

More recently, we increased funding for the targeted initiative for older workers to assist unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to retrain. This is a five-year, $220 million cost-shared initiative with the provincial and territorial governments. This shows our government's desire to encourage older workers to continue to contribute to the Canadian economy.

The legislative provisions allowing for mandatory retirement policies, which this bill would repeal, were written more than 30 years ago, at a time when mandatory retirement was both routine and part of our economic reality. In addition to many other stereotypes that have now been eliminated, there were often stereotypes about older workers. Thirty years ago, some people assumed that older workers could not do the job, that they were closed to new ideas or that they were not motivated to work because of their pension. It was assumed that younger workers should take their place.

Times have clearly changed. Today, average life expectancy is six years more than it was in 1977. Some people feel that they should be in the workforce longer and save more because they will be retired longer than they would have been in the past. Some people also want the freedom to take time off work or put their career on hold to raise children or take care of other family members. These people may want to retire later in life so that they can save more or acquire more pensionable years of service. And, despite progress in this area, women are largely affected by this issue.

Many people are staying in school longer than they were 30 years ago; as a result, they may join the labour force later. These people may also want to delay retirement.

We need to recognize that many people enjoy their work and gain a sense of personal satisfaction from it. Some people may want to retire early for any number of reasons; others do not. People should be able to choose when they want to retire based on their lifestyle, finances, health and priorities, as long as there are no compelling reasons to keep them from doing so.

At the same time, there are some real concerns that we need to consider if we intend to change the law. In some cases, employers may be completely justified in having a mandatory retirement policy, and the law should allow them to do so.

As written, the bill would repeal paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which authorizes mandatory retirement once an individual reaches the maximum age provided for by law or regulation. The bill goes a little too far. There may be cases in which it is necessary to pass a bill or regulations to set a maximum retirement age. One example that comes to mind is the Canadian Forces.

For a number of reasons, the Canadian Forces are a unique employer.

First, the Canadian Forces have to respect the principle of universality of service. Every time the Canadian Forces take part in international or national operations, including armed conflict, each member of the Canadian Forces must at all times and under any circumstances perform any functions that they may be required to perform other than the duties of their occupational specification. This includes the obligation to carry out military duties, such as combat, under extremely dangerous circumstances. Other federal government employees or members of the general public are not required to carry out this important duty.

This unique characteristic of the Canadian Forces requires a special approach to human resource management. To maintain a homogeneous and effective combat force, the Canadian Forces must have a mandatory retirement age to ensure a steady supply of personnel with the knowledge and experience required at each level. Fighter pilots, submariners and tank commanders cannot just be hired overnight. These people must devote many years to mastering their occupations within the Canadian Forces structure. These are the men and women we are counting on to become the future leaders of our Canadian Forces.

The Canadian Forces cannot maintain their international reputation for skills and excellence unless they continue receiving training that surpasses the minimum standard.

The Canadian Forces are a small force whose numbers are subject to a finite limit. Our armed forces cannot afford the luxury of maintaining individuals on active duty until their voluntary release, which would be decided by each member. This would lead directly to stagnation and have an impact on the effectiveness of the Canadian Forces in protecting Canada, its values and its interests.

If the Canadian Forces cannot maintain a mandatory retirement age, they could face serious financial and operational difficulties.

The Canadian Forces are unique in that they pay for all medical care for their personnel directly out of the departmental budget. An aging workforce within the Canadian Forces would increase the demands on available resources, which would in turn leave fewer funds available to properly carry out the forces' operational responsibilities.

That is why it is very important to ensure that the retirement age may be fixed by regulation under the authority of paragraph 15(1)(b).

This authority could also be useful in other cases, particularly in industries that are subject to international rules governing the maximum age for carrying out certain duties.

Furthermore, these policies are often negotiated as part of collective agreements and are sometimes linked to pension arrangements. Employers and unions will need some time to renegotiate these provisions and to make the appropriate changes to pension plans. Some employers will need time to determine whether they have sufficient information to impose a mandatory retirement age as a bona fide occupational requirement.

That is why it is very important to establish coming into force provisions; otherwise, making such a significant change without allowing employers and unions enough time to adjust could create some undesirable situations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak to this matter. The question of mandatory retirement is both important and complex. I am proud of the work our government has done to support older Canadians.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment le député pour Laval—Les Îles for this timely and important piece of legislation. I was very pleased to second this private member's bill because of its importance and timeliness.

I would like to start with a bit of my personal background that has led to my strong support for ending mandatory retirement.

Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age) would bring Canada more into line with other countries and with the provinces and territories. My personal link to this legislation is through my mother Charlotte Murray. Charlotte went back to university when she had three children. Like many women, she entered her career and discovered her passion as an architect in mid-life, as a mature student. She graduated as an architect and went on to do her master's degree in architecture, and became a partner in a very well reputed firm in Vancouver. Charlotte retired at age 75.

In the last seven years of her career she was the lead architect for a major restoration renovation of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver. It was the strength of her experience over those many years and her wisdom as an elder in society that allowed her to help the cathedral navigate through the complexities of a restoration process. She brought into the conversation those who felt there should be no change and those who felt there needed to be change, those who were supported by the cathedral through its compassionate programs and the many people who had ideas and interests in this project. As a well-respected and experienced heritage restoration architect, Charlotte Murray was able to steward this project through to a successful conclusion, and I will add that it was award winning. I am very proud of this project that my mother accomplished.

Had there been mandatory retirement in the private sector, which there was not, she would have had to give away her seal as an architect and not undertake projects like that in the last 10 years of her career. This is an example of how the requirement to retire due to age is discriminatory.

To enable people to work, if they are interested in doing so and able to contribute, is important on an individual basis and also on a collective basis for our society. It gives individuals a choice. It is also a compassionate option, especially in cases involving new Canadians or women and others who may have entered their careers later in life. These individuals are still getting fulfilment from their jobs and they are still interested in contributing to society. They may also need the income and the building of their pension program beyond the age of 60 or 65. It is a choice and a compassionate choice for individuals.

However, it also is an important policy and legislation to contribute to societal benefit. As a society we need to draw on the strengths of all those who have something to contribute. Our elders, especially, have a richness of experience and a richness of wisdom from which society can benefit. To ask those people who would like to continue to contribute through the workplace to step aside and stay home would not benefit society.

I have another connection with this legislation that I would like to mention.

Having been a member of the legislative assembly in British Columbia, I identified mandatory retirement as an issue in provincial legislation and brought it forward for examination by my riding association as a potential policy to put forward to the provincial convention. This was in about 2003 or 2004.

I engaged the attorney general of the day in some conversations about what it would take to end mandatory retirement in British Columbia. That policy of ending mandatory retirement was adopted by the provincial B.C. Liberal Party and went on to become law on January 1, 2008. I felt strongly about that in my provincial career. I was able to nudge things forward there, and I am very pleased to support the legislation today.

The last personal link I will mention is this. As the minister responsible for the B.C. public service agency earlier in my political career, it was clear that the gaps being left by the retirees in the public service would be hard to fill. A very large percentage of the civil service in British Columbia would be eligible to retire within the next five to ten years, taking with them all that wealth of experience and dedication to the public and public service. That group was not affected by mandatory retirement, but it highlighted the need for society to find all the ways possible to enable those people who wanted to continue to contribute past a certain age to do so. I worked with the deputy minister to find ways that we could draw people back into contributing to British Columbians.

I understand that only 2% of federally-regulated organizations are subject to mandatory retirement. However, that is still a lot of people when we think about the individual lives that can be touched by being forced to retire well ahead of where one feels still able and interested in contributing. That would be about 12,000 organizations of 840,000 people who are subject potentially to mandatory retirement provisions now and who would be freed from that with this legislation. Approximately 17,000 people are affected by this and could be freed from those restrictions.

We know that not everyone will want to continue working past the age that they are currently under a mandatory retirement provision. If it is like the general public, perhaps 10% or 12% of these 17,000 people would chose not to retire when they otherwise would have been forced to so. That is a large number of people for whom we could help make a compassionate choice, those who may need to continue to boost their pensions or may need to continue to have a paycheque. Perhaps they went into the workforce, as did my mother, in their thirties or early forties, and are just on a roll at the time that they are subject to mandatory retirement.

With demographic changes in our society, which was part of what I was experiencing with the B.C. public service agency, fewer young people are coming into the workforce, which is a potential disconnect between the jobs of the future and the competencies that people will have to hold those jobs. Any small or large measures we can consider would be important to address the potential skills shortages in the future.

It is important for members of Parliament to think not only about the individual compassionate good, but also the collective good. In my view, this is an important policy that addresses both of those aspects of good public policy. Therefore, I am pleased to support it.

Once again, I congratulate the member of Parliament for Laval—Les Îles for her initiative in bringing this forward.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege for me to speak in Parliament to represent the voters of Laval—Les Îles, and I am honoured by the confidence they have in me to defend their interests in Ottawa.

It is a commitment I take very seriously as a legislator in the duties I perform each day on their behalf, and by extension, on behalf of all the residents of Canada, regardless of the province, of the race, of the ethnicity and, in this case, of their age. There should be no distinction. Upholding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on their behalf is part of our commitment.

I wish to thank my hon. colleagues for giving me the opportunity to present and discuss Bill C-481.

First, I would like to recognize my colleague, the member of Parliament for Edmonton East, Alberta, for his generosity in giving me the opportunity to complete the second hour of debate today instead of next February. I also thank my distinguished colleague, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour for his thoughtful and reasoned remarks and support.

I want to assure the parliamentary secretary that the amendments he proposed and other amendments proposed on behalf of the government will be carefully reviewed. They certainly have merit. I hope that our discussions and potential amendments will be perceived as amicable when the time comes in committee. If so, this important and highly anticipated piece of legislation could be passed quickly. I want the parliamentary secretary to know that the current wording of paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act was not the main problem raised by the tribunal or as part of the Federal Court judicial review.

Nonetheless, as we looked at what other legislative measures may be needed, this clause was raised as an appendage that might no longer be needed. However, his points are well taken with respect to the military.

I would like to take this opportunity to correct a few myths about mandatory retirement.

People across Canada are working well past the age of 65 in 2010. Even though some 400,000 Canadians aged 50 to 75 indicated in the Statistics Canada survey that they had previously retired, 58% of males had returned to work, with 32% returning because of financial reasons, the second most important reason.

The bill would impact only about 10% of the Canadian workforce. These are federally-regulated private sector organizations. They include scientists and engineers, as well as the railway, for example.

I want to remind hon. members of McKinney v. the University of Guelph in 1990. At the time, the Supreme Court ruled that paragraph 9(a) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which limited protection under the code to people between 18 and 65, violated section 15 of the Charter, but was saved by section 1. Why? Because that was the norm.

The irony is that the judges who heard the professor's case and other similar cases were over 60.

It is therefore incorrect to believe that everyone continues to work by choice.

We can fast forward 16 years. The Ontario legislature, the legislature of my province of Quebec and all other provincial and territorial legislatures of this land have abolished mandatory retirement in their human rights codes.

I wish to make one last point on this.

The important thing, as one of the Supreme Court justices said in 1999 in Tawney Meiorin, is this:

Recognition of the equality of each individual must be built into workplace standards. These requirements apply even in the context of unionized workplaces.

Many people told me stories about their professional and personal lives when they found out that I was going to introduce this bill. It is clear that this bill is timely and that it will be useful and necessary for the target population.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Suspension of Sitting
Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House will now suspend until 12 p.m.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:53 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from December 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona has five minutes remaining in his presentation.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill C-54.

At the outset, I want to indicate that one of our previous members, Dawn Black, introduced a bill on this subject on two occasions. Then the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam reintroduced those bills in the last few months.

We are encouraged and happy that the government has taken the necessary steps to introduce Bill C-54. We intend to support the bill going to committee. Hopefully, we will be able to study the bill in committee and make whatever necessary amendments need to be done.

The government has recognized that children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. In its Speech from the Throne in March, it promised to increase penalties for sexual offences against children.

The proposed Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, supports the commitment in two ways: first, by ensuring that the penalties imposed for sexual offences against children better reflect the extremely serious nature of these acts and are consistent with one another; and second, by seeking to prevent child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that would facilitate their sexual offending or re-offending.

The proposed legislation amends the Criminal Code in a number of ways. It provides mandatory prison sentences for 7 existing offences relating to child sexual exploitation, including sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, aggravated sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, incest where the victim is under 16 years of age, luring a child through the use of a computer and exposure. Also, the addition of mandatory prison sentences for these offences would also have the effect of eliminating the use of the conditional sentences or house arrest for any of these cases.

The bill would create two new offences. The new offences are aimed at certain conduct that could facilitate enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child. These offences would prohibit anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child.

This hybrid offence would carry a mandatory prison sentence of 30 days imprisonment and a maximum penalty of 6 months when proceeded on summary conviction and a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days imprisonment and a maximum penalty of 2 years when proceeded on indictment. In addition, it would prohibit anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree to make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child.

This proposed offence was previously proposed as part of former Bill C-46, Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act, in the previous session of Parliament. This proposed hybrid offence will now carry a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days and be punishable by a maximum of 18 months on summary conviction and a mandatory prison sentence of one year and be punishable by a maximum of 10 years when proceeded on indictment.

The mandatory prison sentences for seven existing offences would be increased to better reflect the serious nature of these offences, as well as to bring greater consistency in sentencing in these cases. For example, the existing mandatory prison sentences for 3 child specific offences, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment when proceeded on indictment, would be raised from 45 days to 1 year.

The existing mandatory prison sentences for possessing and accessing child pornography, which carry a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment when proceeded by indictment, would be raised from 45 days to 6 months. The existing mandatory prison sentences for the indictable offence of a parent or guardian procuring their 16 or 17-year-old child for illegal sexual activity and for a householder permitting illegal sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old, both of which carry a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment, would be doubled from 45 days to 90 days.

In addition, new restrictions are being created for offenders. These reforms would also require judges to consider prohibiting suspected or convicted child sex offenders from having any unsupervised contact with a young person under the age of 16 or from having any unsupervised use of the Internet.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the last time I was involved in a discussion here, we discussed what constituted sexually explicit and whether that was well enough defined terminology with regard to the one element of the bill about using sexually explicit materials to have someone agree.

It would seem to me that different people have different views as to what constitutes something that is sexually explicit. I wonder if the member is satisfied that the precedent and/or the bill satisfactorily cover that question.