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Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 34.10% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Safer Witnesses Act May 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I found the hearings quite interesting because we all know that witness protection exists. We know it through popular culture.
However, I had never really stopped to think about how the program works. It is a very small program within government. It is part of the crime agenda that is never really discussed. We have talked about more sensational issues than the witness protection program.
It is very much a lynchpin program. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the point of the program is to combat group crime, whether that be organized crime selling drugs or whether it be a group of people who might want to commit a terrorist act.
It is a very effective tool against group crime. The fact that everyone supports the legislation speaks loudly that everyone in the House wants to combat crime. It is not a partisan issue.
Safer Witnesses Act May 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting. Some witnesses did say additional funding was not required and a minority of witnesses, actually one who I recall, said that the lack of resources could be a problem. However, they were talking apples and oranges.
The RCMP came and said that if it needed to protect a witness, it would find the money. I believe the RCMP. I believe that will be the case.
However, the point that Ms. Ruth brought up was not related to whether the RCMP had the budget to accept all the witnesses who needed to be protected. It was more to the fact that a separate fund was not available, created by law for example, that smaller police forces could access if they brought someone into a provincial witness protection program. They may find that the matter is taken up by the RCMP and the RCMP then sends them a bill for protecting that witness.
That is a very different issue than the RCMP saying that it will protect all witnesses who apply directly to the federal witness protection program.
The witnesses were not necessarily on the same wavelength and were not necessarily talking about the same thing when it came to funding.
It will be effective because it will be more timely. I really do believe that will help. However, if we are going to include witnesses to potential terrorist incidents or plots, we may need more funding because we are bringing in CSIS, National Defence and so on and so forth.
Safer Witnesses Act May 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the bill is highly effective and very good with respect to the provisions designed to streamline the steps so that an applicant can be admitted more quickly and can make an identity change more rapidly.
Perhaps what is needed is an independent federal fund that could be used if a police force in a smaller community did not have the money to pay all the costs involved in admitting a witness into a provincial or federal witness protection program, for example. At times like these, the small municipality or small police force could draw upon the fund. It would be a good idea to have a reserve fund for that purpose.
There is nothing to prevent the government from moving in that direction, perhaps in the next budget. However, where public safety is concerned, the government should think twice or perhaps even three times before slashing spending or voting against the idea of channeling new resources to these areas.
Safer Witnesses Act May 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, in fact, those are two separate questions, because when a bill is introduced, there is no budget attached to it. The question of financial resources is a separate one. That does not mean that it is not an important question, but it is a separate question to be addressed when dealing with budgetary matters.
The bill is a good one. It makes administrative improvements. However, particularly in the case of small police forces, it is possible that a shortage of resources would discourage them from making full use of this witness protection tool. I do not believe that it would really be a problem for a police force the size of Montreal’s. The police service in Montreal is rather large. If the bill helps it to successfully conduct an investigation, then it will find the money and arrange to protect the witness.
Discussion of financial resources is necessary, but it should not prevent the passage of this bill, which is nevertheless a rather good one.
Safer Witnesses Act May 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, to start, I would like to read an excerpt from the Library of Parliament's legislative summary of Bill C-51. I think that this excerpt provides a good summary of the purpose of the federal witness protection program.
Protecting witnesses against intimidation, violence or retaliation is crucial to maintaining the rule of law. The experts agree that without effective measures to protect vulnerable witnesses and their families, many would be reluctant to cooperate with the authorities.
The federal witness protection program is a key tool in the fight against organized crime. When a person testifies about the activities of a group with which he was once associated, some members of that group may hold it against him. The program is therefore an effective tool in the fight against organized crime.
I would also like to commend the police and peace officers who work in the witness protection program. They do extremely dangerous and difficult work. These police officers often have to live a shadowy existence and lead parallel lives. A witness told us that he sometimes had to rent an apartment for himself because he could not work from his own home where his family lived. He had to stay away from his family to do his work. We must therefore commend these peace officers who are doing a great service for Canadians and our society.
This bill will allow us to expand the witness protection program and make it more effective in the fight against terrorism. It does not seem as though anyone mentioned this in the speeches that I heard. To date, witnesses of terrorist acts or potential terrorist acts do not benefit from the protection offered by this program. We therefore expanded the scope of the program, which is a good thing.
It is important that the federal witness protection program be as efficient as possible in terms of streamlining and expediting the process of admission to the program.
Some provinces and municipalities also operate witness protection programs, so it is not just the federal RCMP. These provincial and municipal programs must co-operate with the federal government in order to have witnesses' identities changed, for example. Those programs would have to deal with Passport Canada and perhaps Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to get social insurance numbers changed and so on and so forth.
Up until this point, the problem has been that if a provincial program identified a witness it wanted protected, it would have to not only accept that the individual should be protected, meaning that the person would essentially be applying to the provincial or municipal program, but that if the person was admitted, the provincial or municipal program would then have to go to the RCMP and ask for admission to the federal witness protection program. Only once the admission was accepted would the paperwork get done that would allow the person to assume a new identity and a new personal history, if one may put it that way.
As a result of this bill, that would not be the case anymore. There would be designated provincial and municipal witness protection programs, and once the witness would be accepted in that designated program, that witness would not have to apply to the RCMP federal program. He or she would simply be able to get the paperwork done by having been admitted to the provincial and municipal program. This is a step forward. This is a step toward making the system more timely, because in these matters we know that time is of the essence.
Speaking of time, the bill would also extend the period during which a potential candidate for the witness protection program can receive emergency protection. It is a very difficult decision to decide to go into the witness protection program. It requires a lot of thought and consultation with family members and so on. Up until now, candidates for witness protection could get some kind of witness protection for 90 days while they made up their mind about whether they wanted to go through with this major step. Now, as a result of Bill C-51, people would have the possibility of a 90-day extension, which would take the emergency protection to a maximum of 180 days. That is a very practical change.
As I said before, the bill modernizes witness protection to assist in the fight against terrorism. The fight against terrorism is an ongoing process of updating the relevant public security tools at our disposal in order to adapt them to the needs of this not-so-new yet ever-evolving challenge.
Witness protection is one area where changes were recommended most notably by the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. The commission found that the federal witness protection program “is not fully attuned to the needs of sources and witnesses in terrorism investigations and prosecutions”. The report concluded that CSIS, for example, should have access to programs to protect vulnerable witnesses and sources. The report also concluded that the federal witness protection program is too rigid and is based on the assumption that most sources and witnesses have criminal backgrounds.
In a terrorism case, it would be very likely that a witness would not have a criminal background and as a result would not be admissible to the program and would therefore essentially be discouraged from handing over information that could stop a terrorist incident. It is very important that the concept of witness protection be broadened to include not necessarily people who were involved in a crime but people who were witnesses to, say, a terrorist plot. That was the recommendation by the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. That was the second recommendation.
It is interesting to point out that the bill passed a report stage vote 200 and some votes to none. It obviously is clear that all parties in the House support strengthening the witness protection program.
I should also mention that there were no amendments adopted at committee. That says something as well. It says that this is a non-controversial bill, that it is more of an administrative or procedural enhancement kind of bill. It was quite obvious what needed to be done, and it has been done.
Again, this points to the fact that this is really a technical matter, and I am not sure that it really warrants the kind of partisan debate that we have witnessed so far this afternoon, but so be it.
There are other changes that have been recommended to the witness protection program that are not in the bill, but that we were told the government would implement outside of the bill. There are three particular improvements that have been recommended to the witness protection program: one, separating investigations and decisions about admission to the federal witness protection program; two, offering legal counsel to those negotiating entry into the program; and three, offering psychological assessments to program candidates.
In 2008, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recommended that a clear operational distinction be made between the investigations and prosecutions function of law enforcement on the one hand, and the decision-making function for admitting a candidate to the federal witness protection program on the other, making “it plain [to the candidate for witness protection] that protection is not a reward for cooperating with the authorities”.
Until now, basically it was the same group within the RCMP that was providing protection, but also making the decision about whether the witness should be admitted to the program. One can understand that would put certain individuals in the RCMP in a bit of a contradictory situation or a potential conflict of interest situation. Therefore, it was recommended by the House of Commons committee in 2008 that a separate department be created to make the decision about whether somebody should be admitted to the witness protection program, separate from the RCMP whose main function and concern would be to provide protection. That was not done. A separate agency was not created, but we got assurances from the minister and the government that these two functions would from now on be separate within the RCMP, and that is a very good thing.
The second item was not in the bill but it is germane obviously to the witness protection program going forward. Negotiating entry into the program is a complex matter, as is negotiating a contract with the RCMP for witness protection. Therefore, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, in 2008, recommended offering candidates the aid of legal counsel during the signing of protection contracts to increase the likelihood of fair and equitable negotiations. Again that is not in the law, but something the government has committed to do.
On the third item, as I mentioned, entering a witness protection program is not an easy decision. It is not easy to live the rest of one's days under a new name, identity and personal history. In recognition of these pressures, which can lead some people who enter the federal witness protection program to voluntarily terminate their participation in the program down the road, the government would now apparently be offering candidates for the program psychological assessments to determine if they are likely to remain in a program over the long term. This would be a very constructive change and new way of doing things that would reduce the likelihood that someone would enter the program and then leave it. It is worth noting that the provision of psychological assessments was a recommendation of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security when it did its review of the witness protection program in 2008.
There has been talk about how the program may need additional funding. It is true, the RCMP did say that lack of funding would never lead them to refuse a candidate for witness protection and I believe that. However, the funding issue is not really about that. It is a little more complex and it bears mentioning.
We did have one witness who came to the committee and spoke to the funding issue. Micki Ruth, of the Canadian Association of Police Boards, appearing before the committee, highlighted the fact that the RCMP can charge back to municipal police forces the costs of witness protection. To quote Ms. Ruth:
Currently, when a municipality does make use of a provincial witness protection program and the crime is federal in nature or involves drugs, then the RCMP takes over and charges the local police services the full cost, which is an expense that many services cannot afford.
We know this, and it was mentioned previously by the hon. member from Portage la Prairie, that the committee on public safety is conducting a study on the rising costs of policing in order to determine how we can contain those costs. We can see that police forces around the country are cash strapped. It would be a concern to them that they would bring someone into the federal witness protection program because the crime involves a federal crime and then find that they are going to have to pay for putting that person into the witness protection program. That might discourage a local police force from pursuing the option of seeking the co-operation of a witness under the understanding that that person would enter the witness protection program. Cost becomes a factor.
It is not right to say that cost is not at all a factor in the matter of witness protection. In fact, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in 2012, also noted that one of the difficulties associated with the federal witness protection program is a lack of resources. It recommended that the federal government allocate dedicated resources to managing the federal witness protection program. We have three reports that have been recommending changes to the witness protection program.
Regarding the comments from the member for Pontiac that it is so obvious that there were improvements to be made in the legislation and wondering why these improvements were not made right away, that is not how it works in the House. We have to study the situation and that can take time. Out of those studies that call witnesses to appear and provide expert opinion we develop recommendations for change. That is what has happened with witness protection.
There have been three committees that provided input into what kinds of changes are needed to the program: the House of Commons public safety committee in 2008, the committee on justice and human rights in 2012, and the Major inquiry in the Air India bombing. These changes are rooted in careful study and that is what makes it a good bill. That is probably why there is no dissent on the bill. Everyone here today voted for it at report stage.
There are some issues that I would have liked to touch on if I had had more time. There is probably a need for the government to look at another aspect of witness protection, which is not the witness protection program narrowly defined. In other words, there are some people who do not want to go into the program, who do not need to go into the program, but they need to testify and they are going to be intimidated. We need to find better ways to allow people to testify in court proceedings where their anonymity can be ensured. This is something the government needs to look at.
There are ways that anonymity can be partially protected. People can testify on closed-circuit television, behind a screen and with their voice changed through synthesizing processes, but we are told that more needs to be done to really make sure that criminal elements do not discover who these people are who are testifying.
Petitions May 23rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition signed by many voters who oppose the closure of the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue post office.
This is the second time in less than a year that Canada Post has wanted to close a post office in a town in my riding. In this case, people are being asked to take their business to a postal outlet located in a pharmacy. The petitioners are concerned that the pharmacy does not have enough post office boxes.
From now on, many residents, including students who may not necessarily have access to a car, will have to leave the Island of Montreal, cross over one or two bridges and go to Vaudreuil or Île-Perrot to deal with Canada Post.
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns May 21st, 2013
With regard to the participation of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in the reality show Border Security: Canada’s Front Line: (a) what has been the total cost for the Agency’s participation in the reality show to date and what is the total cost of the production agreement between CBSA and Force Four Entertainment; (b) how many episodes did CBSA agree to and over what time period will the episodes be filmed; (c) what provisions are in place to ensure that CBSA officers and subjects are not exploited; (d) who reviewed and analyzed the show's proposal and what were their comments; (e) what is the examination and approval process for footage; (f) how are CBSA officers recruited for participation in the show; (g) how many officers have participated in the show and how many have refused to participate in the program and on what grounds; (h) how are subjects recruited for the show; (i) are subjects asked whether or not they would like to participate in the show or are they required to sign a consent form prior to being filmed; (j) are subjects given incentives to participate in the program, either monetary or otherwise, and if so what; (k) has the CBSA received any formal complaints with regards to the show and if so, what was the nature of said complaints and what was CBSA's response; (l) were any concerns raised within CBSA about its participation in the show, and if so, what was the nature of those concerns and from whom did they come; (m) what were the CBSA's stated reasons for participation in the show; (n) what are the established parameters for a case's inclusion in the program; (o) on what grounds will CBSA refuse inclusion of a case; (p) does CBSA have a veto over what footage is aired and, if so, has it been used and for what reasons; and (q) what measures are in place to ensure that the program does not violate the Privacy Act?
Criminal Code May 21st, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I would like to enumerate some of the goals of the justice system, because it is important that we place legislation dealing with criminal offences and so on within the context of the principles that guide the justice system. We could say that the point of the justice system is, first, to reinforce acceptable norms of behaviour; second, to protect society from those who have proven that their actions can cause harm; and third, to ensure that only the guilty pay for their crimes and that the innocent are not convicted. These seem to be, in general, the overriding goals of our justice system, a system that has evolved slowly but surely over centuries.
It turns out that because the justice system is focusing on these three principles, often the interests of victims are ignored, albeit unintentionally. Bill C-489 would attempt to provide some assistance to victims.
Bill C-489 would deal mostly with sexual offences, though not exclusively, as I understand it. Sexual offences create a unique kind of vulnerability among the victims. They are a unique kind of violation compared to, for example, car theft or house break-ins when individuals are not at home. Both of those crimes create a terrible sense of vulnerability as well, but we are talking here of sexual offences and the particular sense of vulnerability they create.
I agree with the hon. member that the interests of victims of sexual crimes have often been overlooked in our criminal justice system. Liberals support the intent of Bill C-489. We are not certain that the bill would bring about meaningful progress in all cases for victims or prospective victims of sexual crimes. I say “prospective” victims, because the bill would also deal with recognizance orders, where an individual has not committed a criminal act but poses a threat to another person.
We support sending the bill to committee to ascertain its merits in attaining a goal that, obviously, we all share in this House.
I understand that the bill is motivated by the MP for Langley's particular experience with some victims in his riding. In fact, the member stated:
[A] sex offender...was permitted to serve House arrest right next door to his young victim. In another case, the sex offender served House arrest across the street from the victim. In both cases, the young victims lived in fear and were re-victimized every time they saw their attacker.
Obviously, that situation, which the hon. member for Langley described, leaves all members in disbelief and with a view that something should be done.
Bill C-489 would introduce two prohibitions through amendments to two laws. Number one, it would amend the Criminal Code, and number two, it would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
In terms of Criminal Code changes, as I understand it, the bill would deal with subsection 161(1) of the Criminal Code, which allows conditions to be placed on offenders who receive conditional discharges for sexual offences. This discharge is sometimes granted in cases where the offence carries no minimum sentence and a maximum possible sentence of less than 14 years. In this case, as I understand it, the accused would not have a criminal record if all of the conditions imposed as part of the conditional discharge were respected.
Bill C-489 seeks to add to the list of conditions that may be imposed by a judge. This is a very specific list, and as I understand it, the judge cannot impose conditions beyond this list. It is important that a specific point be made in adding this condition, because it is not something the judge could impose if he or she saw fit. We are talking about the condition that an offender must be no closer than two kilometres from the house where he or she knows or ought to know that the victim is alone. Similarly, another condition would be that the offender would not be allowed to be in a private vehicle with any person under the age of 16 without his or her guardians' consent.
It is important to note that the list of possible conditions in this instance is finite. There is no flexibility here for the judge to impose other conditions beyond those listed. Therefore, this is the only place where adding conditions might make sense, since it gives the sentencing judge the ability to prohibit the offender from living near the victim. As I said, it is important to specify the condition, because there is no latitude for the judge to impose it.
In the bill there is also a restriction on contacting victims. I am not sure if it pertains to those who have committed sexual offences. The bill extends the list of conditions the court must, or shall, prescribe for offenders on probation.
At the moment, section 732.1 of the code has two sets of conditions. One set is conditions the judge shall impose. The second set is conditions the judge may impose.
In this case, the bill would add a new “shall” condition. The court would have to impose this condition on an offender, for example, who is on probation or is under a conditional sentence. If it chose not to impose the condition, the court would have to explain, in writing, why it was not choosing to add this condition.
We understand the intent of this part of the bill. What I would say is that, at the moment, the list of possible conditions for probation orders and conditional sentences both include “such other reasonable conditions as the court considers desirable.” In other words, in this case, the judge has the latitude to impose conditions that are not specifically prescribed on a list. Presumably, the court could already order offenders not to have contact with their victims or not to visit certain places, if it saw fit to do so.
The point I am trying to make is that unlike the first amendment, about staying within two kilometres of where the victim would be residing, in this case, we have to ask ourselves if this particular amendment to the Criminal Code is necessary, given that the court already has the latitude to impose this condition.
I congratulate the hon. member for bringing this bill forward. I know that he is attempting to address a very serious flaw in our criminal justice system. I look forward to discussing and studying the bill at committee so that we can see and understand the extent to which the bill achieves its stated goals.
Mr. Speaker, as a rule we must analyze legislation such as Bill C-479 through the prism of the important overriding objective of ensuring the long-term public safety of Canadian society, and that means being smart about crime. We must also measure such legislation against the criterion of whether it harms or helps victims or, if neutral, whether more could be done to support victims.
It is worth mentioning, and it has been mentioned before in the debate today, that private members' bills do not obtain charter scrutiny as do bills that originate in the Department of Justice; although doubts have recently been planted that even government bills may not be benefiting from rigorous vetting through the prism of adherence to charter principles.
Liberals support sending Bill C-479 to committee precisely to better understand how it meets the above criteria.
Bill C-479 would make changes to specific aspects of the conditional release system in Canada. However, first it might be wise to briefly enumerate the kinds of conditional release available in this country. They are escorted and unescorted temporary absences, day parole, full parole and statutory release with supervision.
The bill deals more specifically with full parole for violent offenders, namely, for crimes cited under schedule 1 of the Criminal Code. In Canada, once an offender has served one-third of his or her sentence or seven years, whichever is less, he or she becomes eligible to apply for parole. Generally the offender's parole request is considered at a parole hearing before the Parole Board of Canada.
The bill, as I understand it, would not change the modalities and rules governing the initial parole request but rather the consequences that flow from being denied parole, which itself is seen as an indicator that the offender has not made progress toward rehabilitation.
Currently, as I understand the system, an offender, even after being denied parole, can reapply for parole on an annual basis. However, the Parole Board is not obliged upon review of the case to grant the hearing for as long as two years after the initial parole refusal.
The goal of the bill is to spare victims and their families the nightmare of attending repeated parole hearings. It is no secret that there are offenders who definitely are not on the road to rehabilitation but who wish to trigger repeated parole hearings for no other reason than to torment victims. I believe it is at these types of offenders that the bill is aimed.
Offenders serving time for schedule 1 offences, the most serious and often violent offences, whose parole is refused because they are not progressing under their rehabilitation plan would no longer automatically be eligible for a hearing two years after their initial parole refusal, as at present; rather, under the bill, the Parole Board of Canada would be permitted to deny a hearing for as long as five years after the offender was initially denied parole, even if he or she applied annually.
The bill attempts to clarify and reinforce victims' rights in other ways. I understand the member has developed the bill as a result of attending a parole hearing for an offender who was serving a sentence for multiple murders. This must have been a life-changing experience for the member, and there are no doubt elements of the bill rooted in the wisdom gained from that experience.
Bill C-479 would codify a number of existing practices that assist victims in various ways. Bill C-479 adds a declaration that every effort must be made to allow victims or victims' families to attend parole hearings. Currently the Corrections and Conditional Release Act does not contain a provision dealing with attendance by victims; they have to apply. However, I should mention that they are rarely, if ever, refused attendance at a hearing, as far as I understand.
Bill C-479 would also allow victims or their families to view a hearing via a one-way closed circuit connection, should they not be permitted to attend or they would prefer viewing from a distance where they would not need to be in the same room as the offender. Currently in a parole hearing victims may present a statement describing the harm done to them or loss suffered by them as a result of the offence, although this is not a right in law, as I understand it.
If they are not in attendance, the statement may be presented by way of audiotape or videotape, accompanied by a written copy of the statement. The bill seeks to entrench the consideration of victim impact statements in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The bill would also allow the victim impact statement to be submitted in writing only, rather than the current prescribed formats of videotape or audiotape accompanied by a written statement.
The bill would also give victims the legislated right to access certain information about the offender. As I understand it, victims would be able to register to receive information automatically. Certain on-request information would be automatically provided if the bill is passed, such as the conditions attached to the conditional release. Also, the information that victims could request would include information relating to the offender's treatment plan and progress toward the plan's objective.
Finally, it would be mandatory for the victim or family to be notified at least 14 days in advance of their offender receiving any form of conditional release, as well as being informed of the offender's destination upon release.
This bill appears to have many positive aspects, and I look forward, as do my other colleagues no doubt, to examining the bill in committee and also to examining the way the parole system works. It is very complicated, complex and technical. This would be an opportunity to better understand that system and to understand how it could be made fairer for victims. It looks like this bill would go a long way toward that.
Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act May 8th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, of course, the issue of funding remains paramount. In fact, the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, which was an initiative of the federal government, I believe, concluded that it is not credible to go forward with any regulatory regime without adequate capacity to satisfy the regulatory requirements.
My second question has to do with the kind of regulations and standards that could be imposed on first nations. My understanding is that it would be possible to impose provincial regulations, provincial standards, but in some cases, provincial standards are lower than federal standards.
Does the member not agree that our first nations people deserve the highest federal standards?