Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, colleagues.
At the outset, I'd like to start by recognizing the work of Senator Ataullahjan on this bill, as well as others who have proposed similar bills—Mr. Wrzesnewskyj who is here, and who got this ball rolling 10 years ago, as well as Irwin Cotler, for all of his work and support throughout this process.
This bill proposes to make it a criminal offence for a Canadian to go abroad to receive an organ without proper consent. It creates a mechanism by which someone can be deemed inadmissible to Canada if they have been involved in organ harvesting. This touches on a number of different situations. It seeks to respond to the situation in China, where the taking of vital organs from live, and often awake, political prisoners is state policy. It also responds to situations where organs are taken through coercion and exploitation, beyond the reach of even well-meaning local authorities.
In the 10 minutes I have, I don't see it as necessary to repeat in detail all aspects of this issue, which have already been part of the parliamentary record: that organ harvesting is a problem; that Parliament has a legitimate right, and indeed, moral obligation to respond to it; and that the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction, in this case, is appropriate. These are all points that have been well laid out, in the context of the parliamentary debate, but I would obviously be happy to revisit them during the question period.
I wanted to make a few particular points about the impact and timing of this legislation. First, on the issue of the impact, there has been some debate in the House about whether certain provisions of this bill are necessary, and whether certain provisions of the bill are onerous.
One member argued that the inadmissibility provision in the legislation might not be necessary, because those involved in organ harvesting could be deemed inadmissible on other grounds. Another member wondered if the criminal law aspects could be inferred into other statutes. Some members said that there are no known cases of this in Canada, and one member argued that prosecutions under this legislation could be onerous, because they would involve the requirement that prosecutors gather evidence in other jurisdictions.
I disagree with many of these arguments. I argued in response that extraterritorial prosecutions are easier in this case, because the recipient brings back some physical evidence with them, and there's aftercare involved. I pointed out that while any organ harvesting that took place in Canada would already be illegal, this legislation creates a new mechanism by which that crime could be prosecuted if it took place in another country. The presence or absence of documented cases of organ harvesting here in Canada is really beside the point.
I do not believe that any provision of this legislation is redundant or unnecessary. The extraterritoriality provisions are key, but other aspects of the criminal law provisions are substantive, new and important.
Suppose that I'm wrong. Suppose that the bill is, in fact, challenging to administer at points, and redundant in its impact. If that is the case, then it may not do that much good, but it also won't do any harm. Note that prosecutions can only proceed under this legislation if authorized by the Attorney General. If a prosecution is too onerous in a particular case, there simply isn't a need to authorize it in that particular case. The requirement for authorization is a strong check to ensure that these powers are not executed in an unreasonable way, or in a way that runs contrary to the public interest. If the immigration provisions are redundant—I don't think they are, but if they are, so what? Who's made worse off by the extra emphasis around inadmissibility?
One thing that nobody will deny about the passage of this bill is that it would send a strong message about Parliament's, and Canada's, commitment to fighting forced organ harvesting. My point, colleagues, would be that at worst, this is a bill that its most extreme critics would say has low impact. I don't agree with those critics, but even if they're right, we lose nothing by passing this legislation. At worst, it's a symbolic positive impact, but at best, it will save the lives of some of the most vulnerable women, men and children, by cutting off the demand for harvested organs. If we can get other countries to follow suit on this initiative, this will have orders of magnitude more impact on the lives of some of the world's most disadvantaged people.
Whether you believe the impact of passing this bill will be large or small, I hope you will support its swift passage.
On the issue of timing, members know that we are in an election year. This bill has been working its way through the process for the majority of this parliamentary session. Getting a substantive private member's bill across the finish line is not a quick or easy thing to do, and that explains why multiple great bills on this topic, over the last 10 years, did not make it all the way through. If we don't get this done, how much longer will victims have to wait—four more years, 10 more years?
Let's do everything we can to maximize the speed of passage of this bill, so that we can look our children in the eye and tell them that we didn't just talk about good ideas, we actually got good things done.
I am grateful to this committee, and to you, Mr. Chair, for the fact that we're proceeding quickly to clause-by-clause consideration. Clause-by-clause will provide members with the opportunity to propose amendments. I note that this bill was studied by the Senate committee, and substantially and constructively amended at that point. It builds on detailed legal work that includes the work of, as I mentioned, former minister of justice Irwin Cotler.
If members see a vital need to amend this bill before passing, then certainly they're in their rights to do so. I think there would still be a shot at getting the bill passed before the next election.
However, as colleagues know, if passed in its present form, this bill will go straight to royal assent and we will certainly have delivered to victims and their families. I think it will complicate the process if the bill is amended and goes back to the Senate with no guarantee that the Senate will like our new revisions.
The Senate's rules are different from ours. This close to the federal election, all it would take would be for one senator to choose to adjourn the debate in their name. That would, I think, prevent it from proceeding.
Under different circumstances, I would probably have proposed minor amendments myself today. However, we have to take stock of the circumstance we're in. The clock is ticking hard. My sincere recommendation is that we pass this bill in its present form and in so doing ensure it moves forward before the next election.
I hope members who want to propose amendments have been able to consult substantially with the Senate to ensure it will give quick passage to the amended version.
If we gut this bill, as some appear interested in doing, then we're obviously a lot worse off. Even if we marginally strengthen it, we will likely be worse off unless we can get it done before the next election. I would suggest we consider supporting this bill without amendment so that we can ensure we deliver the justice we want for victims.
In this case, we have a gaping hole in the law that allows Canadians to be complicit in a grievous violation of human rights. In this case, our human rights architecture is like a ship with a gaping hole in the side. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, I say that we need to ensure the hole is patched. If we subsequently need to make improvements to the patchwork, so be it.
If this committee agrees to pass this bill in its present form today or this week, our chances of getting it into law before the end of this Parliament are very good. There have been four bills on this over 10 years. This bill represents the culmination of work done by some of the best human rights minds in the world—people like Irwin Cotler, David Matas and David Kilgour.
Let me close on a personal note. Members know, I think, that my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She avoided capture. Despite her lack of privilege, she avoided the torture of the concentration camps because there were people in her community with more privilege who were willing to protect her and to speak out for justice, when and where possible.
As sitting members of Parliament, we all have a form of privilege. We can choose to use that privilege to speak for ourselves, our interests and the interests of our tribe, or we can use it to speak for those who do not have a voice. We can speak for the poor and suffering of the world, like my grandmother in her time, who could not speak to a Parliament or a committee about her situation.
We can be a voice for ourselves or we can be a voice for the voiceless.
I think of the fact that today, in the People's Republic of China, we have Uighur Muslims being put in concentration camps, churches being exploded with dynamite and many others being killed for their organs.
A couple of years ago, I was in Berlin and I spent time exploring the history and the memorials related to the Holocaust. It hit home for me, seeing the crowded urban areas from which Jews were shipped by train to concentration camps. It hit home for me that people saw what was going on. I visited Sachsenhausen, which is outside of Berlin, in the heart of one of the city's suburbs. Many of these atrocities were not well hidden. Ordinary people saw them, knew about them and did not do enough to stop them.
Why didn't they stop them?
Too often, people excuse themselves from doing what is necessary to stop injustice by using “whataboutisms”. That is, they get hung up on minor details or irrelevant facts that distract their attention from the bigger picture of injustice being done to the innocent. About the horrors of the slave trade, William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”
I say to committee members: you know because you have read the stories and heard about the contemporary horrors of human rights abuses, organ harvesting, trafficking and the complicity of some Canadians. We must do all we can to put a stop to this.
Let's pass this bill to ensure it becomes law as soon as possible. Let's maximize our chances of success by recognizing the legislative process as it is. Just like William Wilberforce's audience, you and all of those watching at home may choose to look away but can never again say you did not know.