House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if my Liberal Party colleague decided it was a good idea to restore public funding of political parties, I would have to applaud him because that would be a great thing. However, that does not excuse the behaviour of the Liberal government cabinet.

The government has just created the Canada infrastructure bank, which quite frankly resembles a privatization fund. The Liberals are going to toss $15 billion in there and ask private investors to participate. In the coming months and years, there will be major business interests in the bank. Because it is so transparent, the government should be able to show that it cannot be corrupted; however, its current actions indicate the exact opposite. Perhaps the Liberals have come to realize that they have more problems than they thought. The Minister of Finance participated in public consultations in Calgary. Yesterday evening, he was supposed to attend a fundraising event. However, that event was suddenly cancelled at the last minute. Maybe the members opposite are beginning to understand.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it might just help to step back and mention for a minute what it is we are here to talk about. Really, what we are here to talk about is how it is that the government intends to implement and enforce the very same rules that the Prime Minister sent out to his ministers when he appointed cabinet.

We have heard from some Liberal members that somehow they do not think that putting it into law is the best way. If they have an alternative, let us hear it, but right now, we have a situation where ministers of the crown are obviously not following the rules set out by the Prime Minister. If the Liberals have a great idea on how to see that policy actually enforced, let us hear it. In the meantime, writing those rules into the law and allowing the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce those rules seems like a pretty good idea, and we certainly have not heard anything better from members opposite today.

To give hon. members a sense of what those rules are, may we step back and say something about the context into which the new government stepped in October? We really just have to name some names in order to get a sense of what Canadians were feeling about the standard of ethics in politics in October 2015, when we were talking about Dean Del Mastro and Mike Duffy. There were a lot of names on the tip of the tongues of Canadians that suggested to them that the ethical standard in Canadian politics was not high enough.

In came the Prime Minister, if we listen to him, on a white horse, and he would make things better. He went so far as to say in his instructions to ministers:

Moreover, [ministers] have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.

He went on in annex B of that same document to flesh out what exactly he meant. He said, “In order to ensure that there is no differential treatment or appearance”, and that is really the crux of the matter, because it is not just whether there is differential treatment.

According to the Prime Minister, the issue is whether there may even be the appearance of differential treatment, and he himself said, as I quoted just now, that merely acting within the law would not be enough to meet the bar he was setting just over a year ago, so he said:

In order to ensure that there is no differential treatment or appearance of differential treatment for individuals, corporations or organizations because of their financial support of politicians or political parties, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should adopt the following best practices

What are those best practices that this motion simply calls on the government to enforce by allowing the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce?

First, it says that “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should not seek to have departmental stakeholders included on fundraising or campaign teams or on the boards of electoral district associations”, so when we hear that the chair of Apotex is organizing a fundraiser for ministers of the crown, I think that is a pretty obvious contradiction of the guidelines that the Prime Minister set out and that we are simply asking to have enforced.

It says that ”Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should ensure that the solicitation of political contributions on their behalf does not target: departmental stakeholders, or other lobbyists and employees of lobbying firms”. When we find out through The Globe and Mail and others that there have been confidential websites set up and that people are getting access to those websites to buy tickets to those fundraisers by invitation, that is clearly not meeting the standard set out by the Prime Minister in these guidelines.

It makes us wonder. If the Prime Minister is not willing to police his members, who would? The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an obvious choice, and this motion simply calls on the government to allow the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to go ahead and do that work that the Prime Minister has decided he will not do, because he is not enforcing his own rules.

As I say, any time Liberals want to chime in and say that they have a better mechanism to ensure that this document and instructions on open and accountable government are actually followed by ministers of the crown and not just talked about, let them put them on the table, but we have not heard anything from them, and we have been debating this all day.

The other notorious thing about what is going on, in my view, about these particular fundraisers that we have talked about—because it is a problem—is that they do create the appearance of preferential access when people are paying $1,500 to get into an exclusive night with the Minister of Finance.

Incidentally, there is this idea that somehow a little old lady from Elmwood—Transcona who takes Handi-Transit to sit in the back of an open house, and leaves without talking to the minister, is the same as a high-powered corporate executive paying $1,500 to get into someone's private residence with only 14 other people. That there is no difference between those interactions with the minister is laughable. Shame on the members who have been getting up today to insinuate that somehow those two situations are not significantly different for the purposes of influencing ministers. That is just totally ridiculous.

When they pay that $1,500 to get into that privileged night with the minister, as advertised, then what? Well, at tax time they get about $650 of that back. So that is really nice. If a person has the $1,500 to fork out now—and this is a cash flow issue—then that person gets the preferential access, but the very same people who did not have the $1,500 are the ones who are going to pay almost half of it back to that person later.

Therefore, Canadians perversely are being made to pay for preferential treatment for high-powered corporate executives. I think there is something shameful about that, and it has not gotten enough attention. They are not actually paying $1,500 out of their own pocket. They are paying about $800 out of their own pocket, and the rest is coming out of the pocket of Canadian taxpayers.

I referred earlier to Dean Del Mastro and Mike Duffy. We have heard as kind of a defence from the Liberals that it seems to be that they are not like Dean Del Maestro; they are more of a Mike Duffy. Duffy went through court, and it ended up that he did not break any rules, according to the law. We have that from a judge, and so there was no problem. We know that Dean Del Mastro was bad and he went to jail, but the Liberals do not have a problem as they are really like Mike Duffy. They have this kind of strange Duffy defence.

I can tell members that, given the last five years of Canadian politics, for the government to get up and think that an acceptable defence is to say not to worry, because it is just like Mike Duffy, I think is pretty pathetic. However, that is what we have been hearing all day. I am at a loss on that.

I think there is another elephant in the room here. Actually one of the Liberal members earlier raised it as a bad thing, but I have always believed in a per-vote subsidy for political financing. That came in under the Chrétien Liberals. When they said that corporations and unions would not be able to donate, they recognized that political parties were going to have a harder time raising money.

Therefore, the Liberals brought in public financing so that, based on the support that political parties had, they could expect to have some money to fund their activities, so that parties would not be in a position where they were prostituting their ministers of the crown for money. When we create that kind of imperative to have politicians spending all of their time raising money, certain governments get into political hot water, because they start to use all the tools at their disposal to raise that money, whether it is right or wrong, and that is what we have been watching.

I dare say that, if the Liberals put their focus on bringing back reasonable public support for political party financing, then they may not have to be in the embarrassing position of having to defend ministers who are doing cash for access fundraisers. As far as I am concerned, that is part of the debate and where it ought to go.

I think it is an embarrassment to Canadians that ministers are out parading around asking for money for attention. Frankly, I think that if they are not ashamed of it, it is an embarrassment to the Liberal Party. They should care more, frankly, for their own brand. It is an embarrassment to Canada. It is an embarrassment to the Liberals that they are out doing this. They could bring in a proper political financing regime in Canada like the one we had.

What we are hearing from Liberals when they attack the political financing model is that they think Stephen Harper and the reforms he brought to political financing in Canada were better than Jean Chrétien's. If that is what they think, let us have them get up and say it again, that they are on team Harper when it comes to electoral reform, that they are disowning the actions of previous Liberal governments, and that if they had to choose between Stephen Harper's electoral reforms or the Chrétien Liberal reforms, they would be voting for the Harper reforms. Is that how far we have come? Is that what the last election was about? I do not think so.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my NDP colleague. He lost me in the last minute, but that is okay. However, I absolutely agree with the majority of things he said.

We see investors going to speak with the finance minister for $1,500. We see natural resource stakeholders going to speak to the natural resources minister. I just want to know. Am I dumb, or do members think they are speaking about gardening, about what book they are reading, or do we think they are actually talking about the topics that are dearest to their hearts?

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this harkens back to the defence of the justice minister, who was actually one of the first to engage in these unsavoury fundraisers. I am now using the language of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. The minister went to a fundraiser with a bunch of high-powered lawyers in Toronto and then, when questioned on it, said she was there as an MP from Vancouver and that was all, that the lawyers were really excited to meet an MP from Vancouver, so there was no problem.

The member is quite right. It is ridiculous to maintain that a bunch of high-priced Toronto lawyers wanted to meet the Minister of Justice in her capacity simply as an MP from Vancouver. I do not think they are in the practice of having MPs show up regularly at their firms and paying them lots of money just to chit-chat about how things are going in their ridings, what the weather is like, or whatever else. It is laughable. It is laughable but it has been going on for months now.

The member is absolutely right. It is just not credible to think that is what is going on. As I say, the idea that someone showing up in the back of a free town hall versus someone paying big money to go to a private dinner is somehow equal access to government is just as ridiculous.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it was not that long ago that a New Democratic member of Parliament said she would mention people's names in the House of Commons for a $50 donation. We have two political parties, the New Democrats and Conservatives, that have actually broken election laws. While I sat in opposition, they were breaking the election financing laws. No election laws have been broken here. There is no conflict of interest if no laws have been broken.

My question to the member is this. Does he not recognize that it is somewhat hypocritical for two political parties to be calling for something when they are the two parties that broke the law and have been ordered to return money by the courts and Elections Canada, whereas this government has not? If no election laws have been broken, there is no conflict.

Will the member at least apologize for his party's behaviour in breaking the election laws?

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

For those keeping score at home, Mr. Speaker, that is another instance of the Duffy defence.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, it has been interesting to listen to comments from the Liberal side of the House today. It appears that, the closer we cut to the chase, the louder the wails and screams seem to be. I have noticed that quite often from the members opposite today.

They really have not come back with a good answer as to why they cannot go along with this motion. I would like to ask the member what this is about. Again, it is not about the laws; it is about the ethics and the appearance of conflict of interest. Could the member reinforce that to the members on the other side who have continuously distracted from what this motion is really about?

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to reinforce that—at length, even. The member is quite right. An important point is that the standard of ethics and appearance of conflict of interest does not come from just this side of the House. It comes from the Prime Minister himself. It did not come in a footnote or scribbled on the back of a napkin; it came in a huge document that was released with great fanfare. It was repeated many times that this was part of the instructions to ministers.

All the motion today is really about is how the government is going to enforce those very same rules that the Prime Minister made such a big show of subjecting his ministers to. The fact of the matter is that, as these fundraisers continue, we see that there is no mechanism. Maybe there are other mechanisms, but the one suggested today is perfectly reasonable. We already have a Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; we already have the rules laid out by the Prime Minister; so we should allow the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce the rules, and it would solve the problem.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

Many students and young professionals voted for the first time in this last election. These are Canadians who chose not to vote in the previous election, but they voted this time because the Prime Minister promised them something. He promised them to function according to integrity, to be transparent, and to offer hope against the cynicism that they feel about politics and politicians. The greatest sin from my generation, because I fit within that, is hypocrisy. Since taking government, the Liberal Party is proving to be every single last thing that this rising generation stands against.

The Prime Minister made big promises to get elected, but once he gained power it was simply business as usual for the Liberal Party, which happens to be the most cynical appeal to the values of students and young professionals that we have ever seen in politics to date. The damage this will do is astronomical in terms of the trust Canadians should be able to place in government and the promises a government makes, particularly with regard to ethics.

The Liberals promised Canadians a “fair and open government”. Shortly after winning the election, the Prime Minister publicly released the standard that his cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries were supposed to hold to. Unfortunately, they have not done so. The “Open and Accountable Government” guideline states, “Public office holders have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.” The guideline goes on to say that ministers and parliamentary secretaries must “act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity...and impartiality of the government are conserved and enhanced”.

What is the test of whether or not public confidence is in fact met? The Prime Minister answers this for us. He goes on to state that this obligation to integrity and impartiality “is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.” Therefore, even when acting within the law, one's actions can in fact be unethical and that is what we see from the present Liberal government.

This is why it was so concerning last week for us to have the finance minister busily telling reporters that he did nothing illegal and that he followed all of the rules, as he sold access to himself to rich business individuals on the eve of his fall fiscal update. This was not just a one-off. This follows on the heels of the justice, natural resources, and industry ministers attending similar high-profile, swanky $1,500 events for access. It does not take an expert with a legal degree to see that the Liberals are not living up to the standard that they set at the beginning of their term.

For a government that came to power with the promise of greater transparency, the Liberals only seem to offer a chair for those who can afford to make the maximum donation to their party. This is unacceptable. This is baffling, seeing as how the “Open and Accountable Government” document explicitly states, “There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.”

Why should a law firm specializing in mining and resource permits and regulations then be able to meet with the Minister of Natural Resources? Why should the firm's representatives be able to meet with him in the home of a host who is in fact a registered lobbyist? The Prime Minister will meet with his youth council maybe twice per year, but if people have $1,500 in their back pockets, they can have access to a minister far more often.

Are the voices of top Liberal donors more important than the voices of any one of my constituents in Lethbridge? Is this why those people who lost their jobs in the province of Alberta cannot seem to get the ear of the current government, while the millionaires running Bombardier are able to get $1 billion in subsidization?

The Liberals are putting a price on policy, and they are allowing the highest bidder to influence its making. Cabinet ministers directly shape the policies of this nation, which will affect all Canadians from farmers in Alberta to moms in Nova Scotia to students in Ontario.

How can the Liberals truly grasp the gravity of the job loss and economic stress that is plaguing our country if they are only hearing the opinions from their friends on Bay Street? Canadians can clearly see the hypocrisy in only allowing those with cash to have access to top decision-makers. This is absolutely unacceptable, but not surprising.

This is the same Prime Minister who felt that it was all right to charge $25,000 to charities for the privilege of hearing him speak. How cynical is it to promise Canadians accountability, transparency, and hope, and then so blatantly throw it back in their faces with these hypocritical moves, this cash for access? To make matters worse, Liberals put the responsibility for policing this guideline in the hands of the department that reports to the Prime Minister directly, instead of an independent and impartial Ethics Commissioner. We know why.

Under our previous Conservative government, we introduced the single biggest piece of accountability legislation in Canada's history, the Federal Accountability Act. We created the Commissioner of Lobbying, the registry of lobbyists, and expanded the powers of the Ethics Commissioner. The Commissioner of Lobbying and the Ethics Commissioner used these expanded powers to crack down on even perceived conflicts of interest by lobbyists and stakeholders.

These changes significantly limited the events and the gifts that lobbyists are allowed to use to entice policy-makers to change their policies. Ministers and staff were banned from attending industry rubber-chicken dinners, because that could create a perceived conflict of interest.

We know that there is absolutely no way that the Ethics Commissioner would approve of the cash for access events that the Liberals are pulling off right now, should she be given the opportunity to weigh in, which is exactly why the Liberals are opposed to the motion that we brought forward today.

It looks like we are back to the days of the 1990s. Those were dark days, when the elite old boys' club worked the backroom of Parliament, trading influence for cash, making backroom deals.

Today, I call upon the Liberal government to grant the Ethics Commissioner the authority to enforce the “Open and Accountable Government” policy. I believe that only an independent officer of Parliament, like the Ethics Commissioner, has the trust of the Canadian public to fairly and impartially apply the ethical standards that the Liberals say they will abide by. If the Liberal government is as transparent as its election promises and its guide to ministerial conduct, then it should in fact support the motion. Alas, it does not.

As someone who is part of this rising generation, I know what it is to distrust or question authority. This generation is often skeptical of words. It is actions that demonstrate the nature of an individual's character. The Prime Minister made big promises to this generation, promises to do politics differently, promises to be accountable, promises to be transparent, and promises to do things the right way.

However, he is failing to live up to those promises. The cynicism that this demonstrates is absolutely deplorable. Saying anything to get elected is exactly what he promised not to do. However, he is doing it very well. If the Prime Minister is incapable of living up to his own words, he needs to allow an independent, impartial officer of Parliament to do what he clearly lacks the integrity to do himself.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I disagreed with almost every word of my hon. colleague's speech.

Again, I would like to come back to the substance of the motion, and I would like to see this in a much more non-partisan way. The substance of the motion is asking for the Ethics Commissioner to rule on and to become a judge of something that is not a law of Parliament. Currently it is an act, adopted by Parliament, that she is in charge of having us work on and respect.

The same can be said if the Conservative Party passes a code of ethics for its own leadership candidates. Do you believe that the Ethics Commissioner should then be in charge of enforcing that, or that of the NDP? I understand that you are trying to say that this is a different issue, but reading the motion, the motion is calling on the Ethics Commissioner, so please explain—

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I am sure that the hon. member does not mean he wants to know what I mean. He is talking about the hon. member.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

You are absolutely correct, Mr. Speaker.

Does the hon. member believe that guidelines set out by each party should then be enforced by the Ethics Commissioner?

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is about something entirely different. We are talking about a policy document that governs a party. In other words, it is fully partisan. As Conservatives, we do follow our policy document.

What we are talking about today is a party that has been given government. That party has been entrusted by the Canadian public to run our country, to make decisions on behalf of a country. It is exactly that. It is to make decisions on behalf of a country, not make decisions on behalf of 10 of its best friends from Bay Street. It is for this reason that the Liberal government needs to be held to account with regard to its unethical actions.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only did those events take place, but on top of that, the Liberals used public servants, employees paid by departments and therefore by the Government of Canada, to promote and organize these fundraising activities.

Could my colleague comment on that?

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is true. Individuals within these departments are paid through tax dollars and these tax dollars come from the Canadian public. The Canadian public expects ministers and the staff within their offices and their departments to be working on behalf of the Canadian public, not on behalf of a privileged few.

In this case the Liberal government is taking money from taxpayers and using it to propagate their own events, which are limited to very few people. That is just absolutely deplorable. It is unacceptable.

Opposition Motion—Preferential access to governmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It being 5:37 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, November 15, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

It being 5:37 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

moved that Bill C-235, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder), be read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

I am moved today to start the debate on my bill, Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder).

We have all seen television episodes of someone wrongly imprisoned and how that devastates their lives and how heart breaking it is. I am sure that has moved many members to tears. We have it in our power with Bill C-235 to end a number of cases of needless suffering of innocents. It is not one, not two, not three, but potentially over 2,000 cases a year. In fact, for people alive in Canada today, it could potentially affect 180,000 Canadians. This is an immense challenge and humanitarian opportunity.

First, I will explain the bill briefly. FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is permanent brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. In a vast majority of cases, unlike other ailments, it is an invisible affliction. Among the symptoms of the resulting defects in the central nervous system are impaired mental functioning, poor executive functioning, memory problems, impaired judgment, inability to control compulsive behaviour, and impaired ability to understand the consequences of one's actions. These distinct set of attributes are capably diagnosed by today's modern assessments. Through no fault of their own, those born with this have brains that do not have the ability to keep them from committing crimes or understanding the consequences. Therefore, normal sentencing, normal incarceration, normal release do not make any logical sense in their regard, and do not fulfill the purposes for which they were created.

The bill comprises four recommendations from the Canadian Bar Association, which represents the thousands of lawyers and judges who deal with this affliction every day. First, it would allow the court to order assessments of an offender to see if they have FASD. Second, if they have FASD, it would allow them to use that as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Third, when a person with FASD is in custody, the bill directs that they be treated specially for that. It would be added to a list of other conditions and groups of people treated specially in the correctional system. Fourth, when a person with FASD is released they would have an external support plan so they do not miss probation, for example, and end up, as judges say, through the revolving door and back in prison.

While prima facie, it is a simple bill, many bills can be improved in committee and I would welcome any logical amendments to it.

My goal is to reduce unnecessary, tragic human suffering, but some may want to know the financial savings. Assessments cost in the order of $5,000. If Ontario were to keep one-half of the early potential 840 FASD offenders out of jail for just one year, at $100,000 a year, it would provide the province with over $40 million a year for more logical, just, humane, effective ways of dealing with these offenders and their afflictions.

It is important to note that in the last Parliament, similar bills to this were twice before the Parliament. One was Conservative and one was Liberal. However, there was not enough time for them to complete the legislative cycle. We will shortly hear some of the excerpts from that debate. Speakers from all parties supported and spoke in favour of that bill.

It is important to recognize that this bill is only a small piece of the much larger puzzle of steps needed to alleviate the suffering, and sometimes tortured existence, of people with FASD. Other steps that need to be taken include prevention. This is a totally preventable condition. They include steps to prevent contact with the justice system in the first place, further research, special services, restorative justice, information sharing, targeted interventions, and supportive living arrangements.

These are important tasks for others, but this bill only deals with FASD sufferers who are involved with the justice system. That is about 60% of them. Yes, I said 60%.

As I outlined at the beginning, and as we can see, the need is staggering. It is estimated that one in 100 Canadians is afflicted with FASD and studies have indicated that, minimally, between 10% and 30% of inmates in today's prisons have FASD, costing us tens of millions of dollars.

This is perhaps why in its call to action No. 34, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on the governments of Canada, the provinces, and the territories “to undertake reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)”.

As I said, I am open to amendments, and I will just give members four questions that people might want to debate in committee.

First, should the judge have the power to make assessments mandatory?

There are mixed views on this. There are already precedents in the criminal justice system for ordering assessments, but if parliamentarians feel that these should not be mandatory, then it would be easy to amend the bill. We do have to protect the offender from self-incrimination during these assessments. If parliamentarians wanted, they could expand the assessment section to clarify Criminal Code assessment powers in general, and that would also include FASD assessments. To the credit of the territories and the provinces, assessments are much more widely available now than in the past.

Second, what about people with other inflictions who are not included in the bill?

First, they are not filling our jails in the thousands like the FASD offenders are; second, if there were a big need in other identified afflictions needing special conditions that could be prescribed, someone would have proposed legislative remedies for that situation; and third, most other conditions are visible and otherwise known to the judge, while FASD is known as the invisible affliction because, until diagnosed, many people, including judges, would not know the offender had FASD and impaired brain and central nervous functions. Indeed, some have high IQs but still have the interaction deficiencies that I outlined at the beginning of my speech. Fourth, if another condition and its deficiencies and special provisions were presented to the committee, these could easily added to the bill now or to the Criminal Code at a later date. To date, no serious evidence has been presented to us of another condition with near the magnitude of a problem that FASD poses in our present day justice system, as identified by lawyers, judges, and FASD workers across Canada.

A third question that members might want to debate in committee is the following. What if, in the rare violent offender FASD cases, the assessment results in the offender being put in protective custody for a longer time than would have occurred without the assessment, for the safety of both himself and the public?

I say, so be it. As an evidence-based government, it is better to have more evidence to make a decision.

A fourth question is, should the external support plan be approved by the judge or the probation officer, and should it be voluntary, after the time of a normal sentence of a person who does not have FASD?

Those are four items we could discuss. As I said, I am open to amendments.

We can save thousands if we act now, from injustice and needless suffering. Perhaps, in the future, we could even add a few more if a condition and its legislative remedies are identified and documented. However, there is no reason to delay. If in fact someone launched and won a challenge and were added to the criminal justice system, then our pioneering efforts would have paved the way for that to happen, for that person or that group to have justice, too.

There is a huge desire on the part of MPs on all sides of the House to improve greatly our dealing with mental health issues in Canada. What a great humanitarian advance it would be if we could improve the lives of thousands with this mental deficiency. It goes without saying that in Canada, and in fact around the world, there is great support for legislative assistance for people afflicted with FASD who come into contact with the legal system. When a similar bill was before Parliament, the Conservative proponent said he had 1,500 stakeholders supporting his efforts. I have my own large network of support.

The Conservative member also said, on June 5, 2014, in Hansard:

I would also like to extend my gratitude to the legislators of the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories, both of which recently passed unanimous motions calling on the Government to support Bill C-583.

Some FASD workers in other countries applaud Canada for these pioneering efforts and want to use them as models in their own nations.

However, it is not only FASD experts in the field who are so passionate and excited about the bill. We must remember that the bill is different from a lot of normal private member's bills that may not have a legislative background. The bill is comprised of only the four recommendations from the Canadian Bar Association, and crafted by its president at the time Rod Snow, thousands of its member lawyers, legal experts, and judges who deal constantly in the courts and corrections system with offenders who suffer with FASD. Who better to craft the legislative improvement?

The purpose of sentencing is to protect the public by presenting a deterrent to offenders so that when they get out, which virtually all of them do, they do not reoffend. However, the damaged brain of FASD offenders often do not connect the crime with the punishment. Therefore, if they do not know why they are being punished, why would we continuously, cruelly, and senselessly incarcerate them, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, instead of treating and supervising them appropriately on the basis of the reality of the sad truth of their physical brain deficiency?

I want to quote again from the Conservative speech from Hansard, when the bill was before Parliament on June 5, 2014. It is a quote about a young FASD woman speaking at a conference. It states:

She talked about going to work in the morning and forgetting her keys and then returning home to get her keys, but then forgetting why she had come home. Then, when she finally realized what she was looking for, her keys, she forgot what she needed her keys for. She had to slow down and calm herself and deal with that confusion and frustration of not being able to really grasp exactly what she needed to get done.

Imagine this young woman being tasked with making a number of probation or court appearances or appointments. What happens if she misses an appointment? She would go back to jail because of an administrative breach. These people have a damaged nervous system and little concept of timing, and we are irrationally and unjustly sentencing them to a painful and personal purgatory.

Our current federal justice minister said it as well as anyone I have heard, when she said this to the Canadian Bar Association last February:

The truth is that many offenders have some combination of mental illness and addiction....

Imagine if we could change the system to better align it with the needs of all Canadians. What if an offender's first interaction with the criminal justice system did not become the first in a series? What if it triggered mechanisms designed to address the factors that inspired the criminal behaviour in the first place?

It has been a long day. Let us imagine we are going home. However, what if after we have walked a couple of blocks from here, to our horror, we are picked up by the police and put in jail for a couple of years, far from our friends and family, and we did not know why? Then, when our time was up and we got out of this horrible situation, we were picked up by a police car again and told that we missed an appointment and we were thrown back in jail. We would wonder how people could be so cruel.

Colleagues, let us show what it means to be Canadian and end the suffering of thousands who, through no fault of their own, cannot help themselves.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know within my own riding of Elgin—Middlesex—London I deal with several cases of FASD. Therefore, I recognize it is in the member's community, but we also see it all throughout Canada.

I have some concerns, but perhaps you can help me with this. I have spoken to different people in the justice system to get some advice because I have worked with these clients and want to make sure that the best outcome is there for them. However, I have been assured that when they are in the court system this disorder is being looked at and it is being recognized that they have fetal alcohol syndrome at the time of sentencing, if it gets to that extent.

Am I absolutely wrong on that or have I received the wrong information? Maybe you can clarify that because I have been advised that during the sentencing process for FASD victims, and that is how I see them as it is not their fault, their condition has already been taken into consideration.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to remind the hon. members to speak through the Speaker as opposed to directly across.

The hon. member for Yukon.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes and no. I think it depends on what part of Canada one comes from.

The member mentioned a very good point, which is that it is in certain parts of Canada. In certain areas like mine, where people are used to it, the judges and lawyers understand this and they make those special provisions. Sometimes the judges will go out on a limb without any legislative backdrop to do that and use it as a mitigating factor when maybe they should not.

However, there are parts of Canada where they do not understand this yet, even though people drink and have babies, so it is just as prevalent. They do not know it and do not realize this could be a factor. If they put it right in the system, it gives them the authority so that they are not stepping outside their bounds. Also, it educates those who do not understand that these people need to be treated in a different way.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is such a good idea that it is distressing it has not happened already. I was at a conference last week and spoke with women who suffered disabilities. They told me that 40% of women who were incarcerated had suffered a brain injury. Of course, they would have volatile, unexplained behaviour that would get them in trouble and very much go down the path that the member described.

I am in full support of the bill. I hope the member can give us some indication of why we are so far behind on the science of understanding how injuries to the brain affect behaviour and then intersect with the criminal justice system.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I listed some of the concerns. There is excellent research now, so it is speeding up a lot more. Some of the reasons have been more political as opposed to research. I tried to address any legislative concerns people might have with the bill.

That is a good question and it gives me an opportunity to say something brand new. There is some very fascinating research going on now. By testing genes and chromosomes and their reaction to alcohol, there may soon be a way of doing biological testing, which there never was before. This would be a huge advance if that research, which is taking place somewhere the Prairies, is successful. It would be great for all of us.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to salute the hon. member for Yukon for this wonderful initiative.

I would also like to highlight that in the annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, 2014-15, he indicates that between 10% and 23% of people incarcerated perhaps suffer from this disorder. He states that CSC does not have a reliable or validated system to screen, assess, or diagnose this spectrum disorder at intake and this lack of reliable prevalence data means offenders with undiagnosed FASD may not be benefiting from specialized interventions that take into account an offender's mental health needs, as per legal requirements.

It is something we need to look at and it is well-documented. This is important.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I, the correctional investigator and the member for Charlottetown all spoke at a conference on this. The investigator is quite supportive and understands the correctional system and those needs very well. It is good that the member mentioned it was reflected in his report. It is pretty obvious to the people who work in the jails that there are special needs.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise this evening to speak to Bill C-235, introduced by the hon. member for Yukon. l believe this is a very well-intentioned bill to deal with the incredibly complicated issues surrounding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder within the context of Canada's criminal justice system.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, is a non-clinical umbrella term to describe individuals who suffer permanent brain damage as a result of prenatal exposure to alcohol. FASD is not new, however. Over the last number of years there has been increased awareness about FASD and its effects.

There is no doubt that persons who suffer from FASD are more likely to be caught up in the criminal justice system. While it is unclear exactly what percentage of offenders within the criminal justice system has FASD, the fact is that because there is increased awareness about it, the issues of FASD are becoming relevant in more and more reported criminal cases throughout our courts.

Our criminal justice system is based upon a number of different assumptions. One of those assumptions is the presumption of voluntariness, that individuals act in an informed manner when they commit a crime. In that regard, it is only in very narrow circumstances that an individual may be exempt from the imposition of criminal liability in a mental health context.

Normally, in order for an individual to be exempt from criminal liability on the basis of mental health, the mental illness defence would need to be made out. In order for that defence to be made out, it would have to be established that the individuals suffered from a severe impairment that went to their ability to comprehend the wrongfulness of their actions or the harm that their actions brought about. It is again only in a very narrow set of circumstances, and indeed there are many instances involving FASD or other mental illnesses that would not meet the threshold for the mental illness defence to apply.

Given the increased prevalence of cases involving FASD, many of the assumptions that have long underlined the criminal law in Canada are being challenged every day, including principles of voluntariness and free will.

One of the most common areas in which the issue of FASD becomes an issue in criminal cases is at the sentencing stage. Bill C-235 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by establishing a presumption that FASD is a mitigating factor for the purpose of sentencing. The principles of sentencing are set out at sections 718-718.2 of the Criminal Code. The most important principle in sentencing is set out at subsection 718.1 of the Criminal Code, which provides that a just sentence is based on the degree of responsibility of the offender.

Whenever judges apply the principles of sentencing under the Criminal Code, including assessing the degree of responsibility of the offender, it is a very complicated task. It is one of the most complicated tasks, usually, in the course of a criminal trial. That task is made all the more complicated when dealing with offenders with FASD.

While Bill C-235 seeks to establish a presumption that FASD is a mitigating factor for sentencing, it should be noted that the courts have not responded in a uniform way on that particular issue. There are many reported cases in which the courts have taken into account the particular facts and circumstances of the case and the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the offender, and determined that FASD should be a mitigating factor for the purpose of sentencing.

However, there are other cases in which the courts have held quite the opposite in finding that FASD should be an aggravating factor. One such case, for example, is the I.D.B. case in which a provincial court judge in Alberta found that it was an aggravating factor. The decision of the provincial court judge was upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

The bottom line is that, any time we are dealing with a case involving FASD, every case is unique, no case is the same, and each case is incredibly complex. I certainly note that Bill C-235 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by creating this presumption. I do have some questions as to whether that presumption is appropriate, given that there is no one-size-fits-all case involving offenders with FASD, and yet to some degree part of Bill C-235 could create a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of sentencing, arguably, in terms of at least establishing this presumption of it being a mitigating factor. That being said, it would be only a presumption.

Second, I do have some concern with the fact that Bill C-235 deals exclusively with offenders with FASD, but it does not encompass offenders who have other illnesses, including the fact that it creates a specific presumption for persons with FASD but would not extend that presumption to persons who suffer from other mental illnesses. In that regard, I have some concern that the bill could perhaps create an inconsistency in the Criminal Code that could potentially be problematic.

In closing, I want to congratulate the member for Yukon for bringing forward the bill. It is an important issue, a complicated issue, and I look forward to the debate this evening on it.