House of Commons Hansard #391 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Board of Internal Economy

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I have the honour to inform the House that the member for New Westminster—Burnaby has been appointed member of the Board of Internal Economy in place of the member for Berthier—Maskinongé for the purposes and under the provisions of section 50 of the Parliament of Canada Act.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the disproportionate effect of fraud activities against the seniors community across Canada; (b) coordinate a national response to fraud activities to ensure that seniors and other vulnerable groups have the resources they need to understand the signs of fraud; (c) establish tangible recourses for victims of fraud; and (d) work with local law enforcement agencies and the Canada Revenue Agency to introduce legislation to combat fraudulent attacks targeting vulnerable seniors.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I stand in this place to speak to my private member's motion, Motion No. 203, with regard to seniors fraud. While I am eager to talk about my motion, I must first acknowledge the contribution of our Conservative team.

I want to thank my colleague from Edmonton West and his staff for their hard work on this motion, as well as his engagement with seniors and stakeholders in Edmonton and across Canada. While he may not quite be a senior yet, it is very reassuring to see him and the younger generation of members in this place recognize the incredible value that our seniors contribute to our day-to-day lives. I have every confidence that he will be a stalwart champion of our wisest demographic for many years to come in this place.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my colleague from Langley—Aldergrove for all of his hard work on the seniors file, as well as his constituents. In the next Parliament, this place will be losing a dedicated and principled advocate for seniors, for their financial security and palliative care. I look forward to continuing our relationship when he departs from Ottawa later this year for his retirement.

May 18, 2011 remains as one of the most important days in my life. That was the day I was sworn in as minister of state for seniors under the previous government. It was a role that I served in with great reverence and respect for over four years. Being the voice at the cabinet table for nearly a quarter of Canadians is no small task. Each and every day, I went into the ministry with the hope of making life easier and fairer for the nearly five million Canadians I was asked to represent, in addition to my 100,000 constituents in the city of Richmond.

I am very proud of the work we did as a cabinet, including working with my colleague from Niagara Falls in implementing changes to the Criminal Code to combat seniors fraud. I hope today, with the support of all parties, to continue that work.

Unfortunately, domestic and foreign criminal elements are increasingly resorting to fraud in an effort to make a quick profit off of those who are most vulnerable. Our seniors have spent their entire lives building our country and deserve to live out their golden years with the dignity, respect and safety that they have earned. This is why I have tabled Motion No. 203 on seniors fraud.

In my home riding of Richmond Centre, two of the most popular tactics used by criminals are a famous CRA scam and visa scams. I think we are all aware of the former scam, but I would like to explain the latter.

As we all know, Richmond has a very high population of Chinese speakers, and many of the older generation come from abroad. Many of my constituents have family members who are legally here in Canada on visas or permits. Over the past year, scammers have been calling many of my constituents and claim to be representatives of a foreign embassy or consulate. They then go on to demand that a certain amount of money, under the guise of a visa fee or a similar administrative fee, be paid to them electronically. I have been the target of this scam, as have my staffers.

While some of my younger constituents who have the benefit of being educated from a young age on the dangers of the scams may be able to recognize and report this fraud to the relevant authorities, many of the seniors in my riding lack that awareness and knowledge. Couple that with the fact that many seniors are not familiar with the legal minutia surrounding visas and the immigration process, and we have a demographic that is ripe for being targeted by fraudsters, through no fault of their own.

A second scam, which made local headlines in Richmond, involves the targeting of local seniors by scammers posing as employees of the City of Richmond. The scammers call locals and inform them that they need to pay city taxes or a parking fine. However, this scam is lower tech. The scammers indicate that the fee or taxes must be paid in person and arrange a time and place to facilitate payment. In this case, it was the municipal parking lot at Richmond City Hall. Luckily for the individuals involved, they took the step of inquiring about these fees or fines at the city hall beforehand and were able to thwart the scammers.

This is an issue of concern not only for seniors, but for Canadians across this country. In a recent householder, I asked my constituents if they supported my motion. I am extremely proud to say that the overwhelming majority of constituents who responded, regardless of age, supported my motion.

I have also conducted consultative round tables with seniors and organizations serving seniors across the nation. I would again like to thank all of the participants for their contributions toward the debate on Motion No. 203.

This is what they told me.

The Ontario Society of Senior Citizens' Organizations has said that policing authorities cannot opt out of dealing with fraud complaints and reports from seniors. In other words, they need to be part of the solution and given the jurisdiction to do so. Seniors who have suffered or are suffering from fraud do not know where to go for help. There is a need for resources for these victims.

From my own recollection of consultation visits in earlier years, the City of Calgary has an excellent model, which I will discuss later in more detail.

Representatives from the CNIB point out that the most vulnerable are often those who are socially isolated. Seniors can also be better equipped with tools to fight against fraud by increasing their understanding of technology. In other words, they need to be better informed and better educated. A church administrator raised the concern of a lack of resources to advise seniors on how to identify frauds and not become victims.

Another issue, identified by The Neighbourhood Group, is that there is a language barrier for seniors who have limited English or French in understanding the laws and regulations in different levels of government. They are often scared because of the lack of correct information in their own language. This is especially serious in cities where there is a large number of immigrants. This issue was echoed by several cultural groups through the interpreters at the round tables. They also believe in tougher laws and sentencing to fight the criminals, the scammers.

The International Federation on Ageing shared its findings with respect to identifying seniors fraud across the world. It added that there is the need, as one of the prevention tools, to educate front-line bank tellers on awareness of financial fraud targeting seniors. The whole banking industry should be involved.

All these concerns regarding seniors fraud are real. My hon. colleague from Edmonton West had a similar response. However, I will leave it to him to comment on that, as I do not want to steal his speech material.

Canadians from coast to coast to coast are calling on the government to take action to combat seniors fraud. Here are more facts.

Today, we live in a society that is digitizing at an unprecedented rate. We are now able to store massive amounts of information on barely visible microchips and transmit massive amounts of information across vast distances in the blink of an eye. It has allowed for meteoric advances in all fields of society, including health care, infrastructure and research, to name a few. It has played an integral role in propelling humanity to its technological zenith. Its benefits are countless and cannot be understated. However, as with most things, there are unintended and serious drawbacks.

With increasing cellphone use, computers, email, the Internet and other electronic media, the digital shift in the modern economy provides many new opportunities for those who seek to do harm to our seniors. I do not think it is hyperbolic to say that there is not a single member in this place who has not received a complaint from a constituent about phishing, fake romantic interest, foreign embassies demanding visa payments or the infamous CRA calls. Despite efforts to increase digital literacy among all demographics, the reality is that these new and evolving technologies are not always easy to grasp and understand, especially for a demographic that grew up in an age bereft of the immense levels of the digital practices we see today.

Each day scammers are finding new and creative ways to swindle our seniors out of their hard-earned cash. For example, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice charged more than 260 people as a result of the largest elderly fraud sweep in American history. These 260 people managed to steal over three-quarters of a billion dollars from seniors, or nearly $750,000 for each person charged.

While an increasingly digitized society has provided innumerable benefits to society at large, it has also paved the way for new challenges. However, I would suggest that no group is facing these challenges more directly than our seniors. Apart from run-of-the-mill phone scams, statistics show that nearly two-thirds of seniors experience some sort of security issue online but are less likely to report it to authorities compared to younger Canadians. It is this disproportionate vulnerability that the shift to a digital economy has created for an aging population that my motion seeks to address.

Motion No. 203 calls on this place to recognize that seniors are disproportionately victims of fraud and scams that target vulnerable Canadians. The data is crystal clear and irrefutable. According to a 2010 report by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, older Canadians were deemed to be at a heightened risk of attempted fraud for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, their trusting nature, their isolated social status and their personal savings. This is why I started working closely with banks and credit unions when I was appointed the minister responsible for seniors in 2011, which resulted in the age credit, the pension income tax credit, pension income splitting and steps aimed at increasing digital literacy. The previous Conservative government also passed Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada's Seniors Act, in 2012, which included vulnerability due to age as an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.

The problems facing seniors today are more pronounced because of increasing amounts of fraud and an increasing senior population. Government statistics reveal that seniors are the fastest-growing demographic group in Canada. By 2030, the number of seniors will reach 9.6 million people, representing close to one-quarter of Canada's population. The life expectancy of Canadians is expected to continue to rise. Canadian men and women born in 2016 will live, on average, to 87 and 90 respectively, according to Employment and Social Development Canada in February 2019.

Recognizing that the dregs of civil society would target people specifically because of their trusting nature and their inability to readily rely on family is a very uncomfortable spectre, but it is a reality nevertheless. I, and I hope many in this place, consider making this formal recognition in this House a very important step in continuing the fight against seniors fraud.

The next step in addressing this very serious—

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. The time has now expired.

Questions and comments. The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, over the last few years, we have seen a lot of emphasis on Canada's seniors, from the guaranteed income supplement increases to the amount of housing for our seniors.

The member raises a very important issue, the exploitation of seniors that takes place every day, whether it is within the family, within Canada or abroad. It is of the utmost importance that we look at ways we can try to minimize the negative activities that ultimately lead to the exploitation of Canada's seniors. It is one of the reasons the Prime Minister has now appointed a Minister of Seniors. I know she follows this file very closely to look at ways the government can work with other jurisdictions to try to minimize the amount of exploitation.

To what degree does the member believe, as we do, that we need to be engaged with different stakeholders on age and opportunity and so forth? It is, in good part, also about education.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for giving me the opportunity to speak further to my motion. As identified by the member opposite, we definitely need a minister. After three years of pressure from all parties, except their own, the Liberals finally appointed a Minister of Seniors. I welcome her good work, but she has a lot to catch up on.

The next step in addressing this serious issue is to work together to ensure that our seniors and families are given the tools necessary to identify and combat fraudulent activity. If our seniors are equipped with the knowledge and ability to identify fraud when they are targeted, they will be able to properly defend their identities and their money. While we strive for a situation whereby all seniors will be able to identify and skirt attempted fraud, some will fall victim despite their best efforts. For these unfortunate victims, we need to ensure that there are proper resource materials available—

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments. The hon. member for North Island—Powell River.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Richmond Centre for bringing forward this piece of legislation. I have enjoyed working with her on committee on a national seniors strategy. I share some commonalities in my role as the seniors critic for my party and have done numerous town halls in my own region to talk to seniors. Fraud, of course, came up in the stakeholders meeting I had in Ottawa with organizations from across Canada that serve seniors. We heard again that fraud is a concern.

We know that what we need in this country is a fulsome national seniors strategy. As the seniors population grows, we need to have a strategy across the country, because too many seniors are falling through too many loopholes. I wonder if the member could talk to us a bit about how this legislation would feed into the national seniors strategy.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for serving very faithfully with us at the committee. We co-operate very functionally, because our role as members of Parliament is to make sure that we serve all our constituents, including seniors. I also would like to thank her for all her efforts in pushing the government to come up with a national strategy for seniors. This is indeed a very important element in protecting seniors. It should be part and parcel of the national seniors strategy.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Sherry Romanado Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to talk about an important issue affecting seniors. I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Richmond Centre for putting forth Motion No. 203, a motion to address fraudulent scams that target Canadians for their money, including seniors.

Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with automated phone calls posing as the Canada Revenue Agency, in which the recipient is threatened with arrest for unpaid taxes. At least 60,000 Canadians have complained about being targeted by this phone scam. I have received these calls as well.

It is certainly not the only scam out there. Every year Canadians lose millions of dollars to the activities of scammers who bombard us with online, mail, door-to-door and telephone scams. I have had many conversations with seniors in my riding of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne who have been affected by these scams. In fact, I had this conversation with seniors in my riding this past weekend. Everyone put a hand up when asked if they had received one of those calls.

Scammers target people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels, including seniors. The Government of Canada is taking action to help Canadians protect themselves against scammers. The Canada Revenue Agency, or CRA, raises awareness by providing information on its fraud prevention web page, sharing information with news networks, posting tips on social media, distributing pamphlets by mail and working with its partners to conduct community outreach activities.

The CRA regularly provides interviews and issues tax tips to the public and to stakeholders to help individuals recognize and avoid common scams. In fact, the CRA's regional offices are very active through proactive media outreach and participation in local events with community associations, especially local police forces and seniors' associations.

To support these efforts, the CRA regularly updates the “protect yourself against fraud” web page with the newest examples of fraudulent communications, tips to recognize an actual call from the CRA and printable posters that can be displayed in gift card sections or at bitcoin machines, which are common methods of payment fraudsters use to collect money from their victims.

In addition, a comprehensive MP kit was distributed in October of last year with the view that MPs can use the CRA's communication material, in collaboration with their local community associations, to help raise awareness and protect citizens from falling victim to tax scams.

The CRA recently ran a $25,000 Facebook campaign, from mid-August to mid-September 2018. The campaign targeted seniors and new Canadians to raise awareness about email, phone and text scams. As a result, more than two million individuals visited the CRA's anti-fraud web page to learn more.

That is not all the government is doing to protect potential victims. One of the goals of the new horizons for seniors program is to tackle elder abuse and elder fraud.

The government has rolled out a number of fraud prevention initiatives. For example, there is the Fraud Prevention Forum, which is chaired by the Competition Bureau. This group of about 100 public- and private-sector organizations fights fraud aimed at consumers, including seniors.

In addition, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is leading a strategy called “Strengthening Seniors’ Financial Literacy”. One of the goals of the strategy is to increase tools to combat financial abuse and fraud targeting seniors. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada also keeps Canadians informed and issues consumer alerts about fraud, scams and sales practices.

Lastly, we recently made legislative changes to Bill C-86, which would amend the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act and the Bank Act to strengthen the rights and interests of bank customers, including seniors, and ensure that all Canadians benefit from rigorous consumer protection standards in the banking sector.

I would like to make one thing very clear: Our government cares about seniors. We care about their health, their well-being and their financial security. The Prime Minister's decision to appoint a Minister of Seniors certainly attests to that. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors, I know first-hand how critical it is to ensure financial security for our aging population and Canada's most vulnerable.

Our government has taken several important steps to make sure our seniors are protected financially. For example, through our government's commitment to income security, the poverty rate for seniors fell from 4.9% to 3.9% between 2016 and 2017. We have increased the amount of the guaranteed income supplement by up to $947 per year for the lowest-income single seniors. While some people might think that $947 more per year does not sound like much, for seniors living in poverty, that $947 makes a big difference in covering the cost of basic necessities. It can bring peace of mind.

Increasing the guaranteed income supplement improved the financial situation of almost 900,000 low-income seniors. We also lowered the age of eligibility for the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement from 67 to 65. This measure will prevent some 100,000 vulnerable 65- and 66-year-olds from slipping into poverty in the future.

We worked with the provinces to enhance the Canada Pension Plan and the Régime de rentes du Québec to help ensure that tomorrow's seniors can also enjoy a secure and dignified retirement.

To add to that, we are making it easier for seniors to receive their benefits by transforming the way we deliver programs and services. In short, we are creating an opportunity to complete more transactions online using the device of their choice.

For example, using a new integrated application will allow clients to apply for both the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement at the same time. For citizens in my riding of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne who may not have access to a home computer, my office helps them to apply for these benefits.

Here is another improvement we have made to the delivery of benefits: Seniors who receive their CPP benefits by direct deposit will receive their combined OAS and CPP or RRQ benefits in the same account.

We are simplifying and streamlining our services to make sure Canadian seniors get the benefits they are entitled to receive. We know that financial security is top of mind for older Canadians, and that is why we continue to put more money into their pockets.

As well, through the various outreach and awareness campaigns I mentioned, we are taking action to warn seniors about the scammers who are trying to take away their hard-earned money.

Budget 2018 included a $116-million investment to strengthen Canada's ability to fight cybercrime by creating the National Cybercrime Coordination Unit. As we can see, there is a lot of work being led and funded by our government to support seniors, and I am very proud of that, but there is more to be done. Support for Canada's most vulnerable requires a collaborative approach with our provincial, territorial and community partners.

I look forward to working with all members of the House to make sure our aging population can live safely, enjoy good health and receive the care and financial supports that they need.

I have had the great pleasure to speak with seniors in my riding of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne and they have been incredibly helpful in sharing their concerns, their ideas and their advice. I want to thank them for their wise counsel.

Our seniors have paved the way for us, and together, we will be there for them.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to talk about Motion No. 203, which addresses fraud activities against seniors, and I thank the member for Richmond Centre for bringing this motion forward to us today.

It is really important that all of us take a moment to recognize that the seniors in this country built this country. If it were not for them, we would not be sitting in the seats we are sitting in today and would not be in this country the way we are today.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize the former mayor of Port McNeill, Gerry Furney, who passed away in February at the age of 85. If we want to talk about people building this country, Mayor Furney was a man who built a large part of northern Vancouver Island. We should all be grateful for the amazing work he did. He was the mayor of Port McNeill for 39 years and he served on council for a total of 46 years. Talk about community service.

I want to take this opportunity to send my condolences to his wife Carmel and his beautiful children, James and Liza. I cannot imagine how much they must long for him and miss him.

Today when we are talking about this important issue of fraud activities against seniors, it is important to recognize that the Canada Safety Council has told us that fraud costs Canadians more than $10 billion annually. We know many seniors are vulnerable to scams, and that can be very scary. I listened to the previous speaker talk about accessing information about scams and fraud and I know how often the government speaks about the ability to get information online. I know some seniors who are amazing online and are building their capacity, and I also know a lot of seniors like my own grandmother, who is in her eighties, who says that she has learned a lot in her life and has no interest on ever sitting at a computer to do the things she needs to do.

In the case of fraud, seniors' vulnerability can often be found in the simple fact that accessing information can be a challenge. It can also be about being asked to do things in a different way and then being confused when the fraudsters are going after them. I think of one 82-year-old constituent in my riding named Susan, who was defrauded of $3,000. She received a phone call from somebody claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, who said that if she did not pay immediately, the RCMP would come to her door and arrest her. She was told that the only way to pay her debt would be to go to the store and purchase iTunes cards. Sadly, this wonderful woman did not know that this was not how one pays the CRA.

The important point is that as we see a changing economy across this country, a changing way of doing business, sometimes people are vulnerable because they do not understand the changes that are happening. After spending $3,000 on these iTunes cards, Susan went back home, phoned the person she was supposed to call, and relayed all the numbers. That person then told her that if she did not get the other $3,000 she owed by the next day, she would be arrested. She went to her bank the next day and was obviously in distress, and very gratefully the bank helped guide her through this situation and understand that it had been a fraud attempt.

When we look at this information, it is really important we put the vulnerability into context and recognize that sometimes seniors have a challenge in getting to technology.

I also want to make sure we all remember in this House—and the government has not addressed this in a meaningful way—that there are many communities across this country that do no have Service Canada right there for them so they can access services. People may not have access to the Internet. I know a lot of people think Internet is everywhere, but in the riding of North Island—Powell River, we have communities that are really challenged to have accessible Internet. We still have communities and regions where the only access is through dial-up. It is important to recognize that and be mindful of it when we look at this issue.

When I look at where we need to go as a country in terms of serving seniors, I see that we need to remember the importance of having a national seniors strategy. Right now we have a government that has made multiple announcements about planning for this strategy, but we really need something concrete that seniors can rely on. Right now, too many loopholes exist around this country, and seniors are falling through them.

It is important to understand that in Canada the population of seniors is seeing a growth in poverty. We saw 7.6% in the year 2000, and it has gone up to over 11% as of 2013. Sadly, I feel that this number is growing based on the number of phone calls to my office. We have a lot of seniors who are really challenged to afford their medication. We are getting calls regularly about seniors having to make very painful decisions because they simply cannot afford the medication they need to stay healthy.

When we talk about seniors in housing, the vulnerability there is huge. I have talked to too many seniors who were sick and could not get their taxes done on time and had their GIS cancelled, and now they are at risk of being evicted from their homes. Eighty-six-year-old women should not be calling any office in this country, afraid that they are going to be evicted because they were sick and sent their taxes in late and now do not have their guaranteed income supplement.

This motion really narrowly addresses one part, an important part, which is fraud and the vulnerability of seniors to fraud. So many of them have low incomes, and this can be a big challenge if they are just trying to make ends meet. Even if they are wealthy, this can be totally disabling and provide opportunities for them to be scammed in ways that we cannot imagine. We need to make sure that this is addressed, but it should be in the context of a national seniors strategy that really speaks to the vulnerability of seniors.

In my riding, North Island—Powell River, we see too many seniors moving from one community to another. We see people in the more remote communities being forced to move to bigger communities to access services, but their absolute social isolation creates very bad health determinants. Then we have people who are getting pushed out of the larger urban settings because of the cost of living. They are moving to smaller communities, away from the services. It is important that we make sure we support seniors in the best way possible so that they stay in the communities they know and have that social infrastructure and have access to health services.

We also know that the poverty rate for senior women is growing. It has increased to almost 30% of senior women. Those numbers are highly vulnerable people. If they are scammed for even a small amount of money, it could have huge impacts on their health and well-being and even the stability of their home, because they may not be able to stay in their home.

Last year I had the opportunity—and I have spoken about it in this House—to sit with a senior in her 80s who had a health scare. The family thought she was not going to make it. She was in the hospital for an extensive amount of time, and because of that, they had to move her out of her rental unit. Once she got better—and happily, she did get better—she was given a notice from the hospital saying that she needed to be gone from the hospital within a week, and if not she was going to be charged $1,200 a day. This woman with a severe infection was moved to a hotel, to live there and to try to make ends meet.

The vulnerability of our seniors across Canada is growing, and it is so important that we stand up in this place, understand the role they have played in building this country and make sure that we support them in their most vulnerable times. Right now, we are seeing that that is not happening. A small boost in the GIS is not making the life of those seniors change dramatically. I disagree with the government. I hear too many stories and see too much vulnerability.

The justice department says that each year, 10% of Canadian seniors are victims of crime. They have so many frauds perpetrated against them and they should not have to deal with these situations. It is really important that the government does its job in making sure that services and support are accessible.

Let us see that happen. Let us see our seniors being valued, and let us protect them by having a national seniors strategy whereby the country and all the provinces and territories and communities work together to make sure that these big, gaping holes that too many seniors and their families are falling through are closed.

That is our duty, and that is something that we should be proud of as Canadians. Today, we are not proud of how we treat our seniors.

Fraud Against SeniorsBoard of Internal EconomyPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today in support of Motion No. 203. I will start by thanking my colleague from Richmond Centre for bringing forth this very important motion. I would also like to thank her for her many years of advocacy for seniors in the House and across Canada.

There are four major parts to this motion: first, recognizing the disproportionate effect of fraud activities against seniors across the county; second, coordinating a national response to fraud activities to ensure that seniors and vulnerable groups have the resources they need to understand the signs of fraud; third, establishing tangible recourses for victims of fraud; and fourth, working with local law enforcement agencies and the CRA to introduce legislation to combat fraudulent attacks that target vulnerable seniors.

Motion No. 203 originates from a motion I put forward a year ago, Motion No. 176, and I am especially pleased to see it being debated today. It is also very timely that March is fraud awareness month, so it is a great time to be debating the bill.

For many of the people in the House, when they approached politics for the first time, they were asked what their motivation was for running. When I submitted my nomination for my party, I told people it was to work for seniors. In my past life, when I lived in Victoria, I worked with an amazing organization called the Greater Victoria Eldercare Foundation. It looked after six hospitals for the elderly and severely disabled.

March in Victoria, through the Eldercare Foundation, is recognized as the 14th annual Embrace Aging Month and I want to take a moment to thank two people who are still with the Eldercare Foundation and doing amazing work there: Lori McLeod and Donald Clark. Besides helping with the six hospitals, they have introduced a lot of very innovative health care and aging issues and programs for seniors, which I would like to touch on briefly.

There is the Embrace Aging Month I spoke about that connects seniors to resources and activities in their communities. It has a pilot program called “ElderConnect”, a wellness navigation system to make the journey to aging easier, both in the community and in the hospital system. Eldercare Foundation has also created a program called the safe lifeline program that helps seniors stay in their homes longer as opposed to moving into elder homes. Its slogan for this month, Embrace Aging Month, is “Be Well, Be Secure, Be Connected and Be Enriched”. It looks after seniors and the most disabled in, as I said, six hospitals: the Aberdeen Hospital, which is the main one; Mount Tolmie; Glengarry; Priory; Heritage Woods; and the Oak Bay Lodge.

I started out many years ago as a fundraiser for the Eldercare group, later joined the board and became vice-president, and then I was very proud to spend several years as president of the Eldercare Foundation. I still contribute as an adviser to the board to this day.

After receiving my nomination, when I was door-knocking, one of the biggest things, if not the major thing, I heard from seniors is the unfairness of the RRIF rules, the registered retirement income fund rules that force seniors to roll their pensions into an RRIF at age 72 and start withdrawing money from that program to be taxed, whether they need the money or not.

The C.D. Howe Institute has studied this for years and has done great work. One of the things it stated about the RRIF, with the changes in lower returns but also increased life expectancy, is that there is a very real problem that seniors are going to outlive their savings. Another issue with the forced withdrawal is that it pushes seniors into a higher tax bracket. Therefore, not only are they pushed into a higher tax bracket but they have OAS, provincial and other clawbacks.

Seniors living in housing arranged in Edmonton, for example, through the Greater Edmonton Foundation, pay their rent based on their incomes. We are forcing seniors to withdraw money to be taxed, which pushes them into higher tax brackets and forces them to pay higher rents at the same time. For what purpose are we doing this? The C.D. Howe Institute said, if we let seniors leave their money in their RRIFs until they pass, the government would actually collect a higher amount of taxes in the end, rather than the bit-by-bit process right now.

From talking to seniors when I went door to door, I promised I would introduce a bill to address that issue. Bill C-301, my private member's bill, would eliminate the mandatory withdrawals. It would allow seniors to withdraw the money when they decide they need it, not when the government decides.

The Canadian Association for Retired Persons supported my bill. The C.D. Howe Institute supported my bill. However, what did the government say? The Liberal candidate who was running against me said that it is the government that should decide how and when seniors get their money. It is not seniors deciding for themselves, but that the government should decide.

One of the Liberal members who argued against my private member's bill said that we should not have it; otherwise, seniors will hoard their retirement savings. This person actually said this in the House of Commons, believing that seniors should not decide when to withdraw their money, since this would allow seniors to hoard their money. We had another person stand in the House and blatantly mislead members by stating that it would cost the government $500 million a year in lost tax revenues.

Unfortunately, the government voted it down, which is funny because in the budget being introduced tomorrow, when we look at the pre-consultations, what is in there? It is changes to the RRIF program. At least the government has admitted that this is an issue that it will address.

The government further went on and immediately eliminated the former minister of seniors program. Why was this? I am not really sure. I am pleased that Liberals have changed their minds and reinstated the Minister of Seniors to help look after seniors.

I want to look at the issue at hand, which is seniors fraud. It is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada and Edmonton. It is not just stereotypical seniors who are being defrauded and targeted. It is not just the frail, the elderly, those getting on or those lacking access to technology. Young, active seniors are being targeted and defrauded as well.

Recently, I did a seniors seminar on fraud at a west-end seniors association in my riding. About 120 seniors came out, and every single one of them said they had been contacted within the last two weeks by a fraud attempt. Fully 20% admitted they had been defrauded of some money.

There are big frauds. We heard about the CRA fraud today, in which people contact seniors and pretend they are from the CRA. It is quite funny that the CRA will never actually answer people's phone calls, but people think it actually has time to call people.

There is a grandma-and-grandpa fraud, in which fraudsters will follow families on Facebook. They will see grandparents posting and reposting pictures of their kids and grandkids in Mexico. They will target those seniors by calling and pretending they are the grandkids and then they will say they are in prison and they are in trouble in Mexico and ask the seniors not to tell mom and dad and to send some money.

There is the email phishing scam. Of course, we have all received the emails purporting to be from BMO, Royal Bank, Shaw, other banks and other companies, which look very professional and very real. However, fraudsters are trying either to get credit information or to hack computers.

There is the romance fraud, in which people will meet others over valid websites, such as eHarmony or People will spend months grooming seniors and then will defraud them, asking for money for trips or this and that.

There is of course identity theft as well. There is a new one. I actually just received a Facebook message today through the Edmonton Police Service, to which I have to give a shout-out. It helps me a lot in the community by sending out officers to present fraud seminars with me. It is now warning people not to put too much information in obituaries, because people are using that for identity theft.

Like my colleague from Richmond Centre, I sent out a survey to all my constituents asking if they would support the bill. This is what they said.

Randy said, “It is not just the scam that's objectionable. I'm angry that the Fed. Govt. does nothing to stop the frequent disruptions.... Thanks for finally...[taking] action”.

“My parents are seniors or are underfunded.... Shame on the Liberals and the NDP.” That was from Darcy.

Karen said, “It's time to put Canadian seniors higher priority”.

Someone else said, “I have been called many times on my cellphone while I have been driving and told it was the CRA and I”

Diane and Tony said, “As seniors, my husband and I have seen the incidences of online scams, banking scams and telephone scams increasing at an alarming rate. Thanks to our interest in keeping up with technology, we have avoided and reported some of the fraud attempts we have encountered. Other seniors we know have not been so lucky.”

Another said that they are aware of many seniors who are vulnerable and who have fallen prey to these scams.

I have hundreds and hundreds of examples sent in by seniors who have been ripped off and by other people in my riding who note their parents have been ripped off.

I am glad that the member for Richmond Centre has tabled Motion No. 203. I hope all sides in the House will support the motion so that we can do something about senior fraud in Canada.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that Wednesday, March 20, 2019, shall be an allotted day.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I appreciate the notice from the hon. government House leader.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Fraud Against SeniorsPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Jean Yip Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are all deeply concerned with the well-being and financial security of seniors. Older Canadians have made and continue to make such valuable contributions to our communities, workplaces and our families.

Seniors have been a priority for the Government of Canada and they remain a priority with good reason. Like many countries, Canada has a growing seniors population. We are seeing a huge demographic shift, which will bring many new opportunities but also challenges that we need to prepare for.

Seniors are the fastest-growing demographic group in Canada. For the first time in Canada's history, there are more Canadians aged 65 and older than there are Canadians aged 14 years and younger. It is projected that by 2030, seniors will represent nearly a quarter of the population. That is good news. It means that Canadians are living longer and that is something to celebrate. It also means that our government must continue to develop and promote important initiatives that address seniors issues and work to promote opportunities for Canadian seniors.

I welcome the motion put forth by the hon. member for Richmond Centre concerning fraudulent activities against seniors. Fraud is a serious crime that can affect all Canadians, but it is especially disheartening when seniors fall victim to this particular crime.

Each year, countless Canadians lose millions of dollars to scammers who bombard us with online mail, door-to-door and telephone scams. Scammers target people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels, including seniors. How do they do it? Fake lotteries, Internet frauds, “get rich quick” schemes and miracle health cures are some of the popular means of separating the unwary from their money. New varieties of these scams appear all the time.

Who has not received the automated phone call claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency and threatening people with arrest over unpaid taxes? I know that I have received many of those calls, as have many others in my riding of Scarborough—Agincourt. Hanging up is the best way to mitigate those annoying calls. Indeed, tens of thousands of Canadians have been targeted by this scam.

I can assure everyone that the government is running outreach efforts on several fronts to help Canadians protect themselves from scammers. The Canada Revenue Agency raises awareness by providing information on its fraud prevention page on, sharing information through news networks, posting tips on social media, distributing pamphlets by mail and working with its partners to conduct community outreach activities.

The agency regularly provides interviews and issues tax tips to the public and to stakeholders to help individuals recognize and avoid common scams. The CRA's regional offices are particularly active through media outreach and participating in local events with community associations, especially with local police forces and seniors associations.

To support these efforts, the CRA regularly updates the “Protect yourself against fraud” web page with the newest examples of fraudulent communications, tips to recognize an actual call from the agency and printable posters that can be displayed in gift card sections or at bitcoin machines, which are common methods of payment fraudsters use to collect money from their victims.

However, our efforts go well beyond that. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is also playing a role in preventing fraud. It is Canada's central repository for data, intelligence and resource material as it relates to fraud. The information gathered by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is primarily used to support prevention through education and awareness, disruption of criminal activities, dissemination of intelligence, support to law enforcement and strengthening partnerships between the private and public sectors with the aim of maintaining Canada's strong economic integrity.

The Competition Bureau of Canada also produces an important guide entitled “The Little Black Book of Scams”. This booklet is available to all Canadians and it outlines many of the most common types of scams and lists the contact information of fraud fighting agencies that are there to help. It also provides tips on how to stop fraudsters in their tracks.

We also have a fraud prevention forum, which is chaired by the Competition Bureau. This forum is comprised of nearly 100 public and private sector organizations that focus on fighting fraud aimed at consumers and that, of course, includes seniors.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has developed a strategy entitled “Strengthening Seniors' Financial Literacy”. One of the four goals of the strategy focuses on increasing the number of tools to combat fraud and financial abuse of seniors. The agency also issues consumer alerts on fraud, scams and sales practices.

In the same vein, we are taking action to prevent and raise awareness of elder abuse, including financial abuse. We carry out these efforts through programs like the new horizons for seniors program, which provides over $35 million each year to support community-based projects that address issues such as elder abuse.

Last, I would like to mention the recently introduced legislative amendments to Bill C-86. The bill proposes to make amendments to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act and the Bank Act, which will advance the rights and interests of bank consumers, including seniors, and to ensure all Canadians benefit from strong consumer protection standards in banking. It will also provide the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada with additional tools to implement supervisory best practices. This agency will engage with banks and seniors groups to create a code of conduct to guide banks in their delivery of services to Canada's seniors. The Minister of Seniors supports these engagements.

We also restored the age of eligibility for the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement from 67 back to 65 years old. This is keeping about 100,000 future 65 and 66 year-old vulnerable seniors from falling into poverty.

Our Canadian seniors are valued members of our society.

We are working from a number of fronts to raise awareness of fraudulent activities for all Canadians, including seniors. As I mentioned earlier, the Government of Canada is concerned with the financial security of older Canadians.

That is why we have taken steps to help more seniors get out of poverty.

We have done this by increasing the top-up of the guaranteed income supplement. This move alone is improving financial security for almost 900,000 low-income seniors and lifting thousands of seniors out of poverty. It is our duty to support and protect them, and that is exactly what we are doing.

The Government of Canada is committed to providing Canadian seniors and future retirees greater security and a better quality of life.

Fraud Against SeniorsPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for 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.

We have received notice concerning a question of privilege from the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

The hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

Government AccountabilityPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

March 18th, 2019 / noon


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to raise a question of privilege pursuant to Standing Order 48. This relates to misleading statements made in the House by the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary regarding the scandal involving interference by the Prime Minister's Office in the work of the former attorney general.

Before I address the core of the issue, I wish to remind the House of a few principles. Oral question period exists so that opposition members can hold the government to account. To ensure that we retain the confidence of Canadians, questions must be rigorous and based on facts, and not simply an attack on the government. We have no problem acknowledging that.

Of course, this also means that the government's answers must be factual, credible and transparent, so that the information that comes out of question period is reliable and accurate. That is a fundamental principle of our democracy.

This brings me to my main argument and the question of privilege I would like to raise. We believe that the answers given by the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary during oral question period on February 7 and 8 of this year breached the privilege of the House.

This is an extremely serious matter. Misleading statements are not only a breach of the privileges that MPs must rely on in the commissioning of their duties as parliamentarians, but they are also a breach of the trust of Canadians who elected this Parliament to govern responsibly. Therefore, I will ask that you, Mr. Speaker, find a prima facie case of privilege exists, so the matter can be further investigated in committee.

I want to point out that this is the first opportunity I have had to raise this issue since it became clear to all of us on March 7 that the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary made misleading statements. In the past, as you know, Mr. Speaker, Speakers have often ruled in such cases, quoting from House of Commons Procedure and Practice second edition, at page 510, which states the following:

In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members of the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.

I would contend that there is no possible way to interpret the current contradiction from responses of February 7 and 8 as a difference of opinion. I will now get to that.

Here is the Minister of Justice's response on February 7:

Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister said earlier today, neither he nor his office exerted any pressure or issued any directives in this matter.

As Attorney General for Canada, I am the government's chief legal officer. I take my responsibilities very seriously.

Again, I quote from later in that same question period:

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister dealt with this matter very clearly earlier today. He stated that neither he nor anyone in his office pressured my predecessor or myself to come to any particular decision in this matter.

As the Prime Minister stated earlier today, the allegations contained in The Globe and Mail article are false.

Today, we know that those answers misled the House. Here is what the parliamentary secretary said the next day, February 8:

Mr. Speaker, as I have said several times in this chamber today, at no point whatsoever were the current Minister of Justice or the former minister of justice pressured or directed by the Prime Minister or anyone in the Prime Minister's Office to make a decision on this or any other matter.

Again, I quote:

Mr. Speaker, at no point, N-O point, has the current Minister of Justice or the former minister of justice been pressured or directed by the Prime Minister or members of his cabinet.

I take issue with the member opposite. The member opposite has construed this as not being about pressure or direction. That is exactly what is at issue here. That is exactly what I am saying on the record. There was no pressure and no direction given by the Prime Minister or members of his cabinet on this or any other matter.

Once again, we can only conclude that these answers deliberately misled the House.

The former attorney general was very clear in her testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights about the pressure that was put on her. In his testimony, Gerald Butts never denied meeting with the former attorney general and speaking to her.

However, the ultimate proof came from the Prime Minister's own lips at his March 7 press conference. La Presse quoted him as saying the following:

In the months that followed that meeting, I asked my staff to follow up regarding [the member for Vancouver Granville's] final decision. I realize now that in addition, I should have done so personally, given the importance of this issue and the jobs that were on the line. In recent days I have reviewed the testimony from the justice committee, including that given by [the member for Vancouver Granville], Gerald Butts, the Clerk of the Privy Council and the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general, recalling various interactions.

Each of these interactions was a conversation among colleagues about how to tackle a challenging issue. Each came at a time when my staff and I believed that the former minister of justice and attorney general was open to considering other aspects of the public interest. However, I now understand that she saw it differently.

According to the Toronto Star's article on his non-apology statement of semi-contrition, the Prime Minister went on to say, “I’m sure there were a broad range of issues discussed in these conversations...but...There was no inappropriate pressure.” Also, “Even though I heard that she had made a decision, she indicated to me that she had made a decision — I asked her if she could revisit that decision, if she was open to considering to looking at it once again....”

The Prime Minister clearly acknowledges that there was indeed pressure placed on the former attorney general by him and his most senior advisers. His defence against the very serious accusations of political interference morphed from the February 7 and 8 line that “at no point, N-O point”, was there pressure placed on her to the assertion on March 7, during our constituency week, that the pressure on her was simply of the run-of-the-mill variety, in his view, and certainly not illegal.

His statement on March 7 corroborates, in many ways what is relevant to my argument today, the testimony of the former attorney general, who told the justice committee:

Within these conversations, there were express statements regarding the necessity of interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential for consequences and veiled threats if a DPA was not made available to SNC.

She also told the committee:

I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

Whether this pressure was or was not appropriate or illegal has nothing to do with the question of privilege I am raising today. All parties involved, specifically the former attorney general, the current Attorney General, the Prime Minister's former principal secretary and, especially, the Prime Minister himself admit that there was pressure placed on the hon. member for Vancouver Granville in her former role.

Whether this pressure crossed any legal lines is not what matters to the House today. What is abundantly clear, and that is what I am getting at, is that the minister and the parliamentary secretary misled the House in their statements.

Clear and easily avoidable false statements have been made to this House by the minister and the parliamentary secretary, which not only is breach of the privileges of all members of the House, but also of all Canadians who have put their trust and faith in Parliament.

Here is a three-point summary of what I have just stated.

First, the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary made misleading statements; we see that when we compare their statements in the House with their subsequent testimonies. Second, they did this knowingly in order to put an end to this scandal they are embroiled in; both the Prime Minister and his former principal secretary could have told the minister and the parliamentary secretary that they were making false statements in the House. Third, they did this to wilfully mislead the House, again to make this scandal go away as quickly as possible.

It is entirely possible that the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary were simply being briefed by the Prime Minister's Office ahead of question period on February 7 and 8 to give black-and-white clear answers in an effort to throw a wet blanket on the explosive story that broke on February 7, or they might have listened to the Prime Minister's statement on February 7, which was carefully crafted and legally vetted, and drew an unwarranted conclusion that the allegations were completely false. It could also be the case that the Prime Minister's Office told them the truth about what happened and they decided on their own that it would be better to deliberately mislead the House than to risk pouring more gas on what was becoming a dumpster fire.

Any of those things could be the reason that the two honourable members in question came into the House and blatantly misled members of Parliament about what really happened. They were clear and unapologetic. On February 8, the member for Parkdale—High Park said, “That is exactly what I am saying on the record. There was no pressure...given by the Prime Minister...”. That is blatantly false, and contemptuous of the authority and dignity of this chamber.

It should be said that the government was in full possession of the truth on this matter, and instead of sharing that truth with the House, they gave us politically expedient deceit instead. This is the very reason why the matter should be sent to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study: to determine why Canadians were all so badly misled by the government.

This situation is a stark reminder of a similar case from 2002, when former speaker Peter Milliken ruled that then minister of defence, Art Eggleton, had misled the House. Even though Speaker Milliken said that he accepted the minister's assertion that he was not intentionally misleading the House, he ruled that a prima facie case of privilege existed there. In Speaker Milliken's ruling, he stated:

in the case before us, there appears to be in my opinion no dispute as to the facts. I believe that both the Minister and other hon. Members recognize that two versions of events have been presented....

I am prepared, as I must be, to accept the Minister’s assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House. Nevertheless this remains a very difficult situation. I refer hon. Members to Marleau and Montpetit at page 67:

There are… affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges… the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; [or that] obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of the House in the discharge of their duties…

On the basis of the arguments presented by hon. Members and in view of the gravity of the matter, I have concluded that the situation before us where the House is left with two versions of events is one that merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air. I therefore invite the hon. Member for Portage–Lisgar to move his motion.

Therefore, there is a very clear precedent. Even when a minister of the Crown sincerely believes—if we accept his or her allegations—that his or her statements in the House are true, there can be a breach of parliamentary privilege when these statements prove to be false. In the case that concerns us today, it is very clear that several versions of the events were presented to the House, and that only one can be true. The minister and his parliamentary secretary presented a version to the House that is contradicted in its entirety by the testimony of the former attorney general and Gerald Butts at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and also by the statements of the Prime Minister himself to the press.

To fully assert how the minister and the parliamentary secretary find themselves in contempt of the House, regardless of their intention to mislead the House, let me quote from a procedure and house affairs committee report that dealt with Art Eggleton's case:

Joseph Maingot, a witness to the committee on February 26 and a well-known expert on Parliamentary Procedure, defined the question of contempt. He stated that in the Speaker’s ruling:

'(The Speaker’s) concern was that there were conflicting statements, but they were conflicting statements on a very serious matter of government policy.

It's correct because it is incumbent upon the members to decide what is in their view contempt. By all of what you've heard contempt can be [that] you felt a person intentionally misled or the conflicting statements were such that [it] really reflected on the integrity of the House, the dignity of the House.'

Given the striking similarities between the 2002 case and this case, I believe that we must inevitably conclude that the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary have breached the privilege of the House.

I want to leave the final word to Peter MacKay, former minister of justice and former attorney general, who in 2002 said the following:

I would suggest in the strongest possible terms that members of the House of Commons must be able to rely on the information they receive in response to questions placed to ministers. This goes to the very cut and thrust of the responsibilities of members of the House of Commons. A high standard has to be met....

Integrity, honesty and truthfulness in this Chamber should not ebb and flow like the tides. This should be something that is as solid as the ground we walk on and as solid as the foundation of this very building in these hallowed halls. Every time we come into this Chamber, we should be reminded of that.

Given the importance of this scandal of interference by the Prime Minister's Office, I believe that you could find this to be a clear case of breach of privilege that needs to be addressed.

Should you come to the same conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I am ready to move the appropriate motion for this issue to be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Government AccountabilityPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a few of my own comments to my colleague's request that you look at this as a point of privilege.

I want to begin by congratulating the member for New Westminster—Burnaby on his new position as House Leader for the NDP.

There are a couple of things that I think are important to note around this issue.

First, this issue is so important that the House will recall that two weeks ago, when I requested an emergency debate in the House on the issue of the SNC-Lavalin cover-up, the emergency debate was granted. The Speaker saw how important it was that we get to the bottom of this issue, that we, as parliamentarians certainly, and Canadians, understand and know the truth around the circumstances whereby the former Attorney General was pressured to interfere in a criminal prosecution. That pressure was brought to bear by the Prime Minister and his office.

The House will also recall that when this broke, the story from the Prime Minister changed continually. It first was denial. He said that nothing happened, that there was no pressure. He then blamed Scott Brison. He then said that her experiences were different from his. Overall, the story has changed continuously.

What has added not only to the confusion but what appears to be a massive cover-up are the different stories being presented by the current Attorney General, and the information, and as my colleague pointed out, the answers, given to the House by the current Attorney General, which we now know are not true.

We have had to have an emergency debate about it. The justice committee has been complicit in the cover-up, working with the Prime Minister's Office to help cover this up. We have seen the current Attorney General, the individual who is tasked with keeping the laws of this land, mislead the House, saying that he believes whatever the Prime Minister said and whose own story has been changing.

This is a crisis of moral authority in this country. This is not just a political discussion that happens in the chamber sometimes. This is not just a “he said, she said”, or “he said, he said”. This goes to the very fabric of our country and the moral authority to govern this country.

I appreciate that there have already been examples brought to the Speaker on previous times that the House was misled and a prima facia question of privilege was found. The one that was talked about was in 2002, when Art Eggleton, the then minister of national defence, was accused of deliberately making misleading statements.

In 2011, Bev Oda, the then minister of international cooperation, was accused of deliberately making misleading statements. That point was about the confusion created by the minister's contradictory statements. Speaker Milliken ruled that a prima facie question of privilege did exist, and the House agreed to refer the matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

In 2014, former colleague Brad Butt from Mississauga—Streetsville was accused of making misleading statements to the House, and again the Speaker found that it warranted a prima facie question of privilege.

Those were both instances that, although important in terms of not making misleading statements to the House, did not go to the very fibre and fabric of our system of democracy and the independence of the judiciary.

I make those points because this is a gravely important issue, and I want to add one more comment.

Another angle to this could be that the Attorney General himself has been misled by the Prime Minister. He could have not been told the truth by the Prime Minister. There is also a precedent for that. Page 116 of Bosc and Gagnon explains the following:

Misleading a Minister or a Member has also been considered a form of obstruction and, thus, a prima facie breach of privilege. For example, on December 6, 1978, in finding that a prima facie contempt of the House existed, Speaker Jerome ruled that a government official, by deliberately misleading a Minister, had impeded the Member in the performance of his duties and consequently obstructed the House itself.

We do not know. Would it have been Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council, who possibly mislead our current Attorney General? That is another question.

Either the Attorney General was misled by the Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council or their officials, or the Attorney General deliberately misled the House on an issue of grave importance, so grave that we had an emergency debate on it, so grave that we have been consumed with this.

The government, today by the way, just had its third cabinet shuffle in less than six or seven weeks. The government is not consumed with issues that are affecting the country, such as pipelines, canola exports to China, massive deficits and job losses. The Liberals are consumed with saving their own skins and moving cabinet around as they are constantly trying to fill holes that are being created by their own scandal and their own cover-up.

I fully support my colleague's request that a prima facie case be found, and I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to this. I would ask that if more information becomes available, we could be afforded the opportunity to address this again.

Government AccountabilityPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Jonquière is rising on the same question of privilege. Before I give her the floor, I remind members that in cases like these, the Chair normally prefers that members present relevant arguments that are different from the ones already made.

The hon. member for Jonquière.

Government AccountabilityPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:25 p.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as deputy House leader of the NDP, I want to add a few words to the comments made by my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby.

During question period on February 7, the Minister of Justice started his answers with a very weak attempt to cover himself by saying, “as the Prime Minister said earlier today”. The Minister of Justice repeated this phrase 11 times. Do not be fooled. This cautious language is meant only to protect the Prime Minister and the minister. It in no way changes the matter at hand.

The minister and parliamentary secretary gave the House a version of events that differs not only from the truth but also from the version that the former attorney general gave the committee and the version the Prime Minister himself gave to the media on March 7. I also want to point out that on the following day, February 8, the parliamentary secretary answered a number of questions without ever using this pseudo-disclaimer.

It is quite clear to us that the minister and his parliamentary secretary breached the privilege of the House. In the parliamentary secretary's case, he cannot even claim to have quoted the Prime Minister as a defence. As for the Minister of Justice, he can try to defend himself by referring to the 11 times he quoted the Prime Minister, but I am sure members would agree that the Prime Minister totally contradicted that version of events during his press conference on March 7.

Accordingly, whether they were quoting the Prime Minister or not, the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary misled the House during question period on March 7 and 8. My colleague also reminded us of an example from 2002 involving former defence minister Art Eggleton. Speaker Milliken ruled that Mr. Eggleton had breached the privilege of the House, even though the minister believed he was telling the truth and therefore had not intentionally misled the House.

The same principle applies here. Although the justice minister was quoting the Prime Minister, he said something that was not true, as demonstrated in the Prime Minister's remarks on March 7 and in the former attorney general's testimony.

As for the parliamentary secretary, as I said, he cannot even use that defence because he never claimed to be quoting the Prime Minister. Let me add that it would be interesting to find out where the minister and the parliamentary secretary got the information that they used in responding to the questions raised on February 7 and 8. If we knew that, we would know whether they were acting of their own accord or in accordance with a PMO briefing.

In light of all this, Mr. Speaker, it is clear to us that the privilege of the House was breached and that you must refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Government AccountabilityPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I thank the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, the House Leader of the Official Opposition and the member for Jonquière for their comments concerning this point of privilege. We will review the matter and get back to the House in the coming days.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-84, an act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Diane Lebouthillier Liberal Gaspésie—Les-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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