House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was retirement.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House to speak to Bill S-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (detention in custody). The bill would make it mandatory for prosecutors to provide all of the facts concerning previous criminal convictions, current charges, and failures to appear in court. Under existing legislation, prosecutors are not compelled to divulge such evidence.

Members heard the story of my colleague about the concerns that arose when 42-year-old RCMP Constable David Wynn was murdered by a career criminal in St. Albert, Alberta, in January 2015. Constable Wynn struggled to survive for four days before succumbing to death in an Edmonton hospital, leaving behind his wife and three sons to try and make sense of the senseless.

The criminal's career history spanned two decades, with over 100 offences dating back to 1994. It should be noted that the criminal had failed to appear in court after three separate warrants were issued for his arrest in 2014. How is it that a man who has been convicted of everything from breaking and entering, theft, evading police, dangerous arrest, assault, escape from custody to holding a homeowner at gun point while forcing him to empty out his bank account is not in custody?

The bill would serve to prevent high-risk offenders from committing further criminal acts while awaiting trial. It would require prosecutors to show that the accused had been previously convicted of a criminal offence or had already been charged and was awaiting trial for another criminal offence.

In addition, the Crown would also be required to provide evidence that an accused had failed on one or more occasions to appear in court when required to do so, as well as show the circumstances of the alleged offence or offences. This would fall under a statutory requirement to advance the evidence, obligating the Crown to do so. The principle of detention pre-trial would already be established so a habeas corpus concern would be unlikely. The bill would focus on detaining high-risk offenders while pending trial.

The Conservatives have always put Canadians and their safety first, while upholding the rights of victims and their families. Bill S-217 would ensure the safeguarding of those rights.

In 2014, the former Conservative government made history and enacted the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which for the first time ever saw the rights of victims established into law at the federal level. This bill is a complement to the Canadians Victims Bill of Rights.

I would like to touch on a case that shook the community of Fort Erie in my riding of Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie. It is the story of an 81-year old retired businessman and friend of mine, Blake Nicholls, who was murdered by a career criminal with 50 prior convictions, including arson, armed robbery and theft. In fact, this individual was wanted in another jurisdiction for allegedly attacking his then girlfriend with a hammer.

The man attacked my friend Mr. Nicholls with a hammer out of misdirected revenge. He became enraged after he discovered that Blake Nicholls had warned a neighbour woman to steer clear of him. He then attacked Nicholls with a hammer, striking him 16 times. The criminal then ransacked the home of Mr. Nicholls as he lay dead on the living room floor. He showed no remorse. Nor did he demonstrate even a modicum of repentance. Blake Nicholls had merely attempted to be a good and caring neighbour, as he had been during his entire life. His three children and six grandchildren are left not only mourning his loss but must also live with the lifelong trauma in knowing that their loved one's life was cut short in such a brutal and inhumane way.

Had this bill been law, perhaps Constable Wynn and Blake Nicholls would still be with us today. As parliamentarians, we have a solemn duty to make and enact laws that will protect Canadians. The justification for detention in custody was evident in both these cases, yet these career criminals, who shared 150 convictions between them, were not incarcerated but were free to continue their respective business of criminality.

If previous convictions are disclosed at bail hearings, it would give judges and justices of the peace the tools they need to help keep our streets and neighbourhoods safe. It should also be noted that the legislation would not make huge changes to the Criminal Code. It would assist the judiciary in our country to make sound decisions based on complete evidence and would in no way infringe upon judicial discretion to grant bail.

The legislation puts victims first. The Conservative Party has always put victims first and has the full support of Constable Wynn's widow, Shelley Wynn. In fact, it was Mrs. Wynn who helped initiate the legislation. The bill is consistent with the previous government's passing of the Canadian Bill of Rights.

Canadians expect that we will fulfill our duty as legislators to ensure the laws of our country fully protect citizens. The Wynn family and the Nicholls family are counting on it. It is the obligation of the House to support this legislation.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill S-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code, detention in custody. I will be supporting it.

We are talking about an incident that happened in St. Albert, Alberta. This news story was talked about in my constituency. It was talked about in Calgary. From one city to another, we never want to see police officers die in the line of duty when they are serving their community. To me it is common sense. This amendment would have saved David Wynn's life. It would have indeed also avoided the injury to the other officer, the auxiliary constable involved. The rap sheet of Mr. Rehn, who was the assailant in this situation, should have been cause enough for him to have been denied bail. It should be much harder for habitual criminals to make bail.

Again, like Senator Runciman and my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton have said, the key of this bill is in clause 2, in which it states the “prosecutor shall” instead of “may”. This will make a huge difference during bail hearings and ensure that we avoid a repeat of what Constable Wynn's family had to go through. No family should ever have to go through that.

On this, I have a Yiddish proverb I would like to use, “When scholars vie, wisdom mounts”. I do not feel this debate has risen to that level of scholarship yet, after hearing the contributions made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the reasons why the government would not be supporting the bill.

This is a case where a constable was shot and killed in the line of duty. Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond was shot and injured. Let us not forget these were two people who were serving their community, where one was killed and one who was injured and had to go through much hospital care in order to return to work.

Shawn Rehn was the individual involved in this. I went through the reports that were written on this by the Alberta government. In his charge history between 1994 and 2014, he had been charged with 206 offences. The charges that topped the list were 103 property offences, 13 violent offices, 24 weapons offences, 46 compliance and breach offences, six driving offences, seven drug offences, and seven offences against administration of justice. His conviction history again is pretty spectacular for a career criminal: 66 offences where he was found guilty, including three offences against administration of justice, 41 property offences, and the list goes on. He had 27 outstanding offences that he was charged on when he made bail, set at $4,500 bail at the time. That basically should have made it impossible for him to be out in the community. He was wanted on outstanding warrants for his arrest as well, and he still made bail.

The amendments proposed in Bill S-217, as have been considered and passed by the Senate and brought to the House, would indeed avoid this situation in the future.

The shooting also prompted many questions about provincial bail procedures because the hearing was conducted without a Crown lawyer representing the prosecution, which is quite common in the province of Alberta. It is a standard practice there.

We heard mention of certain Alberta studies and recommendations made by different provinces. I look specifically to Alberta and what we do, because this bill would have a major effect on how Alberta would carry out the administration of justice.

The report on Shawn Rehn is called “A review of the involvement of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service” by Kimberly Armstrong, deputy attorney general and acting deputy minister, Alberta justice, and solicitor general for the province. That report did not deal with federal matters because that was not the focus area. The focus was on what the province could control. Therefore, they strictly dealt with recommendations for provincial administration of the judicial system.

We set the Criminal Code in the chamber. It is passed by the Senate and approved by the Governor General. We set Criminal Code provisions and the provinces administer justice.

Page 14 of that same report deals with the recommendations and they are all provincial in nature. The report itself states on page one, “This review is limited to the involvement” the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service “had with [Mr.] Rehn, and does not consider his involvement with any other agency or party within the criminal justice system”. This should be painfully obvious to the government that this was a report. It cannot refer to this report and say that it did not recommend changes to section 515 or section 518 of the Criminal Code. The author of the report was not looking at that. The report was not looking to offer Criminal Code provision amendments to the federal government or to any of the political parties. What it was focusing on was strictly speaking to what could actually be done to prevent this type of incident, this tragedy, from ever happening again.

I want to thank the member for St. Albert—Edmonton for what he has contributed to the debate and for introducing this in the House.

I do not want to go over the same points that the member did and the points that he brought up about what Senator Runciman has said.

Clause 2 of the bill is the key. This is what will change “may” to “shall”. That single change would have saved Constable Wynn's life. It would have avoided the injuries to Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond. The whole incident could have been avoided and Mr. Wren would have been right where he belonged, in jail. He did not belong in the community. He did not belong in St. Albert. He did not belong in a casino parking lot. He belonged in jail.

Bill S-217 would ensure that it is not an option any more whether or not to tell the justice about the accused's criminal record during a bail hearing. I have heard members talk about their concerns with respect to the administration of justice and how there might be complications with doing this, that it might slow down the bail hearing process.

I am not a member of the bar. I am not a lawyer, and I say that proudly and thankfully. I do know the administration of technological systems for a professional association. I was the registrar for the human resources profession in the province of Alberta, which had 6,000 members. We would conduct disciplinary hearings and investigations at times. These are not done by lawyers by any stretch of the imagination. They are hearings and investigations done by HR professionals into the actions of our members. At the time it was a CHRP designation.

Like the member for St. Albert—Edmonton said, whatever concern may exist about the delays on bail hearings ignores the fact that this information is readily available in information systems. My colleague from Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, a former police officer, mentioned how easy it is to gain access to this information with a keystroke. The issue is not whether the information is accessible so much as whether they have the means to do it and whether they can do it and how fast they can get to it. Having a computer available in the courtroom makes it pretty simple. The issue is technology. Access is not an issue under criminal law. It is just an issue of technology.

I do not really like the argument being made by the government that this might slow things down, that it might complicate things, so therefore we should not do it. I would say we update our systems and update the way we administer the judicial system to ensure that we can fulfill the requirements of the Criminal Code. If we are going to change the Criminal Code to ensure that these types of incidents do not happen again and that individuals like Constable Wynn do not lose their life in the line of duty because a person who should not have been out in the community and should not have been granted bail is out, then why not invest in more technology?

The Alberta government has admitted it would cost more money. There is a cost associated with this. A few million dollars, it said, would have to be spent for the remand centres to ensure that they can update their systems. Is that not money well spent though to avoid losing a police officer in the line of duty and the heartache caused to the family? I believe so. With the amount of money that this place spends on a weekly basis, with the $30 billion of spending that we are doing here, and the $10-billion deficit spending the Alberta provincial government is doing, a few million dollars spent to ensure the remand centres have the technological systems, have the computer systems updated and available for bail hearings, seems to me like a small price to pay.

Another report I want to mention is the “Alberta Bail Review: Endorsing a Call for Change”, February 29, 2016 by Nancy Irving. It is quite a thick report, nearly half an inch thick, that provides an in-depth overview of the bail system in Alberta. It goes from A to Z and covers a lot of ground. Thirty-one recommendations are made in the report that touch upon solely provincial areas of responsibility. To my New Democratic colleague who mentioned that statistics and numbers would be really helpful here, they are provided in this report. An overview is done for 2014-15 on the number of bail hearings in the province and how they were actually done.

That same report said the vast majority of first appearances at the bail stage are conducted by justices of the peace at two centralized hearing offices with police representing the crown. It goes on to state that their focus was section 524 of the Criminal Code, which governs the revocation of bail for people who are alleged to have violated the terms of their release. It was not looking at sections 515 and 518, which is the focus of the Senate bill, Bill S-217. They were strictly looking at how they were going to administer the Criminal Code provisions that exist as they are.

We have an opportunity here to change those provisions, to indicate to the provinces that they need to change how they administer their judicial systems in order to ensure that we can avoid an incident like Constable Wynn's, that we do not lose more officers in the line of duty.

Wren's final court appearance raised questions about the completeness and accuracy of the information available to those who preside and present at bail hearings in Alberta. The 31 recommendations in the report deal with just that and the Alberta government is working on implementing them.

I will be supporting the bill. It is an excellent bill. I invite all members to do the same.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 29th, 2016 / 7:30 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to the debate on Bill S-217. I know my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton has done very good work on this Senate bill, and I thank him for that. I was happy to second this legislation.

His efforts are reflective of the expectations of his community. They have seen how the justice system can fail, and they have witnessed the deadly consequences.

This proposed legislation aims to correct a hole in our criminal justice system. In fact, most Canadians are completely astonished that the bill even needs to be brought forward.

The bill was drafted in response to the January 15, 2015, murder of RCMP Constable David Wynn and the wounding of Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond in Edmonton. By any reasonable assessment, the killer in this case should not have been free on the street at the time of the killing. His rap sheet was unbelievable, yet he freely roamed the streets.

The killer had faced hundreds of charges as an adult, and his criminal record had dozens of convictions. He had been convicted for violent offences. He routinely failed to attend court when required. He had served a number of jail terms, including two stints in a federal penitentiary. That is not all. At the time of Constable Wynn's death, the killer was facing 29 charges and was under two firearms and weapons bans. How the hell was this man on the street? The killer was arrested—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I remind the member to use parliamentary language in the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I was not aware that “hell” was an unparliamentary word to use. I can think of other things I would like to say even worse than that, but how the heck was this man on the streets?

The killer was arrested several months earlier on a number of charges, including possession of a prohibited weapon. There was also a warrant for his arrest for charges from the previous year when he had failed to attend court. Instead, he was out on bail, a paltry bail at that, a measly $4,500. How could this be? How was he not detained in custody on any of the existing grounds already within the law to ensure his attendance in court, to protect public safety, and to maintain confidence in this justice system.

Sadly, hindsight is 20/20. The court never heard anything about his lengthy criminal record, his complete disrespect in the past for the courts, his failure to appear, his ignoring of court orders, and the like.

Now here we are today, wishing to correct this Criminal Code, and we are astonished that the Liberal government will not.

Section 515 of the Criminal Code lays out the rules regarding what is known as bail in Canada. Formally it is known as judicial interim release. Subsection 515(10) lists the reasons justifying why the accused should remain in custody. It also addresses issues around the need to ensure the accused's attendance in court, to protect public safety, and to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

When judges are faced with determining whether an accused should be kept in jail or not, we would think that they would take into consideration whether the accused has failed to appear in court on a previous occasion. Can the accused be trusted? Is the accused facing, but not yet convicted on, other charges at the same time? It is hard to imagine, but the current law does not require that the judge in the case be made aware of these types of things. It is unbelievable.

Clause 1 of the bill would amend this. Its goal is the maintaining of confidence in the administration of justice, specifically—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I apologize to the hon. member for interrupting. However, it is now 7:35 p.m., and 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 member will have five minutes and 10 seconds left in his speech the next time this matter is before the House.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(2) a motion to concur in the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-242, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (inflicting torture)), presented on Monday, October 17, 2016, is deemed moved.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.


Sean Casey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I wish to speak to the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to proposed Bill C-242, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (inflicting torture).

Bill C-242 proposes the enactment of a new criminal offence of non-state or private torture. Let me begin by commending the member from London North Centre for raising the important issue of non-state torture before the House of Commons.

I recognize that Bill C-242 seeks to address a particularly horrific subset of criminal conduct, which is worthy of our attention as parliamentarians. That being said, the committee has recommended that the House not proceed further with the bill. The committee's fifth report was presented to the House on October 17, 2016.

I agree with the decision not to proceed further with this bill. Let me provide some more details on why I believe that this was the appropriate decision to make. Private member's bill, Bill C-242 proposes to create a crime of inflicting torture for the purpose of coercing or intimidating any person, with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. It would define torture to mean “any act or omission by which severe and prolonged pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally and repeatedly inflicted on a person.” In addition, “severe and prolonged mental pain or suffering” is defined to mean suffering “a mental injury leading to a visibly evident and significant change in intellectual capability.”

The key point about this proposed offence was that it applied to anyone who committed torture, not just to officials of the state. The committee's report concludes that this approach may be redundant. This conclusion reflects the reality that there are already several offences in the Criminal Code that address inflicting serious harm on a person. For example, there is the offence of assault causing bodily harm in section 267 of the Criminal Code, with a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment. There is also the offence of aggravated assault in section 268 where a person wounds, maims, disfigures, or endangers the life of the victim. The maximum punishment is 14 years imprisonment.

There is the offence of sexual assault causing bodily harm in section 272 that has a maximum punishment of 14 years imprisonment. Finally, there is the offence of aggravated sexual assault in section 273, which addresses the situation where someone who commits a sexual assault wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the victim. The maximum punishment for this offence is life imprisonment.

As a result, cases of private torture can already be prosecuted under the Criminal Code under various assault provisions. An offence of private torture, as Bill C-242 proposes, appears not to be necessary. The standing committee's report also concluded judges already have the authority under section 718.2 of the Criminal Code to consider torturous conduct.

Section 718.2 is the sentencing provision in the code that sets out various aggravating factors that a judge must consider when determining the appropriate sentence for an accused person who has been found guilty of a crime. In particular, it is an aggravating factor whenever the victim of abuse is the offender's spouse or common-law partner. It is also an aggravating factor where there is evidence that the offence has had a significant impact on the victim. This will be particularly relevant where a victim has endured ongoing and horrific abuse.

Most importantly, section 718.2 instructs judges to consider "any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender.” Given such broad and comprehensive language, I have absolutely no doubt that the type of conduct addressed by Bill C-242 is already met with severe punishment. The approach to sentencing established in section 718.2 is critical, because it preserves judicial discretion to consider all the facts before them. Rather than creating a new offence to address every scenario, the code allows each unique set of facts to be accounted for at sentencing, and this is exactly what judges do in practice.

In addition to the redundancy with existing Criminal Code provisions, Bill C-242 also overlaps with another offence, namely, the existing offence of torture found in section 269.1 of the code. Although potential overlap is not always a problem, in this case it does appear to be.

Section 269.1 sets out a definition of torture that incorporates the internationally agreed upon definition of torture found in the torture convention. That definition contemplates torture committed by an official or committed by another person at the instigation of, with the consent of, or with the acquiescence of such an official. Thus, it does not capture torture committed by private citizens. The definition proposed in Bill C-242 is substantially different. It is both broader and narrower than the existing Criminal Code definition.

Torture is defined in subsection 269.1(2) of the code to mean any act or omission by which “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for various purposes, such as obtaining information from a person. Under this definition, in contrast to Bill C-242, there is no need for the pain or suffering to be prolonged or repeatedly inflicted or that the mental suffering lead to a visibly evident and significant change in intellectual capability.

In addition, section 269.1 of the Criminal Code has a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, compared to the maximum penalty of life imprisonment proposed by Bill C-242. In creating the offence of torture in section 269.1, Parliament gave that section exclusive jurisdiction to address torture. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the proposed offence would complement Parliament's original intent. Such discrepancies with the existing definition of torture, as well as the existing penalty, may in fact undercut the established law set out in the Criminal Code.

Finally, there are a number of practical challenges with the bill that were raised at committee. For instance, the definition of torture proposes to introduce new and uncertain language into the code, including the words “change in intellectual capability'“. There is an open question as to whether PTSD or similar disorders would qualify under this definition, and it would likely take years of litigation to sort that out. It is also worth noting that none of the amended definitions proposed at committee appeared to adequately address the ambiguities raised by experts.

The introduction of uncertainty and inconsistency into the Criminal Code can result in a loss of confidence in the administration of justice. It is, therefore, our duty as parliamentarians to carefully consider all the implications of any proposed amendment.

The horrific forms of violence contemplated by Bill C-242 have no place in our society. That is why the concerns raised in this bill will be part of the discussion as the Minister of Justice undertakes a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.

I wish to thank the members of the justice committee for their diligent work in reviewing this private member's bill.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:40 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to speak to the report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to Bill C-242, introduced by the hon. member for London North Centre. Bill C-242 seeks to establish a Criminal Code offence for torture in the non-state realm. Presently, the only Criminal Code offence for torture lies in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, which deals with state torture.

At this time I would like to thank the hon. member for London North Centre for his hard work and his efforts to bring awareness to the important issue of non-state torture and for trying to do something about it by bringing forward Bill C-242.

At second reading debate, I spoke in favour of Bill C-242. I did so notwithstanding the fact that the evidence was clear from a review of the law that there is no clear gap in prosecuting and convicting individuals involved in torture offences. Those offences that cover torture include, among other things, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, forcible confinement, kidnapping, and so on. Nonetheless, I supported Bill C-242 because I believed it was well-intentioned and because I take seriously the issue of torture.

In that regard, I believed it certainly merited moving to the next stage in the legislative process, namely to committee for further study and review. That study and review did take place by the justice committee, of which I am a member. Upon participating in that review, I now concur with the report of the justice committee, which is to not recommend that Bill C-242 move forward. It is not because the bill is not well-intentioned. I certainly acknowledge the fact that there is symbolic value to calling a torturer what a torturer is, and that is a “torturer”, but good intentions and symbolism do not always make good law.

In this case, I respectfully believe that Bill C-242 would not make good law. While my time is limited and I do not have sufficient time to go through all of the issues with the bill, I would like to highlight a couple of issues with the bill.

One of the issues with Bill C-242 is that it could complicate the prosecution of cases involving torture and could lead to inconsistent sentences for similar crimes. Take aggravated assault, for example. Under the Criminal Code, aggravated assault is defined as an offence involving wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of another human being.

There are all sorts of circumstances involving acts of torture that could easily fit into one or more of the categories of wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of another human being. Under the Criminal Code, the maximum penalty for aggravated assault is 14 years. Under Bill C-242, the maximum penalty for the proposed torture offence would be life imprisonment. Therefore, if Bill C-242 were passed, it could mean that someone who, for example, severely maimed an individual could be convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 14 years behind bars, whereas someone who committed a similar offence could be convicted under the torture offence and receive a sentence of life in prison.

That is just one example of an instance where it could be more difficult for the prosecutor to prosecute a case and where the outcome of similar cases could result in different sentences.

Additionally, there is inconsistency between the life sentence under Bill C-242 and the maximum 14-year sentence under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, which deals with state torture. It therefore raises the possibility that if, for example, a police officer or member of the Canadian Armed Forces engaged in a crime involving torture, the prosecutor would be faced with the position of electing to proceed under the new offence under Bill C-242 or the existing offence under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code. If the prosecutor wanted to have the maximum sentence, he or she would likely proceed under the new section of Bill C-242.

The difficulty with that, if the prosecutor proceeded under the new offence rather than section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, is that it could then be argued that Canada would not be fulfilling its international obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which calls upon Canada to hold state officials accountable under international law codified by section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, and not the new section under Bill C-242.

The member for London North Centre had suggested at committee that perhaps the sentence be reduced from life down to 14 years. While that would marginally address issues of inconsistencies in sentencing for similar cases and similar crimes, it would not take away the complexities in prosecuting cases involving torture that would be created as a result of Bill C-242.

If one looks, for example, at aggravated assault, it is necessary when trying to establish intent that the crown prove that the accused intended to commit an assault. Under Bill C-242, it would not only be necessary to establish intent with respect to the torturous act, but it would also be necessary to establish intent in terms of the infliction of pain on the victim. Not only would it be necessary to establish that intent to inflict pain, and necessary to establish there was an intent to intimidate or coerce an individual, it would also be necessary to establish that the individual who had pain inflicted upon them suffered severe and prolonged pain.

On top of that, it would be necessary to establish not only that a torturous act was committed against an individual, but that the torturous act was committed repeatedly. Unfortunately, “repeatedly” is not defined under Bill C-242, and therefore would be subject to judicial interpretation, thereby creating uncertainty.

In closing, I will simply say that, while Bill C-242 was well-intentioned, it would create uncertainty in the Criminal Code. It would create further complexity in the prosecution of cases involving torture. It would raise legal and interpretative problems for the courts, and it arguably could undercut Canada's international obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

It is for these reasons that I regretfully must stand in opposition to Bill C-242.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:50 p.m.


Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion today.

First, I want to thank the member for London North Centre for his work on Bill C-242. He chose a very serious and important area of the Criminal Code for his private member's bill, and I want to thank him for giving our justice committee and the House an opportunity to debate what he proposed.

Bill C-242 would have created a new offence in the Criminal Code to apply the term “torture” to heinous acts of violence that are currently prosecuted under a range of sections, from aggravated assault, to forcible confinement, to uttering threats, and so on.

The member suggested, and some witnesses agreed, that it is important for victims, as they are processing their trauma and moving forward, that society accurately label what has occurred; in other words, that we call it “torture” and not “assault”.

Although the committee did not receive any evidence on this particular point, I personally think it is important and—as I will explain in a moment—it should not be lost from this discussion. The voices of victims should be included in conversations about the criminal justice system.

At the justice committee, a number of practical concerns were raised about the bill.

First, it was the clear recommendation of the Department of Justice that if a new and more severe assault offence were to be created, it should not be called “torture” alone. To be clear, its advice was not that such acts do not constitute torture, as we commonly understand it; nor was it opposed to labels such as “torturous assault”, which members from the NDP proposed as solutions. Rather, its concern was with using only the word “torture” and, thus, creating two offences called “torture”.

It was suggested that to do this could undermine international agreements and norms against state torture, because it may encourage states with poor human rights records to create new or weaker variations of their laws to prevent officials from carrying out torture.

As I said, we considered this advice from the department and proposed that the new offence be called “torturous assault” so as to avoid the risks it identified, while still capturing the severity and brutality of the conduct.

Second, the committee heard from a number of legal experts who argued that the bill could not criminalize any conduct that is not already criminal in Canada. In other words, the acts that would give rise to prosecution under the new offence would already give rise to prosecution under a number of existing offences: assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, uttering threats, and others.

Again, to be clear. The bill would have changed the term that is applied and could, in some cases, also have increased the maximum punishment possible, but it would not make illegal any activity that is somehow currently legal.

It was because of these concerns—the practical risks raised by the Department of Justice and the question of necessity raised by legal experts—that the committee decided to not proceed with consideration of the bill at that time.

However, at that time, we raised some concerns about some language that was used in the discussion of the motion. I think it is very important to repeat here what we raised then. It was suggested by some members that Bill C-242 was wholly redundant. We, in the NPD, disagree with that characterization. The concerns that expert witnesses raised at committee were heard. They supported the decision to not proceed with the bill. However, they did not support the claim that Bill C-242 is redundant.

Let me explain.

First, existing assault provisions do not require that the offender intend to cause pain and suffering. They only require that the assault is intentional and that the offender was reckless as to its consequences.

Therefore, creating a new and more severe offence that captures the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering would be a meaningful change to the Criminal Code. It would be harder to prove, of course, but it would also more accurately capture the brutal acts that occur in these cases.

Second, the argument about the importance of naming acts that was made by the member for London North Centre, and by some witnesses at this committee, should not be rejected. That is why we tried to salvage the bill by proposing “torturous assault” as a compromise.

Unfortunately, the justice committee did not hear the evidence on what effect the name of an offence has on the recovery of the victim.

However, we can certainly see how victims and their families struggle to understand how a bar fight and days of sadistic abuse both fall under the label of assault.

Therefore, I urge the government to consider these two points in its review of the Criminal Code. First is whether a new and more serious assault offence should be created to capture the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. Second is whether such an offence could be given a name such as “torturous assault” that would more accurately capture the brutality of the crime. When the government conducts that study, I would urge it to hear directly from victims and their families, as well as experts.

We worked hard with all parties to resolve the concerns about the bill. I know that all parties supported the intention of the bill. Again, I thank the member for London—North Centre for his work.

While those concerns could not be resolved this time, I think it would be a grave mistake to abandon the bill permanently or declare it redundant. It contains some new and important ideas that should and must be considered by the government during its promised review of the Criminal Code.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.


Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, as the chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I want to say a couple of words on our fifth report and its recommendation to the House not to proceed further with Bill C-242.

I also want to thank my colleague, the member for London—North Centre, for bringing forward an idea that I think all parties had agreed had merit. I also want to thank the members of the committee who came to a unanimous conclusion after working together and listening to all of the testimony on the bill. There were no ideas that we did not discuss at committee, and all parties were involved.

I also want to thank the witnesses who appeared before our committee. We heard about true acts of torture. We heard about people who really suffered beyond anything any of us could ever imagine. To those people who were able to come forward and tell their stories, or those who came forward to tell stories on their behalf, I do want to thank them. Their work was not in vain. Their ideas were not lost.

While I believe the bill could have been amended to take into account certain things, I do not think the committee at all bought the idea that we could not have a second act of torture that was private, because there already was a public act of torture under section 269.1. We could easily have amended the name to call it a “torturous assault” or a “torturous act” and we would have all been fine with that, should there have been other justification for proceeding with the bill. We could have amended the idea that the punishment was life, as opposed to 14 years, as it is for public acts of torture, making it 14 years as well to be consistent with public acts of torture. Clearly, we would not want government sanctioned acts to carry a lower penalty than private acts.

However, the real reason we did not proceed was that all members of the committee were convinced that the criteria to prove this charge were so difficult that no prosecutor would ever use the charge, except as a duplicate or additional charge, because it was easier to prove existing offences in the Criminal Code that would have carried the same 14-year penalty. As a result, the committee determined that we should not further proceed, but we did agree to send a letter to the Minister of Justice, asking her to consider torturous acts in a private capacity, or torturous assault, as an aggravating factor for sentencing.

I am hoping that in its overall review of the Criminal Code, the government does consider and proceed with that recommendation of the committee.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Is the House ready for the question?

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.

Some hon. members


Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

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

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.



Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

8 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

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

Canadian HeritageAdjournment Proceedings

8 p.m.


Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, on September 30, 2016, I asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage when concrete measures to support news media would be put in place.

I asked that question two months ago now, and we still do not know what the Liberal government plans to do to provide meaningful support to help news media with the digital shift. Of course, the minister is conducting consultations across Canada. However, as is too often the case, nothing is certain, nothing is clear, and nothing is concrete.

What is worth noting is that, in the meantime, faced with the growing popularity of new media and digital platforms and without the benefit of any support, mainstream media are experiencing a sharp decline. All this government does is stumble around. When will it finally take real action?

I would remind the House that, in 2012, a first wave of cuts totalling $110 million led to major lay-offs, particularly at Radio Canada International, whose budget was cut by $10 million—an 85% cut given that its total budget was only $12.5 million to begin with.

In my riding, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe has been in print since 1853. It is the oldest French newspaper in America and a member of the Coalition pour la pérennité de la presse d'information au Québec, which advocates on behalf of print newspapers. Most major newspapers in Quebec and Canada have agreed to ask for concrete programs to help them transition to the digital platform.

This Quebec print media coalition is asking the federal government to act. They want meaningful financial assistance, transitional support, financial support to help them gradually transition to digital without having to choose between bankruptcy and cutting thousands of jobs just to survive. They are acutely aware of the challenges that the digital shift poses every day, but they are also grappling with lower ad revenues.

During one of her consultations, the minister had this to say about print media:

I realize that major changes are affecting various media and the entire entertainment industry. As I have said many times, everything is on the table. I am ready to talk about the levers available to the federal government to support and promote those industries.

I wonder what they are waiting for. When will they do something to help?

The coalition asked, among other things, for a program or a tax credit to cover some of the print media's investment in digital content. It also asked that the Copyright Act be updated, since the web giants and content aggregators are taking content from print media without paying for it or, sometimes, using it by simply rewording it.

It also called for support in producing original Canadian content through tax credits to cover some of the salaries or expenses related to information production. To date, there has been no solid commitment from the federal government.

I will simply repeat my question: will the Liberal government help print media as soon as possible?

Canadian HeritageAdjournment Proceedings

8:05 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Randy Boissonnault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, our government recognizes the important role that newspapers such as Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe play in Canadians' lives.

Canadian newspapers generate more than $4.1 billion in revenues and employ more than 30,000 people in Canada. Newspapers play an important civic role because they link Canadians to their community, their country, and the world. They are a cornerstone of our democracy.

This matter is important to us and we are concerned about the same issues that were raised by my hon. colleague across the way.

Our government recognizes the important role that newspapers like the Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe play in ensuring that Canadians have access to quality, reliable Canadian editorial content. That is why there are programs in place to assist them.

The Canada periodical fund, for example, provides support to Canadian print magazines, non-daily newspapers, and digital periodicals. This year, the CPF provided over $16 million to 369 paid non-daily newspapers, including Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe.

That being said, the world is changing. Digital technology is changing the way Canadians produce and consume content. They read the news on social media and on their smart phones. The quality of available content is unprecedented, as are the opportunities to connect Canadians with each other and with others around the world.

Many Canadian newspapers are proposing innovative strategies to capitalize on the digital age's potential. For example, La Presse+ now has more subscribers than the print edition of La Presse has ever had, even at the height of its popularity. La Liberté in Manitoba and Le Franco in Alberta have also adopted innovative approaches.

We acknowledge that the newspaper industry is experiencing challenges in this age of digital transition. That is why the Department of Canadian Heritage supported the development of a digital platform to help Quebec weekly newspapers migrate from print to online, and now La Presse+ has more subscribers online than it did in print editions in the past.

Recognizing the challenges posted by this new environment, the Minister of Canadian Heritage launched consultations on Canadian content in a digital world. More than 30,000 Canadians and stakeholders participated in our consultations, both online and in person. They engaged directly on issues like supporting the creation and export of Canadian content in this age. They shared their stories about their experiences. They shared innovative solutions on the challenges the industry faces today.

When I was at the final consultation in Edmonton, there were representatives of weekly newspapers, newspapers in la Francophonie, newspapers from across the province, asking questions and putting creative solutions on the table to ensure their survival. I would like to underline the work that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has done in this work on local media studies.

I would also like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, who worked to ensure the survival of these newspapers, because their presence in the community is a reflection of that community, and that is very important for democracy and for every community's vitality of every community.

Together, these initiatives will provide a holistic perspective to continue to ensure Canadians have access to diverse Canadian news and information. As the minister has indicated in the House even today, we will be examining all of the testimonials, all of the submissions from 30,000 participants, and we will have recommendations and solutions on this very important question in 2017, Canada's 150th celebration of Confederation.

Canadian HeritageAdjournment Proceedings

8:10 p.m.


Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to hear that the government recognizes that the print media is an integral part of our democracy and that a newspaper like Le courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe is important to a region such as ours.

As Canadians' representatives, it is our duty to guarantee their access to information. It seems to me that it is also our duty to ensure that these media outlets survive the digital shift—small, regional operations more so than major national organizations.

Once again, the Liberals have done a lot of consulting. The time has come, however, to take prompt action. We must very quickly find solutions to deal with the digital shift. I believe that is clear. The results of the various consultations are clear. Print media needs a real financial solution if it is to deal with the challenges of the digital era.

I will ask once more: can the federal government commit today to providing financial support to the print media that need it?

Canadian HeritageAdjournment Proceedings

8:10 p.m.


Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, the cultural sector is central to Canada's creative economy. It represents $54.6 billion of Canada's economy and more than 630,000 jobs. While it does pose significant challenges, the digital environment provides new opportunities for our creators and cultural entrepreneurs.

This is why our government consulted Canadians, including stakeholders from the news media industry. The aim of these consultations is to understand issues surrounding the creation, discoverability, and export of Canadian content in a digital world, and engage with Canadians about their experiences and ideas.

This initiative, along with the work of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and the findings of the Public Policy Forum, will inform our policy thinking going forward.

I have read Le courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe. I would like to thank my colleague for her comments.

We are very close to making an announcement on this very important issue.

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipAdjournment Proceedings

8:15 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise here again to advocate for the people in and around Vegreville, Alberta. It is especially important that I speak on their behalf, because the employees of the case processing centre in Vegreville have been told that they are not allowed to talk publicly or on social media, so I want to share some of their voices.

On November 22, a department email to all employees said that they owe a duty of loyalty to their employer. I believe that the government also has a responsibility to its employees, and it is failing.

In emails and on social media, my constituents have demanded that the minister show a business case, because they highly doubt that the cost of operations for a case processing centre are less in Edmonton. I agree. The minister must prove that there is actually a solid business case for closing the immigration centre in Vegreville. Just saying that there is a business case does not prove that it exists. The department and the minister have patronized and dismissed my constituents.

On October 27, at a meeting with employees, the assistant deputy minister even said, “Come on now, it's not the end of the world”. However, as one constituent put it, “When we looked at our options, our world slowly began to crumble”.

The minister says that all current employees will be given the opportunity to relocate to Edmonton, but that is not true. The closure could cause about 200 homes to go on the market in a town where 100 homes are already for sale. The people of my riding are writing to the minister saying that they cannot afford to sell their homes in Vegreville for next to nothing. Houses and rent in Edmonton are way more expensive, of course.

Commuting from Vegreville to Edmonton will require two to four hours of driving every day, and it will add costs for many families. One employee said, “I have estimated it will cost me an additional $500 per month to drive, and an additional $91 per month for an LRT pass. Currently I take home approximately $2600 per month, and after the additional expenses, my take-home pay will be approximately $2,000”. This grandmother will be forced to commute three hours a day, effectively destroying the lifestyle she treasures in Vegreville.

The minister is listening to officials who do not get what they are doing to families and to the whole area. A four-year-old wrote about his mother's potential new commute. He said, “When she gets home it would be time for me to get ready for bed and I wouldn't even get to play with her”.

A well-known up-and-coming Olympic athlete wrote, “If the CPC office moves to Edmonton, it will be impossible for me to commute four hours a day, care for my son, and train”.

The truth is that all employees don't actually have options, because, as one wrote, “Relocating isn't an option. You cannot relocate a farm”. My constituents are rural people. They love their rural way of life, and the case processing centre gives them stable income and employment.

As another wrote, “If I were to choose to commute, it would leave my children unattended, as their father toils for 12 to 16 hours a day on the farm. The time spent away from family would mean no time for volunteering, quality family time, or homework help”.

This is a needless attack on people and communities. Many Vegreville residents left to get an education and chose to move back, because they love their small town.

A mother wrote, “To work at CPC Vegreville, so close to home, has enabled me to be a mother and a wife and contribute to my family's financial well-being. It's not right that a woman has to choose between a career and her family”.

The minister claims that the closure is simply moving 280 jobs from Vegreville to Edmonton, but it would impact 250 spouses' jobs, 350 school-aged children, and dozens of businesses. It is kicking a small Alberta town when it is already down.

My question for the minister is this. Will he immediately reverse this unfounded edict and save the jobs and futures of these rural Albertans?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipAdjournment Proceedings

8:15 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague across the aisle for her important advocacy on this issue on behalf of her constituents in Vegreville.

To respond to the increased demand in various business lines, and to expand the operations of the IRCC, the department has made the difficult but necessary decision to relocate the Vegreville case processing centre to Edmonton. Canadians expect any government, including this government, to make responsible decisions on government spending that will ensure that taxpayers' dollars are spent on quality services that address current challenges and future needs.

The member opposite has raised the issue of whether there is a business case. My comments are indeed directed at addressing that very concern. In fact, the Minister of Immigration has stated that the department intends to expand its operations in Alberta in the coming years, creating in aggregate more jobs for Albertans. That is my first point.

With 42% of the current staff at Vegreville reaching retirement age in the next five years, the move to Edmonton will make it easier to recruit and retain qualified bilingual employees to meet the growing current and future needs. To date, the recruitment efforts to replace staff have been unsuccessful. This was the case even under the former government. Needless to say, the inability to recruit new staff, combined with the reduction in the workforce due to retirement, is a serious challenge. With fewer employees, service to clients will certainly be impacted. That, again, buttresses the business case.

Between October 2015 and September 2016, 17% of the staff in Vegreville left the workforce. As the member opposite well knows, the letter she received from the Minister of Immigration on November 17 stipulated that there were ongoing tenant issues at the current location in Vegreville, with almost 200 service calls made since 2013 to fix the heating, cooling, sanitary, and plumbing issues, again during the tenure of the previous government.

Once again, these are issues that the previous government was unable to resolve. This move will save taxpayers money because the new office will be located on premises owned by the Government of Canada.

Although the move from Vegreville to Edmonton makes business sense based on current and future needs, the member needs to understand that it was not a decision made without great consideration of the impact it would have on employees, as well as her constituents in the community of Vegreville. Employees were advised well in advance of this relocation, and efforts are under way to ensure that the impacts on staff are minimized.

I have great concern for the issues the member has outlined with respect to families. We are concerned and sensitive to the needs and problems that families are facing with the challenges they are undergoing in every facet of our economy, particularly in Vegreville, in the member's constituency. The management of IRCC will continue to work closely with staff throughout this transition period.

The positions in the relocated office will have the same work descriptions they have now, and so the current indeterminate employees will be able to retain their jobs. Business will continue as usual throughout the transition.

As I have said, Canadians expect their government to manage taxpayer dollars well, even if that means making difficult decisions, and this is the decision that we had to take.

I would also note that the Minister of Immigration has reached out to the member for Lakeland to meet with respect to Vegreville and to address her concerns and questions. The minister's office has yet to hear from the member.

We will continue to show leadership and continue to deliver for Albertans.

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipAdjournment Proceedings

8:20 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, the minister has claimed that everyone working at the case processing centre in Vegreville will have a job in Edmonton. I look forward to holding him to account on that. However, of course, officials have confirmed that the relocation provisions will only apply to less than half of the current employees. Farm families cannot relocate, and commuting takes three hours, which would cost employees on average $600 a month. Removing these jobs from Vegreville is like cutting 55,000 jobs in Edmonton or 279,000 jobs in the minister's home town of Toronto.

In fact, despite these claims, department officials have confirmed that there was no cost study. The fact is, there was no economic impact assessment and there was no consultation.

The minister said this edict would improve efficiency, but his own officials have praised the processing centre at Vegreville, saying it is an innovative and model office that often exceeds targets.

The minister has repeated that there is a sound business case for this. When will the employees and the people of Vegreville be able to see that business case?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipAdjournment Proceedings

8:20 p.m.


Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, we appreciate the efforts and advocacy by the member opposite. However, fiscal prudence and sound management of Canadian public finances is something that the party of the member opposite stands for. It is something that this government is working towards and is trying to implement with this decision. We are expected to make responsible decisions on government spending involving taxpayer dollars and to ensure that those taxpayer dollars are spend on quality services that address current challenges and future needs.

The facts supplied by the member opposite are speculative. Actually, the facts are that 42% of the current staff are reaching retirement age in the next five years. Between October 2015 and September 2016, 17% of the staff in Vegreville left the workforce. This is not speculative, but accurate. There have also been 200 tenant service calls to fix the heating, cooling, sanitary, and plumbing issues in the building since 2013. These are issues that the former government chose not to address, but that we will be addressing.