Evidence of meeting #12 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was debate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

8:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

We'll call the meeting to order. This is meeting number 12 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, dealing with clause-by-clause of Bill C-10.

We had gotten to clause 7, Mr. Goguen.

8:45 a.m.


Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

If it please the chair, I have a motion to make. My motion would be:

That, if the committee has not commenced the clause by clause consideration of Bill C-10 by 11:59 p.m. on November 17, 2011, that the Chair put all and every question necessary to dispose of this stage of the Bill forthwith and successively, without further debate, and then the Chair be ordered to report the Bill back to the House on or before November 18, 2011; and that the Chair limit debate on each clause to a maximum of 5 minutes per party per clause before the clause comes to a vote.

8:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Harris

8:45 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I'm speaking to the motion. Is that all right?

8:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie


8:45 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I'm shocked. I'm shocked that the government would seek to take a bill, a piece of legislation, that has over 200 clauses dealing with nine separate pieces of legislation that have been a matter of public debate across this country.... We know some of these bills were considered before, and some were considered at committee, but only some.

I'm wondering what kind of agenda we have here. Are we trying to shut down discussion in this country about matters of great public importance, matters that have engaged the provinces, community groups, police organizations, victims groups—people from all walks of life?

I myself have between 12,000 and 15,000 e-mails and letters. I'm sure other members have received significant input. There's a great deal of public interest in this.

We had a concern the other day, 15 minutes into the meeting, that this was going to be a filibuster. There's no evidence of any filibuster here. We're talking about legislation that concerns people, that changes the course of criminal justice in Canada. We've had experts come to talk to us about the difficulties they see in the legislation, the fact that the legislation will in their view turn the clock backwards on what we're doing in this country compared to other countries.

Specific individual sections of this bill have been the subject of reasoned learned comment by experts, such as law professors who have spent 20 and 30 years engaged in this process, whose views are quoted by the Supreme Court of Canada. And you're saying we're not going to consider this; we're not going to do this except for today, that today is the only day there is going to be consideration of this legislation? I think that is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, talk about putting the “mock” into democracy by having a bill of this magnitude, this degree of public interest and public debate, dealt with in two sessions.

We had one session the other day. We made some progress. I suspect if we had had another hour we would have made considerable progress. That's the nature of legislation. The role we play as legislators is to look at and examine these bills to try to improve them.

We heard Mr. Cotler the other day, another experienced legislator, a law professor, who has studied this legislation. He came up with a number—seven or eight—of well thought out and considered amendments for discussion. While they weren't accepted, they were put forth, and they were put forth for a reason. They were put forth because they deserved consideration and there were arguments to be made in favour of them.

The next section of the bill is on the child exploitation cases, and my suspicion is that's going to pass very quickly. I have a motion, which I believe will be accepted, to take all of those clauses and pass them at once. Then we would move on to other ones.

Why does the government feel it has to bring down the hammer of procedural closure in committee on a piece of legislation of this great import and complexity? That's something that ought to be considered as well. There's a great deal of complexity to some of these provisions: the corrections provisions, the provisions with respect to parole. These provisions are very complex. The provisions with respect to aspects of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are very technical; some of them need detailed consideration.

I suspect that the orders are from on high to the members of the committee opposite to shut down debate on this. And for what reason? Why today? What's wrong with next week? What's wrong with next Tuesday? What's wrong with next Thursday? Is there some other plan that the government has in mind, that we should shut down the entire debate, prorogue the House, and get out of here because the government doesn't seem to be getting a good response from its point of view?

Is this the agenda?

It's a mystery, and it should be a mystery to the Canadian public, as to why this government feels that because it has a majority of seats in the House, the so-called strong mandate with 39% of the popular vote, they then have the right to ram through legislation without due consideration.

It's irresponsible, frankly, absolutely grossly irresponsible for a government to treat the legislature in this way, to ignore the numerous representations to this committee to consider aspects of this legislation. To come in here with this motion on the second day of the hearing of this committee is absolutely unfathomable. I don't even know if there's a precedent. I don't remember when we've had a government do this kind of thing with a massive piece of legislation like this: to abhor debate, to refuse to consider public discussion, to refuse to take seriously the representations we receive from other governments.

On Tuesday during the committee an e-mail was sent to all members of the committee from the Minister of Justice of Quebec, following up on his suggestions as to how the bill could be improved and some of the concerns he had on behalf of his government and the people of Quebec. We're now being told there's not going to be sufficient time to give that due consideration, unless it's done today between now and twelve o'clock, without any notice. I'm not even sure if it's in order, Mr. Chair, to suggest without notice that we have a deadline of midnight tonight.

Frankly, I find it shocking that we were here at 8:45 in the morning, we have a meeting that's set for two hours, and the government, without any notice to anybody, not only the members of this committee but to all those in the public who have an interest in the course of this legislation, in the course of criminal justice in Canada, in the state of our correctional system and correctional services, in how people are going to be treated and whether they will go to jail and for how long, thinks that somehow or other, because they won an election in May and received a majority of 12 or 15 seats, they have the right to come in here and ram this legislation through without due consideration.

That's irresponsible, it's undemocratic, and it's contrary to the traditions of Parliament. This is an outrage, Mr. Chair, and I would urge members opposite to think very seriously before they proceed with this particular approach. I think it's wrong, it's unprecedented in my view, and it's something the Canadian public does not want their parliamentarians to be doing.

They're prepared to accept the fact--and we've always been prepared to accept--that this is a majority government. We understand. We weren't born yesterday. But a majority government is not a licence to ignore the democratic process, to ram things down the people's throats. A majority government is not a licence to stifle discussion and stifle debate and stifle a comment because you don't happen to agree with it.

This is a reasoned process. We're not engaging in rhetoric here. We had Mr. Cotler put forth legal arguments and legal references in a sincere attempt to improve the legislation. It wasn't a rhetorical flight trying to seek political points or anything like that. This was all about doing our jobs as legislators and making sure that due consideration is given to important legislation that changes the course of criminal justice in Canada.

To suggest that you have the right to do that because you have a majority is contrary to democracy. It's not what Canadians expect of their Parliament, and it's not what Canadians expect of parliamentarians who they elect to represent them in Ottawa.

Members of the Conservative Party aren't the only ones who were elected on May 2. There were 103 New Democrats elected on May 2. There were 34 Liberals elected on May 2. All of these people were elected by the people of Canada to come to this House and to these committees to air the views of those they are elected to represent.

It's not a game of numbers. It's not to say that we have more than you, so we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and we're prepared to do that. If that's what democracy is about, then I think Canadians have backed the wrong horse here. If they've chosen a government—a group of people—whose attitude toward democracy is that they have the numbers and they're going to do exactly what they want, regardless of what anybody thinks, then I think Canadians would wish they had their time back on May 2, because that's not what Canadians want in their government.

I've never seen any survey yet, I've never seen any poll yet, that suggests Canadians want to have a government with a hammer, a government that says, “We acknowledge we have a majority, and we can do exactly what we want, claim a strong mandate for it, and run roughshod over democracy and democratic principles and reasoned discussion about legislation.” That's what's happening here. We're having a government run roughshod over the whole notion of parliamentary democracy.

I think it's wrong, and we're going to oppose it, and we're going to continue to oppose it.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Jean.

8:55 a.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Very quickly, I understand what Mr. Harris is saying, but the reality is that we have about 15 hours, which is, in essence, eight to nine meetings of straight time to get this done.

He asks why, and I bluntly have to say, after hearing witnesses' and victims' testimonies, that they want this done, and they've wanted it done for a period of time.

We've gone through six clauses in two hours so far, or thereabouts, and not even substantive clauses. Frankly, these bills and most of the clauses contained within them have been debated for years, in essence, Mr. Chair. We have had many parliamentarians deal with these acts in the past. I'm certain we've had the departments dealing with these matters for thousands of hours. These issues have been dealt with time and time again.

Even Mr. Cotler mentioned that he tried to put forward a bill in 2003 or 2002, which we're now dealing with today, eight years later. We want to get this done, and we're prepared to work at it today, as Conservatives, to get it done, and we're asking for his cooperation to get it done. Let's get at it. We have some time now. We're here to sit down and deal with this matter. Let's deal with the substantive motions. Let's deal with it and do what the people of Canada wanted us to do on May 2. We put our policy platform out there, we put it in front of the people, and they elected a majority mandate.

We're prepared to work at it. We're not pulling the hammer down. We have until midnight tonight. Let's get it done. Canadians want it done, and even if we get it done today, it's still going to take months to get through the Senate and to get royal assent. Canadians have been clear, and victims have been clear, that they want these bills put forward and passed into law.

So although I understand what Mr. Harris is saying, by the time we go through the leadership race of the NDP, we'll have a whole new cast of characters on the other side. We want to get this done. We have 15 hours today, which in essence is eight or nine meetings. Let's get it done, Mr. Harris. Let's do it. Let's deal with the substantive nature of these clauses.

9 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Ms. Boivin.

9 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

There will not be a serious in-depth analysis of the bill. As Mr. Harris said, the work that's been done, at least on this side of the table, was intended to improve the bill. No one is claiming it's perfect. Indeed, any legal scholar will tell you that nothing in this world is perfect. Even if we adopt this bill with the intelligent amendments that have been proposed by both the members of the official opposition and other members on this side of the table, and the members of the government, we can never completely guarantee that the bill is iron-clad and will never be challenged in the courts.

To my mind, a bill that comprises 208 clauses certainly merits serious clause-by-clause consideration, and not just a single day's examination. If the Conservatives promised to have some bills passed by a set time, that's their problem, that's their promise. That doesn't mean that all of Canadian society should suffer as a result.

Some voices will not be heard. Some amendments have been proposed, but one entire province will not be heard. The Minister of Justice appeared before the committee, which is an entirely exceptional event. I'm convinced that he wasn't all that happy about coming here, since the various levels of government don't like to interfere in the affairs of other levels of government. The minister said it, loud and clear, that some aspects of this bill are inconsistent with the whole way my province, Quebec, handles things, including the Young Offenders Act.

These are not major amendments, but we'll have to clear them at the rate of the high-speed train that we still don't have between Quebec City and Windsor. It's absolutely extraordinary.

There are nevertheless so many clauses that we're in favour of. I could list them all. It's true that, in a single day, we studied only six or seven clauses. One day may seem long to those who are listening to us, but it's not, because it actually consists of only two hours. Examination of some clauses should go a little faster. It should be recalled that we were examining the Combating Terrorism Act, which is extremely technical. Different amendments were proposed to improve the bill. For example, when we look at the act respecting sexual crimes against children, you'll see that we'll adopt the clauses quickly. Dozens and dozens of clauses would thus be adopted very quickly, without any sort of amendment.

The Conservatives want to make sure there's as little time as possible for debate over the weak points of their bill, which will not serve the ends for which it was designed. The Conservatives have quite simply decided to speed up a process that is already very fast. The committee sometimes heard five, six or seven witnesses who each had five minutes, after which the members had five minutes to question them. This could not be more ridiculous, and it's unworthy of a so-called democratic country. It's outrageous. There is no expression strong enough to say what I feel as a legal expert and lawyer who takes her role as a legislator seriously.

The claim is that we're going to consider and examine the bill in the light of the testimonies we've received. In that case, we might as well say that we wasted the public's money by summoning witnesses here. Seriously, I don't think there's one word of what these people said that is going to change anything. There are even groups that the Conservatives were priding themselves on, that approved certain parts but not others. We could actually have demonstrated, by looking at the amendments, that in the end the Conservatives' way of thinking is not unanimous within the party.

As Mr. Harris said, this party, which was elected with the votes of 39% of the population, actually, is trying to ram down our throats a bill containing 208 clauses. This is absolutely crass indecency. Certainly it's the government that will bear the blame when its law is challenged left right and centre. The Crown attorneys and all the members of the Canadian Bar say that this bill poses serious problems. You seem to think that we'll have the time, in the coming hours, to do a serious examination. Personally, I take issue with this process. I think this is absolutely horrible. Still I'm not surprised by a government that has already imposed six gag orders on the House pertaining to substantial bills, such as budgets and other substantive files.

This government says it believes in freedom of expression. But it absolutely doesn't believe in freedom of debate. It quite simply tries to short-circuit the work that the population has asked its members to do.

As Jack Harris said, 103 New Democrats were elected last May 11. Members other than those of the Conservative Party were elected. Nevertheless, the government has decided to silence these voices. It's dreadfully sad. This is certainly a dark day for democracy in Canada.

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Madame Boivin.

Madame Borg.

9:05 a.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

I'm astonished by the fact that this government has decided to draft a bill 100 pages long, nine bills in one, but that it doesn't even want to assume responsibility for going through it properly. We're not the ones who decided to put all that together, it's you. Some thought should have been given to it. Of course there are going to be lots of amendments proposed, because it contains 100 pages.

It's not that we wanted to stretch out the time or spend hundreds of hours on it. We are quite simply complying with the legislative process. It's the time it takes to get through a 100-page bill. I'm surprised that this government doesn't understand that you need a lot more time to get through a 100-page bill than to get through a 20-page bill. As far as I'm concerned, it's just simple arithmetic.

When we were elected to the House, we assumed responsibility for making sound legislation. We're responsible for making sure the best bills are drafted and passed; it's our responsibility to the Canadian population. Right now, we're not even complying with the legislative process, we don't even want to hear the amendments that would improve this bill and ensure that our streets are really made safer. But that's what we want.

We're completely in favour of certain parts of this bill. Moreover we tried to have certain parts of the bill adopted quickly in the House, and you completely rejected this idea. I think that some parts of this bill could have been adopted, since we were all completely in favour. But you were opposed to this initiative. In my opinion, that's completely unacceptable.

We've heard a lot of witnesses. We have spent money for them to come here so that we could hear what they had to say. I wish to point out that, even among the witnesses summoned by the government, no one said, except for one or two people, that the bill was perfect as is. It's arrogance to think that something can be drafted perfectly straight off. It doesn't happen, because we're not perfect; we're human beings.

We should listen to what these witnesses are telling us, the voices of the Canadian people, the experts and individuals who will be directly affected by this bill. You are not even prepared to do so. It's completely unacceptable. It's a lack of respect for the legislative process. Why do we have a legislative process if we don't respect it? The legislative process exists for a reason: so that we can examine this bill and be assured we've done all we can to make our streets safe and for the population to be truly secure. But that's not what we're doing now. We claim everything is fine. I repeat that this is arrogance.

We are 308 members. We cannot talk on behalf of everyone without having heard the people. If we're not ready to do that, why are we here? This isn't what the people asked us to do. The people elected us to listen to them. Why do we invite witnesses if we don't listen to them? I ask the question, because sincerely I don't see the use of spending money to have people appear before the committee. Some of the witnesses were victims. It was very hard for these people to testify, because they had to recall some unpleasant memories. By adopting this bill as quickly as possible, it's as if they were being told that their testimonies didn't count. That's not our responsibility, that's not the reason why we're here. We're here to listen to them.

You say you want to have this bill passed within the first 100 days of your mandate. This is a promise you've made. I'm not telling you that you shouldn't keep your promises, but you have to think before you make them. It's totally unacceptable not to spend time on a bill on the pretext that the deadline for its adoption is approaching. Just because you made a promise? I don't think this is a promise that you should have made.

This bill will have major repercussions for many people. Some provinces, like Quebec, have completely rejected the bill. An entire province wishes to make amendments to the bill, but we're not listening to it, because we won't even have a chance to table these amendments. Quebec doesn't want this bill and it's not the only one, moreover, in this situation. Ontario is also rejecting the bill. If the provinces are obliged to accept and respect this bill, they should at least be able to propose a couple of amendments. That's all we're asking for, but you want to adopt the bill without even giving it any thought.

I repeat that nobody has said the bill is perfect. As the representative of a population of 150,000 people, I don't claim to know what is best for these people. They must be heard. That's part of the democratic process. It's a matter of listening to people, consulting the experts, meeting the individuals affected and hearing about any problems we can foresee. In all honesty, we can't think of everything; we're only human beings.

We have to work together, without arrogance, without claiming to know it all, without claiming that everything is fine and there aren't any problems, without rushing things on the pretext that the deadline is approaching. Otherwise this is a complete lack of respect for the legislative process.

We were elected to Parliament to ensure that the best possible bills are passed. That's our duty. But this motion does not allow us to do our duty. You're saying it's perfect, there aren't any problems, you can pass the bill, when absolutely no one says it's perfect. You have to admit it.

Thank you.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Ms. Borg.

Mr. Jacob.

9:10 a.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

I too am very shocked by the government's intention to speed up the process of passing Bill C-10. You rejected all the amendments, all the changes proposed on this side of the table. Quebec and all of Canada will be penalized by this unilateral decision on your part.

We've seen it, Bill C-10 will deprive us of lasting protection, in addition to lifting the prohibition against identifying too large a number of youth. The effect of this will be stigmatize this group.

Furthermore, regarding the YCJA, Quebec's experience was rejected with a sweep of the hand. It has been noted, however, in Quebec and elsewhere in the country, that there is less crime among young offenders. The imposition of minimum punishments is inconsistent with the principle of differential treatment for young offenders, which is currently producing good results.

For all these reasons, I'm shocked. On my side of the table, we believe in prevention and rehabilitation. We also believe in social reintegration, because sooner or later young and not-so-young offenders return to society. Let's not forget the cost, borne by the provinces, which will rise tremendously.

For all these reasons, I'm very shocked by the government's intention to speed up the process of passing this bill, without examining all the amendments that might improve it.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Jacob.

Mr. Cotler.

November 17th, 2011 / 9:15 a.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, when we look at this omnibus crime bill legislation, it is not only one bill, it is nine bills. Each of these bills effects a transformative impact on our criminal justice system. Each of these bills warrants the appropriate study for that which will have a transformative impact on our justice system. It's not only the criminal justice system. This will relate to our whole framework as a parliamentary democracy and as a constitutional democracy.

The government has already introduced time allocation in the introduction of the bill in the House and limited debate in the House to two days. One of the premises, it appears, at the time for purposes of time allocation in the House is that we would be going to clause-by-clause consideration, so we would have the time in committee to do that which was not allowed us in the House. So now what we have is a hijacking of democracy in the committee to go along with what took place in the House.

The government seems to believe, and they believe this in good faith--I'm not questioning their good faith--that if you have legislation whose title is the Safe Streets and Communities Act, that speaks for itself. As we say, res ipsa loquitur. The title speaks for itself. No more discussion needs to be had. You say this is Safe Streets and Communities and therefore let's pass it, because the title validates everything and we don't need any discussion or debate. And if any question is raised beyond this, the answer is, well, we have a mandate from the people in order to pass this Safe Streets and Communities Act. We have a mandate to protect the streets and communities in this nation.

Mr. Chairman, every government at every time has a mandate to protect safe streets and communities. Every government has not only a mandate, it has a constitutional responsibility to protect its citizens. When we were in government, Mr. Chairman, I also spoke of the need to protect safe streets and safe communities because it was a constitutional responsibility to do so. I would never have suggested that simply because legislation was introduced with that title, that validates it in and of itself. I would never presume to say we have a mandate from the people to do what we want.

I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman, the last time I looked, this country was still a parliamentary democracy; this country was still a constitutional democracy. I want to say that what is being done today is a black day for parliamentary democracy. What is being done today is a shameful day for constitutional democracy. I'm surprised that the members opposite would ask us to be accomplices. They want to do this, but to ask us to be accomplices in this hijacking of democracy.... We are here to represent the constituents who elected us. My constituents did not elect me to come here and be an accomplice to the hijacking of this process.

We were elected to exercise constitutional oversight, Mr. Chairman. That is part of our constitutional responsibility. This is not simply a matter of a couple of amendments to a bill and then say, okay, let's go ahead. This goes to the heart and soul of what not only a parliamentary democracy is all about but what a constitutional democracy is all about. This goes to the heart and soul of what we as parliamentarians have an obligation to do and to discharge on behalf of our constituents. You are saying to me today that I have to short-circuit my discussion with my constituents simply because the government wants to go ahead and short-circuit this constitutional and parliamentary process.

What about the new members who have been elected and who are sitting here for the first time? They never debated this bill before. They never had an opportunity to engage in this bill before. They never had an opportunity to consult with their constituents before. When it is said, as we have heard, well, these bills have been debated before, let me just now go as a case study to what happened Tuesday.

We had an important bill on Tuesday. When I say that this legislation is transformative legislation, the bill on Tuesday was giving victims of terror a civil remedy against their terrorist perpetrators. Mr. Chairman, this was transformative legislation. For the first time in the history of this country we were going to amend the State Immunity Act in order to give victims a voice, something the members opposite organized their representations around, and I share that with them. Victims of terror should be given a voice.

We were also going to be holding state sponsors of terror accountable for the first time. Mr. Chairman, this was transformative legislation, as I say: giving victims a voice, holding terrorists accountable for the first time, and amending the State Immunity Act. We have an anomalous situation, Mr. Chairman, which happily this legislation was going to correct. That anomalous situation was that historically foreign states could only be held accountable if damages were caused by reason of a breach of contract.

We had a commercial exception, Mr. Chairman, but we didn't have an exception if victims suffered loss of life and injury by reason of terrorist attacks. So the legislation was put forward to correct that anomaly—to correct that anomaly in almost constitutional terms, to correct that anomaly in human terms.

Mr. Chairman, members opposite sat here on Tuesday to support that legislation in principle. We didn't oppose the legislation. We didn't filibuster the legislation. We came here to say here are some amendments to improve the legislation that you are tabling in Parliament. This is legislation that we are supporting for the same reasons you have put this legislation forth, but we want to make it more effective. We want to ensure that victims will have a more effective voice. We want to ensure that terrorists will be held effectively accountable. We want to ensure that the amendments to the State Immunity Act will act in such a way that we will at the end of the day give the victims a voice that they seek and that they deserve and hold the terrorist states and their proxies accountable in the way our parliamentary and constitutional democracy should be doing. That's why we supported the legislation.

All we did was table amendments to make the legislation proposed by the government, which we supported, more effective. What happens? Before we could even conclude that, Mr. Chairman--and we would have been concluding that in short order this morning and we would have been on the way to have enacted a transformative piece of legislation--we have the process hijacked, so that we can't go ahead with regard to that bill properly, and we have the rest of the process hijacked.

Mr. Chairman, if you look at the nine bills here, you have, I would say, eleven transformative impacts. I'm not talking about specific amendments that are warranted. I'm talking about the overall nature of the reform that is being proposed with regard to this legislation.

Let me go to one thing: this legislation introduces in the course of its nine bills initiatives that may arguably be in breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have a responsibility, parliamentarians of every party, to ensure, because we are now, since 1982, a constitutional democracy, Mr. Chairman.... We're not just a parliamentary democracy; we are a constitutional democracy. We have an obligation that begins with the Minister of Justice, but continues with each of us as parliamentarians, to ensure that any proposed legislative initiative comports with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have heard witnesses testify before this committee, Mr. Chairman, that there are provisions in different pieces of this legislation that arguably breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I'm not going to prejudge whether they do or they don't. I happen to believe that some of them arguably do, but the point is, it warranted discussion and debate in this chamber.

Surely the members opposite would want to ensure that legislation they are proposing comports with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Surely they would want to ensure that we as parliamentarians discharge our constitutional responsibility for the oversight of that legislation to ensure that it comports with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Chairman, I don't want to find myself going into report stage saying, hey, wait a minute, what about all those provisions with regard to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we should have discussed, that we should have debated, and for which we should have been able to put amendments forth? I don't want to have to go back to my constituents and have them say to me, “What were you doing up there? Did you not care about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? You, who taught it for 35 years, how can you go to Parliament and say it doesn't make a difference any more, as if it never happened? We don't have to discuss it. We're simply a parliamentary democracy, we're not a constitutional democracy any more. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was never enacted in 1982.” That's effectively what we'll be doing, Mr. Chairman, if we go ahead and short-circuit this process.

I can go on. Another transformative impact is on the whole question of federal-provincial relations. Mr. Chairman, the government always spoke about an open federalism, about a covenantal federalism, that we were going to cooperate with the provinces. Mr. Chairman, we have the spectacle of the Minister of Justice of Quebec not only seeking still to put forward amendments with regard, in particular—

9:25 a.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

A point of order, Mr. Chair.

I'm questioning the sincerity, Mr. Chair. We've spent 40 minutes on this, hearing the same argument five times. We have 15 hours to get this done. Let's get it done. Let's deal with the substantive motion that all of them have said.... We have the opportunity to do so, instead of wasting time on this, Mr. Chair. If they're sincere about it, let's do it.

9:25 a.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chairman, I never questioned the integrity or the intention of the member opposite or any of the other members here. Certainly this thing should not descend into whether they're questioning our sincerity or integrity in this debate. I'll pass over it, because what we're talking about here is so serious that we should not be engaged in this kind of facile questioning of a person's integrity or sincerity. I would be in breach of my constitutional responsibilities as a parliamentarian if I didn't address these things.

I'm not repeating anything. I started to say something that I could not have said on Tuesday because it was after we met that the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Quebec said he was proposing a series of amendments with respect to the Youth Justice Act, which we have not yet gotten to and for which a number of us have already tendered amendments. My whole point is that what he was saying was not only about amendments with regard to the Youth Justice Act, which in and of themselves deserve debate. What he was saying is that he has not been able to have his voice heard, that he made these recommendations months ago, and that he has been seeking to discuss these matters with the Minister of Justice. So far, that has not come to pass.

More important, Mr. Chairman, when we say we've discussed these things before, yes, we have, and yes, there were amendments proposed, and yes, those amendments were adopted in previous committee hearings, but in fact they do not find expression in the bill now coming before us. What does that say about the discussion that preceded this? On the one hand, yes, we discussed this bill before, but on the other hand, we don't have to do anything about that which we discussed before. We don't even have to incorporate or relate to any of those amendments. That's shocking.

To return to the question that we were debating on Tuesday, that is transformative legislation, which we support. That is transformative legislation that we want to see enacted into law. But we want to see the most effective legislation enacted into law, as the government should want to have for their purposes, which I share on this legislation. I don't for a moment question their sincerity with regard to the enactment of that piece of legislation. But as I said, Mr. Chairman, there are other transformative impacts that we will not have an opportunity to discuss.

For example, there is the federal-provincial component, which only arose again after we met on Tuesday. At this point, Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier will not be able to have his voice heard. Open federalism will not be expressed.

There is also the question of cost. We don't know the cost of this legislation. We need to understand and have a better appreciation of it. This is important, because we're talking about the spending power. We're talking about the public purse. We have a constitutional responsibility as parliamentarians to be able to address the issue of cost. As a result of this legislation, costs are being imposed on the provinces that may cause them to contract services. We will not be giving this the appropriate discussion.

Let me mention another thematic aspect that is transformative in the legislation and that we will not have an opportunity to discuss. One can say one is in favour of this legislation. But there is a thematic approach in the nine bills. It gives the executive the exercise of power that it did not have before.

I don't want to belabour this point. I'll refer to case studies. One is the legislation we discussed on Tuesday. We lost the notion with regard to whether the government should alone have the executive discretion to designate the governments on the terrorist list. I happen to think this is a mistake. The government feels it wants to go ahead. Victor Comras, who was a witness is previous discussions, says not to go there. We did that. We lost that. That's fine. I'm just making the point about executive discretion. This comes up with regard to the transfer of offenders. This legislation will imbue the Minister of Public Security with discretion that he would not otherwise have had.

I respect the Minister of Public Security. I believe he's a responsible person. I don't believe we should be putting into legislation that we will imbue whoever the Minister of Public Security is with that kind of power. This is, after all, a parliamentary democracy, and we need to keep that power with Parliament and with the people.

That's the other transformative impact of this legislation. This legislation transforms the roles and responsibilities of the respective actors in the criminal justice process. It transforms the role of the judiciary, because the nature of the sentencing reforms dramatically transforms not only the nature and role of the judiciary but also sentencing principles. Some witnesses have said it sets us back 100 years. I'm not going to make the statement as to whether it does or doesn't, Mr. Chairman. I'm saying we don't have the opportunity to debate the whole spectrum of sentencing reform. Those are serious reforms. They deserve discussion.

As to the role of the judiciary, whether it be eliminating conditional sentences or eliminating judicial discretion, that's serious, Mr. Chairman. That requires discussion and debate, whether we talk about the whole question of the role of the prosecutor, the role of defence counsel, the role of witness testimony, all the actors in the criminal process.... Mr. Chairman, we're saying here that we don't care about the witness testimony that we heard about these things and we're not going to allow for any more discussion in respect of that witness testimony? We're just going to go ahead and hijack the process?

What kind of respect, Mr. Chairman, does that show for all the witnesses who appeared before us, on either side? I was pleased to hear the testimony of witnesses brought forward by the government. Yesterday evening, I discussed this with a group here in Ottawa, and I said that having witness testimony was a valuable process. I thought we didn't have enough time for it. Even that was short-circuited, with five minutes per witness. But, okay, we agreed to that, so we did it.

But to go ahead now and not allow the appropriate debate and the appropriate discussion on each—on each, I repeat, Mr. Chairman—of the nine bills, each of which has a transformative impact on our criminal justice system.... Mr. Chairman, we're not talking about one omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act, which by its title validates everything, or about the mantra of a mandate that says “we can do anything”. We are talking about—and I close, Mr. Chairman—our role in a parliamentary democracy and in a constitutional democracy. We're talking about our role as parliamentarians. We're talking about our responsibilities to our constituents. We're talking about our responsibilities for constitutional oversight.

Mr. Chairman, I don't like to use the words that I did when I began, and I don't like to have to close with them, but I have to somehow convey the sense of urgency, and, indeed, I would say, the sense of hurt I feel about this type of legislation. Given the importance--the historical importance--of these nine bills, given the transformative impact they will have on our criminal justice system, to hijack the discussion and the debate makes this, I regret to say, a black day for a parliamentary democracy and a shameful day for a constitutional democracy.

9:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Cotler.

Mr. Harris.

9:35 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

I appreciate the words of Mr. Cotler, the former Attorney General of Canada. He was a law professor for over 30 years and is someone who takes his responsibilities seriously, and he understands the constitutional and parliamentary system under which we operate. He gave what I think is a very erudite critique of what's happening here today.

We have serious responsibilities as members of Parliament to deal with these nine pieces of legislation. Mr. Cotler used the word “transformative”, in the sense that they bring about substantial changes in the nature of the criminal justice system and in the nature of remedies for terrorism, for example. It's not enough to say that this was talked about for some time, for some years. We now have legislation that's here for the first time.

For the first time, victims of terrorism will have a remedy in civil law, and it's important to get it right. We spent Tuesday doing that. Anyone who took the time to watch—and people are watching this now—our hearing on Tuesday can have nothing but understanding for what the parliamentary process is about when you're at clause-by-clause consideration of legislation.

We talked about each law. We had proposed amendments. There was discussion about it, and eventually it came to a vote. We got just about through that piece of legislation. I thought it was a very respectful process on all sides to have representations made, to hear the arguments, and to listen to thoughtful expressions of opinion on one side or the other. At the end of the day, with a few more votes—I think there are one or two proposed amendments—we will have passed the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act in this hearing.

What comes next is the child sexual offences part. I made it clear last Tuesday that this is something we proposed in the House—to actually separate it out of this bill, have it dealt with separately, and passed immediately. We believe it shouldn't have to wait for the responsible process of clause-by-clause consideration, which is perhaps going to take a longer time, maybe three or four meetings, and that it could move more quickly. It could get to the committee, be dealt with separately, and be sent off to the Senate. We believe other aspects of this legislation may take time in the Senate. We have no control over what's going to happen there. But I think we have a responsibility in this committee to give it due consideration.

Mr. Jean says if you believe we should get at it, well, let's get at it; turn on your watch, roll up your sleeves, and we're here until midnight.

Well, that's not the way the process works. We have a schedule of meetings for this committee. We meet on Tuesday and Thursday; we meet for two hours at a time. There are gaps in between for consideration of matters, for consultation with people, like the Government of Quebec, which has proposed amendments and made suggestions, and others who have an interest in amendments to this legislation. That's part of the process, too.

Other people have other obligations. People are on other committees that start at 11 o'clock this morning. People are in question period. People have other obligations. We can't just shut down the life of everybody in Parliament and say, “Well, we have between now and midnight”, and all of a sudden, with no notice whatsoever, we're expected to deal with nine pieces of legislation in a responsible manner. That's just not realistic. It's not realistic.

That's why when someone says this is a hijacking of democracy, it literally is, because democracy is a process. It's not just perfunctory. It's not just, “You propose a motion and we vote it down, you propose a motion and we vote it down, you propose an amendment and we vote it down because we have the numbers.” There has to be an opportunity for reasoned discussion.

I don't expect every amendment being proposed to receive due consideration. But we have people here, on both sides of this committee, who have a tremendous amount of experience. We have three or four lawyers on each side. We have people engaged in this process who are familiar with the nature of criminal law and have something to say. They have the ability to listen to reason and to respond to suggestions that make sense. Canadians, frankly, expect us to do this in a reasonable manner, not just to say that we're going to have a marathon session now because people decided they didn't want to have debate carry on.

Mr. Cotler said this, and it sounded reasonable at the time. In the House of Commons, the minister or the government House leader gets up and says he wants to limit debate, that there is no need to have this debate in the House of Commons because they are just talking about the principle of the bill and aren't getting anywhere. They want it to go to committee, where the reasoned discussion can take place, where the opportunity to study the bill clause by clause can happen.

We only started this on Tuesday. We've only given two hours of consideration to this hundred-page piece of legislation that deals with nine separate bills, nine separate pieces of federal legislation. It deals with corrections. It deals with terrorism and setting up for the first time legislation on civil remedies. It deals with child sexual offences that are of great concern to a lot of people in this country. We want to see some changes made, and we support those changes. There are changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that are very controversial in this country because of what their effect might be. We've heard representations in general on what the consequences of those changes would be. But we haven't looked at each clause one at a time, which is our obligation.

I don't know if anybody had any real estimate of how much time this was going to take, but we do know that we're here, as of Monday, for a five-week session, between now and the middle of December. I don't think we need to take up all of that time to deal with this clause-by-clause legislation, not at all. I think we'll probably be through it in three or four meetings, depending on how the time goes and how cooperative people might be or how much debate there might be on particular issues. I think once some of the issues are settled, we'll see where it's going. But there has to be an opportunity for that to take place over a reasonable period of time.

To try to jam it all into one day is, frankly, a method of stifling proper discussion about important matters of state that affect people's livelihoods, that affect people's freedom, that affect how long they're going to be incarcerated, that affect the enormous costs being projected for what might be imposed on the provinces.

When this was debated in the House, we had responses from the government such as, “We give the provinces transfers, and it's up to them to decide what their priorities are.” Well, what does that mean? That means that if this law goes through and there are consequences for a province that mean it's going to cost them an extra $100 million to incarcerate people, that $100 million will come from something else. It will come from education. It will come from health care. It will come from preventative programs that make streets safer, because provinces have obligations and programs and jurisdiction to engage in preventative programs as well.

All of these consequences are serious consequences of this legislation that have to have an opportunity to be discussed in the context of the particular pieces of legislation themselves. That's not something you jam into a day, saying, “Let's see how tired we can make people. Let's see how frustrated we can get members of this committee. Let's see how we can make them sweat and how we wear them down to show how tough we are. We're going to sit here all day and all night. If you really want to work, roll up your sleeves and work.” Well, that's nonsense.

We were elected for a four-year term--all of us for a four-year term. It's all very well to say you have priorities. We understand that. That's why we're here.

We're here talking about this bill today because it's the priority of government, and we recognize that the government has the right to determine the order in which legislation comes forward and the emphasis they want to place on it. They have the right to do that, and we fully accept that. What they don't have the right to do, in our constitutional and parliamentary democracy, is to ignore the process, a reasonable process that allows proper time for consideration of all these matters.

You're asking for cooperation. We're asking for cooperation as well. The kind of cooperation that's required here is the cooperation that says we're going to give due consideration to this. We're going to do it in accordance with the process that's set out, in accordance with the schedule of the committee. There's no urgency here. There's no national crisis that has to be resolved between now and midnight tonight. This is just one stage of legislation, but a very important one, and perhaps the most important one. Perhaps it's even the most important one that we, as individual legislators, have a right and an obligation and a duty to participate in.

We have debates on principle in the House whereby you set forth your overall approach, your challenges to hold the government to account on issues that come up. But when you're into the nitty-gritty...and, yes, we have expert witnesses from the Department of Justice who have studied this and put forth amendments, and they're here to help us through this process now, but that's their role. Their role is to do that on the instructions, by the way, of the Minister of Justice. So we're getting here what the Minister of Justice has instructed be put before the committee, and we have an opportunity to discuss it, to potentially amend it, and to approve it.

As Mr. Cotler said earlier, and he's been around legislatures a long time--I spent 16 years in another legislature, three or four in this one, and I've never seen a piece of legislation yet that couldn't benefit from some improvement or some change. We regularly used to have a bill in the other legislature I was in to fix errors and corrections in legislation, and it went on and on. The reason it was there was that the legislation hadn't been given proper consideration in the first place. I think they called it An Act to Remove Anomalies and Errors in the Statute Law, and that's because the legislation didn't get proper study the first time around.

Our job here is to give this proper study and not to say we're going to have a marathon session now, with no notice to anybody whose schedules have presumably already been made for the day in terms of what they're going to do, where they have to be and appointments they've made, commitments they've made to people and commitments to their duties in the House and in other committees. We're going to say no, we're going to shut all that down now, and either you pass it all between now and 10:45 and we carry on, or we arrange to be available all day until one minute to midnight tonight.

That's what's being suggested here as some sort of practical, realistic, reasonable way of dealing with nine pieces of legislation, each of them significant in themselves, with detailed provisions set forth, which we've given considerable study to. Even this process has been very rapid. We had a constituency week, when all members of the House are expected to return to their constituencies and do the kind of work they do in their constituencies. We had meetings with constituents, planned events that we were to attend in association with Remembrance Day. That was the week in which all the amendments were expected to be put forward. Nobody was here. Everybody had gone to their constituency, but our amendments were wanted. I thought that was pretty unreasonable too.

We managed, over the period of time up to Tuesday, to produce our amendments and consider them, to have them both to legislative drafting and be translated into both official languages, and to do that job. That work was done in a very short period of time. So don't let anyone get the impression that the opposition is not cooperating in moving this legislation forward as quickly as is reasonably possible, consistent with our duties and obligations as members of Parliament and as legislators to give due consideration to legislation.

Again, all I have to do is look back to what happened on Tuesday. Legislation that had never been given clause-by-clause consideration in the House before, had never been the subject of scrutiny, never been a part of Canadian legislation in the past--no such thing existed as a civil tort and a civil remedy for people who are victims of terror.... We heard from witnesses about it, we heard suggestions as to how it could be improved, we were doing our job. The fact that it took a whole meeting on Tuesday is totally appropriate. With a few more moments of discussion, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, that particular piece of legislation would be finished at second reading.

That's the way this legislation is supposed to be dealt with. If we had started today with further consideration of this legislation, by the end of the meeting this morning we would have made considerable further progress. Instead, we've got the government making a brand-new issue: “No, we're not going to talk about the legislation, we're not going to talk about clause-by-clause today; we're going to talk about process here now. We're going to talk about the fact that we want you to cooperate in refusing to follow through on a committee clause-by-clause study in a reasonable manner. We want to talk about our desire to have this done today--not only our desire, but our willingness to use our majority on this committee to insist that it happen today.”

If that's what you want to talk about, that's what we're talking about. We think your approach is absolutely contrary to the notions of democracy, to why we were elected, what we are here for, how we are supposed to do our job, and what Canadians expect of people they elect to Parliament. The people in this country who have taken such an interest in this legislation are not doing it because they think it's a great idea to write letters to members of Parliament. They're not doing it because they want to spend their time worrying about what's going to happen to our society, what's going to happen to our provincial government responsibilities, and what's going to happen to children who end up being incarcerated to the point that their future is destroyed unnecessarily.

What's going to happen to people who may run afoul of the law as a child or as a young adult of 18, 19, or 20, and there's no opportunity anymore for a pardon--none? We're going to have something called record suspension. Let me tell you, as someone who practised law for 30 years, that if you talk to the ordinary person in the street about what that means and if they know anything about the law, they probably think it means a suspended sentence. They won't recognize it as a process whereby the police, the RCMP, do an investigation on your rehabilitation since you committed this crime, and after you've served your sentence, if you had a custodial sentence, after you've paid your debt for that particular crime, you can actually apply to the parole board and seek a pardon, and the word “pardon” actually means something.

A young man who committed a crime at age 19 can now turn around at 25 and say, “Well, I made a mistake. I did something wrong and I paid the price, but I got a pardon for that. I can hold my head up and say I'm now recognized, because this board, this independent body with the police force, they've looked into my character and my rehabilitation efforts and they've said I should be pardoned for this.” You should not go around for the rest of your life with the burden of a criminal record hanging over your head, interfering with your employment, interfering with your ability to travel, interfering with your ability to get on with your life and to make something of yourself because you did not get a pardon. I think that means something; that means something to Canadians. But for some reason this legislation says no, we're going to change that.

As Mr. Cotler said, these are the kinds of transformative matters in this legislation that we're now being told--or asked to support--we should deal with all in one day. All of this in one day. Why? No reason. There's no urgency here to deal with this today. You know, we could have dealt with a good chunk of it today. We could deal with another good chunk of it next Tuesday, and possibly the rest of it next Thursday. What's the hurry? Where are we going? You know we're here.

You know, the people of Canada have elected us to be members of Parliament and to serve every day, to sit in the House every day that the calendar provides for us. We have a pretty long calendar. You know we're here for five weeks. This is the first of five weeks. This is important legislation. When we finish this, what are we going to do? What are we going to do next Tuesday? We could have given further consideration to this legislation, but the government decided they didn't want this to happen. They wanted it all to happen last Thursday. People might have had other things they had scheduled, other things they were scheduled to do, other things that time—their time—was already committed to, without any notice to change the whole way of doing things. What for? The only reason is to stifle debate, discussion, and proper consideration, and I think the people of Canada are being very ill-served—very ill-served—by this approach. I hope that members opposite—we always live in hope in this business—will reconsider their view on this, will reconsider ramming this through, and give this legislation the opportunity to be considered in an orderly fashion, the way it should be. Now that's something that we as parliamentarians are elected to do.

I've touched on the issue of pardon because one of the big debates that this legislation gives rise to is which approach can be more successful, the punitive approach or the approach that promotes prevention and rehabilitation. The pardon is one of them. The ability to obtain a pardon is one of those matters that actually supports rehabilitation. It holds out the prospect of a pardon to someone who has already committed a crime, is being subject to whatever penalties the courts impose, and has to pay the price. But it can also be held out as a carrot for rehabilitation, redemption in the form of a pardon. Well, that's something that is worthy of debate. It's worthy of debate and consideration, not to be rammed into a one-day marathon session.

I'd like to hear those arguments as to why it's better to say we're going to remove the possibility of redemption. I'd like to hear what a pardon, and the notion of a pardon and the word “pardon”, and everything that goes with that, means to an individual who's the subject of criminal proceedings as a young person, or as someone who commits an offence once in their life. Why? Who thought it was better to say we're not going to use that word anymore, because it's better to make criminals less likely to want to rehabilitate themselves, go on the straight and narrow, reform their lives, and change their behaviour? To have a system that recognizes when somebody has taken their life in hand and gone down a better path, and reward them for it and prevent them from having to have a noose, an albatross, around their neck for the rest of their life in the form of a criminal record.... I want to hear the arguments that suggest it's a good idea to remove that. That's something significant and transformative.

This legislation has had such an effect on society. Organizations like the Barreau du Quebec...the Canadian Bar Association came before us with a 90-plus-page brief detailing their concerns about this legislation. The Canadian Bar Association is not made up of defence lawyers; it's made up of all sorts of lawyers. The criminal justice section is made up of defence counsel and crown prosecutors. They work together to examine legislation and comment on it in a very helpful way. Over the years they have made a very positive contribution to the consideration of legislation by parliamentary committees such as this.

I've noticed a very disturbing point of view being expressed in the House, and sometimes here, that somehow a lawyer who defends a person charged with an offence is advocating for criminals. Those of us who have been to law school and practise law know full well that the criminal justice system is designed to ensure that those who have committed crimes are punished in accordance with the law. But the key point here is “in accordance with the law”. How do you have the rule of law operate if you don't have criminal lawyers ensuring that we only punish people in accordance with the rule of law? That's our system. But to hear representatives of government somehow or other attack those who represent people and enforce the rule of law in our society--that's an attack on the rule of law itself, and it's very dangerous.

When people from the Canadian Bar Association come to us representing both sides, they want to make sure the law is effective and achieves the object it's supposed to achieve. If you call a piece of legislation the Safe Streets and Communities Act, I think people are entitled to test those provisions of the law and offer their opinions as to whether or not this provision will lead to safer streets and safer communities.

There is a very considerable body of opinion and reasoned response, by those who know and have seen what's happened in other countries and have analyzed and studied these matters, to suggest that many provisions of this bill--not all, obviously, because we are looking at it piece by piece--could well lead to more crime, more victims, less safe communities, and less safe streets. We are entitled, required, and have a duty to examine these one by one; to consider these clause by clause in a manner that's in keeping with the way Parliament is set out, with committees that meet twice a week for two hours at a time over a period of time.

If there were a crisis.... We meet on weekends sometimes. The House met on the weekend back in June to deal with a matter that was considered of urgent public importance. We kept going. We sat at night. We sat around the clock one particular night. We don't mind doing that. That's not a problem. We'll do that if urgency requires it, but we don't have an urgent situation here. We have a piece of legislation that's up for consideration and that has to go through this process. When it's through this process, it goes back to report stage in the House of Commons, and then it goes to the Senate for consideration. It's a process over which we have no control. We have no control in this House.

But we must do our own duty and give this proper consideration here in the House of Commons, here in this committee, not in a marathon session that's going to start now, end at midnight, and, I don't know, maybe break for question period. Maybe they won't. Maybe the committee members will say, “No, no, we're going to keep going. If you leave, we'll just run through the rest of it while you're gone to question period.” Is that what's going to happen here today? Is that what we're asked to cooperate with? Is that what we're asked to collaborate with--a process that is so undemocratic as to be insulting?

We come here at 8:45 and the first thing we get is a motion saying we're going to deal with this and it's all going to be dealt with by 11:59 tonight, and that's all. That's what we're debating.

So what are we going to do? Are we going to sit here now until 11:30, take off our jackets, bring in food, and nobody will move, because if we go out the door you'll ram the rest of it through...? We have question period scheduled. People have those other committees that are meeting at 11 o'clock, probably in this room. I don't know. Maybe we're in this room because it was already planned that nobody else was going to be here at 11 o'clock. I don't know.

But it seems to me that the government is choosing to ignore the desire of the people of Canada to have a full debate on this. We've had people calling us and wanting to know when this particular clause would be coming up, when this would be happening, when the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which is the last part of the bill, would be happening. Oh, I don't know, maybe next week, we were saying, on Tuesday or Thursday. Oh no, no, all of a sudden, without any notice, they're going to be dealt with sometime between now and midnight...I don't know when.

The people of Quebec have heard that their government wants to see amendments brought forward. This is going to happen some time today, not when we get to that which we would have expected to get to maybe on Tuesday. This is going to be dealt with sometime between now and midnight.

That's unreasonable, Mr. Chairman. It's unreasonable for this committee to be expected to deal with this in a short period of time. This is not a 10-clause piece of legislation, aimed at one particular thing, that someone is trying to delay; there is no one trying to delay this. That's not the purpose of this consideration. The purpose of this consideration is to study it. We saw on Monday the fact that it took one meeting, and I heard people say at the end that we'd only dealt with seven clauses. Well, we dealt with seven clauses of a piece of legislation that has never before been considered by the House of Commons or by a committee. It's a piece of legislation that is a brand-new entry into a field of international civil claims that we've not had before. We had representations from groups concerned about the rights and the opportunity for victims of terrorism to participate in a challenge to those who committed terrorist acts, organizations that have sponsored them, and countries that have sponsored them. It's a very new field.

We had significant, serious amendments being proposed, which we dealt with in the course of the meeting. We don't measure progress by the number of clauses. We should be measuring progress by whether or not we gave due consideration to a piece of legislation that has been brought forward for the first time in Canadian history--and we gave it two hours of consideration. That's a measure of progress. That's something I think Canadians would not begrudge members of Parliament--spending two hours talking in a detailed clause-by-clause manner about something that has to do with what will be the law of the land, something that will give rights to people, something that the courts will be expected to interpret and implement and follow, and something because of which, if we don't have it right, somebody could spend enormous amounts of money to go through a court process only to find that the legislation is inadequate to meet what it is they're trying to do. Is that what we want?

I'm not suggesting that the people who drafted this legislation on behalf of the government don't know what they're doing. Clearly, they're hired to do their work because they have expertise. But they don't have all the expertise, and having it is not their job. Their job is to put forth draft legislation for consideration by this committee. If this committee wants to make changes to it and to follow a different path.... It's the job and the right and the duty of members of this committee to put whatever amendments it wishes to an amended piece of legislation that goes back to Parliament. That's the legislative process.

To have the expertise of a person such as Mr. Cotler, who is a world-renowned expert on issues of human rights and who has spent 30-plus years as a law professor, and to put forth amendments for consideration, I think are blessings, if I may use that word, for our committee. We have Mr. Rathgeber over there, another professional lawyer who has experience and who is a thoughtful individual and who can consider these pieces of legislation. And there are others who are here to try to do a job.

We may disagree, but we have the benefit of the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the members of this committee who bring forth these amendments, and they deserve due consideration. I'm not suggesting they didn't get that on Tuesday, by the way. I didn't think the process on Tuesday was disrespectful of Mr. Cotler. Don't get me wrong. But I think the process was something that we as committee members have an obligation to bring to this table and to bring forth for due consideration, and we have to make those arguments. If they didn't succeed in the end, then they didn't succeed for reasons of policy, or because the government members did not accept them, or they had their minds already made up as to what approach they were going to take.

Perhaps they've made some decision that they are not going to accept any amendments because they are very happy with the bill the way it is. That's their right at the end of the day, because there's a majority here. It's also our duty to put forth amendments that we think make the bill better, make it more in conformity with what the public would want, make it conform more to what our notions of justice are, make it more in conformity with making it better, or make it something that is more acceptable to the House. That's the theory of moving amendments. I move an amendment to legislation in the hope that it will be more acceptable to the House, or perhaps acceptable to more members of the House so we have a greater degree of consensus. That's often the purpose of amendments.

We don't want necessarily a polarized House of Commons where one side is all this way and the other side is all that way. We came here to make Parliament work.

I think that's a phrase you may have heard over the last year from our former leader and from our party: we want Parliament to work.

Well, one of the ways that Parliament works is by people working together on a committee in a collegial and professional manner to consider legislation that's before us. That's what we did on Tuesday. But now, right off the mark on Thursday, after two hours of consideration of a complex piece of legislation, we have legislation and they say, “No, we don't want to make Parliament work; we don't want to be collegial and professional about this.” They say, “Okay, we've had enough of this. What we want is this legislation passed today in this committee.” That's what they said: “We'll stay here all day. If you want to stay here all day, that's fine, stay here all day, but we want this bill today. And if you don't cooperate with us, at 11:59 tonight it's going to be considered passed. That's what we're saying. We'll basically shut down this process, based on some whim or other that determines that you're not prepared to get involved in debate.”

Maybe you don't want the prolonged discussion about this because what we have to say will get greater coverage. Maybe you don't want Canadians to actually know that there are reasonable people who, when they look at the detail of this legislation, have very sensible arguments. And people are going to say, “Well, that makes a lot of sense, but I've been listening to the government and they say this is all about safer streets. But what's being said here is that this is not going to lead to that. What Mr. Harris is saying or what Mr. Cotler is saying or Mr. Jacob is saying makes a lot of sense”—based on the experience of this particular jurisdiction, or based on the opinion of this expert who spent decades studying this matter, that this is the wrong direction to be going in.

Is it that you don't want people to hear that? Are you afraid people might hear that? Your opinions, your point of view, can't stand the light of day. Is that the problem?

10:15 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

It sounds like it.

10:15 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

That's what I think.

I don't mind people having different points of view. You can make whatever arguments you like. If you're convincing, if you think you're right and the majority of people agree with you, then why would you be afraid to engage in a process that looks at the detail and airs those arguments?

You know, Canadians aren't served by a quick quip in question period as the only form of public debate. It's a part of the process, yes, but if we're going to be reduced to a democracy that only allows this type of show—the theatrics that occur in 35-second snippets of question and answer in question period—and the kind of detailed debate that takes place here is not going to be allowed, and we're only going to allow the 35-second quips and questions and retorts, which is somewhat artificial.... It's necessary and important because it is a part of holding the government to account. But the real nitty gritty and meat of parliamentary activity goes on in places like this.

This is televised. Anybody in Canada who wants to watch this is able to do so. They're hearing what I'm saying. They might think I'm blathering on and speaking nonsense; that's their right. I'm exposing myself to that particular type of opinion. Maybe I'll receive an e-mail from someone telling me that I should stop talking.

10:15 a.m.


Oh, oh!

10:15 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Someone from across the way wants to know my e-mail address.

What I'm saying is that we have an opportunity in this meeting, and the meetings we're supposed to have next Tuesday and Thursday, to allow Canadians to hear each and every discussion about clauses in this bill on which there are strong opinions. If the government had confidence in its position, it would be quite happy to allow this debate to take place in the fashion that was set up, in terms of our regular meetings that we've been elected to attend. The process of Parliament provides for standing committees such as this one on justice and human rights so that what I say can be heard. If I quote some expert, it can be weighed by people. Some could say that it makes a lot of sense and ask why the government is not accepting that.

Is that what it's afraid of, that somebody will say something sensible and make some logical, persuasive argument, and it'll be seen to be ignoring it? Ignoring what's said on the other side and not even making counter arguments—that happens sometimes. But if there are counter arguments, I'd like to hear them. I'm open to persuasion, too. I think government members should be open to persuasion as well. Canadians have a right for that process to take place in the open and in the manner in which it's expected to be brought forward.

We have these 100 clauses and 50 or 60 amendments to go through—I haven't seen all the numbers here. They'll take some time to consider. Many of them are similar. We're not going to have 55 debates if there are that many amendments that are similar. But there's a process here that we hope and expect parliamentarians to follow.

What we're hearing from the other side, through this approach, is no debate unless it's going to be all in one day, with no opportunity for due consideration. Are you asking Canadians to shut down their lives and spend the rest of the day watching TV? I'm assuming we'd be broadcast all day. I don't know; maybe only certain blocks are available. This committee is now being broadcast until 10:45. I don't know what happens after that. They may be broadcasting some other committee.

Is that the idea? That we're going shut down public access to this committee's hearing by keeping this going until midnight? Is that another way of limiting the public's knowledge of what goes on in their Parliament that they elected in May, expecting to have their voices heard? And not just the voices of the majority of seats with a minority of voters, not just those voices. We don't have an elected dictatorship in Canada; we have a constitutional democracy, a parliamentary democracy, where all the voices of those elected are entitled to be heard and where all are entitled to participate in the process. Instead, what this government wants to do is ignore that and say, “Just because we're elected we can do exactly what we want.”

Well, that's not the Canadian notion of democracy that we believe in, that our party believes in. We believe that members of Parliament are here to work together to make things better and to have a genuine argument about how best to do that. We are here to have a genuine argument and not just to hear, “We're here, here's how we're going to do it, we want this legislation passed, and we want it passed today.” That's what we're hearing: “Not only do we want this legislation passed, we want it passed today, this day, today, between now and 11:59 tonight.” They're saying that before November 17 is out, “We want this legislation out of this committee because we think this legislation is right and we're not prepared to hear anybody talk about it after midnight tonight, that's it, done deal, we're done, we're out of here.”

“We've had an opportunity for this to be out there in the public”, they're saying, “and we're not prepared to consider it for another day.” That's what we're being told here: “We're bringing down the hammer.” It comes under nice little euphemisms like “time allocation”. They say, “We just want to organize the schedule so that the time is allocated and used properly.” Well, that's a euphemism for shoving it down the throats of Canadians, stifling consideration and debate, and stifling the public's ability to even understand the details of something.

This is complicated. I'm not saying it's simple; it's complicated. But if you have an opportunity.... This is the problem. People say, well, we had witnesses come, brought by the government. They were very sincere witnesses and I'm glad we had to hear from them, but they said things like, “We support some aspects of this bill.” They didn't say, “We support every single piece of it.”

Also, frankly, I don't expect someone who comes forward as a victim of crime, whose child has been murdered, to come here and do a legal analysis of a 100-page piece of legislation. That's not their job. They come here to say, “I'm a victim of crime and I'm concerned that we don't take crime seriously enough in Canada and I support stronger sentences.” That's a legitimate matter that our committee has to consider.

But when they say they support “some aspects” of this legislation, that's not a carte blanche; that's not a statement saying that they've had victims who want this legislation passed. Well, we understand what that means; it doesn't mean that someone who comes forward with a point of view, who is concerned about victims' rights and has legitimate complaints about the remedies for victims, the support for victims, and who says the treatment of victims in the criminal process is inadequate...we understand that, and there need to be improvements made in that.

This bill doesn't make those improvements, frankly. This only deals with one aspect of it, which is, in some cases, the tougher sentences and access to parole hearings. I think we support a lot of that.

But because a witness has said they support some aspects of the bill, that doesn't mean they're saying “pass this today”. It doesn't mean they're saying not to consider the other aspects that you have expert witnesses on. It doesn't mean they're saying not to consider the aspect of someone saying in the case of Quebec that their 30 years of experience and work in the youth criminal justice field teaches them the following as to what works and what doesn't, or not to consider the aspect of what they know in their experience that is going to make our streets safer, reduce crime, and prevent young people who may run afoul of the law in their early years from becoming criminals. It doesn't mean they're saying not to consider the aspect of someone saying, “Here's the benefit of our knowledge, our experience, and our jurisdiction, and we want to offer that to you.”

The people who came here as victims didn't say, “We don't want you to consider that.” They didn't say, “We don't want you to look at the details of this legislation. We don't want you to consider what really works to prevent crime.” They didn't say that at all. I didn't hear one of them say that.

They came here in all sincerity with a great deal of personal angst and emotion to tell us they believed some improvements needed to be made in the criminal justice system. They like the idea of being more engaged in the parole process and of having greater knowledge of where offenders are in the system and when they are getting out and where they're going to be and all of that, and of participating in parole hearings and not being abused by some--which has happened in some cases where people scheduled parole hearings and then cancelled them, and that sort of thing. We listened to all of that. And their feelings and views will be reflected in the discussion that will take place on that particular aspect of the bill.

I think they're entitled to watch these hearings and to see to what extent members of this committee were listening to their concerns. They're also entitled to recognize that this committee is considering other aspects of the bill, other matters about which there may be disagreements among members of this committee but which in the view of some will lead to a safer community for them, a safer feeling in their home and less worry about the proliferation of criminal activity.

You know, people need to help. Part of this process is helping people to understand that there is no black and white. There's a mantra going about that the government wants to be tough on crime and the opposition doesn't, that somehow or other there's only one group of people who want safe communities and who want less crime and that the opposition, what, wants more crime? Does anybody actually believe that? Yet that's what we hear. If you take it at face value, that's what we hear.

The exact opposite is true. As Mr. Cotler just said, it's the constitutional responsibility of the Government of Canada to engage in policies and practices that make our streets safer. There can be honest disagreements about that. There can be honest disagreements about that without one side being vilified as coddling criminals or advocating for criminals. But that's what we hear.

The Canadian public deserves to hear this debate, deserves to hear clause-by-clause consideration, deserves to hear the arguments as to why some of the provisions of this bill, which impose particular types of punishments or sentences, treat young offenders in a particular way. The public deserves to hear why there are arguments that say this is going to lead to more criminality; this is going to lead to more dangerous people; this is going to lead to less rehabilitation; this is going to lead to less safety.

They deserve to hear that the money that's going to be spent on corrections and on incarcerating people in this manner could have been spent on preventing more crime and on saving the lives and futures of young people, for example, who might otherwise end up incarcerated for long periods of time, or who might fall victim to circumstances due to conditions in prison, or to mental health problems, or to the whole gamut of conditions that led to the loss of life for Ashley Smith, for example, who went to jail at age 14 for throwing crab apples at a postal worker and never got out. She died at 19 in prison. She never got out.

Is that a regime that we think doesn't need improvement? Is that a regime that we think is a model? And should we incarcerate more young people? We're hearing reports all the time about the number of people in prison, whether young people or others, whose major problem is a mental illness. That's their problem. That's why they're in prison. That's why they can't cope with society. That's why they run afoul of the law. And they don't have adequate treatment either inside or outside of prison or a correctional institution. These are some of the problems that underlie the issues we're talking about here.

We need a more health-based response to the mentally ill in place of incarceration. It's one thing to say that someone is fit to stand trial, but it's quite another thing to say that they're mentally whole, that they don't have mental health problems that ought to be dealt with that aren't being dealt with. We have a long way to go to make our communities safer, on the one hand, but also to make it safer for people who are mentally ill, by giving them the right treatment options and the right services and the right response to their needs, whether they start off as young people with mental illness or are people in later stages of life. These are all of the things that we actually need to deal with if we're going to properly consider this legislation and we're going to have a proper debate.

We're going to have an opportunity for the public to see that this debate is meaningful, that it's not just some process where the one side wants justice and the other side wants injustice or something different. There is a legitimate debate about how best to achieve a safer community. How do we do it? Do we do it by locking up more people? Well, that's one way. One of the answers you hear from members of the government is that at least those particular individuals won't be able to commit a crime outside if they're inside. Well, that's true. How long are they going to be inside? When they get out, are they going to be more or less likely to reoffend?

What have we seen in the experience of other countries, in other jurisdictions? Our neighbour to the south, who we look up to in some respects, has a dismal record of enhancing safety by locking people up. That's not what happened in the United States. It's been said many times that if locking people up led to a safer society, the United States would be the most crime-free and safest society in the world. In fact, the murder rate in the United States is through the roof. Even the most right wing of Republicans and states in the United States who believed in this philosophy for a long time are now seeing that it doesn't work. All they've done is managed to impoverish their treasuries to the point where in a number of states--and I saw a list of them the other day--there's more spent on incarceration in prisons than there is on education. Imagine, you have a state in the United States that spends more on locking people up than it does on educating its children and young people.

They're saying to themselves, what are we doing here? This is not working. This is not leading to safer communities. This is leading to bleeding the treasury, to preventing us from carrying out our responsibility to look after our citizens, and it's not giving them a chance to learn enough and to get enough education to participate in society. Instead, we're waiting for them to commit crimes so we can lock them up. Then we're spending all our money keeping them in prison.

That's the extreme. I'm not saying we're leaping immediately to that particular point of view. Let's be reasonable and honest here. It's time we had that debate, after what we've seen in the United States, in states like Texas and others. They say they have to change this approach and look at rehabilitation, for example, when it comes to drug offenders and not incarceration as a principal means of dealing with this.

We've got a situation where the United States of America, in many of its states, is looking at going the other way. We're talking here about replicating that failure, by going in a direction that many believe is wrong and that we believe is wrong. Rather than replicate the failure of that policy in the United States at a great, enormous, and unknown public expense, we might instead learn from that country's experience.

That's the purpose of these discussions here today and next Tuesday and Thursday. They are supposed to be open, regularly scheduled discussions that the public can participate in—by viewing, by sending e-mails if they wish, and by responding to what people are saying—and play a role in a participatory democracy that we talk about from time to time. That's why we have regular meetings; that's why we don't jam everything into one day.

We should be here this morning.... By now, we probably would have been halfway through this legislation. But no, no, the government wants to change the channel: “Let's change the channel here. Let's not talk about this legislation. Let's talk about how we ram legislation through and say, 'Well, we're only going to allow this to be considered for one day', and anything that has to be said, or could be said, about the 200 clauses in the bill”—I think there are 200.

10:40 a.m.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

There are 208.