House of Commons Hansard #198 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was internet.


Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the pension plan was introduced in 1952 by an act called the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. It was amended in 1992 to coincide with the Income Tax Act.

During the course of this debate the conditions of the pension have been illustrated several times, so I do not wish to go into that, other than to look back to pre-election 1993 when there was considerable concern among Canadians as to how the pension plan had developed since 1952. There was enough concern, obviously, that in 1991 an amendment was passed to bring it in line with the Income Tax Act. Here we are in 1995 again looking at a possible adjustment to the pension plan.

Some of the things which were of great concern to the Reform Party prior to the election were members of Parliament having to serve only six years to be eligible to draw the pension, regardless of their age. Another condition which was of great concern to us was the indexing. I think at age 60 it was indexed according to the cost of living. A third concern was the fact that the pension was based on the best six years of salary. It did not say whether they were consecutive years to my knowledge.

The people of Canada had concerns about the provisions in the plan. They were not happy with it because it did not coincide with the private sector. It tended to suggest very strongly that there was a two tier system for pensions in the country, one for MPs and one for everyone else.

I assume some pressure was brought to bear through 1992 and some adjustments were made, such as passing the amendment which would put the plan in line with the Income Tax Act.

Now we are considering Bill C-85. I actually do not understand what the bill will do to address the general concerns which were expressed about the pension plan prior to the 1993 election.

When I read through it I notice that the eligibility age has been increased to 55. That rules out the concern of getting a pension after six years of service. The person would still have to wait until they were 55 years old.

The plan was brought in originally in 1952. In those years I can remember that my parents, for example, were looking toward their retirement. The eligibility age was 65. The trend at that time from a health and a technological point of view was that men, because they formed the major part of the workforce in those days, would retire at 65 and be dead of a heart attack or some such thing before they reached 65 and a half.

I suggest strongly that over the years we have made advances in health, not only in the curing of various conditions but also in prevention. We lead a much more healthy lifestyle, so 55 is not really rational for 1993. If we were debating this in 1952 when the plan was originally implemented it might have some validity.

That is one thing which Bill C-85 does in addressing the inequities of the existing plan. As far as I can see it really does not do much of anything else. It talks about opting out or opting in, however the phrase is worded. That is a one-shot deal. It applies to members of Parliament now. It includes those who have six years' service. Once that happens every MP who comes along after this will have to participate in the plan. The amendment does not really address much other than an increase on when one can draw the pension. To my mind that is not enough.

The whole pension issue and this bill, when one looks at it in its entirety, is an excellent illustration at how out of touch government politicians are with the Canadian public. There was a hue and cry about pensions prior to the election. The majority of Canadians realize that even with these changes in the pension plan, it will far exceed those available anywhere else in Canada.

The other component in this plan that has to be looked at very seriously is the retirement compensation account and the mechanisms used in paying out the benefits.

Regarding the opting out situation, there will be no choice. It is a one-shot deal. It is going to put a number of Reformers, who will come into this Parliament in the next election in great numbers, in the position of having to participate in the plan. It will be against their principles.

One of the things that illustrates the point I am talking about now is an article that was in the Vancouver Sun on February 9, 1995 by Barbara Yaffe. That article was entitled ``Pension tiff is a measure of MP-voter rift''.

In her article she pointed out that one of the problems with the pension issue is that MPs are the ones that determine the

pensions. Many of my colleagues have made reference to the same point. One wonders how many other jobs there are where people can determine their own pension benefits.

We have two options basically. We either have a pension plan or we do not. If we choose to have a pension plan, the Reform position is to bring it in line with that of the private sector, including such things as retirement age, indexing, et cetera. It should allow MPs the choice of whether or not to participate and seriously consider the benefits of allowing for some independent body of Canadian taxpayers to decide on the plan's perks, mechanisms, et cetera.

The pension plan as it stands is not acceptable to the majority of Canadians. The changes proposed by Bill C-85 are tokenism or lip service. I am quite confident that the Canadian public will come to this conclusion as well.

All of us must constantly keep in mind that the Canadian people are the ones who pay the bills. We work for them. It is probably why we are called public servants. That seems to be something that some of us tend to forget quite easily once we come to Ottawa.

Once again I refer to the article by Barbara Yaffe. She writes that this unsavoury struggle over politician pensions has revealed one thing quite clearly. "How utterly out of touch some MPs are with the real people in their ridings".

One must wonder why only Reformers seem to be speaking on this bill. Does this issue not concern the constituents of any other members of the government?

The people of North Surrey have been very clear on this issue. I cannot accept this pension plan as it presently stands, nor can I accept the proposed changes in the bill. My constituents have also said to me very strongly that we must get these opinions out here on the floor of the House because the government is not listening to them.

Therefore I want to tell all members of the House and my constituents in Surrey North that I will not be participating in the pension plan. I am joining my colleagues in opting out until something comes along that is much more equitable with the rest of the country and my fellow Canadians.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek unanimous consent to address the bill again. I have spoken to it once, but in light of the fact that I have sparked some interesting reaction I was wondering if members of the House would be willing to allow me to speak to the motion.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the member speak again?

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate on the issue of MPs pensions. It is certainly one issue that raises the blood pressure of the majority of Canadians and one time slot on the parliamentary channel that receives attention.

I dare say there is not a single MP who has not been dogged by constituents on the issue. The obscenity of the bloated pension scheme for MPs raised the hackles of the majority of Canadians. If I were not to opt out of the plan my face would be as red as the Liberal red ink book. It is the ultimate in Liberal spin doctoring to call it pension reform. I do not know how MPs could face their constituents.

I remember during the campaign being told by the incumbent when I complained about the MP pension scheme that once I got here I would certainly change my mind. I have not changed my mind.

I challenge any government member to look in the face of a struggling overtaxed and overextended constituent and defend the ultra-luxurious pension plan. I further challenge government members to defend Bill C-85 and the so-called amendments contained in the legislation.

The member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell can obfuscate, twist and distort the Reform position on MP remuneration. I challenge him to tell a dairy farmer in Cumberland why he deserves the gold plated pension. I bet he hopes no one is watching the theatre of the absurd practised by the member on the issue of pensions.

We are witnessing a serious double standard characterized by greed and complete disrespect for the taxpayer's dollar. On the one hand the government preaches deficit reduction and debt control. On the other hand it introduces Bill C-85 under the guise of reforming the obscene pension plan. In other words, do what I say and not what I do. This is not the kind of leadership Canada needs at this time. It shows a lack of leadership.

The Reform Party supports a pension plan that brings MPs pensions into line with private sector pensions. In my view if the Liberal government vacillates on the issue it will vacillate on every issue. There is a major principle involved and the government has fumbled the ball. Where is its conscience? What does Bill C-85 give us and the taxpayers?

The bill lowers the rate at which benefits accrue. At 4 per cent they are still double the rate allowed for registered plans under the Income Tax Act. The so-called reforms include provisions for virtually full compensation for inflation which certainly does not parallel private sector pension plans. Over 78 per cent of private sector plans have no automatic adjustment for inflation.

The bill's minimum age provision of 55 does not go far enough. Under the Income Tax Act pension benefits must be reduced by at least 3 per cent per year if collected prior to attaining the age of 60 or alternately has 30 years of eligibility or attaining age and years of service totalling 80 years. This avoids that provision of the Income Tax Act.

The legislation before us today will still use the special arrangement called an RCA account to pay members' benefits that are twice as generous as private sector norms. Until this is addressed, the whole bill is just window dressing. I want to see the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell sell this to a hard working farmer in his riding who has to save and administer a plan of his own. I have hard working loggers, miners, mill workers, fishermen and business people in my riding. I would not envy trying to sell it to them.

We estimate that long run costs for the new pension plan will be close to 50 per cent of the payroll costs for currently sitting members. A plan the Reform Party could have supported would have had a maximum cost to taxpayers of 9 per cent of payroll.

Again the government is bleeding the taxpayer dry and at the same time selling snake oil to cure the illness. It is deceitful and unfair, especially given that it will not allow opting out for members elected in the next election. The pension scheme will be an issue in three years. We guarantee it.

Many Reform MPs ran their election campaigns promising to come to this Alice in Wonderland place and reform MPs' pensions. It was a solemn commitment to weary Canadians bled dry by greedy governments. The government's response has been to raise MPs' take home salary by reducing the MPs' contribution rate to the pension plan.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am sure what the hon. member has to say is extremely important, but I do not see a quorum in the House.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member is quite correct. There is not a quorum. Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

And the count having been taken:

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We have a quorum. Debate shall continue with the hon. member for North Island-Powell River.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, this will serve to keep the ratio of government to member contribution very high.

The member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell talked yesterday of openness, honesty and sincerity. There is not a scintilla of veracity in what the government is telling Canadians about the pension plan. When we add this insult to the $550 billion debt, we are truly a country in trouble.

The government is touting Bill C-85 as pension reform but it is not telling the complete story. Does the member for Hamilton East call a new pension of $2.7 million from the old $3.3 million windfall a reform? It is obscene and warrants the scrutiny of fair minded Canadians. It is truly unresponsive and says to every Canadian: "You sacrifice, not me".

I will be opting out and joining the majority of Canadians who are not taking advantage of the system and who are looking for leadership on issues like this one that we are not receiving from the government.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill which is about more than the pensions that some members of Parliament will collect, much more. The bill reflects a difference in beliefs about the role of a parliamentarian and about the relationship between government and those who are governed.

It might seem like a bit of an exaggeration to say that a bill dealing with pension reform reflects ideals about the very nature of governance in a democratic society. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all. Furthermore, with the benefit of time, the people of Canada will agree with me that the position taken by MPs on the bill reflects how they feel about their position in government. It tells a story about how they feel about their constituents. It even tells a story about how they feel about democracy.

Let me explain. Canadians become a little sensitive when their politicians use U.S. examples. Nonetheless it is impossible to deny that U.S. experience provides us with an example of how representative democracy works: its problems and its benefits.

In the greatest document ever written to defend American democracy, the federalist papers, the authors speak in paper No. 35 of the qualifications of representatives in government. They write that representatives should be members of various classes of people from society and economy; that those people should be chosen by a majority of their constituents; that those people should be inspired by a desire to protect the interests of their class in the economy, to represent their communities; that those people should be elected for a very limited period of time, after which they should return to their former positions in the economy, back to their former places in life. People elected to government should be inspired and motivated to go into public life by a sincere commitment to their communities. They should expect nothing more than to represent their families, friends and neighbours.

The model from the federalist papers does not speak of a class of professional politicians. No, the ideal politician is a real person from the real world who takes a short time out of his or her life to do his or her patriotic duty and represent his or her community with enough remuneration to survive but not enough to prosper. That would have to wait until his or her limited time in government was over and he or she returned to a former profession.

That is one model or one vision of what the government and legislators should do. There is another, that of the professional legislative class, one where legislators are not so much chosen as they are born or made and where there are different incentives to get into politics. I am not referring to the incentives of patriotism or a willingness to sacrifice for one's community but an ambition to achieve power, to establish oneself in powerful circles and to make money. Representation of the people for this kind of politician is nothing more than saying the right things to avoid being voted out of office and thereby losing the security, power and prestige that public life offers.

That is the sort of politician Canadians have learned to dislike so passionately. Canadians are more disillusioned than ever about their politicians. Politicians consistently rank at the bottom of public opinion poll surveys. People do not like us. When I ask my constituents what they do not like about politicians I consistently get the same answers: "Politicians are only in it for themselves. They only want to make money and get power. They lie all the time just to stay in office". That is quite a commentary.

Is it any wonder people are fed up with politicians? Members of the House have expanded their powers, expanded their salaries and expanded their pensions without ever consulting the people of Canada. Members have expanded their power and their purses. They have created what some of the founders of modern democracy hope to avoid: the creation of a professional class of politicians more concerned about their comfort than about the needs of the community and the country. In other words, the politicians have become Ottawa's messengers to the constituents.

Here we are debating this pension reform bill. Some reform. This debate and the divergent attitudes and opinions of the two sides of the House-and I am not including the Bloc in my comments since it is absurd for the Bloc to even be participating in this debate-reflect more than just a different administrative view of how pensions should operate. They reflect a fundamentally different view of how Canadian democracy should operate.

The Reform Party believes in the first model of representation: non-professional politicians who represent their communities out of a sense of duty and patriotism, politicians who expect nothing more than to return to their stations in life with a nod from their communities and the occasional "job well done". We want nothing more than to be given enough remuneration to survive while we are here and then go home to our communities with respect.

The Liberals on the other hand are concerned more about providing themselves with perks, power and pensions, pensions which have become the flashpoint of voter anger, and rightly so. Why should parliamentarians receive pensions which are richer than anything the private sector could even dream of? Why should citizens who are taxed to the max be forced to pay for this unbelievable scheme? The politicians in power across the way do not believe that politics should be about sacrifice for the country. They think the country should sacrifice for them. Liberal politicians do not ask what they can do for Canada, they ask what Canada can do for them. That bothers Canadians. That causes Canadians to lose faith in the political process.

The Reform Party's philosophy on pension reform is simple: do not give us one. Leave us alone. Go ahead and take the cushy pensions. Go ahead and force the taxpayer to cough up $4 for every one. Clearly, that is what members across the way are saying, but leave us alone.

If their vision of democracy and representation is one which includes establishing a permanent class of highly paid, highly pensioned, highly perked politicians, then so be it. Let us represent our constituents the way we want. Allow us to be servants of the people rather than demanding that the taxpayers serve us. Let our visions co-exist. Let them compete. Then let the voters decide come the next election. We are more than happy with that.

This pension reform bill does not do that. It forces the next crop of Reform MPs to take this ultra rich pension package whether they want it or not. How absurd. How cynical.

Canadians want responsible government. They want responsible governors, people they can trust, people who will serve willingly because they want to serve, not because they want to retire after a few years on tens of thousands of dollars indexed to inflation. Being a member of Parliament is an opportunity to leave an indelible mark on this great country. It is an opportunity to give something back to the communities which have given us all so much. It is a privilege.

The current pension plan and the new pension package is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to all constituents and all communities. I urge my fellow members on both sides of the House to take a step toward restoring representation with integrity to Canada. Take a step in the direction of restoring trust. Vote no on the bill and vote yes to integrity and trust. I am going to opt out of the plan.

Given the lack of interest on the Liberal side and the many inadequacies of Bill C-85, I move:

That this debate be now adjourned.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

This is not a debatable motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion which was negatived on the following division:)

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business.

The House resumed from March 31 consideration of the motion.

Hate Propaganda Via Electronic HighwayPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 1995 / 4:50 p.m.


Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on the motion regarding hate speech on the Internet.

I agree wholeheartedly that the government should move with speed to adopt legislative measures aimed at stopping the spread of hate propaganda through computer networks.

The information highway is a wonderful resource, which provides education and information to people worldwide. The Internet is a powerful communication tool. It links people of various nations and backgrounds easily and rapidly, helping spread understanding and knowledge around the world.

Like many tools or new technologies, the information highway can be used for harmful purposes as easily as for positive purposes. Unfortunately, the many benefits provided by the new technology are as attractive to hatemongers and racists as they are to scientists and students.

As I am sure many members are aware, even a brief glance through various Internet discussion groups reveals material that is deeply offensive and contrary to Canadian values. The material ranges from recruiting messages from the Ku Klux Klan to pornography and Holocaust denial tracts.

In January a university student was arrested in Michigan for issuing threats after he posted a computer message describing how he wanted to torture, rape, and murder a fellow student. In a recent case in Calgary, police arrested a man for possession of child pornography that he had acquired from a computer bulletin board linked to the Internet.

It is true that in order to obtain much of the offensive material one has to go actively looking for the appropriate computer bulletin boards. However, some sources of pornography advertise their services in the computer discussion groups.

Although some work is required to find offensive material, pornography and hate propaganda often end up in the hands of impressionable children. As I am sure many members are aware, children and young adults are often far more proficient with computers than their parents are. We should not underestimate the persistence of some children.

We need to develop software that would allow parents to screen material that comes into their homes or schools, similar to what we can now do on TV. Children should not have access to pornography through computer bulletin boards, just as they are not able to purchase pornography from local stores. Parents must be able to control what their children view.

There have been cases of white supremacists using computer bulletin boards to attempt to recruit new members, especially among students and other young adults. We do not tolerate white supremacists recruiting in person in our schools, so I see no reason to tolerate them sending their hate propaganda to school children through computers.

Freedom of speech is one of our most important values. However, freedom of speech needs to be tempered by responsibility. It may be a cliché but it is nonetheless true that freedom of speech does not protect one's right to yell fire in a crowded theatre. In a similar fashion, freedom of speech does not protect hate speech. Canada already has laws dealing with the distribution of hate propaganda by conventional means such as books or on TV and radio broadcasts. However, our current laws are not having much impact on the electronic highway. So far there has not been a single case I am aware of brought against anyone spreading hate across computer networks.

Some users of the Internet have argued that they can regulate themselves. Certainly there are some examples of Internet users challenging and discrediting hatemongers. However, there is much offensive material out there. In a perfect world self-regulation would work; but as we all know, this is not a perfect world.

A combination of legislative action and self-regulation would perhaps be the best approach. We should encourage the development of a code of conduct among Internet users to discourage offensive E-mail and discussion groups. Some have likened the Internet to a town square or a worldwide debating forum. Just as there are accepted norms of conduct for discussions in public places, there should be norms of acceptable behaviour on the electronic highway.

Along with self-regulation, there should be some direction from Parliament. Canada's current laws are apparently having little effect on the electronic highway. The motion we are debating at the moment is needed to push for the expansion of current legislation to cover the Internet. This motion may not have any legislative authority, but it will demonstrate this House's desire and will to limit the spread of pornography and

hate propaganda. It will provide the courts with some guidance as to the option of the House of Commons regarding this issue.

I compliment the Minister of Justice for his statement last week at an international conference on crime prevention in Cairo, where he said that the government is considering new laws to limit the harmful use of computer networks and other forms of communication.

I believe this motion will encourage this government and others to continue their efforts to find a way to limit the spread of hate propaganda and pornography through the Internet. We need to encourage international cooperation to deal with the spread of hate propaganda.

Given the worldwide nature of the Internet, regulation will require worldwide effort. It will be difficult to limit pornography and hate propaganda if what is banned in one country is easily available through a computer bulletin board in another country. Just as hate groups are cooperating in order to spread their hatred of others, all countries must unite to combat hate groups.

I am well aware that it will not be easy to find ways to attack the spread of offensive items on the information highway. However, just because something is difficult it does not mean that we should not try. At the very least, by passing this motion we will send a message to the hatemongers and pornographers in the Internet that their messages are not welcome in Canada.

I congratulate the member for Winnipeg North for having the foresight and initiative to bring forward this motion encouraging us to give serious thought to this matter. I hope all members of this House will support this motion.

Hate Propaganda Via Electronic HighwayPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Motion No. 384 tabled by the hon. member for Winnipeg North requiring the government to move with speed to adopt legislative measures aimed at stopping the spread of hate propaganda via the electronic information highway while simultaneously preserving the legitimate use of the freedom of speech.

I would like to express my support for this motion immediately and I congratulate my colleague for Winnipeg North on this excellent private member's initiative.

As a member of a minority and a fighter for human rights since my youth, I am very much attuned to the fight against hate propaganda. I worked for many years with the union movement, which was behind the fight against racism and discrimination. I was also on the board of directors of the Quebec Civil Liberties Union. Many messages of hate and intolerance are directed at minorities, particularly visible minorities.

We must fight hateful, racist and discriminatory remarks expressed in all sorts of ways, including those appearing on the Internet.

Information technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the computer network, of which Internet is the latest and most impressive example, we can be in instant contact with people on other continents and in distant countries.

Internet currently comprises over 30,000 networks, 2.5 million computers and 35 million users in over 100 countries. These figures are rapidly increasing. A computer, a modem and a telephone are all it takes to access this information highway.

The Internet network can transmit documents, images, voice, music, films and so on.

Many Canadian firms are involved in setting up electronic highways, including Bell Canada, Northern Telecom, Unitel, Videotron, Rogers Communications, Stentor and the Sprint group.

These new technologies, however, cause considerable concern in some sectors of society as the media point out increasingly. What we have here, in some respects, is a public debate on certain basic moral values of the highest importance. All democratic societies must combat racism, discrimination and hatred. On the other hand, they must also protect freedom of speech and expression, and every person's right to respect, dignity and equality.

But, the state is not always well equipped to rise to the challenges brought on by the rapid and overwhelming development of new information technologies. I think that the motion introduced by the hon. member for Winnipeg North is of great merit, for it opens up discussion in this House on this very important issue.

Under our justice system, it is section 163 of the Criminal Code which governs obscenity and section 319 which governs the distribution of hate propaganda. The first provision, more particularly subsection 163(1), states that "Every one commits an offence who makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever". This subsection deals with mechanical or electronic means.

On the other hand, section 319 states that "Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty-". The provision describes two situations giving rise to a criminal offence: " (a) inciting hatred by communicating, in any public place, statements that may lead to a breach of the peace'', and `` (b) promoting hatred against any identifiable group by communicating statements other than in private conversation''.

Are these provisions adequate to deal with the problems identified? For some people they are, but not for me. I should mention that our Criminal Code applies only in Canada, but the situation we are describing goes beyond our borders.

The problem is an international one, and it is therefore necessary to promote international co-operation on this issue. Incidentally, Canada has signed international conventions that could apply to this area. The two most important ones are the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified in 1947, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified in 1976.

Hate messages may be sent from any country. It is therefore desirable to draft and adopt international guidelines for the use of the Information Highway.

The matter should even be taken up at the UN. The U.S. Congress is now examining a bill that deals with the proliferation of this kind of information on the Internet. One of the provisions of this bill provides for fines of up to $100,000 if a person uses a computer to annoy, insult, threaten or harass. I think this is an interesting proposal, and I also think a certain amount of co-operation between Canada and the United States would be desirable in this respect.

I support the suggestion made by the mover of this motion that we should adopt a code of conduct for suppliers of services on Internet and provide for a complaints mechanism.

The authorities should also start a campaign to educate the public and Internet users and suppliers on the right way to use the Information Highway and their responsibilities in this respect.

Users and service suppliers should also exercise a certain amount of self-discipline and restraint. So far, there have been no instances of legal action in Canada. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada must be vigilant when dealing with statements inciting hatred, violence and prejudice that are transmitted on the Internet. These hate messages constitute statements in the meaning of section 319 of the Criminal Code. The government should table legislation in Parliament to deal specifically with such cases.

The government must act immediately. We must fight racism, discrimination and intolerance. We must fight neo-Nazi groups, extreme rightist groups that promote white supremacy, anti-semitic groups, the Klu Klux Klan and all other groups that promote this kind of prejudice, and finally, all those who use the Information Highway to spread hate propaganda.

I therefore support this motion.

Hate Propaganda Via Electronic HighwayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address the very timely topic of Motion No. 384 today, that the House move with speed to adopt legislative measures aimed at stopping the spread of hate propaganda via the electronic information highway while preserving the legitimate use of freedom of speech and expression. If legislation is passed on this issue the government will inherit a truly enormous task.

I stand in support of this motion because we must always be fighting against wrong wherever we find it. Due to the increasing accessibility of illegal material directed especially at our young people we must struggle even harder to protect impressionable minds from feeding and growing on a diet of hatred, ignorance and fear.

I have a person in my constituency who has received quite a bit of publicity lately. This man is a young, white supremacist connected with militant American groups and, as the media loves to do, he was featured on television a few weeks ago. He said that he hates the government with a perfect hatred.

While I may have my own problems with the government, it certainly does not deserve hatred. The very fact that this fellow was allowed to say what he said on national television without being thrown in jail shows that he is obviously wrong in his beliefs.

In a great many other countries he would be more justified in making such venomous diatribes. In Canada it is easy to grab the spotlight and heap abuse on our system even while standing within the shadow of a benevolent government. I would be interested to know if he not only derives his freedom, but also gets his living from the very government that he says he despises.

I was reminded of this outrageous philosophy at our local V-E Day remembrance day services I attended last weekend. Together we remembered the millions of young soldiers who dashed all their hopes and dreams against Hitler's mightiest armies, the man who attempted to put the whole world under his jackboot.

Hitler did not care about the Canadians, the Europeans, the Americans, the countless Asians who died. He did not even care about his own people. He cared about power. He used young, impressionable, dissatisfied men, like the man from my constituency, to get it for him. Many of them died along with their leader in the second world war.

It is an incredible irony that the very system that tens of millions of people fought to the death to preserve is now being used to shelter someone like this, who promotes Hitler's philosophy. It stands as yet another proof of the incredible strength and essential goodness of our political system. While we must

preserve this freedom, we must also preserve the stability of the system. Otherwise all those soldiers would have died in vain.

As the human body tolerates all sorts of germs, it also struggles against infections. Our society is like an organism that plays host to all sorts of philosophies but it, too, has the right to guard against those which are most destructive.

Hate literature and hate propaganda on the Internet are like pollution washing up on a seashore. Although we may never get rid of all the pollution, we must always keep cleaning the sand on our portion of the beach or else eventually we will be buried in the pollution. More and more hate literature is washing up on our personal shores, in our homes and businesses each and every day. We must actively battle it or risk having impressionable people won over by it.

Those who would claim an untrammelled right of freedom to use the Internet for any purpose stand on shifting ground. They would never claim that right in other areas. For instance, no one acknowledges the right of bank robbers to use our system of roads with complete freedom. Every time bank robbers use our highways to get away, the police do their utmost to stop this abuse of freedom. It should be the same when one travels the information highway.

To use another analogy, no one would claim that the government has no right to regulate the use of poisons in the marketplace, to pass laws to make sure that the poisons do not sit on a shelf alongside the food that we must purchase. Likewise, there are poisonous thoughts that should never sit on the shelf beside harmless chat groups and information libraries on the Internet.

There is a difference between freedom and licence. Freedom is simply the right to do whatever is good but licence is the abuse of that right in order to harm others. In the case of the Internet, the definition of harm becomes all important.

One of the hardest things is to define an intellectual crime where victims do not suffer physical or monetary loss. Should all white supremacist material be thought of at hate literature? Is pornography hate literature? Are religious messages that decry the actions of a person or a group based on a legitimate sense of moral offence hate literature? How can one determine the degree of hatred? Is just a little bit of hatred okay? It is very difficult to define a hate crime.

The next problem we encounter is very nearly insurmountable. That is the matter of enforcement. The member for Winnipeg North is perhaps suggesting the most difficult of all possible tasks, an act of global regulation.

Internet messages are nearly anonymous. There are trillions of possible hiding places in the Internet. The sources of hate literature are limitless and the criminals can be located anywhere in the world. If one is found and prosecuted within Canadian borders, 1,000 can take his place from any other country.

Obviously any regulation of the Internet would require international co-operation and it could only hope to drive the worst offenders underground. I note with satisfaction the Liberal House leader was reported on March 28 to have spoken favourably about an international agreement to stop the flow of this material into Canada. That would be necessary.

We want to avoid a vast bureaucracy of Internet police hired to listen to private conversations. If a police force was able to listen to all private telephone conversations, we would think it was a terrible abuse of human rights. I would certainly think so as well. All kinds of offensive things are communicated every day in person or over the telephone lines. People have a right to their privacy even when they say bad or ridiculous things.

However, the difference between personal communication and the Internet is that personal communications are inaccessible to all but the communicating parties. Through news groups the Internet makes essentially private conversations and communications available to anyone. That makes the Internet a thing of beauty and a beast at the same time.

A partial answer is in international agreements but perhaps the most effective answer lies in the actions of the people of goodwill who might act as volunteer watchdogs on the Internet. Millions of people read each other's thoughts each day and comment on them. Thousands of users can get together and electronically sanction someone who abuses the information highway.

This volunteer policing effort holds real promise for cleaning up the Internet, but once again that careful balance between free speech and responsible speech must be preserved, providing room for legitimate disagreements. That is why I think the most effective action the government could take is not legislative.

Government could get the best bang for its buck by supporting the development of a set of Internet conventions or broadly based rules. Call them operating rules, call them a public code of conduct or electronic ethics. These guiding principles would suggest to users when they should report to police, when they should simply reproach the sender or when they should band together to sanction another user.

Most Internet users around the world are responsible people, despite the horror stories we read in the newspapers. If there are vastly more responsible people than irresponsible ones, then it should be simple to obtain their co-operation in stopping the spread of material that is illegal.

The government could sponsor a small advisory group to take leadership in this area, to draft these voluntary Internet conventions using the legal assistance that government can provide and have the group go global on the Internet with its proposals, not working necessarily from government to government but from user to user. Let users decide among themselves what should be allowed and what should not.

Winston Churchill said in a speech at Harvard University in 1943 that the empires of the future are empires of the mind. This has never been more true than in the case of the Internet. At the moment it is purely an intellectual kingdom, but thoughts are powerful. Ideas in cyberspace translate into real world action and an Internet kingdom without laws will one day generate lawless deeds.

If the government passes laws to prosecute the worst offenders and helps to develop conventions for voluntary action on the Internet, this intellectual kingdom will become one of peace and safety. We can hope for nothing better for us and for our children than to experience that peace.