This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sudan.

Topics

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know legislation can be improved with a review. When the former Liberal government introduced this registry in 2000, a promise was given that a review would be done in five years. We were all looking forward to the opportunity to consult with police, police service boards and investigators. We were also looking forward to looking at other jurisdictions in other countries to see what part of the registry could be improved.

I think every member of the House would like to add missing persons and found human remains DNA indices to the National DNA Data Bank, the Lindsey law. Lindsey's mother, Judy Peterson, has been saying for a long time that it would be useful to have this kind of addition, either through present legislation or new legislation, and include it in the National DNA Data Bank.

Why is the review not being done? Why are we not pushing for a review? We were supposed to get a review in 2005 but it did not get done under the former Liberal government. I do not see it happening under the Conservative government.

Does the hon. member think that review is important so we do not do things in a piecemeal format? Would he support a separate registry or the same registry to allow for the taking of DNA of a missing person or found human remains?

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the act came into force in 2000 and there was to be a review in five years but the review has not taken place.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

An hon. member

It is overdue.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Yes, it is overdue. We should be reviewing it because it is an act of Parliament. I would support a move in that direction.

As I was the parliamentary secretary at the time, I know there was extensive consultation on Bill C-13 but that does not replace a parliamentary review. I think the point is well taken.

I was quite involved with respect to the missing persons index and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands was the person promoting it. He has, of course, had to pass it on to someone else now. At that point in time the federal government supported the missing persons index. However, the issue involved jurisdiction. In other words, the impetus really had to come from the provinces and territories because it fit within their constitutional jurisdictions.

However, extensive consultations were held across Canada with the provinces and territories to sort that out and to see what sort of support would be provided by them. I think it was put on the justice minister's agenda with his or her colleagues across Canada. There were some issues around privacy but the general view was that those issues were surmountable.

I certainly support the missing persons index. However, it is critical that we have the provinces onside and the modus operandi laid out very clearly as to how it will work, how the information will be fed into the DNA data bank and how it will be used.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I noticed in my hon. friend's speech that he brought in some analogies to the rather disastrous federal long gun registry. One thing he did not note was the difference in costs between this DNA registry and the long gun registry which cost approximately $1 billion. This registry will be considerably more reasonable in its overall costs.

I wonder if he might comment on the costs since the original cost for the long gun registry was supposed to be $2 million. Now that we have a different government in place perhaps this registry will not experience the same cost overruns as the previous attempts at a registry.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it actually cost more than $2 million to set up the gun registry. I believe the member meant a figure beyond $2 million but the figure of $2 billion that has been bandied about is totally fallacious. However, it is true that it was pushing $1 billion to build the gun registry data bank over a five or six year period.

I worked in the private sector and I have seen mega information technology projects, where the business requirements and the policies were changing. I have seen a lot of badly derailed IT projects in the private sector as well. It is not just government that can blow IT projects. This was a blown project. There were many reasons for it, which we will not get into today. I do not know if the member, who has an economic background, was listening or just did not hear, but there is a concept of some cost.

We, as a government when we were in power, took the measures necessary to rearrange the governance of the firearms centre. Some management changes were made. The question before us today is the gun registry which is costing now around $20 million a year to operate. The police are making 6,000 plus inquiries per day. At a cost of $22 million a year, if that can save one life, if it can save two lives, it is well worth it. The other ironic thing that the member did not mention is that it is supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and by the rank and file police officers who passed a resolution at their last convention supporting the gun registry.

The Conservative government is on the wrong footing by dismantling the long gun registry. I stand by my point that we should be retaining that important tool.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, how far along the science of DNA has come in the last 10 to 12 years. I remember in 1995 when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty by a jury in spite of what was seemingly overwhelming DNA evidence.

One of the commentators mentioned that the jury, in that instance, ignoring the DNA evidence, was the equivalent of a jury a century ago ignoring a photograph of a killer shooting someone because the photograph was taken as a result of this newfangled device called a camera. How far along we have come.

I have a question for my colleague, who, in my view, gave a sterling speech on this topic. With the wrongful convictions that, regrettably, have taken place, such as the cases of David Milgaard who spent 25 years in prison and of Guy Paul Morin who spent some 18 months in prison, DNA ultimately, thank goodness, exonerated those individuals. I am wondering if my hon. colleague sees for all us significant benefit to advancing DNA.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the great good fortune of being in the riding of my colleague from Brant this summer and meeting many of his constituents who speak highly of my colleague's commitment to good policy and serving his constituents so well.

He is absolutely right with respect to DNA. The technology has advanced considerably. Canada is actually a leader in this and if more work is needed to advance it more fully, I think that is something the government should support.

The other facet that has changed is the improvement in the science behind DNA technology. I also think law enforcement people are much more careful around the construct of a crime scene and the way that the DNA is handled step by step. This is a very important element because if the DNA gets into the wrong file or is contaminated with something else, and I will not get into the merits of the O.J. Simpson trial, but I think that was a lesson learned because certainly the defence lawyers picked holes in that. I think we need to move on both fronts, the crime scene and the DNA technology.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased this evening to speak to Bill C-18 which introduces a series of technical amendments to strengthen Canada's DNA databank laws. Canada is one of only a few number of countries in the world to have a National DNA Data Bank.

The legislation is similar to Bill C-72 introduced in the 38th Parliament. That Parliament came to an abrupt end when the current Conservative government collaborated with the other opposition parties to prematurely bring down the Liberal minority government.

These new legislative changes will allow for the implementation of Bill C-13, the former Liberal government's original DNA databank legislation. At the urging of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and police organizations across the country, the former Liberal government undertook a wide range of consultations with government agencies, privacy groups, and forensic and genetic organizations which led to the introduction and passage of Bill C-13. Bill C-13 is acknowledged as a key law enforcement tool.

Forensic DNA analysis has been instrumental not only in securing convictions but also in exonerating wrongly convicted individuals as some recent high profile cases have shown. Mr. Milgaard and Mr. Guy Paul Morin were just mentioned a few minutes ago.

As one of the most accurate methods of obtaining solid evidence in criminal investigations, deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA as it is commonly known, is found within the chromosomes of every living organism. Except for identical twins, it is believed that no two people have the same DNA. Based on that premise, DNA from bodily substances found at a crime scene may be compared with the DNA obtained from a suspect in order to determine whether both samples came from the same person.

The benefits of using such a system are numerous. Police are able to identify and arrest repeat offenders by comparing DNA information from a crime scene to the convicted offender's index. They are also able to determine whether a series of offences was committed by the same offender or whether more than one perpetrator was involved. Police are able to cross reference and link DNA profiles to other cases within and across jurisdictions.

Using DNA profiles help focus police investigations by more quickly eliminating suspects whose DNA is already in the databank in a case where no match from crime scene evidence is found.

Finally, the knowledge of DNA testing to solve crimes may also deter offenders from committing further crimes.

The National DNA Data Bank is maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and is used to assist Canada's law enforcement agencies in the investigation of a serious crime. The databank has two indices or data indicators. The crime scene index would contain DNA profiles from bodily substance found at the scene of a designated offence or within the body of a victim or any other person or thing associated with the commission of a designated offence.

The convicted offenders index contains DNA profiles taken from offenders either on their consent or following an order by the courts. It applies to offenders convicted of designated Criminal Code offences as well as people who are subject to the military code of service discipline and convicted of a designated offence under the National Defence Act.

We are keenly aware of the significant privacy concerns, particularly in relation to the retention of biological samples. Strong arguments have been advanced by the scientific community indicating that in its view the retention of biological samples is essential for the DNA databank to be able to adapt to technological changes in the future.

We are aware that the field of forensic DNA analysis is developing rapidly and forensic scientists have told us that as the technology evolves the DNA profiles of today are likely to become obsolete later on. Samples retained can be reanalyzed using new technology thereby insuring that Canada's databank is able to keep pace with technological advances.

Bill C-13, the DNA Identification Act, will authorize police to collect DNA samples from offenders convicted of designated criminal offences. The 38 primary designated offences were selected because of the nature of the offence, the seriousness of the offence, and the likelihood that some biological evidence would be left at the crime scene by the perpetrator. These include the most serious personal injury crimes including homicide and sexual offences. The legislation also provided for the inclusion of DNA to be collected from offenders of designated offences committed before the DNA Identification Act came into force.

The DNA databank is of little or no use for identifying serious offenders unless it already contains their DNA profile. There are criminological studies which suggest that offenders who commit serious offences have previously committed less serious ones. Some have advocated expanding the primary designated offence to include less serious offences.

In Canada, any broadening of the category of designated offences to provide for mandatory DNA sampling would be subjected to the charter of rights scrutiny. The taking of bodily substances from individuals is considered an intrusive process constituting a search. The challenge is to seek a reasonable balance between the rights of an individual and the desired protection of society.

Bill C-18 would add attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder or to cause another person to be murdered to the offences covered by the retroactive provisions which would apply to offenders convicted of a single murder, sexual offence or manslaughter prior to June 30, 2002, when the legislation establishing a DNA databank came into effect.

During the course of the original hearings on the DNA databank, consultations indicated strong support for the creation of a National DNA Data Bank, but there were also concerns regarding Canadian values of privacy, public protection and individual rights guaranteed by the charter.

Various interest groups, including the Privacy Commissioner and the Barreau du Québec, suggested the bill did not contain sufficient safeguards to protect the use of DNA profiles from the samples of victims, cleared suspects, and people who volunteered samples to help police in their investigations.

As a consequence, the former government brought a motion to clarify that access to the information contained in the crime scene index shall be permanently removed if it relates to a victim or person who has been eliminated as a suspect in a criminal investigation.

The current legislation also proposed a change permitting the destruction of samples when the provincial attorney general certifies that the order was made for an offence not intended to be included in the DNA databank. This simpler approach would eliminate the expense of having the attorney general make an application to a court to have the order quashed.

In certain circumstances, the legislation would also allow a court to require a person, who wishes to participate in a hearing relating to an order for the taking of samples of bodily substances for forensic DNA analysis, to appear by video links, such as a closed-circuit television or a similar means of communication, for the retroactive hearings. This would significantly reduce the costs and security associated with transporting the offenders eligible for retroactive sampling.

As we all know, crime and criminal activity knows no borders. Offenders must be apprehended and prosecuted whenever they are found and law enforcement agencies must have the tools to do so. This legislation would allow a foreign law enforcement agency, for the purpose of the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offence, to submit a DNA profile for analysis and would allow the results thereof to be communicated to the foreign government by the commissioner.

The series of technical amendments set out in Bill C-18 would strengthen our country's DNA databank law and would improve law enforcement, not only within this country but beyond our borders as well.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the member for Windsor—Tecumseh was speaking earlier, he raised a number of issues. I did not hear them specifically raised in this speech and so far, I do not think we have the answers that the House would need. One of them is that the current system was supposed to have undergone a review that was mandated to have happened, I believe, in 2005 and yet, this bill specifically does not address that particular review.

I wonder if the member could comment on that specific aspect which is missing in this current piece of legislation that is before the House.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, certainly, the mandatory review is overdue by perhaps nine months. Unfortunately, the justice committee who had undertaken this review is a very busy committee, with many bills before it. Quite frankly, I have some sympathy for the members of the committee. They are really overwhelmed by the job that they have in front of them. It is just a matter, I believe, of resources to bring this forward.

This review will happen and this bill will not take away from that, but these technical amendments were required now to strengthen Bill C-18 and to make it a very workable piece of legislation which would further increase the law enforcement tools of our country.

To wait for the review for us to put forward these amendments would not be right either. I see the Minister of Justice is with us. I am sure that he will ensure that this review comes forward as effectively and as fast as possible.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that a review is time consuming, but it does seem that we are actually duplicating work by approaching the numerous justice bills that are coming before this House and before the justice committee on a piecemeal basis.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh also referenced the Law Commission and as we know, as a result of the Conservatives' cuts that were announced last week, the Law Commission is on the chopping block.

The Law Commission has played a very valuable role in Canada in regard to the development of policy and perhaps provided an arm's-length view that provided some advice to this House. The member had previously suggested that the Law Commission could play a valuable role in looking at the overhaul that is needed of the Criminal Code.

I wonder if the member could comment on that specific role that perhaps the Law Commission could play in this House.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not here when the member for Windsor—Tecumseh made his intervention, but I know this individual is very thorough and concerned on the issues of privacy.

I share the member's concerns about the cuts recently announced where the Law Commission will no longer be with us. However, I am not sure I want to abrogate my role and function, and the role of the justice committee to another authority. This review should be done by Parliament and I am sure, the message is there, that we will bring this forward as quickly as we can.

It is important and we all realize this. I think this law will probably pass almost unanimously and there will be a lot of cooperation in getting the review of the act done. It will be studied very intensely because it is a very serious intrusion on the rights of individuals. It is such a terrific law enforcement tool that we want to improve it for the betterment of society, not only within Canada, as I said, but across the globe.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on the last point. I was going to ask about the balance between the rights and the benefits of the bill, but specifically about the rights of personal privacy.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is the key question with this legislation. It is a very intrusive process and the storing of this material can certainly reveal a lot about individuals. As scientific expertise improves, we do not know what the DNA analysis will provide. We are amazed at what it provides us now.

For those who know, when we toured the facilities at the RCMP offices here in Ottawa and saw how analyses were done and what a DNA sample goes through, it was very enlightening. It is always a balance between the protection of society and the rights of the individual. We have in a very fair way balanced that and will continue to do so.

We are certainly mindful of our requirements regarding the charter. If we exceed our boundaries, I am sure the courts will bring us back on line and if amendments are required to the legislation to conform with the judicial precedents and decisions, then we will do so.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment. I noted that a comment was made that DNA is intrusive. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the recent Rodgers decision, said there was minimal intrusion involved in DNA sampling. It was in fact focused entirely on identification.

The court, in the Rodgers decision, looked at the scheme very thoroughly, upheld its constitutionality, indicated that there was an appropriate balance, and commended this DNA tool. Certainly, there is nothing in this bill that in any way upsets that balance. As we know, this is in fact a bill that was by and large introduced by the previous government with some new amendments.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the intrusiveness was not in the method of taking the sample. It is a pin prick, which many diabetics do daily, or the plucking of a piece of hair.

What information an analysis of a sample can reveal could be of concern in years to come, but I agree with the member that this is mirror duplication of Bill C-72. I certainly will be pleased to support it. It is good legislation. It is needed legislation. It will improve enforcement when used as an enforcement tool and assist our law enforcement agencies.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the bill before the House.

As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out earlier, there are a number of challenges with the bill. On one particular matter, I have asked a number of questions but really have not had a satisfactory answer to them at this point.

One of the things that was pointed out earlier was it appeared there was a piecemeal approach being taken to developing various justice bills right now. It seems like it is a bit of a roll of the dice, that this one sounds good to the Conservatives so they pull together some information and put it forward. Then they put another bill forward and another after that. It does appear to be a very piecemeal approach to a justice system and to a Criminal Code that need overhauling.

Part of the process for the DNA registry was that a parliamentary review would happen at the five year mark. That five year mark expired back in 2005. We are in 2006 and still no review has taken place. The previous Liberal government did not get to this review and the current government still has not announced any intention of doing so. Rather than have Bill C-18 come forward, perhaps it would have been an opportune time to have this comprehensive review in place.

We often hear members in the House talk about accountability, streamlining and efficiency. Instead of duplicating work, it would make far more sense to take this opportunity to conduct the review on the previous DNA registry, look at where the gaps might be and then look at developing legislation to address those gaps.

In this case we have the proverbial cart before the horse. We have legislation before the House that members will spend substantial amounts of time debating and then it will go on to committee. We will call witnesses, we will bring people in from all over the country and then the bill will come back before the House. At some point, we will have a review, which will then necessitate that we call witnesses, that we have the information come before a committee and so on.

The Conservative government constantly talks about streamlining and efficiency. If that is the case, it has missed a golden opportunity to do precisely that in this legislation.

Another thing that a number of members have talked about, and it is well worth repeating, is the fact that there was a previous private member's bill put forward called Lindsey' law. It would have specifically set up a separate registry for examples of DNA that were found at crime scenes, which at least would have the potential to be samples of individuals who were deceased.

I will quote from the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He said, “We have this tragedy in this country of family members, loved ones, close friends missing that type of relationship, persons disappeared and having no way of using the DNA technology that we have and that is very useful to trace those people”. Again, this is a conversation that people have been having for a number of years. This was an opportunity to address that crying need. Many men and women have gone through the suffering of losing loved ones. It would have been an appropriate time and place to actually address that very issue.

There have been a number of other shortfalls identified in the bill. One of them is the retroactivity. Another one is the potential for constitutional challenges. Certainly some concerns were raised in 2000 about the constitutionality of the DNA registry. To date that has not been challenged, but there is potential for that to come forward. If the bill goes before committee, I encourage members take a close look at the constitutionality aspect of it.

Some members have raised some questions about how this information can be used such as whether adequate protections will be in place, or whether we can have a repeat of the very sad set of circumstances of information being released to foreign powers and it being used in ways that may not be within Canadian values or how Canadians want to see information used.

There is some general agreement that the DNA bill has some very good elements within it. It is an important tool that can be used, but we want the safeguards in place to ensure that privacy of Canadians is protected and that information is used in an appropriate way.

I take this opportunity to talk about the Law Commission. One of the members talked about the fact that it did not want to abrogate its responsibility and that it falls within the purview of the House. The Law Commission would not make decisions on behalf of the House. It would provide advice to the House and help it to develop policy. It could be an arm's length body that could look at a range of issues that the House does not always have an opportunity to examine. It is a very sad comment that the Law Commission will not be available to provide this kind of advice and guidance to the House.

When those cuts were introduced, a number of us spoke to the fact that there was no consultation or debate. The Law Commission going by the wayside is another example of no consultation, no debate or looking at the usefulness of the information provided in the past. I know a number of us have used reports from the Law Commission to inform our own debate and to help us put together opinions. It has done some very good work on issues such as same sex marriage and proportional representation. The Law Commission could have been a very valuable tool for the House in providing some advice around the necessary reforms required in the Criminal Code and other justice bills.

There are a number of issues before the House.

I want to come back to the privacy and rights under the charter. There are some concerns and questions raised around privacy and charter. With regard to one of the provisions, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has raised this before, but it is incumbent upon me to raise it once again. This is only an example because there are several other provisions in the bill that will allow the DNA data bank to release information where the sample being examined is not a match that requires top standard. We have various standards in this regard and we obviously have provisions where there is no match at all. We have provisions where there is a match up to a full 100% and then we have gradations in between.

Although it is a valuable tool, there are concerns about how the matches are determined and how they will be used. It is very important that some of those privacy issues and highly technical issues be addressed. I am sure the committee will have a substantial number of witnesses brought forward it to ensure all of those very highly technical concerns are addressed.

There have been some examples in the past where DNA samples were taken improperly. How they were tracked and then subsequently destroyed are important issues for the privacy of people.

When we talk about Maher Arar, although this not DNA, it is an example of how information has been inappropriately used and it does not instill confidence in the Canadian public. In Mr. Arar's case information was gathered inappropriately and then used inappropriately. That very shameful piece of Canadian history has shaken people's faith in how information is gathered, how people's rights are protected, how that information gets shared with foreign governments and what happens to Canadian citizens once that information is out there. We know Mr. Arar was subject to torture. We also know the Canadian government did not move as swiftly as it could have done to protect his rights.

Although it was not DNA, the case of Mr. Arar is an example of how our Canadian government failed to protect the rights of our citizens. That raises a concern for Canadians. They want to ensure that when DNA information is gathered, it is appropriately stored and appropriately used. It is important for us to ensure that the systems we put in place to protect the rights of Canadians are well established, very transparent and clear. Canadians are certainly looking for transparency and clarity in their government. We expect this legislation to continue that transparency and clarity.

We have seen some value in the overturning of wrongful convictions, and a number of cases have been cited. It is also another example of how the DNA data bank can be a useful tool to protect the rights of citizens. We have had some high profile cases where perhaps a more effective use of a DNA data base could have ensured that people were not jailed in an unjust way and did not spend years in jail for crimes they did not commit. There is clearly a valuable tool in the bill, which is not only accessible for the criminal justice system, but for people who have been accused of crimes as well.

Overall, the bill going before committee will give people an opportunity to look at the privacy and charter issues, the storage issues and some of the possible constitutional challenges that could arise from the legislation. I would encourage the committee to look at the review process, which was supposed to be under way. That review could inform the committee and other members of the House. It also could avoid some of the duplication about which people are very concerned. It may also lead to looking at the overview of the criminal justice code that often has contradictory clauses. I believe it has been a number of years since the criminal justice code was overhauled. It would seem timely, given the number of bills coming before the House, that this critical step be undertaken.

Although we have seen the proliferation of justice bills before the House, perhaps we are not using our time here as efficiently and as effectively as we could be. We might want to look at the review as a way of dealing with the proliferation of bills before us.

A number of important points have been raised by members. I am sure the members of the justice committee have been taking careful notes.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will still have six minutes the next time the bill is debated.

It being 5:42 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2006 / 5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

moved that Bill C-285, An Act to amend the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act (profits distributed to provinces), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order on Bill C-285. Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, it is the government's view that this bill requires a royal recommendation.

Mr. Speaker, in the 38th Parliament you ruled that a similar bill, Bill C-363, did not require a royal recommendation. I would like to submit additional information on the issues raised during that ruling and I would ask you to review that decision based on this new information.

Bill C-285, like its predecessor, would require the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to distribute its profits to the provinces. On October 3, 2005, Mr. Speaker, you noted that a royal recommendation is required only when an appropriation is made from the consolidated revenue fund and not from other sources. You disagreed with the assertion that:

--because moneys from the reserve fund are integrated into the consolidated revenue fund on an annual basis they may be considered to form part of the general revenues under the control of the Crown.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to consider two points. The first point is whether assets held by the crown corporations properly fall within the definition of “public revenue”, which is safeguarded by section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and Standing Order 79. I would submit that the assets of the CMHC do fall within this definition.

Section 2 of the Financial Administration Act defines public money as follows:

“public money” means all money belonging to Canada received or collected by the Receiver General or any other public officer in his official capacity or any person authorized to receive or collect such money, and includes...

(c) money received or collected for or on behalf of Canada, and

(d) all money that is paid to or received or collected by a public officer under or pursuant to any act, trust, treaty, undertaking or contract, and is to be disbursed for a purpose specified in or pursuant to that act, trust, treaty, undertaking or contract....

The CMHC is a crown corporation and an agent corporation under the Financial Administration Act, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act and the National Housing Act. It is responsible to Parliament through a minister of the Crown. CMHC's activities are directed by the government. Its finances are subject to an audit by the Auditor General of Canada and to parliamentary oversight.

While section 128 of the Financial Administration Act allows crown corporations to have a separate bank account rather than directly depositing their assets in the consolidated revenue fund, this does not make this crown corporation's revenue any less “public money”.

CMHC's net financial results are accounted for on a fiscal year basis and consolidated with the government's financial statements, which means that CMHC's net income is recognized in the government's revenues dollar for dollar. This income is still in the federal purse and is therefore available for future appropriations as determined by Parliament.

The second area of new information I would like to bring to your attention, Mr. Speaker, relates to your June 13, 2005 ruling, in which you noted that the key issue in determining whether a royal recommendation is required is whether a bill:

--does anything more than rearrange the method of accounting for public funds. If not, then no royal recommendation is required: how public funds are recorded in the government's ledgers does not constitute an appropriation for which a royal recommendation would be required.

In that case, Mr. Speaker, regarding the matter of transferring funds out of the consolidated revenue fund into a separate account with a specific and limited purpose, you found that a royal recommendation was required because:

--these moneys are no longer available for other appropriations Parliament may make. These funds would no longer be available because, in effect, they have been spent....

I would submit that the principles in that rule should apply in the case of Bill C-285. In this case the accounts of the CMHC are consolidated with the government's revenue and available for future appropriations determined by Parliament. By transferring this money to the provinces, Bill C-285 is effectively an appropriation. In other words, the passage of Bill C-285 would have the result that money which was previously part of the public revenue would be directly transferred to the provinces on an annual basis.

This is clearly more than a rearrangement of accounting for public funds, since the money would be out of reach of the government and Parliament. In short, Bill C-285 would result in a new expenditure for a new purpose not anticipated by the existing act. Accordingly, I believe the bill in its entirety requires a royal recommendation.

Mr. Speaker, I trust this additional information will be useful to you in considering this important financial issue.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have already introduced this bill, as Bill C-363. At the time, we sought a ruling from the Speaker on this bill, and we were told that nothing was preventing CMHC monies from being transferred to the consolidated revenue fund and being used for another purpose. Thus, we have already had a ruling that Bill C-363 could not be prevented from being introduced, because this is not a matter relating to the appropriation of monies from the Crown and, accordingly, does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown. We had a Speaker's ruling concerning Bill C-363 during the previous Parliament .

In the same context, my colleague from the Conservative party would like to revisit a ruling that has already been given, and we were told that we were right: we could introduce Bill C-363.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on May 31, the Speaker outlined in great detail the aspects related to the requirement for a royal recommendation. Indeed, I believe that 10 out of 30 bills that were put on the order paper were flagged.

This particular bill was not flagged by the Speaker on May 31 as requiring a royal recommendation. I have made inquiries of the staff who look at the requirements and advise the Speaker. I have asked if any matters had been raised of which they were not aware when they did their review of the bills in the first instance to advise the Speaker on the likelihood of a royal recommendation. The answer the last time I asked was no. I believe the question should again be posed to the Journals Branch with regard to the arguments just raised by the government House leader.

Again, the review has been done based on the rules as outlined by the Speaker on May 31. The review indicated that there was in fact no requirement for a royal recommendation and this bill was not flagged as so. I would simply recommend to the hon. member that she ask the same question as to whether or not any of the items raised by the government House leader this day brought up items which the Speaker was not aware of when the staff made their first assessment. I think the member will find the answer is no.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand why my Conservative colleague is asking this question, since a ruling has already been given.

I would point out that when he read everything about where the money came from, he missed only one point, that is, that the money did not come from revenues or proceeds, or other such things. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation already has the money and is entitled to it. This does not involve any new revenue or tax money, not at all. It already has this money and is returning it to its coffers, which is very different. Everything that he read does not apply to this bill.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank all hon. members for their interventions on this matter. As this is second reading, we will proceed with the second reading of the bill. As for any decision as to whether or not this will proceed to third reading, the Speaker will make it at another time. For now we will continue with the debate. The hon. member for Quebec.