House of Commons Hansard #433 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debate.


Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Victoria for yet again a very cogent reminder of how effective a member he has been in the House with his presentation of all of the weaknesses of the Liberals' attempt to deny and delay on access to information. He set out very clearly why it is so important to have the bill amended, which is what the Liberal government has absolutely refused to do. The Liberals are gutting improvements that they refused in the House of Commons.

When the bill went to committee, the Liberals just rammed it through without accepting many of the dozens of amendments that had come from opposition parties like the NDP. Now the Senate has shown some intelligence in dealing with this particular issue, and again the Liberal gang is trying to railroad the bill through the House of Commons.

The member for Victoria provides so much depth of detail and intelligence to his analysis of these types of bills. His voice will be missed in the House of Commons. There is no doubt about that.

What does he feel is the most egregious aspect of the deny and delay aspects of the bill, allowing the government to deny a whole range of applications for access to information, information that belongs to Canadians, and delay responding to these requests for access to information in the same way the former Stephen Harper government did?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby for his very kind remarks.

He talked about the amendments. I was involved in bringing forth some 36 amendments to Bill C-58 at committee. Many of them were deemed inadmissible because they were beyond the scope of the bill we were amending, but they were part of the package that all of those academics and activists and journalists had asked us to bring forward. Twenty were ultimately accepted as admissible, but of course, the government disallowed every single one of them. Why the Liberals are opposed to this I do not know.

Journalist Jeremy Nuttall, who writes for the Tyee, talks about writing cheques for $5. People have to pay $5. It costs the government way more money to cash the cheque than to do otherwise. One cannot go online like can be done in British Columbia with a credit card and request the information.

The Liberals pride themselves on updating the bill but they are stuck with this horse and buggy bill. It is very hard to understand why they would not take the opportunity to improve it. It is not like all of the provinces have not done stuff that the government could learn from. The Liberals are so rigid and do not seem to accept that we can do it better for Canadians. I am not suggesting that the provinces' legislation is perfect by any stretch, but it is so much better than what we have here.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Mr. Speaker, first, I have heard the member say at least on two occasions during his speech to the House that no amendments were accepted by the government on this piece of legislation, whereas, as I said in my speech, and as is indicated in the motion on the Order Paper, the government has accepted all but four amendments from the Senate. We could engage in a debate on that, but I want to make sure we are talking about the facts.

Second, I heard the member say the department can refuse to respond to an access to information request. That is not quite correct. The department can refuse to answer an access to information request only with the permission of the Information Commissioner. I am wondering if that was an oversight by the member.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer on becoming a parliamentary secretary in this important field.

The amendments of which I spoke were the ones brought forward at the ethics committee by the NDP. I gave notice of 36 amendments and 20 were accepted as admissible, but none was put in the bill. I stand corrected if I gave misinformation on that.

As for the fact that the department can refuse a request but the commissioner can override it goes to an important point. There has been no suggestion that the commissioner's office, which has been strapped for resources for years—the complaint of that office every year is that it simply does not have the tools to do the job—will have the ability, in a practical way, to give meaning to that. It sounds good on paper, but whether, in practical terms, it will change anything, I do not know.

Second, there is no such approach in any of the provincial legislation. A simpler, cleaner way would be to limit the exceptions and allow order-making power in a much more robust fashion than this bill contains.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, this gives me another opportunity to praise the member for Victoria for his due diligence and work on this particular issue and so many others on behalf of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. He is certainly one of the most learned and knowledgeable members of Parliament that this House has seen in the century and a half that it has existed. We really appreciate the work that he has done. He may dismiss the learned erudition that he brings, but we certainly do not.

I would like the member to speculate on why the Liberal government would, first, refuse all amendments at committee and then, after the other place provided some helpful amendments that would benefit what people across the country are looking for in access to information, why it would gut the bill a second time when there is so much opportunity to accept amendments and improve the legislation.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is not unique to the current government. It is a fact of life and it applies to parties on all sides. Access to information sounds like a good idea when one is in opposition and can use it as a tool, but when in government, it is expensive and is a pain. The public servants do not like it and one certainly does not like seeing embarrassing information, to which the public has a right, nevertheless on the front pages of The Globe and Mail or Le Devoir. That is a reality facing every government from left to right to centre, and I understand that, but when our courts say it is a quasi-constitutional right to know and the government takes half measures, at least some measures that are considered regressive, then it is a question we have to ask.

The Liberals made so much in opposition about their commitment to transparency. Of all the topics the Prime Minister could have chosen to introduce as his private member's bill, it was, guess what, amendments to the Access to Information Act. When Pat Martin, a former member, came to the House, he simply reintroduced all of what the Prime Minister had in his private member's bill and that went nowhere.

I do not think this is unique to the Liberals. I just wish they had been better.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, I will let the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby know we are just shy of the 10 minutes that are remaining in the time for debate at this particular juncture of the day. We will have to interrupt at 5:30 p.m. for the usual hour for Private Members' Business, but I will give him an indication ahead of the interruption in the usual fashion.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Victoria is a tough act to follow, but I will do the best I can.

I will start by saying there is wide gulf between what the government promised in 2015 and what it has actually delivered. It is quite saddening to every Canadian who believes in parliamentary democracy and believes the people should have the right to determine the destiny of this country. We see the government having repeatedly betrayed the promises the Liberals made during the election campaign in 2015.

I will not spend too much time on the litany of broken promises, but certainly one is on democratic reform. In 2015 we were supposed to have the last first past the post election which is undemocratic. We are now going into another election with the whole aspect of democratic reform gutted, ripped up. It is a promise that has been thrown on the floor and trampled on.

The government wanted to take action on the environment. Instead, we get the Trans Mountain pipeline that the government has spent billions of dollars on and will spend tens of billions more as construction costs escalate.

When we talk about the House of Commons and respecting parliamentary democracy, we had the Prime Minister promising in 2015 an end to omnibus legislation, legislation that ties together a whole range of unrelated items. Instead, the Liberals have doubled down and created some of the most monstrous pieces of omnibus legislation that the House has ever seen in a century and a half.

The Prime Minister during the election campaign talked about eliminating closure and working co-operatively with the opposition parties. Instead, what we have seen this week is the most toxic muzzling of the opposition that has ever occurred in our history, toxic closure motions that allow only one member to speak. The government has used this device a number of times now. Once the government moves the motion, one member gets to speak. Most often it is a government member, and there is no time for questions or comments or anything by the opposition. Opposition members represent more than 60% of the Canadian population and they are completely muzzled and shut down.

We just saw the spectre of the worst Thursday question response that this Parliament has ever seen. There has always been respect for Parliament that when the Thursday question is offered by the official opposition House leader, a role which I played in the last Parliament, the government then gives some idea of the legislation to come before the House in the following week. For a century and a half when that question has been asked by the official opposition, the government has been forthcoming. It does not mean that sometimes agendas change, but there has been some inkling of the business to come before Parliament in the following week.

Today, we saw the government remove its mask and show its real face. There was no information forthcoming at all to any member of the opposition or even any member of the government side. We do not know when the Conservatives will get their opposition day. We do not know when the supply votes, which should take us a good part of the day and probably all night, will occur. We do not know what legislation is coming up on Monday morning. Members of Parliament will be leaving this place this week with absolutely no idea of what is coming before the House in the subsequent week. That is the first time any government has attempted to override and ride roughshod over parliamentary rights in our nation's history. It was absolutely despicable to see that.

This is not a small matter. When we think of all the members of Parliament having to organize their travel schedules to make sure they are here for those supply votes which often take 24 hours, for Conservatives to know when their opposition day is coming forward so that they can offer their suggestions, which often I disagree with, but always respect their right to offer them for what Parliament and the government should do moving forward, all of those things have been put in complete suspension. Members of Parliament now have to wait to see what the government will be bringing up Monday morning. It is unbelievable.

Therefore, when we talk about Bill C-58, it is in the same framework of broken promises and abuse of parliamentary democracy.

All members of Parliament have a role to play in the House of Commons. All of us should have the ability to represent our constituents. However, the government provides nothing but a blank slate, saying, “We'll let you know Monday morning what is actually going to come before the House. We're going to let you know, Conservatives, when you can offer your opposition motion. We're going to let all members of Parliament know when we are getting into the 24-hour voting cycle.” For those members of Parliament who also have to be present in their constituency and for those members of Parliament who also have family obligations, this disrespect for Parliament is unbelievable. It is unbelievable not to provide any sort of indication whatsoever about what is going to transpire in this place from Monday morning on.

Access to information starts with that. If the government respected access to information, it would start with parliamentarians, by saying to them, “Here is the schedule for next week. It may change, but here are our intentions about the bills to come before the House.” Yes, the Senate influences that, I have no doubt, but to give some sense of what bills may be coming forward, when the opposition day is or when we will be having all-night voting is just a modicum of respect and information that needs to be provided to parliamentarians.

The Liberals have done the same thing to Canadians that they are doing to members of Parliament. We now have Bill C-58, which was deeply flawed. It was criticized from right and left, from people who believe that Canadians have a right to access the information that belongs to them. This is not a Liberal dictatorship, or I certainly hope it is not or will not become one. Liberal governments, like all governments, should govern in the interest of all Canadians. There is no doubt that there is a fundamental right to information that all Canadians possess.

However, the Liberals presented a flawed bill. The New Democratic members and members of the other opposition parties all came forward with helpful suggestions that would make a difference and make a bad bill a fairly good bill. Liberal members on the committee and in the House simply gutted that and refused those amendments. The bill then went to the Senate, and the government had an opportunity to get amendments from senators. We might believe in the abolition of the Senate, but it certainly has a role to play right now, and it improved the bill, again. I think people were generally optimistic that at least the bad bill had become a fairly good bill, yet the government has gutted that again.

Ultimately, it is disrespect for parliamentarians, and it is disrespect for Canadians. For that reason, New Democrats will be voting against the government's proposal.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from April 29 consideration of the motion that Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 5:30 p.m.


Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-331, which was brought forward by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

I will talk about the bill and what it purports to do, and then I want to talk about the state of the nation in terms of the Federal Court system, because this bill proposes to make changes there.

The bill's intent is “[to amend] the Federal Courts Act to provide for the jurisdiction of the Federal Court over civil claims brought by non-Canadians in respect of alleged violations outside Canada of international law or a treaty to which Canada is party.”

The intent of the member who brought forward this private member's business was to address instances where, for example, Canadian companies operating in other jurisdictions are not being good corporate citizens and are violating in some way the human rights of individuals there.

In the member's speech, which I reviewed, he had a number of examples of companies. A lot of them were mining companies, such a Nevsun Resources, which had a gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea, where there were allegations of forced labour, slavery and torture of workers. Another case was the one of Hudbay Minerals in Guatemala, where people were shot and killed. The intent of this bill is to allow people who may not be Canadians and who have had things happen to them outside of Canada to come and use the Canadian Federal Court system to pursue civil actions.

The issue I have with that, first of all, is that the Federal Court system, as it is today, under the current Liberal government, is in tatters. The former justice minister did not appoint a sufficient number of judges, so court cases were backed up and there was a huge logjam. As a result of that, many murder cases and rape cases were being tossed out of court because they had been in the queue for more than two years, and according to Jordan's principle, these people, guilty of heinous crimes, have gone free.

The government has continually eroded the execution of justice in Canada with a weakening of the rules. The government introduced legislation such as C-75, which took some very serious crimes, such as the forcible confinement of a minor, and reduced them to summary convictions, which means a penalty of less than two years or a fine. There was a whole list of charges in that bill that took serious crimes and brought them back to something that was minor in nature. I would argue that a fine for the forcible confinement of a minor is like a slap on the wrist for something that I think all Canadians would agree is heinous.

We also saw the situation with Tori Stafford's killer, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who, even though she viciously participated in the murder of a child, was allowed to go to a healing lodge, where there was no security and she was in the presence of parents who had their children with them when they came to work.

I am concerned that we need to strengthen our Federal Court system as it stands today, not weaken it, and the Liberal government has not done that. I am concerned that if we open it up to non-Canadians in other countries, they would come and bring an extra caseload of court cases to a court system that is arguably already under stress and not delivering. There are Canadian crimes that we are not able to adequately prosecute on time. That is a real difficulty.

Within the bill, there are 17 different types of cases that could be brought forward. I will go through a few of these and talk about incidents that have occurred during the 42nd Parliament, to give members an idea of the volume of these cases that could come before the Federal Court.

First on the list is “genocide”, which everyone knows is a very serious crime. If we think about some of the genocides that have happened during this Parliament, the Yazidis come to mind. Yazidi women were brought to Canada after the genocide where those people were exterminated by ISIS terrorists. That is one. There are still outstanding actions to be taken on Rwanda. That is another genocide that could come our way.

Another item on the list is “slavery or slave trading”. Human trafficking of someone under 18 is also on the list. Human trafficking is a huge issue in Canada. In my riding of Sarnia—Lambton, which is a border city, we see a huge amount of human trafficking happening. There is an actual network between Sarnia and Toronto that couriers people, and not just people from out of the country. Young Canadian boys and girls are lured into this and trapped in that lifestyle for years. There is no doubt that it is a heinous crime, but when I think about the number of these cases in Canada today and the fact that we do not have the resources to adequately prosecute our own, I am concerned about opening that up to the rest of the world.

Any “extrajudicial killing or the enforced disappearance of a person” is on the list. Let us think about the Saudi Arabian journalist who was exterminated. Let us think about the two Canadian men who were killed in the Philippines.

Also on the list is “systemic discrimination”. This opens it way up. When I was the chair of the status of women committee, we had visits of people from countries all over the world where women were being systematically discriminated against. They came to see what we were doing here in Canada. Some would argue that we are still seeing systemic discrimination within our own country. LGBTQ is another group that sees a lot of systemic discrimination across the world. If all of those cases came and flooded our courts, we would be very busy indeed.

The human rights violations that we are seeing right now in Hong Kong come to mind. There are 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government is trying to bring in extradition rules that would allow it to take anyone from Hong Kong and bring him or her to China. I am very concerned that if this bill came into force, there might be a lot of non-Canadians who would want to take advantage of the Canadian court system to pursue some civil charges there as well.

Child soldiers are another item on the list. We know that in every battle we are seeing from ISIS, child soldiers are being raised up. We see that in a bunch of the wars that are happening in Africa and similar places. That would open it up to a huge number of people, as well, who may want to take action and get some civil reward from the Canadian court.

“Rape” is also on the list. Rape is rampant in Canada. The data says that one in three Canadian women will experience sexual violence during her life. When we think about how many cases we have, and how many of those are being kicked out of court, we really do not have the capacity to take others on.

“Forced abortion” and “forced sterilization” are on the list. We heard testimony today at the health committee about forced sterilization and the thousands of women in Canada who are undergoing this. It is horrible, but, once again, there are lots of cases of our own to take care of.

Issues like pollution have been put on the list. Let us think about plastics pollution by non-Canadians. We know that 95% of ocean pollution is happening from eight rivers in Asia and two in Africa. Again, that is a huge volume of complaints that could be brought forward.

“Environmental emergency” has been added. That could be like the climate emergency that the Liberals brought in debate. The debate was never brought back, so it must have been a non-urgent emergency. Climate emergencies and environmental emergencies like that could also make the list.

I know the member was well-intentioned in bringing the bill forward and wanting to address those Canadian corporations, for example, but the bill needs to be narrower in scope, and I do not think we have the capacity in the Federal Court system. I would encourage the government of the day, or, on October 21, the Conservative government, to restore the federal justice system.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a great pleasure to stand in this House to speak to Bill C-331, brought in by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

I know this particular issue has been very dear to him over many Parliaments. It is really great to see that we are in the second hour of debate on Bill C-331, which means it is probably going to come to a vote next week. We will finally see where members of this House actually stand on this issue, because it does matter to a lot of people.

The long title of Bill C-331 is An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights). The reason this is so important is that, at present, human labour and environmental rights are subject to few concrete, effective enforcement mechanisms. This bill fills this need for the victims of international rights violations when there is no forum available to them in the country where the violations are taking place.

By way of addressing my Conservative colleagues' concerns, this is not going to result in a flood of people coming to Canada. It is really just providing a forum in Canada when no such legal option is available to the person in the place where the violation happened.

Specifically, Bill C-331 is going to allow non-citizens to bring a civil suit against anyone for gross violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, and for basic labour, environmental and human rights violations when they are committed outside the country. Furthermore, judges on the Federal Court would have to satisfy themselves that their court is an appropriate forum to hear these cases.

This legislation, if enacted, is not going to force the court to hear every single case. It still specifies within the bill that Federal Court judges will have the ability to judge the merits of each case before them, and whether in fact there is enough evidence to proceed with trial.

When we look at Bill C-331 in detail, it is an amendment to the Federal Courts Act. The bill would add a specific section 25.1 after the existing section 25. Some of the claims listed within the bill are genocide; a war crime or a crime against humanity; slavery or slave trading; extrajudicial killing or the enforced disappearance of a person; torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment; prolonged arbitrary detention, and so on. These are crimes that really speak to some very horrible actions that take place around the world.

We are so very lucky to live in Canada under the rule of law. We have a judicial system that we place a lot of trust in. Generally, when people see police on the streets, we know they are doing their job. We have a lot of trust in those institutions, not only to keep us safe but also to hold people to account. In many places in the world, this is a luxury or simply does not exist.

Canadians, by and large, are fairly detached from some of the horrors that go on internationally. The unfortunate fact is that a lot of Canadian-based companies have actually been responsible for some of the worst behaviour around the world. We know some Canadian mining companies have been implicated in brutal crackdowns on local populations, because they were daring to protest a mining operation. They have employed paramilitary guards who have used sexual violence as a weapon. They have violated environmental rights by dumping mining tailings into a local drinking supply. These are companies that are based in Canada.

The issue here is to basically hold those companies accountable. We want to ensure that we are not engaging in a race to the bottom for economic reasons, while neglecting those very important rights.

We have corporations based here in Canada that generate a tremendous amount of wealth. That wealth is not equally distributed. Often, the wealth that is being generated is coming directly from the so-called global south and from countries that are rich in natural resources that are being exploited by companies, but the wealth is being unevenly distributed.

Therefore, corporate social responsibility should not be a voluntary thing. This is something we need to have firm legislation around and firm accountability. I believe that Bill C-331 is a step in the right direction.

If we look at Global Affairs Canada, we see, as I mentioned earlier, that 50% of the world's publicly listed exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada. If we look at the TSX, it is quite evident.

The federal government, just recently, in April, appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer as the first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. Before I receive any applause from my Liberal colleagues, they may want to listen to the next part of my speech.

This is what the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability stated when that office was announced:

The government announced that it would create an independent office with the power to investigate. Instead, it unveiled a powerless advisory post, little different from what has already existed for years.

United Steelworkers Canada national director, Ken Neumann, said:

With today’s announcement...of the appointment of a special advisor, without the powers of an effective ombudsperson, this government has again disappointed thousands of Canadians who were expecting serious action on human rights.

Again, we cannot just create the office and then walk away without giving it the necessary powers, the legislative framework and the resources necessary to actually act on these particularly egregious crimes against humanity. As listed in Bill C-331, these are some of the worst crimes imaginable.

I am proud to be a member of a party that has long demonstrated a keen interest in this particular issue. The member for New Westminster—Burnaby, as I said in the introduction of my speech, has been pursuing this through multiple parliaments. Our former colleagues, Paul Dewar and Alexa McDonough, and the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood also saw this as an important thing. Several parliaments ago, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood presented Bill C-300, which unfortunately ran aground because not enough Liberals showed up at a key vote.

It is important that we act on this. It is a signal to citizens of countries where these rights do not exist. This is a signal to the world that Canada actually means what it says when talking about human rights, labour rights and environmental rights. Furthermore, we are actually going to provide a forum for the affected party to come here and use our Federal Court system to pursue justice. I can think of no better signal to the world than Canada actually standing by what it says and showing, through this proposed legislation, that it is going to follow through with it.

We have some great endorsements for this proposed legislation, and the endorsements have kept on coming from the member for New Westminster—Burnaby. We have the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, the National Union of Public and General Employees and the B.C. Teachers' Federation. It is great to see Canadian civil society, and indeed international actors as well, come behind this legislation to recognize its importance.

To conclude, I am particularly and personally attached to this bill, because it is following in the same vein of what I am trying to do with my own private member's bill, Bill C-431, which would amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act to make sure that our public pension monies are no longer invested in entities that are guilty of human rights, labour rights and environmental rights transgressions. It is particularly shameful, when we ask the Library of Parliament to do research, that we find the Canada pension plan still invested in companies that are committing these kinds of rights transgressions around the world.

I am happy to see that we are going to put force behind our words, as New Democrats always do. I congratulate the member for New Westminster—Burnaby on this important bill, and I look forward so very much to next week, when I can stand in the House and vote on it on behalf of my constituents.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-331, an act to amend the Federal Courts Act with regard to the international promotion and protection of human rights.

This bill would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide for the jurisdiction of the Federal Court in civil matters involving claims for relief in respect of certain violations of international law.

The bill's sponsor, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, believes this bill is necessary to hold Canadian companies accountable when they are involved in violations of international law abroad and to compensate the victims of these violations, especially in countries where there is no rule of law and there are no remedies to be had.

I agree that these are valid and important concerns, but Bill C-311—

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member. He is speaking very eloquently, but there is a bit of a rumble in the background. When members are close to the member speaking, it echoes into the microphone, so I would remind them to have respect for the person speaking.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that these are valid and important concerns, but Bill C-331 would not make Canadian companies more accountable and would not help award damages to victims.

The Federal Court is a statutory court, which means that it has only the jurisdiction explicitly conferred upon it by statute. In lawsuits against individuals and corporations, the court can only hear claims for relief arising in the federal domain, such as patent infringement or collisions at sea, which fall under Canadian maritime law. Such cases are explicitly provided for in federal law.

That is why lawsuits such as Araya v. Nevsun Resources Ltd. and Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. were heard in provincial superior courts, which have jurisdiction over matters involving Canadian companies' actions abroad and, more generally, those with a real and substantial connection to the province.

Some provinces have also recognized the forum of necessity doctrine, which allows courts to assume jurisdiction in situations where the victim cannot be forced to initiate proceedings in the jurisdiction where he or she was harmed. The doctrine was applied in Bouzari v. Bahremani, an action for damages in respect of acts of torture in Iran.

Accordingly, there is no gap in domestic jurisdiction that Bill C-331 needs to fill. The provincial Superior Courts have adequate jurisdiction to address this type of claim. When Superior Courts decline to exercise jurisdiction, it is in application of well-settled rules of private international law or based on considerations of international comity.

The common law evolves gradually, incrementally taking into account developments in other jurisdictions. Recent decisions applying the doctrine of forum of necessity show that the common law can and does evolve to address accountability concerns of the kind reflected in Bill C-331.

It is worth noting that Bill C-331 is modelled on the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, which is the only legislation of its kind in force today.

The Alien Tort Statute provides, in full, “'The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Belgium experimented with similar legislation starting in 1993, but repealed it 10 years later, in 2003.

The Alien Tort Statute is something of an anomaly. It was enacted by the first United States Congress in 1789 and lay dormant until the 1980s. It is a controversial and much litigated legislation. Its scope has been narrowed by successive decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently last year when the court decided that foreign, that is, non-American, corporations could not be sued under that law.

Bill C-331 is likewise an invitation to costly and protracted litigation. As with the Alien Tort Statute, the scope of the bill is not clear and it would not assist victims in obtaining reparation.

In particular, Bill C-331 does not create any new remedies, that is, any new right of action, under federal law that the Federal Court could enforce. Rather, it merely allows the court to exercise jurisdiction where one of those violations of international law can be framed as a type of conduct that is already actionable under federal law.

Similarly, the bill does not change the private international law requirement of a real and substantial connection between the forum and the subject matter of litigation. As such, Bill C-331 would not allow foreign victims to sue foreign companies that did not carry on business in Canada in respect of their conduct abroad. The real and substantial connection test would lead a court to decline jurisdiction in such cases. This test was developed by the Supreme Court of Canada, notably in order to prevent jurisdictional overreach by the courts.

Finally, the bill would do nothing to enable claims against foreign states, which would continue to enjoy immunity pursuant to the State Immunity Act with respect to their sovereign activities outside Canada.

The victims this bill is meant to serve would not be any better off if the Federal Court had jurisdiction over their cases. On the contrary, they are more likely to find justice through the superior courts, where the law is clearer and more predictable.

Instead of providing the same remedies that can already be sought from the superior courts, this government created the ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, a world first. In April 2019, the Minister of International Trade Diversification appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer to the position.

For the victims of human rights abuses, the ombudsperson is a real and effective alternative to litigation. More specifically, the ombudsperson's mandate is to review alleged human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company’s operations abroad and to propose corrective actions, such as victim compensation. This mechanism complements the legal remedies available to victims.

In January of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Araya v. Nevsun case. The respondents were Eritrean refugees who allege that they were forced to work in an Eritrean gold mine, 60% of which is indirectly owned by the B.C. company in question.

This case raises questions directly addressed by this bill. For example, would Eritrea be the appropriate place to initiate the proceedings? What would be the scope of the act of government, which would prevent the court from ruling on the legality of a foreign state's sovereign acts within its own territory? Furthermore, the bill addresses the application of the customary standards of international law.

The Supreme Court will rule in the coming months. It would be prudent to wait for the court's ruling in this case, since the ruling could affect the content of this bill.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before resume debate, I want to remind hon. members that some members are very fortunate to have a voice that carries exceptionally well. Even though they are talking to the person maybe a couple of benches away, it carries very well, and I compliment them on that. However, when we are trying to hear someone, it does interfere. I just want them to learn to whisper and control their strong voice.

The hon. member for Victoria.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to express my strong support for the enormous contribution made by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby. He has been championing this legislation for so many years, in so many parliaments, and here it is again. It is a bill that would work toward the international promotion and protection of human rights.

I live in the province of British Columbia, where so many of our mining companies are headquartered. Sometimes, when we travel abroad, it is quite embarrassing to learn about what some of those companies, not all, have done. Whether they like it or not, they carry the Canadian flag on their back.

Some of the abuses involving sexual violence, human rights abuses and environmental degradation are things that come back and haunt us in Canada. That is why Mr. Justice Ian Binnie, formerly of the Supreme Court, has been calling on us, as parliamentarians, to do something about this, as have so many others. In fact, as the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford reminded us, groups that speak for over three million people have asked us to get the bill through Parliament.

I would like to address what was said just now by the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, who seems to be suggesting, if I understand his argument, that this is unconstitutional and cannot be done.

I have a legal opinion from a very well-known and highly respected constitutional law firm, Goldblatt Partners in the city of Toronto, which confirms, at great length, that the bill “is squarely within the jurisdiction of the federal Parliament.” I do not know who is giving legal advice to the minister or whether this is a smokescreen to, once again, avoid effective legislation, but I can assure the House, for reasons I will also describe in a moment, that is simply not the case.

Therefore, I would hope that the Canadians watching will beseech the Liberal members of Parliament to not be timid; to do what the Supreme Court justice has asked; to do what Canadians from coast to coast to coast have asked; to deal with those of us who are embarrassed sometimes when we go abroad to say we are from Canada, knowing what some of our mining companies have done abroad; to get with the program and do what has been done in so many other jurisdictions. Is it not ironic that we are here talking about doing in Canada what the Americans did in their alien foreign tort claims legislation so many generations ago? It just seems sad.

What would the bill do? It would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that court with jurisdiction over civil claims brought by non-Canadians in respect of alleged violations outside of Canada of international law or a treaty violation to which Canada would be a party, particularly violations of human rights and recognized fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, labour and environmental groups.

As my friend from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford reminded us, Global Affairs said that over 50% of the world's listed publicly traded exploration and mining companies were headquartered in Vancouver. That gives us a particular responsibility to do something about this difficult problem.

Allegations have been made by NGOs and others of so many instances abroad, over so many years, where our mining companies were associated with human rights and environmental abuses. What is called for is that there be an effective independent mechanism to investigate complaints of abuses and for something to be done about it.

The government prides itself on the adviser position that was created, with absolutely none of the powers that would make a difference in the real world. Of course, that is what we are here to try to do.

I am pleased the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, a Liberal member of Parliament, brought forth a bill not long ago that would have brought in some of the reforms we are talking about today. Unfortunately, that bill was defeated by his Liberal colleagues. Hopefully they will not do it this time and Canadians will successfully urge their Liberal members of Parliament to get with the program.

There is litigation, of course, that deals with the issue of what is called forum non conveniens. Normally, if one has a lawsuit in Canada but is told that the better forum to do such a lawsuit would be in Eritrea or Papua New Guinea or Guatemala where some of these cases have occurred, a Canadian court would dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that there is a better place for that to be heard.

I am happy to report that in British Columbia our Supreme Court rejected a claim involving a mining company called Nevsun that was listed in British Columbia but was doing business in Eritrea. The court concluded that there was a legitimate risk that the refugees would not get a fair trial in Eritrea. That was upheld on appeal.

It seems that there is a recognition in our courts that we might, in certain circumstances, allow for litigation in Canada. That was a good example of that. However, we cannot depend on that occurring. We need to get legislative change to confirm that. That is what this bill would do. That is what the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby has endeavoured to do with this legislation. I am so proud of the work that he has done.

Earlier someone quoted some of the many, many supporters of this legislation, one of whom is Ken Neumann of the United Steelworkers. He said this:

Stronger laws are urgently needed in Canada to address international violations of human and environmental rights and related corporate practices. Getting there requires leadership from our elected representatives.

Of course he is right. That is what Canadians are looking for on this. They are looking for a civil cause of action that our courts, the Federal Court of Canada, would be able to address when people from abroad come here and sue over outrageous transgressions of human rights or treaty rights to which Canada is a party. What is wrong with that? Why would that not be something we would all want to respect? Our country has had such a strong reputation for human rights and environmental good practices around the world. It gives us all a black eye when we hear of some of the horrible abuses that have taken place abroad, whether it be the genocide and suffering of people of Darfur or the murder of trade unionists at the hands of death squads in Colombia or the sexual violence that occurred in Papua New Guinea. I think it is critical that we fix it.

As I said earlier in my remarks, it is not like this is something terribly new. The Americans have the Alien Tort Claims Act that allows foreigners there to bring action in American courts for violations of the law of nations. They have had that since 1980. Here we are with this radical notion in Canada.

The Liberals seem to think it is unconstitutional and cannot be done. Of course it can be done. That is why the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood has also tried to get it done. I am sure he is feeling the same pressure that I have felt as a member of Parliament in Victoria when people come to me and beseech me to get this right. It is embarrassing to us to see what some of our companies are doing abroad. They are not going to be effectively sued in a court in Eritrea. They are not going to be effectively held to account in a court in Papua New Guinea. Canadians understand that. They want companies to be held accountable here where they are created and where their directors reside in many cases as well.

A civil claim will be easier to substantiate than a criminal matter, which requires foreign governments to be engaged in and the standard of proof, of course, of beyond a reasonable doubt makes it very hard to get criminal convictions where civil claims are available.

In conclusion, I want to thank the hon. member again for the excellent work that he has done in bringing this bill forward. It seems to me to be common sense legislation. In no way is it unconstitutional. If there is ever a doubt, let us let the courts test it, but let us not be so timid that we will not even give Parliament the opportunity to respond to the pressure that so many of us have heard from our constituents to take away that black eye that our companies are giving all of us abroad and let them be held accountable, where appropriate, here in courts in Canada.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today during private members' hour to join in the debate on Bill C-331, and underscore our government's strong position on this bill.

Canadian companies have always had the ability to hold their heads up high when doing business around the world based on our reputation as a country, not only including our credibility from a financial standpoint but also given our strong record on human rights.

This government is a strong proponent of upholding strong human rights all around the world and is willing to work collaboratively with parties on all sides of the House to put strong legislation in place over the years to come to help strengthen those laws as well.

I am going to use this time to speak briefly about my riding as this will most likely be my last opportunity to speak in the House.

As my constituents and a lot of my colleagues are aware, I decided not to re-offer in the upcoming federal election. However, my feet remain firmly planted in my riding and I will be forever rooted in New Brunswick, my home and my future.

When I originally decided to run, I remember stating in my nomination speech that I was committed to building a great future for Tobique—Mactaquac and to work collaboratively with members on all sides of the House and all parties to do whatever was possible to help New Brunswickers, specifically those people in my riding. My willingness to work toward that goal has never wavered and I feel as committed to my riding today as I ever have.

My constituents are exemplary people who have shown time and time again to have the ability to not only perform but lead on the world stage. I am so incredibly proud of my province and very proud of my country.

I quickly realized as I took office the immense opportunities that ridings like Tobique—Mactaquac and other rural ridings across the country hold and continue to hold today. Not only in my riding, but from coast to coast to coast, the opportunities are endless.

It was once said that the reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is that it goes around wearing overalls and it looks like hard work. Believe me, I recognize opportunity. I have had immense opportunities in my life working in the private sector and it has been an immense privilege to have the opportunity to sit on behalf of the people of Tobique—Mactaquac here in the House of Commons over the last four years. Whether it involves wearing overalls or a three-piece suit, I certainly do not plan to stop seeing opportunities develop for all New Brunswickers and for those in Tobique—Mactaquac. It has been an immense privilege to have had the opportunity to work and be of service.

Over the past four years, we have made great strides in the right direction and yet there are so many opportunities left to come and so many people that have still been left behind. We all know those people: veterans struggling with PTSD; hard-working folks facing unemployment; young people burdened by student loans; seniors struggling on fixed incomes; sole-support mothers trying to make ends meet; aboriginal peoples facing discrimination and the legacy of residential schools abuse; persons with disabilities facing isolation and accessibility barriers in their own homes and communities; and new Canadians working hard to build their new lives. The list goes on. These people are our neighbours, our friends and our family. I am proud, along with my office staff, to have worked hard on their behalf but there is so much more that can be done and we need to continue to be mindful of these issues.

I personally ran to make a difference, to ensure that all kids have the opportunities here at home that truly reflect our amazing region, so that children in every family can excel and reach for their dreams, and to achieve true fiscal responsibility for big and small businesses alike, while recognizing that opportunities country-wide require federal leadership, especially when it comes to infrastructure renewal and new infrastructure. Our government has proven that it is capable of leading that charge. I am very proud of the developments that we have made as a federal government in terms of infrastructure over the last four years.

That is why I have worked hard as a member of Parliament over the past four years serving as chair of the all-party agricultural caucus and chairing the national Liberal rural caucus for a year. In the past, I sat as regional director for provincial ridings in Carleton—York, Carleton—Victoria and Victoria—La Vallée. I worked with the Rotary Club in my local riding. I think that self-service is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to this place. All this and more has made me passionate about public service and about representing my constituents.

As the member of Parliament for Tobique—Mactaquac, I have strongly advocated for continued supply management and investment in agricultural robotics; safe and responsible natural resource development; rural economic development; investment in rural infrastructure; accessibility and visitability, and I am very proud to have worked collaboratively with my colleagues in the House on this; a healthy local economy; improved stewardship of our environment; better, more affordable education; open, fair and strong democratic representation; and the list goes on. I have never pretended to have all the answers. I believe it is more important to ask the right questions and then work to find solutions.

I would like to cite one of my favourite quotes that first came to me from an agricultural producer in my riding. He used to say that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. I believe that public service means giving one's time and talents and providing the resources necessary to improve the lives of others. This approach was adopted by my office from the outset and as the member of Parliament for Tobique—Mactaquac, I have always strived to meet this as a public servant.

I hear what people want and need from their representatives: public engagement, a voice that understands and truly reflects them and a willingness to work across the aisle with those who oppose or are different from us on certain issues. Partisan, divisive politics drives us apart, distracting us from the real priorities and the real work ahead. In New Brunswick, our communities are often close-knit and small, sometimes isolated and struggling. As politicians, our focus should always be on the kind of service that starts in our own homes and grows to embrace our communities and strengthen the general public good.

Serving as the member of Parliament for Tobique—Mactaquac has been so much more than a job. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to provide a strong, independent New Brunswick voice on behalf of my constituents. I cannot express enough thanks to the residents of my riding for placing their trust in me. I am fortunate to have been part of policy changes and legislation which will leave a lasting, positive impact in the lives of so many constituents and Canadians, in general.

It has been said that there is no bad seat in the House of Commons and I honestly believe that to be true. I would like to acknowledge the friendships and dedication of the members from all sides of the House and the Senate as we worked together on the important issues facing Canadians. We may have had a few disagreements regarding process and policy, but I never had cause to question our collective objective of providing responsible and compassionate governance.

New Brunswick is my home and the place that I love most. I have always dedicated so much of my service advocating for rural economic development, small business growth, rural infrastructure, accessibility and a host of other issues that are important to New Brunswickers. I am proud of our accomplishments. I look forward to continuing to work with and advocate on behalf of New Brunswick businesses and the growth of our local economy. Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the economy and I know I can continue to play a role in their success and contribute to economic development for the benefit of those not only in my community but for New Brunswick as a whole.

I would like to thank all of the volunteers and those who have shared their time, concerns and advice with me and those who attended events and reached out to my office with their concerns around the issues that are important to them. I thank them for their support and encouragement. It is my intention to continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the people of New Brunswick and my constituents until the federal election. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead and thank all of the people of Tobique—Mactaquac for placing their trust in me. I would like to thank my family, my friends, my colleagues and all of the people who have made this journey possible for me, a worthwhile journey, indeed.

I would like to close by citing an old Gaelic blessing, one that my grandfather used often:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity to stand in support of private member's bill, Bill C-331. I would like to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby for his work on the bill. It is very important legislation.

Speaking from personal experience, as a Canadian, I have had experience travelling in Central America. In the nineties, I was in Guatemala. My younger brother was part of the Managua team with the United Nations. My parents and I were involved in a human rights accompaniment with trade union activists who were trying to organize maquilas, the factory workers in Guatemala, and also working with people who were taking forward human rights complaints.

I spent some time travelling around Central America. I had a Canadian flag on my back. I could see, in different places where I went in Nicaragua and El Salvador, there were Canadian flags on bridges that had been built with Canadian money. People thanked me for being Canadian, for being there, for our country and for the role we played after the civil wars in Central America.

In 2014, I went back to El Salvador to take part in a delegation on mining. I was doing research for a film on investor state dispute settlements and looking into the case of Pac Rim Cayman LLC v. Republic of El Salvador. In that case, five of the environmentalists who stood up against this mine that nobody in the country wanted, because it would destroy the watershed that provided water to 60% of the population, were murdered. People had to leave the country as refugees because of the thugs who were involved with the mining company.

I took part in a conference, with delegates from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They all explained situations that were happening in their countries. They had photos and videos. I documented this conference and I put it up on my YouTube channel. However, the whole time I was hearing about how Canadian mining companies were involved in these projects in communities where they were unwanted. They ended up hiring thugs to intimidate local indigenous people and force them into accepting projects they did not want. They were destroying their communities, their local environment and their way of life. People were having to leave their homes under the threat of violence. People were being murdered, abused and sexually assaulted. To me, it was a very shameful experience. To know that we had companies abroad involved and engaged in these activities was very disheartening.

Therefore, I thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby for this work. This is a very important bill. People in these situations should be able to seek redress in this country, get justice and ensure that Canadian corporations abroad are responsible for the behaviour of the people they hire and work with in those countries.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues who spoke in favour of the bill. Obviously the bill has withstood the parliamentary scrutiny of the discussions and debates we have had over the two hours that have been accorded to it.

First, there have been a number of small technical issues, but they can be easily resolved through amendments. I want to make clear to all members, as I have in letters to every member of Parliament, that I am open to amendments and technical changes.

Second, we have heard from the government that this is not needed at all and that a bunch of people would apply. There is an obvious contraction there. If the bill is not needed, then victims will not come forward in the federal court. If victims come forward, it is because the bill is needed.

Just as we saw in the debate on the bill from the member for Scarborough—Guildwood about corporate responsibility, I suspect, after hearing the government members speak, that what is being heard here are the voices of corporate lobbyists. Corporate lobbyists are saying that no action should be taken on corporate responsibility. Corporate lobbyists are saying that victims should not be heard.

I would like to note in these final minutes of debate on this issue, before the important vote held next Wednesday, that other voices should be heard on the floor of the House of Commons when we cast our votes next Wednesday.

The voices that should be heard are those of the victims, like the victims of forced slave labour at Nevsun Resources in Eritrea. These people were forcibly conscripted, held as slaves and beaten. Their voices need to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons. They can only be heard by a yes vote on Bill C-331.

We should hear the voices of Adolfo Ich Chaman's family members. He was the activist who was shot and killed on the Hudbay Minerals property in Guatemala. There is also German Chub Choc, a local youth activist who was speaking out against mining operations. The voices of those in surviving families need to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons.

We need to hear from the victims of the appalling sexual violence taking place in Papua New Guinea. This happened on the grounds of the Barrick Gold operations. Those voices, those victims need to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons.

There are the surviving members of the family of the Salvadoran environmental activist, who was found murdered at the bottom of a well, his finger nails pulled out. That family needs to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons.

Those voices need to be heard, not those of corporate lobbyists. We should hear from the victims of these appalling human rights abuses taking place worldwide. In each of these cases, there can be no justice in those countries, because their judicial systems are corrupt and will not hear victims' pleas for justice.

Other voices need to be heard. There are the more than three million Canadians whose organizations have endorsed the bill and have called on members of Parliament to vote yes on the bill next Wednesday. Those voices need to be heard, as well as the voices of Canadians across the length and breadth of the country.

Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Canadians believe in corporate responsibility, believe in justice and believe that Canada needs to be a voice in the world for human rights and justice. We can accomplish that by a yes vote next Wednesday.

Canadians have said very clearly that they want parliamentarians to vote yes on the bill. I would urge Canadians to contact their members of Parliament in the coming days. The vote is next Wednesday. Parliamentarians need to be called by their constituents, and their constituents need to tell them to vote yes on Bill C-331.

The victims' voices, the victims of appalling human rights abuses, of violence, of murder and of sexual abuse, all of them are calling out today for members of Parliament to vote yes on Bill C-331. I hope all members of Parliament will heed the call and vote yes next Wednesday.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those opposed will please say nay.