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Track Sean

Your Say


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is respect.

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

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

Statements in the House

CSEC Accountability and Transparency Act October 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, from across the aisle, I am being told we are different. However, we can learn a lot from best practices.

As I understand it, the original Five Eyes alliance was formed in 1946. It is the result of strategic bilateral agreements that allow each country to conduct independent intelligence gathering within its own jurisdiction and ensure that it is shared with the other four members of the alliance by default.

This alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand is long-standing. I am curious as to why the Conservative government is reluctant to join the other four members of the Five Eyes alliance in their efforts to maintain sufficient oversight. I think the explanation that we just heard, that we are different, does not quite cut it. At this time, under the current government, Canadians would be well served by additional parliamentary oversight.

Yesterday in the House, the leader of the Liberal Party, the hon. member for Papineau, urged the Prime Minister to strike a proper balance between security and civil liberties. The member for Papineau also correctly indicated that Canada is not facing this issue alone. We are certainly not the only western democracy that struggles to simultaneously protect the security and the rights of its citizens.

There is no doubt in my mind that this debate will reference the tragic events that took place here last week, in fact it already has, and also in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Those awful events should remain with us as legislators and we should seek to prevent more tragedies.

With that being said, the atrocities committed last week should not be the only guiding thought when we deal with issues of terrorism and national security. We need to remain committed to striking the balance I keep referring to and to be careful not to rush into knee-jerk reactions, to borrow a phrase from Justice John Major, when it comes to something so important.

I was impressed by the measured, respectful joint statement by the Privacy and Information Commissioners of Canada. I would like to read it into the record before continuing with my own thoughts on this matter. I quote:

The following days, weeks and months will be critical in determining the future course of action to ensure not only that Canada remains a safe country, but also that our fundamental rights and freedoms are upheld. Legislative changes being contemplated may alter the powers of intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

We acknowledge that security is essential to maintaining our democratic rights. At the same time, the response to such events must be measured and proportionate, and crafted so as to preserve our democratic values.

To that end, the Privacy and Information Commissioners of Canada call on the federal Government:

To adopt an evidence-based approach as to the need for any new legislative proposal granting additional powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies;

To engage Canadians in an open and transparent dialogue on whether new measures are required, and if so, on their nature, scope, and impact on rights and freedoms;

To ensure that effective oversight be included in any legislation establishing additional powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Canadians both expect and are entitled to equal protection for their privacy and access rights and for their security. We must uphold these fundamental rights that lie at the heart of Canada’s democracy.

I am sure members can understand why I felt it was so important to read that statement into the record. The third recommendation from the Privacy and Information Commissioners of Canada is most important to the subject of the bill. The commissioners are requesting effective oversight. Effective oversight consists of a parliamentary committee. We are all here in the House to, I hope, uphold the fundamental rights that lie at the heart of Canada's democracy. We do that on behalf of our constituents and on behalf of our country.

Let me say in closing, we cannot simply accept short-term political considerations based on a reaction to fear to be our guiding principle in matters of national security and intelligence gathering. Likewise, fear should not and cannot trump our fundamental rights as Canadians. Our rights do not flow from security laws; they flow from our fundamental values and freedoms and our ability to exercise those rights even when our sense of security is under attack.

We should not, we must not, subjugate our rights to the ebb and flow of circumstances or tragedy. I hope that some of my colleagues on the other side of the House will take note of the support from the National Firearms Association and break away from their traditional “just vote no” mentality to this opposition private members' bill and that they demonstrate that they understand the true merit of a bill of this nature.

CSEC Accountability and Transparency Act October 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-622, proposed by my honourable colleague from Vancouver-Quadra. The bill, on a technical level, seeks to amend the National Defence Act to improve the transparency and accountability and provide for an independent review in respect of the operations of the Communications Security Establishment, and to enact an act to establish the intelligence and security committee of Parliament. It seeks to strike an important balance between national security, the privacy of Canadians, and parliamentary scrutiny.

There was justifiable concern earlier this year when Canadians learned that CSEC was monitoring Wi-Fi services at Canadian airports. In fact, there seems to be a bit of a preoccupation with privacy rights under this government.

If we go back to the Vic Toews bill, we all remember the e-snooping legislation, which fortunately did not see the light of day, but many of the provisions were then imported into a new piece of legislation and bundled with the rights of victims of cyberbullying in Bill C-13. The most recent example is the digital privacy bill, Bill S-4, which seeks to open the door a little wider, allowing the entities that can receive private information to walk through the door that had been opened by Bill C-13. The compromising of privacy rights in Canada has been a recurring theme under this government.

Mr. Speaker, before I get too far ahead of myself, please allow me to outline the role of CSEC for those following the debate and also for members of this place who may not be as familiar as necessary to adequately engage in the debate this evening.

CSEC, or Communications Security Establishment Canada, has a three-part mandate. First, it is responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence from the global information web. Second, it is the lead agency for cybersecurity for the federal government. Third, it can use its technological capacities and expertise to assist domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

There is no argument that CSEC is a vital piece of Canada's national security puzzle. Additionally, CSEC functions within a global alliance known as the Five Eyes, an alliance of partner signals intelligence agencies within the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the mandate of CSEC was expanded. That was 13 years ago, and we are in a rapidly evolving world in terms of national security. It seems more than reasonable to assess the mandate, effectiveness, and accountability of CSEC and its activities.

My colleague, the hon. member for Malpeque, has been quite vocal about the need for parliamentary oversight. In his capacity as public safety critic, he has repeatedly pointed out the important fact that, although Canada functions within the Five Eyes alliance I just spoke about, it is the only country that does not have proactive parliamentary oversight.

In February of 2014, my hon. colleague from Malpeque asked a question that I think deserves an answer. I am not sure he has ever received a genuine or relevant answer, so I'll pose the question here again today. I am quoting from the member for Malpeque:

The key point here is that I really cannot understand the government's unwillingness to look at proper parliamentary oversight when two of its key cabinet ministers were in fact part of a report at one point in favour of such oversight.

We know that with this particular government, if an organization that depends on government funding comes out against the government, its funding will probably be cut.

The member went to great lengths explaining the Five Eyes and the other countries that are our allies in these issues. Where does the government get the idea that Canadians are less at risk of invasion of privacy and do not need proper parliamentary oversight, when all our allies do?

Public Safety October 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness also said that he believes our anti-terrorism laws are robust. At least 80 individuals have come back to Canada and violated those very anti-terrorism laws.

Can the minister tell the House if those individuals have been arrested and if not, why not?

Public Safety October 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in a moment of seemingly unscripted candour, the Minister of Justice indicated yesterday that our security services and police already have significant and robust legislative tools in the Criminal Code to combat terrorism.

Is that still his view today? If so, could he assure the House that these robust terrorism provisions are being used in national security investigations?

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

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-247, a truly practical piece of legislation brought forward by the eminently pragmatic member of Parliament for Guelph.

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.

It is not always easy to identify how to fix what seems like an individual problem with federal legislation, but I believe that the member for Guelph has done just that with Bill C-247.

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.