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House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was special.

Topics

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, 2.7 million Canadians who are self-employed cannot currently access employment insurance or maternity or parental benefits. Hard-working Canadians deserve access to these services regardless of who they are working for, and it is the government's responsibility to make sure every worker has access.

This bill would make sure that self-employed hairdressers, real estate agents and others would be able to make commitments to their families and to their careers at the same time and sleep easier at night knowing employment insurance was available to them in case of difficult times.

Could the member describe some of the other professions and other Canadians who have been denied employment insurance? What would it mean to them if this bill were passed and they could access maternity and parental benefits?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, people who are self-employed come from almost every walk of life.

One of the things the member for Acadie—Bathurst identified in his 1999 report was the fact that some employers were actually laying off their employees and then contracting them back as self-employed workers. We find that happening in every imaginable occupation.

There are some rules around that. The Canada Revenue Agency determines what is insurable employment and what is not. By the same token, however, there are self-employed workers in every sector.

I would like to emphasize the fact that this bill is a good first step. It would provide workers with access to the special benefits that are currently available under the Employment Insurance Act.

However, I would urge us to take a much broader perspective and look at ways to cover all self-employed workers so that they will not have to worry if the market crashes or if there is an economic downturn, or if they lose their companies through no fault of their own. That way they will know there is an avenue available to them to have some income.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan for splitting her time, and thank all of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party for the work they have done over a great many years on this file regarding unemployment insurance.

I prefer to call it unemployment insurance rather than using the term for the premium collections of the employment insurance system, which finds itself in a dark hole under the current government as it was under the previous one which let $57 billion slip through its fingers. If a business lost $57 billion, it would be bankrupt, but it seems that we can spend it in other places and forget about it.

I would also like to be on the record as congratulating my good friend and colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. As my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan said, he has really led the charge in the House to try to make sure that we look at this whole system in its totality. Over the last number of sessions, we have been nibbling away at the edges of the unemployment system.

Basically, we are making this little change and that little change, not that this is a small change for those self-employed workers out there who are looking for compassionate care and maternity, parental and sick benefits. These are important things for those workers out there now, who at one time more than likely had that protection.

As my colleague said, all too many of them, in my riding as well, who once had well-paid manufacturing jobs are now forced into being entrepreneurs. I know that the pulp and paper makers in Newfoundland are faced with the same thing today. It is not because they necessarily want to be entrepreneurs. Eventually, what they have found is that there are no longer employers there to actually employ them, so they find themselves having to go out there.

What happens to them? The government's own document says that over 75% of the self-employed earned less than the maximum insurable earnings. Yet, if we were to look at those honourable workers in the pulp and paper industry up in the north of Newfoundland, the auto workers in southern Ontario and workers across this country, we would find that the bulk of those workers in the manufacturing sector made more than the maximum insurable earnings. They have now been forced into this so-called self-employment scheme. It seems to me it was driven at them when they least expected it and did not want it.

Here we have workers who indeed would have paid into the system for a long period of time, perhaps 20 or 25 years in some cases. We are seeing that type of worker who has worked that length of time forced out of work and forced into self-employment. One of the major training programs through the EI fund used to get a person to open up their own business. One of the major pushes seen inside of it is to go and do that.

For those who truly want to do that, it is a good thing. However, for those who feel forced and compelled to do it because they have no other options, that is a sad thing. It is a sad day in the sense that the government did not bring forward regular benefits for the self-employed, period, including all of these special benefits, as the EI system calls them, and put them together as a whole and made those workers whole like any other workers.

At the end of the day, they are workers. They work at home for the most part, but they are workers. People say that they own their own businesses, set their own standards and set their own times. Perhaps they do, but nonetheless, they work for a living. That is exactly what they do. Ultimately, we should have looked at that in its totality and protected it.

If we are going to review the system, let us review it in its totality and let us make it work as it once did. We have seen that it has been eroded. Unfortunately, it was beginning to be eroded under the Liberal government. I know that my colleagues down there will say, “Not I, not I. I was not here at the time”, but certainly, the Liberal Party eroded the system when it was in government. There was a $57 billion surplus. They could have covered every self-employed worker in this country for regular benefits and special benefits and it would not have made a dent in the $57 billion surplus. They chose not to.

Now, here we are at a moment in our history where the economy is in desperate straits and workers find themselves on the streets. Self-employed workers who thought that they were going to be able to build a business find themselves unemployed because their businesses have basically failed. We are now saying that maybe we need to build the model now.

I suppose some would say better late than never. The unfortunate part is all those souls who were lost between the time when we could have done it and had the money to do it and today when we are now thinking about doing it for special benefits.

How do we look at all those folks and say to them, “Sorry, we did not do it”?

I think that is a question all of us should ask ourselves. Truly we owed that debt to them and we should have paid it.

Now we need to get on with the work of making this happen. Yes, there are some flaws in the system when it comes to special benefits, and it happens in the regular scheme as well for those we call “employed persons” who work for an employer and have their deductions made at the moment. If they happen to be in an adoption situation they do not get the same time a natural birth mother gets. We do not have that at the moment. They get parental benefits but they do not get the additional 15 weeks.

The government should have included that. It could have used it as the springboard to actually give back to the other workers who worked through the regular employment system and paid regular employment insurance, to make sure that adoptive parents got the whole year off and collected unemployment insurance.

The government should have waived the two weeks. If one is sick, the two-week waiting period should be waived. The person is sick, for heaven's sake.

I can just imagine folks who contract H1N1 and have to be off work because the employer tells them to stay away. They will not get paid for two weeks. They are going to have to wait for those two weeks and they will get nothing for those two weeks.

It is all well and good to say one will get 15 weeks' sick time but the reality is they are going to lose the first two. If they are better, they will come back to work. So they are out the two weeks' pay.

I think we should have looked at that as being an opportunity if the government wished to do that. Hopefully we can look at that at committee, because, as some of my colleagues said earlier today, there are some things they would like to see done and some things they would like to see worked on.

When we look at the package, it is incomplete. It is a good first start. As others have said in the House, the government at least brought something forward. The Conservatives said that they promised it in the throne speech and they will take credit for it.

I am glad they heard the member for Acadie—Bathurst and perhaps they read his report before the throne speech and made sure they added it in.

In 1999 when the member did this report we made a pledge to workers to fix the system.

I worked in that system for a long time as an advocate for the unemployed, going back to 1990. I know the type of system that has been developed over the years and the hardships that they face trying to work through the system as it has changed over the years with the amendments to it, through the computerization of it and all of the other intricacies that we have seen over time. It did not work for workers and it should work for workers.

We need to get our heads around the fact that it is the unemployed that we are supposed to be protecting, not the system, not the collection of the money. Those are important to make it self-financing. However, it is about the system of protecting those who work and who, for whatever reasons, find themselves out of work whether because of sickness or because they are at that joyous moment in their life when have decided to have children and indeed they have them, and they want to be with their youngster, as someone said earlier, to hear the first voice, to hear that first word, to see that first step. All of us who have had the great joy of having children know what great occasions those are.

I appreciate the fact that we have changed the system from the days when my wife and I were graced with twins 27 years ago and she got only 15 weeks of maternity benefits. There were no parental benefits in those days. We have moved forward. That is a good thing.

However we have far to go. We could be doing it now. That is the sadness I see here today. Yes, there is a good piece here to work with, but the sadness is how much further we have to go. The fact is the alarm bell was rung 10 years ago by New Democrats when that report was written by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, and we needed to do it then.

Here we are 10 years later and we are still moving along ever so slowly. That is the great sadness I find with the changes in the bill.

I hope my colleagues are absolutely sincere and genuine in what I am hearing them say today, which is that they believe the system needs to be changed in a comprehensive way. I believe that is ultimately what they said.

If they did say that, I hope we will all be working in unison so eventually we will be making a system that truly works for the unemployed, because it is theirs. It belongs to them. They paid for it. It does not belong to the House. It belongs to the workers of this country and they ought to have what they have demanded of us which is a system that works for all of them under which they are all treated equally.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague mentioning the situation in Newfoundland and Labrador, certainly when it comes to Abitibi.

Would he illustrate why, with this fundamental legislation, and other legislation, such Bill C-50, it is important to do something else in addition? A lot of that has to focus on upfront benefits, such as less hours and the two-week waiting period about which he spoke so passionately. I agree this should be considered. However, in this situation, the government has done all of it on the back end and it has done it piecemeal over the past year and a half. Now all of a sudden it is in a situation where it is forced into providing benefits all in the back end, nothing upfront.

Could the member illustrate, and perhaps he can allude to the study that was done by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, and talk about what needs to be done with regard to EI legislation on the front end of enabling people to find additional income?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. We have a gaping hole in the system. We can point fingers at folks and say that they created this hole and we have to fix it, but I will not comment on that now. However, the hole is there, and we recognize it. Congratulations to all who have recognized that. Now, let us stop trying to paper it over. Let us stop taking those little sticky notes one by one and slapping them up against that hole. Let us fix the hole.

We all understand there is a hole in the system, so let us come together, as a minority Parliament, and lets fix it. That is what it is about, working together in unison, understanding what is wrong with the system, understanding the hardship that Canadians are facing when they are unemployed and when they are sick. We know what it will take to fix it, so let us do that in the spirit of co-operation. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder and tell them that we understand their hardship, that we understand what we need to do, and let us simply do it.

A comprehensive review would fix the hole. Papering it over will only mean the hole will come back because each bit of paper will finally fall off that hole.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Welland. I know he has spent a lifetime in the service of helping working people of all types, and I view the bill before us today to be a further step in that regard.

The most positive thing about the bill is revealed when we focus on what it would actually do. The bill would allow self-employed people to take time off for maternity, to take time off for parental duties, to take time from the business when they are sick and to take time off for compassionate leave, which would allow them to look after a critically ill family member. These are important social issues in our country that I think all of us should join together and support. Just because people are self-employed does not mean they do not have a right or a need to engage in these kinds of activities.

Would my hon. colleague focus on the specific benefits that the bill would provide for people, and is that important to the people in his riding and to Canadians across the country?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that in Welland these are absolutely important benefits. When this is passed, and hopefully it will, the fact that one can get compassionate benefits, can access sick benefits and can get parental and maternity benefits is hugely important to those folks who never before were able to get them.

My colleague from Scarborough Centre at one point talked about the fact that they could buy insurance, and I appreciate that. However, quite often individual entrepreneurs working in the home are unable to afford insurance premiums to insure themselves in case they get sick, and a lot of women who become self-employed work from their own houses. Therefore, what do they do when they get sick?

As we know, if they happen to have young children, mothers get sick more often than anyone else because young kids bring everything under the sun home. That is the nature of being a youngster. They go to school and everybody else shares. They share the hat, they share a cold, they share a cough. I see my hon. member has a cold and hopefully he will not share that with the rest us.

At the end of the day, that is what happens. We need to ensure they get the benefits. They deserve to have those benefits. They have a right. We ought to ensure it happens.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

November 5, 2009

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the schedule to this letter on the 5th day of November 2009, at 4:19 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits—Chapter 30.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Person with Disabilities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor ConservativeMinister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you would find unanimous consent to adopt the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding Standing Order 33(2), government orders shall conclude today at 5:30 p.m.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I further ask that you see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from September 30 consideration of the motion.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this motion. I will, for the record, read the motion since I am the first to speak this afternoon. It states:

That, in the opinion of the House, for greater certainty, the government should take steps to ensure that counselling a person to commit suicide or aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide is an offence under section 241 of the Criminal Code, regardless of the means used to counsel or aid or abet including via telecommunications, the Internet or a computer system.

This area is complex and there would be issues in prosecuting such an offence and obtaining a conviction. However, from a public policy point of view, I am prepared to support the motion and vote in favour of it. As is contained within the motion, it is now part of the Criminal Code, pursuant to section 241, but the motion asks for that particular section to be further clarified.

Suicide is a difficult issue to deal with and I do not think anyone who does not come from a family that has experienced it really cannot imagine the difficulty that would ensue. The causes and contributing factors are numerous and I suggest is ill understood by society as a whole. Each person is unique. There is no single reason and the circumstances are extremely complex.

In any situation where individual residents of Canada are contemplating such an act, I suggest they need assistance but not with engaging in the act itself. That is the underlying purpose of section 241 of the Criminal Code.

I would also suggest that mental health issues are predominant factors. We are talking about an area of health care that is probably the least understood of known illnesses. Though I believe that as a society we know more now than we did 10 or 15 years ago, we have an obligation to become more aware, knowledgeable, responsive and perceptive.

I support zero tolerance on this issue. We should not in any way get on the slippery slope. As a society, we should send a very clear message that any action contemplated or envisaged in this motion by section 241 of the Criminal Code should clearly not in any way be sanctioned by society. In fact, any action that aids, abets or counsels any person in the act of suicide should be subject to criminal sanctions.

I understand the mover has been prompted by the Nadia Kajouji case. I have read the media reports on that case. It is extremely disturbing. A lot of people ask why charges were not laid. I do not know all the facts or why charges were not laid. Obviously there were some interjurisdictional issues that had to be dealt with and it appeared to me maybe some mental health issues with the person who committed the alleged offence.

Most states have similar legislation in the United States, although my research found that prosecutions are extremely rare. It is not an easy area to prosecute, but that does not allow us as parliamentarians or makers of the law to shy away from this issue. In fact, the opposite I suggest is true.

The present section 241 reads:

Every one who

(a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or

(b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide,

whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

It is there, but this motion would broaden it. It would go into electronic communications, the Internet, and so on.

We as members of this House should support the motion and let it proceed for further study. If there is any way that section 241 can be enhanced or strengthened to give police and prosecutors more tools to go after anyone who would commit such an act, then I stand here today in support of it.

My remarks are going to be fairly limited. I just went over what I think of this particular motion. It is something that the House should support. From a public policy point of view, it makes sense. It is complex. It is a little complicated. When we get into anything with the Internet and criminal prosecutions, it can become complicated. We are not into a simple matter but, on the other hand, it is not an issue we should shy away from.

For those reasons, I will be supporting the motion when it comes to a vote.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I will begin my comments by thanking the member for Kitchener—Conestoga for raising this important issue.

As the previous speaker has mentioned, we have a case here where there are provisions within the Criminal Code, but as we have seen, technologies change. We have also seen the need to adapt our laws to conform to the changes we have seen in technologies.

I think that what we see here is an attempt to address clearly what is an area in the law where we need to buttress the law to acknowledge that there are changes within our society that have to do with technological advances that have affected our social outcomes.

I am going to spend some time commenting on someone who has already been mentioned by the previous speaker and who is the motivating factor for this law. The person who I will be referring to is Nadia Kajouji. Sadly, Nadia took her life at the young age of 18. She was a person who was attending Carleton University, which is in my riding. Her case seized this community.

When she went missing, many of us were seized with the fact that she had not been found. There was a search for her. People searched for her for about 40 days. This involved, of course, her parents and family. What we found was her body. It washed up on the shores of the Rideau River, in fact, just a block from where I live.

If we go to the end of Clegg Street in old Ottawa East, not far from here, and go to where the street and river meet, today we can see a memorial to Nadia. It is a memorial that people have gone to, friends and family, to write personal notes and reflections about Nadia, about their love for Nadia ,and their concerns about her life being taken too early.

Nadia's case and her situation was one which I think we should all pay attention to. Nadia was 18 years old. She was a young university student. She was deeply isolated, not to mention the fact that she had issues of depression. She was deeply isolated in a context where she was surrounded by people, but she was not able to have people around her that she felt comfortable with and trusted to reach out to at the time.

What this motion is trying to address is how people who are vulnerable can be protected from people who are manipulative. What we found, after her body was found, was that Nadia had committed suicide. However, she had been counselled to do so by someone who was pretending to be a nurse, a woman, online, who had counselled Nadia to take her life.

After the investigation ensued, it was learned that the person who was supposedly a woman nurse online turned out to be an impostor, and he was a male. He had taken advantage of Nadia's vulnerability, and it was not the first time.

From the testimonies we have been able to read, and there have been media reports, Nadia had gone through a lot. She was depressed, as I mentioned. She had some really difficult issues. She had not been able to find the resources and support that someone at her age with her needs was in need of, but she did reach out, as many young people do, online to find some help, some support.

Sadly, she found it in someone who was manipulative and had something else in mind, and ultimately it cost her her life.

The approach of the motion is to acknowledge the fact that these are real issues that are affecting people. We know that many young people are deeply isolated, and that the only way they seem able to relate or to find support is through that virtual world that has been constructed. We also note that many people use that forum, that medium, to manipulate.

Throughout Nadia's struggle with her depression, it should also be noted that it was difficult for her family to know. There are other issues around her case that need to be dealt with as well, and having talked to Nadia's brother Mark, there is more to be done particularly for young people on university campuses who find themselves away from home, young, isolated and troubled by many different issues.

It was clear that when Nadia was trying to reach out, the use of the Internet and reaching out to people who are not connected to her directly is something that we need to understand a little better.

The person who is alleged to have instructed her to take her life, it was noted, was known to have done this before. The gentleman is 47 years old. He was presenting himself as Cami D online. He was posing as a young woman. He formed a suicide pact with Nadia. Allegedly this happened before with this particular person.

There was a disciplinary record of this person as a nurse. Notwithstanding that, this person was allowed to continue practising nursing in Minnesota for more than a decade and a half after being disciplined. It was also alleged that this person was abusing patients. There was clearly a pattern here and there was much concern around those with whom he had contact about his stability. This person clearly had a record. Unfortunately, he ended up being the person with whom Nadia ended up connecting.

This is a complex issue. We need to understand better how technologies are being used, who is using them, and to what end. We will see here an attempt to try to update the Criminal Code.

In the case of Nadia, this particular person has not been charged. I do not know how Nadia's family is coping with that. I know that they are strong. I know that they are working together and supporting each other, but if a parent had evidence that someone counselled his or her daughter to take her life and that there were no consequences for that person, having had a pattern of doing this before, that parent would want to see something done.

As I have mentioned, I have talked with the family and I have talked to Mark. He is not interested in vengeance. He is not interested in revenge. However, he is interested in justice and he is interested in making sure that Nadia's life was not in vain. I think the House and this Parliament can deal with part of that equation. We should look at what happened, vis-à-vis Nadia's life, the taking of her life, and how it ended up that way. We should take a look at the Criminal Code, how it relates to technology, and how it relates to people who are counselling others to take their lives.

I will finish by saying that it is in those of us who are left to carry on life that we must remember those who have passed, and it is in seeking justice that those who have been laid to rest will be able to rest in peace. I hope that we see fit to make amendments to the Criminal Code to make sure that happens for Nadia and her family.