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House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provisions.

Topics

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

6 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on the sunsetting of two of the most serious provisions of the anti-terrorism legislation passed in this place a number of years ago after the events of September 11.

The two provisions we are discussing are I think two of the most far-reaching provisions of that anti-terrorism legislation. They call for investigative hearings of material witnesses in terror cases, and also there is the question of preventive arrest without bail for 72 hours. These were two of the most controversial and perhaps most dangerous provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act.

I think it was because of this that parliamentarians of the day, often spurred by representatives of the New Democratic Party, added the sunset provision. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the MP for Elmwood—Transcona, who was key in that debate. Because of the concern about those provisions in particular and how they upset due process and challenged civil liberties in Canada, the provision for a sunset after five years was added. Now we are up against the timing of that sunsetting of these two provisions.

I am pleased that in this corner of the House we remain consistent on these issues. We opposed these provisions at the time they were debated in this House and included in the Anti-terrorism Act and we continue to oppose them today. We see them as fundamentally problematic and cannot support their continuation, even for a shorter period of time.

As I begin, I want to remind members of the House and those who might be watching of the atmosphere that surrounded legislatures in the west after the events of September 11 in New York City and in Washington, D.C. For me, one of the key interventions in that debate was that of representative Barbara Lee, the only American federal politician to vote against the emergency measures introduced in Congress after September 11.

I think it was a very brave stance that representative Lee took at that time. It was very brave to stand in a vote that was 420 to 1 in the House of Representatives. A similar vote in the Senate was 98 to 0. She put herself on the line to say there was another way, to say that draconian measures, and in the case of the United States military action, were not the appropriate response, that they were not the only response to the situation that had presented itself, to the tragedy and the terrible loss of life that happened in the United States.

In her speech on the resolutions before Congress at the time, she quoted a member of the clergy. This has been attributed to her on many occasions, but I think she was actually quoting a clergyperson who said “as we act, let us not become the evil we deplore”. I think that characterizes the atmosphere and the difficulty that all legislators faced after those tragic events on September 11.

How do we keep in perspective the situation that presented itself there? How do we keep in perspective the fundamental values of our society when we are up against the evil of a terrorist act such as we witnessed on that day? I think we have to very careful that we do not let terrorism win by compromising our fundamental values. I fear that in the case of these two particular amendments that are sunsetting shortly, hopefully, that was in some sense what was happening even in this House.

The anti-terrorism legislation and these two particular clauses were I think very difficult in terms of protecting civil liberties in Canada, in terms of respecting the charter. I know that some of them have been tested in the courts, but I think I can still hold the opinion that they are a fundamental affront to civil liberties and the basic principles of fundamental justice in Canada.

I know that in particular communities there has been particular concern about the effect of that legislation and of these clauses, and I want to quote what I believe is another important moment in the discussion around these kinds of measures. I will quote from an address by Dr. Tyseer Aboulnasr from the University of Ottawa, who spoke several weeks ago on here the Hill at an event to mark the contributions of Monia Mazigh and Maher Arar.

Let me quote what she said at that time. I think it is very important and apropos to the current discussion. She stated:

Friends, let us never forget that nations are not judged by the laws they write up and lock up in libraries, nations are judged by how they act at times when their dedication to these laws [is] truly tested. Every country that has chosen to sacrifice the liberties of its citizens and hold them in shackles has done that out of belief that this is necessary for its security. We, Canadians, know better. We know that security without liberty is simply imprisonment. Nothing is more secure than a maximum security prison. We deserve better. We cannot let Canada turn into a maximum security prison by imprisoning one Canadian without the presumption of innocence till proven guilty and without the full opportunity to defend themselves.

That is the end of the quote, but I think it is a very crucial addition to the discussion we are having today.

Do we have ultimate respect for the system we have put in place, for the fundamentals of that system, for the kind of justice that is meted out in Canada, or do we believe we need to suspend those rules in the face of those who would seek to terrorize Canada? I fundamentally believe that we do not need to go down that road and that we can have ultimate respect and faith in the system we have put in place without special measures like the two clauses we are discussing today.

I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss these clauses. They were particularly problematic clauses of the anti-terrorism legislation. I am glad there was consent to include this sunset, but again, I think that shows how deeply parliamentarians were concerned about these two particular provisions and why there was agreement to have this sunset clause included in the anti-terrorism legislation.

Whenever we move to undo civil liberties and the key processes of our justice system, I think we must have, at minimum, that protection. Whereas I do not believe these clauses were necessary and certainly in this corner of the House we argued against them at the time, I am relieved that we have the opportunity to review them in this way today here in the House.

There is a significant question about whether these kinds of clauses are even necessary. I believe they are already covered by the existing Criminal Code of Canada and the Criminal Code amendments made at the time of the Anti-terrorism Act.

I want to quote from a report by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, the NDP justice and public safety critic, who addressed the issue about the need for these measures. He stated:

There is no act of terrorism that is not already a criminal offence punishable by the most stringent penalties under the Criminal Code. This is obviously the case for premeditated, cold-blooded murders; however, it is also true of the destruction of major infrastructures.

Moreover, when judges exercise their discretion during sentencing, they will consider the terrorists' motive as an aggravating factor. They will find that the potential for rehabilitation is very low, that the risk of recidivism is very high and that deterrence and denunciation are grounds for stiffer sentencing. This is what they have always done in the past and there is no reason to think they will do differently in the future.

My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh points out very clearly that none of the offences related to terrorism are dealt with lightly by the existing criminal law in Canada. The Criminal Code would treat any matter related to terrorism very severely. There is no doubt about that in our Criminal Code.

I do not think anyone in this place can imagine that anyone in the justice system would look upon those kinds of crimes lightly or that anyone in drafting our Criminal Code would suggest that there would be any light penalty for those kinds of actions. That is already part of our Criminal Code. I do not think that we specifically need these particular provisions.

I fear that when we make for exceptional circumstances, for the suspension of our basic process and basic civil liberties in Canada, we often get to the point where we use those kinds of laws. We may think that we are above doing that, but our own history has shown that we are not above using those kinds of measures at a time of panic and trouble. One of the best examples was the internment of Japanese during the second world war. Hundreds of thousands of people were removed from their homes and sent to the interior of Canada without probably good reason. In fact, we had to apologize appropriately for that and pay compensation for the internments. That was a very sad part of our history, a time when very draconian measures were taken, I believe without cause and inappropriately so, against Canadian citizens.

I worry that when this kind of measure is on the books in Canada, that despite our best intentions, our intentions of respecting civil liberties and due process, that at some point we may opt to exercise those and suspend those liberties inappropriately.

I also look to the experience of the War Measures Act in the early 1970s. Hundreds of people in Quebec were rounded up and detained, never to be charged. We know the extent of what happened at that time in Quebec was limited to a small group of people who could have been charged effectively under provisions of the existing Criminal Code. Yet hundreds of other people were caught up in a moment of panic and concern about what was happening in the country at the time.

A piece of legislation was used that I am sure most Canadians never thought would have to be used. Most Canadians were concerned about the use of that kind of legislation. I am glad the CCF and New Democrats spoke strongly against the imposition of those kinds of measures at the time. Again, it seems that we have attempted to be consistent in our concerns about the suspension of civil liberties and the use of those kinds of draconian measures.

It is crucial to remember that we cannot say we will never use those kinds of measures, that we need them as fail-safe measures. Our own history has shown that too often we have been prepared to sacrifice civil liberties for no appropriately good cause in the end.

I think it is clear that the current Criminal Code has similar provisions to the two clauses we are talking about now. The clause regarding preventive arrest is dealt with in a number of places in our law, particularly in section 495 of the Criminal Code, which states that a peace officer may arrest without warrant a person who on reasonable grounds he believes is about to commit an indictable offence. The provision says that the arrested person must then be brought before a judge who may impose the same conditions as those that could be imposed under the Anti-terrorism Act. The judge may even refuse bail if he believes the person's release might jeopardize public safety.

The current Criminal Code has this kind of provision around preventive arrest, but it does so without suspending civil liberties and due process and remains a part of the tested and honoured traditions of our justice system.

The other clause we are discussing is around investigative hearings. Some people say that section 810 of the Criminal Code also deals with this. This section states:

An information may be laid before a justice by or on behalf of any person who fears on reasonable grounds that another person will cause personal injury to him or her or to his or her spouse or common-law partner or child or will damage his or her property.

The other person is then summoned, and not arrested, before a judge who can then order the person to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for any period that does not exceed 12 months, and comply with such other reasonable conditions prescribed in their recognizance. The judge cannot commit that person to a prison term unless the person refuses to sign the recognizance. That is another provision.

In our current Criminal Code such provisions already exist within the given circumstances of the existing law and process. On that basis, I really have even further trouble supporting the extension of these two clauses.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision that goes to some of the same issues. It was decision on the security certificates. In the unanimous decision the court made it clear that there was a serious problem with the security certificate provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the way they suspended the accused's right to know the evidence against him or her and to test that evidence in court. The court suspended the provisions for a year to give Parliament the opportunity to take action to fix this serious problem. This drives home the problems that exist when these kinds of special measures to deal with perceived problems of terrorism or perhaps organized crime are introduced.

The question of secret evidence goes as a fundamental departure from due process in our justice system. I was pleased to hear that the court recognized this very clearly in its ruling.

The other fundamental problem with the security certificate intention is that deportation to face torture or death can also be contemplated. There is no excuse for ever deporting someone to face torture or death. Canada would be violating many of its international commitments if we ever took that kind of action.

The security certificate process is fundamentally flawed in many ways. This is driven home as well by the fact that three people are presently being held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Center on security certificates. They are participating in a hunger strike. This hunger strike has gone on for 83 days, a very serious length of time. It is about the conditions of detention at Kingston. It is about the lack of an appropriate grievance procedure. It is about the inability to do appropriate religious practice. It is about the inability to have private family visits. This hunger strike is about many important issues relating to the conditions of detention in that place. I am concerned for the condition of the men being held there.

Some of these men have existing health problems that make a hunger strike even more dangerous to their health. Hunger strikes that last over 49 days are considered a risk for permanent damage to one's health or even death. At 83 days, these hunger strikes have gone on well beyond that point. Still there has been no action by the government to find an end to the strikes, or to find a resolution to some of the issues that have been raised.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and ultimately the House have put forward a reasonable solution to the government. We have been calling on the government to appoint the correctional investigator to act as the ombudsperson in this case and to find a solution in exactly the same way he does for anyone incarcerated in a federal penitentiary. Given the majority vote in the House and given the fact that it provides an appropriate way out of this terrible dilemma for the government, I urge it to move on this without any further delay. I fear someone will die on the government's watch if action is not taken.

Indefinite detention without charge or conviction has no place in Canada. Some have suggested that the use of a special advocate would overcome that. It has been proven in the UK that special advocates cannot abide by the process because it is such a fundamental departure from due process and the principles of fundamental justice, and many of them have resigned.

My concerns about these clauses are very significant indeed.

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the thoughtful presentation of hon. member. I disagree with his conclusion, but I appreciate the solemnity of the presentation.

It seems to me that there are some times when civil rights, as we are talking about these days, kind of collide with the larger rights. To me, the ultimate right is to be able to walk on the streets and roads of our country, to have safety in my home, to not fear that I will be murdered, attacked, robbed, et cetera, which comes under that wide system of justice.

These days we are rather consumed with the wholesale murder of many people through terrorist acts. I know there is a balance to be reached. I love my freedom, but there are some freedoms which I suppose I would be willing to give up in order to enhance my personal safety and the safety of my family, my friends and in fact all Canadians.

Perhaps the balance in this debate has been skewed somewhat where the rights and freedoms of individuals, though they are to be protected and defended, are perhaps taken to the point where we put ourselves as a society and a country at risk for terrorism attacks.

Could the member comment on that?

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I pointed out in my speech, I believe any of the actions that might be part of terrorist activity are already covered very effectively in the Criminal Code. We know any activity related to terrorism or even plotting those kinds of activities is illegal and subject to severe punishment. There is no deficiency that would merit suspending basic civil rights, due process and interfering with the way our justice system operates to protect us from the possibility of terrorist activity.

We need to provide our police and intelligence agencies with the resources they need to do the job we require of them, to investigate issues around terrorism or organized crime for that matter. We need to ensure they have the resources they need to do those jobs appropriately and effectively. I do not think they need these extra provisions outside of what is already in the Criminal Code, outside of what is available in their usual process around investigation and toward laying charges.

We need to ensure that our police and intelligence agencies are cooperating. We know in the most difficult example of terrorism to face Canada, the Air-India bombing, there was a real problem in the investigation of this terrible tragedy where so many Canadians and others died.

We know the RCMP and CSIS had difficulty working together. Because of that there were very serious problems with the investigation and ultimately with the case that was presented against people who were ultimately charged after a considerable period. We know too that our police and intelligence agencies did not have the ability to do the kind of investigations they needed to do. For instance, they did not have the language capacity to do the important work.

This is not a matter of having all the new bells and whistles and the fancy technology of the intelligence system, the kind of James Bond and science fiction of intelligence work. It is a matter of having people on the ground, people who have very basic abilities such as language and to find the appropriate connections and basic investigative work to ensure the safety of Canadians in these circumstances.

This has been missing in the past. It has been so clearly proven to have been missing in the past in our approach to dealing with terrorism in Canada.

The clauses we are debating today have never been used. That should say something about how crucial they have been in protecting Canadians from acts of terrorism. Even in the circumstances where people have been alleged to be participating in some kind of terrorist activity, the provisions were not used. The Criminal Code was used in those circumstances.

Therefore, I am not prepared to say that we should compromise civil liberties to protect ourselves from terrorism. I believe our criminal justice system already has the ability to do that and it should be engaged fully. We should ensure that our police and security intelligence agencies have the ability to do the job that needs to be done around these kinds of issues.

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to use the remaining three or four minutes to make some comments, rather than ask a question, since this member has already been asked several questions. I understand that I must leave time for my colleague to respond.

Five years ago, the day after the terrorist attacks, I was in this House and I participated in the debate on the bill. At that time, some members showed an obvious desire to create sunset clauses. We decided then that it would be necessary to demonstrate a need to use them. We were going through a rather tough, difficult and unique time. Law enforcement officials and government agencies answered the government's call to put forth measures that could be helpful.

Among the multitude of measures, some were problematic; however, as legislators, we were not sure. Both chambers agreed to provide for a five-year period to establish that these clauses were necessary. We can definitely say that they have not proven to be necessary; on the contrary, they were never used. At present, government supporters are saying that we have flip-flopped and changed our minds, but that is not at all the case. We are being consistent. We were the ones who saw the need to introduce sunset clauses. In no way do I accept this attempt to make tomorrow night's vote a partisan game.

We have also learned from our mistakes, because that is what we all must do, I would hope. In the past few years, we realized what had to be done. We also strengthened our rule of law and our police forces and we invested billions of dollars in security. These clauses do not really seem to be necessary. I would like to know if my colleague agrees with me, given that the need for these two sunset clauses being debated today has not been proven. To be consistent, we must vote against extending these clauses today or tomorrow.

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I suspect I only have a few brief seconds to respond.

I appreciate that this was not done lightly by Parliament after the events of September 11. I know that many members worked long and hard on this and listened carefully to many opinions.

I am glad that at the time at the very minimum, parliamentarians chose to include the sunset of these two particular clauses.

I would like to remind all members of Parliament that one of those opinions in this place was that these measures went too far. Certainly the NDP put forward that position, that these kinds of measures were ultimately unnecessary.

I think our experience has proven that is true. They have never been used. There was one attempt but ultimately, it was not used. I think we now know that the Criminal Code of Canada deals with these kinds of situations effectively. I think that is the way we need to go. We need to make sure that the Criminal Code in that process is effective.

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 6:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Thursday, February 22, 2007, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House are deemed put and the recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 5:30 p.m.

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

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want a response to my question of February 19. When responding to my question on the wrongful imprisonment of Ms. Brenda Martin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that his department “waived the embassy's standard fee that was normally applied in cases like this”. What was the minister talking about? I have absolutely no idea what the minister was referring to. Obviously he did not understand my question. It had nothing to do with fees being charged or waived. Quite frankly, I also do not think many Canadians in Ms. Martin's predicament would be impressed to hear the minister's largesse in waiving departmental service fees, especially if their lives were indeed at risk.

Canada has access, as I demonstrated that day, to the affidavit. It is important that the government get it and that it be deposited with the Mexicans. It really is quite simple. It just needs a bit of leadership.

The Mexican court appears to be playing Ms. Martin for a patsy. The Canadian government can protest to the Mexican government when justice is being denied. This is not interference. It is very much within the right of Canada to do so.

What is equally disturbing about her imprisonment is that the Mexican deputy police chief was released in less than a week last year, a person who had a role in the fraud scheme, while the chef to the mastermind who is cleared of any involvement by a death bed affidavit, still remains in a Mexican prison one year later.

Brenda Martin's mother is also not very impressed with the lack of contact and information she received from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and from officials. Quite to the contrary to the minister's reply that day to my question when he alluded to being in contact with members of the Martin family, Ms. Martin's mother appears to suggest that was not the case. So, is the mother wrong or is the minister?

Is it too much to ask the minister to get the appropriate affidavit to the Mexican authorities and get Brenda Martin out of prison now, or does the minister want to get paid for something first? Brenda is down to 100 pounds. She is physically ill and is mentally distraught. Does the minister intend to help this woman before she ends up dead?

There are a number of other cases that we should be bringing to bear this evening. There are other Canadians this evening who are in dire need. Mr. el-Attar in Egypt has been accused of spying for Israel. He said he has been subjected to torture. There is the ongoing case of Mr. Celil. We now learn from reports from the Uygur community that the Canadian government suggested that if they want some help in the Celil case, get a lawyer, pay $12,000 and that will help the situation.

With all the photo ops with the Mexican leadership, Canada's foreign affairs minister is no further along in bringing justice to those responsible for the murder of Nancy and Domenic Ianiero. Two women in Thunder Bay live in fear by Canada's inability to convince Mexicans that they were not the ones who killed the Ianieros.

Last week the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Public Safety had a golden opportunity to meet with their counterparts, the ministers responsible from Mexico. They could have easily raised the several issues with Mexico. There are obviously many to discuss. I want to point out these are not the only cases that could have been raised.

An affidavit to the Mexican authorities last Thursday could have possibly seen the release of Ms. Martin here and now. It could have also gone a long way in dealing with some of the other issues. Mr. Peter Kimber has been detained in Mexico for over two years in a civil matter. The question is, is it a miscarriage of justice? There are questions now about an unknown minor who is in Texas. We should be looking at these cases as well.

The government is not standing up for Canadians. Conservatives seem to be standing up for their own rhetoric.

6:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East for raising this case.

As the member knows full well, when Canadian citizens find themselves detained or imprisoned abroad, the Government of Canada has a responsibility to ensure that they are treated fairly and afforded due process. While the member opposite attempts to get his face on television at every possible chance to extol his supposed knowledge, the officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade use every opportunity available to them to assist their fellow Canadians who find themselves in distress.

Ms. Martin's case has been accorded the same high level of importance and professionalism that we give to all consular cases. Her situation is well known to our consular staff in Mexico and they have provided her with consular assistance from the moment her case was brought to their attention in February 2006.

Consular staff in Ottawa, Mexico and Guadalajara have been and continue to be very active on this case. Our officials have visited her in prison on several occasions. They have maintained regular contact with her family, facilitated the transfer of funds and liaised with Mexican officials in regard to her case.

As the member also knows, when a Canadian is arrested outside of Canada, he or she is subject to the laws and regulations of the host country. The Government of Canada cannot influence the judicial process of a sovereign nation, just as we would not allow another country to attempt to influence our judiciary. We must always work within the judicial system of the country in question and find a means to assist Canadians.

As the hon. member knows, despite his blustering and media based motives, Canada cannot get directly involved in legal matters concerning Canadians arrested or detained abroad. The hon. member does not have to take my word for it. He could listen to his parliamentary neighbour, the Liberal member for Scarborough—Agincourt, who said on February 12, 2007 in the Toronto Star:

Foreign Affairs and its consular affairs bureau have no authority to investigate crimes in another country, just as foreign police have no authority in cases under domestic investigation in Canada.

However, we can confirm that Ms. Martin has legal counsel who will represent her case within the Mexican legal system.

If the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East has in his possession legal and authenticated documents that could help Ms. Martin as he suggested in his question, I would urge him not to play politics with Ms. Martin's life. He should not delay the dispatch of these important documents to play political games in this House. Rather he should deliver them to the consular affairs bureau of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade so that they may be sent to Ms. Martin's legal counsel in Mexico, or perhaps he could even give them to me. I cannot for the life of me understand why he would hold on to them for so long.

That being said, he should be aware that the documents may not be accepted by the Mexican legal system if they are not deemed to have been obtained through proper legal and administrative channels.

Over the last many weeks the member and others in his caucus have played fast and loose with the lives of Canadians who are subject to foreign legal systems. Despite his political game playing, this government takes its consular matters very seriously. When Canadians need help and the hon. member's first response is to go on television, Canadians should watch out. They can rest assured that while he is talking the talk, it is our officials who are walking the walk.

While the member wishes to play politics, I wish to assure the House that the Department of Foreign Affairs affords Ms. Martin's case its highest priority. We will do everything possible within our power to assist in her situation.

While the party opposite has a track record of 13 years of silence and inaction, this government already has a reputation for getting things done.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the hon. member who is now a minister had an opportunity to read her points, because frankly that party has never done anything for a Canadian abroad. I will put my reputation against any member of that party in terms of getting Canadians out of harm's way.

I will take the hon. member's advice and provide her, if she wishes, with the affidavit that she is looking for to expedite the case of Brenda Martin. I also want to allow the member an opportunity to understand that it is incumbent upon her in her new role to ensure that when Canadians need to access their Canadian government in times of distress that the minister does not take off for a vacation for four of five days, and then comes back and says that he has been in touch with the department, as we saw in Lebanon, or fails Canadians consistently as the government has done with respect to Mr. Celil, when the Prime Minister himself refused to raise it when he was in St. Petersburg.

The Liberal Party and this member have a track record. The Conservatives may not like it. They may think this is a question that should not be dealt with in the media, but the facts speak for themselves.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Helena Guergis Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will remind the hon. member that we are in regular contact with Ms. Martin and are offering her consular assistance.

I am happy to take the documents from him, as I have said tonight. I am not sure again why he has held on to them for so long. If it is such an important case to him, I do not know why he would hold on to those documents for so long, and I am happy to assist.

Just to comment on the case of Mr. Celil, as he did, I need to point out that the World Uyghur Congress has applauded the Prime Minister for the work that he has done with respect to standing up for Mr. Celil's human rights. The World Uyghur Congress has called upon the Liberals and all the opposition members in the House to follow the Prime Minister's lead with respect to Mr. Celil.

I suggest the hon. member stop playing politics with such important issues and with the lives of so many Canadians.

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak today about a question that was asked in this House about government appointments.

For years, the Conservatives criticized the Liberals' partisan appointments. Now that they are in power, the Conservatives are proving to be Liberal clones, constantly appointing friends of the party to government positions.

The recent appointment of Raminder Gill to the citizenship court is a good example. This Conservative candidate, who was defeated in 2006 in Mississauga-Streetsville, is leaving the way clear for the most recent Liberal defector to the Conservatives.

On March 23, 2006, the Prime Minister said this, “Political appointments and cronyism had eroded staff morale and damaged the public’s perception of the institution, which many suspected had become corrupt and a haven for patronage...Our new public appointments commission will...ensure that qualified people are appointed based on a fair process—”

Yet on February 12, 2007, we learned that 16 of the 33 judicial selection committee members appointed by the current government are affiliated in some way with the Conservative Party. For example, two of the appointees are Mark Bettens, a firefighter from Nova Scotia who is a twice-defeated Conservative candidate, and Johanne Desjardins, a graphic artist who used to work for a former Conservative minister.

There have been plenty more examples since April 2006. Jim Gouk, a former Conservative member, was appointed to the NAV Canada board of directors. Gwyn Morgan, a former Conservative backer, was appointed to the new Public Appointments Commission. Neil Leblanc, a former Nova Scotia Conservative minister, was named Consul General in Boston. Brian Richard Bell, a Conservative organizer in New Brunswick, was appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench. Kerry-Lynne Findlay, the Canadian Alliance candidate for Vancouver Quadra in 2000, was appointed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Jacques Léger, a former interim president of the Progressive Conservative Party, was given a judgeship in the Superior Court of Quebec. Hermel Vienneau, Bernard Lord's former chief of staff, was named vice-president of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Barbara Hagerman, the wife of a Prince Edward Island Conservative backroom adviser, was named Lieutenant Governor. Alexander Sosna, a Conservative candidate in 1984, and Steven Glithero, a former Conservative Party president in Cambridge, were appointed to the Superior Court of Ontario. Howard Bruce, an Alliance candidate in 2000 and the Conservative candidate for Portneuf in 2004 and 2006, was appointed to the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. Eugene Rossiter, the former president of the Progressive Conservative Island Fund, was appointed to the Tax Court of Canada. Tung Chan, a registered CPC agent in Richmond, was appointed to the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. Loyola Sullivan, the Newfoundland co-president of the Prime Minister's leadership bid, was named Canada's ambassador for fisheries conservation.

Then there are Kirk Sisson, a former member of the Red Deer Conservative riding association, and John David Bruce McDonald, once the chief financial officer of the Alberta Reform Party, who were appointed to the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.

I will continue later.

6:45 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about the process regarding the appointments of citizenship judges.

The process suggested for screening citizenship judges was originally created three years ago and intended to be a temporary one only until a new appointment process could be developed.

It was a system where one person was responsible for the entire process, where one person screened the applications, and where one person graded all the tests. This one person himself was an appointee of the former Liberal government. The question is: Where is the accountability? Surely this is not an approach providing for openness and transparency.

As I stated, that process was established in 2004 as a temporary one. To reflect our new government's commitments under the Federal Accountability Act, we are reviewing the appointment process entirely for all boards and all tribunals in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

This review, when completed, would create a more open and transparent system for appointments as there is currently no legislated policy in place for the appointment of citizenship judges.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has made it clear that she is committed to establishing a new appointment process. She has asked the senior citizenship judge, Judge Michel Simard, to provide his input in the development of a new process that is more open and transparent.

While the process is taking place, interim appointments need to be made and need to continue to be made. It is quite clear that this government is committed to transparency and accountability, unlike the previous Liberal government.

Certainly, it is interesting to see the members of the Bloc attempting to give advice on ethics and accountability in government. If they believe so strongly in government ethics and accountability, maybe they can tell us why they opposed our plan to create a public appointments commission and why they stonewalled and opposed the Federal Accountability Act.

There is no question, and we find it interesting, that while the Liberals were in power they thought only Liberals were the most qualified for appointments. Now they are out of power and they continue to feel the only qualified people are Liberals.

Contrary to the Liberal Party, we believe that government appointments should not be limited to members or supporters of a particular political party but, rather, should be made on the basis of their qualifications and abilities.

With regard to the qualifications of citizenship judge appointments that have been made, as was mentioned in the committee on citizenship and immigration, the Liberal member for Scarborough—Agincourt said:

--certainly the résumés are great. Your remarks were fantastic and I do appreciate the fact that some of you, or all of you, are qualified. Some of you are even overqualified.

When asked if our citizenship judge appointees were qualified to do this job, senior citizenship Judge Simard said, “Yes, they are. They have been trained, and they passed the training successfully”. We want to ensure that those who occupy the positions are not only qualified and competent but are great additions to the system.

I can tell members from listening to the hearings at committee, all of the appointees have a significant contribution that they can make, they are well attached to what is happening in the immigration scene, and they are certainly welcome additions to the commission.

6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue the list I started earlier: Kevin Gaudet was an organizer for the current Prime Minister; Marni Elizabeth Larkin is a former Conservative candidate; Stanley Stanford Schumacher is a former Conservative MP; Keith William Donald Poulson is the former campaign director for the current Conservative member for Winnipeg South; and Margot Ballagh has close connections to the Conservative organization in Ontario. They were all appointed to the Canada Pension Plan Review Tribunal.

In light of all these Conservative appointments since April 2006, there is not a shadow of doubt that they are not keeping their word and that they are disregarding the Accountability Act. The right wing ideology they apply in the judicial appointment process is further evidence of that. And what are we to make of appointing a senator as a minister, who was not even elected? This happened at the beginning of this government.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I can say again that until a new process is determined for appointing new judges, the minster and the cabinet have full authority to appoint citizenship judges. We must fill current vacancies in boards and agencies or they will not be able to function.

The bottom line is that all appointees are qualified and competent people. They are well able and well-equipped to do their job, as confirmed by senior citizenship Judge Simard, and as shown in evidence in the committee that I am a part of.

We have heard these members. They were examined extensively in these recent appointments. It was obvious that they would do an admirable job, that they are all excellent additions to the commission and are well qualified. The system works well. They can relate to the immigration process and in combination with their extensive qualifications, they are all an invaluable addition to the commission.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, on February 21 I raised a question in the House about Clearwater of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where hundreds of workers were locked out in June 2006. After the lockout the company closed its doors, probably because it was seasonal work, and decided not to reopen. I feel the law is very clear: if a company closes its doors, there is no lockout.

The workers decided to go to the appeal board and the appeal board agreed with the 100 workers that were locked out before the company decided to close its doors. It is not as if the company reopened and said the workers were still locked out. It said it was not reopening.

The workers won the case at the arbitration level and the government has decided to appeal that decision. I ask: How much blood does it want from the workers? The decision is very dangerous if any company in our country can say it is closing its doors after a lockout. Maybe that is what the Conservative government wants. If companies were to close their doors after a lockout, the workers would not get any money from the strike fund or employment insurance. Let us punish them twice. It is a very bad precedent that could be set.

The appeal board said no, the company closed it doors. If it did not reopen it meant that there was no longer a lockout. It is like being on strike and the company going on record to say that it will not reopen, will be closing it doors and the strike is over. That is my interpretation of it.

I have been a union representative for many years. In all the conflicts with employers, after they made a decision to close their doors, the strike was over because there was nothing left. That means that the workers now have to search for jobs and employment insurance is there to help them as they search. The company decided there was no conflict any more because it closed its doors.

That is why I put the question to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. He said that 83% of people get employment insurance when they lose their jobs and there is an independent process. The workers went through the independent process and the independent process agreed with the workers that if the company closed its doors, as it did, that was the fact. If the workers were still locked out, I would not be here raising the question. The company said it was not reopening. The minute it said that, it meant there were no further negotiations. The negotiation process stopped. That is the difference.

The minister said that he could not get involved. The minister cannot ask the appeal board or the arbitrator to render a decision one way, but certainly the department or the minister could say the government would not appeal it.

That was my question. Would the minister agree to tell his department that it will not appeal the decision? That is not against the law. It is fully within the law. Everyday we tell the minister that the workers have won and ask him to give them the benefit of the doubt because the workers are responsible for their children and wives, and the families suffer. I would like to hear the parliamentary secretary's response.

6:55 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for raising this issue both last week and now. Listening to the member speak I must congratulate him for spelling out his concerns so rationally and so very easy to understand.

Unfortunately, he will not like what I have to tell him. An independent, arm's length process is reviewing this matter and we cannot take it any further. I cannot express how disappointed I am for these people.

As the government, like the member, we are very concerned when workers face a disruption to their employment. We are also concerned about the status of the Clearwater employees from Glace Bay. We are also concerned about respecting the independence of the arm's length process.

Our respect for the administrative justice process is robust and we are sincere. We believe and Canadians believe it is important that processes like these continue without political interference. I am sure the member understands that.

We cannot have political interference and we must share that belief. I assume that the member does as well. It therefore follows that we must allow this process to take its course and it would be inappropriate to comment on the particulars of this matter further.

What I can say though is that our government sympathizes with the workers who find themselves in these sorts of situations.

Canadian workers support the Conservative Party and they support us as the government. They know we share their priority on developing and maintaining a strong economy. They support us because they know we want to support them with a strong employment insurance program.

We believe it is a tragedy when anyone loses their job. Far from letting Canadian workers down, the government has rewarded workers with a record number of jobs. Just last month we created 89,000 jobs. We have lowered the GST. We have encouraged apprenticeships. We have delivered support to families through the universal child care benefit for their children and tax relief and benefits for their parents.

We have also been working to support Canadian workers with a range of benefits that are available for those who qualify. We are succeeding. Eighty-three per cent of those who face job disruptions through closures are able to receive benefits.

What I can also say is that the employment insurance legislation, which applies to all cases, currently stipulates that no benefits can be paid in situations where a claimant loses employment or is unable to resume employment because of a work stoppage attributable to a labour dispute.

There are situations where there is a difference in interpretation on how to apply these provisions of the legislation. These differences of interpretation are not resolved at the minister's desk. These are not political disputes. These disputes on how to interpret the law are sent to an objective body, an arm's length panel of referees.

The process for dealing with these disputes also allows parties to appeal--

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development started off well when she sympathized with me and I appreciate that.

However, I want it to be clear that I am not asking the minister to interfere in the decision. I am asking the minister not to re-appeal. He is dissenting. As a politician who represents the people, I have the right to say to the minister that a decision has now been taken and could he not re-appeal it.

There is a difference in trying to influence the decision. She said that the appeal process was independent. The appeal process made a decision that the workers were right. There is no longer a dispute about whether it is a lock-out or a strike. The company has decided not to reopen.

With all fairness and from the bottom of my heart I ask the government, if it is serious about wanting to help the workers, which has nothing to do with economic development or anything like that, there are 100 people at Clearwater in Glace Bay working for a company that has said it is not reopening--

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the minister.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for again bringing this situation to the attention of the House so we can explain to the people that there is a process dealing with these disputes. This process, which is now underway, allows parties to appeal the initial decisions to an umpire.

I think the member will be happy to know that the minister has contacted the department and he has, at the very least, instructed the department to do everything it can to expedite the process by filing the appeal to the umpire. Recognizing the situation faced by the Clearwater employees, the minister has asked the department to expedite this process.

On the minister's behalf, I assure the member that we are doing everything within the minister's purview.

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted.

Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:02 p.m.)