This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Speak to the motion.

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

The committee received a letter. The chair has a copy of it. The clerk has a copy of it. All the members of the committee have a copy of it, and it comes from the Minister of Justice of Quebec. In that letter he suggests some amendments be considered. They're there. Two in my name come directly from that letter. We had them drafted by the legislative draftspersons, and they're before the committee now.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

We'll deal with them when we get to the clause-by-clause.

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

We'll deal with them when we get to them, but what we're being told is that we'll only deal with them if we're going to pass a motion that says all will be dealt with today between now and 11:59 p.m. That's what this government is saying.

In that same letter, by the way, it says they have other proposals with respect to adult sentencing that they will forward to us. Well, I haven't seen them yet. Maybe others have, but we can't consider them today if we haven't seen them.

So what this motion is doing, in addition to time allocation, which in and of itself is an attack on democracy—as I said earlier, we're putting the “mock” into democracy, or this government is—is also saying to the Province of Quebec that we're not even going to listen to their proposed amendment. We're not going to consider it, we're not going to allow it to be heard and debated, and we're not going to let the people of Canada who might be watching this on television even know what proposals they have. We're going to change the channel here by tomorrow, because this is going to be reported tomorrow. The government is going to get up in the House and say it has got this far and it is moving its agenda forward, despite the objections of the opposition, who really only want to help criminals. That kind of nonsense--that's what we've heard in the past, and we're likely to hear it again.

But we're here today saying no, we want to see the amendments debated properly, under proper consideration, given the time it takes to do that. We want to have a full opportunity to do that, to consider these amendments, to consider what suggestions might be forthcoming again, from the Province of Quebec as well, and to have a proper and fulsome debate and consideration, and to ask questions of our expert witnesses, whose time we've taken up by having them sit here listening to this for the last three or four hours, perhaps unnecessarily. It's five hours, I'm told. Yes, this is getting on to five hours now. It's five hours since the government decided we will not move to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill unless there's a motion passed to limit that to consideration only today, between now and midnight tonight.

I don't know what the magic of 11:59 is. They must think the chair is a miracle worker, that all of a sudden you can pass a whole bunch of motions between 11:59 and 12 o'clock. I don't know. You're supposed to put all questions serially or severally, or something, according to the motion. It doesn't seem to make sense to me, but the clear intention—

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

On a point of order, I agree with Mr. Harris. I think it's time for democracy to rule and I think we should have a vote on this motion, because that's what democracy is about. It's about votes. We have votes here and we have people to vote here, so I'm prepared to agree with Mr. Harris. Let's have democracy speak and let's have an opportunity to do that.

If he wants democracy, here's an opportunity. Let's vote on the motion.

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

That's not a point of order, Mr. Chairman.

One of the things that we're seeing here.... Democracy depends on rules, and the rules of this committee, and all committees, are that if a motion is put, the motion can be debated, and we're debating it.

What the government wants to do is use a hammer. They want to use a hammer that's going to force—and that's why they brought it at 8:45 this morning. They didn't wait and say, “We're not making very much progress here, so let's have some time allocation”, or “We're making some progress, let's finish it by next week, and we have two more meetings to go.” They didn't say that. They didn't say, “This is getting bogged down.” We did have complaints the other day: well, we've been here two hours and we only have six clauses done. That was just the complaint the other day.

Even in the face of statements made by me very clearly on Tuesday that we would go from clause 10 to clause 39—with the exception of one in the middle—immediately, and have them all passed at once.... In the face of that and in the full knowledge by the other side that things were going to start moving, that the sexual offences against children's law would be passed in a flash, just as we offered to do in the House of Commons last week when I brought up a motion.

And let me tell you what happened to that. Talk about moving things quickly for the sake of having legislation passed. I brought a motion in the House, debated that motion to suggest that we should sever out the provisions related to child sexual offences from the rest of the bill, have it dealt with separately, and send it for consideration right away. Do you know what the response was from the government? The response was, oh, this is a frivolous motion. That was the response from the government.

We brought forward a serious motion to try to give full consideration, immediate consideration, in the interest of children's safety in this country to pass that part of the legislation that we believed was not controversial, that wasn't going to bog down this committee, that wasn't going to cause the concerns that other parts of this bill have, that it could be passed and sent to the Senate, where we didn't expect that there would be a delay there either, so that it would be passed almost immediately. What happened? No, that's just a frivolous motion from the opposition. That's just a frivolous motion designed to delay consideration of some other bill, some other bill, by the way, that hadn't even been before the House when my motion was presented and put on the order paper.

That's the kind of attitude we're getting here. They're not taking seriously their responsibilities as government, and they're trying to suggest—and I'm sure we'll hear it in question period—that we're delaying things. Is that what's happening? Are we delaying this?

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

No.

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Or do we have the government saying, “No, we're not going to go to the clause-by-clause unless you agree to time allocation, unless you agree to see that passed.” Well, we're not willing to do that.

I see, Mr. Chairman, that the time is 1:50 p.m. Are we going to break now?

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

We will suspend now for question period. Return to this room at 3:30 p.m.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

It's now 3:32. I said we'd be back at 3:30, so the chair again is a little bit late on the time.

I think we've been about five and a quarter hours. I would hope we would consider that we've had a lot of discussion on the motion, and hopefully we can move on and get to the substantive part of the meeting. But being what it is, I think, Mr. Lamoureux, you have the floor, and I would ask that you keep your comments to the motion.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Sure. You bet.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson. I did want to be able to contribute to--

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

I'm sorry. I thought Mr. Harris had finished. He's corrected me; he wasn't finished.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

No. Thank you.

I was distracted by someone speaking to me while we were doing this. I apologize, Mr. Chair.

No, I was in mid-flight, but I noticed the time at ten to two, and I hadn't had an opportunity to partake of the food.

We have had a small break during question period, an opportunity to reflect on some of these things and also an opportunity to review some aspects of this question that I think are important to recount.

The chair has suggested from time to time that we should stick to the topic, so I will certainly endeavour to do that. The topic is, of course, the government's decision to forego having a reasoned debate on this in an orderly manner and to proceed to clause-by-clause consideration, unless they first pass the motion saying that it all has to be passed today. This is clearly a closure motion, or time allocation.

This is not new to Parliament. It happens from time to time. Sometimes, I suppose, it may be necessary, after prolonged debate on a matter that has gone on for days and days and when it appears that nobody is willing to cooperate. But when it happens at this stage of the debate, parliamentarians get upset about it. It's not surprising.

For example, I'll give you a quotation on the whole issue. I'm quoting from Hansard of November 27, 2001:

For the government to bring in closure and time allocation is wrong. It sends out the wrong message to the people of Canada. It tells the people of Canada that the government is afraid of debate, afraid of discussion and afraid of publicly justifying the steps it has taken.

I agree with that statement, Mr. Chairman. I want you to know the source. It was not Stephen Harper, in this particular one; no, this is Vic Toews, the Minster of Public Safety, the one who attacks lawyers for having careers as defence lawyers. I know he didn't include Mr. Jean in that attack; he was attacking specifically the House leader for the official opposition.

That's what Vic Toews said on November 27, 2001, the current Minister of Public Safety. It wasn't the only time he expressed his concern about the use of closure. The next day he said—this is very colourful language, so folks at home, be aware that this is potentially violent talk here—:

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister of Canada swung an axe across the throat of parliament. While committee members had an opportunity to speak to Bill C-36, members of all parties in parliament lost the ability to express the concerns of Canadians. If the bill was the right thing to do, why did the Prime Minister do the wrong thing by invoking closure?

That is similar to the kinds of argument I was making this morning, Mr. Chairman, that the opportunity for Canadians to have their voices expressed to the members of Parliament, after we're hearing representations through this committee, and allowing the debate to take place.... If the bill is the right thing to do, why is there not an opportunity for people to debate this, have the discussion, and have the requirement that it somehow publicly justifies the steps they are taking?

That's what Mr. Toews said when he was in opposition, and I think the comments deserve thought today.

We have another quotation from that era, from Stockwell Day, another former public safety minister:

A columnist wrote something interesting today. He wrote that in his view the decision to invoke closure on the bill represented in some ways the death of the true meaning of parliament. Parliament is the ability to gather together as elected representatives to talk, discuss, debate and hopefully do things that can enrich the lives and in this case the safety and security of Canadians. The federal Liberal government has failed Canadians.

If you just switch the word “Liberal” to “Conservative”, Mr. Chair, in this context that statement has an important message to the government and to the people of Canada.

There's a whole series of them, Mr. Chair. I think Mr. Jean has asked for a quote from Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister. I have one here from December of 2002. He said:

We have closure today precisely because there is no deadline and there are no plans. Instead of having deadlines, plans, and goals, we must insist on moving forward because the government is simply increasingly embarrassed by the state of the debate and it needs to move on.

Well, you know, this government seems pretty embarrassed by the fact that we had the Province of Quebec here again today, as they were last week, saying that the Government of Canada is not being very cooperative, is not listening to them, is not responding to their request to have some influence on the state of the Young Offenders Act last week, and this week they're also asking for cooperation with respect to public safety and they're not getting it.

This is what we're having here. It must be an embarrassment to this government, and it's the only justification that I can see for invoking closure. We're doing this; we're not waiting until after people have exhausted themselves and each other by debating. We're doing it after two hours of consideration of the bill, and the government is now saying we're not going to discuss this bill any further. We're not going to discuss clause-by-clause any further unless it's under the conditions of a closure motion that says we'll only discuss it today—a bill with 207 clauses, only six or seven of which have been dealt with.

We have a schedule, Mr. Chair. We have members of Parliament with significant obligations that they've made, in some cases, months and months in advance for action, for things that they've committed themselves to do with constituents, or in Parliament, or in their various roles on committees. This is something that has been sprung on parliamentarians without any basic consideration of people's schedules and times and other work that they have to do. We all know as parliamentarians—the public doesn't always understand that and it's understandable that they wouldn't—what busy and committed lives we lead and how many demands there are on our time.

And yet without any consultation, without any discussion about possible ways of cooperating—none, zero, nada—nobody came to me or any other member of this committee and told us they were hoping to have a little cooperation in terms of how we can move this bill forward and how long do you think it's going to take. No. At 8:45 this morning we had this laid upon us, a provocative motion, with no warning and no notice. Since then, there have been some discussions, but not before the hammer came down, not before the Prime Minister's office instructed somebody to come and bring a motion here to shut this place down, shut this bill down today, shut down debate, so we can have it back in the House tomorrow. They've had enough of this. They've had enough of this debate about this bill. They've had enough bad press. If they can limit it by time, at least, maybe the damage will be less.

They're getting so much bad press day after day. Ordinary Canadians are speaking out, and so are members of the Canadian bar associations, and experts and law professors, people who know what they're talking about even. The government fears that the most: people who are opinion leaders in our communities and in our universities and in our provincial bars and our provincial governments, governments who know from their own experience what works and what doesn't. They're embarrassing the government, because the government is operating based on some sort of ideological plan and not based on evidence.

From time to time we hear governments saying public policy should come from an evidence-based consideration of the facts and reality. Well, we have just the opposite here.

All of the experts, all of the people with expertise in the sense of having studied the issue for dozens of years, having written papers on the issue, having examined the facts--some of them even have PhDs from the best universities in the world--are here talking about what works and what doesn't. And this is embarrassing the government, because it's totally at odds with what the government plans to do. So they don't want the debate to continue.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Just a minute.

November 17th, 2011 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

I have a point of order. The member has been going on and on about evidence. That surely would be relevant once the opposition allows us to get to consideration of clause-by-clause. But at the moment, the matter under consideration is the motion. Clearly, reciting the evidence is not relevant to the motion. I would be grateful if you could remind the member to stick to the matter at hand.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Woodworth. I think I mentioned that earlier. It's only fair that we stick to the motion.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I agree, Mr. Chair, and perhaps I need to explain to the member why I mentioned the fact that we have evidence from very reputable and experienced and intelligent people with expertise.

This is relevant because it is that kind of debate, that kind of public discussion, that this motion is established to shut down. They want this all over today. They want to wake up tomorrow morning and say thanks that this is over. They want to be able to thank their lucky stars that these people will no longer have a voice, that they won't be recognized in the media, that there won't be news stories about them, because the debate has been shut down and that is yesterday's news: “That was yesterday's news. We had that debate yesterday. We've moved on now. We have the clause-by-clause. We're going back into the House for report stage.” And there is no more talk about the gruesome details of the bill that experts have told us will lead to more crime, more victims, more recidivism. That's what they want to avoid; they want to avoid that discussion.

It is relevant. I beg the forgiveness of the chair if I wasn't making it clear why I was bringing this up. I wasn't doing it to recite that evidence. I think that evidence was called here, and those who paid attention heard it.

The debate about the clause-by-clause is about where that evidence will be brought forward to speak to particular clauses that we have been asked by these experts not to pass, or to modify or change; that debate would include that evidence. But what we've been told by this motion is that we're not prepared to talk about clause-by-clause at all, unless it all happens today and nothing happens tomorrow, and that we're going to sit here all day long until midnight tonight and do it that way.

We haven't even received any indication whatsoever that the government is prepared to accept any of these amendments. What the government wants is to go through the motions here today and limit it to one day: you folks can move your motions, and we'll vote them down, and then it will be all over at midnight and it will be in the House tomorrow—end of story. Let's move on; we won, you lost. That's the story they want to bray about and brag about tomorrow, and they want us to agree with it. They want us to go along with that.

There are lots of quotations about closure, and we're here again doing the same thing.

There was a time, and the time seems to be when they were in opposition, that the Conservatives had a very different attitude toward closure. Here's Peter MacKay, the current Minister of National Defence, who said in 2004:

It is the principle behind the use of the closure motion that really leads us to the point of saying there is no way, it is absolutely impossible, that we could support what the government has done. In less than one calendar week the government has already invoked a closure motion to use the guillotine, to bring down the curtain on meaningful debate in the House of Commons on a number of bills.

Well, we've had that, Mr. Chairman. We've had seven bills on which closure has been invoked since 20 September.

Mr. MacKay continued:

The procedure the government is using to go about doing this is not uncommon. The speed with which the government has acted in this fashion in bringing about closure is a true signal as to how the Prime Minister and the government are going to treat the so-called democratic deficit that the Prime Minister has had a revelation on in discovering that a democratic deficit exists in the country

Well, you know, if there was a democratic deficit then, Mr. Chairman, what we are witnessing now is a democratic recession or depression, or something far worse than a deficit. What we're experiencing now is a failure of democracy, when nine bills can be cobbled together into one and presented to the House, with closure invoked on second reading in order to get it to committee for a fulsome discussion.

A fulsome discussion is what's expected to take place in committee. We have an opportunity supposedly in committee for a full and detailed debate on a clause-by-clause study of the bill. Well, we're not being given an opportunity to do that if this motion is accepted. We're being asked to accept a motion that says that at midnight tonight it's all over. We're being asked to accept that one day's debate is going to be considered sufficient.

Mr. Chair, we've got a lot of concerns about this legislation, and there ought to be not a failure of democracy, there ought to be an opportunity for full debate.

It doesn't have to be done today. Can people get that into their heads? There's no magic about November 17. I didn't think there was any magic about it at 8:44 this morning, but all of a sudden at 8:45 Mr. Goguen decided this is what he wanted to make the debate for the day. All of a sudden, November 17 was the most important day in his calendar and he wanted to make it the most important day in everybody's calendar on the committee, that we should be so enamoured with the day of November 17 that we should spend from 8:45 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. passing this bill in committee when for some time we've had a committee meeting scheduled for today for two hours, another one on Tuesday for two hours, and another one next Thursday for two hours.

I mean, we're reasonable folks over here, you know. If we'd had a debate today at our regular meeting for two hours and made some significant progress, and on Monday we had a conversation or a conference call or a little discussion saying, “What about we finish this up on Thursday? Is that possible? Can we do that? What kind of cooperation do we need to make that happen?”.... I feel pretty confident that members on this side of the House would say, “Yes, we have a number of very important points to make here. We'd like to have a fulsome debate on them.” We could think about what they were and talk back and forth, and we could make it clear that we're very anxious to ensure that proper debate takes place on this particular matter and that particular matter and certain other matters.

We do have nine bills, let's face it, and reasonable people—reasonable people—can find a way to ensure that the parliamentary process continues, that the role of the government is recognized, but that the role of the opposition is also recognized in dealing with matters at second reading. That's what we want to see happen. That comes under the rubric of making Parliament work.

If we're not here to make Parliament work....

Maybe we're back in the days of Parliament before this government was elected, when making Parliament dysfunctional was the order of the day, when the Conservatives, in opposition, wrote manuals on how to disrupt committees, or when they were first in power and they wanted to disrupt committees to be able to prove that Parliament wasn't working. They were the ones who were ensuring that it didn't work. They were the ones who wrote manuals to pass out to committee members and said, let's go to committees and make them dysfunctional, make sure they don't work, so that we'll have an excuse to call an election, contrary to the fixed election laws. I don't know if people remember that. I wasn't in Parliament at the time. I was at the other end of the country in a different legislature, but we heard all about it, making Parliament not work.

Is that what we have here today? “Let's ignore Parliament. Now we're government again and this time we've got a majority.” Instead of saying, “You know, we can relax, we have a majority, we have four years, we have a job to do and we're going to do it and we're going to work through the parliamentary process, we're going to work with the other parties, we're going to try to persuade them of the rightness of our cause, and we're not going to delay forever, but we have a process to go through, here's our legislation, we're going to defend it, and we're quite happy to defend it, and we'll defend it in Parliament in principle at second reading, and we'll defend it in committee at clause-by-clause study, and we won't be insisting on rushing things through in one day....”

As I said, when they were in opposition, and I think it's important to know...you should be careful what you say in opposition, because one day you might be in government and sometimes your statements come back to haunt you. The current Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, said in 2002:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise I suppose on the bill. I am displeased that the bill represents the 75th time that the government has invoked closure or time allocation since it came to power in 1993, abusing that very significant power to limit and shut down debate in this place more than any other government in Canadian history.

Well, I think that record is being challenged.

This is parliament. Parliament is derived from the French word “parler” which means to speak. It is the place where the representatives of the common people speak to issues that affect the common good. For the government to, for the 75th time, prohibit members from speaking on behalf of their constituents and to the national interest on matters of grave concern, such as the budget implementation bill, is yet more unfortunate evidence of the government's growing arrogance and contempt for our conventions of parliamentary democracy.

Now there's a mouthful, Mr. Chair, “growing arrogance and contempt for our conventions of parliamentary democracy”. What are those conventions? They include an opportunity for a detailed study of a bill clause by clause in committee. That's what committees are for. You don't have the whole House deal with that.

You could almost understand that it sounded rational. I'm sure the public is saying, well, okay, they're limiting debate in the House on principle; it's a complicated bill and people don't necessarily get all the nuances of it in parliamentary debate in the House and speakers only have 20 minutes to speak and 10 minutes for questions and comments, and the bill is so long and complicated, so you only can touch the high points. The government says, look, we're invoking closure because we think this bill should go to committee as soon as possible and get the kind of detailed study this bill needs. So we did that and here we are.

One thing was to hear witnesses, and we heard them—it was a bit rushed and people didn't get to speak very long, but that was what we agreed to—and we heard from quite a number of witnesses, but now we're down to the detailed study. We're now to the clause-by-clause, where the rubber hits the road when it comes to legislation.

The general statement that this is a bill about safer streets and communities...that's sort of what you'd call motherhood, because every justice bill is about that. Every government believes in that and every opposition party believes in having safer streets and communities, so there's no disagreement about that.

Where the disagreement comes is where the rubber hits the road, where the clauses that are put forth in this bill, where the changes that are being made to our criminal law, to our Youth Criminal Justice Act, to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act Canada, to the State Immunity Act, to the other legislation that's affected by the nine bills that are incorporated here, that's where we need to have respect for the conventions of parliamentary democracy.

As Jason Kenney said in 2002, to “prohibit members from speaking on behalf of their constituents and to the national interest on matters of grave concern is yet more unfortunate evidence of the government's growing evidence and contempt for our conventions of parliamentary democracy.” Well, it seems to me that it is growing.

We had a manual for disruption of committees a few years ago by this same party in power.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

I have to interrupt you. With all due respect, I was here then. I don't think the manual existed as you're describing it. I think it would be good, if you have the manual, that you present it—

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I don't have a copy of the manual, but that reminds me—

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

I don't think it existed.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

—that I should seek one out. It certainly existed in the minds of committee members.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Of some of the opposition.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Maybe it was a set of instructions that weren't actually bound into a manual. But I take your point. I have to confess that I don't have a copy of this manual. It was widely circulated—

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

I don't think you should quote from it, if you don't have it.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I'm not quoting from it, because I don't have it, and I didn't quote from it. But it was a set of ideas—let's call it that, a set of ideas—whether they were put in manual form or whether they were electronically communicated or verbally. As you say, I wasn't here.