House of Commons Hansard #223 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-55.


The House resumed from February 5 consideration of the motion.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to address this issue today, knowing full well how important it is that all homes across our country have the ability to deal with this very important issue, which affects water quality. This is an opportunity for governments to work together to resolve these issues, which are of national importance. I would argue that many rural communities that need water or sanitation systems require financial resources to achieve success, and the federal government needs to play some role in that.

The motion brought forward requesting financial support to bring homes connected to septic systems up to a standard should be debated. I would have thought the motion would have received support from all sides. The Liberal Party previously indicated that it supports the motion and would like to see it pass, thereby obligating the government to do something that we believe is very important. One of the substantial differences between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Reform Party is that we see value in investing capital in infrastructure across this country.

The Chrétien government discussed infrastructure from coast to coast to coast and how the federal government needed to play a role. If we are to build our country, we need to build upon our infrastructure. Former Prime Minister Chrétien was quite keen on the three levels of government getting together and coming up with agreements on investments.

I had the opportunity the other day to talk about infrastructure programs. I made reference to an overpass on Kenaston in the city of Winnipeg that would never have been done had the federal government not come to the table. This is because the federal government has a much larger purse than any municipality. Many municipalities have low population bases. They do not have the resources necessary to invest in water or septic systems. If the money does not flow, if they do not get co-operation from Ottawa and in good part from the provinces, it will never exist or it will be very difficult for it to exist.

Speaking of numbers, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25% of homes, a significant percentage, are connected to septic systems that are not up to a what we would classify as a good quality standard. I would ultimately argue that we need to improve that overall percentage. The only way that can be done is for Ottawa to play a leading role.

The motion needs to be supported, at the very least in principle. I recognize the government is having a difficult time with the motion. However, if the government recognizes that there is a need to improve the standard across this country, that is a step forward. Then, recognizing that need, how do we best address it?

The best way to address the need is through strong leadership from Ottawa. Many would suggest, particularly government members, that it is a municipal responsibility and that municipalities are ultimately responsible for the bulk of that 25%. However, it does not matter where we go in Canada. From coast to coast to coast, we find that the need is there, and the reason there is this need all over our country is that the municipalities do not have the tax base necessary to bring these homes up to an acceptable standard.

If the municipalities do not have the resources, where do we look to get the job done? It may be argued that some provinces are in a better financial position than others to deal with these communities. Some provinces may have the necessary internal wealth and resources to enter into agreements with their local municipalities and provide additional funding for their rural municipalities. There is no doubt that some provinces are in a better position to deal with this issue. However, I would argue that this is a national interest and it should be a national concern, which is why we need to see leadership come from Ottawa.

We are suggesting that at the very least Ottawa should sit down with the different stakeholders to paint a much broader picture of the issue at hand. With that picture, we would get a better idea of what it would take to get the job done. However, without Ottawa's participation, this is not going to happen. It is as simple as that. We might see a little bit here and there, scattered throughout the country, but at the end of the day, if Ottawa is not prepared to come to the table, then it is not going to happen.

To that degree, this is the difference between the Conservative government and what the former Liberal government demonstrated, and what we see within the leadership of the Liberal Party today. We recognize the value of bringing people to the table to work on agreements that would make a difference. We demonstrated that first-hand through infrastructure programs when we were in government. We had all three levels of government sitting at the table and participating. Moneys were allocated and projects that would not have been possible were made possible because Ottawa at the time made the decision to get directly involved, which is something that is not being realized today. Until the government recognizes the important role it has to play, this issue will ultimately cause problems in many of our rural communities, if not all of them.

If we think of the environment and septic systems, we will find that there are many shortcomings. For parliamentarians and concerned Canadians who want to deal with this issue, which has a fairly profound impact on our environment and the lifestyles of thousands of people, I would suggest, and I refer mostly to the Conservative members of Parliament, that they reconsider their position and how they vote on this particular motion.

The principle of the motion is good. We are going to be supporting it and we challenge the government members to do the same. Many government members like to say that they represent rural Manitoba. A good way to demonstrate their support for rural Canadians would be to support the motion.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel's motion to correct an injustice done to rural Canadians.

One would expect a party that campaigned on the slogan "Our region in power" to support this important official opposition motion.

As in all rural regions of Canada, thousands of people in my riding of Laurentides—Labelle live close to lakes and waterways. Maintaining the quality of these regions' sanitation systems is vital to people and environmental protection.

The safety of communities' drinking water depends on the state of their septic systems. The same is true of the survival of the tourism and recreation industry, a major development focus in my riding. These communities are responsible for maintaining water quality by maintaining their sanitation facilities. However, infrastructure programs are not being given adequate financial support to bring septic systems up to new environmental standards.

Everyone pays the same taxes whether they live in an urban or rural area, so everyone should be able to benefit equally from those tax dollars.

As an MP who represents a rural riding, I am very proud to defend this motion, which seeks to ensure fairness among people living in urban and rural areas.

Supporting my colleague's motion would be a good opportunity for the Conservatives to take action and show Canadians that the federal government is implementing practical measures to help the regions.

Motion No. 400 seeks to make the waste water services that are currently available to people in urban areas accessible to people in rural areas as well.

Although the federal government is investing in bringing municipal waste water systems up to standard, over 25% of Canadians are not connected to these urban systems and are therefore not receiving any subsidies.

As is often the case in my riding, many homeowners depend on residential septic tanks. Right now, 25% of Canadians have to pay out of their own pockets to maintain and upgrade their septic systems.

If the Conservatives were really listening to people in the regions, they would quickly realize that the municipalities support this motion.

Many municipalities in Laurentides—Labelle have openly expressed their support for my colleague's proposal. Ten of them—the RCM of Antoine-Labelle, Sainte-Adèle, La Macaza, Ivry-sur-le-Lac, Lac-Saguay, Rivière-Rouge, La Minerve, Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson, Val-David and La Conception—have demonstrated their support for the motion by adopting a city council resolution.

I will not read the resolutions sent to my office, but I would like to mention some important points included in the preamble to the resolution adopted by the City of Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson. It states: peri-urban areas, a number of septic systems of isolated dwellings are outdated and need to be brought up to standard, work that is both important and urgent;

...this situation poses a significant potential risk to the water quality of our waterways, lakes and rivers;

...because of the high cost of the work, some residents are delaying bringing their system up to standard, which means an increased risk to water quality and public health;

...the federal government [must support] the municipalities that need to build or repair their waste water systems.

These points expressed by the City of Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson very clearly indicate the problem and the needs facing the municipalities in my riding.

The septic system issue is problematic for many other groups in the riding of Laurentides—Labelle, besides the municipalities I just mentioned. For instance, the Regroupement des associations pour la protection des lacs et cours d'eau des Hautes-Laurentides, which represents 19 associations and municipalities, is working on this priority issue. In fact, one of its key active projects is the search for funding to renovate individual septic systems.

Therefore, by moving this motion, my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has really identified a key problem facing our municipalities. By following through on a resolution from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the member has proven that she really is listening to Canadians.

I am truly grateful to her for moving a motion that is so in tune with the actual needs of our fellow Canadians.

This motion would definitely get us much closer to equality among Canada's various regions. More importantly, this motion would help protect the environment, which is another issue the Conservative government has mostly been ignoring.

Outdated septic systems in some rural regions threaten water quality and public health. As the Pays-d'en-Haut RCM points out, the health of a waterway or lake depends heavily on whether surrounding septic systems comply with current regulations. Septic systems can leak water contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. When contaminated water enters the water table and flows into our lakes and waterways, algae and aquatic plants proliferate. We know that fecal coliform bacteria contain a number of pathogens that threaten human health.

Maintaining high waste water treatment standards is critical, but that comes at a cost. Individuals simply cannot afford it. As we all know, the current government often leaves people in the regions out in the cold. Recent cuts to employment insurance are a harsh example of how, in many respects, the Conservatives could not care less about people in the regions. Maintaining existing infrastructure programs will only perpetuate the unfair treatment of people in rural areas.

Motion No. 400 is a preventive measure. Helping create programs that provide financial support for upgrading residential septic systems will help us avoid the enormous cost of decontaminating lakes and rivers.

It is time for the federal government to come up with a long-term vision. By expecting the provinces and municipalities to deal with this by themselves, the Conservatives are just putting off confronting an issue that affects all Canadians. I think they are trying to shirk their responsibility by turning a blind eye and pretending the problem does not exist.

I hope that the government will stop ignoring the problem and try to understand that the need is great. The people in my riding need the measures proposed by my colleague. We must take steps to protect water and public health by studying the possibility of establishing financial support programs to bring up to standard septic systems not connected to sanitation systems.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with my typical approach to parliamentary speeches, I will be speaking about financial support for septic systems by presenting the basic elements of the issue at hand, specifically the effect that waterfront activities have on the integrity of our country's waterways. I will also describe how public involvement is an enabler of change in the country and how industrial development is a key driver of economic growth in Canada. As I have done many times before, I will critique every aspect, and I will show that big industry is also responsible for phosphate emissions.

In the past, the public has demonstrated that involvement and awareness ultimately drive an industry's action, particularly when that industry produces consumer goods. We have witnessed the public's ability to put issues such as sustainable development and social acceptance front and centre, to the point where these concepts have been taken up and are now practically trademarked. In fact, there has been green washing. Companies have picked up on these concepts, knowing full well that people pushed them to the forefront and that they are particularly important issues for consumers. These concepts have been hijacked.

I will also be speaking about certification bodies, such as ISO standards, which came about when I first began practising, while I was still at university. It was a new topic at the time. People supported the changes. Companies and industry simply followed suit and decided to make a commitment in order to meet the public's expectations.

Issues surrounding aquatic reserves, water and the integrity of our water are hot topics for debate lately. Thanks to the experience I have gained during my nearly two years in the House, I can state that nothing is left to chance in Canada's Parliament. There is a reason we have studied these issues. If memory serves me correctly, I have spoken to this topic at least three times over the past two years.

The last time I checked, the government opposed profiting from or commercializing water and bulk water exports. However, we have observed something else: when there is very little clarity and transparency, it is very likely that discussions are being held at another level and out of sight of the people. At present, there is foot-dragging and pussyfooting around, and people are backpedalling. That is why this government was forced to say that water was not for sale. This paranoia spread across the country, however, because of the lack of transparency and clarity of the government's actions at present. That is why I will speak briefly to this issue.

Although the motion before us puts Canadians at the centre of the debate around waste water from rural residences as a significant source of pollution and eutrophication of bodies of water, public involvement must go hand in hand with heightened social and environmental responsibility on the part of our society's corporate sector. I mentioned that ISO standards were being studied at universities about a dozen years ago. In fact, if my memory serves me well, when I studied corporate law in 2004 in graduate school, corporate social responsibility was already an emerging issue and the so-called intellectual circles were beginning to discuss it.

This issue has now been taken up by the general public and debated in the mass media. A few years ago, it was still rather obscure. That is why I examined ISO standards during my studies. At the time, industry voluntarily subscribed to these standards because the public expected it to. The commitment to meet ISO 14001 and 9001 standards lent an air of trustworthiness to companies. About a dozen years have passed and this has now become mainstream in the sense that Canadians are embracing it.

When I started my speech in the House about my colleague's motion, I wanted to show that public opinion will often dictate the direction industry will take. In this case, if people want to upgrade their septic systems and are also concerned about phosphate emissions, there is a very strong chance that a large segment of industry will simply follow their lead. We have seen it happen. As everyone knows, when the public mobilizes, it can have a big impact. Industry and the manufacturers that produce consumer goods will follow their lead.

I mentioned sustainable development. We now have access to fair trade and organic products. It was no accident that manufacturers came out with these products. The demand is there. Market studies showed that the public was evolving. All across Canada attitudes had been progressing, whether people liked it or not. Industry has always adapted. In this case, industry's direction in the near future will probably be dictated by this mobilization and by the public's interest in this important issue.

The public's interest in inadequate, outdated, plugged or substandard septic systems will help considerably reduce inputs of phosphorus, the primary cause of eutrophication of waterways and lakes. It is now well known that these inputs of phosphorus can stimulate the development of large blooms of cyanobacteria.

My colleagues probably agree that what we need now is action and meaningful support from the federal government for initiatives to upgrade sanitation and septic systems.

I spoke about the advantages earlier. This is a step in the right direction. There is a very strong chance that this could encourage an entire segment of society to change. Major producers of phosphate, phosphorus and other contaminants will simply follow suit and decide to upgrade their systems.

We must not fool ourselves. Industry is largely responsible for this pollution. Canadians will have to take a stand individually. My colleagues have said that many people who live along rivers are in financial difficulty. Therefore, it is essential that the Canadian government implement a program to ensure that an unfair burden is not placed on people who want to be in compliance or who simply want to improve their quality of life and their environment. The immediate neighbours will be able to see the positive impact and benefit from it. It is highly likely that this initiative will grow exponentially and that Canadian society as a whole will benefit greatly from it.

I submit this respectfully.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support Motion No. 400 moved by the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

In my opinion, this motion, which aims to protect the water and public health of our communities, is very important and vital. I will read the motion because I think it is worthwhile to go over it again:

…the government should study the possibility of establishing, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, one or more financial support programs, inspired by the one proposed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, that would bring up to standard the septic systems of homes not connected to a sanitation system, in an effort to ensure urban/rural balance, lake protection, water quality and public health.

First of all, I congratulate my colleague on her motion. It proves that she truly is a practical MP who listens to her constituents. I find a number of aspects of this motion very interesting.

Ninety per cent of my riding is rural. We have a number of rivers, including the Yamaska River. Moreover, the Organisme de bassin versant de la Yamaska, an organization I work with in the riding, supports my colleague's motion. Environmental groups are vital in our ridings.

I am also worried about the Yamaska River, which runs through my riding. It is one of the most—if not the most—polluted rivers in Quebec. A motion like this one is definitely very important to my riding, and many environmental organizations support it.

It is also interesting that the motion addresses the notion of fairness among urban and rural areas. As we know, the government invests millions of dollars every year to help municipalities upgrade their sewer systems. The municipalities are often tapped-out and need a little help from the federal government.

At present, 25% of Canadians do not have access to municipal sewer systems. This means that they have to maintain a septic tank on their property, at their own expense. One-quarter of Canadians have to pay for this themselves—and it can cost $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 or even $20,000.

Not everyone can afford these upgrades, so they simply ignore the issue, which is harmful for the environment. These people need a little help. The federal government needs to show some leadership when it comes to the environment for once.

In rural areas, many septic systems are outdated and some need significant or urgent work. The clock is ticking and something needs to be done.

Again, fairness for rural areas is very important. People who live in isolated communities also deserve proper services and should not be penalized. They should not have to pay just because they live in a rural area.

We are simply asking the government to help these people meet environmental standards. These standards are crucial; we are talking about our water. Water is a vital resource that is very plentiful in Quebec and Canada. However, it seems to me that we sometimes take it for granted, since it is so abundant.

This reminds me of a personal story. A few years ago, I went to visit some friends in Belgium and we started talking about water. They told me that, basically, people who live in Quebec and Canada have so much water that they do not care about it; they do not look after it or take care of it. They said that we do not pay any attention to it, that we waste it and pollute it. I said that that was not true.

However, it made me stop and think. I thought that perhaps, deep down, Canadians do have that attitude. Perhaps we should be doing more to clean up our rivers and lakes and to help people who want to meet the standards but are financially unable to do so. I cannot imagine that many families in rural Canada want to go $20,000 into debt for a septic tank.

It would be good if the government stepped in, especially if you consider the fact that people in urban areas have access to sewage systems and do not have to pay for them. Can we all agree that this is a basic necessity?

Obviously, this is also a matter of public health. We are talking about drinking water. If the water is unfit, we cannot simply stop drinking it. There are also fish, shellfish and so on. It will be a problem if we cannot fish and eat them. There is also the issue of ecosystems. It is a serious problem when an ecosystem is transformed because of pollution. We cannot allow that to happen in Canada or anywhere else in the world. There are many problems related to this issue. We are suggesting a solution that would put a halt to these kinds of problems. The marine and earth ecosystems are interconnected and interdependent. We cannot allow this to go on any longer because sewers and drinking water are both matters of public health.

Earlier, I spoke about urban-rural balance. The municipalities do not necessarily have the means to enforce these standards. People are therefore being asked to upgrade their own septic tanks, which could cost $20,000. Yes, the municipality is responsible for enforcing this law. However, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the people living in small rural municipalities that may have only 1,000 residents, we realize that the person who may be required to take on $20,000 in debt is a brother-in-law, neighbour or friend. These are not costs that the municipality can cover. What is more, it becomes very difficult to enforce the law.

For example, the mayor of Saint-Barnabé-Sud in my riding, unlike the mayor of Montreal, is not a full-time mayor. Elected officials in small rural communities have a difficult time enforcing such things and finding the necessary funding. It is hard enough for them to find funding to deal with sewer systems, so members can imagine how difficult it would be to find money for septic tanks. We are talking about communities that have very few residents but that cover very large areas. People live on this land and farm it. They need help and so we must give it to them. In my opinion, it is the government's responsibility to help them.

Speaking of municipalities, it is interesting to note that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities supports this motion. In fact, the motion is largely inspired by the resolution adopted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2009. The resolution confirms that it is relevant and urgent that the federal government provide funding to help bring septic systems up to standard. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities considered this issue in 2009 and asked the government to take action. The federation is a large organization made up of over 2,000 Canadian municipalities. These people know their business. They asked the government to take action, but the government did nothing. Now, my colleague is addressing the situation, and I thank her for that.

I urge the government to vote in favour of the motion. For once, it would be nice to see that the government cares about our water, our environment and Canadians' quality of life.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for her five-minute right of reply.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to close the debate by stating the facts and the truth. The government's response to the motion was to try very hard to ignore the issues raised.

First, according to the Conservatives, the matter falls under provincial jurisdiction and the federal government should not intervene. However, it is the regulation of individual septic systems that falls under provincial jurisdiction.

In response to a petition signed by Canadians who supported my motion, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said:

In Canada, all levels of government share responsibility for managing waste water collection, treatment and disposal.

Therefore, nothing prevents us from working with the provinces and territories to find an effective and responsible way to help Canadians living in rural areas.

Waste water management is a shared responsibility, and that is why my motion specifically calls on the government to work with provinces and territories and municipalities.

The federal and provincial governments already provide up to 85% of the funds requested by municipalities to build or upgrade their waste water management infrastructures. However, in rural areas, it is impossible to do so. Therefore, while rural Canadians pay the same taxes as everybody else, they are left to fend for themselves.

At the same time, we are polluting our waters, our lakes and rivers, and harming our public health and our economy.

According to Environment Canada, the effects of waste water and these pollutants on ecosystems and human health include: causing the death of fish and damaging the habitat of certain species, leading to their decline; creating an environment that is toxic to invertebrates, algae and fish; polluting beaches and restricting human recreation, which is problematic for our regions' economies; and threatening human health, aquatic life and wildlife.

For 30 years now, waste water from isolated dwellings has been identified as a significant source of pollution and eutrophication of our waterways. Inadequate, outdated, clogged or non-compliant septic systems increase loadings of phosphorus, the main source of eutrophication, in rivers and lakes.

It is now well known that this increase in loadings in phosphorus can promote the development of excessive cyanobacteria, well known as blue-green algae.

The Conservatives were saying that the federal government already has invested in this area, which completely contradicts the argument of the provincial jurisdictions. Unfortunately, this claim is far from true. The CMHC program they referred to has no relevance to the issue in question.

That said, I appreciate that the minister and parliamentary secretary admitted that the federal government could implement support measures like the ones proposed in Motion No. 400.

As I mentioned during the first hour of debate, Gore Township, in my riding, has said:

...the CMHC and Société d'habitation du Québec not address the socio-economic issue being described and...the funds allocated for the region...are laughable compared to potential demand;

Applications for upgrading septic systems are not eligible under the program's criteria.

Meanwhile, rural homeowners living on small or fixed incomes are often forced to ignore the inadequacy of their septic systems and the environmental impact because they just do not have the means to invest in upgrading them.

Finally, because this motion only proposes that we study the possibilities for financial support, I want to remind my colleagues that there is no cost to voting for this motion. It is also worth noting that programs such as guaranteed loans would mean we could be helping Canadians at no long-term cost. Especially when we consider how much we would save in the cleanup of our lakes and rivers, I would say it is definitely a motion worth supporting.

In conclusion, I want to thank all of my colleagues who will support this motion on Wednesday.

I also want to thank all the municipalities and watershed groups for supporting and helping with this motion. I thank the FCM, which initiated this idea.

I also want to thank Scott Pearce, the mayor of Gore Township, in my riding, who has worked hard on this issue for many years.

I sincerely hope that my colleagues from all parties realize that what the Conservatives are saying is false and that they will vote for what their constituents want.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for debate has expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members



Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Homes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 30, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of SittingHomes Not Connected to a Sanitation SystemPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The House will stand suspended until 12 o'clock.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:47 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 noon.)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

There are six motions in amendments standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-55. The Chair has been informed that Motion No. 2 will not be proceeded with. Motions Nos. 1 and 3 to 6 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 and 3 to 6 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders



Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC


seconded by the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-55, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 10 and 11 on page 1 with the following:

““police officer” means any officer or constable employed for the preservation and”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-55, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing line 18 on page 1 with the following:

“tion if the police officer has reasonable grounds, a record of which is subsequently made,”

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-55, in Clause 5, be amended by adding after line 27 on page 3 the following:

“(d.1) the number of interceptions in respect of which no proceedings were commenced and, for each such interception, the offence that the police officer sought to prevent in making the interception;”

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-55, in Clause 5, be amended by adding after line 35 on page 3 the following:

“(f.1) a description of the reasonable grounds recorded by the police officer in accordance with section 184.4 for each interception;”

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-55, in Clause 5, be amended by adding after line 38 on page 3 the following:

“(g.1) the number of interceptions in respect of which no arrests were made and, for each such interception, the offence that the police officer sought to prevent in making the interception;”

She said: Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, for seconding these motions.

As the House will know, this legislation was brought forward in place of or at least after Bill C-30 was withdrawn. It was the so-called protecting children from Internet predators act. I do understand the reasons for urgency.

This legislation, Bill C-55, is in direct response to a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Tse, in which the court found that the current emergency wiretap provisions failed the charter test. The court suspended its ruling for 12 months to allow the House to remedy those sections of the Criminal Code such that they would conform with the charter. The clock started ticking when the Supreme Court rendered its decision, which was April 13 last year. We have a small amount of time to correct those mistakes.

I want to start my discussion of the amendments I am putting forward by stressing that I also support Bill C-55. It is, overall, well crafted and meets the challenge of ensuring that this extraordinary power of the state to obtain emergency wiretaps without a warrant—and this is what we are talking about—which is quite an egregious invasion of the privacy of the individual citizen, is balanced and only justified in exigent circumstances when certain standards have been met. It is only charter compliant, according to the Supreme Court decision in R v. Tse, if there are adequate oversight mechanisms put in place.

My amendments go directly to the point that we do not want Bill C-55 to be struck down by a future court because we failed to put in place the adequate oversight provisions and because we failed to get the balance just right, based on the advice of the Supreme Court.

I am just going to take a moment to go back to the ways in which the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions around these matters have evolved in very recent years. It was not long ago that our major authority, the precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada that governed in this area, was a 1990 case, R v. Duarte, in which Mr. Justice La Forest found that:

as a general proposition, surreptitious electronic surveillance of the individual by an agency of the state constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under section 8 of the Charter.

It takes quite a bit of evolution within court decisions to ask how we justify sections 183 and 184 of the Criminal Code in allowing the state, without access to a warrant or even judicial review of any kind, to go forward and wiretap private communications.

That process is now settled in a new precedent of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Tse, in which the court ruled in the majority that yes, in these exigent circumstances, where, for instance, there is a kidnapping or another criminal event where a life is at stake and there legitimately is not time to get to a judge for a warrant, it is now going to be acceptable under the charter.

What is not acceptable under the charter is when these powers are not adequately supervised. I think that needs to be a foundational point that is stressed here. These are intrusions into the private lives of Canadians that in any other circumstance would be viewed as charter violations. This House must craft, very carefully, that rare exception when we are going to let the state intrude on our personal communications.

I am troubled, sometimes, when I hear the comment: “Why would we worry if people want to wiretap criminals? The only people who would be worried about that would be people who have something to hide”.

We need in this country to constantly remind ourselves why we prize the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms why western democracies, the British Empire, our common law, and centuries of practice and respect for the rule of law recognized that the state has no business knocking down a person's door. It is literally pushing through doors and breaking into houses and invading our privacy, which in an electronic era includes wiretapping.

We have to remind ourselves why civil liberties matter. We have to remind ourselves of this fairly constantly, because in not just this instance but in other laws passed through this place, we are seeing an erosion of our respect for the idea of civil liberties through resort to such rhetoric as “Well, only criminals need to worry” and “We shouldn't be so worried about criminals as we should be about victims.” A victim of an injustice of the state invading our civil liberties is no less a victim than the person mugged on the street. We need to pay attention to civil liberties. That is why I am putting forward my amendments.

The court ruled very clearly in R. v. Tse that the failure of the current Criminal Code provisions was a failure to have adequate accountability measures. The court did not set out what the accountability measures should look like with any degree of specificity, so Bill C-55 attempts to, and does, put forward accountability measures; however, will they pass the charter test in a future Supreme Court case? My submission to the House—and I urge other members to vote with me—is that we make the bill much safer and more secure against being struck down later by improving the accountability measures.

The amendments I put forward would ensure, for instance, that the intercepted communications would require an Attorney General report, which would include records of all those wiretaps for which no charges were ever laid and would require the police officer in question to memorialize the reasonable grounds he or she had at the time for seeking warrantless wiretap evidence. We would record and report as much information as possible to ensure that the oversight statutory process in Bill C-55 would meet any future charter challenge.

My amendments are based on recommendations primarily from three groups that testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights: the Canadian Bar Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Criminal Lawyers' Association. Those three bodies recommended, in the language I have used, the amendments I am putting forward today.

They strive to ensure that there be a requirement to publicly report the numbers of persons whose communications were intercepted but who were not subsequently charged. They include a requirement for the police officer's justification for the interception to be recorded and memorialized and would also ensure that if subsequent judicial authorizations were obtained on the same grounds as for the interception under section 184.4 of the Criminal Code, evidence obtained by a further section 184.4 interception may be ruled inadmissible.

The other piece I want to mention briefly is something that was not part of the res judicata of R. v. Tse but that was certainly significant obiter dicta, and that was the court's concern that the definition of “peace officer” was overly broad. I cite the decision of the court on this matter, and there was not a dissent. At paragraph 57 of R. v. Tse, the court noted it would agree that:

We, too, have reservations about the wide range of people who, by virtue of the broad definition of “peace officer”, can invoke extraordinary measures permitted under s. 184.4. That provision may be constitutionally vulnerable for that reason.

I am not saying that the Minister of Justice has not taken account of this obiter dicta. The revised Bill C-55 no longer uses the term “peace officer”. The revised Bill C-55, in clause 2, changes the term “peace officer”, which was overly broad and could include anything from mayors and reeves and so on, to “police officer”, but then in the definition adds an element of overly broad definition by saying:

“police officer” means any officer, constable or other person employed for the preservation and maintenance of the public peace

I remain concerned despite the quite interesting testimony, and I thank the justice critic for the official opposition, who pursued this point with the Minister of Justice. I am less sanguine about leaving in the term “or other person”, so one of my amendments would remove the term “or other person” to further clarify the act and ensure that it is not constitutionally vulnerable.

I will conclude by saying that my amendments are put forward in the interests of ensuring that Bill C-55 will survive any future charter challenge and I recommend them to my colleagues.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-55, the response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Tse act. This bill responds to the Supreme Court of Canada decision that found section 184.4 of the Criminal Code to be unconstitutional. Section 184.4 provides authority to intercept private communications without prior judicial authorization in dangerous situations such as kidnappings, in order to respond to an imminent threat of harm when the time constraints do not permit obtaining a judicial authorization.

The purpose of Bill C-55 is to ensure that the critical preventive tool that I have just described remains available to police officers in life-threatening situations while offering the appropriate accountability and privacy safeguards in compliance with the Supreme Court decision in R. v. Tse.

The court declared the provision unconstitutional on the sole basis that it does not provide sufficient accountability measures and indicated that constitutional compliance could be achieved by the addition of a requirement for after-the-fact notification to persons whose private communications have been intercepted under section 184.4 of the Criminal Code, similar to the notification requirements for other wiretaps. This bill proposes to add this safeguard.

Bill C-55 also proposes additional safeguards that, while not required for constitutional compliance, would enhance the privacy of Canadians by increasing transparency and ensuring appropriate limits on the use of section 184.4. The bill proposes a reporting requirement that would require the Minister of Public Safety and the Attorneys General of the provinces to report annually on the use of section 184.4 of the Criminal Code. This requirement already exists for other wiretaps, so it seems logical to extend it to wiretaps used in exceptional circumstances as well.

Another safeguard proposed in this bill would limit the power to wiretap without prior judicial authorization in situations of imminent harm by restricting the availability of this power to offences listed in section 183 of the Criminal Code. Currently, the Criminal Code makes this authority available for any unlawful act, which covers a broader range of conduct.

Lastly, the government is proposing to limit the availability of this extraordinary power to police officers only. Currently, section 184.4 of the Criminal Code is available to peace officers, which, as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code, includes not only police officers but also mayors, immigration officers and fishery guardians.

Now that I have given a brief overview of Bill C-55 and its proposals, I would like to address what are now the five report stage motions that were tabled by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Motion No. 1 proposes to amend Bill C-55 to further restrict the class of persons for which the section 184.4 wiretap power is available.

This proposal is problematic. The definition of “police officer” that is included in clause 2 of Bill C-55 was taken from the existing definition of “police officer” in the Criminal Code. It is carefully tailored to ensure that it includes all persons who need access to the authority to intercept private communications in exceptional circumstances without a judicial authorization.

I would like to take this opportunity to again repeat that the proposed definition of “police officer” already exists in the Criminal Code in the context of dealing with the forfeiture of proceeds of crime and that it also exists in other statutes. It has been judicially interpreted as including only those who are statutorily appointed to carry out duties of preservation and maintenance of public peace. Privately hired individuals, such as security guards in a shopping mall or an office building, do not fit within this definition, as they are not statutorily appointed.

The removal of the category of “other person” from the definition of “police officer” as proposed in Motion No. 1 is unnecessary. For these reasons, this amendment is not advisable.

I will address Motions Nos. 3 and 5 together, as the change proposed in Motion No. 5 is a result of a change proposed in Motion No. 3.

Motion No. 3 proposes to add a requirement in the bill that a police officer make a record of the reasonable grounds that formed the basis for his or her decision to intercept private communications without a judicial authorization in exigent circumstances under section 184.4 of the Criminal Code. Motion No. 5 proposes to add this record to the annual report that would be made in relation to the use of the section 184.4 wiretap power.

Creating a record-keeping requirement as proposed in Motion No. 3 would undermine the goal of section 184.4, which is to enable a rapid response in cases of imminent harm. As was recognized in the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Tse, it would be impractical to require the police to create contemporaneous records in exceptional situations in which the police need to act very quickly.

The Supreme Court of Canada was satisfied that an after-the-fact notice provision for those persons whose private communications were intercepted in exceptional circumstances, as envisaged by clause 5 of Bill C-55, would adequately meet that need.

An additional reason for not supporting Motion No. 5 is that the creation of an additional reporting requirement would be inconsistent with what it is currently being reported in relation to other wiretap powers.

The creation of a divergence from existing reporting practices is equally a problem for the proposals in Motions Nos. 4 and 6, which propose to add new reporting requirements with respect to the number of interceptions in relation to which no proceedings were commenced or no arrests were made in the offences that the police sought to prevent in making these interceptions. The proposals in Motions Nos. 4 and 6 are, therefore, not advisable.

The reforms proposed in Bill C-55 are designated to protect the safety of Canadians in a way that is appropriate, proportional and respectful of privacy interests. I am confident that the bill would achieve the correct balance in this regard.

Furthermore, although I appreciate the efforts of the member opposite, the report stage amendments proposed to Bill C-55 that are currently before this House for consideration are ineffective, ill-advised and inappropriate.

For these reasons, I urge the House to defeat the motions tabled by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

As well, I hope that all members will support the timely enactment of the bill as it was introduced. The Supreme Court of Canada suspended its declaration of invalidity in R. v. Tse until April 13 to allow the need for Parliament to ensure the constitutional compliance of section 184.4 of the Criminal Code. As it now stands, if the bill does not come into force before the suspension expires, section 184.4 would not longer be available for police to do wiretaps in the exceptional circumstances contemplated in section 184.4, which are designated, of course, as circumstances in which lives are at risk.

I urge this House to pass the bill.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me get to one point in the time I have for a question. It is related to the overly broad definition of “police officer or other person”.

The reason this issue was put forward by the Canadian Bar Association was actually to get it right. This is not to say that there are not other places in the Criminal Code where we find that definition, but in this specific instance, which is a quite extraordinary intrusion of the state into the personal lives of its citizens, it is trying to make it clear that not just anybody can do this, and that even within the police force, as the Canadian Bar Association letters to the committee pointed out, certainly “Special training and oversight are necessary for police officers who have such potentially intrusive power.”

It is basically suggesting that maybe it is not the cop on the beat who gets warrantless wiretap permission in exigent circumstances. Those same persons, by the way, should be capable of saving their notes from the case. Handwritten notes are all that are required to memorialize why they thought there were legitimate grounds to seek this extraordinary power of intruding into people's private lives.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, while many police officers may be qualified to seek the right to intercept private conversations, not all officers are designated to do this. As suggested by the hon. member, those who do go forth have specialized training to do these interceptions. There is a focus in the RCMP and other police forces to ensure that those who do intrude on the rights of individuals are specially trained. Of course, in exigent circumstances, to require additional delays that may put people's lives in danger is certainly not advisable.

We know that when these wiretaps are obtained in exigent circumstances, they act immediately; however, after the fact and as quickly as possible, that is usually followed by the police authorities seeking a judicial authorization. There is a temporary period when immediacy requires that they intercept, but it is usually followed, in most circumstances, with a requirement to get a judicial authorization warranting this intrusion.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think one of the concerns expressed was on the timing of the legislation that the government brought forward.

When the Supreme Court made the decision back in April of last year, we knew we had one year to straighten up the legislation. It does not take 10 months to come up with the legislation. Why did it take the government so long to present it before the House? The delay ensured that we would have to provide fast passage, whereas there seemed to be significant interest in being able to have some dialogue, whether in committee or in further debate at second reading. It becomes a timing issue. Why did the government wait as long as it did to bring in the legislation?

The member would know that the Liberal Party is supporting the bill and its passage because we recognize the urgency, but why did it take so long for the government to bring it forward?

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, there was a lot of due diligence done to determine exactly what should be done in amending the act and making it constitutional. We know the government always takes great measures to ensure the constitutionality of all its acts. Therefore, the time it took was attributable to the fact that we wanted to ensure all constitutional requirements were met and that we could make the best amendments possible to ensure we protect the rights of private citizens.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague who just asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice the question, hit the nail on the head. The problem with Bill C-55 is that we find ourselves passing this bill at the last possible minute. As we say in English, time is of the essence. If this bill is not passed by April 13, we will have a legal vacuum.

I would like to make some clarifications so that we know what we are talking about.

Section 184.4 of the Criminal Code is very clear. It talks about interception of communications in exceptional circumstances. If Bill C-55 is not passed in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canada decision, rendered last year in R. v. Tse, section 184.4 will no longer exist. Currently, this section states that, in exceptional circumstances:

A peace officer may intercept, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, a private communication where:

People are concerned about their conversations being intercepted and heard. Under section 184.4, which was at the centre of R. v. Tse, the conditions for the officer are that:

(a) the peace officer believes on reasonable grounds that the urgency of the situation is such that an authorization could not, with reasonable diligence, be obtained under any other provision of this Part;

In other words, there was absolutely no other way to obtain authorization for this type of interception.

(b) the peace officer believes on reasonable grounds that such an intervention is immediately necessary to prevent an unlawful act that would cause serious harm to any person or to property;

This means that, after all due diligence, there is no possibility of obtaining authorization. That is a little difficult in the city. In Gatineau, for example, justices of the peace are available practically 24 hours a day for this type of authorization. The chances that it would be impossible to obtain authorization and that section 184.4 of the Criminal Code would not apply are great. These are truly exceptional cases, and it is important to put that into context.

There must also be reasonable grounds to believe that such an interception is immediately necessary to prevent an unlawful act that would cause serious harm. Serious harm must be more than just a possibility; it must be imminent.

The third condition is as follows:

(c) either the originator of the private communication or the person intended by the originator to receive it is the person who would perform the act that is likely to cause the harm or is the victim, or intended victim, of the harm.

It should also be said that the ruling in R. v. Tse did not require a review of interception in its entirety. I appreciate what my Green Party colleague was trying to do with her amendments. But since time is of the essence, we should be concentrating on what the Supreme Court has asked Parliament to do. We were not asked to review the entire reporting process and so on. Yet the majority of the member's amendments address those topics, which were not even mentioned in the Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court said the unless a criminal prosecution results, the targets of the wiretapping might never learn of the interceptions and would be unable to challenge police use of this power. There is no other measure in the code to ensure specific oversight of the use of section 184.4.

After all that I have said about this section, if that were the case and a person was never criminally prosecuted, it would be quite possible that he would never know that he had been the target of a wiretap or that his conversations had been intercepted. That is the crux of the issue in the R. v. Tse ruling.

The Supreme Court said that in its present form, the provision fails to meet the minimum constitutional standards of section 8 of the charter. I would like to emphasize the word “minimum”. The NDP is not saying that Bill C-55 is a legislative model when it comes to wiretapping, interception or invasion of privacy as set out in part VI of the Criminal Code. Those are exceptions.

Still, before voting on my colleague's proposed amendments and on Bill C-55, we should consider whether the measures and changes proposed by Bill C-55 respond to the guidance provided by the Supreme Court of Canada:

An accountability mechanism is necessary to protect the important privacy interests at stake and a notice provision would adequately meet that need, although Parliament may choose an alternative measure for providing accountability.

Those who take the time to read Bill C-55 will see that it calls for an accountability mechanism. People whose communications are intercepted will be notified of the interception.

Still according to the Supreme Court:

The lack of notice requirement or some other satisfactory substitute renders s. 184.4 constitutionally infirm.

That is all the Supreme Court of Canada said in R. v. Tse. Without sufficient information, we still do not know whether section 184.4 is excessively broad in scope because it confers power that may be exercised by peace officers as well as police officers. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court did indicate that it considered the matter. As always, the Supreme Court will not rule until the matter has been debated, nor will it rule on the matter debated unless it goes before the court. With respect to the issue of who would be given permission to carry out the kind of interception set out in section 184.4, the Supreme Court did not discuss it and made no decision on the matter.

One good thing about Bill C-55 is that, even in the absence of a decision by the Supreme Court, it restricts the scope of section 184.4 to police officers and other persons employed for the maintenance of the public peace by removing the term “peace officer”.

Section 2 of the Criminal Code lists just about every category of public officer, from mayor to meter reader. Indeed, virtually every type of public officer was covered, giving the impression that the scope of the provision was fairly broad. The power conferred under section 184.4 is one that should not be given to just anyone. In that regard, I am pleased that the government brought forward a bill that addresses one of the issues that the Supreme Court raised but did not rule on. As I see it, in matters of criminal law, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The rights of persons subject to trial are at issue here. Insofar as providing an opinion is concerned, Bill C-55 is the Conservatives’ response to the Supreme Court’s request.

The bill also contains some things that the Supreme Court did not request. All of the provisions amending section 195 of the Act and the requirement for various types of reports have been added to ensure greater accountability. Who would not want that? Certainly more can be done at some point in the future.

However, as to whether Bill C-55 will respond to the questions and guidance of the Supreme Court of Canada before April 13, 2013, all of the witnesses who testified before the committee were of the opinion that it will.

All of the witnesses, whether they represented the Canadian Bar Association or the CLA, were unanimous in their support of Bill C-55. They made a number of minor suggestions. However, since it was not their job to resolve all of the problems concerning interception but rather to address the issue of the constitutionality of section 184.4, I am reasonably satisfied with the responses provided by departmental officials.

All of the questions which the member raised in her amendments have been answered by the minister or by Department of Justice officials. In this regard, there is no need at this point in time and given the context of Bill C-55 to go forward with what my hon. colleague is proposing. We received the answers to our questions when the bill was studied in committee.

Motions in AmendmentResponse to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Tse ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her statement.

I read all of the testimony given in committee, and, as I said earlier when I addressed the House, the minister answered my colleague’s questions. Nevertheless, some serious questions remain concerning this bill.

Does my colleague agree with me that the changes brought about by today's amendments would improve the bill?