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House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was communities.

Topics

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, Manufacturing Industry.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has the floor.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the current context of Bill C-47, we know that laws currently exist in Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada on matrimonial property that recognize the general principle of equality between spouses. These laws govern spousal rights during the marriage and in the case of marital breakdown. They help define the personal and real matrimonial property of the spouses. They also allow for a system of mandatory rights and protections when it comes to matrimonial property and, in the event of a marital breakdown, the establishment of legal presumption in the equal division of matrimonial property. The laws also include various protection measures for each spouse, for example, in the case of the sale of the family home, where the signature of both spouses would be required.

Nonetheless, between Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada, there are a few differences when it comes to common law relationships, same sex relationships, rights in the event of the death of a spouse and issues involving family violence.

These laws also apply to first nations spouses off reserve, but do not apply in the same way to people living on reserves administered by the Indian Act, mainly in terms of matrimonial real property, cases of family violence and marital breakdown.

The Indian Act provides for a land management regime that includes a system for making individual allotments of reserve lands to members of the band for whom the reserve has been set aside, but it is silent on the question of matrimonial property interests. It does not provide for a law-making power on the part of first nations in regard to matrimonial property, real or personal.

Bill C-47 concerns family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves. It seeks to close the existing legal gap to ensure respect for basic and matrimonial rights and to offer recourse during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse.

Basically, the bill seeks to balance individual and collective rights, to clarify the inalienability of reserve lands, and to provide greater certainty to spouses and common-law partners on reserves with respect to family homes and other matrimonial interests or rights.

Bill C-47 would set out provisional federal rules as well as provisions for the enactment of first nation laws. The federal rules would be a provisional measure, but would account for the reality that some first nations may not develop their own laws to address matrimonial interests or rights. The bill would enable communities to develop their own laws. Each first nation would be subject to the provisional federal rules set out in the bill until they adopt their own laws, with the exception of those that already have laws about matrimonial real property.

The proposed bill would be subject to the Charter. It would also be subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act insofar as its provisions fall within the scope of that act.

Not all off-reserve matrimonial real property remedies can be replicated on reserves. Given the collective nature of the reserve land regime, land on reserves cannot be owned outright, and the rights to possession differ between band members and non-members. For greater accuracy, the proposed act therefore refers to “interests or rights regarding family homes on reserves and other matrimonial interests or rights,” rather than “matrimonial real property” which, off reserves, refers to both land and structures.

The bill also proposes some provisions related to separation due to family violence.

I think all my colleagues here will agree that despite all the work that went into this bill, the government has still displayed a vindictive and know-it-all attitude when it once again failed to consult women or the Native Women's Association. Yet again, it managed to forget to resolve major flaws.

This week's visit from the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, Ms. Gabriel, made this very clear.

The proposed act respecting family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves would fix a major shortcoming in the current legislation.

Although the Bloc acknowledges this, and knows that we must act quickly, for the good of women and first nations communities, we think that the government has failed in its duties in some areas.

I would like to show my colleagues, here in this House, how the government did not fulfill its commitments. I would also like to explain what the Bloc Québécois proposes to fix the major shortcomings not only in this bill, but also in the entire process surrounding the bill.

To back up my comments about how the current government has not fulfilled its commitments in developing this bill, I would like to go back in time to discuss a political accord that was signed in 2005. As we all know, in order to get into power, the Conservatives ran a campaign based on demonstrating transparency and respecting commitments.

The past few months have shown us that this party does not seem to be any better than its predecessors. Allow me to quote some of its members: “It is our duty as elected members to ensure that the public can continue to have confidence in us. We must demonstrate integrity and consistency in our decisions.”

The process leading up to Bill C-47 runs counter to an important agreement signed between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada in 2005. I will read an excerpt from this political accord of May 31, 2005, an accord we have been referring to since Bill C-44 was introduced in 2006:

No longer will [the government] develop policies first and discuss them with [the members of the first nations] later. This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new relationship.

It also says:

The minister and the Assembly of First Nations commit to undertake discussions:

on processes to enhance the involvement of the Assembly of First Nations, mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly, in the development of federal policies which focus on, or have a significant specific impact on the First Nations—

The purpose of the accord was to enhance cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and this government on the development of federal policies on first nations. Can someone please explain to me why that very Assembly of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Quebec Native Women Inc. and the Native Women's Association of Canada are against this bill?

In the process of drafting this bill, it seems clear that an important aspect of communication was forgotten. We can all agree that in a discussion, two parties meet to share ideas. Consultations were indeed held with a whole host of groups representing first nations and with first nations women's groups, since this bill primarily concerns women.

However, it seems that if Indian and Northern Affairs Canada did indeed listen to the first nations representatives, it did not take into account or did not put enough stock in what they said. I do not think the government representatives acted in bad faith, but the spirit of the 2005 accord, where the cooperation and involvement of the first nations should have prevailed in the drafting of this bill, was not respected.

It would therefore make no sense to go ahead with second reading of this bill. That is why the Bloc is asking the House to refer Bill C-47 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that the committee can amend the bill to make it acceptable to first nations communities.

The Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the first nations have an inherent right to self-government, and it will ensure that that right is not undermined by the implementation of this bill. However, we also believe that such a bill can fill gaps in the current regulations while communities develop their own law on family homes.

Bill C-47 could be passed once it has been studied and amended by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this time in collaboration with designated first nations representatives.

At this point, I would like to give some more concrete examples of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is asking that this bill be referred to committee.

Many of my colleagues are aware that the first nations are an integral part of the human landscape of my riding. I would therefore like to speak from my own experience with various nations.

One of the concerns that aboriginal women's groups have pertains to the lack of housing on reserves, because one of the provisions of this bill deals with obtaining accommodation after a conjugal relationship breaks down.

Having visited a number of aboriginal communities repeatedly, I can state that this concern is certainly justified. How many times have I seen whole families squeezed into cramped quarters? How many times has the message been hammered home to me, during meetings with chiefs, that the biggest challenge in communities is the lack of housing? I have lost count. In addition, in communities such as Eastmain, on James Bay, some families are living in buildings despite mould problems so severe that the buildings need to be reconstructed. When there is not enough housing, it becomes difficult to relocate families for any reason.

From my experience, I also wonder about another aspect of this bill. It establishes procedures, including referral to legal procedures that do not always take into account the cultural reality and the access that these communities—often isolated or impoverished—have to certain information and certain services. There is nothing in the bill regarding how the communities will be able to access information and legal services.

For the Bloc Québécois, it is crucial that these realities can be considered and these questions addressed. That is why we would like to know how the government plans to implement this, and how it intends to allocate funding to ensure that the people in question can benefit from the bill. I would also like to ask the government how much funding is earmarked for the communities in order to prepare for implementing the legislation. Finally, we would like the government to submit to the committee the studies concerning the impact of Bill C-47 on the communities as well as the measures that will be put in place to encourage communities to develop their own laws concerning matrimonial homes.

In closing, given the importance of the issue and the insecurity it causes for people living on reserves, the government must take action immediately. It must allow aboriginal people on reserves to exercise their matrimonial rights to and interests in structures and lands situated on reserves. It must ensure that all its actions and decisions comply with the recommendations of the main aboriginal organizations and those of the standing committees, while still honouring the political accord reached with the first nations in 2005.

I believe it would be possible to amend this bill and address the dissatisfaction expressed by aboriginal groups, for example, issues pertaining to the implementation of the action plan, available resources and access by women to legal processes. We undertake to work closely with the first nations and the government, whose actions will respect the 2005 agreement, in order to amend Bill C-30 and ensure that it is satisfactory. We will do the same for Bill C-47.

However, I must point out that the Bloc Québécois has questions about the government's plans for implementation of this bill. We also wonder about the funding that will be provided to the communities and about the introduction of measures to make the procedures accessible to the population, bearing in mind the information that must be provided to the population and the poverty and the geographic isolation, which could restrict the practical application of this bill.

To summarize, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-47 being sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to study the ins and outs and, above all, to hear the testimony of stakeholders.

But first, we wish to know the intentions of the government concerning the possible amendments to Bill C-47 that it would be willing to accept.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the member has attended a number of aboriginal affairs committee meetings and has provided considerable insight into the issues facing aboriginal Canadians throughout our country and in his own riding.

A few of my questions for him would be in relation to some of the matters he raised. One of the words he used in relation to us bringing forward this bill was the word “revenge”. I am hopeful that was just some sort of word lost in translation because that would never be a motive for our government. I just do not understand how that could come into the context of this discussion but I am sure he will perhaps illuminate us a little more on that.

However, I have a more specific question. He referenced consultation and how he felt that it was inadequate. We held over 109 consultation sessions throughout the country at 64 different locations. Many individuals came forward. How much adequate consultation does the member think a government, any government but, in our case, this government, needs to engage in before we can proceed with such an important bill to deliver matrimonial real property rights to first nations citizens and, of course, first nations women?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Conservative Party colleague for his question. I did not say “revenge”; I said “vindictive”, which is a word used to describe someone who always makes the same mistake or insists on repeating it.

With respect to consultations, I am sure the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development talked about what constitutes consultation. Our position on this, a position shared by all opposition parties, is that the consultation should have been defined, as set out in the 2005 agreement, by the first nations' elected representatives and the government. In other words, the government should have worked with them to define what adequate consultation would be on various issues.

Had that been established from the very beginning, many problems and demands could have been eliminated that have been a waste of time for government members and all members of Parliament.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was here to listen to the presentation by the member for Nunavut and I must say that she has been a champion on behalf of the interests of first nations, Inuit and Métis.

In a prior session of Parliament, on government Bill C-30 dealing with climate change, I can recall that there actually was a point of order raised with regard to the release of a draft bill to the public prior to it being tabled in the House. The government argued that the presentation of that draft bill to stakeholders, being environmental groups, et cetera, was necessary for full consultation to ensure there was an understanding and to ensure we had the best possible bill come forward.

I use that as a parallel, as with the urging of those who are participating in this debate, that there should have been broader consultation even before this bill came in. Now the members are arguing, very forcefully, that we need to have the input of the grassroots, as the member for Nunavut said, so that women and children can live safer and healthier lives, and that we need to do it the right way and we do need to consult fully.

However, I am concerned, and I do not know whether the member shares my concern, that the government has simply dismissed the requests and the urgings to have full consultations during the committee process and is urging members simply to pass the bill because it is a good bill. I do not agree with that approach and I wonder if the member has some comments to add.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that I do not represent Nunavut. The member who spoke earlier might not want me to compete with her over her riding. My riding includes Nunavik, a region in Quebec. I would also address this remark to her colleague who spoke earlier.

I would like to repeat what I said at the outset. The government of the member who just asked the question signed an agreement with first nations in May 2005. That agreement was signed. The government made a solemn promise to consult elected representatives of the first nations before drafting any bill or introducing legislation that would change their lives or their culture.

Even so, the government persists in introducing legislation that violates that agreement. Even if the laws are good for them, this is an insulting way of going about it and gives them little option but to oppose the proposed legislation. This approach will not foster agreement or collaboration between first nations and Parliament or the government.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise this afternoon to say a few words on this very complex issue. It involves a number of sub-issues and when we boil it all down, it is not simple.

First, I will support the legislation, when it comes for a vote, to send it to committee. There is some stakeholder opposition. I have read a lot of the points, the memos and the briefs that come in from different interest groups and I have tried to digest them as best I can. However, I will support the bill so it can go to committee, receive a full airing, have the refinements or improvements made and then come back to the House after the committee has deliberated on it.

We have a situation that has developed over the last number of years. We have a clash between what happens on reserves and what has changed substantially and considerably in Canadian society over the past 50 years. Sometimes that is not a bad thing, but in this case it cries out for redress.

My instincts, as a parliamentarian, are to proceed very carefully and cautiously, after much consultation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters, before we move on this issue. However, it is an issue that calls for a legislative solution, and hopefully it will be an interim legislative solution, but it is not an issue that we can ignore as parliamentarians. In my opinion, it is a basic matter of human rights for women and children living on reserves, an issue that cannot be ignored.

To frame the debate, it is interesting to consider the changes we have seen in society over the last 50 years. I started to practise law about 32 years ago. It was changing then, but let us go back a few years before that.

The basic rule of law was that a married woman, if there were separation or divorce, had very little in the way of rights. If individuals were not married, living common law, there were no rights. In most instances the title to the property, whether it be a farm or a home, was in the man's name. This concept has basically disappeared from the legal nomenclature, but there was an interest called dowry. A woman had a one-third life interest in the property and she had to sign off if the property was sold or mortgaged, but that right did not give her any one-half interest if there were a separation or divorce.

We can see how society has evolved and changed over the last 50 years. It was not transformative. It came gradually. We had certain provinces enact family property laws. They were debated, interpreted and changed. We came forward with no fault divorce legislation, where situations, like adultery, did not have to be proven, the best interest of the children became a concept in our matrimonial law. Looking back, from May 14, these are concepts that most Canadians would accept as basic human rights.

Then there is the situation that exists on aboriginal reserves right now. This goes back to a 1986 court decision regarding a situation where a husband and wife, whether legally married or common law, separated. The court decided that the provincial court did not have any jurisdiction to adjudicate upon that land because it was located on a federal reserve, which came within federal jurisdictional powers. It certainly left a very large legal vacuum where people were basically left with no rights. Provincial law did not apply.

Off reserve aboriginals did not face the same predicament as provincial law would apply in this case. If an off reserve couple lived in a city, town or rural area in Canada, outside of an established reserve, and there was a separation, the normal matrimonial laws in the province would apply.

There were a number of problems. The biggest legal vacuum was there was no jurisdiction to adjudicate the problem. Then it was complicated further because of the fact that on most reserves the land is not owned by individuals. It is owned collectively by the reserve. However, the couple or individual would have a possessory interest in the property, which complicated it a little further.

Therefore, there was what I consider to be a tremendous vacuum in the law if a couple separated, especially if it dealt with domestic violence or a situation where the rights, safety or protection of children were involved. In particular cases, the judges were handcuffed. No temporary or permanent restraining order could be issued. The court could not entertain a partition for the sale of the property. There would be nothing to preclude one of the spouses from selling whatever possessory interest he or she had, or a mortgage on the same. Basically, there was a situation where the basic human rights of individuals were and could be violated, which cries out for a legislative solution.

It has been a very significant issue and it is one that has been before the House several times before. It has been a subject of the discussion in debate in at least three parliamentary committees and it has been discussed in the House. As I indicated earlier in my remarks, it does not have the total support of the stakeholders: the Assembly of First Nations, the office of the grand chief and the Native Women's Association of Canada. They all take the position that they are presently against the legislation.

I read their briefs in the preparation of my remarks. I think they are trying to broaden the scope of the whole argument that it does not go to the causes of the particular situation. It does not address situations like poverty, education, health or the lack of access to water. However, that is not the purpose of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to get at this issue.

There is no attempt, and one could argue it should, to deal with the larger issues, and I do not think anyone in the House or any Canadian would suggest that they should not receive attention from the government. The bill deals with a very specific instance. It should be dealt with and should not be delayed that much longer.

That is where I am coming from in my remarks. It is time to send this to a committee and get further input and dialogue from the major stakeholders dealing with this issue.

Going back to the briefs received from some of the aboriginal leadership, the suggestion is that it does not acknowledge the inherent treaty rights of first nations. This is should be acknowledged. However, this is interim legislation only. It acknowledges in the legislation that the first nations and the bands should take this on themselves. It provides a certain framework for them to do that. It provides a certain time for them to do that. I hope they will go ahead and do what is right and necessary, so the necessary governance is there, so the existing issue will not exist once the first nations develop their own provisions for dealing with this issue.

Again, this is an acknowledgement that they, their governments and their leadership should take on. I consider this to be interim legislation, but it will prime the pump and get the thing going. Hopefully, the various bands across the country will address the situation.

We must not forget that this court case was adjudicated upon in 1986. We are here 22 years after the fact and nothing has happened since then. Until that happens, this legislation will apply.

Again, I think all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, would like to see this happen, in the interim. If there were a situation where a legally married couple or a common law couple separated or divorced, that there would be an equal division of whatever matrimonial assets were in the family. However, no person would be allowed to sell or mortgage any interest in the title, whether possessory or real, in the property. If there were a situation dealing with domestic violence, where the rights and interests of the children could have been affected, this could be subject to either an interim or a permanent court order. At the same time, the bands would be notified of any of these proceedings. This is very important in the whole process.

Again, as I said in my earlier remarks, when I first looked at this issue, it was something with which I wanted to proceed with tremendous caution and with the greatest amount of consultation. However, it is an issue on which Parliament has to move. I hope we are not here in 22 years time talking about that issue.

When I read the briefs from some of the stakeholders, they wanted to tie in a lot of the non-legislative issues, such as poverty, housing, water, access to justice and governance issues, and I agree with what they have said. There is no greater stain on Canadian society than the present plight of our aboriginals.

When I look back, it is something that cries out for action from the government. I look back at the tremendous opportunity missed at the Kelowna accord. In that room we had all 10 provinces, the major aboriginal groups, the Government of Canada and all the major stakeholders ready to sign on the dotted line. I would not suggest that would be the solution to all the problems. However, it was a platform. It was a start. Perhaps it would not have ended the bickering that goes on or the blame and accusations that fly back and forth in here every day, but it would have started the dialogue. I had so much hope for the initiative and I was so disappointed when it did not continue.

Again, however, we have to deal with the present, not the past.

I should say that I chair the public accounts committee, and we are certainly not the solution to these problems at all, but every year and sometimes twice a year we get very unpleasant and troubling reports from the Auditor General of Canada about the plight of our aboriginal citizens presently on reserve. The second-last one was about the education system on reserves or aboriginal communities. It was a distressing and troubling report. The job is not getting done.

The report we received last week talked about aboriginal children in custodial care, about the lack of guidelines and, really, about the lack of care. It is really troubling. We are talking about kids who are from three to seven years of age and they are being treated like this by our system. Certainly it did not come in for a hearing yet, but it is just another troubling chapter that has come to the committee from the Auditor General of Canada.

We make recommendations, but it is the same thing in four or five years. The same department comes back and things are no better. It is such a frustrating experience to see this year in and year out. All I can say is that the present system does not appear to be working in the best interests of our aboriginal citizens.

In conclusion, I will be supporting the bill going to committee. I hope that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has a long look at it and gives it a full airing. This is the framework. I certainly hope that there will be amendments and changes made to the bill. I hope committee members do not ignore the inherent right of our aboriginal communities, our first nations, and certainly do not ignore section 25 of the Canadian Constitution, and I hope they will come back to the House with a final draft of the legislation.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's input. I have looked at correspondence from some of the stakeholder groups. One of the things I noticed that was common to all of them in regard to their concerns was the lack of what they refer to as the “non-legislative measures addressing matrimonial real property”.

There also seems to be a significant concern about the consultative process, which has been a matter of discussion long before this bill came up. In fact, it has been discussed with regard to dealing with a broad range of issues related to the first nations, the Inuit and the Métis.

I wonder if the member could comment on how important it is to have those thorough consultations in advance of the preparation of legislation so that good faith is built up in the process to ensure that we do get good legislative measures as well as consideration of and dialogue on the non-legislative measures.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an important point. I read the briefs from the stakeholders. In particular, the National Aboriginal Women's Association came forward and said that this bill does not take care of the causes: the domestic abuse, the poverty, the water and the lack of justice. They are quite right. I could not agree more.

The brief by the grand chief talks about the governance issue: the lack of consultation, the lack of respect for the inherent treaty rights and the lack of respect for the Constitution of Canada. Again, that is one issue, and I agree with it.

As I said in this chamber in my first sentence, this is an issue that I as a parliamentarian take on very cautiously. My instinct is to go very slowly and cautiously, but at the end of the day, because of this particular situation, it is an issue that Parliament has to proceed on. It is an interim matter. It provides a framework for the first nations and bands to come forward with their own laws and rules, acknowledging their own right to self-government.

However, until that is done, the overarching framework will apply. The member across talked about the consultation. He is quite correct that it is about good faith. There is a suggestion from some of the stakeholders that the necessary consultation has not taken place. Accepting their brief as being correct, then that consultation hopefully will take place at the committee stage. This is why it is so important for the committee to get hold of this, have extensive consultations with all the stakeholders and come back to this House with the legislation in its final form.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has talked a lot about how we know what legislation is before us now, but he has used the word “consultation” many times. He did touch on the Kelowna accord. One of the largest efforts in consultation put forward by any government was to bring the Kelowna accord to fruition. We have heard the false claims there never was such an agreement and that there is no signed document.

The fact is that people from across Canada worked on the Kelowna proposal. We had collaboration from all walks of life in Canada. It was going to be a hallmark piece of legislation, an agreement that was going to move the first nations forward. As my colleague said, it was the first step in really bringing them forward.

I am going to give the member the opportunity to make any other comments on what Kelowna would have done for the first nations of Canada and what it would have done for Canadian society to realize that we are going to walk together as we move forward.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, that was a very interesting development in our political life. We had this situation and were able, with a lot of hard work and consultation, to get all the players together in a general framework agreement. All 10 provinces, the 3 territories, the Government of Canada and all the major aboriginal organizations were there in the room. They all signed on the dotted line.

I am not going to suggest that the agreement was going to be the answer or solution to all the problems. It would be a little naive of me to say that, but certainly in my life it was the first time that I was seeing a platform where all the parties were talking to each other. If we are not talking to each other at the same table, we probably are not going to get too far in trying to resolve certain situations. In this situation, all the parties were actually talking to each other.

There was a framework for education and one for infrastructure, but again, I am not going to suggest to this House that this was going to be the answer to all the problems facing our aboriginal citizens. It was not, but it certainly would have been a major step and a platform for other initiatives and other developments to go ahead. That was lost. It was basically thrown off the back of the truck. It disappeared. In hindsight, I think we lost a tremendous opportunity.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to participate in debate on Bill C-47, which is a proposal to deal with the long outstanding issue around matrimonial property rights on reserves.

All who have participated in the debate have acknowledged that there is a need to finally address a matter that has been left in the lurch since the 1985 Supreme Court decision which ruled that provincial laws regarding division of property after a marriage breakdown did not apply on reserve. That we agree on.

I do not think there is anybody in this chamber who disagrees with the fundamental principle at stake here and the need to advance legislation to fill the vacuum. We all recognize that there must be legislation to ensure proper division of property and assets upon a marriage breakdown, whether the people are living on reserve or off reserve.

That principle we support. The question today is this: does this legislation actually fill the bill? Does it respond adequately to the situation at hand?

I listened very carefully to the member for Charlottetown suggesting that it may not be perfect, but heck, we have to act on something, and it is so long overdue. We have to put in place an interim arrangement and this might be it, he suggests. We will go through committee and we will see, it is suggested, and this is only intended to deal with this one narrow piece so let us get on with it.

However, I cannot separate the whole question of equality of matrimonial property from the issue of equality in general. We cannot simply say that we will deal with one tiny piece and leave everything else in disarray or neglected. We cannot put a little bandage on a situation in the hope that we can stop the hemorrhaging.

I suppose it would not hurt to get the bill to committee so we can hear from the various informed players in our society today just how badly the bill meets the requirements, just how much off the mark it really is, and just how little the consultation that did happen was reflected in the bill itself.

I will read again for members the words of the minister responsible for the legislation, who said, as he did just yesterday, that “laws are much more likely to succeed when drafted with the input of the people who would be affected by them”. I agree. The problem with this bill is that the government chose to ignore the bulk of the evidence that was presented to it, as well as the majority of the suggestions that were made and that should have been included in the legislation.

Therefore, the government is masquerading today. It is pretending that it has consulted, that it has addressed the vast array of interests and concerns in this area, and that here all of it is in the bill.

That is far from the truth. We only have to look at some of the key players. Let us go right to the Assembly of First Nations, a broad governing body of the first nations in this country. Obviously it was consulted. The minister would like to pretend that its input was included in the bill, but that is not what Phil Fontaine says.

Phil Fontaine makes it very clear, in fact, that the consultation took place, but the suggestions that were made are not reflected in the bill. I want to quote from his letter of April 8, in which he says:

--the fact that direction provided through this dialogue does not appear reflected in the tabled Bill, leaves us to conclude that the dialogue was of limited value in promoting and implementing a reconciliation approach regarding First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights and Crown sovereignty.

Where is all this input from the community that the Conservatives are talking about? There is something strangely amiss in this place when the minister stands in the House and says that this bill was based on what the aboriginal people wanted and yet those people who were consulted say it is not there.

The same is reflected in material produced for all members of Parliament from the Native Women's Association of Canada which wrote as recently as yesterday that the association held extensive meetings with aboriginal women across Canada to identify solutions to the complex issues comprising the matrimonial real property problem. NWAC believes that the voices of these aboriginal women and the solutions they develop must be respected and included in the government's approach. This has not happened. I hope members are listening. The Native Women's Association of Canada says that this has not happened. Instead, the government has turned the processes that preceded the introduction of this bill into a farce by failing to include the elements that aboriginal women identified as important to them.

I hope that the members on the government benches are not making disparaging remarks about the Native Women's Association of Canada or the Assembly of First Nations. I hope that they are listening to the fact that these voices, these well-established organizations, these reputable organizations in our country today, feel that their concerns are not reflected, are not included in this bill. That is important. It goes back to what the minister himself said yesterday, that the best legislation around is that which reflects the feelings of the people it affects.

If this bill does not do that, we have to change it. We cannot simply let it go on and say that this is it. We cannot do as the member for Charlottetown said, that this is an interim measure, we will have some consultations and then we will get on with it. No. We have to fix the problem. If we are going to send it to committee, we have to do it on a real basis, on a substantive basis, and the government has to indicate it is prepared to accept the amendments and changes that the groups want.

Clearly, we have touched a sore point. The members on the Conservative benches are starting to heckle. I guess I am getting under their skin. I hope so.

There is no point in trying to deal with an issue that is so important and which has been neglected for so long in a half-hearted way. We have to do it in a comprehensive way, with the voices of those people who are affected, who say that this legislation in fact still allows the minister to strike down first nations laws regarding matrimonial interests. This legislation neglects to consider the welfare of children. This legislation, which has been a priority for first nations women since 1985, however, puts the value or the importance, the priority of individual rights ahead of collective rights, which is so paramount to how we deal with issues pertaining to first nations communities on reserves.

We need to send it back. We need to rewrite the bill. If we do it at committee, great. There is no problem with that. However, we cannot also neglect the social and economic context in which we find ourselves today.

I know that others in this House have said that yes, they know about all those problems with housing, water, health, child welfare, suicide, but they cannot all be dealt with in this piece of legislation. Then I ask, when can we deal with them? When will this government finally deal with the neglect in its own areas of jurisdiction, like child welfare on reserves? Why does it not act when there are independent reports such as Judge Guy's in Manitoba as a result of teenage suicides on reserves? Why does it not act after hearing from the Auditor General repeatedly, as we just heard this past week, about the situation with respect to aboriginal children and teenagers on reserves?

The evidence is in. There is a connection between neglect of people and worth of an individual, an entitlement to property when a family is in trouble or a marriage breaks down. There are connections to be made.

We all know that marriages sometimes break down because of socio-economic issues. Are we in this place not interested in trying to protect and preserve the family and the institution of marriage? Are we not interested in providing for equal access to property upon a dissolution of a marriage, which means looking at the inadequacy of the resources on the reserve in the first place?

What is the point of dividing up property and suggesting that one person in that marriage should leave the matrimonial home and find on the reserve another home that does not exist? What is the point in acting if we cannot find a way to deal with the violence against women which seems to be no longer on the government's agenda? What about the missing women and stolen sisters in this land? Did we not learn anything this past weekend when women marched in the streets of cities right across the country about the absence of programs to help missing women and to respond to situations facing women in domestic disputes?

In Winnipeg alone, women were marching the streets, responding to messages from people like Bev Jacobs of the Native Women's Association of Canada, from Gloria Enns, who is with the Dufferin Avenue women's drop-in, from Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and from Jackie Traverse, who is an artist and part of the whole movement to address the situation of missing women. Where is the government? Where is the response?

Is that not important in terms of matrimonial property and division of assets? Is it not important to look at the situation facing women and children?

As we speak, a campaign is being organized around the whole question of family violence in aboriginal communities. It is called the Awareness Campaign Against Family Violence. It flows from the recent documentation of the Auditor General and other reports showing in fact that the underfunding of services is an important issue when we are dealing with the issues before us today. They talk about the existence of a discriminatory bias that aboriginal families are undergoing whereby an alarming rate of children are apprehended to be placed in non-aboriginal families everywhere in this country. We learn that the quasi total amount allocated by the government in Ottawa for child care and family services is directed to child placements. Crumbs are allocated to prevention.

We cannot simply carve off a piece of the issues at hand and say we are going to fix this without even consulting or including the advice of those affected.

We have two problems with the bill that have to be fixed at committee. One, the bill on its own in terms of the division of matrimonial property on reserves is flawed. Two, the government's approach is flawed when it comes to dealing with the situation facing aboriginal people on reserves.

The government has failed to live up to the responsibilities under the Constitution for which it has responsibility. It is in dereliction of duty when it comes to responding to issues facing children and teenagers on reserves. It is in dereliction of duty when it comes to responding to violence facing women on reserves. The government has shown dereliction of duty in terms of its commitment to ensure proper health and social services for all people within its jurisdiction. There is no shortage of material to make this case.

Mr. Speaker, you will know that I have tried to seek consent from you to have an emergency debate on the question of adequate protection for aboriginal children on reserves. That flowed from the fact that the discrepancy between what the provincial government in Manitoba pays for children in welfare off reserve is so much richer, appropriate and responsible in comparison to the allocation of resources provided by the federal government for children on reserve, children in trouble on reserve, which is under the federal government's jurisdiction.

When will the government actually live up to its responsibilities and take seriously the needs of aboriginal people? That is the real question of the hour, because kids are dying. Suicides are happening every day. We only have to refer to what is happening in Shamattawa, Manitoba, and see the number of suicides that are mounting each and every day.

This is the opportunity when we can address the issues facing women, children and families on reserves, to give them the right to be treated as equal citizens in this country, to be given respect and to be treated with dignity and equality.

The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-482, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-482 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #110

Official Languages ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

When we were debating Bill C-384, the hon. member for Shefford had five minutes left to complete his speech. He now has the floor.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak again here today on the subject of Bill C-384 introduced by my hon. colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

It is important to reflect carefully on this bill. I spoke about it nearly a month ago. Since then, we have had time to reflect on it. Personally, since I knew I would be speaking to it again a few weeks later, I took the time to think about other arguments to try to convince the members of this House to vote in favour of Bill C-384.

First of all, I still wonder why it took until 2008 for Bill C-384 to be introduced. Why did it take so long? Why did no one think about this issue before and try to establish measures to deal with people who write graffiti on schools and other locations? It is now being proposed that these institutions be covered by the legislation.

It is important that all members of the House of Commons take the time to read the bill. By doing so, they will be able to get a complete picture, without having any anti-Semitic ideas or other notions. That is important.

Indeed, people from various communities have legitimately asked to be able to keep their premises clean, whether they be places of prayer or schools. Furthermore, they have asked to be able to preserve their culture without being stared at inappropriately by people who could resort to all kinds of ploys to mock their way of thinking or expressing themselves.

Previously, only two types of institutions were covered: places of worship and cemeteries. Now, many others are also included. I mentioned schools, but this would also include daycare centres, colleges, universities, community centres, playgrounds, sports centres and any other place occupied by identifiable groups. It is important to protect them. Bill C-384, introduced by my colleague, is so very important.

We claim to be a host country and to want to welcome all these groups. However, there is no protection for these identifiable places I have just mentioned. This bill will provide adequate protection for these places under the Criminal Code. Thus, these groups will be able to practice their religion or carry out their activities in recreation centres without having to hide or be identified with one group or another. In this way we prevent them from being discredited by either saying or writing anything.

We assume that the members of this House will do everything it takes to make this bill a piece of legislation allowing these people to go about their usual activities.

Although we are discussing bill C-384, I would like to digress for a moment.

My party asked for an emergency debate on the price of gasoline. I would like parliamentarians to be aware of the escalating cost of gasoline. The Bloc Québécois should be allowed this emergency debate so that we can have a straightforward and honest discussion. Voters would realize that some members of this House are not keen to discuss the price of gasoline, to propose measures to curtail increases, to keep oil companies in line and to regulate prices to a greater extent.

Good luck to the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant with her bill and may it be passed and become law.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution), that was introduced by the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

At the outset I would like to tell the House that I wholeheartedly support the purpose of this bill and the reasons obviously that would have motivated the member for introducing such important legislation. I believe the great majority of Canadians welcome people who come from different countries, different cultures, different races and different religions. I know that we as Canadians also believe that those who arrive in Canada with different backgrounds enrich Canadian life and our culture.

Unfortunately, there is also a small minority of Canadians who do not welcome these newcomers and even oppose their presence in Canada and sometimes do so in a violent manner. The opposition to a group's presence in Canada could be expressed by writing offensive words, or perhaps damaging buildings where members from these groups are likely to go either to meet or receive services.

Damaging a building is indeed a criminal act already. It is an act that is covered by the offence of mischief which is found in subsection 430(1) of our current Criminal Code. The sentence for those found guilty of mischief under the current law varies with the mode of prosecution, that is, whether the offence is prosecuted by summary conviction or by the process of indictment.

The sentence of mischief prosecuted by indictment also varies depending on the value of property against which the mischief has been committed. Mischief is prohibited in all cases, however, regardless of the motivation. However, what is important is that when an offence of mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice, hatred based on race, colour, national or ethnic origin, language, religion, sexual orientation or any other factor, the motivation becomes an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

If the acts covered by Bill C-384 are already covered by the current provisions of the Criminal Code then one would somehow question why we would want to create a new offence. I have that answer.

I believe that two purposes would be served by enacting Bill C-384. First, the creation of a specific offence will draw attention to the actions that the offence prohibits. It will state clearly that the violent expression of hatred against a minority group is a criminal offence with all of the consequences for those who are found guilty. Second, the bill will increase the penalty for the offence. We know that in most cases mischief is prosecuted by way of summary conviction. Under the current law a person convicted of mischief against one of the buildings listed in Bill C-384, for example, when prosecuted by summary conviction is currently only subject to a maximum penalty of 6 months. Bill C-384 would increase this penalty up to 18 months.

Under the current law, if the Crown wants to request a penalty of more than 6 months, it must proceed by way of indictment. Bill C-384 will allow the Crown to request a penalty of up to 18 months without having to resort to the more complex procedure of indictment. Bill C-384 also has a practical effect when the offence is prosecuted by indictment.

The current law provides for a higher maximum sentence when the value of the property against which the mischief is committed is over $5,000. Currently, where the value of the property is $5,000 or less, the maximum penalty is only 2 years. It is 10 years when the value of the property is over $5,000.

Bill C-384 would eliminate the distinction based on the value of the property. Hate crimes know no value of property. The higher maximum of 10 years would apply regardless of the value of the property against which the mischief is committed. As a result, the maximum penalty would be increased from 2 years to 10 years for mischief against property of $5,000 or less.

As I indicated earlier, I do support this bill. However, I believe the bill would benefit from some technical improvements. I think it would be beneficial to clarify the language of the bill and ensure that it is consistent with the provisions currently set out in the Criminal Code.

As a member of the justice committee, I look forward to seeing Bill C-384 get to committee where it can benefit from study and technical amendments that may be necessary, but will not affect the scope and purpose of the bill. I believe all members of this House will want to work together toward the improvement of this bill which has support from all parties in this House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise and participate in the debate on Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution). This bill would create a new offence in section 430 of the Criminal Code to prohibit hate motivated acts of mischief against an identifiable group of persons at an educational institution, including a school, day care centre, college or university, or community centre, playground, arena or sports centre.

I would like to congratulate the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for her initiative in introducing this bill and thereby raise attention of this type of hate crime in our society.

In discussing this proposed legislation, there are two main elements that should be underscored. First, the importance of fighting hate motivated crimes; and second, to provide protection to the educational and social places where ethnocultural and other identifiable groups gather.

These are places where people gather to joyfully share in cultural experiences, often passing on through generations the richness of our multicultural mosaic. These are institutions to which children are entrusted to be educated. Yet too often, those who would hate and cause violence target these very places of joy and education.

Canada is an open and welcoming society that has embraced multiculturalism as an underlying principle. Our multicultural mosaic is a shining example to the world of peace and harmony among all races, religions, ethnicities; in fact, humanity in its endless multitudes of variations. Unfortunately, there are those among us, individuals and groups, who would act to spread hatred and violence, even violence against identifiable groups.

In 2004 the pilot survey of hate crime was published by Statistics Canada. This study reported a total of 928 hate crime incidents.

Overall, 57% of these hate crimes were motivated by race or ethnicity. The second most common motivation was religion, which accounted for 43% of incidents. Sexual orientation was the motivation in one-tenth of the incidents.

Blacks and South Asians were among those most frequently targeted in hate crime incidents motivated by race or ethnicity. The majority of incidents by religion involved anti-Semitism followed by those targeting Muslims.

The most common types of hate violations included: mischief or vandalism at 29%; assault at 25%; uttering threats at 20%; and hate propaganda at 13%.

While statistics are important, I would also like to point out a number of examples of hate crimes against several communities, religious and educational institutions that make the case of supporting Bill C-384 even stronger.

On March 24, 2004, the Al Mahdi Islamic Centre in Pickering was intentionally set on fire. Its interior walls were spray painted with supremacist graffiti. On September 2, 2006, the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Jewish Boys school in Outremont was firebombed. On June 21, 2007, the community centre of the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg Algonquin First Nations community in Quebec was vandalized with swastikas and white supremacist graffiti. On March 11, 2008, RyePRIDE, a community service group at Ryerson University was vandalized with hate graffiti.

The study also concluded that young people, those between the ages of 15 and 24, experienced the highest rate of hate crime victimization. This rate was two times higher than the next age group. As well, it was educational and other community institutions that were the most frequent targets of hate crime propaganda.

Acts of vandalism motivated by racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and hatred of the other are more than simple acts of mischief. To the victims and the community to which they belong these are traumatic assaults on the very core of who they are and their place in society. It is an assault on the very values of inclusion, tolerance and pluralism that are at the core of our Canadian identity.

I would now like to address a gaping omission in our current hate crimes legislation. According to the 1999 General Social Survey, 18% of hate crimes were motivated by hatred of a gender. Yet, gender-based hate crimes, misogyny and misandry, are not covered.

As it is currently drafted, Bill C-384 only addresses acts of hatred or incitement to violence against an identifiable group based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

As Valerie Smith, a leading expert and advocate on the issue of violence against women, underscores, misogynistic acts of vandalism carried out against a girls' school or university women's centre would not be covered under this bill because it protects only those groups identified by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. Bill C-384 adopts a limited list of identifiable groups found in section 318 of the Criminal Code dealing with hate propaganda.

For this reason, it would seem prudent to amend the proposed legislation to ensure that hate targeting a gender group is also included, because as the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics shows, women and girls continue to be targets of hate crimes at disturbingly increasing rates. Because sex, the legal term for gender, is not included in the list covered by this proposed legislation, girls and women will not be protected under this law.

As further underscored by Valerie Smith, this legislation would be enhanced if the more inclusive definition found in Criminal Code subsection 718(2) were to be used.

In 1996 this law was amended to allow courts to increase a sentence where an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental and physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor. There is no legal reason for Bill C-384 to use the limited list of identifiable groups found in section 318.

As section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms underscores, everyone has a right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability.

In the spring of 2005 I was reviewing Canada's hate crimes legislation and I noted that there were a number of categories, identifiable groups. However, I was startled to find an omission. Gender was not covered. That spurred me to draft Bill C-254, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda), a private member's bill that is perhaps unique in the sense that all it entails is the addition of one single word to existing legislation, “sex”.

Returning to my colleague's Bill C-384, I think that besides increasing punishment of hate-based acts of mischief against an identifiable group, vulnerable groups also need assistance to better help protect themselves against these cowardly attacks. This would entail governments taking proactive measures to help defray the increased security costs that would have to be paid by vulnerable communities in protecting their institutions from hate-based attacks.

The current government has set up a pilot project with only $3 million in funding for the purposes of helping vulnerable communities to protect their institutions.

Canada's Jewish community estimated that it would require a minimum investment of $8 million to begin to upgrade the security surrounding its community centres and schools.

In many cases the communities whose institutions were attacked were forced to raise funds to repair and enhance security in their facilities. This has taken much needed funding away from the educational needs of children and youth.

In response, the leader of the Liberal Party announced in April that a Liberal government would create a $75 million fund to boost security at places of worship and community centres targeted by racist vandals.

It is my view that Bill C-384 is a worthy piece of legislation that should be supported by all members. It is also my view that Bill C-384 would be further enhanced by friendly amendments that would deal with gender-based acts of hatred.

When people talk of a future global village, I respond by saying that it exists here in Canada, in our urban centres. We are a shining example to the world of how humanity, in all of its variations, can live constructively and joyously in peace and harmony.

However, in our midst threats exist to our multicultural mosaic, to our Canada, a Canada which celebrates all of our diversities. With this legislation we will further diminish the ability of those who hate, who would do harm, and who would incite others to do so.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-384 introduced by my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant. This bill was awaited by minority communities. It includes additional sanctions and further protects people from identifiable groups. This bill creates a new offence to clearly prohibit heinous acts committed against property used by minority groups. I have some examples.

In June 2007, the Jewish community feared they were dealing with an anti-Semitic pyromaniac after a third fire in two weeks was reported at a camp for a Hasidic Jewish community in Val-David.

Again in June 2007, a building at a camp belonging to the Jewish community went up in flames in Val-David, in the Laurentians.

In April 2007, a small bomb exploded in front of the Ben Weider Jewish community centre.

In April 2004, an arsonist set fire to the library at the United Talmud Torah elementary school in Saint-Laurent.

In September 2006, an arsonist set fire to the Abraar Muslim school in Ottawa.

Anti-Semitic acts and acts against identifiable groups do exist and occur frequently. The bill introduced by my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant specifically prohibits acts of mischief against schools, daycare centres, colleges or any other place used by identifiable groups. This is an addition to the current legislation.

I must point out that this bill is already receiving support from minority groups in Quebec and Canada as well as, and this is saying something, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons and hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, the New Democratic Party justice critic and hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and a number of other colleagues, namely the members of the Bloc Québécois, who will vote en masse in favour of this bill.

I was listening to our colleagues from the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. I think they will vote in favour of the bill, but first they have to find a few little things wrong with it. I imagine they will discuss them with my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant and all come to an agreement to provide an additional tool to protect our ethnic groups.

We therefore hope that this bill will move through all the approval stages so that the rights of minority groups, which have too often suffered assaults against their gathering places, will finally be recognized. It is vital that such a legislative amendment be passed, in order to preserve the safety and dignity of the groups targeted by this bill by imposing harsher penalties for this type of offence. Moreover, we must recognize the need to protect these groups. We must therefore vote for this bill.

The bill also addresses a widespread concern in society. The number of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in the past seven years clearly shows that the current protection is not broad enough. The fire bombings of two schools that I mentioned earlier were not covered by the existing Criminal Code provisions concerning mischief. An attack against this sort of institution traumatizes not only the people who live in the area, but also the surrounding community.

It is serious when communal facilities other than places of worship and cemeteries are targeted, and when places where there are children are targeted, it is even worse. Such acts must be stopped.

We could talk about the gay community. We could also talk about Muslims, who regularly face this sort of problem. The gay community in particular is regularly the target of slurs and aggressive behaviour. Even in 2008, it is not true that homosexuals are accepted socially. Unfortunately, they still suffer a great deal of prejudice.

I am certain that the content of the amendment to the bill proposed by my Bloc Québécois colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant will bring us a step closer to respecting everyone's rights.

Earlier, I mentioned the Muslim community. That community is regularly the target of violent acts. Of course, such acts are committed by a minority of people, but they still heighten tensions within society. Hon. members will recall that in January 2007, a Muslim school in Montreal was horribly vandalized.

That is why everyone must vote for the Bloc Québécois bill. In that way, we will send a clear message that such acts are and will always be unacceptable.

We have to strengthen the law so that all minority groups can live in peace within Quebec society and Canadian society without fearing intimidating threats and violence. There will always be people who do not mean well. These people are everywhere, and they often attack places used by minority groups out of spite.

That race, colour, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation should motivate such mischief is unacceptable. We have to make it possible for everyone to live in peace and use spaces without being subjected to such threats. The message has to be clear, and for it to be clear, we need to vote in favour of Bill C-384.

I would also like to emphasize that, in my opinion, this bill will make it clear that any mischief against places used by any particular group will be prosecuted. There is no ambiguity there. I would therefore ask all members of this House to support this bill so that we can all reiterate that there is zero tolerance for this kind of violence.

We Quebeckers live in an inclusive society. Canadian society is also inclusive, but it accepts multiculturalism. In Quebec, they are Quebeckers. If they come to Quebec, they are Quebeckers. And we want to protect them. We want them to know that they are welcome, that they will be safe with us, that they can eat, work and live decently. Bill C-384 is proof of that.

I hope that the House will pass this bill. If my Liberal and Conservative party colleagues find something they do not agree with, I invite them to talk to my colleague about it. She will explain what it is all about. I also encourage them to ask their colleagues to support this extremely important bill.

I see that the member for Laval—Les Îles is here.

There are many cultural communities in her riding, so she understands the importance of this bill. I invite her to—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to speak to private member's Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution).

I am especially pleased to indicate my support for the objective of the bill, which ensures the criminal law fully denounces criminal acts motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred.

I do want to take a moment to congratulate the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for introducing the bill and for making the effort, under private members' business, to bring forward a serious and substantive topic.

I also take this opportunity to thank her for her work on the justice committee, particularly for her help with my private member's bill on identity theft and pretexting. I thought her colleagues in her party did good work in terms of the bill, working it through the private member's process. I hope I give the same consideration to her that she gave to me during that process.

Again, I appreciated her work on the justice committee with respect to the private member's bill on identity theft, which I am pleased to say is now in the Senate, having been adopted unanimously by the House.

Bill C-384 proposes to amend the Criminal Code by adding a new offence to the existing mischief provisions. The amendment would make it a specific offence, with increased penalties, when the mischief is committed against an educational or recreational property, institution or object associated with an institution that is used exclusively or principally by a group identified by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.

The proposed bill unequivocally states that Canadians need to continue to respect and value one another. We have heard from previous speakers about the importance of that principle in terms of the very foundation of Canada. It is one of the reasons why this is the most wonderful country in the world to live.

In a country as ethnoculturally diverse as ours, we know there will be occasions, unfortunately, when intolerant or hateful actions will tragically occur. When intolerant actions constitute criminal behaviour, the criminal justice system must be able to fully respond to those situations.

Hate crimes are unique. Such crimes target victims because of a core characteristic of their identity which cannot be altered and therefore harm not only the individual, but also the group with which the individual is identified and the whole of Canadian society.

When, for example, a Muslim school is vandalized and hateful graffiti is written across its walls, the entire Muslim community is harmed. The hurt spreads beyond just the neighbourhood in which the school is located. Many Muslim Canadians across the country may feel affronted by the attack.

The House may very well recall the situations with respect to attacks that happened at the United Talmud Torah elementary school in Montreal in 2004. Members may also remember the early Saturday morning fire bomb attack on an Orthodox Jewish school in 2006. These are only a couple of examples.

Unfortunately, in my home city of Edmonton there have been incidents against educational institutions and houses of worship, which I know are outside the parameter of the bill. These are situations in which there is an attack of hatred, and it affects the entire community. With news as it spreads today, it goes across the country and affects the whole of Canada and even around the world because of the way news is propagated these days. It is incumbent upon us as a government and as parliamentarians to act fully against these actions.

The government believes the message being sent by this bill will let affected communities know that we understand and that we want to do something to help. We are pleased that the bill has support from representatives of various communities, including the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the black community and aboriginal communities. I understand the gay and lesbian community is supportive of the bill as well.

It is true that Canada already has in place an effective regime of legislative protections against hate crime applying to property. All property is already protected by the general offence of mischief found in section 430 of the Criminal Code. Additionally, any criminal offence that can be proven to be motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor, could be subject to the sentencing provisions already found in section 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code, which would require such motivation an aggravating factor to be considered at sentencing.

However, I support Bill C-384 as it will send a message of deterrence to potential hate-mongers and, in conjunction with other initiatives, confirms the government's opposition to such intolerance.

The bill differs from the current Criminal Code provisions in three main areas. First, Bill C-384 incorporates the concept of hate motivation as part of the crime rather than as an aggravating factor to consider when opposing a sentence.

Second, it specifies that the act of mischief must be perpetrated against property that is used exclusively or principally by members of a certain group.

Finally, it imposes longer maximum sentences for summary convictions, 18 months versus 6 months, and for indictable offences of property less than $5,000 it would increase to 10 years from 2 years.

Bill C-384 provides an opportunity for all four political parties to stand together and provide leadership in Canada against mischief that is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate against certain groups.

I am very proud to be a part of a government that is dealing with such a complex issue. Certainly there is much more we can all do as individuals and as communities to combat racism in our country and our communities, but I hope all members will commit to continuing to work together to ensure all Canadians have a justice system that reflects our values as a nation.

I will conclude by again congratulating the member opposite, the member of the Bloc Québécois, who I did get to meet, as I mentioned before, when I introduced my private member's bill, Bill C-299. She was very effective at the justice committee in terms of posing questions and understanding the intent of the bill that I wanted and helpful in proposing amendments to improve that legislation. I certainly give her the same respect and I share her concerns with respect to attacks on institutions and her desire to prevent such attacks in the future. I commend her for bringing this legislation forward.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must first say that it is with humility that I speak today in support of Bill C-384, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to mischief against an educational or other institution. In our pluralistic and increasingly global society, where people of different ethnicities, cultures and races can eat, play and share space—sometimes getting married, thank goodness—sometimes acts of mischief are committed against institutions and symbols associated with a given ethnocultural community.

That is why, as I support Bill C-384—because I think it is important to create laws and other preventive measures that protect our cultural and other institutions—I believe that we should also put mechanisms in place to instill in children, from a young age, respect for public and private property, no matter who owns it. I will come back to that point later on.

I will not dwell on the criminal acts that caused my Bloc Québécois colleague to introduce this bill, because other members from all of the parties have listed these crimes in detail.

In my own constituency of Laval—Les Îles, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic graffiti was painted on the walls of a synagogue.

However, we are not just talking about the Jewish community. All of the minority communities in Canada are affected, or risk being affected, by this scourge.

I had an opportunity in 2007 to listen to people in my riding and in many communities across Canada tell their stories about violence against places of worship when the Liberal task force on cultural communities at risk travelled the country.

What is surprising is how determined these communities are to rebuild. Although they are disappointed, there is very little anger, and they have come to accept that hate crimes are a fact of life, regardless of where in the world a person lives. I say this because that is what struck me at these meetings. It is no doubt a result of the increasing number of violent attacks in the world, including the horror of September 11.

Our task force learned that acts of vandalism have increased since September 11. The 2007 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents shows that acts of vandalism increased by 11.4%, an increase of 15.8% for the year. To put this in perspective, I would like to read the comments of two witnesses, as reported in the July 12, 2007, edition of Laval News.

When Arthur Levy, of the Jewish community, spoke about his synagogue in my riding of Laval—Les Îles, he said:

However, to prevent vandalism, we can’t keep our doors locked; we have people coming in and out of the building throughout the day. To turn ourselves into a fortress defeats the purpose of who we are.

When Jeevat Jot Singh, a member of the Sikh community, spoke about his Sikh temple, he explained that cutting off cultural communities only leads to cultural ghettoization. He said:

Increasing security around our premises is not the way to go, it only leads to closing ourselves off to the rest of the community.

Finally, members of the Muslim community told the task force that the media also had a hand in the negative image of Muslims. They stated:

Very often, what we’ve seen is that ‘mediacized’ events have a direct impact on heinous hate crimes.

Mourad Ghazali told this to the task force:

However, when the opportunity arises to show Muslims in a positive manner, the media is usually indifferent.

Nabiha El-Wafai, assistant principal of Les jeunes musulmans canadiens school in Saint-Laurent, explained that she organized an open house event after an individual broke windows at the school last January; others have already mentioned this unfortunate incident.

She said that she invited the media—to promote awareness of the Muslim community within the Quebec and Canadian community—but almost no one attended. She added that the media are quick to respond when it comes to writing articles on negative events, but when it is something positive, no one comes to see what is going on, and that encourages ignorance.

In a pluralistic democracy, such as Canada, we cannot afford and we should not accept having citizens live in fear, resigned to the fact their communities could become cultural ghettos through forced insulation of themselves and their families. This is not what integration is about, not in the province of Quebec or in Vancouver, or anywhere else in the country. We are building one society where groups of various ethnic, religious or political backgrounds will live in harmony and respect each other's cultural traditions and symbols while being proud of their Canadian identity and heritage through their Canadian born children.

While this legislation calls for harsher measures, such as increased prison stays and even stiffer fines for those who deface public and private property, my concern is that this will not solve the problems of ongoing hatred against identifiable groups that result in acts of violence against these groups and their institutions, regardless of what they may be.

May I remind the House that in Canada we have not witnessed an end to violence against women or to their inequality, nor have we witnessed an end to murders. When we look at the profile of those people who commit crimes, we see poverty, deprivation and the lack of available services for drug rehabilitation. We should note that the government has cancelled its financial support for safe injection sites in Vancouver, even though it has been shown that these sites have contributed to the decrease in the virus that causes AIDS and that there has been an increase in the number of people seeking help for their drug dependencies.

One may wonder what Vancouver's crime rate has to do with crime rates against minorities. It is because these people will attack anything that is a symbol of governance, institutions, organizations and groups that appear to be succeeding or thriving in some way. Sometimes hate based on race may not be the underlying motive but poverty and anger against the very institutions that are supposed to educate, protect and care for our citizens.

I would like to suggest, as this bill is discussed in committee, that amendments be made to reflect not just increased sentences but measures that will educate those who cause misery in the lives of identifiable groups.

In Brazil, for example, its 1998 environmental crime legislation, the so-called restricting rights penalties, says that alternative penalties must be at their disposal instead of prison sentences. Judges now have this tool at their disposal to deal both with the culprit and the environmental damage they have caused. For example, a guilty person could be made to do community service, other unpaid work in parks, public gardens or other protected areas, or made to repay the institutions they have victimized. If it was a business person, they could see their rights restricted through exclusion of contracts or other tax incentives. These are among several of the alternatives to imprisonment.

In the case of Canada, we could see the individual carrying out community work for the institutions that have been affected; being educated about the customs and traditions of the affected groups and even participating in their daily lives; and, they could be obliged to make restitution and participate in the rebuilding and renovating of the destroyed properties. In this way, creating multiple close contacts between an individual and the group the person has wronged is the equivalent to building bridges, understanding and respecting cultures.

I support the intent of this bill. I hope we can get the bill into committee as soon as possible for further study.