House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Question No. 228
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

With regard to the Integrated Relocation Program (IRP), the contract for which was awarded to Royal Lepage Relocation Services since 1999 and Brookfield Relocation Services in 2009: (a) how many quarterly reports has the contractor submitted to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the Department of Public Works and Government Services (PWGSC) or any other department since the program was first implemented in 1999; (b) for each of the following periods, did the contractor produce a quarterly report detailing the breakdown of real estate transactions for each agency, were the reports submitted to the Treasury Board Secretariat, PWGSC or any other department, and what is the number of relocations of federal public servants, (i) April 1, 1999 to June 30, 1999, (ii) July 1, 1999 to September 30, 1999, (iii) October 1, 1999 to December 31, 1999, (iv) January 1, 2000 to March 31, 2000, (v) April 1, 2000 to June 30, 2000, (vi) July 1, 2000 to September 30, 2000, (vii) October 1, 2000 to December 31, 2000, (viii) January 1, 2001 to March 31, 2001, (ix) April 1, 2001 to June 30, 2001, (x) July 1, 2001 to September 30, 2001, (xi) October 1, 2001 to December 31, 2001, (xii) January 1, 2002 to March 31, 2002, (xiii) April 1, 2002 to June 30, 2002, (xiv) July 1, 2002 to September 30, 2002, (xv) October 1, 2002 to December 31, 2002, (xvi) January 1, 2003 to March 31, 2003, (xvii) April 1, 2003 to June 30, 2003, (xviii) July 1, 2003 to September 30, 2003, (xix) October 1, 2003 to December 31, 2003, (xx) January 1, 2004 to March 31, 2004, (xxi) April 1, 2004 to June 30, 2004, (xxii) July 1, 2004 to September 30, 2004, (xxiii) October 1, 2004 to December 31, 2004, (xxiv) January 1, 2005 to March 31, 2005, (xxv) April 1, 2005 to June 30, 2005, (xxvi) July 1, 2005 to September 30, 2005, (xxvii) October 1, 2005 to December 31, 2005, (xxviii) January 1, 2006 to March 31, 2006, (xxix) April 1, 2006 to June 30, 2006, (xxx) July 1, 2006 to September 30, 2006, (xxxi) October 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006, (xxxii) January 1, 2007 to March 31, 2007, (xxxiii) April 1, 2007 to June 30, 2007, (xxxiv) July 1, 2007 to September 30, 2007, (xxxv) October 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007, (xxxvi) January 1, 2008 to March 31, 2008, (xxxvii) April 1, 2008 to June 30, 2008, (xxxviii) July 1, 2008 to September 30, 2008, (xxxix) October 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, (xl) January 1, 2009 to March 31, 2009, (xli) April 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009, (xlii) July 1, 2009 to September 30, 2009, (xliii) October 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009, (xliv) January 1, 2010 to March 31, 2010; (c) on what dates did the Treasury Board Secretariat, PWGSC, the Department of National Defence and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police conduct verifications to ensure that the contractor had distributed the “federal public servants to be relocated” equally among all the third-party suppliers; (d) which agencies are on the list of third-party suppliers participating in the IRP and what is the breakdown of real estate transactions for each agency; (e) what is the rate for real estate commissions; (f) what is the name of the departmental official or project officer who manages the files submitted by the contractor and how can this person be reached; (g) on what dates were the audits and verifications of the IRP carried out, were they carried out internally or externally, and who is the person or contractor responsible for carrying them out; (h) what information is contained in a standard invoice submitted by the contractor and under what headings would details on additional costs be found; (i) who within PWGSC is responsible for checking each invoice submitted by the contractor and monitoring the contract to ensure the contractor complies with all clauses therein; and (j) how much has the government saved to date through the IRP and how is this amount calculated?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by eight minutes.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

June 15th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege in response to your ruling of April 27 regarding the decision and the question of privilege raised by me with respect to making available to members of Parliament and to Parliament itself the unredacted documents related to the Afghan detainee issue.

I wish to inform you, Mr. Speaker, that despite extensive negotiations and discussions over the last several weeks, as you suggested, there is no resolution to this issue with respect to the four parties sitting in the House. I wish to advise you of the concerns that we in the NDP have raised throughout these proceedings and wish to put on the record today.

Fundamental to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, was that parliamentarians would have access to unredacted documents as requested by the House order in December of last year. Three of the parties in the House have decided to reach an agreement for a process, but that does not include access to unredacted documents as outlined in your ruling.

There is a class of documents, which the government has the ultimate and unilateral right to indicate as being matters of cabinet confidence or matters of solicitor-client privilege. These documents will not go to the committee that has been proposed, so the committee will not see them. These documents will go to a panel of jurists who will decide whether or not they are indeed matters that are considered cabinet confidence or solicitor-client privilege, in which case they will not be seen by parliamentarians.

Fundamental to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, is that Parliament, in exercising its right to hold government to account, would have access to these documents. Fundamental to holding government to account is the ability to answer the questions: What did the government know? What advice did it receive? What decisions did it take in response to that advice and information? None of that information will be available to members of Parliament.

The process that appears to have been agreed to is that one member of Parliament from each party would sit on the committee, but the second fundamental problem with the process is that the committee is designated as that of a committee external to the House of Commons. In other words, it would not be a House of Commons committee charged with holding the government to account. The people on the committee are members of Parliament, but the committee is designated as being external to Parliament. It would not report to Parliament. It would not report to you as Speaker. It is not in keeping with the traditions of Parliament itself of holding the government to account.

This committee will not be able to make reports on any substantive matters that obviously holding the government to account involves and will really be a vetting committee that cannot reach any conclusions whatsoever. It will merely report on procedures and any methodology that it wishes, but there is no mechanism for reporting to Parliament or to you as Speaker.

This disrespects Parliament. It disrespects the role of parliamentarians in holding the government to account by instead substituting a judicial role to look at the documents and make decisions about them.

We advocated during this process that there was a need, if we were going to have a proper process, for a committee of parliamentarians to have access to staff. It is a very simple matter. We are talking about thousands of documents, some have suggested even hundreds of thousands of documents. But the constraints put on this process include: no support from any staff; no ability to bring any notes into any meeting; no ability to bring any notes out of any meeting; or as we suggested, experts in this area, such as special advocates who are already designated with the secret classification and are experts in arguing before courts, particularly the Federal Court, as to the whole process of balancing the need for disclosure with the claims of confidentiality.

In fact, there is no balancing process in the process that has been set out. It is only a question of whether a matter is a national security issue or not, not whether it should be disclosed despite the fact that it may have national security implications.

We see as well in the issue of cabinet confidence or the solicitor-client privilege category that once again, the decision is not whether something ought to be disclosed, despite the fact that it may come under that category, but the issue is whether it is or is not a matter of cabinet confidence. If it is a matter of cabinet confidence, it will not be disclosed even for parliamentarians who are given the job of playing the role of Parliament in holding the government to account which they will not be able to do.

We had certain other issues with respect to how the committee was established. We also had issues that were matters of procedure that were very important to us. However, the fundamentals are what I have stated. What we see in fact is a group of parties that has reached this agreement and is looking desperately for an agreement, even though it significantly interferes and undermines the historic ruling by you on April 27.

This ad hoc committee, even though it is external to the House of Commons, will be covered by the in camera rules and will not be allowed to discuss what goes on nor complain about matters of substance. We find this to be unacceptable.

Mr. Speaker, in light of all of the above, and the fact that we do not have an agreement as you provided for in your ruling of April 27, I am asking you today to indicate to us, as you said in your ruling, “if in two weeks' time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances”.

In these circumstances where there is no agreement or resolution by the four parties in this House, I am prepared to move a motion that would incorporate the matters that were proposed by us, in keeping with your ruling, which is a different memorandum of understanding than the one which I think you will see later today which provides for the protection of national security, provides for ensuring confidentiality, provides for an oath to be taken by members of the committee, provides for proper reporting to you as Speaker and to the House, and provides for access to all unredacted documents.

These are missing from the agreement that appears to have been entered into by the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc, but we are not prepared to enter into such an agreement. We are not prepared to ask our leader to sign such an agreement. We would like you to advise what motion you would consider appropriate in these circumstances.

As I have indicated, I am prepared to move a motion that would set out a memorandum of understanding or a process whereby the committee of parliamentarians could have access to these documents with the kind of support that is required and with the full access to the documents as outlined in your historic ruling to Parliament, which we believe has been significantly watered down by the government and agreed to by two of the opposition parties.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be brief in respect of the fact that I had already risen earlier this morning during ministerial statements to announce to colleagues in all parties that we have reached agreement with three of the four parties represented in the House of Commons.

I want to congratulate the members of the negotiating teams from the official opposition, the Liberal Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois for some tough negotiations that took place over the past weeks. As I noted during my brief ministerial statement, there were some 16 meetings, most of them at least an hour in length. We spent a considerable amount of time.

I made the comment at this morning's meeting that indeed my sense was, as is the case in most negotiations among hon. members and political parties in trying to resolve outstanding differences of opinion, that in the end the agreement reached reflects the fact that everyone there had to put some water in their wine, as they say, about these types of negotiations. I felt, at least on the part of the parties that arrived at the decision, that they were comfortable in recommending to their leaders that they sign the agreement that will get this committee of members of Parliament up and operating, as the official opposition House leader said, as soon as possible to address these outstanding issues. That is good news.

As I said, it reflects not only the intent and substance of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but also the needs of the government to ensure that the issues of national security, international relationships with our allies and the protection of information that could be damaging and indeed put members of our Canadian Forces at risk, are respected. It respects all of those things. That is why those negotiations were lengthy and involved, but they were always conducted with the utmost respect among all of the parties.

Mr. Speaker, in addressing this question of privilege, I would draw to your attention that it was certainly the government's hope all along and that of the people we had at the table that we could arrive at an agreement that would encompass all members of Parliament and all political parties in this chamber. Unfortunately, that has not proven to be the case.

However, three parties have indicated that their leaders have agreed to sign this agreement and get the process under way. It respects your ruling and represents the vast majority of members of Parliament in this chamber. As I said, it is unfortunate and I am disappointed that we could not include the New Democratic Party, but that was its choice.

I would point out as well that following this morning's meeting, we were apprised that the New Democratic Party, as it has done once or twice in the past, had already called ahead of time to organize a scrum before the meeting was even adjourned. It really calls into question whether the NDP members were negotiating in good faith this morning. I also find it unfortunate that the NDP chose to go down that path.

I do believe that the members of Parliament who will be tasked with working their way through all of the thousands of pages of documents, both redacted and unredacted, in being able to see all of the documents and the information that will be available, are going to get at the truth despite what the NDP is saying. That is certainly the hope of the government and, we believe, that of the ad hoc committee of members of Parliament.

The member for the New Democratic Party indicated that there would not be a provision for reporting. This was another instance and there were so many I could not possibly remember over the course of the 16 meetings how many different issues were dealt with from each of the parties bringing forward at times conflicting positions on different clauses of the agreement. However, this particular provision had been debated and discussed for some time. There is provision in the memorandum of understanding that will guide the work of this ad hoc MP committee, and the committee does have the means to make interim reports, if indeed that is the case.

Those reports will be as to whether the committee thinks the process is proceeding and whether there is any obstruction, that type of thing. Obviously those reports will have to respect the oath that each of those members of Parliament will take to ensure the security and, as I said earlier, the safety of our men and women in uniform and to ensure that information that must remain secure does in fact remain secure.

The members of the committee will see it. They will have the opportunity to report as to whether they believe they are getting all the relevant information as per your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I trust that you will understand, as you clearly do, that following these very extensive time-consuming negotiations, we have arrived at an agreement between ourselves, as the Government of Canada, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois. We have arrived at this place in our nation's history.

I think what we are doing is precedent setting, and we were all seized with that. We were certainly constantly reminded, as we worked through these negotiations, of your suggestion that the Parliament of Canada has been confronted with this type of dilemma in the past and has always managed to work through it. That is what we endeavoured to do, and I think that is what we arrived at this morning in the agreement of the three parties.

Mr. Speaker, I hope that in considering this question of privilege you will take all of these points into account, as I am sure you will.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address the issue that is now before the House. Once again, it is the topic of the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan and the need for Parliament and Canadians to have the appropriate information so that in grappling with this issue, the government can be held to account.

These are, of course, very tough and serious issues of enormous gravity. They have to do with Canada's reputation in the world. They also have to do with the proper functioning of our parliamentary democratic system. The government maintained for a considerable length of time that the government, and only the government, would make a decision about the availability of documents and the use of information.

That was a position maintained by the government not just for a matter of weeks or months, but indeed, for a matter of years. The government would make available to the public or Parliament only that information it felt inclined to make available. We objected to that position. We thought it was unilateral, arbitrary, and in fact, contrary to parliamentary tradition.

The embodiment of that objection on the part of the official opposition came last December in a motion put before the House by the hon. member for Vancouver South, who is our defence critic. In that motion he enumerated a long list of documents that he thought, and we thought, were relevant to the issue of the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. We called upon the government to produce that information.

The government said no. In the course of the debate, its position was that it would maintain unilateral control over that information. The House decided otherwise. That motion put forward by the member for Vancouver South was, in fact, adopted. All of us then waited anxiously for the production of the information. We waited through the rest of December, January, February, March, and into April.

Mr. Speaker, in April, you entertained a number of questions of privilege about whether the government had in any way honoured the order the House had made in December. That series of questions of privilege resulted in your ruling on April 27, when, in very eloquent terms, you indicated that Parliament did have the right to information.

You indicated, at the same time, that there were sensitivities around issues related to national defence, national security, and international relations and that the House leaders and parliamentary critics should get together and arrive at a process to make information available to members of Parliament and Canadians for the purpose of holding the government to account and to do so in a way that would not imperil national security, national defence, or international relations.

Accordingly, for some weeks now, since April 27, MPs have been at work on the task of finding the mechanism to make the information available in such a way that national security and other matters will not be improperly violated. We have arrived at a process. That process involves the government, the official opposition, and the Bloc Québécois opposition.

The process provides for a committee of members of Parliament to be established, a small committee, made up of one member from each party involved in this process. An alternate can stand in for that one member when circumstances warrant. That small group of MPs will be provided with all of the documents mentioned in the motion by the member for Vancouver South.

They will see all of those documents in both redacted and unredacted form. Those members of Parliament will then make a decision as to whether there is information in the documents that is relevant to the question MPs are pursuing that has to do with Afghan detainees, and whether that information is necessary for the purpose of holding the government to account.

If the MPs decide that the information is relevant and necessary, they can call upon a panel of expert arbiters, people of the most superior calibre and professionalism, eminent jurists who have expertise in these matters, to determine how the relevant and necessary information will be put into the public domain, for the purpose of holding the government to account, without treading on matters of national security. It may be some system of redaction. It may be written summaries of the materials. We sift out what is relevant and leave behind the issues that bear upon national security. It will be up to that panel of experts to decide on the methodology.

What is critical is that the panel of experts is not a government entity. It is not an arm of the government. It is to be selected by all of the parties participating in this process. In other words, all of the parties have a veto over who will be on the panel of arbiters.

In the first instance, the government has surrendered its unilateral authority to say what is relevant and what is necessary to the ad hoc committee of MPs. If there is an issue of national security involved, the decision will not be made by the government unilaterally and arbitrarily. It will be made by the panel of arbiters. The parties involved in this agreement will select the panel of arbiters together so that it is not unilaterally or arbitrarily an arm of the government.

If there are matters about which the government makes the claim that there is some cabinet confidence involved or some solicitor-client privilege involved, it is free to make that claim. However, it is not free to make the decision about whether there is a question of solicitor-client privilege or cabinet confidence involved. Again, the panel of arbiters will decide that. Only if the panel of arbiters agrees will the government's position with respect to those two matters be sustained.

Instead of unilateral, absolute control over information, which was the government's original position, the state of play today is that Parliament has taken charge of the process. I believe that it has taken charge of the process in a manner that is consistent with the order made by the House last December 10. It is consistent with the ruling you made, Mr. Speaker, in very eloquent terms, on April 27. It is consistent with the agreement in principle we reported back to the House on May 14. We have now translated that agreement in principle into a memorandum of understanding.

Let me make two further points. We expect the government to proceed to implement this memorandum of understanding in good faith. If it does, and that will be our expectation, and our members will be vigilant to ensure that this is, in fact, the case, then the process, as has been contemplated by the discussions over the last several weeks, will go forward successfully.

If there is any reason to believe that there is some lack of good faith, if the government is not producing the information in a timely way, if it is making extravagant claims about solicitor-client privilege or cabinet confidence and so forth, then the ad hoc committee of MPs has two further recourses.

First, if the government's behaviour seems to be inconsistent with the spirit of this agreement, the committee can report that lack of good faith publicly to you, to the House, and to the Canadian people.

The terms with respect to confidentiality and ongoing non-disclosure apply only to issues that bear upon national security or that, in these extraordinary circumstances, touch upon questions of solicitor-client privilege or cabinet confidence. The MPs are perfectly at liberty to report whenever they want if they think that the procedure of the government is illegitimate or untoward or is in some way designed to subvert the process. There is an ongoing right to report.

Second, if the government's behaviour is truly egregious, the opposition parties are perfectly at liberty to walk away from the whole process. They can come back to you and the House to report that bad faith, as they see it, and to call upon you to renew the question of privilege, because it has not been respected in those circumstances, as was contemplated in your ruling of April 27.

All of us are moving here on uncharted ground. There is no real precedent for what we are trying to accomplish here. It is important for this process to move forward and for us to make progress. We think that the agreement in principle, which has now been translated into a memorandum of understanding that will be signed in the next day or two by three of the four party leaders, moves the yardstick forward. In making available the information that members of Parliament need to hold the government to account, the process takes a thorny situation and makes it more transparent and more accessible. It represents movement. When we compare it to where the government was in December of last year, it is very significant movement forward.

Whether it will be successful, only time will tell. All of the MPs who participated in this exercise need to continue to be vigilant and aggressive in their vigilance to make sure that the spirit and the letter of your ruling of April 27 is, in fact, honoured. However, we think that on the basis of what is available to us today, we can begin the process and make that further progress.

I would conclude with this point. It is incumbent upon the government, as well as on the official opposition and the BQ opposition, to take steps immediately, as of today and tomorrow, to get this ad hoc committee of members of Parliament in place to make sure that it can begin its work forthwith. Canadians have been waiting at least since December 10 of last year, and in reality longer than that, to get this show on the road. It will be some demonstration of genuine good faith on the part of the government if it co-operates now, in the days immediately ahead, with the official opposition and the BQ opposition to make sure that this process comes to life, that the committees are put into place, and that the process of actually reviewing the documents gets under way without further delay.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief, because my two colleagues have presented a number of arguments against finding a prima facie case of privilege.

It is important to point out that we feel the agreement we reached this morning complies fully with your April 27 ruling, in which you recognized that parliamentarians should have access to all the information and documentation, provided that national security was not threatened.

From the outset, all the parties in the House knew they had to find a way to make the information available and public in order to shed light on the allegations of Afghan torture. All the parties were also aware that not all the documentation would be available to everyone at all times.

The government responded to the ruling by first setting up a committee consisting of one member per party—now one member per signing party—to study all 20,000 to 40,000 pages of documentation. As soon as one member—not the majority of members—feels that the information in a document could shed light on the allegations of torture, he forwards it to a panel of three experts chosen by consensus by all the political parties.

This means that no one representative or expert arbiter will support the government, the Liberal Party or the Bloc Québécois. The three parties will have to trust these experts. This three-person panel will find a way to make the information public and will censor it again if the government has been too heavy with its pen or summarize the facts and the situation.

What is important is that the information be passed on as soon as one of the members or the whole committee feels it could shed light on the allegations of torture in Afghanistan. This information will be made available; it will be made public. We also made sure that when the committee of MPs and the expert panel have reviewed the documentation, the information will be made public and tabled in Parliament.

In the end, the confidentiality of cabinet documents and the issue of solicitor-client privilege and legal opinions were sticking points. We managed to find a way to ensure that the information in these documents would also be released to the public and all members. We agreed on a mechanism whereby an expert panel will determine the validity of the government's request to keep a cabinet document or legal opinion confidential. We need to remember that such documents usually remain secret for at least 25 years.

Mr. Speaker, based on your ruling, we found a mechanism to ensure the transmission of the information. In all cases, the panel will have to transmit the information in the documents while respecting confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege. At the end of that particular paragraph, it is written that maximizing disclosure and transparency are the principles that must guide the expert panel in its decisions.

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that this agreement is a balanced and creative response to your April 27 ruling. To my knowledge—and I believe that other party leaders have mentioned this—this is the first time such a mechanism has been used. The parties that participated in developing this agreement are to be congratulated.

The other factor that seems extremely important to me is the fact that the ad hoc committee can report to the House at any time. If the government or one of the parties attempts to interfere with the work of the committee or the panel, you and the House will know about it.

I believe that this puts pressure on all parliamentarians, not just the government, to ensure that this agreement produces the outcomes identified in your ruling.

Lastly, I would note that the four parties reached an agreement in principle on May 14. We can review all of the points in the agreement in principle and look at how this morning's agreement addresses each of those points. The agreement in principle is honoured, bearing in mind that you called for a balance between national security and ensuring that parliamentarians have access to all of the documents.

In conclusion, until proven otherwise, the future rests on the members of the committee, on the selection of the three experts, and on beginning the process of sifting through the documents to find the truth. That is the ultimate goal of the process initiated on December 10 when the Liberal Party motion was adopted.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

11 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, in your examination of this motion that is being proposed today by the member for St. John's East and in considering the agreement that you will see later, it is important to look at the difference between the agreement in principle that was reached by all parties in the House on May 14 and the agreement that will be before you today. Our opinion is that there is a clear departure from where your ruling started, the agreement in principle and where we are at today in terms of how these documents are to be treated and what process is used. I think that is a key point.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to draw to your attention and to make it clear that in our motion that is being proposed here it is very clear that if the government does not comply in giving access to all documents, as outlined in our motion and the memorandum of understanding, there is a provision in our motion for the House then to follow up with a motion of contempt, so that rather than going back to the beginning with a question of privilege, it would immediately flow in terms of going to a question of contempt.

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to make that clear as you consider this matter and all of the factors that are involved. We understand that it is a very important decision but your ruling did talk about the need for all parties and all leaders to arrive at an agreement and that has not been the case. It is important that you look at what has transpired here, from the agreement in principle to the details that we are now at, and whether it does indeed meet the intent and the substance of the ruling that you made. In our opinion, it does not.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to thank the hon. members for their interventions on this point. I would like to thank the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. I thank the hon. member for St. John's East for his question and I also thank the hon. members for Joliette and Wascana.

I will review the submissions that have been made and return to the House with a decision on this matter shortly.

The House resumed from June 14 consideration of the motion that Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Victims from Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona had the floor. There are nine minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Elmwood--Transcona.

Protecting Victims from Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be back speaking to the bill today which, as I indicated yesterday, was Bill C-34 and is now Bill S-2, an act to amend the Criminal Code and other acts. Several acts are being amended by virtue of this legislation.

This enactment amends: the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Regulation Act and the National Defence Act to enhance police investigation of crimes of a sexual nature and allow police services to use the national database proactively to prevent crimes of a sexual nature. It also amends the Criminal Code, the International Transfer of Offenders Act to require sex offenders arriving in Canada to comply with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. It also amends the Criminal Code to provide that sex offenders who are subject to a mandatory requirement to comply with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act are also subject to a mandatory requirement to provide a sample for forensic DNA analysis. It also amends the National Defence Act to reflect the amendments to the Criminal Code relating to the registration of sex offenders.

The government has given it a slightly different title. It is calling it the protecting victims from sex offenders act. It has done that with a number of its crime bills.

As I have indicated, the more important legislation that is being amended is the Sex Offender Information Registration Act as well as the DNA data bank.

I will start with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act which came into effect on December 15, 2004, and established a national sex offender database that contains information on convicted sex offenders.

The purpose and principle of the act is to help police services investigate crimes of a sexual nature by requiring the registration of certain information relating to sex offenders. Information such as addresses, telephone numbers, offences, the aliases they may have used, identifying marks, places of employment, tattoos and when they leave their place of residence is all included in the national database.

The registry works to enhance public protection by helping police identify possible suspects known to be near the offence site. The above noted purpose of the registry is to be achieved in accordance with the following principles: first, in the interest of protecting society through the effective investigation of crimes of a sexual nature, police services must have rapid access to certain information relating to sex offenders; and second, the collection and registration of accurate information on an ongoing basis is the most effective way of ensuring that such information is current and reliable.

Police officers appearing before the committee during the review explained that time was of the essence in investigating crimes of all types but no more so than with crimes of a sexual nature, particularly in the case where a child has been kidnapped. During their appearance, the committee was told that in cases where children are kidnapped and murdered 44% were dead within an hour of the kidnapping, 74% were dead within three hours and 91% were dead within 24 hours. We can see that time is absolutely crucial and vital in such cases. We can see that the need to have an extremely quick ability for our police forces to access a data bank of known sexual offenders is critical, particularly in cases where children are involved.

The national sex offender registry is administered and maintained by the RCMP on a national basis and, upon conviction of a designated sexual offence that is enumerated by the act, which is a long list of offences, in one category the Crown may make an application for an order. There is another category of offences under the Criminal Code that are not sexual in nature per se but they may have a sexual component, for example, break and enter. Break and enter is normally not a crime of a sexual nature but if a person is breaking and entering for the purpose of committing a sexual assault, then that second group provides a type of offence that registration may be applied for.

Currently, the Crown may make application upon conviction for an order requiring the sexual offender to register within the database. Such an order is to be made as soon as possible after sentence is imposed for a designated offence or after the court renders a verdict of not criminally responsible for such an offence on account of a mental disorder. For certain designated offences, the court shall make the order when the Crown has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the act was committed with the intent to commit one of the designated sexual offences.

The Criminal Code also requires the court to give reasons for making or refusing an order to register. Currently, there is no automatic registration of offenders upon conviction. Rather, it is left to the discretion of the prosecution and the court to grant such an order. Of course, there is a reverse onus on the accused.

Now a prosecutor has the discretion to make an application and such an application is routinely granted unless the accused meets a very high test of showing why that order ought not be granted. Depending on the offence for which an offender is convicted, he or she must be registered for one of the following three periods: one, a minimum of 10 years for summary conviction offences; two, 20 years for offences where the maximum term is 10 to 14 years; and, three, life for offences for which the maximum term is life itself.

In terms of reporting obligations, if sexual offenders are the subject of an order, they have to register with the police within 15 days after such an order, with a wide variety of information, such as their address, place of work, if they are leaving their domicile for more than 15 days, identifying marks and tattoos, or aliases. If any of those factors are changed, they must be indicated to the local police force very quickly.

These orders, quite properly, are very serious. They impose serious incursions on a person's liberty for a long time, as they properly should. It is important to note that the preamble and purpose of the statute as it is presently written make it abundantly clear that the purpose of the act is to help police investigate crimes of a sexual nature. This means that prior to searching the database, police must have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that it is of a sexual nature.

Police officers have said that this is too rigid a test, particularly in the case of an abducted child. When a child has been reported missing, they may have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed, but they may not have the basis to suspect that it is of a sexual nature. We think it is reasonable to expand that purpose so the police can have quicker access, do not have to satisfy this rigid test and have access to the registry quickly.

In addition, police officers have said they require a subject vehicle's information, which is another current deficiency of the act. By the way, that is being included in Bill S-2 as a result of the NDP at committee. Presently, an offender under such an order does not have to indicate vehicle registration. We think it is important the amendment be made to make the act clear because very often sex offenders are spotted in cars near schools or other areas where there might be vulnerable citizens. It is important that police know to whom a vehicle is registered in order for a rapid response.