House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.


Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

There are a few questions in there, Mr. Speaker, that I would like to address.

First, on the existence of the Kelowna accord, millions of people watched the discussions as they unfolded before their eyes in Kelowna. A document laid out the objectives of the Kelowna accord.

Second, in May a senior bureaucrat from the Department of Finance appeared as a witness. The witness was asked directly if the money was made available through the ways and means. The senior bureaucrat said “Yes it was”. Then the witness was asked what happened after? “Well, only the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance can choose to move that money and not honour the money that was set aside for Kelowna”. Mr. Bureaucrat was asked if this is what occurred. The answer was “Yes, the Conservative government chose to go a different route”.

That is what happened with the Kelowna accord, very clearly. The hon. member should check the May blues of the finance committee himself and he will that.

The third point I want to make is that most investments were done, but not one penny has left the Treasury Board yet.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, I always take it as an honour to speak on behalf of aboriginal issues and our new Canadian government.

This is a great day for the new government, as the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has announced a process for which we will be consulting with Canadians throughout the country, aboriginal Canadians, first nation Canadians, on the important issue of matrimonial real property. This has been a long outstanding issue, an issue that has unfortunately been in place for well over a century. There is no question that the government is taking action. The minister, within a very short period of becoming the minister, has engaged this very important file.

Today I am very proud to say that we will be moving forward, we will be finding developing legislation after the consultative process, and very soon we will have this issue resolved.

Today my hon. colleague, with whom I have the pleasure of sitting on the aboriginal affairs committee, is raising the issue, which he seems to often do, about what our government is doing in relation to the so-called Kelowna accord. As was already mentioned by my colleague from the government's side, who also sits on the committee, “accord” is really the wrong word to use. The word “accord” has an element to it which one would think requires signatures. When I asked the former prime minister this very question, he was unable to state that there were signatures associated with this so-called accord. Unfortunately, it was a promissory press release, and the former government did not follow through on many of its promises.

We can look back to the early parts of its administration in relation to cutting the GST, one of the most infamous promises of the former government. In fact, one of its ministers had to resign over that. It also wanted to kill the free trade agreement. Obviously that government enjoyed having the free trade agreement and all the benefits it brought to our great nation. There is no question that we had record surpluses throughout the nineties. The Liberals would say that it was due to them, but as an entrepreneur, it was due to the hard-working business people and all the employees who paid those taxes.

Today I will talk a bit though about what our government is doing for aboriginal people. I spoke already about the great announcement we made today on matrimonial real property. However, I would like to look back to the spring when we spoke of major increases in our budget for aboriginal affairs. We are spending considerable dollars in the areas of housing. We have the long outstanding residential schools settlement of $2.2 billion. Our government is moving forward.

Structural reform, unfortunately, is something that was completely left out of the first ministers meeting of last year. In my travels throughout the country, I met with many aboriginal people, first nations, Inuit and Métis, but first nations specifically, because they are under the thumb of the terrible Indian Act, this pre-Confederation document.

First nation citizens have called for structural reform. They want to see a new system through which benefits actually flow to the people who need it most. Unfortunately, this was not addressed by the first ministers meeting. It was not addressed by the former government. The new minister has said that structural change and reform is one of his key pillars, and I am very much looking forward to being a part of those discussions.

As we look at the first ministers meeting last fall, we do have a deeper and shared understanding of the challenges and needs faced by aboriginal people in areas such as health, water, housing, education and economic opportunities.

The first ministers meeting brought the parties together, federal-provincial-territorial and aboriginals, for discussions to clarify priorities and shared responsibilities. The process and discussions actually began much earlier, but, as several aboriginal groups have pointed out, they were not perfect. In fact, some groups found out about the meeting literally the week before. Nevertheless, they were a significant step forward in terms of consultation and consensus building, one of the three elements that the Auditor General identified as essential to improving the lives of aboriginal people.

Last fall's meeting, however, did not go so far as to culminate in an actual accord, outlining focused and immediate initiatives. Nor did it adequately address two other elements that the Auditor General had highlighted as key to further progress: structural change and capacity building, which I have already mentioned. After 13 years of Liberal governments, little or nothing has been done on this front, and I am not surprised.

As was noted earlier, structural changes are difficult. What has not been emphasized is that they are nonetheless very necessary. In many cases they are needed simultaneous, if not prior, to further investment. This will ensure that current and future investments have measurable results, which someone is accountable for and producing.

Our new Conservative government is committed not only to conserving and building on the good consultation and consensus work done at the first ministers meeting. We are not only committed to investing additional funds when they will be most effectively expended. We are not only committed to increasing capacity. We are also committed to making the difficult structural changes that the Liberals so long neglected at significant cost to all Canadians, especially aboriginal Canadians. We are committed to accountability, another area in relation to which the Liberals have had to scramble to prepare statements of defence.

Given that we fully support the objectives and targets identified last fall, there is little the Liberals can do except try to pass off a press release, with a Liberal pre-election spending promise attached to it, as a legally binding Government of Canada commitment. The Liberals may publicly attack five months of Conservative action, now eight, because it does not fulfill one day of pre-election Liberal promises. Will they ever publicly admit, however, that today's debate is all about deflecting attention from the fact that five months, now eight months, of Conservative action has brought more new funding and initiatives on key aboriginal issues than 13 years of Liberal inaction? These 13 years have given the Liberals a record that even their potential future leader, Gerard Kennedy, has recently called “devastating”.

As another hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre pointed out earlier this year, the Liberals, after 13 years of power, had become skilled in announcing program funding spread over so many years, which it had little significant impact, and re-announcing the programs year after year. This did nothing to aid in the plight of aboriginal people. This will not be the new Conservative government's approach.

What is required now is a plan of action, a means to move forward, a plan that will evolve, as needed, specific consultations, as we have done today. We announced a major consultation with aboriginal women's groups across Canada. I am speaking about our plans for matrimonial property. However, we need structural change, capacity building and additional funding, a plan that will prove and produce tangible, measurable results and one that will have details of the concrete steps we need to take in order to implement the plan. Furthermore, the plan must be prioritized, focused and resourced, with clear responsibilities and accountabilities. We are taking that swift action.

In March of this year, one of this government's first acts was to launch a plan to address drinking water concerns in first nations communities. This was a terrible blight that was left upon the Government of Canada, a situation that was left at our feet by the previous administration, but we set this as a priority. The minister wanted to personally deal with the situation so he immediately put together a plan to remediate the situation.

This government understands the critical importance water is to improving the quality of life for aboriginal women, children and families. We recognize that providing opportunities for these women and their families builds economic strength and capacity from inside their communities, which means that aboriginal people will become more prosperous in their own right with their own source revenues, which they are so desperately striving for. We as a country want to assist them on that front. We feel that providing matrimonial real property to on reserve women who hold families together will be an excellent foundation from which economic development and economic prosperity will grow.

Looking back at our budget earlier this year, we allocated $3.7 billion for aboriginal and northern programs. This amount of money dwarfs the previous budgets of the entire 13 years in this area. This also includes the $2.2 billion that was put in place to address the legacy of Indian residential schools, a dark chapter in our history but we have moved forward. We put that money in the budget and we are very proud of the fact that cheques are now being sent out to some of the claimants in advance of the process being fully in place. We took that action because we knew that some of these claimants were rather older in their term of being involved in this process and, thankfully, our government has streamlined this process.

The budget targeted investments for aboriginal Canadians in other key areas. These investments included $300 million for affordable housing programs in the territories, benefiting both aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Being a northerner myself, originally from the north, I can tell members that these housing dollars will be greatly appreciated as the cost of living in the north is considerably higher than here in the south, as is the cost of building a house.

Nunavut is where the problem is most pressing. I had the pleasure of travelling to Nunavut on my first trip in my capacity as parliamentary secretary. I enjoyed visiting the people of Nunavut and I saw firsthand that the need there is most pressing. That government will be receiving $200 million in order to deal with this major issue. The other territories, as well, are receiving a considerable amount for the important issue of housing.

However, many aboriginals in Canada live off reserve so we put $300 million into housing in those areas, as we see more aboriginal people moving from the reserve to urban centres. Sometimes they feel that is the right approach to find the economic means to look after their families. We have seen that and we are taking action.

We have also set aside $450 million for key initiatives, such as education, something that the minister is very serious about. In fact, he feels that education is the key to children's future and the futures of aboriginal youth. Part of the money has been set aside for children and families to make a better community on reserve, as well as for on reserve water, which we dealt with immediately upon taking office. In fact, the minister had barely dusted off the desk in his new office when he had already begun working on that issue.

Of the $3.7 billion earmarked for aboriginal and northern Canadians, we have a $500 million socio-economic fund that will be essential to community development in the north in areas that will be potentially impacted by the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project. This will be an incredible fund to bring about own source revenues for so many communities that are interested in finding business opportunities in the north and to operate on funds that they generate themselves.

Many aboriginal communities are not interested in seeing the government be the sole funder of life within their communities. They are looking for economic opportunities. This is a message that all too often was not heard by the previous government. However, as someone who comes from the private sector and who is an aboriginal Canadian, I know many aboriginal entrepreneurs who are proud of the fact that they are very successful within the business sector. I know this same type of entrepreneurialism will be found in the north, especially in the Mackenzie Valley delta.

This government has pledged to make progress toward its goal of working with first nations, Inuit and Métis partners and with the provinces and territories to establish priorities and develop effective sustainable approaches to the social and economic challenges they face in their communities.

We are delivering real results, not just empty rhetoric. Canadians voted for change and we are delivering to them positive change. We are committed to bettering the lives of aboriginal people in Canada through a practical and decisive approach and the steps we have taken so far clearly show this.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's speech was well read and well delivered.

I would like to ask the hon. member a question that speaks to a fundamental element of the Kelowna agreement. It concerns the 10 year old, highly successful aboriginal business procurement strategy that our government delivered, that has been audited three separate times and which engages somewhere in the neighbourhood of 28,000 to 30,000 Canadian aboriginal businesses.

I asked this question of the member's colleague, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, some time ago when a document was leaked to me as an opposition member showing that the department was in fact dismantling the aboriginal procurement strategy for Canadians without even consulting aboriginal peoples.

We then found out that First Canadian Health Management Corporation in Winnipeg, which administered $1 billion of health benefits to aboriginal peoples over the last several years, woke up one morning to find out that on the MERX's procurement system there was an open RFP bid for some other company. We have seen all sorts of changes on procurement.

At some point in the parliamentary secretary's speech I think I heard him describe himself as an entrepreneur. I am trying to find out from the parliamentary secretary if it is the ideology of the University of Calgary or the chief of staff, Ian Brodie, or is it the Prime Minister's view that the marketplace should not be fettered and that the minimum set asides that are under the Treasury Board guidelines, which are still on the website of Treasury Board, should not be respected in some way because they are fettering the marketplace? Could he explain how the kind of procurement strategy we have for aboriginal peoples, now 10 years old, audited three times, highly successful and continues to be dismantled, is a positive aspect of Canada's new government?

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, being an entrepreneur from Manitoba, I am very proud of First Canadian Health. It has done remarkable work in its technology, especially in the area of health. I am quite certain that its success will continue into the future.

In relation to the member's question on procurement for aboriginal businesses, the Government of Canada has clearly stated on many occasions that this is a key plank of our department. We are always looking for ways to strengthen and improve our policies. We will continue to consult with aboriginal firms to find out ways that we can improve this strategy.

As an entrepreneur, I can say that there are countless Canadian businesses being managed by aboriginal entrepreneurs like myself which have done very well in all areas of the private sector and in areas of government as well. Aboriginals seem to have an excellent approach within business. I think it is, in part, because they have the ability to see through all the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, my colleague across the way likes to grow bureaucracy, which is something we on this side of the House choose not to do.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He is himself an aboriginal and a successful businessman. I congratulate him on that. In my riding, there are also aboriginal people who are successful.

I am tempted to ask him if he has not had enough of all the consultations, trips and tours. Does he not feel like finally getting some things settled?

We have heard about $300 million to deal with the housing issue in remote aboriginal areas and another $300 million for aboriginal people living in urban centres. In Quebec alone, aboriginal people are calling for $700 million to meet their housing needs.

It is easy, the figures have already been provided.

Does he not feel like settling this matter once and for all, instead of continuing with the consultations, trips and tours?

That is my question to him.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, many communities throughout Canada, especially aboriginal northern communities, have numerous housing needs. Having visited many of these northern communities, I know it can become quite difficult to ship building supplies into some of them because they do not have access year round. It makes for a very difficult process. However, we are moving forward with important budget additions.

I agree with my colleague's point. We do need structural reform that will ensure that these communities are able to achieve economic success on their own and get out from under the awful Indian Act.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the parliamentary secretary for, what I think most members in the House would agree, the remarkable amount of work that has been done, even by the minister himself. My goodness, the new Conservative government has been here for a reasonably short period of time and we have solved the residential school issue, as well as the situation with the water. Over 100 areas in this country had polluted water. I remember that the previous government took six or eight weeks to even look at the problem while people were being diseased. This government had the problem solved before the dust was off our desks and the fax machines were taken out of their boxes. The previous government never used that kind of technology because it was so far behind. However, this government solved that problem and a number of other issues as well.

My colleague from Saskatchewan spoke earlier but I guess this issue was not important enough, unfortunately, for the member to stick around. He mentioned the issue of land claims but he should have known that land claims are a provincial issue and that it is a provincial Liberal government that is dodging around on that.

I think the truth comes down to the fact that everyone in this House would agree that housing, water, health, education and economic opportunities are things we all want for our aboriginal communities. However, I think what we are disagreeing on is the best approach to take. Would the parliamentary secretary not agree that the difference in the approaches is that this new government tends to act, not spend a decade talking about it?

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, action really is the key to many of these issues. That is one of the biggest reasons I decided to run for government. We need to see action. I know that the members on this side are interested in action. In fact, there could not be a more right party than our party. I am very proud of that.

We are a government of action. We are a government that is going to take on the difficult challenges, the challenges that are a terrible Liberal legacy. The Indian Act was neglected completely. Everyone knows that major structural reform is needed. I am very proud that the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will be taking on this task. I look forward to assisting him in this important area.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Churchill, mindful that there is less than two minutes for both the question and the answer.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech reiterates the position of the Conservatives. It was really clear from the speech that there is no commitment by the government to go forward on the Kelowna accord. There are many issues in the Kelowna accord that have to be dealt with. Even when we are talking about matrimonial real property, we are talking about socio-economic conditions that have to be met.

If the Conservatives move forward on these issues, how do they intend to address the socio-economic situation for first nations in relation to matrimonial real property?

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, matrimonial real property is an important issue. It forms the basis of so many situations where individuals are left in a poor economic situation. Sometimes families have to leave their homes because they do not have any rights to that piece of real estate. This cannot happen any longer in Canada.

That is why the minister has taken the initiative on this very important issue. I look forward to assisting him on this structural change which will impact on the lives of so many female aboriginal Canadians.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to address the adoption of the first report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, regarding the implementation of the Kelowna accord.

At the outset, I want to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of adopting this report and believes that the government has a duty to honour the accord signed with the aboriginal peoples on November 25, 2005, at the first ministers meeting.

I find a little odd what the parliamentary secretary said. In fact, I have been hearing Conservative members suggest today that there never was an accord. I would like to quote from a letter that their Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians wrote to the chair of the committee. Here is what he wrote on the second page of his letter:

The time has come to build on what was decided on November 2005—

The minister himself confirms in his letter that decisions were made in 2005. Today, we are told that there is no text, no accord, but that decisions were made.

It is typical of the Conservative Party to talk a great deal but do nothing. Earlier, the parliamentary secretary provided proof of this. The Conservatives consult, they travel, they visit, but they do not accomplish anything. They probably picked up this habit from the Liberal Party, which did that for a long time. Maybe one day, after listening to and understanding the Bloc Québécois members, they will manage to do some good things.

Speaking of good things, our Bloc Québécois Indian and northern affairs critic, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, introduced the motion we are discussing today. This motion became a report that was tabled by our colleague on May 8, 2006. The motion recalls that, once again, Ottawa has not kept its promises and lived up to its responsibilities to Canada's aboriginal peoples.

The motion that led to the report today reads as follows:

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

When we talk about the Kelowna agreement, we have to understand something. The provincial premiers were there, as were aboriginal representatives and federal government representatives. Consequently, the Kelowna meeting was far more important than the Conservative government is trying to imply.

The third paragraph of the report reads as follows:

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

This is what we are discussing today.

We must not kid ourselves, though. The Kelowna agreement is just a temporary measure that will do nothing to improve aboriginal peoples' living conditions in the long run. It is a good start. That is what the Bloc Québécois means to say. It helps to close the growing gap between the quality of life of aboriginal peoples and that of Quebeckers and Canadians.

The agreement represented $5.1 billion over five years for aboriginal education, health, housing and economic opportunities.

Considering that the $5.1 billion is shared by the federal government, Quebec, the provinces and territories and the aboriginal administration before it reaches the first nations, Inuit and Métis, where the need is, this is very little money to use to really close that gap.

The need is critical—as I was saying earlier—in housing alone for the first nations of Quebec. The immediate, known, calculated, negotiated and discussed need is over $700 million to provide the roughly 7,000 housing units that are lacking. I am glad to hear the parliamentary secretary say that aboriginals are doing well. I told him as much. In my riding, aboriginals are doing very well, just as non-aboriginals are. There are many successes, but there are also many pockets of poverty. Obviously resolving the social housing problem helps eliminate the pockets of poverty.

In Quebec, we need $700 million for 7,000 housing units. The shortfall gets bigger every year. If this problem is not resolved, the gap will widen further and the 7,000 units we need now will become 8,000 units in a few years' time.

As we know, this lack of housing has extremely dire human and social consequences. Health issues are closely linked to the lack of housing. It is high time to stop the increase in the number of cases of poisoning, infection, tuberculosis and so on. It is also worrying to see the incidence of diabetes, fetal alcoholism and suicide.

Suicide is a serious problem, although it should be noted that the rates vary considerably from one community to another. Nonetheless, the overall rate is much too high. Knowing that the suicide rate is five to seven times greater among first nations youth than among non-aboriginal youth, and that the suicide rate among Inuit youth is among the highest in the world, some 11 times higher than the Canadian average, it is urgent to invest time and money. There is no need for consultations since everyone knows these statistics. It is high time to devote resources to dealing with the increased rate of suicide.

As far as education is concerned, if the government ever decided to address the problem, it would take 27 to 28 years to narrow the gap between aboriginals and other Quebeckers and Canadians, according to the Auditor General's 2004 report. That is saying something.

The Auditor General told us that the gap between Quebeckers, Canadians and aboriginal peoples is 27 to 28 years if it is to be addressed based on federal government spending in 2004. That is why the Kelowna accord was important, but, once again, the Conservative Party has decided to continue to hold consultations. The gap will widen as the Conservatives consult. Apparently this has become the Conservatives' magic recipe: travel and consult.

The multiple reports of the Auditor General, the observations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and, more recently, the last report of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, namely on living conditions of aboriginal peoples in Canada, sound the alarm. The United Nations published a report on the living conditions of aboriginal peoples in Canada and the situation is considered alarming. This is not something we can deny. Reports have been written about it. The Conservatives tell us more consultations are needed. Yet the United Nations produced a report on the living conditions of aboriginal peoples in Canada. I do not understand why we are not taking action, unless it is because we want to save even more money at the expense of the poor. That is the reality, that is what is happening. For the past two weeks we have watched the Conservative party play politics at the expense of those most in need. It goes looking for money, makes cuts to programs and that is what is being done to aboriginal peoples. We carry on, no investments are made, the money promised at Kelowna is not forthcoming and, obviously, savings are had. But for what? We shall see some day. They will probably use it to help their friends. They are going to catch the Liberal sickness.

Aboriginal peoples have already presented to Ottawa this study by the United Nations as well as their own. But Ottawa has always turned a deaf ear.

On the eve of the first ministers' conference, the Bloc Québécois publicly supported the shared position of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women, who rejected the government's actions. Aboriginal peoples have already conducted their own analysis of the situation under the auspices of the Assembly of First Nations.

Quebec Native Women has already carried out its own study. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Quebec Native Women deplored the fact that the approach used to diminish the gap between living conditions of aboriginal peoples and those of Quebeckers and Canadians would not tackle the root causes of the first nations' plight, that is the absence of equitable access to land and resources as well as respect for their rights.

Earlier today the parliamentary secretary announced some trifling measures, but the real problems are not being addressed.

Aboriginals, first nations and Quebec Native Women are telling us plainly that there is no equitable access to lands and resources, and no respect for their rights. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women also deplore the fact that the Kelowna objective's pan-aboriginal approach and lack of community consultations to target the real issues would perpetuate the first nations' cycle of dependency.

The Bloc Québécois believes we need concrete solutions that are in tune with all of the different aboriginal nations and that go to the root of the inequalities that affect their communities. Furthermore, these measures must be decided in concert with aboriginal nations because money alone cannot solve these problems.

The Bloc Québécois believes that an agreement was reached in Kelowna, and that there was $5.1 billion on the table. Great—that is a start. Now we are ready. Let us sit down with the first nations, with the aboriginal peoples, and find solutions to their problems. Aboriginal communities are not all the same. We cannot approach this from a pan-aboriginal perspective. We have to sit down and talk about it. However, we should not go about it like the Conservative Party, which talks a lot but does not put up the cash. They will talk and talk, they will beat around the bush, then eventually they will come up with some money, but the problem will go on.

In the end, ten years will have passed and the problem will have gotten worse: more housing units will be needed; health problems will not have been resolved, but will have worsened; and furthermore, the education gap will not have been bridged. It is estimated it will take 30 to 35 years to bridge the education gap. All of this because the Conservative party decided to save money in the short term at great cost to our most vulnerable citizens, aboriginals.

We know in this House that commitments to aboriginal Canadians—particularly concerning housing, infrastructure, education and health care—are federal jurisdictions.

I do not believe this will be questioned. As the Bloc Québécois has always maintained, Ottawa must not default on its fiduciary obligations. It must be understood that this is a federal jurisdiction. All too often, this House hears criticism about federal attempts to take over provincial jurisdictions.

Here is a striking example: our Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec wanted to create a Marshall plan in an area of jurisdiction that, once again, is not federal. Regional economic development is a provincial jurisdiction.

The federal government has the fiduciary responsibility for any problems facing aboriginal peoples, yet it is not resolving those problems. They do not want to spend any money, yet they want to create programs.

The Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec wanted to create a vast Marshall plan to provide assistance to all areas of Quebec. He finally coughed up a mouse this week: $85 million over three years. Moreover, this money is recycled from other programs, money that was not already spent. Once again, this is not a federal jurisdiction.

Some would argue that the Supreme Court said that the federal government has the spending power and can therefore spend its money however it likes. This is true. It has the power to do so. The Supreme Court granted that power. However, the Constitution says that regional development is a provincial jurisdiction. That is the reality.

Thus, they are not minding their own business. They are not resolving aboriginal peoples' problems, or a number of others. Rather, they are trying to invest or gain visibility in areas that are not federal jurisdictions.

The Conservative government's approach to managing aboriginal issues is not very reassuring. For example, a plan to guarantee safe drinking water in first nations communities is commendable in and of itself. The idea is a good one. However, there is cause for concern when the initiative excludes the communities in the greatest need, those with no drinking water system that still bring water in. The plan targeted communities that had drinking water systems, but there was no money for those that did not. That shows how the Conservatives are managing this issue.

Moreover, the plan to ensure safe drinking water explains that:

First Nations are responsible for the construction, design, operation and maintenance of their water systems. INAC provides funding to First Nations for these activities, subject to the appropriate technical review and funding approval process.

With this initiative, the Conservative government is telling communities that not only is no new money being committed to implement the plan, but communities in the greatest need could lose their funding if they fail the INAC approval process. This is totally unacceptable. It shows a lack of trust in our aboriginal peoples. The government is setting up an inspection system that they might spend money on, but that does not mean that the government is going to pay them. It is not paying anything up front; work is done, but then is inspected, and there is no guarantee that the money will be paid out in the end.

The first budget the Conservatives brought down is also indicative of the new approach of this so-called new government. Aboriginal communities have critical socioeconomic problems. The situation is untenable in some cases. The Bloc Québécois does not believe that the $450 million over two years that has been announced will be enough to respond appropriately.

We must not forget that the Kelowna agreement provided for $5.1 billion over five years. This is nowhere near that.

I said it earlier, and I will quote from the minister's letter again, because it is really something to hear what the Conservatives are saying today: the minister writes to the committee chair that “The time has come to build on what was decided in November 2005—”. That was it. He figures that decisions were made. One of those decisions was to invest $5.1 billion, but the money is not there. When the time comes to talk money and to help those in our society who are most in need, the Conservatives consult, travel, visit, listen and take so long to do anything that the issue will never be addressed.

In its search for a new and better approach to managing aboriginal issues, the Conservative government should start with the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The commission, which cost $58 million, was set up when the Conservatives were in power and was paid for with Quebec and Canadian taxpayers' dollars, but since the report was released, its conclusions have been completely ignored.

The government wants to hold a new round of consultations. Yet the Conservatives have already paid for consultations: the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The commission's report is not being used. Like other reports, it is gathering dust.

This enables us to travel, visit first nations, find out just how bad their situation is and bemoan their plight. Unfortunately, nothing gets resolved and no money is forthcoming despite a Conservative-mandated royal commission that cost $58 million and produced a report the Liberals chose to ignore.

One might have thought the Conservatives would have gone back to the royal commission's conclusions and would have tried to apply them, rather than consulting, visiting and travelling.

The Bloc Québécois supports the report—that is what I have been saying all along. Among other things, we support the implementation of the Kelowna accord. The commitments the federal government made in Kelowna are the first step toward bridging the gap between aboriginals and Quebeckers and Canadians. However, the Bloc Québécois finds that the underlying causes of these inequalities have not yet been corrected.

Aboriginals must be given all of the tools they need to direct the development of their own identity: the right to self-government and recognition of their rights. The Bloc Québécois has always supported this. Furthermore, we demand that the funds promised during the Kelowna conference be delivered.

We were open to having a discussion at this conference. When we agreed on the $7.1 billion, we realized that there would be discussions with aboriginal peoples to ensure that the funds would not be uniformly distributed in standardized programs. We were aware that we would have to take action based on needs. At least we had an agreement on the amount of money.

I would like to state once again that Kelowna is not the only issue that the Conservatives are not interested in addressing. As I mentioned earlier, when I read the minister's letter, he stated that conclusions were arrived at and decisions made at Kelowna. However, the Conservatives do not believe in making monetary investments. We witnessed it this week: when the time comes to help those most in need and the weakest in our society, the Conservative party stands aside; it prefers to give money to the rich, not the poor.

With regard to future relations between the government and aboriginal peoples, we recommend a more comprehensive approach, one that recognizes the aspirations of aboriginal peoples and one that favours negotiating agreements nation to nation.

The Bloc Québécois believes that Quebec is a nation, that the aboriginal peoples are nations and that Canada is a nation on an equal footing with the others, and that these nations must negotiate with one another in order to arrive at agreements and real solutions.

I also wish to point out in this House that we agree entirely with the idea of the right to self-government of aboriginal peoples. In more general terms, we identify with the aboriginal peoples' claims for autonomy; we recognize aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples with the right to their own culture, language, customs and traditions as well as the right to direct the development of their own identity.

In closing, I remind you that the Bloc Québécois endorsed the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Erasmus-Dussault report. This commission set out an approach for self-government based on recognition of aboriginal governments as a level of government with authority over issues of good governance and the well-being of their people. The entire report is based on recognition of the aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations occupying a unique place in Canada.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Fort McMurray--Athabasca should be mindful that there is less than two minutes for both the question and the answer.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I just have a couple of questions for my hon. colleague. I have always found him to be a very reasonable gentleman, but I am curious in this particular case.

I worked in Alberta in the legal field for some time doing divorce and matrimonial law. I always found the position the government has taken in the past, the Liberal government primarily, on matrimonial property rights on reserves to be a total embarrassment actually, and totally shameful.

I have many family members who live in northern Alberta on reserves, on three particular reserves. I am always mindful of what takes place for them and how shocking it is that a mother with children, if she leaves her husband, can be tossed out on the street like a piece of baggage, yet the Liberal government in the past has done nothing to stand up for those women and children.

I am wondering if the member could comment briefly on the great initiative that this government and the minister has taken on this particular subject.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the division of matrimonial property rights can be part of a discussion. However, when families are too poor to get housing, and too poor to be healthy or to get a good education, I do not understand how the problem can be solved.

The Conservatives are trying to shift the debate. Yes, it is true that the division of matrimonial property rights is a problem. However, why not solve at the same time the housing, education and health problems?

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty to interrupt the debate on the motion. Consequently, the debate on the motion is deferred to a future sitting. There will be eight minutes and fifteen seconds left to ask questions of the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 31, consideration of the motion that Bill C-277, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (luring a child), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-277, a one paragraph bill that simply proposes to double the maximum sentence for communicating on the Internet for the purposes of luring a child from five years to ten years.

No one will doubt that the act of luring a child over the Internet is simply reprehensible. In June 2002 the former Liberal minister of justice, Martin Cauchon, announced that tough new legislation protecting children from sexual exploitation, Internet luring and child pornography received royal assent.

The new law fulfilled a commitment made in the 2001 Speech from the Throne. The legislation also met with commitments undertaken by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice at their meeting in September 2000 to create a new offence of Internet luring. In these discussions, the penalty for this offence would have been discussed and a consensus would have been reached.

In the justice committee's deliberations on this new section of the Criminal Code, I was impressed with the presentation of a report on child exploitation and the Internet submitted by the Canadian Resource Centre for the Victims of Crime, and I wish to reference some of the information provided.

The Internet has made the world a smaller place. It has also made it more dangerous for our children. While we encourage our children to take advantage of the benefits of the net as a wonderful tool for education and obtaining information, we must also ensure that they are aware of the dangers and that we take the necessary steps to protect them. There is a dark side to the Internet.

Chat rooms have opened up our homes to virtual strangers who can pretend to be anyone, any age and either sex. They can talk to children in complete secrecy. They can prey on a child as the child's parents sit in the very next room. They can entice a child to meet in person, where the risk of sexual abuse becomes imminent, and they do. Pedophiles who used to be isolated can now find victims without leaving the security of their own homes, at little expense and reduced risk of being caught.

Millions of children are online in their own homes, in public libraries, schools, or at a friend's house. Children who come home from school to an empty house may turn to the Internet as much as they used to turn to television. They may not feel any threat by talking to someone online, especially when they believe it is a child like themselves. After a few weeks or months of communication, they are not strangers any more and that new-found friend is actually a sexual predator ready to claim another unsuspecting victim.

The Internet does not respect any global boundaries. This makes it difficult to police. Experienced users were operating with virtual anonymity, although law enforcement in some parts of the world are struggling to catch up. Countries like Canada have recognized this new form of child sexual exploitation and have begun to dedicate the necessary resources and attention to this growing problem.

The protection of children has always been a priority for Canadians as well. As more and more Canadians recognize the value of the Internet and get online in their homes, the risks to their children increase as online predators go searching for new victims. There is an acknowledgement, both inside and outside Canada, that we need a coordinated law enforcement to deal with this problem.

Pedophiles may use the Internet for a variety of reasons, including validation through communication with like-minded people, to find potential victims and to trade child pornography. Pedophiles who use the Internet to search new victims may be the predatory type who have above average intelligence and have the economic means to operate the Internet, as was referenced in the publication “Use of Computers in the Sexual Exploitation of Children”.

Some online services and Internet service providers allow parents to limit access by their children to certain services and features, such as adult oriented websites, chat rooms and bulletin boards. In addition, there are filtering features built into the popular Internet browsers that empower parents to limit their children's access only to those sites that have been rated appropriate for children. Other useful tools are software programs that block websites, newsgroups and chat areas that are known to be inappropriate for children.

Most of these programs can be configured by the parent to filter out sites that contain nudity, sexual content, hateful or violent material, or that advocate the use of drugs, tobacco or alcohol. Some can also be configured to prevent children from revealing information about themselves, such as their name, address or telephone number. They help, but they are not foolproof.

Children benefit from being online, but can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Just like there are good and bad people in schools, parks and our homes, there are good and bad people on the net.

The fact that crimes are being committed online, however, is not a reason to avoid using these services. To tell children to stop using these services would be like telling parents not to send their kids to school because of some high profile cases of teachers preying on their students. Parents need to instruct children about both the benefits and dangers of cyberspace, and how to protect themselves.

We all have a stake in protecting our children. Governments, Internet service providers, educators and others should focus resources and efforts into educating children and parents about the dangers that the Internet presents.

There are over 100 million Internet users around the globe. The overwhelming majority are people who use the net for work, research or to communicate with family and friends. Even if cyberstalkers and predators represent only a small percentage of users, we are still talking about a significant number of offenders and even more potential victims.

The complexity of the Internet means that solutions are equally complex. The net is truly international and laws about crime committed against children, in particular child pornography, vary from country to country.

We owe it to our children to do what we can to protect them from predators, whether it is a family friend, camp counsellor or a pedophile on the net. It is only logical that Canada would enforce the same laws on the net that we do in the real world. While this may be a difficult challenge, society's efforts to protect children must not change simply because technology has changed.

The global nature of the Internet makes any police response difficult because offenders and/or victims may not be in the same country. This underscores the need for an international approach to this problem and Canada must be at the forefront of such an initiative.

Society is only now beginning to learn of the dark side of the Internet. The sexual exploitation of children is only one of the many other types of crimes committed online. Sabotage, fraud and hacking all present major problems for companies, individuals and governments, and all deserve a law enforcement response. However, there is no more precious commodity than our children and no more important priority than their well-being.

What is an appropriate sentence for the Internet luring of a child? That is really the crux of the debate today. I would suggest that there are a wide range of opinions. For a child who has been sexually abused or harmed in other ways, and most especially the parents and friends of such child, 10 years imprisonment as suggested by the bill may be inadequate. That is an understandable response. For the sponsor of the bill a maximum of 10 years is more in line of what he feels is appropriate.

For the government of the day four short years ago and its justice minister, as well as the justice ministers of our 10 provinces and three territories, five years imprisonment would have been an appropriate response. The approach of the Conservative government and its predecessors, the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Party, have the same theme: more incarceration and double, triple the prison times. That will certainly deter child sex predators and pedophiles, that will be the fix for them.

Four years ago the former Liberal government put in place this offence with a sentence that was thought to be appropriate under the circumstances. Before we change that sentence, I would like to see the empirical evidence and statistics to support the premise that an increase in penalties, a doubling of penalties, is warranted. Then we can respond to this legislation in an informed and educated way.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-277.

Indeed, as members probably know, I have a 13-year-old grandson of whom I have legal custody. This issue is very important to me because I am aware that for a 13-year-old child, chatting on the Internet is much more interesting than doing homework. Every day I have to bring myself to discipline him to make him understand that too much chatting is not good.

Unfortunately, I believe this bill does not achieve the goals that it sets out to achieve. The Bloc Québécois has always recognized the need to better protect children and it took an active part in the pursuit of this goal, including through the recent addition of provisions on the luring of children to the Criminal Code. However, the increased maximum sentence proposed in Bill C-277 for this offence is aimed specifically and deliberately at increasing the scope of Bill C-9 on conditional sentencing.

In fact, Bill C-277, combined with Bill C-9, will give judges less flexibility and will take away from them the possibility of handing down a conditional sentence in certain minor cases. Currently, conditional sentences allow judges to give a person who is not a threat to society a sentence of less than two years to be served in the community.

Bill C-9, introduced by the Conservatives in the spring, eliminates conditional sentences for offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years or more.

The Bloc Québécois opposes this bill because the list of offences for which conditional sentences would be eliminated is arbitrary and includes offences such as graffiti, counterfeit money, credit fraud, false prospectus and mail theft.

Furthermore, by removing judges' prerogatives to order sentences in the community, Quebec and the other provinces would assume the additional financial burden of having to imprison more people, while that money could be better spent on rehabilitation and prevention.

The Bloc wants to do whatever it takes to protect children from predators. Unfortunately, the Bloc believes that Bill C-277 is not the way to achieve this.

Once again, the ideology of this Conservative government is modeled after the Americans. The government's proposal is based on the slogan Tough on crime. The idea behind this is simple, that is, to put as many criminals as possible in prison where the living conditions are intolerable and to keep them there as long as possible.

According to the Conservatives, this should get the criminals off the streets and dissuade others from committing crimes.

Furthermore, they believe that punishment is the key to controlling crime. The philosophy behind their policy is this: if penalties are lax, crime rates go up; if they are tough, crime rates come down.

However, our American neighbours have proven that this model does not work. The homicide rate in the United States is three times higher than in Canada, and four times higher than in Quebec. California spent $14 billion to build prisons between 1982 and 1993. The prison population increased by 500% and the overall crime rate went up by 75%.

In 1992, the situation was compared to that of Texas, which reacted very differently to the pressure on its prison system in the 1980s. In an economic recession, Texas decided to build fewer prisons and to impose more conditional releases. The only difference noted between the two crime rates was a certain increase in the repetitive nature of offences against property, although certain indications also attributed this to high unemployment rates in Texas during that time.

According to the information available, there is simply no compelling evidence that imprisonment or various periods of imprisonment have a greater deterrent effect, even for property offences. There are even some reasons to believe the opposite: recidivism rates for imprisoned offenders are higher than those for individuals given non-custodial sentences.

This is why the Bloc Québécois disagrees with this way of thinking, and it is not alone. In the 1988 report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Solicitor General entitled “Taking Responsibility”, the committee admits that imprisonment has had no effect on rehabilitation, has not been a great deterrent and has contributed to protecting society only temporarily.

It also says that sure solutions to crime prevention are further sharing of wealth, working on better social integration and relying on rehabilitation. We can also see the success of the Quebec model, based on rehabilitation. There are fewer violent crimes in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada.

In the past, the Bloc Québécois has taken concrete measures on several occasions to better protect citizens. As evidence of this, we have antigang legislation, the reversal of the burden of proof, the reopening of RCMP detachments—thus better border region security—and protection against sexual exploitation and forced labour. The Bloc Québécois pressed the government to give priority to adopting this bill that will provide more legal tools to police officers in the fight against the scourge of sexual exploitation and forced labour. We also have a DNA bank. These are real tools that we can work with. Imprisonment is never the best solution.

Victims of violence are always foremost in our concerns.

Better protection for citizens is also and primarily accomplished by attacking the root of the problem and the causes of crime and violence. Poverty, inequality, and feeling excluded are the breeding grounds of crime.

The report by the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec deems conditional sentencing to be a tough, safe, and coherent measure that serves as a deterrent. In addition to its punitive value, conditional sentencing promotes the social reintegration of offenders without compromising the safety of our communities.

This measure, which has the support of the public, makes it possible to have a longer period of supervision for offenders jailed for committing similar offences. Abolishing conditional sentencing for more than 160 offences will not lead to improved safety of our communities. On the contrary, in the medium and long term, safety could be compromised.

Incarceration, particularly when unnecessary, can significantly impact offenders and their families in several ways: it can lead to loss of employment, poverty, isolation, worsening of social problems, loss of custody of children, inability to carry out certain responsibilities, loss of independence and so forth. These factors can place offenders and their families in a situation that is even more precarious and that could increase the chance of recidivism or firmly establish a lifestyle based on crime.

Before handing down a conditional sentence, the judge must make sure that the offender does not represent a threat to society. This helps ensure that conditional sentencing is a safe alternative.

It is also said that serving time in prison tends to increase the risk of reoffending, as compared to community-based sentences. That is also true. We are talking about crimes that can sometimes be abhorrent in some instances and pretty minor in other instances, but the judge could no longer use his or her discretion in sentencing. That is really dangerous.

Public opinion is in favour of conditional sentencing, while showing a legitimate concern about the individuals' dangerousness and about certain types of violent crimes. The Supreme Court of Canada has pointed out that conditional sentences are designed not only to punish and denounce, but also to rehabilitate. The highest court of the land further stated that such a sentence provides an alternative which promotes both monitoring and behavioural improvement.

Moreover, this is a sentence that allows people to show that they are able to function properly in society, to take responsibility for their behaviour and to abide by the mandatory and optional terms and conditions of the conditional sentence order.

I will conclude with these words of my brilliant colleague from Hochelaga:

Let me be clear, we are not saying that luring children is not important... It is not that the member's bill... is not important. In fact, it is so important that we supported it when it was introduced by the previous government. We cannot, however, agree with the idea of increasing the sentence from five years to ten so that people who are found guilty of luring children under the Criminal Code cannot serve their sentence in the community—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to the private member's bill of the member of Parliament for Abbotsford.

I want to begin my remarks by putting things into context from my perspective.

As a teacher, I was involved with training young people about media awareness. I had the pleasure to work with the Media Awareness Network, which is based in Ottawa. Its work has been picked up and used as a model throughout the country. In fact, it is internationally renowned. What it does is educate young people. As its name suggests, it brings to schools, to children and to young people the tools they need to navigate not only the Internet, but various other media as well.

This is really important. All we have to do is turn on the television, walk down the streets and see the billboards, or look at our magazine stands. I believe we have taken the wrong direction in our society in how we display children and women and how we have sexualized and turned women and children into objects. Part of luring is about objectification, how we have commodified human beings.

I have two young boys. Sadly, it is something that I have had to educate them about at a very early age, about why we have magazines displayed that objectify women in advertising to sell products, when it has nothing to do with the product. We have this kind of pollution put in front of us and seemingly as a society we okay it or we do not do much about it.

With Media Awareness Network, we were able to teach students from the elementary level to high school and show them what kinds of media were out there and how to interpret some of the images. Let us be honest, it is quite confusing for someone who is four, five or six years of age to see some of these images in magazines, on television screens and on the Internet, and to try to understand how that relates to what they see in their everyday lives.

Quite clearly, if one were to take all the images that are thrown at our young people and children, put them in a context and say that this is reality, I think we would find that most children would be very confused and very disturbed if they were not given the guidance that most parents and teachers give. They need to be told that this is not reality, that this is a version of someone's reality and it does not reflect our human family and our human dimensions.

I wanted to start off with that because in essence what we are talking about is the objectification, the exploitation, the sexualization of young people, of children and of women, and we have seen that in the past. That is the heart of this issue. It is how we can tackle what really has become the commodification of human beings.

With that in mind, what we did with the Media Awareness Network was put young people onto the Internet and have them show us the kinds of sites and images that they saw on a day to day basis. This had to to do with advertising, the kinds of things that kids are confronted with all the time. We pointed out there were places that were dangerous and what they should do if someone talked to them on a chat line, how to prevent being lured and why these people do this. Again, it is very confusing for young people. Quite rightly, we hope, young people trust others. Sadly, there are people who exploit that.

What we really need to do is give them the tools to ensure they are not victimized. On that I guess I am a little surprised at the government's approach to this. On certain days we will hear the government say that this kind of behaviour is the fault of poor parenting. In essence, what it saying is that the government will be the parent because the parents are unable to do this. The government will make sure it does it. It will have the big hand of the law and take care of everything.

I am sad to say that this is not good enough and it is intellectually incongruent with what this political party asserts most of the time.

I also have to mention this weeks cutbacks to literacy to help grassroots organizations, schools, community organizations and libraries. They work with young people to give them the tools they need to ensure they are aware of what is out there, the kinds of predators, the pitfalls when one turns on a computer. They need to know there are people out there of whom they should be weary.

I find it strange that we have a government that on the one hand is saying we need to have a law like this, I would suppose, and without prejudice, because it would take care of the problem of luring children. On the other hand the government seems to be taking away all the tools that have been provided to prevent this. Ultimately, the way to deal with problems such as luring children is to prevent hee crime from happening.

I want to turn my attention to what has been done to date in other jurisdictions and what can be done. For the Ottawa police service and for many other police services, one of the problems they have right now is they do not have the tools to deal with the Internet being used as a tool, be it for luring children or for other crimes. Yet as Canadians, we are probably best suited to deal with this problem. We are at the top of the class in developing software and other IT tools to track this kind of phenomena. We have seen that when we have had to deal with and seriously take on concerns around terrorism.

On the other hand, when we are talking about police services and their ability and financial and human capacity to deal with Internet crimes, it seems as though it is an afterthought. That is not because they have not identified it. I happen to know the people on the police services board in Ottawa. I happen to know that this is a concern around the country, and I am sure other members know this. One of the problems police services are having right now is they do not have enough person power. They do not have enough of the IT tools that are necessary. Particularly, the police do not have people who are trained and who can remain in those positions.

This is the kind of approach we need. It is the kind of thing we need to do to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening. We need to be able to identify predators who are on line. Then we can arrest these people and make sure something can happen before the crime happens.

My major concern about the bill is not enough attention has been paid the prevention of crime. I extend that to an analysis on the approach the government seems to be taking on crime in general. Getting tough on crime is hard to argue with in some instances. However, it begs the question, what is the government doing to protect people and prevent these crimes?

If we are unable to have a debate and to put in the tools to prevent crime, then we are not fulfilling our responsibility and our jobs as legislators. Ultimately, we have failed our communities and we have failed children.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Langley B.C.


Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abbotsford for his hard work on Bill C-277 and for bringing it to this House.

I would also like to comment on some of the addresses that have been made in the House.

The Liberal member said that more information is needed to find out whether or not this bill is on the right track. Then let us send this bill to committee so we can have that debate and let us hear from the witnesses.

The Bloc has said that rehabilitation is needed. Let us send the bill to committee so that we can hear from the witnesses how to rehabilitate these pedophiles.

The NDP has just said that we need to prevent the crime and provide the tools. Let us send this bill to committee so that we can find out what tools are needed.

Bill C-277 addresses the seriousness of a criminal behaviour that targets our children: Internet luring.

Since 2002 it has been a crime in Canada to use the Internet to communicate with a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of child sexual exploitation or abduction against a child. Because we criminalize this behaviour, we have to be able to track for the first time the prevalence of this type of activity.

Over 600 Internet luring cases have been referred to the police by Cybertip since 2002. The trend seems to show that it is becoming an increasingly more common problem.

Cybertip has been Canada's national tip line for child sexual exploitation on the Internet. It has been in operation collecting valuable data and referring child sexual exploitation cases to the police since 2002. The data provided by and the anecdotal evidence that has been collected over the last four years paints a disturbing picture of a typical Internet luring case.

Picture a man in his mid to late 30s who portrays himself as a 17-year-old boy, who spends his time online in teen chat rooms. Now picture a young girl, 13 years old, who likes to chat with her friends in the teen's chat room, where the conversations get a little racy. Imagine this man gaining the trust of this young girl, striking up a friendship, talking about life, love and sex. Imagine this man taking the relationship to another level, telephone calls, using webcams and perhaps even in-person meetings. This is a typical scenario and escalation of events in cases where a real victim is at risk.

This criminal behaviour is becoming increasingly prevalent, which means that Canadian children are increasingly at risk.

When the luring provision was originally enacted, it was introduced to address a problem. The problem was not related to luring per se because luring itself is not a new phenomenon but one that has been greatly facilitated by the Internet and its associated technologies.

The problem with the act of luring, the grooming and enticing of a young person, was at that time there was no specific offence of luring to commit a child sexual offence and it fell short of an attempt to commit a child sexual exploitation offence. Canadian jurisprudence that dealt with the issue of attempts required that the act, which would constitute the attempt, would be more than mere preparation. It would be difficult to characterize chat or email as more than mere preparation, hence, the creation of the offence of luring a child. The new offence criminalized communicating for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a child sexual exploitation or abduction offence.

Why is all of this very important? Because this is how the current penalty of the luring provision was determined.

Under the Criminal Code the penalty for attempts is half that of the substantive offence that was attempted. Therefore, since the new luring provision, in a way, criminalized activity that was somewhat less than what could normally be characterized as an attempt, it was seen as appropriate that the penalty should be half of what the other child sexual exploitation offences carried.

Today we look at Internet luring very differently. The prevalence of this criminal behaviour and the risk of physical contact have been two supporting factors for treating this crime more seriously.

However, it is the direct contact that is made between the predator and the victim via the Internet, where a relationship of trust is created for the sole purpose of exploiting the young person and betraying his or her trust, which escalates this behaviour above that of an attempt and puts it onto a level with that of the other child sexual exploitation offences.

The last time we debated the bill, a number of questions were posed in relation to it. After careful consideration of its aims and purposes, I think we may have the answers to those questions.

If members will allow me to refresh the collective memory of the House, the questions were the following. Does the existing penalty of Internet luring adequately reflect the serious nature of this offence, particularly in comparison to other contact child sexual offences? Would the proposed new maximum penalty be consistent with the penalty with contact child sexual offences? Would it be consistent with other measures that are currently before Parliament, including Bill C-9, which proposes Criminal Code reforms to prevent the use of conditional sentences for offences that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment or more?

These are good questions. I believe I have already answered the first question, in that the current penalty scheme does not adequately reflect the seriousness of this type of criminal behaviour. Internet luring should be treated in the same way as the other Criminal Code offences relating to child sexual exploitation.

Second, Bill C-277, as amended, which calls for increasing the maximum penalty on indictment and summary conviction for the luring offence to 10 years and 18 months respectively, is completely consistent with the maximum penalties for the other child sexual exploitation contact offences. Only two child sexual exploitation offences continue to have a five year maximum penalty on indictment. Both are related to child pornography, possession and accessing, where contact with the potential child victim is not an element of the offence.

Finally, the bill is also complementary to government bills currently before the House, namely Bill C-9, on conditional sentence of imprisonment, and Bill C-22, on the age of protection. Bill C-277 also fits into the government's priority on tackling crime and, more specifically, on treating child sex exploitation crimes more seriously.

If enacted, Bill C-277 would, by virtue of raising the maximum penalty on indictment for the luring offence to 10 years, bring the offence up to the threshold contemplated in Bill C-9, which would remove the possibility of a conditional sentence, or house arrest, if the accused was prosecuted by the way of indictment.

Bill C-9 in its current form proposes to remove the possibility of conditional sentencing orders, which we commonly refer to as house arrest, for all serious crimes. Bill C-9 currently defines serious crimes as those crimes that carry a penalty of 10 years or more on indictment. The use of conditional sentencing in child sexual exploitation cases has been seriously criticized and Bill C-277 and Bill C-9 together will answer that criticism in part.

BillC-22, on the age of protection, although not directly linked to the penalty enhancements that are being proposed in Bill C-277, will expand the protective shield of section 172.1, the luring offence. Currently all children under 14 years are fully protected by section 172.1, but only some youth between 14 years and 18 years are protected by it. When Bill C-22 is enacted, the full protection of the luring offence will be extended to all children under 16 years.

New technologies, including the Internet, have created new opportunities for Canadians, and for the most part they have been extremely positive. However, they have also created new opportunities for would-be child molesters to anonymously and secretly enter into our homes through the Internet with a view to sexually exploiting our children.

Since its enactment in 2002, section 172.1 has served as a useful and effective tool for law enforcement and has resulted in convictions. In a recent Nova Scotia case, Kevin Randall was convicted of Internet luring as a result of engaging in explicit online communications with a person he believed was a 13-year-old girl but who was in reality an undercover police officer. The offender had arranged to meet the 13-year-old girl at a coffee shop, where the police apprehended him with a pocketful of condoms.

Clearly, section 172.1 is an important tool for law enforcement and it is being used to successfully secure the conviction of offenders. Our obligation as parliamentarians--

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is a member in this place who does not have a great deal of concern about issues that impact children. The cliché is that children are our future, but they, together with seniors--and I suspect people would agree with me--are the most vulnerable in our society because they can be taken advantage of depending on their circumstances.

We really get into a situation where people are now saying that this is even more serious. In fact, I have had a private member's motion that called for more serious penalties for those who abuse a spouse as opposed to committing assault against another person, the reason being that when someone abuses their spouse, they are violating a trust relationship. Therefore, it is an exacerbating circumstance and the penalty should be greater than the penalty for simply getting into a fight with a stranger in a bar and punching him in the nose. There is something different and it is called an exacerbating factor.

I think members would agree that issues to do with harming children is an exacerbating factor. One member even said he did not think current penalties reflect the seriousness of the crime.

A Bloc member spoke about her grandchild and the need to take care of that grandchild to give it the guidance it needs. If something untoward happened to that grandchild and we asked what should be done in terms of the response of the juridical system, the person with the emotional attachment is going to say, “Throw away the key”. The person will say that the individual who harmed that grandchild has absolutely no right to be in our society. That could be the solution to all serious crimes, to just throw away the key. The trouble is that it is not something we can do. I know that this point alone on just throwing away the key when people do bad things would be a very interesting debate in Parliament.

But in our system today, even those who commit the most serious crimes such as first degree murder, punishable by a sentence of 25 years' imprisonment, eventually will be released into society. They will be released with certain conditions, but they will be out of jail. That, in certain circumstances like the Clifford Olson crimes, is totally unacceptable. There are provisions for incarceration for longer periods of time, but in general first degree murderers eventually get back into society.

That is why our judicial system is based on the principle of rehabilitation. It means that if someone in jail for a serious crime admits their crime and takes programs to rehabilitate themselves to reintegrate into society, they may qualify for probation and get out a little earlier. That is only if they behave themselves and take the program. Those who do not want to probably do not even get probation. Many get turned down because they are not sorry for their crimes. They do not realize the seriousness of their crimes or the damage they have caused to society.

I am going to support Bill C-277 at second reading to go to committee. I am going to recommend it to my caucus colleagues because I think that although we have had a very large debate going on in Parliament, very piecemeal, this private member's bill may very well be the proxy for us to start talking about the whole sentencing and judicial model and whether or not we have confidence in our judges and in the courts, and whether we believe that some cases are different from others, even for the same crime. I can give members an example.

For instance, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba surveyed people in their prisons and found that about 50% of them suffered from alcohol related birth defects, fetal alcohol syndrome. It is a mental illness. Rehabilitation is not applicable to them, but they are in jail. Why are they in jail? They committed crimes, but they did not know the difference between right and wrong. Should they get the same penalty? Should they be in the same system where rehabilitation is what we do? Probably not. They should probably be in appropriate institutions to help them learn how to cope with their disability and their mental health.

The courts have taken a greater latitude in looking at each case individually to find out whether there are exacerbating or in fact mitigating circumstances. I do not believe the latitude can be taken away from the courts and judges to be able to determine whether there are exacerbating or mitigating factors.

This bill, although it is very simple in saying to just increase the penalties from 5 to 10 years, is quite straightforward, but the enormity of the implications and the breadth of the discussion are absolutely phenomenal.

This is a hybrid offence. It means that matters can be handled by a summary conviction or by indictment. It may also still permit, in certain circumstances, conditional sentencing. It may in fact impose a mandatory minimum, effectively, in an inappropriate circumstance. I am not sure whether there is a model that is going to fit all. I am not sure whether raising the penalty from 5 to 10 years is going to be the best solution.

I am one member of Parliament. I have some concerns. I know we do not have the tools to be able to deal with these complex issues in debate of private members' business. We do not have the same opportunity to have a fulsome debate on the vital issues and all the relevant issues, but we do know one thing. We know that at committee we will have the opportunity to have that clear debate with the officials from the justice department and from groups and organizations who are advocating on behalf of protecting children and from the public at large through their members of Parliament. That is where this should happen. That is why I think it is extremely important that we get this bill to committee.

I should specifically indicate with regard to the bill that although it simply doubles the sentence from 5 to 10 years for a conviction by indictment for luring a child into a sexual act through the Internet, the bill does not alter the existing availability of summary conviction procedure, where the maximum sentence would be six months in prison. People will never understand a sentence of six months' imprisonment for someone who is a sexual predator. There is something wrong with that, and I agree.

It appears there is a second purpose of the bill. That is to bring this offence within a class of offences for which government Bill C-9 would remove conditional sentencing as an option if and only if proceeded with by indictment. We have to note that all other sentencing options, including suspended sentence, probation, fines, et cetera, would in fact remain with this bill whether the indictment or summary procedure was used. It is not exactly as advertised, as just increasing the sentence from 5 to 10 years. There is a lot more included in the family of possible outcomes with regard to a case.

The offence of luring in section 172.1 prohibits only communication to facilitate possible sexual acts. It is not the actual acts themselves that are dealt with. So the bill may be short, but the implications and the related issues are very broad.

I would like to conclude. I tend to agree with the speaker from the New Democratic Party who wanted to reach out to the House and to Canadians and say that bad things happen in this world but human beings are not born bad. They are a function of their environment. Loving, caring parents who guide them and give them a good sense of values help them to grow up to be good contributing members of society, but those who do not get that loving, that caring and that teaching obviously are the ones who have a higher probability of getting into some difficulty.

We do not need just tougher sentences. We still have to use all of the tools available. They involve prevention and education. They involve rehabilitation. They involve, in some cases, mandatory minimum sentences. In other cases, quite frankly, they require putting a person away and throwing away the key because there are cases that turn out like that.

I want to thank the member for bringing the bill forward, but I think members have shown the House that this bill has many more sweeping implications and that it should go to committee for us to properly address those other aspects of the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, we can generally say that bills introduced by backbenchers are well intentioned. Members are rather radical in the solutions that they offer, probably because it is so difficult for them to take their bills all the way to the House, and it is even rarer that they get them passed. That is perhaps what is happening here.

All members of my party and of this House certainly feel that child exploitation in one form or another—whether sexual exploitation, which is one of the worst forms of violence, or child exploitation for economic or other purposes—is an absolutely reprehensible type of conduct that is naturally condemned. However, the clause at hand deals with only one means of luring children: through the Internet.

However, if the individual continues, if he or she commits other offences, even rape, after luring the child through the Internet, these offences will be liable to tougher maximum sentences, up to and including life imprisonment. This can lead, in many cases, to more than 10 years of imprisonment, so that the judge must apply the maximum five-year sentence for luring. Moreover, he or she can decide to impose a concurrent sentence.

Certainly, when the judge makes the decision, he will consider the added rape or sexual exploitation, taking into account the fact that this started with the luring of a child through the Internet. Luring is thus secondary to offences that people find really reprehensible and that already carry very tough penalties under the Criminal Code. I say very tough, but I see that there are now in this House a majority of members who believe that we are never tough enough in Canada.

This is all too apparent in this bill. It is not that a five-year sentence for luring a child—in addition to the sentence the offender will serve if, in the worst case, he goes as far as committing rape or sexual assault—is deemed insufficient. The worst cases will be treated according to the offence committed. No, that is not the issue. It is that some would like this offence to be in another category. They want to put it in a category where a judge cannot impose a sentence of deprivation of liberty. They want this offence to be punishable by a sentence to be served in the community.

I do not know why this fairly recent provision in the Criminal Code is being attacked. I believe it was approved in 1996 or 1998. I think it was 1998. I do not know of any serious studies that show that judges have abused this provision, especially since they still have recourse to probation, with what is called a suspended sentence.

The difference between a conditional sentence and a suspended sentence is very simple. Under a suspended sentence, the accused is released under certain terms and conditions. No sentence is passed by the judge. If the accused abides by these terms and conditions, the judge will no longer have the ability to pass sentence. But if the accused violates the terms and conditions, he or she will be brought back before the judge to receive the sentence the judge could have passed initially. At that time, the judge may adjust the sentence, imposing a tougher or lighter one.

Under a conditional sentence, the judge gives a sentence of two years or less, which the accused may serve in the community under certain terms and conditions. These generally include a curfew requiring the individuals to be home by a certain time in the evening, the obligation to work, the obligation to support their family, and so on. If the terms and conditions are violated, then the accused has to serve the rest of his or her sentence in prison.

In other words, a person sentenced to serve 18 months at home who abides by the terms and conditions for 17 straight months, and then violates them after 17,5 months, will have to spend two weeks in prison to finish serving his or her sentence.

Had the same person received a suspended sentence and violated the terms and conditions after 17 months, the judge would have said, “I gave you a break; now, I am sentencing you to imprisonment”.

The Bloc Québécois is among those who have most actively promoted this change to the Criminal Code. We believed that the legislation had to take into account new technologies and the new ways they provide of luring children. The Bloc Québécois therefore supported the establishment of a new offence. This needs, however, to be set in a broader context. We also have to look at the offence of using a computer to lure a child from the perspective of sexual assault. I think members will agree that sexual assault is a more serious offence than luring a child. Bear in mind that a child is under the age of 18 or 16—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I am sorry, but I must interrupt the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, since there are only five minutes left in the debate. These last five minutes are provided to the sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Abbotsford.