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House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was copyright.

Topics

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

Copyright legislation, the issue of digital locks and Bill C-32 have accompanied me from the beginning of my political journey a couple of years ago.

I live in a riding that has a large population of post-secondary students, and when I said I was running for the nomination in the riding, many of them wanted to talk to me about Bill C-32 and the concerns they had over the digital lock provisions in that bill. These are students. These are text savvy people. Many of them are the next generation of artists and creators. The bill is important to me.

Copyright is at the heart of how our society treats creators, artists, musicians, and composers. It is very important that we recognize their contribution, that we value what they have created, and the value that it brings to our society.

My brother is one of these people. He is a musician. He is a jazz saxophonist. He teaches for a living. He plays. Sometimes he records. It matters to me a lot that our artists are treated fairly.

However, every time technology changes there is a need to modify copyright law. A very simple example of that is photocopying. When it becomes much easier to copy a book, we have to think about what that means for protecting written material. When it becomes very easy to copy music, we have to think about how to adjust our copyright laws. One thing that has happened in the past to deal with that adjustment is that a levy has been imposed on the sale of cassettes and CDs to compensate artists for the work they have done.

Now we are in an age where technology has changed again, very radically. I am sure that when I was a young person, nobody had on their desks all the things I have: a phone, a couple of computers, and so on. Technology is all around us and we can copy all sorts of digital material from one device to another.

It is very important that the legislation before us is technology neutral. Probably the best way to talk about technology as far as this legislation is concerned is just to ignore all the technology in front of us and just think about all the copies of digital materials in the cloud, on the Internet. We do not even have to think about the hardware in front of us.

It is important to have digital locks, since a lot of copyrighted material, material that is created by our artists, writers, musicians, is in the cloud, but we can improve this legislation as it pertains to digital locks.

The students I met with very early on in my political career were very quick to bring this to my attention, which is that digital locks should not trump the other rights that are being given to consumers in this legislation. Consumers should have the right to buy material and to copy it for their own use. Students should have the ability to have copies of materials so that they can learn.

A really good example of that is something my brother, the musician whom I want to get back to, related to me. I really did not appreciate it, but when he explained it to me, things suddenly became very clear. My brother says that the training, education of musicians today, as compared to, say, 20 years ago, is radically different. The reason why it is radically different is because young musicians today can listen to a lot more music than they could have 20 years ago, a lot more variations of music from around the world.

That is because of the Internet. Not only does the Internet allow a lot of different kinds of music and creative things to be brought to people, but a lot of creative people can communicate what they have created to others around the world through the Internet. This is a tool for the next generation of creators and artists and people who are creating.

This is really something special that has changed how artists, musicians and writers are being trained and educated. They are really able to immerse themselves in what is happening around them and what has been in the past as well.

I think it is very important that we take a bit of time. I hope this happens in committee, if the bill goes to committee. We must be more careful about defining fair dealing and education. I am not so sure what my brother related to me, this training of musicians which is not necessarily in schools and not necessarily in a formal setting, if that is something that would be properly considered in a definition of education.

As far as fair dealing is concerned, there are definitions that we could incorporate into the bill. The Supreme Court has made rulings about what fair dealing means in certain cases and has established certain criteria. These criteria could, I understand, be incorporated into the bill.

That is why in the recent amendment that has been brought forward by my party there are two provisions. One is to first of all uphold the rights of consumers to choose how they enjoy the content that they purchase, to avoid the overly restrictive digital lock provisions that would seem to take away the rights that are being granted consumers in this legislation, which does not make sense. The second is to take some time and write down a clear and strict test for fair dealing for education purposes.

There is a lot of controversy over this legislation. There are people for it and against it, and it is probably because, in my humble opinion, the legislation could be made clearer. Forgive me for throwing out this example, but I often find that in my experience as a scientist, if people disagree about something we should really sit down and look at the numbers and write down the equations, put everything on the table and define the terms more carefully. Often, in the field of science and research a lot of disagreements melt away when definitions are made precise and people look at actual numbers and hard data.

It makes sense to me, from my experience, that if we were to take some time and write down clear definitions of fair dealing and education in the exceptions to the copyright protections in the legislation that we could probably resolve some of the controversy around the legislation.

The third provision in the reasoned amendment is that there are certain streams of revenue that will be affected by this copyright legislation. We should take some time and think about how the streams of revenue will be affected and think about providing transitional funding for artists who adapt to the changes and the loss of some revenue streams that would be caused by the bill.

These are the reasons why the provisions in the reasoned amendment make sense to me. That is why my party and I are supporting this reasoned amendment.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I find the hon. member's proposal kind of interesting. He talks about the amendment like it is just a simple amendment to a bill. This is of course a bill that has been consulted on probably more than just about any bill that I have seen in six years here. There have been thousands and thousands of submissions, 39 hours of committee testimony, and the Liberals today have introduced an amendment that the House decline to give second reading to the bill.

It is not an amendment to make changes to the bill, just an amendment to wipe out the bill altogether, instead of going through the process of continuing the committee hearings that we have had, and hearing from witnesses that have not had a chance to appear yet. The Liberals would just wipe out the 12 years, I think it has been, of consultation on the bill and four different iterations of the bill to this point.

In the interests of co-operating, why would the Liberal Party not just bring forward suggestions for amendments according to the regular process, get those to the committee stage, and put ideas on the table there as opposed to wiping out the bill here today?

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assure the member that Liberals will be proposing amendments. If we wanted to jettison this bill, we would have proposed a hoist motion. The reasoned amendment allows us to specify the reasons why we oppose this bill going to second reading and they are very clear. I read them out before and will not read them again. They explain what is wrong and the sorts of amendments that should be made.

The member talked about all of the testimony that was given. Why did the Conservative government not look at all of that testimony and maybe make a few changes between the legislation that appeared in the last Parliament and Bill C-11 that is before us today? There were no changes made, so I do not believe the government has really paid attention to all of that testimony.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents about Bill C-11. I received an email from a constituent named Mark Burge, who said what I thought was very thoughtful. He said, “A solution to Bill C-11's contentious core problem and the means to avoid the unintended consequences generated by the broad protection for digital locks is to amend the Bill to permit the circumvention of digital locks when done for lawful purposes. This approach is compliant with the WIPO Internet Treaties, provides legal protection for digital locks, and maintains a much better copyright balance--”.

He urges the House to either add an infringing purpose requirement to the prohibition of circumvention or add an exception to the legislation to address circumvention for lawful purposes. Mr. Burge believes that in addition to linking the prohibition of circumvention to the act of infringement, it is paramount for consumers to have commercial access to the tools required to facilitate such lawful acts.

I am wondering if my hon. colleague would care to comment on what I think are some very thoughtful suggestions from someone who clearly has studied this issue in my riding.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments, which accord very much with what I have been hearing from my constituents, many of whom understand the need for digital locks but also concede that the digital lock provisions are too stringent. They go beyond the need to protect lawful uses of material. It makes a lot of sense and I hope the member and his party will propose those amendments in committee.

Bill C-371—Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order regarding Bill C-317, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (labour organizations), standing in the name of the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

The bill proposes to amend the Income Tax Act in an effort to force labour organizations to submit for all to see, that is complete public disclosure, an incredibly onerous level of detailed financial information about their work on behalf of their members. While labour organizations already abide by financial disclosure rules, mostly imposed at the provincial level of government, they do that because it ensures they are accountable to their members and not just because they are driven by legislation.

The bill, which is mostly ideologically motivated, would seek to expose virtually every last detail of a labour organization's financial books. The risk of this is that it gives access to other business organizations in which members may be involved in labour negotiations or labour disputes, exposing their knowledge base to some risk in that regard.

Aside from the privacy concerns over making this level of financial detail available to the public, it shows the thrust of the government, as we have seen with the labour disputes, back-to-work legislation recently and more threats of it at this point, but that culminates now by a government member bringing forth as a private member's bill what should in fact be a government bill, and that is really where my point of order lies. By imposing these types of conditions Conservatives, they are precipitating action that should only be precipitated by a government bill.

The measures set out in the bill include a threat of delisting the labour organization for non-compliance. One of the points that has been missed in this regard about its consequences, because we are not just talking about national labour organizations or national unions, is it includes a local labour council, a union local, even a small one of say 20 or 30 members, a national labour organization, or even a federation of labour. It covers all of them. My concern with the admissibility of the bill is it would have the effect of raising taxes, which is the exclusive prerogative of ministers in the House of Commons and cannot be done by private members' business. At page 1114 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, it states:

The power to initiate taxation rests solely with the government and any legislation which seeks an increase in taxation must be preceded by a ways and means motion.

As a result of this and the reasons I will set out in greater detail shortly, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to rule that the proceedings on the bill to date, namely its introduction and first reading, which it already had, have not respected the provisions of our Standing Orders and are therefore null and void and further that you direct that the order for second reading of Bill C-317 be discharged and the bill be withdrawn from the order paper. Those are the two orders I would be seeking from you, Mr. Speaker.

To begin, I draw attention to Speaker Milliken's ruling on November 28, 2007, at pages 1463-64 of Debates. Therein he references page 896 of Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice 23rd edition, which states quite clearly, ”

—“the repeal or reduction of existing alleviations of taxation” must be preceded by a Ways and Means motion.

It is not a discretionary call. It is a must situation.

It is clear to me and I suspect that you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that the income tax exemptions that apply to labour organizations and the reduction of taxable income as a result of writing off the dues paid by their members would easily qualify as alleviations of taxation. Further, the provisions of Bill C-317 would repeal those alleviations by terminating the labour organization's Income Tax Act exempt status.

Furthermore, while the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 900, lists four limited categories of charges on the people, which would require a ways and means motion before tabling in the House, if you trace this passage back to the primary source of the reference, Mr. Speaker, you will find what seems to be much more clearly worded guidelines. I would ask you to pay particular attention because there seems to be, and I will not say a contradiction, greater clarity if we go further back in our history in this regard.

Citation 980 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms sixth edition, on page 265 states that a:

Ways and Means motion is a necessary preliminary to...an extension of the incidence of a tax so as to include persons not already payers.

“Persons not already payers” is a much more specific restriction than creating a new class of taxpayers, which is the guideline set out at page 900 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which I cited a moment ago. It is the difference between finding that a bill creates a new type of taxpayer and finding that a bill creates taxpayers out of those who did not pay tax before.

In the case of the 41st Parliament Bill C-317, examples are readily available to illustrate how the incidence of the federal income tax on dues-paying members of a labour organization might be extended under the proposed changes to the Income Tax Act to make federal income taxpayers out of persons who previously were not. Therefore, we are creating new taxpayers.

Consider if you will, Mr. Speaker, the hypothetical case of a dues-paying member of a labour organization who pays no federal income tax because the member's taxable income falls just short of the amount covered by the personal income tax exemption. If this person's labour organization were to lose its ITA exempt status for failing to meet the conditions set out under the provisions of Bill C-317, his or her membership dues would no longer be excluded from personal taxable income. This increase in taxable income could easily push his or her taxable income to an amount over that which is exempt, effectively creating a federal income taxpayer where there was not one before, which is the very definition of Beauchesne's description of what is not permissible in this place without a preceding ways and means motion, which only can be brought by the government of the day.

I am anticipating an argument from the government side on the private member's bill, so I reviewed a precedent on this matter. I fear there may be a temptation to use Speaker Milliken's decision of March 15, 2010, on Bill C-470 from the 40th Parliament, as a relevant precedent to the question on hand today, so I will ask you, Mr. Speaker to take extra caution when reviewing the decision. While there are some similarities between the two bills, I would submit that the many differences will lead you to rule the opposite particularly when using the much more specific delineation of the rule in question as laid out in Beauchesne's.

I am not sure it will be necessary in your deliberations, Mr. Speaker, but I would draw to your attention just one of the many important differences between the two bills, the one in the 40th Parliament and this one today, which is the stark contrast between labour organizations and charitable ones. In particular, members of labour organizations would continue to have an obligation to pay their membership dues, as they do under provincial legislation, even in the event of the organization's delisting from ITA exempt status, whereas charity donors' contributions are completely discretionary. Finally, labour organizations are selected, supported and held accountable by the very dues-paying members who make the financial contributions in the first place. Charities are not.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would again ask that you rule that the proceedings to date under Bill C-317, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (labour organizations) standing in the name of the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale namely, the introduction and first reading, have not respected the provisions of our Standing Orders and are therefore null and void and that you direct that the order for second reading of Bill C-317 be discharged and the bill withdrawn from the order paper.

It is quite clear that the bill should be presented, if it is going to be presented at all, by the government of the day. It would bring forth a ways and means motion and then the proper bill would flow from that. This attempt to do it through the back door by way of a private member's bill is really a serious breach of the Standing Orders of the House.

Bill C-371—Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for his intervention.

Is the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

Bill C-371—Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to a couple of the points raised by my colleague across the way regarding the bill.

First, his implication that this should be a government bill takes away from the freedom that private members have to promote legislation. I think he is jumping to conclusions in making that conclusion.

Second, the member will know that there is already a mechanism in place that vets these bills. There is a group, the private members subcommittee of procedure and House affairs, that meets to discern whether bills are votable or not. In fact, there will be a report tabled tomorrow in that regard, particularly in relation to the bill.

Third, it is obvious that the mover of the bill is not present today and at the very least he should be given an opportunity to respond to the issues that were raised by my colleague.

I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to defer action on this until appropriate submissions are allowed on behalf of the member.

Bill C-371—Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the final point that the member makes, there is certainly no objection to the member who authored this bill being given the opportunity to speak to it and present whatever argument contrary to the motion I made.

However, as members know, private member's bills, and this is the very first one on the list, will start Thursday evening of this week. I would ask that the member bring forth his arguments as quickly as possible.

I would then ask you, Mr. Speaker, to make your decision as quickly as possible.

Bill C-371—Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank both hon. members for their intervention. I will take it under advisement but, as was suggested, I will be interested in hearing from the member who initiated the private member's bill and any other interested members who may want to have a say or who have some advice on it.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to this extremely important copyright bill. When I was the science and technology critic before the last election, I had the pleasure of sitting on the committee that addressed this extremely important issue which, as we know, goes back a long way.

Canada, of course, signed on to the WIPO treaty back in the 1990s. We all know that it has been a long tortuous road with respect to modernizing our copyright bill. We in the Liberal Party attempted to do so; unfortunately, with changes in government and other things, it did not happen, so here we are today with Bill C-11.

I participated in a legislative committee before the election when the bill was known as Bill C-32. As has been pointed out many times today already, there is no change in the wording of Bill C-11 versus Bill C-32.

This is surprising to me. In reality we listened to a very large number of witnesses from many different fields. They represented what I would call the three main stakeholders: industry, the producers of video games, movies, music sets, electronic books and those kinds of things; consumers, all of us who buy these copyrighted materials; and finally the third group, the artists. There are a great many artists who are ultimately the producers of the works that we buy.

We heard from a large number of these people, and from other groups in the education field, as well as librarians, photographers and a great many people who have an interest in modernizing the copyright law.

When we finally saw Bill C-11 as it was presented just recently, we discovered, as I said, that there had been no changes whatsoever to it, yet there were some very compelling testimonies presented by the witnesses who appeared earlier this year. Personally I would have thought, and I had hoped, that the version we would be dealing with today would have had some changes put into it.

In relation to many areas that needed to be modernized under copyright, I would say this is a good bill, and the Liberal Party is ready to support those aspects. However, there are also a number of areas on which we feel the points brought up by witnesses were valid. We feel there should have been consideration given to changing it to make it a more balanced copyright bill. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

I have to say that the thought went through my mind as to whether there had been any intention to listen to any of the witnesses who had appeared. So far, on face value, I would have to say no, because nothing has actually changed between Bill C-32 and Bill C-11.

Although we will be going to committee with Bill C-11, my question is this: are we going to end up with exactly the same bill at the end of that process, or is the government really willing to actually listen to some of the inputs? That is my concern.

This morning the heritage minister said that they did not change anything in Bill C-32 when they made it Bill C-11 out of respect for all those witnesses.

Now, there are two ways to take that, and I am not quite sure what he meant. One possibility is that the Conservatives have stored up the witnesses' input and at the end of the process will make changes. The other is that they are really telling us that we will go through this charade for whatever amount of time Bill C-11 will be debated in committee and otherwise, but will end up with exactly the same bill that was presented a while ago. We therefore introduced an amendment this morning.

As I have said, there are a lot of good things in Bill C-11 that we fully support. For example, I come from a riding where there is a major video game presence. It is a large industry. Canada is a leader in this area, and I support the desire and the need to protect against piracy. That is very important for Canada. That is an example of something we support entirely.

We also have no problem with certain other things, such as some of the fair dealing provisions that would deal with parody and satire.

However, there are other areas where valid points have been brought up. The first one, of course, has to do with digital locks.

Our point of view in the Liberal Party is that if people buy a copyrighted product such as a piece of music, a video, or an electronic book, download it and pay for it legitimately, then they have bought the right to that product. If they choose to transfer it to another device, again for their personal enjoyment and for a non-infringing personal purpose, then we do not believe they should be forbidden from doing that, even if it has a digital lock on it. That is fundamental in our position. It is because those people have paid for the product, and it remains a product that they want to use for personal purposes.

The argument presented by the minister of heritage is that if it has a lock on it and the buyers intend to transfer it, they have a choice of either breaking the law or not buying the product. We do not think that is the way we should approach this particular issue of digital locks, nor do the majority of Canadians.

The second thing has to do with fair dealing and the definition of fair dealing. As members know, “fair dealing” is defined under a number of criteria in the Berne Convention. The particular issue that was probably the most contentious was bringing education under fair dealing. When that happened, we in the Liberal Party and a lot of the witnesses asked for a definition of “education” under “fair dealing”. In fact, we proposed, constructively, to codify a number of criteria established by the Supreme Court that would establish whether fair dealing had been infringed because, as members know, if people feel that fair dealing has been infringed, the onus is on them to get themselves a lawyer and say that there was an infringement of the fair dealing with respect to the use of their copyrighted material.

A number of criteria were proposed by the Supreme Court. We believe these are good criteria and that they should be codified. We made that suggestion during the hearings for Bill C-32; a lot of the suggestions were listened to and a lot of people mentioned this same idea, yet we do not find it in Bill C-11. That is something else we find very preoccupying.

Finally, there is the issue of transitional funding to help artists, particularly if we look at an example like the music industry. In relation to this industry, we recognized a number of years ago that artists should be compensated when their music is copied. As members know, we established a levy on CDs and cassettes, and for a while this gave a very good compensation. It got up to about $28 million annually. An organization responsible for sharing that money out among artists did so, and that was accepted by the artists.

Of course, CDs and tapes are not used very much today for recording musical works, so we suggested that an alternative should be put in place, and we still believe it is important to address the requirement for fair compensation for artists who produce works and whose works are copied to other media.

That is the why we proposed this reasoned amendment today. We hope that the Conservative government, as it listens to the debate here and as it goes to committee, is sincere in paying attention to what witnesses say and to all the written submissions.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, my question is for the distinguished hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who seems to find some positive aspects in this bill. However, if he thinks they are positive, how does he explain that this copyright bill is being unanimously rejected by creators and is not getting any support from arts groups and organizations? How can we interpret this move by the government, which claims to be a true defender of culture? How can you claim to defend culture when every creative artist rejects this legislation?

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2011 / 6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question.

Indeed, among the key people affected by this issue, it is true that creators are getting the short end of the stick. I agree. We in the Liberal Party have worked on that. We have even proposed creating a fund to ensure that our musical artists are adequately compensated for works that are copied. We have shown through this example that we were prepared to make special efforts and create a special fund to compensate our artists. We met with them. We proposed changes. I think the approach we took with the artists was constructive and tried to recognize that they are getting shortchanged in this bill as it is currently worded.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest as the hon. member talked about amendments that the Liberals had moved to the bill. The Liberals did not actually move any amendments, plural; they moved one amendment to the bill, and that amendment basically wipes out the bill. It is an amendment to wipe out the bill.

Of course, we have 12 years invested in this bill, as I mentioned earlier to his colleague on a question. We have seen four different versions of it. As was explained earlier today, we moved the same version that we had spent a lot of time on as colleagues. We spent time on the same committee last time discussing this bill. We heard the same testimony from literally dozens and dozens of witnesses in over 39 hours of committee testimony.

I do not really have a question. It is more of a comment. If we are actually going to be able to move forward, if we are actually going to respect the process and the dozens of witnesses who came forward to say how important it is for us to pass legislation, perhaps we can work more co-operatively than just moving an amendment to wipe out all the work--

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I must interrupt the hon. member. We must stop at 6:30. We will give the hon. member a chance to respond.

The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, for one minute.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all I hope that my hon. colleague is going to take a hint. What we are trying to suggest here is that there are some changes required.

A minute ago and earlier today I listened to him talk about how we have listened to so many people and have received so many witnesses and so many written submissions, but what do we see in Bill C-11? Can he tell me that everything that has been suggested under the Bill C-32 legislative committee is actually being considered for the final version, or did we do a tape erase and start from zero? Are we going to go through a sham exercise that will not change a darned thing?

If he wants to talk about listening to Canadians, he has not done that yet.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Pursuant to order made on Monday, October 17, 2011 the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Motion No. 6 under Government Business.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 6, Ms. Denise Savoie in the chair.)

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Denise Savoie

I would like to begin this evening's debate by making a short statement on how the proceedings will unfold.

Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 53.1. It provides for a take note debate to be held following a motion proposed by a minister, leaders of the other parties.

The motion providing for tonight's debate was adopted by the House on Monday, October 17, 2011.

Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments. The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak.

Pursuant to the special order adopted earlier today, the Chair will receive no dilatory motions, no quorum calls, and no requests for unanimous consent.

Pursuant to the rules used in the committee of the whole, members are permitted to speak more than once provided that there is sufficient time.

At the conclusion of tonight's debate we will rise and the House will adjourn until tomorrow.

We will now begin tonight's take note debate.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of concerns regarding the ongoing erosion of democracy in Ukraine, including most recently the politically motivated and arbitrary prosecution and conviction of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko by Ukrainian authorities.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I will be sharing my time with the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette.

It is worrisome to observe the recent developments in Ukraine and the ominous signs that democratic development is regressing and being undermined by the apparently politically motivated use of the judicial system in Ukraine.

Many Canadian members of Parliament, including the six members of Ukrainian heritage on this side of the House, along with political leaders from leading democracies around the world, have questioned the conduct of the Tymoshenko trial and subsequently the health of democracy, transparency, the rule of law and most certainly justice in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko is being accused of abusing her authority as prime minister during the signing of gas agreements with Russia in January 2009. The prosecution claims that this caused significant damage to Ukraine in the loss of millions of dollars. For this she has been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and fined approximately $200 million. This is an apparent manipulation of justice designed to prevent her from seeking political office in three years' time.

The prosecution claims that she was able to achieve lower prices in negotiations with the Russian state gas company because she was guided by private interests. It is worth noting that the negotiations took place during a gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia wherein shipments of gas to Ukraine and western Europe had been halted.

The conduct of Tymoshenko's trial did not reflect internationally accepted norms of due process or fairness. Even though the hearings were originally transparent and open to the public, latter stages of the trial were conducted behind closed doors.

Furthermore, the court's treatment of Tymoshenko's defence team is highly suspect. Despite numerous petitions for the court to uphold the Ukrainian criminal procedure code for ample time for her lawyers to review case files, the judge ruled that three days was sufficient for the defence team to read and process 5,000 pages of evidence. That is 20 inch pile of paper. It is clear that any legal team would find it impossible to put together an adequate defence with such insufficient time to prepare.

Adding to my skepticism over the conduct of this trial is that Yulia Tymoshenko was charged by the security service of Ukraine with another criminal offence one day after her sentencing last October 11. It is alleged she embezzled $405 million while president of United Energy Systems of Ukraine in the 1990s. This leads me to believe that the Ukrainian court system is applying selective justice and apparently allowing political interests to interfere with judicial impartiality and due process.

There is no doubt in my mind that Tymoshenko's conviction and pending charges are aimed at silencing an effective opposition leader, a necessary requirement for a healthy democracy. That is why I am speaking out today. This case is much greater than the fate of one Ukrainian leader. It goes directly to the issue of whether the Ukrainian government respects basic human rights and its responsibility to provide fairness and due process under its laws.

Viktor Yanukovych has made it clear that the cries of democratic nations for Yulia Tymoshenko will not lead to her liberation. He insists that the rule of law is supreme and an independent judiciary exists. Ukrainian authorities have to realize that their actions hold consequences for Ukraine's international reputation and its relationship with Canada.

Canada, and especially its Ukrainian Canadian community, is seriously concerned about democratic regression. The Ukrainian community in Etobicoke Centre has expressed its outrage to me. I have stood with members of the community and protested at the Ukrainian Consulate in Etobicoke and I spoke out about this apparent application of judicial vindictiveness. These concerns are shared with the Canadian Prime Minister who, in his letter to Ukraine's president, warned that bilateral relations, now dominated by free trade talks, could be damaged by these recent events.

In his address to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress just last week, the Prime Minister was very clear on Canada's position on Ukraine, a position I wholeheartedly support. He said:

Canada will support Ukraine whenever it moves towards freedom, democracy and justice.

Along with all of my constituents, I truly hope Ukraine does the right thing and upholds democratic freedom and the rule of law, ensuring a long lasting and productive relationship with Canada and all democratic nations that are now decrying this situation.

I stand with not only my constituents of Ukrainian heritage but all Canadians of Ukrainian heritage to denounce this apparently shameful course of action President Yanukovych has embarked upon.

[Member spoke in Ukrainian]

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NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Chair, I would like to thank my colleague for his eloquent presentation. Could he speak a bit more about diplomatic measures that Canada could take to resolve the situation and exert pressure on Ukraine?

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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Madam Chair, Canada is doing everything it possibly can right now.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has issued strong statements in his own communiqués to the President of Ukraine, as has the Prime Minister, especially last Friday when he received the Shevchenko medal at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress event.

The Prime Minister sent a letter to President Yanukovych stating that he is jeopardizing relations with Canada.

Free trade negotiations are ongoing and our relations will be in jeopardy if actions and democratic regression continue.

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Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Madam Chair, Canada has a strong history with Ukraine. This year we celebrated 120 years of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. To date there are about 1.3 million Ukrainian Canadians in this country.

In 1991, Canada was the first country to recognize Ukrainian independence. The government has such a strong focus in terms of its dealings with the Ukrainian community that on October 14 the Prime Minister received the Shevchenko medal from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

One activity the government has undertaken to cause it to earn this great award is the passing of the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day Act in 2008. I thank my colleague from Selkirk—Interlake for his great work on that. Another is our government's support for democratic reforms in Ukraine. We sent over 200 election observers to Ukraine for the 2010 presidential election. We are also entering into historic free trade agreements.

It is because of this relationship that the case of Yulia Tymoshenko is so troublesome for all members in the House. She is an extraordinary person. Before she became the first female prime minister of Ukraine she co-led the Orange Revolution. That was a time of unprecedented hope and progress in Ukraine where the world thought freedom, democracy and the rule of law would prevail. It is a country with magnificent potential. It has a strongly educated workforce, terrific farmland resources and abundant natural resources. The country seemed to be on the verge of greatness.

However, in May of this year Yulia Tymoshenko was subjected to a trial on a trumped up charge and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Officials in the United States and the European Union called the prosecution of Tymoshenko “selective prosecution of political opponents”.

Our own Minister of Foreign Affairs in May of this year stated:

Canada is troubled by the manner in which the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko were carried out by Ukrainian authorities.

Interestingly, because of the seven-year sentence she received she is obviously precluded from running in the 2012 and 2015 elections. Yulia Tymoshenko is a very popular person in Ukraine but her very popularity appears to be her undoing in terms of dealing with the current Ukrainian judiciary.

There has been an international protest and what is now occurring in the House of Commons exemplifies the concern that the international community has. I have been informed that there are a number of demonstrations occurring in Ukraine itself where the citizens are protesting against this travesty of justice.

In a speech given by our Prime Minister on October 14 at the award ceremony hosted by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, in terms of his letter to President Yanukovych, he said:

I let him know that I am deeply concerned...

That the conduct of Tymoshenko's trial does not reflect accepted norms of due process or fairness.

[...]

Canada will support Ukraine whenever it moves towards...democracy and justice.

However, our foreign policy is rooted in principle, and in the defence of freedom.

I am proud to be part of a government that exemplifies such principled foreign policy at home and abroad. We will always stand on principle. We will always uphold the rule of law. We will always defend Canadian values here and around the world. We are a valued and trusted friend of Ukraine and many of our other allies. We will always stand up for freedom and democracy.

The Prime Minister also said in his speech to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on October 14:

The Ukrainian people can count on Canada to stand-up for their liberty.

It is time for the Ukrainian justice system to be fair to Yulia Tymoshenko.