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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is justice.

Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans December 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Conservative priorities include a new $1.7 billion airplane for the military while our veterans suffer the effects of Conservative gutting of front-line programs which provided financial, disability, health, and transition support. Just yesterday, we lost yet another soldier to suicide.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs continues to pathetically defend this abuse of our veterans. Veterans do not respect him. Canadians do not trust him, and this entire country is disgusted by his rough treatment of our brave veterans.

When will he resign?

Veterans December 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs from spending more than $1 billion that had been promised to veterans, and now we have learned that they plan on spending $1.7 billion on a new plane.

National Defence spends its entire budget, but the Conservatives make sure that the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot do the same.

Why do the Conservatives always put veterans last?

Victims Bill of Rights Act December 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I share my colleague's frustration. She is absolutely right. The process at committee was not a real process. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a sham.

The process that we saw at committee, and continue to see, makes committees a bit of a joke. It is a perfunctory process. We hear from witnesses who have solid recommendations, including the Canadian Bar Association. That association, apparently, is worthy enough to be consulted when we appoint judges, but when it comes before the justice committee and makes eight recommendations to improve the bill, each and every one is rejected out of hand. It is a sad charade.

Victims Bill of Rights Act December 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that the member heard my speech. The first paragraphs of my speech highlighted all the measures implemented by Liberal governments and the measures introduced by the former justice minister, the member for Mount Royal in 2003.

Perhaps it bears repeating. In 2003, the Liberal government passed a statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime. In 2005, the member for Mount Royal, serving as justice minister, announced new initiatives to support victims, including allowing them to file for financial assistance to attend the parole board hearings of the offenders who harmed them.

I do not accept for a minute that the history and tradition of the Liberal Party has not been in support of victims. It absolutely has been in support of victims and will continue to be so.

Victims Bill of Rights Act December 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-32, the bill on victims' rights. I am also pleased to indicate that the Liberal caucus will continue to support this legislation.

As the members opposite will fondly recall, supporting victims of crime has long been a Liberal priority. Specifically, I would point to the Liberal government's 2003 statement of basic principles for justice for victims of crime. This statement was collectively drafted by provincial and federal representatives to modernize basic principles of justice for victims.

As the Department of Justice states, those are the “basic principles continue to guide the development of policies, programs and legislation related to victims of crime. They also provide a foundation for the Policy Centre for Victim Issues' work”.

Further, in 2005, with the hon. member for Mount Royal serving as justice minister, the Liberal government announced new initiatives to support victims, including allowing them to apply for financial assistance to attend the National Parole Board hearings of the offender who harmed them.

I also want to acknowledge that victims' rights is an issue that has drawn multi-party support in the past. The Liberal government's progress built on earlier efforts from the 1988 Progressive Conservative federal government, which also worked together with the country's territorial and provincial justice ministers.

This is the sort of constructive engagement with the provinces and territories that many on this side fondly recall. This type of co-operation for the betterment of Canada has been eroded in recent years.

Bill C-32 contains a number of suggestions for helping Canadians who are victims of crime, violent crime in particular. This bill creates the Canadian victims bill of rights, which provides victims with a substantial number of legal rights.

Even though in many cases Bill C-32 simply codifies existing rights and practices, when it comes to helping victims, I am pleased to side with legal certainty.

What does Bill C-32 seek to accomplish? It seeks to create the rights to information and services that will give victims peace of mind during the criminal proceedings they will be involved in and thereafter. It will clarify the victims right to be protected, to submit a statement, and to obtain restitution from offenders. It will make it easier for vulnerable victims to testify, expand intimidation as a criminal offence, and amend an archaic statute in the Evidence Act in order to compel testimony from the spouse of an accused, a law that has already been subject to a number of exceptions.

However, though we generally agree with what the government seeks to accomplish, we wish the government would have followed the practices of former PC and Liberal governments by accepting advice on how Bill C-32 could have been improved for victims of crime. The committee process could best be described as a missed opportunity.

Bill C-32 is not a perfect bill. A significant problem is that it would increase the obligations on backlogged courts and the demands on prosecutors, without increasing the resources allocated to meet those obligations. In short, the bill would assign new work without providing new funds. Apparently, the government is operating on the assumption that our courts and prosecutors are underworked. Of course that is not the case, and the already overburdened provinces will have to pick up to the tab.

To the point on resources, I would like to share with members one example included in the Canadian Bar Association's recommendations, an example I shared with our Conservative-controlled committee in the hopes that it would seriously consider improving the bill. The example deals with the new requirement that prosecutors attempt to inform victims of plea deals.

I will read a quote from the Canadian Bar Association:

A typical experience for a front line Crown counsel dealing with the proposed legislative change might go like this:

A Crown counsel is dealing with 100 cases on a particular morning where the accused is scheduled to enter a plea. Lawyers for ten of the accused inform the Crown only that morning of a guilty plea.

The Crown has no time to contact victims of the ten accused to tell them of the proposed pleas. When the Court asks the Crown if victims have been informed, the Crown says no, in regard to the ten cases. The Court adjourns those cases, so the guilty pleas are not accepted. By the next appearance, four of the ten accused change their minds about pleading guilty and want a trial. Victims are then required to testify when they otherwise would have been spared the trauma of reliving their experience through vigorous cross-examination.

At committee I introduced an amendment to remedy this flaw in the bill, a flaw that without the provision of additional resources is likely to slow the administration of justice and traumatize a significant number of the victims we are all trying to help.

As the Canadian Bar Association recommended, I suggested that a victim only need be notified of a plea deal where there would be a joint submission on sentencing, that is, the deals that the prosecutors would more likely have made in advance. These are also the deals where the Crown would be suggesting a particular sentence rather than a plea to a lesser offence.

What was the Conservative response? Before the Conservatives voted against this particular amendment of mine, the parliamentary secretary and the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe said the following:

We're concerned that this amendment would lead to delays, and would place an undue burden on the crown prosecutor. The system has to function, and for that reason, we can't support this amendment.

The purpose of my amendment was to reduce the wait times this bill will create, but the Conservatives decided to vote against that amendment. I would like them to explain the logic behind that, but then again contradictions are notoriously hard to explain. That is just one of the amendments that I proposed.

In committee, the Conservatives rejected 18—that is right, 18—Liberal amendments that could have improved this bill. They did not reject the amendments because they were bad. They rejected them simply because they were Liberal amendments.

Honourable colleagues, this kind of behaviour is Parliament at its worst. With that in mind, let us look at other amendments the Conservatives rejected.

As I indicated in an earlier question at committee, we heard from a witness named Maureen Basnicki. Ms. Basnicki is a Canadian whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks. At committee, she explained that she had experienced difficulty in accessing victims' services because her husband was murdered by terrorists outside the country. She urged us to extend any lawfully available domestic rights to Canadian victims of crime that occur outside of Canada.

I would like to share some of her testimony with the chamber. She said:

....perpetrators of crimes are still demanding their rights as Canadian citizens when they've been successfully prosecuted for crimes outside the country, and I want to bring balance to this. This is not a new step. It's new for Canadians, perhaps, but other countries do this, many other countries. Most other countries do.

After listening to Ms. Basnicki, I introduced an amendment to capture her unfairly overlooked constituency, to grant domestically available victims' benefits to Canadians who have experienced serious personal injury crimes outside the country, or whose family members have been murdered outside the country.

The Conservatives refused to include the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the legislation, and refused to amend it after hearing from Ms. Basnicki.

We also heard from a representative of the Chiefs of Ontario, who wanted to bring some balance to consider the unique circumstances of aboriginal victims in the justice system. All of the amendments proposed by the Chiefs of Ontario were similarly rejected.

Bill C-32 is not a perfect bill, but it is a good bill. It will do good work for Canadian victims of crime, so the Liberals will support Bill C-32 and endeavour to improve on these efforts when we form the next government.

Victims Bill of Rights Act December 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech and her leadership at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. She is a real leader in committee.

She spoke a bit about the amendments that the NDP proposed in committee. I feel that at least one of those amendments was very important, namely the one that proposed an annual report with statistics. I would like to hear the member talk about that.

As we say in English, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it”.

I believe that was the point of the amendment.

Could the member explain why this amendment was important and talk about the reasons the government gave for rejecting this worthwhile suggestion?

Victims Bill of Rights Act December 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary about the testimony of another witness at committee, a person by the name of Maureen Basnicki. She described herself as a very reluctant member of the victims of crime club. Her husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

The definition of “victim” contained in the act excluded her. Why did the government exclude this group of victims, and, once it was pointed out, why did it not fix it?

Victims Bill of Rights Act December 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for Thunder Bay—Superior North for his speech. It was a very insightful analysis into some of the major flaws of the bill.

All of the flaws that the member pointed out were identified and flagged, as he said, by the Canadian Bar Association, whose representative testified at committee. They were also the subject of amendments that were proposed at committee and rejected.

In fact, the Canadian Bar Association submitted an extensive brief with several recommendations. Every single one of those recommendations was proposed in amendment form and every single one was rejected by the Conservative majority on the committee.

However, my question has to do with resources. It is all well and good to have a lengthy preamble and statements about how we are going to improve the lot of victims and all of these declarations, but unless there are adequate resources to fund programs, and unless there are adequate resources to give the victims the right to information and to complain, contained in the bill, then it is really not worth the paper it is printed on.

I would like to get the hon. member's views on what more should be done, other than what is in the bill, to give the victims the standing in the justice system that they so dearly want.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I was a little surprised that my colleague opposite started out his speech with a reference to government support for the Last Post Fund, because we served together on the veterans committee at the time the contribution to the Last Post Fund was enhanced.

Part of that is good news. The amount to go to the families of deceased veterans doubled. The sinister part of it, and the member would know this very well, is that the government budgeted $65 million for the Last Post Fund that it knew it could not and would not spend.

Will the member admit that the money allocated for the Last Post Fund was never spent, and will he advise us of how much of it lapsed and was therefore applied to the deficit, or is it sort of like the $200 million for mental health? Will it be paid out over the next 50 years?

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as a fellow maritimer, I wish to pose a question with respect to the impact of the government's economic policies on our region.

In their chest-thumping over payroll taxes, the Conservatives seem quick to forget that, in the last several budgets, payroll taxes had been increased. As the economic policies affect our region, I wonder if the member could comment on the disproportionate effect that the gutting of the EI program has had on our seasonal industries and the effect of austerity budgets of recent years on front-line services in my own province.

There was a time when immigrants could go and talk to a live person. That time has passed because the office is closed. There was a time when a taxpayer could go and talk to a live person. That time has passed because the counter service for taxpayers is closed. There was a time when veterans could go and talk to a live person. That has passed because the veterans' district office has been closed.

We see a back-end loading of infrastructure projects and an outright cancellation and delaying of infrastructure projects, the most important to my province being the subsea cable between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Therefore, when we talk about the austerity budgets of recent years and we see the Conservatives trumpeting the fact that we are about to come into balance, my question is this. Was it worth it?