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House of Commons Hansard #86 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was panama.

Topics

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-299.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agree to on the following division:)

Vote #139

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 6:38 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 1, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for dispersing the crowd around me so that I could give my second reading speech on Bill C-293. I would like to take this opportunity to say that the Liberal Party will support this bill at second reading. In other words, we will send it to committee so that it can be studied in more detail, mainly because this bill raises some questions for us.

However, before I debate or consider the content of the bill, I would also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of the Correctional Service of Canada, who are devoted to their mission. Every day, they carry out a task that is not always easy, to say the least, in a very professional manner and in good faith. It is a difficult task. They sometimes have to manage diverse populations within the same correctional institution. They work hard and carry out their duty to the best of their abilities.

A few weeks ago, a number of members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and I had the opportunity to visit two penitentiaries in Kingston—the Collins Bay and Joyceville prisons. We saw that the correctional staff is very concerned about the success and progress of the prisoners and is very proud of the correctional programs.

I would like to mention in passing that, in Canada, we have one of the best correctional programs in the world, to the point where other countries are implementing the programs that we have developed over the years. I am proud to be able to say, further to a question that I asked in committee to a representative of the Correctional Service of Canada, that many of the programs we export today were designed and implemented during Liberal governments.

I like to think that the Liberal Party's approach to justice was able to yield a positive return in this area.

The devotion of the employees working in prisons is clear, as is that of the administrative staff who work in office towers in Ottawa, where the department is headquartered.

Madam Speaker, I wish to say that it is difficult for me to address this issue because there is a lot of noise coming from the other side of the House. I understand of course, but perhaps you could help me in this regard.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I would ask all members carrying on conversations to do so in the lobbies.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, when we toured those two penitentiaries, we were studying drug use in prisons. During committee hearings and our visits to Joyceville and Collins Bay penitentiaries, we learned that relations between correctional officers and inmates are vitally important, even crucial, not just to ensure that the correctional environment is orderly, but also to help inmates follow their rehabilitation plan. In other words, I would not call it a friendship, but it is a relationship that provides support. By having good relations with the inmates, staff can help them and encourage them to follow their rehabilitation plans, as I mentioned.

For all intents and purposes, this bill addresses this relationship between the staff and inmates. It is very important that the bill be effective in encouraging good relationships and not hindering them. It is also very important that it be effective in terms of cost management. We know that if there are many complaints at a penitentiary, they are a burden on the administrative employees of the penitentiary. At a time of budget cuts, when there might be cuts to the penitentiaries' budgets, we have to ensure that the budget is managed very effectively. This bill, if I understand correctly, tries to make the complaints and grievance process more efficient within the penitentiaries. That in itself is a good thing.

However, it is very important that the bill not contribute to undermining the relationships that exist between the correctional staff and the inmates. In other words, if the bill causes the inmates any frustration, if they feel their complaints are not being heard, that can hinder this very important relationship between the staff and the inmates. We believe that the bill needs to be studied at length with that concern in mind.

We are concerned about the fact that the bill contains no definition of a vexatious or frivolous complaint. When terms are not clearly defined, in any field of endeavour, there is room for misinterpretation, for rules not to be properly applied or properly implemented. In this case, as I said, misunderstanding could interfere with orderly operations in the penitentiary.

The bill lacks a definition for a vexatious or frivolous complaint. What we are concerned about even more is that Correctional Service Canada itself, according to an audit of the current complaint process, recommended that a definition of a vexatious or frivolous complaint be provided. The bill does not do that.

We will have a lot of questions to ask in committee, but I truly look forward to addressing the matter again when the bill passes second reading.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to be the last member of my party to speak to this bill, which does not use overly accessible language. The administrative subtleties of the prison system are only rarely revealed to average Canadians. Indeed, there are those within the legal profession who specialize in this field. To illustrate the scope of my observations, I will draw on my experience in the legal aid office where I worked for two years.

I will pick up where I left off during my last intervention. In 2006, after I was called to the bar, I returned to the land of my ancestors and was hired by the legal aid office. I was assigned to the itinerant court. I was a criminal defence lawyer, and I represented Innu and Naskapi people in remote regions. The court travelled from place to place, and I represented people charged with criminal offences.

During my two and a half years in the legal aid office, I worked with another lawyer, Ms. Gaudreau, who worked exclusively on the complaints and grievances from inmates at the Port-Cartier institution. In my riding, there is a maximum security penitentiary 35 minutes away from Sept-Îles, and Ms. Gaudreau worked full time on those files. I had many conversations with Ms. Gaudreau over the years. I even went to the penitentiary several times to see how such cases were handled. Among other things, thanks to my time in that office, I saw that there were enough contentious claims from the penitentiary to make up the majority of a defence lawyer's, in this case, Ms. Gaudreau's, workload. The presence of a maximum security penitentiary in my riding also enabled me to deal directly with criminal files involving federal prisoners as part of my professional practice. There were not many of them, but there were some.

In addition, there was a large aboriginal presence in the Port-Cartier correctional institution. Accordingly, holistic aboriginal programming is offered at this institution. This holistic program includes a healing process borrowed from traditional Innu and Naskapi ways of life, a process that focuses on the principles of reintegration into one's home community.

In September 2011, the last time I toured my riding, I was asked to meet with the director of the Port-Cartier penitentiary, who wanted to talk to me about continuing this holistic program at his institution. We discussed the various measures that had been proposed over the years. The program has been in place for several years now. There is an area on the penitentiary's grounds where inmates who identify as aboriginal can go to get back to their roots. These inmates receive regular visits from elders and can have innu mitshu, that is, traditional food, inside the institution. The goal of all this is to help them reintegrate into their communities after they have served their sentences.

A Statistics Canada publication from July 2009 highlights the higher proportion of aboriginal federal inmates who need help in areas like social interaction, attitude, employment and community functioning compared to non-aboriginal inmates.

As for social reintegration factors, problems and contentious issues in communities and on reserves are often resolved using aggression and methods that are outdated by today's standards. All the measures that come under the complaints and grievances hearing process incorporate this new aspect of communication and rethinking the adversarial process that is common in our society in 2012.

No examination of the complaints and grievances process that is part of the dynamic framework unique to the prison population can ignore the large proportion of inmates who do not have a high school diploma or a job. This situation results in many comprehension difficulties—problems understanding the subtleties of the complaints and grievances process available to inmates who want to appeal an administrative decision by the institution.

Given the long sentences served by prisoners in federal penitentiaries, it is conceivable for their everyday lives to be regulated, as in a type of micro-society. Guarantees offered to all Canadians, such as access to the justice system, may be modified so that they respond to the prisoners' situation.

This is where the complaints and grievances process comes into play; hearings are held for these cases based on an internal arrangement that promotes interaction between administrative authorities, staff and prisoners. A number of reports have established the importance of appointing a grievance coordinator within the prison's administration and increasing the resources allocated to the informal resolution of complaints.

This reasoning thus invites us to identify, develop and implement alternative methods for resolving contentious issues internally. The bill before us presents measures that are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the desired flexibility necessary in communications between prisoners and the authorities.

The internal complaints process offered to prisoners is, in and of itself, part of the rehabilitation process. I spoke about holistic procedures or measures. This is somewhat the same. It is rehabilitation. It is basically a healing process. Other than the purely clerical aspect of how complaints are lodged, the adversarial system that allows prisoners to lodge complaints and grievances gives them the opportunity to voice their concerns and ensures that the parties are able to discuss the facts and possible methods of resolution. This is thus an alternative method for resolving conflicts that is available and beneficial to prisoners. This principle of fairness allows prisoners or their lawyers, such as Ms. Gaudreau whom I mentioned, to present the facts and receive advice, at public expense if necessary—since, as I was saying, legal aid covers this type of case—in order to handle each case properly.

Just the simple possibility of designating inmates as “vexatious complainants” gives rise to many legitimate concerns, including concerns about the commissioner's discretion. It should be noted that no specific definition is found in the bill for vexatious or multiple complaints. What is more, labelling inmates as “vexatious complainants” will only fuel their sense of oppression, will not enhance the quality of relationships, and will even reinforce the adversarial nature of the relationship between the administration and inmates.

Having the Commissioner of the Correctional Service apply arbitrary rules to assess the pertinence of complaints will only unleash or increase hostile reactions, and undermine the relationship between the inmate population and the administration. According to my understanding of the situation, the complaints and grievances process provides an outlet of sorts for the tension often associated with the tumultuous life of inmates, especially in maximum security institutions. Often it involves the offenders in special protection. Just having access to this resource and having an opportunity to be heard and to make their case is a step towards rehabilitation. It is part of the journey that ultimately enables an individual to reintegrate into society and be an asset there. I submit this respectfully.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Seeing no one rising on debate, I will recognize the hon. member for Scarborough Centre for her right of reply.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to deliver safer streets and communities with our tough on crime agenda, and that includes holding offenders accountable and developing a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour.

During our last debate on Bill C-293, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), the NDP member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant was correct when he noted that this bill has a laudable goal. The goal of the bill is to crack down on vexatious complainants, attention seeking inmates who wilfully abuse the fair complaint process and prevent it from functioning properly.

The NDP member was also correct when he stated, “the complaint and grievance process is a tool that helps ensure transparency and accountability”. While the process is valuable, there is still room for improvement. Accountability is a two-way street and prison inmates who file grievances should be held accountable for the complaints that they file.

Bill C-293 would correct a costly problem that currently exists in Canada's correctional system. The bill targets a specific group of inmates who file more than 100 grievances per year. The accumulated total of these complaints account for a whopping 15% of all grievances filed, with some cases occurring where offenders have filed in excess of 500 grievances.

The bill would allow the Commissioner of Correctional Services Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims. Someone designated as a vexatious complainant would have his or her complaint shut down after the first of four levels of the grievance process if the institution decided that the claim was vexatious and not made in good faith.

I am certain that Bill C-293 would considerably improve how grievances are processed in our correctional system.

Bill C-293 is important to Canadians for the following reasons: One, the current system does not require that grievances be filed in good faith. Two, the current system is a financial burden on the taxpayer. Three, the system allows prisoners to act like they are the victims. Our government was given a mandate to support Canadian families and law-abiding citizens and this means supporting the real victims of crime. Four, allowing prisoners to file numerous frivolous complaints detracts from their ability to focus on real rehabilitation. Five, the present system creates a negative impact on the morale of staff involved in managing the grievance process.

The benefits of Bill C-293 are obvious. I must say that I am very pleased to hear that the members of the Liberal Party, hon. colleagues of mine, will be supporting sending this bill to committee.

I would like to state the specific reason Bill C-293 is a benefit. The correctional system would no longer require correctional staff to process large volumes of complaints without merit. This would mean that the correctional system with respect to the complaint process would function more effectively and in the manner that it is supposed to by focusing on legitimate complaints.

Ultimately, Bill C-293 would correct a costly loophole in our correctional system which would be a benefit to all Canadian taxpayers. In the last debate on Bill C-293, my hon. colleague from the NDP stated, “The NDP supports legislation that will make our prisons safer. We also support legislation that will allow our prisons to operate in a quick, fair and efficient manner”.

If that is the case, then I am sure the official opposition, the NDP, will vote with our government and the Liberal Party of Canada in support of the bill.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The period provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 7, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, on November 29, 2011, I followed up on my questioning from the day before. I had asked, if the minister accepts that climate change is real, as he claims, and the government promises accountability and transparency, why is he planning to withdraw after the Durban conference? The parliamentary secretary, of course, ignored the question and finished with, “We have a plan, an action plan, and it's working”.

Let us unpack the spin. What plan? Just final stages of writing new regulations for coal-fired electricity and mere beginning consultations with the oil sands, cement, gas and steel industries? There is no plan. The government is proposing a sector by sector approach meant to delay rather than develop a comprehensive climate change strategy to reduce the annual $21 billion to $43 billion adaptation costs by 2050.

The basic elements of a cost effective greenhouse gas emission reduction strategy for Canada have been well understood and articulated for some time. The government should develop a green economy strategy to create a more environmentally sustainable economy. Specific measures might include green agriculture, energy supply, forestry, industry, the building sector, transportation and waste. This will require the meaningful engagement of all stakeholders, progress in investment of renewable energy and tough questions about the government's management of the oil sands.

Where is the long-term plan? What action has been taken to regulate the pace and scope of development? What progress has been made to protect air quality, boreal forest ecosystems and water resources? What assessments are being undertaken to investigate the potential human health impacts of development and what solutions is the government considering?

More stringent actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cannot be postponed much longer, otherwise the opportunity to keep the average global temperature rise below 2°C is in danger. Serious impacts are associated with this limit, including an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, shifts in growing seasons, and sea level rise. Tragically, the latest analysis suggests that the world is likely on track to a warming of 3.5°C.

The Prime Minister's opposition toward action on climate change was well-known before he ever took office, having once described the Kyoto protocol as a socialist plot.

Press from Canada's withdrawal in the international media was overwhelmingly negative. Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change said:

I regret that Canada has announced it will withdraw and am surprised over its timing.

Whether or not Canada is a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the Convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort.

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry told reporters that the decision was regrettable and that it flew in the face of the efforts of the international community. A spokesman for France's foreign ministry called the move bad news for the fight against climate change.

Then there was the low lying nation of Tuvalu, which is most at risk for rising sea levels. The lead negotiator said, “For a vulnerable country like Tuvalu, it is an act of sabotage on our future. Withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol is a reckless and totally irresponsible act”.

Tim Gore, international climate change advisor for Oxfam, also condemned Canada's decision. He said:

Canada’s exit from the Kyoto Protocol, the one existing agreement that legally binds some countries to emission cuts targets, is an affront to the nearly one billion people who struggle every day to feed their families in the face of increasingly frequent and severe droughts, floods, heat waves and storms.

7:05 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by addressing the question of my colleague opposite by quoting something from the International Institute for Sustainable Development. A report by this agency noted that “Canada is moving in the right direction on GHG policy...” and is “establishing the policy architecture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

This is evidence of a real plan that is working. Finally, after years of inaction on climate change by Liberal governments, to the point where the previous Liberal party leader even said that his government had not got the job done when it came to climate change policy, we are seeing a balanced and strong approach put forward by this government. Balance means balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship and approaching the problem of climate change in a balanced, pragmatic, action-focused way.

Our approach is two-fold. First, we need to take domestic action at home, and we are doing that. We have a sector by sector regulatory approach by which we are seeking to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in some of the most intensive emission sectors. We are working together with partners in those sectors to make sure that those regulations are smart, implementable and workable and do not harm our economy.

This is real action. This is action at home. We are seeing a clean energy sector developing here in Canada, one that we can be proud of. We have a strong environmental regulatory framework here at home. These are things that our country can be proud of because we are a leader in this area.

The second prong of the approach, to deal with my colleague's question on the Kyoto protocol, is acknowledging that this framework does not have all major emitters sitting around the table and agreeing to binding targets. As the Kyoto protocol stands right now, a very low percentage of emissions are covered by that agreement.

In order for us to see real reductions on a global basis, we need to have the Chinas, Indias and Brazils of the world signing on to an agreement and requires them to be transparent in their reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. This is what we have been seeking to achieve in our talks in Copenhagen, Cancun, and this year at Durban.

It is that two-pronged approach, taking international leadership and adopting a stance that we need something more functional than the Kyoto protocol, that would not damage our economy and under which we could take strong leadership at home.

Contrast that to the previous Liberal government where greenhouse gas emissions rose during its tenure.

My colleague opposite talks about our having no plan. The closest thing we have seen to any sort of plan from the Liberal government in recent years has been a carbon tax, which was resoundingly rejected by the Canadian electorate in 2008.

Our government's approach is balanced. It seeks real action, and it is one that we are proud of.

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, we hear about this balanced approach, but what does it mean? It says nothing. Where is the green economy strategy, for example, in this plan? The government has reduced its targets by 90% and it can get us only 25% of the way there by 2020.

We need an ambitious, effective and fair agreement based on sound science. I urge Canadians across our great country to send the government a strong message on climate change. Together we can find a solution to our most pressing environmental challenge. Together we can build momentum to protect the only planet on which we are living, the only planet that we will hand over to our children, grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

I beg our government to understand that our home planet earth is finite and that when we compromise the air, the water, the soil, we steal from the endless future to serve the fleeting present.

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to go back to the previous comments of my colleague opposite with regard to a green energy strategy and point out some shortcomings of a Liberal colleague of hers in the Ontario government. The premier of that government implemented a green energy strategy, which the auditor general of that province noted would see electricity prices potentially rising in that province by up to 41% and significant job losses in the private sector due to that increase.

That is why it is so important for us to have balance and pragmatism and action in our environmental policy. It is not about inaction. It is not about making grand promises and signing on to grand international accords with no plan to implement them. It is not about simply maligning our economy and our economic growth in certain sectors of our economy.

We have a strong sector by sector regulatory approach. We are focused on jobs and the economy, and we taking strong international leadership in asking for an agreement that all major emitters will sign on to.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, on November 29, I rose in the House to address what I thought was a disturbing trend happening at the Immigration and Refugee Board, or IRB. The trend appears to be that there are more and more Conservative appointments being made to that body and fewer and fewer claims for refugee protection are being accepted. We now have the lowest rate of approvals in Canadian history.

I and many MPs have stood in the House to highlight cases where the system appears to have failed and we have called on the government to act to help an immigrant family or refugee. Invariably, the minister or parliamentary secretary responds that all applicants have gone through our system and we must trust that the system works. They say that the process is fair. They claim the IRB is independent. They say that our system has several opportunities for appeal.

Most important, when asked if there is anything they can do to prevent a deportation of a particular individual, they often point out that they do not want cases to be decided by the whim of the minister or to be subject to political interference. I could not agree more with that sentiment, but political interference is, regrettably, becoming apparent throughout the system. How are we supposed to have faith in our system when we hear about patronage appointments made to the IRB?

When I asked the minister about patronage appointments in the House, he said that he knew of only two appointments that had Conservative ties. In less than 24 hours, we were able to find 16 former Conservative politicians, candidates, donors or advisers to ministers of the government had, in fact, been appointed to the IRB.

Since November, we have learned of two more recent patronage appointments, people appointed to the IRB apparently because of their Conservative ties as opposed to their independence or expertise. Worst of all, we have learned that these board members seem to be biased against granting refugee protection. One member, who was recently reappointed by the government, was reappointed despite granting zero out of 169 refugee claims that he heard.

This would not be so troubling if the lives of people were not at stake, but they are. The integrity of the IRB is critical to the integrity of the whole system. If we cannot trust the independence of the IRB, then all the appeal processes in the world do not matter. What we know about appeals, particularly in relation to the Federal Court of Canada, is that the appeals are not based on the merits of the case. They are not even based on the facts of the case. The appeal process simply determines whether the process was followed properly and whether procedural justice and natural justice principles were observed.

We are told to trust the independence of the system, but the minister introduced Bill C-31, which inserts great potential for political interference into our immigration system. With Bill C-31, we learn that the minister wants even more power to be concentrated in his office. He has backtracked on a pledge he made to all parties in the House and all Canadians to approach refugee issues with a better sense of fairness and balance.

The minister wants the discretion to designate countries, in his opinion, as safe. He wants the sole discretion to determine by that discretion who has access to the Refugee Appeal Division. The minister wants the sole discretion to decide if a refugee's arrival in Canada qualifies as irregular. The minister wants the power to impose mandatory detention for up to a year on people whose biggest crime may be thinking that Canada will offer them safety from persecution.

It is getting harder and harder to take the government's advice to trust the system. How can we when we see the creeping of political interference and political judgment into a process that should be quasi-judicial and completely free of any kind of partisan hand.

Will the government stop this disturbing trend toward injecting political ideology into our immigration system and return to a commendable record of having an independent IRB and immigration system?