House of Commons Hansard #234 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-59.


Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

moved that Bill C-348, An Act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act (persons with disabilities), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, with pride for my riding of Windsor—Tecumseh, I rise today to speak to my first private member's bill during its second reading in this honourable chamber.

This bill was inspired by the earnest and thoughtful conversations and consultations I have had with people who are civic-minded, practical, and hopeful. Many constituents have brought to my attention the onerous processes involved in applying for federal and provincial programs for persons living with disabilities. Canadians living with disabilities have to apply for each program separately, and they have to demonstrate their disability every single time. It is curious, even disconcerting, to realize that our governments impose this kind of cumbersome process on some of our most vulnerable citizens. It has me thinking again about fairness and efficiency.

Consider further that the processes by which this community interfaces with government agencies to access these programs is so unwieldy that some individuals, when they can manage to afford it, are forced to hire legal representation to help them navigate the labyrinth of programs. To better understand how punitive this feels for people in this situation, it is necessary to look at poverty rates among persons living with disabilities, so let us do that.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 5.3 million Canadians, almost 16% of the population of this country, are living with some form of disability that affects their level of freedom, independence, or quality of life. Of that number, over 200,000 are children and youth, according to Easter Seals Canada. The overall poverty rate for Canadian adults was 10.5% in 2006, which comprised 2.6 million people. However, for people with disabilities, the poverty rate was 14.4%, which comprised nearly 600,000 people.

There is also a real wage gap. According to a 2012 Canadian Human Rights Commission report, men living with disabilities in the 15 to 64 age group earned $9,557 less than adult males in the same age group who do not live with disabilities.

The picture is even more bleak for women. According to the DisAbled Women's Network, also known as DAWN, 58% of women with disabilities live on less than $10,000 per year, and of those, 23% live on less than $5,000 per year. Accessible cribs, accessible and affordable child care, and other services for mothers with disabilities are virtually non-existent.

As members of Parliament who serve all Canadians, we have serious work to do to address the very challenging issues that cause severe hardships that are faced every single day. I have not lost sight of that in discussing this modest bill today.

Disability is expensive. A customized powered wheelchair can cost more than $25,000. Again, this information is from Easter Seals Canada. A porch lift can cost upwards of $5,000. A specially designed walker can cost $2,500. Modifications and renovations to make a home accessible can cost tens of thousands of dollars. For a family, it can cost more than $40,000 a year to care for a child with a severe disability, yet some of these families have a total income of barely that much, which brings me back to my earlier point.

Some persons living with disabilities find themselves having to hire lawyers to assist them in navigating the complex web of programs available to them from the various levels of government. To me, this is just unacceptable. I see this bill as starting new momentum. When doctors undertake due diligence in completing evaluations on behalf of their patients so they can receive modest assistance, does it not make sense that this form be acceptable to apply to all programs available to the patient, instead of their having to start over again each time? We have to be smarter.

I am confident that as Canadians, we really do not want to force this vulnerable population into spending the scarce resources at their disposal to access programs that exist to provide them with assistance that is, rightfully, there for them.

I would now like to quote one of my constituents, Debra Sandre, who was able to provide me with a very candid overview of her lived experience.

She said, “I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in February of 2014 at the age of 30. Getting a diagnosis like that is hard, stressful, scary and many other adjectives, especially at this age.

“When trying to work out treatment, doctor's visits with specialists and all the other things to adjust to the new reality of living with a permanent disability it can be very difficult to figure out what resources may be available to you. Once you figure out what services and government assistance you may be entitled to, you then have to apply or prove your disability over and over again. And while proving this over and over you also have to incur the cost of having your doctor fill out the paperwork. This process can and should be easier for people who need the services, and we definitely do not need the added stress of applying for them.”

I really appreciate Debra allowing me to quote her here. I have to say that I could not agree with her more.

When a person attempts to access a benefit for the first time, the quality of that experience, whether it be onerous, overly complicated, or easy and efficient, defines the government for them. As far as they are concerned, it is the government, because these services are the interface between the service provider and the person assessing them. Therefore, those of us in government really need to think about the nature of that experience. We need to always be cognizant of how the delivery of these services is experienced by the people who need them.

Fortunately, for our purposes here today, the improvement of the quality of government services delivery falls within the mandates of two ministers in charge of such things.

In the mandate letter for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, we find this:

Work with the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to set transparent service standards so that Canadians get timely access to the benefits to which they are entitled.

In the mandate letter for the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, it says:

Work with the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, who is responsible for Service Canada, to establish new performance standards and set up a mechanism to conduct rigorous assessments of the performance of key government services and report findings publicly.

Bill C-348 deals with what many would call the low-hanging fruit, the first and simplest issues to be dealt with by a government interested in improving the way it delivers important services to its citizens. This bill has the potential to set a new course in how we manage our bureaucracy in a manner that would be a sensible way to make a difference in people's lives.

I am well aware that private member's bills rarely make it into law, which is why I am determined to propose something modest and achievable.

This bears reiterating: currently, people must apply separately to each program and have to endure the ordeal of proving their disabilities each time. Bill C-348 would create a once-stop shop, so to speak, a streamlined approach that would allow individuals to apply for all federal programs at once: the Canada pension plan disability benefit; the disability tax credit; the registered disability savings plan; veterans disability pensions, where applicable, of course; and the opportunities fund. All operate as stand-alone programs with distinct and separate application processes.

This really makes it cumbersome for people living with disabilities to access the federal supports they may be entitled to. We want to try to fix this problem, to the extent we are able, while operating within the constraints of private members' legislation.

Members will note that incorporated in this bill is its own internal review mechanism, which is in keeping with the mandate letters I quoted from earlier. Here is what the bill stipulates in proposed subsection 8.1(1):

Within 18 months after the day on which this section comes into force and every two years after that, the Minister shall undertake a review of the effectiveness of the application process provided for under paragraph 8(2)(b) and prepare a report setting out his or her findings and recommendations.

We all want to make sure that legislation actually works. In this case, we want to know that it genuinely makes the application process simpler for persons living with disabilities. We need to analyze its strengths and challenges and seize the opportunities and synergies that would become apparent when applying this practical directive. This would allow for the valuable input of our public service, which has the expertise and insight to respond to this directive.

Those following this issue will know that having in place a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the government's accessibility legislation was being implemented as to its intended capabilities was a major part of what Canadians told the government during its consultations over this past year.

I envision a time when we will have more streamlined access and coordination with provinces so that when a person is deemed eligible for one disability program, it opens access to another: gateways, not hurdles; bridges, not silos. Our real job here in this place is to continually move forward to remove the barriers to participation in a quality life. This would be the first step in a real opportunity to set the tone, the new approach, that would be a springboard for further discussion and action at all levels of government.

The internal review would ensure that we engage meaningfully to maximize our resources and enrich the Canadian experience in this modest way. I am sure now that those listening are contemplating the potential reach of this type of bureaucratic direction and what implications this could very well have. I certainly welcome the gained momentum that persons living with disabilities, and their families, are eagerly awaiting from this government.

As I have already mentioned, this is the low-hanging fruit, a no-brainer, so to speak. Let us go ahead and deal with these issues right away, the better to then address the more complex barriers facing persons living with disabilities in Canada. I extend my hand across the aisle to work together to do this, because this is what we are compelled to do in this place.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the words from the member across the way. One of the things I want to pick up on is that there is a role for the national government to play, and I would suggest, a leading role. One is to ensure that the provinces and territories and other stakeholders recognize that to advance the causes the member referenced, there needs to be a higher sense of co-operation with those different stakeholders.

I am interested in the member's thoughts on how important it is that those other groups, some of which I referred, also be engaged on this important issue.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, it is intriguing for those of us who look at the inside of government and want that efficiency, fairness, and effectiveness that I referred to in my speech.

I do not want to detract from the real purpose of the bill, which is to make sure we create the tone and attitude of the one stop shop for our federal programs. This is a real springboard for us to look at how we are operating in silos that do not to be there. We can work with provinces.

There is nothing wrong with a federal program that, hypothetically, if someone in the province of Ontario is collecting a disability pension, ODSP, then that eligibility should automatically let them be recognized for some other program without having to reprove it. I know that is somewhere down the road, but that is an example of how I see so many inefficiencies in levels of government. I am excited that we can start with something as modest as this, which fits within the private members' legislation. It is a great opportunity for us to move forward and take the lead on something in an effective way.

I am pleased that it is an opportunity to do something especially for our vulnerable populations, who are already finding access to their programs quite challenging.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to praise the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. She talks about a modest bill. This bill will make a significant impact on the poorest of Canadians. Half the people in our country who are homeless are people with disabilities. Half of those who line up for food banks at the end of the month are people with disabilities. However, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who should have access to disability programs and are not able to access them because the government has had such a complicated approach for people with disabilities. I have met with people with disabilities across the country. They are living in poverty and are often unaware of the diverse programs that are there to support them but are simply inaccessible.

I would therefore like to praise the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and ask her the following. What impact would it have if every person with a disability in our country could access every program that is already in place? How would that address chronic poverty, chronic homelessness, and chronic difficulties for Canadians with disabilities across our country?

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his impassioned comments and the question, which is what is enthusing us here today. We know there is huge potential in this kind of access, and we can envision a time when there would be even more opportunities. However, right now, the fact is that people who are already vulnerable are struggling to access programs.

This is what compelled me to want to bring this private member's bill forward. This kind of approach is so profound that I cannot even describe it. All of us in this place who are doing our jobs in our ridings know this. Speaking to people directly in our ridings, we know that the interface of government at this level is something we could be doing a lot better to address. It would be an absolutely amazing transformation as well.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec


Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about Bill C-348. I would like to begin by explaining what this bill is about.

Bill C-348, introduced by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, would streamline the application process for programs and services for people with disabilities.

If passed, this bill would amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act to make the department the primary point of contact for access to programs and services related to disability assistance.

First of all, I would like to say that our government is committed to improving how we provide services to Canadians with disabilities. Ours is the first government to have appointed a minister responsible for people with disabilities, the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities, thereby demonstrating our conviction that programs and services for people with disabilities must no longer take a back seat.

This new approach reflects Canada's commitment to becoming more accessible and inclusive. We believe that all Canadians should be positioned to seize every opportunity that comes their way, from educational to professional and everything in between, so they can participate fully in society.

That is what informs our position on Bill C-348. Right off the bat, let me say that we fully support the spirit of the bill. In fact, I would like to share with you some of the initiatives we already have under way and others that are in the planning stages. These initiatives are also designed to improve services for people with disabilities.

We believe that creating an appropriate framework to support all of these measures is vital, which is why we are currently drafting the accessibility legislation my colleague had so much to say about.

Last year, we launched an ambitious public consultation process. We met with stakeholders and the general public to learn more about what an accessible Canada means to them. We held 18 public consultations and nine thematic round tables across the country. There was an important online component, which was very effective. We also created a national forum for youth, and the Prime Minister participated in it. The government funded the creation of partnerships with five organizations for people with disabilities and three indigenous organizations to get the input of their members and communities. This process helped us gain valuable insight into the obstacles that people with disabilities or functional limitations have to overcome every day.

We published a report that summarizes what we learned from these consultations. The participants described the physical and architectural barriers that prevent people with disabilities from moving about freely in their communities. We learned about some of the attitudes, beliefs, and preconceived notions that Canadians have about what people with disabilities can and cannot do, and we looked at outdated policies and practices, including some mentioned by my colleague, that do not take into account the obstacles facing people with disabilities.

That is why we are currently drafting legislation on accessibility in order to build a more inclusive Canada. It is our hope that this proactive legislation will systematically address the barriers that exist in areas of federal jurisdiction. The legislation should deal with banking institutions, transportation, telecommunications, and, of course, everything we mentioned earlier—in other words, every Government of Canada department and agency where improvement is needed.

On an operational level, this legislation would serve as a guide in the development and delivery of federal services for persons with disabilities, which includes almost all communications to clients regarding programs and services.

I would add that Employment and Social Development Canada is also developing a strategy that will improve the services offered to persons with disabilities. The service strategy will help provide more online services to meet the current and future needs of this group of people.

In addition, ESDC is committed to ensuring that the Canada pension plan disability program continues to meet the needs of Canadians. The department is currently streamlining its application process to make it less cumbersome for applicants and doctors. A revised prototype of the paper application form should be developed later this year. In November 2015, the department began a comprehensive review of the program's services standards, which included consultations with recipients and stakeholders.

There is currently a pilot project for long-term disability recipients that seeks to increase the number of documents that can be submitted electronically and indicate the medical information required in order to make the process easier for applicants. There are many initiatives to improve recipients' access to and experience with federal programs and services, especially for people with disabilities. For example, changes were recently made to the application process for the Canada student loans program to help support students with permanent disabilities who want help with repayment assistance.

The Canada Revenue Agency has taken steps to simplify the application process for the disability tax credit by improving the process and providing clearer information to applicants. These are just a few examples of what the government is doing to continue improving services for Canadians, especially people with disabilities.

Although Bill C-348 is well-intentioned, we believe it will not meet its objectives. The bill would create a one-stop-shop for all federal benefits and programs for people with disabilities. However, we do not understand how the bill would expedite the application process and improve the quality of services provided by the various departments. If we understand Bill C-348 correctly, every department will continue to be responsible for its own activities by exercising their own authorities. If ESDC had to be solely responsible for all programs for people with disabilities, this would create a separate administration for various programs that are not currently carried out by the department.

For example, Veterans Affairs Canada administers some disability programs. Under Bill C-348, this department would be responsible for administering the decision-making process and for determining the eligibility of applicants, but would not be able to communicate with recipients because ESDC would be the only point of contact, the one-stop shop.

We therefore question the practical relevance of Bill C-348, and we will not support its passage. Our position on this bill in no way diminishes our resolve to provide high-quality services to persons with disabilities and all Canadians.

I thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for getting involved in this important discussion. We look forward to working with her to develop measures for persons with disabilities. In addition, I want to thank my colleague for meeting with me recently on this topic. I also want the member to know that this issue is an integral part of our government's overall objectives to make Canada a more accessible and inclusive country. We are mobilizing all the necessary resources and making every effort to meet these objectives.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-348, an act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act, persons with disabilities. The bill, put forward by my NDP colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, would help to simplify the challenges persons with disabilities face when looking to apply for programs administered through the federal government. It is a good idea based on my personal experiences and from what I have heard from Canadians during my time as a member of Parliament.

Persons with disabilities have to overcome many obstacles in order to build a dignified life. It seems logical to me that the federal government should be doing everything in its power to assist with this. However, instead of getting that help, disabled persons are instead facing large amounts of red tape and bureaucracy. They must scour through computer and paper descriptions and directions in department after department, asking “Where do we start?”

Bill C-348 seeks to address this issue by requiring the minister for Employment and Social Development Canada to provide information and guidance on all applications for grants, benefits, compensation, and any other programs and services for which persons with a disability may be eligible, under one roof and within one document.

The bill would also have two other requirements: first, the department maintain a single comprehensive application that accesses all programs for persons with a disability across the federal government; and second, to report back to Parliament in 18 months on the effectiveness of the application process. This would provide an assessment of the value of the changes and allow for it to be a living document that would continue to evolve.

All the points I just mentioned seem like common sense measures to me. Why would we ask those who already face so many challenges to spend countless hours scouring various government websites to find all the programs and services for which they are eligible, and then having to fill out an application form for each individual program to which they would like to apply? Having to fill out each program application individually does not help anyone. It is frustrating for all Canadians to have to do this, let alone those with disabilities who are already facing huge issues such as chronic underemployment, difficulty accessing public spaces, a lack of accessible housing, and much more.

Computer literacy is a challenge to many of us. Navigating these forms, whether old or young, is even more difficult with a disability. The federal government's role is to help Canadians, and the bill would be a great start to do that. However, as it stands, and if left unchecked, it is just more red tape resulting in more frustration.

I would like to take a moment to speak about my experience as a former member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and to give everyone an idea of how all this bureaucracy affects our disabled veterans. I know that part of the bill includes veterans disability pensions, which I am pleased to see. During my time on the committee, I heard first-hand testimony about how difficult it was to apply for the benefits to which our veterans were entitled. To search and navigate the multiple sites was a frustrating challenge.

Many of these men and women suffer from mental health issues as well as physical disabilities. This means they are not always able to devote hours and hours to find available programs, fill out applications, and then have to do the same over again for each program for which they are eligible. In some cases, we heard from veterans who simply decided to throw in the towel and forgo the services they were entitled to because the process of applying for these services was far too strenuous and compounding for those struggling with a disability, whether it be mental or physical.

These veterans are the people who gave up the life they knew in order to protect Canada and all Canadians. It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear some of the testimony at the veterans affairs committee, as these individuals deserve so much more than a cacophony of programs, spread across the federal government's websites, requiring hours of digging to find and more hours of filling out multiple applications in order to apply. It is unnecessary and it does a disservice not just to our veterans, but to everyone living with a disability, as well as their caretakers and family members.

That in itself is another point I would like to raise. It is not just disabled persons who deal with this issue, but often their families as well. Many times caretakers come from the family of a disabled person, and many times they are not talked about or given recognition.

Being a caretaker is not an easy job, and I commend all those who undertake the role. The bill would make it easier for caregivers and families to ensure they would be taking advantage of all programs available to them without having to comb through various websites to find that information. It would avoid hours of searching, determining if a service or program would be applicable, disseminating this to their family member, and then completing the multitude of applications.

Furthermore, Bill C-348 would provide for a single, comprehensive application that would access all programs across the federal government for persons with disabilities. This seems so logical that I am surprised it has not yet been done.

While I understand these programs involve a number of government departments, centralizing the application process through the Department of Employment and Social Development would be a huge benefit to persons with disabilities and their families. It would save much time, effort, and frustration. It is also a real and achievable goal. I call on the government to recognize the need for this measure. With the technology available today, we know this is possible to do, and further technological advances would ensure this would be generationally enduring.

Under the previous Conservative government, we initiated the centralization of information across government based on the user group. The bill would continue that work, specifically for persons with disabilities, who are the demographic that would most benefit from this initiative.

Other examples of a few programs that have to be navigated through include helping persons with disabilities prepare for and obtain employment through the annual $30 million opportunities fund, and funds like the $218 million per year labour market agreement for persons with disabilities to assist provinces and territories to improve the employment situation. Again, these are just two programs of many.

I see no reason not to support the legislation, especially given that the Liberal government is making life more difficult for Canadians living with disabilities by increasing their cost of living through tax changes and removing benefits. Persons with type 1 diabetes and persons with autism spectrum disorders come quickly to mind. As I stated previously, it is the federal government's job to improve life for all Canadians, including for disabled persons. The way to do this is not by taking away benefits or adding more layers of red tape to the process of obtaining said benefits. It is by simplifying and centralizing, which is exactly what the bill seeks to do.

I commend the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for her efforts on the bill.

As the deputy shadow minister for youth, sport and persons with disabilities, I call on the government to support the bill and the measures contained in it, as we on this side of the House plan to do. It is good sense and it would make life significantly easier for those facing the challenge of living with disabilities, something I know we can all get behind.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my wonderful colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh. I am rising to debate her bill in the House, but I would also like to take this opportunity to once again wish her a happy birthday.

On a more serious note, today, we celebrate the birth of my colleague's Bill C-348, an act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act regarding persons with disabilities. This bill would make their dealings with the federal government easier.

The bill would show that the government is reaching out. It would significantly simplify the process for persons with disabilities who want to access the many federal programs for which they are eligible. The government has no reason to oppose my colleague's bill.

The problem we are trying to fix today may seem quite trivial, but persons with disabilities lose a lot of time and energy when they are constantly required to submit multiple applications.

We all know how onerous and complicated it can be to navigate the labyrinth of the federal system in search of information about a program. Filling out the application paperwork is just as cumbersome. Now imagine the added humiliation of having to prove your disability every time you apply. People with disabilities often have a tough time of it. I think it is a basic sign of respect to provide a one-stop shop where they can get all their needs met at once.

It was in this context that my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, introduced this bill. We hope the government will be able to see this proposal for what it is, not as a polarizing issue.

I would like to give a typical example that broadly illustrates this problem. To do so, I will describe what some of my constituents go through.

The Canada pension plan disability, the disability tax credit, the registered disability savings program, the veterans disability pensions, and the opportunities fund all operate as stand-alone programs with distinct and separate application processes.

This reality makes it cumbersome for people living with disabilities to access federal supports that they are entitled to. Bill C-348 will create a one-stop shop that will allow individuals to do everything at once. Moreover, persons living with disabilities will only need to prove their disability one time, rather than doing so with each application.

That is the current situation, from a very general standpoint.

Now I would like to give a very specific example, the experience of someone in my riding, Jonquière. I met a constituent at a social function who alerted me to the problem. I asked her to meet with me. The woman's name is Ms. Tremblay. Her wife was severely disabled, and Ms. Tremblay was her caregiver for many years. She cared for her wife on her own, because they had no immediate family close by. When Ms. Tremblay came to see me in my office, we worked together and found out that they were eligible for certain tax credits. After that, she had to start the process all over again and return to see the neurologist for certification of her wife's severe disability. I get a little emotional when I speak about this woman, because her wife has since passed away. As we supported her through the process, her wife's cancer returned.

On top of having to relive the experience of her wife's disability and have it certified again by her neurologist, she also had to wait for her disability tax credit. She also had to wait quite a while for the Canada Revenue Agency to make a decision following her application, thanks to the current process.

In light of all these arguments, it is clear that no one is talking to one another and that the various programs are not coordinated in any way. That is why it took so long. In Ms. Tremblay's case, a one-stop shop could have provided the resources and funds she needed to pay for her wife's end-of-life care and to continue caring for her.

The idea for the bill came from conversations my colleague had with constituents and local civil society groups. However, as Ms. Tremblay's story shows, this also affects people in my riding, Jonquière, and in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. The fact is, this problem is everywhere.

Since I am responsible for the Canada Post file, I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that I am still waiting for the government's new policy statement from the 2016 review. I will not spend too much time on this, but I still want to talk about home mail delivery and service cuts. People with disabilities across Canada have their mail delivered in various ways. In some cases, they have community mailboxes because letter carriers no longer do home mail delivery. People with physical disabilities must fill out a form to get home mail delivery. That means that they have to once again go back to their doctor to explain their situation, take all of the necessary steps, and fill out all of the paperwork all over again.

There is a cost associated with this process. Doctors often charge a fee to fill out forms, but people with physical or mental disabilities often do not work, so they have less money to pay these fees, which can be quite high.

Can all the agencies involved not simply do a better job coordinating services? That is the goal of this bill. It seeks to help everyone to communicate more easily. People should not have to go through the whole process again because they just found out that they have been eligible for a tax credit for the past two or three years. They will just end up losing more money that could be better spent on additional care to improve their quality of life. My colleague's bill seeks to remedy that. The government has not had much to say, but I do not understand why it does not want to support such a simple thing.

On top of dealing with their disability every day, people with disabilities have to worry about this sort of thing, take additional steps, fill out endless piles of paperwork, and pay out-of-pocket charges. A single application would improve their quality of life and allow them to receive care when they discover that they are eligible for a tax credit that they were not aware of.

I hope that the government will reconsider its decision and vote in favour of my colleague's bill, Bill C-348.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs Québec


Marc Miller LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Madam Speaker, people with disabilities need services that meet their needs. However, we must keep in mind that there is no single solution that works for everyone.

I am pleased to have this opportunity today to talk about Bill C-348. This bill was introduced by my colleague from the riding of Windsor—Tecumseh. I congratulate her on being so determined to ensure that all Canadians, no matter their circumstances, have easy access to government programs and services.

Our government strives to ensure that all Canadians are treated equally, and we were the first in this country's history to appoint a minister for persons with disabilities.

Like my colleague, our government wholeheartedly supports streamlining the application process for programs and services for people with disabilities. Also like my colleague, we believe that the faster and easier these processes are, the better it is for the applicants. That is exactly why we cannot support Bill C-348.

We cannot support this bill because its proposed approach would not actually streamline access to programs and services for people with disabilities.

Under Bill C-348, Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, would have to process the applications currently being processed by other federal departments. This would create separation between the clients and the government agencies providing the programs and related support measures for which the clients are applying. In other words, this would put some distance between the clients and the agencies' expertise.

Think about it. A wide range of federal programs and support measures are offered to persons with disabilities. Those include the Canada pension plan disability benefits, disability tax credits, the registered disability savings plan, and veterans' benefits, to name a few.

Streamlining the application process for all these programs under a single department or portal will not make it more accessible, faster, or fairer.

Please understand that our government is fully in favour of improving application processes for persons with disabilities. We simply do not believe that Bill C-348 would help achieve that objective. In fact, it would defeat the purpose for which it was introduced.

That being said, I would also like to remind members of the important initiatives already underway to improve access to federal programs and services for people with disabilities.

The first initiative I want to talk about is, of course, the new accessibility bill. It is our hope that this proactive bill will systematically address the barriers to accessibility that exist in areas of federal jurisdiction, including banking services, transportation, broadcasting, telecommunications, and, naturally, the Government of Canada itself. We will remove barriers by creating a set of standards that employers, service providers, program managers, and companies will be expected to abide by.

We also plan to include compliance verification and enforcement mechanisms in this act.

The next initiative I want to talk about is one that was announced in budget 2017. Our government announced an investment of $12.1 million in 2017-18 to ESDC to develop modern approaches to service delivery, including speeding up application processes.

ESDC is developing a department-wide service strategy that will improve services to Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities.

The strategy has the following goals: to enable clients to complete services using digital self-service; to allow clients to access bundled and connected services seamlessly across channels; and to anticipate clients' needs. This initiative will also affect the Canada pension plan and old age security programs.

Members may recall that, in November 2015, our government conducted an in-depth audit of the Canada pension plan disability program. We expect to have a revised application prototype by the end of this year. These efforts are part of a broader service improvement strategy, which is primarily aimed at improving access and enhancing the client experience for all Canadians with disabilities, including students.

In fact, our government made changes to the application process for the Canada student loan program and repayment assistance measures for students with disabilities. It is important to point out that Employment and Social Development Canada is not the only department that is working to improve access and the client experience for all Canadians with disabilities. In fact, the Canada Revenue Agency is always looking for ways to improve the administration of the disability tax credit.

Veterans Affairs Canada is also taking part in these efforts. In budget 2017, our government declared its intention to introduce new measures to streamline and simplify the system of financial support programs currently offered to veterans. With this initiative, we will deliver on our commitment to introduce the option for injured veterans to receive a monthly disability pension for life instead of a lump sum payment.

Health Canada also supports a certain number of programs and services that provide direct assistance to disabled members of first nations and the Inuit.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one last initiative, but not the least important one. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada plans to revise its policy and authorize staff at Canada's passport offices to help people fill out passport applications, including people with a disability who need assistance.

As the House can see, our government has already implemented a number of initiatives to improve access to federal programs and services for all Canadians with disabilities.

I am pleased to see my colleagues, like my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh, bring forward proposals that are in line with our government's actions. Bill C-348 is well-intentioned. However, as I said, we do not think that this is a practical solution.

Once again, I congratulate my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh on all of her work.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that our government is committed to giving Canadians with disabilities equal opportunities and to make our society more inclusive. Above all, we are doing everything to make this happen.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business



The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I must inform the hon. member for Drummond that I will have to interrupt him at 12:04 p.m. and that he will be able to finish his speech the next time this bill is before the House.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Drummond.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business



François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I am disappointed that you will have to cut me off since I was planning on getting through my whole speech today, but that is okay, because I will come back to it another time. I would be more than happy to do so because it is a very important debate on very serious subject.

I thank my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for introducing this bill, which seeks to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act with regard to people with disabilities. Personally, thank God, I am not someone with a disability, but I do know people who are. When they tell me about all the challenges they have to face on a daily basis, I realize just how brave and incredibly independent they are. However, there are still barriers in their way, and that is what this bill is trying to fix.

Bill C-348 seeks to considerably streamline the process for persons with disabilities to access the many federal programs for which they are eligible. This is extremely important. When I was first elected, I was unaware of the challenges persons with disabilities faced in accessing programs, until my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby suggested that I hold information sessions on the disability tax credit to let my constituents know they are entitled to it. He said I would be surprised to learn how many people have no idea they are eligible.

After announcing this information session, I thought that maybe 15 or 20 people might attend, but 150 people showed up. That is a clear indication that the situation needs to be improved. That is why this bill is so important. I have been holding information sessions on the disability tax credit for six years now, and every year, a hundred or so people attend to find out what they are entitled to. This is something that should not be difficult for them, but unfortunately there are many obstacles. This bill seeks to simplify the process. That is why it is so important and needs to be supported.

Currently, persons with disabilities have to submit a separate application for every federal program and prove their disability every time. That makes no sense. There should be a one-stop shop. Bill C-348 will create a one-stop shop where they can submit all their applications at once. Why complicate things when we can simplify them? That is why we must support this bill.

I am shocked that Liberal members are saying they will vote against this bill, when they keep calling it a good bill and thanking my colleague for all her work. Where is the logic in that? If it is a good bill, then support it.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business



The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I hate to interrupt the member for Drummond, but he can continue his speech when the House resumes debate on this bill.

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.

(Bill C–59. On the Order: Government Orders:)

June 20, 2017—the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness—Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security of Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters.

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12:05 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan


Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

moved that Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada has no greater responsibility than keeping Canadians safe. We must fulfill that essential and solemn obligation while at the same time safeguarding Canadian rights and freedoms.

This double objective of protecting Canadians while defending their rights and freedoms was the basis of our commitments regarding national security during the last election, and it informed everything we have done in the area since we have been in government.

We have, for example, created a committee of parliamentarians with unprecedented access to classified information to scrutinize the activities of all national security and intelligence agencies. We have launched the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence to help Canada become a world leader in counter-radicalization.

We have issued new ministerial directions that more clearly prohibit conduct that would result in a substantial risk of torture. Our starting point was the most extensive and inclusive consultations about national security ever undertaken by the Government of Canada. Beginning in the spring of 2016, that effort involved individual stakeholders, round tables, town halls, various renowned experts, studies by parliamentary committees, and a broad solicitation of views online. More than 75,000 submissions were received.

All of this fresh input was supplemented by earlier judicial inquires by Iacobucci, O'Connor, and Major, as well as several parliamentary proposals, certain court judgments, and reports from existing national security review bodies. It all helped to shape the legislation before us today, Bill C-59, the national security act of 2017.

The measures in this bill cover three core themes, enhancing accountability and transparency, correcting problematic elements from the former Bill C-51, and updating our national security laws to ensure that our agencies can keep pace with evolving threats.

One of the major advances in this legislation is the creation of the national security and intelligence review agency. This new body, which has been dubbed by some as a "super SIRC", will be mandated to review any activity carried out by any government department that relates to national security and intelligence, as well as any matters referred to it by the government. It will be able to investigate public complaints. It will specifically replace the existing review bodies for CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment, but it will also be authorized to examine security and intelligence activities throughout the government, including the Canada Border Services Agency.

In this day and age, security operations regularly involve multiple departments and agencies. Therefore, effective accountability must not be limited to the silo of one particular institution. Rather, it must follow the trail wherever it leads. It must provide for comprehensive analysis and integrated findings and recommendations. That is exactly what Canadians will get from this new review agency.

Bill C-59 also creates the brand new position of the intelligence commissioner, whose role will be to oversee and approve, or not approve, certain intelligence activities by CSIS and the CSE in advance. The intelligence commissioner will be a retired or supernumerary superior court judge whose decisions will be binding. In other words, if he or she says that a particular proposed operation is unreasonable or inappropriate, it will simply not proceed.

Taken together, the new comprehensive review agency, the intelligence commissioner, and the new committee of parliamentarians will give Canada accountability mechanisms of unprecedented scope and depth. This is something that Canadians have been calling for, and those calls intensified when the former Bill C-51 was introduced. We heard them loud and clear during our consultations, and we are now putting these accountability measures into place.

BillC-59 also brings clarity and rigour to internal government information sharing under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, or SCISA. This is the law that allows government institutions to share information with each other in respect of activities that undermine the security of Canada. Among other things, Bill C-59 would change the name of the law, in English, to the security of Canada information disclosure act, to be clear that we are talking only about the disclosure of existing information, not the collection of anything new. Government institutions will now be required to keep specific records of all disclosures made under the act, and to provide these records to the new review agency.

Importantly, Bill C-59 clarifies the definition of activities “that undermine the security of Canada”. For example, it is explicit in stating that advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression are not included. The new legislation would also provide more precision in the definition of “terrorist propaganda”, in line with the well-known criminal offence of counselling.

The paramountcy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an overriding principle in Bill C-59. That is perhaps most evident in the updates that we are proposing to the CSIS Act. This is the law that created CSIS back in 1984, and it has not been modernized in any meaningful way since then.

The former Bill C-51 empowered CSIS to engage in measures to reduce threats to the security of Canada without clearly defining what those measures could and could not include. We are now creating a specific closed list of measures that CSIS will have the authority to take to deal with threats. If any such activity might limit a charter right, CSIS will have to go before a judge. The activity can only be allowed if the judge is satisfied that it is compliant with the charter.

Another concern we heard during the consultations and more generally has been about the no-fly list, especially the problem of false positives, which affects people whose names are similar to listed individuals. This is due to long-standing design flaws in the way that the no-fly list was first created many years ago. Those flaws require legislative, regulatory, and technological changes to fix them.

Bill C-59 includes the necessary legislative changes and paves the way for the others that will be necessary. In essence, Canada's no-fly list currently piggybacks onto the airlines' computer systems, which means that the government does not control the fields to be included nor the way that the whole system works. This bill would give us the authority we need to allow the government, instead of airlines, to screen passenger information against the no-fly list. The people who have been affected by this, especially those with children, feel frustrated and stigmatized by their no-fly problems. That is entirely understandable, and that is why we are working so hard to get this fixed. Passing Bill C-59 is a necessary step toward that end.

There is much more in Bill C-59 than I could possibly deal with in these 10 minutes, but in keeping with the open and inclusive approach that we have taken with this legislation since before it was even drafted, we are sending it to committee before second reading to ensure that the examination of the bill is as thorough as possible.

Professor Craig Forcese, a respected expert in national security law from the University of Ottawa, said Bill C-59 “appears to be more carefully crafted than anything we've seen in this area in a long time..”. I appreciate that, but there is still more work to be done.

I certainly hope to hear ideas and advice from colleagues in the House. We are open to constructive suggestions as we work together to ensure that Canada's national security framework is as strong and effective as it can possibly be.

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12:15 p.m.


Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech.

We are told that these changes to the provisions regarding Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents are about finding a balance between the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the actions that agents can carry out under Bill C-51.

I would like the minister to explain to me how he thinks that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms might impact potential terrorists as compared to honest citizens. In his opinion, why is it important for such a balance to be achieved?

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12:15 p.m.


Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is in the Constitution of Canada and applies in all circumstances unless a legislature has said, with respect to a specific matter, that the notwithstanding clause applies. Failing that, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the paramount law of this country.

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12:15 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank for minister for his speech, but as he said at the end of it, there is a lot more he wishes he could get to, which is exactly part of the problem here.

On this proposed piece of omnibus legislation, the minister can correct me if I am mistaken, but he did not mention any of the changes to CSEC, or the creation of cyber weapons, and the concerns these are causing and what exactly they will mean. To me, when I see these proposed changes to that mandate and to the cybersecurity aspect, we know that a big component of this has to do with the National Defence Act.

We have this motion before us today, which is not the actual bill but rather a motion to refer the bill to committee before second reading. Does the minister not find it problematic that, because of this motion, there will essentially be a loophole not allowing us to refer to Standing Order 69(1), under which we could ask the Speaker to vote on the different elements of this huge bill, which go far beyond simply reforming Bill C-51, as the government promised. We are really dealing with a bunch of different elements that require, at the very least, parliamentarians being able to vote on certain individual elements. I gave one example of this.

Could the minister comment on that, and does he agree that we should be able to vote on the different elements of the bill separately, as has been the case in the past?

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12:15 p.m.


Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, what we have undertaken here is the most significant overhaul of the national security framework ever undertaken in this country, certainly since the passage of the CSIS Act in 1984. This is comprehensive change that touches on a variety of elements, which all hang together in a coherent way and need to be considered together. One of the reasons we are following the procedure that we have adopted today is to give parliamentarians the maximum flexibility to examine the details of the legislation and to make their views known.

If we go through the normal second reading debate and refer the bill to committee after second reading, then the principles will already be locked in and cannot be changed. With the process we have adopted today, we are allowing members of Parliament the maximum flexibility to present new ideas, to offer alternative suggestions, and to present amendments at committee, which is, of course, the place where the detailed work is done. The procedure we are following today would give parliamentarians more scope and opportunity to influence the outcome of the proposed legislation than they would have have under any other procedure of the House.

National Security Act, 2017Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, I trust the minister will appreciate there is a certain sense of cynicism with respect to the committee process. Obviously, the membership of the committee is dominated by the government side. However, I was pleased to hear the minister say that he is open to advice and suggestions by committee members.

If good, sound principles of change with respect to the bill come from the opposition members, and indeed the NDP, at committee, will the government listen to the opposition sides?

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12:20 p.m.


Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, that is the whole point of adopting the procedure we have adopted today.

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12:20 p.m.


Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-59 and to express my concerns about this bill being passed in its current form. I have read through the bill carefully and tried to understand the intentions of the Liberals, who seem to want to accommodate terrorists.

In the Liberals' speeches, they try to convince us that they are looking out for Canadians and working to keep them safe. However, if we look at their actions, such as the ones proposed in Bill C-59, it is obvious that either the Liberals are getting bad advice, or they are more concerned about the rights of criminals than those of law-abiding Canadians.

Let me explain. The most significant and most contentious change that Bill C-59 would make to the Criminal Code is the amendment of the offence set out in section 83.221, which applies to “Every person who...knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general”. Bill C-59 would introduce a much more stringent test by changing the wording to “Every person who counsels another person to commit a terrorism offence”.

The same goes for the definition of “terrorist propaganda” in subsection 83.222(8), which will significantly reduce the ability of law enforcement officials to use the tool for dismantling terrorist propaganda with judicial authorization as set out in Bill C-51. One could argue that using the expression “another person” means that the offence must target someone specifically rather than the broader target of domestic terrorism and the offence that Bill C-51 is supposed to prevent.

Madam Speaker, I know you understand the importance of what I just said. If Bill C-59 passes in its current form, terrorists will be free to spread all kinds of propaganda using social media, without any fear of being arrested or prosecuted.

The vast majority of terrorist activities are generated from propaganda that is spread in a general way, rather than directed at a specific person. Imagine how this measure will affect the work of our police officers and how we combat terrorism. This proposal is absurd, because it protects criminals and those who want to engage in violence in our country. The government has some explaining to do, and I mean today.

Bill C-59 limits what the Canadian Security Intelligence Service can do to help us protect ourselves. When Bill C-51 was tabled by our government, it gave CSIS the power to engage in threat disruption activities. This meant CSIS could contact the parents of a radicalized youth and urge them to prevent their child from travelling to a war zone or committing an attack here in Canada.

However, if the Liberals' Bill C-59 passes, CSIS will lose that power and will not be able to do anything on the spot to protect us. All of its activities will require a warrant, which is not exactly convenient when the goal is to stop someone from committing an act of terror. Currently, a CSIS agent can pretend to be a local resident to influence someone who is preparing to commit a terrorist act. Bill C-59 will put a stop to that. Agents will just have to watch the threat develop and will have to get a warrant from a judge before they can take action. By the time the warrant is issued, it could be too late. Why are the Liberals putting so many obstacles in the way of law enforcement, who are just trying to protect us Canadians?

The Conservative Party has always taken Canadians' safety seriously, as demonstrated by the introduction and passage of Bill C-51. We must not forget that this bill was passed by the Conservative government with the support of the Liberals, who were then the second opposition party. A couple of years ago, in 2015, the Liberals were in agreement. There was a slight change during the election campaign and now they have introduced Bill C-59, but let us not forget that Bill C-51 was approved by the Liberals.

Now it seems that the Liberals are trying to make things more difficult for the officers tasked with fighting these criminals. In 2015, during the campaign, our Liberal colleagues clearly stated that, if they were elected, they would amend this legislation. It is important to highlight that the bill was only introduced in Parliament at the end of June of this year. It took them 18 months.

The Liberals took their sweet time in keeping their election promise. Perhaps they realized that the original legislation was not as flawed as they thought. They now want to make amendments to show that they are keeping another promise.

The Conservative Party knows how important it is to have measures regarding national security institutions and the responsibility that comes with that. For us, there is no question that the safety of Canadians comes before the comfort of terrorists and criminals. Canadians who love their country come before those who are seeking to destroy it. Unlike the Liberals, we are committed to protecting Canadians. That is not just an idea that we came up with during the election campaign. We have always been committed to that goal because the threat still exists and has not diminished. The threat posed by these criminals is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

We have also heard that these thugs are wandering the streets of our communities after fighting with ISIS. They fought against our own soldiers. We know that they fought alongside ISIS and that many of them came back to Canada. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is now saying that he is looking for evidence to arrest them. That is all well and good, but in the meantime, Canadians need clearer information about the situation.

Where is the transparency that the Liberals promised Canadians? Why is the Minister of Public Safety not saying anything about these criminals? Why is he being so silent on this?

As it now stands, Bill C-59 will greatly hinder the efforts of our peace officers and compromise the safety of Canadians, while facilitating the work of terrorists.

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12:25 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague that this bill has its roots in Bill C-51. I have been an MP for nearly seven years, and never have I seen a bill meet with such opposition from people who disagree with its purpose and take issue with what it brings to the table.

Polling results released as people became aware of the bill spoke volumes. At one point during the debate, before the bill even got to committee, experts and lawyers savaged it, telling us exactly how it set out to supposedly protect so-called honest Canadians, as my colleague refers to them, and 50% of the people who were aware of the bill opposed it.

If my colleague is so keen to protect those honest, law-abiding Canadians, perhaps he can explain to me why we should pass a bill and bring in measures that put those very Canadians at risk by collecting information about them and taking away their right to protest, which is something all citizens of a democratic country should be free to do.

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12:25 p.m.


Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague mentioned so-called honest folk.

When I talk about honest Canadians, I am talking about the vast majority of Canadians who are honest and want to live freely in Canada. When I talk about terrorists, criminals, that is who I am talking about. I do not want us to protect these people who decide to become terrorists and criminals. All I want is for terrorists and criminals to be arrested and put in prison and never heard from for a good, long while. We are here to protect honest Canadians.

In my speech I talked more about the work of CSIS agents, the people who work on the ground trying every day to uncover those who want to become terrorists and attack Canada. My goal is to help those agents do their work.

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12:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's speech and thoughtful consideration of the bill.

I have two questions. One, the member mentioned certain things that CSIS would not be able to do without a warrant, but there are a number of things they could do without a warrant. Could the member let the public know about some of those things?

Two, he seemed to suggest that the police and CSIS could not stop a terrorist act that was about to occur. However, as the member probably knows, under the Criminal Code already, with regard to any security legislation, the police, who should of course be working closely with CSIS domestically, can legally stop any criminal act that is about to occur, whether a terrorist act or any other criminal act.

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12:30 p.m.


Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. That is precisely what I would like to know, and that is the point of asking questions.

To our understanding, the proposed changes in Bill C-59 will diminish what CSIS agents can do on the ground. Is there something else that it is trying to say? I would love to know. At the end of the day, if I misunderstood, if my team misunderstood, then so be it, but as far as we can tell the agent will have to get a warrant from a judge before taking direct action to address a situation. That is where we take issue with this bill.