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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word is terms.

NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 62.80% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law) October 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit of a speculative question but it is certainly worth answering, especially today where in question period the debate in the House was very collegial and we talked about working together. We talked about good will and having respect. I know those are all things that we share, but somehow it gets lost on the way and sometimes it gets horribly lost at committee where real dogfights take place.

It is very disturbing. Committees used to be very collegial. I can remember when committees used to issue quite a lot of unanimous reports because there was a lot of negotiation, give and take, and they would come out with unanimous reports. I see a member across the way who would remember that. That is very rare today because now there is a kind of shadow from the PMO, a rigidity of how to view a bill at committee and a lot of opposition members feel like we are being shut down at committee. It is unfortunate because some of the good work that MPs can do happens at committee. We want to improve the bill. We want to make constructive suggestions.

The question from my colleague is whether I think that will happen. Well, there is always hope, but unfortunately we have seen a very strong pattern at committee of the government members' votes just kind of washing over and that has been very unfortunate. Because this is a bill that we all do support in a way and it is about the welfare of animals that we all care about, maybe there will be some good will to constructively look at amendments. Let us hope for that. I do not want to be cynical, so let us send the bill to committee and hope that we can come out with a better bill. Would that not be a good thing?

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law) October 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I think it is very relevant that we are looking at the question of mandatory minimum sentences because this is a feature in the bill. The question I heard from my colleague was about why the government continues to do this when it is being challenged and when there is now mounting evidence that there are problems with mandatory minimum sentences. In this case it happens to be six months in prison if a law enforcement animal is killed while helping a police officer enforce the law, so that is the particular provision that is included in the bill.

Unfortunately, I do not know that there is a rationale as to why Conservatives continue to do it. It has become a very political question. It is not a question of evidence. It is not a question of judicial oversight. It is a mindset, a rigid attitude that somehow a mandatory minimum is going to fix the problem and is going to make people feel better. It is a very emotional thing. It is not based on evidence. In fact, as I said, the evidence shows us that it is going the other way.

That is very problematic. I do not think we want a judicial system based on what we think people perceive as tougher. We need to base public policy decisions on evidence, merit and public interest overall. We are facing a very big situation and that is why we are focusing on this aspect in the bill, because it really bothers us that yet again we are seeing this same pattern emerge.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law) October 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member has reminded me of yet another aspect that we need to consider when looking at the bill, and that is what has taken place in the United States.

I was doing a lot of work on the bill that came forward with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, and this was several years ago when it came forward in its first form. I did a fair amount of research in the U.S. about what was going on. This was before the election of President Obama.

I was so surprised to learn that in individual states in the U.S., there were various commissions being set up to look at the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing. In some states, and I do not remember all of the states, they were actually repealing it, because their prisons were absolutely overflowing, particularly with young African American men and mostly for drug crimes. These are people who are, in effect, sentenced for life, because their opportunity to come back into society and to contribute becomes more and more marginalized and limited.

I did find it really interesting that on the one hand, in the United States, even under the Bush administration, there was a movement beginning to get away from mandatory minimum sentencing, yet here in Canada we were embarking on this course. That seemed quite incredible.

I am glad the member raised this. For Canadians who follow this, they should be quite concerned that we are taking a very regressive path. We often think of ourselves as being so advanced compared to the U.S., whether it is with health care or enforcement issues, yet in some instances we are doing a lot worse, and this would be one of them. We are falling far behind.

I am glad the member raised this point. I think it is very important. Just as they are reviewing their sentencing procedures in the U.S., we should be doing the same in Canada. It is not too late to do that here. I thank the member for raising this point.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law) October 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, first, I am very happy to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-35. It is ironic and timely that we are dealing with a bill that deals with law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals.

I want to reflect for a very short moment on what took place in the House yesterday. Members have stood today to offer their personal reflections. It was really wonderful to hear the speeches this morning from the leaders of the various political parties, from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and to hear the statements in the House. I think it was one of those days that one does not forget.

I have been here 17 years, and I never believed that I would experience a day like we experienced yesterday. Yes, there was a sense of great anxiety and stress about what was taking place, because of course, we did not know what was going on around us, but I think what I am going to remember is the sense of camaraderie and professionalism and people staying calm and staying together. We all have our own personal experience of where we were, who we were with, and what we heard, but listening to pages, to staff, to the security personnel, and our own staff today, in the lobby, and hearing the perspectives of where people are has been really quite remarkable. I have come away with a feeling that, collectively, everyone kept their cool.

It does not sink in until later how really close we came to a terrible disaster, much worse than what happened, and we are grateful for that.

There are things to remember, but we are back at work. Certainly, that is the hallmark of this institution. It is the people's business. We come back, we get on with our work, and we get on to debating bills, because that is what we are elected to do. We do not do that with a sense of hardship; we do it with a sense of mission and a sense of sincerity about who we are and what we need to do. I am very glad to be back in the House today and to see my colleagues in the House from all sides, and in particular, to be debating the bill.

I heard the debate earlier in the day. I will be making some of the points some of my colleagues have made. I think cruelty to animals, intentional cruelty, is something that just about everybody cannot stomach. It is something that hits us all, and it is something we feel compelled to do something about. Of course, we have the law. We have our criminal justice system to provide protections not just to persons and property but also for animal welfare. That is very important, and I think Canadians support that very strongly.

As we heard in the debate today, the bill comes from a particular incident in 2013, when a police service dog was stabbed to death in the line of duty.

I think that as legislators, it is very important that we examine the bill very carefully, because on its surface, one could say that this is a bill that deserves support. It would specifically introduce a new amendment or create a new offence that would specifically prohibit anyone from killing, wounding, poisoning, or injuring trained animals who work for the police, for persons with disabilities, or for the Canadian Armed Forces.

The principle of the bill is something that is very supportable, and of course, that is what we are debating here today: the bill in principle, at second reading. We, in the NDP, will be supporting the bill to go forward to committee.

Having said that, as the official opposition, our job is to look at the details, go through legislation, get underneath the top layer, and figure out what the bill would really do and maybe, importantly, what the consequences of the bill would be. As we have come to know in the House, and with the current government, it is important to look at the details. How many omnibus bills have we gone through and found terrible surprises in? There have been really awful pieces of legislation that have chucked out other pieces of legislation. The details in a bill become very important.

That is no different for the bill we are debating here today. I would say it is concerning, looking at this bill, because while we have a bill that has good intention, when we look at the details, we can see that it would introduce minimum sentencing and that it does reflect a pattern we have seen from the government over and over again. It is very disturbing.

I have said in the House quite a few times that we should be keeping a list of how the Criminal Code has changed so significantly. We have had all of these bills come through. Some of them have been government bills. Many of them have been private members' bills. They are kind of like these little boutique bills, which one by one pick off this section or that section of the Criminal Code. I guess somebody keeps track of it.

I do recall that one of the terrible things that happened in the House through legislation was that the Law Reform Commission was abolished. I am sure the Speaker will recall this, because he would have debated it in the House when it came forward. It was the Law Reform Commission of Canada's job to go through legislation, evaluate it at a long distance, and give us an overview to give us an oversight. It was abolished.

There is a big question here over who keeps track of what all these changes mean cumulatively and what the consequences are. We certainly try to do that as the opposition. We try to keep track of all of these bills, look at all the little holes and changes they create in the Criminal Code, and see what the total effect is. That is a lot of work.

Here is another example of a bill that, on the surface, may look fairly innocent but, in the detail, does actually have consequences. It is a bill that would bring forward minimum sentencing and provisions around serving consecutively.

Some people may ask what the big deal is about that or whether there is any problem with that. The problem is that our judicial system is based on a history and tradition of prosecution, defence, and the role of the judge in terms of being able to use discretion. The judge is able to look at individual cases as being unique. When we create laws that become, in effect, a one-size-fits-all and that are so hyper-prescriptive, we create problems. This is because when we do it to an extreme, the law does not necessarily fit and cannot meet the circumstances of what a particular case might be about. That is why we have judges who can look at the law, apply provisions, and use this word “discretion”. I sometimes worry that discretion has become a dirty word in this place, yet it is a hallmark of our judicial system.

I am talking about creeping mandatory minimum sentences. I do not know how many bills we have now had in the House that have had those provisions now put in them. It is not just the current government, by the way. There were mandatory minimums with the previous government as well, and there always was the existence of some mandatory minimums. It is not as if there is never a situation where they should not apply, but now they have become so pervasive in the system that they have almost become the lowest common denominator—slap in a mandatory minimum.

I have this little picture in my head of a group of interns or staffers somewhere, who are combing through the Criminal Code section by section and saying, “Hah, mandatory minimum. We could put one there. We could put one here”.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but I sometimes feel that is what is going on, that there is this pattern of seeking out instances where mandatory minimums can be applied, and it is fundamentally changing our judicial system. It is certainly a problem with the bill before us, and I think it is very important that we examine the bill in great detail in committee.

I hope very much that when the bill goes to the justice committee, I presume, government members will not use their majority to then slap on time limits. We are facing that in the public safety committee right now on a bill that has to do with an issue very important to me, which is safe injection sites in this country. It is a complex and important bill, and I find it incredible that at committee there are two meetings for witnesses and that is the end of it—just two meetings. When we get to amendments, I think the motion says that there will be no more than five minutes or something like that. The censorship and limitation that are now placed on the debate and examination of bills is quite ferocious and, in and of itself, very harmful.

We are not here to hold stuff up. I mean, occasionally that does happen. We might have a bill that we just dig in and say that we will hold it up as long as we can, but by and large we are not here to hold things up. We are here to give proper consideration both in the House at second reading and in committee with amendments and then when it comes back to the House for report stage and third reading.

Therefore, when the bill goes to committee, I hope the committee will be fair and consider that there should not be limits placed on it in terms of the timeline for its consideration, so that the committee can look at some of the questions that I and others have identified today in debate.

I am not on the justice committee, but I am sure others will raise this. It is to look at Department of Justice reports that actually tell us that mandatory minimum sentences have not had a demonstrable deterrent effect. This is something to consider. We go to these extraordinary lengths to change legislation and have it go through the House, the Senate, and the whole process, yet there is really no evidence to show us whether or not it is a deterrent. In fact, the opposite may be true in that the misuse of mandatory minimum sentences, as my colleague said earlier, leads to a downloading to provinces, overcrowding, and skyrocketing costs. These are very real consequences. Provincial budgets are tight. Again, the question is who is tracking that.

I have seen some information come out on the impact of mandatory minimum sentences. I think the Canadian Bar Association has been doing some work on tracking what the impact is, and there has been some work done on a bill that dealt with mandatory minimums for drug crimes. In fact, there was a court case in British Columbia in which a judge refused to go along with the mandatory minimum aspect, and that is now under review.

There are some very serious questions that need to be considered in the bill. This needs to be done in the context of a larger impact in terms of the Criminal Code and our justice system. I think it is very important and incumbent upon us not to ignore that fact. If we just look at these as one-offs, we will never understand the full picture.

What bothers me the most is the strong sense I have that the way the government operates is that for every problem the Conservatives identify, they see the solution as a new law that is harsher.

Some of these questions are complex social questions, and there is no evidence to suggest that a tougher law, a law-and-order approach, is going to actually solve anything. In fact, it might very likely make the situation worse. These things really bother me, and I have certainly seen these changes taking place over a number of years.

However, to come back to the bill itself, we think there are some good aspects in it that should warrant our support. I know that my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and my colleague from Parkdale—High Park have put forward initiatives that deal with animal cruelty. I myself have a bill that also deals with this issue. I have presented thousands of petitions in the House about cruelty to cats and dogs in terms of the use of their fur from overseas, and how it should be banned as it has been banned in other countries.

There are numerous initiatives that we have within the NDP to protect against animal cruelty, and certainly we have a huge appreciation for the role that law-enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals play in our society. Again, I come back to yesterday when it was very visible. These are highly trained animals. They are well cared for. They are intelligent. We do not want to see them come into harm's way. We do not want to see vicious attacks on these animals, just as we do not want to see attacks on people. It is not as if we do not care; in fact, we care very much, and the bills we have put forward ourselves in private members' business are evidence of that.

Still, we have to worry about this bill. I have a concern that it is just going to flow right through and we will not have that examination, but we should and we want to ensure that the provisions in Bill C-35 are no different from the penalties and fines already set out in section 445 of the Criminal Code for all animals other than cattle. There is a lot to examine here.

I appreciate the fact that my colleagues have spoken today. We do want to say this for the government. Why is it so important that the government wants to take away sentencing discretion from the courts? Are the Conservatives aware of their own justice department's work about mandatory minimums and whether or not they are a deterrent? Are they aware of how mandatory minimums are undermining the entire legal process? I do not know if there is that knowledge on the government side, whether or not the Conservatives are curious to know the answers to those questions. I can only say that we are, and we think it should be followed up.

In closing, I would like to add my voice along with my colleagues in saying that we certainly support this bill going to committee. It does require further examination. It does need to be looked at in the context of other legislation where mandatory minimums have been brought in. We need to look at the impacts on the provincial system, we need to look at the costs, and we need to ask some tough questions. We need to be intelligent and rational about how we proceed on these kinds of measures. We need to look at evidence, not political doctrine. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. We are here to uphold the public interest. We are here to uphold the notion of merit, evidence, and analysis. Let us remember that when we consider this bill further, and let us hope we can make some sensible decisions.

Health October 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are also very concerned about the chikungunya virus, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the Caribbean. The outbreak has led Jamaica to declare a state of emergency. At least 200 Canadians have already contracted the virus, and many more risk being infected in their travels this winter.

Can the minister inform the House of what steps the Public Health Agency is taking to protect Canadians from this virus?

Health October 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, while the death toll from Ebola is rising daily, the International Red Cross has said that the virus can be stopped within four months if the world is prepared to take all the necessary steps. This is a global crisis, and it requires a global response.

Can the minister update the House on what additional contribution the Canadian government is prepared to make to the international response?

Business of Supply October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very thoughtful comments on this important debate that we are having today. I would also like to thank him for sharing his personal family experience, because I think these things matter a lot in terms of impacts on our health care system.

Certainly we in the NDP have been raising the issue of the Ebola crisis almost every day in the House. The leader of the official opposition, the member for Outremont, and others in our caucus have been raising this issue with the Minister of Health, and there are many unanswered questions.

I think the member well understands the importance of the health care infrastructure that we have in this country. We need to have protocols in place, hence some of the questions in the letter that we sent to the minister, but for West Africa, not having basic health infrastructure is a critical issue, whether it is clinics, delivery systems, or access to primary health care. I wonder if the member would comment in terms of the importance of Canada supporting that kind of long-term initiative.

Business of Supply October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. Unfortunately, I wish I knew the answer as to when we would get a response from the government. This is precisely why we need to have officials come before the committee: so that we can keep pressing on these questions.

We have asked if there is a plan to rapidly increase production of the vaccine in the unfortunate event of worst-case scenarios, as outlined by the WHO. We have not had a response on that question. We do not know what efforts are currently under way to produce more of the vaccine. We do not know what percentage of the existing supply will be used for clinical trials.

There are a ton of questions that we have to keep pressing. I can tell the member that we will absolutely do that. It is our responsibility and duty to do that until we get answers.

Business of Supply October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her very appropriate and pointed question, because the issue of timing and what is moving quickly or slowly is a very critical matter.

As I pointed out in my comments, we do know that as of this date, less than 10% of the funds committed by Canada have actually been delivered. That implies that we are a long way from where we should be in ensuring that Canada's commitment is actually getting to the people who need it.

Overall, the same is true internationally. This does have to be an international effort. It is very concerning to see the estimates made by the World Bank, the United Nations, and others that this is about the long game. It is about a sustained effort. It is about ensuring basic health care capacity in the affected regions. That is a very important question to deal with. We saw that with HIV/AIDS. Even if treatments are available, if there are no local clinics, no trained personnel, no delivery system, then what needs to be done is completely missing.

We have to focus on the short term in terms of a vaccine and protective gear, but we also have to make a long-term commitment to make sure this funding continues.

Business of Supply October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate today as the health critic for the NDP. I would like to thank my colleague for bringing forward this motion in the House today.

Obviously we will be supporting the motion. We see it as a very minimal demand to the government to ask the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer and the Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Standing Committee on Health twice monthly to report and account on what Canada is doing around Ebola, both in Canada and internationally. It is a very minimal demand, and obviously we need to go a lot further and do a lot more. Certainly, as far as the motion goes, we support it and thank our colleague for bringing it forward today.

I want to focus my comments today on what it is that has been completely lacking in Canada's response. Of course we do know that Canada has committed $65 million internationally. Just to put that in context, for example, the U.K. has committed $205 million. Germany, for example, has committed $127 million. There has been just recently very generous contributions made by private individuals.

We are obviously glad that Canada has made the commitment of $65 million, but what is really concerning and we should be focusing on is that at this point less than 10%, only about $5 million of the $65 million has been delivered in goods and services in terms of what needs to be done. That is very concerning.

All of us are very concerned about what is taking place in West Africa. We are watching the evolution and the development of this crisis, and the international response is so critical, not only in terms of the vaccine but also in ensuring that medical supplies, protective gear and so on, as well as health care professionals, are there on the ground. That is the most important point I want to make today.

This is not unlike what we have seen with the AIDS crisis. I note the article that came out in The Lancet magazine yesterday also made the point that the critical issue is containment within the countries that are now infected and to ensure that they have the capacity, the support and the resources, including a vaccine, to deal with their situation on the ground. This is about trying to ensure that we are not seeing an increase in transmissions to other countries, whether it be in other African countries, in Europe or in North America.

It is very concerning to us that we are many weeks into this crisis and Canada has fallen so far behind in its ability or willingness, whatever the impediment is, to deliver on the commitments it has made. I have come to the conclusion that unfortunately what we are seeing unroll in Canada is more of a public relations exercise.

I have been on a number of panels with the parliamentary secretary. We have heard the minister in the House when we have asked questions. We are told every time that Canada is a world leader, we are doing this and we are doing that, the vaccine was donated and it has been made available, yet nothing is actually getting done, or very little. It was only yesterday that some of the vaccine actually moved out of Canada.

We even heard the Prime Minister basically blame the WHO for that, when in actual fact, Canada itself sold the licensing rights to a company for $205,000, a very valuable health product, the vaccine that was developed in Canada, and basically did nothing to expedite the development of the clinical trials and the need to get this vaccine to where it needs to go. In the U.S. they have been working on the clinical trials for a month already.

There are so many questions as to why the Canadian government has made these pronouncements publicly but has not followed through and remained vigilant in terms of delivering on the commitments that Canada has made.

Yesterday or maybe at the end of last week, we learned the shocking situation that back in June the honorary Canadian consul for Sierra Leone was urgently sending messages to Canada saying that they needed protective gear. Canada was auctioning off those same items for cents on the dollar. It seems unbelievable.

It was not until September that those discounted auctions were actually stopped. There was a delay from June until September. There was information on the ground that was coming back to Canada, saying they desperately need assistance and need to get protective gear over to Sierra Leone, and Canada was selling off the needed equipment at incredibly discounted prices. We have now learned that it is being resold elsewhere at inflated prices.

This raises a whole question about the plan and whether or not there is oversight on the plan that Canada has developed and that we have been told exists. We certainly do appreciate the briefings that have been given by officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada. We appreciate the information they have provided.

However, I do have concerns. We know the budget of the Public Health Agency of Canada has been cut by $60 million over the last three years. We have to question whether or not, even within our own environment here politically, within Health Canada, within PHAC, if there is the capacity to deliver on the plan that is being developed.

We have been asking, consistently, in the House and in other venues, and in writing to the minister—I think we have now done two letters—very specific questions about what it is that Canada is doing and why it is that we are falling so far behind. I have to say that we are not getting the answers we need.

It is not like this is an issue where we can say, “Oh well, all in good time”. This is a critical urgency. It is an emergency today. There are people who are dying. The rate of infection is averaging 1,000 new infections per week.

Every day, every week there is a lag or delay it is affecting the lives of many people who we could be helping. This is a very critical issue.

I want to mention the letter we wrote recently to the Minister of Health. We asked some very pointed questions. We asked which minister was responsible for ensuring quarantine and treatment protocols in Canadian hospitals and clinics. That is a very basic question.

We know that PHAC has been developing national guidelines. We know that yesterday the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, a very major organization in this country, representing front-line health care workers, expressed a lot of concern about the fact that front-line health care workers are not prepared in this country. They do not have the protective gear. In fact, provinces are apparently developing different protocols and different levels of safety equipment. What is happening in Ontario may be different than what is happening in Saskatchewan or in British Columbia.

It does raise some very serious questions as to who exactly is responsible for not just developing guidelines but ensuring quarantine and treatment protocols. Who is responsible for ensuring that hospitals and medical practitioners have the appropriate equipment? These are questions that we have not yet had answers to.

Today, I want to say that in supporting this motion, it is important that the officials come before the health committee, that we be able to hold them to account and to provide these questions. We will certainly be doing that in the House. I have been very glad that the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Outremont has been raising these questions in the House on a very regular basis, as have I and my colleague, the member for LaSalle—Émard.

We will continue to do so because we are very concerned that this not just be a public relations exercise by Canada, but that it be a full commitment, not just in the short term but in the long term, to help people in West Africa who are affected and to ensure that there are the proper protocols and treatments in place should there be a case in Canada, which of course we hope will never happen. However, we have to be prepared, particularly given what we have seen in the United States and some of the protocols that were broken there.

We support the motion and we will be doing a lot more on this file to hold the government to account.