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House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was americans.

Topics

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the House about this agreement, which I feel is inadequate and does not represent the best interests of Canadians everywhere.

When we entered into a free trade agreement with the United States, we did so with certain reservations. Indeed, we were negotiating with a country whose economy is so much larger than ours, a country that is much more powerful and that tends to be very protectionist within its borders.

There are certain advantages, however. We have the advantage of access to enormous markets. We are producers and exporters, and our primary markets are in the United States. We therefore entered into the agreement.

We now see that, rather than defend that agreement, defend ourselves and our producers, we are being forced to sell out to American interests.

We are upholding our responsibilities in the agreement. We must still sell them oil and other products on which a dependence has developed. We must live with that agreement on our side, but the advantages are suddenly disappearing. It begins with losing these advantages concerning forestry and we fear just how far it can go.

What other industry must we sacrifice in an agreement so that the Prime Minister might one day be invited to the presidential ranch in Crawford? What other sector of our economy are we going to abandon?

The government boasts about the number of entrepreneurs, mills and producers who have signed on to this agreement. The inquisition boasted that all the witches they burned at the stake had also signed some declarations of guilt, but they were forced to do that.

We see that in this case. Industries and provinces have told us that they have been coerced into signing an agreement that does not advantage them. They say that it is not a good deal and that they do not like it. In April they started a process that they could buy into, where there was a framework agreement and they could have discussions. All of a sudden, producers were left out of those discussions.

A few had discussions. The minister ensured that a few large ones were taken care of, the ones he has an interest in and has had an interest in the past, like Canfor. If organizations represented mills or producers in more than one province, they were not part of those discussions. Most of the producers were left out.

We have entered into an agreement where we maintain our responsibilities and give the U.S. $1 billion for partial access to its market. It is our money, money that tribunals at the WTO and NAFTA have agreed belongs to Canadian producers. We give it to the Americans and while we can continue to sell in their market, it is under their terms. There will be quotas, there will be taxes and it will cost us.

How do these taxes work? When the price goes down and producers are squeezed, they have to start paying an export duty at a time when they can least afford it. Everyone understands, as I do, that accelerates the risk of bankruptcies, closures and foreclosures.

If for some reason the Americans do not like it, they can step away from the deal, but they keep our money. That is about the equivalent of a kidnapping. We catch the kidnappers with the victims, we bring them to court, go through a preliminary hearing and trial and all the evidence is in our favour. However, right before the jury comes into the room, we strike a deal and say that they will not be found guilty and they can keep the ransom money. If at any time they are not happy, they can come back, get the victims and ransom them again. This is the deal that has been struck, and we are proud of that.

We have seen once again that there are giants in the forestry sector. Canfor is a giant, and the minister of Canfor understands that, and there are smaller ones. There are shrubs, little bushes. There are people like the Prime Minister, a shrub who will do anything to have an agreement with the U.S. President. He will profit. I have no doubt he will get to the ranch and he will be happy, but where will we be left?

How have these mills been coerced into signing? They are in debt. They have been through a long battle at NAFTA and WTO. They have had restricted access and have had to pay ransom money to the Americans. They are in trouble and the banks have been backing them. If the mills sign on, the banks will get their money back. Therefore, the bankers are putting the squeeze on these mills and they are signing on. The bankers are going to get their money and the mills are going to be okay for a little while.

We see the downturn in the U.S. economy. Eventually we are going to hit those magic numbers, and I think it will be immediate, where they have to start paying ransom or where there is limited access. Do members think the banks will be supportive and allow the mills to go into debt again? The banks will realize there is no more money they can get back from the Americans and support from the federal government will not be there. Therefore, we will have an accelerated round of closures in our Canadian softwood industry.

Again, that plays into the hands of the gentleman and his friends from Crawford. The Americans will have $1 billion of our money. We will have a lot of softwood capacity, the best in the world, that will be on the market, some of the medium sized and smaller ones, which I am sure they will be very happy to buy at discount prices. We are abandoning that industry.

Mr. Speaker, you might ask as an astute observer why a member from Atlantic Canada would not support this deal. Atlantic Canada is not included in the agreement. From the very beginning, there was an understanding on the U.S. side that because Atlantic Canadian forests are largely owned by the private sector and individuals, and the cost of cutting the wood is higher, that there is no level of subsidization. No argument was made. The Americans said we would be exempted from any restrictions.

The Americans might do that because they think we are fine little people who cut their trees without making noise and saw them ecologically, and get them to the market in a very nice way, or the Americans could be trying to divide our industry. The Americans could be trying to put a wedge in the industry, where they have one part of the country working against the other, where it makes it difficult to have a national forward looking policy, approach or lobby of all the producers in this country.

Immediately, we have a disagreement because there is a slight advantage for Atlantic Canada because we continue to have access and we have some stability in the market. Our producers know where they are going. They know they are not paying duties and they know they will not be paying duties to have access to the U.S. market and so that is quite good.

However, what will happen when we start having all the closures and downsizing in other parts of the country? What will happen when the access is restricted or they cannot financially export to the other parts of the country and we start having increased competition in the niche markets that we have in Atlantic Canada? Will this be good for Atlantic Canada? I do not think so.

I think Atlantic Canada is the most important part of the country of course, but it is a part of this country. Atlantic Canada does well when the country does well. We depend on trade with the U.S. in many areas, from high technology, repair in the military of the IMP in Halifax, to fisheries products in my riding, tires in the three large Michelin manufacturing plants that we have, oil and gas exports, oil and gas manufacturing, ship manufacturing, and ship repairs. We depend on exports and we depend on our markets in the U.S.

If we start looking at NAFTA and start tearing it apart, start taking away the Canadian advantages and only keeping the Canadian responsibilities, our region is no longer advantaged. All of sudden we will see that we cannot ship into that market. We will see our oil and gas and our primary resources going into that U.S. market. We would be forced by this agreement to send it there without advantage.

I believe for Atlantic Canadians, like for all Canadians, that it is important that we study this deal very seriously, that we look at it, that we see what it means, and that we not support this agreement.

Futhermore, however I see that I am running out of time, so I will return tomorrow for questions and comments.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

moved that Bill C-279, An Act to amend the DNA Identification Act (establishment of indexes), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 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 May 31, 2006 you invited members to comment on whether Bill C-279 would require a royal recommendation.

Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, I would appreciate your consideration on whether this bill requires a royal recommendation, since the bill proposes the creation of two new indices and modifies the purposes of the existing act.

The Speaker has previously ruled that the creation of a new office or purpose involves new costs, and therefore bills proposing such new offices or purposes require royal recommendations.

On November 22, 2004 your Honour ruled that a royal recommendation would be required for Bill C-243, an Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (establishment of the Office of Victims Ombudsman of Canada). In that ruling, you noted that:

--this bill would create the position of victims ombudsman of Canada, with remuneration for such officers and employees as are necessary to perform the functions and duties. It is abundantly clear that this legislative initiative would authorize the spending of public funds.

Similarly, on June 13, 2005 the Chair indicated:

Where it is clear that the legislative objective of a bill cannot be accomplished without the dedication of public funds to that objective, the bill must be seen as the equivalent of a bill effecting an appropriation.

The purpose of the existing DNA Identification Act is to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed designated offences. I would note that this Act was accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Section 3 of Bill C-279 would add an additional purpose, which is to identify missing persons via their DNA profiles.

Section 4 of Bill C-279 would follow-up on this additional purpose by requiring the establishment of two new indices under the national DNA databank to be administered by the databank commissioner.

Given that it would create an addition purpose and new program requirements which would modify the purpose of the DNA Identification Act, and result in significant new expenditures, the bill should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Are there any other interventions on this point of order? If not, I recognize the hon. member for Burlington.

Before we commence debate, the Chair will take the point of order under advisement and the parliamentary secretary will hear back from the Speaker in due course.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are nearly 100,000 missing persons in Canada every year. Over 6,000 missing person cases are currently unresolved with an addition of over 450 coming online annually.

There are currently 15,000 samples of unidentified DNA recovered from crime scenes across the country currently stored in the RCMP's national DNA databank in Ottawa. As well, there are hundreds and hundreds of unidentified Jane and John Does in morgues all across the country.

Restrictions to the current DNA Identification Act make it impossible to match DNA to those thousands of missing persons in the country. Given the need for an MPI, or missing persons index, a DNA databank, and the widespread support from Canadians, law enforcement professionals, the provinces and territorial governments, DNA indices for missing persons should be created as soon as possible.

Bill C-279 amends the DNA Identification Act to provide for the establishment of a number of indices to help law enforcement agencies search for and identify persons reported missing. We must help families bring closure to the disappearance of their loved ones.

I would like to explain how Bill C-279 would work. Coroners and police use a variety of methods to identify human remains. These include: dental records, fingerprints and hair samples. In some cases DNA technology is used on a local basis and often on a case-by-case basis. This is not systematic by any stretch of the imagination and it does not use a comprehensive database. Jurisdictions cannot easily work together on human remains cases.

Currently, there are about 500 sets of unidentified human remains in Canada. Approximately 100,000 missing person reports are made to the police each year. Most cases are resolved quickly. About 6,000 are ongoing cases of missing persons and that continues to grow annually and it grows exponentially.

The federal government has jurisdiction over the Criminal Code. In cooperation with the provinces and territories, it has established the national DNA databank that is used for criminal investigations as we just heard. I want to use the same type of technology to help families finally find their missing loved ones.

A national DNA MPI, or missing persons index, would reassure families of missing persons that current and future unidentified found remains can be checked on a voluntary basis across the country.

Many stakeholders also believe that an MPI might also be of assistance in certain ongoing criminal investigations while still being consistent with the humanitarian principle of an MPI.

I would like to highlight some of the key elements of Bill C-279. A number of new DNA indices would be created to help find missing persons. The provinces and the territories have been working over the summer to help develop a new MPI regime.

The bill provides for a full cross-checking between all profiles held in the MPI and those held in existing crime scene indices and a new human remains index. Bill C-279 proposes to incorporate an MPI into the current provisions of the current DNA Identification Act.

I will be frank. Some amendments are needed and I am willing to work with the committee of the House of Commons to make that happen. For instance, I have had feedback that we need to better identify the definition of what a missing person is and I am more than willing to work on that.

The use of a police report that actually starts the process is not identified in the act and needs to be there. Finally, another piece is the role of the RCMP Commissioner which is defined in the act but needs further clarification, and at committee I am more than willing to work on this issue.

All amendments through the committee will bring clarity to the issue of federal-provincial jurisdiction.

At present, the national DNA bank enables electronic matching between and within two indices: the convicted offenders index, which is basically DNA of those who have been found guilty and convicted of designated offences; and the crime scene index, which is really important to my MPI as it contains the DNA profiles found at crime scenes. They are kept at the data bank and are there for use for my MPI cross-checking.

The national DNA data bank has been a major success in improving public safety. Close to 6,000 matches have been made that have either solved or assisted police in investigations of serious offences. There are about 130,000 profiles in the national DNA data bank at present.

In late 2003, federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers mandated a working group to explore and recommend options for a national MPI. A core principle was to do no harm to the existing criminal law DNA regime. All agreed that an MPI would require provincial and territorial support and participation to be effective.

The federal, provincial and territorial working group significantly advanced this work through public consultations and focused on legal and privacy issues, definitions, and costs. Specialized consultations were held with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the National DNA Data Bank Advisory Committee, the ministries of justice and public safety, and other key stakeholders.

In recent months, the working group has formulated its discussions around my bill, Bill C-279. It is preparing a report to the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice at their meeting to be held in Newfoundland early in October. Bill C-279 will be an important part of the agenda at that meeting.

Here are what my expectations are.

I envision a national system operated by the RCMP, established by the federal government with the support of the provinces and the territories. Their participation would likely be on a voluntary basis.

Missing persons would be broadly defined in the legislation. Working with our provincial and territorial partners, we would use regulations and guidelines that would allow for local flexibility and best practices in all areas of this country.

MPIs, missing person indices, containing DNA profiles would also be created. These indices would include those of human remains and personal effects from missing persons. If someone's son or daughter went missing and there were hair samples in combs or brushes, those types of things could be used in an index. In addition, we could use family DNA, so if it is a brother, sister, daughter or son, DNA could be provided that is close enough for matching purposes.

These indices would allow for selective and strategic cross-matching among all the indices, all the MPIs, and the other DNA indices that already exist.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the Minister of Natural Resources, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, on this file. He started this process in 2003 and has been a great leader for me in terms of helping me understand the process and the issues and bring this bill to the House today. I appreciate all the efforts he and his staff have made on my behalf. He has affectionately named this bill Lindsey's law, after Ms. Peterson's daughter, Lindsey. Ms. Peterson is from British Columbia, his home riding.

Lindsey was a 14 year old when she disappeared while walking home down a rural road near Courtenay on Vancouver Island. She had planned to meet her friends, and like many other teenagers who live in rural communities with limited bus service, she decided to hitchhike. What should have been a 10 minute ride has turned into a 13 year nightmare because the blond-haired, green-eyed teenager never made it to where she was going.

Since that day, Lindsey's mother, Judy Peterson, has struggled with the questions that surrounded her daughter's disappearance. Ms. Peterson hoped answers about Lindsey's fate could be found through DNA matching, but her hopes have been put on hold until Canada's DNA legislation catches up with technology.

The importance of DNA identification has gained widespread media attention. Ms. Peterson has personally worked very hard to lobby government for changes to the DNA legislation.

I also have a Lindsey. Unfortunately for us, one time she went missing. It was the worst few hours of my life when my young daughter was missing. The reason I took up this bill was to make sure that it did not happen to me again, or to any other family in this country. I cannot imagine the grief of someone who is missing a family member year after year after year.

We have the technology. We have the ability to make it happen. We are sent here to make a difference for Canadians. This is the type of bill that would make a difference to everybody's life across this country.

In closing, the amendments for the use of the proposed indices can be easily put in place. Canada is a DNA leader and it is time to put our technology to use. Lindsey's law is the next logical step. It is time.

Given the need for a DNA data bank and the widespread support from Canadians, law enforcement professionals, provincial governments, territorial governments, a DNA data bank for missing persons should be created as soon as possible. It would bring closure to families of missing persons. It would help law enforcement professionals do a better job. It would reflect Parliament's commitment to families who have been missing loved ones for far too long.

I ask for everyone's support on my private member's bill. I am willing to work very hard at committee to make the changes that are necessary to put this into place.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

We will now have a five-minute question and comment period.

The hon. member for Malpeque.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I recognize the work the member and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands have done on this issue.

I cannot understand why the intent of this bill has not already been accomplished. The process was set in place. The RCMP admitted in 2003 or 2004 that it did have the technology to deal with this. Yes, we hear about the issue of privacy from Department of Justice officials. Privacy should not be the issue. There are ways around that, because the permission of the families is in fact required under the proposal from the member opposite.

I agree that we should be using DNA as the tremendous tool it is to bring closure to the families of missing people. They were deeply involved in the bill. I personally met with Ms. Peterson and support her request for this legislation.

The member in closing said “as soon as possible”. Is he working with the ministry on that side of the House? Is there any way possible that the government could bring this forward as a government bill? There is no excuse not to.

I think we on this side would be supportive to a great extent on that move because he is right that this should be implemented as soon as possible, and as soon as possible really was about two years ago.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for all his support. Since introducing this bill, he has been very supportive of the efforts of making this happen.

I would like to share some good news. Tonight, obviously, we are debating the bill at second reading. There is about an hour of discussion. The good news is that I think in Newfoundland, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety will be discussing the bill with their provincial counterparts, and they have the attitude of making it happen. I am not in a position to say whether it will become government business and whether it will become a government bill, but I can assure the member that I have met not only with the RCMP but with all the ministry staff and all the administrative side. They all are looking at trying to make this happen.

I fully expect that if it continues as a private member's bill there will be a second hour of discussion shortly after the October event in Newfoundland. I am hoping that we will be able to get this to the floor for third reading and passage as soon as possible.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, we are all very sensitive to the issue raised by the hon. member in his private member's bill. This is the second bill we have seen on this subject.

Has the hon. member considered the constitutional problems raised by this bill? If so, does he have any solutions?

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the constitutional issues were brought to my attention when I first brought the bill forward. The working group has representatives from all provinces and territories through the justice department and they have been working on those issues over the summertime.

The feedback I have received thus far is that those constitutional issues have been addressed or can be addressed. There are amendments that need to be made which are minor in nature, but it can be done constitutionally and it can be done with respect to all of our partners, all the provinces and all the territories.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his worthy initiative. I have some experience with private members' bills and know how difficult it is to get a bill on the floor, have the bill debated, and get a bill in and out of committee and back. I was fortunate enough to actually have a private member's bill receive royal assent, which is one of the prouder moments of my parliamentary life.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

An hon. member

It slipped through.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Yes, it slipped through. I sometimes wonder whether I have any friends on either side of this House.

I did note the enthusiasm with which the government stood up and said that this bill would require a royal recommendation. It is a bit of an attempt on the part of the government to take the wind out of the sails of the hon. member.

I want to talk, if I may, in what I hope the member will interpret as a constructive fashion and ask a number of questions on what I see as difficulties in the bill that I think the committee needs to address. The bill does put up a number of difficulties that all members need to wrestle with.

There is no argument with the principle of the bill and, as the member for Malpeque said, there is no real issue with respect to the need for something such as this.

The first area of concern is this: what is a missing person? This is no idle question. What is a missing person? There are a variety of indices and I will expand on that further along.

The second area of concern has to do with privacy issues. As can be appreciated, the individual right of persons to control their personal information, their DNA, the very core of who they are, is a paramount right in our Constitution and in our society. That needs to be addressed by the mover of the bill and explored thoroughly by the committee.

The third issue has to do with that famous old Canadian chestnut, provincial rights and federal rights. This is not merely an academic question, because, generally speaking, the police forces are not federal, with the exception of the RCMP, so presumably we would want access by the police who are municipal police officers, provincial police officers and federal police officers.

The other question is, do we want access to international data banks? If there is access to international data banks such as, for instance, those of the FBI and the CIA on missing person indexes, what are the protocols that would come up with respect to that issue?

The other question that has been alluded to by the hon. member is with respect to who is going to pay for this. How are the costs going to be shared?

The final issue I wanted to raise in our first hour of debate with respect to this bill has to do with the methodology that is used to collect samples. There are two essential methodologies currently in existence. The first one is a nuclear collection of DNA, which is a relatively inexpensive collective of DNA samples. The second is a much more expensive one, a mitochondrial collection methodology.

There is a question of resources. Would we actually use the most expensive methodology to collect? The bill is silent on this point. Again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Let us start with the fundamentals, that is, what is the definition of a missing person? The bill is actually silent on this point. It has no definitions.

Ninety per cent of missing persons are in fact found within two weeks and 99% of missing persons are found within 22 weeks. So where do we start? Should we put somebody into the index after two weeks or after 22 weeks? Or is it another point? Also, do we need to have exhausted all other methodologies before we get the person into the missing persons index?

At the other end of the spectrum, when will the profile be destroyed? As I said, this material is the core of our identities, the core of the identity of each and every one of us.

What will be the protocol for the removal of the individual from the missing persons index and from that DNA collection? Will it be seven years, which is a general standard provincial average for an application for a death declaration? If a person has gone missing and has been missing for seven years, is that the point at which we would choose for an individual to be removed from the missing persons index once a declaration of death has been established?

What effects would a positive identification of human remains have in relation to the coroner with respect to vital statistics, let us say, with respect to licensing and with respect to insurance claims? All of these questions do need to be explored.

I want to reiterate to the hon. member that I am not trying to be a contrarian here. I think his initiative is a worthy initiative.

The second point I want to raise with respect to the bill is a flaw, so to speak, a contradiction between the first part of the bill, which says that the DNA profile is to be collected “only for the purpose of searching for and identifying the person reported missing”, and the second part of the bill.

The first section of the bill says it is to be done only for that purpose. However, the second part of the bill says, in the very next clause, “The Commissioner shall compare the DNA profile...with the other DNA profiles”, or in other words, crime scene indexes, offender indexes, and things of that nature, and “communicate” that to law enforcement officers.

As members can appreciate, that is a bit of a contradiction. Again, I would like to hear from the hon. member how he proposes to resolve that contradiction, but it is relatively easy to see. A person is reported as missing, a DNA sample is a given, the police officers compare that with a crime scene index, and they come back to the aggrieved relatives and say they have made a positive connection.

The positive connection is that their missing son or daughter is not the victim of a crime, but rather the perpetrator or a person of interest in the crime scene. I do not think that is quite what the aggrieved relatives had in mind: to put their son or daughter at a crime scene. Again, that may be an unintended consequence.

Another section in the bill says that the relative himself or herself can be required to provide his or her own DNA sample. Again, they may well do that voluntarily. Then we do a bit of a comparison, let us say, and an unresolved crime a number of years old turns up a positive match to the relative. Again, the relative was not intending to provide his or her own DNA for the purposes of a crime scene index.

I would be interested in hearing how the hon. member intends to resolve these difficulties. Again I want to reiterate that I am not trying to be contrarian or obstreperous, but I do need to have these kinds of questions resolved before we can fully consent to the bill.

The Canadian Association of Police Boards says that “privacy issues are going to be thorny”. I take it that this is a bit of an understatement. If the bill is left with the ambiguities that it currently has, these are not just thorny privacy issues. Not only will the bill not survive a royal recommendation, it certainly will not survive a charter challenge. I know that not only does the hon. member want his bill to be effective in here and to get royal assent, but he wants it to be a useful tool.

Another question that arises is with respect to a person who wants to disappear. We will take the example of an abusive spouse. Let us say that one night the victim of an abusive relationship just disappears. The person gets onto the missing persons index. Let us say that she has set up an entire new life for herself and then the missing persons index creates a positive match. Suddenly the person who wanted to disappear has been found.

I see that I am running out of time, but I have hit on only two of the points I wanted to raise.

Finally, with respect to jurisdiction, it is a significant issue, as is the methodology that would be used in regard to mitochondrial analysis or nuclear analysis of DNA samples. Both of these are significant issues and create great cost impacts, which the hon. member, having studied this, probably appreciates.

Again, I want to encourage the hon. member with respect to this bill. It is a worthy initiative. I think it is worthy of debate in this House and worthy of debate in committee.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, like the previous speaker, I think this is an excellent idea that should be implemented. My objections have to do with the method chosen: a private member's bill. This is quite often a long process and one that is rarely successful. I think this idea deserves better. I hope that this law will be in effect in about a year.

This bill does raise constitutional problems. The mover thinks that there is a way to solve them, but we still have to know how, which he has not gone into much. I have some suggestions.

First, what is the constitutional problem? This House justified the DNA Identification Act as being an exercise of the authority granted it by subsection 91(27) of the British North America Act. I have an opinion issued by the Library of Parliament in 2005. It has therefore been known for some time. It reads: “Unlike the already-established National DNA Data Bank, the indices created by Bill C-240 would not be created for criminal identification purposes”.

This goes without saying. Obviously, we want more than that.

The opinion continues: “As such, they would not come under the criminal law power accorded to Parliament by section 91(27)”.

It says too: “A question has arisen, therefore, as to whether C-240 [this was the predecessor of the current bill] is ultra vires the powers of Parliament as it would deal with a matter of local concern.”

So that is what is in subsection 92(16).

Nevertheless, it says: “Missing persons investigations in Canada are led by local police [this too, is an argument akin to what the previous speaker said] and provincial coroners have jurisdiction over unidentified human remains. Barring an inter-provincial or international element to the disappearance of the person found, the matter would be one of local concern and, therefore, be within provincial jurisdiction.”

Attractive as I find this very commendable and worthwhile idea, I remember that the researcher submitted several options. I do not know which are preferred by the person who introduced the bill we are dealing with today. I do know, though, which one Quebec prefers.

In one of the first options, it says: “The jurisdictional problem arises, however, in the creation of a new human remains databank, the data for which would be furnished by local police officers and coroners. Local police officers and coroners are subject to provincial jurisdiction and to legally require them to forward DNA remains anywhere would require provincial cooperation.”

I know that this is not Quebec’s preferred option. However, one option would be, namely: “Another possibility for establishing a national missing persons index is for the Department of Justice to work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to develop uniform legislation to govern the operations of such a database and to facilitate the establishment of provincial and territorial indices linked in a network. This would be somewhat similar to the American approach in which each state has its own data bank and is connected to a virtual national DNA data bank.”

In the United States, criminal law is a state jurisdiction, in contrast to our federation where it is under the federal Parliament. If they have managed in the United States to create 50 networked databanks, I cannot see why, with all the goodwill that has apparently been expressed, we could not create 10 or 12 networked databanks here—if the Yukon and Northwest Territories are included.

I see too that many other problems have been raised in connection with this bill.

Very optimistically, the mover of this bill says that we could easily introduce several amendments that would resolve all these problems. I do not believe that would be the best way to proceed. In my opinion, if the bill were to become a government bill, the government could send it to its own research service.

Government officials could propose a bill in which all the amendments that should be included were presented in a much more coherent context. Moreover, if we were to insert amendments here and there in the bill, we would risk losing consistency. If, from the beginning, officials drafted a bill based on consultations with the provinces to ensure that all the provinces would adopt laws that could be harmonized, we would have a much more effective bill. In addition, the process would not take as long.

This bill is a successor to Bill C-240 which was introduced by the current Minister of Natural Resources. The path is now a great deal shorter for the minister to convince his cabinet colleague, the Minister of Justice, to raise this matter.

Moreover, there is an institution in Canada that meets every year to examine the possibility of harmonizing our laws. At one time, there was even talk of standardizing provincial laws in appropriate cases. In French, this group is known as la Conférence pour l'harmonisation des lois au Canada, and in English it is the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. There are meetings every summer and I, personally, have attended many times, often as an adviser to the Quebec government when I was in private practice. I have also attended as the Quebec Minister of Justice.

In my view, this is the proper forum to discuss this subject. Perhaps these were the discussions that the mover referred to earlier. If that is the case, there first have to be discussions in order to draft a bill that would be acceptable to all the provinces, and finally to present the bill to Parliament.

It seems to me that if we followed that approach, we would see results a great deal more quickly. It would be surprising if the number of private member’s bills that are adopted amounted to more than a few percentage points. I am not sure if anyone has ever published statistics on that topic.

However, if the Minister of Natural Resources—who was in favour of it—were to sell the idea to the Minister of Justice, if his staff were to submit a bill jointly and if they could get the consent of the provinces, we could have such a bill a year from now. But I doubt that we get such results so quickly if this remains a simple member’s bill.

The members of the public who support this bill, and who are fed up with constitutional quarrels, do not see that these are objections that we are raising. Basically it is a reality that we must deal with and that I am very familiar with, and that is why I made an effort to find a way that was faster, more efficient and surer of achieving results in much shorter times than are proposed here.

We live in a federation and, as members know, this is not my first choice of system of government for Canada. I prefer a true confederation. Moreover, they must have known this when they gave me my first office in the Confederation Building. In any case, that is not the reason. In a federation, there are more obstacles than in a unitary system and this case is proof of this. In my opinion, the solution that I submit to the mover is the best one. This is why I cannot support the bill as it is drafted and as it will be submitted.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, although this is a private member's bill, the NDP supports it going to committee. We have some reservations. We hope they can be resolved at committee or perhaps even before it gets to committee.

I want to follow up on some of the comments made by my colleague from the Bloc, who made a number of points about the frustration he and I have both shared with regard to this legislation. I know it is certainly a frustration shared by the mover of the bill and the Minister of Natural Resources, who had authored a similar bill, I believe Bill C-240, in the last Parliament.

In spite of the fact that we had reasonable support for the concept from certain individual members of the Liberal Party, it was frustrating. When the Liberal Party was in government, it would not address this issue, which was unfortunate. At the time, two pieces of legislation were before the justice committee. One was kind of a last minute thing. This concept could have easily been included at that time. If not then, it could have been addressed in the mandatory review of the DNA system established under the code almost five years ago now. That review was supposed to have been completed over a year ago and still has not been.

There is a need for this type of system where family members can assist in identifying another family member, whether it is a sibling or a child, who has been killed or died as a result of other trauma. This would be a major step forward in giving the surviving family relief by knowing what happened to a loved one. There is no question we need to do this.

My colleague from the Bloc has raised the constitutional issue. It is quite clear, and I think all of us agree, that there is a problem. In the last Parliament, the current Minister of Natural Resources went out of his way to get correspondence from all of the provinces, indicating they wanted to have the system put in place.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of it. The system could still be challenged if it were established, as suggested in this bill, as purely a federal system. It could be challenged by individuals who are being followed as a result of this. I will come back to this in a minute. It is not simply good enough to say we have an agreement between the provinces and the federal government. How that agreement is put into play is very crucial because it could be challenged under the Constitution.

I believe there are answers to that question and hopefully we will be able to resolve it at committee. For that reason, the NDP supports it going to committee, perhaps with some significant amendments at that point to address the constitutional problem.

In addition to that, there are some other problems with the legislation. I do not believe it goes far enough in dealing with privacy issues that could come up. Although the bill is very clearly intended to only deal with DNA samples of deceased individuals, it is not the end of it. The bill does not prohibit, as extensively as it needs to, getting at the DNA sample and comparing it to another sample of a person who is still alive and may be the subject of some investigation by the police. That is clearly not what it is intended to do, but it is open to that kind of use by the state. We have to build some additional amendments into the bill to prevent that from happening.

My final concern is the privacy issue. We have the potential scenario of sexually abusive parents attempting to trace their offspring, who has run from the home because of the abuse, and is using it as a methodology to do so. Under the bill as it is presently composed, they can offer their sample. If the sample is then compared to one that is found at a crime scene or if it gets into the hands of police officers in some other fashion, that would be an indirect methodology of tracing that person.

In the previous bill and again in this bill there have been specific attempts to thwart that from ever happening. I do not think it goes quite far enough and I will be proposing some amendments to deal with that more specifically when it gets to committee, assuming the House see it appropriate to do so. Those amendments would shut the door on any invasion of privacy in that regard. I believe it can be done with further amendments to the bill and perhaps amendments to our Evidence Act, which would prevent that from occurring and prohibit police forces from ever using it in that way.

There is one additional problem, about which we learned when we went to the laboratory in Ottawa. There is a problem with destroying DNA samples. The way we collected samples in the current system, a number of them are put on one sheet. If we destroy one of them, we almost inevitably destroy the whole sheet or a great number of them. The people in the lab were still working on that problem about a year ago. I do not believe they resolved it. It is a problem under the current system because we have outstanding court orders that DNA samples that were taken improperly are to be destroyed and they cannot do it. The system does not allow for it.

It may be possible to create and store the samples in a different fashion, but right now that is not possible. That is a concern under the legislation. The final part of the legislation that is being proposed speaks specifically about the need to destroy samples in proper circumstances. That is the final point that needs to be addressed.

I expect most of my caucus will be supporting the bill. However, we have concerns around the constitutional and privacy issues. We also have concerns about its potential abuse and the ability of the system to be able to destroy samples. All those issues, with the exception of perhaps the last one, can be resolved at committee. We will have to hear additional evidence on the issue of whether the samples can be destroyed.

In summary, the bill is long past due. I will be critical of the former government because it was not dealt with in the last Parliament, and it should have and could have been. I hope we will be able to get this through. I hope the government will come on side and make it a government bill rather than a private member's bill.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Oxford Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I compliment the member for Burlington for bringing forward this private member's bill. I suspect in the last hour that he has learned a great deal about private member's bills, what other people think and how they can pick them apart. I am sure he will see his way through to continue to push this forward.

As a former police officer, I can see a lot of merit in what he has here and I can say that for a long time, far longer than I can recall and before that, we have been using the old style fingerprints, dental records and a whole variety of things for this same reason. This is moving forward.

The government understands the principles behind this private member's bill and is sympathetic to the issue.

The bill proposes to add a new index to the National DNA Data Bank, which is managed and operated by the RCMP on behalf of all Canadian police agencies, to hold DNA profiles of missing persons and unidentified human remains. Profiles that would be cross-checked against each other and against the convicted offender and crime scene indices in an effort to identify human remains.

DNA is a valuable tool in law enforcement and it is understandable that it could be seen as a way to aid the humanitarian aspect of a missing persons index to that system as proposed in the bill.

The question we must address is whether the resources of the National DNA Data Bank should be used, not only to help solve serious crimes, but also for compassionate and humanitarian reasons.

If this is to happen, there are jurisdictional, legal, privacy and cost issues to consider and we intend to do just that.

Expanding the mandate of the National DNA Data Bank and amending the DNA Identification Act in this way could be complicated. It is imperative to this new government that every Canadians' right to privacy be preserved in the proposed legislation.

The National DNA Data Bank was established as an investigative tool to assist police in their investigation of designated offences by helping them to identify and apprehend serial and repeat offenders. The law does not currently allow for the collection of samples from non-offenders and there is no provision for cross-checking DNA profiles from non-offenders against those of convicted criminals.

With regard to the proposed legislation, we will consider whether it is appropriate to cross-check the DNA profiles of missing persons and, in particular, their close biological relatives against those of convicted offenders or against unidentified DNA from crime scenes. We will determine who would have access to the DNA samples of missing persons and who would provide consent to collect DNA samples from the personal belongings of the missing person. If profiles were to be cross-checked against those of criminal offenders and unsolved crime scenes, we will assess the privacy implications.

These issues will be clearly defined in any policy that the government will pursue relating to the hon. member's bill.

Missing persons investigations are generally initiated by local police, which we heard today from other speakers, and found human remains are under the control of provincial coroners, and that we do understand.

Depending on the circumstances, an individual case has the potential to become a criminal investigation but the investigation of a missing person is not necessarily a matter of criminal law, which is a federal jurisdiction to legislate. Not every missing person case becomes a criminal investigation or is a matter of criminal law, which is legislated at the federal level, but there obviously is potential for missing person cases to have suspicious circumstances and to, indeed, turn into formal criminal investigations.

Before amending the act, we will consider the implications that any new legislation could have on existing criminal law.

Recognizing the value of using DNA in this way, the Government of Canada is consulting its provincial and territorial partners on the creation of a national missing persons DNA index.

In the context of the federal-provincial-territorial work already underway, the Government of Canada consulted Canadians on the question of adding a missing persons index to the National DNA Data Bank. This consultation started in late 2003 with the justice ministers from the federal, provincial and territorial levels. This group of justice officials from all across Canada formed a working group which then consulted with the public.

Based on the favourable response from Canadians in those consultations, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice confirmed their continued commitment to develop options for an effective national humanitarian missing persons index.

Officials from the federal, provincial and territorial governments are continuing to examine the cost, privacy and legal implications of creating such an index. As well, the DNA Identification Act is subject to mandatory parliamentary review which could also begin this year.

The matter requires further study. I suggest that some of the issues that were brought forward today are perhaps covered at least partly in proposed subsection 5(7) of the act. I am sure that the member is willing to tighten it up if that is what is required, but I would like to read what proposed subsection 5(7) says:

The Commissioner shall not use any DNA profile derived under subsection (6) unless the Commissioner explains to the relative who gave the consent, or provided the object or sample, that the DNA profile is to be used only for the purpose of searching for and identifying the person reported missing, and obtains the written consent of the relative to use the DNA profile.

I would suggest that some of the concerns are covered in that. Perhaps it needs to be tightened up a little more, but I think it makes it very clear that this is not to be used for some other criminal investigation, some sort of a fishing expedition I think was mentioned, but in fact it is only to be used in situations where the search is for a missing person.

In conclusion, I reiterate my support for the principles upon which the hon. member's proposal is based. This is a worthy initiative and the government is studying ways to ease the emotional burden of Canadian families with loved ones who go missing.

We are moving forward on this issue, but we must consider all of the implications of it.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

With unanimous consent shall I see the clock as 6:30 p.m.?

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

DNA Identification ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on June 20 I asked the Minister of the Environment which minister gave the order to remove the word “Kyoto” from the Government of Canada's current Internet websites. First she answered, “no website has ever been turned off”. Then she said that the subject of my question, the suppression of references to the Kyoto protocol on government websites was not substantive enough to be discussed further. Perhaps not for her.

This really was not a surprise, because we already knew that the minister was not interested in hearing about Kyoto.

As I pointed out last week, in raising another matter on June 15, the minister misled the House and Canadians. Five days later on June 20 she did it again. She said that no website had been turned off, no links had been taken down and that the Environment Canada website was “very dynamic”. It was so dynamic that we found on Environment Canada's website a link to a Kyoto site that has not been updated in over a year.

Also, Natural Resources Canada, the minister's partner in suppression, has not only erased all references to Kyoto, but it has also entirely eliminated Natural Resources climate change sites. In other words, websites have been altered, turned off and links taken down.

It is proof that the government does not believe in Kyoto and does not believe in climate change. But that is not all. Ten days after I asked my question in the House, that is to say on June 30, 2006, the government, which is trying to convince the population that it takes the responsibility of climate change and the environment seriously, turned off the central climate change website of the Government of Canada, note turned off. Now when one tries to reach the www.climatechange.gc.ca, one can read, “The Government of Canada Climate Change site is currently unavailable” which is more proof that this minority government does not believe in the science of climate change.

Yes, the link to present to all Canadians the plan to honour our Kyoto commitment to reduce greenhouse gases has been completely erased.

Also, as recently as two weeks ago, we realized that the government had once again made some changes to the Environment Canada website. We actually noted the addition of a paragraph that deliberately let on that global warming was a controversial subject within the scientific community.

We could read the following there:

There is a great deal of uncertainty associated with climate predictions and, although temperature changes during this century are consistent with global warming predictions, they remain within the range of natural variability.

The government finally withdrew this paragraph following a public complaint by a representative of the scientific community.

The government is in denial about climate change. It does not like the science and now it wants to censor it. We have not forgotten that the current Prime Minister has, in the past, questioned the science of climate change and has called it a controversial hypothesis.

I ask the parliamentary secretary to set aside the answer that has been prepared for him and simply acknowledge that his minister misled the House when she said that no website has ever been turned off.

6:30 p.m.

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and comments of my colleague across the way. However, repeating an untrue statement does not make it true, even if it is repeated over and over again, as we are hearing from the member.

The hon. member's claims are not based on fact. Neither the minister nor any member of this government ever asked for the word Kyoto to be removed from any federal website.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I suppose the question is this. How accurate were the words of the minister in her response to my question?

She said that no website had ever been turned off with regard to Kyoto. I then read out what is on the Government of Canada website, which announces that it has been turned off. I do not see how the parliamentary secretary can deny that the words “turned off” were totally appropriate to the situation we find ourselves in, and that the minister misled the House by saying that no climate change website had been turned off when the website itself says that it has been turned off.

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this government offers sound, accurate and up to date information to Canadians on its websites. We strive to give Canadians information that they are looking for and offer them services that they are interested in.

This government is accountable to tax reduction and we deliver this in the House, on the website and everywhere in this country.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into what we may call a debate this evening. The brevity on the side of the government this evening is startling and shocking, and a bit like jumping into a cold body of water. It is not necessarily the most pleasant experience either.

Looking for answers about the government's intention and direction when it comes to climate change was the subject of my question on September 20 and the reason that I rise again in the House tonight.

A number of ridings in British Columbia invited Tim Ball, a professor in the sense of the professor on Gilligan's Island, to various debates where the notion of climate change was put in dispute. A recent study by the national centre for research in the United States compared the number of peer reviewed articles that had appeared in leading international journals throwing serious dispute on the science of climate change as to whether or not this phenomena was actually happening. This study came up with zero. Media observations of this particular debate found that nearly half of all articles appearing in major U.S. dailies cast some doubt on the science of climate change.

If the Conservatives are looking for the opportunity to deny the existence of climate change, they will certainly find the odd professor or two who will allow them some amount of refuge. The overwhelming and overarching consensus around the world is that climate change is happening and that it is a serious issue, and dealing with it has been delayed too long. Delaying any longer is not an option.

We hear rumours and rumblings that the government will be releasing its so-called green plan within the next number of weeks, and I am sure the parliamentary secretary would be delighted to tell us the exact date of that release.

To this point in time, the government's intentions have been wanting. The current minister, as president of the UNFCC, showed up at the international meetings in Bonn, Germany, the latest gathering of climate change efforts internationally, and declared to the world that Canada no longer had any intention of meeting its Kyoto targets.

I can understand the minister's dismay, after having seen the evidence put before her, because the previous government was unwilling, unable and inept at dealing with the issue of climate change. While that government had many programs, it had few results and pollution rose.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the gathering of municipal leaders from across this country, met in Montreal. The minister was invited and agreed to attend. She had a speaking spot in front of a couple of thousand decision-makers in our country, and at the very last minute bailed for no given reason.

The largest conference of leading scientists in this country was held in Toronto just after the meeting in Montreal to discuss smog and what needs to be done. The minister was the first minister in Canadian history not to attend this conference. She did not send a representative or a delegate.

My question is very simple. Is this so-called green plan, that the government is going to announce in the next couple of weeks, going to follow the path of the apologists for the biggest and most polluting industries that are looking to deny and throw doubt on the issue of climate change and the veracity of the science that has been looked at by world experts? Is the government going to continue to subsidize the biggest and most successful oil companies in Canada in the tar sands, or is it going to actually recognize the validity of the science of climate change and the need to act in a deliberate and purposeful way?