House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.


Vimy Ridge Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Vimy Ridge Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

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

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been four long months since I first rose in the House last October to draw attention to the fact that the RCMP was engaged in the blatantly illegal practice of issuing unilingual, French only parking tickets within the boundaries of the national capital region.

This practice was then, and still is today, a violation of section 22 of the Official Languages Act which requires that:

Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that any member of the public can communicate with and obtain available services from its head or central office in either official language, and has the same duty with respect to any of its other offices or facilities

(a) within the National Capital Region.

Since that time I have had the chance to confirm the accuracy of my interpretation of the law with the Commissioner of Official Languages. She stated in committee hearings of the House of Commons that the issuing of unilingual traffic tickets within the Quebec part of the national capital region was as illegal as it would be on the Ontario side.

As well, on December 2 the Standing Committee on Official Languages heard confirmation that the decision on the part of the government to break Canada's language laws in order to enforce the mandatory unilingualism of the Quebec government, was imposed on Canada by the current Liberal government.

Mr. Marc Tremblay, the director of the official languages law group at the Department of Justice, informed the committee that, under previous governments, infractions had been issued in the Quebec part of the national capital region in a bilingual format, as they have been and continue to be on the Ontario side of the national capital region.

Specifically, an agreement was signed in 1996 between the federal government and the Parti Québécois government under the authority of section 65 of the Contraventions Act. It was this agreement that substituted the unilingual tickets required by bill 101 for the bilingual tickets required by the Official Languages Act.

It is that agreement that the Solicitor General of Canada hides behind when time after time he responds to my questions on this issue, as he did on November 1 when he said:

The RCMP complies with provincial legislation regarding the issuance of tickets.

However the fact is that such agreements are of no force and effect when they violate federal law, and this particular agreement is an egregious violation of the Official Languages Act.

Therefore, when the Solicitor General insists, as he repeatedly does in the House, that his government's agreement with the Parti Québécois supercedes its obligations under the Official Languages Act, he is incorrect. That just is not so.

Section 82 of the Official Languages Act makes this clear. It states:

In the event of any inconsistency between the following Parts and any other Act of Parliament or regulation thereunder, the following Parts prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.

That cannot be overcome unless the federal government wants to pass a separate law saying that it will change the rules so that it would no longer require federal services to be provided in a bilingual format in the national capital region.

Tickets still are being issued in one language only in part of the national capital region. This is against the law and it continues to be against the law. Will this practice stop or does the Solicitor General plan to introduce legislation to allow for unilingual infractions in the national capital region?

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec


Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, this very issue was addressed by the Solicitor General at the request of the member for Ottawa—Vanier when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages on December 2, 2002, to address this very issue in detail.

As the minister indicated to the committee at that time, the RCMP, when operating in the national capital region, is fully committed to official bilingualism and to providing services to the public in both official languages. The RCMP works with the Commissioner of Official Languages and continually reviews programs and resources to ensure service delivery meets the requirements of the Official Languages Act.

The RCMP also ensures that bilingual staff are fully integrated into the RCMP law enforcement where required, and this includes the national capital region.

The RCMP complies with the appropriate provincial regime regarding the issuance of tickets. This compliance is not only applicable in Quebec but is equally applicable and equally carried out in all provinces across Canada.

I have been assured that bilingual guidance is provided on tickets in Quebec. I cannot speak from personal knowledge because I do not drive a car. Therefore I have never received a traffic violation but I have been assured, on good authority, that bilingual guidance is provided on tickets in Quebec and that RCMP officers who are enforcing traffic laws within the national capital region can, and indeed must, provide services as requested or needed in both official languages.

The government is committed to public safety and service delivery in both official languages, and to this end the RCMP, as our national police force, provides bilingual law enforcement while respecting the requirements of both federal and provincial laws.

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the parliamentary secretary means by bilingual guidance. The fact is that the tickets being issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Quebec part of the national capital region are still being issued in one language only. They are being issued in violation of the Official Languages Act. Everybody acknowledges it. The quotation that I gave from committee was given when the Solicitor General appeared and it was given by an expert appearing with the Solicitor General.

We all know this violation of the law is happening. On this occasion it is not possible to comply with federal law and to comply with an agreement that was signed with the government of Quebec. The federal government has a choice. Either it is in favour of the Official Languages Act, the law of the land in Canada, and will follow that law or it will follow the agreement it signed with the Quebec government, a decision that was taken in violation of the Official Languages Act. It has that choice.

Given the choice, does the parliamentary secretary support the federal government and the RCMP following the dictates of the Official Languages Act in the Quebec part of the national capital region or does she favour it illegally following this agreement, which is of no legal force and effect? Which of those two does she and her government favour? So far it has been in favour of breaking the federal law. What is it going to do now?

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Lanark--Carleton mentioned, the RCMP works in the national capital region in a variety of roles and functions. One of its roles is traffic enforcement in Gatineau Park on National Capital Commission property.

When it fulfills its mandate in traffic enforcement, it is complying with appropriate legislation regarding the issuance of tickets in a manner that is consistent with the law. The RCMP complies with provincial legislation in Quebec and when outside of Quebec it complies equally with the applicable legislation in the other provinces across Canada.

Again, I assure the member that I have been fully assured that bilingual guidance is provided on tickets issued in Quebec and that the RCMP officers enforcing provincial traffic within the national capital region can provide services in both official languages.

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, on December 12, 2002, I asked the justice minister a question, which I would like to quote:

Parliament demonstrated its lack of confidence in the registry by removing $72 million from the scheme last week. Now the minister will be using sleight of hand to keep it on life support.

What programs will he take the money from to fund the registry?

The justice minister answered:

...I respect this parliament and as well, the notion of transparency.

Then he went on to talk about using “cash management”, but he never answered my question.

On February 18 of this year the justice minister was a little more transparent with the National Post than he has been with Parliament on how his cash management system-scheme really works. Here is how the minister explained cash management to the reporter:

[If there's] some project at the present time, [it doesn't mean] that you have to pay for your project right away. You may have to pay in just 30, 60, 90 days or sometimes more. It's not called a debt, it's cash management actually.

If the rest of us do not pay our bills, it is called debt. Only the Liberal government would try to convince Canadian taxpayers that not paying its bills was actually something called cash management.

While the minister is racking up millions of dollars of debt, has he ever thought what would happen if Parliament does not approve the spending necessary to pay those bills? It has happened before: on December 5. It has been 11 weeks now and the minister still has not given us a straight answer. Where is he getting the money to run the program? How many millions has he spent since Parliament cut off the funding for the program on December 5? How many millions in bills has he not paid in the last 11 weeks?

Now we have the little $77 million discrepancy for the minister to explain. This is the difference between what the Speaker says was actually approved by Parliament in the main estimates and what the justice department and Treasury Board officials are telling the media.

On Monday, February 17, the Speaker ruled on a question of privilege by the member for Sarnia—Lambton. The Speaker said that Parliament approved $113.5 million for the gun registry in the main estimates and that the $72 million pulled from the supplementary estimates was “additional” money.

Then on Wednesday, February 19, the Ottawa Citizen quoted a justice department official who said the $72 million was part of the $113.5 million budgeted for that year. Today, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix quoted a Treasury Board official who agreed with the justice department's version of the events and claimed that Parliament had only approved $35.8 million in the main estimates.

We understand the Treasury Board official sided with the justice department's version of events, but he had to get the $35.8 million number from the justice department and everyone knows how good the justice department is with numbers. Even the $35.8 million and the $72 million do not add up to $113.5 million.

When asked for a clarification today in the House, the Speaker said that committees of the House have the power to get to the bottom of the main estimates question.

Maybe the parliamentary secretary can clarify the justice minister's position for the record. His officials seem to have taken a public stand that is at variance with that of the Speaker of the House and the justice minister has kept Parliament in the dark for the last 11 weeks. We can only hope that the parliamentary secretary will be a little more transparent than his boss.

So I ask him, how much money has been spent for the last 11 weeks? Where is the money coming from? How much will it cost to complete the registry?

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for the opportunity to answer his question.

I must begin by reiterating that the firearms programs is more than a firearms registry. The program has been designed to improve public safety by controlling access to firearms and ammunition, deterring their misuse and controlling specific types of firearms.

The Firearms Act called for the licensing of all gun owners by January 1, 2001 and the registration of all firearms by January 1, 2003. Licensing ensures that firearms owners meet high public safety standards while registration links owners to their firearms, leading to greater accountability.

I am pleased to report that we have now passed the two major deadlines associated with this program and that the majority of firearms owners have complied. Over 1.9 million Canadians are licensed and over 6.1 million firearms have been registered.

With extensive and continuous background checks on applicants and licence holders, about 9,000 firearms licences have been refused or revoked by public safety officials. That is over 70 times more revocations from potentially dangerous individuals since December 1, 1998 compared to the total for the last five years under the old program.

As for registration, it provides the link between the firearm and its rightful owner. It works to enhance accountability for one's firearms, for example by encouraging safe storage, which helps reduce gun theft and accidents. The ability to trace firearms back to their owner also facilitates police investigations and helps crack down on illegal smuggling. This information also facilitates the enforcement of prohibition orders and allows the police to take preventive action such as removing firearms from situations of domestic violence.

Already law enforcement agencies across the country are making use of this valuable tool in conducting investigations and responding to incidents such as domestic violence situations. Police are accessing information from the registry on average about 2,000 times every day.

As I mentioned before, the government remains committed to this sound public safety policy, but it has been complex and expensive to implement.

The recommendations of the Auditor General have been fully accepted and we are already acting on those recommendations. We have committed to providing Parliament annually with more complete, accurate and up to date financial and management information regarding the program. The costs of the firearms program have come down and we are determined that they will continue to decline.

Measures are being taken to address all of the Auditor General's recent recommendations regarding the gun control program. On February 3, 2003 reports from independent experts regarding the Canada firearms program were tabled in Parliament. The report by the consulting firm KPMG examined a sample of the past transactions to determine if certain internal controls were followed.

Independent management consultant Mr. Raymond Hession examined the licensing and registration processes and made 16 recommendations for improving the management and operations of the firearms program. The recommendations contained in these reports are now being considered carefully in the development of an action plan which will set out how in the future we will reduce the costs of the firearms program and improve its efficiency, service and accountability.

During the review period, the minister directed that the program be run at minimum cost, which includes operating at essential service levels only. The withdrawal of supplementary estimates for the firearms program has been compensated for on an interim basis only.

At the same time, the Firearms Act imposes legal obligations on the Department of Justice to implement Canada's firearms program. While the program will continue to operate at minimum levels until the current program review is complete, there is no question that the minister has an obligation to ensure that the requirements of the act are met.

Operating the firearms program on a short term, cash management basis has not affected other programs in the Department of Justice. We are looking at the budget of the Department of Justice to manage the shortfalls. Expenditures such as advertising, contracting and travel have been reduced. This exercise is being done to bridge the gap between the withdrawal of the supplementary estimates on December 5 and the vote of supplementary estimates B.

As the minister has said before, implementing the program has always been a challenge and it is still a challenge. However, when we look at the positive impact it has had on our society, it represents values that are highly supported by the Canadian people.

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the biggest challenge is for Parliament to get an answer. Was the parliamentary secretary listening to my question? I wanted to know how much the program has cost. We did not get an answer. It did not even come close.

The parliamentary secretary went on and had this mantra about how this is gun control. It is not gun control. It is government out of control. The government does not even respect Parliament enough to answer the question.

The Auditor General complained that the biggest problem was that Parliament has been kept in the dark. I would like to mention something else that the Auditor General said.

The parliamentary secretary said that the requirements of the act are to be met. What did the Auditor General say? She said that the regulatory impact analysis statements of the Department of Justice that were to be followed were not followed. They were supposed to find out the costs incurred by the provincial and territorial agencies in enforcing the legislation and the additional costs incurred by firearms owners, firearms clubs, manufacturers, sellers, importers and exporters. All of this was supposed to be determined in order to comply with the legislation.

We have heard nothing about this. There is no answer here. It is a contempt of Parliament.

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.


Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the hyperbole of the hon. member, but the reality is the minister has stated clearly in the House that he was going to take the KPMG plan, take the Hession report and in fact build an action plan that he can present to Parliament.

In the process of doing this he is going through a review process that deals with the cost efficiencies and operations. The fact is all of these are being reviewed. They are dealing with the matter in terms of cash management within the context of the moneys that are available within the departmental budget.

Major expenditures have been stopped and frozen. Some hiring that was to take place is not taking place and some people are being laid off.

The reality is that everything possible is being done to run this program without in any way adversely affecting the most important part of this program, which is the government's continuing commitment to public safety.

Vimy Ridge Day ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:13 p.m.)