House of Commons Hansard #264 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parks.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand today to speak on a bill that I acknowledge has come forward from a private member who deserves a lot of merit. Obviously the individual has put in a great deal of time and thought in bringing the bill forward.

In reading through his speech, I found that the MP for Langley made reference to a very personal situation in his constituency. I thought it was worth repeating because by doing so, we get a better appreciation of why the member felt so compelled to bring in this private member's bill.

He stated:

...a sex offender was permitted to serve a house arrest right next door to his young victim. In another case, the sex offender served house arrest across the street from the young victim. In both cases, the poor victims lived in fear and were re-victimized every time they saw their attacker.

I can appreciate why the member found this completely unacceptable.

All sorts of different crimes take place in our communities. When a crime is against a person, such as a physical assault or a sexual crime of any nature, it has quite a different impact compared with, let us say, a home break-in or a car theft, which are crimes of property damage.

We want our laws to not only ensure that there is some sort of a consequence when a person commits a crime but also that we can provide support for our victims, and we do that in different ways.

We want to prevent victims from being re-victimized by the same individual who might have caused them harm in the first place. I believe that is what the member is attempting to do with this piece of legislation. That is the reason I am very sympathetic to and comfortable with what the member is proposing to the House.

The restriction that we are talking about, a two-kilometre perimeter to not knowingly be in the presence of or living near a victim, seems to be a reasonable request.

Not travelling in a vehicle with someone who is 16 and under again seems to be a reasonable request.

There are all sorts of situations that could arise that I think members will try to deal with in a fair fashion, and I think that in this situation we are seeing just that.

I noted that the new restriction on sex offenders that is being proposed would prohibit sex offenders from being in close proximity to their victims. That is a substantive and ultimately, perhaps, a very useful change. That is why we feel fairly comfortable supporting the initiative from the member.

It is important that we recognize that often the interests of a victim are ignored, even though it might be unintentional, when a judge or another area of our judicial system takes an action.

The focus of our system is to look at the criminal and ensure that an appropriate consequence to whatever type of crime might have been committed is actually put into place. We think in terms of the consequence. Often, at times, the aspect that is left out is the consideration given to victims.

In this situation, we have a proactive approach in recognizing that there is more we could do. As such, the member is proposing an amendment to two pieces of legislation that would go a long way in dealing with that concern.

It is important that we recognize, as I have, that a sexual offence is a unique kind of offence that makes victims quite vulnerable. The violation is unique in comparison to other types of crimes, and we need to take that into consideration. There is a profound psychological impact that will often follow an individual for many years after being the victim of a sexual crime. Often victims will relive or suffer the consequences of the crime, while the perpetrator of the crime may come back into the community. As the member has pointed out, a perpetrator living next door to or always being around the victim re-victimizes the individual every time she or, in the odd case, he sees the perpetrator.

That said, it is important that we recognize that the bill is an attempt to prevent someone from being re-victimized. I appreciate the manner in which it has been brought forward.

Liberals take the issue of crime and safety in our communities very seriously. We want to ensure that our judicial system allows our judges the discretion to make good rulings and deliver appropriate consequences in all ways, as much as possible. By doing that, we are allowing judges to take into consideration a wide variety of potential reasons and rationales as to why a crime might have been committed in the first place, to contrast that with a number of other variables and to come up with a fair and just disposition.

Upon reflection, we might see that we do not necessarily have a perfect system. I do not believe any society in the world has a perfect system. At times there is a need to make changes to improve the system we have. In my short term in Ottawa, legislation has passed that has not necessarily taken a fair approach in the delivery of justice, but on occasion legislation with a great deal of merit in what it is hoping to achieve has passed and would receive fairly wide support.

It is the principle of what is being proposed that makes me fairly comfortable in saying that it is, in essence, a good bill that deserves support. I anticipate that it will likely pass.

Hopefully it will make a difference going forward, as I suspect it will, because, as I say, we are talking about a type of crime that makes a lot of people feel quite vulnerable because of its very nature.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-489, a bill that proposes to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

I would like to begin by recognizing the member for Langley for his hard work in bringing this important bill forward.

I would like to start by commending the hard work done by the member for Langley to introduce this bill to the House.

Like others in the House, I am a relatively new member here. However, in the few years I have been the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, I have already encountered the very challenging situation on which this bill proposes to take action. I suspect I am not the only parliamentarian who has encountered these difficult situations.

When a victim who has been violently sexually assaulted learns that the criminal responsible seeks to return to the very same neighbourhood where these crimes were committed, serious challenges arise. Likewise, when a child predator desires to return to a neighbourhood, there are similar challenges.

These are not hypothetical situations. In fact, there have been three such incidents occurring in my riding over the past few years. These situations re-victimize and create legitimate fear. In some situations, it is even worse. No citizens should be forced to live in fear within their own neighbourhood.

When these situations arise and fearful citizens meet with their elected representatives, they need our help. They need action. That is why I commend the member for Langley, as his bill creates new tools that would help find the solution to these challenging situations.

This bill would enhance the safety of victims, children and the public when an offender is released into their community. Specifically, the bill proposes to amend existing provisions that provide authority to impose conditions on offenders who are already subject to probation orders, conditional sentences, child sexual offender prohibitions, child sexual offender peace bonds and conditional release orders made pursuant to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which include parole and temporary absences from federal penitentiaries. These five different orders cover the vast majority of situations where criminal offenders are released into a community.

The amendments proposed in Bill C-489 would ensure that courts take into consideration the implications that contact could create between an offender and victims, their families and witnesses. As an example, some of the proposed amendments would create mandatory non-contact conditions, while others would create new legal tools for the court to impose similar conditions on a discretionary basis.

Currently, section 161 of the Criminal Code does provide sentencing courts with the discretion to impose post-release conditions on offenders convicted of child sexual offences. These conditions can include prohibitions from attending a public place such as a park, playground or community centre where children are present; seeking, obtaining or continuing any employment that involves being in a position of trust toward a child; having any contact with a child; and using the Internet. In contrast, Bill C-489 proposes to add two new conditions to this list that would allow a geographical condition restricting the offender from being within two kilometres of a home where a victim might be present without a parent or guardian, and the ability to prohibit an offender from being in a private vehicle with a child.

Bill C-489 also proposes important amendments to the list of mandatory conditions imposed upon an offender released into the community under a probation order, a conditional sentence order or a conditional release order made pursuant to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

In particular, it is proposed that sentencing courts or the Parole Board of Canada be required to prohibit offenders from communicating with victims, witnesses or other persons named in the order. This could also include a prohibition from going to any specified place.

What I view as important in Bill C-489 is that these conditions are considered mandatory. In other words, it becomes the default standard that in these situations offenders are prohibited from making contact with their victims.

However, Bill C-489 also recognizes that if exceptional circumstances exist, the court or parole board may choose not to impose them. In other words, there is still flexibility. However, the default standard is to protect the witness and not the offender. In these exceptional circumstances, the court or parole board would be required to provide written reasons for not imposing such a condition. This would bring increased accountability and transparency to the process.

Bill C-489 also proposes to amend peace bonds, as defined under section 810.1. Currently, peace bonds are court-imposed orders that are issued when there are reasonable grounds to believe that an individual may commit a child sexual offence. These orders may be in effect to a maximum of two years and can also be renewed. Currently, these orders contain conditions that a judge believes are appropriate in the circumstances to prevent an offender from committing a child sexual offence.

Bill C-489 proposes to add new discretionary conditions that could prohibit communication with a person identified in the order or prohibit going to any specified place identified in the order. These new conditions would not be mandatory, and as such, would maintain the current discretionary approach that could be used by judges in issuing these orders. Ultimately, I believe that the measures proposed in the bill would help to ensure victims were better protected from offenders.

There is no question that Bill C-489 would strengthen the tools of our justice system that could be used to prevent offenders released into a community from contacting victims or from travelling to other locations where such contact could occur. In other words, it would eliminate loopholes that can be exploited under our current system.

These proposals would also ensure that, by default, victims had protections that often can only occur under the present system after an unfortunate incident has occurred.

Victims of crime, their families and witnesses deserve this default level of protection from offenders. People deserve to feel safe in their communities. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-489 moving forward to committee for further review and study. I believe these amendments are important in helping to close existing loopholes and to better protect victims.

I sincerely believe that these amendments are essential to improving the Criminal Code's current provisions and ensuring better protection for the victims of crime.

I also believe that increased clarity and enhanced public safety provisions in the bill would be of benefit to offenders' long-term interests as well. The current system, in my view, allows too much potential for conflict and has too many loopholes. These amendments would increase public safety by better protecting the rights of victims and their loved ones.

I had the opportunity to teach martial arts professionally for 15 years. During that time I trained hundreds, if not thousands, of young persons to better protect themselves from child predators, to look out for themselves. One of the things I did during that time was to give them the tools to help protect them.

Recently, a child asked me if I missed teaching martial arts. I certainly do miss elements, but I am devoted to helping make sure children get the protection they need.

The member for Langley has put together some very important amendments that I feel would help close these loopholes and better protect these children. There are also the members for Kootenay—Columbia and for Brampton—Springdale. All of them have brought forward important amendments to help protect children.

I ask all hon. members to join with me and with the member for Langley and support these important changes that would help keep our families safe.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2013 / 5:50 p.m.


Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is never an easy thing to talk about a subject that concerns people who have been the victims of crimes such as violence or sexual assault. I can very clearly imagine the victims’ frame of mind.

Although the legislation permits a certain level of control over the accused or the person convicted of a crime, the restrictions with regard to the victim are not enforced immediately. At the moment, these restrictions are the responsibility of wardens, the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, and the Parole Board of Canada.

Bill C-489 makes it mandatory to impose certain provisions, which until now have been imposed on an ad hoc basis. This should help the victims of crime feel safer while at the same time giving them the tools they need to know what is happening with their attacker once the sentence has been handed down. Unlike other measures that have resulted from the Conservatives’ “tough on crime” mentality, I must admit that the bill is just common sense and it should be allowed to continue its course. I will therefore support the bill at second reading.

That said, I recommend that the government hold all the necessary consultations—I repeat, all the necessary consultations—and listen to what all those involved have to say, in order to draft legislation that is truly appropriate.

I am in favour of the bill because I fully support measures that promote fairness and protect victims. I approve of this measure in the same way and in the same spirit as I would approve of subsidized housing, for example. It is a social justice issue. It goes without saying that some victims of crime have suffered immeasurably. My desire to help them arises not from sensationalism, but from the point of view of a world where everyone is treated fairly. From this perspective, it makes sense to try to offer greater peace of mind to those who have lived through difficult and disturbing events.

That being said, the NDP will consult with victims’ groups in order to find out whether Bill C-489 really responds to their needs or whether it will only apply in rare cases. We have an opportunity to listen to them and draft a bill that is based on fact. We must seize this opportunity at any cost, and work together with the citizens of this country.

In addition to listening to what victims of crime have to say, I would also like to ensure the bill is scrupulously constitutional. Bill C-489 has all the elements for success, but we know that there is a weakness in terms of clause 1, the clause amending subsection 161(1) of the Criminal Code.

This reservation comes from the clerk of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business, who expressed concerns about the constitutionality of such a measure, one of his reasons being because the offender is expected to know the address of the victim’s residence. It should be noted that the committee nevertheless deemed the bill votable. It is surely not a shortcoming that is impossible to correct, and I am convinced that we will be able to clarify the matter before third reading.

In order to give the victims of crime the best protection we can, I think it is important to consider these few reservations. We have before us an opportunity to improve Bill C-489 and give Canadians a bill that lives up to their expectations.

Furthermore, it is interesting to mention the point of view of Michael Spratt, of the Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario. In Mr. Spratt's view, Bill C-489 may be difficult to enforce in its current state, because it may lead to disproportionate measures.

This bill is quite restrictive because of the mandatory nature of the measures it puts in place.

In addition, there are already provisions that impose a minimum distance of 100 metres between the criminal and the victim, and others that prohibit contact between those on probation and their victims. We know that it is not always a simple matter to ensure this is respected.

Mr. Spratt concluded that Bill C-489 would be difficult to enforce in small communities, as well as in urban areas, as the distances are smaller. In his view, the fact that the bill could technically be used in an extreme way in the case of relatively minor offences threatens its constitutionality.

These are interesting issues that have been brought forward by someone who knows what he is talking about. We will therefore have to consider the bill in greater detail and ensure that everything is correct. After all, if the Conservatives are defending the constitutionality of an institution as antiquated as the Senate, surely they will not have any problem refining Bill C-489.

I will not go as far as to say, as Mr. Spratt did, that the bill is a disproportionate response to very specific cases, but this is my own opinion. I think that there is in fact room for providing better protection for victims of crime. For instance, the bill could allow victims to have more information about the stages in their attacker's correctional process.

It may well be very worrying for a victim to be unaware of what is happening to the person who caused him harm, once the sentence has been handed down. Will the offender be getting out of prison soon? What is his behaviour like? Has he begun the rehabilitation process? For a person who has suffered enormously from someone else’s actions, it may be reassuring to believe that it is possible to correct deviant behaviour.

Furthermore, this is the underlying principle of our correctional system. I am pleased to see that the Conservatives all believe that a person can change and correct his behaviour, as it partly opens the door to many options that the core of their “tough on crime” approach obsolete.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I support Bill C-489 at second reading because I believe we must help victims of crime for the simple reason that it is fair to do so. However, I urge the House to listen carefully to the recommendations made by those who are the most affected by considering the recommendations made by groups representing victims of crime.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, like so many of my colleagues, I am happy to be able to speak today with respect to my colleague's private member's bill, Bill C-489, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders).

I am proud to support this bill. It is another great piece of legislation that has been brought forward either by our government or members of our government who bring forward what I like to describe as, in many cases, common sense and practical solutions to some of the issues that are facing our criminal justice system today.

It reminds me of a couple of other pieces of legislation that we have brought forward, for example, when we brought forward the issue with victim surcharges. Part of the problem in that case was that judges were not imposing the surcharge, and when they did not, they were supposed to give written reasons. We found out that 90% of the time that surcharges were not imposed, the judges did not actually give written reasons. We made it mandatory that those victim surcharges would be put in place.

This bill would continue to support our agenda to make sure that our streets and communities are safe for all Canadians. It does it in a couple of meaningful ways, and I will go into that as I speak about it.

In a quick summary, the bill would ensure that sentencing courts and parole boards more regularly impose conditions when appropriate to prohibit specific types of contact between offenders and their victims. It proposes that such conditions be imposed to protect witnesses and other individuals who need similar protection.

Again, I say these kinds of things that are being brought forward just make sense. If we asked the average person if there should be conditions to prohibit types of conduct between offenders and victims, people would say, “Yes, that makes sense”.

I am not surprised that in many instances the opposition and opposition members would suggest this bill is not necessary, because the current law already provides that this could take place, but that is the problem. These conditions are not being put in place in many circumstances.

That is the same issue as the victim surcharge issue. For example, in this case, prohibition orders always include three mandatory conditions. These conditions are to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, of course the promise to appear when required, and to notify the court or probation officer in advance of any change of name or address, or any change of employment or occupation.

A sentencing court may also impose any of the optional conditions that are set out in subsection 732.1(3) of the Criminal Code, which includes drug and alcohol prohibitions, restrictions against travel, weapon prohibitions, requirements to support dependants and community service conditions.

The list of mandatory and optional conditions does not include conditions that restrict contact between offenders and victims. This is what I go back to when I say these reforms are such common sense things. One would think that would be at the top of the agenda, restricting contact between the perpetrator of a crime and the victim of a crime. Sentencing courts are also not required to provide reasons when they do not choose to do that. I would submit that makes absolutely no sense when we take a moment to think about it.

Lastly, subsection 732.1(g.1) provides a residual condition under which a court may impose reasonable conditions that are desirable for protecting society and for facilitating the offender's successful reintegration into the community. It is only pursuant to this residual provision that a sentencing court has the authority to impose a condition that would limit contact between the victim and the offender, or prevent the offender from moving across the street from the victim. It is a residual provision.

This is why a reform like this is so absolutely necessary. There are some examples in the case law where sentencing courts have imposed conditions restricting contact between offenders and their victims. For instance, in the case of R v. Horton, the offender, a G20 demonstrator, was made subject to a condition of non-contact with a named police officer who was a victim of the offender's actions.

That said, the appellate decision on the use of this provision underlined the problems with respect to its use in limiting contact between offenders and their victims. Specifically, the courts may refuse such conditions if by their nature they act against the successful reintegration of the offender. This is upside down. This is topsy-turvy. This is what we are talking about. We are putting the rights of the person who perpetrated a crime ahead of the rights of a victim. These imbalances need to be addressed in our justice system.

The Supreme Court of Canada stressed that in order for the probation order conditions to be lawful, they must not offend the objectives of protecting society or the successful reintegration of the offender. It is saying both are important and have to be given due consideration. Two Supreme Court of Canada cases, R. v. Proulx and R. v. Shoker, were very clear about this principle. There must be a nexus between the condition imposed, the offender's behaviour, the protection of society and the successful reintegration of the offender into society. We are trying to reinstitute that balance to make sure that the victim and protection of society is going to be back in that equation. However, as I said, the offender's interests supersedes the rights of the victim and the protection of society, and that is exactly what we are going to address with this legislation.

A good example of this can be found in the decision of R. v. Rowe, where the Ontario Court of Appeal found that a condition directing a repeat domestic violent offender to stay out of the province of Ontario for the duration of the probation order would be an obstacle to the successful reintegration of the offender, a repeat domestic violent offender. That kind of an order is an obstacle to reintegration. What about the obstacle to the victim? That is what we are trying to put back into focus. This is a problem that makes relying on the existing provision difficult and why we need this reform.

As I stated before, the courts are not required to provide reasons for not imposing such conditions, so we do not even know if that condition was considered by the judge or why the judge considered it and did not impose it. These are the kinds of problems that we have with the existing legislation. As a result of this, non-contact conditions simply fall through the cracks, and victims are asking why no one thought about them, why are they falling through the cracks? These are important reforms.

Bill C-489 proposes a real sound solution to the problem that we are talking about. I go back to this again. What I say often is that it is common sense. When explained to average people on the street that we are making this kind of a change, they are shocked that the law did not provide for this before. They cannot believe it. The justice committee is studying some of the changes to not criminally responsible, and we let them know what some of the changes are. People cannot believe that the changes that we are proposing are not already in existence now.

Bill C-489 proposes to amend the probation provisions to make it mandatory for the courts to impose non-contact conditions, unless there are exceptional circumstances not to do so or unless the victim or other individuals mentioned in the order consent. This is going to give more protection, more mental protection as well, to victims. Imagine that a perpetrator continues to be in contact with a victim of domestic violence. The victim will ask why some kind of prohibition order was not put in place.

Many of the concerns I have identified are applicable to other orders. This is why Bill C-489 proposes that the same types of conditions be mandatory for conditional sentence orders imposed by sentencing courts and for all conditional releases imposed by the Parole Board of Canada.

This bill would also require courts to consider imposing such conditions in all child sex offender peace bonds. This just makes sense. It is a reform that we absolutely need to move forward with.

Victims, their families and witnesses need the protection of the courts and parole authorities when an offender is released into the community. We have to get this done; it is going to provide more safety and ensure that witnesses and victims are protected.

This legislation is consistent with our government's commitment to putting victims' rights back on the agenda. That is why I am proud to support the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill C-489. However, I definitely do not share the enthusiasm of my colleague who has just spoken.

I will explain that. I have had the honour of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and having the opportunity to examine various private members’ bills brought forward by Conservative members. I will not pretend that it has not been somewhat dismaying to see the Conservatives’ remarkable talent for transforming gold into lead, using some process of alchemy that completely exceeds my powers of comprehension.

I sound like I am teasing or trying to make a joke about it, but we must always be very careful when we embark on amending the Criminal Code. This is fundamental, because the Criminal Code is very complex and has very wide application. Amendments can sometimes create more complications than solutions, at least when they are made without due care and attention.

However, I have to say that the bill introduced by the member for Langley is in fact very important. What is particularly worthwhile about it is that it potentially offers some real measures to protect and support victims of crime. That is what my New Democratic colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be looking at very closely. I have absolutely no doubt of that.

We cannot deny that the bill is relatively promising. What concerns me, first, is the marketing job being done by the member for Langley and his colleagues. By focusing attention on the protection of minors, they are pandering to their political base. They are tugging at people’s heartstrings and then trying to score an easy goal in an area like this.

This is a very debatable approach. However, compared to a number of bills proposing Criminal Code amendments that were very punitive and went down the road of lengthening sentences for criminals, without a thought for victims, this is something innovative and different. As I said, it is promising, from what I have been able to see of it.

First of all, we will have to see what the effect of this bill is and what problem it will remedy. I am going to cite a case in Quebec City that received a lot of media coverage, the case of police officer Sandra Dion, who was a victim of a violent crime. She was assaulted with a screwdriver and was very traumatized. The worst thing is that Ms. Dion learned that the offender who had savagely attacked her, and who has psychiatric problems, was potentially eligible to live in a halfway house in Quebec City near her own home. This distressed her enormously. She reacted by moving to Ottawa for a few days. In fact, she came to try to meet with members and make them aware of her case, particularly members of the party in power. Her efforts met a somewhat disappointing fate.

However, based on her testimony and her case, and other similar cases, we can perhaps hope to improve the bill or at least determine whether it covers her situation. If not, we should improve the bill so she will have a way of getting what is needed so she can have some assurance of her safety and some influence over the situation and the release of the assailant who savagely attacked her.

I should note that Ms. Dion was in fact able to use the existing system to ensure that the authorities who supported releasing her assailant did not send him to the halfway house that had been planned, because it was not equipped to handle him, given his very significant medication needs.

As I said, I will support the bill at second reading because I have confidence in the work that will be done at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

I would nonetheless like to share some concerns with my colleagues. When I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I observed the Conservative members' very bad knee-jerk response as they sought to limit the powers of the judges and other authorities who carry out decisions.

I understand that some decisions made by the courts can sometimes be difficult for the public to understand, and decisions can seem out of sync with the media reports of a case, which unfortunately often do not tell the whole story.

Our justice system is predicated on the presumption of innocence. Obviously, it then provides for justice to be done, both for the complainant and for the defendant. If we do not maintain that balance, what confidence can all of the parties involved, not to mention the general public, have in our justice system?

When we too readily do an injustice, and do it repeatedly, it may offer a false sense of security, and that can lead to a great many problems in our society. There is nothing worse than an innocent person having to suffer the stigma associated with a charge and the impossibility or serious difficulty of restoring their good name or being able to shed all of the suspicion they have been tarred with.

To come back to the accused persons who are affected by the bill, we must never forget that every case is unique, although the law tries to cover all cases. One of the ideals is to make rules and provisions that apply generally and allow for some individualized interpretation or involvement by judges, with the help of the justice system and the lawyers, both for the Crown and for the defence. Instead of easily applying a strict rule that is inappropriate in some cases, the judgment of justice system experts can be applied in an individualized manner.

That is something that will have to be investigated and ascertained when the bill goes to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I cannot emphasize that enough. I am in fact confident that my colleagues on the justice committee want to take a good look at this aspect, and I am going to watch the proceedings very closely.

To conclude, I cannot emphasize enough that, as I said at the outset, what is most worthwhile about the bill brought forward by the member for Langley is that it opens the door part-way to concrete measures that will potentially assist victims of crime in order to provide them with support. I think this is really the point we have to focus on. We have to hold onto that so we can find common ground, so we can propose a bill that will amend the targeted provisions in fairly and efficiently and genuinely protect the public interest.

I will hold onto that thin ray of hope.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be here tonight to talk about the first bill I have ever had a hand in drafting. The mover of the bill said that some year and a half to two years ago he talked to me about the bill because of my past experience with criminal law and we generally drafted it out. Today, we draw the conclusion that it is a great bill and does exactly what this government has been doing since the beginning, and that is standing up for victims.

We have a criminal justice system in our country that puts straight laws out there and people either obey them or disobey them. If they disobey them, the police will arrest them and then the court will deal with them. However, victims have fallen through the cracks since 1892, when the first Criminal Code was enacted in Canada. Victims of crime have been left aside for too long. I am glad to see the member has recognized that and is standing up for victims, as is our government.

I have seen some very deplorable situations. In Fort McMurray, where I practised criminal law, I saw a situation where a father abused three of his daughters. He did not just abuse them as they grew up into their teens. He continued to abuse them for some 20 years thereafter even though there was no true physical contact. The abuse continued by way of being reminded of that crime forever. When people live only several blocks away from where they have grown up in a community, they are continuously put in front of that crime time and time again. I know this is something victims complain of often.

We need to ensure that those victims are protected forever, especially in cases of sexual assault, which is why this bill is good. However, as a past criminal lawyer, people who commit sexual assaults against children need to be monitored forever under strict and specific conditions, such as wearing an anklet or an electronic monitoring device and never out of sight of the authorities. I say that for a number of reasons. Many people would say that I am wrong in my assumption that these people cannot be cured. As a result of my experience, I do not believe the people who commit these violent, often unnecessary and quite horrid crimes can be cured. From my experience in the courts, it usually passes on from generation to generation and the victims continue to mount.

Our Conservative government will take more positions to support victims because that is the third pillar that was not properly dealt with. However, seeing all of the members in the House come together on a bill like this is very important. It sends a clear message to Canadians that we, as their representatives, will stand up for the weak and the needy when necessary.

I have known the member of Parliament for nine years. He has a very strong passion for his community and constituents and a lot of loyalty for our government, our Prime Minister and our country. I compliment him on this bill. He has done tremendous work on it. I know he would appreciate me saying more wonderful things about him. However, I can say for sure that, based on my criminal law experience, the bill goes a long way in protecting the victims who have been forgotten for too long. It falls fully in line with our government's commitment to keep our streets and communities safe.

I did mention that there were three pillars. The first is the police, the second is the courts and the third is the victims. In the bill, members will clearly see that it is mandatory for judges to impose conditions on these offenders that would keep them away from the victims and, as a result, incur less expense on the criminal justice system.

We do have criminal compensation in most provinces and services that are provided are psychological and mental health services. These are tremendously expensive. If we do not take steps to deal with victims of crime and the ability to keep them away from those continuous reminders of what took place and making them victims time and time again, it will also cost our system a lot of money.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak today. I would like to go over it again very briefly that on this side of the House we are standing up for victims. I am glad to see the other members of the House are doing the same thing and joining the Conservative government and the member for Langley to push this forward to committee and to get it passed at all stages.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to speak to the bill.

I want to share with the House how the bill came about. About two years ago, a constituent visited me in my office. She was a mom and she told me the story about her daughter who had been sexually assaulted by the neighbour right across the street. That was a horrific experience for the whole family. Then the horror continued as the courts permitted the offender to serve a large portion of the sentence at home.

The family lived in terror, keeping its blinds closed. The members of the family were afraid to go out because they might have seen the offender. Every time they would return to their neighbourhood and home, a home that should be safe in a neighbourhood they loved, from work or school, the whole family, the mother, the father, the siblings would have this horrible feeling in their gut of whether they would see this person and how would they respond to the person.

It was a very friendly, close-knit neighbourhood, with neighbourhood barbecues on the street, and that all ended when the courts provided the offender the opportunity to serve the sentence at home, which was right across the street from the victim.

I appreciate my colleagues across the way expressing concern that this may be a knee-jerk reaction. I can assure them this is not. Shortly after reviewing this horrific story, I contacted other members, including the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca. I knew of his legal experience. Through the consultation process, even talking to members across the way, Bill C-489 was developed.

I thank all members of the House for indicating support for the bill to go to the next step, the justice committee. It is important we develop something that will consider the victims and the impact of sentencing on the victims, and I believe the bill does that.

I thank the legal experts from private members' business. I thank the Minister of Justice and the minister's staff, particularly Dominic. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, the member for Brampton West, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, the opposition members and the critics. I would not have been able to move forward without their help.

The duty of each of us is to make Parliament work. We are doing that with Bill C-489. I look forward to critiquing it, amending it, so it makes it even safer.

On behalf of all Canadians, I thank all members of Parliament as we work to make all Canadian homes safer.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion is adopted.

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, be read the third time and passed.

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6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Manicouagan has six minutes remaining.

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6:30 p.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue my speech.

We were talking about the Canadian government's desire to distance itself from highly contentious issues, such as the provision of services to Canadians, and also matters pertaining to drinking water and the upgrading of drinking water infrastructure.

That is why these clauses have been added and why a trend is emerging from this initiative and many others as well. We see that it is fragmented. The Canadian government is trying to gradually distance itself from highly contentious issues on which the national and international media have shone a rather unfavourable spotlight.

However, first and foremost, with respect to the provision of services to Canadians, we have seen that the government's priorities are clearly focused on natural resource extraction. In keeping with what my hon. colleague said, the government is pandering to its political base. That is why there will be cherry-picking and certain issues will be given priority in the Conservatives' hidden agenda.

Now, with regard to Bill S-8, the government is adding phrases such as “to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands”. This type of phrase opens the door to the unilateral violation of aboriginal rights. That is extremely shameful and questionable. We know that aboriginal, treaty and other rights exercised by aboriginal peoples in Canada are enshrined in the Constitution. The fiduciary relationship also comes into play. Simply put, a fiduciary relationship necessarily implies that the first nations' interests will be the Canadian government's primary concern when it introduces legislation or plans to impose unilateral measures, such as those before the House.

This is enshrined in the Constitution and has been reiterated by the courts, including the Supreme Court. Once the Supreme Court has taken a position on a specific case, it becomes immutable. In this case, the Supreme Court indicated that these obligations were associated with every initiative that could potentially interfere with the traditional and modern way of life of first nations peoples.

As a result, the moment the government considers or makes a decision, whether it is based on policy or what is actually happening on the ground, before doing anything to implement that decision, it must ensure that the decision does not in any way interfere with the traditional activities and way of life of Canada's aboriginal peoples. Therein lies the problem in most cases. The government is generally reluctant to hold consultations and seek public approval because it is a lot of work. What is more, we know that when public consultations are held, there is a good chance that people will not agree and that they will be fairly vocal about it. People will openly express their opinions. That is the concept behind direct democracy: the public is called upon to take a stand.

As the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou mentioned, when people are consulted, there is the possibility that they will not agree with what is being proposed. That is always one of the options that a person has. That person can simply say no and reject the measure that is being proposed, and that is a valid response.

Social acceptability often appears to be the desired outcome, because it confers prestige. This is not nearly as meaningful in 2013. It has been tarnished and taken over by industry. I would say that social acceptability is rather abstract and not something that ought to be pursued. It may well be that there is simply no acceptability and that people take a position against certain projects.

The Supreme Court clearly established that any infringement of aboriginal prerogatives must be seen in light of the methods preferred by aboriginal peoples to exercise their rights. It must also take into consideration the need to avoid any infringement of aboriginal rights to the greatest extent possible. There is nothing exhaustive about this list. I am just briefly listing a number of criteria. It also needs to include fair compensation in the event of expropriation and, lastly, it necessarily implies that there be consultations.

As I just mentioned, the issue of consultations is the sticking point in 2013. In the case of most, if not all of the statutes and legislative tools brought to my attention over the past two years I have sat in the House, the government has shown little desire to consult the aboriginal population in general.

The government seems content to have asked nine community leaders for their opinion. Turning to the 3,000 members of a community and being prepared to brave the storm is not exactly at the top of the Conservatives’ agenda in 2013. This is understandable, because public support is not necessarily in the cards. Some Conservative members have even been stopped from going into a Tim Hortons for a coffee in their own riding because the locals want to tear off their heads.

In short, the social and political conditions are not right for their policies, their approach and the directives coming from their backbench MPs.

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6:35 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Manicouagan for his speech.

People always feel threatened by his razor-sharp mind. I found his perspective very interesting and would like to make a daring comparison. I hope he will forgive me.

As a result of my experience to date as a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, I have detected a general trend, which is not exclusive to the Conservative government, towards offloading more and more responsibilities on putative grounds of economic realism and the need for budget cuts. This means that such responsibilities are transferred to other levels of government that could be described as lower.

As I was listening to my colleague’s speech, I was thinking that this was clearly one of the consequences, and that it was probably based on similar considerations. I would like to know what he thinks of it.

Is the federal government generally attempting to shirk its responsibilities?

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Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I would go even further and say that they are trying to unburden themselves by shifting responsibility to organizations that are not accountable.

Often, the common thread binding some of these issues is that they are more or less contentious or controversial. That is why the government is attempting to distance itself and to cut ties to avoid being accountable for the negative impacts of its sometimes unreasonable decisions.

The most recent trend—which I have observed of late—is to transfer everything to NPOs or charitable organizations because it is rather difficult to point fingers at a charitable organization and say that it has made a hash of managing a project. By definition, an NPO is a non-profit organization.

In short, public policy implementation is now being delegated blindly. We need to condemn this approach.

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6:40 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on something else that my colleague discussed.

I would like to suggest the following, because it would be the most promising and productive avenue for the future. I am talking about dialogue, the exercise of democracy, discussions and negotiations.

The federal government has frequently failed to broaden a number of debates. There are other examples as well of contentious issues across Canada. Some such issues are settled with some groups at the expense of others, without getting the latter involved.

Because my colleague raised this issue, I would like to ask whether he believes that the preliminary negotiations and dialogue in connection with this bill have at least been adequate?

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Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. speaker, I thank my colleague once again for his question.

I am going to support my own views with facts. Once again this morning in committee, we were talking about signing a treaty that would exclude a nation in British Columbia, specifically the Sto:lo. There is a dispute over salmon and land.

I would say that Machiavellianism is still alive and well here in Canada's Parliament. This is unfortunate, but true. Aboriginal communities have an oral tradition, and have had for tens of thousands of years; everything is based on brotherly exchanges and on “emulatory” principles in accordance with which people tell the truth.

In 2013, the Conservatives and other governments before them—the blame must be placed on a single organization—successfully worked to divide and ensure that aboriginal bands, Indian bands, had disparities and claims that would ultimately bring them into conflict with one another. This mutual dislike was nurtured because it is much more profitable for some people to work with certain bands as individuals rather than as a part of a whole. When I give my own presentations and travel to reserves, I say that the solution and the future of aboriginal peoples reside in unity and a return to the values and oral cultures with which we grew up.

That is what I wanted to submit to the House.

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6:40 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to explain to the opposition, and to Canadians, why I support Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, and why I urge my hon. colleagues to stop voting against a bill that would give first nations access to safe drinking water.

The solution at the heart of Bill S-8 is the product of more than seven years of engagement and discussion with a wide range of groups, including first nations, provinces, municipalities, parliamentary committees and organizations devoted to the science of drinking water.

Perhaps the best way to fully appreciate the considerable value of Bill S-8 is to trace its evolution.

In March 2006, our government, working with the Assembly of First Nations, announced the joint plan of action for drinking water in first nation communities. Among the five points in the plan of action was the development of an appropriate regulatory framework.

To help identify what the framework should consist of, the plan called for a panel of experts to be chosen by government and first nations officials. The expert panel held a series of hearings across Canada, in 9 locations in all, to hear from a total of 110 representatives from first nation communities, as well as other stakeholder groups. The panel also received and considered more than two dozen written submissions, most of them prepared by first nation communities and organizations. In its final report, the panel examined three regulatory options and provided valuable advice on the advantages and the disadvantages of each one.

The next step in Bill S-8's evolution occurred in 2009, when the Government of Canada held a series of engagement sessions with first nation groups. The sessions began in Whitehorse, Yukon, and continued in 12 other cities. The 13 engagement sessions attracted more than 500 participants representing first nations.

It is important to note that while work on a regulatory framework continued, our government continued to live up to the commitments it had made through the plan of action. Progress reports were tabled in Parliament, for instance, and budget 2008 invested approximately $330 million, over two years, in projects to improve drinking water in first nation communities. Budget 2009 included an additional $165 million per year, over two years, for first nation water and waste water infrastructure projects.

Our government is also committed to expanding the circuit rider training program and funding a national assessment of first nation water and waste water systems.

In 2010, the government introduced Bill S-11. A standing committee in the Senate held a series of hearings to review the proposed legislation and heard from 40 individual witnesses. Now, although this version of the bill died on the order paper in the initial review, it identified a number of challenges that have since been addressed.

In the interim, government officials continued to discuss regulatory options with first nation groups. Of particular note were the without prejudice discussions with regional first nation organizations across the country. It was during these without prejudice discussions that the first nations proposed a non-derogation clause that would resolve what was perceived to be a major problem with the previous version of Bill S-8. The problem involves the relationship between federal legislation and the constitutional rights of first nations.

The proposed clause would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal or treaty rights if it were necessary to ensure the safety of first nations' drinking water.

A second significant development came in the summer of 2011 when our government published the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems. I am proud to say that this was the most comprehensive examination of first nation water and waste water infrastructure in history.

This report shed a new light on the larger issues at play. The report found that many water systems in first nations communities had a high risk of failure to produce safe water if a problem were to arise. The report identified a need for clear guidelines and recommended the establishment of a regulatory framework for water and waste waster systems. This provided additional momentum to move ahead with the practical solutions.

Last year we introduced Bill S-8, a stronger version of its predecessor. There are several improvements worth noting, such as that the preamble in the proposed legislation explicitly states the government's intention to improve the health and safety of first nations and to work with first nations to develop drinking water regulations.

The new version includes a non-derogation clause that clearly addresses the relationship between the legislation and aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Clause 4.(1)(b) of the new version clarifies that any regulation on source water protection on first nation lands would be restricted so as to protect it from contamination.

The new version also clarifies that regulations could not include the power to allocate water supplies or to license users of water for any purpose other than for accessing drinking water.

There is new language to clarify that the regulations could confer to any person or body only the powers necessary to effectively regulate drinking water and waste water systems. Wording that was perceived to negate first nations authority over water on their lands has been deleted.

Another part of the previous version that has been removed is language that could be interpreted as powers to compel first nations into an agreement with third parties to manage water and the waste water on first nations lands.

Finally, Bill S-8 also features language to clarify that first nations would not be held liable for systems owned by third parties that are on first nations lands.

There have been many changes to this legislation since its last iteration in order to address the concerns raised by first nations, parliamentarians and other stakeholders. In fact, these changes respond directly to the concerns raised by first nations groups.

Moreover, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommended an amendment to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development that further addresses concerns raised by first nations to remove the opt-in provision from the bill, demonstrating that our government is listening to first nations concerns and working to address them. I am pleased to see that the hard-working members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development agreed by removing this from the bill.

The proposed legislation now before the House has been informed by a comprehensive process of consultation, review and improvement.

Bill S-8 proposes an effective solution to a problem that continues to threaten the health and safety of residents of first nations communities. I hope that the opposition can recognize the urgent health and safety issues at stake here and support Bill S-8.

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6:50 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about health.

Grand Chief David Harper clearly told the Senate committee in February 2011 that the lack of running water in more than 1,000 homes in northern Manitoba was a violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He explained that his people were living in third world conditions, that families in the Island Lake region of Manitoba had less water every day than people in refugee camps. People in the Island Lake region survive on just 10 litres, usually carried by family members in pails from local water pipes. Additional water comes untreated from lakes and rivers that tested positive for contamination.

I would like the House to know that Ecojustice issued a report card on water, and its lowest mark was awarded to the federal government.

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6:50 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the national assessment identified 1.5% of homes on first nations lands as having no water service, and many of those homes are in Manitoba. In 2011-12, $5.5 million was allocated to the four Island Lake first nations. It was used to purchase and ship material for retrofitting up to 100 homes, six water trucks, seven sewage trucks and building material for garages. In addition to these projects, the funding is being used in 2012-13 for first nations to carry out retrofits and to build the garages for the water and sewage trucks.

The Canada economic action plan 2012 investment included $2 million for Bunibonibee first nation to develop a plan to address the service needs of homes in that community and to purchase materials to begin work to retrofit homes with plumbing.

Our government is listening and is working on this.

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6:50 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I read Bill S-8. I can see that the regulation-making powers are extensive but without action to ensure that there is capacity in first nations communities, and there have been some expressions of concern from first nations, to make sure that there is money to make this work.

I cannot see anything wrong with Bill S-8 now that the egregious section that suggested that the bill might abrogate first nations treaty rights has been fixed. I accept that it has been fixed.

I am wondering if the hon. member knows if there is a larger plan and a commitment to funding to make the skeletal regulatory authorities in this bill result in clean water.

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6:55 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite mentioned capacity and the ability to ensure that the water is clean.

Under the circuit rider training program, first nations operators receive ongoing on-site training and mentoring on how to operate their drinking water and waste water systems. Since 2006, AANDC has increased funding from approximately $5 million per year to approximately $10 million per year to hire more circuit rider trainers to ensure that the services are available to all first nations communities. There are currently approximately 65 circuit rider trainers working in first nations communities across the country.

Since the results of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems was released in July 2011, the percentage of first nations systems that have primary operators certified to the level of drinking water systems has increased from 51% to 60%. That is for 463 out of 771 systems. The percentage of waste water systems that have primary operators certified to the level of waste water systems has also increased, from 42% of operators to 54%, which is 280 out of 519 systems.

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James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to stand in this House and speak in support of Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.

This proposed legislation is a key part of a collaborative, comprehensive plan to improve the quality of water available to first nation communities. The bill includes a mechanism to establish regulatory regimes to safeguard water quality. These regimes, typically under provincial law, exist in every community in this country, except first nation communities. While the primary goal of these regimes is to establish water treatment and water quality standards to protect the health and safety of Canadians, they also serve to protect the sizeable investments made in infrastructure, such as the treatment facilities and distribution networks that serve these communities.

Bill S-8 strives to ensure that first nations communities can access the same benefits that regulations afford other communities: safe drinking water, with efficient treatment and distribution facilities that function effectively throughout their entire operational life cycles.

To fully appreciate the importance of this bill, we must also understand the other parts of this plan, in particular the investments in infrastructure.

Our government continues to invest a significant amount of resources in the infrastructure needed to deliver safe drinking water to residents of first nation communities. In fact, between 2006 and 2013-14, our government will have invested approximately $3 billion. These investments are supporting first nations to fund a variety of projects, including installations of new systems, repairs to aging systems and the replacement of components. The projects have involved all aspects of water systems and waste water infrastructure, such as treatment facilities, pumping stations, storage tanks and piping networks. These investments are helping these communities meet their needs.

A closer look at a few of the projects supported by these investments demonstrates the very tangible impact they have on these communities and the people who live there. Let us consider the four first nations of St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack, Red Sucker Lake and Garden Hill in the Island Lake region of east-central Manitoba.

Providing safe drinking water has long been a challenge in this region, for several reasons. Until the late 1990s, diesel generators represented the only source of electricity in Island Lake communities. Local geography in the Island Lake region creates a second challenge. The community sits on the hard, mostly bare rock of the Canadian Shield, making it difficult and expensive to install and maintain pipes to distribute water to each home. A few homes have indoor plumbing and bathrooms, which are amenities that have to be added to take full advantage of an integrated water and waste water system. Addressing these challenges has required careful planning and considerable investments.

Since April 1, 2006, the government has made investments of $50 million to improve and maintain water and waste water systems in these communities. Major investments include over $26 million for a piped-water distribution and sewage collection system at Garden Hill, and nearly $10 million for a water treatment plant, two water trucks and a sewage truck at Red Sucker Lake.

Today, residents of the four first nations access drinking water through a hybrid system of pipes, cisterns, tanks, standpipes and a fleet of trucks. Work on these projects continues this year. To help the first nations plan and implement further improvements, the Government of Canada has also provided resources for feasibility studies.

According to Chief Alex McDougall of Wasagamack First Nation, the projects have had a dramatic impact on Island Lake communities. In his words, and I quote: “It means a healthier and cleaner environment, clean drinking water for the entire family.... This has been a true effort to work together, and that relationship needs to continue to be nurtured”.

Similar results are being achieved in dozens of first nation communities across Canada. Earlier this year, Marcel Colomb First Nation, located about 600 kilometres northwest of Island Lake, opened a new water treatment system, thanks to a Government of Canada investment of more than $8 million.

We are investing more than $2 million to support the design and construction of a pumphouse and water storage tank for Bouctouche First Nation in New Brunswick. An investment of a similar amount led to last year's completion of upgrades to a water treatment system that serves both the Gitanmaax Band and the village of Hazelton. These two communities in northwest British Columbia have a long history of co-operation and share a number of services, including water storage and distribution and waste disposal.

The last project I will mention today involves Wasauksing First Nation, located near Parry Sound, Ontario. Thanks in part to a government investment of more than $16 million, this first nation has a new water treatment system that takes into account local geography and hydrology.

The system includes a new intake and low-lift pumping station, a slow sand filtration system treatment plant, an elevated water reservoir and a delivery truck and heated garage. The project created 15 temporary jobs for members of the first nation and three full-time permanent positions for two plant operators and one driver.

These are just a few of the numerous first nations drinking water and waste water projects our government has supported over the last seven years. The project's aim is to improve the health and safety of community residents. To ensure that these systems can continuously produce safe drinking water, they must be supported by regulatory regimes that stipulate quality standards and treatment protocols. Until an appropriate accountability mechanism is in place, investments in water infrastructure will remain at risk. Bill S-8 proposes to establish these necessary accountability mechanisms.

Bill S-8 is an important part of a larger comprehensive strategy, built on three pillars, to improve the quality of drinking water in first nation communities. Along with the establishment of regulations and ongoing investments in infrastructure, the strategy calls for improvements in the training and certification of the men and women who operate first nations' water systems.

Our government invests approximately $10 million annually to train and certify these operators. In the last year alone, the number of certified operators of water and waste water facilities has increased by 10%. This is significantly increasing the water quality enjoyed by first nations across the country and is decreasing the risks associated with these water systems. This is in addition to funding the maintenance and operation of some 1,200 on-reserve water and waste water systems.

Our government will continue to make these investments so that residents of first nations communities can access safe, clean drinking water. Nevertheless, without the support of regulatory regimes, these investments and the health and safety of thousands of Canadians living on reserve will remain at risk. The regulations stemming from Bill S-8 will provide residents of first nation communities with the same level of confidence as other Canadians when it comes to their own drinking water.

I therefore ask all hon. colleagues on both sides of the House to stand up for first nations and those communities across the country and to join me in supporting this piece of legislation.