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House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I wanted to make a comment because, when the new member for Lac-Saint-Jean arrived in this House, my duties as training and youth critic were transferred to him. I agreed that this duty should be given to him since he is the youngest member in the Bloc Quebecois and indeed in the House of Commons. I was once a young man myself,

of course, youth comes with age, and I think the member showed us in his maiden speech, which was very eloquent, that he has a lot of heart.

He expressed his concerns, and I think I have heard him talk about his concerns for youth before.

He talked a lot about his riding and he talked about youth. I would like to ask him this question-

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Question, question.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Discepola Liberal Vaudreuil, QC

Give him a chance to answer the question at least.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

It is interesting, Madam Speaker. After total silence this afternoon during this debate on the creation of an important department, the arrival of a new member, a young member who has shown some enthusiasm, has finally waken up this House, and I am very happy about that.

I would like to ask him what he thinks about young people moving away to find work. Does he thinks it is important that this responsibility be given to the Government of Quebec to ensure consistency and is it possible to finally put an end to the duplication of programs? Does he agree that Quebec should regain control over all its tools? He has already talked about that but, in the few minutes he has left, I would like to hear him say a few more words about his concerns for youth.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, before I answer, I would like to make a comment. It is true I am young, but I was elected by my constituents. In politics, people often talk about youth to make political hay. They like to surround themselves with young people. We all know parties which court young people to show they are open to all age groups and are looking to the future, whereas the Bloc Quebecois and Lac-Saint-Jean riding do not believe in tokenism.

They really give tangible examples by electing a young member to Parliament, even if it might be risky; but if you never take risks in life, you never make any progress and those who do not progress regress. That was only a short comment I wanted to add.

I will reply to my colleague that, in a way, youth is in a way a symbol of decentralization. The closer the decision-making body is to the public, the more the people feel they are involved. I do believe in decentralization and the more we decentralize, the more people will feel involved, including young people. Too often, they feel lost in the political debate because they feel it does not concern them. So we just have to get closer to the population for the people to feel more concerned.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Lac-Saint-Jean on his maiden speech, his first presentation in the House of Commons.

I would like to make two comments. The first is that I hope this new member does not feel too guilty about taking away the crown of the youngest member of the House of Commons from his colleague from Témiscamingue who held the crown until he showed up. I worked with the former youngest member of the House in the Standing Committee on Finance. I know he tried to hold this government accountable, as he should, and he did a good job. I hope the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean does the same in holding the government accountable.

Having said that, hopefully the member will have time to answer my second comment. In delivering his speech, I noticed some traces and hints of the former leader of the Bloc Quebecois. The member's style is very similar. However I hope there is a little more substance to what the member says and does.

The former leader is all things to all people. He is able to deliver everything to everybody in Quebec. He is able to walk on water. He is able to save social programs yet cut at the same time. He is able to promote youth employment. He is able to do all those things but the money is not there.

How does the member propose to add some substance to what he has talked about?

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I believe my first achievement was to run in that election. I am not bragging, but I can tell you that it took a lot of courage. One of the things I wanted to do was not simply talk, but to show that there are still young people out there who want to take part in the political process of this country.

When I decided to go for it, I asked myself: "Are people ready to vote for someone who is only 22?" It was not obvious.

The first concrete sign I got was when students and other young people told me that I was showing them the way and giving them a reason to go for it. Therefore, concretely, I had already done more than just talk. With due respect, I am saying time will tell what I will be able to do in the future, but at the very least I tried, I jumped the fence, as for what will come of it, tomorrow will tell. I had two alternatives: give up or roll up my sleaves and go for it. I decided to try my best and I am ready and willing to start building the Quebec of tomorrow.

Department Of Human Resources Development ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of amending section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to the amending formula provided for in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which amendment would read as follows: "Every citizen of Canada, except one who is (a) confined in a penitentiary, a prison, or a psychiatric institution, or ( b ) at large from a place referred to in paragraph ( a ), with or without a lawful excuse, has the right to vote in an election of Members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.''

Madam Speaker, less than 100 years ago a woman from Victoria, B.C. shocked local citizens by showing up to vote. As a widow she had inherited property from her husband and as a new property owner she was therefore qualified to vote according to the way the franchise was limited at that time of Canadian history.

How times have changed. For the law-abiding adult citizens of a nation to have a real voice in how affairs are conducted now is regarded as a hallmark of democracy. In our lifetime thousands of young Canadians have fought and died on foreign soil to defend that basic principle.

Most recently much of the world was shocked when mainland China conducted war games using live ammunition to discourage the citizens of Taiwan from casting their ballots for Taiwan's new president, the first time voting for president had been allowed in the 5,000 year history of the most populated nation on the planet. With great courage over 76 per cent of eligible Taiwanese voters cast ballots, a great testament to how much those free Chinese valued their new found democracy.

Within our commonwealth of nations the Republic of South Africa based the right to vote on racial qualifications which allowed a small white minority to control the much larger black majority, including through a seemingly endless list of human rights violations until the practice of apartheid recently was ended.

I mention these examples to point out what a precious privilege it is to be able to vote and to be able to run for public office rather than have our lives controlled by totalitarian dictators, or by communist or fascist parties, or by members of a particular race.

Citizens of Canada value that right very highly. Therefore many Canadian citizens were shocked when they realized that our charter of rights and freedoms now has given the right to vote to criminals. Section 51 of the Canada Elections Act disqualified many citizens from voting:

The following persons are not qualified to vote at an election and shall not vote at an election:

(e) Every person undergoing punishment as an inmate in any penal institution for the commission of any offence;

(f) Every person who is restrained of his liberty of movement or deprived of the management of his property by reason of mental disease.

These election act provisions were what Canadians expected.

It is also interesting to note that in the United States, a great democracy and our nearest neighbour, the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution excludes prisoners from voting. Its Constitution has been in the possession of the American people since the 1700s, whereas the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms dates from only the 1980s. It is not surprising that Americans have passed many Constitutional amendments.

At the present time section 748 of the Criminal Code of Canada provides that persons convicted of an indictable offence for which they are in prison for a term exceeding five years cannot hold public office or any employment under the crown. They cannot be elected or sit or vote as a member of Parliament or of a legislative assembly and cannot exercise any right of suffrage.

However, convicted killers have challenged section 51(e) of the Canadian elections act based on the charter of rights and freedoms which now states this in section 3:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

This issue has been taken before various courts a number of times. For example, in 1992 the federal government lost a case to Richard Sauvé, who was serving a life sentence in Kingston Penitentiary and had sued the government for the right to vote.

Decisions of the court have been divided and appeals have gone to the highest levels regarding both provincial and federal elections. The courts have decided that the Canada Elections Act does not stand up against the charter of rights and freedoms.

I know from talking with Canadian people that the fact the courts have removed those limitations on who gets to vote is offensive to

the majority of Canadians who are too busy earning a living to appear before royal commissions.

It is a typical example of bleeding hearts who are more concerned with advancing the rights of prisoners than with demonstrating that serious punishments are attached to the commission of crimes.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from many voters in my riding is that offenders get a slap on the wrist for virtually any crime they commit. Working police officers also tell me they feel it is not even worth the paperwork they must complete to get an offender convicted and sent to jail.

It is not as though we throw people into jail at the drop of a hat, even though Canada has one of the highest per capita prisoner rates in the world, second only to the United States. It is not because the Canadian law is so tough that we have so many people in jail. The truth is that crimes of violence have increased by 782 per cent from 1971 to 1994 in Canada. Property crime has increased by 1,031 per cent, although our population has increased by only 27 per cent.

In 1994 almost three million crimes were committed compared with just over a quarter of a million back in 1971. This is an astonishing fact. It is time the government woke up to that. The bleeding hearts, including the justice minister, like only to refer to the past couple of years when certain categories of crime have decreased a little.

Law-abiding Canadians do not feel safe and they want to see offenders punished. One of those punishments should remain that going to jail means losing voting rights. Once offenders have paid their debt to society they should get their voting rights back, but not until that debt is paid.

This position was clearly stated by some witnesses who appeared before the royal commission on electoral reform and party financing which submitted its report in November, 1991. One witness told the commission in Edmonton: "It is a punishment. The reason why they should not receive a vote is that they are not in society in a sense. Until they return to society and act within the confines of our laws, they are barred from certain privileges, one of them being, in my feeling, the right to vote in an election".

In Thompson, Manitoba the commission was told: "We believe that the right to vote is a very special privilege in our country. We believe that once you break the law of the land, part of the deterrent would be the loss of the right to vote as long as you are in prison. I do not believe the charter, at any point, says you have the right to break the law".

The commissioners pointed out that most witnesses supported giving prisoners the right to vote, but none advocated allowing prisoners to stand as candidates.

It also mentioned a brief from the John Howard Society which pointed out that prisoners have the right to vote in Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark but not in the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland or the United States.

The number of prisoners and costs raise two more points against allowing inmates to vote. According to testimony of Mr. Jean-Claude Léger, director of operations, office of the Chief Electoral Officer, to the procedure and House affairs committee on April 21, 1994, 6,800 inmates used special voting rules.

According to testimony of the Chief Elector Officer, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, to the same committee, there were 7,502 incarcerated electors. The cost per elector was $23.81 compared with the cost of $9.38 for the average registered elector outside the penal system.

That number of votes cast in prison could very well mean that prisoners wanting weaker laws to punish crime could determine the outcome in many elections. Votes of prisoners are being sent to their home ridings to be counted, and many elections are won and lost by small margins.

In the riding of Edmonton Northwest the Minister of Natural Resources won over the Reform Party opponent by a mere 12 votes. I wonder how many were cast from the penal system.

Another close call saw the Liberal member for Edmonton East defeat the Reform candidate by 115 votes. With those numbers, it is clear that in prison voters could readily tip the scales of an election.

How fair is that to law-abiding citizens who must support these prisoners at considerable expense? I do not think it is fair at all. Some on the other side of the House probably do.

The other section of the Canada Elections Act to which I draw attention in my motion is that inmates of mental institutions should not be allowed to vote. That may not be the best way to word my concern, but this is a motion intended to push the government in this direction, not for a finished piece of legislation.

The justice department has hundreds of lawyers. Private members have access to only three. Regarding mental hospital inmates voting, in October 1988 the Canadian Disability Rights Council challenged the present wording of section 51(f) of the Canada Elections Act. In its decision, the court basically said that any mental patient 18 and over who can recite his or her name, age and address can be on the voter's list.

Many Canadians are offended by such a low standard to determine who is eligible to vote; lest we forget that anybody who is allowed to vote is allowed to run for office. I am sure Canadians do

not want inmates of mental institutions running for either federal or provincial governments.

Since I have been here I have been told it seems as though for years perhaps the inmates are running the asylum here. Sometimes we wonder.

Witnesses appearing before the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing were divided about voting rights for the mentally ill or the mentally handicapped.

A member of a hospital volunteer committee stated: "We are fiercely opposed to voting by proxy for persons who are mentally ill. We believe the right to vote is essentially personal and can be exercised only by the holder of the right, not by the third party. The psychiatric population is very vulnerable in that risks of abuse are higher than for so-called normal people".

Many people pointed out how difficult it would be to develop a competency test unless the same test were applied to the general voting population. A common sense solution is simply to require that voters be able to get to their home polling station and once there to be able to complete a ballot properly.

The Conservative government issued a white paper in 1986 on election law reform which recommended that mentally disabled Canadians have the right to be enumerated and vote. The white paper also recommended that no polling stations be established in mental hospitals and that residents of such institutions should not have the right to vote by proxy. However, the legislation died on the Order Paper.

There is one category of residents in mental institutions which I know Canadians do not want to see voting, namely, those confined because they are not criminally responsible, the NCR, or not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, NCRMD, the two terms used by the provinces for mental institution patients forcibly confined for criminal reasons.

Although the rules and details vary from province to province, basically these patients are detained under federal legislation which is administered by the provinces. Having that label means they were deemed to be ill at the time of the criminal offence and therefore were never convicted of an offence. It is a label which has been applied to some of the nastiest criminals in our history.

Currently in British Columbia there are 130 NCR patients detained in the mental institution which has a total of 174 detainee beds.

In Alberta, 36 NCR patients are lodged in two mental institutions. Overall Alberta has 1,000 psychiatric beds and about 10 per cent of those are for forensic.

The figures are small for Saskatchewan and Manitoba with 16 NCR patients under board review in Saskatchewan. Twelve are in Saskatchewan Hospital. Manitoba reports 35 NCR patients in mental institutions representing about half of the psychiatric patients of that province.

Newfoundland reports six to eight in the provincial mental hospital's forensic unit. There were seven or eight in New Brunswick and four or five in Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia seems to have the greatest difficulty providing this information for me as they are in the process of restructuring.

Neither of the territories has its own forensic mental facilities. Instead NCRs are sent to B.C. from the Yukon and are sent to Alberta from the Northwest Territories.

With the largest populations in Canada, Ontario and Quebec also have the highest numbers of mental patients who are not criminally responsible. In Ontario approximately 550 NCRs account for about 20 per cent of the overall mental patient count of 2,400 to 2,600 beds.

Quebec has 750 NCR patients but it also has review board hearings on others. In 1994-95 there were 988 Quebec hearings, plus six judged unfit for hearing, for a total of 994 patients who were in some form of mental treatment for criminal reasons.

I hope all hon. members are aware that there are many Canadians with mental illnesses of one sort or another. For example, a friend checked herself into the mental illness unit of our local hospital when a drinking problem led to a suicide attempt. She was voluntarily confined but only briefly. She had absolutely no interest in politics at that period in her life.

Section 51(f) of the Canada Elections Act excluded from voting persons confined involuntarily or not able to manage their own affairs due to mental illness.

Canada's standards are changing about including people with various mental disabilities in group homes, sheltered workshops and so on where they often make a real contribution to their immediate families and to the community in which they reside.

The fact that the mentally disabled are loved and valued does not mean they must be allowed to vote. All too often the mentally disabled merely become the pawns of their caregivers. These mentally disabled Canadians are not independent. Even their sources of information can be readily controlled. Therefore, for their own protection as well as to protect the voting process, I believe it is simply common sense not to turn over the running of Canada to people who are mentally incapable either of managing their own affairs or of standing trial for crimes they may have committed.

I must repeat that the people who are allowed to vote are also allowed to run for office. That role is not appropriate for the mentally handicapped.

A final point I wish to raise is a recommendation for an amendment to section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sections 2 and 7 to 15 can be overridden by an action of Parliament alone, as provided by the override clause in section 33. According to section 33 of the charter, Parliament or a provincial legislature can insert a clause stating that it is passing a given piece of legislation notwithstanding specific provisions of the charter.

Additionally, any federal or provincial law containing such a notwithstanding or overriding clause has to be reviewed and the declaration re-enacted at least every five years or it will not remain in force.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Mr. Chuck Cadman, president of an organization called CRY, for crime, responsibility and youth. He stated:

I certainly support Darrel on this motion. Anybody who's been convicted of a crime against Canadian society has lost their right to vote. When they come out of an institution, fine, but while they are serving their time they should not be a factor in any decision making on who is in power or what the law should be.

Also, Mr. Dave Langlois of the Vernon Courtwatch Society stated:

The members of Citizens Courtwatch Society entirely support your private member's motion No. 143 to amend the charter of rights and freedoms to prevent convicted criminals from voting.

Our government, supreme court and citizens must come to realize that the charter acknowledges that all rights are not absolute and must be in balance with the rights of the law-abiding citizen. A vast majority of our democratic citizens, I can assure you, agree fully with this motion.

I would therefore like to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to make this a votable motion.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent?

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

5:50 p.m.

Vaudreuil Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I would like to participate in order to give the government's response to the Reform member for Okanagan-Shuswap on this private member's bill.

This motion raises the issue of whether individuals confined to penal and psychiatric institutions should be restricted in the exercise of their democratic rights. We are urged to consider equally the advisability of an amendment to section 3 of the charter which enshrines the right of all Canadian citizens, without exception, to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

I would begin by stating that we on this side of the House do not consider that a constitutional amendment restricting the application of this guarantee is advisable. I say this for several important reasons, related both to the nature of rights protected under the charter and to the legislative history of these issues.

The charter itself recognizes the need for a balance between individual rights and societal interests and provides a mechanism for achieving this balance quite equitably.

Section 1 of the charter provides that the rights and freedoms it guarantees are subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law, and can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The existence of this special balancing provision provides legislators with a significant measure of flexibility. Although legislation may contravene individual sections of the charter, such as section 3, the government had the opportunity to demonstrate that this legislation is justified, once again, in a free and democratic society.

The charter has therefore established an important dialogue between the courts and the government, as legislation is scrutinized by the judiciary for consistency with constitutional requirements. The Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that government restrictions on rights will be justifiable under section 1 of the charter when they are designed to accomplish a pressing and substantial government objective and when the means used to accomplish the objective are proportional. Legislation that does not conform to these criteria will be struck down, but this does not preclude Parliament from introducing new, and often better, legislation on the same subject, with qualifications added to ensure the full protection of charter rights.

This dialogue between Parliament and the courts is clearly illustrated by the legislative history relating to inmate voting. The 1985 enactment of the Canada Elections Act defranchised all inmates and in 1993 the prohibition was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Richard Sauvé case.

It is clear from the supreme court's decision that restrictions on the right of inmates to vote will violate section 3 of the charter. But as I have stated, that does not mean the government is precluded from acting, for it always has recourse to section 1.

In the Sauvé case the court found that the government had not met the burden of demonstrating that a complete ban on inmate voting was demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society, as the prohibition was drawn too broadly. This step opened the possibility that certain more narrow restrictions on inmate voting might be justifiable.

The challenge for Parliament is to find a reasonable restriction that can be justified as an appropriate limit on individual rights in light of the compelling public objects.

In seeking to find an acceptable compromise after the Sauvé decision Parliament reviewed two major reports on electoral reform, both of which have been critical of the disenfranchisement of all inmates and both of which proposed concrete alternatives.

In 1991 the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, more commonly referred to as the Lortie commission, had recommended that only persons convicted of an offence punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment and sentenced for 10 years or more be disqualified from voting.

In 1992, the special committee on the electoral reform of the House of Commons had recommended in its all party report that inmates convicted of an offence punishable by a maximum term of life imprisonment be disenfranchised.

While noting these options, Parliament chose a different approach. Under Bill C-114 the impuged paragraph of the Canada Elections Act was re-enacted in 1993 to provide that all prisoners serving a sentence of two years or more be disqualified from voting. It was felt that individuals sentenced to a term of two years or more should be viewed as serious offenders and that forfeiting their right to vote would send a powerful message that serious crimes are inconsistent with the concept of civic responsibility and respect and rule for the law. The voting prohibition was also viewed as a means of further sanctioning the offender. In other words, the measure supported the punitive objective of the law.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Parliament's new proposals soon ended up back in court. Inmate Sauvé and others filed court actions in the Federal Court, trial division, challenging the constitutionality of the newly enacted provision of the Elections Act under section 3 of the charter and also under section 15, the equality to rights provision.

The cases were heard jointly by Mr. Justice Wetston and in his decision released in January of this year, Justice Wetston concluded that the restriction on inmate voting did not violate section 15. However it violated the inmates right to vote in section 3.

Although Justice Wetston found that the objective of the voting prohibition were pressing and substantial, he felt that the wording of the legislation provision was overly broad and, therefore, failed the test of section 1. He pointed out equally that Parliament could provide sentencing judges with the authority to disenfranchise convicts on a case by case basis rather than enact a blanket disqualification for persons serving two years or more.

The federal government has filed an appeal of Mr. Justice Wetston's decision to the Federal Court of Appeal. Until this litigation runs its course it would be premature to consider any further legislative action, be it constitutional or otherwise and to address the issue of inmate voting.

It would be prudent for Parliament to wait to receive guidance from the Federal Court of Appeal and perhaps even the Supreme Court of Canada on whether the existing prohibition on inmate voting is sustainable under the charter. If not, what other sorts of options for restricting the right to vote would be permissible?

Any reconsideration of this issue by Parliament prior to obtaining this input would not only be premature but might well colour the government's defence on existing legislation.

Governments should not consider amending the charter each time an adverse court ruling is handed down. The constitutional amendment procedure, as we know, is lengthy and complex and is not the proper way to address these issues. The charter was never intended to be amended on a piecemeal basis in response to discrete court decisions. Our challenge therefore in the case of restrictions on inmate voting is not to amend the charter but to sustain reasonable legislative provisions that strike an appropriate balance between individual and collective interests.

Although both the Lortie commission and the special committee recommended the continued disenfranchisement of certain individuals on the ground of mental incapacity, the government of the day chose not to accept these recommendations. Instead, the law prohibiting voting by mentally ill persons was repealed as part of Bill C-114.

Finally I should say that the question of who has the right to be qualified for membership in the House of Commons under section 3 of the charter is a separate and distinct question from who should have the right to vote. The Supreme Court of Canada has not yet had the opportunity to pronounce on the extent to which it is possible for the government to restrict the conditions of membership in the House and still remain within the bounds of section 3 of the charter without recourse to section 1. It is not clear that it would be inconsistent with section 3 of the charter as currently worded.

These and other reasons mean that restrictions imposed on the rights of inmates and those of psychiatric institutions to become qualified for membership in the House of Commons may be sustainable within the bounds of section 3. In short, incarcerated persons may not be-

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Order. The member's time has expired.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this issue which my colleague from Okanagan-Shuswap has brought to this House. This is an issue

which is very critical in this day an age: should federal inmates have the right to vote.

We just heard from the Liberal member that the government has filed an appeal to Judge Wetston's decision that inmates should have the right to vote. I find that very interesting because it was not too long ago that a judge in this country made the decision that the use or abuse of cocaine and alcohol were an excuse for murder. These very same Liberals came back into the House in a hurry to reverse that decision. Now the member stands up and says that gee whiz, they are going to have to file an appeal and they will see if it works and so on. The fact is that they just do not have the intestinal fortitude to turn that decision around.

Should federal inmates have the right to vote is the big question. There are some questions which have to be answered here and I am going to make an attempt at that. Why are we at this stage today? Why are we even discussing this here when it could have been a votable issue? And why is this not votable? Why are we discussing Motion No. 143 on a non-votable basis? I will cover that in a moment. Another question relative to federal inmates having a vote in this country today is: When will this government start putting the affairs and issues that are relative to victims in this country on the front plate instead of those affairs relative to criminals?

Why is this motion not votable? The solicitor general said on the day this issue broke that the government believes that withholding the right to vote is reasonable. If the solicitor general believes that withholding the right to vote from federal inmates is reasonable, then why is it that this motion could not have been voted on tonight in the affirmative? Why is that so unreasonable? What is most obvious is that there is no will to do so in the federal government.

Why are we at this stage today? Why is it that judges appear to be making decisions that are not in the best interests of the country and not in the best interests of victims?

One of the Liberal members is suggesting that we whip the judges. We can understand the methodology and the logic coming from over there.

Let me give these folks across the way a little lesson in some of the decisions judges are making today. I ask whether judges are making rational decisions today and whether decisions like that of Judge Wetston to allow criminals, federal inmates, the right to vote is a good one.

Let us hear what B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sherman Hood said before acquitting a man of sexually assaulting a North Vancouver waitress: "No sometimes means maybe or wait a while". That is a judicial decision in this country which will be used as jurisprudence in other decisions. Does that make any sense? That is supposed to be a rational decision coming from this country's judiciary.

Northwest circuit Judge Michael Bourassa on sexual assaults in the Northwest Territories said: "Sexual assaults occur when the woman is drunk and passed out; the man comes along, sees a pair of hips and helps himself". That is another judicial decision that is a total avoidance of the protection of victims. The government, just like on the issue of the right of federal inmates to vote, does absolutely nothing about it. Government members sit here and pass rhetoric off as though we were supposed to buy it.

I will give another example. Members are asking over there how is this relevant. It is relevant because judges are making bad decisions and Justice Wetston made a terrible decision. Members over there just do not like to hear this.

In my province in February 1996: "Port Hardy, British Columbia provincial court Judge Brian Saunderson gave 57-year old Vernon Logan `an absolute discharge' even though Logan pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. The judge said the law banning child pornography violates the charter of rights", it sounds familiar, "because it is an infringement of one's freedom of thought, belief or opinion as unfettered access to reading material is necessary to exercise those freedoms".

With this kind of charter of rights decision by a judge to let off someone who possesses or is dealing in pornography, the very criminal act he was charged with, because it is a violation of his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, how far is this government going to allow this to go? That is the question.

David Snow was charged in Vancouver with kidnapping two women and trying to strangle a third. The judge declared: "I cannot conclude that the placing of the wire around the neck of the victim and the placing of the plastic over her head are sufficient enough to establish intent to kill".

I ask that group, which is somewhat more quiet now, are these kinds of decisions made by judges, including the decision to allow federal inmates the right to vote, in the best interests of law-abiding Canadian citizens? The answer is no.

If the solicitor general is to be believed, if he says he believes that withholding the right to vote is reasonable, then why does this government not come in here and do it? What is wrong? The fact is this government, those people who are speaking on the other side of the House, believe it is fair.

Let us deal with what criminals are getting today. Are we going too far to the left where the Liberals are? What do criminals have?

We know they get their conjugal visits. We know they get GST rebates. We all know they are getting the Canada pension plan-

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

They do not.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:10 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

The member says that they do not but they do. He is not well informed about these issues. We know they get old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. We know they have access to legal aid at the cost of the taxpayer. I believe that Clifford Olson is up to his 32nd litigation at the cost of the taxpayer. We know they have the right to sue. We know they have the right to refuse work. We know they get overtime and on and on it goes.

The final insult to law-abiding Canadian citizens is in front of them: Offenders now have the right to vote. This government refuses to do anything about it. However the government will not have to because when it is replaced in the next election, something will be done.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to correct a few of the inaccurate suggestions made in the speeches by my colleagues opposite.

The Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada made an excellent speech, although he did not remember certain facts which occurred during the course of the last Parliament in relation to the bill he was referring to, Bill C-114. It was passed toward the end of the last Parliament in a successful effort to amend the Canada Elections Act.

Had he been a member of the electoral reform committee which was an all-party committee established in this House that basically drafted Bill C-114, he would have been aware-

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:10 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

The hon. member opposite does not want to listen to this. I recognize that facts are always troublesome to members of the Reform Party.

It was a government bill but the basic outline of the bill had been designed by a committee. No matter what the hon. member for Fraser Valley East has said, there had been a previous court decision on this very issue. The law as it existed before Bill C-114 was passed provided that no person incarcerated in a prison had the right to vote. There had already been a decision, I believe by the Supreme Court of Canada, although my recollection is hazy. It has been some years since I have looked at this problem and I did not plan on speaking today, but hearing so many inaccuracies I thought I should try to correct the record.

There had been a court decision concerning the previous law. It was for that reason that when Bill C-114 came along, the committee considered the issue of the right of inmates to vote and came to a decision.

There was a referendum in Canada prior to the passage of Bill C-114. In that referendum because of the court decision throwing out the provision in the electoral law that prohibited all persons in prisons from voting, all federal inmates in Canada had the right to vote in that referendum. Some did exercise their franchise and voted in the referendum. If we listened to members of the Reform Party we would think the sky had fallen in but it did not. The referendum took place and those persons exercised certain voting rights.

Then the committee studied the whole issue and decided to recommend there be a limited right to vote for persons incarcerated in prisons. My recollection of the committee report is hazy. I will tell the member that I am accurate within two years. I am surprised he has not looked at this because it might have been relevant to his speech, but as I say, facts are troublesome to members of the Reform Party. The fact is the committee recommended that all inmates who were serving a sentence of seven years or more be permitted to vote. In my recollection that was a unanimous recommendation from the committee.

The Conservative government, notwithstanding the fact that it had a majority on the committee which agreed to that recommendation, decided that was too generous and so it opted for a two-year term. That is, every person serving a sentence of two years or more would be disqualified from voting. It meant that all federal inmates were automatically disqualified because by definition persons serving prison sentences in a federal institution must have been sentenced to two years or more.

I recall very well the day the bill was debated because I was the electoral reform critic for the Liberal Party. I moved amendments to this section because I said at the time, and it is on the record, that this section would be thrown out by the courts as being too restrictive.

Seven years was chosen based on the legal advice that the committee received at the time. We had to have something reasonable in terms of length in order to justify it under the charter of rights and freedoms. It was the committee's unanimous view that seven years was a reasonable time and could be defended before a court. It also constituted a reasonable restriction on the right to vote given in the charter which granted to every Canadian citizen the right to vote.

The members of the Reform Party want to take that right away from citizens that they consider unworthy of the right. Once you start inching away at who is unworthy you can start to whittle away other rights.

I know there will be some members in the House who might want to take away rights of members of the Bloc Quebecois to vote. I know there are some who would like to take away the right of members of the Reform Party to vote. I am not one of them. I am a firm believer in the principle that citizens should have the right to

vote. That principle is stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which I fully support.

I moved amendments that would have taken away any restriction. I moved a seven-year amendment. I believe I moved a five-year amendment in an effort to get a compromise that I thought could be supported before the courts and that would win the support of members of the House. The Conservative House leader at the time, the Hon. Harvie Andre, would hear none of it. He was insisting on the two-year rule and it was that or nothing. Because the bill had a lot of other amendments in it besides this one item, we agreed to pass the bill.

I remember the day we did it because some fancy agreements were made between the parties to get the bill through. I think it was a Friday afternoon before Easter or something like that. It was certainly a time before the House was to break for a period of at least a week.

I remember the day. This particular clause caused great difficulty because in my view it was unconstitutional and would be found to be so by a court. And it was. The surprising thing is that the government is bothering to appeal this. In my view it is a waste of money. This clause is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:15 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

We already know your view.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Obviously the hon. member shares my view in this regard, otherwise he would not have brought forward this motion. He wants to change the charter. He obviously shares my view that this is unconstitutional. He wants to fix it so that it will be constitutional. He wants to take away the right of all persons in prison to vote as I read it.

It says a penitentiary and everyone knows what a penitentiary is. He says everyone in a psychiatric institution should not have a right to vote. A person who checked in because he or she needs treatment for depression would not be allowed to vote. That is the effect of the hon. member's motion. That is why the committee when it considered this matter was so reluctant to move in this area. It was because of the difficulty in choosing who should be voting and who should not. It was an extremely difficult question.

The committee did not think it was something that it ought to make a decision on and ought to fix in the law. It was better to give the franchise on a broad spectrum, allow everybody to vote, than try to determine who is reasonable and who is not. If we went on reasonability I am sure we would have psychiatrists in here checking out some of the members of the House to see if they were suitable for voting.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:15 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Yes, and you would be the first.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

The hon. member says I would be the first one. I think I would find more of the opinion that he would be higher on list than where he put me on the list. I am happy to humour him by volunteering to undergo psychiatric observation for the purpose of determining whether I should vote or not if his rule ever became law.

Fortunately the hon. member was unable to persuade the procedure and House affairs subcommittee to make this motion votable. I assume he went there and made his pitch and the subcommittee members decided that this motion ought not be votable. There were other motions that were more important and I can understand why. The hon. member is really nit-picking.

There is a wide variety of opinions on whether or not inmates ought to have the right to vote. I am inclined to the view that they ought to have that right. I say that directly.

Taking away the right to vote makes practically no difference. There are something like 12,000 inmates in federal penitentiaries in this country. In the referendum, very few of them exercised their right to vote. I do not have the precise figures, but I would guess it was something around a third of that group at the most who exercised their right to vote in the referendum.

The same figure would apply in an election campaign. Most of these people would not be interested in voting and would not cast a vote. If they had the right, under the rules that were in place in the referendum which, no doubt, would apply during an election, their voting rights would be exercised in the area from which they came and not in the area where they are incarcerated.

I have a very large prison population in my riding and, frankly, I would not mind if they were each voting in Kingston. That will not happen. They will be voting across the country. If the hon. member does not think he can persuade some of these people to vote for him, I can understand why he might oppose allowing them the right to vote.

Most hon. members would find that in terms of the voting patterns of inmates, they reflect that of the general population. They are not a group that is going to vote as a block on any issue. In my view, the casting of 12,000 votes out of the millions that are cast in an election campaign would have practically no substantial effect on the outcome.

I know it bothers hon. members opposite to think that people who have been sentenced to prison are somehow exercising this kind of democratic right. I am at a loss to understand how it hurts the rest of us.

Canadian Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Member'S Business

6:20 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion presented by the hon. member, my colleague from Okanagan-Shuswap. I will read the motion again so that we know what we are debating today.

This is a motion that is meant to be a guideline for future legislation. We are not debating legislation now. The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider the advisability of amending section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to the amending formula provided for in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which amendment would read as follows: "Every citizen of Canada, except one who is (a) confined in a penitentiary, a prison, or a psychiatric institution, or (b) at large from a place referred to in paragraph (a), with or without a lawful excuse, has the right to vote in an election of Members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein".

I would like to touch on three areas related to this motion. First, I would like to talk a little about how we got to where we are, how we got to be in the House debating whether or not prisoners should be allowed to vote. It seems absolutely incredible that things have slipped far and we have to be here debating this motion today.

Second, I want to talk a little about what my constituents said when a court decided that prisoners should have the right to vote.

Third, I would like to discuss briefly the issue of people who have committed so-called less serious crimes and whether they should be allowed to vote.

What was the direct cause for the debate today was the decision in Sauvé v. the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. There are many other things behind that and I will talk a little about a few of them.

Prior to this decision, persons imprisoned in a correctional institute who were sentenced for two years or more could not vote in federal elections. In Sauvé, the court declared this law to be invalid because it violated the prisoners' right to vote under the charter and because there was no compelling justification for violating this right.

I would like to touch briefly on the purpose for removing the right to vote in the first place. Some of the reasons given was the enhancement of civic responsibility, the respect for the rule of law and the imposition of an additional sanction on persons committing serious anti-social acts.

The hon. member for Okanagan-Shuswap covered very well why prisoners should not be given the right to vote so I will not get into any more discussion on that. The question I have to ask is: Are these not far more important to society than the rights of individual prisoners? In other words, are these reasons given that disallow prisoners from voting not more important than the rights of the individual prisoner? I will talk a little bit more about that later.

The Sauvé decision concludes that disenfranchising prisoners would make prisoners feel isolated from the community, would impede the subsequent reintegration of prisoners into the community and would prevent prisoners from experiencing any of the rehabilitative effects which flow from political participation. These are the main reasons given by Sauvé in his decision.

Again, by removing the franchise from prisoners, Judge Sauvé reasoned that this could make prisoners feel isolated from the community. Well, prisoners are isolated from the community. The intent is for prisoners to be isolated from the community. That is part of the punishment and part of the deterrent for criminals to discourage them from committing crimes. The other reasons given by Judge Sauvé really do not make any more sense than that.

When my constituents heard that the supreme court had ruled that all prisoners, including people like Clifford Olson, would have the right to vote, they could not believe it. Few issues had sparked this kind of reaction from my constituents as this issue had. People just could not believe it had happened. They asked me how we had come to this. They wanted to know how this kind of thing would happen and how we had arrived at this. They also wanted to know how the court in Canada was making the law. They asked me whether it was not my job as a member of Parliament and the job of the House of Commons to make the law.

Those were some of the feelings, some of the questions and some of the reactions of my constituents to this decision. I wonder whether the constituents of the members across the floor, who are heckling and speaking out against the motion presented by my hon. colleague, reacted any differently. I doubt very much that they did. In fact, they have acknowledged that their constituents reacted in exactly the same way which does not surprise me.

How have we arrived at this point? If we could pick a pivotal time in history, we would have to go back to 1972. It was a Liberal government. I have seen the quote in Hansard where Solicitor General Goyer said that the Government of Canada should change the main focus and the priorities of the justice system so that no longer was the protection of the citizenry the most important focus and the top priority. He said that we should change that focus so that the rights and rehabilitation of the criminal were top priority and only secondary were the rights of citizens to be safe and to feel safe in their homes. It is unbelievable. That is not a direct quote; it is a paraphrase but it is accurate.

It was a Liberal solicitor general and the present Liberals have no different view from that. They still believe that the rights and rehabilitation of the criminal should be top priority. They are wrong and Canadians say they are wrong. The top priority should be the protection of our citizens in all cases.

Some people would argue that criminals who have committed so-called petty crimes should be given the right to vote while those who have committed more serious crimes should not have the right to vote.

I want to refer to something that happened in New York City a few years back. William J. Bratton was a former police officer who became head of security for the New York subway system. Bratton enforced this kind of environment in the subway system. He said all criminals, including those who commit the crime of writing graffiti on walls or panhandling, should be treated as serious offenders. He cracked down on this so-called petty crime.

By cracking down on petty crime Mr. Bratton lowered the serious crime as well in a dramatic way. When he later became the police commissioner of New York City he engaged the same policy to take petty crime seriously. When he did that the crime rate in New York City dropped dramatically.

When considering this motion it is important that people who commit petty crimes know that even a petty crime is serious and is a good enough reason to lose the right to vote.