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House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Official Languages

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. Pursuant to section 66 of the Official Languages Act I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the annual report of the Commissioner of Official Languages covering the period between January 1, 1999 and March 31, 2000.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(4)( a ), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.

Order In Council AppointmentsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table, in both official languages, a number of order in council appointments recently made by the government.

Pursuant to the provisions of Standing Order 110(1) these are deemed referred to the appropriate standing committees, a list of which is attached.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Human Resources DevelopmentRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Laval West Québec

Liberal

Raymonde Folco LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table the government's response to the report tabled on June 1, 2000 by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. This report is entitled “Seeking a Balance: Final Report on Human Resources Development Canada Grants and Contributions”.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Bloc

Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which represented Canada at the 103rd Inter-Parliamentary Conference, held in Amman, Jordan, from April 30 to May 6, 2000.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the chair of the Canada-Japan Interparliamentary Group annual visit to Diet members, September 4 to 10, 2000.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-501, an act to amend the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act (marriage between persons of the same sex).

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of tabling a bill today which would amend federal law to recognize the right of gay and lesbian people to marry. Currently federal common law restricts the institution of marriage to marriage between one man and one woman. This is a clear denial of the right to equality for gay and lesbian people extended under the charter of rights and freedoms which, by the way, was pioneered by the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The time is long overdue for recognition that the relationships of gay and lesbian people are just as strong, just as loving and just as committed as those of heterosexual couples. The bill in no way diminishes the strength of heterosexual marriage. It does not in any way affect the religious status of marriage. It would amend federal law to ensure full equality for gay and lesbian couples and to extend to those of us who are involved in relationships the right to marry under federal law.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Would the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt tell the Chair which of the bills standing in his name on the order paper he is proposing to introduce?

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I gave notice of this on Friday. I am not sure exactly what number has been assigned to it. It is an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I would like to inform the hon. member that the only bills we have on notice at the moment are an an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (hours of polling in Saskatchewan) and an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Canada Elections Act (fixed election dates).

I understand that notice may have been given yesterday of a bill and if that is the case it would not be on the order paper for introduction until tomorrow.

I am told the hon. member did file his notice on Friday last, after 2.30. Because the notice time had closed and since the House did not sit on Monday or Tuesday it does not count as notice time, so he has to wait the appropriate time. It counts as having been delivered yesterday for that purpose because he was too late on the Friday. That is why there is this delay. He will be able to do it tomorrow.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I realize now what has happened. Obviously as a result of the death of a former Prime Minister the House did not sit on Monday and Tuesday, so that is why this has happened. Rather than having to wait until tomorrow, I wonder if I could have unanimous consent of the House to introduce it today in light of the circumstances.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent for the hon. member to proceed with the introduction of this bill?

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

No.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today, as I did yesterday, to seek unanimous consent to adopt without debate Motion No. 37, which would seek concurrence in the second report of the official languages joint committee, encouraging that the city of Ottawa, the capital of Canada, be officially bilingual.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the adoption of Motion No. 37 standing under government orders on the order paper?

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Unanimous consent was denied to my request to introduce a bill today, but I believe that the hon. member who denied it may have misunderstood. In any case, I believe I do now have unanimous consent of the House to introduce the bill today.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to proceed with the bill at this time?

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-502, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (work for welfare).

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleagues for extending me the courtesy of introducing this bill today. The purpose of the bill is to require that every province will have in effect a work for welfare program.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 5th, 2000 / 10:10 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, presented on Wednesday, June 7, 2000, be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to move concurrence in that report and by way of background to indicate exactly why I am doing that. I have very real concerns. I know those concerns would be shared by other members of the justice committee, and certainly by other members of my party.

In June of this year the justice committee met to discuss a private member's bill dealing with the Westray mine disaster. The justice committee considered that bill. A motion was moved by me. A great deal of work was done by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. There has been a great deal of work done on this bill by the leader of my party, the hon. member for Halifax, and by the hon. member for Churchill in Manitoba. This issue is not just an Atlantic issue. It crosses all lines. There has also been a great deal of work done by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, our justice critic.

At the justice committee there was a rare and I think unique feeling when the committee determined that the justice department should bring back to the committee a bill giving substance to the spirit of the report filed after the Westray disaster.

There are rules that determine when the minister can respond to that motion from the justice committee. There is no requirement for an election for another year and a half. I am concerned, and I know my concern would be shared by other members of the House, that if an election were called and the House did not proceed to its full mandate this most important issue would die on the order paper. We would have to begin all over again in a new parliament, seeking to give life and legislation to the spirit of the report of Justice Richard and to bring justice to the families of those involved in the Westray mine disaster.

I do not need to repeat the history of that unfortunate day in Nova Scotia and, indeed, that unfortunate day in Canada. I will for the record indicate the brief facts.

As many members who have followed this debate will know and as many members who have led and allowed their names to stand as movers and supporters of this bill will know, it was on May 9, 1992 that the Westray mine exploded, killing 26 miners. The coal mine in Pictou was officially opened eight months earlier. Federal financial assistance was approved which permitted the project to proceed. There were very real questions surrounding the operation of that mine.

After the explosion on December 1, 1997, and after five and a half years of work, a four volume report was produced from the Westray mine public inquiry, entitled “The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster”. The report was scathing. Comments have been made by myself and by other members who have spoken in support of some kind of legislation that would prevent the same kind of thing from happening again.

I will quote, as I have before, from the words of Mr. Justice K. Peter Richard. He said “the Westray story is a story of incompetence, of mismanagement, of bureaucratic bungling, of deceit, of ruthlessness, of cover-up, of apathy, of expediency and of cynical indifference”.

The fundamental and basic responsibility for the safe operation of an underground coal mine, and indeed of any industrial undertaking, rests clearly with management. In this disaster there is no question that these labourers went underground into a situation where they ought not to have gone and they paid with their lives. There is no question that if this act had been done by an individual there would have been a charge of homicide. Because it is a corporation and because of all kinds of legal implications coming from that, justice has never been achieved.

In his report, Justice Richard recommended very clearly that there be a new criminal offence that would impose criminal liabilities on directors and other responsible corporate agents for failing to ensure that their corporation maintained an appropriate standard of occupational health and safety in the workplace; that there be a criminal offence of corporate killing.

We know the statistics. We know that almost 10,000 workers die every year as a result of their work and possibly because of corporate negligence. We know that three workers are injured every day on the job site. From the time the justice committee met in June until today, how many months, how many lives how much corporate irresponsibility have taken place? No mechanism exists in the criminal code for the courts to deal with this in the way that Justice Richard envisioned as a result of the Westray mine disaster.

I know that members from the United Steelworkers were at the justice committee hearing. They have done a tremendous amount of work on this bill. They have provided background notes. They have had legal counsel work on the bill. Everyone who was in the room the day the justice committee met was impressed with the spirit of co-operation from all parties that asked the Minister of Justice to bring forward legislation. It was a most amazing day. This crossed party lines. The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough worked very closely with us on this issue. The chair of the justice committee was moved by the testimony he heard from families who had been affected by the Westray mine disaster. Coming out of this was a moment when partisanship was put aside in the name of justice.

We face the prospect of losing, if not today perhaps in the next week or two, the momentum and the opportunity to have legislation brought forward if parliament prorogues and an election is called.

Today I am rising to remind the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Labour and members of the House of the importance of this legislation. It has been literally years in the making. It has taken the blood, the sweat and the tears of the families of the Westray miners to bring it this far. It has taken the perseverance of the United Steelworkers. It has taken the putting aside of partisanship by members of parliament.

I would like to hear from the minister, either tomorrow or when the House resumes on October 16, some indication that before an election is called—and I have indicated that there is no need for an election call—the legislation will be brought forward immediately to be given passage in the House in whatever form it takes to get it on the books and into the criminal code so we do not lose this opportunity.

I have concerns about that from a number of perspectives. As a lawyer who has dealt with the criminal code and as someone who has been interested in justice for a long time, I have a very real concern that when we have a report that makes a strong recommendation and it is not acted on, then the administration of justice falls into disrepute. Respect for the justice system is a cornerstone of any civilized society.

We now have a situation that cries out for justice. We have done the studies and have finished the report. We have agreement from the parties. We have to give life to that if the public, and especially the workers of this country, is to have respect for the justice system.

I also have concerns about it because I come from a coal mining community. The member who seconded my opportunity to speak today, the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, comes from a coal mining community. In fact, it was the coal miners in our community who went into the Westray mine to retrieve some of the bodies of the workers and who put their own lives at risk for their brothers in the mine. Those people have contacted me and the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton and have asked whether there is going to be legislation. They wanted to know if we were going to give life to this legislation so that workers who go down into the mines and workers who put their lives at risk in terms of labour every day would be protected.

Will there be some accounting at the end that says the corporation can be held liable for gross mismanagement, for negligence or, and this is where we take a further step, for malice aforethought, for deliberate actions, knowing that they can result in the loss of life?

I and other members have heard from our constituents and from people across the country who want this legislation passed. I do not think I exaggerate the urgency of bringing this legislation forward in the name of justice, in the name of the Canadian people, in the name of the workers of the Westray mine who lost their lives, and in the name of those people who came before the committee and testified in the most moving way.

I remember when the brother of one of the miners who was killed sat at the table and told his story of his quiet, dignified search for justice. It moved everyone in the committee to the point where we could put aside partisan differences and say that something needed to be done.

What we need to do is amend the criminal code so that corporate executives and directors are held accountable for workplace safety. This is not something foreign. This has been done in other jurisdictions. Such legislation exists in Great Britain and Australia, and there is a movement in the United States to review it. It is not something that is unfathomable or that has never been done in another jurisdiction. It exists.

There is an opportunity to examine other pieces of legislation. We have done that. I can cite chapter and verse of other legislation in other countries that makes it an offence for corporations to knowingly put the lives of their workers at risk in order to maximize profit, open a mine or make sure that the last shipment of goods gets on the train.

What price do workers in the year 2000 have to pay for corporate profits, and not even for corporate profits sometimes, but just to make sure that the order book is full and the work gets out?

In the Westray mine disaster, the corporation knew there were faults in the mine and knew that the equipment was not working safely, but it put great pressure on the non-unionized workers to go into the mines every day, and the workers went.

Some people have said that the workers had a choice and that they did not have to go. When I hear that I think about all the workers who go out to work every day in order to feed and clothe their children, pay their mortgage and be courageous citizens. That is their priority. They put their lives and safety at risk in order to work. To say that they have a choice, especially in the part of the country that I come from where the unemployment rate is high and the opportunity for work is minimal, is not so easy. To choose not to work is not so easy.

On the Atlantic coast, whether it is in fishing, mining, forestry or farming, we have a history of that kind of dangerous work. The first time I spoke to this bill I talked about what it was like growing up in those communities. What we know from growing up in Nova Scotia is the sound of the whistle when there is a disaster in the mine. We know what it means for the men and women on the fishing boats in the north Atlantic when we look out at the horizon and the storm clouds gather. We know what it is like in the steel mill when there is a catastrophe. We grew up knowing these things.

Accidents can happen as a matter of chance, but when they happen because a corporation has determined that the lives of its workers are not a factor in determining the balance sheet, then it is time for us to say that it is a crime. It is time for us to say that when a corporation knowingly determines to send men and women possibly to their deaths and it has the means to prevent that and does not, it is time for us to say that it is a crime.

I rise today on this motion because we said that in the justice committee. We sent it to the minister and asked for a bill to be brought back that would make it a crime for those directors and corporations to kill their workers.

We know we will hear it again today in question period and there will be some banter back and forth about when there will be an election. The Prime Minister may say that we will be in our seats on the 16th, 17th or 18th, but there may be an election call after that. Everybody has his or her own reasons for an election call. I am not afraid of it and am prepared to fight it. However, when we have important pieces of legislation in the making let us not put those pieces of legislation at risk.

I urge the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour to issue a public statement.

They do not have to because they have a few days before they have to report back to the justice committee. However, in the name of decency, in the names of the members of the justice committee who brought forward a unanimous report and of the witnesses who testified, I ask them to indicate within the next two days whether they will bring forward to the House legislation giving life to the commitment made by the justice committee, by the steelworkers and by the families of the miners who went underground and lost their lives. Anything less is negligence and arrogance on the part of the government.

We know this legislation is needed. That is not contested. We know this legislation is important. That is not contested. We know the legislation can be brought into effect. That is not contested. Why wait? Let us do it. We will have other legislation pushed through the House before an election call. The government has no hesitation about pushing through its EI changes. The government may have no hesitation to put through its health accord. In the name of decency, let us bring forward a bill that we can all agree needs to be enacted and give life to the Westray legislation.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, again my hon. colleague from Sydney—Victoria on the beautiful island of Cape Breton has given one of the more eloquent speeches the House has ever heard in the history of parliament.

The hon. member comes from the coal mining area of Cape Breton. If people across the country, especially the government and the official opposition, listen to what he said about decency and the protection of workers, by the time 5 p.m. today there is a good chance that three more Canadians will be killed on the job. That is most unfortunate and is an alarming statistic.

Bill S-20 is coming from the Senate on tobacco legislation and Imperial Tobacco seems to be 100% behind it. However, we have not heard anything about what corporations or multinationals think about this particular bill. Could the hon. member speak on the multinationals who support the Liberal Party and the Canadian Alliance? Does he suggest that they may be against the bill in order to account for themselves when it comes to this type of action?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question and I am thankful for the compliment.

I have not heard a response from corporations or the multinationals with regard to the Westray legislation nor do I think any other member of the justice committee has heard one. If they have, I have not been apprised of that.

They are silent because there is a recognition that this may change the way corporations do business to some extent. I do not want to use a broad brush to paint every corporation. There are some corporations that take the safety of their employees very seriously. They are to be applauded. They have nothing to fear from this legislation. There are some employers and corporations that work with the unions to negotiate collective agreements and health and safety standards. They have nothing to fear from this legislation and they should be congratulated for that.

It is corporations like the owners of the mine in Westray who, if there were any question about the owners' culpability in this, not only sent these men to their deaths but evaded the justice system. They refused to testify at a public inquiry. They hid behind jurisdictional questions of warrants to demand their appearance. The managers of that mine did everything possible not just to evade responsibility but to refuse to testify to help shed light on how the tragedy happened.

Those are the corporations, the managers and the directors who have something to fear from this legislation, as well they should. I think many of the corporations have been silent in that regard because that may be the kind of management they want. It would be most helpful, and I suppose it would help the corporate image, if those companies that believe in workers' safety came forward and said they were prepared to support the legislation. However, we have not heard that yet. I issue the challenge to every chamber of commerce in the country to read the proposed Westray bill and indicate their support and their citizen obligation.