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Liberal MP for Mount Royal (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 41.40% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Criminal Code November 26th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-452, as have my predecessors this evening, which seeks to combat human trafficking and exploitation.
As I have said previously in debate on the bill, the true measure of a society's commitment to equality and human dignity is the protection it affords its most vulnerable members, and the victims of human trafficking are among the most vulnerable of all. It is therefore to the credit of this House that efforts to deal with this compelling concern have been initiated and supported by hon. members on all sides.
I was proud to introduce Canada's original human trafficking legislation, as minister of justice, in 2005, and I am pleased to acknowledge the subsequent and ongoing special contributions of the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, who spoke this evening.
Of course, I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for introducing the bill that we are looking at today. I intend to support it.
The bill before us seeks to bolster efforts to combat human trafficking and exploitation in three important ways.
First, by adding these offences of trafficking to those for which the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime applies, the bill seeks to ensure thereby that traffickers do not profit from their actions.
At committee, several witnesses testified that the average annual profit from trafficking one woman is $280,000. Moreover, according to the 2012 U.S. State Department report, the international trade in human beings generates approximately $32 billion each year. It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
Éliane Legault-Roy, from the Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle, testified that this industry “responds solely to profit and customer demand”.
I completely agree that the government must be able to seize the proceeds amassed by those who treat human beings as goods to be sold.
Second, the bill aims to facilitate the prosecution of human trafficking offences by reversing the onus of proof such that an individual habitually in the company of a person who is exploited would be presumed complicit in the exploitation, absent evidence to the contrary.
The justice committee heard from several witnesses that victims in such cases are reluctant to testify in court due to fear of facing their abusers and to the trauma of having to talk openly about their ordeal. It is therefore important to minimize the demands placed on victims in human trafficking trials to prevent their re-victimization, as this provision seeks to do.
At the same time, it is generally a fundamental principle of our justice system that the burden is on the state to prove that the accused is guilty, rather than requiring the accused to prove his or her innocence. The member for Ahuntsic has correctly noted that reversals of the burden of proof do exist in our Criminal Code, but they are rare, and for good reason. Accordingly, reverse onus provisions must be implemented with the utmost caution so as to minimize the risk of wrongful conviction.
As such, the Liberal member on the justice committee proposed amendments that would have specified that the reverse onus in Bill C-452 would apply only to those who live off the avails of exploitation and are over the age of 18. This change would have preserved the bill's intent of lessening the burden on victims at trial while reducing the chances that this reverse onus provision might, in exceptional circumstances, entrap an innocent person. I regret that these amendments were unsuccessful, although, as I say, I will support the bill nonetheless.
Finally, Bill C-452 aims to deter the expansion of human trafficking operations by requiring offenders to serve their sentences consecutively, such that each additional victim represents an additional penalty to the offender. Many witnesses at the justice committee expressed frustration that concurrent sentences are currently the norm in human trafficking cases. For example, Robert Hooper, of Walk With me Canada Victims Services, told the committee:
...when you are able to garner upwards of $200,000 to $300,000 per trafficked victim in one year, and the only real risk in sentencing is a concurrent sentence for each additional victim, the trafficker is almost compelled to expand his business empire with little risk of significant ramifications to him in the criminal justice system here in Canada.
I share the goal of making consecutive sentences the norm for human trafficking convictions. At the same time, I am reluctant to remove discretion from judges, as the bill does, by making consecutive sentences mandatory in all such cases. It is certainly possible to make consecutive sentences the norm while still allowing judges to order concurrent sentences in exceptional cases, providing they give reasons for departing from the usual practice.
This is precisely what a Liberal amendment proposed at committee would have done, and I regret that it, too, was unsuccessful. As with the amendment to which I earlier referred, this one would have preserved the bill's raison d'être while ensuring that our justice system remains well equipped to deal with unusual and unforseeable circumstances. Still, once again, I share the objectives of this legislation and believe that its effects would be generally positive, and I will, as I mentioned, vote in favour of it.
I will now turn to a matter of process that arose at committee and that warrants our attention.
The justice committee began clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-452 on May 6. At that meeting, the bill's sponsor, the member for Ahuntsic, was present and permitted to speak by the chair. This was both appropriate and helpful for committee members and for all parliamentarians, who benefited from hearing the perspective of the member who proposed the legislation.
However, at the end of the meeting the Conservative members chastised the chair for having let the member for Ahuntsic participate. When clause-by-clause study resumed on May 8, at which time additional amendments were considered and a clause that had previously carried was reviewed and deleted, Conservative committee members refused to allow the member for Ahuntsic to take part in debate on her own bill.
The member for York West moved to let her speak. The government still rejected the motion. In the words of the committee chair, “...for a private member's bill I think every member has the right to come and talk to the bill and the amendments to it. ... I think that's only fair....”
I agree fully, and I find it deeply regrettable that Conservative members denied the member for Ahuntsic the opportunity to address significant changes proposed to her own legislation.
As we know, in most cases the sponsor of a private member's bill can substitute for a colleague from the same party and so participate in committee discussion. However, when the bill is that of an independent member, as happened in this case, that option is not available to them. It is therefore, as the chair said, only fair to invite them as an additional and important voice. The Conservatives' refusal to do so was prejudicial to the principle of open and informed debate, essential to our legislative process. Moreover, the silencing of the member for Ahuntsic constituted a missed opportunity to act in a collegial manner on important legislation that enjoys all-party support.
I would hope that hon. members would take pains to act collegially even when we disagree. How much more so should we seize opportunities such as this to join together in mutual respect and common cause?
In that same spirit, I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for introducing this bill.
I thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, who made yet another important intervention this evening, and others in the House for their efforts on this issue. I thank the many Canadians, including the witnesses who testified at committee, for their daily efforts to combat human trafficking and to help the survivors of exploitation rebuild their lives.
I will close by importantly recognizing the victims, both those bravely attempting to recover from the horrors of past ordeals and the millions in Canada and around the world who, as we speak, are exploited and enslaved. I look forward to continuing with members of all parties in the fight for their freedom.
Human Rights November 26th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, last week, the European Union awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Malala Yousafzai, the courageous 16-year-old girl from Pakistan and soon-to-be honorary Canadian citizen, assaulted and still threatened by the Taliban for insisting upon her right to go to school.
Andrei Sakharov, the great Soviet dissident, whom I had the privilege to represent, once told me that his favourite part of the Helsinki Final Act was its affirmation of the right to know and act upon one's rights.
Through her words and deeds, Malala has not only demonstrated a profound understanding of her rights and an unbending determination to act upon them but has inspired many others, especially young women, in Pakistan and around the world with her courage and determination. As Malala said upon receiving the award:
Many children have no food to eat, no water to drink, and children are starving for education. It is alarming that 57 million children are deprived of education. This must shake our conscience...
I invite all hon. members to offer Malala our congratulations and our solidarity as she continues her valiant struggle for access to education, equality, and human dignity.
World Prematurity Day November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I rise to mark World Prematurity Day on which we recall that one in 10 babies is born prematurely. Premature newborns are the largest pediatric patient group in Canada, and prematurity is the leading cause of death in newborns.
I rise as well to honour the memory of my late grandson, Lavi, who passed away due to complications resulting from premature birth. Earlier this year, my daughter unexpectedly went into labour while only 25 weeks pregnant. What ensued were 18 days filled with great emotion and deep anguish, a situation difficult for any family.
While my grandson lost his battle for life, groups like the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation, Préma-Québec, and the Sandra Schmirler Foundation work to make a difference by raising awareness about prematurity, seeking to prevent preterm birth through education and research, supporting best standards of care for premature babies, and advocating on behalf of premature babies and their families.
I invite all hon. members to join me as we mark World Prematurity Day in solidarity with the families and children affected.
Human Rights October 22nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, this past weekend I participated in an international conference in Paris in support of the struggle for democracy and human rights in Iran and in remembrance of yet another massacre of 52 Iranian residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, protected persons under international humanitarian law.
The victims' families and former political prisoners, with whom I met, were particularly pained by what they felt was the silence of the international community in the face of ongoing massive domestic repression in Iran, where hundreds of Iranians have been executed since President Rouhani's election, where Rouhani has appointed a justice minister who is a person directly responsible in the 1988 massacre of 5,000 political prisoners, and where the massacres of Camp Ashraf residents, of which the most recent was the fifth of its kind, continue with impunity, while other residents have disappeared.
It is our responsibility, as they have asked me to convey, to break the silence, to hold the Iranian and Iraqi governments to account, to secure protection for the Ashraf residents and to ensure, as they cautioned me, that nuclear negotiations must not serve as a distraction from the ongoing massive violation of human rights in Iran.
Petitions June 17th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition on behalf of my constituents from the town of Hampstead calling upon the government to increase co-operation with and provide financial compensation to Canadian municipalities in order to combat and prevent the devastating economic and environmental effects of the emerald ash borer. The ash borer has proved to be highly destructive. Since its arrival, it has killed millions of ash trees with its significant impact on both the local and national economy and ecology.
I share the concerns of my constituents who understand the ruination that has resulted elsewhere to both urban and major wooded regions of the country and continent. Complete destruction of the affected resources typically results within six years of infestation, making the need for action in this regard of particular urgency to both my constituents and the region.
As such, the petitioners call for both financial compensation from an increased coordination with the federal government to combat this threat.
Constitution Compliance Review Act June 17th, 2013
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-537, an act to ensure legislative compliance with the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce the constitution compliance review act, legislation that would require, for the first time, constitutional examination of all bills introduced in Parliament, the tabling of a report of constitutional compliance and an independent non-partisan review and compliance mechanism.
It is imperative that parliamentarians be informed of the constitutionality of bills, given our obligation to uphold the Constitution and to oversee the public purse. This bill would thus seek to improve transparency in the parliamentary process by ensuring that all parliamentarians are given an independent analysis of the constitutionality of all bills, regardless of whether they are introduced by the government or opposition, in the House or in the Senate.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Foreign Affairs June 17th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the United Nations recently released its horrific report on death, destruction and devastation in Syria: 93,000 dead, 5,000 killed monthly, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed daily, 4.5 million displaced internally and 7,000 new refugees each day.
While the government has increased aid to refugees in Jordan, will it increase aid to internally displaced persons in Syria, facilitate family reunification and resettlement for Syrian refugees, join the Swiss-led initiative to bring war criminals to justice and, finally, affirm and implement the responsibility to protect doctrine?
Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act June 17th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to Bill C-54 report stage amendments. In this regard I hope to be brief and I raise the matter, not to secure a ruling from you, Mr. Speaker, but rather for the completeness of the record and so you may take the matter under advisement in conjunction with the Clerk for further action as you both deem appropriate.
Briefly, Bill C-54 completed clause-by-clause review at committee Wednesday evening. I began contemplating report stage amendments immediately thereafter and made a request with the Legislative Counsel for the preparation of amendments with the belief that report stage would begin the House on Tuesday. On Friday, it became clear the debate would actually begin at report stage on Monday, today, and thus the amendments were needed by 2 p.m. Friday to comply with the exigencies of Standing Order 54. This was communicated by my office to the clerks preparing the amendments requested.
As I fully appreciate and understand, the amendments I sought were complex from a drafting point of view. Indeed, while I sought that one concept removed from the bill, this alone required the drafting of 32 separate motions to ensure that the statute would be intelligible if the House were to agree with this initiative. Unfortunately, it seems that the revised version of the bill, reflecting committee amendments, was not immediately available to counsel working on my amendments and as a result of the changed deadline, I was not provided with the amendments I requested before the Friday deadline had passed.
Indeed, I only received some of the amendments back this morning. I do not wish to fault anyone for this. Counsel could only work with the correct clause numbers after the bill had been reported since there were amendments. While I am making this point, I want to comment and commend all the hard-working individuals involved in the law clerk's office, in particular, Wendy Gordon, Marie Beauchemin, Anita Eapen and Doug Ward for their excellence and dedication. I know they are often underappreciated, particularly when asked to, as is often the case at report stage, draft amendments only to have them found inadmissible for procedural reasons.
As such, while there is a privilege issue to be advanced here because had my amendments been timely and ruled admissible, I could speak to them this morning, I simply wish to request that the Speaker and Clerk look into ensuring that the law clerk and parliamentary counsel have the staff and resources they require to complete the drafting task within the tight deadlines that I think only arise in exceptional circumstances such as this one.
While you look into this, Mr. Speaker, I would also ask that you investigate whether the e-notice system could be expanded to work with more browsers. While I acknowledge that I do not understand fully the technology terms, I gather that when the motions were received by my staff, they were unable to upload the amendments on my behalf remotely due to compatibility issues with e-notices and Firefox Chrome.
I realize these amendments, which for those curious would have removed the high risk designation and all references to it, may never yet see the notice paper. Indeed, they might have been ruled inadmissible upon introduction. That said, it is unfortunate that this situation occurred given the seriousness, yet complexity of my request and related deadlines involved.
I would therefore ask that you, Mr. Speaker, take the matter under advisement, while again expressing our support, and I believe all parliamentarians would join me in this for the hard work and dedication of the law clerk and parliamentary counsel's office.
Before I conclude, I am told that the only way these amendments could yet be considered, despite delay notice, which as I explained was unavoidable, is through unanimous consent. Therefore, and so that the hard work of the drafters involved is not completely forgotten, and the amendments proposed, I move: That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House in relation to the report stage of Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (mental disorder), that the notice requirement in relation to the 32 motions submitted to the Table by the member for Mount Royal be waived and that those motions that the Speaker would normally find admissible and selected at report stage be included for consideration at this same stage.
Congregation Emanu-El June 10th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I was privileged to participate in the 150th anniversary celebrations for Congregation Emanu-El, Canada's oldest, continuously operating synagogue, serving Victoria, B.C. and home to unprecedented Jewish firsts in Canada. In 1865, Victoria's Lumley Franklin became the first Jewish mayor in North America. In 1871, Henry Nathan became Canada's first Jewish MP when B.C. joined Confederation. The congregation's own vice-president, Samuel Davies, became Canada's first Jewish judge in 1914. Congregation member Samuel Schultz is believed to have pitched the first shutout game in the history of British Columbia baseball.
The history and legacy of Congregation Emanu-El and its partnership and support from Christian, Freemason and other faith and community groups, a model of a plural multicultural mosaic, are a source of pride and inspiration for us all.
To Congregation Emanu-El and the community it calls home:
[Member spoke Hebrew and provided the following translation:]
May you go from strength to strength.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by once again thanking the member for Red Deer for the work he has done to bring the issue of the personation of peace officers to the attention of the House. As he and others have correctly pointed out, there have been a number of offences committed in recent years in which the offender personated an officer in order to facilitate illegal activity, and these instances have the profoundly troubling consequence of undermining public trust in the police and other officials.
I would also like to acknowledge the courageous appearance before the justice committee of Laurie Long and her daughter Jordan, whose 46-hour ordeal at the hands of a man who pretended to be a police officer evokes in all of us the utmost compassion and outrage. Jordan's determination to not only overcome this trauma but to speak openly about it in an effort both to encourage other victims to come forward and to prevent others from being victimized truly merits the term “heroic”.
Accordingly, I will be supporting Bill C-444 as a statement of the seriousness with which Parliament regards the crime of personation. I can support it because the member for Red Deer has wisely not included a mandatory minimum sentencing provision and, as such, this legislation would be unlikely to have the unintended negative consequences of other Conservative justice bills that have come before us.
However, at the same time the bill is unlikely to have the meaningful positive impact that we all desire, indeed, that which the member for Red Deer desires, mainly fewer instances of personation. The bill would establish that for offenders who personate a peace officer in order to facilitate another offence, this intention would be considered an aggravating factor with respect to the sentence for personation. Yet, as I outlined at second reading, Canada already allows for longer sentences for personation than many comparable jurisdictions, and there has been no suggestion that Canadian judges have been ignoring material aggravating factors when meting them out.
Furthermore, even if some judges were moved by this legislation to issue longer sentences than they otherwise would have, the offenders would still be unlikely to spend more time in prison because the sentence for personation would generally be served concurrently with a longer sentence for the crime it was intended to facilitate. Indeed, while the member for Red Deer outlined at committee certain exceptional hypothetical scenarios in which his bill could conceivably impact the length of a prison term, these scenarios constitute exceptions that prove the rule, which is that the bill will have less of the impact than the member for Red Deer would himself wish on sentencing and prison terms.
Finally, even if this bill were in rare cases to cause certain offenders to spend more time in prison, it has been well established that longer prison terms do not result in less crime. As such, the goal of reducing the occurrence of personation would not be furthered in any event. As I suggested at second reading, preventive measures, such as restricting the availability of authentic looking police attire and equipment, would do more to protect Canadians than this somewhat less than consequential amendment on the matter of sentencing guidelines might do.
I know that the member for Red Deer explained at committee, and today, that his primary purpose in bringing this bill forward was not to increase the length of prison terms, or even to have a direct impact on the incidence of this offence, but rather to raise awareness about the crime of personation. This is a laudable objective, and in fact I have spent much of my own work seeking to raise awareness on various issues, including crimes committed both in Canada and abroad.
While I am on the topic, I will take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to those members from all parties who have participated in the context of Iran accountability week in efforts to raise awareness about the threat posed by the Iranian regime, both to other countries and particularly to its own people. Raising awareness can undoubtedly be an important first step on the road to tangible change.
However, the Criminal Code is an inappropriate tool with which to engage in an awareness campaign. For one thing, I am somewhat uneasy about the precedent of making additions to it that are primarily of a symbolic nature. The Criminal Code functions best when it is simple, efficient, clear and accessible to ordinary Canadians. Amendments to the Code are appropriate when it is determined that there is a fault or a gap in the law, but if we make a habit or a practice of amending it simply for the purpose of signalling concern, however valid a given concern might be— and, again, I applaud the member for Red Deer in his expression of concern—we risk unnecessarily complicating a document that is already dense and complex, not to mention risking unforeseen and undesired consequences in unforeseeable cases.
More importantly, perhaps, the Criminal Code is simply not an effective means of raising awareness. I appreciate that this bill has brought the matter of personation of peace officers to the attention of Parliament, although that goal could have been achieved just as well by way of a motion. However, surely we must seek not only to alert parliamentarians to this problem, but the Canadian public as well. To that end, adding an aggravating sentencing factor to the Criminal Code, especially one that is unlikely to have any real consequential effect, may achieve little, as very few Canadians are conversant in the sentencing guidelines of section 130.
Indeed, the government itself has acknowledged on several occasions that amending the Codes does not, on its own, raise awareness.
Last fall, for example, Parliament unanimously passed Bill C-36 which, similarly to the bill before us, added an aggravating sentencing factor, this one designed to increase penalties for those who target seniors.
At that time, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice stood in this House and said:
This government recognizes the concern expressed by witnesses...who noted that Bill C-36 could not serve as the only response to the problem of elder abuse.
He went on to explain that the bill was intended to complement an awareness and advertising campaign already in place.
Another example is Bill C-26, the citizen's arrest and self-defence act, which received royal assent on June 28 of last year. At committee, Catherine Kane, who was then director general and senior general counsel of the criminal law policy and amendments section in the Department of Justice, and I congratulate her on her appointment since to the Federal Court, referred to the government's plan for educating the public regarding the bill's provisions saying, “we will also be embarking on some public education materials so we can explain to various audiences what these changes mean”.
I regret that I have yet to see any such educational materials in the 11 months since the bill received royal assent. I might add, parenthetically, that while a backgrounder published by the Department of Justice in conjunction with the coming into force of the legislation on March 11 of this year speaks of two guides on the department's website, “What you need to know about making a citizen's arrest” and “Technical guide to self defence and defence of property reforms”, the links to both are broken.
Nevertheless, my point is that even the government has in word, if not always in deed, recognized that education and raising awareness should be conducted outside the Criminal Code. Regrettably, the bill before us does not do likewise. There has been no mention, for instance, of education programs to inform individuals about their right to ask a police officer for identification. Indeed, there has not even been any suggestion that the very change wrought by the bill will be publicized in any way.
Simply having this provision rest as one of many in the Criminal Code that most Canadians only encounter when they are either charged with a crime or fall victim to one does not constitute effective education or awareness-raising, and neither is it a strategy that will prevent, deter or dissuade anyone from engaging in what we all agree is reprehensible behaviour.
Fundamentally, the 2,074 pages of legal language in the Criminal Code are neither a billboard nor a public service announcement. Any attempt to use them as such, however well intentioned, cannot be expected to succeed.
As I said at the outset, I will support this bill so as to join with the member for Red Deer in seeking to make this statement on an important issue. Again, I commend the member for this initiative. However, if we are to protect Canadians from those who would abuse their trust by disguising themselves as peace officers in order to do harm, we must devise concrete measures that can be more effective at both raising awareness and preventing this intolerable crime.