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House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

November 17th, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

moved that Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal code (concealment of identity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate today on my private member's Bill C-309, the preventing persons from concealing their identity during riots and unlawful assemblies act.

This legislation would add new penalties for wearing a disguise to those sections of the Criminal Code that deal with individuals who participate in a riot or an unlawful assembly. This bill is a measured response to a problem that law enforcement officials have grappled with for years, and the need for which has been further highlighted by recent events in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver.

At the G20 meetings in Toronto, and again in Vancouver after game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs in June, law-abiding citizens were assaulted; businesses were broken into, vandalized and looted of their merchandise; and public property owned by taxpayers, such as police cars, was torched and destroyed. These violent events had a theme in common that was noted by law enforcement officers who were working to protect public safety at the time. They noted the prevalence of people who wore masks or facial coverings to conceal their identities during the commission of criminal acts.

According to police, some of the perpetrators deliberately masked up prior to the gatherings becoming violent, while others mingled in the crowd and covered their faces in order to carry out criminal acts of opportunity. These offenders vandalized property and assaulted police officers and innocent bystanders. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Who here can forget the images from Vancouver of looters with their shirts, jackets or hockey jerseys yanked up over their face while streaming through broken store windows with heaps of stolen merchandise, or thugs jumping into the crowds to kick or hit an innocent bystander in the thick of the rioting?

These images tell a very revealing story. They tell us that criminals are well aware in this age of social media and all-pervasive cellphone cameras that they run a very high risk of their behaviour being recorded and they had better hide their identity if they want to avoid being caught and brought to justice for their actions. More and more of them are doing exactly that. In too many cases, these offenders escape identification by covering or obscuring their face at the time of the offence. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. No one should be able to commit violent and destructive crimes against persons and property with impunity under a cloak of anonymity, yet that is exactly what we have seen happen in these cases.

Police have long advised that their inability to pre-emptively deal with individuals who were concealing their identities in the middle of such explosive situations is hindering their ability to maintain control and to protect the public. Currently, there is no authority for police to pre-emptively stop people from concealing their identity in a riot. They must observe an offence before they can move to stop it, even by a masked individual and even in a riot. Their powers in these dangerous situations are reactive rather than proactive. Our Criminal Code does provide a penalty for disguise with intent in subsection 351(2).

When police in Vancouver recently recommended charges of participating in a riot against some of the suspected rioters there, they did in fact propose charges under that section in a very small number of cases, but why only in a small number of cases? In only a small number of cases where people had their faces concealed were police able to verify the suspect's identity afterwards.

The charge of disguise with intent can be a challenging one to apply, and since it is applied in the aftermath of an incident, it is not altogether helpful in actually controlling riot situations as they occur.

A police officer trying to maintain control in the midst of a riot has little time or means to meet the high level of intent needed to satisfy subsection 351(2). They are too busy defending life and limb, their own and those of the citizens they were sworn to protect. Yet police repeatedly tell us that it is these very people, those who disguise themselves and mask their faces, that are most often the instigators and the ringleaders of such trouble.

What if there were a measure designed to strip away anonymity from criminals during such disturbances? What if the very act of wearing a disguise in a riot became in and of itself an offence? What if police had the means to order those who were concealing their identities in a riot to remove their disguises or risk detainment or arrest? That would change the stakes dramatically.

People would then have a very clear choice in front of them. They could choose to remove their disguise, show their face and be identified and held accountable for their criminal actions, or they could choose not to and risk arrest for the offence of wearing a mask in a riot. Either way, public safety would be improved.

It would improve public safety by providing a new deterrent for people to wear disguises in the first place. If people think twice about concealing themselves, then surely the prospect of committing a crime without the benefit of anonymity would give them even greater pause. This would allow us to better identify people who engage in criminal riotous behaviour and it would improve the police's ability to deal with people who are wearing disguises at the time of an incident, thereby preventing them from rioting at all.

This bill is a good idea, but it is not necessarily a new idea. Other democratic governments, such as those in the United Kingdom, France and the State of New York, have developed legislation that would either limit or prohibit the wearing of disguises, masks or facial coverings. For example, in 2001, the United Kingdom passed the anti-terrorism crime and security act, which includes sections regarding the use of masks and disguises.

It is only when a peaceful protest or assembly turns into a riot or an unlawful assembly that the provisions of the bill would come into force.

When does a peaceful assembly become a riot or an unlawful assembly? The Criminal Code tells us when. It tells us that an unlawful assembly has occurred when:

--three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

(b) will,by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.

When do we know that police are dealing with a riot situation? Again, the Criminal Code, in section 64, tells us a riot is occurring when “an unlawful assembly has begun to disturb the peace tumultuously”.

We see in law that an unlawful assembly evolves into a riot when there is tumultuous conduct by participants. Typically this involves acts of violence or threatened violence, or destruction of property.

Both definitions provide us with clear indicators of when a peaceful assembly has ceased to be such and when police are now intervening in an illegal act. It is therefore no infringement on charter rights to peaceful assembly for police to intervene when such an assembly has degraded into either an unlawful assembly or a riot.

It is in those same situations when police are working to restore order that the provisions of Bill C-309 would make it necessary for any masks or disguises worn by participants to be taken off immediately.

Riots and unlawful assemblies already carry Criminal Code penalties. Bill C-309 would simply amend already existing sections of the code to make it an added offence to wear a mask or other disguise to conceal one's identity during these illegal acts.

Let us be clear. Anyone who is wearing a mask or a disguise to conceal his or her face in the midst of a riot is exhibiting aggravating behaviour. Law-abiding citizens who get caught up in a riot will naturally be seeking to clear the area on police orders. It is hard to imagine that others who ignore police instructions to depart the area and who, in addition, continue to linger in the vicinity while wearing a disguise are seized by any innocent motives or good intentions in those kind of circumstances.

This bill would not remove police discretion. Police who are trying to restore order and protect safety in a riot situation are not likely to be interested in pursuing anyone who is already obeying orders to leave the area. In fact, someone fleeing the scene of a riot on police orders may in a real sense be seen as no longer participating in a riot as defined by the code.

It is not the people leaving the scene of trouble who have the police's attention. It is the loitering, masked troublemakers who concern the police. Someone with his or her shirt up to block out tear gas for example is not likely to concern riot control police if that individual is actively running away from the scene. However, individuals who come prepared with gas masks or bandanas and are wearing them in the trouble spot in defiance of police directions to move on is another story.

There is evidence that at these riots many of the people wearing masks and facial coverings were part of organized groups with premeditated intent on confronting the police and causing mayhem. In addition to targeting the criminals of opportunity that we see at riots, this law also targets anarchists, those individuals who come to protest with the premeditated intent to use the assembly as a cover for their criminal behaviour.

Anarchist groups are increasingly employing the tactic of concealing their identity by wearing disguises, masks, or other facial coverings for the purpose of committing unlawful acts in a riot situation. Police have seen it time and again, individuals with their faces concealed mixing into a group and then instigating riotous behaviour, such as throwing objects at police, tossing marbles under the legs of police horses to trip them up, or covering up their faces before smashing windows, setting fires, stealing, assaulting people or flipping over vehicles. These individuals then remove their facial coverings and slip away in the confusion, some never to be apprehended. It is vexing for police and dangerous for the public to see such individuals escape the consequences of their actions.

I would argue that their clean getaways in fact embolden them to redouble their efforts and engage in criminality again, but Bill C-309 presents a new tool for police to deal with them. These people would now risk arrest for wearing their masks in a riot. Police would no longer have to wait for them to start assaulting people and destroying property before they could move against them.

Police know they need this ability to act pre-emptively against disguised individuals in riot situations. Police chiefs in a number of Canada's major cities, including Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, have all told me they support my bill.

Vancouver Chief Constable Jim Chu had this specifically to say about my bill:

The Vancouver Police Department is pleased to support this bill. When we see protestors in a crowd donning masks and hoods we know there is a very good chance that violence will soon follow.

In a resolution that he drafted this year for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Victoria Chief Constable Jamie Graham urged the government to take aim at this particular problem. His resolution had this to say about masked individuals: “Wearing facial covering allows an offender to blend in and mix with a larger lawful group of peaceful individuals without being identified. There an offender may commit unlawful acts under disguise then remove their masks or facial coverings and blend in with peaceful protestors.” It goes on to say: “Wearing a disguise, masks or other facial coverings allows a person to conceal their identity whose intent it is to commit an unlawful act prior to, during or immediately after a lawful assembly or protest.”

Police know through hard experience that it is often the organized ring leaders or instigators of such trouble who come prepared with materials to conceal their identities, or it is people who decide in the thick of things to assault others or destroy property who will attempt to conceal their identities, as we saw in Vancouver. Whoever they are, organized or not, no one in Canada should be able to hide in plain sight while committing crimes.

I have heard some suggest that if this bill passes, it may target individuals who wear facial coverings for religious or cultural reasons, but that view fails to take into account the exemption in this bill for lawful excuse. My bill states:

Every person who commits an offence...while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse is guilty of an indictable offence--

What are examples of a lawful excuse? Someone who legitimately wears cultural or religious dress that obscures the face, or bandages for legitimate medical purposes, for example, might fall under the exemption. Someone who could demonstrate a lawful excuse that is legitimate and provable for wearing a face covering would not face the penalties of Bill C-309, although the person would still face the existing penalties for participating in a riot.

I will close by urging my colleagues in the House to support Bill C-309. I am convinced that no one in the chamber of any political persuasion wants to see repeats of the destruction and violence that took place in Vancouver and Toronto. This bill has the potential to deter and de-escalate such unfortunate events in the future to protect persons and property. I sincerely hope that all members will join me in moving the bill forward.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's bill. It raises some interesting questions. Would the lawful excuse exemption apply to police officers acting as agents provocateurs or attempts to become part of the riot, as has been experienced in Quebec?

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, this legislation is designed specifically for people who are participating in riots. If police officers are trying to control the situation, they are obviously not participants in the riot. They are there to try to stop the riot.

Second, lawful excuse applies. Anyone who has lawful excuse to be wearing a facial covering, whatever the reason might be, would certainly not be touched under this legislation.

This is intended for the people who are trying to cause harm to other individuals and to property, while disguising themselves to commit those crimes with impugnity. This is intended to cover that.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, my concern with the legislation also relates to the wide breadth given to the phrase “lawful excuse” by the hon. member and the fact that this bill to amend the Criminal Code has been brought forward as a private member's bill.

It strikes me that with the government's preoccupation with law and order and the fact that there have been substantial amendments to criminal legislation already, the breadth of the term “lawful excuse”, which causes me great concern from a charter perspective, would be subject to much further and better scrutiny from the perspective of whether there would be a charter violation if this had come in as a piece of government legislation. There would also be the opportunity for much more debate.

On this side we have very serious concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation and we do not share the narrow reading that he does with respect to the “lawful excuse”. I would invite his comments on that.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, first, I have crafted the legislation to try to deal with a problem that we have in the country, one that has been identified to me many times by police chiefs and officers who have tried to control these kinds of situations.

The member also mentions that our government has brought forward a number of pieces of legislation to deal with what we see as some of the issues in the Criminal Code, which were left by the previous Liberal government, the party of which he is a member. It chose to ignore these situations and leave them unfixed for many years.

We are attempting to right some of the wrongs that were left by the previous government of which he is a member of that party. I am proud of those pieces of legislation that our government has brought forward.

However, this is legislation that I have designed in response to a specific problem that we see lacking in the Criminal Code. He mentions debate, and I certainly welcome all debate that is possible in the House. At committee level, I would be open to any suggestions I hear from members.

This legislation is designed to specifically fix a problem that police officers have identified to me in terms of trying to control these situations from getting out of hand.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to applaud the member for Wild Rose for Bill C-309, for his interest in public safety and for responding to concerns raised by police officers and citizens about providing more tools where there is a need and a gap in the Criminal Code to ensure that public safety is first and foremost the goal of our government and the goal of Canadians.

I note his amendment to the Criminal Code proposes a term of five years imprisonment for offenders. However, I also know that section 351(2) of the code also has an offence for disguise with intent and it proposes a term of imprisonment not to exceed 10 years.

Has the member for Wild Rose given any consideration to amending his bill to harmonize his penalties with what is in the Criminal Code today?

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, this has been previously raised by other members of the House as well.

I did have to have some consideration of what the penalties would be, looking at various other offences in the Criminal Code and trying to find a way to make it seem a reasonable penalty.

In this case, with the other section 351 being 10 years, it does seem like a very reasonable amendment. It is something that I am definitely considering. I am definitely going to raise that at the committee level. I look forward to the conversation I will have at the committee level. This may be an amendment that we make to the bill.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, when examining the provisions of a bill, I think parliamentarians have a duty to ask themselves a simple question: will this bill improve our society? Today we are looking at Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (concealment of identity). I have no doubt that the author of this bill was motivated by a desire to improve public safety. That seems to be the answer the government automatically gives these days. Thus, members really need to ask themselves if this bill is an effective way to improve public safety.

Let us be clear: like all parties, the NDP condemns any vandalism and criminal behaviour at any assembly. Furthermore, we fully agree that any crime committed by someone wearing a mask deserves a tougher sentence. The NDP fully supports the sections of the Criminal Code that protect the public against seditious behaviour, vandalism and the masked individuals who commit these acts. What worries me, however, is the direction in which bills like this on public safety are taking us. I imagine this bill was drafted in response to the problem of crimes committed anonymously by people wearing masks during unlawful assemblies or riots.

No one is denying the troubling images that came out of the recent riots in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. In fact, I have a great deal of empathy for all the small businesses and shops that were damaged during these demonstrations. It is extremely sad, and I hope they will be compensated for this. In some cases, some of the offenders did indeed wear masks; I am aware of that. If this bill truly is a response to those events, then it is the responsibility of this House to determine whether it is a suitable and adequate response. Let us look at the content of this bill.

It proposes two very simple changes to the Criminal Code. Clause 2 of the bill calls for a change to section 65 of the Criminal Code making it a criminal offence to wear a mask or any other disguise when participating in a riot. The bill also proposes amending section 66 of the Criminal Code, which is essentially the same thing, but in the context of an unlawful assembly.

I want to come back to my original question: will this legislation improve our society? Changing our society for the better means recognizing a problem and being willing to solve it. As I was saying before, the NDP fully supports subsection 351(2) of the Criminal Code, which makes it an offence to cover one's face in the commission of a crime. The courts have recognized that wearing a mask during the commission of a crime can be considered an aggravating factor during sentencing. There are existing measures for handing down tougher sentences for an act committed by a criminal who wears a mask.

How will this bill help Canadians? Is the purpose of Bill C-309 to make it illegal to take part in a riot or unlawful assembly? In that case, Canadians are already protected by the Criminal Code. If the purpose of the bill is to introduce punitive measures against someone who commits a crime, such as vandalism, while taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly, Canadians are already protected by the Criminal Code, as I explained previously. If the purpose is to increase sentences for individuals who commit crimes while concealing their identity, once again, Canadians are protected by court decisions.

Under the Criminal Code, taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly and committing vandalism or other crimes during an unlawful assembly are already illegal, and concealing one's identity while committing a crime during an unlawful assembly or riot is considered to be an aggravating factor. Therefore, I question the need for this bill. I believe that it is basically redundant. The main issues of public safety that are the basis for this bill are already covered by the Criminal Code. This bill's only new contribution is to make it an offence to conceal one's identity while taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly.

According to this bill, an individual could be detained, arrested, indicted and sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison simply for being a masked spectator in the area of an unlawful assembly.

In June 2010, during the G20 in Toronto, Canadians witnessed how a small riot led to police crackdowns. The result: thousands of innocent people were arrested and detained. Approximately 1,500 Canadians were arrested or detained as a result of a riot involving fewer than 20 people. The authorities subjectively considered the whole demonstration as an unlawful assembly and took away the civil liberties of 1,500 innocent demonstrators, journalists and spectators. We must remember these events when we are considering a bill such as this one.

The limitations imposed on civil liberties to ensure public safety must be the least restrictive possible. I think that all the hon. members would agree with me on this. Otherwise, there is no limit to the restrictions that can be imposed on fundamental freedoms.

I would also like to point out that this bill takes away an individual's right to demonstrate anonymously. An individual is not necessarily going to commit a crime just because he or she is wearing a mask at a riot. It is reasonable to think that the person just wants to remain anonymous and protect his or her identity.

In the context of this bill, we must recognize the risk of political profiling of people exercising their civil liberties. Too often, 99% of protestors are peaceful, while 1% choose to vandalize. More often than not, this 1% is condemned by the vast majority of the peaceful protestors. As we saw in Toronto in June 2010, the peaceful protestors and spectators can be close to non-peaceful protestors. But this bill could lead to the arrest of innocent protestors who wear masks because of their geographic proximity to non-peaceful protestors.

It bears repeating that criminals who conceal their identity are already punished more severely in this country. I also want to point out that this bill would give judges the discretionary power under the Criminal Code to consider an offence committed while wearing a mask as an aggravating factor. Some people may consider that to be a good thing. However, a 2005 judgment by the Provincial Court of Alberta, R. v. Potter, already provides that protection.

I would like to thank the member for introducing this bill in the House. I understand the source of his concerns. However, in its current form, this bill is redundant and could have serious consequences for civil liberties in this country. I encourage members in this House to carefully examine the implications of this bill and to ask themselves whether it is worth jeopardizing our civil liberties. I am leaving it up to the House to decide on an appropriate course of action.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-309, but I want to begin by confronting the Conservatives on their obsession with crime. We have before us a bill ostensibly produced by the folks in the Prime Minister's Office or the Conservative House leader's office. I think we need to be clear about this. Their so-called crime agenda is in full swing, predicated on ideology and not evidence. They do not believe in evidence or facts.

The Conservatives want to continue creating fear among Canadians and to perpetuate the idea that there is rampant crime on the streets, that there are riots everywhere, that the government, in response, must be brave and take decisive action to breathe life into that particular bogeyman. On the rare occasion that Conservatives might actually propose something that appears worthy of some consideration, they wonder why Canadians are suspicious.

The Conservatives' record of ignoring evidence and perpetuating fear is well-known. The fear agenda gives me rise to questions about their sincerity. One only has to look at Bill C-10, safe streets and communities act. As far as I am concerned, it should be called “keeping the myth of out of control crime alive so we can fundraise to our right-wing base act”.

For the Conservatives, repeating a myth often enough convinces them that it must be true. It is a classic right-wing Republican tactic; that is to say, the Conservatives operate not unlike a pack of hyenas. They see an opportunity to feast on the fears of Canadians, fears which are often of their own creation, and then they pounce. As part of the bullying tactics, they are always ready to attack anyone who disagrees with them, then issue a fundraising letter containing more myths. This behaviour, now firmly rooted in their political DNA, is a again not unlike the hyena, opportunistic and completely natural. Then they call it tough on crime. I call it tough on facts and evidence.

When I meet people around the country and in my riding, they are not running up to me and talking about crime or crime rates. They are more concerned about jobs and the economy. They are concerned that my riding of Charlottetown is losing 500 jobs as a result of cuts to Veterans Affairs. They are worried about the cuts to Service Canada and the closure of EI processing centres.

They do not understand why the federal government is the only level of government that will not participate in the funding to clean up a sewage problem in the Charlottetown harbour. They do not understand why the Conservatives have cancelled a cable that would ensure energy security to Prince Edward Island.

Here we are with another crime bill. Why did the member not introduce a bill to reduce poverty in Canada, a bill to help the poor, and to bring them in from the margins of poverty? Why did he not do that?

It is as if the Conservatives lie awake at night dreaming about ways to put more and more people in prison. It is an obsession rooted not in science or evidence, or even reason. It is irrational.

I want to assure the member that none of us on this side will stand by while Conservatives proffer myths or slogans. None of us on this side will tolerate the idea that because we disagree with the Conservatives on matters related to crime, that somehow we do not care or we are soft on crime. It is a falsehood and the members opposite know it. To disagree with the government is not a crime, at least not yet, but who knows?

With respect to the bill, we all witnessed what happened in Vancouver last year during the Stanley Cup. We know that the behaviour of far too many people was deplorable and criminal. None of us who sat around watching the hockey game that night and the news stories thereafter were thinking, gee, we wish there were more destruction and violence. None of us said, “Gee, I hope that guy who just set fire to the car gets away with it”. Listening to the Conservatives though, one would think that members from this side were there and involved.

I wonder what the member thinks about his own government's behaviour with respect to the G20 in Toronto. What does he think about what occurred, when at the G20 peaceful protesters, yes, peaceful protesters, were summarily denied their constitutional and charter rights to freely assemble?

What does he think, when protesters, acting peacefully, not violently, were kettled, rounded up and detained in violation of their charter rights? Why is the member not proposing a bill about protecting the rights of legitimate protesters?

What is his position on those well-documented violations of constitutional rights? Does he believe that citizens have a right to peaceful protest? Why is it that he and his government have refused thus far a public inquiry into the behaviour of the police and his own government with respect to the serious and rampant violation of constitutional rights at the G20?

The right of Canadians to assemble, and to do so peacefully, is a right protected by the charter, a document that many on the other side deep down really do detest. Rioting is already a crime, as the member knows.

The bill before us is deliberately framed in a way that if anyone were to disagree or to suggest amendments, he or she would automatically be designated as a traitor to a Conservative crime cause. Conservatives call that debate?

No one wants to support any Canadian engaging in activity that destroys property, encourages violence and rioting. None of us wish to support the deliberate concealment of someone while engaging in a riot. However, if this government were truly serious about this issue, this proposal would be on the government agenda. If it were brought in by government, it would have been open to have been tested, as required by statute by the Department of Justice, to ensure that it was constitutional.

This is a government bill in disguise. The suggestion that a backbench MP, in this environment, in the controlled and contrived Conservative government, such as the one we have now, would produce a bill without the consent of the PMO and its House leader's office is quite frankly a stretch.

If the government were serious about amending the Criminal Code to deal with aggravating circumstances, such as those contemplated in this private member's bill, it should have introduced a government bill. At least that would have allowed for greater and wider debate. The Conservatives are not interested in debate, nor facts, nor evidence. We see a sad example happening right now in the justice committee.

We will review Bill C-309, insist that it receive a thorough analysis, and if necessary, propose amendments. Until we are convinced that the bill meets the test of the charter, we will not and cannot support it.

Members should listen to this because what I am about to say will probably send shivers up the spines of the Conservatives. If we can be convinced by evidence and facts, and the testimony of experts that this bill is constitutional, then let the debate begin.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to add to the debate of Bill C-309, a bill to prevent persons from concealing their identities during a riot or unlawful assembly.

I would like to provide the House with a few details here with my 18 years of experience as a former RCMP officer. One of the things in my training involved the participation in a riot as part of a tactical troop. Some of the general public call it the riot squad.

What I am hearing from the opposition could not be further from the truth. It is about trying to protect the civil rights of individuals, when they demonstrate, and ensuring the public peace is upheld.

During riots or civil protests, it is appalling to watch the behaviour of certain individuals, when they are trying to promote or instigate a full out riot, and where individuals are being set up, at the expense of others, for harsh punishment or harsh injuries.

The bill, which was put forward by my colleague, the member for Wild Rose, would make it an offence to wear a mask or to otherwise conceal or disguise one's identity during riots and other unlawful assemblies.

The provisions of the bill are necessary. One might even say they are overdue, as recent events have shown. In the space of just over a year, two large cities in Canada have been the sites of major riots.

Destruction of public property was widespread when anarchists descended on Toronto, using the cover of a peaceful protest during the G20 meetings, to shatter windows, clash with police officers, and threaten innocent bystanders, even news reporters and photographers in their path. Fires burned in the streets and black smoke billowed over the skyline.

Thugs used the excuse of the Vancouver Canucks loss in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals to wreak havoc in that city. Police cars were overturned and businesses were broken into and looted. Canadians were heartbroken and horrified to see such mayhem in their country. It is sadly ironic that something as un-Canadian as a violent riot could happen in the wake of the most Canadian of activities, a hockey game of all things.

These riots were also an international black eye for Canada, a nation that is admired as a world leader for peace, order and safety.

These riots started in different cities under different circumstances. However, in both cities much of the violence and looting was carried out by people who concealed their faces with gas masks, bandanas, balaclavas, even hockey jerseys pulled over their noses. Other materials were used to conceal the many faces of the rioters and looters. I believe this is cowardly and the thugs knew exactly what the consequences of their criminality would be.

For the most part, these are not the actions of exuberant or inebriated people simply caught up in the moment. These were calculated efforts by people intent on criminal behaviour in order to avoid prosecution. Leaving themselves anonymous, these hoodlums felt free to assault people, and destroy public and private property.

I remember watching these individuals on the news on television dress up and proceed to smash windows, and then try to flee the scene of the crime. With BlackBerrys and YouTube, innocent good citizens chased these people down, watched them undress to join the crowd again, caught in their black apparel. The Vancouver police are still working to identify some of these rioters and bring them to justice.

I do not fault the police for the time it has taken to trace these individuals because many investigations are very complex and the complexity of this is of huge magnitude to undertake. Rather, I sympathize with the enormous task ahead, as the police tries to identify and charge the perpetrators who, in many cases, had most of their identifying features covered up.

It cannot be easy for the investigators, I know, but members of the House could help make that task less onerous in the future. They could help through the simple act of supporting Bill C-309.

How would that help? It would help in a number of ways. Most importantly, it would help deter violence at such events from escalating in the first place.

In an era of cellphones, cameras and video, when every bystander has the potential to be a reporter, a law preventing people from disguising themselves would give many people a time to pause. The deterrence value alone is of great value for police trying to control a mob and ensure the public's safety is maintained.

I am not blind to the reality, having observed this myself. While deterring crime is the reason behind any piece of criminal legislation, we know there are those who have no respect for the law, no matter what the consequences.

Bill C-309 would give the police a valuable tool to deal with them. It would be another tool in their tool kit. In a riot or an unlawful assembly, law-abiding citizens should be eager to follow police instructions to disperse and clear the area for the sake of their own personal safety, and that safety is the utmost when police are at the scene. It defies common sense to believe that any persons ignoring orders to do so and who, in addition, are wearing a mask to conceal themselves are there for any good purpose, which brings me to a point of reflection.

I remember, through all my training, having to stand in a black jumpsuit, wearing a helmet, steel toe boots, gloves, shoulder protectors and a gas mask in the heat of the day and watching the perpetrators don the same apparel; the shoulder pads, motorcycle helmets, balaclavas and gas masks. They would try to grab members' shields as they were trying to protect innocent bystanders. They would try to antagonize bystanders to start a riot. It was hard for us to be on the other side and keep our temper and watch while the media was in the middle. All these thugs are doing is using the media for their own gain.

As things stand, unless the police witness a person committing an offence, they need to prove a high level of intent before they intervene, even when a person is wearing a disguise or otherwise hiding his or her identity, even in the midst of an all out riot. This state of affairs just does not make sense.

We have 11 police officers in this caucus. Police need to have the ability to diffuse riots, just not to react. That is reacting policing, not preventive policing.

Bill C-309 would unshackle police in such situations by making the very act of wearing a mask in a riot or an unlawful assembly an offence on its own. Police would be able to identify those individuals before a major casualty took place.

Simply put, when police are engaged in measures to control a riot or unlawful assembly, as defined under sections 65 and 66 of the Criminal Code, which this bill would amend, then wearing a facial covering without lawful excuse to do so would become an offence in itself. This provision would help police deal with these individuals for the offence of wearing a mask rather than waiting to witness them commit a separate offence that could harm persons or property before they can take action.

This bill is pre-emptive in a sense that police could use their discretion to arrest or detain people who keep their faces concealed during a riot.

It is my hope that the penalties in the bill would first and foremost deter people from participating in a riot or unlawful assembly in the first place. However, for those who still choose to riot despite the consequences, police would have a new tool in their tool kit to help them control these volatile situations.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the freedom of peaceful assembly, which includes peaceful protests, and law enforcement officers understand this. They want to ensure that all people have the right to protest but, utmost, to get rid of the thugs who are causing the problems in the protests. Let those who want to demonstrate do so, but do so peacefully.

I have heard some people say that they worry that this will infringe upon that freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having witnessed this myself first-hand, the police are there just to maintain and ensure that the protestors are safe. This bill deals only with individuals in a riot or an unlawful assembly situation. It is obvious that peaceful assembly has left the building at this point.

Far from violating the Charter of Rights, the bill would help protect peaceful protesters by allowing police to identify those in the mix who intend to commit crimes. I find that interesting. I remember one incident where one masked protester was running back and forth trying to escalate the event.

I hope that, for the safety of the general public, members will consider Bill C-309 as it would give people the right to honestly and protectively protest in peace. I urge the House to consider Bill C-309.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words about Bill C-309, which is a private member's bill and not a government bill. We keep seeing more of these bills from the opposite side where everybody decides that they want to have a crack at the Criminal Code because, for some reason or another, the Criminal Code is inadequate to handle crime.

I have a copy of the Criminal Code here and it is a very heavy document. It is about three inches thick and it has a lot of crimes in it and yet there do not seem to be enough crimes for the members opposite so we need to add more.

I have heard the members opposite say that there was no proof that the long gun registry prevented one crime. I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety says that is “true, true, true”, but I do not agree with her. I invite her to look at the alternative title. This act may be cited as the preventing persons from concealing their identity during riots and unlawful assembly act. So, by making it a crime to wear a mask during a riot, that would actually prevent it from happening. Of course it will not prevent it from happening. It would punish it by making it an additional criminal offence. Somehow, knowing where guns are, having a system that keeps track of them and prevents people from selling them willy-nilly, as in the gun registry, for example, does not prevent a single crime and does not prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands, but yet making something a crime by this bill is preventing crime.

As I say, this is a private member's bill and private members are entitled to bring whatever pieces of legislation they want. However, that also means that we need to have a good look at it.

The Criminal Code is called a code for a reason. It is a complex, interwoven series of bills brought together over time. I think the first Criminal Code in Canada was introduced in 1892 in an attempt to codify the criminal law. There have been changes made over time but it is really something that governments, not private members, should do because it is criminal law. It is a very serious matter. In this case, if this law were passed, it could make somebody liable to imprisonment for five years for being at an unlawful assembly with a mask.

It always worries me when private members start delving into the Criminal Code and looking for new offences, because they do not always read the entire Criminal Code, and I do not expect them to, so they may not know what else is in the Criminal Code. Some lawyers know perhaps a little more than some people. However, I need to point out to hon. members that it is already an offence to wear a mask with the intent to commit an indictable offence. There is already a substantive section of the Criminal Code that says a person cannot wear a mask with the intent to commit an indictable offence. It is subsection 351(2).

What are we doing creating new offences? Why are we doing that? If there is a need to charge somebody for wearing a mask with intent to commit an indictable offence, and rioting is considered an indictable offence, then the tool is already there. We need to be very careful about assemblies, whether they are lawful or unlawful and when they become unlawful and what is considered unlawful, because nobody supports rioting.

The last time I looked at the Criminal Code, smashing windows, whether one is wearing a mask or not, is a criminal offence. Burning police cars is a criminal offence. The fact that someone wears a mask is an additional criminal offence, already.

The kind of remarks we get from members opposite is that we like the idea of people burning police cars. This is the kind of talk that makes people wonder what those fellows do with their time. Do they think we like rioters? No. We have the same feelings about people taking that kind of action as they do. Those members do not have a monopoly on feeling terrible when somebody does something like that, destroying property, or police cars or starting fires. No citizen of the country enjoys that.

The member talked about the G20 in Toronto. He did not talk about the law-abiding citizens who were arrested and herded into police custody, or the tourists who happened to show up with their children and were arrested. He did not talk about the proper understanding of how crowds could be controlled.

We have to be very careful about passing laws willy-nilly on issues that are already be handled by the existing Criminal Code.

The members cannot come in here, be heroes and say that they are disgusted with rioters, so they want to have a new crime on the books. It is already a crime to engage in a riot. If we look at the definition of a riot, it does not take very much to allow a police officer to arrest somebody. Not only that, there is already a provision in the Criminal Code that makes it an indictable offence to wear a mask with the intent of committing a criminal offence. People do not even have to commit a criminal offence, they just need to have the intent to commit a criminal offence. Rioting is an indictable offence.

We have to be careful when we start taking the Criminal Code, adding sections, increasing penalties and so on. It does not serve to prevent things from happening.

Nevertheless members opposite think they have come up with behaviour that disgusts people, like rioting, and that disgusts me as much as them, and they want to create a new crime. However, it is already against the law. It is already in the Criminal Code.

If the government and the Department of Justice looks at all of these things and says that somehow or other the law is inadequate and that it wants to refine it, it is something I think all members of Parliament would like to listen to and hear the justification for it.

However to stand and say “I am disgusted with rioters, therefore we should make the penalties harsher or add new penalties” when the Criminal Code already treats it as a crime, is using Parliament for the wrong purpose.

I respect the hon. member. I know he is sincere in what he says, but to suggest that this somehow will prevent these things from happening is a bit naive, particularly when it is already a criminal offence. I have a few cases here where individuals were arrested for wearing bandannas.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Why are you trying to protect criminals?

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Why am I trying to protect criminals, this is the kind of nonsense we hear, sometimes, from the members opposite. This is not about protecting criminals. This is about telling him that he should read the Criminal Code.

If they want to change the Criminal Code, they should read the one that is there first, not just come up with ideas that they think will go over big with the folks back home because they saw it on TV and they are disgusted, too. It is already against the law and the people who do that should be arrested and charged with the full force of the law. I do not have a problem with that. It is what should happen.

I heard the problem in Vancouver was that the police officers were not there in force ready to take on the challenge and did not pay attention to the signs. I am not criticizing them. That was a criticism made by somebody else.

However, people who commit crimes should clearly be arrested and given criminal charges, and we already have that in the Criminal Code.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The 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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, on June 9, I asked the Minister of Finance to explain what the Canadian government was doing to show leadership in order to reduce growing household debt in Canada. Unfortunately, his response was limited to expressing a great deal of optimism, but he provided very few answers that were satisfactory to me or to Canadians in general. The main argument was that the economy was doing well. I do not think that relying on the economy and interest rates is a reasonable way to help taxpayers pay down their debts or stop going further into debt.

In Quebec, in the past 20 years, consumer debt has increased by 700%. According to Statistics Canada, increased debt since 1984 can be attributed to lower interest rates. That trend has been growing mainly since 2002.

Between 1984 and 2009, average household debt in Canada more than doubled. As a result, in 2011, the debt-to-after-tax income ratio for households in general is more than 148%. In other words, for every dollar earned, Canadian families owe roughly $1.50 on average. Between 2007 and 2009, the debt-to-asset ratio rose to the highest level in 35 years.

What is clear is that the existing government measures have done nothing to reduce debt. On the contrary, low interest rates have contributed to the rising debt levels of Canadian families. That is unacceptable.

We know that social inequalities make the situation worse. Consider, for instance, the thousands of single-parent families whose monthly payments average over 40% of their income. This debt only increases with age, which is even more worrisome. Think of the thousands of households that are struggling just to pay the monthly balance on their bills. There are also people with low incomes living in neighbourhoods where the property values are increasing, so they are being forced to move, thereby isolating themselves.

Of course, education levels are a very important factor when it comes to debt. According to Statistics Canada, between 1999 and 2005, the debt levels of secondary school graduates increased on average by 55.8%. The NDP is not inventing these figures. These figures are from Statistics Canada. These are real, absolutely irrefutable figures. Unfortunately, the more one is educated, the more debt one tends to carry during that time.

The question is this: how can the government, which claims to care about the future of Canadians and our children, justify its inaction when it comes to the growing debt load of families?

As for pensioners, the median value of their mortgage or consumer debt is $19,000. Of those who have debt, 17% owe over $100,000. The situation gets worse as these people get older. There are some people who are still paying back their debts at the age of 70.

The question I would like to ask the government, once again, is this: what is it waiting for to introduce mechanisms to protect families against these unacceptable debt levels right now?

6:20 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell the hon. member for Saint-Jean that what we are waiting for is for the NDP to vote with us on the measures we have proposed to protect Canadians.

We clearly do not want Canadians overextended and that is why we are ensuring Canadians can make informed financial decisions. We are taking steps to improve financial literacy. We introduced credit cards reforms to ensure Canadians had the information they needed. We cut taxes and created the tax-free savings account to encourage Canadians to save for their future. We strengthened mortgage rules to protect Canadians buying homes.

We also constantly monitor the housing market, ready to take steps to ensure its ongoing stability. That is why we took prudent and sensible action to strengthen Canada's housing market earlier this year by reducing the maximum mortgage period to 30 years, significantly reducing interest payments Canadian families would have to make on their mortgages. We also lowered the maximum amount lenders could provide when refinancing mortgages to 85%. Withdrawing taxpayer backing on home equity lines of credit provided by lenders was also an advantage. Our sensible measures will help sustain the housing market and economic recovery.

Moreover, our Conservative government also recognizes that the best way to support the economic well-being of Canadians is ensuring we have a strong and growing economy through more trade and lower taxes.

While our Conservative government is focusing on creating jobs and growing the economy with its low-tax plan, the NDP is publicly calling for tax hikes, which would take a larger share of Canadians' hard-earned money.

We know that the NDP wants to impose job-killing tax hikes on Canadian employers to the tune of $10 billion during a time of global economic turbulence.

NDP members publicly attacked our Conservative government because it reduced the GST from 7% to 5%. They bemoaned the fact that Canadian families were keeping more of their own hard-earned money.

Listen to what the NDP said about this. The member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques said that cutting the GST was probably the worst measure that this government could have adopted. The NDP member for Beauport—Limoilou said that reducing the GST was a serious problem and that reducing the tax burden meant that the government would lose a significant part of its tax revenues.

The NDP plan is clear: higher taxes and irresponsible spending.

Canadians and our economy cannot afford the NDP's job-killing economic plan. The NDP's high-tax plan is yet another disturbing indication that the NDP is not fit to govern.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that the NDP has just returned from Washington, where it made proposals that will kill jobs here in Canada, where hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the oil sands. That is deplorable. I urge my colleague opposite to support our plans to keep taxes very low in order to allow Canadian families to pay their expenses.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, all I can say is that, as usual with the Conservative government, the answer missed the mark.

I heard the parliamentary secretary's arguments, but the question was not about the NDP. She told us what the NDP has said; it is not about that. We are talking about the government, and the NDP is not currently in government.

The parliamentary secretary spoke about TFSAs. However, when people do not even have the means to pay their debts, how can they invest or save money? As usual, the government did not answer the question. She talked about creating jobs, but this government is creating low-quality, low-level, low-paying jobs that do not allow Canadian families to pay their debts.

Once again, the question is not about the government's criticisms of the NDP, but about what the government will do, now that it is in control and has the power, to reduce the debt burden of Canadian families.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, once again, the NDP is missing the entire premise of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. This is a low tax plan, for jobs and growth. This is the plan that will continue on the vein that we started to reduce taxes that Canadian families are paying so that they have more money to spend on the things that matter to them, the things that they need, the things that keep them thriving and keep them safe and sound in their home communities.

I want to mention that the member referenced the certified general accountant's report last June in his original question, but I am not sure he read it completely, or at all. If he did, he would have read what the report said about the ways to improve the state of household finances, especially a pro-trade agenda, not the anti-trade NDP agenda.

I am going to read from that report:

International competitiveness is becoming critically important for the success of Canadian business and, consequently... growth of individual investment incomes.

I would remind the NDP how important trade is to this exporting country. The NDP has to stop this anti-trade, anti-Canada agenda.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Just a reminder to hon. members that during the adjournment proceedings debate, they are welcome to take any seat in the chamber that they choose. It is not necessary to speak from the same seat that you usually take in normal proceedings.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, since it came to office, the Conservative government has considerably weakened the federal government's ability to ensure that Canadians receive quality public services by making draconian cuts in its budget. In October, the government continued along the same path by irresponsibly cutting the working hours of the country's rural post offices. Not content with interfering in the postal workers' fundamental right to free collective bargaining by ordering them back to work last June, the government is now cutting their hours of work. This policy of fiscal restraint will have a significant impact on the quality of rural postal services across the country and on the quality of life of postal workers.

But the effects will be felt in Quebec, which has clearly been targeted by the government. According to figures obtained by the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, as of October 2011 approximately 165,000 hours of work had been cut in all rural post offices in Canada. Of this, more than 95,000 hours were cut in Quebec alone. Even though Quebec has approximately 24% of the Canadian population, the cuts in Quebec represent nearly 60% of the hours cut in Canada. And that is just the beginning. Other waves of cuts are expected in the coming months.

In recent weeks I have asked for explanations about the cuts targeting Quebec. The answers I was given were evasive. The government tells us that postal services are important and that it cares about protecting rural communities. It even had the audacity to tell us that postal services are guaranteed in all regions, without discrimination. These vague answers show at least one thing: there is no argument to justify the unfair treatment of Quebec on this issue.

Canada Post's responses are no more satisfying. According to Canada Post, cuts in Quebec are justified by the fact that the province supposedly experienced fewer cuts than the rest of Canada in the past few years. We have tried unsuccessfully to obtain the relevant statistics to verify this statement but they are considered to be confidential information. For now, it is difficult to believe Canada Post's explanations, particularly since, according to the statistics we do have, Quebec also experienced significant cuts in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

I would like to end on an intriguing point. I am talking here about the lack of consistency between what the Conservative government says and what it does. During the last election campaign, the Conservatives played the “power to the regions” card by promising, among other things, to create jobs in the regions. During that election campaign, the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable said that the Conservative Party would ensure that the regions finally had a voice in Ottawa. I do not know what strategy the government intends to use to create jobs but cutting the hours of postal workers in rural areas seems to be a peculiar way of trying to achieve that goal.

The hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable was certainly right about one thing: the regions do have a voice in Ottawa but it is thanks to our party that they do.

6:30 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's opening comments. I would like to remind the member that it is this government that created 600,000 jobs since the start of the global recession. It is this government that is creating jobs. It has policies to continue creating jobs. Canada continues to outperform all our equal trading partners.

For the member to criticize this government for our job creation policies is very rich especially considering the fact that his party, the NDP, moved to stop Canada Post from returning to delivering mail this past spring in a historic and terrible filibuster which not only affected Canada Post, but also affected our economy.

It embarked on a policy that not only affected Canada Post, but also damaged the Canadian economy in a fragile recovery. That is quite irresponsible of the other party. The delineation between the opposition and the government is quite clear for people who are watching this evening. The government creates jobs and implements policies to improve job creation. It ensures that fundamental components of our economy like postal delivery occur. The opposition party would like to stop postal delivery as demonstrated this past spring and has caused a lot of damage to the economy.

Canada Post has an obligation to provide affordable postal services to the people of Canada, not just for the foreseeable future, but for decades to come. Canada Post's immediate challenges have been well documented. Mail volumes have fallen by 17% per address since 2006 and the company is struggling with a huge pension solvency deficit of $3.2 billion.

It is no secret that many of the challenges Canada Post faces include: declining letter mail volume due to Internet substitution, high cost of maintaining a network to service all Canadians, rising labour costs, huge pension obligations, threat from rapid technological change and shifting customer habits.

As Canada Post is taking the necessary steps to ensure its future success, the corporation has invested $2 billion to modernize the postal system and replace outdated technology and infrastructure. These investments will allow Canada Post to take advantage of upcoming retirements to reduce the size of its workforce through attrition. The company has also reduced its non-unionized workforce, composed mostly of managerial jobs at head office, by nearly 15% since 2008, as part of its broad cost control efforts.

We are committed to ensuring that Canada Post is economically viable. While Canada Post operates at arm's-length from the government, it has assured me it will honour any and all collective agreements through this modernization initiative.

Mail volumes are rapidly declining, revenue from retail post offices is dropping and fewer customers are making purchases through Canada Post. All this has caused peaks and valleys. Any change in work hours is purely the result of the economic realities.

I hope this helps the member opposite to understand the challenges Canada Post faces and the adjustments it is forced to make as the economy changes rapidly.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is clear the Minister of State for Transport is stuck in the past. He always wants to discuss matters that occurred in June. I am talking about the cuts that are happening now and that are going to happen in the future.

The minister demonstrated on a number of occasions that he is not familiar with his own portfolio. He would rather talk in ideological terms than really get to know his portfolio and give real reasons for the cuts. The facts remain that the hours have been reduced and that Canada Post is making a profit.

Of course there are declines in service. When hours are cut and post offices are inaccessible, of course people will not be able to use the services that are inside the post offices. It is a bit rich for the government to argue that people are using the postal services less when Canada Post is making it harder and harder to use these postal services.

The post office in rural communities is an institution. It is something that links the community together. We can talk about modernization schemes, but the fact remains that people in rural communities love their post offices. The government is menacing them in trying to get rid of post offices by using strategies such as cutting hours and making services difficult to acquire.

I would like to end on the note that I have not really heard any real responses from the government side and I hope that the Minister of State will study his dossiers better.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member needs to understand the bigger picture. He is not up to date on the file. It is he and his party who are hypocritical on the issue.

What happened in the spring is relevant because it accelerated the decline in mail volume. It accelerated the challenges that Canada Post faces because more people and companies shifted to email and e-commerce. That is why in areas such as Quebec and elsewhere throughout the country Canada Post had to adjust its hours.

The NDP needs to understand that when a decision is made there is a long-term effect. It does not just affect the present. That is why the government is good for the people of Canada and why the NDP is not prepared to govern. It is not ready for prime time and Canada Post is a prime example.