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House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was police.

Topics

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to.)

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Cape Breton—East Richmond Nova Scotia

Liberal

David Dingwall Liberalfor the Minister of National Revenue

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Herb Dhaliwal LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin third reading of Bill C-2. This is an act to amend the Department of National Revenue.

While the amendments are administrative in nature they go to the heart of one of the fundamental concerns of the government and the country. That concept is to reshape the instruments of government and to provide both better service and better value to the taxpayer.

Bill C-2 does that in terms of the services provided by the department most involved with the concerns of the taxpayers, the Department of National Revenue.

Since 1926 the Minister of National Revenue has had responsibility for two separate functions: customs and excise on the one hand and taxation on the other. Over this time these two components of the department have operated as virtually autonomous organizations. Yet the daily reality with which taxpayers live has never been so easily compartmentalized. Increasingly through technology, trade and travel Canadians find their lives becoming more complex, more frustrating to manage and more difficult to understand in terms of the burdens government places on them.

All of us see this daily in terms of the complaints received from our constituents of overlap and duplication, of paper burden and red tape. The distinction between taxation on the one side and customs and excise on the other has become more and more an artificial distinction.

Increasingly the distinction denies rather than reflects the way Canadians live their lives. The distinction renders Canadians' lives more complicated than they need be. Reversing that trend must be and is our first priority.

However, increasingly this artificial separation also impedes rather than improves administration, making it more difficult to redeploy resources and to employ new technologies as tools to improve services on the one side and compliance on the other.

It is long past time that we brought the department in its structure and operation into line with the reality with which ordinary Canadians live. It is time we free the quality people who work within Revenue Canada to do a better job. It is time we eliminate overlap and duplication within the department for the sake of the department's clients and the Canadian taxpayer. It is time that we do this in law.

We have already demonstrated what consolidation can achieve within the existing legislative framework. The savings have been substantial. We have also demonstrated that we are at the limits of what we can do within that framework. We require Bill C-2 to remove those limits, to create new possibilities for improvements, to continue our momentum toward the goals of better service and better value and to free the department to work to its full potential. By doing that we can better align what we do with what Canadians want.

During the minister's appearance before the Standing Committee on Finance on February 15 members asked him for specific information on the benefits inherent in the administrative consolidation of Revenue Canada and he has responded to them.

I would like to share with all members of the House some of the benefits administrative consolidation will bring to Canadians and governments in terms of efficiency, productivity, effectiveness in generating revenue, and finally lightening the burden of the Canadian taxpayer.

First, let me speak to efficiency and productivity. Revenue Canada has a solid record of providing Canadians with good value for money. It administers more than 185 acts, regulations, incentives, credits, surtaxes and international tax treaties, and does so with its eye on the bottom line. Through ongoing improvements to its operations and efficiency gains realized through technological advancements, the department has achieved productivity gains equal to adding more than 2,000 full time staff in the last ten years.

These savings have permitted the department to carry out its legislative mandate while also investing in better service, enhanced enforcement and staff training and development.

At the same time, Revenue Canada has made a significant contribution to deficit reduction through both enhanced revenue collection and reduced spending. This will continue in the future.

Bill C-2 will allow the department to go even further in streamlining administration and generating savings for reinvestment. Already the consolidation of corporate activities and administration, which we have been able to pursue within the existing legislative framework, has saved $30 million.

Some $13 million of this saving has been reinvested in critical customs programs that are essential in protecting Canadian law and sovereignty at the border.

These include $2.3 million for the primary automated lookout system. This system provides a primary inspection line officer with access to data base of local and national information to determine the admissibility of travellers and their goods. The cost includes the acquisition of a licence plate reader system to streamline and speed the examination of travellers.

Also included is $1.2 million for the personal alarm security system. Seventy-four isolated border posts will be connected to ultra high frequency radio communications networks to enable customs inspectors to summon help in case they face threats to their health or safety.

Also included is $1.1 million for X-ray equipment. Four X-ray vans will be purchased to enhance examination and enforcement capabilities in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and the Pacific region for providing a less intrusive and more time saving examination technique.

Also included is $1 million for the integrated customs enforcement system. This project will integrate and replace a number of customs systems to reduce overlap and improve enforcement. The integrated customs enforcement system is a comprehensive information repository and analytical tool that ensures front line customs personnel have the most reliable information to more effectively manage risk at the border.

Also included is $3.5 million for the new business relationship. Significant funds have been allocated to re-engineer processes such as electronic data interchange and to develop profile based release, accounting, self-assessment and audit processes. The benefits translate into real savings for business.

Also included is $1.3 million for the Peace Arch crossing entry. This initiative, which has been successfully piloted in Douglas, B.C., enables frequent pre-approved travellers to use an express lane at border crossing points. Duties and taxes are billed electronically to the travellers credit card based on personalized declaration forms. Additional funds will expand the service to other locations.

Also included is $2.6 million for specialized customs enforcement tools and systems.

Funds have been allocated to purchase a number of devices such as contraband detection kits to detect commonly smuggled goods and to improve compliance.

The full consolidation of Revenue Canada which Bill C-2 enables will permit even further savings. We anticipate that consolidation could generate a further savings of $30 million for the year 1995-96.

Let me turn to the second area, our enhanced revenue generating capability. As the Minister of Finance declared in his budget speech on February 22, our government is committed to take decisive action on tax compliance and to strengthen enforcement.

Through administrative consolidation Revenue Canada will have a stronger combined enforcement capacity and thus be able to follow through on this commitment. Our experience has shown that non-compliance in one area such as under reporting income tax is often matched in other areas such as under reporting on GST.

As a single unified department we will improve our penetration into the underground economy and thus increase the fairness of our tax system. It will do this by allowing us to build bridges between our tax system, trade system and border operations to improve the effectiveness of them all.

We want to apply the benefits of such collective efforts to target those who do not comply with the law and to level the playing field for those who do. Efforts to date in co-ordinating the administration of the two existing departments have enhanced revenue generation by enabling increased co-ordination and enhanced sharing of data bases as shown by the following illustrative examples.

First, we have established a pilot in 15 district offices to identify areas of major non-compliance through joint GST and tax audit activities. As at December 31, 1993, $8.4 million in additional federal tax has been assessed and 4,343 non-filers and non-registrants have been identified.

Second, in November we enhanced our effort to identify GST non-filers. It utilizes a combination of overtime, casual staff and facilities from both taxation and excise. Results to date include $417 million having been identified as additional accounts receivable, of which $220 million has already been collected.

Third, we have undertaken the cross-referencing of excise, GST and taxation data base to identify non-filers and non-registrants. The estimated recovery for 1993-94 is $240 million.

As members will see, the return in terms of revenue far outweigh the cost. This will be enhanced by departmental consolidation. The best examples of this is the initiative to offset GST credit payments against income tax liabilities and family court orders.

For 1992-93, $59 million was offset from GST credit payments. Results for the first three quarters of 1993-94 show that $56 million has already been offset. In similar fashion we have made efforts to use better co-ordination to provide more convenient and fair services in particular areas. As well, we expect enhanced revenues from our recent efforts to clamp down on smuggling.

The recent announcements concerning 42 additional customs officers in the Windsor area and 350 customs personnel for the government action plan on smuggling are examples of the government's commitment to improve border protection.

Finally, let me turn to our efforts to reduce the burden on Canadians of compliance with tax laws.

By eliminating the unnecessary barriers between the different components of Revenue Canada, Bill C-2 will have a positive impact on those who must deal with Revenue Canada whether small and large businesses, professionals, importers or the taxpaying public.

The following are but a few examples of the opportunity presented by administrative consolidation to reduce burden and increase service: an integrated collection program so that clients and their representatives need deal with only one Revenue Canada official; the provision of a convenient, one stop shopping service whereby clients can obtain information, acquire forms and make payments at any of about 130 customs, excise and taxation offices across the country; a single business registration number to replace the various identification numbers that business is currently required to use in its dealings with Revenue Canada.

The plan is to develop one single and common registration process, a single registration form, an integrated approach to payments, inquiries and account maintenance as regard corporate tax, source deductions, GST and customs; a simplified combined business return enabling small business with gross sales of less than $500,000 to file a net payment in a single annual return; simultaneous GST, income tax and source deduction audits when necessary and where possible.

Revenue Canada has been entrusted with a significant mandate that involves the lives and the livelihood of Canadians. This is indeed a challenging mandate affected by national and international elements. This consolidation will give Revenue Canada an unprecedented opportunity to enhance its ability to respond to these challenges without imposing any further burden on taxpayers.

As I said at the outset, this legislation provides concrete evidence of our commitment to reshape government to the needs of Canadians. The unanimous report of members of the Standing Committee on Finance is testament to the recognition of this imperative.

I now seek the support of all members in the passage of Bill C-2.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Once again, the hon. member for Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead has the floor.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Bernier Bloc Mégantic—Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, do you mean you are tired of listening to me? This will be my last speech for the day, Mr. Speaker.

Today, April 20, 1994, we are witnessing an event of almost historical proportions in the House of Commons. If I am not mistaken, within a matter of hours the government and the opposition parties will have agreed to adopt three bills which, we hope, will have a positive impact on the lives of our fellow citizens.

Bill C-2, whose purpose is the consolidation of the taxation and customs and excise sectors in the portfolio of National Revenue, seems very appropriate because it brings about a reduction of current spending and overlap within one and the same department.

In his speech, the hon. member for Vancouver South described the savings that will result from this initiative. The proof of the pudding is of course, in the eating, but we are prepared to approach what was said by the hon. member for Vancouver South with a very open mind. At the same time, we as members of the Official Opposition will make a point of ensuring that

these commitments are met and that potential savings become a reality in the months to come.

However, aside from this particular aspect, as you know, Mr. Speaker, members of the Official Opposition have for months asked for a reduction in all forms of administrative duplication and even, I would say, of constitutional duplication.

The Bloc Quebecois will support such initiatives in this House, provided, of course, that the proposed changes do not adversely affect Quebec interests. In other words, we remain prudent but nevertheless very open to this type of proposal.

Bill C-2 is in itself a good bill, but I hope that when the time comes to implement this legislation, the government will consider all aspects of the question. In this respect, perhaps I may remind hon. members of apprehensions expressed by the president of the Customs and Excise Union, for instance.

In fact, the president of the union appeared last February before the Standing Committee on Finance, when the committee was considering Bill C-2, and he stressed the main concerns his union had about this bill. One of the union's concerns arises from the fact that as a result of consolidation, many employees trained to collect income tax will turn up as managers in Customs and Excise. However, the Free Trade Agreement, or should I say the Free Trade agreements between Canada and the United States and, more recently, between the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as the trend towards the globalization of world markets, will mean that in the years to come, there will be fewer and fewer tariff items to enforce at our borders. Customs and Excise does not need more tax collectors. As I see it, Customs and Excise should be more concerned about the lack of protection at our borders.

A prime example is the smuggling problem we see today. While the lowering of taxes on tobacco products had a definite impact on smuggling, it would be naive to think that the whole smuggling problem has therefore been resolved. Canadian borders are said to leak like sieves in many places. Only last week, a U.S. government report put Canada on the list of the countries where it is the easiest to smuggle drugs in because of the length of our borders, but that stands to reason considering how few resources are allocated in that area by the government, although some remedial action was taken recently.

The fact that Canadian borders are poorly guarded has certainly given a boost to the black market phenomenon which is now spreading, as we know, to alcohol. It has been spreading for a long time, but loads of spirits keep flowing through our borders. It has even spread to such things as clothing, drugs, as I said earlier, but more dramatically to illicit arms dealing and pornography, which goes to show how urgently action is required in that area.

One of the purposes of Bill C-2 is to reduce the operating costs of the Department of National Revenue.

But if the government does not also step up our border security-I repeat, action has been taken, but it must really do more along those lines-it is likely to have much more serious problems than those it now faces. It will have a rude awakening, judging by what the president of the Custom and Excise Union said when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance.

Here verbatim is one of the warnings he served on the government concerning the actual savings that might be realized from this merger:

Decreased border protection will ultimately translate into more weapons in our schools, more fraud and smuggling, and more expense in enforcing the laws of Canada when the criminal element ends up a step closer to our daily lives. This will cause the need for increased policing within Canadian communities. For example, one missed cocaine seizure at the Canadian border could require several hundred policing actions within the communities.

The government must deal with this problem before implementing this bill.

It is also important to question the motives behind the government's decision to merge the two departments in question, namely National Revenue and Customs and Excise. Why does the government now find it necessary to consolidate these two administrative entities? The answer to this question was given to us in this House on February 4 by the hon. member for Essex-Windsor, who is also Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Revenue, who said unusual things for a member of the government now in office.

"This bill would enable the Minister of National Revenue to consolidate two distinct departments that have been under his responsibility since 1926 into one"-which was confirmed by the hon. member for Vancouver South a few moments ago-"and thus eliminate unnecessary duplication and overlap within government. It will also bring distinct benefits to taxpayers and it will enhance the Department of National Revenue's ability to provide more efficient and effective services and programs".

I recognized in this short quote several terms and expressions often used by members of the Official Opposition in this House. When the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue talks about eliminating unnecessary duplication and overlap to provide more efficient and effective services and programs, I get the impression that her speech was inspired by remarks made by members on this side of the House, and especially by members of the Official Opposition. In fact the comments made by the hon. member for Essex-Windsor seem

to come straight from the mouth of a member of the Official Opposition.

The Bloc Quebecois cannot logically oppose Bill C-2, as it is perfectly consistent with the philosophy we are advocating with respect not only to administrative management, but also to constitutional issues. The fact of the matter is that the bill incorporates principles which we hold dear: implementation of efficient and effective government programs, and the elimination of duplication and overlap; in other words, good administrative and political common sense. The problem, for the Liberal government, is that it is starting to sound a lot like what Quebec is demanding in terms of job training.

Why does the government not apply the same principle of sound management when comes the time to negotiate with its provincial partners, and Quebec in particular, to reach an agreement on manpower training? All the stakeholders-they are mentioned day after day in this House and several times each day-all those involved, whether federalists or sovereigntists, all agree to say that by repatriating all these powers in Quebec, hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved in the area of manpower, perhaps as much as $300 million a year. Yet, year after year, the federal government keeps systematically preventing any development. It does not even get along with the ultra-federalist, if there ever was one, Liberal government of Daniel Johnson.

Just last week, the Prime Minister used the word "whim" to describe Quebec's demands in that area. Why is the Liberal government forgetting the virtues and advantages of effectiveness and efficiency, in so far as Quebec's demands are concerned? How is it that overlap within the Department of National Revenue is a more pressing problem to be resolved than duplication in the administration of manpower training? This is but one example.

By tabling Bill C-2 in this House, the present government is unwittingly showing the inequities in the federal system and laying bare for all to see the problem it is having setting serious, credible priorities when it comes to managing its affairs. We applaud the federal government-and I want to stress this point-for taking the initiative to merge these two departments which in any event had been the responsibility of a single minister since 1926.

What worries me is that if the federal government needed 68 years to realize the damage created by overlapping authority at the Department of National Revenue, how long will Quebecers have to wait to see the same results, that is an end to duplication, in the area of manpower training?

Therefore, the Official Opposition applauds the federal government for recognizing the absurdity of administrative overlap. If the merger of these two departments indeed results in real savings and benefits, and I have no doubt that it will, then we urge the government to be innovative and to explore other similar initiatives, such as negotiating with the Government of Quebec on the issue of manpower training.

However, the federal government, in keeping with its reputation, apparently feels that the duplication hampering Quebec's development is a necessary thing and should be stepped up.

As we all know, Canada's political history is full of examples of federal intrusion in provincial areas of jurisdiction. The current Liberal government seems not only intent on staying this historical course, but also bent on increasing the number of areas in which it feels free to encroach, such as health, post-secondary education and, as I mentioned, manpower training.

Quebec taxpayers will not be satisfied with the simple internal merger of the Department of National Revenue. Of course they will reap the benefits of this merger and, like the Official Opposition, they will applaud the government's action. However, the majority of Quebecers are awaiting the day when they will be answerable to only one national revenue department, namely that of a sovereign Quebec which is master of its own economic decisions. Perhaps when that day comes, the expressions "administrative overlap", "duplication" and "government inefficiency" will become obsolete.

In conclusion, despite some reservations, the Official Opposition wishes to express its support for Bill C-2 which calls for a merger of the two departments in question.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-2 at third reading. I addressed the bill previously and have spoken favourably about it.

According to the Department of National Revenue, the approval of Bill C-2 will "enable it to be more responsive to changing needs, to streamline operations, to reduce the administrative burden on taxpayers, to reduce costs and duplication and to improve the quality of its services and programs". That is a pretty tall order and we hope it can be pulled off.

The Reform Party position on an objective like this is very much supportive. The steps taken by the Liberal government in an attempt to streamline departmental activities is a worthwhile effort. Combining immigration and citizenship, customs, excise and taxation and eliminating altogether the Department of Public Security will help reduce duplication and overlap.

I hope the current treatment of the overseas tax credit is not an example of this new and improved department's modus operandi in the future. The overseas tax credit is predicated on the assumption that people who work outside the country for extended periods ought not to pay full taxes since they do not consume their full share of government services.

This virtually eliminates tax on 80 per cent of total income for workers logging at least six months of the year abroad. I want to go into this to show members an example of what this super efficiency ought not to do.

By regulation, the tax credit cannot be claimed by employees of foreign parent companies but for years Revenue Canada permitted such workers to claim it anyway. They were taxed at the same level as employees of domestic firms working abroad.

Last fall, however, during a routine audit of the Calgary arm of Texas based Nabors Drilling, tax assessors said they would disallow the overseas tax credit not only for 1994, which seems legitimate, but retroactively for 1993, 1992 and 1991. The decision would nail up to 600 workers with additional tax bills of up to $48,000 each. Nabors' lawyers are currently disputing Revenue Canada's attempt to disallow the tax credit for the earlier two years, and so they should.

How can the Minister of National Revenue and the Department of National Revenue change the rules four years, three years after the fact? Once the department has set a precedent-it always deals on precedent-it should stick to it or change the law and give people warning so that they know what to expect.

If U.S. parent companies move their overseas operations centres back to the United States, that will kill office jobs in Canada and deprive Revenue Canada of far more money than allowing the overseas tax credit. It is not efficient. It is not effective. It does not serve the purpose for what this amalgamation is supposed to do. It gives the impression that we are creating a tax collection police force that is going to squeeze every penny, every dollar it can out of honest working Canadian companies and individuals. The Minister of National Revenue refused to be interviewed on this subject, so I plan to bring this up during question period in the very near future.

We need increased financial reviews and reforms for all government departments to ensure that taxpayers' money is being spent efficiently and effectively. The reduction of costs associated with departmental consolidation and the removal of a few individuals at the executive level are just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the amount of government waste that has existed over the years.

The ivory towers of the Conservative years have to come to an end and I hope the government is serious in its attempt to do so. The new super deputy minister of National Revenue Taxation, Customs and Excise through this amalgamation told us in the Standing Committee on Finance that he will save money. But I have a concern. He also told us that the department employs 44,000 people at a cost of $2.2 billion. When asked what the short term savings of this bill are, meaning within the next 12 months, his answer after much fumbling was $36 million.

He then pointed out in another part of the bill that through amalgamation and the changes that had to take place due to the smuggling problem that existed three or four months ago, the department would be spending more money on customs officials, et cetera, and there would be $50 million of new spending. The net saving is not a saving. It is a $16 million increase to the already high $2.2 billion cost of running the department. Let us hope that is not something of which he is proud.

Thirty-six million dollars is a lot of money and a savings of that amount is very much appreciated. It would do well in a lot of our pocketbooks and the pocketbooks of the taxpayers. It is very important that those people should have that money back.

If that is all the deputy minister is promising to save out of $2.2 billion, at the end of the current fiscal year I would hope the Minister of National Revenue would look for a replacement. There has to be a better objective than that. If that is all he can save he is unfit for the job.

Our party would encourage the minister and the government to initiate a line by line, item by item review of all departments to find out where the money is going. If we took the time to find the savings in the estimates, through the estimates of every committee and if the backbenchers of the government were allowed to point out where those savings are and if the cabinet had the courage and the confidence in its backbenchers to listen to their input, it would find a lot of further savings. If all the millions of dollars that the Prime Minister is talking about in savings and cuts are added together, it will come to the billions that the finance minister is talking about in cuts and savings. Therefore the two stories would go together and we could restore some confidence in the economy and in the government itself. It would then be speaking from the same song book whether it is old or new.

We have some concerns about Bill C-2. Although we support it, it is feared that the combination of Revenue Canada Taxation and Customs Canada is designed to place more of an emphasis on revenue collection, controlling the underground economy and smuggling rather than designed to save overhead and this ivory tower bureaucratic structure we talked about earlier.

Customs officials must not be hindered in any way by legislation from performing the important duty of protecting Canadians from illegal drugs, weapons and criminal elements by reducing their ranks. By making administrative cuts at the top, the minister must not reduce the number of customs

personnel in the field which would hinder their ability to function effectively.

Other concerns have also been raised by the customs union, several municipalities and the media-I am sure the media is doing it on behalf of the Canadian public-with the consolidation of the two departments, customs officers' resources to effectively defend the border will be strained. The customs union is under the impression that increased emphasis on these activities will lead to a reduction in resources for other activities such as controlling illegal immigrants, firearms, pornography and stopping child abduction.

The Minister of National Revenue has said-

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Just a clarification, there has been discussion and there is agreement that we should pass this bill before we move to Private Members' Hour. I do not know how long the member has left but if the House agrees not to see the clock so he can finish his speech, then you could put the question.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In fairness to all members, the member has not had long. We should go to private member's in five minutes. Is there unanimous agreement not to see the clock so that we might pass this bill?

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have good news for the government Whip. I will be under that time limit so we will watch the clock closely and make sure we follow the schedule as pre-arranged by the three party whips. I am sorry, we have a party co-ordinator.

The Minister of National Revenue has said in relation to Bill C-2: "I believe a unified Department of National Revenue will build on the strength of our existing customs, excise and taxation administrations. It will better serve Canadians and strengthen their confidence in Canada's revenue administration".

I hope so, but I hope my example about the overseas tax credit is taken to heart and taken seriously because that is not the way to treat Canadian corporations or individual taxpayers.

In conclusion, we believe that improved efficiency and effectiveness can result from this bill provided that reorganization and government cost savings will be done with the security and the best interests of Canadians in mind, versus empire building within the bureaucracy or a heavy handed tax police force auditing and demanding tax dollars in a totalitarian fashion.

We support the bill but we will be watching and I will be watching as it is my duty to monitor the actions of this particular bill and the effect that it has on government over the next year. The Minister of National Revenue promises lower costs. The new super deputy minister of this cabinet minister in the Standing Committee on Finance promised lower costs. Therefore we will expect substantial lower costs.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed.)

Department Of National Revenue ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.35 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Witness Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 1994 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough West, ON

moved that Bill C-206, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I begin by thanking my seconder for seconding the bill. In the 20 minutes that I have allotted to me under Private Members' Business I would like to deal with six specifics of my bill, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses in Canada.

The first point I would like to deal with is the genesis of my interest in the subject.

In the previous Parliament I was the Official Opposition critic for the Solicitor General. In that capacity I was approached by someone who had difficulty with the existing witness relocation protection program run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I, like many Canadians, had assumed that such a witness relocation program was a national program with rules and regulations pursuant and subject to the laws of Canada. I was shocked to find out that is not the case. In my capacity as the Official Opposition critic I began to investigate to see what I could find out about witness protection in Canada.

It came to my attention that we in this country do not have a national witness protection program which would cover potentially all witnesses to serious crimes in Canada. What we have is ad hoc witness protection programs across the nation with various police forces.

We know, for example, that there is an ultra secret witness protection program for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We know that there is a witness protection program of some nature run by the Ontario Provincial Police. There may be one for the Quebec provincial police. We know that some but not all municipal police forces such as the metropolitan Toronto police

force and the Calgary police force have witness protection programs.

What is the common characteristic of these various witness protection programs? I think there are really a couple. First, there is really no legislative provision for any of them. There is no accountability to the public for any of them and they are all shrouded in complete secrecy. When I attempted to find out about these witness protection programs I found that this cloud of secrecy descended and became a fog of secrecy and we simply were not able to find out any information.

This would come as a surprise to Canadians, to potential victims of crime, to witnesses to crime and to the taxpayers of Canada.

That is what got me interested. Am I alone in thinking this way? Am I alone in feeling that there is a need for a national witness protection program? Of course I would suggest not. In fact I have presented in the last year or so numerous petitions with thousands of constituents and Canadians across the country asking that there be a national witness protection program enacted.

In response to one of those petitions the Solicitor General of the day, the Hon. Doug Lewis, said: "Witness protection is indeed a very important function of law enforcement and equally a crucial service to witnesses who are at risk of retribution as a result of giving testimony in court. It is accurate to say that presently there is not a national legislated program as exists in the United States, for example. My officials are currently examining the state of witness protection in Canada". This was March 16, 1993. Over a year ago the officials were examining the situation.

That was a different government at a different time. Thankfully I note that the current Solicitor General of Canada, when he appeared before the justice and legal affairs committee on April 13, 1994, had this to say about the subject: "An effective witness protection program is critical to the successful prosecution of serious drug and organized crime cases". He has also undertaken to report back.

The problem is that there have been studies and studies going on and we do not seem to be getting anywhere. Therefore, I brought forward my private member's bill. Is there some experience in some other jurisdiction that might help us? Indeed there is. In the United States, for example, a national witness protection program has been in existence since 1970. We can at least look at that to see whether it has served a useful purpose.

That particular program was enshrined in the 1970 omnibus crime control act and is currently in force in all 50 states.

Bill Dempsey of the U.S. marshall service in Washington said: "It is the most successful tool that U.S. attorneys have in their daily work". It merely buttresses what our own Solicitor General has so eloquently said before the committee.

Are Canadians, those who are at least aware that we do not have any rules and regulations pertaining to the protection of witnesses, behind this program?

I received a letter from "Canadians Taking Action Against Violence". The founder and president is Deborah Mahaffy. Her daughter was violently murdered and the alleged perpetrator is currently before the courts.

I think it expresses a lot of the intention I have in bringing this bill forward: "Dear Mr. Wappel, I am writing to commend your action and offer our support of Bill C-206, a national witness act. As we in Canada are guided by a national criminal code it is logical and economically apparent that we should also have a national witness protection act.

It is also very clear that there are a great number of people who have not been afforded proper protection for their valuable testimony in our criminal courts of law across the country. Unfortunately witnesses have found themselves victims, always looking over their shoulders for fear of reprisals from those they helped convict or someone associated with them.

Agreements between witnesses to crimes and police should not be left to chance. Written contracts would provide effective protection rather than add further insult to injury. We are paying far too great a price when witnesses and informants do not come forward as they fear exposing personal safety or that of their families.

When the general public becomes aware that Canada has an effective and efficient national witness and police informant program which would be accountable to the House of Commons with respect to budgeting concerns, only then will we see the desired reductions in delayed investigations and unsolved crimes.

My husband and I continue to support a national witness act, and in the memory of our daughter, murder victim Leslie Mahaffy, and all victims of violence in Canada. All families of victims of violence in crime need to see that justice is served in an expeditious manner based on accurate and forthcoming testimony and to achieve that it is imperative that Bill C-206 is votable", which thankfully it is, "and that it becomes the legislative framework of one national witness act which will aid

in the prosecution of violent crime and show that our government is willing to make public safety a priority".

The Canadian Police Association as well as Victims of Violence of Canada is also supportive of this particular bill and the principle behind it which is the protection of witnesses.

There are approximately 1,400 unsolved murders in this country, some of them clearly because witnesses are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal.

What is the subject matter of this bill? It is a relatively short bill. I would like to discuss briefly some of its provisions and then talk about what would happen if this House were to give its agreement to this bill.

The underlying philosophy is in section 3. The minister may, where the minister considers it appropriate in the interests of justice, take action to relocate and protect the witness or any member of their family where the minister believes that there is a substantial risk of violence being directed toward that person in an attempt to interfere with the course of justice.

Is that somehow different than what we have now? Of course not. Any of these police forces using their current witness protection programs can do precisely what I have put into this bill. The difference is that they do it without legislative authority and without a minister responsible to this House and the Canadian people to answer for situations in which either a witness has been refused or a mistake has been made. There is nothing new except it is actually in an act giving the minister some direction.

The minister must consider certain factors. One is to determine whether there is any other alternative to providing relocation and protection. It is not mandatory. Every person who is going to be seeking relocation is not going to get it. It will depend on the minister's judgment whether the interests of justice and the safety of the witness are dealt with and that there is no other reasonable alternative.

One of the important features is in clause 5 because if the minister feels that it is necessary to relocate it may also be necessary to give a new identity. The bill provides that the minister would have the power to provide suitable documents to assist the person in establishing a new identity or to otherwise assist in protecting the person. This would mean a new name, a new social insurance number, new documents of all kinds.

It is my understanding, and I may be wrong, that the RCMP currently does this. They currently provide in certain circumstances a new name, new passport, new documents. Under what legal authority? There is no legal authority yet they are doing it.

However if someone happens to be a witness to a crime that the RCMP is not investigating, if it happens to be a municipal police force or if it happens to be a province, the province has no power to provide a new identity. Arguably the RCMP has no power, but at least they are doing it because they are a federal agency. Certainly there should be even treatment of all witnesses across Canada, just as there is even treatment of all people who are accused of a crime across Canada.

Another aspect of the bill I would like to highlight for the House concerns the responsibilities of the parties. I have set out in clause 7 that there must be a written memorandum of understanding. The memorandum of understanding would set out the rights and obligations of the parties. The federal government is currently being sued by a number of people who are in the witness protection program. Disputes arise as to whether or not the RCMP agreed to something or did not comply with some promise that was made. Why? The answer is because often there is no document to which to refer and to see whether or not the parties met their obligations.

I have set out there should be a memorandum of understanding and of course, because of confidentiality and protection, there should be a mechanism short of a court of law, short of requiring a witness to go public, if you will when they are trying to hide from criminal retribution, a method whereby those breaches or alleged breaches could be dealt with in a private way.

To protect the minister, to protect society I have provided that no decision made by the minister would be subject to review in any court in Canada. This would prevent all sorts of frivolous lawsuits by people who feel they were unfairly denied an opportunity. However it would not allow the minister to escape responsibility from certain decisions that were made and from questioning about those decisions in the House of Commons.

Finally, we have no idea how much money is currently spent on witness protection. We do know that money is spent, but there is no way of finding out how much. There is no way of budgeting. There is no way of suggesting that there should be another allocation. My bill provides that no payments shall be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to defray the expenses necessary for the implementation of this bill without the authority of an appropriation made by Parliament for such purpose.

We need a witness protection act. Everybody seems to be in agreement. This provides some legislative framework for it. It provides some legal authority for the act to proceed and it provides also an opportunity for the aggrieved witness or the aggrieved crown to deal with problems of interpretation.

In drafting the bill I tried my best, but by no means do I pretend that it is absolutely perfect. I know that the minister has a department and I know the justice minister has a department that spend its days looking at legislation. I am not adverse to amendments to the bill. I am not adverse to any suggestions that would keep the spirit and the intent but make the bill better. I

have no desire to pretend that the bill as drafted is necessarily perfect, although I would like to think that it is pretty good.

However, it is important to realize that what I am asking, and those people who have petitioned the House over a course of 16 months or so are asking, is that we accept the principle of witness protection and relocation across Canada so that all people are treated the same way under law pursuant to legislation.

If the House is favourable to voting in favour of the bill, it would then be referred to the justice and legal affairs committee for intensive study. At that time the department, witnesses, everybody could come forward and put suggested amendments. The committee could deal with the bill on a clause by clause basis, accept those amendments which are thought appropriate and needed and then refer the bill back to the House for final passage.

What I am saying is very simple, an affirmative vote would not mean that the bill is cast in stone. It would mean that the principle, which is the protection of witnesses, would be espoused by the House. The fine tuning, the drafting, the repair, if any is needed to some of the drafting that was done by me and by the counsel who help us in doing these things, would then be done at the committee level.

In a nutshell then, I ask the House to very seriously consider this bill over the course of the time that it has to debate it, to look at the principle, look at the forest not the trees, examine the principle and remember that currently it has no legislative foundation. We are operating in a vacuum. We are operating under a cloud of secrecy We are operating under a system that is not fair because it does not apply equally to all people across Canada and is not accountable to the House of Commons.

I would ask my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-206 at the appropriate time so we could take the matter to committee, get it addressed and protect witnesses as soon as possible.

Witness Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-206, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses, standing in the name of the hon. member for Scarborough West. I would like to comment first on the principle of the bill and then on its substance or content.

As far as the principle is concerned, I am glad to see that some government members think about the issues. We have at least one member who just showed us he had examined a situation that was deplorable and who has now introduced a bill on his own initiative, and he is to be commended for that. I agree it is intolerable that today we have no legislation to protect these people. Canada is a society that provides a lot of protection for the rights of offenders and the rights of defendants, but very little for the rights of people who go to court to testify so that the accused will answer for the crime they committed.

Yes, we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I checked the Charter, because I thought there might be something in it to provide for this. The only section is section 7, which says: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person-" Other than that, there is nothing in the Criminal Code or any other item of criminal or penal legislation that deals directly with the subject the member has approached through his private members' bill.

Today, there are certain ways, and certain funds are used, to protect these witnesses, but that is not enough, and the trouble is that it is at the discretion of the police. I think that a program of this kind, when we are talking about taxpayers' money, should be organized so that everyone is treated equally, and I think this bill takes that approach.

On what basis do people make a decision, when we say these decisions are discretionary? How do they decide whether or not funds will be allocated in a given case? Does it depend on whether one criminal is more dangerous than another criminal? Does it depend on the fact that some crimes are more repugnant than others? I think it is intolerable to talk about "discretionary" in this respect.

The police force that makes the assessment can also make a wrong decision without being made to account for that decision. Sometimes these mistakes are covered up. It is very difficult, and I will give you an example of what I mean.

Since being appointed Official Opposition critic for the Solicitor General of Canada on October 25, I have had two cases that fit in very well with the bill of the hon. member for Scarborough. I will ask this House a question.

What do Lucie Leblanc from New Brunswick, Sue Smith from Alberta and Mireille Martin from Quebec have in common? What they have in common is that they are the same person. In five years this person changed names three times. I am giving them because the last time she called me, she told me she would be changing her name for the fourth time since her husband, a criminal famous across Canada, had discovered her new identity. How did he do it? The people dealing with her case had made every conceivable change to her passport, driver's licence, social insurance number and other pieces of ID but made a mistake in registering the car she was provided with under the name of Mireille Martin from Quebec. She had been living in fear for a few months, not knowing exactly where to go, how to proceed, or where to find money. She asked me to approach the

Solicitor General of Canada to have her case dealt with expeditiously because she was living in a terrible situation.

I too came up against a brick wall. I could not get information or find anyone accountable in this case. However, she told me herself that after a few calls her case was finally dealt with, but only after a member of Parliament intervened.

If the mistake is very serious, the person who did not enforce the law properly, who made the mistake, should be held accountable and asked where the money went to.

I am not saying the mistake was intentional; honest mistakes can be made but they can have serious consequences for the individuals who are given money to protect them from potential harm.

With all due respect to the hon. member, it is not a matter of reinventing the wheel. I think this is a good bill but, as he said, we must look at what is done elsewhere. There is a similar program in the United States. I also looked at Italy where, given what is happening with justice in that country, legislation was passed to protect witnesses. Great Britain also has a similar program.

This means that all great societies concerned with the protection of victims and offenders, whether accused or charged, are also concerned with the protection of witnesses, because I think it is all tied together in the system.

This kind of bill, if passed-I will address contents later-will send a clear message to the criminal element as well as to witnesses and the public, the message that this House takes this matter seriously, that we will not let the people who testify in court down.

I think that any legislation that supports, not informers because I do not like that word, but let us say witnesses who come forward, is good for the system we live in. If we encourage people to come forward and testify, I think that it will show in rulings, sentencing and the entire system. I think the judicial system stands to benefit greatly.

In my legal practice, I have noticed that it is one thing for a witness to testify, but quite another to give convincing evidence. I may comply when served a subpoena, yet be extremely reluctant to answer questions, knowing that my life could be in danger as soon as I step out of the court. Perhaps I would feel safer and my evidence would be more convincing if I knew that, when I walk out of court, there will be people there to protect me.

I am not saying that such a measure should be applied in all criminal courts. The mere fact of witnessing a murder near my home does not automatically endanger my life. However, my life could be in danger if I testified in a case involving organized crime or a major case of fraud. I think that work could be done on this bill to amend it so that it could become very useful to Canada and Quebec.

I knew from Quebec statistics that many crimes went unpunished because no one was actually found guilty. I was surprised to see Canadian statistics for the period 1980-1992. Over this 12-year period, for murders alone, there were 1,455 unsolved murder cases. One can wonder how many cases of fraud, robbery, assault and well-planned crimes also went unsolved. We could then ask ourselves the same question about smuggling. I think that it is a very important subject and that this deficiency must be corrected as soon as possible.

So I think that this bill could encourage witnesses to come forward and say what they know in order to clear up some crimes and some cases for which the criminals go unpunished.

As for the principle, there is no problem, we agree 100 per cent. The Official Opposition, the Bloc Quebecois, will support you on this bill. I think that we have always shown that we co-operate when presented with a good bill, and I think that is a way to show it to you again and to tell you again that we will co-operate with you on this bill.

I do not have much to say about the form and content. Of course, some small adjustments could be made, including the following. I would immediately take the matter to the Solicitor General. I would say that he is responsible for applying this bill once it is adopted, not a member of the Privy Council. In the Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, among colleagues and people working on that committee, we will easily be able to come to an understanding; I say "easily" because everyone around the table will be on the same wavelength, so we will be able to agree.

But on the whole-and I conclude with that-regarding this bill, I would ask the whole House to be unanimous and I would ask the government to pay very careful attention to this private member's bill, and perhaps we will have something to show that private members' bills can go somewhere, for the good of society in general that will benefit from it.

Witness Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bonaventure—Îles-De-La-Madeleine Québec

Liberal

Patrick Gagnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I consider it both an honour and a privilege to rise today to open debate on Bill C-206, an Act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses.

I would first like to commend the Member for Scarborough West, the sponsor of this private member's bill, for bringing this important issue before the House.

His months of dedication and hard work to improve this particular aspect of our criminal justice system are reflected in the pages of this bill. The basic intent of Bill C-206 is very clear: The government must ensure the safety and security of persons who assist police and prosecutors in their efforts to crack down on crime, particularly organized crime.

This makes sense not only from a moral standpoint but from a practical standpoint as well. Past experience shows that witnesses who provide evidence or assist in police and prosecutors' investigations at the risk of harm to themselves or to their families, are often one of the most effective tools our justice system has against organized crime.

And we need that tool, today more than ever. Organized crime, and especially transnational and international organized crime, are growing concerns for Canada, and indeed for many nations.

Organized crime threatens basic social, political and economic institutions in countries around the world. And it is seldom easy, given the power and influence of many criminal organizations, for the authorities to obtain the information and assistance they need to move effectively against organized crime.

That is why we, as legislators, must take every step within our power to ensure our criminal justice system is as well-equipped as possible to respond to the threat posed by organized crime. For these reasons alone, I believe that this bill is both timely and well directed. However, having said that, I believe there are a number of fundamental issues that need to be considered before approval of the bill is given at second reading.

First, we must consider very carefully the scope of application of a protection program. Under Bill C-206, any witness appearing in a case prosecuted under a federal act could be eligible for protection or relocation.

My concern is that this broad, umbrella approach could be unwieldy and difficult to administer efficiently. Our experience regarding the RCMP Source and Witness Protection Program indicates that such a program should focus on very serious offences and cases involving organized crime.

A related issue here is the question of cost. The provision of protective services and relocation of witnesses or sources is a very expensive proposition.

The Prime Minister has said to this House and to Canadians on many occasions that fiscal responsibility is one of the basic principles of this government.

Accordingly we want to make sure that any witness protection program is not so broad that administrative overheads become unacceptable. All members will agree I am sure that we owe it to Canadians to make the best possible use of taxpayers' dollars.

Still on the subject of administration there is the question of who will manage and administer the program. It would appear that Bill C-206 seeks to provide a legislative base to the witness protection services provided by the RCMP. However it may be desirable to review other administrative options.

For instance in the United States an independent body, the Office of Enforcement Operations within the Department of Justice, decides who will be accepted into the U.S. marshal's service witness security program. The decision is made after this office has considered the recommendations for admission from the responsible enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office.

The point I wish to make is that in the United States it is not the law enforcement body that makes the decision whether or not to give witness protection.

As well, once the witness is accepted into the program the protection is administered by the U.S. marshal's service. Again it is not the originating law enforcement agency that provides the protection but an independent agency, the U.S. marshal's service.

I raise these administrative issues as points that warrant further consideration and review before determining and legislating our own arrangements for witness protection in this country.

A second issue we need to carefully consider is the legislative basis for a witness protection program. It may be appropriate for example to link a program to provisions in the Criminal Code or other legislation.

Protection of people who assist in criminal investigations or prosecutions may involve changes in identity. This requires the active participation of federal authorities outside of law enforcement agencies.

It would seem to me to be appropriate to indicate that the responsibilities of these authorities also be captured in any legislation. The same rationale applies to the roles and functions of provincial authorities involved in the provision of protective services. Provincial interests in this area are a very important consideration given the constitutional responsibilities of provincial government for the administration of justice. At a minimum, I believe that legislation should permit provinces to opt in to a federal program. All of this is to say that we would want to work closely with the provinces in all respects.

There is also the question of cost sharing between the federal government and provinces desiring to participate jointly in a protection program. This could be addressed directly in legislation, or perhaps indirectly through the establishment of a statutory instrument or specific ministerial approval.

A last concern I would like to raise deals with the limitation of Bill C-206 to witness protection alone. Witnesses are not the only persons who provide information to the authorities in criminal cases and who may require protection for having done so. Many police investigations would never lead to arrests without the assistance of sources or informants, most of whom are paid for their services. Source information is just as vital to police investigations as witness testimony is to court proceedings.

I note that the RCMP source witness and protection program, which I referred to a few moments ago, protects both police sources and Crown witnesses.

These are the type of factors that must be examined before this government can, in good conscience, proceed further with legislation for a witness protection program. However, I do not want these concerns to overshadow the basic accomplishment of this bill. With this proposed act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses, the hon. member for Scarborough West has focussed the attention of this House on an important component of our criminal justice system. For that he deserves a vote of thanks from all members of the House, and indeed, from all Canadians.

I understand that other members will now take the opportunity to touch, in more depth, on the points I have raised, as well as discuss other key considerations.

Witness Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Reform Swift Current—Maple Creek—Assiniboia, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise to offer my support for Bill C-206. To me it is self-evident that anyone who risks his or her personal or family safety to testify for the crown is entitled to protection. This is especially true if protection has been promised as an inducement to take the stand.

In general, formal witness protection and relocations are needed for serious prosecutions involving drugs or organized crime. The people needing protection are often pretty unsavoury folks, criminals motivated by fear, vengeance or greed to turn against their fellows and act as police informers. Nevertheless, if they help us, for whatever motive, they have the right not to be hung out to dry by law enforcement agencies which use them to make their case. There must be national, predictable and enforceable mechanisms to deal with such people and this is what Bill C-206 is all about.

Without informants who can testify without fear, investigations and prosecutions of people involved in organized crime sometimes lead nowhere. The cost in wasted effort by police officers and courts is enormous. It must be incredibly frustrating for police to have the goods but be unable to secure a conviction because the safety of a witness cannot be guaranteed.

The type of protection envisaged through this bill is complex and expensive, and it might be required for several years for individuals. Nevertheless, if it helps to put dangerous criminals out of business it will be a sound public investment. When convictions are obtained, society wins.

Not all beneficiaries would be paid informants. In Canada the most famous protected person, federally protected because of his high profile, was Igor Gouzenko. He was given a false identity. If my memory serves me correctly he was kept out of sight for 40 years. I doubt that many Canadians begrudged him his new life.

Although I support this bill I do wish that it was a little broader in scope with provisions for increased penalties for threatening witnesses and with more emphasis on in situ protection for those witnesses who are not paid informers and who do not want to have their lives disrupted by relocation. I am referring to ordinary citizens who just happen to witness a crime and who hesitate to get involved because of the possible retaliation against them or their families.

I most especially wish that this bill would provide better and longer term protection for victims who risk being victimized again if they agree to testify against a dangerous individual, an individual who might very well be out on bail awaiting trial or who, if convicted, probably will be paroled after serving a fraction of his sentence.

Consider this. Women who cause their husbands or lovers to be jailed for assault face early confrontation with their attackers. Some of them live in fear of the man they sent to prison. The released criminals can walk around freely. If they are vindictive and vengeful, their victims have to cower at home, protected only by court orders which are scraps of paper or by anti-stalking laws which are useful only if the abuser tries to extract vengeance over an extended period of time.

A woman in such a situation cannot even keep a shotgun handy to protect herself because in Canada the victim has less rights than the brute who might want to kick her door down. She can live in fear. She can run. She can hide. That is not fair.

In summary, I compliment my colleague on the other side of the House for his initiative in this regard. Canada's witness protection system is at best patchwork. We need national guidelines and criteria so that from coast to coast the same protection is available for all Canadians.

It is high time that informers are given the guaranteed protection warranted for their assistance in bringing offenders to justice and this bill is a short step in the right direction. It merits our support.

Witness Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak as well on Bill C-206, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses.

As we have already learned law enforcement agencies provide protection to their sources and to witnesses where there is a threat of retribution as a result of either the source informing on the criminal activity or a witness providing crucial testimony in a criminal proceeding. Generally witness protection requirements arise out of cases involving the most serious charges and by that I mean charges which upon conviction attract the heaviest penalties. Probably we are most familiar in this area with charges such as trafficking in large quantities of drugs, murder, armed robbery, and other conspiratorial crimes involving elements of organized crime.

It is obvious that the more serious the offence and the stiffer the penalty upon conviction, the greater risk to an informant or witness. As the threat becomes more serious to the witness of course, the more comprehensive must be the protection of that witness.

Witness protection programs are a valuable tool in law enforcement and in some areas an invaluable tool. They have been developed in varying degrees across the country by different police forces and services. The types of services available under a witness protection plan also vary according to the individual case. They vary as well according to the resources that an individual police department may have.

Examples of these services which are currently available in Canada include psychological counselling, escorts to and from the court house or the prosecutor's office, guarding a witness' residence at crucial times or on a full time basis if need be during a trial, documents in a witness' name, housing upon relocating a witness to a new location, transportation of the witness' private property to a new home, payment of basic living expenses to a witness for a period of time or assistance in obtaining employment.

In Canada, depending upon the capabilities of the individual police force, these services have provided some degree of protection to informants and witnesses but again administered individually through different police services.

Of all of these programs however the most comprehensive is the RCMP source witness protection program. It was originally established in the early 1980s for the RCMP to use, but now it is increasingly used by other police forces and services across the country.

The need for RCMP assistance would arise primarily when an informant or witness must be relocated to another province and where that police force needs to obtain some form of federal assistance, such as federal documentation in a new name for the witness or source. The RCMP has offices in every province and every territory. They have an extensive witness protection capability. It is easy to see why other agencies seek the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

There is no other department and no other agency in Canada that can facilitate and co-ordinate the various aspects of assistance and protection that are involved in a witness protection relocation.

These considerations of witness protection are not just going on in Canada. In fact, world wide there is a growing interest in the criminal justice community in the enhancement of witness protection services and the creation of national witness protection programs. This is in part most likely a result of the global growth in organized criminal activity and increased reliance on the use of informants to obtain convictions.

Here in Canada we too are examining existing witness protection services in light of increased organized crime and shrinking law enforcement budgets. To that end in 1992 a survey was undertaken of all police forces in Canada. This survey had a twofold aim. First, the government wanted to obtain information on police witness protection capabilities in general. Second, the government wanted to know to what extent provincial and municipal police services seek and obtain assistance from the mounted police source witness protection program.

Questionnaires were sent to 393 police services across the country and responses were received from 284. Only data for three years prior to 1992 was requested.

The great majority of police services, in fact 88 per cent of them, said that they had not used the RCMP witness protection program over the three years preceding the date of the survey. They had not done so primarily because they just did not have cases in which protection was necessary. This comes as no great surprise to the government because most cases involving witness protection occur in large urban areas.

The survey also shows that a very small number of provinces either have or are considering developing a standardized provincial witness program within their province.

We have to bear in mind that regardless of individual provincial programs, there will always be a need for an agency such as the RCMP to arrange out of province relocations. For example, should Nova Scotia wish to relocate a witness to British Columbia, it is probable that the provincial program would not have the reach and would not be able to provide for witnesses' various needs in British Columbia. As it stands, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police source witness protection program can and does accommodate relocated witnesses from one end of the country to the other.

The survey also revealed that 15 police services can provide some degree of witness protection. Again, this protection does

not include out of province relocation and is limited according to the availability of personnel and other resources.

Twenty-three police forces indicated that they had used the RCMP program in the past three years, primarily to facilitate name change and relocation. Of these, over 50 per cent were satisfied with existing witness protection arrangements including their own arrangements and those within the RCMP program.

The greatest concern of those expressing dissatisfaction with existing witness protection arrangements was lack of resources, in particular personnel. Another concern was the need for standardized witness protection procedures that are clearly understood by all local police services.

Finally, the survey pointed out that mainly due to a lack of resources, witness protection is not equally available to all police services.

Based on this preliminary survey it is clear that an effective witness protection program is a crucial part of the law enforcement community's response to growing incidents of organized crime and other types of serious crime. Further, this is a matter that requires close attention to the various needs of the general police community who are the potential users of this service and we have to pay special attention to their financial capabilities.

I believe that particularly in these times there is a requirement on the part of the government to further only the most cost-efficient and effective programs in co-operation with all the relevant players. I would submit that there is yet some work to be done before the government proceeds with legislation on this issue. I am thinking here of further consultations with the relevant players to define the parameters of an effective witness protection program.

Once these issues have been explored and decided on, the government will be in a much better position to bring forward legislation on witness protection services.