House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to repeat all the arguments that have just been made by the member before me and the member affected by this, the member for Mount Royal, however, I am extremely disappointed that the Conservative member who defended the Conservative Party’s position in this matter did not have the class to say it was a mistake to do that. Instead of that, he justified the use of this tactic.

When I do something my wife finds unpleasant, and that is very rare, she asks me to put myself in her position. So I ask all the members here present, from all the parties, particularly the Conservative member who just spoke and his Conservative colleagues, to put themselves in the position of the member for Mount Royal.

In his riding, people are organizing and making telephone calls and doing polling, among other things, and clearly saying there is going to be a byelection. So that means the sitting member is getting ready to leave. Obviously this is a breach of the member’s privileges, as I said the first time I spoke to this subject not so long ago, since a person or a company or an organization that wants to do business with their member and has a project in hand will wonder whether it is worth the trouble to go and meet him to get help with their project, since they have heard that the member might not be there soon. It spreads like wildfire and the media seize hold of it. Because of a few telephone calls, everyone is persuaded that the member is going to be leaving.

Obviously this interferes with how the member works. He has to answer all these questions in the media. He has to answer the voters. He goes to evening functions. We all do it. That is how we spend our time on weekends and during break weeks. We take part in a variety of activities, for example at senior citizens’ clubs. I am sure that the member for Mount Royal is getting asked whether it is true that he is going to be leaving, because people have received a call about this. He spends his time refuting that argument, when he should be spending his time working on issues as we all do.

I heard absolutely nothing from the Conservative member to say it was unacceptable to do this. If we accept this in the case of the member for Mount Royal, it will be accepted for everyone here. I have a team of several volunteers who make telephone calls. They could spread rumours about the Minister of Industry in the neighbouring riding and say that he is leaving because he has been offered a post as ambassador. I do not want to do it; I am just saying that this must not become a precedent.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a couple of points.

First, the ten percenter program falls within the purview of Parliament. Activities by political parties do not.

Second, members seem to be concerned about the tactics of political parties to identify votes or to win votes. Again, I submit this is of no business to the House.

Third, in this case with the hon. member, there is talk that he has put the situation to rest, and I accept that. But it is not unreasonable in a political discourse to have heard that and for it to be inserted into a script or used to explain why there are calls.

Good, strong political parties are ready for elections at any time. They will conduct work throughout the years, in this case four years, and not just wait until four weeks before the next election.

It is important that we separate these activities from the business of Parliament and the business of political dialogue outside this chamber that is legitimate and appropriate.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think I should respond to the supplementary remarks of my colleague.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will recognize the member for Mount Royal for closing summation comments.

I want to be very clear that the actions that occurred in the electoral district of Mount Royal are irrefutable. They are vile, corrupt and anti-democratic, and they happened. They happened in a way that was very consistent with previous actions of the Conservative Party of Canada using House resources to conduct a negative and false message targeted at a particular electoral district and a particular member of the House.

A professional polling firm, a corporate entity does not undertake this activity because of its own political philosophy or own personal actions. It does so for remuneration. Someone paid a company to conduct a false poll, a push poll, in the guise of a public relations survey, to convey a false message to the electors within the Mount Royal district.

There has been past activity which outlines that House resources were used to conduct that activity. That is irrefutable. What is also irrefutable is that this particular survey could just as easily have been conducted through one of two means. It could have been conducted using the research budgets of the Conservative Party of Canada, or through a subsidy from taxpayers.

The bottom line is that it is not acceptable to any member that we simply whistle past the graveyard and ignore this issue. Mr. Speaker, there are precedents and rulings that if you were simply to find the basis for an investigation to find out the truth, not to whistle past the graveyard, given the fact that there is past activity which supports the notion that House resources were used to do this type of acticity, that House resources could now be used to conduct this type of vile activity. To not refer this to committee, to not find a prima facie case of privilege in my opinion would be an offence to the House. We simply cannot walk past the graveyard on this. It is incumbent upon all of us to protect the rights of individual members.

I call on you, Mr. Speaker, to do the right thing and allow this matter to be properly vetted. Do not let even the perception or the reality of House resources, of the people's resources, be used for a false, corrupt message, which betrays the true character and integrity of a member of this House. It would be unacceptable.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I made reference to examples where personal privileges had been found to be violated they were not limited to the kinds of examples the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest put forward. They were not limited to householders or matters within the purview of this House. They included misleading advertising in newspapers. Anything that leads to confusion about the role of a member of Parliament is against our principles and constitutes a personal privilege being breached.

I want to reinforce that what I heard from the member for New Brunswick Southwest falls short of a satisfactory response to this question of privilege.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the member for Mount Royal, in addressing the suggestions that there would potentially be a byelection in his constituency, has used some very strong language to describe these as misleading, wrong, untrue.

However when we go back to the original arguments the member made, we will recall that he said people received these calls and they were perplexed. They of course asked the question, “Why are you calling me?”, a reasonable question to ask in the circumstances, since he is here.

The response that was given by the callers was, as the member said, that there was a possibility, rumours or suggestions that there would be a byelection. Well that response was, very interestingly, the truth.

What he is asking you, Mr. Speaker, to do here is prevent people from being able to speak the truth. When they were asked “Why are you making this call?”, “There are rumours that there might be a byelection” was the true answer.

That is what prompted the political activity. It is something that he himself acknowledges has been out there, has been present for some 12 years. We are not talking about the past couple of weeks; we are talking about years and years.

Clearly, the basis for them answering the truth when asked that question is most reasonable. It is a reasonable part of speech. In this case what the Speaker is being asked to do is extraordinary. The Speaker is being asked to reach far outside this House, to make a ruling that will affect every single Canadian. It will affect Canadians' freedom of speech, their ability to speak their minds, their fundamental charter rights and their fundamental democratic rights. That ruling would say that they are not able to comment or speculate on whether the member would be leaving his seat and whether there might be a byelection.

I think about the programs that I watch and the news stories that I read. There are continually items of speculation on whether particular individuals in this House might leave, might leave early, might retire or might resign.

Were you, Mr. Speaker, to find favour with the point as the member for Mount Royal is asking, you effectively would be making that type of speech illegal, as it would affect or offend the privileges of every member of Parliament if it ever happened. It is like putting the special cloak of protection around parliamentarians, insulating them from normal political and journalistic discourse.

Let us think of the logical outcome were you, Mr. Speaker, to find favour with the member for Mount Royal's suggestions. A political pundit might go on a panel on a television show and say, “We have heard that the member for York—Simcoe may want to return to the private sector soon. It is more lucrative anyhow. So there is going to be a byelection in that riding, maybe.”

All of a sudden, that pundit, having speculated on that, is going to be found to have offended the privileges of the member, subject to a contempt of Parliament ruling, subject to the fairly extreme potential consequences that are available to the Speaker in that case. That seems to be very unreasonable.

The same would apply to any journalist who would engage in that kind of speculation, entirely normal freedom of speech and expression. The member for Mount Royal is asking the Speaker to suppress that. That is the logical outcome of his request.

There are fundamental rights that exist in a democracy. I can understand his concern about his privileges being offended, but to say that one cannot speculate on his future, that that form of freedom of speech should forever be suppressed, is to me an overreach that is far too great. It really reflects more his insecurity than a confidence in the robustness of our democracy, of our long political traditions.

I would be very concerned, Mr. Speaker, were you to go down that path and suppress democratic activity, suppress the freedom of speech, not just of political parties but of every single individual outside this place. It would, in effect, say to them that somehow we are beyond their ability to speculate or talk about, because if they say anything negative about our performance, if they say that we might leave, that we have other plans or that we are not working hard enough, they are somehow offending our privileges.

The member said that people are saying that, as he is leaving, he is not working hard enough and not doing things for them. People say that about members of Parliament every single day. Some people say it about every single one of us, that we are collectively not working hard enough.

That should not be found to be a breach of our privileges. That should be part of our challenge every day in this House and outside this House. That should be addressed as part of normal democratic discourse.

Mr. Speaker, I would caution you very strongly against taking the invitation that has been presented to you.

Chilling that freedom of speech and democratic discourse that exists in our society to allow members of Parliament to somehow be insulated from criticism of their performance and speculation of their jobs by anybody out there would be overreaching and unprecedented in my view. When this matter was first raised, I somewhat jokingly said that it was quite evident the member was still here. I do not think anybody is disputing that.

Sir John A. Macdonald, in his ear, faced this on a regular basis, almost every year. It was published in The Globe by George Brown, the proprietor and a member of the legislature, that his departure was imminent. Obviously, that did not happen for many decades, but it was published all the time.

Sir John A. Macdonald, in the greatest tradition of democracy, understood it to be part of normal discourse. We have seen no evidence that there were any concerns raised that his privileges were offended. He was willing to go out and address it by doing his job, and being part of the democratic process.

The fact is that this has been going on as long as politics in this country. It is a normal part of politics in this country and it is not a kind of speech that should begin to be chilled at this point.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will allow the member for Mount Royal to respond and then I think we will move on.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the two interventions from the other side.

Some references were made to ten percenters. Mr. Speaker, your predecessor ruled that there was a prima facie breach of my privileges because of false and misleading ten percenters that were targeting households in my riding, at that time targeting only the Jewish households in my riding.

It is part of a pattern. I know the Conservatives covet the riding. I know they would like to win the riding of Mount Royal, but they have to do so on their merits, not by false, misleading, and prejudicial information as took place in the ten percenters, which your predecessor ruled was a prima facie breach of privilege, and with a repetition now with these false and misleading phone calls.

This is not a question of rumours of a byelection. We are all subjected to that kind of thing. People in my riding or in any riding might be asking their member, “I heard you might be resigning” or “I heard you might be going elsewhere”, or whatever. That is part of constituents sometimes asking a legitimate question to their member of Parliament. This is not what is being asked here.

These are constituents who have been told, in false and misleading phone calls, by an agency supported by the Conservative Party that there is an imminent byelection and that the member has resigned or is about to resign. It is not people coming up to me and saying they heard rumours as is part of the normal give and take. However, I should not have to be back in my riding this weekend and have people coming up and saying they were called and told that I had resigned or that they were called and told that there is an imminent byelection going on.

Under the principles of breaches of privilege, that is what is called “sowing confusion in the minds of the electorate”. That is what is called “impeding the member of Parliament in the performance of his duties”.

I can speak with my constituents in regard to rumour, but not when they are telling me that they are getting calls making statements of fact, when these are not statements of fact but false and misleading misrepresentations of fact. That is the fundamental difference. This is not a matter of chilling speech. The opposite member elevated this to absolute freedom of speech.

If we look at our whole constitutional law in this country, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. We have laws with respect to limitations on speech with regard to perjury, so people can have a right to a fair trial. We have limitations on false and misleading advertising, directly on point, so the consumer can be protected against false and misleading advertising. We have laws against obscenity, so people can be protected with respect to their human dignity. I can go through the whole law of free speech. I happen to have a certain degree of expertise, having written on it and pleaded it before the Supreme Court.

This has nothing to do with free speech. This has everything to do with false, misleading, and prejudicial information held out in a representation to constituents and held out as if it were a statement of fact, clearly causing prejudice and clearly undermining the role of the member.

If the members opposite say that they are happy to see that I am very active and involved, yes I am active and involved. That is our responsibility as members, to be active and involved.

However, when constituents believe not only that we are not active and involved but that we are not even a member anymore, that we have stepped down or are about to step down, this transforms the entire relationship between the member and his or her constituents.

Equally, when I was asked this past weekend, after my constituents had heard that I had stepped down, I began to tell them about some of the things I was doing with respect to Bill C-10 in this House, which is somewhat ironic that we are speaking on this today or maybe not so ironic that we are supposed to enter into a discussion on Bill C-10. It is a nice diversionary approach on the government's part. However, let us leave that aside.

The point is that the members of my riding were not aware of the work that I have been doing and that was precisely what I said in my point of privilege. It is not only false and misleading but it overtakes and overshadows, and effectively obscures, if not excises, the work that I am doing and the opportunity to engage in what the government has called political dialogue. I would love to be in political dialogue. I do not mind criticism. I do not mind voters coming up and saying, “Your position on Bill C-10, we totally disagree with it”.

That is fine. That is fair comment. That is fundamentally different from a voter coming up to me and saying, “How come you are not even involved on Bill C-10? You are not even there”. That is where the prejudice is: the reduction of the member of Parliament as if he is no longer a functioning member of Parliament.

There is no knowledge of all the work that I have been doing in the last two weeks, whether it was standing in the House to speak to Bill C-304, a private member's bill on the issue of freedom of speech and hate speech, where I thought the intervention was important, or that I have undertaken the representation of an Egyptian blogger, a leader in the Tahrir revolution, now being played out in Egypt, to have been imprisoned for allegedly insulting the Egyptian military, a rather dramatically important case. My constituents had no knowledge of that. When I held a press conference in that case, the questions that I was asked by journalists were, “Are you resigning? Have you resigned? Is there a byelection?”

Therefore, it did interfere with my work. It interfered in my exchanges with the media. It interfered with my exchanges with my constituents. It interfered with the public perception of the work in which I was engaged.

I want to conclude by saying that there is no suggestion here that any speech be chilled or suppressed. What is suggested here is that I practised a misconduct that misrepresents matters that relate directly to the performance of members in their duties as members of Parliament.

To say that it does not address what is being done in this House, it addresses the capacity of members, not only me, to perform their duties in the House and as members of Parliament when outside the House with their constituents, among the public, the media and the like.

It has a pervasive and persistent prejudicial fallout impeding, if not prejudicing, the members in the performance of their duties. It comes directly within all the principles and precedents that I cited in my two statements respecting the request for a prima facie finding of a breach of privilege.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal Constituents
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for his further interventions. I will take all the points made under advisement and come back to the House in due course.

Speaker's Ruling
Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There are 88 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-10.

Motion No. 58 will not be selected by the Chair, because it requires a royal recommendation.

Motions Nos. 4, 6, 10, 12, 14, 19, 54, 60, 61 and 88 will not be selected by the Chair, because they could have been presented in committee.

Motions Nos. 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15 to 18, 37, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48 to 50, 52, 55 to 57, 59, 63, 72, 74, 75 and 79 will not be selected by the Chair, because they were defeated in committee.

All remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76.1(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at the report stage.

The motions will be grouped for debate as follows.

Group No. 1 will include Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 5.

Group No. 2 will include Motions Nos. 20 to 36, 38, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 51, 86 and 87.

Group No. 3 will include Motions Nos. 53, 62 and 64 to 69.

Group No. 4 will include Motions Nos. 70, 71, 73, 76 to 78, 80 and 81.

Group No. 5 will include Motions Nos. 82 to 85.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 5 in Group No. 1 to the House.

Motions in Amendment
Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

moved:

That Bill C-10 be amended by deleting clause 1.

Motions in Amendment
Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

, seconded by the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, moved:

That Bill C-10, in Clause 2, be amended by adding after line 10 on page 3 the following:

““terrorism” includes torture.

“torture” has the meaning given to that term in article 1, paragraph 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”

Motions in Amendment
Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

moved:

That Bill C-10, in Clause 2, be amended by adding after line 6 on page 5 the following:

“(6) In any action under subsection (1), the defendant’s conduct is deemed to have caused or contributed to the loss of or damage to the plaintiff if the court finds that

(a) a listed entity caused or contributed to the loss or damage by engaging in conduct that is contrary to any provision of Part II.1 of the Criminal Code, whether the conduct occurred in or outside Canada; and

(b) the defendant engaged in conduct that is contrary to any of sections 83.02 to 83.04, 83.08, 83.1, 83.11, or 83.18 to 83.231 of the Criminal Code for the benefit of or otherwise in relation to that listed entity.”

Motions in Amendment
Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, we are now getting down to the later stages of the bill, the report stage, after having had a rather short time in committee to deal with it. It could have been shorter, but as we have seen with the list of amendments here at the report stage, it is pretty clear that nobody and no party was satisfied with the bill, either at second reading at committee or here at report stage. In fact, the government itself moved a series of amendments at report stage, clearly indicating that sufficient consideration had not been given to the bill either in its preparation for second reading or in committee.

We had one meeting devoted to one aspect of this nine-bill omnibus bill, the justice for victims of terrorism act. None of the amendments that the member for Mount Royal moved were accepted at the committee, yet we had five or six or seven amendments from the government at report stage in an attempt to fix what could have been fixed in committee.

Now this omnibus bill is being rushed through. My amendment, Motion No. 1, is to remove the short title. The short title is “safe streets and communities act”. We want to remove that title because, aside from the provisions having to do with sexual assault and offences against children, which we supported, every single expert who came before our committee essentially said that overall, the provisions of the bill were going to lead to greater crime in this country and to streets being less safe. These experts included anybody who had done any study and anybody who had any credentials based upon their work or their training, whether professors of law, professors of criminology, people who had studied this, or representatives from the Canadian Bar Association, who are experts in this field and represent both prosecutors and defence counsel. The Barreau du Québec was another group that came before us with criticisms of the bill.

We had strong representations from the Attorney General of Quebec, who spoke passionately about the experience in Quebec over the last 40 years in dealing with young offenders and about the principles Quebec operated on, principles that are being changed by this legislation. He said quite strongly that the changes being proposed here were so contrary to the experience and prospects of young people in the youth justice system in Quebec that he wanted them changed. He wanted the provinces to be able to make exemptions in the publication of young people's names, for example. He complained about the use of adult sentences. He complained about changing the principles of sentencing for the Youth Criminal Justice Act to add individual deterrence and denunciation as principles of sentencing, as opposed to rehabilitation. He talked about how successful they had been in Quebec in keeping young people out of jail, to the point that they have a greater success record than the rest of the country.

When we heard expert after expert telling us that the results of the sentencing changes, particularly the mandatory minimums and particularly the lack of flexibility in allowing judges to fashion sentences in extreme cases, we were overwhelmed, frankly, by the received wisdom of those experts saying that there was something wrong with the bill. We opposed it at second reading and tried to make substantive changes to the bill in committee, given the limited time that we had, but we were unsuccessful.

Not a single amendment proposed by any opposition party was accepted in the clause-by-clause study of the bill, yet some of the amendments proposed by the member for Mount Royal are mirrored in the amendments proposed by the government, but ruled out of order by the Speaker, at report stage.

We have a very difficult situation here. I realize it is symbolic to change the name of the bill. The government calls this piece of legislation the “safe streets and communities act”, yet it wants to limit debate to depicting itself as being tough on crime and the opposition as being sympathetic to criminals and wanting things to be a lot easier for them. That is the nature of the debate that the government has tried to foist upon Canadians, but the response from Canadians has been overwhelmingly critical of the government's approach to changing the fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system.

There are some exceptions. Not everything in the bill is negative or bad, and we supported many aspects of it, but to say that this piece of legislation is going to provide safer streets and communities is laughable. There are people who believe that criminals do not get heavy enough sentences for what they do; there may be selective ways of doing that, but the way the bill tackles this issue has resulted in the most consistent level of opposition that I have ever seen from those concerned about the nature of our criminal justice system.

Even those who support the bill have reservations. The Association of Chiefs of Police says it supports it in principle. Some victims of crime came forward to say they were concerned about not having tougher sentences, while others said they were more concerned about prevention and rehabilitation. There are those who think there should be stronger sentences, and our judges are listening to that. Parts of the bill deal with that issue, and we support that aspect.

As I mentioned, the government has called the bill the “safe streets and communities act”, yet expert evidence has indicated that the overall effects of the bill are more likely to lead to more crime, more recidivism or repeat offenses, more victims of crime and less safety for our streets.

Our Motion No. 1 is directed at doing just that.

Motions Nos. 2, 5 and 8 in this grouping relate to what is called acts of terrorism against Canada and Canadians, but the bill really would establish a new tort to allow victims of acts of terrorism to bring civil suits against foreign countries or foreign agencies.

We have some problems with that bill. We do not have a problem with the approach, and there are a number of amendments try to fix the bill. The government has recognized at this stage, a little too late, that it should have been fixed, but that is an indication of how it has rushed this legislation and failed to give the proper amount of time to consider it.

It also underscores that for clearly political and ideological reasons, the bill is being lumped together with eight other bills to support the government's notion that it is tough on crime and the opposition is not. We are trying to improve the bill, make the criminal justice system fairer and more reasonable, and raise the point that changes have to be made to the bill but are not being made.

Even the United States, which probably has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, has safety valves for mandatory minimum sentences; this legislation has none.

There would have been an opportunity in committee to fix the bill if there had been more time. Many changes could have been made in committee. The Speaker ruled that the government's amendments are all out of order because they could have been presented in committee, so clearly the bill could have been fixed if we had had more time to do a proper job, and we argued for more time in the face of time allocation.