House of Commons photo

Track Irwin

Your Say


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is rights.

Liberal MP for Mount Royal (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 41.40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions February 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to table a petition on behalf of Canadians who are concerned about cuts to Canada Post mail delivery that will negatively impact on the elderly and persons with disabilities.

My riding of Mount Royal is home to many seniors, and I share their concerns about the serious risk to their well-being if forced to walk in hazardous weather conditions to get their mail, which arguably might well violate the equality provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Accordingly, I join with the petitioners and call upon the government to suspend this ill-conceived plan.

Situation in the Central African Republic February 12th, 2014

Mr. Chair, I would like to commend the member for Kitchener—Conestoga for his remarks this evening, both in chronological sequence and substantively. I want to say I enjoyed his presence on our foreign affairs subcommittee on international human rights, and regret that he has gone on to maybe better things.

I want to put a particular question to him that relates to what we have been discussing this evening but goes somewhat beyond it. The member has made reference to atrocities that have been committed. Earlier in the discussion this evening we talked about how these have risen to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, regrettably tragedies that have repeated themselves here in CAR and have occurred elsewhere.

The UN Security Council, of which the member made mention, in 2005 adopted the responsibility to protect doctrine. That doctrine says simply that whenever there is a situation that has risen to the level of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and, God forbid, genocide, then there is an obligation on behalf of the international community to protect.

The nature of that protection can take various forms. The member made reference to that. It can be humanitarian assistance. It can be diplomatic engagement. It can be political involvement. It can be military intervention, which requires a UN Security Council mandate in certain circumstances.

The importance of the responsibility to protect doctrine as a foundational normative principle, someone referred to it as one of the most important foundational normative principles since the universal declaration to begin with, cannot be overstated.

On Friday I am going to be participating in a colloquium that is being organized by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights on the whole question of genocide awareness and prevention, responsibility to protect, or R to P, and the like. I suspect I will be asked what I have been asked elsewhere when we have had these colloquia, does the Government of Canada subscribe to the responsibility to protect doctrine?

I would have assumed that this is a given since it is a United Nations Security Council mandate, and we have in the past affirmed it. However, I have not heard reference, and I am being frank about this, from the Conservative government on this point.

I think it is a crucial point. It is not only a question of whether we are partaking of a foundational international protection doctrine, it is also whether we are sharing with those that the member mentioned, others with whom we work in common cause and who do subscribe to that doctrine, and who do ask me whether we subscribe to it. I like to think that we do.

This is not a Liberal doctrine. This is a United Nations Security Council doctrine. This is an international normative doctrine. This is not a matter of partisan party politics.

I put the question specifically and in good faith. Does the government subscribe to the responsibility to protect doctrine as set forth by the United Nations Security Council in 2005 and which we accepted at the time?

Business of Supply February 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I stand corrected in that regard.

Just to further the basis for our initiative, which as I said has been concurred in by members from all parties, there needs to be an immediate independent and thorough review of CSEC activities and operations. In fact, our international partners, such as the U.K. and Australia, both have rigorous parliamentary oversight committees to ensure that the privacy rights of their citizens are protected as the security of these countries is protected.

Business of Supply February 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, such a parliamentary committee would be mandated through a review of the legislative and regulatory policy and administrative framework for the agencies responsible for national security in Canada.

I might add that this bill by the member for Malpeque stems from a 2004 report by an all-party committee of parliamentarians at the time, of which the Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay, was a member. We would expect the government's full—

Business of Supply February 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is the first time I am hearing that the establishment of an oversight committee, which I regard as part of the responsibility of Parliament as a whole, would somehow be transformed into an alleged partisan mechanism.

It is a parliamentary committee that has been recommended by members on all sides of the House for over 10 years, one that exists in the American Congress and European parliaments. It would not be a novel undertaking, but a necessary undertaking, both for the protection of security and individual liberties.

Business of Supply February 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion standing in the name of my colleague, the member for Malpeque, expressing the House's concern over reports that Communications Security Establishment Canada has engaged in improper practices, including the monitoring of Canadians, and calling for parliamentary oversight of CSEC through the measures outlined in Bill C-551, the national security committee of parliamentarians act. Indeed, I was one of those who, some 10 years ago, recommended the establishment of such a committee.

Others have risen to contextualize today's debate, citing recent media reports that CSEC accessed the metadata of passengers at airports in Canada using airport Wi-Fi, an activity which would be beyond CSEC's mandate and which would infringe upon the privacy rights of Canadians. Rather than discuss these reports at length or dwell on the technical questions surrounding the proper use of metadata, I will organize my remarks around a discussion of the foundational principles that should exist in our discussion of anti-terrorism law, practice, and policy, and their impact on matters of privacy, personal and collected.

As I have written elsewhere, the foundational principle should be that of human security, which does not see security and rights as a zero-sum or trade-off exercise, but which is inclusive of both security and human rights and is organized around a dual perspective. The first principle is that transnational terrorism constitutes an assault on the security of a democracy such as Canada, and on the individual and collective rights of our inhabitants, our rights to life, liberty, and security for the person. In that context, anti-terrorism law and policies are designed to protect the security of democracy and the rights of its inhabitants.

At the same time, the enactment, enforcement, and application of our anti-terrorism law and policy must always comport with the rule of law. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms must always be respected; individuals and groups must never be singled out for differential and discriminatory treatment; torture must always be condemned; and vulnerable and visible minorities must always be protected, be it as targets of incitement to racism and hatred or targets of racial profiling. In the promotion and protection of human security, we must never undermine our individual and collective rights, which are a fundamental component of that human security itself.

As the Supreme Court of Canada has put it, the question is not whether to respond to acts of terror but rather how we respond. “The Constitution”, it added, “is not a suicide pact”. Therefore, anti-terrorism law and policy is clearly necessary. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the centrepiece of our Constitution, and the proportionality principle, the linchpin of any purported limitation on any charter right, must always be adhered to and respected. The same goes for our privacy rights, which are concretized in two federal statutes, primarily the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

Constitutional democracies such as Canada can and should address the dilemma of how to respond to terrorism in an informed and principled way rather than in any political or politicized fashion. As such, I wholeheartedly support the bill referenced in this motion, which would allow for oversight by a committee of parliamentarians, both senators and members of the House of Commons, sworn to secrecy, to receive briefings and updates on the activities of Canada's security services, and to do so in as secure a setting as needed. The importance of this issue cannot be understated. Just last week, Interim Privacy Commissioner of Canada Chantal Bernier tabled a report entitled, “Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance”, which states:

While secrecy may be an inherent aspect of many intelligence activities, so is accountability. Reporting, review and appropriate legal controls lead to accountability on the part of decision-makers and institutions.

I believe I can speak for all members of this place when I say that we seek accountability and come to expect it. This holds even in the national security context.

As Ms. Bernier's report states:

National security claims do not reduce accountability obligations and security bodies must account to Canadians for what they do with personal information. Independent review mechanisms ensure this accountability of security agencies, safeguard public trust and verify demonstrable respect for individual rights.

The report of the interim Privacy Commissioner is a fascinating look at the interplay between national security and the protection of Canadians' personal information and data. There are also recommendations therein for the government. I hope it will implement some of them in the near future.

However, a more serious debate needs to happen wherein parliamentarians can help define and fashion the contour between what is acceptable in the pursuit of safety and what behaviours infringe upon our civil liberties in ways that we would deem inappropriate and improper, particularly with respect to the rights of privacy.

Regrettably, it is not the government that has asked for this open dialogue. Thus, I am thankful that my Liberal colleague from Malpeque has initiated this debate. It is important that Canadians play their part in this discussion as well.

Elizabeth Renzetti, in yesterday's Globe and Mail, put it quite well in her column, aptly titled “As government snoops, Canadians...take a nap”. Indeed, we have been lacking here in that sense of urgency about what has been happening, compared with the sense of urgency in matters of this kind in the United States and European parliaments.

Alarm bells are now going off. The interim Privacy Commissioner has sounded the alarm. We ought to heed her advice. She is not the only one, however. It is useful here to recall the Auditor General's report of March 2009, wherein he declared:

For Canadians to have confidence in their security and intelligence organizations, they need to know that government agencies and departments maintain a balance between protecting the privacy of citizens and ensuring national security.

It is precisely that balance that we strive for through an informed debate on CSEC's activities and through the creation of a parliamentary oversight committee for Canada's security infrastructure, as outlined in my colleague's bill.

Moreover, some of the answers the government has offered leave much to be desired. For example, the top national security adviser to the Prime Minister, at a committee of the other place, testified yesterday that he is “not totally persuaded” that CSEC had “tapped into” Canadians' communications via airport Wi-Fi.

Saying that one is not persuaded is not a categorical denial. It is not a definitive no. Should not the top security adviser to the Prime Minister know for sure? We, as parliamentarians, on behalf of Canadians, have an obligation to discover fully what happened and why, and to pronounce ourselves thereupon.

In its statement on the recent media reports, CSEC noted:

The CSEC Commissioner is currently conducting another review of CSEC’s metadata activities. We welcome that review.

I am hopeful that this review will be made public and that we will require more transparency from CSEC, including, as the Privacy Commissioner has recommended, the publication of annual statistics of interception and the tabling of a non-classified report in Parliament.

In closing, it is not only possible but also necessary to work together to ensure the protection of both security and rights. While it is a challenging matter to resolve, I believe that parliamentarians are capable of co-operating across party lines to ensure that Canadians enjoy both a robust security infrastructure, on the one hand, and the fullest expression of the principles underpinning the charter and privacy legislation, on the other.

Transparency of Payments Made by Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations to Foreign Governments Act January 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address Bill C-474, the transparency of payments made by mining, oil, and gas corporations to foreign governments act.

I would like to start by commending the sponsor of this bill, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, for his persistent pursuit of this important legislation over the past several years.

Bill C-474, which my colleague has properly characterized as a sunshine bill, would compel Canadian extractive corporations operating abroad to submit an annual audited transparency report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Natural Resources. The reporting requirement would mandate the disclosure of all payments provided by a corporation or its subsidiaries to a foreign government for the purpose of furthering its mining, oil, or gas industry activities and to publish this report on the company's website. A company that fails to comply with these disclosure requirements would be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than $20,000 and not more than $5,000,000.

Canada's international standing respecting our promotion and protection of human rights is something in which many of us take pride. Accordingly, our relationships with local populations and environments, and the foreign policy values we represent and exercise as a nation, have become bound up with our global mining footprint.

Indeed, 75% of the world's mining companies are based in Canada, and the approximately 1,300 Canadian extractive corporations invest hundreds of billions of dollars in more than 100 countries around the globe. Certainly, many of these companies respect human rights and the rule of law and thus engage in responsible resource development. However, the regrettable reality is that many do not, as my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood has demonstrated.

Given our position as a world leader in the extractive industry, we have a moral responsibility to implement rules that will ensure the transparency and accountability of Canadian firms operating abroad.

I am therefore supporting Bill C-474 and urge all members in this place to do the same for two compelling reasons: first, because the bill would buttress the current criminal law regime by ensuring its enforceability; and second, because this bill would prevent Canadian corporate complicity in the human rights abuses of foreign governments by exposing their financial relationships with foreign governments to proper public scrutiny.

I turn first to the issue of criminal enforcement.

The current legal regime addressing the issue of illicit payments by Canadian companies to foreign governments is the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. Bill C-474 would in fact enhance this act by providing prosecutors with sufficient evidence to meet the high burden of proof required in criminal prosecutions.

The difficulties of enforcing this act are apparent when one considers that the conviction obtained this past August in the Regina v. Karigar case was the first trial ever to have occurred under the Canadian Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and only the fourth conviction obtained in the act's 14-year history.

Indeed, according to Jamie Kneen, a spokesperson for the Ottawa-based non-profit organization Mining Watch Canada, the RCMP has stated that it simply cannot keep tabs on corporate bribery and corruption in the extractive industry.

Simply put, what we are seeing here is an accountability and transparency gap that must be addressed by mandatory disclosure. As long as Canadian extractive companies are able to hide the details of their financial relationships with foreign governments, prosecutions—and in particular, effective prosecutions—under the CFPOA will remain few and far between.

The importance of the bill goes far beyond the question of criminal enforcement, however important that alone remains. Indeed, mandatory disclosure is inextricably intertwined with the question of Canada's reputation abroad as a defender of human rights and as a responsible global citizen.

In this regard, I refer to the Prime Minister himself, who expressed this very sentiment when he announced in June that he would be “...establishing new mandatory reporting standards for Canadian companies operating in [the extractive] sector” and further acknowledged that such standards would result in the enhancement of Canada's reputation as “...a world leader in promoting transparency and accountability...” both at home and abroad.

I am encouraged that the Prime Minister expressed this sentiment, and I am sure that we all agree with the proposition that we must effectively guard Canada's hard-earned but at-risk reputation as a defender of human rights. This bill would afford us an opportunity to take real action to further the rule of law in the international arena while enhancing our global reputation in this regard, and thus I am hopeful that all members of the House will join in this cause.

By passing Bill C-474 and implementing mandatory disclosure requirements, our message to Canadians and to the world will be clear: What is good for human rights is also good for business, that Canada is a global leader not only with regard to innovation and development but also with regard to the integration of human rights with economic development; that we will not waiver in our demand that multinational corporations and the governments with which they do business cannot simply disregard international human rights laws and norms with impunity, or under the cover of Canadian law.

Certainly, as I mentioned, criminal prosecutions alone are not enough to ensure responsible corporate citizenship based on respect for the rule of law and human rights. But by providing for transparency and accountability across the board, we will encourage Canadian companies to operate ethically and with the utmost respect for human rights. Yet, one might hope that such laws would not be needed for the simple reason that companies should seek, as it were, to do the right thing regardless of the content of statutes.

I recall the testimony last November before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of Cliff Davis, president and CEO of Nevsun Resources, a Canadian-based mining company that operates one of the highest grade open pit base metal deposits in the world at the Bisha mine in Eritrea.

When I questioned Mr. Davis as to his company's response to reports from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and other major human rights organization that describe systematic Eritrean patterns of detention, torture, forced conscription, and the wholesale denial of freedom of religions and freedom of expression, he pleaded ignorance.

When I questioned him as to what, if any, steps his company had taken to bring these human rights violations to the attention of the Eritrean government, he replied that it was “not in [his] purview as president and CEO of [his] company”.

Mr. Davis' testimony illustrates the importance of the bill before us today. Indeed, this very “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” mentality is precisely what Bill C-474 seeks to address. If Mr. Davis does not consider the systematic human rights abuses perpetrated by the government with which he does business to be within his purview, at the very least he should be required to disclose the nature of his dealings with human rights abusing regimes so that Canadians can judge for themselves.

The issue here is that transparency leads to accountability, which we must all seek.

In conclusion, Bill C-474 affirms that as Canadians we expect our corporations to appreciate and respond to the human rights realities in the countries where they operate and to engage with these issues in the context of their operations abroad. This is the meaning of good corporate citizenship, which must be firmly rooted in the principles of transparency, accountability, and the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law.

Accordingly, I support Bill C-474 because I strongly believe that it will discourage Canadian-based corporations from profiting from, or facilitating, human rights atrocities in foreign countries and will reinforce in the minds of Canadians, including in the minds of investors and shareholders, that human rights are good for business and good for the rule of law. Indeed, Canada's reputation as a human rights defender is at stake in this regard.

I trust that the House will give its full support to the bill.

Petitions January 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition from Canadians concerned about harsh and degrading working conditions in the resource and extraction industry around the world, particularly with respect to what have been described as conflict minerals used in electronic equipment such as cellphones.

The petitioners call on the government to impose standards for identifying the source of these component materials so that Canadians can be confident that when they buy electronics, they are supporting safe and humane business practices.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns January 27th, 2014

With regard to the victims' surcharge: (a) for each of the last ten years, broken down by province and year; how much was collected; (b) broken down by program and service, how was the money in (a) spent; (c) broken down by province and year, in what percent of cases was a surcharge imposed; (d) since the enactment of the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act (IOAVA), how much, broken down by province and territory, has been collected; (e) for the ten years prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, how much money has the government given to victims' programs and services, broken down by program or service; (f) for the ten years prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, how much money has the government transferred to provinces for victims' programs and services, broken down by program or service; (g) for the ten years prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, broken down by year and province, in how many cases did a judge provide more than 20 years for surcharge repayment; (h) for the ten years prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, broken down by year and province, what were the mean, median, mode, and value of surcharges collected; (i) since the enactment of the IOAVA, broken down by year and province, what were the mean, median, and mode, and value of surcharges collected; (j) since the enactment of the IOAVA, how much money has the government given to victims' programs and services, broken down by program or service; (k) since the enactment of the IOAVA, in what specific cases, broken down by province, has a surcharge not been imposed; (l) since the enactment of the IOAVA, in what specific cases, broken down by province, has the collection of a surcharge been delayed more than 20 years; (m) prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, in which specific cases was the constitutionality of the surcharge challenged; (n) prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, in which specific cases did the Crown appeal on a matter solely related to the amount of the surcharge; (o) prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, in which specific cases did the Crown appeal on a matter solely related to the imposition of the surcharge; (p) since the enactment of the IOAVA, in which specific cases did the Crown appeal on a matter solely related to the amount of the surcharge; (q) since the enactment of the IOAVA, in which specific cases did the Crown appeal on a matter solely related to the imposition of the surcharge; (r) prior to the enactment of the IOAVA, in what circumstances did the Crown refer the matter of surcharge collection to a collection agency; (s) since the enactment of the IOAVA, in what circumstances has the Crown referred the matter of surcharge collection to a collection agency; (t) who was consulted with respect to the mandatory nature of the surcharge occasioned by the enactment of the IOAVA; (u) with respect to the IOAVA, were judges consulted, and if so, (i) to what extent, (ii) on what dates, (iii) by whom, (iv) with what outcome(s); (v) with respect to the IOAVA, were defense counsels consulted, and if so, (i) to what extent, (ii) on what dates, (iii) by whom, (iv) with what outcome(s); (w) with respect to the IOAVA, were Crown counsels consulted, and if so, (i) to what extent, (ii) on what dates, (iii) by whom, (iv) with what outcome(s); (x) did the government have any evidence to suggest judges would not delay the collection of surcharges upon enactment of the IOAVA; (y) did the government have any evidence to suggest judges would not reduce fines imposed upon enactment of the IOAVA; (z) since the IOAVA came into force, how many cases is the government currently appealing or did it appeal, broken down by province and with style of cause provided, in matters related to fine or surcharge imposition or collection; (aa) of the cases in (z), what offence was committed; (bb) of the cases in (z), what amount of fine was imposed; (cc) of the cases in (z), what amount of surcharge is to be imposed; (dd) of the cases in (z), what timeline for surcharge repayment was provided; (ee) of the cases in (z), how much is expected to be spent on the government’s appeal; (ff) of the cases in (z), what specific victims can be identified; (gg) of the cases in (z), in what way would victims be aided by the imposition of the surcharge; (hh) for the next fiscal year, how much is projected to be gained through the victims' surcharge, broken, down by province; (ii) for the next fiscal year, how much is to be transferred by the government to the provinces for victims' services; (jj) for the next fiscal year, how much is to be provided by the government directly for the provisions of victims' services; (kk) what are the specific services or programs in (jj) and how were they selected; (ll) what is the projected amount that victims' services will require to be fully funded in the next fiscal year; (mm) what requests for funding for victims' services has the government received for the next fiscal year; (nn) in what form(s) did the requests in (mm) come; (oo) how many of the requests in (mm) have been fulfilled or will be fulfilled, and by what amounts; (pp) what specific measures is government adopting, broken down by province and territory, to ensure fully funded victims' services; (qq) what specific benefits and objectives are sought through the surcharge that could not be sought through direct funding of victims' services or additional transfers to the provinces; (rr) are the benefits in and objectives in (qq) quantifiable, and if so, what are the most recent pieces of evidentiary proof that said benefit or objective is being achieved; (ss) how are the benefits and objectives in (qq) being evaluated to determine the effectiveness of the surcharge; (tt) has any direct correlation between offender deterrence and victim surcharge imposition been observed and, if so, what is it and by what measure was it determined; (uu) has any direct correlation between recidivism and victim surcharge imposition been observed and, if so, what is it and by what measure was it determined; (vv) is there any direct correlation observed between the collection of the victims' surcharge and the rate of victimization and, if so, what is it and by what measure was it determined; (ww) what additional policies are in place to ensure the timely and full funding for the provisions of victims' services; (xx) what measures are in place to ensure the timely and full funding for the provisions of victims' services should the mandatory surcharge be found unconstitutional; (yy) how will it be ensured that no victim will suffer as a consequence of litigation relating to the imposition or collection of the victim’s surcharge; (zz) how will it be ensured that the victims' surcharge is effective and (i) by what measures is it being evaluated, (ii) with what frequency, (iii) by whom; (aaa) what other metrics does the government track with respect to the victims' surcharge; (bbb) how much has been spent on the victims' surcharge program since its first inception; (ccc) during the development of the IOAVA, how was accountability defined and how is it measured; (ddd) does the victim's surcharge increase offenders' accountability for victims, and if so, how and by what measure; (eee) how does the government define “victimless crime”; (fff) is imposition of the victims' surcharge appropriate in cases of “victimless crime”; (ggg) to whom would the victims' surcharge fees go in in cases of “victimless crime”; (hhh) during the policy development of the IOAVA, what considerations were given to “victimless crime” and how was it determined to make the surcharge applicable in such cases?

Criminal Code December 6th, 2013

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-561, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (trafficking and transplanting human organs and other body parts).

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to introduce legislation to address one of the most heinous practices in the modern world, namely organ harvesting.

This legislation, if adopted, would create penal sanctions for persons who in Canada or outside Canada are knowingly involved in the medical transplant of human organs or other body parts obtained or acquired as a consequence of a direct or indirect financial transaction, or without the donor's consent.

Beyond new criminal sanctions, it would also amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to prevent entry into Canada of those who would engage in or otherwise facilitate such practices. Evidence points to organ harvesting in China where Falun Gong practitioners suffer unspeakable horrors. Yet there are cases as well, such as this summer in the U.K. of a child being trafficked for her organs.

We must combat human and organ trafficking in all forms, and I hope this legislation will add to Canada's abilities to prosecute and prevent any involvement with this abhorrent practice.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)