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House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. It being 5:43 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I am also pleased to be seconded by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who worked very hard in the previous Parliament to have a similar bill passed. I would like to quickly read the summary of Bill C-386.

The purpose of this enactment is to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out. It extends the obligation to maintain essential services.

The enactment also provides for the imposition of a fine for an offence.

The bill would ensure that all workers who are fortunate enough to work in Quebec are subject to the same legislation, since replacement workers are prohibited in Quebec. I would like to provide a quick background on anti-scab legislation.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of all those who contribute to Quebec society on a daily basis is to show true respect for their rights, by preventing the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout. Therefore, it is imperative that workers governed by federal labour legislation have the same rights as those governed by Quebec legislation, including a true right to strike.

The Canada Labour Code should be amended and brought into line with the Quebec labour code, so as to ban the use of replacement workers, or scabs, once and for all. Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power, and would keep tension on the picket lines to a minimum. That is the objective of Bill C-386, which would prohibit the hiring of replacement workers.

Unlike in Quebec, which has prohibited replacement workers since 1977, there is currently nothing in the Canada Labour Code that clearly and specifically prohibits the use of replacement workers.

Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but only where an employer uses replacement workers for the purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity. That prohibition is very weak, because to be entitled to use replacement workers, an employer need only continue to recognize the union in place and continue bargaining to demonstrate its good faith. As we see, it is very easy for employers to have access to replacement workers.

A firm prohibition, which is what Bill C-386 proposes, is essential, however, for civilized bargaining to take place during a labour dispute and to promote industrial peace, and is also the cornerstone for establishing an equitable balance of power between employers and employees.

Workers in industries that are governed by the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications—workers in Internet businesses, cable companies and cell phone companies—and banks, ports, bridges, airports or Canada Post, who make up about 8% of the Quebec labour force, are therefore at a disadvantage when they have to bargain with their employer, and as a result they get dragged into longer strikes.

According to figures from the Quebec Ministère du Travail, for instance, Quebec workers whose employer is federally regulated are practically always overrepresented in the number of days of work lost. While they account for just under 8% of Quebec’s labour force, they experienced 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and 22.6% of the person-days lost in 2003. In fact, a peak was reached in 2002. While 7.3% of Quebec workers were employed in federally regulated organizations, they accounted for 48% of days of work lost because of labour disputes.

In a nutshell, there were, on average, two and a half times more person-days lost in the last decade in labour disputes in Quebec involving workers governed by the Canada Labour Code than those workers represent in demographic weight. Obviously, this translates into longer and more violent disputes when the employer is able to hire strikebreakers.

Remember the three-month dispute at Sécur, the Vidéotron dispute that lasted over 10 months and involved acts of sabotage, and the dispute at the Cargill grain elevator in Baie-Comeau that ended in 2003 after a three-year lockout. And let us not forget the unionized workers at Radio-Nord Communications, employees of the three Abitibi television stations, TVA, TQS and Radio-Canada, and the two radio stations in northwestern Quebec, who were on strike for over 20 months.

The Conservative government stated its opposition at the outset, and having no genuine arguments, retreated behind apocalyptic scenarios that have nothing to do with reality. Quebec has had legislation prohibiting replacement workers for 30 years, and there have been no catastrophes.

In spite of Conservative opposition, the Bloc Québécois was able to have Bill C-257 passed on second reading, and got it as far as the report stage. That was the first time an anti-strikebreaker bill had made it that far. The Liberals, who had supported the bill in principle on second reading, ultimately did an about-face and said the bill would not have guaranteed that essential services would be maintained.

The Canada Labour Code already includes provisions that require both the employer and unionized employees to continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. The Conservative government, and now the Liberal Party, have done their best to ignore these provisions.

In the March 21, 2007, vote on Bill C-257, during the last Parliament, the Conservatives and the Liberals, with the exception of some Liberal members from Quebec, joined forces to defeat the bill by a vote of 177 to 122. It is important to remember that this Minister of Labour, the same one who fiercely condemned the Bloc Québécois bill and made all kinds of irrational arguments, supported a bill to prohibit replacement workers in 1990. The Liberals tried to avoid completely losing face by introducing a bill similar to the one drafted by the Bloc Québécois. There was not enough time to vote on that bill before the election was called.

I want everyone to understand that we are making a direct connection between the Conservatives' opposition to anti-scab legislation and special bills because the right to negotiate is a basic right. However, Quebeckers also believe that the right to balanced bargaining power is a basic right.

I am pleased to be discussing Bill C-386 here in the House. The Speaker recently received a letter dated December 1 from the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications. This association, Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, wrote to the Speaker. It is worth hearing what they had to say. The association wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons to recommend that he vote against Bill C-386. This is a group of employers under federal jurisdiction. Apparently, it is an organization that strongly opposes the rights currently in force in Quebec. I will list some of the members: Air Canada, WestJet, VIA Rail, Canada Post, Fedex, Iron Ore, NAV CANADA, Purolator, Telus, Canadian Pacific, the Airports Association and Bell Canada.

The association does not include banks, which have employees under federal jurisdiction, but they have their own association. It is very interesting to read what the association wrote to the Speaker of the House to convince him to vote against the bill. I will read it in English.

They believe it is bad public policy because it would shift the balance of power in collective bargaining overwhelmingly in favour of the unions.

That is like saying that it is the employers who hold the power right now, and if this bill were ever introduced, it would shift the power to unions. This is despite the fact that the bill has evolved. Essential services have been added. Despite the fact that this works very well in Quebec, there is always this direct opposition from employers. This is important.

They thought it would be good to form an association, the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, to address this. Their letter indicates that 14 anti-scab bills have been introduced since 2000, and they are quite proud that none of those bills has passed.

In the end, they always win. It is clear in their correspondence, and in 1977 Quebec passed anti-scab legislation to ensure some degree of balance.

So employers form an association and send letters to say that if this ever changes, the unions will have all the power. This means that right now, it is the employers that have all the power. But anti-scab legislation, legislation that would prohibit replacement workers and ensure that essential services would be maintained, is a form of balance. This has definitely been proven in Quebec. Once again, it is a difficult situation. When 92% of unionized employees in a nation like Quebec are covered by anti-scab legislation, and the other 8% fall under the Canada Labour Code and do not have the same ability to negotiate or enjoy the same labour relations, this creates a clear imbalance.

Earlier I gave some examples of labour disputes that have occurred, of delays in negotiations, and the use of scabs to allow the work to continue and allow the business to operate as it did before without having to use the employees. Of course, this only fuels the debates.

This often provokes nasty situations. Indeed, people are very unhappy when no progress is being made in negotiations. The employer continues to count on replacement workers to carry on its operations. At this time, in any civilized employer-employee relationship, anti-scab legislation with the maintenance of essential services is necessary. This is what we are proposing in the bill I am introducing here today in my name and on behalf of the Bloc.

We are not engaging in these debates and making these proposals without support. There is a real consensus in the union movement to support this anti-scab bill. This legislation is supported by the Canadian Labour Congress; the Fédération des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec; the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN); the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); the Public Service Alliance of Canada; the Brotherhoods of Locomotive Engineers of Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Alberta; the Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d'Hydro-Québec; the Ontario Teachers' Federation; the Congress of Union Retirees Canada; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; the Manitoba Federation of Labour; and the Graphic Communications International Union.

We have support to offset the Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications, this association of federally regulated employers that has formed and is sending letters to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is only natural that there should be a balance. As the letter I read earlier said, things are currently weighted in favour of the employers. It is only natural that unionized workers should want a better balance. That is why Bill C-386 is the answer. It prohibits replacement workers and maintains essential services.

I call on all the members of this House to support Bill C-386.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, this subject matter has been before the House on a number of occasions. The issue has been the definition of essential services. Essential services, in paragraph 87.4 of the Canada Labour Code, are defined as those which prevent or cause an immediate or serious danger to the safety or health of the public.

I wonder if the member could comment on a situation. For instance, say baggage handlers at Pearson airport were to go on strike and all of a sudden the other unions within Pearson withdrew their services in support of them. It would appear that in a matter of hours the entire airline industry in Canada would grind to a halt. This has nothing to do with health or safety, but it surely does have something to do with disrupting the country. I wonder if the member would comment. Is that the case under this bill?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, when we reread the amendments to paragraph 87.4(1) we see:

During a strike or lockout not prohibited by this Part, the employer, the trade union and the employees in the bargaining unit must continue the supply of essential services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.

It talks about the operation of facilities and the safety or health of the public. The full operation of the airport is in the public interest. It is certain that if we take the provision of essential services even further, given that there is a public interest and an impact on health and safety, airports are facilities that must remain in operation.

I think that essential service legislation could apply in this case.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I have letters here from some of the same people who were opposed to the air passenger bill of rights. The Canadian Airports Council says:

The Canada Labour Code has an emergency services provision designed to “prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety and health of the public”. It kicks in when there is a clear and present danger to the public. However, it does NOT cover many other essential services provided by federally regulated industries that the Canadian public view as critical to their well-being. For example, it could not be used to deal with a strike or lock-out of the following work groups who are essential to keeping an airport open and operational:

The letter spells out:

Workers who provide snow removal services at many airports during the winter

A contractor’s employees who providing de-icing services

Commissionaires, or other groups who provide important security-related duties

Non-safety/security labour groups, such as baggage handlers

It goes on to say that--

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

What he just read from the documents he obtained shows that this bill could work. These employers in the aviation industry know it as well.

That is why for years now the Bloc Québécois and I have been trying hard to make people realize that a fair balance can be achieved in labour relations. We cannot allow scabs to come in and not think that this benefits one side. That is the reality. That is Quebec's experience. We know that because labour disputes involving the 8% of employees under federal jurisdiction who are governed by this legislation last much longer than those involving employees governed by Quebec's anti-scab legislation.

When there is anti-scab legislation, essential services must be maintained. I think the bill introduced today is balanced. That is why I am asking my colleagues to avoid getting carried away, which both sides can do too easily. I am asking them to be logical and strive for balance in labour relations.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6 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 that this is a private member's bill.

I would like to remind the member that the Canada Labour Code was amended and it was a compromise between the interests of unions and the interests of employers.

In fact, when the Sims Commission came to that balance, it retained the right to engage in legal strikes for the employees and the employers were able to use replacement workers temporarily during a strike. Striking employees were entitled to get their jobs back after the strike and the employers were prohibited from using replacement workers to undermine the union. It was a type of balance that needed to be preserved.

This bill proposes to make significant changes to the Canada Labour Code. If it were to pass, it would ban the right of federal employees to use replacement workers during a labour stoppage. It is looking just at that particular aspect of the Canada Labour Code without regard to all of the other aspects that were used in arriving at the balance.

Our government's position on Bill C-386 is very clear. It is bad for labour relations. It is bad for our economy. It is bad for Canada.

Consider the risk that the bill poses to our economy today. Notwithstanding the positive signs of economic recovery, these are still times of uncertainty. We need to be doing everything we can to demonstrate and reaffirm that Canada is a great place to work and also to do business.

That is the spirit behind Canada's economic action plan. We have shown all Canadians that our government is determined to take whatever steps are necessary to help citizens and Canadian businesses overcome the latest economic crisis.

Canada has done and continues to do a good job of weathering the economic storm and that is thanks to our highly educated, skilled, largely mobile modern workforce. It is also thanks to the strength of our banking system, the soundness of our nation's fiscal position, and our enviable record of low and stable inflation.

Let me take a moment to talk about the first key factor, our labour force, our workforce. Our government is investing wisely in Canada's workforce and that includes fostering good labour relations. We do this so Canadian workers and businesses can be competitive and strong in today's economy, and well into the future.

Bill C-386 stands in the way of our progress and the progress that we are making. Where we have worked hard to bolster confidence, the provisions in the bill would heighten uncertainty. Where we have invested wisely in the Canadian workforce, Bill C-386 would undermine the sense of balance that has helped build and sustain good labour relations in this country over several years.

Bill C-386 would result in wholesale changes to our federal labour law in Canada without consultation, without compromise, and without consideration for the fact that existing provisions work well.

Part I of the Canada Labour Code was enacted in 1999. This achieved an important balance, as I said at the outset, between the needs of workers and the needs of employers. This was the outcome of hard work and hard fought debates and compromise. These amendments followed after a lengthy and extensive review process involving wide ranging consultations with client groups. They also followed in the wake of an in-depth study by an independent task force of industrial relations experts. That is the context under which the compromise was made and the amendments made to the Canada Labour Code.

Back in 1999, just like today, the issue of replacement workers was highly divisive. Labour and management representatives held divergent views and were unable to reach a consensus, but a solution was found and it was in the form of a compromise.

As a result of amendments that were made to the Canada Labour Code, the use of replacement workers is not generally prohibited. However, the use of such workers for the purpose of undermining a union's representational capacity, including the pursuit of legitimate bargaining objectives, is prohibited and constitutes an unfair labour practice.

The majority of parties who engage in collective bargaining under the Canada Labour Code accepted this approach as a reasonable compromise. It did not give one side everything it wanted. Instead, through compromise there was balance and good labour relations benefited as a result. Canada benefited and our economy benefited. Those gains are all put at risk by Bill C-386.

I do not see anything in the bill's proposed provision that would help boost Canada's ability to create jobs and to be more competitive in today's economy. What I do see in the bill is a recipe for instability and uncertainty in Canadian labour relations.

This is not the first time that this matter has been debated in the House in recent years. The total number of legislative initiatives over the last two decades are too numerous to count. In my term in the House, numerous bills and motions have come in the same respect and with the same regard as this particular bill, but all of these attempts were eventually defeated. Why? Because a majority of members of the House recognized in every instance that attempts to legislate a ban on the use of replacement workers would be inherently harmful to labour relations and the economic health of Canada.

A common characteristic shared by some of the more recent legislative efforts is that they do not fully consider just how vital it is that a middle ground be maintained between unions and employers in the matter of replacement workers. It is a very important and delicate balance and a balance that must be maintained.

Bill C-386 defies well established facts about replacement worker legislation. First of all, 97%, and that is a high amount, of all collective bargaining disputes in the federal sector were settled last year without resorting to a strike or a lockout, often with the assistance of government-appointed mediators and conciliation officers.

Second, most federally regulated employers do not hire external replacement workers during a work stoppage. In the majority of cases, even when a dispute could not be avoided through good labour relations, employers reassigned management and other non-bargaining personnel to keep their operations functioning.

Third, several independent studies on the impact of replacement workers concluded that there is no empirical evidence to support the idea that banning replacement workers would lead to a decrease in the incidence of work stoppages and the number of person-days not worked.

In conclusion, it is important we recognize that a legislative proposal calling for the wholesale change to labour law in Canada poses a threat to the compromise that has been achieved and sustained between labour and employers in Canada. This proposal risks making our economy seem less stable and secure. It would create doubt when we need to reaffirm confidence. It would make it harder for all of us to focus on protecting and creating jobs. Just as important, it would undermine the balance achieved in labour relations.

As with each previous legislative attempt introduced in the House, Bill C-386 calls for amendments that would ultimately harm workers and undermine the labour peace that both sides have enjoyed for years. For that reason alone the bill should be opposed and defeated. There are a number of good reasons it should not go forward. It certainly should not go forward in the context of a private member's bill, particularly when there have been extensive hearings, extensive discussions, give and take on both sides, and a compromise that has been reached, a compromise that works, a compromise that has seen 97% of work disruptions settled and contracts negotiated, a good record.

When we find other jurisdictions that have used this type of legislation they have not reduced the amount of work stoppages. They have not seen a reduction in the number of strikes. In fact, it has been more litigious. There have been more applications to the Canada Labour Relations Board or to a like board. So when we look at the big picture, we do not need to disrupt what already works. The bill should be defeated. All members of the House should be encouraged to work against it and should vote against it to see that it does not become law.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to discuss Bill C-386 again tonight. I say “again” because, as members know, there have been 14 private members' bills and motions on this subject in the last 10 years alone. I supported many of those bills in the past, even though I thought at the time that there were shortcomings with the bills because of the concept or the idea.

However, I think it is important that we look at the history of this particular issue. The Sims report in 1999 reviewed part I of the Canada Labour Code. Most items at that time were agreed upon, except for the replacement workers, between the union and the employers. This was an area that they were not able to come to consensus on. I think we all know that, and it has been discussed in this House for some time.

It is important to note that under the current labour code there is no general ban on replacement workers. However, they cannot be used to break a union. This is an important thing to note.

There is always an attempt to create an important balance in the collective bargaining process. This is what the labour code tried to achieve at the time, but as I said, there was one area on which there was not agreement.

B.C. and Quebec have replacement worker bans. Maybe we need to start looking at some of these other examples that we have around the country.

In Quebec, for instance, the average work stoppage, according to the data that I have been looking at, was 43.8 days between 2005 and 2007. This is an area in which there is a great deal of debate as to the impact of this type of legislation, with respect to work stoppage. These are some of the figures.

Under the Canada Labour Code, the average stoppage was 41 days. As we can see, there is not a great deal of difference between the two.

In Quebec, there were 25 complaints to the Labour Relations Board regarding unfair use of replacement workers. Of those 25 complaints, 10 were upheld. Again this is another area that people raise as an area of contention. Since 1999, under the Canada Labour Code, there have been 23 complaints. None were upheld and one is still pending. So again, the numbers are really quite comparable. There is not a whole lot of difference between one or the other in terms of the arguments that one system would cause more of a burden than the other.

Under the proposed legislation, managers and directors could still be used as replacement workers. I think that has been made very clear in the bill. However, other replacement workers cannot be brought in. For instance, I think CN would have been eligible to bring in retired workers or retired engineers. I do not think that would be allowed under this legislation.

The arguments for and against this legislation have been made for quite some time. I just want to remind members of some of these arguments because I think they are important to note, and then I am going to talk about a couple of other specific things.

One argument against banning replacement workers made by people who do not support this is that there is a possibility of more strikes, that this would create more strikes in the system. This has not happened in Quebec. I know we have looked at that, and I have looked at it, and that does not seem to be the outcome of this type of direction.

Another argument is that it will upset the balance in collective bargaining, giving more power to the unions. Again, I do not know that it would necessarily be the case, but that is an argument that is made by many people.

Another is that it does not allow for an employer to continue operating his or her business during the strike. Again, I do not think that is case. Of course, the bill does mention that management would be allowed to replace workers, but of course, as I said, other workers cannot be brought in.

One argument also is that services that do not necessarily have an immediate threat to the health and safety of the public but have economic consequences could not function.

This model is quite different from the Quebec one in that it is true that if one looks at the function of telecommunications, transportation, and so on, they could be deemed essential services, but not for the purpose of health and safety necessarily. I do not think that CN, in the most recent strike, would have fallen under that category.

The arguments for banning replacement workers, made by those who support it, will talk about the fact that unions argue that it would encourage employers to bargain fairly, that by having this legislation, employers would be more likely to bargain fairly at the table rather than unfairly, as I guess is assumed to be the case right now.

These are some of the arguments that go against this type of legislation, which has been coming back to the House for quite some time. I think it is important for us to look at the one point that seems to come up over and over again. It seems to be the one that creates very strong differences of opinion on one side or the other, and that is the issue of essential services.

Under the current labour code, the definition of essential services is very limited. It is limited to immediate threats to public health and safety. That is quite restrictive. It is not as broad as what we have seen in Quebec. I will come back to that again in a little while. It is restricted to immediate threats to public health and safety. This is the definition in the Canada Labour Code.

During the OC Transpo strike here in Ottawa, for instance, it was not deemed a threat to health and safety; therefore, that strike, as we recall, went on for quite some time. Under the labour code, it was not deemed to be a threat to health and safety, therefore the strike went on for quite some time and there was no intervention on that.

The CN strike that we just averted or came out of recently in the last day would not have qualified for it either. It would not have been deemed a situation that posed an immediate risk to health and safety. Therefore, the strike got started and was going on, and again, in that instance, it would not have affected that.

In Quebec, the definition of essential services, which is where we come to the nub of all this debate, is quite broader. That changes the debate and the discussion altogether. This is very important to note, because if we ever come to some conclusion on this type of legislation in the House, we need to grapple with this particular issue in terms of the definition and then how we apply it and how it is structured.

As I said, in Quebec, this is very different. The definition of essential services is broader, but they also have an establishment called the Essential Services Council. I believe that is part of the legislation in Quebec. In this case, the employer and the union both come before the council if there is a strike. They both need to appear in front of the council if they have reached an impasse, as we have seen in other cases. The employer will state its case, that it is an essential service and that it cannot function without a certain number of employees without causing undue hardship, or something to that effect. The union then either states that it is not an essential service and tries to make that argument, or if it is and it agrees with that, it indicates how many employees it would need to provide that service. They both make a representation to the council. This is a very formal thing.

The council then makes a ruling on whether the service is essential and the number of employees who must work. They make that decision. So this is a very important thing.

It is not a threat or danger to the public, but rather, an economic issue. So it is broader. The issue is not just health and safety but also includes an economic issue in this case. An economic argument can also be made.

If the replacement worker ban were implemented in Canada, we would need a similar framework. I think we need to look at the way it has worked in Quebec. After 14 times in 10 years, the issue is not going away. Now is the time to work together to try to reach a consensus, and I think we need to do that. I would suggest that we come together in the House and try to have a discussion around some of that and see if we can come to some consensus.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

December 3rd, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's debate on the anti-scab legislation brought forward by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

As members here will know, I introduced a similar bill, Bill C-337, even earlier in this Parliament than the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that assigns our days for debate means we are debating Bill C-386 first, and I am good with that. In spite of the huge egos that some members bring to the House, it is not all about us. In fact, it should not be about us at all. We are sent here to represent the views and aspirations of our constituents and to protect their interests, not ours. Therefore, I do not care who brings forward solid pieces of public policy, I will stand in my place and proudly support them.

This, as has been said before, is not the first time we have debated anti-scab legislation in the House. Each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed the ban on replacement workers and the NDP and the Bloc supported it. Each time, the Liberals said all the right things, but when push came to shove and they had to stand and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.

Although I make no claims to be clairvoyant, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership, the Liberals will once again allow Bay Street to determine their vote and this bill too will be defeated. However, that does not mean it is not worth fighting for. In fact, it is now more crucial than ever.

Just this past Monday, we debated a motion related to back to work legislation. I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of a level playing field to the success of collective bargaining. I will not repeat the arguments here because I only have 10 minutes in today's debate. Suffice it to say that allowing employers to bring in replacement workers during a legal labour dispute negates entirely the only power that workers have at the bargaining table, and that is the right to withhold their labour. When workers are so unilaterally stripped of their power, they become desperate. The largest single cause of injuries on a picket line is the use of scab labour.

In Ontario we had a brief period of time when the NDP outlawed scab labour. The benefit of that legislation is beyond dispute. During the time that the ban on replacement workers was in effect, the strikes and lockouts were shorter. That benefited both workers and employers, but sadly, Mike Harris, who never let good public policy stand in the way of ideological politics, repealed the legislation as soon as he came to power. I guess that should be expected because it is also successive Conservative and Liberal governments that sold out our country to foreign businesses and allowed their culture of labour relations to flourish here.

Let me tell members how the American business model has impacted my hometown of Hamilton. In the last 20 years, we had watched business after business, representing thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs, be sold off to American corporations, only to shut their doors within months. They send in new plant managers and CEOs who have no personal stake in my community, do not bring their families to live among us and approach their new roles in the manner of colonial overlords. They do not want to be here and cannot wait to go home.

They reap huge individual bounty for short-term assignments and leave hundreds of devastated lives in their wake. They ignore the workplace culture and challenge the laws of the land. They defy the unions to take them on and even when they lose their challenges before the OLRB or the WSIB or the MOL, these employers continue to ignore the decisions to the brink of enforcement.

They even find ways around legislative protection for the disabled. They enter into agreements with the government of the day in bad faith, knowing that the deals are weak and likely unenforceable. They have closed plants and transferred standing product orders to U.S. facilities. They have locked workers out for no other reason than to take advantage of the current economic distress, thumbing their very noses at Canadian labour laws.

At the former Stelco plant, previously known as Hilton Works, U.S. Steel idled the blast furnace and curtailed production barely a year after acquisition. It forced hundreds to retire who were not, under normal circumstances, prepared to do so. It has recalled the remainder only so as to avoid severance payments while simultaneously locking out the workers at Lake Erie Works.

That is the new culture in the workplace, not just in Hamilton but at Vale Inco at Sudbury, at ECP at Brantford, and at countless other companies right across the country. Companies come into our country and tell Canadian workers that they want and need to change the culture of the workplace.

Let me remind members what that culture looked like in Canada. It was a culture in which workers had dignity, where workers were treated with respect, where workers were able to earn wages that provided a decent standard of living for them and their families. It was a culture where workers were able to bargain at the negotiating table with their employers for things like pensions and health benefits for their families. That is the culture we had in our country, a culture where workers could go to work in the morning and come home safely in the evening because we had health and safety standards in this country.

Was it a perfect world? No. There was plenty of room for improvement. New Democrats have been fighting for that at every possible opportunity. However, it was a far cry from what we see now, where companies come in and tell workers, “You are no longer able to expect to receive the very things that you have negotiated after decades and decades of bargaining. Not only can you not expect that any more, but we will put you on a picket line and we will have other workers come in and do your jobs until we break the backs of you and your union brothers and sisters”.

By failing to protect workers from these predatory employers, we are complicit in their corporate agendas. I, for one, refuse to play any part in that. Along with my NDP colleagues, I will fight that agenda every step of the way so workers have the protection of Canadian laws and we as legislators live up to the commitments we have made as signatories to UN and ILO conventions.

It is not just unionized workers who have a stake in this fight. Every Canadian does. In fact, it makes no sense that anyone would want to be a scab. In the end, those people are only hurting themselves.

In the type of economy that we have developed, where there are more and more unemployed and where people are earning lower and lower wages, sometimes family heads, women or men, feel compelled to take any job at any price. Although at first blush that is understandable, it is ultimately shortsighted.

The effect of scabbing, especially now when the theme in labour relations by the corporate world is to end defined benefit pension plans, when the agenda of the corporate world is to reduce wages and when the agenda is to reduce workforces, scabs simply join with that agenda. They endorse it, they support it, they advocate for it and they make that agenda possible.

In the end, they lose along with every other Canadian worker. It is no wonder that the very notion of a scab evokes such strong responses. Let me read just one quote:

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

No man or woman has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in or a rope long enough to hang his body with.

Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army. The scab sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to this country; a scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

That is what Jack London had to say back in 1905. More than a century has gone by, but many of the thoughts behind that quote are still as relevant today as they were then.

By voting for the anti-scab legislation before us today, I am voting for my country, my family and my class. I urge all members to join me in taking that stand.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). This bill was introduced by my colleague, the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. I thank him for his excellent presentation on this subject.

Once again, the Bloc Québécois is fighting to provide workers governed by the Canada Labour Code with the same protection afforded their colleagues governed by the Quebec Labour Code when it comes to the use of replacement workers. With this bill we are again calling on parliamentarians to eliminate a double standard that penalizes several thousand workers in Quebec. We invite them to examine their conscience and seize this new opportunity to show the necessary leadership to rally their troops and to provide overwhelming support for our bill.

The Bloc Québécois has never given up defending Quebec priorities and values. In fact, Bloc Québécois members have introduced 11 bills to amend the Canada Labour Code to prohibit the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts. Five of these bills have gone to a vote.

In 1990, Bill C-201 was defeated by a vote of 90 to 72. The majority of Conservatives voted against it. The member for Jonquière—Alma supported it. The Liberals voted for it, but some were not in the House. The NDP voted for it but, there again, some were not present.

In 1995, in the case of Bill C-317, the Liberals voted for the bill, which was defeated 114 to 104.

In 2003, Bill C-328 was defeated by a vote of 104 to 86.

On April 13, 2005, the Conservatives and the Liberals joined forces to deny workers under federal jurisdiction a true right to strike, defeating Bill C-263 by 143 votes to 131.

On October 25, 2006, Bill C-257 was finally passed at second reading, with the support of a number of Liberal and NDP members, by a vote of 167 to 101. The Prime Minister stated that he was against the bill and it was defeated on March 21, 2007, at report stage when the Liberals changed their minds.

The struggle for anti-scab legislation has had the support of the major Quebec unions over the years and has been a clear demand from Quebec for more than 30 years, or since Quebec adopted its own legislation to prohibit replacement workers.

We need to remember that Quebec and British Columbia have laws that prohibit the use of strikebreakers. A number of other provinces are considering such legislation.

In Quebec, anti-scab legislation was enacted in 1977 and brought into force in 1978 under the René Lévesque government. Everyone agrees that it was an impressive leap forward in terms of workers’ rights. It came about at the end of a particularly stormy strike, as we may recall, at the United Aircraft plant in Longueuil, now called Pratt & Whitney. The legislation seriously restricted employers’ abilities to limit the rights of unionized workers and placed Quebec in the vanguard in this respect in North America.

For 30 years in Quebec, an employer has not been permitted to hire people to replace employees who are on strike or locked out. The ban, which is incorporated in Quebec’s Labour Code, prevents an employer, after the bargaining phase begins, from hiring managers and senior staff to perform the duties of employees on strike or locked out, and also prohibits the use of personnel from another employer in the establishment that is on strike. There is also a ban on employers using the services of employees from its other establishments in workplaces affected by the strike or lockout.

In fact, in an effort to genuinely respect employees’ right to strike, only managers from the establishment that is on strike and employees who are part of the bargaining unit that is on strike may continue to work during a strike or lockout.

In addition, only managers may perform the duties of striking employees.

It is these provisions that the Bloc Québécois wants to see in the Canada Labour Code. As my Liberal Party colleague pointed out, the Canada Labour Code already contains some provisions requiring both the employer and unionized employees to continue activities, to continue providing operational, installation or production services, where it is necessary to prevent an immediate threat to the health or safety of the public. Those provisions exist, but the Conservative government seems to be completely unaware of them.

There have been lengthy strikes at the federal level. The strikes at Vidéotron and Sécur also lasted for months. There were incidents on the picket lines, when strikebreakers were hired. Those strikes hurt Quebec families and people found themselves in difficult financial situations.

In Quebec, since the anti-scab legislation was enacted, labour relations and strikes have become more civilized. We no longer hear about fights on picket lines or damage done to this or that. Now there is symbolic picketing, because production stops at a plant that has been struck.

Now that things are more civilized, there are fewer and fewer strikes in Quebec. According to the statistics, federal workers account for 7.3% of the Quebec workforce. In 2002, though, 48% of all the work days lost were due to labour disputes on the federal level. Federal strikes in Quebec tend to increase the number of days lost.

In Quebec, this legislation has been beneficial. That is what employers say now. When people return to work, relations are not as bad as they were back in the days when strikebreakers were used. Just imagine the tension that arises when returning employees have to work alongside strikebreakers hired by the employer. That is not a very profitable climate for employers.

Thus, this legislation is beneficial from an economic standpoint. We have known that for a long time in Quebec and British Columbia. They use the economic argument to claim that this bill will have harmful consequences. In Quebec, though, we have not had any.

The Quebec legislation also provides for essential services to be maintained. Even in anti-replacement worker legislation, allowance can be made for places where prevention is necessary, whether in factories or other sectors.

This bill is important to us. My Liberal colleague said she was prepared to study it very carefully. People have started to realize some things since we began talking about anti-scab legislation in the House. The votes are always close and we have succeeded in making progress and raising people’s awareness.

We have now arrived at the stage where we should take the time to study a bill like this and see what effects it could have on the economy. It would be very easy to draw comparisons with Quebec and British Columbia. I am sure that if we manage to agree, Canada would benefit.

In conclusion, various business leaders have made important statements. They have said that the efforts they made to civilize labour relations have borne fruit.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, about a year and a half ago, this House passed unanimously Bill C-293, known as the better aid bill.

Putting a bill through this House and through the other place is a formidable undertaking. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of people getting behind the bill and indeed a lot of witnesses, et cetera. We were very fortunate to have ultimately got the bill through this House unanimously.

The legislation basically contains three commandments. The first commandment is that Canada's official development assistance will be directed to poverty alleviation and only poverty alleviation. The second is that we will take into account the perspectives of the poor. The third is that it be consistent with Canada's international human rights standards. The bill had a reporting period, and the first reporting period due was September 30. However, the government gave early indication that it had absolutely no interest in complying with this legislation.

Members will recollect that in the early part of this year, the government reprofiled Canada's focus on those who receive our aid. It took it from essentially the desperately poor countries in Africa and reprofiled it to some less desperately poor countries in the western hemisphere.

The minister made it abundantly clear that those who trade with us or vote with us will get our aid, but if they do not, they will not. In her speech and her press release there was not a word mentioned about Bill C-293, which ultimately, as I said, got royal assent and is the law of this land. We have a situation where a government absolutely ignores the will of Parliament.

Along comes September and we get the minister's report. Here it is and strangely enough the cover is blue. I wonder why that would be. It references the bill. It references the three things that are in the bill, poverty alleviation, perspectives of the poor and international human rights standards, and then promptly proceeds to ignore the last two, human rights standards and perspectives of the poor. What we have is a bunch of numbers, an accountancy. It is not accountability. It is accountancy.

It is a painful contrast to what British MPs get. British MPs get from DFID, the Department for International Development, a rather substantial package which analyzes how programs and policies are going. British MPs know whether their foreign assistance is effective. We, on the other hand, being Canadian MPs and getting the back of the hand from this particular government, have no idea. In fact, there is not a person in this House who has any idea as to the effectiveness of our aid. There is no metric, no basis on which we can tell whether our aid goes to poverty alleviation, whether the government has taken into account the perspectives of the poor, or whether our aid is consistent with human rights standards.

The government obfuscates. It does anything but account. This is a legacy of the government. It is also a legacy of this bill.

6:45 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, on September 29 the Minister of International Cooperation tabled in Parliament the first summary of our government's official development assistance, ODA, activities, the first such report since the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act came into effect.

This evening, on behalf of the minister, I am pleased to tell the member that the government has taken a significant number of steps to fully implement the act.

Allow me to note that the act requires federal departments administering ODA to demonstrate that they are contributing to poverty reduction, that they are taking into account the perspectives of the poor, and that they are being consistent with international human rights standards. Naturally, we were already doing this.

Two new reports are required, one within six months of the start of the fiscal year, focusing on the nature of results achieved through our government's development assistance activities, and the other at the end of 12 months, giving a statistical report on ODA disbursements.

As I mentioned, the first report was tabled on September 29. The next one will be tabled before March 31 of next year. The ODA disbursements included in the summary report meet the ODA definition of the act and of the OECD.

In addition to regular reports, consultations are an important part of the act. CIDA is responsible for about two-thirds of our government's ODA and thus plays the leading role in implementing the act. We see consultations as an integral part of our policy and programming cycles.

This summer consultations with experts and stakeholders took place on three thematic priorities which we, as the government, have mandated for our ODA: increased food security; sustainable economic growth; and a secure future for children and youth.

In addition, prior to the announcement of our 20 countries of focus, we held discussions with many governments, international organizations, leading experts and civil society organizations about the need to focus our bilateral development assistance program. I would like to point out that we are making our aid much more focused, and this is the country of focus policy. It only applies to our bilateral funding. Every other nation in need of aid can still receive our multilateral and partnership support.

Before the ODA Accountability Act was passed, our project assessment process already took into account those principles and they are incorporated in our planning documents, including the country development programming frameworks that guide our funding decisions.

Our government has led CIDA into incorporating poverty reduction, human rights and perspectives on poverty in its policies and programs. Our programs are consistent with international human rights standards, which require a do no harm approach, ensuring that our programs do not contribute to violations of human rights.

We have also provided direction to CIDA staff through a variety of tools that spell out how the act is to be applied to the work of the agency. Finally, the agency has developed a consultation directive to give its employees formal direction on consultations.

As the member can see, our government had already taken steps to ensure that our aid is focused, accountable and effective. It is imperative that we use our aid to produce real results to assist the people of our world who are struggling against various circumstances.

Unlike the previous government's administration, we are taking our foreign aid seriously and continue to make CIDA an effective and respected agency. Our approach to foreign aid already reflected the principles of the act and it was therefore not difficult for us to abide by it.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has just given an illustration of exactly what I am talking about.

His idea of compliance is to say that the government complied because the government said it complied. That is exactly what the minister said in her report.

There is no metric, statistical or otherwise, by which anything can be measured because the government, for whatever reason, has decided that it will not benchmark itself against anything or anyone. Without benchmarks, to just simply say the government complied because it complied is a meaningless statement. I could say that I am an NHL hockey player because I am an NHL hockey player, but if anybody saw me on the ice, they would no darn well that I am not an NHL hockey player.

It is a useless report. I fail to understand why the same level of accountability that British MPs get, Canadian MPs cannot get.

It is a simple idea. We want accountability. We do not want accountancy. This is just a ream of statistics which are utterly meaningless.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, it is always interesting to listen to my friend. He has some rather interesting ideas. He can trust me that we have never envisioned him in a Maple Leafs uniform, so he can go to bed safely.

I really do not know what the member is after. I truly do not. We have complied with the act. We were already doing things that are covered by the act. We have simply formalized our reporting system.

In his first question, if I heard him correctly, he was complaining about the fact that we gave him too many statistics. I have a lot of difficulty with that. It seems to me that no matter what, the member will never be satisfied and maybe he should try his fate in the NHL, I do not know.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to address a question that was raised on October 7 in this honourable place. At that time the question concerned the 520 cases of missing and/or murdered aboriginal women and girls. During that question I called upon the government to launch a full, public, national, independent investigation into these particular cases.

This call for a national investigation has been supported by aboriginal women's groups, women's groups generally, Amnesty International, NWAC. It is supported by myself and my colleagues of the Liberal Party, and so many more throughout this country.

We also are at a time when we are memorializing the memory of École Polytechnique and the violence against women, when 14 women were gunned down. We are in the midst of 16 days of activism against gender violence. Just a couple of months ago we had the fourth annual Sisters in Spirit vigils across this country. They were held in small towns and in large cities, and at each and every one of those vigils, they called for the government to launch an independent national investigation.

There are 520 cases of murdered and/or missing aboriginal women and girls. I ask in all seriousness and all sincerity, where else in this world would we have this astounding number of documented cases and the federal government does not rise and see it as a national tragedy, a blot on our reputation, and take appropriate action to deal with it?

It is a matter of sexualized and racialized violence. It is a matter of discrimination. The government has answered each and every time that we have invested in Sisters in Spirit. No doubt Sisters in Spirit has done tremendous work, research work. In fact, Sisters in Spirit has been pivotal in identifying the 520 cases of murdered and/or missing aboriginal women and girls.

However, such a tragedy requires more. I ask any Canadian out there to just look at the response when a non-aboriginal, middle-class, dare I say white person, goes missing in this country. The response is appropriate and it is always tragic. We see cars, helicopters, police forces and special agents out searching.

Has anyone heard about Maisy Odjick or Shannon Alexander, two aboriginal young women who went missing approximately a year ago? Did anyone see helicopters flying? Special agents out? Police cars? I bet people do not even recognize those names. They are among the 520 murdered and/or missing aboriginal women. Just pause for a moment and think why are the responses different. That hits the heart of the matter.

I ask the government once again and this is not the first time the question has been asked. It has been asked many times. Can we have a national investigation?

6:55 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada makes it a key priority to address violence against all women, and in particular aboriginal women who experience both a higher rate and more serious forms of violence than non-aboriginal women.

As to the question of when, we are working right now to address the complex web of societal issues related to the disappearance and murder of so many aboriginal girls and women in Canada. My friend talked about the Native Women's Association of Canada's Sisters In Spirit initiative which is collaborative and multi-departmental. We are continuing to work with the Native Women's Association of Canada beyond that.

This initiative is now in its fifth year and it has really laid the foundation to address the roots of violence against aboriginal girls and women. This is the responsibility of all of us, all levels of governments, the police, the justice system, civil society, and other stakeholders. There are currently ongoing investigations at the provincial level and the RCMP is taking part in them as well.

Since 2007 our government has supported 117 projects to address violence against women in all of its forms, including violence against aboriginal women. A federal-provincial-territorial working group of senior criminal justice officials is currently reviewing criminal justice system responses to cases involving serial killers who target vulnerable women.

I know Justice Canada is playing an active role in this working group, while Status of Women Canada is actively involved with the subcommittees of this federal-provincial-territorial group on healing and on missing and murdered aboriginal women. Together with the partners, Justice Canada is working hard to improve the criminal justice system in response to missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The Government of Canada recognizes that the solution to the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and to the more generalized problem of violence against women lies in the achievement of equality for women. We today recommit ourselves to that goal.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, much of what the parliamentary secretary has spoken about in his four minutes was what we have heard so many times before.

He talks about justice. He just cannot speak about justice. He must seek justice. He must seek justice for the 520 documented murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls. He must seek justice for their families and for their communities. One could argue that he has to seek justice so that the Canadian society itself can heal.

However, I ask the fundamental question again. Very simply, what is stopping the Conservative government from launching a national public independent investigation into the 520 cases of murdered and/or missing aboriginal women and girls?

If the member can do all these other things, as he purports, why not have a national public independent investigation?

7 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, the government has also actively supported the National Aboriginal Women's summits, NAWS I and II, where the areas identified for action were leadership, health and safety, empowerment and honour. Through a number of government departments and agencies, including Status of Women Canada, the government has been working with aboriginal organizations. There are many challenges and this is a subject that has been looked at by many people across the spectrum, so we will make progress on this file.

7 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to follow-up on a question I asked on November 30 of the Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding the number of visits that Canadian officials made to Afghan prisons since the 2007 agreement was made. It was the new and improved agreement with the Afghan government as to the handling of detainees and a supposedly robust monitoring program.

I asked the minister whether or not the government was prepared to release the reports of those visits. We still have the Afghan independent human rights commission and the United States state department saying that torture still remains commonplace in the prisons of Afghanistan. We continue to need confidence that we are not violating international law in this matter. We are asking that the government make those reports public. I think the question was whether it will continue to claim that everything is all right without revealing any facts.

In response, the government responded similarly to the way it has in the past. The government has been obfuscating on this issue. That does not have anything to do with hockey or skating. It has to do with pretending to answer the question but in fact not. It talks about improvements to human rights in Afghanistan. I do not want to hear about that, although I know a lot of effort has been made to try to improve human rights in Afghanistan.

I would like to know whether or not the government is going to release these reports and have the kind of transparency that other countries have in dealing with this issue. Frankly, we are not satisfied that the kind of monitoring that would be expected and needed is in fact taking place. The special committee on Afghanistan has had some witnesses before it, talking about the new system and the improvements that were made.

However, we are learning that, when Canadian officials find that something is going wrong, all they do is tell the authorities in Afghanistan. They do not actually do an investigation of their own. For example, in November 2007, after hearing half a dozen people or so talk about how they were tortured or ill-treated in the prison, describing issues related to being beaten with cables, et cetera, they discovered in the investigator's office of the prison a wire cable that they then reported to the authorities in Afghanistan. This particular investigator was fired as a result.

If that was there in November 2007 and the individuals were complaining about being beaten with wire cables, surely there is some connection between one and the other. When dealing with law, it is called corroboration. Yet, the government maintains that it had no proof of any individual Afghan detainee being tortured. That is not good enough. That is not the issue that has to be answered first of all. The main issue is whether there was a risk of torture and if Canadians passed over Afghan detainees to that real risk of torture.

I do not think the government is answering the question. Information has come out today. The Canadian Press as well as the CBC are reporting issues that confirm Mr. Colvin's concerns that ordinary people, who Canadian generals and military officers describe as local yokels, were being passed over and that the monitoring was not adequate. Will the government release those reports so we can have transparency on this issue?

7:05 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, before I start, let me be very clear in regard to what the member has been saying. We have been doing that. Investigations have been done by the Military Police Complaints Commission and by other authorities.

The opposition has already made up its mind that there should be some minefield over there, that there should be some kind of torture, and they are going on a fishing expedition to try to find it, irrespective of the fact that we have had witnesses appear before the special committee on Afghanistan, of which I am a member, and the hon. member opposite sits on that committee as well.

The generals, the people in charge, the people who are looking after the whole process, have laid out in clear terms and have outlined exactly what they have been doing, how they have been monitoring, working with the Afghan authorities, and working with the Red Cross, working with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to do exactly what is required under international law.

First of all, let me remind my colleague that Taliban prisoners are detained by Canadian Forces and then turned over to Afghanistan because they have attacked or killed soldiers, or they are going to do harm to the soldiers. These are the detainees who have been captured in that theatre of war, and are now being transferred by the Canadian Forces to the Afghan authorities.

The witnesses who came before the committee have been absolutely clear about the process. When the 2005 agreement was not adequate enough, we went into a further agreement in 2007 to ensure, and I want to repeat this to the member, that there was monitoring. They have been monitoring all these things.

The member has asked a question about what we have done and how many visits we have made to the prisons since May 2007. I can say that Canadian officials have conducted nearly 200 visits to Afghan detention facilities in Kandahar and Kabul.

Yesterday when we were in the committee, we heard from the corrections officer about how many times she has gone over there and witnessed. But the fact remains that everyone has said they have not seen evidence of torture.

Yes, claims of torture have been made. That is what the opposition is trying to find from the claims of torture, but there has been absolutely no evidence. That is what all of the officers have said, including those who have gone to the prisons and monitored them.

I find it very strange that somebody in this Parliament, away from the theatre of Afghanistan, can sit here and say there was torture there. They do not want to listen to the people on the ground who have gone there to see and verify that there has been no torture, I am going to repeat this, to the detainees transferred by Canadians.

We are not talking about the overall aspect of others who are out there. For the other aspect, that is where Canada's assistance comes into play by helping the Afghans respect international human rights conventions.

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, we know there have been at least 182 visits. What we are asking for is the reports of those visits.

Will the government release the reports of those visits so that we can see the results and how the monitoring is working?

One of the things we do know, and it was revealed today by the Canadian Press, is that on June 2, 2006, at Kandahar airfield, Mr. Richard Colvin, a military lawyer, the RCMP officer in charge of training Afghan police and other diplomatic staff were present and were all advised about potential torture at the hands of Afghan prison officials. A Red Cross representative made a point of raising the issue of treatment of Afghan detainees, including some who had been transferred to the Afghan authorities by Canadian Forces. That was as early as 2006.

We have reports from the committee yesterday that in November 2007 they found evidence of torture in an Afghan prison.

So what was going on during this period? What is going on now? I think people want to know. They are saying that the people who are being picked up are actually attacking Canadian Forces. That is not the case. That is not supported. All of those people are not people who are attacking.

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, that is the precise case. Canadian Forces only pick up soldiers in the theatre of war, and we are talking about Canadian detainees. Of course Afghanistan may not have all the conditions, but that is where Canada helps the justice system. As far as the Canadian detainees are concerned, there is not a shred of evidence. People who have gone to visit them have reported that there is no credible evidence of torture.

I repeat it again. Mr. Colvin came in front of the committee, but he did not prove this. People who have been on the ground have given a very clear indication.

As far as the documents are concerned, the government has stated this and will continue to state it. Yesterday the committee received the documents that we could legally give out. Therefore, this government is transparent and if members want the documents, they get them.