An Act to amend the Judges Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment increases the number of judicial salaries that may be paid under paragraph 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act from thirty to fifty.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

January 28th, 2008 / 12:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House here today to speak to Bill C-31. This is my first opportunity to do so as the official opposition critic for justice. I must say, I look forward to working with my hon. colleagues on such important issues.

We have already heard some members ask the parliamentary secretary some questions. I have known him well for a few years now. He is, like me, a member from New Brunswick. I look forward to working with him and his colleagues on the House standing committee, so as to discuss these issues of mutual concern on the subject of justice, especially since I know the government is particularly concerned about criminal justice issues.

This piece of legislation which creates additional superior court positions in different jurisdictions across the country is something that we in the Liberal Party think should have been brought forward a number of months ago. In fact, in the previous Parliament it was legislation that was before the House at the same time as the legislation to deal with the recommendations of the quadrennial commission with respect to pay increases for federally appointed judges. It really is not new the idea that there is a backlog in the court system and that there is additional pressure on the trial courts across the country for a number of reasons which were correctly enunciated in many cases by the parliamentary secretary.

The Liberal Party sees this legislation as positive. We see it in a certain sense as unfortunate that it has taken this long. We would have preferred to see the government, in the legislation dealing with the quadrennial commission report some months ago, also include this particular provision to increase the number of seats on superior courts across the country.

The parliamentary secretary referred to six jurisdictions where there have been identified backlogs. I can speak with some personal knowledge about the jurisdiction that the parliamentary secretary and I represent, the province of New Brunswick.

It is a fact that in many cases, for example on an interim motion, in the family court in New Brunswick sometimes litigants have to wait eight months before being heard by a family court judge on what is a motion for interim relief. This is clearly an unacceptable circumstance. That is why the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench of New Brunswick, the bar association and provincial attorneys general going back into the previous government had all been requesting that Parliament legislate to create additional spaces. In that sense, this legislation conforms to something that achieves a broad consensus across the country.

There is no doubt that the delays in family courts can be particularly troublesome. In many cases, because of changes in child protection legislation across the country, child protection cases clog up the docket. Because of the urgency of many of these matters they end up in effect bumping down the line some of the cases involving interim relief, cases of child custody, which can be very difficult and traumatic for families, not to mention the economic costs of continually having them delayed and adjourned.

For that reason, we think this legislation is needed and seeks to address a problem which has been identified for a number of years in many jurisdictions as pressing.

As for the 20 new appointments the government would make, if Parliament were to pass this bill, I would like the parliamentary secretary to be a little more conscious of linguistic issues, for instance, in my province, New Brunswick. We saw some strange situations, where bilingual or even francophone judges were replaced by unilingual anglophone judges. Once again, this has meant delays for anyone who wishes to plead their case before the courts in New Brunswick in French.

In one particular instance in the Moncton area, a francophone judge was appointed. The fact that someone was appointed who can conduct trials in French was very much appreciated. It was very important.

I would also ask the government to be equally aware of the fact that, in other jurisdictions in Canada, linguistic balance can be very important, if one claims to truly care about the issue of trials subject to delays or the issue of access to justice. Access to justice in one's mother tongue is also a fundamental question. If we cannot find a way to appoint judges who can conduct these trials or hear evidence in English or French, depending on the case, trial delays will increase at an alarming rate.

The parliamentary secretary also talked about the specific claims tribunal. Again, this will put additional pressure on superior court judges in some jurisdictions. There is no doubt that supernumerary judges or judges of long experience may in many cases be ideally suited to do a rotation on some of these specific claims tribunals, which means that chief justices in these jurisdictions will again have a need for more resources and for an increase in judges to hear some cases that have waited for a very long time. That is another valid reason why Parliament should consider increasing the number of superior court judges.

On this side of the House, we in the Liberal Party have some concern with respect to the appointments process this particular Conservative government has undertaken. One of its first acts was to attempt to stack the judicial appointments advisory committees in the provinces to ensure that the Minister of Justice would in fact control a majority of the members of the judicial appointments advisory committees in the provinces.

The parliamentary secretary talked about the independence of the judiciary. This is certainly something that I think all members value greatly. That independence is not enhanced when we try to stack and manipulate the independent process by which the qualifications of judicial candidates are assessed.

At the time of these changes, we raised some concerns about why the government would decide that it is important to have representatives of the police on these advisory committees. If one of the delays or concerns the parliamentary secretary identified is with respect to family courts across the country, or in some jurisdictions, the value that a police officer brings to the selection or evaluation of candidates for a family court appointment I think shows that the government was simply trying to pretend to give law enforcement a role in a process that really should be independent.

The minister should have resisted the temptation to be able to stack and manipulate these committees to ensure that he always would have a majority on each committee in every province, committees that are given the important responsibility of evaluating the competence and credentials of the men and women seeking to be appointed to the superior court.

Therefore, at committee we intend to look also at the issue of the appointments process. We are not satisfied that the government has been entirely responsible with respect to the independence of this appointment process, but we do recognize that there is a need to give these courts across the country increased resources. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is why we regret that this was not brought forward many months ago. The ideal time would have been when the government legislated its response to the quadrennial commission report.

In conclusion, I think all members share the sentiment that for those who seek to appear before the superior courts in jurisdictions across the country, whether it is with respect to a criminal charge and a criminal matter, a family law matter, other civil litigation or, in this particular example, with respect to specific claims tribunals, timely access to justice has long been held to be a fundamental right of Canadians.

In criminal law, the Askov case, as members will know, redefined what is reasonable access, that is, the right to be heard within a reasonable time. Surely that same principle in criminal law applies with respect to some of the most difficult cases in family law, where the custody of children can be at issue, where families are seeking to have their cases heard, and where, I think all members will agree, an eight month delay on an interim motion for interim relief simply does not make sense.

That is why if the government proceeds with this legislation quickly it will find that members of the Liberal Party are anxious to cooperate, but we would urge the government to resist the temptation in these appointments to once again seek out partisan appointments or once again attempt to manipulate the process by which the minister is given a list of persons, men and women, qualified to be appointed to the superior courts.

We believe that access to justice within a reasonable timeframe is a fundamental right, just as access to justice in one's first language is also a fundamental right in Canada. We therefore urge the government to respect these values.

We have been somewhat worried about some of the appointments made in recent months. Even so, we believe that adding 20 positions at the superior court and tribunal level should be fast-tracked by the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

January 28th, 2008 / noon
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Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

moved that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

December 13th, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. It seems to me that any committee has a responsibility—and I've heard comments about the fact that this bill came before the committee after unanimous consent on the floor—although I understand some bills haven't had this happen, to call forward witnesses to help shape and inform their view of the legislation that's presented to them. And because of past errors, whether it was Bill C-31 in 1985 or other bills such as--it's interesting--Bill C-31 in this Parliament, the committee has a responsibility to do its due diligence.

So hearing from witnesses and trying to craft amendments that would meet the needs of the testimony that witnesses put forward--some very solid testimony--resulted in some amendments, but unfortunately the government developed a bill that had little scope for change. And when the government prorogued the House--if you want to talk about delay--and chose to resubmit a bill that completely ignored the testimony that came before the committee, the committee members, it's my understanding, in good faith attempted to address some of the shortfalls of the bill. But because of the narrow scope of the bill we're simply unable to do some of the things that need to be done.

I think it's important that we reiterate the stance that...I haven't heard one opposition member say that they do not support human rights, the ability of first nations to file human rights complaints against the Indian Act. I haven't heard one opposition member say they don't support that position, but we have an obligation to ensure that the legislation we're considering isn't going to have unintended consequences, and this is part of this process.

We've seen certainly the government members disregard the will of the committee time and time again. So I think that's an important piece to put on the record.

I think also the constant interruptions when somebody doesn't have the floor are completely disrespectful of how we try to operate in this committee. And I appreciate your attempts to try to keep control, Mr. Chair.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from northern Ontario for his work on this file having been the member for the New Democratic Party who was on the committee for Bill C-31. I understand his frustration when we have a bill that is supposed to encourage franchise, or at least the integrity and that is what the government would say and the other parties support it, and ends up doing the opposite. It is very frustrating.

We put forward amendments to make sure that every Canadian who is eligible could vote. We put forward the idea of universal suffrage. We believe fundamentally that there should be a universal commitment by any government to have door to door enumerations. We called it universal enumeration for universal suffrage.

We asked for a statutory declaration for voters. We asked for a change in how voter cards are distributed. They should be put in envelopes addressed to the voters, so that there would be no problem with cards lying around.

All of those ideas that we put forward were rejected. It is our submission that we do that first before we meddle with things like putting birth dates on voter's lists and sharing them with political parties so that they can use them for their own purposes.

My question is this. What is it that we can do to fix the bill, so that we do not come back in another couple months having to fix yet another flawed piece of legislation?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, in representing an area like Cape Breton, will know the problems. I do not know where Elections Canada gets its maps from sometimes but I know that in my riding people are sent to polling stations 40 or 50 kilometres up the road. The result of that is that they simply do not vote or, if they do try to vote in their own town, they are told they cannot even though they have been in that town their whole life, and they end up not voting. That is a very serious issue.

When Bill C-31 was brought forward, our party brought forward a number of amendments to try to make the bill workable because at the end of the day, as I keep repeating, our job is to make legislation that works and that is practical.

When we found that there was not that much interest in addressing the issues we were raising, the fact that numerous people would not meet this new requirement and we needed to fix the problem, we ended up voting against that bill because we felt that it would come back to haunt us. It has already come back to haunt us twice.

The other astounding testimony that was given just the other day on Bill C-18 by Jim Quail was that this was now facing a charter challenge. It was going to court. Again, no one seemed interested in asking him any questions about the fact that we might get legislation that gets its rear-end kicked all over the courts. However, I asked him questions and there was a clear legal precedent about any interference in the right to vote.

Once again, if we are going to make laws, we need to ensure they stand up to scrutiny and the test of time. Unfortunately, Bill C-18 could have done it, and we were certainly willing to work at it, but at the end of the day I think we will be back to square one. We will still have problems with the way the vote has come down.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I respect my colleague's intervention on this topic and his understanding of the issues here, and I share his concern. I have heard it time and again over the last number of elections about the preparation of voters lists and the departure from enumeration. We know that the last enumeration was in 1997.

I had an incident in my riding where one community was voting in the poll in the adjacent community and vice versa. There is always contention around this but I know positive steps have been made in advance polling.

The member brought forward some very significant issues. If he could fill me in on when Bill C-31 was passed, I believe the member for Timmins—James Bay was on that committee, would he or his party have had the opportunity to tender a dissenting report at that time?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member that I have read the list of required identification. I also know that many homeless people simply do not have identification, nor do they have a residence. The list is lovely, but if people do not have the identification, then they do not have it.

I want to come back to the member's statements around fraud. One of the things the New Democrats have talked about is that both bills, Bills C-31 and C-18, were using a sledgehammer on a problem that was virtually non-existent.

According to the Chief Electoral Officer, in 2006 there was one case of fraud in the entire country, in 2004 there were zero cases, and in 2000 there were three cases. If the member is aware of this apparently large amount of fraud happening, I wonder if he has brought it to the attention of the Chief Electoral Officer. According to the Chief Electoral Officer's records, there simply are not that many cases out there.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 represents change. My colleague will understand that 10 years ago, Quebec adopted a bill to avoid voter fraud that is similar to the bill before us. We are therefore one step closer to the day when, we hope, there will be voter cards. Voter cards would allow voters in any province or territory to vote even if they move. With voter cards, voting would be much simpler and easier. In Quebec, the voter card could be used for school board elections as well as municipal, provincial and federal elections. It would prevent voter fraud.

That is the goal of any democracy: to make sure no one manipulates the democratic process or uses it for other purposes. That is the goal Quebec is trying to achieve.

Gradually, we are evolving. The legislation that has been in effect in Quebec for 10 years is being put in place here in Ottawa. We are helping our democracy move forward.

I thank my colleague for her question.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague talk about Bill C-31 on the right to vote. Fraud is a huge issue. In Quebec, many dead people voted in the 1995 referendum.

I would therefore like to know the opinion of the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. What does he think about using voter cards to avoid all that? No, I am not joking. What does he think about voter cards, which the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois have been demanding for years?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed at how the NDP handles these matters.

If my colleague had bothered to inform herself of the identification allowed by the Chief Electoral Officer, she would know that the list includes, among other things, an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authorities, such as shelters, soup kitchens, student or senior residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves, work camps, and so forth.

This is not rocket science. Out of the 150,000 people the hon. member is referring to, most have some form of documentation that they present at soup kitchens. As for the rest, I agree with her, they will need someone to vouch for them. One thing is certain, for anyone, homeless or not, living in a remote area, there are not as many polling stations as there are in Montreal, where there are thousands. If the person votes at the polling station nearest to where they usually live, there will be someone who knows them who would be more than happy to vouch for them.

The NDP wants us to go back to the way things were before, when, in order to vote, one simply had to swear their identity under oath. That was the whole point of Bill C-31 and everything Quebec has done in the past decade or so to deal with electoral fraud. If the NDP wants to go back to the days of electoral fraud, that is up to them.

I think we should do something about the 150,000 people for whom this causes a problem. We have to have a more thorough look at how we can get them to vote. They all should have a chance to vote. The fact remains that a person without identification, whether they are homeless or not and living near a polling station, can still swear an oath in front of someone who knows them. I am sure that many people know those who stay in a certain sector, even if they are homeless.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are a few items the member raised which need some correction.

He indicated that the New Democrats were opposed to Bill C-31. As it turns out, it was with very good reason. The bill had some serious problems and now we have Bill C-18 in order to fix the problems in Bill C-31. Part of the solution simply does not address some of the concerns that we raised in Bill C-31.

The solution around having the ability to have one person vouch for one potential voter is just not workable. We talked about this in the past. There are a number of homeless people who often have contact with a street worker or case worker and that person will know 10, 15, or 20 people. If those 10, 15, or 20 people have to go out and find 10, 15 or 20 individuals to vouch for them, they simply will lose their opportunity to vote.

In a recent report, Miloon Kothari indicated that the Government of Canada and provincial governments keep very poor statistics on homeless people. His estimate, and many academics feel that this is grossly underrepresented, is that there are least 150,000 homeless people on the streets of Canada.

Is the member saying that 150,000 people in this country simply should not have the right to vote because they cannot find 150,000 people to vouch for them if they do not have appropriate ID?

The second issue that has come up regards first nations. The member for Timmins—James Bay has raised this issue. Many first nations communities are remote and rural communities. Many first nations do not have the required identification. Some band members do not have status cards. There is a long convoluted process. If they lose their status card, they have to reapply to the Department of Indian Affairs to replace it. Sometimes a band council could provide a letter to vouch for someone, but in many cases it is very difficult for people to get the required identification.

Is the member saying it is okay for a minimum of 150,000 people to potentially lose their right to vote? Is he saying it is okay for first nations, who only in the 1960s gained the right to vote in Canada, to be shut out from voting?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 11:55 a.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in the House and speak to this bill at the third reading stage.

Bill C-18, quite frankly, fixes a problem incurred with voting. To provide a bit of context and a brief history of the reason for Bill C-18 coming before the House, it was because the House originally passed Bill C-31 which basically dealt with voter identification.

The intent of Bill C-31 was so that individuals who wished to cast ballots in federal elections would be required to produce identification showing their name and residency. This seemed to me to be a common sense provision because, as we all know, though Canadians have the right to vote, they have to be, number one, Canadian citizens and, number two, reside in the riding in which they wish to cast their ballot.

We wanted to put provisions in place that required individuals to produce identification, verifying that they lived in the ridings in which they wished to cast ballots. That was the genesis of Bill C-31. However, there was a problem. Bill C-31 stated that in determining proof of residency, voters had to prove their residential addresses.

This, of course, was debated in committee. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada came before committee to analyze the bill. No one in the committee nor the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada recognized the fact that the term “residential address” or “civic address” would in fact exclude a great many Canadians.

Approximately one million Canadians, in fact, do not have residential or civic addresses. These are primarily rural Canadians living in ridings in Canada who would normally be allowed to vote, but instead of having residential addresses have post office boxes or rural route numbers or a land description, which would be their identification of residency.

Bill C-31 inadvertently excluded everyone who did not have a residential address. As I said just a few moments ago, approximately one million rural Canadians were in that category. If people lived in rural Canada, whether it be Saskatchewan, Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec, and had rural route numbers or post office box numbers instead of street addresses, with the passage of Bill C-31 they would be denied their right or ability to vote.

This flaw in Bill C-31 was first discovered in late September, early October, by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. Following three byelections held in September in Quebec, the Chief Electoral Officer did a review of the voting practices in Quebec during those three byelections and during that examination discovered this flaw in Bill C-31 dealing with residential addresses.

He immediately informed the government, which, in turn, immediately took corrective action and the result is what we have before us today, Bill C-18. It very simply remedies the glitch found in Bill C-31 by stating that any individual who produces proper identification and whose residency information on that identification is consistent with the information on the electoral lists will then be eligible to vote.

In other words, to put it very clearly and graphically, if an individual has a driver's licence that says he or she resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada and the electoral list confirms that this individual resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada, or to put it another way, if the driver's licence information and the information on the electoral list are consistent, that individual can then vote and that remedied the situation.

That is why we introduced the bill, that is why the bill is before us today and that is why we wish, as a government, to ensure the bill passes and is delivered to the Senate today. We hope then that our friends in the Senate will pass it quickly and give it royal assent before the end of this calendar year.

The urgency is that there may be byelections or a general election very soon in the new year. No one knows the certainty of a general election, but we do know byelections will have to be called before the end of this month. We want to ensure that all Canadians in rural Canada, who had been disenfranchised inadvertently, are now back on the voters list, that they have the eligibility requirements correct and that they will be able to cast ballots.

I know almost all parties in the House, almost all members in the House, support this legislation. The exception being some members of the New Democratic Party. I find it interesting that their opposition is not really with Bill C-18, but with Bill C-31.

During debate and during committee examination of Bill C-31, the NDP primarily was concerned that many Canadians could potentially be disenfranchised because of the identification requirements contained in the bill. Specifically, the NDP was concerned because of the homeless. Many homeless people, perhaps the vast majority of them, do not possess identification. This was a legitimate concern raised by the members of the NDP. Their solution to that was quite simply that identification requirements contained in Bill C-31 should be eliminated, that people who did not possess proper identification as to proof of identity and residence should still be allowed to vote if they signed an oath or some kind of a declaration at a various polling station on voting day.

While I recognize there will be some individuals in the category of the homeless or maybe other transient individuals who do not have proper identification, the committee determined in its wisdom, and I supported this decision, that the public interest was best served if individuals were required to produce identification.

I believe it is a common sense approach. After all, if people cannot identify themselves, if they cannot prove they actually live in a particular riding, why then should they be allowed to vote? We were concerned about voter fraud. In fact, Bill C-31 was called the voter integrity bill. It was merely intended to ensure the integrity of the voting system, so everyone who wished to vote in a particular riding across Canada would have to demonstrate they actually resided in that riding. I think that is a reasonable approach to take. Hence, Bill C-31 was passed.

The opposition to Bill C-18 from my colleagues in the NDP has really nothing to do with Bill C-18. It goes back to their opposition to Bill C-31. Up to this point, they have been trying to, in my opinion, unduly delay passage of Bill C-18 because of their opposition to the provisions contained in Bill C-31.

However, I am very pleased to see Bill C-18 before us today. I believe we will see passage of this very important bill later today. I also hope, as I mentioned a few moments ago, that our friends and colleagues in the Senate, in their wisdom, will give speedy passage to Bill C-18.

I will reiterate that the bill was brought forward as a corrective measure to ensure that rural Canadians, who had been inadvertently disenfranchised by the provisions contained in Bill C-31, were dealt with in an appropriate manner to ensure they would have the ability to vote in the next general election.

There is nothing more complicated than that. There is nothing more detailed than that. It is merely a simple bill designed to correct an inequity that occurred.

In dealing with the bill in an expeditious manner, as we have, we have demonstrated that Parliament and the committee system within Parliament can work when all members determine that partisan interests should be set aside and the greater good be addressed. Even though there have been disagreements at committee, and I am sure we will still see disagreements to some extent in the debate today, at the end of the day objections will have been duly noted but the bill will pass and for good reason.

I do not want to stand in the House and say that a wrong was not corrected. We have the ability to correct, but we chose not to for whatever reasons. I believe most Canadians would vehemently disagree with that.

While Bill C-18 perhaps should not have been necessary, it was done so to correct an unintended consequence as a result of the passage of Bill C-31.

December 11th, 2007 / noon
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Goodyear

You might want to allow us to run from this end. And again, I want to caution you on relevance. It seems to me we're trying a case here on Bill C-31. I have concerns about sub judice convention.

The next round is five minutes.

Mr. Proulx.

December 11th, 2007 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

In your experience, do you believe there is enough legal precedence for your legal action to be brought forward? That would be the first part of the question.

The second part of the question is this. Given the testimony of Bill C-31, where these issues were clearly laid out, where witnesses and certainly members of the New Democratic Party laid out for the government what they would be facing, do you believe the simple lack of due diligence on the government's part is part of the reason they're following the same mistaken road once again?