House of Commons Hansard #428 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was environmental.

Topics

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Madam Speaker, I hold my colleague in great esteem, and I appreciated his speech.

One of the questions I am hearing is, “What is the cost going to be for this?” More importantly, many of these convictions were plea bargained. In other words, a more serious offence was pleaded down, and now these people may have these options available to them, as well as the people who have convictions for simple possession.

Could the member comment on that issue? The government really has to look at this carefully, because no prosecutor would have accepted a plea bargain knowing that it was going to be washed away in the future.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2019 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Madam Speaker, this is an issue on which I disagree with many colleagues in my own party. Some people, no doubt, were convicted because it was part of a plea bargain; others were not. I do not know the percentage. I suspect the majority who faced simple possession charges and were convicted did not plea bargain.

Blackstone, the great author and authority on the common law, said in the 18th century that it was better that 100 guilty men go free than that one innocent man be hanged. Everybody knows this saying. The same principle ought to apply here. It is better that some people be able to get a pardon even though their conviction was the result of a plea bargain, than the alternative, namely that others who had simple possession charges be unable to get a pardon.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia, Housing; the hon. member for Courtenay—Alberni, Veterans Affairs; the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, Sport.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to once again speak to Bill C-93. This bill has a number of flaws and perfectly illustrates why Canadians' trust in the Liberals has been broken. On the eve of the election, the government is settling for half measures that are not even guaranteed to pass.

As the parliamentary secretary said, we oppose this bill. We are not here to give the Liberal government a free pass for measures that very few people will be able to access. For example, I will talk about Bill C-66, which established an expedited procedure for expunging criminal records of LGBTQ community members sentenced for behaviour that is no longer deemed criminal. This objective is commendable and we support it, but an automatic process would have been preferable.

We can look at the numbers for the sake of comparison. When Bill C-93 was in committee, we learned that of the approximately 9,000 people who were eligible for the procedure established under Bill C-66, only seven had applied. In committee, we asked government officials for an explanation, but naturally, they were unable to respond. I would certainly be able to provide some, just as the experts did in committee. I will come back to that.

Meanwhile, the government said that it would advertise through non-traditional means. Is it talking about tweets, Facebook posts or pretty hashtags? I have a hard time believing that these ads will be seen by the right people, who are often in precarious situations. We are talking about vulnerable Canadians, racialized people, indigenous peoples and low-income Canadians. Factually and statistically, these people are the most likely to have a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana.

This is easy to prove. Here in the House, the Prime Minister publicly stated that he had once smoked marijuana recreationally, as did other politicians. There is nothing wrong with that. Black people in Toronto, however, cannot get away with it that easily. They are the most likely to have a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana. This is a serious problem and is one of the reasons we oppose this bill. It is clear that the people who need this process the most are the same ones who will not benefit from it.

I would like to talk a little bit about the study in committee in order to explain why the NDP does not support this bill. First, a criminal lawyer told us that this was the least Parliament could do and that it was better than nothing but that parliamentarians have a duty to do much better than that. I could not agree more.

The NDP's commitment to Parliament involves doing our best to help those who need it most. We do not want to settle for taking a tiny step in the right direction. The lawyer I mentioned, Solomon Friedman, also raised several problems with the record suspension system. Those problems are not an issue in the NDP's approach of expunging criminal records. He mentioned two factors.

The first is good conduct. Those who apply for a criminal record suspension, whether under the process proposed by Bill C-93 or the usual process, must demonstrate that they are being good citizens. For the average Canadian, that means refraining from robbing a bank or murdering someone, for instance, as farfetched as that may sound.

Actually, Mr. Freidman explained that it could include getting a speeding ticket or causing a minor accident with another vehicle by turning onto a one-way street and the police is called in. These actions would be considered bad behaviour. Fortunately, the leader of the Green Party and member for Saanich—Gulf Islands introduced an amendment to fix the problem. We introduced a similar amendment that went even further. I will come back to that in a moment.

The government's amendment appears quite good, but if the government acknowledges this flaw and the distinction between record suspension and expungement, why did it not simply agree to expunge the records from the outset? That was what my colleague from Victoria's bill called for. Incidentally, some Liberal and Conservative members supported it.

There are other differences between the two approaches, but I want to come back to the amendment. The Liberals moved a sub-amendment to the proposed amendment, which then lost an important element that was found in one of my amendments, which was rejected. Simple possession of a reasonable quantity of cannabis, just like its consumption for recreational, medical or other purposes, is now permitted under the law following the passage of Bill C-45 earlier in this Parliament. An individual who obtains a record suspension for simple possession of cannabis could subsequently commit another crime for all sorts of reasons. I am not excusing the crime or stating whether it would be justified. This is a hypothetical situation.

Under Bill C-93, if an individual with a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana has his criminal record suspended and subsequently commits a crime, no matter how minor or insignificant it may be, the record is reinstated. That makes no sense. I do not understand that. If the member for Sherbrooke, the member for Saskatoon West, the member for Courtenay—Alberni, or even I, or anyone else, were in possession of cannabis, that would not be considered unlawful under the act.

An individual can get a record suspension through a government-approved process because the offence they committed is no longer an offence. That individual might go on to commit a crime, perhaps due to being marginalized, as the vast majority of people burdened with the injustice of a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis are. This bill is an attempt to repair that injustice. The individual might be struggling with very difficult circumstances. We do not know all those circumstances.

The government says it wants to help these people, but its new system is flawed. If these people trip up at any point in the future, their criminal record will be reinstated and they will no longer benefit from the Liberals' system.

If their records were expunged, as the NDP and all the committee witnesses except for the minister suggested, the records would no longer exist. No matter what future difficulties people might encounter, that record would be gone for good.

I also want to speak about other vulnerable individuals whom this bill does not help. I want to speak about the issues raised by the Native Women's Association of Canada, which came to committee and said that one of the groups that would benefit the least from this legislation is indigenous women, because of all the barriers that would still exist despite this process.

Earlier, I asked the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston about the fact that, by not making the process automatic and calling it “no-cost”, the government is misleading Canadians who may want to benefit from this process. Why is that? As every witness said in committee, there are sometimes enormous costs associated with obtaining the necessary documents to apply in the first place, especially for the individuals who seek to benefit from this process.

The application no longer has a cost, but people have to pay to get their fingerprints, pay to go to the court to find their old records, if they even still exist, which is something I will come back to in a moment, and they have to pay for any other documents they might need. The costs could be hundreds of dollars, and it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

If people live far away from an urban centre, in a region that is already underserved and where vulnerable Canadians, indigenous people and others are already victims of a system that is fixed against them in many ways, they are even more disadvantaged by those barriers that would remain in place despite this legislation. That is unacceptable.

What could have been done? We proposed an amendment that was unfortunately ruled beyond the scope of the bill, which is interesting. I challenged the chair and the Liberals voted with the chair, which is not surprising, but the explanation that was provided by the law clerk in committee was interesting, when he argued why the amendments were beyond the scope of the bill. He said that all the bill seeks to do is take the existing record suspension process, which everyone agrees is fundamentally unequal, and make it a bit easier in some aspects.

However, by making it automatic, we would get rid of those barriers. It was pointed out to us by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the Native Women's Association and others that many of these individuals do not even think they have criminal records anymore because they paid their fines, which is considered time served, and have moved on to other things. They do not even know.

Anyone in this room who has dealt with government, and certainly we have, in our offices, by the very nature of our work, knows that if it is hard enough for those of us within government to deal with the government apparatus and to have the proper knowledge, then certainly it is true for the most vulnerable Canadians.

Even the idea of making the system automatic was a compromise. We initially wanted criminal records to be expunged, but we said we could live with record suspensions. We were not happy, but we wanted the government to at least make the process automatic. It refused. It will not even accept a compromise.

I said earlier that I would come back to the issue of documentation and poor records management in Canada. It is madness. Ask the police about the Canadian police database. Ask about a crime being committed in Ontario and having to search for records in Alberta, Quebec or elsewhere. It is crazy to see how poorly managed these records are. One of the things that needs to be done is a digital upgrade.

The Conservatives proposed an amendment that all committee members supported. If a person could no longer locate documents because they had been destroyed or lost, they could sign a sworn statement explaining the lack of documentation. The Parole Board of Canada would be able to accept this sworn statement, this letter or declaration, so that the person could move forward with the process.

Everyone was happy. It was a step in the right direction. When the bill came back to the House at report stage, the amendment was quashed. The government turned it into an option the board could choose to make available in very specific cases. The amendment might as well not have been adopted, because it will not help anyone.

That brings me to my next point, which is about the most shameful and frustrating part of the whole process. I have been an MP for eight years. I have great respect for the public service and for public servants who work very hard with very little in the way of resources, despite what the general public might think. What I saw during the committee's study of this bill was unbelievable.

When we asked the minister why this process could not be made automatic and why the records could not be expunged, he flat out said that it was too much work. I swear that is what he said, and I invite my colleagues to read his testimony. We heard the same thing from the representatives of the parole board and during clause-by-clause consideration. When I proposed amendments to make things easier for the people this bill is meant to help, the Liberals asked officials to provide a reason for rejecting my amendments. What did they say? They said that they did not have the capacity, that they did not know how they would do that and that it would be too much work.

The government says that better is always possible. It introduced a bill to help people in our society who are caught in a tough situation, but it refuses to accept a better approach, one supported by everyone who testified at committee. It seems it is too much work for the parole board. According to police, civil society and every expert in the legal community, the parole board has been mismanaging records for far too long. It is far from being the best system. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is unacceptable.

It is even more shameful given that the committee conducted a study. When the minister was appointed, he came in with great fanfare, much like the rest of the government. He said that the government was going to address all of the injustices created by the previous government and all of the injustices in society. To hear him talk, this was going to be the best government in the history of the universe. According to him, there was no need to worry.

Four years later, what is happening? It costs about $650 for a person to have their criminal record suspended. I do not have the exact number in front of me. There are some disadvantages to giving a speech without any notes. People are being asked to pay about $650 to apply for a record suspension. That measure was put in place by the previous government. Some of the wording has been changed. Now, we talk about record suspensions instead of pardons. As the former Conservative government would have said, a criminal can never be pardoned. The minister said that there was a major injustice in the system and that he was going to fix it.

What happened then? Following in the footsteps of several other members, a Liberal member who, I have to believe, had good intentions, hopped on the bandwagon and ordered a committee study. Most people will have only one opportunity in their entire life to introduce a motion or bill in the House. The member called for a study of criminal record suspensions.

I think he could have asked the committee to conduct the study. It would have gladly done it, but let us put that aside. The member's intentions were good. The member for Saint John—Rothesay appeared before the committee and said that an automatic process should be considered for minor crimes, such as simple possession of cannabis.

We did the work and produced a report. The committee presented its report to the House. The government said it would look at it. Incidentally, Public Safety Canada had already commissioned an Ekos survey that found that three-quarters of Canadians supported simplifying the process for applying for a criminal record suspension, because it would allow individuals to reintegrate into society and get a job. Indeed, 95% of people who are granted a pardon or record suspension do not reoffend.

What did the government do? If I were sitting down, I would fall out of my chair. The government presented the same recommendation that had already been made, which would have been a footnote to our study of the bill, based on what the minister said.

It really fuels cynicism when a government says it will do one thing when it comes to power, but then does not do it. One of the government's own members orders a study. The government says it will do it, and then it does not. Then, a month before the House of Commons' last sitting before the election, the same Liberal members say in committee that we did not really have enough time to do the study and that perhaps it should have been done or will be done with the next government.

This is why we oppose Bill C-93. In the justice system and the public safety system, people were far too often penalized for the colour of their skin or the place they lived. We truly want to help these people. We do not want half measures that fuel cynicism.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Madam Speaker, first of all, as I understand, the direction we are going in is to allow people to apply for pardons at no cost. Cost is an issue I would like the hon. member to reflect on a bit.

For the longest time, police were enforcing cannabis possession, and the only tool they had at their disposal was to charge somebody, who would end up with a criminal record. At some point, the police stopped enforcing it. At the 4/20 events in Vancouver, the police would stand there and watch people use cannabis.

Does the member not think that the process going forward contributes to equity and fairness, to ensure that basically everyone will be treated the same way?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, I do not think the bill would contribute to fairness, and this is why. I already mentioned some of this in my speech, but it bears repeating with regard to the member's question.

First, there is a cost. Yes, the Liberals have removed the $600 cost, but they have not removed it for record suspensions at large, even though they promised to do that. As I said, there has been study after study, but it has not been done.

The government said it has removed the cost, but it really has not. Every single witness who came before committee, including lawyers and others in civil society, agreed that the costs are still there. People have to pay to get their records, and get to the courthouse to get them.

Representatives of the Native Women's Association of Canada asked whether we really thought that indigenous women with a record for simple possession of cannabis have the means to make their way to a courthouse in an urban centre, to pay to get the records, if they even still exist, and then take them back home and apply for the process the government is putting forward. They do not. Solomon Friedman, a criminal defence lawyer, said this is true of most of his clients.

In fact, it gets worse than that. If we google “Canada pardon” or “pot pardon”, we get a bunch of Google results for some of the most disgusting and unsavoury people, who are taking advantage of these individuals, charging them thousands of dollars, much like we see in the immigration system. They take advantage of these people and give them bad and erroneous advice, making sure they get strung along at a high cost.

What is going to happen? Will we get a social media campaign from the Parole Board that will fight back against those unsavoury actors? That is not the case. All of the witnesses told us as much.

While I appreciate the hon. member's good intentions, the fact of the matter is that the title of the bill does not reflect the reality of what the bill would do.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech and especially for his expertise. I also thank him for his outstanding command of his files. I know that he has worked very hard on this.

In his speech, he mentioned that government officials, and even the minister, claimed that providing for an automatic system would be too difficult and too much work. I find it somewhat hard to believe that that was the excuse that the department and the minister himself came up with, considering the billions of dollars they have at their disposal. The Parole Board of Canada may have a hard time managing its workload, but I still believe that the Government of Canada, with its $360-billion annual budget, should have the means to set up an automatic system.

Can my colleague elaborate further on this surprising, absurd answer from the government, namely, that it does not have the means or the capacity to grant automatic pardons? I find that hard to believe.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

We are paraphrasing what was said. They obviously did not use the words “we can't”, but they made it clear that it was too much work for them and that they did not feel as though they had the capacity to do it. In spite of that, in response to one of my amendments, they said that there were privacy concerns. However, the Parole Board of Canada benefits from Privacy Act exemptions that apply specifically to this type of case. It is important to recognize that, if the political will had been there, this could have been accomplished.

The best example is that of San Francisco. After cannabis was legalized in California, a process similar to the one being offered by our government was proposed. As members can imagine, as in the case of Bill C-66, which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, very few people benefited from this process, particularly because it mainly impacts people in vulnerable situations.

What did they do in San Francisco? They decided to invest in artificial intelligence, a sector in which our governments like to invest, allowing them to sort through records, identify those who are eligible and develop an automatic process for expunging their records.

If a municipal government like that of San Francisco can be innovative, I do not see why the federal government of a G7 country cannot do the same.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism

Madam Speaker, I know Liberals have differences of opinion with the NDP on how to proceed to clear people of their criminal records for possession. However, when the head of the campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, who shares a lot of the NDP's views, was asked in committee whether Bill C-93 was a positive step, she said it absolutely was.

We can talk about the differences of opinion in the House, but would the NDP see fit to help the people impacted by existing convictions to get jobs, housing and education, and support us by voting for this bill?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, there were many witnesses who said the same thing, but I take the words of Solomon Friedman, who said that “better than nothing” is a mighty low bar for our Parliament, and that is what I believe.

The fact of the matter is that in my speech and throughout the study in committee, it was made clear that many barriers remain. In particular, the process that has been put in place will not be accessible to those who need it the most. We just need to look at Bill C-66, which had laudable objectives that we supported, with regard to the historical injustice committed to the LGBTQ community. Only seven people applied out of the 9,000-odd who could have.

New Democrats have asked these questions of officials and the minister in committee, with no one able to answer us in any kind of substantive or real way. What cause would any member of this House have to believe that it would be any different?

Quite frankly, and I say this with all due respect to those who were so wronged, I do not expect any more uptake on this particular measure than there was then. In some cases I expect even less, for a variety of the reasons I enumerated with respect to the barriers that still exist for many vulnerable Canadians.

I will say in closing—

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to allow for one more question. Perhaps the hon. member could hold on to that thought and add it to his next answer.

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

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, this has been an interesting process, at the very least. We have seen a dramatic change in social policy, and it is a positive step forward. Providing pardons with this piece of legislation is going to assist a lot of individuals in being able to take further steps in employment and other aspects of life. Parties may disagree with regard to expungement versus pardons, but there is no doubt that it is a step forward, just like the legalization of cannabis itself. Would the member not agree?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, that is precisely the problem. Very few people will benefit from the system proposed under Bill C-93.

The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers said that it had a lot of clients who did not even know they had a criminal record. If a person does not know that they have a criminal record, how are they supposed to apply to have their record suspended?

There are so many inconsistencies and barriers. That is why I ran for the NDP in 2011 and that is why we are opposed to this bill. We did not come here to give a blank cheque to a self-proclaimed progressive government that proposes half-measures that do not go far enough. We want to truly improve people's lives.

If I thought that Bill C-93 was the best way to do that, the government would have my support. We could have done better. The hon. member for Victoria introduced a bill but the government voted it down.

The Liberals rejected a better solution so why should I give a blank cheque to a government that is not doing enough when I am here to represent people who need us?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Resuming debate.

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

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

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I suspect that if you were to canvass the House you would find unanimous consent to call it 5:30 p.m., so that we could begin Private Members' Business.

Criminal Records ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Is that agreed?

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5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

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.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

moved that Bill C-438, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, there are many in this place who know that I have long awaited the opportunity to debate this bill again. It is Bill C-438, an act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other acts, because that includes an amendment to the bill of rights.

This is the fourth time that I have tabled this bill in 11 years in this place over three Parliaments. I believe the first time I tabled it was as soon as I was elected, somewhere between 2008 and 2009. That bill was debated and went through committee, and I will get into that in a minute. Today, in the brief time I am allotted, I hope to say what an environmental bill of rights is, what its origin is, why it is needed, and who has endorsed the need for an environmental bill of rights.

The environmental bill of rights legally extends the right to a healthy, ecologically balanced environment to Canadians. It confirms the duty of the Government of Canada to uphold its public trust duty to protect the environment. It amends the Canadian Bill of Rights to add environmental rights. It extends a bundle of rights and tools to Canadians, including having a voice in decisions impacting their health and environment, having standing before courts and tribunals, and having the power to hold the government accountable on effective environmental enforcement and on the review of law and policies. It extends protections for government whistle-blowers who release to Canadians information that is relevant to health and environmental impacts.

As I mentioned, I have tabled this bill four times over 11 years in three successive governments. My bill actually survived a challenge and gained a speaker's ruling in my favour when the Conservatives tried to crush it in 2009. It did proceed to second reading and on to committee. Sadly, it was essentially shredded at committee. It then died on the Order Paper when the early election was called.

I retabled it again, as I mentioned, in 2011 and 2015 and again in a revised, updated form in 2019.

Why is an environmental bill of rights needed? Community voices, the voices of non-governmental organizations and indigenous voices are absolutely critical triggers for action to protect health and the environment. Federal law and policy is made all the stronger with public engagement, and public rights are absolutely critical to government accountability. That has been my direct experience over the almost 50 years that I have been an environmental lawyer and advocate.

I want to now give a couple of examples of what happens when the public is engaged and their rights are upheld, and what happens when they are not.

One strong example is an engagement that I had, along with a small community organization in Alberta. We were dealing with how to improve air emissions from coal-fired power. Coal-fired power is still the major source of electricity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and it is huge in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Mercury from coal-fired power is the largest source of industrial mercury in North America, and mercury is a neurotoxin. It was the first substance listed by the federal government under the former Environmental Contaminants Act and was incorporated into the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, yet to this day, the federal government has never regulated mercury from coal-fired power.

I intervened as a volunteer in the review of the standards. It is a consensus process. I dug in my heels. If industry wanted to get their emissions standards for NOx, sulfur dioxide particulate, they had to agree to my recommendation that mercury had to be captured by that sector, and there had to be a law in place. To the credit of the Alberta government, they enacted that law.

That is a clear example showing that had my community not intervened, neither the federal nor the provincial government would have stepped forward, after 40 years of burning coal in Alberta, to actually stop the flow of mercury into our lakes.

Another example that we have been talking about over the last couple of months in this place is the issue of mercury at Grassy Narrows, and there is a different example. If the indigenous community at Grassy Narrows had been directly engaged in decisions on how those industrial operations were going to operate in their community and along the river and had been engaged on the issue of whether or not it was safe to put effluent that had high levels of mercury contamination into the river, and if they had been given the information on the potential health and environmental impacts and a seat at the table to have a say in how that plan should operate, I do not believe that we would be facing the health impacts and the expense of cleaning up that area now.

Those are the two differences in what happens when we have some environmental rights, the opportunity to be at the table and access to information. The other, Grassy Narrows, is an example of where we did not do that and there is a high cost, both health-wise and financially.

A number of times in this place I have raised concern with the impact of emissions on the indigenous community next to the Sarnia industrial complex and the failure of both levels of government to combat those and do proper health studies and control. That community has struggled just in trying to get basic information on what the emissions are, whether controls are in place and whether it is impacting their health.

Ongoing frustration was felt by indigenous communities in northern Alberta when they attempted to finally have a health impact study delivered in their communities on the impact of oil sands emissions on their health, despite the fact that there was a release quite some years ago about the high rate of rare cancers. A lot of work was also done by scientists, showing a buildup of contaminants in the Athabasca River, in the air and on the land.

Just this week, three chiefs in that area published an article in The Hill Times. They said the oil sands is the only activity in their area for employment and economic development. They invest in the oil sands. They demand to have a seat at the table on decisions as to whether or not they are going to allow the draining of the contaminated water in those tar ponds into the Athabasca River. It is going to contaminate the Athabasca River on to Lake Athabasca and on into the Northwest Territories. This has been going on for many years and the government, behind closed doors, has been making these decisions.

This is a perfect example of the need for an environmental bill of rights. If we had an environmental bill of rights, those communities would have the right to all that information, the right to the process that is going on, and the right to have a seat at the table in determining whether or not that is a wise decision.

The Mikisew Cree eventually had to go to UNESCO to demand that there be action on the impact of the Site C dam, the Bennett dam and the oil sands operations on the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the world heritage site. They issued directives, and we are still waiting for the government to act on those directives.

Two other final examples are pipelines. If the former Conservative government had actually listened to its advisers, if it had listened to first nations and if it had listened to the environmental community, it would have known it could not proceed with the northern gateway pipeline until it respected first nations' rights and interests. It was the same issue on the TMX pipeline, but as the court held, there was no consideration under the government obligations with regard to endangered species. Therefore, those projects have been stalled or cancelled.

If we had an environmental bill of rights, it would clarify the right to participate, the right to access to information and the right to access to experts and to legal counsel, so that one could come to the table in a constructive and informed way.

Who has endorsed this concept? Some provinces and territories have enacted an array of environmental rights, and some of those limited rights have been enacted in federal laws. Sadly, a good number of those laws were downgraded by the Harper government. That government downgraded the federal impact assessment process, thereby limiting the opportunities for people to participate and the kinds of projects that would be reviewed, including the expansion of oil sands projects and in situ operations.

The Liberals promised in the 2015 campaign that they would immediately strengthen federal environmental laws. Four years into it there is still no action on the report of my committee on reforming CEPA, which would have expanded environmental rights, and we do not know what the fate of Bill C-69 is. We are waiting with bated breath to know what will happen to all of those regressive amendments proposed in the Senate.

The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation was a side agreement to NAFTA. It was enforced by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, where I had the privilege of working for four years as the head of law and enforcement. Under that agreement, Canada, along with Mexico and the United States, committed to public participation in conserving, protecting and enhancing the environment. It also committed to giving people the opportunity to comment on proposed environmental measures and the right to seek a report on effective environmental enforcement, stand before administrative, quasi-judicial and judicial proceedings, and have access to remedies. Those are exactly the provisions that are in the bill before us today.

Canada already committed years ago to move forward and uphold these rights. Therefore, I have tabled this proposal over and over again to try to encourage the government to respond to the current trade law. In a minute, I will speak about what the government could have done and was asked to do.

There is a side agreement to the proposed new trade law. However, I am sad to say it has been downgraded from the existing one. All of the trade deals that have been signed and sealed since NAFTA have downgraded the environmental rights enshrined in the side agreement.

The United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur was asked to look into human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment. He travelled the world for four years. On behalf of the Human Rights Council, he issued an environmental bill of rights framework for all nations to adopt. Guess what. It is exactly the framework in my bill.

Over 90 nations have extended these rights through constitutions, laws, court rulings, international treaties or declarations. Canada is far behind.

In 2009, the Aarhus convention was signed by many countries of the world, by and large by European and Scandinavian nations. It committed the signatories to provide access to information, public participation decision-making and access to justice and environmental matters. Canada said it did not have to sign it because it was already extending those rights. In fact, it has not done that yet.

Recently, to the credit of many in this place, many members of Parliament signed the environmental rights pledge issued by the David Suzuki Foundation through the Blue Dot campaign. We had a big celebration on Monday night, celebrating the fact that so many parliamentarians were committed to enacting environmental rights.

This is something interesting. In 2018, the Liberals held a federal convention and passed a resolution. That resolution reminded the Liberals that in June 2010, all Liberals members of Parliament present in the House of Commons voted in favour of Bill C-469, which was my environmental bill of rights. The convention reminded the members that the United Nations recognized environmental rights as a basic human right. They then passed a resolution, saying that the Liberal Party of Canada urged the Government of Canada to enact legislation establishing a Canadian environmental bill of rights.

I have said all long, since the first day I was elected in 2008, that I would welcome the government of the day to take my bill and enact a full-fledged bill. Here we are with a couple of weeks left in this place and nothing has occurred. That is why I am delighted I can debate the bill, and I look forward to the response of some of my colleagues.

To date, over 3,000 Canadians have signed petitions, both e-petitions and hard-copy petitions, saying that they support the enactment of this environmental bill of rights. Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation and, most recently, the Social Justice Cooperative Newfoundland and Labrador have endorsed this bill and called for action by the government to enact this law.

I look forward to hearing the comments from other parties in the House. It has been my absolute pleasure to work with other members of Parliament on environmental matters. I know there are strong promoters of environmental rights here, and I hope to hear from them this evening.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is such an honour to put this question to my friend from Edmonton Strathcona, who has decided not to run again and who has done stalwart environmental work.

I think I first started working with the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona around 1984. We look younger than we really are. However, this is such essential legislation. She has tried so hard for so long. I want to commit to her that I will do everything possible, as leader of the Green Party, to promote the environmental bill of rights in the next election campaign. I do not think we can get it through this Parliament in the time remaining.

For those members from all sides of the House who recognize it is long overdue, I urge all of them to take a demand to their parties to include in their platforms in the next election a commitment to deliver an environmental bill of rights to Canadians, one which is long overdue.

I thank the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona for her tireless work. She will be missed in this place.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague. I thought we had been working since 1979, or I have been. She is a johnny- come-lately. We had a lot of fun working on many campaigns together.

The one thing I forgot to mention is that an endorsement of an environmental bill of rights is already in our party's platform. I am delighted to hear the representative for the Green Party say that she wants to put it forward in her platform. I am looking forward to it being in everybody's platform.

However, what I really want is for it not just to be in people's platforms. Whoever becomes government, if it is a minority and other parties are holding it accountable, let us hold it accountable to actually enact an environmental bill of rights.