House of Commons Hansard #200 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was use.


Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-281, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing, in the French version, line 19 on page 2 with the following:

“droits de la personne;”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-281, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing, in the English version, line 15 on page 3 with the following:

“rules of the Senate or the Standing Orders of the House of Commons for responses to”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-281, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing, in the French version, lines 1 to 3 on page 4 with the following:

“(1.‍1) Aucune licence ne peut être attribuée ou renouvelée dans le cadre de la présente partie à l’égard d’une entreprise de radiodiffusion, y compris une entreprise qui distribue de la programmation étrangère, qui,”

Madam Speaker, it is my absolute privilege and honour today to rise for Bill C-281, the international human rights act. This is a bill that many individuals have contributed to, including the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, as well as many other members. We had a fantastic discussion at committee, and I was very proud to be a member of Parliament when we were having productive discussions.

For those who are unaware of the legislation, I want to go through it and outline some of its key parts.

This private member's bill seeks to do four things. First of all, it seeks to raise awareness about Canadians and other people being held across the world not because of any type of crime they have committed, but because of the beliefs they hold or who they are as individuals.

We have seen this with the two Michaels, who were held by the regime in Beijing. We have also seen many prisoners of conscience held for many different reasons. Of course, in the past and with the Soviet Union and others, many times individuals were held because they had beliefs that were different from the regime's beliefs. We have seen individuals incarcerated by governments across this world simply because of the person they choose to love.

We are calling for the government to go forward and publicize what it is doing to help prisoners of conscience around the world. Specifically, we are asking for the government and the foreign affairs department to share the following information: the number of prisoners of conscience detained by each government or detaining authority and the names of prisoners of conscience. I will talk briefly about the names of prisoners of conscience.

We had quite a bit of debate at committee, and I think we landed in a really good spot, a spot where everyone could be happy. There were concerns expressed from across the political spectrum that perhaps publicizing the names of individuals who are being held for their beliefs may cause them additional issues and may even put them in peril.

What we have done with this legislation is given the government the broad latitude to redact names where it believes the individuals' security may be impacted by the publication of their names. We are also requesting that the government consult with the families of these individuals. This is so the families who have members being held as prisoners of conscience across the world who want a name published, want to see the force of the Canadian government and want to put the name on a list can point to it and say their brave brother, their brave sister or their brave father is standing up and speaking truth to power in an authoritarian regime. Others who feel this may in some way imperil these individuals or reduce their ability to eventually be released can choose not to do so.

By publishing this list, the idea is that we bring awareness to the cause of prisoners of conscience, so they do not just get swept underneath the rug in the name of diplomacy or in the name of economics. As Canada's traditional role is to be steadfast in standing for human rights both at home and abroad, by having this provision we get to find out, through this mechanism, what Canada is doing to protect these prisoners of conscience, both Canadians and other people around the world.

Where it makes sense, we will publish their names so that family members can point to them and say that the Government of Canada believes their brother, mother, sister or dad is being held as a prisoner of conscience. We will have an ability as parliamentarians to hold the government to account.

If the government is doing enough, we can say thanks for helping those folks. For those it is not doing enough for, we will also have the ability to ask questions, provoke and advocate for them, as prisoners of conscience are often some of the bravest people in the world. They are people who have stood up for women's rights. They are people who have stood up for freedom, for liberty and for LGBTQ rights. These individuals are heroes and should be protected.

The next provision is with respect to the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the Sergei Magnitsky act. Many members of caucus and many individuals, including Bill Browder, and of course Sergei Magnitsky himself, were instrumental in creating these sanctions that seek to hold those who perpetrate the worst of human rights crimes accountable.

Knowing individuals cannot torture or incarcerate individuals simply for their political beliefs or for fighting for the cause of freedom and then hop on a private jet to attend cocktail parties around the world, make these sanctions so critical to raising the standard of human rights in Canada, and more importantly, across the world.

Canada has not only an ability but also an obligation to stand for human rights as a country that has been blessed with constitutional democracy, liberty and freedom. We have an obligation to the world to fight for human rights around the world. The Sergei Magnitsky act is incredibly important in doing that. Unfortunately, we have seen inactivity on this file.

Unfortunately, the government has had very few instances of triggering the Magnitsky act, especially in recent years. Let us be clear and let us be frank. The is no shortage of individuals who could be held accountable. We have seen the atrocities in Ukraine. We have seen the atrocities done by the regime in Beijing. We have seen what these individuals are doing. We have seen what is happening to the Uyghur people. We have seen what has happened to the Tibetan people.

We need to make sure the individuals who commit these most horrendous of crimes, these most vile of human rights offences, are held to account. Bill C-281 would give Parliament the ability of oversight. It would now have the ability, through the committee structure, to ask why an individual is not being sanctioned, and the government would be compelled to answer why.

In many countries it goes even further, where legislative bodies are actually given the ability to trigger it themselves, but this is a great first step along the way to encourage, advocate for and make sure as much as possible that the government is doing its job.

I am so proud to help and advance the cause of Sergei Magnitsky and others, who have done an amazing job of fighting against the human rights violations we have seen in the Russian regime and elsewhere.

The next section I will talk about briefly is the Broadcasting Act. Unfortunately, we have seen foreign regimes able to broadcast their propaganda over Canadian airwaves. The most egregious time was with Russia Today using it to broadcast hate against the Ukrainian people. Fortunately, its licence was revoked, but there lacked a process for the CRTC to do it. Bill C-281 would put a process in place so that, if genocidal regimes were using our airwaves to broadcast propaganda, we would have an ability to withdraw their licence.

Finally, there is the prohibition of cluster munitions. This bill would put in place the ability to restrict Canadian companies to finance the construction of cluster munitions. Cluster munitions are not weapons of war. They are weapons of terror that often kill civilians, often children. Cluster munitions are really just bombs of bombs, and there are numerous stories of children going out in the fields, playing with these and unfortunately dying.

These four provisions are at least a small step in making our world a bit of better place in fighting for human rights and restoring Canada's place in the world as a hero and worker for human rights.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Sameer Zuberi Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to speak to Bill C‑281.

I would like to congratulate the member across the aisle, the member for Northumberland—Peterborough South, for introducing the bill. Bill C-281, the international human rights act, is now at third reading.

Canada is steadfast in its commitment to uphold human rights, both at home and abroad. We consistently look for opportunities to bolster commitments, add to our robust foreign policy tool kit and better address human rights crises wherever they are. We protect those people who are in vulnerable and marginalized situations and, ultimately, advance respect for human rights globally.

I am pleased to have the chance to discuss Bill C-281, which seeks to amend four instruments. The first is the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act, which establishes the federal department known as Global Affairs Canada. The second is the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as the Sergei Magnitsky Law, which allows the government to impose sanctions against individuals responsible for gross human rights violations. The third is the Broadcasting Act, which gives the CRTC the authority to regulate broadcasting in Canada. The fourth is the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act, which implements Canada's commitments under the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The purpose of the bill is to further promote, protect and advance human rights internationally, a purpose the government is also strongly committed to.

During debate at second reading, many of my colleagues from all parties, including the sponsor of the bill, noted and identified that the initial draft of the bill contained several aspects of important concern. It was in the spirit of this multipartisan support for human rights that the bill was agreed to and referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. The hope and the goal were to see that, through expert testimony from witnesses representing the implicated departments as well as civil society, along with the diligent work of committee members, key improvements could and would be made.

As a member of the foreign affairs committee, I was entitled to attend several meetings over the span of more than a month, and we worked hard on this task. I would like to thank all colleagues on the committee, including the sponsor of the bill, witnesses who testified and department officials who gave their time and studied the bill, for the contribution and efforts that they all made.

As a result of the proposed amendments at committee, members of all political affiliations have strengthened the bill. The amendments address many of the issues raised in the original drafting. While these changes have made substantive improvements, I would like to expand upon some remaining concerns as well as highlight some areas that could use further refinements.

The first concerns the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act. On this particular item, Canada strongly supports the vital work of human rights defenders to advance respect for human rights, as well as strengthening the rule of law. Bill C-281 would introduce new reporting requirements for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It would also require an annual human rights report that outlines the Government of Canada's efforts to uphold its commitments to human rights globally, which would include support for human rights, particularly a list detailing activities undertaken by Canadian officials to secure the release of persons identified as prisoners of conscience.

While this would be a new initiative for the minister and for Global Affairs Canada, it would also be the first time, the first moment, that such a reporting requirement would be mandated under the act. It would also align well with the government's established priorities. Such a report would help demonstrate Canada's robust engagement on human rights and would create space for greater transparency. It would also create accountability for our actions, particularly Canada's advocacy on behalf of prisoners of conscience, who can range from those with Canadian citizenship to those with no connection to Canada but with causes that are crucial to Canada's interest.

That said, the personal safety, security and privacy of all persons must be paramount. The government must ensure that, at all times, it is able to continue to act in the best interests of Canadians. Publicizing a list within the report that includes the names of prisoners of conscience, as well as the circumstances of their detention and the government's efforts to engage with them and on their behalf, could have serious consequences. These are people whose cases the government is actively working on. The consequences could include undue harm to the individual detained, and none of us want to see that.

To ensure that the value of “do no harm” is respected, any information in the report that could endanger the personal safety and security of a person should not be made public. Numerous witnesses have testified to exactly this point during committee proceedings. Committee members have also opined on this exact item, saying that there is need for discretion in this regard. While the proposed exemptions provide considerable reassurance that the minister will be able to respect the wishes of these individuals and act in their best interests, the requirement to produce a list of prisoners of conscience remains a concern, particularly for Canada's ability to pursue effective, quiet diplomacy and coordination with other countries on particular files and cases. Careful implementation will be key.

Additionally, Canada must ensure that it can continue with its efforts to more broadly advance human rights internationally. We must ensure that Canadians abroad can count on consular support and diplomatic advocacy, if needed, through established bilateral relations with countries at all corners of the globe. An amendment introduced by the committee also added a legislative requirement for the minister to produce a government-wide international human rights strategy. While the idea has merit, and the government is committed to working with all parties in the House on advancing human rights around the globe, we support the ruling made earlier that such a proposal went beyond the scope of the bill as agreed to at second reading, especially given the substantial financial and human resources that would be involved to develop and maintain such an effort across the whole of government.

Next, this bill seeks to amend the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, or the Sergei Magnitsky Law. Sanctions are an important tool used by the Government of Canada to address human rights violations and must be used when appropriate. In this respect, amendments to this bill, supported by all parties, were appreciated. They included ensuring that timelines for responses by ministers to reports by committees, as proposed under the act, remain consistent with established practices specified in the Standing Orders or rules of the Senate. The amendments also included changes to avoid inadvertently giving individuals or entities a heads-up that such consequences as sanctions may be coming their way.

With respect to the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act, Canada is a proud signatory and fully compliant with the Convention on Cluster Munitions, underscoring our continued commitment to the eradication of these deadly weapons. While we are supportive of including language that would seek to explicitly prohibit investments in cluster munitions, we remain concerned about the current wording of the bill. We continue to believe the bill would be stronger if it incorporated an element of intent. This would ensure that innocent investors, such as pension beneficiaries or mutual funds holders, would not be held criminally liable for the actions of professional investment managers who knowingly finance the production of these terrible and vile weapons. While all parties acknowledged this challenge, unfortunately, the committee was unable to revise the language to address this concern in a way that preserved Canada's steadfast stance against the financing of cluster munitions. This is an area that needs to be addressed as the bill continues through the legislative process.

Finally, the Broadcasting Act is also touched upon in this bill. There are some important vehicles for the transmission of ideas. Bill C-281 recognizes the important role of prohibiting the issuance or renewal of broadcasting licences to broadcasters.

I am sure others will be able to contribute to this debate. I would like to thank members and all those who have contributed to this discussion. I hope that we can make this legislation improve upon the good intention behind this bill.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Montarville, QC

Madam Speaker, you may have noticed that, as my hon. colleague from Mirabel will definitely appreciate, I am proudly wearing the traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt known as the vyshyvanka today, on international Vyshyvanka Day. Of course, I am wearing it in support of the very courageous Ukrainian nation, which was invaded by Russia illegally and without justification. I am beginning my speech by talking about the vyshyvanka for a reason, as my remarks will show.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C‑281. I think the motivations underlying the bill are really very noble. However, as the saying goes, “do not bite off more than you can chew”.

This is a bill that has very different scopes and, as a result, it contains a number of flaws. We tried to fix these flaws through amendments at committee stage. Some of them were even introduced at report stage. In spite of these amendments, we still get the impression that this is like a patchwork quilt that—unlike those made by our valiant farm women in their farm women's groups—is not very pleasant to look at. Despite our efforts to try to correct these flaws, there are still a number of them in the bill. I want to say a few words about that.

First, this bill is intended to increase government transparency, as it will have to report to the House on international human rights issues. For starters, we had a problem with the definition of prisoner of conscience, because the notion of a prisoner of conscience can involve a value judgment. What is a prisoner of conscience?

We wrestled with a few definitions, one of which was proposed to us by Alex Neve, the former head of Amnesty International Canada. I think we came up with an arrangement that, on the whole, enabled us to correct the bill's vague initial concept of a prisoner of conscience. The focus is more on people who are victims of human rights violations under international law. We were able to rectify that little issue in the original wording of the bill.

There was also a proposed amendment that was ruled out of order, but the committee nevertheless adopted it. We overruled the chair. What a surprise it was yesterday to see our colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, intervene to ask the chair to rule the amendment out of order, which the chair actually did.

I will explain what was so surprising about the request by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

This is the amendment in question: “The Minister must develop and maintain a government-wide international human rights strategy.”

The deputy House leader rose in the House to ask that the amendment be withdrawn, even though it simply requires the minister to develop and maintain a government-wide international human rights strategy. This same government, which is currently making a bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, asked for the following to be removed from the bill: “The Minister must develop and maintain a government-wide international human rights strategy.” I could not make this stuff up. The government claims it wants to become the best human rights advocate in the world, but at the first opportunity, it eliminates the minister's obligation to develop and maintain a government-wide international human rights strategy.

I have to say that it is very astonishing. If not for the intervention from the government's parliamentary secretary, perhaps the Chair would have had the indulgence to allow this amendment. However, it was ruled out of order because of the magnificent intervention from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Another element of this bill concerns the fact that new sanctions will be imposed on corrupt foreign officials, in particular by requiring the Minister of Foreign Affairs to respond within 40 days to any committee report recommending sanctions against a foreign national under the Magnitsky Law. I have nothing particular to say about this provision.

We can see that this bill is trying to cover a lot of bases, because another provision prohibits the issue, amendment or renewal of a licence in relation to a foreign propaganda broadcasting undertaking when the foreign country is recognized by the House of Commons or the Senate as having committed genocide or being subject to sanctions under either the Magnitsky Law or the Special Economic Measures Act.

As far as the Magnitsky act is concerned, although the government got it passed, it has never enforced it in any way so far. I must say that this amendment to the act bothers the government a bit because it means that when a House or Senate committee or when the House or Senate identifies a state as having committed genocide, it would be binding on the government.

Members will recall that the House nearly unanimously acknowledged the Uyghur genocide. The government is ignoring the democratic will of members elected by the people of Canada and Quebec; it is doing what it wants. This provision would make it so that from now on, the government would have to consider the opinions of the House and its committees or the Senate and its committees. I must say that caused much gnashing of teeth across the way.

The last amendment, and this is another attempt to cover all the bases, is about prohibiting any investment in an entity that violates the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act.

To be clear, Canada signed the international Convention on Cluster Munitions. Once again, as I was saying, one cannot be against motherhood and apple pie. In theory, therefore, everyone should agree with this provision, except that it has indirect consequences that are potentially harmful.

For example, the Government of Canada plans to purchase a number of F‑35 aircraft from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin makes cluster munitions, though. Is the Canadian government breaking its own law by doing business with a company that manufactures cluster munitions?

We therefore came up with an amendment to correct that little legislative oversight as well as we were able. There is another one too, because the bill would also crack down on direct or indirect investments in companies that manufacture cluster munitions. We tried to introduce that amendment, but we were unable to do so in committee.

The Chair ruled against the amendment I had proposed on the grounds that it should have been moved in committee, and that is true. However, we were unable to move it in committee because there was no consensus. That is why we moved it at report stage.

Here is the problem. Any one of us, any of my fellow MPs, may hold investment funds that make us unwilling investors in companies that manufacture cluster munitions. In theory, we could all be held responsible for violating this provision that says that we cannot directly or indirectly invest in companies that manufacture cluster munitions.

We tried to correct that, but were unable to do so, so if the bill were to be passed as it is currently worded, anyone here in the House could, along with our fellow citizens, find themselves to be in violation of the act.

Despite the flaws I mentioned at the outset and discussed throughout my speech, we will have to vote in favour of this bill because—I am sorry to have to say this again—we cannot be against motherhood and apple pie. Still, we have to recognize that this bill has issues.

Despite people's efforts during the committee's study and even during the debate at report stage, I believe we will have to conclude that, unfortunately, the bill's provisions are still flawed. We may eventually have to introduce another bill to fix it all.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, New Democrats are happy to support Bill C-281 at report stage and third reading. We would like to thank the member for Northumberland—Peterborough South for bringing this bill forward.

This bill makes four changes to different pieces of Canadian legislation to improve Canada's work on international human rights. First, it would require the minister to publish an annual report on human rights, as well as a list of prisoners of conscience for whom the government is actively working. It amends the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act to prohibit a person from investing in an entity that has contravened certain provisions of the act. It also amends the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the Sergei Magnitsky law, to require the Minister of Foreign Affairs to respond to a report submitted by a parliamentary committee that recommends that sanctions be imposed under that act against a foreign national. Finally, it would prohibit the issue or renewal of broadcasting licences in the case of genocide, as recognized by the House or Senate, subject to Canadian sanctions.

We heard very clearly from witnesses at the committee stage that Canada's approach to international human rights could be much stronger. We want to thank those witnesses for their testimony and their guidance.

The NDP introduced four strong amendments to this bill, three of which were accepted by the committee. The first amendment we proposed changes to the list of names of prisoners of conscience for whose release the Government of Canada is actively working. We were concerned, as all parties were, that a fully public list of names may put certain individuals at risk of reprisal from authorities in the countries in which they are detained.

We also took note of the government's concerns over privacy and security of individuals. In the end, after significant conversation among the parties, the committee agreed to an NDP amendment, with subamendments from other parties. The resulting list still details the number of prisoners of conscience detained by each government or detaining authority, the circumstances of their detentions and the efforts the Government of Canada has made to visit them or attend their trials. It also includes a list of names. However, our amendment gives the minister the power to not include certain information on the list, if the government had concerns that it would not be in the best interests of the personal safety of the prisoner.

The minister is also required to consult with family members of representatives of the prisoners of conscience before they make such a decision. This would alleviate concerns the government initially had with publishing such a list.

I also note that the committee agreed to the NDP's proposal to ensure that the government's annual report include a description of the Government of Canada's communications with the families of prisoners of conscience, and its consultations with civil society on matters of human rights. Several civil society witnesses testified that the Liberal government was not doing enough consulting with human rights experts, and it is clear that the government needs to do a much better job at communicating on these issues. The NDP amendment also defined the term “prisoners of conscience” in the bill.

Our second amendment was to require the minister to develop and maintain a government-wide international human rights strategy. The Canadian government does not currently have an international human rights strategy. What we heard from expert witnesses at committee, including Human Rights Watch and human rights expert Alex Neve, was that Canada needed such a strategy by which the annual report, as required by this bill, could be measured.

While this amendment was deemed out of scope, the committee voted to overturn the decision of the Chair, with no opposition. All parties voted unanimously at committee stage to accept this NDP amendment and establish a government-wide international human rights strategy.

However, yesterday, the Liberals went back on their commitment to do this and appealed to the Speaker to reject the amendment. It is shocking that the Liberal government is now refusing to develop an international human rights strategy, when just last week the foreign affairs minister announced that Canada was seeking a seat at the UN Human Rights Council. The Liberals' decision goes against the will of the committee, goes against the advice of experts and, most importantly, is completely inconsistent with its stated goal to promote human rights. How can they say that they are promoting human rights when they are afraid to do the work?

This is highlighting the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the Liberal government, which has a lot of nice things to say but is just not willing to do the hard work. There is no good reason why the government should not proceed with this amendment and, I must say, we are extremely disheartened and disappointed by this decision.

Moving on to the rest of the bill, we are happy with the sections on the Magnitsky act and the Broadcasting Act, and we agree with much of what our colleagues from the other opposition parties have said today.

With my remaining time, I would like to discuss the NDP's amendments to the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act and, once again, the lack of leadership from the Liberal government when it comes to disarmament issues and cluster munitions.

We are pleased that the committee agreed to an NDP amendment that would include Canada's positive obligations under the cluster munitions convention in Canada's legislation. However, New Democrats also introduced an important amendment to fix section 11 of Canada's cluster munitions legislation. This was rejected by the government, despite its being the exact same amendment the Liberal Party introduced back in 2013.

In 2013, the NDP and the Liberals fought very hard to have section 11 of Canada's cluster munitions legislation fixed. The late Paul Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic at the time, said, “when we sign international agreements, it's important that we live up to our signature. It's important that the legislation we adopt does not undermine the treaty we negotiated and signed on to and accepted.”

The NDP amendment we introduced was the exact same amendment that former Liberal MP Marc Garneau introduced when Parliament was first considering the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act. Mr. Garneau was a strong opponent of section 11 in Canada's legislation, as was Bob Rae, as were all Liberals at the time, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and others who currently hold seats in this chamber.

Our amendment used the same language we will find in Canada's legislation on landmines, which we can all agree sets an important precedent.

Cluster munitions are banned for a reason. The humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions are horrendous. We can all agree that under no circumstances should any Canadian ever use, order the use of or even transport cluster munitions. This amendment would have still allowed Canadians to participate in joint operations with non-party states, but it would have fixed the loophole to finally make Canada's legislation consistent with the convention and with the opinions of over 100 other countries, including many of our NATO allies, as we heard clearly from witnesses.

In 2013 and 2014, the Liberals argued strongly to fix section 11. Marc Garneau wrote an op-ed in The Globe and Mail, arguing that it needed to be fixed. Bob Rae gave strong speeches in the House of Commons against it and, at third reading, in 2014, the Liberals voted against the unamended bill, with the current Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister voting against.

The objections were over this exact clause. Ambassador Rae testified last month that he had not changed his position that this clause is wrong. Many Liberals, I think, feel the same. All expert witnesses who testified to this, including Earl Turcotte, who negotiated the treaty for Canada, want to see this fixed.

However, the Liberals did not support moving the NDP amendment forward. They refused to fix section 11 of the cluster munitions act, just as they are now also refusing to take bold steps on a human rights strategy. It is very disappointing to watch the government try to explain away its bad decisions on this bill. This was an opportunity for the Liberals to show real leadership on human rights, make real change, do the real work and move Canada forward. Instead, they have chosen to approach this issue with reluctance and excuses. This is not the human rights leadership we need.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak in support of Bill C-281 and in the process to recognize the work that was done and continues to be done on this important legislation by my colleague from Northumberland—Peterborough South.

It is also notable, I think, that we are debating the international human rights act today, on what is also Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day. I want to extend my thoughts, prayers and best wishes to the Tamil community here in Canada and around the world who are marking this day, who are remembering loved ones who were lost as part of those terrible events at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. We think about and remember the continuing victims of persecution and oppression that Tamil people face in Sri Lanka.

It has been clear to me in the time that I have been working on international human rights as a parliamentarian that the Tamil community has been at the forefront of advocacy for human rights for their own community but also for other communities, supporting human rights causes that do not affect their own community but building those bonds of solidarity. On this particular occasion, I want to salute the work of the Tamil community on human rights. It is appropriate in that light that we are debating this human rights legislation today.

Today is also Vyshyvanka Day where we celebrate Ukrainian culture. We celebrate the embroidered shirts that are traditionally worn in Ukraine and many members of Parliament have donned those shirts today as well. We recognize the ongoing human rights abuses that Ukrainians face as well.

These are two examples of many around the world where peoples face injustice at the hands of governments and in other circumstances. This is why Conservatives are responding to the call from various diaspora communities, from Canadians of all backgrounds, to say that they want to see all governments do more to stand up for justice and human rights around the world. It is in that spirit, responding to these various calls, that my colleague has put forward Bill C-281, the international human rights act.

This bill contains a number of different provisions. It has been called a hodgepodge by some, it has been called an omnibus bill by others. I think it makes sense for members to use the opportunities they have to try to advance multiple, important human rights objectives at the same time. There is no reason to do less when we can do more.

There are different elements to this bill. This bill does amend different acts, all with the goal of advancing international human rights. If there is a common theme to many of these provisions, I would say that in many respects this could be called an international human rights accountability act. A unifying thread of the different parts of it is that it seeks to strengthen the role of Parliament in standing up for human rights and to make the government more accountable to elected parliamentarians in its considerations on human rights issues.

Members of Parliament, I think, are often much more responsive to concerns about human rights issues around the world. Rather than members of the executive, who may end up being a little bit more distant from what they are hearing from Canadians, members of Parliament are constantly drawn into an awareness of things that are happening around the world through the activism of our constituents, who may have, for various reasons, particular familiarity of those issues. It is through this, the people's House, that these human rights concerns have often been driven.

We have, as a House, sought to hold the government accountable and push the government to do more on human rights issues. I think this has been particularly the case with the current government but it may be a general feature. If I look at legislatures around the world, I can see many examples where legislatures go further in demanding action on human rights than executives. This is why in general, on human rights issues, if one believes in the importance of having a strong pro human rights foreign policy, strengthening the hand of Parliament relative to the executive is worthwhile.

This is not a bill that would just apply in the case of one government or one Parliament. In the long term, through various governments and various stripes that will no doubt exist in the future, it seeks to strengthen the hand of Parliament. That is why I think it is worth understanding this as an international human rights act but also as an international human rights accountability act. It requires the minister to report to Parliament about human rights activities. It requires the government to respond to recommendations with respect to Magnitsky sanctions that may come out of parliamentary committees. It takes these steps in requiring that greater responsiveness. It requires that, when Parliament recognizes a genocide, we would not have broadcasting licences going to entities responsible for that genocide. We know the role of incitement by authoritarian powers in justifying genocidal actions.

I do not think it makes any sense to allow those kinds of genocidal messages from violent, authoritarian powers around the world to be broadcast freely on Canadian airwaves. Of course, people can inevitably access this information online, but when we license Canadian broadcasting with Canadian airwaves, there is no reason to give that privilege to foreign authoritarian powers that are committing genocide.

One instance where we have seen Parliament be ahead of the executive is on the recognition of the Uyghur genocide in particular. We had a unanimous vote among parliamentarians, who cast their ballots on that issue, recognizing the Uyghur genocide; the government has still not acted. One of the debates we had at committee on this trigger mechanism for the CRTC was about whether a vote by Parliament should carry that much weight. My view is that when Parliament speaks and recognizes a genocide, it should not just be a symbolic action; it means something, and it should have a concrete impact in terms of the way the government and various other bodies respond.

I think it is important to address some of the criticisms. I get the impression that all members are actually voting in favour of this bill at this stage, which is a wonderful thing. Notwithstanding that general support, let us deal with a few of the critiques that came up.

There was some discussion about the reporting requirements, and at committee, we had a lot of discussion about the reporting requirements as they relate to prisoners of conscience. My view, and what I have heard from advocates, is that, generally speaking, when there is a prisoner of conscience, drawing more attention and awareness to their case is a good thing. Having their name on a list as being a person of particular concern whom governments are advocating for and aware of, advocates will generally tell us, is likely to have a positive impact on the outcome for that individual.

However, I also acknowledge that this may not be the case universally, so we discussed what the best way to provide alternative options and allow for redactions, in certain cases, would be. In the end, we resolved on redaction provisions that are extremely generous to the government. The government would have the power to make determinations on the basis of broad criteria to not include information about names, circumstances, etc. of prisoners of conscience who are advocated for.

The new provision says that “the Minister must make all reasonable efforts to consult with family members or representatives of the prisoners of conscience and may decide not to include certain information in the list if a person consulted by the Minister requests that the information not be included, or the Minister is satisfied that not including it would be in the best interests of the advancement of human rights or the personal safety of the prisoner.” As such, for those who are saying there may be some cases where publishing a name would not be good for the person, would not advance human rights or would put someone at risk, in any of those cases, the government has broad latitude to simply choose to do the redaction.

Our view is that requiring the government to go through this exercise of identifying the list, putting it together and centralizing it is a positive exercise, even if none of that information is released publicly. The government could theoretically say that it does not believe releasing any of this information is helpful for human rights, and it is therefore going to redact it all.

I hope that will not happen. I do not think that should happen, but the government has very broad latitude, so there is no reason at all for members to be concerned about the provisions around the publication of this information. The latitude, in terms of the minister choosing not to publish information, is extremely broad; they simply have to decide that they do not think it is in the interests of the advancement of human rights, and they can leave that information out.

One of the other issues that was raised was intent around possible inadvertent investments to do with cluster munitions. I will say respectfully that one of the challenges of this at committee is that we have received some mixed messages from some of the parties, in particular the government, around it. However, I think the provision reflects the discussions that were had, and the idea that someone would be prosecuted who did not intend actually just ignores so much about the principles of how our criminal laws work. For someone to be convicted of an offence, they have to have intent to commit the offence; the basic long-standing common-law principle of intent substantially addresses the concerns that members have raised in this respect.

This is a great bill. It would advance human rights in many important ways. It would be a game changer. It is not just about the current government; it is about decades into the future and making sure Canada can be a stronger voice on the world stage for human rights. I am proud to support Bill C-281.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Is the House ready for the question?

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The question is on Motion No. 1. A vote on this motion also applies to Motions Nos. 2 and 3.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes that the motion be carried or carried on division or wishes to request a recorded division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, we request a recorded division.

Motions in AmendmentInternational Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, June 23, 2022, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 31, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions. The recorded division will also apply to Motions Nos. 2 and 3.

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

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

May 18th, 2023 / 6:35 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I am following up on a simple question that I asked the government earlier, which was whether it believes that McKinsey is an ethical company. We have not gotten a direct answer from the government on that, and I do not think it is a difficult question at all for reasons that I will explain later.

Does the government think McKinsey is an ethical company? I ask the Government of Canada whether it thinks this private company is ethical because the number of contracts to McKinsey have gone up dramatically under the tenure of the government. McKinsey has received over $100 million in contracts from the government during the time the Prime Minister was in office, and this has happened in the context of various close relationships that existed: Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of McKinsey, advising the Prime Minister's growth council and recommending the creation of the Canada Infrastructure Bank; many McKinsey people going to work for the Infrastructure Bank; and McKinsey analysts doing so-called pro bono work for the growth council that therefore allowed McKinsey to infiltrate government and then get all these contracts.

There is a long-running close relationship between the government and McKinsey that led to McKinsey getting over $100 million in contracts, and the government has since revealed that not all rules were consistently followed, in fact, in the awarding of contracts to McKinsey. There was a failure to follow the rules, there were clearly strategic efforts by McKinsey to integrate itself into the operations of government and there were people from McKinsey who were given prominent positions within government, like Dominic Barton, head of the Prime Minister's growth council and, subsequently, ambassador to China. While he was ambassador to China, although he no longer worked for McKinsey, McKinsey was involved in facilitating a meeting with the Infrastructure Bank that he attended. There were all of these suspicious interactions or integrations between the government and McKinsey.

It is important to then ask this question: What is this company that has exercised such outsized influence over the direction of our country?

I am asking this question today in the context where we just had an opposition day motion debated on the opioid crisis. We have this horrific opioid crisis in this country, and part of the reason we have an opioid crisis is that Purdue Pharma, working with McKinsey, fuelled that crisis. McKinsey gave Purdue Pharma advice on how to supercharge opioid sales, recommending things like paying bonuses to pharmacists in cases where there were overdoses and having online pharmacies that would circumvent the checks on addiction that traditional pharmacies put in place. These were the kinds of things that McKinsey recommended, and McKinsey has had to pay out significantly for it. It reached a settlement of over half a billion dollars in the United States.

In the United States, McKinsey is being held accountable and being forced to pay compensation to victims of the opioid crisis. In fact, Republicans and Democrats, in equal measure across various states, have pursued McKinsey for this. However, in Canada, the Liberal government has a close relationship with McKinsey and has given it over $100 million in contracts.

We have found out lately that the government is joining British Columbia's class action lawsuit against McKinsey over its role in the opioid crisis. In response to significant opposition pressure from members saying that these bad actors need to be held accountable, the government is finally saying it is going to take a step in that direction and join this lawsuit. However, it still has not been willing to say it is going to reform the integrity regime so that McKinsey does not get contracts in the future. What sense does it make for the government to continue to pour out largesse on McKinsey, hiring it for contracts of dubious value and spending over $100 million of taxpayers' money in the process, but it will not answer the simple question of whether it thinks McKinsey is ethical?

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Dartmouth—Cole Harbour Nova Scotia


Darren Fisher LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors

Madam Speaker, this evening, I am pleased to speak about the procurement process in the federal government. This is a process that is run by a professional, non-partisan public service that Canadians can be proud of. Canadians can rest assured that public servants are held to the highest standards when they enter into contracts. Canadians can also be assured that public servants are guided by best value when they evaluate proposals and make contracting decisions. These contracts help the public service deliver the programs and services that Canadians rely on.

The central document guiding the public service in the contracting process is “Directive on the Management of Procurement”. This directive came into effect in May 2021. The directive replaced the previous contracting policy, which had been in place for 33 years. After a one-year transition period, the contracting policy was rescinded.

This directive was part of the government's plan to modernize policies on managing the assets and services the federal government acquires. The government is proud of this achievement. The directive is principle-based and focused on outcomes. It supports business owners, who are a critical partner in the procurement process, by outlining roles and responsibilities. It also places an emphasis on socio-economic, indigenous and environmental objectives, and I will get back to that point later on.

The directive sets out guidance and obligations for the professional public service to follow when procuring goods and services. Fundamentally, the directive ensures that the procurement of goods and services continues to be done in a way that is fair, open and transparent. Canadians can be assured that these principles are the backbone of all government contracts. This is demonstrated in the objective of the directive, which says, “The objective of this directive is that procurement of goods, services and construction obtains the necessary assets and services that support the delivery of programs and services to Canadians, while ensuring best value to the Crown.” This objective is backed up with six results the directive intends to achieve. For example, procurement must support operational outcomes while demonstrating sound stewardship and best value.

I would like to get back to the point I made earlier about the emphasis the directive puts on socio-economic, indigenous and environmental objectives. In 2019, the government made a fundamental change in procurement policy. It redefined “best value” to mean a balance between competitive pricing and best outcome. This means that public servants who evaluate bills are able to consider the socio-economic and environmental returns of their contracts. This extends throughout the life cycle of the good or service being purchased. This represents a fundamental shift in procurement, where best value is not always the lowest price but the optimal balance of resources and outcomes.

This includes outcomes from a socio-economic perspective and outcomes for the environment. The directive reflects this policy change by enabling departments to use their procurement processes to support environmental, indigenous and socio-economic considerations, as appropriate, to achieve the best value for Canadians.

To achieve this result, and all six expected results, the directive creates the new role of senior designated official. Each department will appoint a senior designated official who will be responsible for establishing a departmental procurement framework that consists of processes, systems and controls that will guide procurement in their department. The senior designated official is also responsible for developing guidance regarding procurement officials within their organization. This includes identifying competencies, building capacity and establishing professional development for these officials.

The government has considered procurement carefully and taken a comprehensive approach in “Directive on the Management of Procurement”. Canadians can be assured that the professional, non-partisan public service is guided by a modernized directive on procurement that ensures that contracting is fair, open—

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for speaking from the heart tonight. However, in all seriousness, the words he read had nothing whatsoever to do with the question I asked, which is not entirely unusual from the current government but is particularly obvious in the case of what has just transpired. These things used to annoy me. Now, I think we just have to laugh at the absurdity of the exercise. I will give the member another chance, I suppose.

My question was this: Does he believe that McKinsey is an ethical company? If it is not ethical, should the integrity regime be reformed to ensure that companies that are responsible for fuelling the opioid crisis and that are being sued, finally, by the government for that, should not also be accessing massive amounts of government procurement? Is it an ethical company? Should the integrity regime be reformed?

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I can assure the member that under the directive on the management of procurement, as I said, professional, non-partisan public servants must maintain the integrity of the procurement process. Departments must obtain the best value in their procurement decisions, which has been redefined by our government to allow a comprehensive assessment of socio-economic and environmental returns throughout the life cycle of the good or service. The directive on the management of procurement is to establish guidelines and controls to guide the professional, non-partisan public service in achieving these goals.

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until Monday, May 29, at 11 a.m. pursuant to an order made on Thursday, April 20.

(The House adjourned at 6:48 p.m.)