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House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was environmental.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

That's right, people have been telling me, too.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

The member is not sympathetic to that, but I would ask him to take a petition around and talk to people.

The NDP critic was in Athens, Ontario, the other day. The member may have never been to Athens, Ontario, but I have been there many times and it is not really a hotbed of NDP votes. I can assure everyone of that. That whole area has had a strong Conservative base for many years. As a matter of fact, voting Liberal in that area is really stepping out. The people there are not happy about the situation with the prison farms. It runs contrary to common sense.

The issue is that the Conservatives have obviously been in government a little too long, because they are starting to lose their grip on common sense. That is fine. If they want to ignore the prison farm issue and continue to close them down, then they do that at their peril because that issue is going to be around for some time to come.

Another principle underlying sentencing is proportionality. The sentence imposed by the court must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. Another sentencing principle is that aggravating and mitigating factors have to be taken into account because there must be similar sentences for similar offences.

One of the reasons conditional sentences came about in the first place 13 years ago is that there was not a consistency across the country in terms of sentencing. For the same offence, a person would get a certain sentence in one province and someone in a neighbouring province would get a different one.

This certainly is a time to take another look at the Criminal Code. As a matter of fact, the NDP critic from Windsor—Tecumseh has talked about that repeatedly, that as a Parliament we should sit down and do a rewrite of the entire Criminal Code. That is fundamentally what should be going on in this case rather than just making piecemeal reforms.

I have many more points to make, but perhaps I can make them in the following debate throughout the day.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member might want to get his pen out because I have three questions.

First, he and a number of us have mentioned in the last couple of days the costs for the provinces. I wonder if he has any input from attorneys general of the provinces on that.

Second, he mentioned that the government cannot really be serious about its crime bills because it keeps proroguing Parliament or having elections, both of which put off its own crime bills. However, he did not talk about the seriousness related to this bill and the fact that the government has only had three speakers. There have been all sorts of objections that have come out and people have found technical problems, yet no one in the government has spoken to defend them. The justice minister and the parliamentary secretary have not even spoken.

However, my main question is on proportionality, as he has mentioned. When a judge whose job is to invoke justice has had the tool removed that would naturally work for justice in a given situation, he has to look for another option. That might have the unintended consequence of his choosing a suspended sentence, for instance, with probation. That could actually be more dangerous because the person would then not necessarily go back to jail and certainly would not get the rehabilitation that would make it safer for victims and other Canadians.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend actually asked four questions, not three.

I have listened to him make presentations on this and other bills in the House and I certainly agree with him. He has an excellent analysis of the problems.

I did bring up the issue of the government speaking, last week too, when the minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism actually showed up in the House for his bill. He listened to each and every one of the speakers and actually participated in the debate by answering the first question and asking questions in each of the questions and comments periods. Then he was quickly followed by the minister for democratic reform who was here for all the speeches on his bill to limit Senate terms. I think we in this House, speaker after speaker, recognized that. Certainly in the Manitoba House, for a large number of years, that was just common practice.

So, where is the government? It has gone AWOL again. It seemed to change its pattern for a few days, but now it seems to have gone back to its old way of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona for his excellent summary of the current situation and the conditions under which a judge can impose a conditional sentence.

I will only mention three of the conditions: the person who has been convicted of an offence cannot be subject to a minimum sentence; the judge must find that the offence merits a jail term of less than two years; and the judge must be convinced that serving the sentence in the community would not pose a threat to public safety. The member presented these facts, and I would like to thank him for that because it gives us a clear idea of the current situation.

I would like to ask him the following question. How transparent does he think the government really is when it calls the bill the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act? That is the alternative title the government has given this bill. What does the member think about a government that misleads people in this way?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is certainly consistent with the current government's advertising program. It is as if the Conservative Party advertising firm has simply tied its way into the bills in the House of Commons. Over and over again, the Conservatives feel they have to add a sexy title to the bill that sort of fits in with the press release that is already written. I say they do not have to do that. The press releases are ready. I have a bunch of their clippings here that I could show to anybody who wishes to see them. That is what they do. I think they write the press releases first and then they write the bills based on the press releases. All their crime efforts are really based more on trying to gain votes, and it is just not working. Their numbers are going down because the public, I think, is seeing through what they are up to here. The fact of the matter is that their crime agenda is just not getting the traction they hoped it would get at the initial stages.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I noted that my colleague spoke of the American experience in his speech. The U.S. went down this road of being tough on crime, throwing people in jail and being heavy on punishment, to find it really was not working.

I remember hearing a speech in Sault Ste. Marie from a Jesuit who works with gangs in San Francisco. He very clearly made the case that simply throwing people in jail and getting tougher in terms of punishment was not working for the people he was in contact with every day in the organization where he was executive director. He said to me that Canada should learn from the U.S. experience, that we should not go down that road and that we do not need to spend that kind of money or create that kind of pain and hardship for everybody concerned.

I would like the member to expand a little on his knowledge, understanding and experience of the American experiment that did not work.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an issue of déjà vu. The reality is that Europe has lower crime rates, Canada has mid-range crime rates and the United States has the highest crime rates. Let us assume, for want of a better argument, that they are 25 years ahead of us. If we are looking at what they did 25 years ago, we would see that they have a system that does not work.

They expanded private prisons in the United States in an explosive manner to house criminals under the “three strikes and you are out” program and the mandatory minimum programs of Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s. At the end of the day, what have they got? They have a system that is bankrupting their state and the highest crime rate around.

How could that possibly be seen as following best practices? What is it going to take for the government to wake up and realize that, on this and other issues, it should be looking at best practices? It could look and see what works in Sweden or what works and does not work in other countries. Why be wedded to an American system that has been proven not to work? Not only does it not work, but it costs a fortune.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There is enough time for a very brief question, perhaps 30 seconds for the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, just following up on the thoughts of my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona, it seems to me that the United States should be the safest country in the world, given that it has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Can he elaborate on this seeming contradiction? If tougher sentences make safer streets, why is it that the United States has the toughest sentences in the world and the highest rate of crime? Can he expand on that?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think it just shows that prisons are really crime schools. Prisoners are put in with other prisoners and learn the trade. At the end of the day, they come out with their degree. They are just better at crime when they come out of prison than when they went in.

How is that a positive for society if prisoners keep reoffending? We are trying to stop that system, and having conditional sentences seems to be working. It is also cheaper.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved that Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the minister have unanimous consent to share her time?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake, who made the ultimate sacrifice on Monday while serving Canadians proudly in Afghanistan. I was deeply saddened to have learned of his loss. He was a dedicated father of two sons who was a native of Simcoe, Ontario, in my riding of Haldimand—Norfolk. Our whole community has been shaken by this loss.

Petty Officer Blake is a local hero and a brave Canadian. Let us never forget Petty Officer Blake and all of the other brave men and women who have died while protecting the freedoms of Canadians and of those around the world.

In memory of Petty Officer Blake, I am humbled and privileged to rise today to speak about one of our government's newest bills, Bill C-13, the fairness for military families bill. This bill proposes to improve access to employment insurance parental benefits for members of the Canadian Forces.

Canadian Forces members are in a unique situation. Every single day soldiers are putting their lives on the line for the rights and freedoms of Canadians and of people all around the globe. They have such conviction in what they are doing and they desire to serve their country so much that they do something that not many of us are prepared to do: They spend large amounts of time away from their families.

Frankly, I cannot imagine what it must feel like for our soldiers to be halfway around the world in life-threatening circumstances knowing that they will not get to kiss their spouse, that they will not get to hold their new baby, or they will not get to hug their mom for months, but that is what our soldiers are willing to give up in order to serve our country. There are no words to properly express our gratitude to the members of our armed forces.

It is not just the soldiers who make the sacrifices; their families do as well. They spend endless sleepless nights worrying about the safety of their loved ones and spend months without the help and support of their spouse, their parent or their child. We also owe these people thanks for all of their hard work and their sacrifice.

In Canada, unfortunately, we sometimes forget about how lucky we have things. Where else in the world can we stand on a street corner and see a mosque, a synagogue and a Christian church, and not have the fear to practise the religion of choice? We must never forget this freedom and we must never forget that it did not come without a price. It is as a result of the sacrifices that our brave soldiers have made that we are able to enjoy the freedoms that we have right here in Canada.

The work of our soldiers is obviously not limited to the protection of our Canadian freedoms. In the battlefields of Vimy Ridge to Normandy and now in Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers have been on the front lines fighting for what is right in the face of tyranny.

Most recently, through the courage of our soldiers in Afghanistan, young women can now attend school and there are now democratic elections. In fact, simple freedoms that we take for granted in Canada, such as listening to music or watching a film, are now for the first time in decades available in Afghanistan as a result of the work of our Canadian soldiers.

No government has shown such unwavering support of our Canadian troops as our Conservative government. We recognize the important contributions of our soldiers and we are committed to ensuring that our brave men and women have access to the programs and services that they need and deserve.

Just a few short months ago, the member for Nepean—Carleton approached me with an issue. He had met a soldier from his riding who was unable to access EI parental benefits and enjoy time with his new baby when he returned from his deployment in Afghanistan. That is because under the current Employment Insurance Act, eligible Canadians must access their maternity and parental benefits within 52 weeks of the birth or the adoption.

This means that Canadian Forces members, including reservists, who are ordered to return to duty while on parental leave, or whose parental leave is deferred as a result of an imperative military requirement, may not be able to use the weeks with their family to which they are entitled. I had the same reaction that my colleague did when I heard this news. It is not right and it must be fixed.

This has been a problem for several years now. Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government completely ignored the issue, but our Conservative government is taking action. Bill C-13 fixes this unjust problem. I want to thank the member for Nepean—Carleton for bringing this issue to my attention and for his hard work in making sure that it was resolved.

The fairness for military families bill extends the window to access parental benefits to a maximum of 104 weeks instead of the previous 52 if a Canadian Forces member's parental leave is deferred, or if the member is recalled to duty from leave in the first year that a child is born or adopted. Even though soldiers may miss their baby's first steps, they will not miss the baby's first words. Military families can have a bit more piece of mind knowing that being deployed to serve our country will no longer prevent soldiers from having the opportunity to bond with their new child when they return.

We all agree that maternity and parental employment insurance benefits are good for families. These benefits help parents bond with their new child. In 2007-08 alone, over 186,000 Canadians took advantage of these benefits. Clearly, this has helped many families. We hope that this change to the employment insurance system will give Canadian Forces members more opportunities to bond with their children.

This bill reflects our Conservative government's clear commitment to families and our unwavering support for our Canadian Forces. We believe that families are the foundation of this great country. We also believe that parents should have the option to raise their kids as they see fit. That is why we introduced important new measures, such as the universal child care benefit, which provides $100 a month for every child under the age of six, and we are putting more money in the pockets of parents to spend on what matters most to them: their families.

The government also believes that Canadians, including Canadian Forces members, should not be forced to choose between work and family responsibilities. That is why we recently made special employment insurance benefits, including parental benefits, available to 2.6 million self-employed workers on a voluntary basis for the first time in Canada's history.

This bill is another example of that commitment. We want to make sure that when Canadians decide to join the Canadian Forces, to put on a uniform and serve our country, they can still bond with their new children when they come back. This bill shows that we understand the sacrifices that soldiers and their families make. As it stands, the Employment Insurance Act does not account for situations specific to soldiers and their families. It is time for the Act to recognize the important contribution that Canadian Forces members make.

We also announced in budget 2010 that we were taking steps to make it easier to access EI sickness benefits for immediate families of military personnel who have unfortunately died as a result of a service related injury. This change would provide recognition of the impact on family members of losing a loved one in the service.

This is another way for the government to express its gratitude to Canadian Forces members for their sacrifices.

There are no words to express how grateful we are to our armed forces. Bills like this one will bring us a step closer to ensuring that our soldiers have access to the programs to which they are entitled, soldiers, like our late Petty Officer Blake. The least we can do in return is give them some time with their families.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have had a chance to chat with the parliamentary secretary and others on that side about the bill. It certainly looks like something that would get all-party support, but I obviously do not speak for the other parties.

Does the minister know how many people would likely be affected by the bill? What would be the annual cost of the bill?

Would the minister be prepared to look at some amendments at committee? If it turns out that there are some people who may not have been covered who could have been covered by this bill, would the government be prepared to entertain amendments at the committee stage?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's support of this important bill.

It is only an estimate, but we estimate that some 60 soldiers' families would benefit from this each year. The estimates at this point in time are that it would cost approximately $600,000 per year, which I believe is a very small price to pay.

We want this bill to go forward. We want it to help as many Canadian Forces families as possible. If the hon. member has reasonable amendments that would help us put this through to benefit as many people as possible, we would certainly be willing to entertain them.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-13. The only thing I did find a little curious was that the minister is using the same arguments in favour of Bill C-13 that she rejected regarding the bill to eliminate the employment insurance waiting period. I find that rather strange.

I would like to know if the minister's bill will include retroactivity. In other words, will this apply only to Canadian Forces members who need it once the bill comes into force, or will there be any retroactivity for members who have already returned but also need it?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, I very much appreciate the Bloc's support. Our objective is to help the families of Canadian Forces members who cannot be with their new baby for the first year. That is what we want to do.

Under existing legislation, there is a two-week waiting period before benefits can be paid. That waiting period will be maintained, because it applies to everyone who receives benefits. However, we are trying to include all military personnel who should be able to access those benefits.

If the hon. member would like to propose a reasonable amendment to include people who are already receiving these benefits, I would welcome such an amendment and take it into consideration.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important bill that will support Canadian military families. By improving the access of Canadian Forces members to employment insurance parental benefits, we are recognizing their profound and dedicated contribution of service to our country and to all Canadians.

The men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces play an enormous role representing Canada abroad and serving our interests at home and around the world. Our contribution to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is only the latest of many overseas missions past and present, which have called our service men and women away from their families on behalf of service for us all.

When we recognize their service, we must also recognize their sacrifices. We recognize those who make the ultimate sacrifice. We should remember them always and every day as we go about our lives in peace, security and prosperity in a country ruled by laws and blessed by freedom. We remember them solemnly every November 11 and we commemorate them on April 9. We did that less than a month ago in a moving ceremony not far from this place.

By the same token, we must recognize the tremendous hardship that arises when a Canadian Forces member has to leave his or her family because of an imperative military requirement, and it is an imperative requirement for the members to do so. Our Canadian Forces members spend many months on end away from their families, often more than eight or nine months at a time. This is very hard on a family and even harder on a family with or expecting children.

Our service men and women in these situations deserve our support. We need to help them preserve and strengthen the ties of family. The bill would help them do just that. The current Employment Insurance Act does not recognize the unique circumstances that our soldiers and their families face. It is time the act recognized the important and imperative contributions made by our Canadian Forces and the members of the forces.

We also announced in budget 2010 that we would take steps to make it easier to access EI sickness benefits for immediate family of military personnel who unfortunately died as a result of a service-related injury. This change will provide recognition of the impact on family members of losing a loved one in service, the shock and the sadness that no family should have to endure, but many do endure because they have to.

All Canadians are deeply and profoundly touched by the sacrifices made by our soldiers on behalf of us and on behalf of others. That is why Canadians, by the thousands, line up each unfortunate time to observe the memorial motorcades on the Highway of Heroes. That is why on Fridays Canadians wear red.

I cannot adequately express the thanks we give to our service men and women. Through initiatives like this bill, we can get a step closer to ensuring our soldiers have access to the programs and services to which they are entitled. As our minister has stated, the bill is the right and fair thing to do.

Canadian soldiers are willing to give their lives for our country. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, often make many other painful sacrifices for all of us. The least we can do in return is to give them some time with their families.

Technically, what the bill would do is extend the eligibility window for EI parental benefits by the number of weeks that a Canadian Forces regular and reserve members' parental leave is deferred or interrupted because of an imperative military requirement during the eligibility window. The window would be extended by up to a maximum of 52 weeks for a possible total of 104 weeks to allow these individuals to access part or all of the 35 weeks of EI parental benefits available to them. This would allow Canadian Forces parents time to share in those important milestones that form an integral part of every family's story. That is why we are doing this.

As I have said, we must recognize the service and sacrifice of these brave men and women. They face circumstances other Canadian workers do not. Most Canadians do not face imperative military requirements as a normal part of their daily life. Canadian Forces members put their lives on the line for our country and our government is proud to stand behind them and support them in whatever ways we can.

Under the legislation, we propose to address the specific challenges faced by Canadian Forces members, including reservists, who have their parental leave deferred or are ordered to return to duty while on leave due to imperative military requirements. The measure we have proposed is similar to what is offered to parents on EI parental leave who have a child in the hospital. The period in which parents can claim benefits is extended one week for every week the child is hospitalized, up to a maximum of 104 weeks.

EI parental benefits play an important role for many new parents by providing income replacement. Use of EI special benefits, including maternity and parental benefits, is high. The 2008 monitoring and assessment report found that more than 186,000 Canadians accessed parental benefits in 2007-08. The number of parents sharing parental benefits continues to rise. Parents use almost 95% of the time available to them under the benefit. It is well used and well received. Everybody recognizes the importance of the early years and the intellectual and emotional and social development of children.

Canadians recognize that service in the Canadian Forces is honourable, but comes at great personal risk. That is why our government values the extension of parental benefits as a meaningful gesture to the men and women serving in the Canadian Forces. It shows that we value their sacrifice and we value strong families.

Military families also deserve our support in another way.

As it currently stands, eligible individuals who are unable to work due to illness, including the stress caused by the injury or death of a loved one, can qualify for up to 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits.

Budget 2010 proposes to facilitate access to EI sickness for immediate family members of military personnel who died from a service-related injury. This recognizes the impact on family members of losing a loved one in service to their country. It reflects our country's deep appreciation for the new generation of men and women in uniform who stand up for the values and principles that Canadians hold dear.

We owe so much to the Canadian Forces members who have served and continue to serve with great distinction. I encourage my fellow members of Parliament to show their support to military families by facilitating access to EI and by passing this bill. I would ask that this bill be passed quickly and unanimously by the House.