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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

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The House resumed from June 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga had the floor. There are six minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call on the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to finish sharing my views on Bill C-292

I rise today in opposition to Bill C-292, an act to implement the Kelowna accord.

As I mentioned in my earlier remarks, I commend the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard for providing members with the opportunity to discuss this issue that is of great importance to all Canadians. It is a pleasure to see the member for LaSalle—Émard in the House today.

This issue is important for all Canadians. Although I welcome the occasion to speak to this pressing matter and listen to the contributions of other members, I cannot support the proposed legislation.

My opposition to Bill C-292 is rooted in two main objections. First, the bill is poorly conceived. It is not a precise, detailed policy blueprint but a series of broad political commitments. Furthermore, it purports to extend statutory recognition to a one-time political event and create a legal obligation to fulfill a series of wide-ranging commitments.

As I mentioned earlier, the short text of Bill C-292 provides members with absolutely no idea of what obligations it would impose on the government, nor whether these obligations would also apply to provinces and territories. This is an important issue for many of my colleagues in this chamber.

Until members are provided with clear details on the nature of these programs and the related accountability measures, and until a long term sustainable financial plan to fund these programs has been approved by Parliament, I cannot see how this House can approve or support Bill C-292. So it will come as no surprise to members of this House that I continue to speak today in opposition to this bill.

The health and prosperity of aboriginal and northern communities is critical to the health and prosperity of our entire nation. Thus, we must take concrete steps to address issues of aboriginal women, children and families, education, water, and housing.

Mr. Speaker, on Monday, September 25, you yourself mentioned that Bill C-292, in clause 2, does state that the government shall “take all measures necessary to implement the terms of the accord”, but the bill does not provide specific details on these measures. You said, “The measures simply are not described”.

Bill C-292 fails to establish a clear plan of action to resolve these issues. It fails to assign responsibilities. It fails to detail financial arrangements. It fails to adequately define procedures to achieve its targets. In other words, the bill before us today is not a fully developed strategy and could not be legally enforced.

With $3.7 billion allocated for aboriginal and northern programs, the budget created by Canada's new government includes targeted investments in key areas. Those key areas include aboriginal housing, water, education, and economic development. The returns on these investments will deliver real improvements in the quality of life for aboriginal and northern peoples.

Those investments will fortify relationships with provinces, territories, aboriginal leaders and organizations and create a more promising future for all Canadians.

It is important to note that the government's $3.7 billion investment in aboriginal and northern peoples is in addition to increases to aboriginal health programs, as well as increases to the budget of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

This number, $3.7 billion, also excludes budget initiatives already aimed at both aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal peoples deserve no less than the same opportunities we all seek for our families, for our communities and for our country. We are committed to securing these opportunities for aboriginal Canadians.

Three hundred million dollars will go directly to affordable housing programs in the territories, benefiting both aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Nunavut, where the problem is most pressing, will receive $200 million. Yukon and the Northwest Territories will receive $50 million each.

Another $300 million will be used to improve housing through the off-reserve aboriginal housing fund.

Furthermore, $450 million has been set aside to fund initiatives for water, housing, education, and women, children and families. Through education, aboriginal communities can successfully battle poverty, while initiatives to improve the quality of life for women will nurture healthy children and families.

A settlement agreement that was signed on May 10 launched an advanced payment program for seniors who suffered abuse while in residential schools. Victims will share in a $2.2 billion fund to help them deal with the emotional and psychological trauma that many of them continue to experience to this day.

We do not believe that money and ad hoc remedies resolve the challenges facing aboriginal peoples. We must take on the hard work of renovating our laws and our institutions. This new Government of Canada is identifying and implementing effective and lasting solutions through collaboration and mutual respect.

I strongly advise my hon. colleagues to join me in voting against Bill C-292.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to say that the Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord, introduced by the member for LaSalle—Émard. I will mention a few of the reasons why.

The Kelowna accord is not, was not and will not be a cure-all for the problems faced by aboriginal communities. What the Kelowna accord was and will be is merely a way to alleviate the major problems of these communities. On Monday, May 8, 2006, in support of the accord, I tabled a motion, on behalf of my party, to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommending the implementation of the Kelowna accord reached by representatives of Ottawa, Quebec, the provinces and national aboriginal leaders.

The tabling of this motion and Bill C-292, which we are debating today, remind us that, once again, the federal government has not respected its commitments and has not taken its responsibilities toward the aboriginal people. I would like to read the motion that I tabled and that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development adopted:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee recommends that government to implement the Kelowna agreement, entitled Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap, which was reached on November 25, 2005 between the First Ministers and the National Aboriginal Leaders.

That the Committee adopt these recommendations as a report to the House and that the Chair present this report to the House.

We must not kid ourselves: the Kelowna accord is only a temporary measure that will not improve the living conditions of native people in the long run.

The accord would represent $5.1 billion over five years for education, health, housing and economic opportunities for aboriginal peoples. If we consider that those funds are to be divided among federal, Quebec, provincial and territorial governments before reaching first nations, Inuit and Métis, where the needs are critical, we realize that that is very little to really reduce the gap.

Quebec's first nations have tremendous needs, particularly in housing. Currently, they need over $700 million to provide the 7,000 housing units they lack—a figure that grows by hundreds of units every year. As we know, this housing deficit has extremely severe human and social consequences. Some health problems are linked directly to the housing shortage. We must quickly put a stop to increasing incidences of poisoning, infection, tuberculosis, and so on. The incidence of diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome and suicide is also very worrisome.

Suicide is a serious problem. Even though rates vary considerably from one community to the next, they are too high overall. Suicide rates among first nations youth are 5 to 7 times higher than among non-aboriginal youth. The suicide rates of Inuit youth are among the highest in the world—11 times higher than the Canadian average. We must therefore invest time and resources without delay.

As far as education is concerned, if the government finally decided to tackle the problem, it would take 27 or 28 years to close the gap with other Quebeckers and Canadians, according to the 2004 Auditor General's report. That is very serious.

A number of reports from the Auditor General, as well as findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and, more recently, the latest report from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the living conditions of the aboriginal people of Canada, are alarming.

Many recommendations supported by aboriginals, Quebeckers and Canadians have been presented to Ottawa and have fallen on deaf ears.

On the eve of the conference of first ministers, the Bloc Québécois publicly supported the common position held by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and the Quebec Native Women's Association, who rejected the government's initiative.

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and the Quebec Native Women's Association deplored the fact that the approach to narrowing the gap between the living conditions of first nations people and those of Quebeckers and Canadians did not address the real causes behind the first nations' situation, which are the lack of fair access to land and resources, and respect for their rights.

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, and the Quebec Native Women's Association also deplored the fact that the objective of the Kelowna agreement, through its blanket treatment of all aboriginals and lack of consultation with the communities to identify the real challenges, would maintain the cycle of dependence of the first nations.

The Bloc Québécois feels that concrete solutions are needed that are adapted to the reality of the various aboriginal nations to correct at the foundation the inequalities that affect their communities. In addition, these measures must come out of discussions with the first nations, because money alone will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it perpetuates the paternalistic approach of the federal government toward aboriginals.

Now we know, here in this House, that the federal government has an obligation to meet the great needs of the aboriginal people, among other things those related to housing, infrastructure, education and health care.

The Bloc Québécois continues to make sure that Ottawa does not shirk its obligations as a trustee. The federal government should assume its responsibilities as long as all aboriginal nations do not have the tools for self-government. The first indications of this government's handling of the aboriginal issue are not very reassuring. For example, the initiative for a protocol for safe drinking water for first nations communities is commendable in and of itself. However, when the initiative sets aside communities with the greatest needs, those that still do not have a drinking water system and are still hauling their water in buckets, there is cause for concern.

I have just two minutes remaining, but I could talk about this for hours without putting this House to sleep. I will wrap up quickly.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-292. The commitments made by the federal government in Kelowna mark a first step toward bridging the gap between aboriginal nations and Quebeckers and Canadians. Let me be clear: this is a first step.

Aboriginal people must have all the tools to develop their own identity, namely the right to self-government and the recognition of their rights.

In closing I want to say that in a few days a socio-economic forum of the first nations will be held at Masteuiash in the Roberval area. It is an exceptional location for the current federal government to show a little more empathy toward the first nations and to announce, in Masteuiash, important decisions for those first nations. We must prevent the things we are currently seeing in the media. An article on October 7 said that aboriginal peoples are the most overrepresented group in Canada's prisons. This must stop. We believe that the Kelowna accord was a step in the right direction. We want to reiterate in this House that we will support this accord and this bill.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in support of Bill C-292 and the New Democrats will be supporting this private member's bill. However, it is a sad statement that we need to bring forward a private member's bill to deal with some very serious and pressing issues in first nations communities from coast to coast to coast.

Lest we think that these conditions are new ones, the conditions that are currently in place in first nations communities are a result of decades of neglect and need to be laid, not only at the doorstep of the current Conservative government but also points to a failure of the previous Liberal government to deal with these issues.

I want to talk about some statistics that the Assembly of First Nations has put forward and the fact that it has launched a “Make Poverty History: The First Nations Plan for Creating Opportunity” campaign. The conditions it is talking about have not arisen since January 2006. These conditions have accumulated over decades. I will only talk about a few of these numbers because they are depressing and a shameful legacy for this country to be talking about the kinds of conditions that exist in first nations, Inuit and Métis communities across the country.

Let us talk about children. We often talk about family values and how important children are to our country. We talk about needing to protect our children and yet in first nations communities one in four children live in poverty compared to one in six Canadian children. The rate of disabilities among first nations children is about one in eight and is almost double the rate among Canadian children, and over one-third of first nations households with children are overcrowded.

Let us talk about homes. In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan many homes on first nations reserves are contaminated with mould and yet we seem to have very little action that addresses the crying need in these communities to have safe, clean, affordable housing. About one in three first nations people consider their main drinking water supply unsafe to drink and 12% of first nations communities have to boil their drinking water and mould contaminates almost half of all households.

In my own community there is a band called Penelakut on Kuper Island and its water source is below a decommissioned dump. The reserve has cases of rheumatic fever and the physicians in the area say that they have not seen rheumatic fever since they were in third world countries. Some of the band members talk about turning on their taps and having brown stuff come out.

I live on Vancouver Island where we have some of the cleanest water in Canada. The Cowichan Valley says that it has the cleanest water in Canada and yet the people of Penelakut cannot access clean water on a regular basis.

Let us talk about our communities and how we rank internationally. According to the AFN “Make Poverty History”, applying the United Nations human development index would rank first nations communities 68 among 174 nations. Canada has dropped from first to eighth due in part to the housing and health conditions in first nations communities. Most first nations, 80%, have personal incomes below $30,000 per year and half of all households have total incomes below that level. When people do not have the incomes to even attempt to improve their living conditions, how can we expect people to bring themselves up out of poverty?

Much has also been made about how much money is spent on first nations people. The section entitled “Fiscal Imbalance: The Truth About Spending on First Nations” states:

Per capita spending on First Nations is half the amount for average Canadians (between $7,000-$8,000 compared to $15,000-$16,000). Spending on First Nations through core federal programs is capped annually at rates lower than inflation and population growth.

A recent Auditor General's report talked about the fact that funding only increased at 1.6% per annum whereas population increased significantly more than that.

Those were just a few statistics of the reality in first nations community and it is no different for the Inuit peoples in the north, the Métis people and the off reserve and urban aboriginals.

In any other country we would be pointing to these figures, facts, conditions and quality of life and saying that it was a shameful statement on that country. In our own country we continue to have those conditions and we ignore them daily.

The Conservatives have said that the Kelowna accord was signed on November 25 and that it was scratched out on a napkin somewhere. That is a total disrespect for the 18 months of work that went into the Kelowna agreement, 18 months of people from across the country coming together to lay out a framework and address the very serious and pressing needs in communities.

In my province of British Columbia, the premier and the then prime minister took it to heart. They saw the agreement as being something real and something that Canadians, including aboriginal peoples, wanted implemented. In fact, they signed a tripartite agreement. The first nations leadership from British Columbia, the prime minister and Premier Campbell, in good faith, signed the agreement called the transformative change accord and it was between the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Canada and the leadership council representing the first nations of British Columbia.

This agreement was done with a great deal of responsibility, fiscal, social, environmental and economic. People recognized that what happened in Kelowna was a framework that would allow people to move forward. It was a commitment on the part of the Liberal government of the day and the first nations peoples and they fully expected the future government to honour that commitment.

Recognizing that people wanted to see accountability and responsibility, the agreement laid out specific items. It laid out benchmarks for improving relationships by supporting a tripartite negotiation forum to address issues having to do with the reconciliation of aboriginal rights and titles. Numbers of treaties and increased awareness by public diversity were talked about. Benchmarks were laid out for closing the education gap and for improving housing.

Nothing in that agreement said that it was a fictional exercise in Kelowna. People expected some action but instead they got a Conservative government that rolled back the work that had been done.

The Conservatives have indicated their commitment by rolling back the Kelowna accord, by failing to invest in those key areas that first nations peoples said were critical and essential to their health and well-being and they have further demonstrated their lack of commitment by failing to look at the declaration on human rights for indigenous peoples.

I just want to go back to my own riding for one moment. The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group is a group of six nations that has been involved in treaties and it is currently looking at the dire circumstances in many communities. Under Canada's community well-being index used to examine the well-being of Canadian communities, the six Hul’qumi’num communities score between 448th and 482nd out of 486 communities surveyed in British Columbia. They could not get much farther down the list in terms of well-being. It is a shocking statement that this continues in this day and age.

The Kelowna accord was a good first step but it failed to address land claims, treaties and specific land claims. I would urge all members of the House to support the private member's bill but I also would encourage every member of the House to push for much more fair and equitable treatment in the country.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reaffirm my support and that of my party for this private member's bill introduced by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

It is true that I too wish I did not have to stand here today in support of this bill, just as I am sure the member for LaSalle—Émard wishes he did not have to introduce the bill in the first place.

The new Conservative government was afforded an opportunity when it took power: an opportunity to provide for aboriginal peoples from coast to coast to coast. Blessed with a $13 billion surplus, due to the sound fiscal management of the previous Liberal government, and a ready made plan that only needed the confirmation of the new government, the Conservative government willingly and knowingly set back relations between Canada's aboriginal people and itself by not pledging its support for the Kelowna accord. It did this by abandoning it, trashing it and disrespecting it. The government abandoned aboriginal Canadians and, most important, it disrespected the processes aboriginal Canadians entered into in good faith.

We all know the accord is a landmark document. It signalled the start of a new era of cooperation and reconciliation in Canada, an era when our elected leaders from all parts of this great country said no. They said no to incidences of child mortality 20 times higher in aboriginal communities than in non-aboriginal communities. They said no to an unemployment rate for aboriginal Canadians that is 12% higher than that of non-aboriginal Canadians. They said no to deplorable overcrowded, mouldy housing conditions in which aboriginal Canadians, both on reserve and off reserve, find themselves. I invite members to come on a tour of some of the communities in my province to see the deplorable situations. They said no to a situation where aboriginal people are three times more susceptible to incidences of type II diabetes. They said no to third world poverty in a country such as ours. They said no to inadequate access to medical services and to third world diseases like tuberculosis.

The agreement was not between Liberals and aboriginal Canadians. It was not a partisan accord. It was an agreement between the Government of Canada, the leadership of all national aboriginal organizations in this country and the first ministers of all the provinces. This agreement spoke to the honour of the Crown. Everyone who was in Kelowna that weekend said that we had enough poverty and enough of a two tiered society.

From the outset, the Conservative government wasted no time in trashing and belittling this accord. The current immigration minister very quickly said that the accord was written on the back of a napkin. What an attitude. Unfortunately, this attitude has been borne out by subsequent events indicative of most of the views of members opposite.

The accord represented a new beginning in developing policies that affect aboriginal Canadians. It was a fully integrated and fully consultative process. It involved 18 months of talking with aboriginal Canadians, listening to aboriginal Canadians and working with aboriginal Canadians to formulate the policy and goals that are now part of the Kelowna accord. This process was a model for all departments of government for policy development. It included consultation, collaboration, stakeholder buy in, political commitment, respect for regional realities and differences, and the allocation of resources to begin the job that must be done.

To have this agreement described as being written on the back of a napkin is an insult to all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, who worked so hard and for so long to see the Kelowna accord come to fruition.

Some members opposite have said that the money for the Kelowna accord was not booked by the previous government. I suggest that is another misrepresentation and another insult.

As has been confirmed by finance department officials, the money for the Kelowna accord was designated in the fiscal update presented by the former finance minister. The money was there. The funds were booked. To say otherwise is to perpetuate a myth. It is misleading the House.

The money was designated as a line item in the sources and uses table. The only ones who can remove a line item from a sources and uses table are the Prime Minister and the finance minister.

When members opposite muse as to the whereabouts of the money for the Kelowna accord, they can ask that question of the Prime Minister or the finance minister. They removed the money. They were the ones who abandoned the Kelowna accord. They were the ones who said yes to continue third world living conditions for aboriginal Canadians. They were the ones who indicated that the pressing needs of aboriginal peoples were not a priority for this government. They hold the brunt of the responsibility.

The government has now been in power for 10 long months. Its approach to dealing with aboriginal Canadians is becoming apparent. It is quite happy to revert to confrontational times that most Canadians believed were behind us. It seems to be prepared to dictate policy with only a gesture to consultation.

Along with Russia, the government does not want to champion the rights of indigenous people at the United Nations. It is prepared to create animosity where the Kelowna accord and the consultative process leading up to it achieved much in tearing down barriers between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

The era of the government handing down policy without consultation is behind us, or I should I say it was behind us until this government came to power. Aboriginal Canadians need to be at the table in determining policies. They do not need an overseer. They need to be a partner.

In my mind, any accord in which all of the ministers come to a consensus is a historical document. NDP premiers, Liberal premiers and Conservative premiers all said it was a historical document. They were all in support of it.

If I can quote NDP Premier Gary Doer of my province, the province of Manitoba, who said on the signing of the Kelowna accord:

This is the most significant contribution to aboriginals made by any Prime Minister in the last 30 years.

The Liberal premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, said upon its signing:

Our duty now is to ensure that when this room goes dark, the light that has been lit, the light of hope that has been lit over the last two days, lives on and burns brighter, month after month, year after year in our hearts and in Canada's corridors of power.

The Conservative Premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, said:

We're committed to working hard on initiatives that will lead to significant improvement for aboriginal people in Canada over the next five or 10 years.

The only person who is not heeding the calls that it is time to help aboriginal Canadians is the individual who should be listening the hardest and most eager to help. That individual is the Prime Minister.

A true Prime Minister, a true leader, is the Prime Minister of all Canadians. The time for real leadership is now, leadership to alleviate the suffering of thousands of Canadians.

The Kelowna accord was an opportunity. It was an opportunity to end the shame in our country, an opportunity to allow aboriginal Canadians to be on the same level as non-aboriginal Canadians. It is the duty and responsibility of this government to see that this accord be implemented. It has failed. Not only did the Conservative government fail aboriginal Canadians but it failed all Canadians by abandoning this accord. It failed the premiers. It failed the aboriginal leadership.

As the opposition we had a choice to make. We could howl at the moon about the Prime Minister's shameful actions, or we could take action to overturn this meanspirited decision. We chose to take action, led by the efforts of the member for LaSalle—Émard and supported by the entire Liberal caucus. We are saying to Canada's aboriginal people, enough is enough.

With that in mind, and in my heart, I am pleased to support the private member's bill. I urge all members of the House to support the bill, to indicate to aboriginal people, to the aboriginal leadership of the country, to the leadership of the provinces, and indeed to all Canadians that the House is truly committed to take action to ensure that all aboriginal people have the opportunity--

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak on the second reading of Bill C-292.

I commend the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard for providing us with another opportunity to discuss and consider the issues of importance to all Canadians and especially aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.

Although I welcome this occasion to speak, I cannot support the proposed legislation for a very good reason. The previous Liberal government, after 13 years, clearly neglected aboriginal people all across Canada.

I am very proud to say that our new government and our new Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is interested in doing the thing the previous government was unable to do and that is to look at the structural changes needed to actually bring benefits to the people in the communities, the people who have not seen benefits in the past, and are the ones who need it; We will not be growing the bureaucracy and not growing the system like the previous government would so love to do.

I would like to point out two other objections today. First, the bill is poorly conceived. It is not proposing a clear detailed policy and blueprint but rather a series of broad political commitments in a unilateral press release. Furthermore, it purports to extend statutory recognition to a one-time event and create a vague legal obligation to fulfill a series of wide-ranging commitments, a dubious proposition at best and certainly one which is unenforceable.

Mr. Speaker, on Monday, September 25, you yourself mentioned that Bill C-292, in clause 2, does state that the government shall take all measures necessary to implement the terms of the accord, but it does not provide specific details on those measures. You said that the measures are simply not described.

In addition, Bill C-292 provides members with absolutely no idea of what obligations it would impose on government, nor whether those obligations would also apply to provinces and territories. That is an important issue for many of my colleagues in this chamber.

The second objection that I have is that Bill C-292 is redundant. Since taking office and in collaboration with our aboriginal, provincial and territorial partners, the new government has undertaken a new approach that will produce real solutions to the problems facing aboriginal people in Canada.

The approach focuses on moving aboriginal people from dependency to self-reliance through targeted efforts in four areas. The first is to empower individuals to take greater control and responsibility for their own lives through directing investments toward housing and education. Next, we are working to accelerate land claims. We are also promoting economic development, job training, skills and entrepreneurship. Finally, we are laying the ground work for responsible self-government by moving toward modern and accountable government structures.

We are already achieving results. Earlier this year, the government developed and launched an action plan to address drinking water concerns in first nation communities. This comprehensive plan consists of measures to identify communities at risk from unsafe water, ensure treatment facilities are managed by certifying operators, and implementing standards for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and monitoring of treatment facilities.

Furthermore, there is a three member panel of experts who are conducting public hearings across the country to examine and provide options on the establishment of a regulatory framework to ensure safe drinking water in first nation communities.

We are also moving forward in collaboration with first nations people, the provinces and territories to reach workable legislative solutions to resolve the challenges presented by the current situation regarding matrimonial real property on reserves which affects a disproportionate number of women and children on reserves, particularly those experiencing family violence. Matrimonial real property on reserves is obviously a pressing equality issue and one we are committed to resolving.

Unfortunately, members from the party opposite, including the member for Winnipeg South Centre, have indicated that perhaps this is not something we should be proceeding with as soon as possible. I find that to be rather surprising coming from this member whom I thought was very concerned about this issue. To that end, this government has recently announced a national consultation process aimed at resolving the difficult issue of on reserve matrimonial real property.

In this day and age, it is unacceptable that women and children, families and communities on reserve are still struggling with an issue that has been long neglected, and it is a shame. This situation is the result of a legislative void because provincial and territorial laws that deal with the matter elsewhere in the country do not apply on reserve. The federal Indian Act, which governs practically all aspects of life on reserve, is very silent on this issue.

As a result of this legislative gap, legal rights and remedies that are applicable off reserve are not available to individuals living in first nations communities. As a consequence, many women are subjected to discrimination and denied basic human rights that other Canadians all take for granted. It is essential that we deal with this issue as soon as possible because clearly, after 13 years, the previous government made no efforts in that area.

Education is yet another area in which our government is enabling real change for first nations people. In July we signed an agreement with the province of British Columbia and the British Columbia first nations education steering committee to enable first nations in B.C. to assume meaningful control on reserve elementary and secondary schools in areas such as curriculum, educational standards and teacher's certification. This means that first nations children in British Columbia will be able to obtain an education that meets provincial standards but that is also culturally relevant. That is essential.

As we know, first nations individuals all across Canada, in fact all aboriginal people, are just as capable of learning, but learning is something that requires a cultural sensitivity that we have not seen in the past. I am proud that our government is moving forward in this area.

Another issue which is very important, again left by the previous government at our feet, is a process that our minister has put forward to accelerate land claims. There is a huge backlog of claims which is completely unacceptable and indicates that the current system is clearly not up to the task.

Settlements are about justice, respect and reconciliation. More than coming to terms with the past though, settlements are also about building a better future for communities that are sometimes isolated and far from our current economic setters. Each settlement clears a path to strengthened governance and will also strengthen new economic and social opportunities. Settlements can also mean that valuable resources are spent on communities rather than courtrooms.

The Prime Minister, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and I are steadfast in our resolve to work with aboriginal partners on shared priorities to develop effective, sustainable approaches to overcome the pressing challenges in our aboriginal communities.

The government's approach to resolving aboriginal issues, including water, matrimonial real property, education, housing, women and children is all focused on tangible results and clear accountability. Bill C-292 proposes an approach characterized by vague promises and general objectives, something that the previous government was excellent at doing.

Accordingly, I will be voting against Bill C-292 and I encourage all of my colleagues to do the same.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak to Bill C-292, a very commendable private member's bill from the member for LaSalle—Émard.

I am also very honoured to have been involved in the discussions and preparations that went into the Kelowna accord. There was over 13 months of work by the Inuit organization and other aboriginal organizations in Canada. For the party across the way to oversimplify that is very discouraging. For people to say that it was not an agreement or an accord, that it could be disregarded because there was no signed agreement and no budget for it really is oversimplifying the situation. It also adds insult to all the preparatory work that people did on the agreement.

I was in my riding last week speaking with different groups that are suffering badly from the recent cuts to the social programs. The various cuts announced by the Conservative government affect literacy programs, the museum assistance program, and women's groups. The cuts are really affecting the work that communities have been trying to do at the ground level. The Conservative government does not realize the impact these cuts are having on communities. This solidifies my belief that the Conservatives do not understand what reversing the Kelowna agreement has done to our people. I speak mainly for my riding of Nunavut because that is the region I understand the best, but I have spoken with people all across the country and they believed that the Kelowna accord would give them the tools for them to provide their own solutions. They believed that the government of the day recognized their ability to run their own affairs, to come up with their own solutions and to put into play ways of governance that had been there for them in the past.

The recent history of this country has made it very difficult for people in the communities to practise their own ways of governing, their own ways of reconciling differences, their own ways of educating their people, which really are not very different from those of the rest of the country. It is just that we have learned to look at things through a different lens. We all have the same end goals, but the way to achieve those end goals can differ from one part of the country to another, or from one cultural group to another. As I said, the end goals are the same, and they are to provide a good future for our children and to take advantage of this country's resources, which every Canadian should be able to access. How we reach those goals can be different.

We certainly have different ways of looking at things and understanding things as a native people, but at the end of the day we all want what is best for our children. We all want to achieve those goals in a way that works for us. It means understanding that we have to do things our own way and, yes, make our own mistakes. Since Nunavut has become a new territory, we have certainly experienced challenges and have made mistakes along the way, but at least they have been our mistakes.

The Kelowna accord gave us the tools, the mechanisms and the resources, because we do need investments in a different way than has worked for people in the south. Education is a very strong component. The Berger report indicated very strongly that we need to educate our people in a way that is different from that in the rest of the country. It is not to say that we are any less able to be educated but that we need to look at different ways of reaching the knowledge that people have.

The Kelowna accord was certainly a step in the right direction for this country. I ask members in the House to support this private member's bill because it would put us back on the right track to where we were going before. We have been derailed but I certainly hope that we can get back on the right track with this accord.

I thank the members of other parties who have indicated they will support this private member's bill. Again, I urge all members to support this bill. I give credit to my colleague for bringing forward this private member's bill. I know he truly believes this is a way we can bring a group of people from our history back on a level playing field with the rest of the country. I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues who have been very strong in their support. I certainly will be supporting this private member's bill.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has five minutes for his reply at the end of the debate.

He therefore has the floor.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Why Kelowna, Mr. Speaker? Because, compared to other Canadians, the aboriginal people of Canada earn nearly 40% less and they have a life expectancy 10 years shorter. They are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times less likely to graduate from university.

Why Kelowna? Because Canada has the means to achieve its goals and the moral responsibility to do so.

Those who were in that room that day in Kelowna included the aboriginal leadership in this country and representatives of all of the political parties in this room and across the country. No one in that room had any doubt as to the significance of the agreement that we came to and the significance of what had been done. Every single person who was in that room, every single person who for close to 18 months through a series of round tables and detailed negotiation put everything they had into it and came to that agreement on that historic day, it demeans them for the government to say that this was not worth the paper it was written on, to say that it had no content.

The Kelowna accord was reached by the aboriginal leadership of our country, by every single one of the provinces and territories without exception, and by the federal government. It set out funding for five years of $5.1 billion, funding that was provided for by the then minister of finance. The Kelowna accord consisted of longer term objectives to be achieved and then measured over a series of shorter term markers to be developed by all of the parties.

That is important because what was incorporated in the Kelowna accord was working with the aboriginal leadership and provinces, all governments coming together. This was not an imposition. This was indeed a significant agreement as Canadians from coast to coast to coast said that no longer were they going to allow to continue the unacceptable conditions in which aboriginals live.

The government has said that it agrees with the principles of the Kelowna accord. I ask it to act on those principles.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 12:01 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 18, 2006, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

The House resumed from October 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

Noon

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments). The government has already presented important measures in the House that aim at providing better protection for Canadians against crime.

Bill C-23 responds to the government's multifaceted goal of tackling crime by strengthening sentencing measures, enhancing the efficiency of certain procedures and improving access to justice by clarifying court related language rights provisions in criminal proceedings. Most of these amendments are the result of changes that the provinces, territories and other stakeholders have been instrumental in helping our government identify.

Hon. members will appreciate that Bill C-23 is not about fundamental law reform. Rather, it is about fine tuning. While the amendments contained in Bill C-23 are generally of a technical nature, they are nonetheless important. These amendments can be divided into three major groups. I propose to first highlight some of the criminal procedure amendments. I will then say a few words with respect to the amendments proposed to the language rights provisions of the Criminal Code. Finally, I will detail some of the sentencing amendments.

First, let me deal with criminal procedure.

Criminal procedure amendments would, among other things, improve procedural efficiencies and rectify certain shortcomings in criminal proceedings. Other amendments would confirm the intent behind some criminal procedure provisions and clarify their application. For instance, a corrective amendment is needed to rectify the situation by which the appeal route of a Superior Court judge's order is to return seized property to another judge of the same court. This is obviously problematic. In order to make this appeal route consistent with other similar appeal route processes and to avoid the unusual situation whereby a judge is called upon to review the decision of a fellow judge from the same level of court, the amendment would provide that the appeal of a superior court in relation to the forfeiture of things seized would lie with the Court of Appeal rather than with the Superior Court.

Another amendment would bring more clarity to section 481.2 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the ability to charge and try an accused in any territorial division for an act or omission committed outside of Canada. This amendment would clarify that the intent would not be to make any criminal act or omission committed outside of Canada an offence in Canada. Usually offences are prosecuted in the territorial division where they are committed. This, however, poses a difficulty with respect to those offences that, while having been committed outside of Canada, can be prosecuted in our country in accordance with a federal statute. War crimes are examples of such offences.

Unfortunately, the current wording of section 481.2 leaves room for interpretation whereby any offence committed outside of Canada could be prosecuted here, and that is clearly not the case. The amendment would now make it clear that this provision would deal strictly with court jurisdiction and would act as a residual clause where proper court jurisdiction with respect to territorial division would not otherwise be provided for in another federal statute.

Another criminal procedure amendment is proposed with respect to the right of an accused to be tried before a judge, sitting without a jury, where an indictment has been preferred; that is, where the Crown files the indictment directly before the Superior Court. Currently, when this is the case, the accused may not, without the written consent of the Crown prosecutor, choose to be tried before a court sitting without a jury. The amendment would allow the accused to elect to be tried before a Superior Court judge, sitting without a jury, subject to certain conditions. This amendment would introduce more flexibility and would assist in avoiding unnecessary jury trials where the accused would prefer to be tried by a judge alone.

Another proposed amendment will streamline the process for executing search warrants in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant has been issued. Currently, before a search warrant can be executed in another province, it must be presented to a judge or a justice in the other jurisdiction for endorsement in its original paper form. Obviously, this can be time consuming, complicated and inefficient. This process is resource intensive and very time consuming. The proposed amendment will allow the search warrant to be sent by facsimile or by another means of telecommunication, thereby permitting a copy of the search warrant to be endorsed by a judge or a justice in that other jurisdiction.

By taking advantage of technologies that are both reliable and expedient, we are making better use of the time and resources of law enforcement agencies.

Bill C-23 also contains two amendments in relation to jury selection. When selecting jurors, the Crown and the defence are each afforded a certain number of peremptory challenges; that is the ability to unilaterally reject a potential juror without having to invoke any specific ground. One proposed amendment will fill a gap in the current scheme by clarifying that peremptory challenges will also be available where a sworn juror is excused before the evidence is heard and where a replacement juror must be selected.

The other proposed amendment will assist in preserving the impartiality of prospective jury members, as well as sworn jurors, by providing the court with the power to order the exclusion of jurors from the courtroom where a potential juror is being questioned in the course of a challenge for cause and may potentially through his or her answers inadvertently jeopardize the jurors impartiality.

These technical yet practical changes to the various processes that operate in the criminal justice system will contribute to the improvement and greater efficiency of criminal procedure.

I will speak a bit about language rights. The amendments in Bill C-23 with respect to language rights deal with an accused person during a criminal proceeding. The right of all accused to a trial in either official language is consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the language provisions enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867, and in section 19 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since 1978, the Criminal Code has sought to ensure access to services of equal quality for members of both official language communities. This is an important objective because, as the Supreme Court of Canada noted, “Rights regarding the English and French languages are basic to the continued viability of the nation”.

From time to time it becomes necessary for Parliament to intervene to provide the means by which such rights can be enjoyed.

Canadians have told us there are still obstacles to full and equal access to the criminal justice system in one's own official language. Court decisions, as well as reports by the Commissioner of Official Languages, confirm that barriers continue to stand in the way of the exercise of these fundamental rights. The proposed amendments will bring the Criminal Code provisions in line with judicial interpretation, thereby avoiding misunderstandings, legal debates and costly delays. One example of such difficulties involves the application of the language provisions of the Criminal Code to bilingual trials. In R. v. Beaulac, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that all the rights that are provided to an accused person in the context of a trial in one official language also apply to bilingual trials. Yet the lower courts are still struggling with these issues as well as with the practical manner in which bilingual trials are to be held.

The proposed amendments clarify such matters and specify that the right of an accused person to be tried by a judge, who speaks the official language of the accused, as well as the duty of the Crown prosecutor to speak that language, indeed do apply to bilingual trials. The amendments also provide the presiding judge with the necessary tools to manage bilingual trials in a fair and efficient manner. In doing so, the amendments implement recommendations made by the commissioner of official languages in 1995 that certain amendments be made to section 530 of the Criminal Code.

The commissioner's study also identified another vexing problem. The study noted that difficulties had arisen in a situation where there were co-accused who did not speak the same official language and that, in the absence of clear indications in the Criminal Code, the matter was being raised more and more frequently.

Some courts have ordered that each co-accused be tried separately in his or her official language. Such decisions have significant repercussions on court resources, as they involve a duplication of trials. They also offend the general principle that persons who are jointly accused should normally be tried together. On the other hand, some courts have ruled that the right of each accused can be reconciled by ordering a bilingual trial.

The proposed amendment brings clarity to the issue by stipulating that the situation of a joint trial involving co-accused, who do not share the same official language, warrants an order for a trial before a judge or judge and jury who speak both official languages. Such an amendment not only brings greater clarity to the code, but also ensures that a proper balance is struck between the rights of the accused person and the efficient administration of justice.

When taken as a whole, the proposed amendments are balanced and fair. They will resolve a number of problems that have been identified with the existing provisions, bringing greater efficiency and putting an end to some persistent legal debates, while also removing some of the hurdles on the road to a greater access to justice in both official languages in our country.

I now turn to the issue of sentencing and I will highlight some of the amendments that are proposed to the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code.

Bill C-23 contains a number of proposed amendments, some of which will clarify how certain sanctions are intended to apply. Others will improve existing processes or update the law in this area. For instance, one amendment will allow a sentencing court to refer an offender, under the supervision of the court and in appropriate circumstances, to a provincially or territorially approved treatment program before sentence is imposed. In the right circumstances and where appropriate, addiction treatment programs and domestic violence counselling programs can contribute to public protection from crimes where the underlying causes are addiction or where there has been family violence.

Early court supervised access by offenders to these treatment programs can serve as a strong incentive for behavioural change and successful rehabilitation. Specialized drug treatment courts, such as the ones in place in Toronto and Vancouver, are based on the U.S. model that works to adjourn sentencing proceedings, following a finding of guilt, to allow the offender to enter and to complete a court mandated program. By delaying sentencing until the completion of the program, the offender is given a strong incentive to succeed.

Domestic violence courts or court processes have also been implemented in a number of jurisdictions across Canada. These specialized courts include education, counselling or treatment programs for offenders aimed at reducing the offending behaviour.

Allowing sentencing courts to refer offenders in appropriate circumstances to such programs before sentence is imposed will promote early access to rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, thereby contributing to the protection of the public by attacking the source of the problem at an earlier stage.

Another proposed amendment to the sentencing proceedings will provide appeal courts with the power to suspend a conditional sentence order until the appeal is determined. Currently what can sometimes happen is that the conditional sentence is served before the appeal from sentence or conviction is heard. This amendment will ensure consistency with similar appeal court powers, such as in the case of a probation order where a suspension of the sentence, until the appeal is determined, is already provided.

A related amendment, applicable to both conditional sentence orders and probation orders, would allow the court that imposed one of these two sentences the power to bind the person until the appeal would be determined with conditions similar to those imposed on an accused person who is released on bail.

One amendment is also proposed to update the provision with respect to forfeiture of computer systems and other things used in the commission of certain child pornography offences by adding to the existing list of offences the offence of luring a child by means of a computer, so a court may also order the forfeiture and disposal of computers where the offender is convicted of luring a child.

With respect to clarifying current penalties, one Criminal Code proposed amendment will expressly state that where no maximum jail term is provided in a federal statute for an offender who is in default of a monetary penalty imposed for an indictable offence, the maximum term of imprisonment will be five years.

Penalties for impaired driving offences where there is a death or injury are also clarified by an amendment so that there is no uncertainty: minimum fines and jail terms that must be imposed for a first, second or subsequent driving offence, such as failure or refusal to provide a breath sample, must also be imposed when the impaired driving offender is convicted of the more serious offences of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

This amendment will mean that conditional sentence orders cannot be imposed for impaired driving offences causing injury or death, as the Criminal Code does not authorize the imposition of such orders for an offence where a minimum penalty is provided.

Other impaired driving offences will tighten and clarify application of driving prohibition orders, including the application of ignition interlock device programs, with a possibility of early return to driving where the program is in place.

Bill C-23 will also increase the current $2,000 maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction. This amount has remained untouched since 1985, while the monetary values for other offences have increased. It is time to update the law in this area by raising the maximum monetary penalty to $10,000. The increase will provide more flexibility for crown prosecutors to proceed by way of summary conviction, in particular where the sanction sought is a higher amount than $2,000.

Before I conclude, there is one final sentencing amendment that I feel should be highlighted, that is, the amendment with respect to victims of unwanted communications.

Such orders can already be imposed on an accused person in remand or released on bail as well as on an offender who is on probation. Current disciplinary measures in correctional institutions with respect to unwanted communications vary among jurisdictions, with most cases being addressed on a case by case basis.

This amendment will provide sentencing courts with an added means to protect victims from unwanted communications by providing the sentencing court with the power to order a convicted person not to communicate with identified persons such as victims and witnesses while the person is incarcerated.

In addition, it will be an offence to breach an order not to communicate with an identified person.

In conclusion, I wish to state that in contemplating criminal law reform we must not lose sight of the system in which these substantive provisions of the Criminal Code operate. It is important that we take the time to respond to calls for changes such as the ones highlighted today, so that our criminal justice system can most effectively contribute to the protection of society. That, I trust, is the goal of all parliamentarians in this place.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take some time to comment on the work of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. I believe that most the provisions of this bill came from the law conference's work. There are 46 clauses affecting different areas in the Criminal Code and in procedure.

I would like an acknowledgement by the parliamentary secretary that the bulk of the work for the bill was done by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. In my speech, I will be talking about what it does for us in this country.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her work on the justice committee and on these issues and the many bills we are putting forward as a government.

As I stated, these provisions draw on input that we received from across Canada. These provisions and the streamlining are measures that provinces have called for.

I used as an example the issue of using a fax machine. That brings us into the modern era. Rather than having someone such as a police officer, who could be out on the street protecting citizens, doing the mundane task of getting an original signature, under Bill C-23 we would be able to use a fax machine.

On raising the $2,000 fine for a conditional sentence, that maximum was last revisited in 1985. As we know, the price of almost everything has gone up. This will give prosecutors the means to proceed by way of summary conviction, which will do more to unclog the court system when a fine of more than $2,000 is sought. They will still be able to achieve that greater fine by going by way of summary conviction.

I will say to the hon. member that the bill does draw on the input from a broad section of input from across Canada. Certainly this is being called for by those who work in the criminal justice system. They want us to make our criminal justice system more streamlined and more effective so that our police can be out enforcing the laws rather than going through greater bureaucracies.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question concerns clause 6 of the bill, amending subsection 204(2) of the Criminal Code.

I would like the hon. parliamentary secretary to tell the House how far the proposed amendment is intended to go, because it is not entirely clear to me. Perhaps the committee will have to look at that if this bill is passed at second reading stage.

With respect to gaming and betting, that clause would allow the Criminal Code to keep up with the new telecommunication technologies, and Internet in particular.

Could the hon. parliamentary secretary tell us a bit more about the proposed amendment to subsection 204(2) of the Criminal Code?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 makes note of “by any means of telecommunication”. The hon. member made note of that in his question.

Bill C-23 in many ways recognizes that there has been a great change in our society and in technology since many of these provisions were put in place. For example, 20 years ago people would not have contemplated that someone would use a computer and something called the Internet to lure a child and potentially commit a further criminal offence. That is why this bill seeks to attack the issue of Internet luring. It has become very serious. We have heard testimony about it over the last couple of years. We have heard disturbing reports of people using computers and the Internet to lure children, even from outside Canada.

Our Criminal Code has to evolve with evolving technology. The hon. member points out a provision in the bill that does this. As I mentioned on the subject of Internet luring, for example, this bill provides that the mode used to commit the offence, the computer, can be forfeited to the Crown. Under current law, that is not the case.

We want to put a little more teeth into our laws to allow our justice system to better protect all Canadians, but as the hon. member pointed out, we also have to recognize that society and technology are advancing and the Criminal Code has to adapt. For example, it is being brought up to date so that a fax machine can be used for some of these orders, and even fax machines are getting to be behind the times. This is an effort to keep the Criminal Code in some way up to date with the times.

As well, the maximum fine for a summary conviction is $2,000, which in 2006 is not what it was 20 years ago. Criminals recognize that. The profit margins that can be gained by criminal organizations and offenders may far outweigh the fines, so we need to bring this more into step with today's current realities.