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House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was impaired.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with real interest to my colleague's remarks, but I do have to tell him that the issue around poverty is not one that has been dealt with by the provinces. In fact, if we look at the province of Ontario, there is a significant and increasing reality in terms of poverty, and 17% of Ontario's children live in poverty.

Governments of the past, be they provincial or federal, have shown very little interest in addressing the poverty that we face in this country.

The member said that Quebec has a very good and aggressive way of dealing with these payday lenders who gouge the poor and take advantage of their misery. If that is the case, why is it appropriate for Quebec but not appropriate that other Canadian jurisdictions also have the benefit of this legislation and limits placed on those who would prey upon the vulnerable?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not question the statistics on poverty or the increase in poverty that the hon. member was just mentioning. I agree that indeed, there is increasing poverty and that is unfortunate. I too have mentioned the data from Statistics Canada on this.

I hear this question from the NDP often. They ask Quebec, which already has a law or legislation that is better than or equivalent to what is in the rest of Canada, why it refuses to allow the same type of legislation to apply elsewhere in Canada. We are not refusing to allow other places in Canada to legislate in order to counter, or at least limit, the actions of these businesses. What we are saying is that Bill C-26 is an encroachment into provincial jurisdiction.

I do not think this a concern for the NDP. It has always introduced centralist measures. That is the NDP's choice and its right. If people want to elect those members to defend that in Ottawa, that is one thing, but often those members will say that such and such measure needs to be imposed on the provinces because that is what should be done.

In Quebec, we do not operate that way. That would not be accepted and we would not be here in this House if ever we dared operate that way.

Every province is free to legislate on this and so they should. However, it is not up to the federal government to dictate what to do and impose its veto, or to put conditions on this jurisdiction since it belongs to the provinces. That is the problem.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, could the member be a bit more specific? I still do not understand how this is an encroachment into provincial jurisdiction when, in fact, it is turning over responsibility for this very important piece of work to provincial jurisdiction.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understand the question correctly, the member is saying he does not understand the meaning of encroachment.

I have been speaking for the past 10 minutes. My colleague from Laval spoke for 10 minutes before that. So for a good 20 minutes he has heard what we mean by provincial jurisdiction. In addition, the Constitution provides for the distribution of powers. On this matter, for example, it is pretty straightforward. It comes under provincial jurisdiction and so the federal has no business sticking its nose in. No further explanation is needed, I believe.

Obviously, that does not mean that the federal government must not examine this situation, but it should perhaps occupy itself with what concerns it. We were talking about poverty earlier. In 2000, child poverty was supposed to be eradicated in Canada. It was an election promise for 2000. Here we are in 2007, and the rate of poverty among children is higher than it was before the famous promise was made. This is an area of federal jurisdiction. The federal government could therefore attend to that.

This particular matter concerns the provinces. Our legislation in Quebec, for example, is such that this type of business hardly exists at all. So we do not need the federal government telling us what to do and how to do it and that certain conditions would determine whether it could be done. That does not work in Quebec.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak to Bill C-26, a bill which has been very much pushed by the New Democrats for some time in order to deal with the fact that more and more of our working families and individuals are falling through the cracks because they are not able to access proper banking services and they are being left in the hands of the ATMs, the free mail-out credit cards and the payday loan companies.

In the previous Parliament the member for Winnipeg North had written to the finance minister, who is now the House leader for the Liberal Party, and asked him to work with us and the provinces who were sending a clear message that we did need to make the provisions to set aside parts of the Criminal Code so the provinces could start to set some standards in dealing with the usurious rates we are seeing in the payday lending schemes.

I am pleased now to have this issue back before Parliament. It speaks to the nature of Parliament that we actually are moving for it, except of course for our friends in the Bloc because whatever the political I Ching or the shaking of the bones in their separatist camp, it has made them come out on this bill in whichever way they have. I am still trying to read their tea leaves and I still cannot quite figure out where they are coming from. But that is not really a change in course, that seems to be standard depending on whatever bill comes before the House. I am glad however that at least the majority of the House is taking this issue very seriously.

I would like to point out for the interest of members of the House and anyone back home the long history of banking in my family. I know I might not look like I come from banking stock, but I have a great long history in banking. In fact, both sides of my family were bankers.

When the mines first started to open up in the Porcupine region, the miners were immigrant families and they did not have access to credit. When a miner was injured, he did not have worker's compensation in those days and many people lost their homes. They would have to go to the company stores to get bread. The idea came to the miners to form their own system of credit.

The very first credit union I am aware of in the Timmins region was the Worker's Co-op. It was started by Charley Haapanen, a very good northern Finlander who thought we should bring the miners together. So it was the Finns, the Ukrainians and the Scots who came together and formed the Worker's Co-op. The Worker's Co-op gave credit to people who would not be able to get credit otherwise.

Over time there were political fights within the Worker's Co-op. Some people in the community thought it was becoming a little too red and definitely that was not Liberal red, so they formed another co-op which was the Consumer's Co-op which was a little bit more pink, which is not necessarily the pink we are identifying today. There was the Consumer's Co-op and the Worker's Co-op.

Charlie Angus, my grandfather, believed that the only credit union was the Worker's Co-op and we bought all our shares in it because he felt that was what served the working people of the north. My mother's father, Joe MacNeil, was a gold miner from Cape Breton and broke his back in the Macintyre Mine. He became the credit manager at the Consumer's Co-op. As a child I was at the Consumer's Co-op many times and like its counterpart it provided credit to families who would otherwise not have credit.

While other children on Sunday afternoons and on rainy days were playing Monopoly and trying to gather up as much property as possible, our family was learning the good principles of working together in the consumer credit union game. We were raised at a very young age to believe in the principles of the credit union. It is an interesting angle when we are looking at what we are dealing with today.

I should mention that the other credit union that grew out of the area in the north was the caisse populaire in the francophone communities. The caisse populaire remains in my region one of the central bulwarks for credit, for family finance. It plays a role in our community that is unlike anything done by the banks.

I am raising these examples because when I travel across my vast riding in the north I see that the banks are leaving. They are pulling up stakes. They are leaving and shutting down in communities where they made money year after year. We see them pulling out of Elk Lake, Larder Lake, Virginiatown, Cobalt.

The first bank in Cobalt was the Bank of Commerce. It was a tent in the centre of town. It was there at the beginning of the mining rush, but it is gone now, even though many families still rely on banking services. What do they have when there is no banking service in the town? An ATM at the corner store is their banking service now.

Also, families that cannot get banking services are being mailed credit cards, with a free limit, from these hucksters. We also see payday lenders moving into some of the urban areas now because the banks have pulled out. The banks make $19 billion a year in profit. They have decided that it is not worth serving average working people. We are talking about an issue of fairness. People who want to have credit and have a savings account have been denied access.

I have a number of examples of how this is done. If people are not exposed to how the banking system runs today, they may not be aware of how people fall through the cracks.

I know a student who tried to open an account the other day. The bank wanted two pieces of picture ID and an ID card with an address. She is a student who recently moved to this town. She brought a signed copy of her rental agreement as proof of where she lived. She had two pieces of photo ID, including a passport, but her photo ID did not have her address on it. The bank would not accept her as a client. Where is she supposed to go? As she was being denied service, an immigrant man beside her was also trying to get an account for his family and the bank was not interested in him.

What happens is students have to cash their cheques, so they end up going to the Money Mart. That is simply unacceptable.

Now the banks, with their $19 billion of profit and their increasingly lousy service to average Canadians, want to expand services, such as insurance, in areas where they have traditionally have had no business. One morning last week in Timmins I met with a financial advocates group. These individual brokers provide good service. They have small businesses and have provided service for years. Now the banks want to come in and compete against them.

We know what this will be like. The banks will lower their rates to put them out of business. Then they will jack the rates up once they have no competition. The banks should be focusing on their fundamental job, which is providing credit in communities such as mine in northern Ontario and in places such as Winnipeg. The member for Winnipeg North talked about how the banks pulled out all together. The banks should leave insurance to the independent insurance brokers.

We need to speak about a number of issues in terms of fairness and the ability of people to access credit. We need to look at this proliferation of payday lending schemes that are catching the people who are falling through the cracks because the banks have walked away on their obligation. The banks should address the need for credit by families. People who are falling through the cracks are now having to go to the payday lenders and are paying exorbitant rates. This is creating a cycle of poverty.

We want to deal with helping people get out of poverty. We want to help the working poor. We are speaking about people who want to have a bit of savings and some stability. The last place these people need to be going to are the payday loan companies. Yet in some places that is the only form of financial enterprise that exists. They exist because they are allowed to get away with charging outrageous levels of interest, and the hands of the provinces are tied. We now have before us the opportunity to finally regulate these players and ensure that the area of fairness is addressed.

Banks are private businesses and they are allowed to pull out of communities. We have to start looking at this issue. We have to look at ATM fees and the unfair practices of the banks. We also have to look at the need to encourage our credit unions.

My colleague from Sault Ste. Marie pointed out that just as the credit unions came into the north back in the days when the banks refused to provide credit to working families, we have a role today to ensure that we get the small inner city credit unions up and running. Credit unions are moving into some of the communities I know of where the banks have pulled out. That will provide some measure of stability for families.

However, the larger issue is we have to ensure that when people want to cash cheques, they have access to financial services and if they have to cash cheques, they are not charged exorbitant rates and become trapped into the cycle of poverty.

The New Democratic Party is very supportive of the bill. As I said at the outset, the NDP finds it cynically amusing that the Bloc has taken the stance that the federal government, through this bill, will devolve powers to the provinces and somehow, once again, that is an insult to Quebec. That is an absurd argument.

I wonder if my colleagues from the Bloc might change the argument and say that from now on they will only support bills that centralize power in Ottawa and that they will oppose any bill that devolves power to the provinces. Perhaps the real argument is that they will oppose any bill that devolves powers to the provinces unless Quebec has already thought of it. We saw this before when the Bloc opposed a bill in the House to protect children across Canada against pesticides because Quebec already had a bill, so the rest of the country was on its own.

Bloc members say that they have already looked after the payday loan sharks, that people are sitting pretty in Quebec and the rest of Canadians are on their own. They say that if the federal government changes the act in order for the provinces to regulate it, they will oppose it. It is an extremely cynical position and I am very sorry to hear it. Unfortunately, it is typical of the kind of arguments we have heard from the party across, at least since I have been in Parliament. I know the arguments go back a long way.

However, I am very pleased that we have an overall consensus on the need to move forward on the bill right now. It speaks to a notion of fairness. It speaks to the need to ensure that we have some measures in place so our working poor and our young students, who are coming into the workforce, have some protection. The issue before us is that people are being preyed upon because there is no regulatory climate for these payday loan schemes.

I will give another example of how this affects people. I worked with some young first nations people, who needed to cash cheques. They have no banking services on the reserve. They found it very difficult to get banking services when they went into major towns. When payday came, they all went to payday loan companies. That was the only banking service they knew.

Once again, we are talking about breaking the cycle of poverty, of giving people a leg up. A very important and fundamental principle of giving people a leg up is by giving them credit.

A great example of this is the whole history of the co-op credit union movement that came out of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, with Father Moses Coady and Father Jimmy Tompkins. The priests who started to work on the Antigonish movement brought that principle to the third world.

Father Harvey Steel, who was a Scarboro Foreign Mission priest, was very active in bringing the notion of co-op credit to the third world. It was a way of getting people out of poverty. When I interviewed him before he died, he said that in the Dominican Republic, giving people access to credit, allowing them to control credit and to get micro loans was a fundamental in order to give these people a chance to have a decent society.

This is a similar principle. Whether it is in the Dominican Republic, in a reserve in northern Ontario or in inner city Winnipeg or Toronto, people want to be participants of an economy. They want to have access to credit.

To reiterate my point, right now banks are walking away on their traditional role of providing credit, loans and financial services to average people, so these people are falling through the cracks. The banks would prefer to start moving into jurisdictions that they have no business moving into. New Democrats are very opposed to allowing the banks to move in and act against other business sectors, such as on insurance, because they are not providing their fundamental obligation.

What do we need to do? We need to do two things. First, we need to set this provision before us so the provinces can begin to move to regulate the payday loan scheme. This will some measure of fairness on the ground for families and individuals to utilize these services. Second, we need to find ways of encouraging the access to credit, whether it is in rural regions or inner city regions.

I go back to the fundamental argument I made at the beginning, which is the notion of the credit union. The credit union has proven itself over the last century. It is a way of giving people access, some control and some empowerment, whether it was the old workers co-op back in the days of the boarding houses, the mines and the porcupine in Larder Lake and Kirkland Lake or whether it is in my region today where the caisse populaire is stepping in to offer cultural programming, support for regional economic development and ensuring that its members have access to fair loans in a timely manner.

When I first moved back to northern Ontario, I was in a financially risky situation. I was a young worker with a young family and did not have any kind of credit history. It was the caisse populaire that gave us credit and allowed us to get that foot up. I will always remember that because we were in some pretty dicey financial situations then. I see young families today who are in that situation. The caisse populaire allowed us that first step up and it was a very important step. If there had not been those services and the only option had been the payday loans, I do not know what we would have done at that point.

I will be more than willing to entertain questions and comments at this time.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with rapt attention as the chronicled the history of pecuniary matters in parts of Canada. He speaks warmly of the work of Moses Coady in my part of the country. I share with him the deep anxiety we have in parts of maritime Canada that banks in regions of our country seem to be leaving and people are without that service, but back to the bill.

I would like the hon. member to comment on this. It amazes me that the Criminal Code has not been effective all these years in its pursuit of unjust, unfair and criminal loans. As a parliamentarian of some breadth of experience, could he comment as to why he thinks this has happened?

I would also like his comments on the intended application of Bill C-26, which I support fully, as I have stated before. For example, the Mike Harris government would have completely ignored anything touching capitalist and pecuniary interests such as the payday lenders. What does he see in the application of this from province to province, being an effective and fair federal law? What suggestions does he have?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question raises a large issue. We know there are uneven applications across the country. It sometimes brings us back to the whole role of federal-provincial relations because we do need certain national standards. I would be very much in favour of national standards in terms of our Criminal Code provision for the usurious rates that we see with payday lending.

However, what we see on the ground is we have dropped the ball at the federal level. We are not in the same position as the provinces in terms of applying it. I would like one national standard to ensure that everyone is protected in the same way.

However, in terms of being realistic, at this point we have to look to the provinces to move forward. Will there be a gap? Definitely, big gaps remain. However, I feel we have one national gap right now, so the bill will be a step forward to address some of those gaps.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the presentation by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay. I especially noted his comments regarding the position taken by my party, the Bloc Québécois. I am concerned and at the same time disappointed by his lack of understanding of the political situation in Canada. Canada is not a unitary state; it is a confederation comprised of ten provincial and two territorial governments, if my memory serves me well.

With regard to jurisdiction in matters of justice, the Government of Quebec already has a law that established an office of consumer protection, the OPC. This law is more than sufficient to meet the requirements of the bill, requirements that will be applied throughout Canada.

Consequently, the present Quebec government, a government that believes in Confederation, also supports the position that its jurisdiction be fully respected with regard to the OPC and that it sees no point in a central government imposing a similar law, one that is less rigorous than its own. At present the ceiling for interest rates in Quebec is 35%, whereas with the current bill they could jump to 60%.

I would like to know what the member thinks of this position on respecting each jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois is only defending respect for jurisdictions and is quite favourable to all comments and clarifications made by the bill. However, it must vote against the bill since this sector is already regulated by the Government of Quebec.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his explanation of the Bloc's position, but I return to the original conundrum we are facing here. We are talking about a bill that would change the code so that the provinces would be able to step into a breach on which the federal government has simply not acted.

The fact that Quebec is already there really is of no bearing. Why would Quebec say it would be completely intolerable if we changed the code so other provinces could now step up? I find that argument absurd. We are not taking powers away from Quebec at all. In fact, we are saying at the federal level that we are willing to evolve so that all provinces are allowed to start to regulate.

The argument goes back to the philosophical argument unfortunately, which is it seems that any time the Bloc or the PQ have taken a position, they have said they would block anything that would bring positive change in the rest of the country. I find that an abominable position.

We are here to represent the interests of the entire country. I am not just here to represent the people of Timmins--James Bay, but to make policy that affects people across Canada. When I speak as a member of Parliament about issues in the Maritimes, I am speaking because I am here to represent the best interests of everyone across this country.

I point back to the motion that the NDP brought forward on a pesticide ban, which would have ensured that children across this country were protected. The Bloc Québécois said that Quebec already had that in place so the Bloc members would absolutely oppose any efforts by the House to bring in pesticide protection for children in the rest of the country. I find it an abominable position.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I support the bill because we need more transparency in the financial system. We need to make it very clear to the man on the street exactly what he is getting into, whether it is banks or payday loan institutions, and what it is going to cost. We need to protect Canadians from usury.

My question for the member is similar to the question asked by my colleague. Section 347 in the code limits interest rates to 60%, so why is that not working? Why do we not enforce that? If it is not working, why do we not fix it so it will work so all Canadians have that 60% protection at least?

We say the provinces would be exempt from section 347 if they regulate, but the bill does not give them any limits. This is problematic. We are giving them an exemption from the 60% rate and they could regulate at 1,000% or whatever. Where is the protection for lower income people whom we all want to protect?

I want to make one correction to the comments made by my Bloc colleague. There are three territories, not two: Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess the question I would have to ask him would be why we are having to move on this bill now. It is because the previous government did not make any efforts to regulate the payday loan lenders.

We pushed the previous government to take action. If the provisions exist at the federal level for them to act, they could have acted. They should have acted. Why did they not act? They were not interested in acting.

I believe at this point what we are looking at is finding a way to make action possible. It seems that the recommendations coming forward from provinces like Manitoba would change the provisions in the Criminal Code so that a province could step into the gap left at the federal level. The New Democratic Party supports that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for Timmins—James Bay for his eloquent presentation on the bill. I share with him the real concern about growing poverty in our country. That is why I introduced a private member's bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. We actually have no minimum wage in Canada at this point in time.

It seems bitterly ironic that the people who are at the very lowest end of the economic spectrum, the absolute poorest people in our society, are the ones who end up paying the shockingly exorbitant interest rates from the payday loan companies. The status quo is simply untenable. It is forcing people further and further into a downward spiral of poverty.

I am very familiar with this issue from an urban setting. Even in a place with lots of transit, people have trouble getting to a bank to do their financial transactions. In a riding as remote as the hon. member's, and especially with the large numbers of first nations people, could he talk a little more about some of the examples of people who confront this lack of banking resources in their community?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reality is there are many young working people and young first nations people who have no experience at banking. Their only knowledge of banking is the loan shark they have to see once a month to cash their cheques. Without a culture of banking and savings they are doomed from the get-go.

The issue we are seeing in the north that compounds it is the fact that as the banks move out of areas, especially isolated rural regions, it is affecting seniors also. Seniors lack the ability to travel, especially on the winter roads, for example, between Elk Lake and Kirkland Lake in January, and people have to make do. We see a lot of use of the ATM. The ATM has become the bank for most people and they are paying $2 and $1.75 every time they go to access their money. This is not something they are doing frivolously; they do it because there are no services for them. There are people who do not have banking services. People are having to use the ATM.

I want to reiterate there are young people and families who are getting caught up because they are getting free VISA cards from the banks. They are being told they have credit and to go out and buy. They get themselves caught in a cycle of debt because the free credit card they get is the only ability they have to actually have money in their hands.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

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

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11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

The vote will be deferred until the end of government orders today.

The House resumed from January 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-32, which the Bloc Québécois would like to review in committee. In committee, members can realize their full potential and focus on all the details. The Bloc Québécois would like this bill to be referred.

Before getting into Bill C-32, I want to take a few minutes to say that the government, where justice is concerned, has a rather controversial record. We know that this government has been very active, having introduced nearly a dozen bills. I would add that none of the bills really appeal to us.

There was Bill C-9 to amend section 742 on conditional sentencing. The government wanted to remove judicial discretion from the judiciary. One of the characteristics of the government is not to believe that our judiciary is serious and competent. It always wants to control and restrict the capacity of judges and increase their limitations when they pronounce sentences or make rulings.

The purpose of Bill C-9, which amended section 742, was to remove conditional sentences as an option for the trial judge for all offences punishable by 10 years in prison, even if it was brought down to one or two years in prison.

Unfortunately, we had to fundamentally change this bill in committee. I think we did our work as parliamentarians. Bill C-32 before us is a little more interesting because its purpose is to harmonize section 253 with everything to do with impaired driving. This a significant social problem and there is jurisprudence. I will have a chance to say more on this. They want to harmonize the legislation and use standardized sobriety tests. Our challenge, in committee, will be to look into the sensitivity, performance and operational nature of these tests.

There was also the bill on judges' salaries. This is an important debate because we have all studied Montesquieu and I know we are all motivated by the philosophy of strict separation of the legislative, the judiciary and the executive.

It is important for the three branches to live together with a healthy regard for each other's jurisdictions. That is why, when the question of judges’ salaries arises, Parliament wants to have an independent commission. It is hard for Parliament to decide how much judges’ salaries should be because judges are a major branch of the government involved not only in the administration of justice but ultimately in the interpretation of our laws. As parliamentarians, we make the laws. The government is empowered to implement them, and we hope that judges can interpret them.

For a long time, there was a balance. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was supposed to earn the same salary as the Prime Minister, and everything flowed from that. Then the government decided to upset the balance and proposed remuneration levels that were different from what the independent commission suggested. That was another bill we were unfortunately unable to support.

As I was saying, we want Bill C-32 referred to a committee because impaired driving is an extremely serious matter. People who take the wheel and drive on public roads must not pose a danger to their fellow citizens; that is obvious.

Thus, the government has passed legislation on suspended sentences and on the remuneration of judges.

The government has also introduced a bill on dangerous offenders. The government even hopes to establish a legislative committee. Everyone in the House understands the difference between a legislative committee and a standing committee. A legislative committee exists for the life of a certain bill, for example, the air quality bill leading to Canada’s Clean Air Act, which has been introduced by the government. My hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie is one of the Bloc Québécois’ leading lights when it comes to the environment and the Conservative government should also recognize him as a leading light in view of his great expertise and the soundness of his views.

It is the Speaker of the House who appoints the committee chairs for as long as the work of each legislative committee continues. It is not the chair’s peers, the hon. members assigned to the committee, who elect the chair.

The bill on dangerous offenders is a very bad bill. It is animated by a reflexive reaction that would lead to the “three strikes” kind of approach we see in the United States. This is not a bill that the Bloc Québécois intends to support.

The government has introduced a bill on the age of consent, which is called the age of protection, with a clause that creates an exception when the age difference is less than five years. I believe that the leader of the Bloc Québécois said he was in favour of this bill when he was asked. Clearly, we will have to make amendments to reflect the new reality. It is true that sexuality is probably not what it was in your early childhood or early adolescence, Mr. Speaker. Today, adolescents start having sex earlier, when they are younger. In my day, we waited longer. All that has changed, and we have to take stock of those changes.

The government has also introduced a bill containing amendments relating to summary prosecutions. This is a rather technical bill, and I have to say that we are more or less in favour of it.

The government has also introduced Bill C-10 concerning minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.

Hon. members will remember Allan Rock. I am not sure whether his name evokes good or bad memories for the members of this House. When Allan Rock was minister of justice, he introduced a bill. I think that for my colleague, the former leader of the official opposition, this is an excellent memory. I know he was close to Allan Rock, whom the member for LaSalle—Émard, the former Prime Minister, appointed as Canada's ambassador to the United Nations. I have a great deal of respect for Allan Rock. I think he is a brilliant man who served this House well, except when it came to young offenders. The former government went completely off track on that issue.

All of this is to say that the current government has introduced Bill C-10, which seeks to increase the mandatory minimum penalties for offences involving firearms. Unfortunately, we do not have any conclusive studies on the deterrent effect of mandatory minimum penalties.

This morning in committee, we were doing a clause by clause study of Bill C-10. There is a great deal of wisdom gathered when all of the opposition parties are united in asking the government to do certain things. All of the opposition parties—the Liberals, the Bloc and the neo-Bolsheviks—asked the government to undertake a longitudinal study of the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing to find out whether it works as a deterrent or not.

Simply increasing mandatory minimum sentences is not enough. We have to know whether that will really bring peace to our communities. The Bloc Québécois, with its characteristic complete openness and scientific rigour, will see if the government does agree to the request for a longitudinal study of the impact of mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes because we have had mandatory minimum sentences for 10 years now.

Before I get back to Bill C-32, I cannot help but emphasize the government's remarkable inconsistency. On the one hand, the government is demanding that we increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, but on the other, it wants to abolish the gun registry. Police officers in Canada and Quebec consult this registry hundreds, if not thousands, of times a day. Before entering a dwelling, officers need to know if there are firearms inside. I cannot for the life of me understand why the government wants to abolish this registry and deprive police officers of a tool they need.

I felt it was my duty to review the government's record. The government also introduced a bill about the national DNA database maintained by the RCMP. The committee will have an opportunity to study this bill.

Historically, the Bloc Québécois has always been concerned about street gangs and organized crime. It is always a pleasure to work with my colleague, the member for Ahuntsic. She and I have agreed on a number of measures and proposals that I will be presenting to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to ensure that we have the most effective means of combating street gangs and organized crime.

The Bloc Québécois is more committed to an approach that would enable our police to carry out successful investigations than to increasing mandatory minimum penalties.

Having completed this overview, I feel it my duty to begin discussion of Bill C-32. This bill would enable police officers to require that a person suspected of impaired driving due to alcohol or drugs submit to a sobriety test.

At present, the Criminal Code already contains provisions concerning impaired driving involving alcohol. Now, there would be more specific provisions concerning drugs. A person suspected of impaired driving could be compelled to submit to a test. However, jurisprudence is not clear on that subject. The interpretation that the Minister of Justice makes in this bill is to say that the Criminal Code at present does not give police officers the power to require that a person submit to a sobriety test nor to take a sample of bodily fluids as part of an investigation into infractions related to impaired driving.

If Bill C-32 is adopted, police officers will be able to require that a person suspected of impaired driving involving drugs must undergo tests and consent to the taking of bodily fluids for testing.

There is a need for some fine tuning. The work of the committee will be to ensure that the available detection technology—and I believe this is based on experience in the United States—is not unduly intrusive. We have a Charter and judicial guarantees. We want the police to have the proper tools, but it is a matter of balance.

It is important to talk about the difference between drugs and alcohol. As a member, I drink very little alcohol. I can claim no credit for that; I have never liked alcohol, and I do not use drugs. In short, I could be considered rather straight and my lifestyle reflects that. My greatest pleasures are not derived from alcohol or drugs. However, some of our fellow citizens do use drugs and alcohol.

We do not want people with a licence driving out on public roads to pose a threat to their fellow citizens. We believe that the police are empowered under the common law and the Criminal Code to stop people they see in situations of potential risk.

In 1985, if I am not mistaken—I do not want to mislead the House—in the matter of Dedman v. The Queen, the Supreme Court examined the legality of the R.I.D.E. program in Ontario. Under the program, road blocks are set up. This is done in Quebec too. Checks are done in busy areas. The police, peace officers on duty, stop people to find out whether they have been drinking. Obviously, when this practice began at the end of the 1980s, there were questions about the legality of the operation.

Usually, under the common law and the Criminal Code, a person stopping someone in a car must have reasonable grounds for believing that the individual is impaired or contravening the law. Operation R.I.D.E., as run in Ontario and as it is now run in Quebec, was simply a preventive measure. The aim was to see that all who were stopped were sober, even if there were not reasonable grounds. But, I repeat, under the common law and the Criminal Code, the exercise of the power to stop and arrest people must be based on reasonable grounds.

The Supreme Court said that people could be stopped to see if they were sober, but that would be as far as it went. When a person is stopped at a roadblock to check if they have been drinking, their car cannot be searched for heroin. The Supreme Court authorized the practices saying that a public goal of sufficient importance was involved to warrant police intervention.

The bill today wishes to go a bit further. The aim is to be able to determine impairment not only from alcohol but also from drugs. A major distinction, however, must be made. The presence of alcohol in the blood is much more easily detected than the presence of drugs. From what we have been told, if a person has consumed marijuana, traces of such consumption can be detected in the blood of this individual for up to seven, eight, nine or ten days afterwards, but that does not mean that the person was intoxicated at the time of their arrest.

That is why the committee must be very careful to recognize that what is actually important to the public is to make sure that the people who are driving vehicles on public roads are completely sober, that they are not intoxicated by either alcohol or drugs.

Breathalyzers work according to a different premise. Breathalyzers can determine whether the alcohol level in the blood is over 0.08% or 0.8 grams per litre. These facts are verified and charges can be laid. Where drug detection technologies are concerned, however, we have to make sure that they are sophisticated enough so that peace officers do not end up laying charges against people who are not really intoxicated.

Since I still have a minute, I will close by adding that one of the merits of this bill is that it will harmonize things. Since section 253 provides for different penalties, depending on whether charges are laid under paragraph (a), in which an individual is impaired by alcohol or a drug, or under paragraph (b), in which it is proved that an individual has consumed a specific quantity of alcohol or drugs.

The penalties are not the same, which does not make a lot of sense. It is the consequence of the deeds committed, and not just the evidence provided under paragraph (a) or (b), that should determine the sentences.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois hopes that Bill C-32 will be the subject of serious study in committee. I am sure that we can count on all parliamentarians to be thorough and rigorous in their work.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2007 / 11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Sadly, it is quite fitting for me to be discussing impaired driving today. Only a few days ago New Brunswick provincial court judge Sylvio Savoie gave a maximum five year sentence to a dangerous drunk driver who has been a threat in our community for some time. Judge Savoie sentenced this dangerous individual to a maximum punishment, despite the fact that the crown prosecutor asked for a four year sentence, which clearly shows, on this side of the House, that our view to leave discretion with judges often works to the benefit of the community.

Judge Savoie put it in his own words best when he said that it was his duty to see that those people on the highway are protected. That is what we on this side believe about our criminal justice system.

This particular individual could serve as the perfect example for us today in discussing Bill C-32 and criminal legislation in general, in justifying tougher sentences and harsher punishments to put a definite end to impaired driving of any sort.

In fact, this repeat offender served 21 days in 1990 for refusing the breathalyzer, 14 days in 1995 for refusal, 30 days in 1999 for a refusal and 18 months in 2002 for driving over the legal blood alcohol limit. If that was not bad enough, he was given 22 months for impaired driving and driving while prohibited. He returned to court a week later to deal with another outstanding impaired charge and was sentenced to three years.

Last week this five year sentence was added to that list of sentences and to the great benefit of the law-abiding citizens to whom this person represented a severe threat.

It is important to note that this sentence was handed out under existing Criminal Code provisions, the bulk of which have been enacted under Liberal governments. Let us face it, impaired driving is not acceptable. It is a dangerous criminal behaviour that sadly kills too many Canadian citizens every year, lives that could be easily spared.

Quite frankly, I hope one day that impaired driving will be a thing of the past and we simply will not have to deal with bills such as Bill C-32 because all Canadians will know it is not acceptable to drink and drive.

For now, though, we still have a lot of work to do in our society and as legislators in this Parliament to get there. Bill C-32 is a start. It proposes to help curb the problem of impaired driving.

This is not the first time, however, that the House has dealt with impaired driving legislation. In recent years the House of Commons has been in fact quite active. In 1999 a House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving” which recognized the need to develop better ways to detect impaired driving, especially impaired driving related to drugs.

A Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs also published a report called “Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy”. Once again, the committee noted that there is no reliable, non-intrusive roadside test for drugs.

In 2003, the Department of Justice also released a report entitled “Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document”. Again, conclusions mentioned how drivers do not routinely submit to drug tests and how few measures the police had at their disposal to test drivers for alleged influence of drugs.

This is why in 2004 the previous Liberal government introduced a bill to establish a new national strategy to deal with impaired driving. Unfortunately, this legislation died on the order paper when an election was called. As soon as Parliament was back at work after the 2004 election, the re-elected Liberal government reintroduced legislation to deal with impaired driving and that was known as Bill C-16. It is very unfortunate that this piece of legislation also died on the order paper when the 2006 election was called.

Here we are today with the current Bill C-32 legislation, highly inspired I suggest by the very progressive Liberal justice agenda of previous governments.

Let us look at the bill in its pith and substance. Bill C-32 does a number of things. It provides tools to detect drug-impaired drivers and creates the offence of driving while in possession of illicit drugs. This would be routinely known by those of us who have dabbled in law and know that with respect to alcohol-related offences, it is also, under many provincial statutes, illegal to have possession of alcohol in the vehicle, which is a precursor to preventing the improper imbibing of alcohol while driving or being under the influence of alcohol while driving. This is a mere extension of that with respect to drugs.

It would restrict the evidence to the contrary rule, which I will delve into subsequently. It will also create the offence of being over .08, causing death or bodily harm, which goes of course to the alcohol side of impairment. It would increase penalties for impaired drivers and for driving while disqualified under provincial statutes or otherwise. It would, finally, assist the police in investigating alcohol-related crashes.

Bill C-32 provides for several means of determining whether a driver is impaired by drugs including standard sobriety tests, training experts to recognize drivers impaired by drugs, taking samples of bodily fluids, and creating an offence for refusing to comply.

In addition, Bill C-32 will establish a new hybrid offence punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment and prohibition on driving.

The bill will also limit the use of “evidence to the contrary”, better known as the “two-beer” defence, while retaining valid defences.

The elimination of the two beer defence is an interesting point brought forward by this law. Forty years ago, breathalyzers and other machines used to calculate blood alcohol levels were prone to errors depending on operator experience, various circumstances and external factors. Frankly, technology has come a long way.

Therefore, it was possible in the past that individuals were wrongfully accused and sometimes wrongfully convicted after roadside tests and station-administered tests. They were wrongfully accused and convicted of offences relative to the .08 limitation.

However, today increasingly accurate technological advances have ensured that such malfunctions with detection devices are almost impossible. Each machine prints out internal checks before each test. Operators are better educated. In short, we have the science now.

There are very few cases where the calibration of the machine is in error or where the operator did not have specific knowledge of how to administer the impairment test. Consequently, there are very few cases, I am very confident in saying, where the accused are wrongfully accused or convicted of driving over the legal limit of .08 on the alcohol side.

We have made progress. Just as there are very few, if none I might say, wrongful accusations for convictions, I would also say on the other hand that there are more convictions, making our roads safer places. It is safe to say that in the mores of society, drug impaired driving has not caught up to and maintained the same level of vigilance in detection that alcohol impaired driving has.

Let me for a moment compare the technical aspects of evidence gathering with respect to crime. By doing so I hope to illustrate that we are a long way from being precise on drug impaired driving. We have made great achievements with respect to alcohol impaired driving, and on all other aspects of criminal justice we have made great progress because of science.

Let me compare our state of affairs with respect to impaired driving with the introduction of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. With all the technology police and law enforcement officials have at their disposition today, would we ever consider debating a DNA match in court by presenting a few friends who could testify in favour of an accused who was faced with a positive DNA match? I doubt very much that any judge in this country would find the testimony of a few friends of the accused as a valid basis for rejecting accurate, scientifically precise DNA matches.

Oddly enough, on the impaired driving side, if a few drinking buddies are willing to testify that the accused only had a beer or two, a court can today reject the results of highly reliable, technologically advanced, precise instruments that otherwise perhaps would have not been available in the past.

This is how this amendment, building on Liberal traditions, is keeping up with technological advances. It is important to support our police officers, those on the front line who administer such tests, and give them the faith that we should have in the laws as they administer the tests and bring about proper convictions.

In December 2005 the Supreme Court of Canada considered the evidence to the contrary, the two beer defence, and found that the results of a breath test can be disregarded, could be disregarded, without any evidence of machine malfunction if the accused meets the test of raising a doubt, raising evidence to the contrary.

Bill C-32 establishes new offences, namely impaired driving causing bodily harm, punishable by imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years, or causing death, punishable by life imprisonment. A new offence for refusing to provide a breath sample, in cases of bodily injury or death, will carry the same sentences.

In addition, penalties for impaired driving will be higher. For a first offence, the fine increases from $600 to $1,000; for a second offence, sentencing increases from 14 days to 30 days; for a third offence, sentencing increases from 90 days to 120 days and a maximum of 18 months on summary conviction. Naturally, individuals found guilty of impaired driving will also lose their licence.

Bill C-32 also provides tools to assist the police by enabling them to test drivers within three hours of a collision. It also allows them to reduce the current time between breath tests to three minutes and also to extend the driver's seat presumption for refusal cases.

Let us be clear. As parliamentarians representing all regions of this country, as legislators, we have a special task, but we are all also somebody's son, husband or wife, somebody's father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, and we see, as law-abiding citizens, aside from our role as parliamentarians, the carnage of impaired driving in our society. We react not just as parliamentarians, but as parents, as children, as friends of people who have been hurt by the ravages of impaired driving, whether alcohol or drug. In short, drunk drivers are dangerous not only to themselves but to the whole of society.

That is why Bill C-32, while a good attempt, must be a good law. It must be efficacious. In its current form, it does not address many of the points raised in the multitude of committee and justice department reports that I referred to in the first part of my address.

It is crucial that this law be built on a solid foundation and take the findings of the reports, the commissioned studies and the justice department opinions and effect a very solid law, as we have seen with technological advances on the alcohol side, a law, as administered, that results in convictions, will provide deterrents and also does not lead to wrongful accusations or convictions. But primarily, the law must work.

Bill C-32 raises a number of questions which I as a member of the justice committee will be most eager to delve into so that we can perfect it and hopefully bring it back to the House as a efficacious law. These questions, and they must be raised, are as follows. They relate to how to test drivers on roadsides for drug impaired driving.

The amendments with respect to the alcohol side are terrific amendments and will act as further deterrents and better help on detection with respect to alcohol impaired driving. With respect to drug impaired driving, there are currently no reliable tests. I would quote the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada when he said in the House last week that “we do not have the equipment in place that can provide a roadside test for all drugs in the same way that we have with roadside breathalyzer tests” for alcohol detection.

And never a truer word was spoken by a member of the Conservative Party, a Conservative parliamentarian and member of the cabinet by virtue of being a parliamentary secretary. I want to give compliments where are compliments are due. I am certainly open to complimenting my friends on the Conservative side when they speak the truth and are 100% accurate, but 100% accuracy is really the standard which we are trying to achieve, with respect, as parliamentarians in Bill C-32, and the law as drafted cannot be said to achieve that on the drug impaired aspect.

There is another question related to the proposed legislation. I will be happy to study this and help this through committee. What drugs would the police be testing for? All drugs? Certain drugs? This certainly raises many questions. It has been scientifically demonstrated that cannabis can leave traces in the body for weeks after the physical and mental impairment effects have dissipated. How would the new drug recognition experts panel react to this?

How are we going to deal with the multitude of drugs, perhaps not even listed in the Criminal Code, if they cause impairment? What about prescription drugs? Although acquired legally through a doctor's prescription, many medications have warnings on them. Many people are irresponsible in taking one or several medications without reading the warnings. They put themselves in a position to harm others. They put themselves in a position to be impaired and not capable of driving safely. How does this bill deal with that aspect? How would the new drug recognition experts deal with this?

We live in a country where winter, certainly just lately but before that perhaps not, is very harsh and is synonymous with cold and flu season. That can last up to five or six months. What about the millions of Canadians who take flu and cold medications? For many of those medications, we are told not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking them. This is a problem that Bill C-32 does not specifically address. I do not think we can leave it to the regulations to detect. This certainly must be canvassed through the best of expert testimony at the committee level.

The standardized field sobriety tests and the pooling together of the experts is an excellent idea, but we have to ask where they would be. Would they be available to every region of Canada? It is a high level of expertise. Will it apply in rural parts of Canada, like the riding of Tobique—Mactaquac, for instance? Certainly in the grand city of Moncton we would get those experts.

Furthermore, the only reliable test for drug impaired driving is a blood sample or a urine or saliva test and many of these might not stand a charter challenge, unfortunately.

In short and in conclusion, Liberals support this bill. We support it going to committee. We support the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We support local operations such as Opération Nez rouge. We want our streets and roadways to be safe. In doing so, we support the bill. We have many questions and we hope those questions will be answered at committee. We hope the House will support the questions and give the committee enough resources and time to proffer the proper evidence and come back with a bill that will protect Canadians.