House of Commons Hansard #359 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jurors.

Topics

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-417, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I had the honour, on October 29, to second Bill C-417 introduced by my friend and colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton. As he indicated, we worked together, along with the member who spoke earlier, the hon. member for Mount Royal, the chair of the justice and human rights committee. I enjoy working with him there and note that today he spoke with his typical eloquence.

I get many letters from my constituents urging me, when it serves Canadians, to work across party lines to do what Canadians ask us to, which is to make laws that are going to make their lives better. If ever there were an example of that, it is tonight. I am delighted to support this initiative. It is a non-partisan issue. It is what I would call a no-brainer. It is really hard for me to understand how people could resist such an obviously right thing to do.

What would this bill do? It would make it possible for someone to seek mental health assistance if a person has served on a jury and is one of very few people deeply affected or traumatized by that experience. Who could possibly oppose such a measure? Perhaps there are ways the law could be improved through drafting, which is the role of committees to delve into it further, but, in principle, how could one possibly oppose this measure?

Along with my other colleagues, I want to salute the work of my colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, who pushed us to do this and produced, as my friend from Niagara Falls pointed out, a unanimous report, which everybody joined hands around. I commend him for doing so. The member for Mount Royal described some of the recommendations that are part of that report, but as he pointed out, many of them are in provincial jurisdiction. The beauty of this very simple and clean amendment to the bill is that it is entirely in federal jurisdiction. It is an amendment to section 649 of the Criminal Code that very narrowly addresses the problem he has described today.

I grew up in a place called St. Catharines, Ontario. That community was traumatized by the Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka trial. To his eternal credit, Mr. Justice Patrick LeSage did something for which he had really no authority: he provided counselling for jurors who were affected by that horrific testimony, videotapes and so forth that changed people's lives. I know that to be true because I know people who were affected by that horrible experience.

The committee heard other people, including Mark Farrant, who both of my colleagues have spoken of, who has become a leader in this initiative. He stood with the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton and me at a press conference to tell his story. He is not afraid to tell the story of what happened to him by doing his civic duty.

Both of my colleagues have stressed that one of the few remaining things, if not the only remaining thing, that Canadians can be compelled to do is do their duty on a jury. We depend on them. Our system of criminal justice depends on them and they put their lives, once in a while, in real jeopardy by doing what is required of them.

The thing that also needs to be said is in that criminal courtroom the Crown counsel will, no doubt, have access to effective medical assistance. The judge will as well, because judges have that kind of support. Probably the defence lawyer would as well through the Canadian Bar Association insurance program or the like. People who choose to sit in the courtroom do so voluntarily, but who does not have any support? It is jurors. They get nothing, but they put themselves sometimes at great risk. That is wrong. I will provide some examples of the poignant testimony heard at the justice committee to prove that point. The state of Victoria figured out that it was the right thing to do and fixed it, and Canada should as well.

One juror named Tina Daenzer said, “What I had to watch—those girls being raped and tortured—wasn’t just watching evidence; it was sitting in a box where I felt I couldn’t do anything to save them. It was excruciating for me.”

She goes on to say:

It's been over 22 years. I still have residual effects. If your 85-year-old granny is standing on the side of the road waving me down to help her with her broken-down car, I ain't stopping. I'm not stopping for anybody. I'm distrustful of most strangers. My family life is back to regular, but as a societal person, I'm highly distrustful of people.

That is what jury service did to that Canadian citizen.

Sonia Chopra, a former juror, said this:

I experienced nightmares, recurrent thoughts, loss of sleep, loss of balance, weight loss. Grinding of teeth at night escalated to clenching of teeth during the day, which led to headaches. I had a general feeling of anger all the time, and the feeling of helplessness.

I could go on.

Psychologist Vivien Lee said to our committee that because of stigma, jurors “often do not recognize or seek help until much later, when their difficulties have impacted many aspects of their work and personal lives.”

The point of this legislation is to say that it is okay to go to a health professional, seek counselling and obviously take the steps necessary at a time when it is perhaps easier to make the changes that would make their lives better.

According to the World Health Organization, every dollar we invest in mental health results in about $4 in savings to the Canadian and world community. I think that is applicable in this situation as well.

I want to commend the member for St. Albert—Edmonton for his leadership. I am proud to have served with the people who have spoken and others in this chamber tonight who are on the justice committee, effectively led, as I wish to confirm, by the member for Mount Royal.

I urge all members to support what the member for St. Albert—Edmonton properly called a common sense bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, for introducing this bill and giving me, as well as so many of my other colleagues, the honour of seconding the bill.

I remember my first time in Parliament, back in 1984, when my colleague Pauline Browes asked if I would second her motion to erect a statue to John Diefenbaker here on Parliament Hill. Needless to say, I was very proud to have that honour, and I am very proud to have this honour. I thank my colleague for that.

This is the first time we have introduced legislation to Parliament to address this critical oversight with respect to jurors in our justice system. I appreciate that my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton and all those we have heard here are addressing this situation, which up to now has been basically ignored. I was justice minister for six and a half years. I do not remember any reports or memos with respect to the health and well-being of jurors. I am so pleased that we are taking steps, as my colleague, the member for Victoria, just pointed out, on something that makes common sense.

What we can get out of Bill C-417 is the protection members of a jury need. The member has proactively taken this issue that has been ignored for too long. The legislation effectively speaks to section 649 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits jurors from disclosing jury deliberations to anyone, other than in relation to obstruction of justice under subsection 139(2) of the Criminal Code. This new legislation would allow jurors, for the first time in Canada, to seek the help of licensed practitioners, such as psychiatrists and psychologists. I am so pleased to hear of the support.

When we were on the justice committee and heard some of the testimony and evidence, everyone was affected in some way or another. My colleague, the member for St. Catharines, still remembers, as we all do who live in the Niagara Peninsula, the gruesome details of the Bernardo trial. I remember that trial. Indeed, my colleague is correct when he says that the wounds from that trial have not healed. All I can say is thank God that man was not released on parole just recently. As a matter of fact, there are people who are still suffering and are still impacted by that trial. I heard from a constituent who was a friend of Kristen French. She reiterated that the nightmares from that trial live on in her family, friends and jurors.

We had compelling testimony at the justice committee from Mr. Mark Farrant and Mr. Patrick Fleming. Mr. Farrant has been an advocate for jurors and is one of those who has suffered PTSD, in addition to anxiety, depression and nervous shock, due to the distressing and disturbing evidence presented at the trial in which he served as jury foreman. The 2014 trial was that of Farshad Badakhshan, who was convicted of second degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, Carina Petrache. She was stabbed multiple times before her body was burned in a fire. Mr. Farrant was subjected to viewing gruesome evidence over and over again. It should be no surprise to anyone that jurors are traumatized by being obliged to sit and watch graphic horrors repeatedly.

Tina Daenzer was another witness we heard from. She was the first one to be selected for the Bernardo trial. She had to listen and see all the terrible evidence introduced at that trial. She wanted to close her eyes and look away, but she could not, because she knew it was her duty to watch the evidence. At one point during the trial, Judge LeSage had to call a recess on her behalf, as she was having severe heart palpitations due to stress. She was referred to counselling. In his 29 years as a judge, Justice LeSage had ordered or recommended counselling for a juror on only two occasions, and the Bernardo trial was one of them. It should be noted as well that he himself sought counselling after that trial ended.

Ms. Daenzer ended her testimony by saying that counselling had helped her manage the trauma and anxiety and to get back to living her life. This speaks to the reason why Bill C-417 is critical to protect our jurors. If we want to continue to have jurors serve and to value their service, we need to ensure that they are provided avenues to reduce their stress, including the opportunity to talk about it and debrief afterward.

Many provinces do have juror support programs such as providing free counselling to former jurors. The bill would increase the effectiveness of those sessions, as it would allow jurors to further discuss the reasons why they had become significantly stressed. Many of our health care professionals who testified at committee supported this change, as they felt it would improve the health of former jurors without compromising the sanctity of our jury system, which medical professionals are bound to by confidentiality requirements.

I thank all the members who have been involved with this, the member for Mount Royal, the member for Victoria and, of course, the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, for encouraging and moving forward with this at the justice committee. Because of that report, we are seeing Bill C-417 here today.

It is not without precedent. As members have heard, there are other jurisdictions that are having a look at this issue. In Australia in the State of Victoria they have had similar secrecy rules to Canada's, but its Juries Act 2000 now allows jurors to discuss juror deliberation in the course of their mental health treatment undertaken as a result of their jury service. As justice minister it was always very helpful to see what our colleagues in Australia did. They face many of the same issues we do in Canada. Both countries adhere to the Westminster model of Parliament and are in fact similar in many ways. I always remember when the Prime Minister of Australia was here about 10 years ago and addressing Parliament. He mentioned that Canada and Australia were like identical twins separated at birth. Indeed, having a look at what they do in other countries such as Australia is very helpful for us here in Canada.

One of the things I want to touch on, which I was pleased that my colleague from Mount Royal raised as well, is the lack of remuneration for members of the jury. To ask someone to sit on a jury for two weeks and then not pay them or to pay them $50 a day contributes to the stress these individuals suffer from. As my colleague pointed out, some provinces have not raised this amount since the 1970s. That is absolutely wrong. These people are an essential part of our justice system and they should not have that added stress of not being able to look after their homes. Even employers are stressed because they are losing their employees for perhaps long periods of time. I am hoping that in our discussions with our provincial counterparts to say that time has moved on, that will be one of the areas where we do get these people the kind of financial support they need.

The bill is within the complete jurisdiction of Parliament, and I am so pleased and honoured to be a part of this. Again, I thank all of my colleagues here for all of their wonderful support for this important bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 27th, 2018 / 7:40 p.m.

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-417, an act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), initiated by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

As is readily apparent this evening, the bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to provide that the prohibition against the disclosure of information relating to jury proceedings does not, in certain circumstances, apply in respect of disclosure by jurors to health care professionals.

Our government indeed recognizes the crucial role in dedicated service of jurors in the Canadian justice system, as stated by a former juror, Mark Farrant, who was indeed quoted by the moving member, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. Mr. Farrant said in his testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that, “Jurors are an important pillar of the justice system.”

Members heard reference to Mr. Farrant, repeatedly, this evening.

Before November 22 of last year and February 8 of this year, that justice committee undertook a study that culminated in their report, “Improving support for jurors in Canada”, which was rendered in May of this year. The committee held eight meetings in Ottawa to hear evidence from witnesses, including former jurors, Canadian and foreign government representatives who work directly with jurors or in justice departments, Canadian and international lawyers, and other experts interested in the stresses that are associated with jury duty.

Again, those committee deliberations and that committee report have been referred to extensively in the speeches we have heard thus far tonight.

First of all, I want to indicate our thanks to the committee for their thorough study and their important report on this important issue. What I would like to do now is take a moment to explain the jury process in Canada, because understanding the roles that jurors are asked to play is necessary to finding solutions to assist them with the difficulties that can result from their very important public service.

For criminal cases, section 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a trigger. What that does is it grants any person charged with an offence the right:

....to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.

As provided in section 471 of the Criminal Code:

Except where otherwise expressly provided by law, every accused who is charged with an indictable offence shall be tried by a court composed of a judge and jury.

When a person is charged with a crime listed in section 469 of the Criminal Code, the trial will automatically take place before a judge and jury, unless the person charged with the offence and the Attorney General agree to a trial without a jury.

In all of these types of criminal cases, the jury is called upon to reach a unanimous verdict, determining whether the accused is guilty beyond a standard of what is called “a reasonable doubt” based on the evidence presented by the prosecution.

In the context of civil cases, juries also have a role to play. While most civil cases are heard by a judge alone, a defendant may also have the right to a trial by judge and jury, depending on the nature of the case and the court. Civil juries must decide, on a balance of probabilities, whether the plaintiff proved that the defendant violated civil law. There are six jurors in a civil case and at least five of them are asked to agree upon a civil verdict.

Finally, there is also an aspect of coroners' inquests that is triggered when we discuss jurors. Coroners' inquests, which aim to inform the public of the circumstances of a death, require jurors as well. Jurors must respond to questions about the circumstances of a death and may make non-binding recommendations. Unlike civil or criminal cases, jurors in coroners' inquests are not required to render a verdict on anyone's legal responsibility.

Serving as a juror in any of these capacities that I have just outlined can involve significant stress. We have heard a lot of testimony and a lot of submissions today in this chamber about the stresses the jurors face. Those stresses have the potential to seriously affect a juror's life. What causes stress varies from one person to another, evidently. Several examples were raised by witnesses at committee. I would like to discuss some of these.

For many Canadians, being summoned for jury duty is the first and maybe the only experience they will have with the justice system. As a result, few prospective jurors are knowledgeable about what jury duty entails, and that unfamiliarity with the process itself often generates anxiety. Many individuals may therefore feel overwhelmed and stressed when they are summoned for jury duty.

As expressed by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty, “...jurors are moving into an environment that is very unfamiliar to them. This can be very intimidating, and that alone can be somewhat stressful.”

Being exposed to disturbing information is also a fundamental aspect of what jurors are faced with. Again, we heard extensively about this this evening.

It goes without saying that some legal proceedings deal with truly horrific and horrible crimes and involve traumatic and explicit evidence and testimony, which can include disturbing audio and video. This can be extremely stressful for jurors who are exposed to it.

We heard this quote earlier, but it bears repeating. Mark Farrant explained:

Images would haunt me day after day, an unrelenting bombardment of horror. My daughter's red finger painting would hurtle me back to the scene of the crime and I would stare transfixed, seemingly out of space and time.

With respect to deliberations, some jurors explained that they were uncomfortable with challenging group dynamics and the confrontations that sometimes occurred between jurors. Therefore, the deliberation process itself can be stress-inducing.

Other individuals spoke about their significant fear of making the wrong decision or rendering a verdict that would have a life-altering impact, fuelling the gravity of the task that was before them.

Former juror Michaela Swan told the Standing Committee on Justice:

...the most difficult process in serving as a juror was that of deliberations and the resulting post-trial discharge...It's confusing and highly complicated, but there is an immense drive to do the right thing.

There is also an abruptness of the end of the trial. Generally, after a verdict is rendered, the duty of jurors comes to an end. The committee heard repeatedly that for a number of jurors, particularly the ones serving on extensive and gruesome trials or inquests, the transition back to normal life was indeed challenging.

Former juror Patrick Fleming explained:

We need assistance getting back to our “normal” life. We are civilians who did not choose this path for ourselves nor are we trained to deal with this type of situation. Being a juror is a monumental job that has had a major impact on my life.

Many of the former jurors who participated in the committee's study described the difficulties they experienced once the jury task concluded.

Michaela Swan, who I mentioned earlier, stated:

Within 20 minutes of delivering a verdict, and after four days of being sequestered, I walked through an open parking lot with 11 other strangers and returned to normal life. I had Sunday to reconnect with my family and was back to work Monday.

As Patrick Fleming explained:

At the end of the trial, it was so abrupt. One minute I was reading a guilty verdict to five individuals, putting them away for 25 years plus another 25, and then the very next minute the court doors opened, and I was going home. Think about that.

With respect to section 649 of the Criminal Code, some jurors described feelings of isolation. Currently, in Canada, jurors cannot discuss the case with anyone as per section 649 of the Criminal Code itself. They are cut off from their family, friends and usual support networks with whom they would normally share troubling information and receive advice or encouragement. This also can be an added stress.

As Patrick Fleming explained:

I felt isolated from my family and friends. I would distance myself, and I could not share what I was going through....I felt guilty for not being present for my family emotionally and physically.

The important work undertaken by the committee clearly shows that it is possible to prevent or reduce the stress on the juror's experience, particularly by improving the preparation process and the conditions under which jurors fulfill their duties throughout the legal proceedings, as well as by providing jurors with psychological support as needed.

As was also mentioned earlier, it is a worthwhile investment. According to the WHO, every dollar invested in mental health results in about $4 worth of savings.

It is important that we continue to work with the provinces and territories to find solutions that support jurors and their mental health, including an examination of section 649 of the Criminal Code.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, while my time might be short, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this legislation.

I want to thank the member for St. Albert—Edmonton for choosing this issue to address in his private member's bill. It is an extremely important issue, and as he has heard tonight and knows himself, it is a nonpartisan issue.

I am a member of public safety committee. The first report that we did was also on PTSD and operational stress injuries. It too was a unanimous report, just like the justice committee report.

Mental health is an issue that crosses party lines. It is an issue that all of us need to work on together. When people serve their country, we need to make sure that we look after them.

I was quite surprised when I heard that jurors are not able to seek support from medical professionals when they have finished a trial. I first learned about this during a public safety study. Both nurses and jurors reached out to my office to ask if our study could incorporate the mental injuries they had suffered. That was of course outside the scope of our study.

We probably first became aware of mental injuries from our veterans. For me personally, that was the first time I learned that people could suffer mental injuries because of what they saw or heard.

We have come a long way with our veterans and are starting to make strides with our first responders and public safety officers. With both of those groups, we have a long way to go, but with jurors this is something that just has not come up before.

I am so happy to be able to speak to this issue and that the justice committee took the time to study it broadly with jurors. Much of it falls under provincial jurisdiction. Right now, four provinces provide some kind of services to jurors, but this really is something that should be provided across the country.

I quite liked the suggestion by the member for Mount Royal that there should be someone who looks after jurors. Would that not be a lovely way to support jurors?

From the testimony that members heard and I read in the report, after jurors have gone through a trial they have intrusive thoughts, nightmares, trouble sleeping, and develop phobias and anger, and lose their appetite and have a sense of isolation, and are hypervigilant, depressed, anxious, and suffer from substance abuse problems.

It is critically important that all parties support this legislation. We have limited time left to see it get through the House and then hopefully through the Senate to become law.

I am very pleased to offer my support to the member. I will be supporting the bill and will certainly be advocating within my own caucus to ensure that we get this important piece of legislation passed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Oakville North—Burlington will have six and a half minutes remaining in her time when the House next gets back to debate on the question that is before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

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

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to speak tonight about Canada's engagement with UNRWA and generally with the Palestinian territories.

In response to an earlier question I asked, the Minister of International Development spoke of the time she spent in the West Bank visiting UNRWA facilities, which I have also done. Earlier this year, as part of a trip with the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, I also had the opportunity to visit the West Bank and an UNRWA school and to speak with students there. It left me with some striking impressions.

I believe deeply that Canada must continue to support a two-state solution, recognizing that both Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate historical connection to the territory covered by both Israel and the Palestinian territories, recognizing as well that what is required is an appreciation and understanding of each other's histories and each other's connections, and constructive dialogue that recognizes the legitimacy of each other's situation and the challenges presented by this conflict.

At the UNRWA school I saw many of the challengers that others have reported, including that the students were not being given any opportunity to interact with their Israeli neighbours. When we spoke to students, they spoke of not even having a desire to have those interactions, as a result of the situation they were in. The teachers in the room nodded along with that.

UNRWA is well known and well documented to be an organization that is far too tolerant of intolerance and accepting of curricular materials that do not recognize the essential connection between both peoples. In this particular case, the materials do not recognize the connection between the Jewish people and that territory and the need for that kind of understanding and appreciation of both positions.

Therefore, the question for Canada is that when we are sending money to support development of state Palestinian education, are we becoming subject to that soft bigotry of low expectations that says that even though there is intolerance in the curriculum, that is good enough? Or, are we insisting that when Canadian tax dollars are spent, those be reflective of Canadian values, so that we set the highest possible standards and look for an alternative to the current situation that we see with an organization like UNRWA, where dollars are not being spent in a way that reflects our values?

What was striking when I posed this question to the minister was that we had previously heard, on the one hand, that she had allegedly raised issues about the problematic material, but on the other hand that she had said that spending that money was totally fine. In other words, they are trying to say on the one hand that there are not problems, but on the other hand the minister is speaking about and raising problems that exist within UNRWA. It seems to me that we cannot have it both ways. Either there are not problems, and therefore it is acceptable to be spending this money, or there are problems. If the minister is raising the problems, then why is this money being spent?

Our Parliament should be deeply concerned about the welfare of the Palestinian people. That is why we should not be giving money to UNRWA, but instead should be looking to deliver support in ways that set the highest standard of pluralism, neutrality, and encouraging peace and peaceful coexistence. That is our position.

Will the government come on side with that, stop funding UNRWA, and instead look for more effective ways that are more reflective of Canadian values to deliver support to the Palestinian people?

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

8 p.m.

Kamal Khera Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to providing humanitarian assistance and responding to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.

Having travelled to the region recently, I am sure my hon. colleague opposite would acknowledge that Palestinian refugees endure high levels of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. By helping to support their humanitarian needs, Canada is also contributing to stability in the region.

On October 12 of this year, the Minister of International Development announced $50 million over two years to support millions of vulnerable Palestinian refugees who lived in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. This funding is the same that has been provided over the past two years. lt will help support education, health and social services, as well as urgent humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Syrian crisis.

Canada is also providing up to $12.5 million in support to Right to Play International, which will collaborate with UNRWA to help create a more inclusive environment for Palestinian refugee children and to also respond to existing educational gaps and needs in the West Bank and Gaza.

As the only UN agency mandated to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees, UNRWA delivers basic education, health and social services and humanitarian assistance to millions of people whose needs would otherwise be unmet. As it has been for years, Canadian support for UNRWA is also linked to Canada's commitment to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East negotiated by both parties, which includes the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

As we do with all our contributions in the region, Canada is monitoring and working with UNRWA very closely. Our re-engagement with the agency allows us to do so. It also allows us to raise allegations of violations when they come to light and to find solutions.

I am sure my colleague opposite knows that UNRWA is required to use textbooks of the jurisdiction in which their schools operate. This allows students to sit for local exams.

UNRWA has in place a formal framework to review all textbooks and, where needed, provides additional training for teachers to address any problematic issues related to neutrality, bias, gender equality or age appropriateness.

Canada will continue to take all allegations of neutrality violations extremely seriously. Our government will continue to support the provision of assistance to the most vulnerable on behalf of Canadians and in a way that reflects Canadian values.

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member that Palestinian refugees are in need of our engagement and support. However, I do not accept that the recognition of that vulnerability justifies giving money to just any organization that is involved in providing social programs to them. It behooves us to assess the nature of the information and the education provided by that organization in the process.

The member acknowledges that the textbooks used are dependent on the jurisdiction in which they take place, and this creates significant problems in being able to ensure our values are reflected, that universal human ideas of human rights, pluralism and human dignity are reflected in those institutions.

All of the problems are evident in what the member is saying. Instead of simply accepting that this is as good as it gets, let us insist on doing better with respect to the issues of neutrality and pluralism.

I want to ask the member if the programming provided through the Right to Play organization will include programs that encourage different communities to be involved in sporting activities together. For instance, will these dollars be used so Israeli and Palestinian children are playing in programs together or will that play, which is facilitated through that program, be happening exclusively in each community separately?

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

8:05 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, Lib.

Kamal Khera

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, Canada and other donors expect UNRWA to uphold UN standards for neutrality. This also includes the educational materials of the jurisdictions in which UNRWA operates and which UNRWA is required to use.

Along with other donor governments, Canada will continue to closely monitor these issues, if and when they arise. It gives us an opportunity to find solutions if we are at the table.

Thanks to UNRWA's work, more than three million people have access to primary health care and over half a million Palestinian refugee girls and boys benefit from the quality education provided to them in UN schools.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

8:05 p.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today because I asked a question of the minister about a woman in my riding named Pat.

Pat is now 80 and was desperately ill. In fact, her family was not certain how long she would be with us. The good news is that Pat got better. The bad news is that during her time of having a hard health issue, she did not have a home any more.

The reality for Pat is that she was told by the hospital that she would have to leave. She had nowhere to go and ended up spending months in a hotel where the rent was $500 a week, which was much more than the pension she had.

When we look at the reality of seniors across Canada who are facing the same challenges that Pat is, we want to make sure that they have a safe place to go, that seniors are not homeless and put in this situation.

It is important to recognize that in our communities, including the communities that I represent in North Island—Powell River, that there are a lot of organizations working hard every day to address issues of homelessness and the high risk of homelessness that is happening in so many communities across Canada. I would like to name just a few in my riding: the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness; Grassroots Kind Hearts Society, which feeds people in Campbell River every day; the Salvation Army Lighthouse Resource Centre in Port Hardy, which provides lunch five times a week; Port Hardy Seniors, of which I am a member, that feeds seniors lunch every Tuesday and provides many opportunities for activities in the community; Homelessness Partnering Strategy funded in Port Hardy through the Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre; Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness; Dawn to Dawn in Comox Valley, which does so much to support those who are at high risk and homeless; Community Resource Center of Powell River, which recently received 20 beds to provide emergency shelter; Powell River committee against homelessness; and the Salvation Army, which has shelters in several of the communities I represent.

These are just a few of the organizations that work hard every day with people across our communities who are facing significant challenges with housing.

It is so important that we recognize that in rural and remote parts of Canada, housing is a significant crisis. The organizations I mentioned before do everything they can, but they need a more active partner in the federal government.

In B.C., we are actually seeing what an active partner looks like. Recently, the housing minister of B.C. made a significant announcement in investments for housing. What I really appreciate is that rather than leaving the majority of the resources at the back end, like the federal government currently is with 90% not even beginning to move until the next election, the housing minister is making sure that it is in the front, as the housing minister said in an announcement about the housing crisis in B.C.

She said, “We’re frontloading because it’s so desperate...It breaks my heart every time I hear a story, and I heard another one today, of a community, an Indigenous community that is reeling from two suicide deaths of young people.” This is from an article in The Tyee.

I want to be really clear. This provincial B.C. government is dedicating funding for 1,100 units of indigenous housing both on and off reserve. Provinces do not usually fund housing on reserve. Usually, they step out of that and see it as a federal responsibility, but as the article said, on-reserve housing has been a federal responsibility since 1867 and has been chronically underfunded.

When we look at stories like Pat's, we know that there is a significant issue for seniors across this country, and we need to make sure that they do not fall through the cracks. I want to make sure that today in the House that people understand that seniors simply cannot wait.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

8:10 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for bringing that human story not just to Parliament but to all of Canada through Parliament. The challenges facing communities across this country, as they relate to homelessness, are profound. Housing and homelessness are partnered in this challenge.

We have done several things to support governments like the B.C. government and others, to try and turn the situation around with a historic investment in housing, which is not just the $40 billion over the next 10 years, but also includes the $5.8 billion put in our first budget, which are the dollars that are being spent by the provincial government in B.C. so effectively. However, more has to be done.

Part of what also has to be done is that we have to understand that the story that was just told to us comes from rural Canada. Rural Canada has housing and homeless challenges as well. When the previous government identified 61 designated communities, it kind of forgot rural Canada and imposed the same rules on rural Canada that were imposed on urban Canada. In other words, the definition of what constituted chronic homelessness was exactly the same as what was designated in major cities like Vancouver or Toronto.

The challenge here is that rural communities, especially northern rural communities, experience homelessness differently, women experience homelessness differently, women in rural communities experience homelessness differently, and seniors who are women in rural Canada experience homelessness differently. The notion that the woman who was just described would have to spend six months living on the street before a federal program would even contemplate supporting this individual, is obscene. It is wrong.

The changes that we have made to the program allow for the HPS, the homelessness partnership money which is now renamed as “reaching home” to work in preventative strategies. One of the things we are trying to get to, as shown in a good study coming out of London, Ontario, is the role that hospitals play in projecting people into homelessness. The right to housing is going to be realized when governmental organizations that provide provisional housing do not simply swing the door open to say, “Good luck. I hope you find housing out there” but actually have a responsibility before discharge to make sure that people have a place to call home, that their rent is secured and they are attached to housing systems that can realize their housing needs and, thus, respect their human rights.

This is the change to “reaching home”. As I said at the beginning, it is intertwined with an approach to housing that also is building new housing now. We have built 14,000 units of housing since we took office. We have repaired 156,000 units of housing and our support has reached into more than a million homes across the country.

Even though we have put these large numbers in play and even though we invested before the $40 billion and have reprofiled the money in that $40 billion investment, when we hear stories like this, we know we have to work harder and deliver more because no senior, no woman, no person in rural Canada, no person anywhere in Canada should be in a situation where they find themselves paying the sorts of rents that were described and not having supports of meals, social services and community. That is just unacceptable.

The national housing strategy is a bold new beginning on the housing front. More needs to be done and we have to make sure that when we act, we act in recognition of the complexity of this issue right across Canada.

As for the issue of indigenous housing, the government is currently engaged with national indigenous organizations, the Métis, the Inuit and first nations. We are also in the groundbreaking moments of a national urban housing strategy to fulfill the last chapter of the national housing strategy to make sure that all Canadians get the home they deserve.

My thanks to the member for the story she told. I assure her that help is on the way because help has already arrived in places like B.C. in a strong partnership between our government and the provincial government in Victoria.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do hope that help is on the way because so many people are falling through terrible cracks. I sat with Pat in her not very warm and friendly hotel and she talked about how the community around her was doing everything they could to support her and how grateful she was. I thought to myself that she had a lot more grace than I would have in that circumstance.

However, it is also about working with women who are in their eighties who are calling my office because they did not get their taxes done on time because of health issues, so they have lost their GIS and are now facing eviction. One woman in particular was 86 and she did not know what she was going to do if she was homeless at that age.

Seniors from small communities being sent to large communities to access health care are struggling to find housing. At the same time, seniors in the larger communities are being sent to the smaller communities because they cannot afford to live in bigger communities. Based on the vital signs of my community, we know that we have a lot of seniors, up to 26% plus, in our communities. Over 40% of renters are spending 30% or more of their income, in some cases, 50% on rent, and the vacancy is very low.

Therefore, I look for action. Right now I just have to say that Canadians are waiting and waiting and they simply cannot wait when they are in these vulnerable circumstances.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to report that for many Canadians, the wait is over. The 14,000 new housing units are a start. I agree, we need to do much more. The national housing strategy, with the co-investment fund and other investments, is poised to do just that.

The challenge we have is that it took us 25 years to build the crisis. Our party was part of the problem, in the early nineties, when we made significant cuts to the housing program.

People like Claudette Bradshaw invested her time and energy in changing course and delivering the homelessness partnering strategy program from this side of Parliament. There were people like John Godfrey, who resuscitated and reinitiated federal investments in housing, and Bill Graham, who refused to let the operating agreements expire in cities like Toronto, in particular for co-ops. All these Liberal members also helped start to rebuild the system. Quite clearly, by the time I stood for the by-election, the work was not nearly as complete as it should have been.

This government took office and invested $5.8 billion immediately. Those dollars are the dollars producing houses in places like B.C. now. We have now reprofiled the dollars to make them more effective, over the next 10 years, with a $40-billion investment and good, strong bilaterals. I am proud to say that British Columbia was one of the first provinces to sign a bilateral, and that means 10 years of runway for housing to be constructed in that province, and that will turn things around, hopefully. If not, we have—

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

8:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again the government is not keeping its promises regarding EI sickness benefits, which are are currently limited to 15 weeks.

The Prime Minister himself told Houda El Kherchi in the presence of Patrice Roy on Téléjournal that he was working on this file. That was almost two years ago in December 2016. Why has nothing been done about this yet? Why are the Liberals refusing to allow experts to come and talk to parliamentarians? Why are the Liberals allowing sick people to suffer and live in precarious circumstances? Could the Prime Minister have made another false promise? What are the Liberals afraid of?

We cannot sit back and do nothing when over a million Canadians are calling on us for help. I want the government to take action. That is our role as parliamentarians and that is the responsibility of the government.

The employment insurance system as it now stands is truly unfair. People do not choose to become ill. Can we accept the fact that we are letting some Canadians live in precarious circumstances because they are ill? Statistics show that one in two Canadians is at risk for cancer. How can this government be insensitive to the fate of half the population?

On Tuesday, January 15, I will be hosting a talk entitled “15 weeks to heal is not enough!” together with Solidarité Populaire Richelieu-Yamaska. The law only provides for 15 weeks of sick benefits, which is just not enough for people to heal and survive financially. More than one-third of recipients currently need a lot more than the program's 15 weeks of benefits. The Employment Insurance Act needs to be revamped.

Setting aside partisanship and political posturing, there are seriously ill people who need our help. On January 15, I will join Mélanie Pelletier, a presenter from Saint-Hyacinthe, Marie-Hélène Dubé, who started the national petition “15 weeks to heal is not enough!”, Yvan Bousquet, from Mouvement Action Chômage, and many organizations and unions in the riding in an attempt to change this unfair law.

Mélanie Pelletier, Marie-Hélène and I need the support of the citizens of Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton, and I hope that many will answer our call.

It is important that we take the time to listen to these people who are sick. I am now getting calls from physicians in my riding who are telling me that patients are having to return to work when they are sick. I sincerely hope that the parliamentary secretary will have good news for us and that there will soon be changes to the 15-week period.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:20 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister has said and others have repeated, it is hard to hear stories about Canadians suffering.

I am aware of the financial difficulties faced by Canadians suffering from a long-term illness or injury and their families. There are support measures available to them.

Of course, there are employment insurance programs that can provide support through sickness benefits. When eligible Canadians are unable to work, they can turn to these sickness benefits for support. These benefits also allow them to take time to rest and restore their health, so that they can return to work in better condition without having to worry about their financial situation. Sickness benefits are designed as a short-term income replacement measure for temporary work absences. They provide 15 weeks of income replacement for Canadians who leave work due to short-term illness or injury.

That said, I know that some sickness benefits claimants exhaust their 15 weeks of benefits before they are able to get better and return to work. We are sensitive to their plight. I want to remind the House that EI sickness benefits are actually a complement to the range of other supports that are also available for longer-term illness and disability. That support includes the Canada pension plan disability benefit, as well as benefits offered through private and employer insurance, and supports provided by the provinces and territories.

Improving the EI program is one of our government's priorities. Last year, we announced the creation of an EI benefit for family caregivers of adults for a maximum of 15 weeks. It also allows eligible family caregivers to provide care or support for an adult family member who is seriously ill or injured. We also announced that immediate and extended family members of children who are critically ill will have, for the first time, access to a new benefit previously only available to parents. Additionally, medical doctors and nurse practitioners are now able to sign El caregiving medical certificates.

This change will simplify the administrative process while allowing Canadians to focus on what really matters: being with their loved ones.

Lastly, budget 2018 announced that the government would extend working while on claim provisions. This again blends in with our sickness and maternity benefits to support Canadians when they need help. This provision came into force in August 2018 and allows Canadians recovering from an illness or injury to have greater flexibility to manage their return to work and to keep more of their El benefits.

These are just a few of the real differences we are making in the lives of Canadians. Our government is firmly committed to modernizing the El system to better reflect the needs of hard-working middle-class Canadians. Our work is not done, but we are changing the system to be more accommodating, more sensitive and, hopefully, more supportive for Canadians in need.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me tell you about one of my constituents. She is going through the same thing that thousands of our constituents across the country, in our 338 ridings, are going through. I commend her on her courage and determination to change this unfair legislation.

Mélanie Pelletier, a woman from Saint-Hyacinthe, exhausted her 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits. Mélanie told me how hard it is. She said that it is no longer about living, it is about surviving. Mélanie, and many people like her, live with stress, anxiety and pain and do not feel like the government is supporting them or listening to them.

I cannot turn a blind eye to people like Houda, Marie-Hélène, and Mélanie. I want to see concrete measures and results. I am calling on the government to show some compassion. I want the government to keep its promises and enhance EI sickness benefits.

Extending the benefit period to 50 weeks would give our constituents the opportunity to heal.

Will the government finally keep its promises and live up to its responsibilities or will it keep turning its back on the most fragile among us?

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:25 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course our government takes this responsibility seriously. That is why we have introduced so many reforms to strengthen and broaden EI support for vulnerable Canadians as they deal with illness, in particular. We empathize with the particular situation my colleague has raised and are doing whatever we can to enhance employment insurance to better reflect these sorts of specific needs of Canadians.

The reality is that families and workplaces are changing, which means that employment insurance must also change.

That is why we have been working very hard over the past two years to make a number of these benefits more flexible and more inclusive. My colleague can rest assured that we are doing everything we can to deal with these realities and to help Canadians at every stage of their lives. As I said, more change is coming. We understand the need to support Canadians and EI is an important tool to do just that.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 8:28 p.m.)