House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.


Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise once again to speak to Bill S-9, as it is now called. I have spoken on this bill under other numbers in the past.

I listened very intently to all of the speeches this morning. I want to begin by pointing out that auto theft is something that has been with us for a number of years. It goes back to the 1970s, but I do not think it became a public issue until sometime in the 1980s.

Essentially there was a long delay. I think governments of all political stripes were asleep at the switch for a considerable amount of time, when in fact they could have moved a little earlier than they did.

It is comforting to know that auto theft numbers are dropping because of efforts made by various governments, for example, the Government of Manitoba and the government in Ottawa as well. It was in 2003 that the federal government announced that, effective September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in Canada would have to have immobilizers.

So if we do the calculations and recognize that the average car is on the road for perhaps 15 years, it will be around 2021 before the problem actually solves itself. I do not think we should have to wait that long for the problem to solve itself.

The fact of the matter is that the federal government, as far back as Brian Mulroney but certainly under the 13 years of Jean Chrétien and the Liberals, in any one of those years could have acted and could have enforced the requirement for the mandatory installation of immobilizers, which they did effective September 1, 2007.

Just so members know how effective these immobilizers are and can be, for example, the Ford Motor Company in its 1996 version of the Ford Windstar, on sale in the fall of 1995, the higher end models of those vehicles had factory-installed immobilizers. That was sort of the beginning of immobilizers in mass-produced cars. There may have been some around previously in higher end vehicles.

Gradually over time more and more of these immobilizers became factory-installed. There was an after-market product available to be installed, but there were some problems with them. I checked several years later with the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation, perhaps as little as two or three years ago, and was told that no vehicle with a factory-installed immobilizer had been successfully stolen.

Now, they are damaged because the thieves break into the vehicles and, when they cannot steal the car, of course there is still resulting damage to the vehicle. At least they are not running away with the vehicle, taking a potentially lethal object out on the road and perhaps running somebody down or being involved in accidents with the vehicle.

We knew early on that this was a very solid solution to the problem. The question is, Why did the government not act? When I checked back a few years ago with the Insurance Bureau of Canada data and information, I was not surprised but I did read that there was information available that immobilizers could have been factory-installed in vehicles for as little as $30, I believe I read, but it could be a little more than that. It is not a significant expense.

The United States government could have enforced these and made them mandatory. The Canadian government could have done this.

When police started to report rising theft rates of automobiles, and statistics started to show that people were being injured and killed because of auto theft, it would have been prudent for the government to take this issue more seriously and attempt to nip the problem in the bud by forcing immobilizers to be installed at the factories. But that was not done.

In the 1990s, the Conservative government of Gary Filmon in Manitoba attempted to tackle the problem by several means. It did not get to the point of dealing with immobilizers. It was looking at things that, in the end, proved not to work. It planned to sue the offenders and hold off giving them their driver's licences.

Bear in mind that, at least in Manitoba, authorities had determined that level four offenders for car theft numbered around 50 people. In other words, 50 people were stealing most of the cars. The theory was that if we concentrated on those 50 people the numbers would be reduced.

Most of those 50 people were very young. Some were as young as 13 or 14 years old. Trying to sue them would be an impossibility. Holding their driver's licences back did not mean much to them. Making the parents responsible was another attempt by the Filmon government. It passed legislation holding the parents responsible for these kids.

In the end, I do not think the government was able to gain any significant restitution or result from these efforts. Nevertheless, it was an attempt to respond to the problem. The government of Manitoba was still not there in forming a gang suppression unit, immobilizers, or any of the best practices that seem to have helped to solve the problem.

When the NDP government of Gary Doer came into power in 1999, it had a lot of issues to deal with. It was not overly quick to deal with this one. I believe it was 2005 when the provincial government announced an immobilizer incentive program.

I remember that the government was planning to theft-proof 90% of Winnepeg vehicles within five years. The government was going to guarantee a price of $280, taxes included, for the purchase and installation of immobilizers that met Canadian standards. The customer had to pay $140, half the installation cost, to the insurance corporation, which was a government-owned corporation in Manitoba. The government provided interest-free loans and was going to give an insurance reduction of $40 annually.

Guess what? Almost nobody took up the program. After a while, six months to a year, we found that people were not participating.

Finally, the government decided it had had enough and mandated the installation of the immobilizers free of cost, which was $200. The government made it a requirement that immobilizers had to be installed before vehicle registration and insurance could be renewed, thereby ensuring that it was going to be done. Also, there was a reduction in insurance.

One would think that people would be lined up by the hundreds to get this done, given that this program was free and there was going to be an insurance reduction. But the reality is that people complained. People did not want to get their free immobilizers installed in their vehicles. They felt it was their right to drive around without the fear of their car being stolen.

There is this strange train of thought out there. Many people retain a more or less 1950s mentality, and think they should be able to leave their house doors and car doors unlocked and that no one should steal anything. These people are not dealing with reality. The majority of people realize that they are required to take some precautions and lock their vehicles and homes.

Thieves target certain models of cars. Since September 1, 2007, all new vehicles have factory-installed immobilizers. That means that during the last three years of vehicle production all cars had immobilizers installed at the factory.

Manitoba has taken vehicles methodically, group by group, and worked its way down from the highest-theft vehicles to the lowest. Over time, there is a smaller pool of vehicles available for theft. That has been reflected in lower automobile theft rates. Manitoba had an immediate reduction in the first year. The province had a long way to go, because it was the auto theft capital of Canada by quite a long shot. In fact, Manitoba was almost double the national average in auto theft.

The province had a lot of work to do, but it had a good base to start from. Auto theft was cut down substantially. Once, a couple of years ago, no thefts occurred during a 24-hour period. One day in a month a couple of years ago, Winnipeg actually had zero car thefts. Manitoba has started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This problem should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. When governments see a problem, they should be proactive, not reactive. The problem should be studied early on. We should have started studying this problem in the eighties to determine how best to solve it. Putting an immobilizer in a vehicle is a simple solution.

The other part of the approach was to set up a gang suppression unit with the police department, and that has worked very well. The police know who these level four offenders are. They are roughly 50 people. The police targeted these 50 people, and most of them are now in jail, where they are unable to steal cars.

A number of others who are out on bail wear a monitoring device obtained from Nova Scotia, where it evidently works well. There have been incidents of car thieves cutting off their ankle bracelets and escaping, but by and large it has been a decent program. Manitoba set up a pilot project for a year, and I believe it is still going on. So it appears that the pilot worked out okay and is achieving some results, in spite of the odd hiccup along the way.

Manitoba also looked at the bait car program, which is an interesting program that works in some parts of the United States. It also works well in B.C.

However, Manitoba, for one reason or another, decided not to proceed with the bait car program. It could be because we have very cold temperatures for a large part of the year. Vancouver has warmer temperatures to work with. However, to each his own. Evidently, the bait car program worked reasonably well in Vancouver, and that is fine if it is getting results.

The Manitoba government then decided to chase this tough on crime government for some action on crime. To that end, Premier Doer led a delegation to Ottawa on September 13, 2007, and he included in his delegation the attorney general, the opposition Conservative leader, the leader of the Liberal Party in Manitoba, and the mayors of Winnipeg and Brandon. He also included a number of other people.

The province's approach to reducing auto theft and youth crime focuses on four broad areas. One is prevention, with programs like lighthouses, friendship centres, and education pilot projects as well as initiatives like vehicle immobilizers. Another is intervention, with the highly successful turnabout program and intense supervision for repeat offenders. A third is suppression, with more targeted funding for police officers, corrections, and crown attorneys dealing with auto theft. The final area is consequences, which includes lifetime suspensions of driver's licences for repeat offenders.

In addition, the premier cited the success of provincial initiatives dealing with drinking and driving, which helped reduce related fatalities and injuries by 25% from 1999 to 2003. There were also changes that Manitoba was asking the federal government to make.

No other province, to my knowledge, was doing this at that time. The NDP government of Manitoba was actually getting tough on crime. It was coming to Ottawa to talk to the pretend tough on crime government, demanding that the federal government provide stronger penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially auto theft. The province wanted to allow first degree murder charges for gang-related homicides. It wanted to eliminate two-for-one remand credits, which the government, to its credit, is doing now. It wanted to classify auto theft as an indictable violent offence, and it wanted to make shooting at buildings and drive-by shootings indictable offences as well. In addition, Manitoba requested the federal government to examine the issue of drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test, with a view to strengthening existing laws.

I ask the member for Sudbury, my colleague, does that sound like a party and a government that is soft on crime? The Manitoba NDP government was asking for things that the tough on crime government here in Ottawa cannot seem to get done at all. It has accomplished only two of the five requests from the provincial government. It is clear that the government that is tough on crime is the NDP government of Manitoba. It is tough on crime, but it is also smart on crime, because it relies on best practices. We do not run off for whatever is politically popular at the time. We proceed with what works, what gets results.

I have explained to the member about immobilizers, how we were able to pilot that program and get drastic results in auto theft reduction. I also explained the gang-suppression unit, which isolated and identified those 50 people.

I have not started even one word of the notes I brought with me today. I am extremely disappointed about that, but I am sure that there will be questions.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to expand on my colleague's thoughts. He said that he had a lot of notes and perhaps he would like to continue that theme.

However, I do have a question. This is the third rendition of this particular type of legislation. It has been a long time coming. The member alluded to the fact that some of the measures are soft on crime and questioned whether they are tough on crime. It seems to me that this tough on crime, if we want to call it that, has been a long delayed process between the earlier versions of this bill, Bill C-53, as well as Bill C-26.

One of the things I do like is that auto theft is now a separate offence, which is certainly a step in the right direction, and many stakeholders have said as much. Insurance bureaus believe in that, as was expected, and I believe the people in his province of Manitoba are also supporters of this bill. In Winnipeg, where this is a big issue, the mayor may have had some comments about this.

Now that we are into third reading, perhaps the member would like to comment on whether he was satisfied with the process by which it went through committee and on whether he would like to see this improved upon.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a minority government situation and if it were not for the Prime Minister proroguing the House on two occasions and calling an election, this legislation probably would have been passed long ago.

If the Manitoba government had waited for the federal government to act, auto theft rates would be even higher than they are right now. I do not see where the government has provided a very strong initiative or played a strong role in this whole debate about auto theft.

When the member talks about penalties, I think the penalties will be more important for the criminal elements. I did not get to that in my speech, but a large component of this bill involves professional auto thieves who are stealing for profit. If we take a city like Toronto or Montreal, the police know the cars that are stolen and never get recovered. Those cars are torn part and the parts are sold and shipped out of the country.

However, in Winnipeg, it is a little different. Some of that is happening but most of the thefts are for joyriding and for the commission of crimes. The reason we know that is because 80% of stolen cars in Manitoba are recovered within 24 or 48 hours. I believe in Montreal only about 20% of stolen cars are recovered.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we all know, joyriding has been going on since the invention of the automobile, but it has taken an extremely long time to pass this bill. It first started out as Bill C-53, then it became Bill C-26 and now it is Bill S-9, a Senate bill.

I have two questions for the hon. member. First, why is it taking so long to pass this bill into law?Second, why does the crime prevention government seem to think that putting everybody in prison is the answer? I would like the hon. member to compare, if possible, incarceration to putting immobilizers in all vehicles.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it has taken so long because the government, in the last few years, has gone through one needless election and two instances of proroguing the House which were both unnecessary. That is why these bills are having to be reintroduced and debated over and over.

I do want to observe that in Manitoba, now that we have the auto theft rates down, we are now finding that the thieves who are out there are, in some cases, commandeering taxis to get from point A to point B. We are in the process of solving one problem but we may now be creating another problem that needs a solution.

In fact, the Manitoba Taxicab Board is currently dealing with that whole issue of how it can install GPS systems and shields in the taxis, and deal with issues where people at 10 in the morning, and these are not only males but females too, are flagging down a taxi and commandeering it for a ride across the city. It is an issue that must be dealt with on a constant basis. We cannot just ignore it. However, we need to do what works and what is effective, as opposed to what gets us a bit of positive publicity at the end of the day.

As I indicated before, the government finally implemented the requirement that immobilizers had to be installed as of September 1, 2007 in all new vehicles in Manitoba. In fact, that was an edict of the former Liberal government from 2003. We can see how long it took. The Liberals announced it in 2003 and it took until 2007 to require the automobile manufacturers to install them in all the new vehicles. We missed four years there. This initiative could have been taken by the Chrétien government the day it came to office. It could have been taken by the Mulroney government before that. The Insurance Bureau of Canada indicated that it was only a $30 or $40 expense to install these in the factory.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a few remarks about three aspects of the bill because I want to put on the record the fact that the House has considered and was aware of these things when we passed the bill.

I first want to say that my party and I are supporting the bill. It is quite true that the provisions of the bill have been in the legislative hopper for a number of years now, it being recognized that automobile theft was a significant economic crime here in Canada, but realizing, of course, that throughout the Criminal Code offence of theft and the offence of joyriding were already on the books and being used to enforce the problems of car theft.

However, some car theft rings now have turned this into a major international business, victimizing people in Canada and around the world. Therefore, it was necessary to take a broader and more comprehensive look at the issue of auto theft and this bill is the result.

One of the things I want to point out is the question of a shift of the burden of proof in relation to this offence. Most of us will understand that in the Criminal Code the burden is on the state to prove that the individual has committed a criminal offence and we do not criminalize somebody by saying, “Hey, Mr. Citizen, you prove you are not guilty”.

Clause 4 of the bill states that:

Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse...removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number....

That is saying that if people were to remove a vehicle identification number, it is a criminal offence unless they have a lawful excuse. What is a lawful excuse? I would have thought that people could simply say that they owned the automobile and that they were entitled to do with it whatever they would like to do in terms of how it is described, identified, painted or whatever.

I cannot recall another instance where in setting up a criminal offence we have shifted the burden to citizens to provide a lawful excuse before they are convicted. This might have read a lot better if it had said that it is an offence to obliterate or remove a vehicle identification number with fraudulent intent. That would have been more consistent with the way we currently operate under the Criminal Code.

I am not at all sure that shifting the burden is fair or constitutional, but I did want the House to know that the House and the committee had an opportunity to discuss this. It is not clear that we have an answer, but it has been noted and it will be for others to determine the appropriateness of that innovation where we place upon the person charged with the offence the burden of showing a lawful excuse for something that would otherwise be pretty normal.

The second thing concerns the definition of vehicle identification numbers. It states that it is:

...any number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing it from other similar motor vehicles.

My first reading of that led me to think that included a licence plate. On reading it and discussing it with other colleagues, they felt differently. I am not fully convinced but I did want the House to know that a “number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing it from other similar motor vehicles”, in the views of members but not me, does not include a licence plate.

So I will leave that resolved at least by the majority here in favour of the licence plate not being included in that definition.

Third, on the issue of mandatory minimum, the commercial for this offence says there is a mandatory minimum contained in the bill; and yes, there is. However, I want to point out that it is not in every third offence that a mandatory minimum will apply. That is because it is only where the third or subsequent offence is proceeded with by indictment that it involves a mandatory minimum sentence.

So there could be a third, fourth or fifth circumstance where, in the discretion of the crown attorney, the prosecutor, the Crown will not proceed by indictment, it will proceed by way of summary conviction, and therefore, by the wording of these new provisions, a mandatory minimum will not apply.

The last thing I want to point out is that there have been some references in the bill to the new automobile trafficking, export-import provisions of this bill. These trafficking provisions are actually quite important because they fill a void in the ability of the state to intercept, monitor, surveil and deal with the issue of exporting stolen cars, or even importing stolen cars. It is a lot tougher to import them.

We have referred to our enforcement mechanism as being the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA. I have to say that it is pretty easy to pass a new statute and say that we have an enforcement agency. In fact, the CBSA is not set up or resourced to be a border police agency. Maybe they should; maybe they should not.

It is a border service agency and its three functions are to do immigration processing and verification, food inspection, and tax collection, including dealing with smuggling. That is what CBSA was set up to deal with.

Yet we are passing a bill that seems to be suggesting that the CBSA will now have what would otherwise be police enforcement objectives and goals to accomplish. At the justice committee, we did not look at resourcing or the mandate of CBSA. This is part of a bigger issue involving CBSA. That agency is going to need some scrutiny and some help from the policy-makers to make sure it is properly resourced for all of the functions we expect it to do.

In this case I have a feeling that we are passing a law and saying to CBSA, “Over to you”, when CBSA does not do police work. They do CBSA work in the three categories I mentioned. I should add that they also process goods leaving Canada where there are restrictions placed on the processing, which is why these trafficking provisions in the bill will enable CBSA to play a role in interdicting the export of stolen Canadian automobiles.

The last thing I want to say is that this bill passes another amendment to the Criminal Code. There must be half dozen to a dozen of them in the pipeline. Most of us around this House should by now recognize that the biggest bang for our buck, the most effective tool in dealing with crime, is investigation and enforcement.

We cannot just get rid of a crime problem by passing a law. Even if we pass the law, while it manifests denunciation of these anti-social acts, we only get the guy after the offence has been committed, and then there is the arrest, the investigation, the prosecution, the sentencing, et cetera.

We as a society have to get out in front of these things, and that is why investigation and enforcement is so important. It is the key element of all the many elements involved in crime prevention and reduction of crime.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I congratulate my colleague on a fine speech. I have just a quick point.

One of the issues here is to create this auto theft as a separate element to our Criminal Code, and I want to get his comments on that.

Yesterday we had a private member's bill by the hon. member for Red Deer about impersonating a police officer, which I think is a great bill and will be voting for it.

In this particular case, in his experience, could he comment on that? Has he seen that sort of practice before? Does he think this is fundamentally a good idea, to separate the idea of auto theft from it?

Could he also talk about how this bill has been so delayed? We have had Bill C-53 and Bill C-26, time and time again, delay after delay, and we finally get around to doing something, which everybody in this House agrees with.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the last question first. The delay described involves a delay over quite a few years, over quite a few Parliaments and sessions. The reason the government of the day, whether it was Liberal or Conservative, did not actually punch through on this quickly and immediately was that there were other Criminal Code offences being used for this purpose.

We could have gotten by with the existing Criminal Code provisions, but with something as thick as the Criminal Code, we can always find ways to add a section or amend a section. This will go on forever. I have to say that these new additions to the code will assist in police enforcement of the code. Will it produce reductions in crime? Only time will tell.

The earlier question that was asked was on this concept of continuing to legislate new criminal laws. I get the sense that some of us will, from time to time, present bills amending the Criminal Code for, let us just say, political purposes, as if we have all invented a new way to deal with the problems of crime. This will also go on for many years. I have probably done it myself once or twice.

Every new idea is welcome and I am happy to participate in those debates.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wonder if you could seek unanimous consent to see the clock at 1:30.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to see the clock at 1:30?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:05 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

moved that Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move second reading of Bill C-568. Because this bill would save the government $30 million, we on this side of the House do not believe it would require a royal recommendation. We hope that the Speaker will see it that way.

This bill would enshrine the taking of the mandatory long form census every five years, as well as remove the possibility of prison penalties for any violations.

The census goes back a long time. In fact, there is a phrase in the Bible that comes to me at this time:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.

I have to submit as a family doctor that if this had been a voluntary census, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth.

The mandatory nature of the census has been going on for 2,010 years. The government is a little remiss to try to change it at this point.

Canada's first census was initiated by Intendant Jean Talon in 1666. The census counted the colony's 3,215 inhabitants and recorded their age, sex, marital status and occupation.

The first national census of Canada was taken in 1871. According to the Census Act of May 12, 1870, census-taking was to take place no later than May 1. Under section 8 of the Constitution Act, 1867, formerly the British North America Act, a census was to be taken in 1871 and every tenth year thereafter. This first census of the Dominion following Confederation in 1867 counted the population of the four original provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Its main goal was to determine appropriate representation by population in the new Parliament. Since 1871, decennial census data have provided the cornerstone for representative government.

In 1871 the questionnaire covered a variety of subjects, and asked 211 questions on area, land holdings, vital statistics, religion, education, administration, the military, justice, agriculture, commerce, industry and finance. Information was collected in tabular form on population, houses and other buildings, lands, industries and institutions. The population field included the age, sex, religion, education, race and occupation of each person. Not every household answered all 211 questions.

In 1971, the Federal Bureau of Statistics became Statistics Canada.

That year also marked the 100th anniversary of the first national census of Canada. Under the new Statistics Act, it became a statutory requirement to hold censuses of population and agriculture every five years.

Two questionnaires were used in 1971. The short form, distributed to two-thirds of Canadian households, covered the basic population questions and nine housing questions. The long form, distributed to the remaining third, contained the same questions as the short form with the addition of 20 housing questions and 30 socio-economic population questions. The Census of Agriculture questionnaire contained 199 questions, down from 251 in 1961.

What has been problematic in the debate is the misinformation by the government that it was in 1971 that the long form census began. In fact, the long form census was the norm before 1971, and only in 1971 did the short form census begin. Before that, all of the information was collected from all of the citizens.

On July 24, before the industry committee, Dr. Ivan Fellagi, a former chief statistician, said that the government had misinterpreted the imposition of this long form census in 1971, when before 1971 there was only a long form census. The short form census was introduced in 1971. It is clear that the government understand that both were mandatory and both are important.

In fact, it was also the testimony of the former chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, and the Conservatives misrepresented the chief statistician as though he had given this advice. I will quote from Munir Sheikh's statement:

I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. It cannot.

It was very clear from a lot of the testimony that a lot of people have rallied in favour of the long form census.

Dr. David Mowat, the former deputy chief public health officer for Canada and now the medical officer of health for Peel, said this with respect to the problems of voluntary census:

As for trying to elicit this detailed information from a voluntary rather than mandatory census form, we know from our own experience with voluntary research surveys, and we know from the experience of other countries, that certain categories of people will not respond proportionately to a voluntary census survey. In particular, we know that those least willing to provide information voluntarily will be those who tend to belong to socially and economically disadvantaged groups. We can debate why this is so, but the reality is this: if we go to a voluntary census, the groups whose health and living conditions are most in jeopardy will be underrepresented in the data.

In fact, if we look at the short form census, it is quite clear that it would plunge Canada back into the dark ages and indeed, worse off than the days of Jesus Christ. It is impossible for the government to attack proper data. As Mel Cappe has said:

For the last 35 years, people have been filling out this long-form of the census in one form or another. And we have been doing this for over 130 years. And now from 2011 forward, we will not have a data point. That means that all those people who filled out the form in the last 35 years did so for nought. Because we won’t have the next point on the series.

There has never been a case, in the history of Canada, in the history of Statistic Canada where someone’s personal census data has been released. All that is released are the aggregation by census track so they add them up. [...] Statistic Canada has an unblemished record of keeping to themselves – private – all of the returns of the census.

How much time would filling the mandatory census long-form questionnaire take? Cappe explained, “20 percent of the population get asked every five years to fill out this form. […] That means once every 25 years, you got to spend about 30 minutes in answering 41 questions.”

We think it is egregious that the government has misrepresented this. Indeed, by the continuous use of words like “intrusive” and “coercive” it is has created fear, such that people think the government will know what religion they follow, and how many bedrooms they have in their homes. When people say they do not want the government to know, it is imperative that a government of any substance admit that the government will never know what religion one is or how many bedrooms are in one's house. It will only know the average number of bedrooms in the community and the number of people who live in that community. It will not know whether a person is a Roman Catholic or how many Roman Catholics live in the neighbourhood.

The most poignant testimony on July 21 was from Elisapee Sheutiapik, a board member of ITK:

You have to remember that in the long form there are questions such as how many bedrooms are in the house. In Arctic communities it's too cold to be homeless. There's hidden homelessness. We'll never get that data if that long form is not filled out.

Mr. Speaker, I think the member for Peterborough should not think this is funny and should be listening.

Ms. Sheutiapik went on to say:

Actually, there is an amazing partnership that has been developed between Arctic communities and the government when it comes to Statistics Canada. There is a partnership there where they have trained bilingual Inuit people who can work with unilinguals on filling out these forms. It took a lot of time to educate people about how important this data is, because after all, we use those data to help us plan into the future.

Language is an issue in Arctic communities. Those are the kinds of information that are asked about as well in the long form. Moving forward, language and the use of it is a concern, so moving forward we need to know about and continue to keep tabs on where our language is at, not just housing but language as well.

[I]n northern communities, they're still very much intimidated by forms, especially the elders, because some of them still can't read English, so they're intimidated. But if you have someone who has been trained through Stats Canada going house to house, they would be very comfortable having the person come and help to fill out those forms.

In northern communities we wear many different hats. Today I can answer for all of the different hats I wear, be they as president of Pauktuutit, which automatically makes me a member of ITK; and as mayor of Iqaluit and president of our association, which also automatically makes me a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. So it has an impact on all of the organizations I work with.

Firstly, I just want to state that to keep Canada strong, we need to know how the country is changing, where people live, work, and raise their families. This census helps us do that.

As Inuit, because of our small numbers within our great nation, sometimes we fall through the cracks, but this data brings real information that's needed in all levels of government and non-government organizations.

She went on to say:

I think it really is unreasonable to suggest that Inuit bear the cost of collecting data to measure the size and scope of their inequality.

Last week the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories had a motion which began with, “WHEREAS the Government of Canada intends to eliminate the Statistics Canada 'long-form census'”, and further on states:

AND WHEREAS It is estimated that it would cost the Government of the Northwest Territories approximately $500,000 to increase its data collection to replace the data no longer available from Statistics Canada;

NOW, THEREFORE I move, seconded by the Honourable Member for Thebacha, that this Legislative Assembly urges the Government of Canada to reverse its decision to eliminate the mandatory “long-form” census questionnaire.

In his letter, Ivan Fellagi has been very clear. I hope the government will read the UN fundamental principles of official statistics. We need to make sure that all of those principles are followed. As a physician, I will use the analogy that having the chief statistician explain that a voluntary census would be adequate is like asking the chief medical officer of health to go out and tell the people of Canada that smoking does not cause cancer. This is appalling. Even Andrew Coyne has said what was once the normal attack on elite experts is now an attack on the knowledge of this country. “The loss”, said Peggy Taillon, president and CEO of CCSD, “of the long form census is equal to the government actually shutting off Canada's navigation system”.

We are calling on the government to change the questions, if it will, change the punishment, if it will, but to retain the long form census. This bill would put it into the Statistics Act so that no future government would ever be able to fool with this completely important essential data.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delightfully surprised that the member brought faith into the conversation on the census. I would like to make sure for the record what she mentioned in history:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

I think that this possibly reveals a secret agenda of the Liberal Party and the Leader of the Opposition, where the Liberals want to force people to do the census in order to raise the GST, in order to raise corporate taxes. It is exactly why they want to compel people to do this. It was Caesar who first forced it, and forced people to travel miles and miles to do it.

I would like to ask the member, is that what the Liberals are trying to do, actually make sure that they can tax people more efficiently?

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill speaks to the fact that we want taxpayers' dollars spent wisely. Group after group, all users of the data, all cities and provinces feel that without the navigation system of a census we would not know whether taxpayers' dollars are paying for programs that are making things better or worse.

To turn off the navigation system allows ideologically-based governments to do what they want because they will not be accountable for the complete waste of money for programs that are not based on the facts.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, even Conservatives who I know are scratching their heads as to why the Prime Minister would make the long form census optional. We know that businesses in general are opposed to this. Professional people are opposed to this. Provincial governments are opposed to this, because transfers are based on the number of voters times a certain amount. For example, I believe the province of Manitoba gets $4,000 for every person identified and if enough people are not identified, it would mean substantial reductions in transfer payments for health and education.

It sounds like something from the Tea Party movement. It just does not make any sense at all, in terms of the conventional environment of politics in this country, that a government would basically turn its back on its own friends in business, its own friends in provincial governments and professional people who support the government. They cannot understand where the government is headed on this issue.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, with any significant change in a policy such as this, it would be normal to consult the advisory council that is appointed for that. It would be normal to consult the end users.

What was shocking in what has turned up over the last while is this was a totally ideological fight against having good data. It is something the Prime Minister and Guy Giorno have been involved in since last Christmas. They have been bullying the staff at Statistics Canada. The Prime Minister's handwriting is on the documents themselves. This is an ongoing fight. This occurred during the G8 and G20 summits when Parliament was not sitting. The thinking was that no one would notice. According to the Globe and Mail:

Don Drummond, a member of Statistics Canada’s advisory council, said “all of us were shocked” by the news that the mandatory long-form census was being abandoned.

...the council unanimously believed that abandoning the mandatory long-form census would skew the 2011 results, causing a statistical break with previous surveys that would it make impossible to read and project trends accurately.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the national household survey, which will be conducted next year. This voluntary survey has very much been misconstrued by my colleagues across the floor. I believe that asking the long form census questions on a voluntary basis in the national household survey will provide a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy of Canadians. I am confident this new survey will establish a balance among the requirements of governments, businesses, municipalities and associations for good information and the willingness of Canadians to provide that information.

This government is well aware that without good information, informed decisions are difficult to make. Nevertheless, the government is not willing to force Canadians, who may conscientiously object to giving private information to government officials, to do so.

I would like to take a few minutes to ensure that there are no misconceptions in the House about the national household survey.

The national household survey will collect information on the demographic, social and economic situation of people across Canada and the dwellings in which they live. Approximately one-third of all households across Canada will be selected to participate in the national household survey. Information will be used by governments, businesses, associations, community organizations and many others to make important decisions about the services in our communities. These services include child care, schooling, family services, housing, roads, public transportation and skills and training for the employment sector.

The national household survey will provide information about the living arrangements of people in Canada: family size, number of children living with one parent or two parents and the number of people who live alone. This information is important for planning social programs. It is also used by communities to plan services such as daycare centres, schools, seniors centres and seniors residences.

The survey will also provide information on the number of people in Canada who have difficulties with daily activities and whose activities are reduced because of a physical or mental condition, or a health problem. This information is used to plan services relating to accessibility and to support health care for the communities that they serve.

The national household survey will provide a social and cultural profile of Canada's population. This profile will tell us about the movements of people within Canada and from other countries other than Canada and for newcomers to Canada. It will collect information on the citizenship status of Canada's population, information that is used to plan citizenship classes and programs to help support those newcomers to Canada.

This new survey will also provide the number of immigrants and non-permanent residents in Canada and the year the people immigrated. This information is used to compare the situation of immigrants over time to provide immigration and employment policies and the programs which serve those individuals and to plan on education, health and other services much needed by these communities.

The national household survey will provide information about the ethnic and cultural diversity in Canada. This information is used by associations, agencies and researchers for activities such as health promotion, communications and marketing.

The survey will also collect language information which will be used to determine the need for language training and the services in English and in French.

Another important aspect of the national household survey is the information collected about aboriginals, both on and off reserve. This information is used by governments, including aboriginal governments and organizations, to develop programs and services for our aboriginal peoples.

Another question on the survey will tell us about the visible minority population in Canada. This information is required for programs under the Employment Equity Act which promote equal opportunity for each and every Canadian.

There will also be a religion question. This question will be used to measure religious affiliation and diversity. It is for use to trace changes in Canadian society. The information will also be used to help plan facilities and services within our diverse communities across the country.

We will also know, when the results of the survey are released, where residents of Canada are moving to and where they are moving from. This information is used to look at the characteristics of people who move and to track the needs for housing, education, transportation and social services.

We will also know more about the social and economic conditions of the second generation of Canadians. This information helps us understand Canada's immigration history.

The national household survey also has a series of questions on education. These questions will tell us about the education, training and recent school attendance of residents of Canada. Governments use this information to develop training and other programs to meet the changing needs of our workforce and of the education needs of specific groups such as immigrants, aboriginal peoples and youth.

The labour market questions provide information on paid work to plan education and training programs, assess language use at work and the forecast of job opportunities. Information on where people work, how they get to work tells us about commuting patterns, public transit needs and energy use. This helps identify locations for new schools, hospitals, daycare and recreational facilities and the need for roads and transit services.

Income questions provide statistics on income from all sources. Governments use these statistics to develop income support programs such as old age security, provincial income supplements and social assistance payments. Businesses use income statistics to locate stores and to develop new products and services that are demanded by Canadians. Private and public sector researchers use information about earnings to study labour markets and industry patterns.

Information on expenses related to child care and support payments, along with information on income, provides more precise measures of disposable income.

Finally, questions on housing provide information to develop housing communities and projects. Information on the number of rooms and bedrooms in homes and on housing costs is used to assess the economic situation of Canadian families. Governments use this information to measure levels of crowding within households and to develop housing programs within their communities.

Information on the age of dwellings and the need for repairs is used by municipalities, for example, to develop neighbourhood improvement programs.

I would ask for the support of hon. colleagues for the national household survey. I trust they will encourage their constituents to complete the survey next May. This will ensure that all Canadians have the information they need for a better future.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census).

This bill is a direct response to the government's desire to abolish the mandatory long form for the 2011 Census. Recently, Quebeckers and Canadians were very surprised to learn that the government had decided to change the long form questionnaire. In fact, it had been used for 35 years and, as a member, I had never received any complaints from my constituents. I have held office since 2000 and 20% of the population receives this form at some point according to the statistical requirements. People do not find it to be a problem. Otherwise, as they do in other circumstances, they would complain to their MP. Thus, it was very surprising. I asked my Bloc Québécois colleagues and none have received complaints about the mandatory long form questionnaire. It was a surprise.

When the Conservatives surprise us like this, we have to look at what is behind it all. I was listening to the Conservative member read the text prepared for him. It was all right. He concluded by stating that we must encourage Canadians to fill out the new short form. That is a fine idea. It has not gone well for them. People are unhappy that the Conservatives are making these changes. What the member did not talk about was the political strategy behind it. In fact, when the Conservatives announce this kind of surprise it is because there is a political strategy that masks the Conservative ideology. That is the reality. Once again, the Conservatives dare not openly state the reasons for this decision. That is the Conservative way: they always try to hide the reality and are never transparent.

I was very surprised by another fact as well. First of all, we are no longer hearing anything from the hon. member for Beauce, who spoke out saying that he had received thousands of emails, although that was not true. He is so embarrassed that he has not said another word about this issue since. That is true. We might try to understand what is behind this policy, which no one asked for. It was quite something to see. The Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada resigned because the minister had the nerve to say, during his first speech on the issue, that it was at the request of Statistics Canada. It has since been clearly proven that Statistics Canada definitely did not ask for the change.

Thus, it was a political decision based on Conservative ideology. The Conservatives probably realize that certain categories of people would rather not answer the questionnaire. This is even more serious. Indeed, the accuracy of the information requested, provided and compiled by Statistics Canada was recognized around the world.

In addition, some people might still believe that possible jail time was a problem, since jail time was included in the legislation. The Conservatives say they want to eliminate such sentences. So be it. We can agree easily, simply because no criminal charges have ever been brought against someone who did not fill out the form.

Quebeckers, Canadians and members of Parliament have to live with a government that pulls rabbits out of its political hat and thinks it will win votes by allowing people not to fill out the long form. That is what the government bill comes down to. The form is now shorter, but it is not mandatory. In keeping with its ideology, the government is telling people that it will not force them to fill out a form, despite the fact that many organizations want it.

I do not have much time, so I will list just a few of the organizations that have asked the government to keep the long form. First, the Province of Quebec needs these statistics, which are a very important tool with respect to language of work and language used at home, for example. The government shortened the five questions on the mandatory form and added others. The Government of Quebec, the homeland of francophones in North America, needs statistics about the language used by the people who live in Quebec.

Other provinces have opposed this move for other reasons. Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba have all asked Ottawa to maintain the mandatory long form. They are all important members of what my Conservative colleagues call the Canadian federation. Once again, the federation is not based on negotiation, particularly not with the current Conservative government, which negotiates nothing.

A number of major stakeholders have reacted. These include the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association francophone pour le savoir, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick, the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Canadian Association for Business Economics.

Many organizations do not understand the government's decision and are asking it to reconsider and not go ahead with this bad idea, which would change a good way of doing things. People respected the mandatory long form and filled it out. No charges were ever laid against anyone for failing to comply. The long form provided information of great importance to society.

The Conservatives have made a big deal in the House about asking why it would be necessary to know the number of rooms in a house. For a furniture retailer or a company selling renovation materials, it is important to know future trends in these areas. Do homes have fewer or more rooms?

The Conservatives do not get it. That is why we always come back to the question: what is the political reason behind the Conservatives' decision to change the census form? Again, they are trying to please a segment of the population that is not in Quebec. Quebeckers did not complain about having to fill out this form. If we ask, perhaps the Conservatives will tell us what category of people they were targeting when they decided to remove the mandatory nature of the long form.

I agree with them on replacing criminal sentences with a simple fine, given that such sentences have never been handed down. The Bloc Québécois would have gladly supported the government on that.

Because of all the important information that was being used by both Quebec's and Canada's civil society and corporations, we are supporting the bill before us to reinstate the mandatory long form census, as Quebec, Ontario and other provinces are calling for.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census).

The New Democratic Party is supportive of the bill because it seeks to reverse the ideological-based decision of the Conservative government to cancel the long form census. The bill would also removes the punishment of imprisonment for a person convicted of providing false or misleading information.

While we are supportive of this bill, it is important to note that it does not go far enough.

Bill C-583, introduced by my colleague from Windsor West, goes one step further by enshrining into law the primacy of evidence-based decision-making over political maneuvering of the likes we have seen with the government.

To be clear, both elements of Bill C-568 are fully supported. For the record one more time: not a single Canadian has been imprisoned for failing to fill out the long form census. The imprisonment element should be removed right now.

However, we need to go further by removing political interference from Statistics Canada's ability to do its job and provide an accurate picture of our country. The Chief Statistician must be able to do his job in an environment free of political meddling by an ideological government intent on suppressing evidence and information that contradicts its narrow conservative agenda.

We can just imagine the outrage from the national and international community if the finance minister were to interfere with the independence of the Bank of Canada's governor to set monetary policy. Therefore, why should we accept the government's heavy-handedness in interfering with our Chief Statistician's capacity to do his or her job?

Hundreds of individuals, organizations, businesses and governments from coast to coast to coast raised the alarm bells because of the terrible decision to cancel the long form census. Despite the unsubstantiated claims by Conservative MPs about mythical complaints of the intrusiveness of the long form census, we know that the majority of citizens support and understand the need for the long form census.

As a francophone living in a predominantly English-speaking region in northern Ontario, I know that my community's capacity to access necessary federal services and funding for French cultural and educational initiatives is dependent on the availability of credible data on the size of our community in northern Ontario.

Losing the long form census will have a detrimental impact on our community and every other francophone community outside of Quebec.

Is it any wonder the government was taken to court on this issue? Our community is outraged by the government's relentless efforts to shut down any source of credible data that provides objective evidence necessary for developing good public policy.

Last night, right here on Parliament Hill, parliamentarians and members of Canada's very professional public service were invited to a special panel discussion on a timely topic: evidence versus ideology of Canadian public policy. This event was sponsored by the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the Association of Canadian Financial Officers and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

The event aimed to launch a public debate regarding the current state and possible future of evidence-based policy making in Canada. A panel discussion featured three distinguished speakers: Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen columnist and author; Lawrence Martin, The Globe and Mail columnist and author; and Armine Yalnizyan, an economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The discussion was fascinating because panellists and participants acknowledged that there has always been a role for ideology in public policy. However, they noted that in the past two years we have seen the emergence of a worrisome pattern.

First, the government gagged public servants and fired others who dared to disagree with it or gave it policy recommendations that did not fit into its ideologically driven agenda.

Second, the government has cancelled surveys and the long form census to ensure statisticians, economists, academics and other professionals did not have access to objective data that provided damning evidence of the Conservative government's policy failures.

The Conservatives are dragging this country backward with their ideological agenda even though a clear majority of Canadians are saying no. The majority of parliamentarians in this House support restoring the long form census, protecting the professional role of Canada's Chief Statistician and removing the threat of imprisonment from the act. Yet, the minority government continues to thumb its nose at the majority will of Parliament. What an insult to this historic institution. What an insult to democracy itself.

Bill C-568 is specific to the government's decision to cancel the long form census.

I believe this House needs to have a wider debate about the government's treatment of public servants. It is setting a public policy based on belief, not public interest; its rejection of evidence-based public policy; its attempt to shut down public access to objective data; and its attempt to stop credible analysis of its failed policies.

This will not work. We are on to the Conservatives and Canadians are on to them. When the next election is called, the Conservatives can be sure that we will remind them of every bad decision they have made.

This is unsubstantiated, but I have been told that the government tried to cancel the long form census when the outgoing Minister of the Environment was the industry minister, but he said no to the PMO. Unfortunately, the current Minister of Industry did not have that fortitude when the PMO came calling again demanding the cancellation of the long form census. There he was this past summer having to make a terrible decision, but he tried to blame the professional public servants of Statistics Canada.

The government keeps saying that the buck stops with the ministers, except, of course, when they make a bad decision, and then it wants to blame the public servants because it cannot defend itself.

This reminds me of when the current President of the Treasury Board was the Sea-Doo leader of the Canadian Alliance and did not know in which direction the Niagara River flowed. He blamed his staff. For the record, it flows north. The Conservatives have been blaming everybody but themselves ever since. It is a shame.

I offer my party's support for this bill and urge the House to bring other necessary changes to protect our professional public service from the kind of pervasive political interference by ministers and their political staff who have been known to interfere in every aspect of departmental decision-making, even stopping the flow of information through the Access to Information Act. We need to end this trend and we need to do it quickly before the Conservatives drag us decades backward.