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House of Commons Hansard #13 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was document.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure of opening this debate on referral of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, to a committee before second reading.

As hon. members are aware, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its ruling in the Figueroa case last June, thereby throwing into question some of the key aspects of the Canada Elections Act relating to the registration of political parties.

Moreover, the court suspended application of its decision for one year, that is until June 27, 2004. Bill C-3 represents the government's proposed response to the immediate consequences of the Figueroa ruling.

This bill does not, however, necessarily constitute a permanent solution. The Figueroa ruling is highly complex, and a more thorough study of its impact is required. This is why I have written to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to encourage a broader examination of the Canada Elections Act.

I have asked the committee, moreover, to present all of its recommendations in the form of a draft bill, within a year's time. This is a concrete example of application of our democratic reform.

Bill C-3 is a very slightly modified version of Bill C-51 which was introduced in the last session of Parliament. It is imperative to reintroduce the bill in order to respond to the Supreme Court ruling within the timeframe provided by the court.

I will summarize the findings in Figueroa if I may, and then will set out the main thrust of Bill C-3.

In the Figueroa case, the Supreme Court declared that the 50 candidate rule for party registration was unconstitutional. It concluded that the 50 candidate rule as a condition for access to these benefits was incompatible with the right to vote, which is guaranteed under section 3 of the Charter.

In the court's view, the rule's impact on small parties infringed the right to meaningful participation in the electoral process. The court also ruled that this restriction on section 3 rights could not be justified under section 1 of the charter.

However, the court suspended the effect of its ruling until June 27, 2004. In other words, if no changes are made to the law before that date, the 50 candidate rule will cease to apply. This will leave a major void in the law if nothing else is put in to replace it.

As a result, any group whatsoever could readily register as a political party and take advantage of the tax benefits designed for real political parties.

This is the reason we must take action to ensure that the Canada Elections Act remains in effect after June 27, 2004.

Removing the 50 candidate threshold may result in a great number of groups calling themselves parties seeking registration simply to issue tax credits and access other benefits. Not only is this objectionable as a matter of principle, but it could well have a considerable fiscal impact. We need to address this concern in order to ensure that our fiscal regime is not vulnerable to abuse.

Not legislating to comply with the court's decision could well mean that further recourse to the courts will be necessary.

First, the government would likely have to apply to the Supreme Court to request an extension of the suspension period beyond the June 27, 2004 deadline. There is no guarantee this extension would be granted.

Alternatively, the courts may have to provide guidance to the Chief Electoral Officer on the applicable rules from that date forward.

In any event, the absence of a timely legislative response would create uncertainty as to the rules for party registration.

It is therefore incumbent upon us to do everything possible to protect the integrity of the electoral system.

The bill consists of two key pillars: party registration and accountability provisions, as well as a series of anti-abuse measures.

Based on the Supreme Court decision eliminating the 50-candidate threshold, Bill C-3 will now require parties to endorse at least one candidate. The bill also adds new registration requirements and other measures to ensure that parties seeking to register are legitimate parties.

For the first time, the bill adds a definition of “political party”. For example, one of the main purposes of a party should be to participate in public affairs by endorsing and supporting at least one of its members as a candidate.

Second, each party must have a minimum of 250 members, up from 100, and 250 members shall be required to sign declarations stating that they are members of the party and that they support its registration. Three party officers, in addition to the party leader, shall provide their signed consent to act.

From now on, the parties will be able to register during by-elections. Naturally, if one party does not put forward at least one candidate during a general election, that party will be automatically de-registered.

The second key pillar of the proposed legislation is a series of anti-abuse measures directed toward screening out fraudulent parties and protecting the integrity of the electoral financing regime.

For instance, the bill includes a new false statement offence for knowingly making false statements in relation to the registration of a party. Parties would be forbidden to solicit or receive contributions simply for the purpose of redirecting them to a related third party entity.

In addition to potential de-registration of parties, party officers could be held civilly liable if convicted of offences related to or leading to financial abuses and they could be ordered to make restitution to the public purse.

The bill would increase the powers of the Commissioner of Elections Canada to ensure enforcement and compliance under the act.

I would also like to briefly mention two technical amendments to the bill.

First, we eliminated a reference to January 1, 2004, and changed the date the bill comes into force, given the June 27, 2004, deadline.

Second, we are making a minor amendment to ensure that party officers can continue to act while an application for voluntary de-registration is pending.

As I mentioned earlier, it is incumbent upon us to study the broader impacts of the federal decision. For example, is the ruling likely to affect other benefits in the Canada Elections Act such as party and candidate reimbursements or the allocation of broadcasting time?

Finally, I would like to address the timeframe and the date on which the bill would come into force. Normally, amendments to the Canada Elections Act come into force six months after Royal Assent is given, or earlier if the chief electoral officer publishes the bill along with a notice to the effect that all the necessary preparations have been completed.

However, given the Supreme Court deadline, the bill would come into force on June 27, 2004, rather than after the standard six-month waiting period, unless the chief electoral officer announces it is ready earlier.

Furthermore, there is a six-month transition period for currently registered parties.

There has been a solid tradition of all parties working together on electoral legislation. I know that the work that will be done on this legislation will be no exception.

While we have to move quickly to address the Supreme Court's ruling, the government recognizes that the work of the committee is essential. That is why the bill and the request for the committee to undertake a broader review go hand in hand.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, first let me congratulate you on taking on the position of Assistant Deputy Chair.

When we first debated this bill in the House, this party, the former Canadian Alliance, expressed surprise that the government, despite all its resources of lawyers and bureaucrats, attempted to go through the process of changing the 50 party rule. Everybody here knew that it would not pass through the Supreme Court of Canada. We all understood that.

We are still baffled as to why a government, with such resources, would try to ram through such legislation. This is a democracy and political parties are the essence of a democracy. One would think that the government would allow a wide open area where people could, through their political parties, express whatever points of view they had. That is the essence of democracy; however, to bring in this 50 party rule is muzzling dissident opinion.

We pointed this out on many occasions. The member from Vancouver who studied this bill at length with other party members and even our former party, the PC Party, came up with the 12 person rule. This is a more reasonable figure. It allows for the concerns that the government House leader just expressed about the fraudulent use of special interest groups trying to take advantage of the bill that his government introduced recently.

A 12 person rule would have been sufficient. I am sure that if this proposal had gone to the Supreme Court of Canada, it would have agreed to the 12 person rule. Now the government has received a big slap on the hands and it is one person rule. The government is now scrambling and running to do damage control.

It is interesting to hear the government House leader say that it will return to the Supreme Court for an extension of this June 2004 rule. I do not understand that. We have debated this in the House. It is going to the committee and there is no need for an extension. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled, so let us go ahead and finish this issue of registration of parties.

He mentioned that there were two pillars to this bill: party registration and anti-abuse measures. Anti-abuse provisions are quite important in any legislation that is put forward. If there were no anti-abuse provisions in a piece of legislation, one would wonder how one would implement those laws.

There are new stringent rules in Bill C-3 coming into play during election campaigns. These came into effect January 1. Nomination and founding meetings of all parties, including ours and the Liberal Party, are all subject to Bill C-3 before the election campaign begins. There are a lot of candidates and people who do not understand the provisions of Bill C-3, including people in my own riding where the nomination meeting took place last week.

I would hope that Elections Canada, which is responsible under this provision, will take these anti-abuse provisions seriously. Without that, there is no point in making bills. There is no point if Elections Canada will not take the complaints that will be coming to it seriously. If it does not, then the whole essence of the bill and what Parliament intended to do falls through the cracks.

I am hoping that Elections Canada will not pass the buck because it does not have the resources to implement the will of Parliament in this case.

Coming back to the anti-abuse provision, I think we have an agreement. I will say that the government is worried to some degree about the abuse. We are all worried about the abuse. We will look at it in committee in order to bring improvements to this, see how we can tighten the anti-abuse provision, and at the same time maintain the essence of democracy, which embodies the free opinions of Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on this bill, which is in response to the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case.

As we know, Mr. Figueroa is the leader of the Communist Party of Canada and he testified before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the previous session of this Parliament, during the November 7 recess. Clearly, this bill needed to be reinstated as Bill C-3.

We will recall that, in that case, the Canada Elections Act was challenged by Mr. Figueroa. In 1993, the Communist Party of Canada lost its status as a registered party because it failed to nominate the required number of candidates. To be recognized under the Elections Act and by the Chief Electoral Officer, the parties must nominate at least 50 candidates. That is how it used to be. Mr. Figueroa challenged this decision all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in his favour, stating that the 50 candidate requirement for political party registration was unconstitutional.

This meant that a party could be recognized regardless of the number of candidates nominated, even just a single one. This means that a party could nominate a single candidate, and the Chief Electoral Officer would have no choice but to register the party and recognize it as a registered party.

The legal argument used by Mr. Figueroa, which the Supreme Court accepted, was that this 50 candidate threshold was in violation of section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to vote, among other things. The court ruled that the 50 candidate requirement was putting a restriction on the right to vote and, to a certain extent, on the development of smaller parties.

Members know that, in law, discriminatory rules may be imposed, but one of the tests the Supreme Court uses is to determine whether this element of discrimination is acceptable in a free and democratic society. This test is applied in many areas.

Without giving a lot of examples, I will mention the standards set for the height of an airline pilot. This issue has been legally tested. For safety reasons, someone too small or too big for the cockpit layout could not do the work of a pilot. For instance, someone who was 7 feet, 4 inches tall—my children still get after me for talking in feet and inches—was rejected because a cockpit is designed with a certain minimum and maximum in mind. Clearly, a person who is too far from the controls cannot operate the aircraft.

The company was, in effect, discriminating, but the issue was to determine whether that discrimination was justified or not in a free and democratic society. In the case of the Elections Act, the number of 50 candidates has been judged unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has told us that section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be interpreted rather broadly. Section 3, which guarantees certain rights, particularly the right to vote, is interpreted with reference to the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process, rather than the election of a particular form of government.

This definition takes into account the reasons why individual participation in the electoral process is important, in particular, respect for diversity of opinions and the ability of each person to strengthen the quality of the democracy.

A little while ago, I heard the leader of the government tell the House that it was important to do something about the democratic deficit and I made a comment to the hon. member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis, because we know that this is the government's new hobby horse. Ever since the events of September 11, September 11 has been the excuse for everything. Everything was a pretext to deprive people of certain rights—because of September 11.

This government has found a new hobby horse, namely that now we must fix the democratic deficit. Unfortunately the government does not always walk the way it talks, and the same old Liberal methods we have known for decades often still prevail.

The court also said that the members and supporters of political parties presenting fewer than 50 candidates meaningfully participate in the electoral process. The court held that the ability of a party to make a valuable contribution is not dependent upon its capacity to offer the electorate a genuine government option.

In committee, several experts suggested that perhaps the issue of 50 candidates being deemed unconstitutional should be appealed. We cannot appeal to the Supreme Court, but perhaps we could have another recourse to ensure that a number, such as the number one, is not considered valid.

Many people have told us that we should consider the possibility of recognizing a party that presents at least 12 candidates. I remember asking certain academics, “Why the rule of 12?” The professors of administrative law and constitutional law pointed out that to have official party status in this House, the rule had been set at 12 members. Consequently, the rule should be the same for the number of candidates nominated.

However, I would like to point out that I am completely against this parallel. A distinction needs to be made with the rules inside the House for recognizing a party with respect to parliamentary proceedings and debates. Short of 12, the party is considered independent or a group of independent MPs.

This happened to the Bloc when the party was being formed. I believe the highest number of Bloc representatives in the 1990s was 9 or 10 members. They were considered a group of independent members.

Consequently, the rule of 12 should not be placed in the context of the number required for official party status in the House, in order to be accepted by the chief electoral officer.

In conclusion, I would add that we agree with the principle behind Bill C-3. We feel that the bill creates new measures for promoting the registration of entities as political parties.

We also think that we must pay particular attention to the addition of a definition of political party in the Canada Elections Act suggesting that the primary objective of a political party should be to participate in public affairs. We need to know what exactly is meant by “participate in public affairs”.

We will be resuming work in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on this matter, and may decide to hear from other witnesses. Nonetheless, at this stage, we agree with the principle of the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, we are here this afternoon debating the Figueroa decision: that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the current requirement of a political party to field at least 50 candidates in a general election as a condition of registration.

The court ruled that this 50 candidate rule treated small parties unfairly by denying them three key benefits that are granted to larger parties, namely: the right to issue tax receipts for political contributions; the right to receive unspent election funds from candidates; and the right to have a candidate's party affiliation listed on the ballot.

This treatment was found to be unequal and to infringe upon the right of citizens to participate in a meaningful way in the electoral process, as protected by section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As was pointed out by the government House leader, the court did suspend its decision, or the effect of its judgment, for one year until this June 27 in order to allow Parliament time to bring forward the necessary changes to the Canada Elections Act.

The government is telling us that it believes the bill before us strikes an appropriate balance between fairness to the parties and the need to preserve the integrity of the electoral system.

The prerequisites are that the party have at least 250 members who have signed statements declaring that they are members of the party and support its registration, and that one of the party's fundamental purposes must be to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election, and that the party leader make a declaration to that effect.

That is the background to why we are debating this today. Of course with the prorogation of the House last November, the bill had to come back to be dealt with in order to meet the Supreme Court's requirement. It will require the amendment of the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

I agree with the Supreme Court decision that fifty is too high a threshold, but I also wonder at the same time whether the number one is not too low. I will raise some of that as I go through the remaining moments that I have available.

As I said before, the fifty rule was struck down because small parties were treated unfairly and that did infringe on the rights of citizens to participate in a meaningful way, but if fifty is too high, is one too low? Let me delve into the example of the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt. It may be instructive for members of the House to consider it in that light.

Here is a member who appears to be a total political misfit in the House. He was elected as a member of the Reform Party in 1997. He was not welcome in the Reform Party, he was not welcome in the Progressive Conservative Party, and he appears, so far as we can tell, to be unwelcome in the newly formed Conservative Party. One assumes, because we are all trying to maximize the number of members we have here, that his views are simply too extreme for any political entity, for any political party in the House. That is the background.

Under the proposed bill as it has been laid out, there is nothing that would prevent this individual from continuing to raise money, to retain any unspent election funds and to continue on in his way, a way that is more destructive than instructive. It is fair to say that it is difficult for independents to win re-election, and the odds of this oddball member returning to Parliament Hill after the next general election are probably not very high.

Let me just stop here and say that I am one who very much favours freedom of speech. I basically agree with the notion that I may disagree with everything the member says but I will go to my grave in order to give him the right to say it. However, I am not sure that in giving him the right to say it we should necessarily be funding it. I do not think I would necessarily go that far in my libertarian view of the world.

My concern is that the bill is going to give more oddballs an opportunity to gain notoriety and have the right to raise and keep money. It certainly does not mean that they are likely to win political office, but it will do little to enhance the idea that more good people will want to seek office because of them.

The member from the Bloc Québécois who spoke before me referred to the Supreme Court decision as a unanimous decision, or at least that is the way it came across in the translation; perhaps it was an error. It is my understanding that it was not a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court. It was a five to three decision on the idea of this business of reducing it to one.

I am saying that fifty is too high, but I am clearly not arguing in favour of one. I like the arguments by the members of the Supreme Court who stated that it would be possible to enhance democratic values without so large a threshold, without reducing it all the way down to one member.

I think that perhaps twelve is too high a test, as the member from the Bloc Québécois said. Perhaps four or six members would meet the test, but I am not sure why we went to the lowest common denominator of just one. I agree with the court that this rule can be over- or under-inclusive and is potentially subject to manipulation. Fifty is obviously under-inclusive, but one may very well be over-inclusive.

Fifty, as pointed out in Bill C-24, has a disparate impact in that registration of a single political party at the federal level can occur only currently in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. If we had a political rights party, for example in Saskatchewan or Manitoba where there are only fourteen seats available in each of those provinces, the fifty rule is obviously too high a threshold and would not apply. Obviously we need something that is considerably lower than fifty, but one, to my mind, is too low. In fact, it reminds me of the Groucho Marx line: “I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”.

I also recall Churchill, who said:

It may be that vengeance...is sweet, and that the gods forbade vengeance to men because they reserve for themselves so delicious and intoxicating drink. But no-one should drain the cup to the bottom. The dregs are often filthy-tasting.

I think reducing the number to one means that there will be far more dregs and drudges in the political system, and that is not going to encourage informed debate and make more informed political discussion.

In conclusion, let me say that we support the bill, but we have serious concerns about the reduction to one. We are glad that it is going to committee where these arguments can be made in an endeavour to improve the overall content of the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate on the bill before the House. In fact, this concerns the referral to committee of Bill C-3, to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

Obviously, we agree with the underlying principle of the bill, which is to amend the Canada Elections Act to recognize small political parties. We must make a distinction here between a registered political party and a party recognized in the House, as my colleague from Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans mentioned earlier. Previously under the Canada Elections Act, as the Supreme Court ruling stated, a party had to endorse a minimum of 50 candidates during a general election in order to be a registered political party.

This was extremely difficult for small political parties. For example, a new political party had to endorse 50 candidates, have at least 50 ridings with a candidate, who, in my opinion, had few means to make their ideas heard. This presented various difficulties in many ridings.

We agree with the amendments to the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act recommended by the Supreme Court. Naturally, we agree with the principle underlying this bill. Various things will have to be clarified to ensure that a political party is defined. This will require careful attention. What does political party mean? What does it mean in practical terms?

A clear and precise definition is required. That is why this bill must be considered in committee and amended if need be. We need and must agree on a real definition, in order to prevent organizations—I will not mention any names—without any interest in public affairs from being recognized as political parties and benefiting from tax credits normally given to political parties.

This also gives us an opportunity to talk about what democracy is. In the Bloc Quebecois, we had adopted the tradition promoted by the Parti quebecois during the 1970s concerning electoral legislation. We set ourselves the objective of getting the most people possible involved. It was our true and clear intention to recruit many members in order to enable the population as a whole to express itself at all levels of the party, from the local to the national levels in Quebec.

Over the years, I believe the Bloc Quebecois has achieved that objective. First of all, the Bloc banked on the public funding of a political party. As well, it has defended in the House, pretty much consistently, the changes required to the Elections Act, so that, among other things, corporate contributions to political parties would now be banned.

Finally, this past year, after a great many years of major debates, the Bloc Quebecois succeeded in having federal politics cleaned up, as Mr. Lévesque had done in Quebec. This is very important, because this kind of approach made it possible to improve Quebec politics and will, I hope, have the same effect on federal politics.

With all that is going on, and has gone on, we are still far from the objective of this new law. I hope we will be able to solve this problem at the federal political level. This past week, with all of its focus on sponsorships, we were hearing that this was how politics works in Quebec. A statement like that is totally false.

We know very well that politics in Quebec have been cleaned up since the 1970s, and such things could never have happened under our present electoral legislation. Our elections act was brought in by the Parti quebecois and has been upheld by subsequent governments. It has the approval of the National Assembly and of the people of Quebec.

When we hear such statements, we know they are totally unacceptable. A person would really have to be lacking in judgment and knowledge to say such things.

That also gives us the opportunity to say that in order for our democracy to exist and flourish, it is necessary that the public be able to participate. Of course, if more opportunities are opened up for the creation of political parties that will defend different opinions and different ideals, that can only be healthy for democracy, because it will encourage more citizens to participate in democratic life.

Considering the recent history of general elections, we see that there has been a gradual disaffection of the citizens with politics, particularly federal politics, if we look at the percentages of people who bother to get out and vote.

At present, there is a danger in letting things slide, making it easy for citizens not to be involved in or committed to a political party or even politics in general. If we want democracy to continue to exist and flourish and have the effects we all hope it will have, it is essential that the majority of people go to the bother of voting and participating in our democracy. In a democracy, the usual method of participating and sharing ideas involves political parties.

We are in favour of an amendment to the bill. In any event, the Supreme Court gives the government no choice. The Elections Act has to be amended and so does the Income Tax Act so that political parties wanting to register are able to sell memberships and collect contributions. All this will be done within the new framework established following much debate and the Bloc Quebecois' incessant demands that federal government politics be cleaned up.

The Supreme Court gave the government one year to achieve this objective. At the end of that year, the need to present 50 candidates will be eliminated. From the Supreme Court ruling to the end of the one-year deadline, the bill has to be adopted and the necessary changes made. It is absolutely imperative that through this bill, we give small political parties every opportunity to form and express their points of view and ideas.

Naturally, several changes have been proposed by the government. We probably will not agree with all the changes presented and I think that is normal, but they have to be closely examined in committee.

For instance, we are told that for a party to be formed, it needs at least 250 members who have signed a statement declaring their membership in the party. That is the minimum. To create and register a party, to have it prosper and to have candidates in each riding, a membership of 250 is not much. We should perhaps reconsider this requirement to ensure that the political party is serious about registering. Our democracy needs to benefit from this. Contrary to what might happen, democracy must not be ridiculed, but applied properly. The public must be able to take part in it.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in this debate on Bill C-3 to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act following a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Figueroa. Mr. Figueroa is the leader of the Communist Party, who challenged the legality of the bill, and the court ruled in his favour.

In essence, he challenged a party's requirement to endorse at least 50 candidates in order to be recognized and be able to register with the Chief Electoral Officer. In this respect, the court found that the requirement was absolutely contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in that it infringed the right of citizens to vote for a party that did not nominate 50 candidates.

For example, a party might register and nominate only 10, 12, 15 or 18 candidates, but it was prohibited from doing that under the old legislation because it did not have at least 50 candidates.

I remember when the Bloc Quebecois was established. I was involved in the Bloc Quebec in the early 1990s. We were unable to issue valid income tax receipts to members who made campaign donations, because we were not officially a party at the time.

When the election was called in 1993, we rushed to register and file our official nominations to ensure we would meet the 50 candidate requirement as quickly as possible so that the party would be officially recognized by the Chief Electoral Officer as soon as possible and be able to issue valid income tax receipts to those who financially supported us.

In a unanimous decision, according to some, and a majority 5-3 decision, according to others—I do not know the specifics, but if it was five to three, it was at least a majority decision—the Supreme Court set a deadline: June 27, 2004.

The government must therefore amend the Elections Act by June 27, 2004. Otherwise, there will be a legal vacuum. What we have now will no longer be legal, because it will contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If we do not act now, we will have no replacement. Consequently, anyone could claim they can register a political party without meeting the requirements for recognition.

As the government House leader pointed out earlier in his speech, the government moved extremely quickly in this bill. The loophole was to be eliminated by June 27, 2004.

However, while we are debating this bill, which will go to the Senate and which will undoubtedly have to be passed before the House prorogues, this time for an election, it is important that this be done this time. The government is setting conditions for registering a political party. It also asked the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine this rather complex issue so that we can deal with it in proper fashion. Then, with a new government after the election, we could come back with a bill which, this time, would have been properly reviewed and which could set ideal conditions for the registration of a political party.

We will then be able to register a party that endorses at least one candidate.

The requirement is not unreasonable. For example, if an individual wants to be the leader of a party because he wants the experience, he can choose a riding and find 250 supporters and three officers to help him run his party. As long as there is a candidate and the two conditions that I just mentioned are met, the party could be recognized as an official party, and could recruit members, legally collect money and issue valid tax receipts, pursuant to what is provided for political parties as regards tax deductions.

The Bloc Quebecois supports the underlying principle of this bill, which amends the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. However, as I said, although we support this legislation, we are convinced that we will have another opportunity to address this issue after the general election and after the government has let a committee review it and make any necessary amendments.

We support this bill because its seeks to make it easier for any citizen to play a major role in the electoral process, and not as a function of the election of a given government. It is important to facilitate the democratic process as much as possible.

As my hon. friend from Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans was saying—and we have talked to each other about this—the government must not get into the habit of mentioning the democratic deficit the same way it talked about September 11 and post-September 11, so that it becomes a sort of hobby horse and eventually nothing but an empty shell.

The goal we should be seeking in this amendment is to use the greatest possible care to create the best possible democracy, and not just a mock democracy. People must truly feel that it is possible to have divergent opinions within Canada and to express themselves within political parties.

In the bill, there is a definition of “political party”. Any citizen who wants to consult this bill, which I imagine will soon become law, will be able to find out that he or she may, with a group of like-minded people, create a political party if the existing parties do not offer an ideology and values that correspond to what that person is and what that person wishes for the society in which he or she lives.

It is important that every citizen have access to the necessary information. The bill sets out in the simplest possible terms what a political party is and the conditions for establishing one. It should be passed as quickly as possible, given the deadline the Supreme Court has imposed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Davenport, Environment.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-3, to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

Our party whip, the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans spoke eloquently, as did my colleague from Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis who was very informative about the scope of these legislative amendments—and the Prime Minister will like this—to compensate for the lack of democracy in this country.

People talk about democratic imbalance. In my opinion, this bill seeks to amend—and I see that the President of the Treasury Board fully agrees with me—this democratic deficit, although I said imbalance.

Unfortunately, it is different for certain groups with very specific ideas on a particular subject. We need only think of the Green Party which, in those ridings where it is active, promotes ideas that perhaps some find a bit utopian.

However, these ideas need a framework and can be presented in a democratic framework so as to contribute to democratic debate. An idea can seem far-fetched during a particular period in our political or historic evolution, but then lead to bills, philosophies and very interesting policy directions.

Consequently, I believe that it is important to make it easier for political parties to exist so they can present their ideas to the public, thereby improving the democratic process and participation in the democratic process.

In election after election, voter turnout—and directly, the interest level—drops. Such modest measures may encourage the interest of more marginal groups that have important and interesting ideas to bring to the public debate during an election campaign.

Perhaps we will have groups of individuals who will, in different provinces, join forces to address the issue of government spending. The Green Party focused on the environment, but perhaps there will be a party focusing on government spending. I am thinking, in particular, of the $2 billion wasted on the firearms registry.

Then there is the $100 million wasted on two planes. And the talk of another $1 billion wasted at Human Resources Development. The minister has dissociated himself from that department in order to sidestep any questions. There is the $250 million sponsorship scandal. Maybe we will have groups created specifically to address this aspect.

The democratic deficit is directly linked to confidence in our elected representatives. Unfortunately—and this is a message for our Liberal colleagues—their reputations are being blackened by the sponsorship scandal, but so is the reputation of politicians as a group.

What are we hearing in all the various public forums? “Well, there you go. We all know that's what politicians are like”. Yet the scandal is on only one side of this House, the Liberal side, but it has sullied the political reputations of the members of the Bloc Quebecois, the Conservatives and the NDP. What is more, it is spreading to include the reputations of politicians in the provincial legislatures or the Quebec National Assembly.

The democratic deficit is directly connected to trust, which the government has shunted aside far too long ago, in order to look out for its friends. It has managed to pull off quite the little money laundering scam.

One wonders what would have happened if all these efforts had been put towards measures to help the disadvantaged. Not all public servants were involved; on that I agree with the Auditor General. It was a small group. What would have happened if the efforts of the political staff, the ministers, the deputy ministers, all the people involved, had been put towards helping seasonal workers find jobs, instead of camouflaging financial transactions in order to funnel money into riding trust accounts or the Liberal Party's coffers?

These efforts and funds ought to have been put toward helping the homeless find affordable and slightly more accessible housing. All the effort that has gone into hiding money from the taxpayers and the Auditor General should have gone into helping the disadvantaged deprived of the guaranteed income supplement.

I think that efforts have been made, but that they were misdirected and took the form of wrongdoing. Had they been channeled toward more noble goals, we would have a more equitable society today. Fewer political parties could be established under Bill C-3. People would have greater confidence in the political system, which means that participation in the electoral or political process would be encouraged and Bill C-3, which is important in our community and our political reality, would probably become less useful or necessary, so to speak.

I welcome the opportunity provided by Bill C-3 to amend the Elections Act to comment briefly on the matter. Another amendment to the legislation concerns the electoral boundaries readjustment. At present, the riding of Repentigny is made up of five municipalities, three of which—Lachenaie, Mascouche and La Plaine—will be attached to a different riding under the new legislation that is likely to take effect on April 1.

I would like to take the opportunity that comes with discussing a bill to amend the Elections Act, to tell mayors, city councillors, journalists, stakeholders and people of influence in these municipalities, before the electoral boundaries are redefined, what a great pleasure and privilege it has been to represent them for more than 10 years, from 1993 to the present. It has been a great privilege for me to get to know them and to work with them on developing lasting projects that will benefit the public. It was a great privilege to work with people who are dynamic, very much in the know, and involved in their community.

I would like to take the opportunity that comes with this bill to amend the Elections Act, to say hello to these people. My heart will always be with them. My colleague from Berthier—Montcalm, who will replace me—we are very optimistic about the election—will represent them very well.

To come back to Bill C-3, as my colleague from Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis said, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with this bill for improving democracy. We also agree with checking whether the proposed amendments are consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The requirement to have at least one candidate in an election seems quite obvious to me. If a political party is created, there has to be a candidate. This is at least logical, if not consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, to be present in an election campaign, a party must have at least one candidate.

There also have to be 250 members who have signed a statement declaring their membership in the party. I believe that is the minimum requirement to have representation. It is not a question of two or three friends talking one day and deciding they will form a party. There needs to be a basic structure.

There need to be three officers of the party, three officials who will be in charge of issuing tax receipts or handling financial aspects to allow the political party to grow and convey its ideas. It is for that reason we must ensure that the bill is carefully worded and that democracy is even more vibrant in this country.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this bill.

It might be well to remind those watching why there is a bill before us to amend the Elections Act. It is because a challenge was made before the Supreme Court to have political parties recognized even if they have fewer than 50 candidates.

To ensure a healthy and quality democracy that allows each person to express himself or herself appropriately, the court decided to give us, the legislators, one year to correct the situation. Since we are in the second part of an electoral term, these new provisions must be implemented as soon as possible. I hope that the bill will become law and enter into force, if possible, in time for the next election, or, if that is not technically possible, then compliance with the spirit might be possible in the next election.

It was a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court judges, who declared that it is unconstitutional to oblige political parties to nominate a minimum of 50 candidates in an election in order to be recognized as a registered party. In fact, what is the minimum number of candidates? That is the question the Supreme Court asked. The bill before us contemplates the minimum, providing that if there is one candidate, a party can be recognized. With that, it is believed that the new law will satisfy the requirements expressed by the Supreme Court.

Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be understood with reference to the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process, rather than the election of a particular form of government. This definition takes into account the reasons for which individual participation in the electoral process is important, particularly respect for diverse opinions and the capacity of individuals to enhance democracy.

The bill seeks in some way to reinstate the conditions in place in the beginnings of democracy. When countries established democratic regimes, when the first experiments were taking place, people with differing opinions formed parties and this came to be the legislative machinery we have today. This is what underlies the ability of citizens to express their opinions and to select the person they want to represent them.

The Supreme Court has finally set us straight, so that any individual wishing to express an opinion may do so, through the political party of his or her choice, and not just through those political parties which enjoy sufficient visibility to field 50 candidates. The 50 candidate limit posed a problem to the Supreme Court, and the intent of this bill is to remedy the present situation.

The Court pointed out that political parties fielding fewer than 50 candidates also play a worthwhile role in the electoral process. It argued that a political party's ability to make a valuable contribution to the electoral process did not depend on its ability to constitute for the electorate a real alternative to the outgoing government. If anyone understands that, it is the members of the Bloc Quebecois.

Hon. members are aware of the contributions the Bloc Quebecois has made to this Parliament in the time we have been here. Over the past two years, people will have noted that we have raised the sponsorship issue more than 441 times. With each time, we have taken one more step toward the day we hope to finally get to get this matter completely out in the open. A political party like the Bloc Quebecois has no intention of assuming power in Canada. Our goal is to make Quebec a country. We have, however, made a worthwhile contribution in this Parliament.

Possibly other parties fielding fewer than 50 candidates could, during election campaign debates, at least, present interesting opinions, possibly those of the regions. Some parts of Canada might want to be represented by a party that fielded fewer than 50 candidates.

Let us think, for instance, of the Inuit population, or the inhabitants of the Canadian far north. They may not find themselves reflected in the federal political parties currently available. They might consider forming a political party. They do not, of course, have the interest or the capacity to round up more than 50 candidates, but they would still deserve to be represented in this House, and that is what the measure we are looking at now should make it possible for them to do.

The court stated further:

—[the right to vote] requires each citizen to have information to assess party platforms and the legislation undermines the right to information protected by s. 3.

It can therefore not be protected under section 1 of the Charter.

In other words, the court determined that, without the benefits available under the Elections Act, a party would find it difficult to propagate its political ideology. The idea is therefore to provide a level playing field where all can debate and have access to the financial tools they need to put their arguments across.

That is where the 50 candidate requirement infringes rights guaranteed under section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by limiting the ability of members and supporters of parties disadvantaged by this requirement to express ideas and opinions in the context of public debates occasioned by the electoral process.

Basically, the court is saying that there must be healthy and fair competition, and anyone who wishes to run under whatever banner they want must be able to do so. It will be up to the people to decide who they want and do not want.

The court has given us one year to replace these provisions with requirements more consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is what the bill before us today is all about.

It is somewhat surprising for various bills relating to the Canada Elections Act to be rammed through. For example, the electoral map should come into force one year after it becomes official. Normally, this legislation should come into effect in August 2004, but this bill would allow the current Prime Minister to call an election, according to his agenda, as early as April 2004.

There is utter disregard for the principle that this legislation should not be subject to partisan applications. The government decided to move up the date the electoral map takes effect, and we are still waiting for this decision to come back from that other place.

However, the federal government's action runs somewhat counter to the spirit of the court's ruling with regard to the quality of democracy. In fact, if someone contested this part of the legislation, I am not certain that the court would not reach the same conclusions.

This bill contains a number of amendments. As I mentioned earlier, the obligation to endorse 50 candidates has been replaced by the obligation to support at least one candidate. A party must have at least 250 members who have provided a signed declaration that they are party members. In my opinion, an individual could be identified as a party in one riding and have at least 250 members in that riding alone.

There must be three party officers in addition to the party leader. One of the primary purposes of a registered party must be to participate in public affairs. Consequently, parties must stick strictly to politics.

Those parties that do not support a single candidate during a general election will be automatically de-registered. This will eliminate charlatans or situations where people create fake parties, but do not endorse any candidates, which would be absurd.

The bill also provides for the de-registration of those parties that do not comply with the new requirements and for the remittance of moneys illegally collected. Today, we realize how important such a provision can be. It applies to small parties, but it also applies to major parties. One only has to look at the current situation with the Liberal Party of Canada.

The bill also creates offences relating to the provision of false or misleading information, and a person's acting as leader of a party when the person knows that the party does not comply with the requirements set in the definition of a political party.

So, unlike the example that I gave earlier, where partisanship was a factor in the date of implementation of the electoral map, this bill will improve the Canada Elections Act. We support the principle that underlies Bill C-3, because it should benefit small political parties.

I will conclude by saying that we will have to pay particular attention to the inclusion of the definition of a “political party” in the Canada Elections Act. According to this definition a political party means an organization one of whose fundamental purposes is to participate in public affairs. We will have to know what the expression “to participate in public affairs” means in concrete terms.

So, I think that we have before us a bill which will comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and with the charters and will further promote the democratic process in Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois has always been in favour of promoting a significant democratic debate. While it laments the fact that it does not have enough candidates to run the country, it is still making a significant contribution to the democratic process. This is a good opportunity to also give that chance to other groups that may wish to become political parties without necessarily having 50 candidates.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

There being no further members rising to speak, I will put forthwith the question on the motion now before the House. Pursuant to order made earlier today, the motion is deemed carried on division.

(Motion agreed to and bill referred to a committee)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, as reported from the committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

February 18th, 2004 / 4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

There are three motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-12. Motions Nos. 1 to 3 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 3 to the House.

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4:50 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock Liberalfor the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved:

That Bill C-12, in Clause 6, be amended:

(a) by replacing, in the French version, line 45 on page 5 with the following:

“vend, annonce, rend accessible ou a”

(b) by replacing, in the French version, line 1 on page 6 with the following:

“de vendre, d'annoncer ou de rendre”

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved:

That Bill C-12 be amended by deleting Clause 7.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock Liberalfor the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada

moved:

That Bill C-12, in Clause 27, be amended by replacing lines 5 to 20 on page 24 with the following:

“27. If Bill C-7, introduced in the 3rd Session of the 37th Parliament and entitled the Public Safety Act, 2002 (the “other Act”), receives royal assent and section 10 of this Act comes into force before the coming into force of any provision of the definition “offence” in section 183 of the Criminal Code, as enacted by section 108 of the other Act, then, on the later of that assent and the coming into force of that section 10, paragraph (a) of the definition “offence” in section 183 of the Criminal Code, as enacted by that section 108, is amended by adding the following after subparagraph (xxvii):

(xxvii.1) section 162 (voyeurism),”

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, congratulations on your new position as Acting Deputy Speaker. It is always good to see women in the Chair. It is not an easy job to do. We are pleased to see you there.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate the amendment in Bill C-12 at report stage. The amendment we have put forward would delete clause 7. This clause removes the defence of artistic merit from existing child pornography legislation and replaces it with a public good defence. Our amendment would delete that section of public good defence.

Before I speak further, I want to recognize the work of my colleague, the member for Dartmouth, who has taken on this bill and many other issues in the House, as our arts and culture and communications critic. I think she has earned respect from all sides of the House for the tremendous job she has done in promoting Canadian arts and culture.

We have had to deal with some very difficult issues in the bill in terms of defending the rights of children and to ensure that child sexual abuse does not take place in our society. We also have had to deal with issues of artistic merit and protecting the legitimate areas for artists for true expression. This has not been an easy thing to do. I think we all have an admiration for the work the member has done, in working with the broader community, to ensure that the legislation can be supported. In fact the amendment before us today is as a result of the member for Dartmouth's work.

Protecting children and other vulnerable people is one of our highest duties, both as members of Parliament and as citizens and residents of Canada. It is one that we should not take lightly.

In this age of digital transmission and global communication, visual examples of child pornography have become something that I think we all find horrifying and that we abhor. I agree that any depiction of child abuse that glorifies those acts or is intended to incite people to commit them must be criminalized. For those of us in the New Democratic Party, this is something which we believe most strongly.

The sexual abuse of children is an atrocity, a despicable attack on the most vulnerable members of our society. It is an act of terror, an assault on our society's most basic values of honour, protection and dignity.

Although the NDP agrees with the general intent of Bill C-12 to protect children and other vulnerable persons from exploitation, we have a problem with the vague language of clause 7. We believe weakens the whole bill. Indeed, witnesses who appeared in front of the justice committee, for example from the Toronto Police Association, as well as groups such as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Conference of the Arts, all indicated that they felt that clause 7 was problematic because the language used was vague and contradictory.

In fact, after the previous debate on this issue in November 2003, Pierre Plourde, an LLB candidate in the Faculty of Law at the University of New Brunswick, contacted members of the House. He believes that the amended clause 7 is still unconstitutional and that courts will have to treat the public good defence the same as the existing defence of artistic merit to avoid striking down the entire law. This is clearly problematic.

Many of our colleagues in the House have complained that the original child pornography law was sloppy. The problem we are faced with now is that that this new law will become another sloppy law. It is something we need to fix as quickly as we can. It will not help protect our children from abuse.

A problem that was noted in committee, through the witnesses, was that the bill as it stood would also increase the burden on police forces. I quote from Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Toronto Police Service, who appeared before the justice committee in October 2003. He said:

We've seen what happens when police are left to define what is or isn't artistic merit. We'll be fighting about this one for years. Police would simply appreciate laws that are very clear and that will allow us to make better-informed decisions at the time we are required to make them. Wording that is very open to speculation and suggestion and not quite clear makes it very difficult for officers to understand exactly what they're supposed to be doing.

We would agree and say that it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the law is clear.

It is not just artists who face a chill from this legislation. Researchers and health workers will also have to wonder if their work leaves them open to prosecution. For example, psychiatrists working with victims of sexual abuse may wonder what material they can actually publish. With a very vaguely worded public good defence, they could find themselves being accused of creating child porn by referencing events that happened to their patients.

We could have created strong legislation, one that would not be open to charter challenges. I am sure that is something no member of the House wants to see. Again, the amendment is important, and it is important that we try to fix the problem now.

For example, clause 7 leaves it up to the courts to decide if an act or material goes beyond what is considered as the public good. When we discuss measures that limit rights outlined in the charter, the decision should not be left to an unelected, unaccountable body in our court system. We believe that discussion should happen here in Parliament.

The second reason we have asked for this amendment is that this clause does not protect artists. This was a very critical point at the committee, and it is something that has been part of the debate through the passage of the bill. The new defence of public good is too vague and unproven.

We believe it will take years of jurisprudence for the courts to decide exactly how to apply this defence in relation to child pornography laws. Will museums, for example, be prosecuted for holding classic works of art that depict children in sexual acts? Will libraries, which protect the rights of Canadians to read any and all kinds of literature, have to clear their stacks of any books that might suggest teenagers had sex with adults?

Artists need the freedom of an open democracy to create their work. Artists are concerned that the legislation contravenes a basic tenet of our judicial system: one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

We believe this clause, if it were left as it is, would force an artist to prove that his or her work is for the public good and does not extend beyond it. In fact, Megan Williams, who is the National Director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, told the committee how artists felt about being guinea pigs of bad legislation. Again, this has had extensive debate both within the arts community and in broader society. She said at committee:

I want to add also that artists do not want to be on the front lines of testing dubiously drafted legislation again.

During the committee hearings, many people brought up the silence around child abuse and how important it is to not return to a time when children and adult survivors of abuse could not talk about it. The chill that this proposed legislation will create cannot be under estimated.

There are other areas of Bill C-12 that we do support and, in fact, overall we support the bill. However, in this area we have a very strong concern.

The proposed bill extends protection for children and other vulnerable people. As we have said, this is clearly something that is very important. However, we cannot support treating all work that deals with children and sex as pornography. It is important that survivors can speak, write or draw about their experiences without facing persecution. It is important that artists can explore not just the virtuous part of our society but also its dark side.

We believe clause 7 should be removed, and thus we have put this amendment forward today, and allow the rest of the bill to go forward.

I hope that the debate today will be something that is respectful. I know this has been a very contentious issue. We put forward the amendment with very good intentions to help make the a bill that is clearer and is something that can be supported by all members of the House.

It was very important that we had the input from different sectors of society: police, artists and others. We believe that the amendment to delete this clause is something that will strengthen the bill.

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5 p.m.

London West Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I also am glad to see another woman taking the position in the chair.

There are three motions on Bill C-12. I will briefly speak to the two government motions. Government Motion No. 1 is a grammatical correction amendment to clause 6. This is a technical motion that proposes to correct a grammatical mistake in the French version of an amendment made in committee. Clause 6 was amended in committee to add the offence of “advertising” a recording made through the commission of an offence of voyeurism to the listing of other prohibited acts regarding such voyeuristic recordings. The words added in the French version require an indirect object, but they are placed in a sentence where all of the other verbs require a direct object.

The amendment would replace the expression “faire de la publicité” with the verb “annoncer”, a verb which is of a similar nature to the other verbs or prohibitions used in the clause and which is also the same French verb used elsewhere in the Criminal Code for the English equivalent of “advertising”. This would make the French and the English versions consistent.

I will move now to government Motion No. 3, which is a coordinating amendment on clause 27. Again this is a technical motion to amend clause 27 of Bill C-12. It replaces Bill C-12's reference to the public safety bill that died on the Order Paper with the current reference to that same bill as reinstated on February 11.

Clause 10 of Bill C-12 proposes to amend section 183 of the Criminal Code to add the new voyeurism offences to the list of offences for which criminal investigations can intercept private communications and use video surveillance. Bill C-7, the Public Safety Act, 2002, formerly Bill C-17, also amends section 183 of the Criminal Code to add other offences to the list.

Clause 27 of Bill C-12 is a coordinating clause. It is needed to ensure that the amendments to section 183 proposed by both Bill C-12 and Bill C-7 can come into effect regardless of the order of enactment of these bills.

Accordingly this motion seeks to amend clause 27 of Bill C-12 so that it now refers to the new bill number for the Public Safety Act, Bill C-7, to thereby coordinate both bills' amendments to section 183 of the Criminal Code.

Now to the more substantive matter which the hon. member for Vancouver East has proposed in her motion. I rise today to oppose the motion of the member opposite. I do acknowledge the hard work that has been done by all on this committee.

In effect, this motion seeks to maintain the status quo on child pornography and this is something which neither Canadians nor this government accept. The government believes that the existing child pornography provisions do not go far enough to protect our children against this form of sexual exploitation.

They do not go far enough because they restrict the definition of written child pornography to only those materials that “advocate or counsel” unlawful sexual activity with children. The existing child pornography provisions do not go far enough because they provide two defences for all child pornography offences, including a defence for material that has artistic merit or an educational, scientific or medical purpose without any harms-based test.

Bill C-12 says no to the status quo while this motion says yes to it. Clause 7 of Bill C-12 proposes two reforms to the existing child pornography provisions. First, it proposes to broaden the existing definition of written child pornography to include written material that describes prohibited sexual activity with children where that description is the dominant characteristic of the material and it is done for a sexual purpose.

Second, Bill C-12 proposes to narrow the two existing defences into one defence of “public good”, a term that is now specifically defined in the bill. Under the new law, no defence would be available where the material or act in question does not serve the public good or where it exceeds or goes beyond what serves the public good. More simply stated, if the risk of harm that it poses outweighs the benefit that it offers to Canadian society, then no defence would be available.

Today's motion goes in the opposite direction of Bill C-12. It says that written materials that consist primarily of descriptions of unlawful sexual activity with children, which descriptions are done for a sexual purpose, are okay. It says that these materials are not child pornography and that they should not fall within the reach of the criminal law.

The Supreme Court of Canada interpreted “for a sexual purpose” in the Sharpe case, 2001, as that which can be reasonably perceived as intended to cause sexual stimulation.

With this interpretation in mind, I find it virtually impossible to comprehend the basis for any argument that seeks to support and protect materials that mostly describe the sexual abuse of children and where these descriptions can be reasonably perceived as intending to cause the reader to be sexually stimulated.

These materials are not okay, as this motion would have us believe. The Criminal Code provides a comprehensive set of prohibitions against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The type of written materials that Bill C-12 wants to include in these protections, but which this motion seeks to exclude and to protect, are those that portray or purport to portray children as a class as objects for sexual exploitation. The government recognizes the very real risk of harm that such portrayal and objectification of children pose to our children and to society at large. That is why Bill C-12 proposes to include these types of materials within our definition of child pornography.

The second thing that this motion seeks to do is to maintain the current test for when child pornographic materials should be protected by the defence of artistic merit. Under the current test for artistic merit, the defence is automatically available for material that, objectively viewed, demonstrates some artistic merit, no matter how small and no matter what the risk of harm it may pose.

For example, if the material in question is a written story, the test for the current defence is, objectively viewed, does the story reflect some accepted or recognized literary techniques or styles? If so, the defence is available, irrespective of whether the risk of harm that story poses to children in society outweighs any benefit that it offers.

The government does not agree with this and does not support the existing test for artistic merit and neither do Canadians. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights amended Bill C-12 to define the public good as including acts or materials that are necessary or advantageous to the administration of justice or the pursuit of science, medicine, education or art.

This definition is modelled on the Supreme Court of Canada's interpretation of the public good in Sharpe. This will help to ensure that the subsequent interpretation of Bill C-12 is guided by the Supreme Court's decision in this case.

The justice committee's amendment of Bill C-12 to include a definition of the public good directly responds to concerns expressed by the arts community and other witnesses who appeared before the committee. They wanted greater clarity in the bill as to what constituted the public good. The justice committee amendment to define the public good responds to this concern.

However, as to the balance of the concerns raised by the arts community witnesses, a number of observations should be made. In a child pornography case, the first question to be considered and answered is whether the work in question meets the Criminal Code's definition of child pornography.

Examples of written works that were described by these witnesses to the justice committee would not meet the existing definition of written child pornography, that is, they could not be said to advocate or counsel unlawful sexual activity with children. Neither would they meet Bill C-12's proposed new definition. That is, they could not be said to be works that, one, were comprised primarily of descriptions of unlawful sexual activity with children and, two, that such descriptions were written for a sexual purpose.

If the material in question meets the definition of child pornography, then the second question to be considered--and it is a question that falls to the courts to determine--is this: Is this material protected by a defence? Under Bill C-12 there would be only one defence and the test for the single defence would be the same for all material. It would be a two-step inquiry that indicates and includes a harms-based test and it would be possible for art to meet such two-step inquiry.

The motion to delete clause 7 of Bill C-12 is not consistent with the objectives of the bill as set out in the preamble, which states:

Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns regarding the vulnerability of children to all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect--

It is for these reasons that I urge all hon. members to support Canada's children and support Bill C-12 as passed by the justice committee and not to support this motion from the hon. member of the opposition.

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5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add my comments to this particular debate. I think it is a very important debate.

I am very concerned about the whole issue of the public good defence, as I am concerned about the artistic merit defence. I support the NDP amendment that was brought by the member for Vancouver East only because the government proposal to replace the artistic merit defence is worse than the actual artistic merit defence itself.

We heard in committee that the public good defence in fact increases the ability of pornographers and child predators to take advantage of our children. There was not one witness, other than the minister himself at that time, who supported this amendment. Whether it was civil libertarians on the one side or child advocacy groups and police forces on the other, none of them supported the public good defence because, in the words of David Matas, for example, a very prominent lawyer from Winnipeg, also known as a civil libertarian, this increased the ability of pornographers to take advantage of our children.

I am supporting the motion by the member for Vancouver East to delete the public good defence, but I say that I cannot support the bill, which would then include the artistic merit defence. This bill needs to be taken back to the drawing board and a real defence put in place that prohibits the criminal exploitation of children the way the artistic merit defence has allowed pornographers and child predators to take advantage of our children and, indeed, the way this new defence would.

I will state something very interesting that was stated by another NDP member, the member for Palliser. He seemed to indicate that some child pornography is not really dangerous, that it is not really bad. In his defence of the creation of some types of child pornography, the member for Palliser stated in Hansard on January 27, 2003:

Mr. Speaker, in response to the member's specific questions, the position that I take, and I believe would be shared by a majority if not all of my caucus colleagues--

He is speaking about his NDP caucus colleagues:

--is that if it has not specifically hurt a minor in the production of it, if it is created by people's visual imaginations and if the main purpose of it is not simply about pornography and sexual exploitation, then under the laws people do have a right to their own imaginations and thoughts, however perverse the member and I might think they are.

That was what the member for Palliser said: that some types of child pornography are acceptable to him and the members of his caucus.

I would suggest that this NDP member and the members of that caucus who share his view spend some time talking to police forces across Canada that investigate child pornography. Even in those cases where an actual child has not been harmed--for example, in the case of virtual children, who are indistinguishable from a real child but where no real child has actually been used--that kind of pornography is extremely harmful because it is used for predators to groom children and to make children think that kind of conduct and behaviour is all right. I think that is just deplorable.

So now I am very suspicious when an NDP member stands up and says we should get rid of this defence. I want to make it very clear where I stand on this issue. I oppose the public good defence that the Liberal government has brought in and that every credible witness discredited and I oppose the artistic merit defence that allowed child predators like John Robin Sharpe to take advantage of our children in this country.

I oppose both of those defences and I am asking the government to listen to the evidence it heard in committee. Let us go back to the drawing board and do it right this time in order to protect our children. Let us make it clear, not like the NDP, that all child pornography that exploits children should be banned.

Specifically, when the minister at the time came before committee, he admitted that the artistic merit defence was still included in the broader public good defence. He stated:

Artistic merit still exists in the sense that a piece of art will have to essentially go through the new defence of public good and through the two stages. Of course, the first question is always this. Does it serve the public good?

The point is then that buried in this new defence is the old defence of artistic good and the same law that allowed a judge to acquit John Robin Sharpe of two counts is still there. Why are we going through this exercise, this kind of Liberal feel good exercise that we are doing something about changing the law when in fact we are doing nothing of the sort? Substantively, the test will be the same.

The Conservative Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. Of course, the criminal possession of child pornography does not apply to those in the justice system associated with prosecution, or researchers studying the effects of exposure to child pornography. We know that there are a number of defences that are still available to child pornographers.

The entire Liberal approach to the protection of children as demonstrated by the bill is shameful. The disguising of the artistic merit defence under this broader defence of the public good is only one particular problem.

Another serious problem is that in Canada the age of consent between adults and children for sexual activity is age 14. In special circumstances, where an accused thinks that the child was in fact 14, the sexual contact of an adult with a 12 year old child can be justified. There was a recent case where a 12 year old native girl was raped by three individuals and two of them were acquitted on the basis that they thought that the girl was 14 years of age.

It is shameful that even in Canada we could advance that kind of argument, that adults--these boys as the judge referred to them--who were over 20 years old or 24 years old could rape this young girl and be acquitted because they thought she was 14 years of age. It is disgraceful.

The government continues that kind of disgrace and tries to create a new category of exploitive relationships. To prove that relationship will be cumbersome and complex. It will frustrate police and prosecutors. Most civilized western democracies, and others indeed, have at least a minimum age of 16. Why is the government so scared to protect children under the age of 16 from the exploitation of adults?

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties concerning today's debate on the report stage of Bill C-12. I believe you would find unanimous consent that if recorded divisions are requested today on the motions at report stage of Bill C-12, they be deferred until the end of government orders on Tuesday, February 24, 2004.

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5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it agreed?

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5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Lunney Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, our party appreciates the efforts of the member for Provencher who just spoke on this issue. He has been our point man on this issue. He has been active on this file and has been keeping us informed. As the former attorney general of the province of Manitoba, he is well versed in the legal implications of these matters.

I would also like to mention the hon. member for Wild Rose, who has been a campaigner in our caucus and in the House for as long as I can remember on the issue of child pornography. I know his heart, like many of the members on this side, is greatly shaken. He is outraged, as are many of the constituents in my riding, about what is going on with child pornography in our midst today and by the inaction by the House, led by the Liberal government, in dealing with these atrocities that go on as we speak.

There are so many issues to which the government responds with an illusion instead of with substance and with a smokescreen of taking action that is not the action required to change the problem. It is an illusion.

We see it in other instances, for example, in dealing with crime. Instead of dealing harshly with criminals who misuse firearms, the government comes up with a strategy to register the weapons of duck hunters and farmers and wastes a billion dollars of taxpayers' money. It is an illusion that does not address the underlying issue.

We see it in other areas, but nowhere is it more demonstrated than in criminal justice matters such as child pornography and the age of sexual consent.

It was not long ago that members of the Toronto Police Force came to the House to help us understand what was going on. Sadly, most members of the House and many members of the public do not understand the depth of depravity that is going on today in the underworld of pornography, particularly as it relates to children.

There is a proliferation of very graphic sexual and violent images of abuse of children that are abundantly available today. They are putting our children at high risk and continue to undermine the very values of our society. We are concerned.

Many members could not sit through the entire presentation because they were so distraught at the images that the officers put forth. They warned us that it would be graphic, that it would not be easy, and that in fact it would be tough. Some members frankly were not able to continue. Some of the seasoned police officers themselves have not been able to carry on with investigations because of the volume of the very graphic and destructive material that they are required to view in terms of prosecution.

In our area of Vancouver Island, British Columbia we are not proud to lay claim to the fact that the John Robin Sharpe case comes from British Columbia. This case infuriated the people in British Columbia when this man, with his vile images of abuse of children, was exonerated. He tied up the courts because they refused to deal with the issue of the defence of artistic merit. Cases were not even being prosecuted for a period of time. It tied the hands of the police in dealing with these matters.

That brings us to where Bill C-12, as we call it today, is going. The hon. member for Provencher has already outlined where we are going with the artistic merit defence. It so outraged Canadians that somehow we could find artistic merit in the abuse of our children, or that anyone could. It is just an outrageous concept.

It brings us to the understanding that the government has again created an illusion. The Liberals hope to campaign on the bill, saying that they have got tough on child pornography and have acted to protect our children.

The House has a responsibility for more than smoke and mirrors. We have a responsibility to deliver goods to the people that actually accomplish the objective. Smoke and mirrors are not good enough. Repackaging artistic merit as public good is simply not good enough. It will allow the same kind of defences to go on, and the same kind of abuse to continue. It will allow lawyers to argue in the defence of their clients that there is some public good in these atrocities.

Recently I was visited in my riding office by two groups of citizens who are concerned about the age of consent and about sexual abuse of our young people. Marie Poirier from my riding, as well as Joan Sauve, Gloria Ash, Viola Cyr and Helen Metz came to see me. They were part of a white ribbon against pornography campaign and they had hundreds of signatures written on these white ribbons. They were concerned about the abuse of our young people who were being victimized by people who thought that it was all right for adults to engage in sex with young girls and victimize them.

I was not able to present these petitions in the House because they did not fit the appropriate format, but on their behalf I want to say how outraged parents and families are because they know of people in our neighbourhoods and communities who have been abused. The example that the member for Provencher mentioned a moment ago dealt with two men who were acquitted of sexually abusing a girl as young as 12 because they thought she was 14.

This was not about consenting sexual acts among young people, as much as we might disagree with that. It was not about consenting young people. It was about adults abusing young people. Sadly, this kind of activity continues in our society. It continues to hurt and damage young people, leaving them scarred, many times for life.

Thank God that through counselling, and the help and assistance of the many volunteers who try to help these people, and with the support of families, some of them will overcome it, but many of them will carry this abuse into future relationships and will be damaged perhaps for life.

We see some serious problems with this legislation. We see more smoke and mirrors. We see a government that wants to say that it has taken action to deal with this when in reality what it has done is simply change the language that will allow it to continue.

The Conservative Party of Canada would like real answers. We would like to see this moved ahead. We are really concerned about this and the implications for society. We would like to see real action taken to protect our citizens.

There is another issue that deals with raising the maximum penalties. This is an old trick. We know that maximum penalties are hardly ever imposed by the courts, but people have a hard time understanding that. When they hear language that we have gotten tough on child pornography and we have raised the maximum penalties, it gives people the impression that something is being done to protect our citizens when in fact it is meaningless. If we were to get tough, we would increase the minimum penalties and we would have mandatory prison sentences for people who are convicted of these crimes. It is time to get tough to protect our youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

I have spoken on this issue before. I can only express again on behalf of my constituents the umbrage and disgust that they have with this ongoing abuse of our young people. I can only ask that all members of the House will understand the seriousness of this issue and make the appropriate amendments to put real teeth in the law to ensure that our young people are protected and that they have a chance to take their places in society as wholesome adults. We are looking for that kind of action from the House.

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to address this important legislation, namely Bill C-12, which was formerly Bill C-20.

As most hon. members have pointed out, if there is one issue on which all the members of this House agree, it is the importance of protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, who also happen to be the most precious ones, namely our children.

Quebeckers and Canadians expect us to rise above partisanship and not use this issue to score political points. They expect the perverts the sick and the maniacs, those who want to sexually exploit our children to be properly punished and to pay for the despicable and horrendous crimes that they commit by going after our children.

It is with this in mind that, when we debated this legislation, the Bloc Quebecois was very proactive and open, and also made a number of proposals. We listened very carefully to what those who came to testify told us. Based on the very eloquent testimony we heard, we proposed a number of amendments.

Motion No. 1, which is before us today, is an amendment that was originally proposed by the Bloc Quebecois. It is an amendment that I myself proposed. I am pleased to see it included in the bill. There was a minor problem with the French and English versions. That was corrected with this amendment. As for Motion No. 3, it deals with a mere technicality.

Two issues were the subject of rather heated discussions in committee, and I want to draw your attention to them. The first one has to do with the definition of “public good”. The witnesses who came to testify before the committee told us that a defence based on the notion of public good is currently too broad, not acceptable and could lead to abuse. Among others, police officers, who are on the front line, told us that they do not have the time to get into philosophical discussions on the meaning of “public good”.

That is why I put forward an amendment in committee to define the meaning of public good. The essence of this amendment is found in clause 7(2) of the current bill, Bill C-12. I absolutely do not understand why the New Democratic Party is against this clause, especially since the NDP critic said at the very beginning that public good was not defined. Perhaps she was referring to the first version of the bill, but the work done in committee resolved this problem by clarifying the definition of public good.

I was very disappointed by the Liberals' unwillingness, if you will, to insert a clause that would provide minimum sentences for the sexual exploitation of our children. In the general public, particularly in the Quebec City area, following the events of which we are all aware, there has been heightened sensitivity and awareness of the danger of sexual exploitation of children.

Having been previously alerted to the general problem, I thought it would have been a good idea for the government to agree to include minimum sentences and mandatory minimum sentences.

Unfortunately, the government, with its majority, refused. Nonetheless, to give credit where credit is due, some members of the ministerial team voted with me and the Canadian Alliance at the time, to have such sentences.

It is unfortunate that the government did not agree. I guarantee, and I will make the promise right now, that I will not drop this and I will make sure that these people, these perverts, these criminals, are severely, yet humanely, punished. They prey on those who are dearest to us and also most vulnerable.

I will conclude by saying that this is not my last speech on this topic in this House or elsewhere. As parliamentarians, we have the political obligation, but especially the moral obligation, to ensure that those who attack our children are severely punished; as severely as possible. This is about the future of our society.