House of Commons Hansard #268 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was goods.


Bill C-56—Time Allocation MotionCombatting Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members


Bill C-56—Time Allocation MotionCombatting Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Bill C-56—Time Allocation MotionCombatting Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members


Bill C-56—Time Allocation MotionCombatting Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

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

Vote #754

Combatting Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC


That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to establish an electronic petitioning system that would enhance the current paper-based petitions system by allowing Canadians to sign petitions electronically, and to consider, among other things, (i) the possibility to trigger a debate in the House of Commons outside of current sitting hours when a certain threshold of signatures is reached, (ii) the necessity for no fewer than five Members of Parliament to sponsor the e-petition and to table it in the House once a time limit to collect signatures is reached, (iii) the study made in the 38th Parliament regarding e-petitions, and that the Committee report its findings to the House, with proposed changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions, within 12 months of the adoption of this order.

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to begin the debate on my private member's motion, Motion No. 428 that would bring electronic petitions to the House of Commons.

I will cover three points in my remarks this evening. First, why we need e-petitioning in Canada. Second, what a system for e-petitioning should look like. Third, who supports this initiative.

Before I begin, I would like to say that my motion is inspired by three political scientists: my wife, Jeanette Ashe, who teaches at Douglas College in British Columbia and originally suggested this idea to me; my mentor, Professor Patrick Smith, who teaches at Simon Fraser University and got me started on my democratic journey many years ago; and of course the late Jack Layton, whose phrase, “no opposition without proposition”, guides all my work in this place.

I should not need to tell the hon. members in this chamber that this is a very dark hour for Canadian democracy. Voter turnout continues to plummet in federal, provincial and municipal elections. Less than 60% of those eligible to vote did so in the 2011 federal election, and less than 40% of eligible youth voted in 2011.

Second, citizens are virtually shut out of the policy-making process between elections. Canadians can look and watch, but they cannot really touch nor affect what we do here in Ottawa as there are no mechanisms in place empowering them to do so.

Tragically, people now deeply distrust their own democratic institutions more and more each year. According to a recent Environics polling, less than 20% of Canadians place a lot of trust in Parliament or the office of the Prime Minister, and only 10% give a strong vote of confidence to political parties.

Now, while there is plenty of spirited debate in this place on large-scale changes to improving our democracy, whether it is reforming the electoral system or the unaccountable Senate, I feel there are also small changes or reforms that would go some way to alleviate our democratic malaise.

Finding practical ways to make Parliament more accessible for our constituents is a worthy goal we should all share. I am hoping members from all sides of the House will set aside partisan differences and work together to enhance citizen participation in our democracy through e-petitions.

Democratic engagement is a topic of particular importance to me because I have been fortunate to study it for over 20 years. I have written and taught about democracy and democratic reform, as well as advised governments on how they might improve democracy both here and abroad. In addition, I have been in the trenches, helping citizens both participate in and reform their political institutions.

Motion No. 428 instructs the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to undertake a study of the petitioning process and develop recommendations for how we might improve this process with electronic petitions.

Currently, Canadians can only circulate, collect signatures, and submit paper-based petitions. If they collect 25 names and find an MP to represent their written petitions in Parliament, the government has to respond to the petition in writing within 45 days. Meanwhile, online petitions that might gather thousands or hundreds of signatures of Canadians go unanswered under the current system, as they are not deemed official.

My motion calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to report back to the House with recommendations as to how we could enhance our current petitioning system and bring it into the 21st century by allowing citizens to post and sign certified petitions online. A study would allow us to hear from civil society groups and privacy experts and other jurisdictions where e-petitions are used, as best practices for implementing an e-petitioning system that is fair, efficient and responsive.

In addition to calling for a comprehensive study, my motion goes further and suggests that we increase the impact of petitions. It proposes that electronic petitions should trigger a short debate in the House, similar to a take note debate, if they receive a certain minimum number of signatures, for example 50,000 or 100,000, and are sponsored by no fewer than 5 MPs. Not only would citizens be able to post and sign official petitions online, but their views and concerns would also be debated at the highest level by their elected representatives.

This is far from a novel idea. The core of this proposal is borrowed from other jurisdictions. For example, residents of the province of Quebec, who are often ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to democratic reform, can already submit and sign petitions online. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government has brought in rules that not only allow for e-petitions but those receiving at least 100,000 signatures can trigger a short debate in their House of Commons. The same is true in the United States, where online petitions meeting a certain threshold of support from the public receive an official response from the White House and President Obama.

My motion also builds on strong populist traditions found in my home province of British Columbia, where residents have the ability to initiate referendums and to recall politicians they do not think are up to the job of governing.

As members can see, we here in this place are behind the rest of the world when it comes to realizing the ideals of direct democracy.

My motion represents a modest but vital opportunity for us to build upon the long-standing practice of our constituents petitioning their elected representatives. Before moving on to those who already support my motion, it is important to clarify a few points about this proposal.

First, Motion No. 428 would supplement, but not replace, the current paper petitioning system. For example, e-petitions that do not reach a minimum threshold of signatures to trigger a debate would still be submitted to the House and receive an official government response. Second, there is a concern that this system would allow frivolous or trivial issues to be raised in Parliament. I suggest that this would not occur if the committee follows my idea not only to require 50,000 or 100,000 signatures before the debate is triggered, but also the added provision that at least five MPs sponsor the petition before it moves forward for debate.

To use a recent example, and a somewhat infamous one, under these provisions it is unlikely that any MP, let alone five, would risk their personal reputations to forward a petition suggesting we change the name of certain politicians to Doris Day even if the petition was signed by tens of thousands of Canadians.

It is also important to remember that the suggestion here is that any debate triggered would be similar to a take note debate, which is not subject to a vote and therefore could not be used to pass bills or motions.

The third and final section of my speech concerns support for Motion No. 428 both inside and outside of Ottawa.

My motion has been jointly seconded by 20 sitting members of Parliament, including two from the Conservative caucus. The member for Saskatoon—Humboldt generously seconded my motion, as did the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, although the latter member has since left the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent. This is an important point. Even at this early stage, there seems to be cross-party support to allow my proposal to move to committee. I look forward to continuing to work with committee members and other like-minded MPs to make this happen, because strengthening our democratic institutions is a value that must go beyond party affiliation.

Support for Motion No. 428 does not stop in Parliament. Former NDP leader, Ed Broadbent, says:

Bringing electronic petitioning to the House of Commons is a 21st-century idea and one I fully endorse. Empowering Canadians to come together and help set the parliamentary agenda will breathe fresh air into our democracy.

I could not agree more.

It may surprise members on the other side of the House that former Reform Party leader, Preston Manning, also endorses my motion:

To be able to petition one’s elected representatives, and to have such petitions addressed, is one of the oldest and most basic of democratic rights.... Affirming and re-establishing this right in the 21st century through electronic petitioning is an idea well worth pursuing.

I thank both Mr. Manning and Mr. Broadbent for their endorsement.

My motion has also been endorsed by civil society organizations from across the political spectrum that share the common goal of promoting democratic participation.

First, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

...applauds this worthy kick-start Parliament on accepting electronic signatures on petitions. When taxpayers get the opportunity to go online and sign an official petition to Parliament, they'll be able to get the attention of Ottawa politicians in a hurry.... This would help restore some grassroots democracy and accountability on Parliament Hill.

In addition, Egale Canada, an organization dedicated to equality for LGBTQ Canadians, states that it:

...strongly supports [this] initiative to further bridge the communication between citizens and their democratically elected leaders. Working with and on behalf of marginalized populations, Egale Canada believes every effort should be taken to make our voices heard in the simplest ways possible."

Finally, the online advocacy organization, Leadnow says:

We fully support bringing e-petitions to parliament as it will help strengthen the voices of Canadians and enable them to reach decision makers more effectively.

Yesterday I launched, a new website that includes a full list of endorsements and an online petition, where Canadians can show their support for my motion. We have not only two leading elders of our community who have been fighting for democracy for quite a long time who directly support this motion but a large number of civil society groups that think this is a good idea, and importantly, they are from right across the political spectrum.

From the evidence, it is fair to surmise that the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister might also endorse bringing e-petitions to Parliament. In 1994, the member for Calgary Southwest said:

As Reformers we propose that we get back to the roots of liberal democracy, that we reaffirm the principles of democracy in a modern age and manifest political equality through institutional reform.

In 2003, when he was the leader of the Canadian Alliance, he added:

We have stood to bring about in this country an effective system of direct democracy to enhance the voice of average Canadians, not once every four years, but all the time.

I could not agree with that sentiment more. That is what we are here to do.

As e-petitions have the potential to impact all Canadians, I wanted to get an initial idea of how the country feels about my motion. To do so, I commissioned Angus Reid to conduct a national poll asking two questions.

The first question asked:

Do you support or oppose allowing Canadians to use electronic petitions to present their request to the federal government?

I am happy to say that over 80% of those surveyed support or strongly support this idea, with only 11% opposed. There is overwhelming support among Canadians for this motion.

The second question was on the idea of thresholds and what would be needed to trigger debate. The question asked was:

What should be the minimum number of signatures a petition would need in order to be debated in a Canadian House of Commons?

When offered a range of options, the most popular threshold was 25,000 signatures, a very low threshold, followed closely by a threshold of 100,000 signatures. I would be more than happy to make this poll available to the committee if we move forward with this idea.

To recap, first, Canadian democracy is in great need of constructive action and practical reform. We have experienced decades of decline, and our institutions are in need of a refresh, especially now that we are firmly in the digital age. Second, the mechanics of my motion are simple. I am asking the procedure and House affairs committee to report back some time over the next year, within 12 months, with recommendations on how to best implement an e-petitioning system that would empower Canadians to have their say and set the debate in Parliament. Third, I hope I have demonstrated that this motion has support on both sides of the House, among elders, from organizations from across the political spectrum, and most importantly, among Canadians.

We need to make this happen so that before the next election, citizens from across Canada can have at least a touch more control of the political agenda in Ottawa. It is my hope that this initiative will increase citizen participation in democracy, lead to more Canadians being engaged with politics between elections, and perhaps most importantly, renew trust in our democratic institutions.

As we stand in the House, this historic place, witness to many national defining moments, this place of business where legislation that impacts the lives of Canadians is debated and voted upon, we ultimately remember that the House belongs to the people. We have all been privileged to be the voice of our constituents here in Ottawa, and as such, it is our responsibility to ensure that the voices are heard here in the chamber. Through my motion to revitalize Canadian democracy through e-petitioning, we can open the doors of Parliament to the robust debate happening now across the country, and we can stand up to empower the voices of Canadians.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my friend across the aisle, and I understand his passion for this, but I have a question.The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is established by Standing Orders of the House of Commons, is responsible for procedural and administrative matters, including the review of the Standing Orders. This motion appears to lift the matter of the tabling of petitions away from the context of the rest of the Standing Orders, which the committee reviews, and is very prescriptive in how the committee should study the matter of an e-petition system.

Why is the motion so prescriptive as opposed to respecting the independence and expertise of the committee to review the Standing Orders as it sees fit and to explore all evidence and possibilities that may be relevant?

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that if he reads the motion, he will see that the details I have added to the motion are only suggestions for study.

I have asked that the committee pursue a broad mandate to look at merely supplementing the current paper-based petitioning system with electronic petitions. I do not see how that would in any way circumscribe what the committee can look at. If this does make it to committee, the members would call witnesses. I would just ask that they consider these other measures.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say that it is the first time I have heard that to respect a committee, we cannot accept good ideas in this House.

I would like to ask my colleague why, in his scheme, electronic petitions would lead to a debate while traditional petitions would lead to a response from the government.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his kind words. That is a good question. This is exactly what the committee should be looking at. This is why we need the committee to look at the current petitioning system to see how these two things could interact.

What I would say is that if they can do this in the United Kingdom, if they can do this in the province of Quebec and they can do this in the U.S., what is it we cannot do here? What is it we cannot figure out? I am sure we can find a way to make both paper-based and electronic petitions interact, and of course, bring us into the 21st century and bring more trust to our institutions.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech.

He began by saying that this is a very dark hour for Canadian democracy.

Young people are becoming more and more cynical and are voting less and less. There are a number of reasons for this cynicism, but if you ask them, they say that Canada's Parliament does not really represent them.

This is the computer age. Young people are born with computers and gadgets in their hands. This motion is a good opportunity to give them more access to Parliament.

I would like to give my colleague the opportunity to share his comments on the positive impact that this bill might have on young people's involvement in politics.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question and for all her work in this area. She works very hard to bring the voice of youth to Parliament. I think that is very helpful. This is something my motion would also try to do: connect with younger people and update our institutions to better engage folks who are not engaging with our traditional forms of democracy. That is one advantage of moving to electronic petitions. I do not see why anybody on the other side of the House would be threatened by that.

There would be no votes after debate. It would just be an hour debate. If we went forward with the full spectrum of changes in the House, it would just be an hour of debate on issues that are important to members on both sides of the House, I would hope.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in today's debate on Motion No. 428 on electronic petitions, sponsored by the member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Petitions play a fundamental and important role in our parliamentary system. Each day, members table petitions on behalf of citizens from across the country. In total, over 2,000 petitions are tabled each year on issues that concern Canadians. Motion No. 428 would require the procedure and House affairs committee to study and recommend changes to the Standing Orders to implement a new system of electronic petitions. Some jurisdictions in Canada and abroad have recently taken this step, and I will focus my remarks on the lessons from their experiences.

Before doing so, I want to take issue with a particular aspect of Motion No. 428 that should concern all of us, which is that the motion prescribes a resolution to a study the committee has not conducted. Rather than asking the procedure and House affairs committee to undertake an examination of our petitions system, the motion dictates to the committee that it must recommend changes to the Standing Orders to implement an electronic petitions system. In other words, the motion would require that the committee report lead to the implementation of an electronic petitions system for the House. I find that an affront to the members of the committee, and more fundamentally, to the principle that committees are masters of their own affairs. Instead, the committee should have the ability to review the effectiveness of our petitions system under its review of the Standing Orders and decide on its own terms whether changes are needed.

Most other jurisdictions have a petitions system similar to the one we use in the House. That said, some jurisdictions have recently adopted an electronic online petitions system. As my friend indicated, in Canada, the National Assembly of Quebec and the Northwest Territories have set up limited online systems to complement their paper-based systems. Their focus was primarily on giving citizens the option to assess and sign a petition electronically. While such an approach, on the surface, seems straightforward, there would be a need to closely examine questions of cost, particularly with regard to measures needed to verify signatures and prevent fraudulent petitions.

Looking abroad, in 2011, the United Kingdom House of Commons established an electronic petitions system, including provisions whereby petitions with at least 100,000 signatures can be debated in the House or in Westminster Hall, a parallel chamber to the House. The electronic petitions system differs from the written petitions system in that, first, the role of individual members is reduced to being able to debate only items with at least 100,000 signatures. Second, the electronic petitions website is administered by their leader of the House of Commons.

In 2012, there were 25 hours of debate in the chambers on various electronic petitions with at least 100,000 signatures. That is the total number to date. Examples of topics debated include the elimination of welfare benefits for convicted 2011 London rioters, heart surgery at a local hospital and the beer duty escalator. That is not an escalator that goes from floor to floor but a system implemented to increase the price of beer.

Public commentators have noted that changes to the system in the United Kingdom have turned petitions into a popularity contest, with a chance to debate issues whether they are serious or frivolous. The rules in this system have enabled well-organized special interest groups to force their issues onto the parliamentary agenda. For example, recently, a “no state funeral for Margaret Thatcher” electronic petition reached over 30,000 signatures.

South of our border, a “We the People” electronic petitions system, established by the White House in the United States, whereby petitions with at least 100,000 signatures are publicly recognized, has led to high-profile petitions on whether Texas should secede or whether President Obama should be impeached. U.S. commentators have questioned the usefulness of this system and have suggested that it has a negative impact on citizen engagement.

Our current rules allow members to table over 2,000 petitions each year on a wide range of issues of concern to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Most jurisdictions share the same approach we have with respect to petitions. The jury is still out on the long-term effect of electronic petitions. However, the experience of the United Kingdom and the United States indicates that electronic petitions can have negative consequences for citizen engagement and parliamentary operations and can empower special interest groups to advance their issues.

That is why I am going to oppose Motion No. 428, and I call on all members to do likewise.

I would like to add that, pursuant to Standing Order 103(3)(a)(iii) and a February 17, 2012 House order, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has begun a study on the standing orders. The committee could be asked to include our petitions rules in its review of the effectiveness of the standing orders. I would contend this is a more appropriate avenue for consideration of the issue.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 428, sponsored by our colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, requests that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the standing orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to establish an electronic petition system.

However, the motion only invites this committee to consider different kinds of electronic petition systems and conventions and to report its findings to the House within 12 months. Therefore, I do not understand what my colleague just said. We are not limiting or infringing on the authority of the committee. If we accept the motion, we are only doing the job the House should do, to bring an idea that is accepted in many parties, and my party has suggested this many times, and propose to have a study on the idea.

The Liberal caucus supports the motion and commends the member who brought it forward. We support it because we agree with the principle of electronic petitions and because the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas had the wisdom not to ask the House to adopt this measure before it was carefully examined in committee out of respect for the role of the committee and the House.

In theory, any well-thought-out measure that uses new technologies to connect Canadians with their MPs is a good thing. For centuries, the rights of a free people have included the right to send petitions to government. Let us modernize that right by taking into account today's technological possibilities. According to the Parliament of Canada's existing rules, Canadians can send petitions to their MPs. If the petition has at least 25 signatures, the MP can present it in the House of Commons. The government is then required to respond within 45 days.

Motion No. 428 adds another more modern way of presenting a petition to the House to this traditional one. The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas is proposing that the content of any certified electronic petition that has a minimum number of signatures—he is suggesting that it be between 50,000 and 100,000—and is sponsored by at least five MPs be debated in the House of Commons. The debate would not result in a vote as such, but it would still encourage members to delve deeper into the subject or issue raised by the petition.

The underlying principle is good, but the details are still important. The committee should therefore give them serious consideration.

For example, it should consider the number of signatures required. What is the optimal number to avoid frivolous petitions? Why should electronic petitions trigger a take note debate, while traditional petitions generate a legal requirement for a government response? These debates would be time consuming for the House, so it is all the more important not to load its schedule with frivolous petitions.

The motion puts the onus on a minimum of five MPs to be the guardians of the seriousness of the petition. That sounds good to me, but it is assumed that they will refuse to table frivolous petitions. We need to be sure of that because we need to be honest with ourselves. Many MPs table any petitions they receive from their constituents, even if they do not necessarily support the views expressed by the petitions or do not believe the petition is very relevant.

An MP who believes any petition should be tabled is unlikely to be a good judge of what is and is not frivolous. It would also be good to ask that these fine MPs do not come from the same party, although if one day we have a House with only two parties, the government and the opposition, this idea could be dangerous because then the government could veto any petition not good for it.

The committee would also be wise to look at the experience of other parliaments and governments that are already accepting electronic petitions, including the National Assembly of Quebec.

The Quebec national assembly allows for electronic petitions to be submitted to an MNA who forwards them to the national assembly's secretary general who in turn decides if it is in order or not. If it is in order, the secretary general puts the petition online on the assembly's website. The secretary general also decides how long it will remain online to collect signatures, with a minimum of one week and a maximum of three months.

In the United Kingdom, the originator of a petition must register it with a particular department. This acts as a check against frivolous petitions. The petition is then online for up to one year. If it reaches 100,000 electronic signatures, it becomes eligible for debate on the floor of the House of Commons. The backbench business committee is responsible for scheduling any debates on e-petitions. The committee will not allow debate on any petition that deals with a matter before the courts or any topic that has recently been debated in the House.

In the United States, recently opened a new petitions site named "We the People", which allows Americans aged 13 years older to create any signed petitions online. There are two thresholds for the petitions to cross. Once a petition reaches 150 signatures within 30 days, it becomes publicly searchable on the website. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures within 30 days, the White House will generate an official response.

In short, we must carefully determine the terms and conditions of an appropriate e-petitioning system. The underlying principle is good because it gives Canadians a new way to make their opinions known at a time when they are dealing with the most closed and secretive government in our country's history. The government's failure to support this motion only serves as yet another example of that.

The Conservative government has been excessively secretive, opaque and dismissive of the rights to information. Indeed, the government has repeatedly refused to provide Canadians with details of its spending plans, even regarding huge spending items such as the F-35. It refused to give the former parliamentary budget officer the information to which he was entitled under the Parliament of Canada Act.

Scientists and other government experts, who are funded by taxpayers, are no longer allowed to speak freely and publicly about their work, which is important for all Canadians. This censorship has recently been extended to government archivists who are now prevented from speaking at conferences.

Access to information has never been so thwarted. It takes longer and longer for Canadians to receive responses to their ATIP requests when they are not simply denied. More often than not, those responses are heavily censored. Ten years ago, 66% of ATIPs were answered in 30 days. Now it is only 55%. The commissioner, Suzanne Legault, has said that budget cuts in departments seem to be slowing down response times and that systematic and unacceptable delays are eroding Canadians' right to know.

The governing party is forcing committees to sit in camera, out of sight of the public, for important debates. The government is making improper use of omnibus budget bills to alter acts of Parliament that have little to do with the budget and so on.

In conclusion, Motion No. 428 must be examined in committee, not just because it is a worthwhile initiative that seeks to establish a new way for Canadians to communicate with Parliament, but also because we have a government that is far too distant and secretive.

When faced with a government that builds new barriers between itself and the people, we must give the people new tools to break down those barriers.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to proudly support Motion No. 428, which was moved by my friend and colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas. I want to congratulate him on his excellent work and his vision for Canada's future. I congratulate him on behalf of my constituents.

Motion No. 428 would establish an electronic petitioning system in the House of Commons, in addition to the current paper-based system. This motion is designed to update the democratic procedures at the federal level, and it is consistent with the goal of allowing the Canadian public greater access to Canadian institutions.

Canadians are currently experiencing a crisis of confidence in our institutions, which is very unfortunate. Overall, Canadians are dissatisfied with the state of democracy in our country. There is a general dissatisfaction with certain institutions, and primarily with the Senate. We are also seeing record levels of voter abstention, particularly among young people and minorities. These abstention levels are alarming. An Elections Canada report showed that in the last federal election in 2011, voter turnout for people aged 18 to 24 was only 39%, which is 20 points lower than the national average of all age groups.

This crisis of confidence is not unfounded. Canada is currently suffering from a democratic deficit. Certain segments of the population are under-represented. Young people are the first to be under-represented, but cultural and linguistic minorities are as well. As a result, their opinions are often marginalized. The public has also lost its influence over the parliamentary agenda, as interest groups have taken over. In order for the public to have its say on the agenda, it must go through the cumbersome and complicated process for submitting a paper petition to the House of Commons. The existing system—paper petitions in particular—is inadequate and does not help promote democracy.

My dear colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, and I believe that electronic petitions will help bring us one step closer to equality and justice and will help include the public in the democratic process. Introducing an electronic petitioning system at the federal level will be a simple, concrete change, but it will have an immediate impact on the public. The stakes are huge here. This is about bringing Canadian democracy into the 21st century, with a focus on openness and transparency.

We feel it is important to strengthen existing rights by taking advantage of opportunities offered by technology. The Internet is part of the daily lives of Canadians, but it is currently underutilized by our institutions. Young Canadians are literally born with computers in their hands. We need to bring our political practices in line with the times. It is our responsibility to take advantage of the opportunity presented to us and make the Internet a real tool for democracy by allowing electronic petitions in the House of Commons. The positive impact this measure would have on democracy is significant, and that impact would be both symbolic and practical. Elected officials and the public would be more closely connected if we were to simplify access to the parliamentary agenda.

Electronic petitions are one tool that could help restore public confidence in our institutions and in the effectiveness of democracy in Canada. In addition, electronic petitions would give Canadians more opportunities to express their views. This is not about replacing current procedures involving paper petitions with a completely electronic version. It is about an additional way of sharing opinions and giving under-represented groups—youth and cultural and language minorities, for example—a voice.

My colleague opposite, the member for Oxford, is opposed to the motion, which I find unfortunate and somewhat shocking. He criticized the fact that the motion suggests triggering a debate in the House if the petition has a certain number of signatures. He feels that it would trigger debates on frivolous issues. If the member believes that the concerns of Canadians are “frivolous”, I wonder why he is representing his constituents here in the House.

Some people may say that the risk of the bill is that it could overwhelm the parliamentary agenda with a flood of irrelevant or airy-fairy petitions. However, I stand here today to reassure my colleagues and fellow members of Parliament regarding the impact of such a measure on our institutions. Our goal with Motion No. 428 is to establish a rationalized procedure of electronic petitioning in Canada. To do so, we intend to draw our inspiration from some national and international examples of successful implementation of electronic petitioning.

On the one hand, specific modalities of implementation would presuppose two conditions for an electronic petition to be presented to the House of Commons. First would be a threshold of 50,000 electronic signatures, and, second, the necessity for at least five MPs to sponsor the petition. The benefit of such limitations would result in only relevant petitions actually being debated by the MPs.

On the other hand, electronic petitioning has been tried and tested by a variety of actors at a variety of levels. Wherever it has been applied, it constitutes a breakthrough for democracy. In foreign countries, for instance, the United Kingdom, electronic petitioning has been successfully applied since November 2006, and also in Canada, where electronic petitioning procedures are already used by the province of Quebec.

Finally, non-profit organizations and democracy watchdogs such as OpenMedia or Leadnow, recently conducted promising experiments concerning electronic petitioning at the national scale, based on the international success of organizations and activist networks such as Avaaz or Change. Nevertheless, OpenMedia and Leadnow ultimately faced the impossibility of submitting their e-petitions to the House because of their electronic nature.

To conclude, I want to insist on the urgent necessity to reform our institutions in order to restore the confidence of our citizens in Canada. Levels of dissatisfaction concerning the way democracy works and operates in Canada is getting higher every day. Simply said, Canadians are frustrated by the lack of transparency, accessibility and accountability of the Conservative government.

MPs from the NDP, including me, are convinced that such a reform requires a deep modernization of our institutional procedures. Our first concern is to ensure reintegration of Canadian youth and under-represented groups in the democratic process. It is our duty to provide our citizens with every opportunity to take part in the democratic life of our country and to express their opinions. It is also our duty to ensure equality and justice in terms of democratic participation, by opening and facilitating the access to political processes as much as we possibly can.

As members of Parliament, the demands of the people have to remain our main focus when setting the parliamentary agenda. Adopting an electronic petitioning procedure at the federal level would constitute a first step to putting those words into actions.

Moreover, I share the belief with my colleagues of the New Democratic Party that the conditions have been met for such a measure to be successfully implemented in Canada. Indeed, we now have the necessary insight and a sufficient number of examples of application of e-petitions, at the national and international levels, to draw our inspiration from. We are fully aware of the benefits and criticisms pertaining to electronic petitioning and we possess enough empirical data to set appropriate limitations.

In essence, methods of citizen participation through e-petition do exist and have been tested and approved by others. The only thing left is for us to incorporate them in our institutional framework so that Canadian citizens can make better and proper use of electronic petitioning. On that matter, we are deeply convinced that Canadians are ready and willing to appropriate these new ways of expression. A study conducted in March 2013 by polling institute Angus Reid shows that 80% of Canadians are in favour of electronic petitioning.

I sincerely hope we all share the feeling of emergency concerning the current situation in Canada, as well as the belief in the necessity to react as quickly as possible.

I hope I have convinced all members of the potential of Motion No. 428 in terms of restoring the confidence of Canadians in our democratic institutions. Of course, the New Democratic Party and I intend to consider the fears and reservations of our fellow MPs, and as a result will call for a debate on the question at committee.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on Motion No. 428, sponsored by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, on electronic petitions. My colleague has a keen interest in the role of Parliament and its members and an awareness of the experience of other jurisdictions with electronic petitions.

I want to emphasize our government's commitment to a strong role for Parliament. All members know that our government's first act after forming government in 2006 was to pass the Federal Accountability Act, which made comprehensive reforms to the way Ottawa does business. As a result of this unprecedented legislation, government accountability has been strengthened, including accountability to Parliament. Our government has continued with further actions to promote democratic reform and open and transparent government.

Turning to Motion No. 428, the first part of the motion would instruct the procedure and House affairs committee to recommend changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to establish an electronic petition system. The second part would require the committee to consider, among other things, the possibility of a debate in the House outside of sitting hours when a threshold of signatures is reached.

The committee would have to table its report within 12 months of the motion being adopted. Under the terms of the motion, the committee would be required to include recommended changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions to implement the electronic petition system. In other words, the motion requires that the committee's report leads to the implementation of an electronic petition system for the House.

Our current petition system is set out in Standing Order 36, which is based on the principles of representative democracy and the fundamental role of the individual member of Parliament. It is widely used, and about 2,000 petitions were presented by members in 2012.

The rules require that petitions must be certified correct by the clerk of petitions before they are presented. House rules specify that at least 25 Canadians must sign a petition using the proper format, including a statement of grievance, and an address to the House, the government, a minister, or a member of the House, for a response.

Members table petitions on behalf of constituents as a routine practice, and it is recognized that members may not always agree on the views in the specific petition. Following the presentation of the petition, the government must respond within 45 calendar days.

I believe that our current system functions effectively. The system is transparent. Canadians are able to tune in to our proceedings to see what petitions are being presented, or they can view a list of petitions presented in the House in Debates or Journals of the House.

As we consider Motion No. 428, it is helpful to note the experience of other jurisdictions that have already embraced this type of system. Most jurisdictions have a petition system similar to our current approach and appear to be satisfied with that approach. Some jurisdictions have recently implemented electronic petition systems as part of their legislature or as part of their government's operations.

In 2011, the United Kingdom House of Commons authorized electronic petitions. Petitions with at least 100,000 signatures can have a debate in the House or in Westminster Hall, a parallel chamber to the house.

In 2012, the United Kingdom had over 25 hours of debate on electronic petitions with at least 100,000 signatures. To date, these debates have included national issues such as health care and pension increases, as well as special interests, such as eliminating welfare benefits for convicted 2011 London rioters, heart surgery at a local hospital, and eliminating the badger cull.

The United Kingdom's experience suggests that while electronic petitions could theoretically increase the participation of citizens in the petition process, they could also be used by orchestrated special interests to force their issues on to the parliamentary agenda.

Similarly, the We The People electronic petition system, established by the White House in the United States, whereby petitions with at least 100,000 signatures are publicly recognized, has been used to advance such topics as the Star Wars-inspired Death Star and the deportation of a CNN journalist.

As a result, some commentators have suggested that an electronic petitions system can undermine representative democracy by recognizing or debating divisive or frivolous issues. I would ask members whether they would want to create an electronic petitions system if that were the result in Canada?

In addition, the creation of a new electronic petitions system and the addition of extra sitting hours for the House to debate petitions with a high number of signatures would be costly at a time of fiscal restraint. Furthermore, the requirement to put in place a process to verify thousands of online signatures could have a tremendous cost and prove to be quite onerous.

The member for Burnaby—Douglas has said that the electronic petitions would also “empower citizens to communicate their concerns to their elected representatives and to have the opportunity to set the agenda for debate in Ottawa”. As all members know, each day Canadians have many options for contacting their individual member of Parliament or the government. Members are regularly present in their constituency. We all have staff in both our constituency offices here in Ottawa and in our constituency, to help constituents with their requests, which often come through email or other electronic means. I would ask members whether an electronic petition system would improve our ability to serve our constituents.

As mentioned earlier, Motion No. 428 presupposes an outcome for the work of the procedure and House affairs committee, which would undermine the principle that committees are masters of their own affairs. It is one thing for the House to instruct a committee to undertake a study, but this motion oversteps the principle that the committees are masters of their own proceedings.

I sit as a member of the procedure and House affairs committee. It is a good committee. One of the reasons it works so well is that, at least in general, the opposition parties and the government tend to work collaboratively rather than being confrontational. There are times when we cannot come to agreement, but this tends to be the exception rather than the norm. Oftentimes the procedure and House affairs committee is able to come up with solutions that all parties can agree on.

Unfortunately, this motion does not allow for that type of solution. The motion prescribes the committee's resolution before the committee has had the opportunity to research the issue. I would ask the members whether they want to support a motion that would reduce the independence of House committees and the ability of members of committees to manage their own affairs.

In conclusion, the idea of electronic petitions may be novel to some, as on the surface it purports to increase constituent interaction with members of Parliament. However, international experience suggests that of the many countries who have considered this issue, many have decided not to implement this type of system.

The system is open to abuse by special interests, and in addition, the new electronic petition system would be costly. This is at a time when, at least on this side of the House, we are trying to save taxpayers' money rather than spend it. The wording of the motion would also undermine the principle of House committees being masters of their own affairs.

Before I finish, let me add that the procedure and House affairs committee is examining the Standing Orders. One of the issues that the committee could decide on is to review the effectiveness of a petitions approach. If there are areas of improvement needed, we could discuss that when we look at that larger study.

However, for the reasons I have stated, and there have been many, I am not prepared to support the motion at this time.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Victoria. I would advise him that he will have about seven minutes before time expires for debate in this hour.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak in the strongest terms possible in support of Motion No. 428, moved by my colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas.

He has been a leader in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in trying to come up with measures to improve Canadian democracy and to renew it. This is but one of the many examples that one could cite, and I salute the member for his concern for revitalizing Canadian democracy.

This measure, which seems such a small step, is definitely a step in that direction. Canadian democracy needs renewal. I say that because of the shocking statistic that just 39% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted in the last federal election, yet when we look at people in that age demographic, we see how plugged in they are. They are truly the digital generation.

However, this tool that would revitalize democracy for that generation may not be passed, if I understand what my friends across the way are saying.

What does this motion do? It simply asks for the committee on procedure and House affairs to be given the opportunity to examine this proposal and report back in no more than 12 months.

It is a measure that has been looked at elsewhere in parliaments over time, and it has been used, as the member has stated and others have stated, in other democracies around the world. It is part of American democracy at many state levels, and of course at the White House, as we were told. Quebec has had it as a feature. The United Kingdom has had it as a feature.

My friend the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley spoke about the potential cost of such a measure. Of course that ought to be considered and I am sure it will be considered, but what is the value against that cost of a more engaged population, a population particularly of younger Canadians, who seem so alienated, sadly, from our democracy? That, I say, is a value that we cannot put a price on. This is an important tool in that direction.

The same member spoke about the Accountability Act in glowing terms. Well, this is about accountability. I know about it from the experience of working many years ago with the justice and solicitor general committee. The current Minister of Justice was a backbencher serving on that committee, and I was a consultant who came up with 100 recommendations to improve the accountability measure that was called the Access to Information and Privacy Act.

Those recommendations have never seen the light of day, despite the fact that they were the subject of unanimous approval. It was an effort toward greater transparency that has been lost. The Accountability Act, to quote Macbeth, is “...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” unless measures of this sort are taken in conjunction with it to put meat on the bones.

I know that other members of the Conservative backbench support initiatives of this sort. They are strongly in favour of moving us toward a more accountable and transparent democracy, and I salute the member for Edmonton—St. Albert as one of those, although I understand he is no longer a member of the Conservative caucus, perhaps because he still believes in the accountability of which the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley spoke.

I also salute the member for Burnaby—Douglas for going to the trouble of spending the money to get a survey to find out whether Canadians care about this issue. I am pleased that over 81% support or strongly support an initiative of this sort. That, it seems to me, is telling.

All we are saying is to give it to the committee so that the committee can have a look at it and come back to Parliament with ways to make it work.

My friend talked about frivolous petitions like Star Wars that other jurisdictions have encountered. I am confident that parliamentarians would be able to figure it out and make it work. We are practical, pragmatic people. Canadians would make this work because we want it to work and because we need to find ways to engage our youth.

We talk about marginalized groups that are strongly in support of this measure, and there are many such groups. That is critically important, but I am focusing my attention on the need to engage youth, because I am very concerned about the functioning of our democracy going forward. This is the digital generation, as I say, and they need to have tools of this sort to make it work.

I am so pleased that my friend pointed out the support of people like Preston Manning and Ed Broadbent. When parliamentarians from across the spectrum have both spoken so passionately in favour of this measure—from both sides of the aisle, so to speak, or from both sides of the political spectrum—it is indicative and demonstrative of the support that initiatives of this sort are getting and will get from Canadians of all political stripes.

I have worked with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as part of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, on which I had the honour to serve, and it is strongly in support of this measure because it believes, as the Conservatives say they believe, in accountability.

I also see that Leadnow, which has done so much to promote environmental responsibility in British Columbia and across Canada, has also said very clearly that it fully supports bringing electronic petitions to Parliament, as “it will help strengthen the voice of Canadians and enable them to reach decision-makers more effectively”.

I particularly salute Leadnow because it has been so effective in engaging the youth of whom I have spoken before.

In conclusion, I urge all members of Parliament to examine this measure carefully and fairly. It is only an effort to get it to the committee to do the job required. It already has built-in mechanisms, so we would not have frivolous petitions as a consequence. It would help engage the youth of Canada and, as I say, restore and renew democracy, particularly for those young Canadians who have lost hope in our system.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The time provided for consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from May 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-56, an act to amend the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Combating Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Before we resume debate, I need to inform the House that because of the proceedings on the time allocation motion, government orders will be extended by 30 minutes.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.

Combating Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.


Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, here we are again, debating another bill that was put under time allocation, which is 44 or 45 times now.

The irony in this instance is that the government could have had an agreement with the opposition to speed the debate of this bill so that we would be using less time in the House than it took to bring in the time allocation motion, vote on it and then provide a full day of debate, because we in the NDP do want to see this bill go back to committee, where it can be approved. Therefore, we will be supporting it at second reading.

Again, we had time allocation brought in before the Minister of Industry, the person presenting the bill, had even spoken to it. We did not have one full speech in this House. There was a speech by the member for Simcoe—Grey, who spent half of her speech laughing at jokes being told to her by other caucus members. We did not have one full speech before time allocation was brought in.

I would say humbly that this is not democracy. This is not how Parliament is supposed to work. We are supposed to have the opportunity to have full debates in the House on the various issues that are brought forward.

Bill C-56, an act to amend the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which is now otherwise titled the “combating counterfeit products act”, is an important issue. It is my honour to rise today to present the lead-off speech on Bill C-56 for the NDP and the official opposition.

Normally our industry critic, the member for LaSalle—Émard, would be leading off on second reading comments on this bill. Our critic had planned to give her remarks on Friday when this bill was supposed to come up for debate; however, because of time allocation and the government playing games, we are here Wednesday evening instead, again preventing certain members of Parliament from participating in this debate in the way that they would like to.

In their rush to introduce yet more record-breaking time allocation motions—as I said, we are at 46 now—the Conservatives rescheduled all the House business this week.

As the NDP's deputy industry critic, it is indeed my privilege to address this bill on behalf of the official opposition. This is a bill the NDP takes very seriously, as opposed to the Conservative government, it would appear, because this bill was presented originally in March. It did not come up for debate until the end of May. Recommendations for this bill were made in a committee report in 2007, again in 2009, and then there were more recommendations from the industry committee in an intellectual property study that was done earlier this year. It has taken the government a very long time to start bringing these forward for implementation.

We have yet to have a whole speech by the Minister of Industry on this bill. Even then, if it was not going to be the minister, we would have thought that maybe it would be the parliamentary secretary, the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, but that was not the case.

When the government presents a bill, it is supposed to justify why it is bringing that bill forward. It has yet to do that and has already implemented time allocation.

Instead of a full presentation by the government, what we had was the parliamentary secretary for human resources and skills development getting up and presenting a very short speech on this bill. In her speech she spent a lot of the time laughing and did not seem to be taking the bill seriously. It was so bad that the Speaker had to interrupt and ask if she was able to continue.

I mention all this because it seems to speak to the Conservative government's contempt for Parliament and to its continual practice of introducing legislation that can never be properly implemented because its budget cuts make it impossible.

There are many clichés we would use, but the Conservatives keep putting forth pieces of legislation that are either empty shells or just cherry-picked from among the many recommendations that we need to implement to have solid pieces of legislation. They put forth rules and regulations that perhaps cannot be enforced, because those budget cuts mean that no one will be there to enforce them.

Recent examples include Bill C-51, the safer witnesses act, which the Conservatives put forward without the funding in place to make many of its provisions actually meaningful. Another one, Bill C-54 would make changes to how we would deal with people deemed not criminally responsible, however, it would download the responsibility for mental health care onto the very provinces, which are having their health care budgets slashed again by the Conservative government.

Bill C-56 is another example of the Conservatives playing the shell game they so like to play. It is legislation that on one hand imposes some good rules and on the other hand, through the budget, cuts the jobs of those who are supposed to be enforcing these new rules. I will come back to that point later in my remarks.

Let me say upfront, again, that the NDP will support the bill at second reading so it can be sent back to committee and, we hope, fixed to maximum its impact. However, it would indeed be a first at our committee, if we actually saw recommendations and amendments that we brought forward voted on and passed by the Conservatives on the committee. That would be groundbreaking.

The bill dealing with counterfeiting and copyright infringement is important for both Canadian businesses and consumers, especially where counterfeit goods may put the health and safety of Canadians at risk. We will support the bill so it can go back to committee for further study and we want to ensure we maintain the necessary balance on copyright and trademarks.

For instance, the bill would give ex officio powers to our border officers, which the NDP has been calling for since 2007. However, it is very difficult to see how this will be implemented when, last year, the Conservatives slashed $143 million in funding to CBSA, which further reduced front-line officers and harmed our ability to monitor our borders.

CBSA expects to lose several hundred front-line officers by 2015. It is also important to note that in the past the government repeatedly has refused to take a balanced approach to copyright. The NDP believes that intellectual property requires an approach that strikes a balance between the interests of rights holders and the interest of users and consumers.

I will now take a few minutes to explain some of the details of the bill.

Bill C-56, the combating counterfeit products act, would amend both the Copyright Act and the Trademark Act. Its purpose is to strengthen enforcement of copyright and trademark rights and to curtail commercial activity involving infringing copies or counterfeit trademarks.

The proposed bill will add two new criminal offences under the Copyright Act for possession and exportation of infringing copies and creates offences for selling or offering counterfeit goods on a commercial scale. It creates a prohibition against importing or exporting infringing copies and counterfeit goods and introduces some balance to that prohibition by creating two exceptions: first, for personal use, items that are in one's possession or baggage; or second, items in transit. It also, as I said, grants new ex officio powers to border officials to detain infringing copies or counterfeit goods, a significant policy shift. Until now, border officials required a warrant before seizing infringing copies or goods at the border.

It also grants new ex officio powers to the Minister of Public Safety and border officials to share information on detained goods with the right holders so they can actually see what is being brought in and take measures themselves to combat that counterfeit and trademark infringement.

That is important, because the businesses do a great job of trying to protect their own products. Seeing what is coming into the country illegally and what products are counterfeited can give them ideas about how to combat that counterfeiting better for themselves.

The proposed bill widens the scope of what can be trademarked to the features found in the broad definition of sign, including colour, shapes, scents and tastes. Measuring the problem in counterfeit goods and copies in Canada and its corresponding impact on the economy is difficult.

The New Democrats, nevertheless, support dealing with counterfeiting, especially where health and safety concerns are at stake. As I have mentioned, it remains unclear to me and many others how the CBSA could implement these enforcement measures in the face of the cuts from budget 2012.

The United States and many industry groups have long called for border measures on counterfeiting. It remains important to continue to be vigilant to ensure that intellectual property laws balance the rights and interests of rights holders with those of consumers and users.

The government has long been aware of the difficulties in measuring the scale of counterfeiting for copies and goods in Canada, a challenge that was identified in a 1998 OECD report on “The Economic Impact of Counterfeiting”. One of the difficulties results from the clandestine nature of counterfeiting. Much of the data is estimated and based on actual seizures, which is anecdotal or comes from industry itself, in which case the collection methods may vary or be unavailable to assess.

In 2007, the industry committee report on counterfeiting recommended that the government establish a reporting system that would track investigations, charges and seizures for infringing copies and counterfeit goods as a means of collecting data.

A recent Industry Canada report published this year notes that, “It is difficult to obtain a precise estimate of the market for counterfeit or pirated products in Canada”. Why? Because, again, the government has delayed bringing this legislation forward. Even now that it has, the Conservatives have not put provisions into the bill to implement those measures I just spoke of so we can start collecting more robust data to more accurately determine the economic impacts of counterfeit and trademark infringement in Canada.

As I said, much of the information in Canada comes from statistics about actual seizures. Industry Canada notes that the retail value of counterfeit goods seized by the RCMP increased from $7.6 million in 2005 to $38 million in 2012.

In 2009, the OECD estimated that the international trade in counterfeit goods and infringing copies could be valued at up to $250 billion U.S. It is a mind-boggling number that there would be that many counterfeit and trademark infringed goods travelling around the world. Law-abiding companies are losing out on much of that revenue.

The same study also reiterated previous calls for better information. We know anecdotally that counterfeit products can pose risks to the health and safety of consumers, whether we are talking about counterfeit electrical components or unsanitary stuffing in goose-down jackets.

I mention unsanitary stuffing in goose-down jackets because when we were at committee, many different Canadian businesses and organizations presented before the committee. One such company was Canada Goose, which is certainly a Canadian success story. However, representatives of Canada Goose brought with them some counterfeit Canada Goose jackets they had collected. The things contained within those counterfeit jackets would make one's toes curl. There were things like feces in the lining, feathers that were not properly treated and sanitized before being stuffed in the jackets. Certainly they were not goose down or coyote fur. Many different animals were being used.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult, on the surface, to detect these jackets as being counterfeit. When we put a real Canada Goose jacket next to a counterfeit jacket, they looked identical. It was not until we took a microscope to it or started to pull the jacket apart that we started to see that one of the jackets was indeed counterfeit.

Other representatives that came before the committee were from Hockey Canada. They talked about the last Olympics we had in Canada and about professional sports jerseys. They found, through studies they conducted and at the Olympics, that sometimes in professional sporting events, up to 70% to 75% of the jerseys being worn at the games were counterfeit. Consumers are unwittingly buying illegal and counterfeit products when they try to support their sports teams. At the Olympics in Vancouver, many stops and arrests were made of individuals selling counterfeit Olympic paraphernalia and products.

It is a growing problem because there is a financial incentive there. There is money to be made in counterfeit goods. We certainly have a responsibility to try to stop as much of it at the border as we can. As for the stuff that gets across the border, we have to deal with it here and hold the appropriate people responsible.

In many cases, as I have said, it is very difficult for consumers to detect whether they are buying legitimate products. However, vigilance is also important and people who have any concerns about products they are buying should go to the manufacturers' websites and contact people in law enforcement if they think they have bought something illegal. There are many things people can do to prevent these crimes and, indeed, to ensure the products they are buying are legitimate.

Dealing with counterfeiting is important to both Canadian businesses and consumers. It is especially important where counterfeit goods put the health and safety of Canadians at risk. Yet again it remains unclear how the enforcement regime being proposed by Bill C-56 will be resourced. This bill would add significant new responsibilities to the duties of border officials during a time of significant budget reductions.

In budget 2012, the Conservatives imposed $143 million in cuts to CBSA, reducing front-line officers and further reducing our ability to monitor the borders. This is interesting. This year's CBSA report on plans and priorities alone indicates a loss of 549 full-time employees between now and 2015. At a time when there is more trade, goods and people crossing the border, we will be cutting front-line officers? It makes absolutely no sense.

Under Bill C-56, customs officers would be asked to make highly complicated assessments on whether goods entering or exiting the country infringed on any copyright or trademark rights. Such an assessment for infringing copyright would include, for example, consideration of whether any of the exceptions under the Copyright Act would apply, something with which the courts often struggle. The New Democrats want the CBSA to be adequately funded to implement this bill without compromising the other responsibilities of protecting Canadians and our borders from things like drugs, guns and other threats.

The United States has lobbied for stronger enforcement measures in Canada for counterfeit and pirated goods for many years. In the 2012 special 301 watch report, the office of the U.S. trade representative stated that the U.S. “continues to urge Canada to strengthen its border enforcement efforts, including by providing customs officials with ex officio authority to take action against the importation, exportation, and transshipment of pirated or counterfeit goods”.

In its June 2012 report on counterfeiting in the Canadian market, the Canadian Intellectual Property Council, a sub-group of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, identified counterfeiting as a barrier to competitiveness and specifically recommended that customs officials have ex officio powers, that Canadian law be amended to bring criminal and civil sanctions for counterfeiting and piracy and that enforcement officials be encouraged to seek strong remedies for infringements.

It bears saying that many of the requests the United States made are, indeed, in this bill. Providing ex officio powers to the CBSA in order to track, monitor and confiscate copyright and trademark infringed goods are terribly important to our long-term safety.

In its recently tabled report, “Intellectual Property Regime in Canada”, the committee recommended border measures that we supported, including providing appropriate ex officio powers to customs officials, civil and criminal remedies for trademark infringement and counterfeiting, allowing customs officials to share information with rights holders regarding suspected goods. All members of the committee agreed that consumers acting non-wilfully should not be subject to excessive fines.

The New Democrats on the committee, of which I am one, filed a dissenting opinion that called on the government to also consult with consumer groups, as well as industry groups, in an effort to combat counterfeiting and piracy, that border officials receive appropriate authority to do their work while respecting civil liberties and due process and that the CBSA be adequately funded to combat counterfeiting without compromising its other important responsibilities to protect Canadians and defend our borders.

Combating Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech from my hon. colleague from Scarborough Southwest, with whom I sit on the industry committee at the House where we have heard some of the things he talked about.

One of the things he did not mention is airbags. Some of the testimony we have had suggested that counterfeit airbags come into Canada. Sometimes those airbags under-inflate and do not do anything to protect the person. Sometimes they can be so heavily inflated that there is too much pressure, so when they are activated the label on the steering wheel can pierce a person's heart. This has been proven with tests, not with real people obviously. That is an example of the kind of hazard these products can present to Canadians.

I want to ask my colleague about whether he thinks we need to have an education process in addition to this bill to educate Canadians. Also, is he concerned about the fact that this bill would allow goods to arrive in Canada and then be shipped to the U.S. or another country without being stopped or examined?

Combating Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.


Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my good friend on the industry committee for his hard work on the committee as well.

He brought up airbags, a health and safety issue. Of course, when a car gets into an accident and airbags deploy, they keep people safe. This really does demonstrate the challenges that exist potentially for border officials to monitor and track what is coming into the country. Certainly any goods coming into Canada should be subject to potential inspection and seizure. We as a country do not want to be unwittingly contributing to problems in other countries because of counterfeit goods.

Not only does the public need education, but if we are giving these new powers to border officials in order to be able to seize these goods, they have to be able to identify them. They have to be able to run tests, for instance, on airbags and other products. We have heard some troubling stories in the United States where military procurement has been impacted by counterfeit goods that ended up in military planes and even in civilian planes and other areas. These counterfeit goods could have catastrophic impacts, including loss of human life.

Certainly we do not want to be receiving those goods, nor do we want to be receiving them and then shipping them elsewhere. We should certainly be looking at all the goods that cross our borders, whether they are leaving here or staying.