House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was unions.


Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise again in the House this evening to discuss my bill, Bill C-203, an act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages).

I previously asked my hon. colleague a question about whether the Liberals plan to pass this bill, which calls for all Supreme Court justices to be bilingual. This summer, the Prime Minister of Canada announced a process for appointing justices to the Supreme Court. This process is to be open and transparent and will require justices to be bilingual, which is excellent news.

The NDP has been calling for this since 2008. It has really been a key issue for us. My colleague, the former member for Acadie—Bathurst, Yvon Godin, introduced two separate bills on this since 2008. Then in 2010, he introduced another bill regarding a bilingual requirement for justices, and the Liberals voted in favour of it.

Unfortunately, however, after that bill went to the Senate, the Conservatives let it die on the Order Paper. We were really disappointed, which is why we are introducing it again.

Now that the Liberals are in power, we expected that they would support and pass the bill introduced to ensure the bilingualism of judges.

Everyone supports this bill, including the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the Barreau du Québec, and Jean-Marc Fournier, the Quebec minister responsible for Canadian relations, who said, “Enshrining bilingualism in law is necessary”.

Does everyone believe that the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges must be enshrined in law? No, the Liberals do not. That is really sad. We are asking the Liberals why they do not want to support a bill to ensure the bilingualism of Supreme Court justices in perpetuity.

Previous Conservative governments appointed unilingual English judges and this created serious problems with respect to the interpretation of certain rulings. However, under the Official Languages Act, the official languages have equality in fact. This equality in fact must exist in the highest court as well.

What are the Liberals talking about to avoid voting? They are talking about the Nadon case. Let us discuss this case, then. I asked jurists in this Parliament about it. I asked them whether the Nadon case prevented bilingualism from being one of the criterion for the appointment of judges. The answer was no, the Nadon case did not prevent it. In fact, to determine whether it is constitutional or not, we would have to ask the Supreme Court for an opinion.

For that reason I asked the Liberals why they are refusing to ask for a Supreme Court opinion. If they have opinions that run counter to those of the House of Commons jurists, they should provide them. To date, we have not seen any legal opinions to the effect that bilingualism as an appointment criterion for Supreme Court justices is unconstitutional.

If the Liberals have any such opinions, they should produce them.

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.


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

Mr. Speaker, access to justice in both official languages is an important issue for our country. Canadians want to live in a law-abiding society with a fair, accessible, and equitable justice system.

On August 2, 2016, the Prime Minister announced a new process for appointing Supreme Court of Canada justices that is open and transparent and that sets a stricter standard for accountability. It is important to many Canadians that the Supreme Court be able to work in both official languages.

The qualifications and assessment criteria that were established to fill the current vacancy indicate “that a Supreme Court judge can read materials and understand oral argument without the need for translation or interpretation in French and English.” The government's commitment to meeting the Supreme Court's institutional needs in this process is closely aligned with the proposals put forward by the hon. member.

The Supreme Court of Canada is Canada's final court of appeal. It serves Canadians by deciding legal issues of public importance, thereby contributing to the development of both civil and common law in Canada.

The importance of the court’s decisions for Canadian society is well recognized. The court assures uniformity, consistency and correctness in the articulation, development and interpretation of legal principles throughout the Canadian judicial system.

The Supreme Court is one of our most respected national institutions, and its excellent reputation is well-deserved. Our government wants to uphold and safeguard the tradition of appointing outstanding individuals to the court. Fortunately, Canada has many exceptional jurists to choose from.

In closing, I can assure members of the House that we know key players in the justice system must be bilingual if members of official language minority communities, like all Canadians, are to have equal access to justice in our courts.

I would like to reiterate how proud we are that Canadians have access to a final court of appeal that is known and respected worldwide for its excellence, professionalism, integrity, and independence. It is also important for the Supreme Court to reflect the diversity and bilingualism of Canadian society.

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. I know him to be a very good person who does good work. Unfortunately, he did not answer my questions and that is very disappointing.

The NDP is very proud of its work on official languages. We are the ones who introduced Bill C-419 to ensure that all officers of Parliament are bilingual. That is thanks to former hon. member Alexandrine Latendresse. We are very proud of that bill.

We continued to work very hard. As I said, Yvon Godin worked very hard. We are the only ones who want to pass a bill to ensure that Supreme Court justices are bilingual.

Unfortunately, my hon. colleague did not answer my question. I would like to give him one last chance because this is my last attempt for today.

Does he at least support the recommendations of the latest report by the Commissioner of Official Languages tabled in 2013 regarding access to justice and judges in superior courts?

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, access to justice in both official languages is an issue that affects all Canadians. Canadians want to live in a law-abiding society that has a justice system that is fair and accessible for everyone.

In criminal justice, these principles mean that the lower courts have to be able to operate in French or in English, according to the official language chosen by the accused for his or her trial. The government's commitment regarding official languages, and more specifically the administration of justice, is undeniable.

On behalf of the government, I thank my colleague for his question and for his commitment to ensuring that the justice system is accessible to members of official language minority communities and to all Canadians.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe, at this stage of the proceedings, I am asking a question of my colleague, the Minister of National Revenue, involving a matter that has been of great concern.

It first arose in my riding of Victoria, when in 2000 a very wealthy family purchased a tax product sold to them by the firm KPMG. In May, I asked the Minister of National Revenue whether the government would bring criminal prosecution against those individuals implicated in the Isle of Man tax evasion scheme and against KPMG, the firm that conceived and managed the tax evasion at issue.

The continuing refusal to answer that question in the House or in the finance committee hearings, I submit, is deeply eroding Canadians' faith in the integrity of our tax system.

This problem is enormous. Billions of dollars are lost each year to tax havens. Many people in my riding and across the country are saying that we have created a two-tier system, one standard for regular people who pay their taxes and play by the rules, and another standard for the wealthy and well-connected.

I submit that this particular case involving KPMG and the Isle of Man is a textbook example of how that works.

Of course, there are many other stories that bring this into context. In 2007, there was a leak from the Liechtenstein LGT Bank that revealed 106 accounts held by Canadians. The Canada Revenue Agency identified $22.4 million in taxes owing, and took six years to recover merely $8 million, less 30% of what was owing.

In 2008, the Swiss UBS AG Bank leak revealed that there were 4,450 accounts, including a number from Canadians. The CRA identified $87 million in unreported income, but has not yet reported collecting any of it.

There is a very poor record of enforcement. Let me quote Professor Arthur Cockfield of Queen’s University faculty of law, who said the following in a Globe and Mail editorial, and who has of course testified to like effect recently at the finance committee:

To the best of our knowledge, the CRA has not had a single successful prosecution of international tax evasion in the past 10 years.... These cases may have an international dimension such as assets maintained offshore, but the actual prosecution was purely for domestic offences, and not the crime of offshore tax evasion.

My question is as follows. What is the government doing to proactively deter these kinds of schemes? Ordinary Canadians are tired of sweetheart amnesty agreements and secret settlements. We saw an amnesty agreement in the KPMG situation, no matter what the government chooses to call it.

Will firms that devise these schemes face fines large enough to actually deter them? Will their lawyers and accountants be held responsible for facilitating large-scale tax evasion? What is the government doing to change the paradigm from belated slaps on the wrist to effective deterrents?

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Bourassa Québec


Emmanuel Dubourg LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to answer the question raised by my hon. colleague.

First of all, we should understand that the offshore tax avoidance scheme set up by KPMG was discovered thanks to the efforts of the Canada Revenue Agency. Many of the participants have already been identified and the file is still active. There will be no amnesty for tax evaders who, unlike the majority of Canada's middle class, do not pay their fair share of taxes.

As the opposition member knows, the KPMG case is before the courts and the Agency's work on this issue is not yet complete. Therefore, I am unable to comment further on this matter as this could undermine or influence the judicial process underway.

The member asked a question about what the current government is doing. Rather than talking about incidents or events that occurred 10 years ago, let us look at what the current government is doing. We decided to allocate an additional $444 million to the CRA so that it could do more to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. This historic investment will produce real results for the good of all Canadians.

Thanks to this investment and targeted surveillance activities that will be carried out by the CRA, we expect to see an increase in revenue of $2.6 billion over the next five years. That is, without question, an excellent return on investment.

In the future, the CRA will put a stop to the activities of those who develop and promote similar tax schemes. The CRA will hire more auditors and specialists to review the actions of high-risk wealthy individuals. By so doing, the CRA will be able to collect $432 million in new tax revenue. The CRA will hire 100 additional auditors to examine high-risk multinational corporations, which will allow it to recover an additional $500 million over five years.

The new funding will also help the agency develop solid corporate intelligence infrastructure to collect and analyze any information that will allow it to detect tax evasion and avoidance activities.

To ensure that these investments achieve results, the agency will include lawyers on its investigative teams. When prosecution is warranted, the lawyers forward the case to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada so that it may be tried quickly.

In closing, the Minister of National Revenue has already announced a series of concrete measures the agency will be taking to ensure compliance with Canada's tax laws. Briefly, they include: expanding international co-operation to combat tax evasion; creating an independent advisory board on offshore compliance; and finally, beginning work to estimate the tax gap. Those are just a few of the measures our government is taking.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his account, and I salute the government for finally putting its money where its mouth is and going after this problem.

However, I go back, not to generalities but to the specifics of the KPMG case. The firm got 15% of the taxes that were dodged. That firm was given nothing by way of a sanction. Of course, the individuals who scammed the system, thanks to the advice they got from this international firm, got an amnesty agreement.

Will the government go after the enablers?

I am not interested necessarily in what the government is doing with the others. We know they got off scot-free. However, I want to know what happens to those people who enable, such as those from KPMG. Has the government got them in their sights, or will they get off as well?

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Emmanuel Dubourg Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague would like a specific response regarding KPMG.

I would remind him that the Canada Revenue Agency was the first to uncover the scheme. Then, to ensure due diligence, in early March the agency ordered an independent and thorough review of how the KPMG matter was being handled, and it made efforts to obtain the names of all the taxpayers involved in the scheme. The findings confirmed that the agency had acted correctly in how it handled the KPMG matter.

Specifically, the results found that the observation measures used by the agency were consistent with policies and procedures, as well as reasonable and substantiated by evidence. The review also showed that the measures taken by the employees were consistent with CRA's code of integrity and professional conduct. Once again, we continue to apply those measures to ensure that everything is running smoothly at the agency.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 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 6:51 p.m.)