House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my view there is no charge that comes close. There is section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, but that applies only to acts of state torture, acts committed by state officials for the purposes of extracting information, for example, or for some other purpose.

Aggravated assault is on the books but for the reasons I outlined in my speech, it does not nearly capture what has happened to these victims of torture. That is how I would answer the question in that regard.

To follow-up on what I mentioned earlier, for me, there is no—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Resuming debate. The hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 21st, 2016 / 5:30 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for London North Centre for introducing this well-intentioned piece of legislation. Bill C-242 seeks to establish a Criminal Code offence for acts of torture committed by non-state actors. As the hon. member for London North Centre pointed out, the only section of the Criminal Code that establishes a specific offence for torture is section 269.1, and section 269.1 only deals with acts committed by state actors.

At the outset it is important to acknowledge, as the hon. member did, that those who commit torturous acts for non-state actors are not given immunity in Canada. On the contrary, there are any number of Criminal Code offences that apply to torturous acts, depending on the nature and the scope of the act. Those sections include offences such as aggravated assault, attempted murder, kidnapping, and so on.

The offences that are presently on the books in the Criminal Code are long-established offences. They are well understood. There is a wide body of case law. Those convicted of any one of those offences may spend a very long time in jail. Take, for example, aggravated assault. Someone convicted of aggravated assault may spend 14 years in jail. In the most serious of cases, someone convicted may be designated a dangerous offender, rendering that individual ineligible for parole. Being designated as a dangerous offender is tantamount to being sentenced to life in prison.

That is precisely what happened in the case of the Calgary man to whom the hon. member alluded, who had committed horrendous acts of torture. I will not mention that man's name in the House because it is unworthy of being mentioned in the House or in any other public forum. The fact is that the man took someone for two years and confined, beat, burned, and starved that person. That heinous, despicable individual was charged and convicted and designated as a dangerous offender and will very likely spend the rest of his natural life behind bars, where he belongs.

I mention that simply to say that there are laws on the books at present; and in general, it is my observation that they are largely working. However, the hon. member for London North Centre says that the laws on the books just are not good enough and that torture is a specific crime worthy of a specific Criminal Code offence.

All decent Canadians find torture to be abominable. Torture is vile, inhumane, and evil. The victims of torture, those who suffer at the hands of their torturers, endure physical and emotional pain that is probably unimaginable. They live with that legacy likely for the rest of their lives. To be tortured is tantamount to a life sentence for victims.

When the hon. member for London North Centre says the current laws are not good enough, I take it that he has a point. We, as parliamentarians, have a duty to ensure that the laws on the books do justice by holding perpetrators of heinous crimes accountable and do justice for the victims so that they can begin the process of healing.

Therefore, it is on that basis that I believe that Bill C-242 deserves to go to the next step in the legislative process, to committee, for further review, further study, and further amendment. I want to thank the hon. member for London North Centre for acknowledging that, as with all bills brought before the House in the early stages, there are often modifications and amendments that need to be made to improve the bill.

This is not a perfect bill. In fact, there are areas with which I have some concerns. For example, the definition of torture in Bill C-242 is a different definition from the definition of torture under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code. The definition in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code is the same definition that is provided in article 1 of the United Nations convention against torture. The definition in Bill C-242, as I read it at least, seems to be more restrictive. Additionally, the sentencing in Bill C-242 is different from the sentencing under section 269.1.

We have a situation where, if Bill C-242 passed in its current form, we could have two different definitions of torture in the Criminal Code, two different tests for torture in the Criminal Code, and two different sentences under the Criminal Code, depending on whether the torturous act were committed by a state or non-state actor. That is a problem.

However, as I say, I will support this bill so that it can move forward, because it is a well-intentioned bill and, as the hon. member says, the victims of torture deserve that we ensure that the criminal justice system and the Criminal Code fully provide the remedies that are necessary to hold perpetrators of those crimes fully accountable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to say at the outset that I am proud that the New Democratic Party members will be fully supporting this important initiative at second reading. I want to thank my colleague from London North Centre for bringing this issue to the attention of the House. I want to also salute him for taking the time to meet with members on all sides of this House to try to explain his reasoning in bringing forth this important bill.

The bill responds to the fact that torture, as it appears in our Criminal Code in section 269.1, applies only to the conduct of state actors like police and military personnel. The member intends through this initiative, I assume, to create a parallel within domestic torture, events that he has described with such clarity and that deserve society's opprobrium, without any doubt at all.

I want to also salute my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton who moments ago pointed out that there would be overlapping sections of the Criminal Code, but like me, he wishes to let this bill go to the justice committee where it can be studied and improved because, as the member so modestly pointed out, it does deserve to be amended in a few key areas.

Sometimes it is important to use words in a Criminal Code to show society's disdain for certain conduct. We could charge people with aggravated assault—and we do currently—for things that the member has described, but they amount to torture, and everybody knows it is torture. Yes, it is true that the words are slightly different in the international covenant, and they are a little different in the Criminal Code from what my colleague has put in his bill. However, those are technical points that can be readily addressed through review at the committee.

Members may recall that several years ago a politician was charged with gangsterism. The authorities did not need to charge that individual with gangsterism. They could have charged him with fraud and breach of public trust or a whole bunch of other sections of the code. However, that word will never be forgotten. Similarly, many of the things we call terrorism are nothing more than criminal offences, but by calling them terrorism, we attach to them the weight that society needs to have attached to them, because they are of a different calibre than simple crimes like assault, kidnapping, or the like. We call them terrorism for a purpose and we call it gangsterism for a purpose, even though they amount to other crimes under other sections of the Criminal Code.

That is why I think the bill is so important. Let us call a spade a spade. It is not aggravated assault when we hear the heinous acts that were described by my colleague. It is torture. If we want to say that, because of some technical reason and our international commitments somehow not squaring perfectly with this domestic bill my colleague has brought forth and we do not even want to use the “t” word in the bill, who cares? The public will call a spade a spade, and call it torture. To not let this bill pass because of technical concerns that can be readily addressed at the justice committee would be very unfortunate.

I have consulted with criminal lawyers about this bill and I have looked at case law, and the fact situations are just chilling, as members know. We are talking about victims of the most prolonged and sadistic physical and mental abuse. For those who survive, the physical and mental consequences can be permanent: PTSD, etc.

In some cases, the possibility of bringing other charges such as kidnapping, forcible confinement, or assault with a weapon can ensure that the offender faces a lengthy sentence, even a life sentence. In other cases, however, the sentences have not seemed to many to meet the gravity of the crime. This bill would ensure that the gravity of the crime is matched by the appropriate sentence.

In all cases, survivors and their families may question why the acts of torture they endured are not acknowledged as such by the law. That is what I said earlier when I said that we as a society should call a spade a spade and attach terms that match what the public says about the crimes. It is up to us to make the Criminal Code be our servant, not our master.

There are many dimensions to this issue beyond the name change or the severity of a sentence. Canada is party to the United Nations convention against torture. As such, we are obliged to take effective measures against non-state torture within our borders.

It is certainly worth debating whether the existing offences in our Criminal Code, which do not mention torture by name, are the most effective and appropriate means to prosecute these crimes. However, this international dimension also gives rise to some technical concerns that have been raised about the bill.

Again, specifically, it is vital that any amendment we make to the Criminal Code under the rubric of torture not create discord, either in definition or sentence, with our international commitments under the convention and with our domestic prohibition against state torture.

I know the member for London North Centre is familiar with these concerns. I thank him again for taking the time to educate us all on the initiatives that he has taken and the work he has done.

Of course, as we consider what more Canada can do to eradicate torture, I would like to take this opportunity to call upon the government, once again, to ratify the optional protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture.

Despite promises in 2006 and 2009, and repeated calls from Canada and international NGOs, the government has yet to take this crucial concrete step to affirm our commitment to upholding human rights at home and around the world. There is simply no excuse. We cannot condemn torture and ignore effective measures to prevent it. As ever, the world is going to judge Canada by our actions, not just our words.

Of course, the bill speaks to the reality that acts of horrific and repeated abuse and violence do not just happen in foreign jails far from Canadian shores. They take place within our borders, in our communities.

As organizations like the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition and the Canadian Federation of University Women have rightly pointed out, these abuses disproportionately target women and girls. I am thankful to those organizations and others for their advocacy on this issue.

As we sit here and debate the bill and its connection to gender-based violence, we must recognize that far more action is needed to not just reduce but end violence against women and girls in Canada.

My colleague, the member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski proposed a motion in this House to develop a national action plan to end violence against women. She presented a wonderful town hall in my community of Victoria, where we addressed these issues about violence against women and girls. That action plan I commend to this House to this day as still being vitally necessary.

The motion would have led to better policies to prevent violence and support survivors, and more action to address socio-economic factors that contribute to violence, among many other things.

Despite the defeat of that initiative at the hands of the last Conservative government, I assure members we are going to keep pushing in this House for that action plan to end violence against women. We hope the new government understands the necessity to take that action and makes the investments in shelters, affordable housing, and emergency resources, so no woman is denied the help she needs to escape an abusive and sometimes torture situation that she faces.

There are many steps we can take to uphold our international commitment to eliminate torture, to prevent the most horrific acts of violence within our communities, and to support the survivors.

In my view, the bill is an important step along that path. It definitely merits further consideration in this House. With the help of the member for London North Centre, I am sure we can do a better job to ensure that the bill meets our international obligations, does not contradict sections of the Criminal Code, is appropriately harmonized with the sentences, and that we can get it right. Technical amendments should not stand in the way of justice.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.


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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's Bill C-242, an act to amend the Criminal Code, inflicting torture.

I would like to begin by thanking the member for London North Centre for his advocacy on this very serious issue. We can all agree that torture and all forms of violence have no place in our society.

The bill before us seeks to amend the Criminal Code to create a new offence, specifically prohibiting any person from inflicting torture on any other person—that is, private torture—for the purpose of intimidating or coercing that person. This new offence would be punished by a maximum term of life imprisonment.

As I have said, we do condemn all acts of torture; however the government has issues with this particular bill. Briefly, this bill aims to prohibit torture committed by non-state actors. The new offence would be punished by a maximum term of life imprisonment.

In contrast, the existing crime of torture, found in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, is restricted to state-actor torture, which is torture committed, instigated, consented to, or acquiesced in by a public official.

This bill aims to specifically denounce the worst kind of assaults, those that cause severe pain and suffering over a prolonged period of time. Victims of such attacks could include women victimized by the most abhorrent kinds of sexual assaults, and our hearts go out to anyone who has suffered these deplorable acts.

The amendments proposed by this bill, while put forward with good intention, are already addressed in our criminal justice system, and they create an inconsistency by proposing a punishment that is not consistent with how the Criminal Code already addresses torture; and it overlaps with the already existing crime of torture set out in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code currently has numerous assault provisions. For example, there is the basic crime of assault in section 265 of the Criminal Code, which has a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. There is the crime of assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, which has a maximum punishment of 10 years' imprisonment. Bodily harm is defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code to mean any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature.

There is also the crime of aggravated assault, which has a maximum punishment of 14 years' imprisonment. Aggravated assault is defined as wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of the victim of the assault.

Also there are offences of sexual assault in the Criminal Code. For example, there is the crime of sexual assault in section 271 of the Criminal Code, which has a maximum punishment of 10 years' imprisonment. There is the crime of sexual assault with a weapon or threatening or causing bodily harm to the victim, which has a maximum punishment of 14 years' imprisonment. There is the crime of aggravated sexual assault found in section 273 of the Criminal Code, with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Aggravated sexual assault is defined as, when committing a sexual assault, wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of the victim.

As well, there is the crime of state-sanctioned torture set out in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, which has a maximum punishment of 14 years' imprisonment.

Furthermore, the Criminal Code contains sentencing principles that can apply to non-fatal violence inflicted on victims. For example, section 718.2 of the Criminal Code sets out a number of aggravating factors that must be considered by a judge before imposing a sentence in relation to any crime.

Among these aggravating factors are the following: evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused the offender's spouse or common-law partner; evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, considering their age and other personal circumstances, including their health and financial situation.

In other words, the Criminal Code already contains crimes that capture the kind of conduct that Bill C-242 wishes to specifically catch, perhaps most notably the crimes of aggravated assault and aggravated sexual assault. Existing sentencing provisions do already provide a range of aggravating factors that could apply in a case of private torture.

In effect, I believe there is no gap in the criminal law that requires the creation of a new offence of private torture to provide for a remedy. The proposed torture offence in Bill C-242 is therefore not necessary. It is also useful to know that these existing laws can and do work effectively to address these types of cases.

Next let me address the issue that this would create an inconsistency in punishment. The proposed penalty for this new offence of private torture would be a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. I start with a basic proposition that similar crimes should be dealt with similarly.

As I have previously outlined, the crimes of aggravated assault and torture in sections 268 and 269.1 of the Criminal Code have a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment. Even if the crime of aggravated assault is omitted from this equation, leaving us to compare just the offence of torture in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code to the offence proposed in the bill, the stark contrast in punishment remains: maximum punishment of 14 years in relation to section 269.1 versus life imprisonment in relation to the proposed offence.

Creating an offence of private torture could have the unintended effect of seriously weakening Canada's contribution to the focused global effort to prevent torture under the convention against torture. This could cause confusion as to what Canada considers to be its international obligation when it comes to the effective prevention of torture. This is because, as was indicated earlier in debate, there would be two definitions of torture, one of which, in the private torture offence, would be narrower than the internationally accepted definition of torture set out in section 269.1.

States that are reluctant to abide by the obligations set out in the convention could argue that they need not accept the internationally accepted definition of torture because Canada has enacted a private torture offence that contains a narrower definition.

It could be argued that this inconsistency could best be resolved by increasing the maximum punishment for torture in section 269.1 to life imprisonment. However, such a change would result in yet another inconsistency being created. The maximum punishment for aggravated assault would no longer be the same as that for torture under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code. It would remain at 14 years' imprisonment.

The result would be that someone who maims another by, for example, cutting off his or her hand, would be seen as less blameworthy than the state official or private individual who whips someone repeatedly.

In my view, it is far better to have the norm for maximum punishment for the most violent forms of non-fatal violence to be 14 years' imprisonment rather than to erode this norm by seeking higher maximum punishments for such conduct.

Let me address the final effect that the proposed offence would have on the Criminal Code. It would not complement the offence of state-sanctioned torture found in section 269.1. Instead, it largely overlaps with section 269.1 and thereby undercuts the exclusive jurisdiction of section 269.1 to address state-sanctioned torture. This is because it is defined so broadly that it captures anyone who commits the conduct defined as torture by the offence, whether private citizen or public official. Put another way, it is not restricted to torture committed by a private citizen.

The effect is that, if a case should arise where a public official commits torture as defined by the bill, a prosecutor would have the choice of prosecuting either under the new offence or the current offence found in section 269.1. Such a result is possible, especially if the prosecutor wishes to obtain the most severe sentence possible. He or she could avoid the 14-year maximum punishment for torture under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code by prosecuting under the proposed offence, which has a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

In my view, creating this crime would likely have immense symbolic value to some of the most vulnerable persons in our society. However, symbolism alone is not enough reason to add yet another offence to the vast array of offences and sentencing procedures that already catch the most harmful kinds of assault and that already speak to Canada's ongoing efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us.

For these reasons, I am opposed to the bill, and I call on other members of the House to also oppose it.

I do wish to say in closing that the goal of the bill and the intent of the member is to advocate against violence, and that is a goal which we can all support.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech. He demonstrated an impressive familiarity with the relevant laws in question.

What I would say to his great technical speech is that the symbolism does matter here. I agree that more than symbolism is important, but we are here to debate the principle of the bill. If we deem the principle of the bill worthy, then we should send it on to committee. Hopefully, at committee those two things, the technical aspects as well as the symbolic aspects, could be reconciled.

I would say that at this stage of the debate, that symbolism is sufficient for me to say that I support the bill. With all of the intelligence and resources of the House, if we decide that it is important to have language in the Criminal Code that reflects the strong feelings that heinous acts of torture compel in us, we have the capacity to find technical solutions to allow us to express those feelings properly in the law and attach consequences that are in keeping with those feelings.

It is my confidence in the House that allows me to say that what we need to decide today is whether we affirm the principle of creating a separate offence within the law. If there are problems with technical aspects of the bill, we should at least give it due consideration at committee to see if those cannot be resolved, and they may well be resolved.

Language is very important, and we have already come to this theme in a couple of ways in the House. One we heard in question period, for instance. Regardless of what side of the issue one falls on, because I do not want to complicate it too much, we have talked about the word “genocide” and the importance of giving a proper name to things. Whether that name is proper on that issue is certainly a subject of debate, but we have had other debates in which language was very important. I guess that is what I am trying to highlight.

This bill highlights very well how important it is to people who experience terrible acts of torture—acts that go above and beyond what would be a typical assault and are particularly cruel and long-lasting—for us to call it what it is. It is difficult to understate how much it can mean to victims and their families when what actually happened is recognized for what it is in the language of the law in court.

There have been other times in my life, in various roles, when I dealt across a range of issues with people who felt that an injustice had been committed, and sometimes the worst part was not so much what happened or the consequences of what happened: it was that government or other authorities did not recognize it in the language that victims felt was needed and to the extent they felt it needed to be recognized. The language did not match up with the reality of what had happened to them.

Changing the law to create an offence called “torture” can go a long way when we think about victims and the effects after the terrible event. This is something we can do, if we get the details right, to help alleviate the effects after the events. I think that is the most laudable aspect of this bill.

It is important to any victim, but I think my colleague spoke earlier to the fact that instances of torture, unfortunately and predominantly, tend to happen to women. Therefore, it becomes an issue of also making sure that we have the right language to address something that is happening to women in Canada, including indigenous women, and calling it what it is. In that way, when people hear it, even if it is a passing report on the news, as is the case so often when we hear terrible things, the word being used will really capture what happened. It will not be passed by as another case of aggravated assault. People will realize in that 15-second clip, or however long it is, that what happened was actually worse than that. It was an act of torture.

I want to emphasize the extent to which I appreciate the arguments about the technical aspects of the bill, but I really think that what we will be concerned about at second reading is the principle of the bill. Making this change can do a lot for victims and their families. It is worth sending the bill to committee to see if those technical details cannot be hammered out. That is why I am pleased to support the bill today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member for London North Centre for his work in bringing this legislation forward. He has been very determined and committed on this.

Perhaps a lot of people have not heard of the term “non-state torture”, but I was introduced to it by two incredible women in my riding, Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson, both of whom are nurses. They are the founders of an organization called Persons Against Non-State Torture. They came to my office years ago, and since then I have tried to help them in any way I can to raise public awareness on this issue. These women are tireless. They are committed. They will leave no stone unturned to make progress in this mission.

I will mention some of the things I know these two incredible women have done in the interest of raising awareness about non-state torture and trying to make progress on the issue.

They have come to this Parliament and made presentations to the Standing Committee on Human Rights. They have spoken at several universities. They have been invited by the United Nations twice at two different locations to make presentations on non-state torture. These women have made presentations in several states in the U.S. They have been to Geneva, Switzerland to make a presentation. In London they spoke at the Feminism in London conference about the non-state torture aspect of the impact on women and girls. They have made submissions to the federal U.S. State Department. They have been on CBC and many other media. They have made submissions to Australia, New Zealand, and Edinburgh. They have been on op eds and news articles.

These women, as I mentioned, are tireless. They have been doing this over many years and mostly at their own expense.

The fact that all of these organizations are interested in hearing from them to me justifies us studying the bill at committee. Both of these women have spent their lives helping others as nurses, volunteers and advocates for victims of torture. They are incredible people and I am grateful to them for teaching me about non-state torture.

They have pointed out to me that victims of non-state torture know that torture is distinct from assault. It is delivered in a prolonged and dehumanizing nature. The impact of non-state torture is usually on women and girls, and it is usually permanent. It is different from almost any other.

I call on the government to work with the hon. member for London North Centre to acknowledge the unique and terrible impact of non-state torture. The member says that he is open to amendments so let us get the legislation to justice committee. I support it going to justice committee, and I thank the member for bringing this forth.

I also thank Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald for their tireless work on this very focused human rights issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to echo the statements of my hon. colleague who just spoke. Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson have been tireless advocates on this issue.

I would also like to thank in addition to Jeanne and Linda, the Native Women's Association of Canada, Amnesty International for supporting the bill in principle, the Canadian Nurses Association of Canada, and the Canadian Federation of University Women. All have voiced either complete support, or support in principle in the case of Amnesty International, for this legislation.

It is better to put forward a bill to committee that is flawed. I am even opened to definitional issues, difficult as it is for me to accept because these are acts of torture. Better to pass imperfect legislation than to leave an unjust status quo in place. That is the message I would like to deliver to my colleagues.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to revisit a question I asked in the House back on December 7 related to the Speech from the Throne.

In the first part of the question, I talked about the comment about having a leaner military, which was almost prophetic for what we saw later in the main estimates and in the budget. In the second part of my question, I said that of the 1,700 words in the budget, not one of those 1,700 words was ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh. I want to revisit those two issues, because the replies we have been getting from the government have been incoherent.

The government is saying “leaner”, and we all know that leaner means cuts. It means a smaller military. It means less capabilities. We are seeing ongoing decisions by the government to withhold money from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

If we look at the main estimates that were subsequently tabled, “leaner” translated into $300 million of money being cut from the main estimates. This is $300 million total that has been reduced from the main estimates. Then, in the budget that was presented by the government, we saw a defence procurement cut of $3.7 million or, as the parliamentary secretary will probably say, the money has been delayed or put off for the next five years. However, we all know in this place that any money that is deferred is potentially up for grabs by other departments, or for paying down the national debt, or reducing the deficit, or for special projects that the government may take from time to time.

Therefore, what we have here is a situation that the Liberal government is repeating itself. As we know, during the 1990s and early 2000s, we lived through what was called the “decade of darkness”. That was confirmed by the parliamentary budget officer in his report of 2015. He said:

The most significant budget cuts under program review occurred from 1995 to 2004 [...] The cumulative defence expenditure over that period of time was roughly $13.4 billion below what our modelling showed was required to maintain the existing force structure.

He went on to say:

As a result of the underinvestment through the 1990s [...] the cumulative affordability gap that existed until the early 2000s. The model shows that it was only with the significant spending increases seen in the latter half of the 2000s that the affordability gap was closed.

Of course, that affordability gap was closed by our Conservative government of the day.

Therefore, we are dealing with a situation where not only did we see the $3.7 billion, which was supposed to be for future defence procurement, but they actually reduced current procurement projects that are ongoing, such as the upgrades for our Halifax-class frigates, which are going to be potentially slowed down through the national shipbuilding program, and the Arctic offshore patrol vessels. The Harry DeWolf-class ships, which they are already starting to build, are now, according to reports in the Ottawa Citizen, up for grabs. The certification of our Cyclone maritime helicopters is also being slowed down.

My question back to the parliamentary secretary for National Defence is: Why are they not giving our troops the equipment they need right now?

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some amusement to my colleague, the critic for the Conservative Party on this matter. He started off his question by saying “we all know”. Well, I do not know who the “we” is. Maybe he knows, but certainly on this side of the House we, meaning the government, have not cut anything at this point and do not intend to.

He said it is all a code word for cuts. He should know something about cuts because he was a member of a government that ran the national defence budget down from about $22 billion or $23 billion to what it is today, which is about $18.6 billion. Over the course of about a four-year fiscal cycle, Conservatives ran it down about $3.3 billion, so the hon. member certainly does know something about cuts. Possibly when he is concerned about those cuts he should look in the mirror as to what his government did.

His government also was quite artful in its cuts because, over that similar period of time, it lapsed something in the order of $2 billion, and that is money that is not available for future procurements. That is just money, as he rightly says, to go to other priorities, and the Conservatives were very keen for the purposes of this last election to show that they had a bogus balanced budget. In some respects, that bogus balanced budget was put onto the backs of the men and women in uniform in order to be able to get to this magic number that they thought would take them to some sort of electoral nirvana.

Our approach is far different. Our approach is to try to match when funds are available and when the procurement cycle is available, so match those two cycles. It has been a bête noire of all governments that the procurement cycle and the fiscal cycle do not necessarily always match up.

The last budget that was presented by the Minister of Finance actually tried to redress that core problem of matching procurement cycles with fiscal cycles, hence the forwarding of a substantial sum of money, somewhere in the order of about $3 billion, for future procurement. It does not follow that the money is lost to DND. In fact, the Minister of Finance said it is not lost. The Minister of National Defence said it is not lost. The Prime Minister said it is not lost, but there is a concern that the previous government left us in a procurement and fiscal mess.

I want to point out that, since we took government, we have actually allocated $1.6 billion to the Middle East operations over the next three years. This is something that we debated in the House, and those monies have been set aside. We have also allocated $200 million over two years to undertake infrastructure projects at Canadian Forces bases, most of which I assume my hon. colleague would agree with.

We are trying to bring a fiscal cycle into alignment with a procurement cycle for the men and women in uniform, who both he and I agree should have the equipment they need, so that those two cycles will match.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the parliamentary secretary that he has been here for a long time. He actually predates the Paul Martin government, so he was here for the decade of darkness. Our spending as the Conservative government was double what we saw during the decade of darkness. For about 10 years we never saw spending go above $10 billion. When we left office, it was over $20 billion, and that is all it is today under this new budget.

The Liberals are punting $3.7 billion down the road. It is a cut, and it is interesting that it is not even going to be looked at again until after the next election cycle.

I am glad he brought up the Middle East operations, which is the ISIS mission, of course, which we still believe should be a combat mission. It is interesting to note, and I would like to point this out to the House, that Denmark had a vote on April 19, earlier this week, and they are putting back in to the fight against ISIS. They brought their planes and equipment home and they have put back into the fight against ISIS seven F-16 fighters, plus a refueller, 60 special operation forces, and another 400 members to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

It is time for Canada to take ISIS seriously.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I feel badly for the hon. member and his fixation on jets. In fact, we have reprofiled this mission so that there is a far greater involvement by our troops in this mission, and it has been applauded by our allies, most particularly the United States and Great Britain, because we need intelligence if those jets are going to be effective. We need assist, advise, and training missions if those jets are going to be effective. Canadians are doing it and Canadians are stepping up to do it.

The hon. member talked about the Martin years. We are going back quite a ways here. We could go to Mulroney, for that matter, but the truth of the matter is that when Paul Martin became the prime minister, he set the defence budget on a fiscal path of ever-escalating numbers, to the point where when the Conservative government took over, it did not deviate from the path that was set by the Martin government in the previous instance. The only deviation occurred subsequently, when the Conservatives cut $3.3 billion from the budget.

The SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to follow up on a question I raised back in January on the subject of Senate appointments.

I understand that the hon. member for Mississauga Centre, my good friend, will be responding tonight. When I ask my questions, I will have to place them in the form of going back to the government, since he obviously is not formally assigned this portfolio.

In the question I raised in January, I pointed out that the government is inaccurate when it says that it is necessary to make appointments to the Senate as opposed to having Senate elections.

The argument that is presented by the government regularly is that the Supreme Court has ruled that Senate elections are not permissible, abolishing the Senate is not permissible, etc., without one of these very difficult-to-obtain 7/50 amendments to the Constitution, to which seven provinces must agree as well as the federal Parliament.

That is actually not true with regard to Senate elections. It is impermissible, according to the Supreme Court—and we have to take its decision on this—to sponsor federal elections of senators—that is, to actually hold federal elections from which nominees would then be presented to the Prime Minister for appointment to the Senate. However, it is permissible to have elections on the model that have produced a number of elected senators, some of whom still sit in the Senate—Betty Unger, for example, and Scott Tannas. They are there after having been elected by Alberta voters under a provincial statute, the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act.

That was one of the points I was trying to make, and I do hope that through the parliamentary secretary the message will get back to the government that Senate elections are still permissible. Indeed, there is an elected senator-in-waiting in Alberta who ought to be appointed when the next Alberta vacancy arises in another two years.

The other thing I wanted to address is what I want to actually pose the question about.

There has been inadequate transparency with regard to the appointments process. There is a board that has now been appointed. The board makes recommendations. The recommendations are presented to the Prime Minister. The rule that has been set up by the Prime Minister is that he gets five nominees for each vacancy. He then selects from among those five—or he can choose someone else who is not on that list. If that is the case, the board cannot report back to us about that.

That is a source of enormous frustration, and I would like to see it changed. I want to encourage my colleague to go back to the government and urge it to be more open in that regard.

There is a further problem with regard to the procedure and House affairs committee on which I sit.

We have been attempting to get members of the board before our committee so that we can ask them questions about the first round of Senate appointments and about what they plan to do with regard to future Senate appointments. There is some lack of clarity as to how they are acting and what the rules under which they are going to operate will be, now that the first phase of appointments is over.

I have been blocked at every turn in attempts to bring them forward. The Liberal members continually vote down any attempt to bring the board members forward, and this effectively means that in place of transparency we have opacity.

Will the parliamentary secretary commit to going back to the government and encouraging it to allow these members of the board to come before the procedure and House affairs committee to answer questions about their mandate?

The SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Mississauga Centre Ontario


Omar Alghabra LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Consular Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, let me address the member's first point on his opinion about what the Supreme Court said. If that is the case, dare I remind him of what the former prime minister, and his former leader, said after the Supreme Court decision. He went around the country saying that he was sorry, that the Conservatives tried their best, but the Supreme Court said they could not do anything about it.

If he is so confident in his opinion, why did his former leader, after 10 years of promising the entire country Senate reform, not go ahead and appoint those elected senators? This question poses itself, and it is worthy of a response from the member.

The reality is that the Supreme Court decision was loud and clear. It said that any significant and substantive changes to the Senate appointment process would require constitutional changes.

However, our government was happy to commit to Canadians that we would introduce an open and transparent process for appointing new senators. We have been very clear throughout this process, and each step of the process has been as transparent as possible.

First, when the government process was announced, the government published the merit-based criteria for senators online, so all Canadians could see what qualifications and skill sets the advisory board was expected to assess in its deliberations.

Second, when the advisory board members were appointed, the government published their terms of reference.

Third, the advisory board established a public website to call for nominations during the transitional phase and was mandated to reach out broadly in its consultations with organizations.

The next phase of the process will entail an open application process through which any qualified Canadian can submit an application to be considered for the Senate.

In following each cycle of appointments, the advisory board will provide a public report to the Prime Minister that contains information on the process, including on the execution of the terms of reference, the costs related to the advisory board's activities, and statistics relating to the applications received. The board's report on the transitional phase was published April 5, 2016.

I do not know about my colleague, but in the past when I applied for jobs, I really did not want the entire world to know which job I applied for because I did not want to be embarrassed if I was rejected. Because we want to attract the best and brightest for these jobs, we need to respect the privacy of those applicants.

I hope my colleague can respect the privacy of those applicants, particularly if we want to attract the best and the brightest.

The SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps what I should do is respond to the parliamentary secretary's question in the first part of his response.

He asked why, following the Supreme Court's ruling, the former prime minister did not go ahead and fill the vacancies with elections? The reason is that only one province, Alberta, actually has a senatorial election act. There were no vacancies in Alberta. The next one is in 2018. He had previously made appointments from those selected under the Alberta senatorial selection act. No one said that was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court certainly did not.

What the Supreme Court did say with regard to the prime ministerial monopoly on appointment, which the government seems to regard as being constitutionalized, was that it was purely a constitutional convention. Therefore, in fact, the current government could make appointments to the Senate from Alberta based on the elections. I encourage it to do so.

The SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, the question remains. Why did the former government not do anything? It was not able to implement any of the reforms. For 10 years, while the Conservatives were in office, they promised Canadians they would implement reforms, during every election and at every opportunity. In fact, they continued to damage the reputation of the Senate, but offered no solution.

Our government is very proud to rehabilitate the image of the Senate. We all admit to the fact that the reputation of the Senate has been damaged, but our government is committed to rehabilitating that image, ensuring we appoint non-partisan, substantive individuals who will be effective in performing their duties and providing sober second thought to the House of Commons.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are dealing with a lot of confusion on the marijuana file, because the government is refusing to have a clear conversation with Canadians. I hope, sincerely, that tonight we can get to the bottom of what actual action will be taken on this file, without hiding behind smoke and mirrors.

I want to bring up a few facts that add to the present confusion. The parliamentary secretary has previously stated that the only control in place is the current criminal sanction for the production and trafficking of marijuana. He did not mention possession, although he probably did wish he had.

The Minister of Health has spoken to the United Nations and did not once say that Canada will legalize marijuana, but I suppose it was strongly intimated.

When the parliamentary secretary was asked in this House last week about the Prime Minister saying that he would legalize marijuana, there was a quick shift in his answer. He spoke about replacing the current existing criminal sanction with a more effective regulatory regime. The criminal sanction is presumably not seen as effective.

I had a great opportunity to speak with police members from Vancouver, Saanich, and Victoria during the recent Canadian Police Association reception, and they too are very confused over the government's plan. Police are justifiably uncertain on whether to enforce against small marijuana infractions, knowing that the laws are set to change.

The confusion continues with local governments in British Columbia, some of which have issued business licences for marijuana dispensaries.

The Minister of Health has stated that the government will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures. In light of the plan to legalize, what exactly is the appropriate and proportionate response to stopping young people in possession of marijuana and having them live with a criminal record for the rest of their lives?

Marijuana possession of 30 grams or less can result in an up to $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. Even if the maximum penalty is not imposed, that person still has the record. It can have profound consequences for the rest of his or her life.

Both the Liberals and NDP realize, to quote the Minister of Health again, that is "impossible to arrest our way out of this problem." This is a fact, and yet Canada today continues under existing punitive marijuana laws that harm Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

The status quo is morally unacceptable and does nothing to effectively confront the problem. What we need is for the federal government to take some leadership on this issue and decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana while we wait for it to eventually bring forward legislation for legalization.

The Prime Minister has previously stated:

There have been many situations over history when laws come in that overturn previous convictions. And there will be a process for that that we will set up in a responsible way.

However, the parliamentary secretary has since stated that they are not looking at a system of pardons or amnesty. These comments conflict with what the Prime Minister has said and give rise to questions on who is actually speaking for the government.

With this as context, I want to ask the parliamentary secretary some clear questions. Will the government decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana immediately as we wait for legalization next year? If yes, when can we expect this to happen? If the answer is no, will the government be pardoning those who get criminal records for possession?

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario


Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for the opportunity to provide some clarification that he clearly requires with respect to this file. I would like to speak at some length on this, but I want to be very clear on his questions.

He asked me very specifically if the Government of Canada will decriminalize marijuana immediately. The answer is no. He also asked if there is at the present time any contemplation of pardons or amnesty. I want to be very clear so that he is not further confused on this. The answer is no.

With respect to the suggestion of decriminalization, this has been a matter of some discussion over a number of years. I would simply point out to the member opposite that in 2012, the leader of his party, the hon. member for Outremont was asked very directly in a televised interview if he would decriminalize marijuana. His reply is very helpful and may assist the member in understanding some of the issues associated with his recommendation.

In response to the question of whether he would decriminalize marijuana, the member for Outremont stated, “No. I think that that would be a mistake.” He then went on to say that before ever contemplating any changes to the current control of marijuana regime, the criminal sanctions, we need to get the best medical experts, the best legal experts, and the best law enforcement experts around the table to see what is realistic. That is precisely what this government is doing.

The member for Outremont went on to say, “but to decide in advance that it should simply be opened I think would be a serious mistake”. I agree with the comments of the member for Outremont in 2012. It would be a serious mistake.

Decriminalization would only achieve one thing. It would make it easier for the police to enforce the existing sanctions against the possession of marijuana. It would do nothing to protect our children. It would do nothing to keep marijuana out of the hands of our kids, and this is a serious health and safety problem in our communities.

It would do nothing to remove the profits of organized criminal activity associated with the marijuana trade from organized crime. It would do nothing to keep our communities safe. What it would do is make extremely difficult the implementation of an effective regulatory regime that would enable us to control the production, distribution, and consumption of marijuana.

Our government is absolutely committed to working with the scientific community to base our regulations on the best evidence, the best science, and the best advice of experts. I can talk about what the police are dealing with currently, and my knowledge of what the police deal with in this country with respect to these laws is based on more than simply a conversation at a reception. For over 40 years I was a police officer and for 10 years I was the chief of the Toronto Police Service. I can say that police officers across this country know their responsibilities and know the law. They know their responsibility is to keep their communities safe. They have the discretion to exercise their authority according to what is in the best public interest and in the interest of keeping their communities safe and I, for one, have confidence in their ability to do the job we ask them to do.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very disappointed to hear that kind of response from a supposedly progressive government. The fact of the matter is that in my province of British Columbia alone, marijuana is worth $6 billion a year. The current laws are not effective. All of that money is going to criminal organizations and the people who are getting their lives ruined by getting records are people who are innocent. They get caught with possession of small amounts and have to face a charge and sentence that will profoundly impact the rest of their lives.

If I understand the parliamentary secretary correctly, that means we have more than a year of waiting while we continue with needless arrests and wasteful trials. The justice department has confirmed it is going to cost taxpayers as much as $4 million a year. It is not what a progressive government should be doing with marijuana laws.

At least yesterday the Liberal member of Parliament for Beaches—East York had the courage to publicly say that prosecution for marijuana possession is patently unfair in light of the government's future plans on this matter.

I was wondering if the parliamentary secretary could take direction from that member.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government takes its responsibility for the safety and health of all Canadians very seriously. We are not introducing legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana to improve the profits of any enterprise. We are doing it to fulfill our responsibility to keep communities safe.

I would urge all Canadians to respect and uphold the laws of Canada as they exist and we will work diligently toward the development of an effective regulatory framework that will help us achieve our public aims. We are looking forward to the opportunity of working with the provinces and territories, with Canadians from coast to coast, to find the best way to do that.

JusticeAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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

(The House adjourned at 6:41 p.m.)