Evidence of meeting #27 for Health in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was chair.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Anne Kelly  Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
Sylvie Blanchet  Executive Vice-Chairperson, Parole Board of Canada
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Erica Pereira
Alain Tousignant  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
Marlene Orr  Director of Corrections, Native Counselling Services of Alberta
Catherine Latimer  Executive Director, John Howard Society of Canada
Stanley Stapleton  National President, Union of Safety and Justice Employees
David Neufeld  National Vice-President and Regional Vice-President, Correctional Service of Canada Community and Parole Board of Canada - West, Union of Safety and Justice Employees

1 p.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Chair, I had my hand raised from before, but I want to say that since this committee has been formed, Mr. Thériault has been incredibly professional, very prepared, and is known in the House as one of the hardest-working members of Parliament.

I want to make sure that's on the record, Mr. Chair.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Fisher. Let's try to keep our comments to the amendment.

We go now to Dr. Powlowski.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to further support the amendment.

I have to preface my remarks by saying that my riding extends all the way from Thunder Bay, so from Lake Superior to the Manitoba border. I have the total border. I can say that no issue comes up more frequently than border issues do. People who have a business across the border or family members across the border want to go across the border.

People call my office and say they saw someone with a licence plate from Minnesota towing a boat and they think they're coming up here as tourists, and they say aren't we supposed to be allowing just essential people to come into Canada. There's this non-stop questioning about what's happening at our borders. I would think, similarly, the people working at Canada Border Services Agency would face the same number of questions every day.

These are people who evidently have a lot to do and a lot of issues come up before them, and to ask them, rather than to address these very real issues, to take a lot of time going over every email would seem like diverting their attention from where it should to be at this time.

I fully support the amendment.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Dr. Powlowski.

We'll go now to Mr. Paul-Hus.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I won't wade into the debate between Mr. Jeneroux and Mr. Thériault.

The purpose of the motion I moved on Mr. Kitchen's behalf is to shed light on the lead-up to the closing of the border, especially regarding how long it took. Why did it take so long?

This is a public health issue. I can't understand why the honourable member from the Bloc wants to strike the request for emails and thus take relevant information away from the committee. The opposition parties should stand up and demand that the Liberal government provide as much information as possible. To be sure, the Liberal members will support any amendment that limits the information provided to the committee and, by extension, to the opposition parties. I think that's unfortunate.

Personally, I would like Mr. Thériault to withdraw his amendment, simply so that the government has to provide as much information as possible to the opposition parties. I think that even the Bloc Québécois needs the information.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Paul-Hus.

Monsieur Thériault cannot remove his amendment. Doing that would require unanimous consent.

We are debating the amendment, and it will be voted on one way or another in due course.

We go now to Mr. Van Bynen.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Van Bynen Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Chair, I support the amendment as well, and I can give you a very classic example.

In the last week, in one day, I received as many as 91 emails. It took me most of the day to get those 91 emails down to 21.

If we start to look at an issue as broad as this one, I simply can't imagine the number of emails that will be clouding the issue. I think we need to maintain our focus on information that is relevant, and not necessarily dilute the value of the information by overloading it with other information, which can all be gathered and could be sifted through in the documentation that this motion requests.

One minor change is that if we are going to be deleting “and emails”, we should add the word “and” in front of the word “motions”. I don't know whether or not that needs another motion—I'm not as familiar with parliamentary process as many of us are—but I think that would have to be a consideration as well.

I will leave it to you, Mr. Chair, to decide on that.

I do want to say that what's being proposed here, to eliminate the emails, is a very legitimate request. I think it's putting an unfair and heavy burden of reporting on people who should be focusing on doing the right things during this current emergency.

We have a pandemic in front of us, ladies and gentlemen, and therefore, we should not be overloading the system. We should respect the time and the energy of all the people who are working on this. I think removing the emails is a significant step in doing so.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Van Bynen.

Mr. Webber, please go ahead.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Chairman, of course, I do not support this amendment to the motion. I'm not going to reiterate what my colleagues on the Conservative side have said. Mr. Paul-Hus said it quite eloquently. We need to get as much information as possible. Withholding information just doesn't make sense to me, so eliminating emails is not what we should be doing.

Mr. Van Bynen, with all due respect, on sifting through emails and only pulling out information that is relevant, I don't understand who you think should be doing that. Who should be sifting through these emails?

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

I remind everyone to speak through the chair and not to each other.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Yes, Mr. Chair.

I'm referring to what Mr. Van Bynen indicated, which was the fact that these emails should be sifted and only information that is relevant should be distributed to us, but who makes the decision on what is relevant and what is not?

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Webber.

Ms. Jansen, please go ahead.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tamara Jansen Conservative Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Mr. Chair, I know that all of us here at this committee are very much in solidarity in regard to transparency and openness. I think the whole point of this committee is to ensure that we understand exactly what went on, and the idea of removing emails because it's too much work would stand in the way of that ultimate goal that we all have, which is to ensure that we have complete openness and transparency on what has happened here.

I live right at the border, and these things are extremely important to all of the constituents in my riding. I think it's imperative that we show we truly are dedicated to transparency and openness and ensure those emails are available.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Ms. Jansen.

Mr. Davies, go ahead.

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Chair, I think there have been some points made on both sides of this. I have noted the pattern where generally opposition wants more disclosure and government seeks to limit disclosure, and I see that pattern repeating itself here today.

I'm going to support the amendment only because if the disclosure of information that we get is not sufficient, I think it's open to Mr. Kitchen or Mr. Paul-Hus to move another motion requesting the emails. I don't find it persuasive to.... This is the second or third time I've heard the government side argue that it's too onerous to provide emails. Disclosure and accountability are foundational concepts, and I believe Mr. Trudeau has famously said that his government should be “transparent by default”. That's what he told the Canadian public.

Just because it's difficult or just because it's onerous to get emails, that's not a sufficient reason to override the need for transparency. I also think that with emails what's behind my Conservative colleague's motion is that there's a degree of frankness, granularity and detail that is usually found in emails that is not found in other documents. In supporting this motion to move this meeting forward, that in no way doesn't mean I don't think the emails are a valid source of information, and we could be pursuing those later on.

I do want to comment, and ask the clerk to comment, on redaction. When this committee passed a motion before for disclosure from the government, in my opinion, we had illegitimate and, frankly, I thought unjustifiable redactions by the government. I want to make sure that the documents being sought here come in unredacted form, and that it's the clerk of this committee who will determine if anything ought to be redacted or not.

Last time, I think the privileges of these committee members, of us, were violated when we received documents that someone else, prior to sending them to us, had redacted for all sorts of reasons, many of which were way beyond the grounds that are normally given for redaction. If we're going to hold the government to account—and I think it's a good motion on behalf of my colleague to do so, particularly when the border is affecting so many Canadians in so many ways, both on an economic and a personal level—then I want this committee to get the unvarnished information we seek. I want to be very clear that I'll be looking for documents that are not sanitized to protect the government's political interests like they were last time.

Finally, I want to say that I don't find emails to be that difficult to get. There are search functions that exist in our computers, such that if a particular individual were asked to provide all emails that bore on the subject of border controls, I would point out to Mr. Van Bynen that it's a simple matter to use search functions to produce those documents. In fact, because emails are, by definition, stored on computers, it's actually very quick and easy to produce documents by email, so that is not an argument that I find persuasive.

To move this forward, I think we should have the vote on this. I'll support Monsieur Thériault's amendment to remove emails at this point, on the proviso that I reserve the right to pursue those emails later on if we find that the documents that are produced to the committee are not sufficient for the purposes of my Conservative colleagues.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Davies.

We'll go now to Monsieur Thériault.

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

I agree with Mr. Davies. The motion in and of itself is quite substantial and extensive. The committee is asking for all relevant documents, specifically, briefing notes, background documents and memos.

If nothing in those documents helps the committee understand why it took so long to close the border, it points to a serious problem somewhere. If that's the case, we can ask the necessary questions. I want to point something out. Poor legislation is often unenforceable legislation—hence, my comment.

The same party even wanted text messages to be provided the last time. If we look back over all the motions that have been put forward—and there's a good few—we see that, every time, the goal is to obtain all the emails from all the stakeholders. I think we should limit ourselves to the information that's relevant. In this case, the motion sets out everything we need to gain a very clear understanding of what happened, all while ensuring the necessary transparency. If not, we will take up the issue then.

Coming back to Mr. Webber's question, I would refer him to the April 23, 2020 edition of La Presse. Then, he'll understand what I was referring to.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Mr. Thériault.

Dr. Powlowski, your hand is up. Go ahead.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Chair, the issue of transparency has come up. I want to say that I don't think the issue in asking to not include emails is one of transparency.

I certainly agree [Technical difficulty—Editor] we're talking about our relations with the United States. It's a totally different country. When we're talking about the reasons for reopening the border, I think we're going to have to discuss what the United States is doing with respect to control of the disease. There are 50 different states in the United States. There is the federal government. They are all potentially doing different things with respect to COVID-19.

When people start talking about when to open the border and when not to open the border, of course they're going to have to reference what is being done in the United States. I don't know whether we want, as a government, to make public everything everybody said in discussing what the United States is doing in managing the outbreak. Certainly, our relations with the United States are exceedingly important. The United States is our best friend. It's obviously our major trading partner. We have to be very sensitive to our relationship with them.

I'm not sure a requirement to open all these up to the public is really in our best interest, as a nation.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Dr. Powlowski.

Mr. Paul-Hus, you're up.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think we can proceed. We've debated the motion for the record. I would just like the record to reflect my disbelief at the Bloc Québécois's helping the government do less work. I sense some dislike on Mr. Thériault's part for the Conservative Party, which is totally inappropriate under the circumstances.

Regardless, I am now ready for the committee to vote on Mr. Thériault's amendment and the final version of the motion.

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Chair, I had asked for the floor.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Mr. Desilets, I didn't see your hand. I apologize. Go ahead.

June 15th, 2020 / 1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

First, I agree with Mr. Paul-Hus. We should go ahead and vote, because everything has already been said. I fully support Mr. Thériault's amendment.

I would also like to apologize to the witnesses for Mr. Jeneroux's cheap shot, for which, we expect an apology, of course.

I suggest we vote, Mr. Chair.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ron McKinnon

Thank you, Monsieur Desilets.

Mr. Van Bynen, go ahead.