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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

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to add my support to the motion presented by my friend and colleague, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. It deals with a very serious issue that is every parent's worry, and should anything happen, their worst nightmare: the loss of a child, particularly if it is as a victim to a predator, and in the case of this motion, an Internet predator.

As the father of five children from six to 20 years of age, I can say that this is a very real concern. As responsible parents, we do everything in our power to protect our children from the dangers of the world in which we live. In the early years when our children are young, while we must remain vigilant, the task of ensuring the safety of our children is relatively straightforward.

We are able to set limits on the time of day our children are outside, where they play, who their friends are and with whom they spend time. We are able to limit their access to technology such as the Internet and we are able to filter out much of what might harm our children.

However, as our children grow older into youth and young adulthood, they become more independent. They travel further from home and they have access to all types of technology. It is important to note, however, that even though our children are older, they are still vulnerable, which is why as parents we still worry.

One major concern has to do with Internet usage. This technology has become an essential tool in today's society. Although the Internet offers us new opportunities in the areas of information, education, entertainment and communication, it also provides some degree of anonymity to people who want to harm our children.

Thanks to the Internet, our children can have conversations with people far, far away, including strangers who might have very dubious intentions, despite the fact that our children are physically at home or somewhere thought to be safe.

As responsible parents, my wife and I always try to carefully supervise our children's use of the Internet, but we also recognize that it is not always easy. In many families, both parents work, so they cannot possibly always be at home when their children go on the Internet.

In many cases, children even have computers in their bedrooms, and as we have seen recently, when Internet predators come along, the consequences can be devastating.

I am sure all members here will recall the tragic death of Nadia Kajouji, a young student of 18, who took her own life here in Ottawa after a man from Minnesota encouraged her over the Internet to commit suicide. It was a terrible act that sounded the alarm and worried parents across Canada.

As parents, we had already seen the risks posed by online sexual predators, and Parliament moved ahead by adopting tougher laws to outlaw the luring of children over the Internet. It is also important to note that, in order to better protect our children against sexual predators, our Conservative government moved ahead by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 years of age to 16 years of age.

I am glad that fellow members of Parliament realized the importance of protecting our children and that we worked together to move forward with better legislation to protect them, but there is still a lot more to do. It is becoming much more apparent to Canadians that dangerous people often use the Internet to prey on our innocent and vulnerable youth.

Our youth, who during a difficult time in their lives might typically turn to people they love and trust for support, sometimes seek the anonymity of the Internet and confide in people who do not really know them. The grave concern is that this same anonymity that hides their own identity also hides the identity of dangerous manipulators who seek to take advantage of them and the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.

In this one case I mentioned, the person who allegedly encouraged Ms. Kajouji to commit suicide was actually a man in his 40s, even though he claimed to be a woman of the same age. This individual is said to have had the morbid fantasy of seeing this poor young woman kill herself online for his pleasure and for the entire world to see.

Nadia Kajouji was only 18. She had just started her studies at Carleton University and had her whole life ahead of her. However, despite her good marks and large circle of friends in her hometown of Brampton, Nadia suffered from a serious illness, as do many people, with symptoms that were not apparent to her family and friends. She suffered from depression, a dangerous condition that can lead to suicide, the second leading cause of death in young adults in Canada.

I had the opportunity to meet with her mother, Deborah, here in Parliament and believe me, it was not easy for her to hear the facts because most parents do not expect it. Children do not always admit to their parents that they are depressed.

Like many victims of depression, Nadia turned to the Internet for support, for advice, for interaction with people who were in the same situation in which she found herself. In other words, she turned to the Internet looking for help. Unfortunately, those looking for help are often those who are the most vulnerable to being taken advantage of. The sad reality is that there are a number of predators with sinister motives who seek out those who are vulnerable. In this case, a man named William Melchert-Dinkel, living almost 2,000 kilometres away, is said to have manipulated her emotions over the Internet, encouraged her to commit suicide, and most unfortunately, her body was found in the Rideau River shortly afterwards.

Our law is very clear with respect to aiding, counselling or encouraging someone to commit suicide. It is illegal and can be punishable with jail time. However, the laws have been on the books long before use of the Internet became so widespread and predators need to know that there are laws that apply very much to them.

Our problem is that the current law, as it is written, makes no reference to acts committed over the Internet. For this reason, I am proud to support the motion of the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, which would amend section 241 of the Criminal Code to better reflect today's reality.

We must do more to protect our children against the dangers lurking on the Internet. Many believe that the law of the land does not apply to the Internet because it is a global network that has no borders. For that reason it is important that we provide clarification by including, in section 241 of the Criminal Code, the Internet and other electronic means as prohibited means of encouraging suicide.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues for their support of Motion No. 388.

I appreciate the opportunity to address this crucial issue of Internet predators. These individuals presume to be able to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, all the while carrying out their criminal activities, intent upon coaxing vulnerable youth to throw away the incredible potential that life holds for them.

The current Criminal Code of Canada, in section 241, does make it illegal to counsel someone to commit suicide and provides penalties of up to 14 years of imprisonment for someone convicted of the same. However, the current Criminal Code does not explicitly state that a person who commits an offence under section 241 by means of telecommunications, the Internet or a computer system is also guilty of an offence under that section.

Youth suicide is a troubling matter. Here in Canada it is the second highest cause of death for youth aged 10 to 24. Each year, on average, 294 Canadian youth die from suicide. Motion No. 388 will not stop all youth suicide, nor is it the only initiative that government should consider.

In my research surrounding Motion No. 388, thankfully I have become aware of many great initiatives that seek to give positive help, hope and encouragement to those who struggle. Suicide prevention councils and websites such as YLC, Your Life Counts, are doing great work to help our youth, but they need more resources to address this pressing need.

We have received over 11,000 signatures from Canadians who are asking for changes to our law and for resources to help vulnerable youth. I received a letter from a secondary school in Brampton, which said:

Over 400 members of our student body signed the petition. The number of signatures shows that your fight for those who are unable to speak for themselves is highly supported by the school community.

Our youth are asking us to act.

The challenges of moving into adulthood are immense. During these times, our youth need positive messages of hope and encouragement, not destructive messages by someone lurking with evil intent.

Over a year and a half ago, Nadia Kajouji, a young woman studying at Carleton University right here in Ottawa, sadly ended her life at the encouragement of an Internet predator. The man, who impersonated a young woman in order to deceive Nadia, has admitted to U.S. police that he had used the Internet to coax at least five different people to commit suicide.

A premeditated act with criminal intent is responsible for cutting short the life of a young woman who had begun her studies to pursue a career in law and politics. She never achieved her goals. I have met her mother, her father and her brother, and they are devastated.

Stories like this make it necessary to clarify our laws in order to remove any doubt surrounding the issue of counselling to commit suicide. In our Internet age, we have an obligation to protect vulnerable youth.

Some members of this House and some legal professionals believe that our existing laws already make this behaviour a crime. I would like to believe they are correct, but the predator who drove Nadia to her death remains free without charges. If this crime is already covered under section 241 of Canada's Criminal Code, why have no charges been laid?

There are far too many unanswered questions. There are conflicting reports as to why no charges have been laid. It is my belief that if section 241 explicitly stated that suicide counselling includes the use of the Internet, there would not have been such a long period of inaction and uncertainty on the part of our law enforcement agencies.

Some members of this House are concerned that by adding the words “including via telecommunications, the Internet or a computer system”, we may be inadvertently excluding other methods of suicide counselling. If for greater clarity we add certain current technologies, such as the Internet, will that automatically exclude others? That is a fair question.

These additions that I am suggesting are not meant to be an exhaustive list. Other jurisdictions, such as Australia and a number of the United States, have found ways to avoid that pitfall. By including words such as “including but not limited to”, we could make it clear that this motion does not intend to provide an exhaustive list that may inadvertently exclude other methods.

The uncertainty in the current Criminal Code may be the cause for any hesitation on the part of our law enforcement agencies. Therefore, this clarification is needed.

As Nadia's grieving mother noted:

as long as there are predators who believe the Internet is some kind of exclusive sanctuary and as long as there are police officers who believe, for some unwritten reason, that the Internet is not governed by our existing laws, this clarification is very much needed.

I call upon all members to join me in support of Motion No. 388 in order to provide the protection that our youth deserve.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The time provided for debate on this matter has expired.

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

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 18, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask that you seek unanimous consent of the House to see the clock at 6:30 p.m.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Is it agreed?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am rising on a question that I raised in the House on June 3 of this year with respect to employment insurance. It was about the fact that the Catalyst Crofton pulp mill was laying off workers and it was in the context of a lot of other forestry sector workers that were being impacted. Specifically, I indicated that there would be no severance package for Catalyst workers and, instead, the employer was negotiating a plan to top up EI benefits, as had been done in Sudbury. I asked the minister to explain whether these sub-plans would trigger clawbacks. It is ironic that I am now raising this question again in the House.

The answer I got from the minister did not indicate what the government would be doing about the clawbacks for these laid-off workers. Since that time things have not been a lot better in the forestry sector, at least in my riding and other parts of British Columbia.

I recently received a letter from the Catalyst - Timberwest Retired Salaried Employees Association indicating that not only did some of them lose their jobs through layoffs, but some of them ended up taking retirement and now their pensions are under threat. As well, they are not getting full entitlement to employment insurance. In its letter of October 26, the association indicated:

Currently both the underfunding of the pension plan and the non-pension benefits are considered unsecured debt, and has one of the lowest claims on funds.

In a letter of October 28, one of the workers said:

I am a retiree of a forestry company in British Columbia. The quarterly financial and economic reports of our Company indicate that it is in a survival mode in an industry that no one is predicting will turn around soon. I am very concerned that the company will seek CCAA or Bankruptcy protection while my pension fund is between 25% and 30% underfunded.

If this occurs, I anticipate losing 25 to 30% of my pension and all of my medical benefits earned while I was working.

I specifically raised the point around employment insurance, but what is becoming increasingly clear is not only do workers not get adequate employment insurance when they are in a temporary layoff, but when they are in receipt of company pensions that they expected would support them for their retirement years, they are also under threat in terms of the pension.

Given the circumstances that many workers in forestry and manufacturing in this country are facing with continuing lack of productivity in the workplace and the uncertainty surrounding economic recovery, I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary if the government is entertaining some additional changes to the employment insurance legislation.

We welcome some of the changes that we have seen come forward, certainly, the additional weeks in Bill C-50, and we welcome what is happening with Bill C-56 with respect to employment insurance for self-employed workers in particular categories, but that is simply not enough.

I want to point to some of the things that New Democrats have requested: a reduction in the number of hours that are required to qualify for employment insurance; an increase in the number of weeks; some standardization across this country in the number of weeks to qualify; and an increase in the benefit rate. We know that for many workers the current benefit rate simply does not reflect the cost of living and the reality in many people's communities.

When it comes to the unemployment rate, I have mentioned a number of times in this House that we have had no movement from the government to change it, but the differential rates in calculating benefit rates simply disadvantage communities like mine.

Is the government entertaining future changes to the Employment Insurance Act that would reflect the needs in our communities?

5:55 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, there is no question this member raised a very technical point during her original question; however, today she speaks more generally.

As she may well know, we have Bill C-50 that would extend benefits by 5 to 20 weeks, which I understand has passed through the Senate and is receiving royal assent, or has. There is Bill C-56 for the self-employed, five extra weeks of benefits across the board, and work-sharing programs. Those are all significant improvements and there is the freezing of the EI rate.

Specifically to the question she raised and in dealing with the situation described especially in her original comments, HRSDC and Service Canada take many steps to help employers and Canadian workers. Whenever there is a threat of a company facing mass layoffs, Service Canada immediately moves in to work with the company, with the employees and with the union, if there is one, to try to reach an agreement that will help all of them get through difficult times.

It may be through work-sharing, a program we have enhanced for Canadians. It may be advising them of potential benefits, including the option for them to continue with long-term work studies so they can upgrade their skills. During this difficult time, the supplemental unemployment benefit program, or SUB as it is known, allows employers to provide top-up payments to claimants who are receiving EI benefits during a period of temporary unemployment, training or illness.

I should explain that one of the main objectives of the SUB program is to stabilize an employer's workforce. The reasoning is that workers will be more inclined to return to work when they are recalled. Moreover, if the claimants do return to their old workplace, they will be avoiding the need to go through the retraining process. So it is a win-win situation for everyone. The program is also designed to mitigate the adverse financial impacts that communities would suffer when massive temporary layoffs occur.

Please be assured that in the event of a temporary layoff, the payments under such plans are not deducted from the claimant's EI benefits nor are the payments during the waiting period. If the layoff is permanent, any employer payments to the claimant to top-up EI benefits would not be considered SUB payments.

The difference is that the workers will not be returning to work for that employer. In such a situation, the employers top-up payments to the EI benefits would be classified as earnings. As such, these earnings would be deducted from the EI benefits that were paid.

I should stress, however, that as a result of the working while on claim pilot project, claimants can earn up to 40% of their EI benefit rate before any deductions are made. This went into force December 2008. I would like to clarify that there is a short time during the mandatory two-week waiting period when there is no allowable amount of earnings. Any earnings during this period are deducted dollar for dollar.

This is the situation in the matter referred to by my colleague in her original question, and is somewhat technical in nature. As members can see, we are doing whatever possible whenever we can to ensure that the claimants do not endure unnecessary hardship. Where possible we try to work with them to make the situation better.

6 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for the clarification on the SUB program because he is absolutely correct, it is very technical in nature.

We were having some concerns from the employees from Catalyst because we simply were not able to get clarification at the local level. The employees at the local level are very good to work for, but this was an usual situation.

I want to ask the parliamentary secretary, once again, are there future plans that he is aware of to make some modifications to the employment insurance system? Again, we have many workers who continue to be laid off, many workers who are now running out of employment insurance and are not eligible for some of the other programs.

Again, in my area, workers are disadvantaged because our unemployment rate is actually tied to the Vancouver labour market. The Vancouver labour market simply does not reflect the realities on Vancouver Island. We would welcome some other changes that looked at some balancing out of the unemployment rates, so that people actually can collect benefits that are reflective of the labour market in their region.

6 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, obviously we are doing whatever we can to ensure that we can help those who are affected in their workplace. We have done that with skills training and upgrading with $1.5 billion, on top of $2.5 billion. We froze EI premiums that will in itself insert about $10 billion into the economy. Wherever the unemployment rate goes higher, it takes less weeks to qualify for longer benefits.

As I mentioned, Bill C-50 has passed. It adds 5 to 20 weeks of benefits as a bridge to the career assistance plan program. The self-employed will be able to enter the program. There is the five extra weeks we have added across the board, and we have extended the work-sharing program. We have made it more flexible.

We are always monitoring what is happening in the economy. We have been reacting to it as we felt appropriate and reasonable. We will continue to monitor the situation. We will see where it goes from there.

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, in the June 5 issue of Le Droit, Jacques Lyrette, vice-president of Développement économique-CLD Gatineau and a former assistant deputy minister in the federal public service who is now a management consultant, said something that is very true: “While the federal government is pouring millions of dollars into the city of Ottawa, its neighbour, Gatineau, is getting nothing but crumbs.”

Mr. Lyrette gave specific examples of structural investments the federal government had made in Ottawa in June 2009. It gave $50 million to the Ottawa Congress Centre, $17 million to La Cité collégiale, $30 million to the University of Ottawa, $26 million to Carleton University and $150 million for a new green building in downtown Ottawa, but Gatineau got nothing.

The last federal structural investment in Gatineau dates back to 1989. It was the Museum of Civilization, Mr. Lyrette points out. The $50 billion deficit announced by the federal finance minister could become an $80 billion to $85 billion hole. Mr. Lyrette goes on to say, “And then there won't be any more money, because that ship will have sailed. That is what happened in the 1990s with the Conservative government. So what are the current members for Pontiac and Hull—Aylmer doing?”

The Bloc Québécois agrees with Mr. Lyrette's comments. When I asked the Conservative government a question, the minister responsible for the Outaouais refused to acknowledge this situation.

On June 5, I asked the government the following question:

The Conservatives promised Gatineau the earth. When will they have the courage to keep their promise and rebalance the amounts of money invested on both sides of the Ottawa River?

[F]or 23 years, we have been waiting for the Science and Technology Museum in Gatineau. For 13 years, we have been waiting for phase II of the [Archives] in Gatineau. There are no research centres in Gatineau, but there are 27 in Ottawa. In short, they always make big promises, but they do not keep them.

Conservatives and Liberals: same inaction.

When will the government take real action for Gatineau?

The minister responsible for the Outaouais has not provided any real answers. He claimed to be “somewhat surprised” by Mr. Lyrette's comments.

Mr. Lyrette said that “We need more tourism and leisure infrastructure to create an environment that attracts new businesses. That is the basic requirement, but it is not enough. What we need are museums and research laboratories. Museums attract tourists, keep our shops and restaurants in business, and encourage people to experience our region. Laboratories attract researchers and academics, particularly if they are associated with a university.”

Mr. Lyrette also said, as the Bloc Québécois pointed out, that the Gatineau Language Technologies Research Centre, the LTRC, is not part of the National Research Council's network. The LTRC does not receive ongoing funding from the NRC.

Mr. Lyrette did not put much stock in the Conservatives' commitment to move 6,200 federal employees to Gatineau in 2011 as part of the 25:75 agreement. That deadline has already been pushed back to 2012.

6:05 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the question raised by the member for Gatineau regarding the infrastructure generally in Quebec.

It gives me the opportunity to remind the House that Canada's economic action plan is working in every part of the country, not just where the member stated, but in every member's riding across the country, and Quebec as well. We are doing that by establishing strong partnerships with provinces and municipalities across the country, including the Government of Quebec. Together we have been able to achieve real results.

I would like to refer to some of those results and some of the major projects we have supported in Quebec in the short period of time we have been in government. For instance, there will be $40 million for le Quartier des spectacles de Montréal, $33.7 million for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and $13 million for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and it continues.

In member's own constituency, our government, together with the Government of Quebec, is supporting road construction, which is so vital and important to all citizens, especially in a congested area such as in the Outaouais region. This we are doing through the Outaouais road agreement. This agreement is funding projects like the boulevard des Allumettières in Gatineau and the extension of Highway 5.

Together with the province of Quebec, we will see a total investment of over $630 million in the municipalities under 100,000 residents and over $600 million in Quebec's nine largest cities to support the people there.

In recent months, under this program, funding has been committed to 125 projects across the province. Our government has also launched a $700 million fund to repair and replace drinking water and waste water pipes in municipalities across the province of Quebec as well. That is because waste water and water itself is very important to the people of Canada and is a right they deserve to have. I am happy to also tell the House that 101 Quebec municipalities have benefited from funding under this particular program.

We are also moving quickly to commit funding under the infrastructure stimulus fund. To date, more than $815 million in joint funding has been announced, representing an important investment to over 230 projects in Quebec communities, which will certainly help the people of Quebec. They include, specifically: in the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, Autoroute 15, $11,350,000; in the riding of Jeanne-Le Ber, projet d'agrandissement de la Maison Saint-Gabriel, $2.1 million; and in the riding of Louis-Hébert, another $7 million. It goes on and on.

The people of Quebec are benefiting from this Conservative government giving them real and honest results where they need it: drinking water, waste water treatment and roads.

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, I would point out to my colleague that the Boulevard des Allumettières and Highway 50 are not in the riding of Gatineau. He should review his geography and his Quebec geopolitics.

I would also add that the federal government is still not awarding contracts in Gatineau and Ottawa fairly. In 2008, the federal government awarded goods and services contracts worth $3 billion to suppliers in the national capital region: 1.4% in Gatineau and 98.6% in Ottawa, or $38 million in Gatineau and $2.962 billion in Ottawa. In 2005, Gatineau got just 0.9% of the contracts. In 2006, it got 1.8% of the contracts, and in 2007, just 2.1%.

People in Gatineau pay just as much federal income tax as people in Ottawa. The government needs to be fair and give Gatineau its due. This is an Ottawa versus Gatineau issue.

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I cannot accept the proposition put forward by my friend. His leader has received funding in his riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie of $685,000 for le Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui.

Further, our government has for every community in Quebec and every community across Canada accelerated the existing building Canada fund. In fact, the riding of Laval has received $15.8 million for a multipurpose sports and cultural complex. We have accelerated the existing building Canada fund and helped more projects move forward. The riding of Trois-Rivières amphitheatre received $13.2 million and the riding of Québec, Augustinian Monastery Museum, another $15 million.

How they have really benefited is through the gas tax fund. We have doubled the funding and we have accelerated it.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:15 p.m.)