moved that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am once again very proud to introduce Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), at second reading.
This bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for a period of 52 to 104 weeks for the following family-related reasons: the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; the disappearance of their minor child; the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; or the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.
This bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits for up to 52 weeks while on leave instead of the 15 weeks currently provided for sickness benefits.
In December 2007, the Quebec National Assembly showed the way by passing Bill 58, which allows employees and their families who were the victims of a criminal act or who are mourning a suicide or have a missing child to take unpaid leave and keep their jobs for a period of up to 104 weeks.
Unfortunately, the current federal legislation results in discrimination against people whose jobs fall under the Canada Labour Code. Since these people do not have their jobs guaranteed, they can take only 15 weeks of sick leave. The failure of the federal legislators to act in this regard has created two categories of workers: those who can get through difficult times with their jobs intact and those who are forced to choose between losing their jobs and returning quickly to work.
It is one thing to allow people to take some time off and return to the same kind of job, but the result will be the same if they do not have enough income to meet their needs: they will have no other choice than to return quickly to work. It is particularly difficult for them to rebuild their lives. In the view of the Bloc Québécois, which has always been very concerned about victims and their families, the federal government should immediately follow Quebec's lead for a number of reasons.
We know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of the victims. These events cause great psychological distress for many relatives and parents. The victims’ families wait and worry, mourn and frequently feel depressed, often over extended periods of time. In cases of murders and disappearances in particular, more than two years can pass between the criminal act and the resolution of the investigation. During this period, family members are deeply affected. They cannot pursue their regular activities. They have access to support and help, but they have no financial support. Additional financial worries are the last thing they need.
It is terrible to think that, at present, these people are left to their fate and have to keep working during this period as if nothing had happened because they have to meet their family’s needs as we all do. These people need time to get over such difficult events and gradually rejoin the work force at their own pace. Denying and ignoring that is simply adding insult to injury.
Sadly, several disappearances and murders have shaken Quebec in recent years. I think of Cédrika Provencher, Nancy Michaud, Alexandre Livernoche, Julie Surprenant, Julie Boisvenu, Jolène Riendeau and Natasha Cournoyer. We can also think of the 14 victims of the tragedy at the École Polytechnique, as well as the shootout at Dawson College that claimed the life of young Anastasia De Sousa.
In my riding of Compton—Stanstead, Isabelle Bolduc was assaulted and murdered in 1996. Last Friday, the incident in which Whitney et Tracy Hannah were shot to death in Belleville, Ontario, is another example of these terrible tragedies for the families.
I have given but a few examples, but it is for the relatives, friends and loved ones of all these families that I am fighting today and calling on the cooperation of all parties. After all, because of the pain and suffering and other impact of violent acts, are the victims' families not victims themselves? Grieving following a disappearance, murder or suicide takes longer than in other instances, particularly when rape or violence has taken place. There are more feelings of frustration, rage and powerlessness. This is especially true when a crime or suicide is involved.
This reality has been recognized by several members of this House, including Conservative members. For instance, the hon. member for Thornhill expressed with conviction compassion and concern for the lives of victims. Moreover, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada as well as the Minister of Public Safety made an official commitment in April 2009 to support the loved ones of victims. The former public safety minister and member for York—Simcoe said this, and I quote:
This Government recognizes that crime places a heavy toll on individual victims, their families, communities and society-at-large. Supporting victims takes a collaborative effort, and this Government is committed to continuing to work with our partners to help victims of crime—
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour said:
All members here certainly sympathize with those whose loved ones have been victims of violent crime. There is no question about that. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from that kind of tragedy.
There were symbolic measures to go with these fine speeches. This government even established the annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week in 2005 and organizes symposiums on that occasion. Such well-intentioned events look good on the calendar and provide great photo-ops, but how do they provide tangible help to the victims' families?
Not only are these types of measures inadequate, but the Conservative members are talking out of both sides of their mouths. According to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour:
The employment insurance program already responds to the needs of Canadians in these difficult circumstances. Most provinces already offer a variety of supports...such as coverage of medical expenses, as well as access to counselling services.
I invite him to say that to families who have lost a child or a spouse to crime and ask them whether the medical coverage pays for groceries, rent and household expenses.
What is more, this government says that provincial compensation measures such as IVAC are enough for these families. But is $3,000 really enough to cover a family's expenses for months? As a mother, I would say no. The government is lying when it says that 15 weeks of employment insurance with a bit of additional compensation can cover the needs of a family as it heals from such a tragedy. The reality is that in 2010, people who are filled with sorrow have to return to work as though nothing ever happened.
Despite that, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour went on to say:
[Justice Canada] already offers a variety of programs and services, including...the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
That is all very well, but a structure that costs $1.5 million a year and serves “to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities” is really not enough. What families need is not more administrative layers, but rather money to live on. Bureaucracy is being fattened up, but the relatives of victims who want to take time off work to look after their family and deal with their pain remain just as badly off.
With last week's budget, the government provided for some $6.6 million over two years to increase support for victims of crime. Not only is this sum an affront, but what it covers and how it will be allocated remain a mystery.
Emailed questions to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are returned unanswered for reasons of security.
This dubious excuse is used so often for so many reasons by the members opposite that it is meaningless.
Not only is this bill furthest along in the legislative process, but it provides a much better response to the needs of the families of victims of crime than the bill referred to by the Conservatives in the latest throne speech. The potential Conservative bill—which does not yet exist—will be much more restrictive, since it will provide special benefits only to the families of murder victims. The Bloc's bill, on the other hand, includes the families of victims of crimes causing death and of suicide victims.
The potential Conservative bill promises these people access only to employment insurance sickness benefits, that is, to 15 weeks of benefits. The Bloc calls for benefits that could extend to 52 weeks, when the situation requires it.
On December 10, the Conservative government, the one that keeps saying how it wants to help victims, said that it would vote against Bill C-343. It added that it would introduce its own bill excluding any type of new EI benefits. If that happens, the public will rightly understand that this government prefers to fill prisons with minors rather than help those who really need it. That is a serious mistake. If the Conservative government were consistent, it would support this bill without hesitation and turn its words into commitments for affected families.
Since they came to power, these Reform Conservatives have talked ad nauseam about being tough on crime. Law and order for them is nothing less than a government priority. They loudly proclaim that their goal is the well-being and security of the public, focusing their speeches on cracking down on criminals. The measures adopted prior to prorogation on prison terms are law and order measures only. The parents and partners of victims are left to their own devices and too often forgotten. This is why it is not enough to fill the prisons. Support must be given to those affected by these crimes.
If the members of this House oppose this bill, they will no doubt say that these measures will cost the government too much, with the extension of EI benefits from 15 to 52 weeks. The members opposite are saying that the bill will cost over $400 million. As usual, they are either miscalculating or lying deliberately. Fortunately, the type of tragic event requiring 52 weeks of benefits does not happen often. There have been fewer crimes committed in recent years, which considerably reduces the number of such incidents and thus the number of people needing EI benefits for 52 weeks.
Similarly, there are not many people who would become eligible for EI after the adoption of the bill. Everyone reacts in his or her own way to the loss of someone, but for some eligible people, a loss of income is not an option. We can also see that for some people, remaining at work is a way to get back to a normal life after a while. There are also people who do not work or who cannot find an insurable job or who do not work enough hours to be eligible for benefits. For all those reasons, the $400 million projected by the government is far too high. It is certainly a far cry from the Conservative government's defence budget.
Employees and employers are contributing enough to EI to allow families affected by such traumatic events to collect benefits. The government does not pay into EI. The $56 billion surplus that simply vanished from the EI fund makes the low cost of the bill all the more obvious. It is clear that if the government really cares for victims and their families, it will not hesitate for one second to support the bill.
If, however, the government votes against the bill, the public will conclude with good reason that it is totally indifferent to the families of victims. People will not soon forget because they have always been very sensitive to that issue.