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House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was energy.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. As I mentioned in my speech on nuclear safety, nuclear plant operators must assume the liability

We believe that increasing compensation from $75 million to $650 million for damages or nuclear disasters caused by a defect or malfunction is a step forward. This bill can be improved even more if that is the will of Parliament. However, we think it is a step in the right direction, and that this increase, which is still significant, more appropriately responds to the new reality of operating a nuclear plant.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, members will more than likely know, and certainly in my lifetime, since 1952, there have been 81 nuclear accidents. During that time, we have been unable to determine that one accident in hydroelectric power. That brings me to a fundamental point, which is whether and when the government will get online and support an east-west power grid.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform, a fellow member of Parliament from Winnipeg, has advocated it in his caucus to no avail so far. Manitoba has enormous hydroelectric power. Quebec has hydroelectric power. It is about time we took over Sir John A. Macdonald's dream of uniting the country with a national railway and build an east-west power grid so we could send clean, renewable hydroelectric power from Manitoba's north into Ontario. That would help it to stop the use of coal-fired plants and it would not have to develop nuclear power.

It is very clear that nuclear power is still an uphill battle. Literally no one wants a nuclear plant built in his or her jurisdiction. We will find residents up in arms over any initiative to do this. This is not to mention the fact that it will take many years to put this together. We need power in a much shorter term than what it would take to develop this nuclear facility.

Could the member comment on that?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, I do not support nuclear energy and, personally, I do not think of it as clean energy. I think the government should invest more in renewable energy and much cleaner energy, such as hydroelectricity, as well as geothermal energy, solar power and wind energy. However, as we saw in its most recent budget, the Conservative government has not made the choice to step up development of these renewable energy sources.

If we continue on the same path, in a few years—not many years—Canada will lag behind in developing new forms of energy. Research is being done all over Europe. Even the Americans have invested huge amounts of money in renewable energy. Here in Canada, we are stuck with a dinosaur of a government, as we would say in Quebec. We are already lagging behind when it comes to investments in renewable energy sources.

With nuclear energy always comes the problem of nuclear waste. What do we do with the waste? That is always the big question.

There is a nuclear power plant in my riding, which creates a great deal of uncertainty among the people. They need to be reassured and safety needs to maximized to ensure that this energy is regulated and monitored as much as possible. The government also needs to ensure the utmost human, social, and economic security, as well as public health.

In that regard, I agree with my NDP colleague.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow up with another question.

The member may or may not be aware, but a German politician by the name of Scheer has been single-handedly responsible for moving Germany in the area of renewable energy sources. As a matter of fact, I believe he may have been responsible for taking a Canadian company. I believe Mr. MacLellan from southern Ontario, who has the best solar panels in the world, could not get a hearing from the Ontario government or the federal government. In fact, the German government poached him and his plant and it has built a plant now in East Germany where it is producing a huge percentage of the solar panels used in the world. The panels are being manufactured in Germany and Germany is moving miles ahead in terms of wind power and solar power.

Does the member not agree that that is what we should be doing in Canada, especially since we have a Canadian who developed the solar panels?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

In Canada, we are going to bat for a matter of vital importance, that is, the development of green energy. Quebec has reached an important turning point, which has even been noted abroad. If Quebec were a sovereign nation, I believe that it would be admired for its green energy initiatives. We have invested extraordinary amounts in Hydro-Québec—which develops clean energy—and in wind energy. We are also looking at solar energy. The people want good air and water quality, a good quality of life overall. That is not presently the case with the Conservative government, which seems to want to exploit the oil sands, and perhaps even go with nuclear power because it believes it will reduce pollution. That is not true.

Therefore, the rest of Canada has a lot of work to do to develop green energy. The economic stimulus package with its infrastructure programs could have been a good opportunity to develop green energy initiatives, but it did not happen. The government said absolutely nothing about this.

The Conservative government will have to wake up and realize that it is 2010, that we are no longer in the 1950s, and that turning to renewable and green energy represents the future of our children.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-15. As I indicated before, this bill has been reintroduced after the Prime Minister prorogued the House. We dealt with the bill last year and it has been in the pipeline now for something like five years. Hopefully we will get something done with this bill and many other bills if the government quits proroguing the House whenever it feels threatened. It is an enormous cost to legislative time and effort to reintroduce and begin the process all over again on these bills.

I want to follow up on what the previous speaker dealt with in questions and answers. I think it is very fair to say at the outset that Canada is strewn with missed opportunities. For example, in the wind power environment, as early as 1991, wind power was being developed in Pincher Creek, Alberta. In those days, there were small wind turbines and it was the beginning of wind power development in Canada.

The Conservative government in Manitoba could have moved at that time and developed wind power but it did not. It sat and watched the world go by for another 10 years. It finally got into the wind power business only five or six years ago under an NDP government. The first wind farm in Manitoba was set up and it had 99 megawatts of power.

Saskatchewan has a wind farm set up in Gull Lake that is an operating farm in the intervening period. The reality is that we have developed wind power in a very sporadic way in this country, unlike Europe which has a much more comprehensive approach to the whole area of wind power development and, I might add, solar power development.

I did mention a politician in Germany, known as Mr. Scheer, who is recognized as a leader in alternative energy and as being an advocate and a champion for the alternative energy sector. I believe he had something to do with a case where a man named Mr. MacLellan tried to build a solar panel plant in southern Ontario. He approached the Ontario government and the federal government and he did not get any type of agreement or any enthusiasm from them. I believe he was actually approached by the German government, which offered to help subsidize his plant. I think the German government paid for most of his plant and built it in East Germany. The reason this was done is that the Germans recognized that this Canadian had developed one of the best solar panels in the world and they wanted to capture this technology and develop it in Germany.

This man now has a huge plant in East Germany that is running at full capacity. I believe there are plans for him to either expand the existing plant or build another plant in East Germany just to keep up with the demand for solar panels.

When we were looking at the wind farm business in Canada, and particularly in Manitoba, we were thinking about how we could develop some secondary industry here. The turbines are being bought from Vestus and General Electric. They are being manufactured offshore and are being brought to Canada. We thought that we could somehow get in on the ground floor and start manufacturing these wind turbines.

The fact is that there are all sorts of missed opportunities here. In the area of wind turbines and solar panels, it took the aggressive nature of the German government to see the opportunity, seize the opportunity and get the Canadian entrepreneur onside and over to East Germany producing these solar panels.

What does Germany have out of this? It has a great lead in developing solar panels and wind technologies. Those little wind turbines in Pincher Creek in 1991 were just tiny machines and they are still there. One can go out and see some of them still operating. They are very tiny compared to the new one megawatt and two megawatt wind turbines. Why did that happen? It happened because Vestus and established companies like it have now used their technology to build bigger products.

How does a jurisdiction like Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta for that matter, even get on the ground floor now? The train has already left the station and it is in Germany. As a matter of fact, there are examples of German farms. A television program outlined this whole situation recently. It interviewed people in Germany who have solar panels on their own barns. They are not only producing enough energy to power their entire farm operations, but they are selling the surplus on the grid.

Let us juxtapose that with what is happening in Canada. They interviewed a Canadian farmer. This poor Canadian farmer came here from Holland a number of years ago and he wants to develop wind capabilities on his farm. He was given the runaround by the Ontario Hydro facilities. Not only did he have to pay for the hookup to the power line himself, but he is still having problems hooking up, and this is to sell his excess power to the grid.

It really is comical, when one looks at it, to see how many missed opportunities this country has had. It is very sad. We see that Mr. Scheer in Europe and his Canadian partner in Arise Technologies, Mr. MacLellan, are now transforming the German economy. They are getting the German economy off non-renewables and getting the German economy on renewable fuels. We should be doing more that actually works. We can look at examples of best practices and we should be following Germany.

I want to deal once again with another issue. I know my colleague, the member for Ottawa Centre, is very keen on this issue as well. Even though he is not from my province, he knows a lot about my province. He accepts and understands that Winnipeg does have and has had the longest skating rink in the country for several years now. In any event, he is very understanding, as is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, and I give him full credit.

I do not know what the Conservative MPs from Manitoba and Saskatchewan are doing over there, but if I were part of that group, I would be joining the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and banging on the door of the government ministers, demanding that we develop an east-west power grid, in the tradition of John A. Macdonald who had the vision to tie this country together 100 years ago and build a railway across this country, which was absolutely astounding and visionary in his day. We could do the same thing with an east-west power grid.

When we look at a map of the country, what do we see with power lines, with oil pipelines and with gas pipelines? The member for Ottawa Centre said, “Going south”. That is exactly right. Every single one of the pipelines heads to the United States, heads south, when in fact we should be looking at trying to keep this country together and have the lines running east-west, particularly with regard to electricity.

We in Manitoba are selling our power into the United States, and we are happy to do it. We are developing more hydro plants currently and we will be selling more power into the United States, but it seems to me fairly obvious that what we should be doing is selling this power east-west.

Ontario has a long-identified problem. As a matter of fact, the Gary Filmon government and the Bob Rae government way back in 1991 were on the verge of signing an agreement to build an east-west power grid to bring Manitoba power to Ontario, to get rid of the coal-fired power plants in Ontario.

Now the option is nuclear. That is some option. I can certainly agree with leaving coal-fired plants, but to think that somehow nuclear is the new development, the new frontier, is basically through the past darkly. We are going into the past. We are going with something we know does not work.

As I have indicated, in my lifetime there have been 81 nuclear accidents causing all kinds of damage, whereas we know of no hydroelectric damage that has ever caused loss of life and loss of property.

Our orientation in this country is all wrong when it comes to energy. It is not as if we are trying to reinvent the wheel here. We had the leader in solar panel development right in our backyard, a Canadian living here in Canada, who had to pull up stakes and move to Germany because we did not have the common sense, nor the good sense, to take him up on his offer and help him build a plant. Now of course we will be buying our solar panels from Germany and we will have to get in line, because there is a long waiting list for those panels.

This bill probably would have been good if it had been brought in 10 years ago. The limit of liability is currently $75 million. We are looking at going up to $600 million, but we are now moving into an environment where there is a group of countries with unlimited liability. That is what we should be looking at doing. We should be joining the likes of Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom. These countries have signed onto agreements which are going to increase their nuclear liability into the unlimited category.

As a matter of fact, all of the group A countries are signatories to the 2004 amending protocol to the Paris convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy which sets a minimum liability for nuclear power operators at about $1 billion Canadian. There is compensation from state funds as well.

I want to also point out that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an issue that is driving the agenda at the moment. I listened to committee hearings yesterday where the president of BP Canada was not really even familiar with the rules and the penalties. When representatives were asked by our critic, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, whether the chair of the natural resources committee would endeavour to get in touch with the Americans to find out what the rules are because they did not know what the rules are, he said he thinks the Americans are pretty busy right now with the oil spill.

Fortunately, there are members of the House whom I was lucky enough to be with last weekend for the Canada-U.S. meetings in New Orleans. On Sunday morning we were given a briefing on the oil spill. Without getting into a lot of specifics, the congressman who is well known to many people in this House and has been around for over 30 years was very pessimistic in his report to our group after the authorities gave their presentation.

We are seriously looking at very difficult circumstances where this drilling rig is operating.

I asked a question about the total liability of the spill and what the penalties would be. I believe we were told that there is a fund to which companies contribute, but the limit of liability is in the $100 million range. If British Petroleum is judged to be negligent, it becomes an unlimited liability. Just a few weeks ago BP had very happy shareholders because one of the oil companies made about $15 billion in profit in the last couple of years, so it has a rosy future because government is reducing the corporate taxes. Even so, BP shareholders who just a few weeks ago were having a very happy existence may find their shares being worth very little if the company ends up going out of business as a result of what potentially could be an almost unlimited liability in the case of this oil spill.

Fundamentally we have to hold these companies accountable. If that is what happens to BP, then that is what should happen because the public should not be shoring up private industry. If private industry wants to insist upon drilling at ridiculously deep levels without having proper relief wells in place and without having all the backups, then they have to assume full liability.

Our approach here is that we have to nurture the industry, give them all kinds of incentives and limit their liability. If we do that, the taxpayers are the ones who will end up with all the residual costs at the end of the process when there is an accident and meanwhile, the shareholders will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona on his speech. He is quite involved in a number of different bills. However, I missed part of his presentation.

Since we are talking about Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, I would like to ask him whether he touched on Bill C-9, on budget implementation. If not, I would like him to say a few words about it.

Since that is an omnibus bill, the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited assets also just happens to be included in it. Tendering has begun on the sale of AECL's reactor business. I wonder whether the hon. member has studied this issue within the bill we are currently studying, in terms of liability. Are we sure that liability for the reactors will be transferred to the potential buyer? What are his thoughts on this?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not really think we have changed our view on that over the last year because we feel at the end of the day that the government will be planning perhaps to divest itself of the assets, that asset and many other assets. If the purchaser happens to be an American company, for example, or a company from anywhere else, the company would be very pleased to find itself in a situation where it would have extremely limited liability which would save on its insurance costs.

I want to make a comment about the whole issue of insurance. For some reason the suggestion is that the nuclear consortium can somehow access certain levels of insurance. I have some experience in that area over a large number of years, and I can say that insurance premiums go up and down a lot. It all depends on the reinsurance treaties which are signed every year in London, England on January 1. That is what tells us what we are going to pay for insurance on various items that we are ensuring.

A big catastrophe like 9/11 cost Warren Buffett, who owns one of the reinsurance companies, $3 billion. That money is going to be recouped through increased car insurance, house insurance and all sorts of other insurance rates in the years following.

Insurance markets are highly unpredictable particularly in the area of liability.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question regarding this piece of legislation, which the government tried to pass before, linking it to what many see as a subsidy for an industry that has always required a subsidy.

I remember being in Washington and being briefed on the whole issue of nuclear disarmament. Someone who saw himself as a conservative said unequivocally that there has not been one example where nuclear power has not had massive subsidies and in fact it was the most subsidized industry. He said that anyone could try to bring forward an example and he would show unequivocally that it was subsidized massively.

Is this not just another subsidy to industry by way of a liability piece? If so, should we not be focusing on that for the real cost because this legislation covers industry?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. When a limit is put on the liability, it is telling the business what its ultimate, top-end cost is going to be. Businesses like that. They like to know what their costs are going to be.

What it is also telling the public is that all the excess costs are going to be borne by the taxpayer. We are not talking about a little bit of money here; we are talking about a tremendous amount of money.

The insurance consortium tells us today that it will be able to get limits of whatever amount, $1 billion or whatever it tells us, but because events in the insurance markets are outside of its control, it will come to us in another year or two from now and say, “Sorry, but our insurers withdrew the terms” or the insurance company put some restrictions, or the insurance company doubled or tripled the premiums.

A number of years ago, in 1986 in Manitoba, liability insurance rates went up so drastically and so fast that playground equipment manufacturers could not get liability. When they could not get liability, they could not produce the product and they could not sell it to the City of Winnipeg. And that is just playground equipment.

When it comes to liability, insurance runs the entire economy.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague. In his speech, he talked about nuclear energy. The Conservative government currently wants to develop nuclear energy more fully to extract oil from the oil sands. Its argument is that this will reduce some of the pollution created from the oil sands operations. I do not think nuclear energy is the answer because it generates radioactive and nuclear waste that no one knows what to do with.

I would like the hon. member to say a few words about the Conservative government's desire to develop the oil sands.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer the question by expanding on reasons why we should not be going the nuclear route.

We have to look at the total cost of the nuclear option. One of the costs of the nuclear option is the storage of waste. There was talk of storing nuclear waste in Pinawa, Manitoba. Even though it is a fairly sparsely populated area, people were outraged. They were organized. They were going to stop this.

Where are they going to put the waste? No matter where they try to put it in this country, people are going to be protesting and trying to stop it. That is a huge cost here.

The waste has to be stored for a long time. We cannot do what the Russians were doing a number of years ago, simply dumping the waste into the oceans. We cannot do something like that.

Why would they want to embark on an avenue where the costs are huge and where they cannot get public buy-in on the area of waste? Where are they going to get buy-in today, in 2010, to situate a nuclear plant? No matter where they try to do it in this country, people are going to try to stop it. Now they are looking at a decade, maybe, before they can get these plants on stream.

If they were to spend that time on wind or solar or developing the east-west power grid, we could have much safer renewable energy on stream in half the time and not have to worry about storage or damage.

I have indicated we have had 81 nuclear accidents in my lifetime. We have had zero hydroelectric power accidents. That is a very compelling argument for going the route of traditional hydroelectric development or wind and solar versus nuclear, which is just riddled with problems.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in opposition to the bill the government has put forward. I suppose it is actually not a surprise to many, because this bill was in front of the House before prorogation and it has come back again. Sadly, we cannot seem to shake it. The bill's problems are many and my colleagues have outlined some of them.

I would like to situate the beginning of my comments on where we are with regard to the whole nuclear question globally. Talks are taking place right now in the NPT review, the review of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and many are looking to Canada to see if it is going to put its words into action with regard to non-proliferation.

There is a consensus that if we are going to deal with what is a very dangerous situation with nuclear proliferation, we have to look at all sources and the transfer of technologies and materials and we have to make sure the materials are locked down and secure, so they do not get into the hands of those who would proliferate nuclear weapons.

I say that because we know the history of Canada's involvement in selling nuclear materials and technologies abroad. It continues to be a concern for many. I am of course speaking of the sale of technologies in the past to India, which were used to help proliferate nuclear weapons.

We have to look at what the real costs are of nuclear power. They are not just the costs involved in terms of materials used in nuclear technology but also the real costs embedded in this kind of technology. As has been mentioned by many speakers, the notion that we can look at nuclear power in isolation is naive at best, but truly just ignorant.

Looking at what happens to waste materials, we have to find some place for them to be situated forever and we still have not figured that out. When we look at the technologies, there are still risks. Some would say there have been improvements in terms of safety and oversight, but nothing is 100%.

I would note that those who were looking to do offshore drilling recently said that the chances of having the kind of situation we see now in the gulf were near to impossible. The same kinds arguments have been made when it comes to nuclear power. I do not have to state the number of times the notion that nuclear power is 100% safe has been proven wrong, and the costs for cleanup and health care are massive.

Here in Ottawa there is a wonderful initiative by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It is working with children who suffered from the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl. The immediate effects of Chernobyl were known, but they languished. CHEO partnered with people who were not able to get the health care they needed.

We know what happened to the former Soviet Union as it fragmented into different countries. It did not have the capacity to deal with the kinds of latent illnesses that happened because of Chernobyl. It was a proud moment certainly for me in this community but also as a Canadian to see people help those who were affected.

I say that because some people believe, and we hear it time and time again from industry, that was the past and everything is fine now. One does not have to go very far or look too far back in history to see that concerns still exist. If people go the Ottawa River, they will see that, when there are concerns with Chalk River and worries about leaks, the way they are dealt with is rather interesting. The system is flushed and guess what happens to the water?

Unlike Pickering, where they contain the heavy water, the water that is just outside the doors of Parliament is flushed. That water goes into the system. It is not isolated or put aside. That is right here in the nation's capital, just upstream.

I say that because we still have not figured out Chalk River and the reactor there. That has been around since before I was born. It is something that we still have not figured out how to deal with. Many are rightly concerned about the nuclear materials and the effects of nuclear power that are going into the river here.

Where is the consensus? I think the consensus is that we have not been able to figure out a safe way of using nuclear power. We have people who will say we mitigate. We have people who say that we have changed the manner in which we deal with the waste materials and that we have made technology improvements around the operations in general. However, no one can say they are 100% secure.

When we put it together, if we are looking at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the lockdown and security of nuclear materials, every piece of the rubric that is nuclear power and nuclear weapons have to do with safety and the 100% assurance of the ability of all regulators and all countries to track and ensure that there are not going to be leaks or inappropriate transfers of technologies and materials. We have not reached that point.

I have heard the government say many times that it is the polluter-pay principle. We have a bill that says we are going to put a liability cap of $650 million. Where is the evidence for that? Why is it that threshold? Look at all of our partners in this business. They are pretty clear that this does not match that risk assessment I was mentioning before. In other words, when one looks at the amount of money that is being suggested in this bill versus what the real costs would be in case of potential accidents, this does not work.

Some go as far as to say that we should not have a cap at all. It is a strong argument, in fact. That would put the real costs on those who are involved in the industry. I think it is a fair comment, but we should at least fall in line with the group of countries that has been mentioned before. The international standards list has been read before, but I will read it again. We should at least align ourselves with Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Many would say that we share company with these countries in the OECD. The OECD countries that I just mentioned all get it. They understand that coefficient between liability or risk and what is an appropriate cost. They find it laughable that Canada would be so naive as to think that $650 million is going to do it.

If we look at who we associate ourselves with, we get into countries with which I normally would not situate Canada: Moldova, Cameroon, former Yugoslavian countries and Uruguay. It is nothing against them. They have a capacity challenge. That is who we are associating ourselves with. I would ask the government if that is the best we can do. Why is there this limitation? That is what Canadians need to know. We need to know that we are doing the best we can when it comes to nuclear power.

Look at the real costs. It is not just a liability question. It is also the materials and the development, the front-end load costs of nuclear power. We saw the disaster here in Ontario in the 1970s and 1980s. The costs are runaway costs to this day.

It makes the Olympic stadium look like a tea party, and an affordable one at that, when we look at the real costs we continue pay in this province for a technology that really has nothing but question marks around it. This is, by way of legislation, giving the signals to industry and to those who engage in nuclear power to not worry about the liability piece because we will take care of it.

When we look at the costs embedded and what is going to be on the tab for taxpayers, it makes little sense. Take a look at what the comparison of international liability regimes says. I know my colleagues have talked about this. The Paris conventions on nuclear compensation were amended just a couple of years ago, because essentially the protocols were out of date. That is a common thing to do for international conventions. The amendments allow for an extension of the indemnity limit from 10 to 30 years. Many would say that we should be going beyond that, and I would be one of those.

They also eliminate the previous maximum limit of €75 million, which was in the old conventions, and instead impose a minimum liability of at least €700 million. That amounts to $1 billion Canadian. So we have the Paris convention, one that is recognized as the standard for liability regimes, and it is indicating a price point much higher than what the government is offering here.

Further to the convention, it says that the amendments raise the total financial security provided to €1,500 million for operator liability. The breakdown is €700 million for operator liability and €500 million of public funds. The countries that have signed on to this agreement are included but not limited to Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K. Sadly, what is glaringly omitted from that list is Canada. I could also put the blame here on the previous government. That could have been something that was signed off in 2004, but it wasn't.

We have to look at where Canada is on the issue. We are involved and implicated not only in the industry, but also in how we are seen in terms of the specific issue of liability. That matters, because if we are looking to be seen as a player on the international stage when it comes to energy security, we have to look at what the supports are and what the conditions are for the energy that we are using.

We know that there have been plans to use this technology in the development of the tar sands. We know that there has been talk of expansion in other provinces. The opportunity cost is vast when we decide to go nuclear and we have to consider the cost to the taxpayer if it goes wrong. There is a lack of money available for investment in things such as the east-west grid, but I cannot encourage the government more. I know that the member for Winnipeg, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, understands and I hope that the Minister of the Environment supports the idea that we must get behind the east-west grid.

Before we get into shovelling money over to the nuclear industry, we should be investing in conservation. We should be looking at investing heavily in the east-west grid. If we are going to kick the carbon habit as much as we should, then clearly we need to look at an east-west grid. We are leaking green energy right now. It is going south. It is going to the United States. Look at Quebec. Look at Manitoba. Where are those grid lines going with the surplus hydroelectric energy? They are going south.

Sir John A. Macdonald would be flipping in his grave right now if he saw what has happened. He built the spine of this country. He was a great man, a Progressive Conservative, a good guy, a member of the grand old party. Now look at what has happened. Now he would see this government and the others not looking west or east, but looking south and saying, “There, take our green energy”.

Imagine if Sir John A. himself, instead of building a railway from coast to coast in this country, had said, “We can make a buck off the Grand Trunk and send it south. We won't bother with that”.

That is what is happening right now. It is not because provinces do not want it. In fact, Manitoba, and I am sure Quebec, want to see us invest in an east-west grid so that we do not have to rely on expensive and dodgy energy sources like nukes. Not one single nuclear project in this country has been revenue neutral. There has not been one. They have all had massive subsidies.

I have to say when members, who I hear from time to time putting on the vestments of being very prudent with the dollar, get behind a proposition like this and get behind nukes, I am sorry, but their credibility is shot.

I challenge anyone on the other side or my friends in the Liberal Party who support the bill to show me a nuclear project that actually did not cost taxpayers a bundle.

We cannot just dress it up under liability laws and think that people will not get it. The day we have a problem is the day taxpayers will have to pay the largest portion of it.

When we consider the bill, we must consider in the opportunity-cost argument here the fact that we are not investing appropriately in wind, in solar, in creating that infrastructure that I mentioned, the east-west grid across this country. Right down the street here, there is a new housing development. It is doing geothermal. It is not getting the subsidies that it should, but it is getting some.

However, if it were in Sweden, for example, it would actually be getting subsidies at the front end to pay off and be revenue neutral and would actually put energy on the grid in the future, instead of putting taxpayers at risk and putting us in a situation that this bill certainly will as it exposes citizens to the risk of this technology.

If this technology is so safe and so great, then why do we not just take the cap off it and let it be unlimited?

Through the bill, the government has clearly acknowledged that there is a problem with this technology, that this technology is not stable, that it is vulnerable, and so we are going to be exposed. That will happen in legislation, and that cap of $650 million, that pittance that puts us outside of the club A of all those countries that see the equation between risk and benefit and exposure, will put Canada beyond that risk.

I urge members to take another look at this. I think the government has drunk the heavy water on this. When we look at it, the question is this. Are we going to align ourselves with those in Latvia, Moldova, Cameroon, and Belarus who have capacity problems? I am not blaming them. Or are we going to align ourselves with Belgium, Denmark, the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and France? Whose side are we going to choose? Will it be the one that is the club for those who are basically saying let it rip and let taxpayers pay the price, or are we going to go with the responsible, sensible legislation through which we will not put taxpayers at risk, we will acknowledge the real cost of nuclear energy, and make sure that Canadians get a stable investment in energy and look at things like the east-west grid? Or are we just going to throw this up as a fig leaf over a reactor and say that all is fine and we will be okay?

We will rue the day, as will the government, when there is an accident, because it will come back to haunt them, and it will be this piece of legislation.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

When the House returns to this matter, the hon. member for Ottawa Centre will have questions and comments at that time.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in AfghanistanPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table a document with the House. The Minister of Justice earlier tabled a document with reference to the all-party understanding, and I have the French translation. There was a difficulty in the translation, and I have been asked to table that here this afternoon.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dona Cadman Conservative Surrey North, BC

moved:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House and introduce this motion. All of us have heard over the past few weeks about the high profile cases, which have served to highlight potential shortcomings with the current pardon system in Canada. This is a very timely motion and I am proud of its introduction.

Earlier this week our government tabled legislation to amend the Criminal Records Act and eliminate pardons for serious crimes. Our government believes the system should not put the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens.

The current pardon system implies that whatever the offender did is somehow okay, or is forgiven, or that the harm done has somehow disappeared. I disagree.

Under the current system, pardons are granted almost automatically, but the new system would change that. Let me talk about the six points.

First, the legislation would eliminate pardons and replace it with more restrictive and narrowly worded such as “record suspension”. As an editorial from one of our Saskatchewan newspapers recently noted with regard to the Graham James pardon:

There is just something that seems inherently wrong about using the word “pardon” in reference to a man who violated the most sacred trust in sports--the trust between a coach and his players--and has yet to apologize for it, or show any remorse for it.

Second, those convicted of sexual offences against minors will be permanently ineligible for a record suspension.

Third, those convicted of more than three indictable offences will also be permanently ineligible for a record suspension.

Fourth, in all other cases, the legislation will increase the period of ineligibility for a record suspension, which is the waiting time to apply, to five years for summary conviction offences and to 10 years for indictable offences.

Fifth, the onus will be on the applicant to show that a record suspension would help sustain his or her rehabilitation as a law-abiding member of society.

Finally, the proposed legislation sets out conditions that must be met to ensure a record suspension would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute. To make this determination, the Parole Board would examine factors such as the nature, gravity and the duration of the offence, as well as circumstances and the applicant's criminal history. Under the present system, the only distinction that can be made between each applicant is whether he or she was convicted of a summary or an indictable offence.

For summary convictions, the same rules apply to everyone. Offenders need to wait three years after completing their sentence and remain conviction free in order to receive a pardon. The same is true for indictable offences. In those cases, each and every offender needs to wait five years and then demonstrate to the board that he or she is of good conduct before they become eligible to receive a pardon.

Essentially under the current system pardons are granted almost automatically. This is definitely wrong. The rights of criminals should never, and I repeat, should never come before compassion for victims.

As Sheldon Kennedy said, “It was a lot of hard work to be able to move out of being a victim, to be able to move into a role of finding a solution. And I think that there is no accountability at all on anybody and having them show that they've changed. It's just about waiting out your time”.

He goes on to say:

I think we underestimate as a country the damage that abuse has on youth.

I think it just holds people accountable for what they've done....

Our government has always put the safety of law-abiding Canadians first and we have always believed that every victim matters, which is why we are undertaking reforms to the justice system and why we are determined to push ahead with further changes.

Over the last four years, Canadians have been telling us that we are on the right track. They have said that our tough on crime policies and our initiatives to help victims are what they want to see from the government.

I therefore look forward to working with all hon. members of the House to ensure that measures to improve the pardon system in this country are passed as quickly as possible.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of my friend's speech, she essentially focused on Bill C-23 but we are here today with respect to her Motion No. 514. I also will speak to Bill C-23 but I will read her motion first. It reads:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all its decisions.

There is one thing I do not think my friend mentioned, but I actually did speak with her beforehand and she was agreeable that the three months should be three months of sitting days. I just wanted to clarify that that is what we are discussing, not just any three months.

In terms of the motion, I support it.

I am on the public safety and national security committee, and the reason I wanted to clarify that it should be three months of sitting days is because there is just no way we could do it otherwise. Right now we are involved with a discussion of Bill C-391 on the gun registry, and we have far too many witnesses that we are going through, various victims' rights groups, police officers and mental health persons, all of whom want to come and testify to try to keep the gun registry. So there is just no way that we could do that in the short period of time that we have.

The motion is a good motion but it needs to be compared and contrasted to the reaction of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety once the Graham James story came out. When this story came out, there was an immediate reactive decision to overhaul the Criminal Records Act because of the story. My problem with the immediate reaction that they had was that there was no thorough and thoughtful suggestion or review of the pardon system whatsoever. It was just an immediate reaction to this news story.

I actually compliment my friend for putting something forward that is more thoughtful and thorough in terms of what she would like to see accomplished. I compliment her for standing up to what has occurred in her own party, because by her motion, she is actually recognizing that we need a full and proper discussion, not simply an immediate statute because of a news story.

In terms of the Bill C-23, it is important to remember that this issue was raised first in 2006 by the Conservative government because there was another news story with respect to convicted sex offender, Clark Noble. At that time, the public safety minister indicated that the government would review the need for possible changes to the pardon system because of the 2006 news story. Why were the changes that it is currently proposing not made or introduced back in 2006 in response to the first news story? If the changes had been made at that time properly, we would not be facing this exact situation with the new news story with respect to Graham James.

When my friend speaks of the law and order agenda and how the Conservatives are trying to solve a problem, to be honest about this, there must be recognition that this problem was already recognized in 2006 and ignored by the Conservative government. I applaud my friend for trying to fix the problem now that was ignored back in 2006.

In terms of Bill C-23, any pardon system must operate in the best interests of public safety, 100%, but that also means we have to figure out what that is, and that means having a proper study. I personally welcome the opportunity at the public safety committee to do that.

My friend went through what Bill C-23 seeks to accomplish in terms of changes. I will not repeat it but I will reiterate that based on all of these suggested changes, if they were so urgent and so important, why did we not hear about any of these in 2006 when this first review took place after the other news story? It was ignored. Who is at fault for this?

I want to point out some things in an article by Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen.

What happened in 2006 was that the minister of public safety at the time studied the process, the policy and the facts and concluded that changes were warranted. For example, two Parole Board members, not one, would be involved in applications and, rather than relying on local police to bring forward information related to the applicant's conduct, the Parole Board would be required to get information the local police may have.

However, on the fundamental question, which is key for the Graham James news story that has now come out: Should sex offenders continue to be eligible for pardons?, the then minister of public safety considered the question and gave an affirmative answer. Why?

The current proposal in Bill C-23 suggests that sex offenders who have harmed children would not be eligible. I am in favour of that. I have actually spoken out many times against the Conservatives' law and order agenda saying that it was not tough enough. A lot of it is window dressing, in my respectful view. When the bill says that it would exclude sex offenders who have harmed children, I wonder why it is only children. What about all the other victims who have been hurt by sex offenders? Why is the government again ignoring all of those other victims?

When the Conservatives talk about a law and order agenda and about protecting victims, how are they doing it? They did not fix it in 2006 when they did study it and made some changes. Now all they are proposing deals with a sex offender who has harmed a child. What about all the other victims?

In order to come to a logical, reasoned analysis of what the best overall system is, because I do not want to prejudge it, there should be a proper study. That means experts, various persons interested in coming forward and victims groups appearing before the committee. I welcome that. The motion is good for that very reason. We need to have a thoughtful analysis so the Conservatives do not make another mistake like they made in 2006 when they made some changes but ignored some of the things that really mattered.

In terms of the 2006 story, there is an October 21, 2006 article by Timothy Appleby and Peter Cheney, called “[The Minister of Public Safety] calls for review after sex offender obtains pardon”, and it goes through this. The Conservatives did this the first time in 2006 but they did not get it right.

What happened because they did not get it right in 2006? I will describe exactly what happened because Canadians need to know. An article in the Globe and Mail by Daniel Leblanc dealing with criminal records states:

Nearly all the sex offenders who apply for pardons in Canada successfully wipe out their criminal records from public view, despite the Conservative government’s promise four years ago to make the system tougher.

Over the last two years, 1,554 sex offenders applied for a pardon with the National Parole Board; only 41 of them were rejected, leaving 1,513 without a trace of a criminal record, unless they apply to work with children or vulnerable individuals.

Because the government ignored this in 2006, 1,513 convicted sex offenders since that time have received these pardons. That was an intentional decision by the government.

I want to be fair. I want to quote somebody with respect to victims. Victims essentially say that Bill C-23 was a knee-jerk reaction. I would rather not see a knee-jerk reaction but rather a considered, thoughtful debate and evidence given before the public safety and national security committee. I intend to be strong on this but I also want to be reasoned and thoughtful with proper submissions.

I thank my friend across the way for having the courage to recognize that a problem has existed since 2006 when it was not fixed and for trying to fix it now.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I will read the motion by the member for Surrey North that is before us:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.

The pardon system has been criticized recently, and the Bloc Québécois has said it is open to studying this issue. We feel that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security is a very good forum for examining this issue.

The Bloc Québécois feels that public safety should be the top priority of the justice system. We feel that the best way to protect public safety and put victims first is to reduce the number of crimes and victims as much as possible. The way to do that is with prison sentences, of course, but also by rehabilitating offenders who can be rehabilitated.

In closing, I wonder what my colleague is trying to achieve by proposing that the Criminal Records Act be studied when her government this week introduced Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This bill would amend the Criminal Records Act to substitute the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon”. It would also extend the ineligibility periods for applications for a record suspension. It would make certain offences ineligible for a record suspension and enable the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to order a record suspension.

Given that the government has clearly already decided how it wants to amend the Criminal Records Act, I cannot understand how the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security could conduct a review of the act—even though that is a worthwhile thing to do—without duplicating a debate that has already taken place. Because of the three-month timeframe proposed in the motion, there is a good chance the House will have completed its own review of Bill C-23 and sent it to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for study.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion, put forward by the hon. member for Surrey North.

At the outset, I have watched her career and that of her late husband for a number of years. I have always been very sympathetic to his concerns and goals in getting justice for victims in Canada.

The motion states:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all its decisions.

Quite honestly, that is the way we should proceed. We support her motion. We were a bit surprised the government jumped the gun and came forward will Bill C-23 on this issue and did not let the process properly take its course, which is debate on what is a very good motion on her part. I think her motion may, in fact, get unanimous support in the House.

If that were to happen, then what are we supposed to do with the bill? We have a bill on the agenda. Now we will pass a motion saying what we should have done in the first place. Clearly, the government does not really know what it is doing with its legislative agenda. It has come forward with a bill that essentially undercuts its own member.

I know she did not draft this motion in one day and throw it in. She spent a lot of effort on the motion, as we all do as private members. When we go through the process for a private member's bill or a private member's motion, we spend a considerable amount of time talking to our legal sources and other members in the House to come up with the exact wording of that bill or motion.

I do not think it is fair to her to be undercut by her own government. The proper way to do it would be to debate her motion today, which is what we are doing, to pass that motion and to proceed with the study for which she has asked. Out of that process, if the government wants to introduce a bill, then that is the right way to show proper respect to her and the House as well.

The member from the Liberal Party pointed out, and I am aware of it as well, that a review of the pardon system was asked for in 2006 by the government in response to the Clark Noble case. The minister at the time, who is still a minister in the government, immediately said that it would review the pardon system. That was four years ago.

Four years go by and nothing has happened. All of a sudden, as a result of a news story, the government is now jumping to the bill stage. Once again, the government is consistent with its approach on all these crimes bills. It does not have a concerted plan. It jumps around from day to day in a totally confused manner. It does not follow best practices. Therefore, its whole tough on crime agenda is somewhat discredited by the public at this stage. The public wants to see something happen. The proper way to deal with the issue is the way the member is proceeding.

As background, the Criminal Records Act sets out the conditions which must be met in order for an individual to qualify for a pardon. An individual convicted of a summary offence must wait three years after the full completion of his or her sentence, including parole and other supervised or conditional releases, before applying for a pardon. An individual convicted of an indictable offence must wait five years after the full completion of his or her sentence, including parole and other supervised or conditional releases, before applying for a pardon.

Upon application for a pardon, the National Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual has, under the period of those three or five years, been of good conduct and not convicted of any further offence.

A very high percentage of pardon applications received by the board are in fact granted. If the individual meets the criteria of good conduct and has not reoffended, the board has a limited degree of discretion in evaluating the application.

Once a pardon is granted, the individual criminal record is sealed. It is not subject to a criminal record search and it is not required to be disclosed on applications for employment.

Individuals convicted of an offence that is on a prescribed list of sex offences are eligible for pardon under the same process as other offenders. However, if they seek paid or voluntary employment in a position that involves working with children or vulnerable persons, they can be asked to consent to a search of police records that would reveal a pardoned conviction for an offence on this prescribed list.

The board may revoke a pardon if an individual is subsequently convicted of a summary offence, if it finds out that the individual is of no longer of good conduct or if it finds out that the individual made knowingly false statements or concealed information in his or her pardon application. A pardon is automatically revoked if an individual is subsequently convicted of an indictable offence or the board finds out that the individual was not eligible for a pardon at the time it was granted.

The pardon system, as I have indicated, was reviewed in 2006 by the National Parole Board, on the instructions of then public safety minister and in response to media coverage of the pardon of a former sex offender. There were some minor changes to the process but, substantially, it has remained the same for the last four years.

As I had indicated, we will support the motion. We want to see a review of the pardon system. As the Liberal member pointed out, by doing a review, we will have a more calm and sober environment in which to explore these issues and the government will have the ability to hear from experts in the area. That is one very important point to the legislative process.

We, unlike any other group in this society, are in a privileged position. When we make laws that affect other people and have long-term downstream effects, we have the ability to get expert legal advice. We have the ability to listen to experts in the area. We do not want to make mistakes that potentially will have negative consequences and stop us from doing what we really want to do, what we really want to accomplish by the initiative.

The last thing we want to do is embark on an initiative that ends up producing some result that we were not trying to get in the first place. We want a system that is fair to victims. We support a review of the pardon system. We support the possibility of lengthening the time period for certain crimes. The goal should strike a balance between protecting the public. That is what we are really interested in doing here. We want to protect the public and we want to look out for the rights of victims, unlike what the government did. The government hired a victims' rights advocate and then fired the same person three years later because it did not like what he had to say.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in support of the motion by the hon. member for Surrey North who, for many years, has been a strong advocate for victims' rights and has been deeply committed to strengthening the justice system while helping young people who are at risk of becoming involved with gangs or the criminal justice system to lead better lives. I am confident that her motion will receive the support it so richly deserves.

The motion asks the House to take a long, hard look at the Criminal Records Act with an eye to strengthening it in order to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all of its decisions.

None of us need to be reminded as to why this is so important. Putting public safety first, of course, is something that our government has committed to do ever since we were first elected in 2006. We have done it in a number of ways. We have given police and law enforcement officials the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. We have done it by getting tough on crime and offenders. We have passed legislation to stiffen sentences for people convicted of drive-by shootings and murders connected to organized crime. We have passed the Tackling Violent Crime Act to better protect 14 to 16 year olds for the first time from sexual predators. We have recently introduced measures to further protect our children and to help victims by strengthening the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank.

We will also be pressing onward over the coming months with other important initiatives, including ending house arrest for serious crimes, and repealing the faint hope clause to spare victims from having to relive their terrible experiences time and time again.

We have also introduced legislation to keep violent and repeat young offenders off the streets while they are awaiting trial and ensure the courts consider appropriate sentences for youth convicted of the most serious and violent crimes.

All of those measures are designed to do one thing: to ensure that Canadians are safe in their own homes and in their own communities.

As our recent Speech from the Throne notes:

For many Canadians, there can be no greater accomplishment than to provide for their children, to contribute to the local community, and to live in a safe and secure country.

Our government shares and supports these aspirations, which is one reason that this motion is before us today.

The way the pardon system currently works means that the majority of applicants are granted one after a certain period of time provided they are not convicted of another crime, and, in the case of indictable offences, can demonstrate to the National Parole Board that they are of good conduct.

The idea behind the waiting period and the need for an offender to remain conviction-free or show they are of good conduct is sound enough. We want to ensure that each offender who applies for a pardon has committed to living in a society as a law-abiding citizen. This is one safeguard in the present system that plays a role in protecting public safety. The question we must ask ourselves today is whether that is enough.

Hon. members will know that another key safeguard within the present system originated with the hon. member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon when he was a member of the then Reform Party. Back in 1997, he introduced a private member's bill stipulating that the records of sexual offenders should be flagged in the justice system so that an organization working with children, seniors or other vulnerable members of our society would be able to tell if an individual who applied for a job with them had a sex offender background.

It took a lot to get that measure passed, including the co-operation of the government of the day, which saw the value in my colleague's bill and introduced its own legislation to implement this important safeguard. The measure came into force in August 2000, thanks, in large part, to the commitment of the hon. member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon to enhance public safety.

In 2006, our government implemented a review of the pardon system and put in place further safeguards with regard to sex offenders based on what was known at the time.

In particular, the National Parole Board enacted new measures calling on two board members instead of one to approve or reject applications from sex offenders. In addition, measures were put in place to ensure that the board undertook more rigorous consultations with police in the cases of sex offenders in order to determine if there were any recent and relevant information available on the offender.

Our government has always been committed to putting public safety considerations at the centre of the pardon system in this country but we can and will do more based on what we know today.

This is not simply a case of responding to sensational headlines. It is a case of looking at the present system and asking ourselves whether it responds to the needs of Canadians given that a serial sex offender can apparently receive a pardon under the same legislative rules and as readily as someone who has committed a less serious offence.

All of us need to ask ourselves what more we can do to ensure that public safety considerations are front and centre in decisions made by the National Parole Board. That is how it should be for all aspects of our criminal justice system.

The way the current system is set up means that we can and do differentiate in a limited way. Offenders convicted of a life or intermediate sentence, for example, cannot apply for a pardon, while other offenders who are serving shorter sentences can.

What we perhaps also need to look at in the interest of public safety is whether we should also differentiate between offenders who commit certain crimes over an extended period of time and those who may have committed an offence only once. This is one thing we need to look at. We need to ask whether the National Parole Board needs more discretion to look at the pattern of conduct or to look at the offences themselves, if there were more than one, as well as the potential and impact on victims. We need to ask whether these and other safeguards are sufficient. All these are important issues to address over the coming weeks.

I therefore look forward to working with all hon. members to strengthen the system of pardons in this country. I urge all hon. members to support the motion before us today.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is pleasure to rise today in support of the motion from the hon. member for Surrey North who, for many years, has been a strong advocate for victims' rights and has been deeply committed to strengthening the justice system while helping young people who are at risk of becoming involved with gangs or the criminal justice system to lead better lives. I am confident that her motion will receive the support it so richly deserves.

The motion asks the House to take a long, hard look at the Criminal Records Act with an eye to strengthening it in order to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all its decisions.

None of us need to be reminded as to why this is so important in today's world. Putting safety first, of course, is something that our government has committed to do ever since we were first elected in 2006. We have done it in a number of ways. We have given police and law enforcement officials the tools and resources they need to do their job. We have done it by getting tough on crime and offenders. We have passed legislation to stiffen sentences for people convicted of drive-by shootings and murders connected to organized crime. We have passed the Tacking Violent Crime Act to better protect 14 to 16 year olds for the first time from sexual predators. We have recently introduced measures to further protect our children and help victims by strengthening the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank.

We will also be pressing onward over the coming months with other important initiatives, including ending house arrest for serious crimes, and repealing the faint hope clause to spare victims from having to relive their terrible experiences.

We have also introduced legislation to keep violent and repeat young offenders off the streets while they are awaiting trial and ensure the courts consider appropriate sentences for youth convicted of the most serious and violent crimes.

All of those measures are designed to do one thing: to ensure that Canadians are safe in their own homes and in their own communities.

As our recent Speech from the Throne notes:

For many Canadians, there can be no greater accomplishment than to provide for their children, to contribute to the local community, and to live in a safe and secure country.

Our government shares and supports these aspirations, which is one reason that this motion is before us today and, as parliamentarians, it should be for all of our attention.

The way the pardon system currently works means that the majority of applicants are granted one after a certain waiting period provided they are not convicted of another crime, and, in the case of indictable offences or serious offences, can demonstrate to the National Parole Board that they are of good conduct.

The idea behind the waiting period and the need for an offender to remain conviction-free or show they are of good conduct is sound enough. However, we want to ensure that each offender who applies for a pardon has committed to living in society as a law-abiding citizen. That is one safeguard in the present system that plays a role in protecting public safety. The question we must ask ourselves today is whether that is enough.

Hon. members will know that another key safeguard within the present system originated with the hon. member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon. Back in 1997, he introduced a private member's bill stipulating that the records of sexual offenders should be flagged in the justice system so that an organization working with children, seniors or other vulnerable members of our society would be able to tell if an individual who might have applied for a job with them had a sex offender background.

It took a lot to get this measure passed, including the co-operation of the government of the day, which saw the value in my colleague's bill and introduced its own legislation to implement this important safeguard. This measure came into force in August 2000, thanks, in large part, to the commitment of the hon. member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon to enhance public safety.

In 2006, our government implemented a review of the pardon system and put in place further safeguards with regard to sex offenders based on what was known at that time.

In particular, the National Parole Board enacted new measures calling on two board members instead of one to approve or reject applications from sex offenders. In addition, measures were put in place to ensure that the board undertook more rigorous consultations with police in the cases of sex offenders in order to determine if there were any recent and relevant information available on the offender.

Our government has therefore always been committed to putting public safety considerations at the centre of the pardon system in the country, but we can and will do more based on what we know today. This is not a case of simply responding to sensational headlines. It is a case of looking at the present system, evaluating it and asking ourselves whether it responds to the needs of Canadians, given that a serial sex offender can apparently receive a pardon under the same legislative rules and as readily as anyone who has committed a less serious offence.

Is that right? Obviously, we believe not. All of us need to ask ourselves what more we can do to ensure that public safety considerations are front and centre in decisions made by the National Parole Board, as they should be for all aspects of our criminal justice system. The way the current system is set up means that we can and do differentiate in a limited way. Offenders convicted for life or an indeterminate sentence, for example, cannot apply for a pardon, while other offenders serving shorter sentences can.

What we perhaps also need to look at is whether, in the interest of public safety, we should also differentiate between offenders who commit certain crimes over an extended period of time and those who may have committed an offence only once. There is quite a difference. That is one thing we need to look at.

We need to ask whether the National Parole Board needs more discretion to look at the pattern of conduct or to look at the offences themselves, if there were more than one, as well as the potential impact on victims. We need to ask whether these and many other safeguards are sufficient. Are these all important issues to address over the coming weeks? I would certainly hope so.

I therefore look forward to working with all hon. members and especially the mover of this bill to strengthen the system of pardons in this country. I urge all members to support the motion put before us today by the hon. member, who has demonstrated quite clearly that this is a motion that is not only true to the heart and soul but also true to the essence of fairness and safety in this country.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support the motion introduced by the hon. member for Surrey North.

Like all Canadians, I am proud to live in the safest country in the world. I am also proud to be part of a government that has done so much to ensure that Canada remains the safest country in the world. It is a country where we can walk down the streets in our communities without fear, a country where parents can feel comfortable sending their kids off to school in the knowledge that they will make it back home safe, a country whose public parks and playgrounds echo with the sounds of joy and laughter from children and families enjoying time together worry free.

We know that all members in this House think these are important features for our country to have. They are at the heart of our freedom, of what defines Canada and makes us the envy of the rest of the world.

We also know that to ensure this freedom, we must remain ever vigilant. As soon as we take our freedom for granted, it becomes jeopardized. That is why public safety is, and will always be, this government's top priority. The public expects nothing less of us.

And therein lies the importance of this motion. It is all a question of vigilance. We should be constantly seeking ways to enhance public safety and protect the rights of all citizens—the accused, the convicted, the victims and, of course, the public.

Our justice system must ensure this protection and it must be seen to be doing so. Citizens must be confident that our justice system is able to keep them and their families safe and that it is fair and properly balanced.

All of the members know that the public's confidence has been shaken by recent events. The public is questioning the system's fairness and balance.

The pardon granted to Graham James, a convicted sex offender, prompted many legitimate questions from Canadians across the country. The responses that they received did nothing to appease them. Quite the opposite.

We are all aware of the value of pardons. We live in a civilized country and, as citizens of this country, we believe in giving someone a second chance.

I am sure we all agree that someone who commits a serious crime, recognizes that what he did was wrong, pays his debt to society, is sorry for what he did and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he will never commit such a crime again deserves a second chance.

These are the criteria the current system is based on. But people are still wondering today whether they are enough.

That is the very legitimate and very important question raised by the motion moved by the hon. member for Surrey North: can we do more to ensure that the National Parole Board considers public safety in its decisions?

Today, someone found guilty of a summary conviction offence can apply for a pardon after serving only three years of his sentence. The pardon is granted if the person has not been convicted of another offence during that time. This is the only factor taken into consideration. The National Parole Board has no discretionary authority.

Someone who is convicted of a crime, regardless of the seriousness of that crime, can apply for a pardon after a five-year waiting period. Once again, the National Parole Board has very limited discretionary authority. If the person is not convicted of another offence during the five-year waiting period and is of “good conduct”, as stated in the Criminal Records Act, he is considered to be rehabilitated.

The pardon granted to Mr. James has raised some very reasonable questions among Canadians. Is the legislation too lenient? The people in my riding of Saint Boniface are definitely asking that question. Is it appropriate to grant pardons almost automatically in all cases? When it comes to the National Parole Board's decision-making powers, do we have the assurance that it is putting the safety of the public first when making its decisions? Is anyone taking into account the repercussions of the crimes on the victims? That is very important to our government.

Should a person with a lengthy criminal record for serious offences have the same right to a pardon as someone convicted only one time for smashing a car window and stealing an iPod?

For the public, for our government, and I am sure for all the members of this House, the answer to that question is very clear. That is why the hon. Minister of Public Safety has introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Records Act.

The first amendment involves changing the name of the process. “Criminal record suspension” is a much more accurate and appropriate term. It sends a clear message to offenders, and especially to victims, that the offences committed and the harm they caused are not being forgotten.

Another change is that the waiting period before an offender can apply for a record suspension would be extended to five years for summary conviction offences and 10 years for indictable offences. This change would allow offenders to truly prove to us that they deserve a second chance and would provide us with the assurance that our justice system takes the seriousness of the offence into account.

These changes will give the National Parole Board more investigative powers, which will allow the board to make truly informed decisions, specifically when it has to rule on cases of serious offences. With regard to the most serious offences, crimes that society as a whole finds absolutely heinous, in other words, sexual offences against our children, the changes propose extending the waiting period and even eliminating the right to a record suspension.

I have to say with regard to that modification that I spent four and a half years investigating child abuse, including sexual abuse against children, and it is high time Parliament considered this kind of a modification because those children suffer for a lifetime. What is forgotten is the suffering of the parents as well, because no parent can ever forget the consequences of sexual abuse of their children.

I am very proud today to support what our minister and the hon. member for Surrey North have put forward, because I have seen this and lived this and it has gone unchecked far too long. I am very pleased to stand here and speak on behalf of this fine member.

Thanks to the proposed changes, the justice system will continue to be something Canadians can be proud of. They can have confidence in this fair and balanced system that makes public safety the top priority and reflects our country's respect for victims' rights.

Those are the objectives of the motion moved by the hon. member for Surrey North. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting this motion.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor today.

Like my colleagues, I am pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate the hon. member for Surrey North on having moved this important motion. It truly deserves the support of every member of the House.

The motion is straightforward:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.

This does not seem at all controversial to me. It is an important and timely motion.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that millions of Canadians were shocked to learn that, a few weeks ago, the National Parole Board granted a convicted sex offender a full pardon. We are not talking about just any offender, but a notorious sex offender who never showed a hint of remorse or apologized to his victims.

People across Canada have kept asking the same question: how could that have happened?

Obviously, the answer is “very easily”. Under the Criminal Records Act, the National Parole Board had no other choice but to pardon the unrepentant sex offender, who had abused a number of adolescents. It was not the response hoped for by Canadians and they let the authorities know that it is not the response they wish to see in future.

Consequently, I believe that the motion introduced by the member for Surrey North is the appropriate response. His motion deserves to be supported by all members of this House.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Tuesday, May 25, 2010, at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1) and 28(2).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)