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Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.50% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Business of Supply October 21st, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my colleague has a real passion for this topic and for many other topics involving the developing world, health in particular.
At the end of the member's speech she proposed an amendment to the motion, and that is the second amendment that has been proposed today. I would like to invite her to speak to both of them. The first amendment came from the government side and was put forward by the member for Pickering—Scarborough East. He did not get consent from the mover. His amendment would have allowed for the ministers who are being called before committee to make written submissions rather than appear before committee. I would invite my colleague's comments on why that amendment did not receive the consent of the mover and why it is unacceptable.
Could she also speak further to the amendment that she just put forward in terms of how she expects it to gain cross-party support?
Committees of the House October 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, indeed we did hear from a wide range of witnesses. The situation across the country, as we might expect, is not uniform. We live in a country where there is one officially bilingual province, and that is the province of New Brunswick. Indeed, the challenges would be significantly less in a place such as New Brunswick than in provinces where the linguistic minorities are much smaller, I would say, including the province of Prince Edward Island and probably the Yukon. The one that was specifically referenced was Saskatchewan.
I come back to the question I asked the member for Acadie—Bathurst. In spite of these challenges that come with the relative size of our minorities, the challenges that come with our geography, quite frankly, because that is a big part of it, all in all, there is what is practical as well.
Probably the most compelling testimony we heard at committee was from a defence lawyer who said that when he sees someone who is on remand down in the holding cell and he talks to that individual about his rights, his language rights, his charter rights and what to expect, the only thing that individual wants is out. It does not matter whether the individual can understand the proceedings on a scale of 10 to 10 or six to 10, if he can get a judge and a hearing quicker by electing one official language rather than the other, that is the one he wants.
That is the reality in this country. I think it is problematic. However, it is not perfect, and given the diversity we have and given the huge geography we have, we cannot allow perfection to be the enemy of the good.
Committees of the House October 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am taking this opportunity to join in the debate with respect to the justice committee report on part XVII of the Criminal Code.
Part XVII of the Criminal Code deals with the language of the accused. Contained in that section is a mandatory statutory review. The review was undertaken by the justice committee, which is the committee that is designated under that section of the code. The review took place over the course of five meetings.
The goal or the purpose of having a statutory review such as this built into the Criminal Code, built into this particular section of the Criminal Code, is that at the time it was brought in there was a realization that circumstances change, that society evolves. In this case, we can look back on recent years and see the increasing diversity in Canada. We can look at the levels of language training in the various provinces, the various interpretations of the charter of rights over the years, and the development of technology and the impact it has had on the administration of justice.
The drafters, at the time, inserted this into the code so that these things could be taken account of. It forces parliamentarians to address their attention to the language rights measures in the code, and every so often ask if they could be improved, if they were still effective and if there was something else that needed to be done. Quite frankly, it just makes good sense for something as fundamental as language rights to be assessed on a regular basis, in that way, for that reason.
The other complicating factor here is the overlapping jurisdictions. The Government of Canada has jurisdiction over the Criminal Code, but the administration of justice is a provincial responsibility. Any time there are overlapping jurisdictions, there is always a risk that something is going to fall through the gaps. Indeed, we see that in this country in health care. The drafters of this provision within part XVII realized that when it comes to the language of the accused, when it comes to the fundamental rights, when it comes to the overlapping jurisdictions, this was something they wanted to be very certain had the vigilant eye of parliamentarians.
For that reason, it made good sense for this review to happen. The committee took its work very seriously, as I said. We heard from provincial ministers of justice, the Commissioner of Official Languages, and others. We heard from practitioners in the field. They came before the committee to offer their suggestions and advice. The conclusion, I am happy to report, is that these provisions of the code are generally being administered without any major difficulty, but there is some room for improvement. The room for improvement is reflected in the report, in the eight recommendations at the end.
By way of background, this provision of the code was enacted in 1978 and was eventually adopted by all the provinces by 1990. Under part XVII of the Criminal Code, on application by an accused, a judge will order that the accused be tried before a judge or a judge and jury, as the case may be, who speak the official language of Canada that is the language of the accused. If the accused speaks neither English nor French, a judge will order that he or she be tried before a judge or a judge and jury who speak the official language of Canada in which the accused can best give testimony. Courts are also required to make interpreters available to assist the accused, counsel and witnesses.
Some of the issues that were identified during the course of the committee's review included the right of notification of the accused to be tried in the official language of his choice. The fact is that this right is communicated to the accused in ways that are not consistent across the country.
In some jurisdictions that right is given to the accused verbally by the presiding judge. In other circumstances the judge simply notifies counsel for the accused and leaves the responsibility of advising the accused of that right with his counsel. In my experience in the criminal court I would suggest that either is equally effective. When counsel gives his undertaking to the court that he or she will take the advice of the judge and pass it on to the accused, that can be taken to the bank. That is a solemn undertaking given to the court. It would be a breach of professional ethics to violate that undertaking. In some courts there is a printed card that is given to the accused to notify him or her of this.
Probably because of the overlapping jurisdictions and different practices within provinces, the varying degrees of presence of both official languages in different jurisdictions is uneven. That does not make it bad but it does underline the need for a regular review.
We heard also about judicial language training. This is critical for language rights within the justice system to have any meaning. For the judges who are presiding over cases, whether appointed provincially or federally and whether at the provincial court or the Supreme Court level, and I would argue even at the Court of Appeal level, there has to be a capacity to be able to provide a fair hearing in the language of choice of the accused.
In some jurisdictions, that is harder than it may seem. In my home province of Prince Edward Island I can say that there are three provincial court judges, five supreme court judges and three judges of the court of appeal. None of them would have their mother tongue as French, but more than half of them are actively pursuing French language training and one to the point where he has succeeded in getting what civil servants call a level C. That is Mr. Justice Gordon Campbell. There are others who are in it. This is something that is taken very seriously by the judges in this country, even in areas where a French trial would be a rarity.
However, it goes beyond the training of judges. In order for this right to have teeth, it is not just the judges that need a capacity in both languages, there is also a need for court interpreters and for some capacity to be able to select a jury in both official languages. Indeed, that can be a challenge. These are the types of issues we heard about at committee.
There are a couple of other issues that came up at committee that are also dealt with in the recommendations. When we talk about the right of an accused to a fair trial, I would suggest that it is not just about what happens in the court room after the accused pleads guilty. In the preliminary proceedings prior to a trail there is often a bail hearing. I would suggest that the right to be tried and have access to the judicial system in the language of one's choice would include the right to have a bail hearing conducted in French or English. In any criminal proceeding it would also include that the accused has the right to a complete package of disclosure from the Crown, which would include police notes and the like. These should be made available to an accused person in the language of his or her choice.
All of these require resources and funding. Any time we have resources, funding and two levels of jurisdiction inevitably the finger pointing starts as to who is responsible. That is the very thing that needs to be avoided in the interest of justice.
At the conclusion of the testimony, at the conclusion of all the evidence we heard from the experts, from the provincial attorneys general, the justice committee came up with eight recommendations.
I believe that the recommendations were well-reasoned. The parliamentary secretary was quite right. While we did have a good discussion at committee, this report was adopted on consensus, and I am pleased to stand by the report. I do believe that a proper and thorough examination was done, as was contemplated by those who mandated the statutory review within the Criminal Code with respect to language of the accused. I am pleased to stand in support of concurrence in the committee report.
Committees of the House October 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, in the report presented by the justice committee, the second recommendation was that the federal-provincial-territorial heads of prosecutions committee meet with the Department of Justice Canada to discuss issues related to the composition of bilingual juries and court interpretation in both official languages. This week, the heads of prosecutions in this country are meeting in Charlottetown. My question for the parliamentary secretary is whether the Department of Justice officials are there and whether this is on the agenda.
Committees of the House October 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst for his speech. It is clear that he is passionate about bilingualism.
He said it was important to follow up on the report and ensure that this translates into tangible action on the ground. I agree with him on that.
However, one thing that we heard at committee from someone who practices criminal law on a daily basis is that while these rights are enshrined, and while it is the duty of parliamentarians to review the application of this section of the code, in reality what we commonly see in criminal proceedings is that when a defence lawyer goes to the accused and says, “You have the right to a trial in either language and to testify in either language; do you want to proceed in your maternal tongue or in Canada's other official language?”, the answer is commonly, “I do not care; whichever gets me out of here the quickest”.
Keeping in mind the member's emphasis on what is happening on the ground, does this reality concern him? Is this something that we can really address through legislation?
Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act October 2nd, 2014
Before putting my name on the ballot, I had the good fortune of having a couple of careers, one in the management of a regional law firm and the other in a family business. One of the lessons I took with me to Parliament Hill was that a good employer always hires employees who are smarter than he is. Now, in my case, that leaves a lot of options. I say that just to draw light to the very capable employees I have in my constituency office.
There is a steady stream of people who come in to the constituency office with a wide variety of problems that need to be dealt with, but there are a couple of things that are consistent. Number one is their emotional state. They are generally frustrated about having to try to navigate the bureaucracy. The other, with the exception of passports, is the importance to them of the problem they have come to our office to talk to us about. It is generally the most important thing that is happening in their lives at that time.
They are stuck in this situation. They have generally tried other avenues to solve the problem. Their first recourse was not to the member of Parliament's office. They come into an MP's office, in my case, my constituency office. I am very fortunate to have very capable staff there.
I say this because the case for Bill C-247 is strong. It would require the Minister of Employment and Social Development to implement all measures necessary to establish Employment and Social Development Canada as the single point of contact for the Government of Canada in respect of all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident.
In my opinion, this bill is a perfect example of how federal representation works in Canada. We are here, in Ottawa, representing a diverse collection of voices, bringing forward the concerns or issues identified within our constituencies and translating those concerns and issues into federally legislated solutions.
The death of a loved one is never easy. If we, in this House, can do our part to lessen the burden of responsibility that falls to someone who is grieving, then we should absolutely do just that.
It was reassuring to read the previous speeches on the bill from back in June of this year and to see that most, not all but most, members had only constructive and valuable things to add to this debate in a sincere effort to strengthen the bill. With this in mind, I hope to see the entire House support sending this bill to committee.
It is evident that the research for the bill is thorough and sound. The evidence the member for Guelph is relying upon comes from various well-known, reliable sources, including the 2013 fall report of the Auditor General. In that report, the notification of death is specifically mentioned on page 12:
When a death occurs...someone must contact each department separately and follow different processes, as this information is not generally shared and departments do not offer the ability to do this online. This makes it difficult for users who may be trying to stop the payment of certain benefits to prevent overpayments...while trying to apply for others....
Perhaps the only situation worse than not receiving full benefits from a federal program is receiving too much, due to administrative errors, and then being told, “Sorry, you have to pay that money back”. This is an extremely difficult circumstance to be found in when a person is also dealing with the loss of someone they love.
Other members who have spoken to the bill have made reference to the various federal departments that would need to be contacted about the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident. There are a few that stood out to me, namely Veterans Affairs and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
As we know, cuts to Service Canada have drastically altered the level of service across the country, and my province has not been spared. When the government decided to cut the civil service by about 5%, the level of the cuts was double that in my province. We no longer have a district Veterans Affairs office; we no longer have a Citizenship and Immigration office; we no longer have in-person counter service at the Canada Revenue Agency; and we have never had a passport office.
I am not bringing this up in an attempt to slight the Conservative government—though I have in the past and I reserve the right to do so in the future at every opportunity—but as an alternative argument to the potential value of Bill C-247 and the positive impacts it might have if it were enacted.
With fewer staff available to assist Canadians through an already painful process of grieving a loved one, it makes sense to streamline the process and simplify the administrative burden, both for those grieving and for the Service Canada employees. Due to the cuts to front-line personnel and the closure of federal offices in Prince Edward Island, my office tends to receive much of the overflow from Service Canada. I can say with confidence that the effects of the administrative burden can be absolutely devastating, particularly when it involves the repayment of funds that I just mentioned.
Sending this bill to committee would allow members to hear from public servants themselves as to what the actual implementation would look like and whether or not the proposed timelines were realistic and attainable. My colleague the member for Guelph has already indicated that he is open to reasonable amendments that would strengthen the bill.
Realistically, I think we can all agree that the bill is sound. In fact, much of it was drafted with the current government's plans and priorities in mind. Allow me to quote from the 2014-15 reports on plans and priorities from Employment and Social Development Canada, as well as that of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. In the Minister of Employment and Social Development's message, he stated:
ESDC will focus on achieving service excellence for Canadians by further modernizing service delivery, focusing on its core business priorities and increasing the use of technology. Through Service Canada, [the government] will ensure that Canadians quickly receive the benefits to which they are entitled and access to a wide range of programs and services.
Further, at page 61 of that report, it says:
Service Canada will continue to work with other departments so that Canadians can better access more Government of Canada services through Service Canada.
In his message in the report on plans and priorities from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the president stated:
Canadians need and deserve a public service that is equipped to deliver modern, cost effective and responsive programs and services.... ...we will continue to streamline government operations.
For the period 2014-17, the report states that the secretariat will:
...promote client-centred service;...efficiency through a whole-of-government approach to service delivery....
It is a fine day when we, as members of the opposition parties, can stand in the House and say that we share a priority of the government. In this case, it is a good priority, so we can absolutely support it with Bill C-247.
In addition to aligning with the current priorities of those respective government departments, the impact of Bill C-247 could potentially save the government millions of dollars. The savings in this case would be in the form of costs to the federal government for overpayments due to improper death notifications, as well as the cost to the federal government in retrieving benefit overpayments.
The member for Guelph, as well as a few other members of the House, referenced the success of this kind of initiative elsewhere in the world, specifically in France with its online service portal, mon service public, and the United Kingdom's Tell Us Once. In the United Kingdom, the savings are estimated to be an incredible $300 million over 10 years.
Of course, I want to reiterate that the savings are not just financial but also administrative in nature. As my colleague stated in his June speech, this is also good consumer legislation.
Some of the members who have spoken to this bill previously mentioned that they have some concerns with respect to privacy, and well they should. For this reason, I say send it to committee, let the Privacy Commissioner appear as a witness, and let us see how the privacy concerns can be addressed.
In closing, this bill is non-partisan, evidence-based, financially responsible, and immensely practical. It deserves our support and further study at committee.
In Canada, 80% of the care provided to ailing seniors is given by their loved ones. A citizen of this country should not be required to jump through administrative hoops in order to settle the accounts of someone they are still grieving.
I hope we will do our part to alleviate the stress on our constituents by voting in support of Bill C-247.
Les Feux Follets October 2nd, 2014
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to stand in the House today and speak about the contribution made to Canada by Michel Cartier, founder of Les Feux Follets.
Fifty years ago this month, Les Feux Follets performed before Queen Elizabeth II to open the brand new Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. Les Feux Follets has been called Canada's national folk ensemble, an instrument of national unity.
Throughout the sixties, Michel Cartier and his Les Feux Follets represented Canada and Quebec as cultural ambassadors in three European tours, four national and North American tours, and three command performances before Queen Elizabeth.
Cartier's vision for an act that captured the lore of first nations communities, the arrival of European settlers, and the Quebec and Acadian influence on our country lives on in Charlottetown with the popular Young Company production of We Are Canadian.
While Michel Cartier felt his task was interpreting Canada to the world, he also successfully interpreted Canada to Canadians.
Please join me in celebrating an important piece of Canadian history.
Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act October 1st, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I thank the chair of the justice committee for his speech. There are a couple of matters he raised that I would invite him to come back to. First, toward the end of his speech, he indicated that every single witness who appeared before the committee whose family was touched by cyberbullying was strongly in favour of the bill. I would ask him to recall the testimony of Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, who spoke very passionately about not wanting to see privacy rights taken away in the name of her daughter. I would invite the member to perhaps adjust what he said with respect to that generalization on the part of victims.
I also want to come back to his comments with respect to witnesses. As the chair of the committee, he would be very well aware that the Liberal Party requested that the wireless association of Canada testify, but it was not invited. We did not hear from telephone companies. Could the member provide us with any explanation as to why the government did not invite telephone companies? Are the opposition parties solely to blame for the fact that we did not hear from telephone companies, companies that are going to receive immunity under the bill?
Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act October 1st, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kootenay—Columbia for his service on the justice committee. He brings a perspective to the committee from his many years of police work that is extremely valuable.
I would like to ask him about the immunity provision contained in the bill. We heard a lot about it during the hearings. We have heard the government say that the immunity provision really does not do much. It does not convey any new powers.
We did not hear anyone at committee say, “We asked for this”. We did not hear that from law enforcement. We did not hear from any telco, so they could not tell us whether they asked for it.
Could the member offer any rationale for why it was there? What was the demand for an enhanced immunity for telephone companies included in the bill?
Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act October 1st, 2014
Mr. Speaker, we all agree on the aspects of the bill that deal with the non-consensual disclosure of intimate images. The problem, as the minister knows, is with the non-consensual distribution of subscriber information, which is done without a warrant and on a voluntary basis.
My question for the minister relates to the advice that he receives from the Department of Justice. It is the Department of Justice lawyers who put together the bill. At the time they put together the bill, their view of the appropriate safeguards around subscriber information was in accordance with what the law was at the time the bill was put together. That changed in Spencer. That changed when the hearings were finished. In the Spencer case, it was those Department of Justice lawyers who argued that subscriber information does not attract a reasonable expectation of privacy. Given that the advice that the minister received in putting together the bill was subsequently found to be incorrect by the Supreme Court of Canada, does he not agree that it is now time to go back to the drawing board?