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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was leave.

Topics

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier there was a speech by one of the members, which referred to some statistic that about 40% to 50% of the inmates in the prisons across Canada suffer from what is now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or alcohol-related birth defects.

If that is indeed the case, and this is an incurable but preventable affliction, there should be something in the legislation dealing with youth criminal justice issues to address those individuals for whom rehabilitation is not possible because of brain damage. There should be that other option of the courts and provincial jurisdictions to provide supports to those families and those individuals as to how to cope and to deal with permanent brain damage.

I wonder if the member is aware of any interventions or initiatives in Quebec in this regard.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question of mental health is another major issue. It is not that I do not want to answer this question, but I would like the member to raise this point in committee when this bill is being studied. Mental health is also an important issue.

In terms of their stories and appropriate intervention strategies, each case is looked at individually and different professionals do everything they can to rehabilitate the young person through an agreement or by taking action. If that is not possible, we could hear from professionals in this area. I would like to hear testimony from professionals about the strategies and other options that exist.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts. To review, this bill contains numerous amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the youth justice regime, including changes to the general and sentencing principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

As our critic has indicated, Liberals will be supporting it at second reading and sending it to committee for further debate. I believe very seriously that it needs extensive debate in committee and the calling in of witnesses to look at some of the impacts. Although there are some good points in the bill, some of which I will go through, it raises some serious concerns about previous improvements that were made to the youth criminal justice system.

In the remarks by my colleague from Halifax West in the House on this bill, he summed it up about right in only around 25 words. He said:

One thing that concerns me, though, is that when we hear the Conservatives talk about young people, most of the time it is about putting them in jail.

I thought that was an appropriate comment because it seems to be where the changes in this act are really leading. It is so often all about penalty with the government and never about rehabilitation.

In our ridings and all across the country, and I certainly saw a lot of this when I was solicitor general, we see young people in trouble. Is it always all their fault? Yes, they do get in trouble, but some come from seriously broken homes, some may have gotten on drugs and got in trouble, some did not have a chance in life at all. By throwing them in jail and throwing away the key, this country is losing potential.

Yes, they got in trouble, but it is not just about penalties. It is about a social safety net, daycare programs, child care programs, literacy programs, education programs and working with young people to try to prevent them from getting into trouble. Young people have tremendous economic opportunity to benefit the country and themselves and raise families and so on.

My point is that we have to be very careful that we do not get on this mantra to build more jails, put them in jail, throw away the key and forget about rehabilitation and other social programs that can make a difference in people's lives in terms of preventing crime in the first place. We have lost too many lives in this country as a result of governments not doing enough in other areas to assist people.

There are elements of this bill that appear to favour punishment more than rehabilitation. We in the Liberal Party have serious concerns about the bill, which presents sweeping changes to the youth criminal justice system itself. While we support serious consequences for people who commit serious crimes, we believe that youth must be treated differently from adults.

As my colleague from Halifax West said in his remarks, this bill goes to the heart of what the government's mentality is when it comes to justice. It is a justice system that is based more on penalties than rehabilitation.

I would ask Canadians who may pay attention to these debates that, in terms of our justice system as a whole, in terms of our country as a whole, as we compare ourselves with the United States, where do we feel safer walking on the streets? In Canada or in the United States? I think if we asked 1,000 Canadians, 998 of them would say any place in Canada.

Yet, when we look at the two justice systems, the United States incarcerates somewhere around 690 or 700 people per 100,000 and Canada incarcerates 106 or 107 per 100,000.

We incarcerate less people, but people feel safer on our streets. Yet, the government wants us to go to the U.S. system of justice. That is what it is basically trying to do, and that is just not the way to go.

In the youth criminal justice system, we need to emphasize prevention and rehabilitation rather than just penalties.

Basically, the government's approach is to throw them in jail and throw away the key. In fact, even within the prison system itself, the government is withdrawing itself from good programs that rehabilitate people--

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Why?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Why is questionable.

What the government is really doing within the prison system itself, it is closing down prison farms.

I am a farmer. There are several members here who are farmers. We all know how wonderful farmers are, working with livestock, growing crops, and how rehabilitative that is.

The government has announced it is going to close all the prison farms in Canada. It makes absolutely no sense at all. So my colleague, the critic for public safety, and I toured those farms. We were out west at the one outside of Winnipeg. We were at the Frontenac Institution, in Kingston, which has a marvellous dairy herd and a good egg operation. We were at the Pittsburgh Institution in Joyceville, which has an abattoir and a greenhouse. The greenhouse is already closed down. And we were at the Westmoreland Institution in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, which has a wonderful dairy herd and egg-laying operation.

The Conservatives have made a lot of crazy decisions as a government over there, but closing down prison farms just makes absolutely no sense at all.

We had a couple of committee hearings. The sad part about those committee hearings is that we did not get hardly any answers from CORCAN or government representatives. I will make a couple of comments about what others have said, just to fill members in on the issue. The reason I am mentioning prison farms in the context of the young offenders act is because it goes to the attitude of the current government that it is all about penalities, not about rehabilitation.

On prison farms in both New Brunswick and Ontario I have seen young offenders, well, they are below 35 years of age, so, they are fairly young people. One individual was an older gentleman, who went into the system when he was very young. He has been in that prison system for 31 years. He said that he was a bad fellow, that he did lots of crime, and that he was a bad fellow even within the prison system. The only time he really became a human being is about four years ago, when he happened to get moved to the prison farm at the Frontenac operation.

The dairy herd is called the Pen Farm, a herd that was established at the turn of the previous century, a herd that is in the top 20% of production in Canada. When people walk into that dairy barn, they look at the herd and they see the quality of cattle. They see the care and attention that inmates are giving those cattle. They are actually making equipment to assist downer cows.

My point about this individual and what he said to me is, “I never became a real human being until I got here to this farm to work with cattle”. It has a tremendous rehabilitative impact.

Again, the Government of Canada is throwing that opportunity away. Just like what it is doing in this bill, it is throwing the opportunity away to make young people better people, to find the good qualities in them, and make them productive citizens in Canadian society again, not throw them in jail and throw away the key, where eventually when they do get out, all it has done is make better criminals of them. We need a system outside of the prison system to work with people, young people. We also need a system within the prison system to work with folks who have done crime and are paying a penalty. We need to rehabilitate them.

However, the thing that angered me most on the prison farm side of the equation was the attitude of the former minister of public safety. He is President of the Treasury Board today, but he did make it clear why facilities were to be closed. It was the opinion of the minister, and no doubt the Conservative government as well, that the funding for these facilities and the farming skills acquired “could be more adequately redirected to programs where people would actually gain employable skills”.

This is what we heard at the public safety committee with CORCAN and Correctional Service Canada about prison farms. They were saying that those farm skills are not as important anymore. One of the members of the Conservative Party tried to make the point that only 14 people came out of that system and got jobs on farms. What about all the others who went through the prison farm system? They got jobs. Not every lawyer goes into law. What they learned in that prison system on the farms was discipline, getting up on time, doing work, and managing their time. They learned farming skills, welding skills and other skills. They learned all kinds of skills that could be used in many occupations.

I am the agriculture critic and I can understand why a members over there would say they do not value farm skills because we know they do not even value farmers in this country by the lack of programs they are putting in place, but that is a subject for another day.

Just a note on the Frontenac Institution before I move back to the act itself. The Frontenac facility has been described in the agriculture media in the following way:

It ranks in the top 20 per cent of Ontario’s dairy herds for management, is quick to embrace new technologies and make them work. It won Frontenac County’s most improved herd award in 2005 with a jump of 147 points and supplies milk and eggs to Corrections Canada institutions in Ontario and Quebec. And if a recent report is to believed, it is among six prison farms in Canada which not only aren’t making money, but aren’t supplying inmates with the skills they need upon release. Its abattoir services 300 local farmers, processes 60 animals per week and supplies 150 local butcher shops.

That is a productive operation. It teaches those inmates wonderful skills, and for the Government of Canada to be closing them down makes no sense at all, but it comes back to my original point that the government does not care about rehabilitation. The government only cares about penalties and it is actually going to lose. Once those farms are gone they are gone forever.

There are many questions that have been raised by even the people in Kingston, where the government wants to close that institution down, so it can sell off the assets to pay the massive debt that it has imposed on our children and grandchildren as a government. Or is it looking to build a super jail there and go the way that the United States has gone where we will build more jails in Canada and incarcerate more people, and adopt a system that has been found in the United States not to work.

Let me come back to the bill. The major provisions of Bill C-4 are articulating that the protection of society is a primary goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there is no problem with that; altering pretrial detention rules to make it simpler for judges to keep violent and repeat offenders in custody prior to trial; adding specific deterrence and denunciation of the sentencing principles for youth; expanding the definition of what constitutes a “violent offence”; allowing for more serious sentences for youth with a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions for so-called repeat offenders; requiring the consideration of adult sentences by provincial Crown prosecutors for youth 14 and older, or 16 and older in Quebec, who commit serious offences like murder, attempted murder aggravated sexual assault; and requiring courts to consider lifting publication bans on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences even when youth sentences are applied. Those are basically some of the areas and some of those points we agree with.

However, on the negative side, and this is unfortunate. The government has been in power four and a half years now and each day of the week that it is there it begins to wear on Canadians more and more. It is just like an old machine getting rusty, that is for sure.

It is unfortunate that what the government has shown over its four years in government is that it would rather create jail spaces than child care spaces. There is no evidence to indicate that jailing more people works as a deterrent.

That is what I said earlier when I compared it to the United States. This analysis builds on what has been provided by other experts and the Conservatives have chosen to ignore. Penalties in and of themselves are not the answer. We need systems of social programs that assist people, that help families in trouble. We also need them within the jail system itself.

This plan, along with some of the government's other so-called law and justice proposals, will lead to higher incarceration rates and increased costs for Canada's justice system without a significant improvement in Canadian safety.

I will close with a couple of quotes from others who know the system well because I believe they make the point. Rick Linden, who is a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, states:

It's designed more for the political effect than to actually have much affect on crime.

That goes right to the mantra of the government. It is all about messaging. I believe we have called it a culture of deceit in question period just the odd time. That is what it is about with the government. It is all about messaging. Do not let the facts get in the way of a good story. It is all about messaging.

There is lots more that could be said about the defaults of this bill, but I will close and turn to questions.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seemed that I was listening to the member ad infinitum.

I thought we were talking about Bill C-4 for a while, but he strayed off to prison farms. What he does not realize is that very few people are finding work in the animal husbandry business because, as he and I both know, farmers are struggling.

My riding is home to Canada's largest federal penitentiary, and I can tell the member that a lot of good things are happening with the people who are serving time there. They are learning trades. Some of them are actually getting their ticket as sandblasters for instance. In some cases they are finding jobs before they leave prison. They are learning a trade while they are in jail. They are getting an education so that they can get a better job to provide for themselves and their families. I could go on and on.

The member for Malpeque should avail himself of the statements of Professor Martin of the University of the Fraser Valley who appeared before the justice committee. He said that sentencing does provide a deterrent.

I wonder if the member for Malpeque could tell the House when the protection of society should be given consideration when sentencing young offenders. Is he of the opinion that the protection of society should be continued?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, in response to the last point, the protection of society is extremely important and it should be given consideration all of the time in fact.

However, there are many ways of considering that protection of society. One of them is having governments at both the federal and provincial levels work on the preventive side, providing child care and daycare, which the Conservative government took away, for instance.

The other way to protect society is to do what was suggested earlier, have rehabilitation programs in place so that people in the prison system come out rehabilitated. What the government is emulating is the system in the United States which is to build more jails and throw people into them.

The member for Northumberland—Quinte West talked about other skills. They are important. Of course those other skills are important, but what is also important is what people learn by working on the farm.

I know there is a government over there that does not care about farm policy. I believe the member said that farmers are struggling. It is no wonder they are struggling. They are struggling because last year the government spent $900 million less on farm safety programs than it did the year before. The hog industry is in trouble. The potato industry is in trouble. The beef industry is in trouble. We have a government that just does not care.

The Conservatives do not care about farmers any more than they care about the people they throw in prison. It is unacceptable and sad.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised some interesting perspectives on an approach to crime prevention and the related public safety issues.

I want to remind him of a comment by the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. His characterization was that the government is not interested in reducing crime, but rather in trying to win votes by using slogans like “We are tough on crime”.

The member is well aware of what the government has done. We have seen these bills circulating and circulating and then Parliament is prorogued and the government introduces them again at different stages. The government is not really attempting to get any of them through. There does not seem to be a commitment.

I must admit that if a slogan were to be adopted by this place, it should not be a matter of being tough on crime but rather of being smart on crime.

The member gave some examples of the experience of the United States versus Canada in terms of its incarceration rates, its level of public safety and the quality of crime prevention.

I wonder if the member would care to comment.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the question goes right to the point of the difference between the official opposition and the current Conservative government which is that we want to be smart on crime. We want to improve bills so that we have less crime, that when the people who commit crime come out of the prison system they are rehabilitated, that within the prison system itself there is the training systems and policies to work with people to make them better and more productive citizens in Canadian society.

The member is absolutely right. He mentioned that the government really is not about reducing crime, but is really about trying to win votes, something we have not heard much of here lately. Some of these bills have been introduced three or four times. It was not the official opposition that prevented them from getting through. It was the Prime Minister himself with his prorogation of Parliament. The Conservatives went to great lengths to try to blame it on the Liberal dominated Senate, but there was only one bill that was slowed down by the Liberal dominated Senate and the government tried to allege all of them were.

Now we have a Conservative dominated Senate, but the government still has not brought all the bills forward. The Conservatives are still dragging their heels. It comes back to what we talked about earlier, the culture of deceit. They want to be able to find another reason to go to the public to blame those big bad Liberals and try and message that we held them up, when really it is the Prime Minister who prevented them from getting passed and the Conservatives have not even introduced some of them.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member and he talked about anything but Bill C-4 and went off topic continually.

He talked about this government going after the votes on justice issues. After looking at his comments carefully, he is suggesting Canadians do not know anything about justice issues, that the Liberal Party does not agree with Canadians wanting safer communities. He is suggesting the Liberals know how to be smart about justice issues like two for one credit for violent offences. Canadians said absolutely not and this government changed that. Why would the member call that type of ridiculous attitude toward justice smart and say that Canadians do not know what they are doing about justice issues? Why would he disrespect Canadians in the way that he is doing? He needs to stand up for the victims, not just the offenders.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Oh my goodness, Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment is certainly off the wall today, but it goes to the Conservatives' point about messaging. They want to try and attack the Liberals rather than own up to their own responsibility that they have not dealt effectively with this issue since they came to government.

As I have said, this party on this side of the House does believe in smart policies to deal with crime. We do believe in penalties, but we also believe in pensions and the social side. The government just withdraws all the money it can from social programs whether it is with Status of Women or child care and daycare, whatever it may be. It does not assist the families who need assistance so that youth can be more productive members in society. Instead, the Conservatives go right to the penalty side.

I had better add in this point because it is an important one. Frank Addario of the Criminal Lawyers' Association said that there is no evidence that more severe punishment does anything to reduce recidivism among youth. He is an individual who should know. What the Government of Canada has to do is listen to some of those folks who work within the system and build better policies around what they say rather than its own attitudes that do not make a lot of sense.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts.

Let me say from the outset that I have very serious concerns about this legislation. That will not come as a surprise to many people given my concerns about the approach of the Conservative government to criminal justice issues generally. I have expressed that concern on many occasions here in the House.

There is a body of opinion, some represented here in the House and more broadly in the community, that the Youth Criminal Justice Act does require some tweaking. It is not an old piece of legislation but it is a piece of legislation that does need attention. There are people who think some minor aspects of it need some attention. However, I think the bill before us goes way beyond tweaking and way beyond fixing the small problems with the act that need attention. The bill contains some very significant changes.

Here is how some of the bill's key provisions have been described.

The bill would make protection of society the primary goal of the act. The bill adds denunciation and deterrence to the sentencing provisions. That is a very significant addition. The bill would require the court to consider lifting the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when youth sentences are given. It is very important to note that the government has also changed the definition of violent offences and serious violent offences in this legislation.

The bill would require police forces to keep records of extrajudicial measures used to deal with young persons in order to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending. I will speak about that later.

The bill proposes to detain youth charged with a serious offence while he or she awaits a trial.

The bill would allow custody of young persons where they have committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions.

Finally, among other provisions, there is a provision that would require offenders under the age of 18 who are sentenced to custody to be placed in youth facilities only, even if they receive an adult sentence.

The last provision in this legislation is the one that is clearly supportable. It marks a huge turnaround for the Conservatives. It comes after they blew it in the last election when folks in Quebec in particular made it clear that they thought youth should not be doing time in adult prisons. That was a significant issue in the last federal election campaign.

I am concerned, however, that the burden of implementing this provision falls to provincial governments, and the federal government has not indicated if it will assist them to assure it is fully implemented. Without that kind of assistance, it could easily be an empty promise.

Even the best part of this bill, ensuring that youth are not sentenced and serve time in an adult prison, could very well be inoperative without a specific commitment from the government to assist provinces to implement that provision.

I do have very serious questions about other provisions in the bill.

Our justice system has always held that youth must be treated differently with respect to criminal justice issues. Children are not adults. We assume they do not have the same maturity as adults. We know they rarely appreciate the consequences of their actions when they break the law. The distinction between how we deal with adults and youth and child criminals must be maintained and not weakened. This is an important principle of our criminal justice system.

It is particularly true when we limit the rights of children in other ways. For instance, we do not allow them to participate in the democratic process in this country until they are 18.

If we are treating children as adults in the criminal justice system, we are not giving them a say in developing the rules of that system until they have become an adult. That is an indication of the unfairness of this kind of proposal.

The bill would make a significant change to the goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This bill would place protection of society as the primary goal of the act rather than accountability for the youth who are convicted, rather than the promotion of rehabilitation, and rather than support for crime prevention.

There is no doubt that in criminal justice matters the protection of society has to be a key goal, but I believe that by making it the primary goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is a step in the wrong direction.

We must never write off young people. We must do all we can to ensure their rehabilitation after they have committed a crime. We must put the restoration of their relationship with their community after a criminal conviction as they key goal of our youth criminal justice system. If we want a primary goal or a key goal, that is the goal that should be in place.

Placing the protection of society first, especially when the current Conservative government often uses protection of society as a euphemism for being tough on crime and more punitive, runs contrary to what youth criminal justice should be about.

There has been some considerable debate already about this legislation. Here is what a recent Toronto Star editorial says on this issue:

What Sébastien's Law would do, though, is change the tone of our youth criminal justice system from rehabilitation and reintegration to punishment and public shaming.

This is particularly troubling given the likelihood that the bill will do nothing to reduce crime but may, in fact, turn more juvenile offenders into hardened criminals and cost taxpayers plenty to keep them locked up.

The government says it will “make protection of society a primary goal of the legislation.”

But legal experts argue compellingly that this can't be done by tinkering with our criminal justice system. Harsher sentences, particularly for impulsive and immature young people, do not make offenders think twice about committing crimes, says criminologist and youth-justice expert Nicholas Bala.

Contrary to the government's assertions, this view is supported by evidence both here and in the United States, the poster child for tough-on-crime laws that have cost taxpayers billions without actually helping to reduce crime.

That is what the Toronto Star said in a recent editorial. It has used very strong language to say that the bill is about punishment and public shaming, and not about rehabilitation and reintegration. It is very, very troubling.

Other commentators have also been very critical of the bill. The Montreal Gazette looked at the changes to sentencing that are included in this legislation. It noted in an editorial that it had concerns about the provision that would allow the courts to take into consideration so-called extrajudicial sanctions, and here is what it said on that specific issue:

A sentencing judge would be allowed, for example, to take into account previous “extra-judicial sanctions”—warnings or referrals to community agencies—that were not subject to a court hearing and did not result in a formal criminal conviction.

By their very nature, extra-judicial measures do not involve a careful sifting of evidence, or even the opportunity for a young person to mount a proper defence. To base a prison sentence on such informal interventions is contrary to the normal course of justice. The very goal of informal sanctions is to give young people another chance. No family would go along with extra-judicial measures if there is a risk they will be used against a youngster at any time in the future. In one fell swoop an approach that has amply proven its worth could be undermined.

That is what the Montreal Gazette, in an editorial, said about the whole issue of how the government is proposing to use extrajudicial sanctions when it comes to sentencing a young person. I think again it is very, very strong language and very troubling.

Overall, the Montreal Gazette gave a big thumbs-down to the bill. In the editorial, it concluded:

The thrust of this bill, unfortunately, is to move away from rehabilitation and toward retribution.

It also said:

This legislation still appears to be driven by ideology and political showmanship, not by research or common sense.

It says that it should go back to the drawing board.

That is another editorial board of an important Canadian newspaper that has looked at this legislation and in very strong language has criticized it and said, in fact, that it should be withdrawn because of the serious problems.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I must interrupt the member for Burnaby—Douglas at this time. He will have 11 minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

Private Member's Bill C-343--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader on December 10, 2009 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), standing in the name of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Joliette for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to Bill C-343, the parliamentary secretary stated that, in his view, the bill infringes upon the financial initiative of the crown. Specifically, he pointed out that the bill seeks to modify the Canada Labour Code to permit employees to take leave without pay for a number of family-related reasons. He explained that the bill would also amend the Employment Insurance Act in order to allow these employees to receive employment insurance benefits while on such leave for a period of up to 52 weeks, thus resulting in new government spending.

In his intervention, the member for Joliette argued that a royal recommendation is not required since the funds in the employment insurance account consist of premiums paid by both workers and employers and do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has examined the bill carefully, and it is quite clear that Bill C-343 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. The argument put forth by the member for Joliette regarding whether or not funds contributed to the employment insurance fund constitute public revenue was addressed in a Speaker's ruling delivered on November 16, 2009, at Debates page 6751, where it stated:

In essence, all monies received by the government, regardless of source, are deposited in the consolidated revenue fund and become public funds, that is, funds of the Crown. The Constitution Act of 1867 and Standing Order 79 apply to these funds. Thus, a bill proposing a new or increased expenditure of public funds, that is, an appropriation, requires a royal recommendation.

The employment insurance program operates under this framework. The funds in question are public funds and their management is subject to the financial initiative of the Crown.

By extending benefits to employees taking an unpaid leave from work for family-related reasons, Bill C-343 is increasing the expenditures under that act. These expenditures would be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1).

Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received. Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Statement by Minister of the EnvironmentPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There is a usual practice of the House with regard to points of order. One of them, on a question of whether a matter is a point of order, has to do with whether it is inconsistent with our usual practices of the House. I would like to refer to an incident that occurred at the end of question period prior to routine proceedings when the Minister of the Environment rose and stated, and I am quoting from the blues:

“I rise on a point of order relating to a matter before the House and before one of its committees. I would like to inform the House that on Tuesday evening of this week, April 20, I was advised that in April 2009 a member of my staff in Calgary, Mr. Scott Wenger, was approached by Mr. Rahim Jaffer. Their discussion involved representations by Mr. Jaffer on behalf of a company. On my instructions Mr. Wenger has forwarded the details of those discussions and the documents relating to them to the Commissioner of Lobbying. The material was transmitted late yesterday, April 22. The same material is being transmitted today to the Ethics Commissioner. No contract was ever awarded to the company. I was not involved in those discussions in April 2009. Nor was I aware that they took place. As I have previously stated publicly, the only discussion I have had with Mr. Jaffer in the past one and a half years consisted of a 30 second discussion in this very building in early 2009, when I told him that I was not responsible for the administration of the so-called green funds. I felt it was my obligation, Mr. Speaker, to so advise the House today.”

What the minister rose to do was not to raise a point of order, but rather, in my view, to make a ministerial statement, which is a specific item under routine proceedings. Mr. Speaker, as you know, ministerial statements are usually accompanied by a notice to the other parties so that representatives of the other parties can make due representations and equivalent statements in the House related to the matter of the ministerial statement.

My point of order is that I believe the matter that occurred was in fact not a point of order, but rather, a ministerial statement, that it should be corrected and that the opposition parties should be given the opportunity to make representations to this place with regard to the statement by the Minister of the Environment.

Statement by Minister of the EnvironmentPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair appreciates the point of order raised by the member for Mississauga South. It will be considered and the Speaker will return to the House on this matter if necessary.

It being 1:37 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 18 consideration of the motion 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.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-343 introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead.

This private member's bill would provide leave and benefits to federally regulated workers whose family members have been victims of crime. It calls upon Parliament to amend both the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act.

All members of this House want to support victims of crime and their families. The question is whether or not this bill provides as comprehensive a solution as our Conservative government believes that it should. As mentioned by the parliamentary secretary previously, our government cannot support this bill as it currently is drafted. To do so would be to support a bill that lacks the scope to address the full nature of this very important issue.

To the families who, as victims of violence, are struggling with the loss of a loved one, to the children who have suffered serious injury as the direct result of a criminal offence, to those who have had to live through the nightmare of a child going missing, and to those who have lost a spouse, a common-law partner or child to suicide, as a father to four children and a grandfather of eight grandchildren, I personally empathize with them and I sincerely recognize their pain and hardship.

Looking after the needs of citizens who fall victim to crime is a priority of this government. It is a pledge we made in the 2007 Speech from the Throne indicating that:

In addition to tougher laws, our Government will provide targeted support to communities and victims.

In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, we gave a fair bit of detail about what we plan to do this spring. We said:

Our Government will also offer tangible support to innocent victims of crime and their families. It will give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. It will introduce legislation to give employees of federally regulated industries the right to unpaid leave if they or members of their families are victimized by crime. And our Government will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory, to better fund victim services.

Through budget 2010, the government proposed facilitating access to EI sickness benefits for eligible workers who have lost a family member as the result of a crime. To further demonstrate our government's commitment to ensure that the men and women who put themselves in harm's way have the programs and services they need, this measure will also be extended to immediate family members of military personnel who died resulting from a service-related injury.

Already our government has taken decisive steps to better support victims of crime. This includes investing $52 million over four years to provide programs and services that deal directly with the needs of these victims. We also created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, which is promoting the concerns of victims and ensuring that victims can gain access to federal services and programs. It is very clear that supporting victims of crime is consistent with the government's overall strategy to tackle crime and to strengthen the security of all Canadians.

I will take a moment to highlight the current provisions of the Canada Labour Code and the EI Act that provide access to certain types of leave for victims of crime.

For example, under the Canada Labour Code, a federally regulated employee who is a victim of crime or whose family member is a victim of crime may be entitled to unpaid leave under one of the current leave provisions, including sick leave, compassionate care leave and bereavement leave.

Also, certain employees may be eligible to receive EI benefits through the EI Act. Although the EI program does not provide benefits explicitly for those affected by violent crimes, persons affected in this situation are eligible for up to a maximum of 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits if they are unable to work due to health reasons. That includes stress caused by the injury or loss of a loved one.

In addition, EI compassionate care benefits are available to eligible workers who take a temporary absence from work when an individual considered to be a member of that family falls gravely ill and is at significant risk of death.

Unlike what is proposed in Bill C-343, although well-intended, these measures that we just suggested apply to more than just workers in the federal domain. They apply to all workers in insurable employment, and thanks to our government's recently introduced fairness for the self-employed bill, the special EI benefits I have outlined, including sickness and compassionate care benefits, have also been extended to self-employed individuals who opt into the program.

It is also important to point out that the provinces and territories are largely responsible for the administration of justice. All provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador, have some form of compensation program for victims of crime and their families. While the compensation available under these provincial programs varies from province to province, one type of compensation that is commonly available is for lost earnings. It is also worth noting that several of these compensation programs are more generous than what could be offered through the EI program and provide more broad-based coverage.

I would point to the good example that Quebec has set for the rest of Canada in the comprehensive way it approaches supporting victims of crime.

This legislation sets a strong benchmark to compare to other legislation. I believe the member who introduced this bill was headed in the right direction when she borrowed heavily from that particular text in Quebec.

Our government has sincere sympathy for the family members of victims of violent crime. Our legislative record demonstrates that we are continuing to work in this area to improve services and to improve support.

Although I and our party cannot support Bill C-343 as it is currently drafted, I respect the good intentions of the member opposite. However, as I have indicated in my remarks today, the government believes in a more comprehensive approach and such an approach can only be accomplished through a different piece of legislation and that legislation will be forthcoming from this government.

I can tell members that introducing new leave provisions, including unpaid leave for victims of crime, will be a part of that proposal, as it was promised in the Speech from the Throne.

I would echo the call of the parliamentary secretary for members of this House to be patient for a short while and wait for the proposal of the government to be tabled in this place. Members can then choose which proposal is more comprehensive in its approach on this particular important issue.

We all want to support the victims of crime and I believe all parties will be pleased when they see the measures that the government will be unveiling in the days ahead.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to take part in the debate at second reading of Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave).

This bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead has four components. First, it amends the Canada Labour Code to allow federal government employees to take unpaid leave from work under very exceptional circumstances: if their spouse, common-law partner or child has died during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; if their minor child has gone missing; if their spouse, common-law partner or child commits suicide; or if their minor child is unable to carry on regular activities, in other words lead a relatively normal life, following the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.

In addition to granting unpaid leave, the bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these same employees to receive benefits while on leave for a limited period.

There is no provision in the Canada Labour Code that would allow a federal employee to take unpaid leave for the loss of a loved one under circumstances such as the ones I just mentioned.

One of the legislator's roles is to review and reinterpret legislation in light of society's ever-changing needs. In this case, we are concerned about the needs of families that have been struck by tragedy: the death or suicide of a spouse or child. Moreover, we believe that victims of crime who are left with serious injuries need the support of their immediate family.

Our society has undergone huge changes in recent years. Spouses and parents usually work outside the home and have a fixed schedule. We know that women and mothers commonly work both at home and at paid jobs, so they can seldom take time off work, even for a reason as important as wanting to mourn with their family.

Other changes have also left their mark on our society. Our legislation has always been designed to punish the perpetrators of crime. But until quite recently, the plight of victims of crime has received little or no attention. For some time now, government has altered its perception of what causes crime and what constitutes appropriate punishment, but it has done so unevenly.

As part of this humanistic approach to crime, government is now focusing on victims' rights. This bill is designed to help victims' immediate family members by providing them with financial support for a given time. The fact that it has been introduced here is an indication that our employment insurance program and our labour code no longer meet the needs of Canadians, the vast majority of whom now hold paying jobs.

The sudden disappearance of a child or spouse is a traumatic event. Even though there is very little we can do to help a crime victim's family, it is clear that not having to worry about losing one's job and having access to employment insurance benefits can offer some relief.

When the Liberals were in power, they proposed providing financial support to families through compassionate leave. The goal was to help employees, regardless of whom they worked for, who were forced to leave work to take care of a seriously ill or dying relative. Since January 2004, eligible workers have received six weeks of employment insurance benefits for compassionate care leave along with eight weeks of job protection under the Canada Labour Code. Such individuals could leave work temporarily without worrying about losing pay or the job itself if a parent, spouse or child was dying or seriously ill.

Along the same lines, Bill C-343 seeks to help families in certain extremely exceptional cases for “family reasons” by providing them with employment insurance benefits and protection under the Canada Labour Code. However, this is only for federal government employees. It makes sense for the Government of Canada, as an employer, to set an example for businesses in Canada.

This bill should be studied in committee to give the House an opportunity to review and rationalize the entire concept of “family leave”, which already includes parental leave, compassionate care leave and maternity leave.

Right now, all of these components can cause some confusion with the way the law is written.

We are waiting for the Conservative government to follow up on the recent throne speech with a proposal for Canadians. We are waiting. We will have to make sure that the government's bill is not contrary to the fundamentals of Bill C-343.

We believe that there is a clear need for this bill. However, a number of elements require closer examination. This bill proposes that “close family members” should include spouses, common-law spouses and children, but it does not include the death, under similar circumstances, of the employee's mother or father.

Second, the duration of the unpaid leave requires further study. The bill provides for 104 weeks of leave for an employee if their child is injured during the commission of a crime and needs the constant presence of the parent. This amount of leave, as well as the 104 weeks of leave following the death of the spouse, common-law partner or child as the result of a crime, should be reviewed. Finally, the bill provides for 52 weeks of leave in the case of the disappearance of a minor child.

The bill raises a number of questions regarding the duration of the unpaid leave under the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act especially since the 2004 legislation provides only six weeks, or 42 days, of compassionate care leave with employment insurance benefits and eight weeks of employment protection under the Canada Labour Code.

There should be greater consistency in the duration of the different types of family leave.

What is being proposed in Bill C-343 is not new. Quebeckers in these circumstances are already protected by Quebec legislation.

We should take a closer look at Quebec's legislation in order to determine what it has to say regarding this bill when the bill is studied by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The newspapers and television often report terrible news about the death of an individual during the commission of a crime. Or we hear about an entire neighbourhood or village that has volunteered for days or weeks to help the police find an eight-year-old who disappeared without a trace while returning home from school.

Canada is not a country where families are afraid to walk in a park on a Sunday afternoon. However, crimes do take place here and we must recognize, in our Canadian legislation, that the state must help victims of crime and their families.

I will be voting in favour of Bill C-343 so that it can be studied in committee and I congratulate the member for Compton—Stanstead on her initiative.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave). I thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for tabling this important legislation.

The bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for the following family-related reasons: (a) 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; (b) the disappearance of their minor child; (c) the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; and (d) the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.

The bill would also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits while on leave.

Very clearly I support this bill. It is a very important improvement to our social service network in Canada. I support the bill because I believe it is a significant measure that would help people who are victims of crime.

We hear a lot of talk in this place, especially from the Conservatives, about supporting victims of crime, but here we have a measure that is a real and tangible assistance. It is very important to note that the member for Compton—Stanstead has gone out ahead of the pack, ahead of the government on this issue and developed an idea that has real meaning for victims of crime.

Helping people in these circumstances, when someone they love, a child, a spouse or partner, is directly affected by a criminal act or when they take their own life is most appropriate. It is one of those areas where we, working collectively as a community, can act to be of significant assistance.

Ensuring that people have time, that their employment is protected and that they have income, while they deal with the consequences of a serious crime, is a good thing. The member for Compton—Stanstead put it very well in her speech, when she said:

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.

The member put it very eloquently in that quote from her speech in the first hour of debate on the bill. We know there are many needs associated when families are victims of crime in our society. We know there are many ways we can offer assistance. We know there are gaps in that assistance. The bill goes a significant way to fill one of those major gaps.

There are some people who would say that we cannot afford such a measure, and we have heard that kind of commentary from the government benches. I would say we cannot do without it. We cannot afford not to do it. It is very important.

Others will say that it is too generous, that it places too much of a demand on employment insurance resources. That is nonsense.

We know that in the past the federal government has collected far more in EI premiums and employer contributions than was ever spent on the program. I think $57 billion is the figure to be exact. That money could have easily be spent on improving the EI program, protecting workers, supporting families and communities, but Liberals and Conservatives used it to pay off the deficit that they were responsible for running up.

We could have had a program that supported workers during a recession. We could have expanded EI to assist workers when their families were victims of crime. However, no, that money was taken from workers and employers. We were told it would be used for EI, but it used for another purpose altogether. That was not right or fair.

The bill before us today shows us an appropriate use for the EI fund. I doubt that few workers, when pressed, would not support helping others in the way the bill proposes.

The current Conservative government seems to be heading down that road again, where we are increasing premiums for workers and employers, increasing the payroll taxes that they pay for EI. That measure was announced in the recent budget, and it will come in this coming year. Employers and employees will pay more into the EI program starting next year, there again, building a new surplus in the program. It is predicted to balloon to $19 billion in only a few years.

This might be okay if the money were being directed toward improvements in the EI program, but there is no guarantee of that in what has been proposed. If more people were made eligible for EI, if the qualifying periods were reduced, that would be a good thing, but that is not what will go on here. If the benefits paid to unemployed people were improved, that would be a good thing, but, again, that is not what has been proposed with this increase. If the waiting period were eliminated, that would be a good thing too, but, again, that is not proposed by the government with its increase in payroll taxes.

We know that is not the intention of what will happen with the increase in EI premiums. Again, we are about to face 800,000 Canadians ending their EI claims, coming off EI in the next few months and there is no program in place to extend that, no program to continue or extend support for those people. Many Canadians are going to be in crisis as a result of that. If we were using the resources that are collected from Canadian workers and employers to improve the EI program, that would be one thing, but there is no plan to do that.

I think Canadian workers and employers would accept increases if they knew there was a benefit to be had, if there were a benefit to workers who might lose their job, if there were a benefit to employers to ensure that the people who work for them would be taken care of, if there were a benefit to communities to ensure that people would continue to have an income to spend in those communities to support other businesses and local economies. There is not much question that Canadian workers and employers would support that kind of program.

The bill would provide a very specific benefit. It would provide benefits to workers and families who have been victims of crime. We know that is a very significant moment in anyone's life and it is a time when they can use all the support and consideration that can be mustered for them. The bill would be a significant addition to that.

We know employers would benefit from this kind of measure. Employers would not necessarily lose employees in whom they might have invested training, who knows their business, who knows how to do the job. If they are the victim of a crime and are forced to leave that position, there is a loss to employers, a loss to a business in that situation. The bill would help to ensure that does not happen in the future.

The bill would also assist communities because communities want to help people who are in these circumstances. They want to ensure that their neighbours are taken care of. They want to ensure that the people next door have the support they need when this kind of tragedy strikes them. The bill would provide those benefits. Therefore, it is a very significant measure in that way.

I am happy the Canadian Labour Congress has supported an earlier version of the bill. I am sure it supports this bill too. It knows it is a measure that supports Canadian workers and improves the lives of workers and communities. It knows it supports the Canadian economy, that it supports Canadian employers and that is why it has given this measure its support.

We know it is of limited scope. The Canada Labour Code, unfortunately, only affects certain workers in Canada, workers in federal jurisdiction, people who work in transportation, communications and banking for instance. However, this would set a new standard for support of workers, one that hopefully other provinces will copy. We know Quebec has certain programs in place already, but this will stimulate activity to support families and workers who are the victims of crime in other jurisdictions. It is a measure on which we should move forward.

Again, I want to thank the member for introducing the legislation and I am happy to say that I will be supporting it.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Compton—Stanstead for her five minute right of reply.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the Liberals and NDP for supporting me with this bill. One has to experience the death of a child in one's family in order to understand how difficult it is.

I lost one of my nieces in an accident. It was hard, but it was an accident. When we are talking about victims of crime, the loss must be even harder to endure, because it so unnatural. That is why my bill talks about victims' families, the mothers, fathers and spouses. It would be very hard to go through such a difficult period without help. We talk a great deal about different amounts of money. It is true, very true; we talk about money. But how can we put a price on someone's life?

These people need psychological and financial help to get through the difficult time ahead. If the person does not have the means to pay their rent or mortgage for example, that can lead to depression. It would be impossible to return to work after only six weeks at home. I am speaking as a mother. I have children and I think that losing one of my daughters would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.

If this person does not have the financial support to get through this crisis, they will have to return to work. As my NDP colleague said, when a person returns to work after six, eight or fifteen weeks, the depression sets in later. It is not cost-effective for a company to take back an employee who has suffered a terrible tragedy because the company knows it will lose this employee, it just does not know when.

The bill protects the employee and the employer for up to two years. The employer can try to find a temporary replacement for two years. The employee has two years to return to work, but if, after one year, he feels he can return to work part-time, he may do so. But we must at least give people an opportunity to deal with this tragedy.

Everyone has lost someone close to them. Everyone. Whether it was a relative or someone else. Everyone knows what this bill represents. The senator and I have worked on this bill for a long time and I find it despicable that the Conservatives are not taking into consideration what he went through and what my daughter went through when she lost a friend to crime.

I am in politics in order to make a difference. I want to make a difference for families. It is not hard to understand. We estimate it would take $40 million, but the Conservatives think it would take $400 million. It was probably the same Minister of Finance who, in 2008, denied there was a financial crisis.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Roger Pomerleau

The very one.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

The very one? It is chilling. We have looked into this and it would cost roughly $40 million.

This bill truly needs to be adopted. We have to think of the families. This might affect another child in the family. If depression sets in, then the child will not only have lost a brother or sister, but he may lose his parents as well. We also have to take into consideration the family unit. When things start to deteriorate financially speaking, then troubles begin. It is extremely difficult to go through.

I have one more minute to persuade my Conservative colleagues. I urge the Conservatives to focus on something other than their CF-18s and their fun new weapons. I want them to take a minute to think about the human beings close to the victims. I want them to think about the dads, the moms, the husbands and the wives. Do they really think that, as a mother, I would ever sit down next to a pedophile or start voting against children? Not on your life. I hope that members will use their heads, if they have one to use. This is just grandstanding.

I want them to take two seconds to reflect on the family unit. I am sure that somewhere in their hard little hearts, they can find space for my bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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