House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

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

Division No. 1162Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I and other hon. members who stood up and voted twice on that voted in favour of the amendment.

Division No. 1162Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Division No. 1162Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. Could other hon. members who voted twice please let me know who they are.

Division No. 1162Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Division No. 1162Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. For the sake of clarity, I personally voted in favour of the amendment.

Division No. 1162Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the amendment lost.

The next question is on the main motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 1163Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from November 26, 1999 consideration of the motion that Bill C-223, an act to to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a related and consequential amendment to another act (protection of spouses whose life is in danger), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Calgary Centre has eight minutes remaining.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important bill, Bill C-223. For the clarification of the House, I want to drive home a point I was leading to when we last debated this private member's bill which was some time ago.

The bill focuses on protecting people who are in relationships when one person becomes violent and puts the other person at risk. The bill is an innovative and very needed approach to better protect spouses who are in abusive situations.

Under the HRDC ministry there is a new identities program. It is intended to give a new identity to a person who was in an abusive relationship so that the person can protect himself or herself and get away from that abusive situation and not be harassed and chased by the abusive partner.

The problem is that the current program in HRDC is on an ad hoc basis. It has been thrown together by some well meaning bureaucrats. It has no real mandate. It actually has no funding. Not surprisingly it has very limited structure. For people who have need of this kind of program, something that would protect them when an abusive partner is putting their lives and health at risk, it is obscure. It is hard to find out about it and to access it. It has had very limited application.

Bill C-223 intends to address the problem by moving the new identities program that is very loosely structured in HRDC over to the RCMP witness protection program. It already exists in Canada and is structured and funded. In a sense it would be a subprogram of the RCMP witness protection program.

By combining the new identities program within the witness protection program, participants would be registered with the police and under the direction of the commissioner of the RCMP. Participants would also benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the RCMP and the witness protection program. We have taken it from an obscure ad hoc program with no funding to something that is structured, already works and has the oversight of the RCMP. This is critical.

I can relate it to a story in my riding which involves a personal acquaintance of mine. We will call her Sally to protect her name. She is the mother of four children. She was married. Early in her marriage she realized that her husband—in this case it was the husband but it is not always the husband but I use this as an example—had become abusive to her. It got worse and worse. It got to the point where her life was literally at risk. Of course she had to remove herself from that situation but he pursued her and actually traumatized the children. It was a tragic story.

Eventually charges were laid. He was out on probation for a while. She lived in fear when she went shopping. Even at home at night sounds in the house would traumatize her because of the abusive nature of this relationship.

She went to the authorities. There was some limited support and guidance but there was not much she could do except sweat it out for well over a year. I think it was almost two years before charges were finally laid, a conviction resulted and the individual was incarcerated for a period of time. During that time she had some relative peace of mind. Of course he will get out one day and she will continue perhaps to live in the fear of being pursued by an abusive mate.

Bill C-223 as put forward by my hon. colleague would give a person like Sally some badly needed peace of mind.

It is essential that we put forward this kind of legislation. There are some statistics that will drive this point home. A simple change like this one would mean so much. It would save lives. Between 1977 and 1996 there were 2,048 spousal killings in Canada. In over 56% of spousal homicides, investigating police officers had knowledge of previous domestic violence between the victims and suspects. In 56% of the spousal killings, the police knew there was a problem.

It is just like the case of Sally to which I referred. She thankfully is alive and well at this point in time. I suggest to the House that she will stay that way, but 2,048 people—and they are not always women because it goes both ways, let me be clear on that—were killed by their spouses and the police knew about the situations.

In situations such as those, Bill C-223 would have allowed the individuals to apply to the RCMP witness protection program which would have under it the new identities program which is currently hard to access. They could have applied to that. They could have taken on a new identity and perhaps could have relocated. Details such as the cost of relocation would be worked out in the regulations, but certainly they could have had a new identity and could have established a life free from the threat of physical violence. Many people have actually died, but we would save lives with a simple fix to the structure that is in place today.

In that light I close by saying that it is time the new identities act be moved under the RCMP auspices. I encourage all members in the House to support this private member's bill. I encourage a speedy passage of Bill C-223.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-223, which seeks to amend the Witness Protection Program Act to include the protection of people whose life is threatened by their spouse.

In practical terms, this bill would provide greater security for women who are victims of domestic violence. We all know that the majority of those victims are in fact women.

Violence often occurs within a domestic relationship. Indeed, 80% of violent crimes against women are committed by a spouse or an ex-spouse. Moreover, domestic violence is rarely reported to the police. The women who are victims of domestic violence feel trapped and often cannot see a way out. They are often stalked and sometimes killed.

Bill C-223 wants to deal with this and avoid such tragedies. To understand the purpose of this bill, it is important to ask ourselves what measures there are to help those women who live in a dangerous domestic situation.

In its initiative against family violence, the federal government has adopted a number of measures to help such women, including shelters for battered women, psychological services and other social measures offering protection and prevention. The criminal code has been amended to provide more ways to protect the victims of domestic violence.

By way of example, the commitment under section 810 of the criminal code makes it possible to order a violent spouse to not enter into communication and to keep the peace with the other spouse on pain of criminal charges. These measures to prevent violence against women are vital and provide long term solutions. However, despite these measures, tragedies continue to occur all too often still. This initiative seems lacking in our opinion therefore and should also provide a safety hatch in the event of extreme and emergency situations.

Some would see the safety hatch in the program for victims of spousal violence called “New Identities”, which is run by officials of National Revenue and the Department of Human Resources Development.

Unfortunately, women and the police do not seem very familiar with this program. In addition, the assistance provided is very limited. It provides a name and social insurance number change, but not all measures are in place to effect an identity change. For instance, cases are cited in which the person benefiting from the program had been located by her spouse because old information had not been destroyed. The program has no specific mandate and no statutory or regulatory basis. For all these reasons, it appears quite inadequate to protect threatened individuals.

We believe Bill C-223 would be an effective way to help these women in difficulty. It will not solve the problem of domestic violence, but it will be an essential measure to deal with the most serious cases. This improvement must be viewed as an indispensable tool within the arsenal of measures available to deal with the problem of violence. This bill will make it possible to gather the resources to help the spouse whose life is in danger in a more structured and effective way than currently.

The Witness Protection Program Act that Bill C-223 would amend provides for the protection of witnesses whose security is threatened because of their involvement in a criminal case. This is what is currently in place. The act sets out the procedure to follow to determine if a person can be admitted to the program. The act says, and I quote:

Protection, in respect of a protectee, may include relocation, accommodation and change of identity as well as counselling and financial support for those or any other purposes in order to ensure the security of the protectee or to facilitate the protectee's re-establishment or becoming self-sufficient.

In short, it provides full protection. Women living in a situation of domestic violence can find themselves in situations as dangerous as witnesses for the prosecution. Therefore, they should benefit from the legislative and regulatory measures under this program.

Bill C-223 adds new criteria to deal with the tragedy of spouses who are victims of violence. The commissioner responsible for determining whether a spouse should be admitted to the program will consider the facts of each situation.

He will take into account the nature of the physical harm and psychological damage caused to the victim and the criminal record of the threatening spouse. The commissioner will also take into consideration a more subjective criterion. In that regard, he will consider the circumstances that make the spouse believe that his or her life is in danger. The commissioner will also consider the nature of the risk and all the other factors that he deems relevant.

It is all these factors together that will allow the commissioner to arrive at a fair and informed decision. The commissioner will also consider other possible forms of protection outside the program.

The measures provided in Bill C-223 are extreme and apply to exceptional circumstances. It is necessary to ensure that the protection provided is offered to those whose life is truly in danger.

The bill also adapted the concept of spouse to contemporary situations, to include a former spouse or any person who has lived with another person for a period of not less than one year in a conjugal relationship.

The exceptional nature of these measures leads us to believe that the adoption of Bill C-223 will not require additional resources. The annual report to be submitted by the commissioner to the solicitor general under the bill will allow the latter to monitor the effectiveness of that extension of the scope of the witness protection program to include women whose life is threatened by their spouse.

The Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-223. This bill is not the solution to the problem of spousal abuse, but it is an essential measure for cases of extreme conjugal violence. It is an improvement as an effective contemporary tool to protect women who are victims of spousal abuse.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I want to say that I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight and also to share some of the concerns of the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River with respect to victims of abuse.

I have a long history when it comes to issues such as this. I spent 10 years on the police services board and as chairman of the Waterloo regional police. We worked very closely with victims of crime and tried to do the kinds of things that are necessary to ensure that people who have found themselves in that kind of position and in that kind of situation were given every assistance in a way that was meaningful not only to them but to their families as well, and to ensure that an effective method of dealing with them was in place.

I must admit that we were pioneers in this area and tried to do it in a way consistent with the values not only of our community but also in terms of Canada.

I would point out that while Canada's equitable and effective justice system is one of the reasons this country remains a very successful place and a very attractive place in which to live and raise a family, no system is perfect. It is a sad fact that despite criminal code measures, broad preventive initiatives and assistance from shelters and transitional homes, vulnerable Canadians still have not found the solace and protection they need in society. Often, and unfortunately, these people are women.

Bill C-223 attempts to assist the victims of violence and the threat of violence in the home or from a spouse. I commend the member for taking the initiative in this area.

However, I also point out that violence in the home affects not only women but children as well. It is insidious and it tends to be self-perpetuating, transferring from one generation to the next. It is very sad.

A woman who leaves an abusive relationship must often move out of the province, moving from one safe haven to another, living a life of fear of discovery and fear for the safety and lives of not only herself but her children as well.

As members of the House we are all concerned with this very important issue. For far too long society has tended to ignore the facts of violence in the home. Because we have ignored it, it is more prevalent than it should otherwise be.

And so it is that I respect the hon. member's intentions in introducing Bill C-223. I believe it is right and proper that we should be focusing our attention on the issues of domestic violence and the protection of our children, and the victims associated with that violence.

That being said, I think we must consider that Bill C-223 may be the wrong instrument in this case. Bill C-223 recognizes that even after relocation some victims continue to be stalked, threatened or even killed. Sometimes the only remaining last resort and course of action is a change of identity. Bill C-223 would therefore extend the provisions of the witness protection program to victims whose lives are in danger because of domestic violence. That may be far from a perfect solution. I would argue, given the experience I had with the police in the Waterloo region, that it would be the wrong solution.

First, the objectives of the witness protection program are wrong for these victims. The program is run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as an aid to law enforcement, in particular against organized crime. Participants are people who have information that could incriminate themselves, but who would risk their lives by testifying. The program to provide protection to them is administered by the police, for police reasons. This is a far different group of people from that of the victims of violence and domestic violence.

Here we have a group of people who are desperate for help and, aside from protection, need counselling, self-esteem building and psychological help. I believe it would be a mistake, therefore, to lump these very much at risk and vulnerable people in with a quite different group of witnesses to organized criminal activity.

To be effective a program to assist victims in life threatening relationships must be quite different from the witness protection program. Such a program must involve provincial and territorial partners, because of the jurisdictional issues, to address the issues of security, health, counselling, safe housing, employment and the future of the children. In fact we should be assured by the fact that the Government of Canada has for some time been working toward such a program.

In previous discussions of this bill mention has been made of the ad hoc process begun by Human Resources Development Canada some time ago, of the experience gained and the evolution toward a national federal-provincial-territorial program for providing new identities to victims in life threatening relationships. This process, initiated by HRDC and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, helps victims and their children, providing them with new social insurance numbers and re-created federal social benefits.

Experience from this process has taught us some very valuable lessons. A change of identity is definitely a last resort. In the beginning there were not many cases. For example, from 1992 to 1997 there were 52 victims who were helped, but growing awareness has since increased the number to a total of 206 victims, with more than 300 children involved.

The ad hoc process was meant to be a compassionate government response to an obvious need, but the lack of formal co-ordination and interjurisdictional complications of changing a person's identity has made it necessary to seek a permanent solution. The government, therefore, is working with stakeholders to do precisely that in looking at the possibility of a more effective, specifically mandated national program.

Consultations have begun in this very important area. During these consultations there was unanimous agreement on the need for a co-ordinated new identities program. Governments everywhere that were involved were praised for bringing the issue to the forefront. Provinces and territories seem to be looking to the federal government for leadership in this area and that is precisely what we will be doing.

A federal-provincial-territorial working group has been established and is working in consultation with victims' representatives, operating under the umbrella of the social services ministers in consultation with the justice ministers.

Unlike many other fields of endeavour, there is a willingness to co-operate and get on with the job in this important area. That makes sense. Surely we should wait for it to complete its work before any legislation on these issues is put into place.

Therefore, while we respect the hon. member's intent, and we know that he has the best of intentions in bringing this to the forefront, we on the government side think that it is premature at this time. I would urge all hon. members to vote accordingly, knowing that there are other ways and other venues to approach this very, very important issue.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and also on behalf of the constituents which I have the privilege to represent, the citizens of Madawaska—Restigouche, New Brunswick.

Let me begin by stating that the PC Party will be supporting Bill C-223. I agreed with my colleague who, when this bill was last debated in November, felt that this bill might not be necessary, given the current criminal harassment laws and the protection given under the witness protection program.

Logically I would like to see increased spending on policing to protect spouses who suffer from domestic abuse. I would like to see more meaningful sentences handed down by the courts to send a message that the abuse of a spouse will not be tolerated. I would also like to see more funding directed to counselling programs for the abusive spouse and for the victim.

It is only through addressing these problems and correcting the behaviour that this type of behaviour can be dismissed and hopefully eliminated. However, the Liberal government has consistently shown that it will not commit to allocating the necessary funding to protect society from violent predators. Sure, the Liberals will proudly state that the recent budget allocated an extra $810 million for policing and protection, but it will neglect to mention that this allocation will be over the next three years and that 62% of the new money will not be available until 2001-02.

Thus, although I agree with my colleague that under a responsible government Bill C-223 would not be needed, I must agree that the government's dismal record in protecting the public, especially the most vulnerable in society, has made this legislation necessary.

Currently, abused spouses, most often women, endure a living hell as they try to protect themselves and their children from the wrath of their abusive spouses. We hear stories of victims moving into shelters or trying to escape to another city, province or even another country to get away from abusive relationships.

Sadly, these victims cannot remain anonymous and are eventually found by their abusive spouses. The result is often violent. In recent years we have heard of too many incidents where the results have been death.

Since the government will not take meaningful action to deal with these violent predators, Bill C-223 is a necessary means to protect these victims.

Bill C-223 is an act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a related consequential amendment to another act (protection of spouses whose life is in danger). It is an act to provide for the establishment and operation of a program to enable certain persons to receive protection in relation to certain inquiries, investigations or prosecutions and to enable certain certain spouses whose lives are in danger to receive protection.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada supports the bill. We have been consistent in our support of law and order, protection of society and victims' rights.

I feel that most of the amendments brought forth by this legislation already exist under the current witness protection program. However, I agree with the hon. member that the witness protection program is currently only mandated to protect crown witnesses and is not used for abused victims. Broadening the mandate is a welcome change.

I also agree that Canada's anti-stalking law can do nothing to protect a victim who is confronted by a violent spouse who has refused to desist or who has violated a restraining order.

I agree with my colleague that stronger laws to protect these people would be a better alternative than having the abused spouse change his or her identity and flee. Nevertheless, this alternative would require more meaningful, well placed funding which the Liberals have shown they are unwilling to do.

Therefore, if a change of identity is the only viable solution for the protection of the victim, then I feel that all members should be supportive of this initiative.

When dealing with a program such as this, one must also be cognizant that certain individuals may attempt to use the program in an unlawful manner. For example, some could try to use the program to obtain a new identity while trying to escape creditors. This will not be the case with Bill C-223 as there is a detailed list of factors that the witness protection program will have to consider before determining whether a spouse should be admitted to the program. These considerations include the nature of the risk to the security of the spouse, the circumstances that cause the spouse to believe his or her life is in danger, the nature of the injuries, psychological damage, whether the other spouse has a criminal record and whether alternative methods exist for protecting the spouse without admission to the program.

An example of how the program could succeed can be seen through the success of new identities for humanitarian reasons. This unofficial program, which began in 1992 and works through HRDC and Revenue Canada, does not reveal the names of those who conduct the program. As well, Revenue Canada ensures that the income tax history and child tax benefits of the victims follow them into their new lives without linking them to their past names. HRDC provides them with a new social insurance number and transfers their pension benefits. Police and women's shelters refer candidates for the program so there is no formal application process.

Presently the criminal code states that one cannot force someone to testify against his or her spouse. In many cases the victim of spouse abuse can give damning information that police and prosecutors need to obtain a conviction of the spousal abuser. Yet, as spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, spousal intimidation can play a factor and create problems in securing a conviction against the abuser.

Intimidation of witnesses in general, and spouses in particular, has had an adverse effect on the justice system for years. As the witness protection program is mandated to protect crown witnesses and not abuse victims, this intimidation could continue to occur in spousal family situations.

The new identities for humanitarian reasons program helps in this process but lacks needed funding and recognition in policing and counselling circles. If this type of program were allowed to be incorporated under the witness protection program, as suggested by Bill C-223, some of these problems could be regulated.

In closing, I would like to thank the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River for bringing this bill forward. I feel that it is a sound bill that will offer further protection to victims involved in the most severe cases of spousal abuse. Indirectly, it also brings attention to the lack of funding from the federal government for matters of public safety. Public safety has always been a priority of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and thus we will be supporting this legislation.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Grant McNally Reform Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into this debate. I will begin by congratulating my colleague from Prince George—Peace River on this initiative. It is one that he has worked on for a long time and one that is wrapped around a personal story as well, which is what makes it so very important. This is not just an abstract piece of legislation that talks about facts or statistics. It is a piece of legislation that has been developed to address a very serious need of individuals in need of protection.

My colleague from Prince George—Peace River had an individual in his riding who was affected by this type of situation. He explained that in his speech in the previous hour of debate. It caught his attention. It was a need crying out. Something had to happen because there was a vacuum, a void, within our current justice and legal system that put mainly women, who are involved in domestic violence and being abused by their spouses, at risk. The reason my colleague was compelled to bring this bill forward was to address this serious need.

I will comment on a few of the statements made by the Liberal member for Waterloo—Wellington who spoke earlier and rebut some of the statements he made. He gave some encouragement for the notion and the idea of this bill. He then went on to say that this was the wrong solution and that this bill would not solve the problem. He went on to say that we needed to wait and that we needed to consult or work with stakeholders. These are unacceptable solutions that he offers to a very serious need.

This is a bill that puts together a concrete plan to address a very serious situation. It is well thought out. It has some flexibility designed into it. My colleague has looked at the new identities program, which was an ad hoc program developed to address this need. It is a good start but it certainly is not a viable solution to continue on with.

My colleague also looked at the witness protection program and saw it as a vehicle by which spouses being affected in this type of terrible abusive situation could be incorporated into the program. It would obviously need to have some legislative changes happen and that is what this bill is about. The motivation for it is to fill a void and to help those individuals who are facing this really serious situation.

I do not think the 100 individuals who will die in our country this year—statistics hold out on this terrible tragedy that is occurring across the country—will take any solace in the fact that the government is looking at this and waiting. This is simply unacceptable. Individuals are being abused and murdered by their spouses in our country. It is a sad situation.

If we as legislators see a situation that is crying out for a solution and do nothing about it and say, “oh well, we will just get the stakeholders together”, well the stakeholders in this situation may not be around in a year if we do nothing. My colleague has brought this bill to the floor of the House because it puts together a plan to address a need and will save people's lives.

This is a plan that could be passed in the House within a matter of weeks or months before we leave this place at the end of this session. It could be passed into legislation and individuals could work on administering this program and making it work.

My colleague from the Liberal side mentioned that the current witness protection program was put together to protect individuals who provide information to the RCMP, and that this is the wrong solution. I think he lacks foresight or creative flexibility if he does not see that this is a program that could be adapted to include individuals who are being abused. Who is better to make this type of decision than the RCMP officers themselves who are the ones who respond when there is domestic violence. These situations are often very difficult for them to deal with. Sometimes they are the first officers on the scene after someone has been beaten to within an inch of his or her life or even killed.

Who better to bring forward recommendations than the RCMP officers who deal with these cases? They are in the inner circle and on the front line of what is happening. Who better to make some recommendations to the commissioner who would then decide whether or not a person should enter this protection program.

As legislators, this bill gives us a perfect opportunity to make a change that will affect people's lives. It will also save people's lives. We would be remiss if we let this opportunity slip through our fingers simply because we trust the government to meet with stakeholders, to wait and to develop some other kind of program. It is not working now.

The new identities program moves in the right direction but it does not address a bigger need and concern that this bill specifically addresses.

I urge my Liberal colleague to discuss with his colleagues the practicality of this bill and that it will work. I was encouraged when colleagues from the Progressive Conservative Party and the Bloc mentioned that they will support this bill. That is positive. If we do not move ahead now on this issue we will in many regards be held accountable for those individuals whose lives will be lost this year.

We come to this Chamber day after day, talk about different issues and policies and have votes. Sometimes there may even be abstract notions. People who are out in the general public have a hard time identifying with some of the things we do here. This is a very specific idea, a very specific answer to a very big problem. That is why we need to understand as members of parliament who have been sent here by our constituents that this is something we could do. It would be a very simple thing to do. It would be a shame if we let partisan direction from our party leadership or from any other source influence our decision, or that we would even have such a small vision that this is a particular program that cannot be expanded to solve the problem, reject it out of hand and not bring anything else forward.

My Liberal colleague did not bring forward any constructive alternatives, apart from saying that they are going to meet with stakeholders and we should wait. Why in the world should we wait when we have something here which would work, which could do the job and save lives? Why in the world would we wait any longer? For each year that goes by another 100 individuals will be murdered. We would be remiss if we were implicated by our inactivity.

That is why I strongly support the proposed legislation. I congratulate my colleague from Prince George—Peace River for bringing it forward. He has been sensitive to seeing a need and to looking for a compassionate solution which would saves lives.

I encourage my colleagues from all parties to support this legislation so that it could move forward and the program could be developed, implemented and put in place. Let us do it. Let us do it together. Let us make a positive solution to a very serious problem.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleague from Dewdney—Alouette in congratulating my colleague from Prince George—Peace River who introduced Bill C-223 in the House of Commons for debate and for a vote. I am very pleased to support the bill. I think it is not only important, but imperative that we support the bill.

Two Canadians, mostly women, every week lose their lives to their spouses in domestic situations. I ask members of the House and I ask people who are watching at home to remember the deep sense of shock and outrage that we all felt across the country when Marc Lépine went on his murderous rampage and took the lives of 15 young women in Quebec some years ago. Imagine, Mr. Speaker, two women every week in this country lose their lives to spousal abuse. In the House of Commons we have just over 301 seats. It would mean that one-third of the seats in the House would be vacant every year as a result of murder through spousal abuse.

Where is the shock? Where is the outrage? Why is this not something that we are being compelled to deal with? Why is it that we feel this sense of shock and outrage over the Marc Lépine incident but we are doing virtually nothing to address the issue?

I suggest the reason that this does not have the sense of urgency that it deserves is because these spouses, mostly women, are not dying en masse. It is difficult for the TV cameras and people in the media to get their heads around it. It is difficult for Canadians to understand the depth of the problem because it is not immediate, it is spread out over time.

I suggest that it is just as important and as urgent, and we should be as equally distressed and concerned about the lives of these women as we were for those 15 young women who lost their lives at the polytechnique some years ago. We should be taking strong measures, within the ability of this place to take strong measures, to protect these women. We should do everything within reason to ensure that we protect the lives of Canadians where we have the ability and the responsibility to do so.

I hear the Liberal member who spoke some time ago making comments. He suggested that we are taking the wrong approach. I really do not want to be partisan on this issue, but I cannot resist. The member suggests that my colleague from Prince George—Peace River is on the wrong track with this legislation.

Let us compare what this legislation attempts to do with, for example, the Liberal's gun registry, the $1 billion boondoggle that is supposed to save lives. We were told by the government when this legislation was introduced that if it saved even one life it would be worth it. Yet we have the ability with this proposed legislation to enact protection that would really save lives and we have the Liberals across the way saying that we are on the wrong track. Frankly, I do not buy it. I think that Canadians should do like Bill Clinton—do not inhale.

I cannot believe that we cannot come together as parliamentarians and see the need and understand that there is something we can do.

Some people might argue that this would be an expensive measure. Let us not forget that we are talking about two people per week. We are talking about people who might take advantage of this or who might seek protection under this legislation. This is not going to be something that is going to be taken advantage of by many people. To enter this kind of protection program people have to divorce themselves not only from friends but from family, their lives and everything they know, and start over again somewhere else with new identities and challenges, and no support from family and friends. It is a very difficult choice that people who might take advantage of this program would have to make.

On two occasions women came to see me in my riding looking for assistance because they were scared out of their wits. It is a shame that in this country in the year 2000 we have women who feel they have to go underground to protect themselves and to preserve their lives, but that is the case.

We had the case of a young lady in my riding, her name is Tammy, who was in a relationship with a man. She ended the relationship. The man went into her house, commando style, in the middle of the night, forcibly raped her and threatened her. She pressed charges. The man went to jail for 18 months. He has now been released, but when she came to see me he was on the verge of being released. She was frightened. She said “I did everything that I was supposed to do to protect myself. I did not do anything to bring this on. The guy came into my house in the middle of the night”. He went to the extraordinary measure of taking masking tape, rolling it up and putting it on his vest so that he would have it handily available to wrap around her wrists and mouth. He broke into her house in the middle of the night, violated her space and forcibly raped her.

She did what she was supposed to do. She went to the police and made sure that he faced retribution. But our criminal justice system is such a laugh in this country that he was only incarcerated for a relatively short period of time, and when he was on the verge of getting out she came to me and said “What am I supposed to do? This guy is a little bit angry with me. Surprise, surprise. What am I supposed to do?”

Tammy considered at great length going underground. She considered at great length changing her identity and relocating to another part of Canada, starting a new life with a new career and divorcing herself, cutting the ties with her family and friends in order to protect her life. Had this legislation been in place at the time that Tammy came to see me, it would have given her the option and opportunity to do that without her having to do it herself.

There are women right now in the country who are going underground. They are being forced to do it because our justice system is not protecting them. They are having to do it with their own resources and in a haphazard manner because they do not have the expertise and the ability. This legislation would provide them with an option, a way out. It would provide protection. It would save lives in contrast to the billion dollar boondoggle known as Bill C-68 which the Liberals brought in a few years ago.

In closing I urge all members of the House to carefully consider what is being contemplated here. It is nothing less than saving the lives of Canadians, in particular Canadian women. It can be done. This legislation provides the tools to do it. I urge all members of the House to take the opportunity to vote yes. Vote in favour of this legislation. Let us protect Canadian lives.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, this should be a non-partisan debate. Clearly this is an exceptionally serious issue that crosses all gender lines. It crosses all geographic and demographic lines within the country. It is unfortunate that the member for Waterloo—Wellington has decided to kibitz from the other side of the House. We treated him with respect. I would expect that he would treat our side of the debate with respect as well.

The member for Dewdney—Alouette and my colleague from Skeena were trying to make the point, which I will underscore, that the government not only has an opportunity but indeed it has a responsibility to the people of Canada to begin to act, to be acting now.

In doing some research prior to coming to this debate, I was interested to read the comments of the parliamentary secretary to the solicitor general. His comments were particularly revealing. After he used the same kind of words that the member for Waterloo—Wellington has used tonight, he came up with exactly the same point, that the government for whatever reason seems to be petrified to take any action that would actually go toward the saving of lives of the women of Canada who are embroiled in and sucked into this kind of situation. Not only women but children are involved in this.

After the parliamentary secretary had completed his comments that yes this would be a good idea, he said “We can and must do more. Education, counselling, prevention and other social service measures are essential if we are to do away with family violence. When all else fails, we must take steps against the violent partners. The federal, provincial and territorial partners have already worked on the development of a new identity program. There is always room for improvement but we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We need to build on what is already established. There are a number of unsettled questions”. Because of the time tonight I will not complete his quote except to say that all he could talk about is the fact that there are problems, there are opportunities, and they are working on it.

The mantra from the Liberals is that because Bill C-223 was not their idea it is the wrong vehicle. If this is the wrong vehicle, why does the government not come up with the right vehicle? It has 2,000 lawyers in the justice department. What are those lawyers doing?

Why is the government not giving direction to the justice department to come up with the solution to the problem? Why is the government just saying that the proposal of the member for Prince George—Peace River is not the right vehicle? If it is not the right vehicle, then what is the right vehicle and when is the government going to come forward with it?

We also have to recognize that within the confines of what can be done legislatively, there are problems even with existing law.

I am now out of time in this segment, but I look forward to the continuation of this debate. At that time I will talk about some of the problems with the existing witness protection legislation and then try to marry the two things together, what the member for Prince George—Peace River is trying to accomplish and what improvements are needed even within the existing legislation, the Witness Protection Program Act.

Witness And Spousal Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:32 p.m.)