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.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-235.

I have had the privilege over the past year since my election as the member for Saskatoon West to meet with a wide range of groups and individuals in my community. One meeting which stood out for me was the one with representatives from the FASD Network in Saskatoon.

The FASD Network of Saskatchewan is a provincial organization that works with families, children, and adults affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It is a group of dedicated parents who came together in the early 1990s, seeking support and understanding. They have common concerns about the challenges related to parenting children affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

When the network began, very little was known about FASD. Families faced stigma, lack of services, and misunderstanding. Now, 20 years later, the network is a community-based, provincial organization with an office in my riding in Saskatoon. Over the years, the level of knowledge and understanding in Saskatchewan communities has grown along with the network. Today, the network offers support, training, and events across the province.

Before I speak to the bill itself, I would like to reiterate and emphasize some facts about FASD, some of which we have heard already.

FASD is the biggest single cause of mental disabilities in most industrialized countries. According to Health Canada, FASD affects nine in every 1,000 babies in Canada, or 3,000 births per year; 300,000 Canadians are currently living with FASD.

As we have heard, FASD is an umbrella term to describe a range of disabilities and diagnoses, the severity of which may be affected by how much alcohol was consumed by the mother and when.

The effects of FASD, such as difficulty reasoning, inability to remember things like appointments, trouble learning from past experiences and not repeating mistakes, can often contribute to other problems, including mental health issues, dropping out of school, trouble with the law, chronic unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness.

Amy Salmon, executive director of the Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD), has said:

We know that people with FASD are overrepresented--both as offenders, but also as victims--within the justice system. And we know that in many places around the country, people with FASD are also overrepresented among those who are incarcerated.

Living with FASD is about more than a diagnosis. It is also about living with strengths and struggles. It is about living with a disability. All across Canada, infants, children, youth, and adults live with FASD and experience a range of primary disabilities caused directly by prenatal alcohol exposure. No two individuals experience the primary cognitive, behavioural, physical, or sensory disabilities in the same way.

FASD affects not just the individual, but families and their communities as well. There are no confirmed statistics on the number of Canadians living with FASD, but the commonly stated rate is 1%. Using that rate, about 153 Saskatchewan babies were born with FASD in 2014.

It is a lifelong disability, but when we have the right attitudes and put the right supports in place around both the families that are going to be having children and the families that may be living with children who live with FASD, we can set people up for success.

Here are some sobering numbers. An estimated one out of 100 newborns are affected by FASD in Canada and, of that population, 60% of those individuals will have interaction with the justice system. In 2014-15, the cost of incarceration for individuals ranged from $199 for provincial jails to over $300 per day federally. FASD is an invisible disability, thus, opting for FASD testing and referrals to community services and support systems will decrease the fiscal impact of high cost incarceration, while ensuring continuous support from the community.

This combination of individual, professional, and systemic factors converge to result in a disproportionate number of youth with FASD being incarcerated. In fact, youth with FASD have been found to be 10 to 19 times more likely to be incarcerated than youth without FASD.

In another sample of 253 individuals with FASD, 60% reported a history of being charged, convicted, or in trouble with authorities, and 42% of adults had been incarcerated. Recent data from the forensic outpatient clinic in Saskatchewan revealed that the rate of FASD diagnoses was 55% in its adult population. All of the available evidence to date indicates both the necessity and value of incorporating FASD screening and diagnosis into the justice system.

In the absence of a full diagnosis that requires a multidisciplinary team, several screening tools have been developed and validated, including the FASD checklist and the Youth Probation Officers' Guide to FASD Screening and Referral.

With improved understanding and recognition of FASD in the criminal justice system, appropriate and early interventions and management plans can be implemented. Whether encountering the justice system as a witness, victim, or offender, individuals with FASD have unique and often complex needs that are not supported in the current justice system model. With improved training of FASD for front-line workers, individuals with FASD will have access to equitable justice outcomes.

The framework for action on FASD, unveiled in 2003, recognized that:

The costs of FASD to society are high—without taking into account the lost potential and opportunity, direct costs associated with FASD over a lifetime have been estimated at about $1.5 million per person with FASD.

I am in full agreement with FASD Saskatoon when it says it is imperative for Canada to recognize FASD as a cognitive disability that reduces moral culpability and thus should be a mitigating factor during sentencing. FASD is brain damage.

While Bill C-235 should not eliminate culpability, the courts need to question the ethics and fairness around proposing sentences without accounting for organic brain damage, which could result in charges that the person does not understand stem from his or her actions.

It is essential to have mandated training for front-line workers to increase awareness and understanding of the impact an FASD diagnosis has on individuals entering the justice system.

As is so often the case, when formal systems fail, the community steps in to address and support individuals who fall through the cracks. In my community, I am grateful for the work of the CUMFI Wellness Centre and the FASD support network, and now they need government to partner to ensure equity and fairness for individuals living with FASD.

With training, the legal system can adapt to these individuals with FASD and formulate manageable criteria for interaction.

Since the inception of Saskatoon's Mental Health Strategy court, the network staff in Saskatoon have connected with 29 individuals who live with FASD. Of those 29, 22 became part of the support program's case management and were supported through and after the court process. Of these 22 individuals, three are still going through and being supported through the court process. So far, of the 19 people who have been supported and sentenced through the mental health strategy Court, 17 have not re-offended.

The evidence is clear. People with FASD need support systems both within and without the court system.

Because this disability is often overlooked, those working in the justice system need to be trained to recognize it, and there must also be recognition that individuals and their unique circumstances matter in the pursuit of justice.

It is about making the sentence fit the crime and letting judges exercise discretion based on the facts of the case. In other words, it really is the antithesis of the prescriptive, costly, often ineffective, and frequently unconstitutional approach taken by previous governments, which really removed a lot of judicial discretion in favour of a one-size-fits-all minimum sentence.

We in the NDP support quick passage of this legislation, which has been introduced in past Parliaments and enjoyed support across parties. We look forward to studying the bill in committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.


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

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code, regarding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

I would like to begin by thanking the member for the Yukon for his long-standing advocacy on this important issue. By introducing this private member's bill, he has focused the attention of Parliament on a disorder that goes too often unnoticed in society. For this he is to be commended. He is clearly motivated by a desire to help society's marginalized and in the process create a safer and more just society. This private member's bill proposes to make changes to both the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to address the pressing challenge of persons with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the criminal justice system.

The issue of FASD was discussed by federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety at their recent meeting this past October. At that meeting, the ministers approved a report from a steering committee of officials who were tasked with examining the issue. The report, which is now publicly available, sets out several comprehensive recommendations for addressing FASD in the criminal justice system. I will return to that report in more detail in a few minutes because it raises some key points.

First, though, I would like to say a few things about FASD itself.

As we have heard, FASD is a diagnostic term used to describe brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. When a woman consumes alcohol while she is pregnant, the alcohol can impact the developing fetus and alter both the physical structure of the brain and the brain's capacity to function. This brain damage is permanent and has lifelong and far-reaching impacts on the individuals it affects and on society as a whole. FASD poses challenges for the criminal justice system, because without appropriate supports, individuals with FASD can be impulsive, unable to regulate their behaviour, and may be unable to learn from their mistakes. In fact, one study has estimated that 60% of individuals with FASD end up in trouble with the law.

This concern is compounded when combined with the limited available data about the number of individuals with FASD who are incarcerated in Canadian prisons. The most recent data on FASD in corrections comes from the Yukon. In that jurisdiction, the prevalence of FASD among convicted offenders is at least 17%. This number could in fact be as high as 34%, but given the challenges in confirming maternal alcohol consumption, the diagnosis cannot be conclusively made for these other individuals.

When faced with an overwhelming challenge to the criminal justice system such as FASD, often the first instinct is to look for a legislative solution. Amending the Criminal Code to specifically address FASD seems like an obvious place to start. However, as with many complex social issues, the most effective solution is often just as complex and may not be found in legislation. I would encourage all of us to think about the most effective way to truly have a positive impact on the lives of people with FASD.

It is worth noting that the report approved by federal, provincial, and territorial ministers in October, which I mentioned earlier, was the product of several years of study by the Steering Committee on FASD and Access to Justice comprised of officials from across the country. Their report did not recommend specifically naming FASD in the Criminal Code because that would single out one disorder to the exclusion of all others. Rather, it recommended further study of whether a more general assessment power for all mental disorders, including but not limited to FASD, would be a useful reform to assist courts in sentencing persons who are living with these conditions. Such a recommendation, especially from this source, merits consideration.

I would like to spend my remaining time discussing some of the specific proposals of Bill C-235 that raise some thought-provoking issues.

Bill C-235 proposes a legal definition of the term “fetal alcohol disorder” for the purposes of the criminal law. I note that this is slightly different from the medical term that is used to describe the condition, which is “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder”.

As part of the legal definition, the bill also lists some common symptoms of FASD, including impaired mental functioning, memory problems, and the inability to control impulse behaviour. I would note that this element of the bill would be a significant change in the Criminal Code, which currently does not single out specific disorders for differential treatment. The current approach is to use the general definition of mental disorder in section 2 of the code, which, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, can include an “illness, disorder, or abnormal condition which impairs the human mind and its functioning”.

I am given to understand that FASD is already considered a mental disorder for the purpose of criminal law, so it is entirely fair to ask whether it is necessary to create a separate definition specifically for FASD. Should we be concerned that this may result in pressure to single out other disorders in the Criminal Code?

The bill also proposes to permit the courts to order FASD-specific assessments for the purpose of bail and sentencing. It would require a sentencing court to adjust the sentence of the offenders if it was shown that they had FASD and that the FASD contributed to the commission of the offence.

These elements of the bill appear to be aimed at ensuring that the court has the necessary information to make appropriate decisions about a particular individual at the bail stage and to be sure that any sentence imposed is proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender. These are commendable objectives and ones that I know are shared by all those who advocate for a fair and effective criminal justice system.

The proposal for an assessment at the bail stage raises questions about the potential impact on the presumption of innocence and the liberty interests of accused persons who are suspected of having FASD. In particular, the bill would permit an accused to be held in custody for up to 60 days in certain circumstances while the assessment was undertaken. Given that this would occur before any trial on the merits of the charge, or potentially even before the bail hearing itself, it is possible that an assessment could in fact work to the detriment of the accused in some cases.

At the sentencing stage, it is fair to question whether the objective of imposing a proper sentence should only apply to individuals with FASD or whether there may also be a pressing need to consider the relevance of mental disorders or disabilities more generally, as the report from the federal-provincial-territorial steering committee recommended.

Finally, the bill proposes amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which would further require the Correctional Service of Canada to provide FASD-specific programming for individuals with FASD who are serving a federal sentence.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the member for Yukon for providing us with an opportunity to debate this important issue facing the criminal justice system. As he indicated, this is an issue that was presented in the form of two private member's bills in the last Parliament. They never did make it to the stage of having gone through committee, in part because of the call of the election and also in part because of some determination by the former member for Yukon to withdraw the bills to have them converted into a study.

It is a timely debate. It is one that needs to be had. The member for Yukon is doing the right thing by bringing it forward, and I look forward to hearing from other members of the House on this important issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to this important debate on Bill C-235, which aims to assist those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The proposal before us today is to require that the courts take into account that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may be a mitigating factor in the Criminal Code infraction and should be taken into account during sentencing. It also proposes to address the fact that those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, would require additional support to reintegrate into society following the serving of any sentence. There are a number of other proposed changes, but the principal focus are those I have just outlined.

My perspective on this subject is somewhat different than many. In the past, I served on the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission for a certain number of years before I began my political career. Through direct interactions with people with FASD, with those working with them, and with those affected by their actions, I got to know the issue quite well. However, just when we think we have seen and heard it all, something happens to remind us that this subject is so broad and complex that a lifetime is not enough to become an expert in this field.

FASD cannot be cured. It affects about 1% of the Canadian population. Of course, we know that the rate of incidence is much higher among certain populations and in certain areas of our country. These communities are looking to us for help, understanding, compassion, and strength. As I mentioned before, I served on AADAC, the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, and this work took me to many communities around Alberta, communities impacted by FASD. Sadly, this is a common issue in first nations communities, often in remote locations, which makes education and treatment work much more difficult.

Having also served as Alberta's aboriginal relations minister for a number of years, I also saw first hand the devastating outcome of Alberta's aboriginal communities from this increasingly common condition of FASD.

One of the challenges is identifying this disorder early in order to deal with it appropriately. The average assessment alone costs around $4,000 to $5,000. Then, there is the never-ending stigma attached to this mental illness. Families often do not even seek help for their children because of this alone.

Sadly, we know that those born with FASD are already facing an uphill battle in life. Many are born into poverty and often into a world of substance abuse, neglect, and endless other challenges. We know these conditions are the base conditions for problems later on.

FASD victims, and I call them victims as they suffer due to the negligent actions of others, specifically their biological mothers, are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system and experience health and learning challenges.

Before I go any further, this bill will not improve or change the situation for people affected by FASD. We know judges already, in every court case, are required to exercise their judgment and discretion when sentencing. I do not think the bill will change that.

As with many mental health issues, talking publicly about it goes a long way to helping everyone understand and cope. The justice system is becoming much more aware everyday of this mental illness. I am concerned that we are singling out FASD for special consideration from other mental health conditions. We need to understand that the situations faced by one's mental illness often and significantly overlap with those faced by another. Why only help those suffering from one mental condition?

As a nation, we are quickly opening up the conversation on mental health issues, and this is a good thing. It was inevitable that we would end up discussing mental health in terms of the Criminal Code. We know that those with mental health issues are at a much higher risk of having a relationship with our criminal justice system.

Our justice system holds Canadians to a certain standard of conduct and a certain standard of compliance. It presumes rational thinking and it presumes certain sensibilities.

We know that mental illness makes these societal expectations go beyond the reach of those suffering from a mental health condition. The challenge is balance. How do we balance the expectations of large portions of a population that expects people to follow all the rules with another portion of the population that is not fully capable of doing so? If something goes wrong, who is the real victim? I say they both are.

We need to be compassionate and understanding to realize that both are victims, one long ago and one more recently. This is the challenge that we face as a society, as 90% of those with FASD have behavioural issues and more than 40% have mental disabilities and intellectual impairment. More than 40% have issues with depression. Often these issues overlap and make treatment even more difficult to tailor to that particular individual.

The statistics are really shocking. According to research by University of Alberta Professor Jacqueline Pei, 95% of people who suffer from FASD have been diagnosed with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. This makes daily functioning in our society an extreme challenge and explains their high interaction rate with the criminal justice system.

The executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon explained it before a parliamentary committee quite succinctly. Wenda Bradley said that FASD suffers can often speak at a normal adult level, but end up understanding at a grade four level. Imagine how this causes issues on the streets in their interactions with the police or when they seek medical care.

As the May 2015 parliamentary report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights noted, it is estimated that each individual with FASD creates roughly $1.5 million to $2 million in direct costs to the federal, provincial, and territorial governments over their lifetime. Each individual is cause for $2 million in costs.

Many witnesses reported that people who care for a child with FASD also bear a heavy burden psychologically, socially, and financially, as well as in their professional and marital lives.

A great deal of work was done on this issue in the last Parliament and the conclusions were clear. We need better, more rapid diagnosis, and we need timely and appropriate interventions to mitigate the negative impacts of this disorder.

The bill, while well-intentioned, fails to capture the fact that this FASD involves a variety of mental illnesses and disorders that result in criminal justice issues.

I urge my colleagues to do what they can to assist FASD affected people. My experience has shown that they often cannot speak for themselves. They know what they need, but they often cannot articulate their needs.

They often live beyond the reach of urban support programs. They often lack any family support for treatment. They often suffer alone. I believe that we can do a better job of helping them before they become part of our criminal justice system.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has three minutes remaining, which she can use when debate resumes.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today.

We need to be aware of the damage done by FASD, which is often under-diagnosed. It would be nice if women were as honest as possible with their doctors, but it can be uncomfortable for them, especially if they are grown 20-, 25-, or 35-year-old women, to admit that they cannot help getting drunk every night even knowing it can harm their baby.

That is why the disorder is often under-diagnosed, and that can have significant repercussions. It often becomes clear later on, but many people have grown up being told they were unruly when really they were not properly diagnosed.

This addition to the Criminal Code is about recognizing that FASD can cause defects such as impaired judgment that make it hard for people to tell right from wrong. This will help make better treatment available for people convicted of a crime, ensure they receive appropriate behavioural therapy, and make sentencing commensurate with their intentions.

It is good to have this bill back in the House. I had an opportunity to speak to the subject when a similar bill was introduced by Ryan Leef, a member for Yukon who was not re-elected. I sincerely hope that we will be able to adapt our justice system to this important reality.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The time provided for the 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.

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

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement told us last month at committee that the backlog of 82,000 government employees affected by the Phoenix payroll fiasco would be cleared by October 31.

In fact, we were told this was a real deadline. This was confirmed by the deputy minister in her department at the same committee when responding to a question posed by my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis.

Yesterday, the minister's department told us they missed the deadline by over a whopping 20% and refused to provide a new one. In fact, when asked if they would have the backlog cleared by March 31, 2017, the end of the fiscal year, the minister's department would not confirm.

The Liberals have not been forthcoming with Canadians or Parliament. Public servants who have been waiting for months to receive proper paycheques expect the minister to put an end to their financial hardship. Canadians deserve to know the full truth, the full figures, and deserve a minister they can trust.

Yesterday's technical briefing from the Department of Public Services and Procurement offered no details, no plan, and no new deadline. We are not looking for a political answer here. For months, we have been questioning this minister and her department, and the information keeps changing.

First, they told us the backlog would be solved by October 31. Then we learned that the information they were providing us did not include the new pay system cases that came in after July of this year. Now we are being told that the cases they have been referring to are only those being processed in Miramichi, and not the other pay centres.

This is becoming an issue of trust. Canadians want to know, what is the Liberal plan to fix the Phoenix pay fiasco?

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill Ontario


Leona Alleslev LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the interest of the member opposite in this issue, and we agree that the ongoing public service pay problems are completely unacceptable. That is why I can assure the member that our team at PSPC is working tirelessly to ensure that all employees receive the pay they have earned.

Many employees across the public service are facing financial hardship because of the current pay issues, and I recognize how frustrating this situation is. Resolving these cases is our priority.

We are committed to openness and transparency throughout this process. We have held bi-weekly technical briefings, nine in total, and spoken in depth with the media. Our minister has already appeared twice at parliamentary committees, and she has met with union representatives. The deputy minister, at our request, meets on a regular basis with the joint union-management committee.

Over the summer we took a number of steps to address the issues associated with Phoenix. Temporary satellite pay offices were set up and additional staff were hired over the summer. Enhancements have been made and continue to be made to Phoenix, and employees across the government who use the system are becoming more adept with it as a result of training and experience. Compensation advisers are working day and night, seven days a week, with one priority in mind: to clear the backlog and ensure that each and every Government of Canada employee is paid accurately.

While I acknowledge the efforts of the men and women of our department, I am disappointed that we did not hit the October 31 deadline. I recognize how frustrating the situation is. Close to 75% of the backlog has now been dealt with, and there are cases remaining for approximately 22,000 employees. We continue to work tirelessly to close the remaining cases as quickly as we can.

These cases are more complex and require time-consuming manual calculations. In fact 82%, or four out of every five, of those cases predate the implementation of Phoenix, and some date back several years.

As I have said before, there is no justification for not paying public servants. Employees can request emergency pay advances through their department. These advances can be paid within 24 to 48 hours of the request. Anyone having difficulty obtaining an emergency pay advance should ask for help by filling out the Phoenix feedback form online.

As far as employees who have been overpaid are concerned, these sums will be recovered over several pay periods in order to reduce any related financial burden. A process was set up to reimburse employees for the out-of-pocket expenses they have incurred as a result of missing pay. This could include insufficient fund charges or penalties for late payments.

We will continue to keep public servants and the public informed of our progress.

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, numerous reports were provided to the Department of Public Works on the risks of going live with Phoenix. They were told exactly what is now happening to public servants.

They were wrong on the readiness of Phoenix, wrong on the extent of the issue, wrong on the cost to clean it up, and now wrong on the resolution deadline.

The minister can sit there and announce her disapproval all she wants, but that does not fix the issue. Public servants are suffering. It is bad enough that they are being forced to pay new tax after new tax by this government, but now they are not being paid at all.

When are the Liberals going to start taking this situation seriously and actually help the tens of thousands of public service employees affected by this boondoggle?

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Leona Alleslev Liberal Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, no public servant should have to go without the pay to which they are entitled. This is a difficult situation, but I can assure the members of the House that our officials are doing everything they can to resolve the pay problems of their colleagues.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to revisit a question I originally asked back in June. I want to go back to the whole conversation that was taking place at that time about our CF-18s, the imaginary capability gap the minister was talking about at the time, the life-extension project our previous government initiated, with $400 million to make sure that our CF-18 Hornets could continue to serve the security needs of Canada, and ultimately, the replacement of our Hornets and the interim stopgap measure the government is considering with the sole-source purchase of the F/A-18 Super Hornet from Boeing.

There is no question that the comments made by the minister do not reflect the reality coming from the Royal Canadian Air Force. When we had General Hood at committee speaking about the capability gap, he actually stressed that there was no capability gap. He said that the CF-18s we have can meet all operational requirements well up to 2025.

Since that point, the minister has initiated an entire review, which is a duplication of the process undertaken by the previous government to ensure that all aircraft manufacturers' capabilities were put on the table so that we could look at all the different options available to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

It is important to note that when we talk to a number of specialists and experts in this field, they have grave concerns about the direction the government is taking. Retired General Paul Manson, who was the former chief of the defence staff back in 1977 to 1980, led the new fighter aircraft program that led to the selection of our current fleet of CF-18s. He said that purchasing the Super Hornet is a solution that, however attractive politically, would have serious consequences for the air force and Canada's future security posture.

One of the retired senior air force officers said that purchasing the F/A-18 “gives Canada the wrong aircraft forever, or certainly for the next generation. The fact is that there is no urgent need to bolster the fighter force now”. That was in the press.

We had Elinor Sloan at committee. She said:

Canada needs a next generation fighter to defend the country and fulfill our NORAD and NATO obligations. The answer is not an unnecessary stopgap measure but to expeditiously proceed with the open and transparent competition the government signed on to.

It is important that we get to an open, fair, and transparent competition to find the correct jet to meet our NORAD and NATO obligations, one that is interoperable with our allies.

I wonder where the government is at. It has gone dark on this particular issue. We have not heard anything. Maybe it has to do with gag orders that have been issued throughout national headquarters at National Defence. However, we do want to know where we are at in finding a replacement for the CF-18s and whether the $400 million has been invested to extend the life of our current fleet of CF-18s.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, there is a certain resplendent irony debating a Conservative member about the replacement jet that Canada so desperately needs. After all, for the past 10 years, it was their opportunity to replace the CF-18, which everyone agrees needs to be replaced. By the end of its current life extension in 2025, it will be a 40-year-old jet. There are currently 77 jets available to the Royal Canadian Air Force, down from something in the order of 120 jets. There has been an erosion in the number and the availability of the jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force to do the job they need to do.

Again, it is a resplendent irony to be debating a Conservative member whose government created this difficulty in the first place. The only thing that it did achieve were some glorious photo ops for various previous ministers.

For the life extension of the CF-18s, $2.6 billion has already been spent, and in October a further $379 million has been committed.

The member rightly identifies that the minister has talked about a capability gap. As the numbers I just recited indicate, we can readily see that going from 120 planes to 77 planes on a platform that is getting upwards of 30 years of age is not a recipe for meeting all of the needs of the RCAF.

I think there is an irony within an irony when the hon. member was quoted in September in a Metroland Media newspaper as saying:

It's about making a decision to replace the plane. A decision, in my personal opinion, that should have been made before this. We have to make that decision within 12 months because time is running out on the CF-18s.

We can actually agree with that. Time is running out. We are developing a capability gap. The hon. member is correct to say that this decision does need to be done sooner rather than later.

As members know, we inherited a bit of a procurement mess from the previous government. There were no appropriate guidelines for the replacement of the jets, so cabinet met and made a decision in the early spring as to the requirements that would meet Canada's needs. In the first part of July, notices were sent to all of the relevant manufacturers, all five of them, in an open and transparent way, for them to update all of their information so that we would have a complete picture. That information has been received and is being collated at this point, so the next stage of the process can be entered into and we can get done what the previous government did not get done in the previous 10 years.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, it interesting listening to the parliamentary secretary reference a breach of privilege that he had at committee, in releasing information from a draft report that he should never have had been in possession of in the first place, which we had dealt with at committee. Unfortunately, the committee did not proceed to deal with that as a prima facie case of privilege to report back to the House.

Regardless, the fact remains that the government is interested in a sole source, which is the worst possible option to move forward, both from the standpoint of putting the right fighter jet into the operations of the Royal Canadian Air Force and for our aerospace industry.

The second part of this is as Elinor Sloan said, in that we need to move expeditiously on an open and fair competition. We are not hearing from the government in one way, shape, or form. So it is important that the government actually starts acting in a transparent manner to provide a competition to get the right equipment for our Royal Canadian Air Force so that we can have interoperability with our allies in NORAD and NATO.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take note that the hon. member talks about a breach of privilege. It is a little like trying to get one's conviction ahead of one's facts. The hon. member needs to be somewhat careful as to accusing anyone of a breach of a privilege.

I speak directly to the hon. member that the situation that this government found itself in was a procurement process that defied logic. The basic information that we needed to be able to encourage interested potential suppliers to submit their information had to be put in place. That was sent out and meetings have been held. There have been questionnaires and site visits. Submissions have been received from Boeing, Dassault, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin, and the Saab Group.

This is progress. it is a pity the progress did not occur 10 years ago.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, on September 23, I rose in this place to ask the Minister of Natural Resources a question regarding the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, concerns raised by whistleblowers in the agency, and the response to them by CNSC president Michael Binder. These whistleblowers made very serious allegations about the lack of due diligence and the work of the CNSC, which in turn raised very serious questions about the CNSC's impartiality and its concern for safety.

In response, at a meeting on August 17, the CNSC president actually questioned whether the whistleblower letter was in fact genuine. A report by Mike De Souza of the National Observer, quoted Mr. Binder in that meeting as saying:

So I’m listening to all of you and then the question is was this letter written by our staff?...Because the completely diametrically opposed to anything in this particular letter.

This apparently prompted laughter from some of the staff. When another staff member questioned the expertise of whoever wrote the letter, Binder decided to make a joke of it, “So if you’re correct, we’re into a conspiracy theory,” Binder said, drawing more laughter.”

The president of our nuclear safety regulatory agency, when faced with serious questions about his department, decided to make jokes about it. That was simply inappropriate on his part, and I have yet to hear the minister say as much anywhere on the public record.

Further to this, the environment commissioner's most recent report also raised many concerns about the CNSC, validating many of the concerns raised by these whistleblowers. The commissioner pointed out that three-quarters of site safety inspections were carried out without an approved guide. She compared that to a pilot taking off on a flight without going through a safety checklist.

As the commissioner said on the day of the release of her report:

This kind of lack of precision in a precision industry I think is really not acceptable...These mistakes should not happen when we're dealing with nuclear power plants.

With all of these issues that have come forward in the past months, I believe a change in the culture at CNSC is warranted. Right now the government has a chance to start that change by starting at the top with the appointment of new commissioners.

Two commissioners saw their terms end on October 20, and another will see her's expire on December 15. This is a golden opportunity to help this agency turn over a new leaf.

The minister's mandate letter states:

You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.

On September 9, I sent a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources regarding these appointments and the Prime Minister's commitment to make changes to the appointment process. I am still awaiting a reply from the minister to that letter.

Therefore, I will take this chance to ask this again tonight. What changes are the government making to the appointment process to ensure it meets the standard the Prime Minister laid out in the minister's mandate letter, when will these changes take effect, and when can we expect new commissioners to be appointed to the CNSC?

This is a golden opportunity for the government to follow through on its commitment for real change. I hope to hear tonight that the minister will seize the opportunity.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario


Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, for his work and contribution on the natural resources committee.

Canadians rightly expect that our government place the highest priority on health, safety, and security as they relate to the nuclear industry in Canada. I am proud to say that we do. We expect the work of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to be safety focused, and we expect the commission to operate in a way that is transparent and open to hearing the concerns of others. We are committed to ensuring that Canada's nuclear sector remains a dynamic industry committed to the highest standards of safe, secure, and reliable operations because nothing else will do.

Canada's nuclear regulator plays a central role in all of this. The CNSC regularly undergoes external peer reviews by international nuclear experts, including those from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency to allow for the sharing of best practices and to verify the high standards of its operations.

In order to ensure that the CNSC has the technical capacity to regulate the nuclear industry, more than 80% of employees in mid- and senior-level positions have degrees in nuclear engineering, chemistry, physics, and environmental and radiation science fields. Canada has established one of the most stringent nuclear regulatory regimes in the world, and it is the responsibility of the commission to oversee its implementation and to ensure that Canada's nuclear industry meets the highest standards of safety and security.

That being said, the anonymous letter received by the CNSC raised important issues that would concern any Canadian. That is why the CNSC took immediate action to review those claims. The resulting report, presented at the commission's public meeting in August, was reviewed by the commissioners, who had a chance to ask questions of nuclear safety experts regarding the content of the letter.

Other issues raised, such as a way for employees to voice technical and scientific disagreements are also taken seriously by the CNSC. As a science-based organization whose success depends on hiring and retaining technical experts, the organization encourages its staff to provide their best professional judgments in the review of nuclear licences and other related activities. On occasion, this can result in differences of professional opinion, which is why the CNSC has mechanisms for staff to discuss those disagreements. Resolving scientific differences of opinion in a productive way is crucial to the CNSC being able to carry out its mandate. CNSC has those mechanisms in place to address such disagreements.

It is my expectation and that of the minister that the CNSC and its staff keep the health and safety of Canadians as their highest priority and that they operate in an open and transparent manner to ensure Canadians can have full confidence in our nuclear industry.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am still waiting to hear about the naming of new commissioners and this opportunity we have to get a new culture in CNSC.

I am glad to hear that the employees of CNSC are highly qualified. It is important in any organization that there are employees with the highest qualifications, but certainly in a nuclear power plant that is even more important.

However, what is as important or more so is the culture of the workplace in these organizations. This is what we really need to see change at the top in CNSC and to get a sense from the new commissioners that we need a new culture. Canadians expect safety in any workplace, but these are nuclear power plants. We really expect the very best.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the member opposite expects that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission operate in the best interests of Canadians. I want to repeat and reassure all Canadians that our government believes the health and safety of Canadians is the single most important consideration related to activities of the nuclear industry in Canada.

I also want to respond to the member's concern around appointments, and let him know that appointments will be made in the new, transparent way. There have been a number of announcements in the House about appointments. As the member rightly notes, there are vacancies and another one coming up. Those appointments will reflect the gender, ethnic, and regional diversity of our country.

I thank the member for his comments and his concerns, and I look forward to working with him on this very important file.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:03 p.m.)