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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was public.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as NDP MP for Dartmouth (Nova Scotia)

Won her last election, in 2000, with 36% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Mental Health Week May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, this week, May 3 to May 9, is National Mental Health Week in Canada.

Good mental health is essential to everyone's well-being and to the strength of our communities. Too often, people suffering from mental illness and other brain disorders are discriminated against and stigmatized. We have to work together to find better means to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness so that it becomes as easy and acceptable to speak about as any other disease.

For that to happen, we need to start providing stable, long term funding to mental health care and its research and treatment. I was very disappointed that there was no mention of mental health in the recent budget presented by the government even though programs all over the country are facing cuts.

For the one in five Canadians affected by mental illness, and for their friends and families, this is truly a public mental health emergency.

Criminal Code May 3rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-29. I want to begin by saying we would like to see the bill returned to committee for further study.

The bill deals with accused who are basically unfit for trial, although it took a lot of reading to figure that out. I am not a lawyer and I do not think Parliament should be writing legislation that only lawyers can decipher. My colleague, the justice critic for the NDP, has put forward a bill asking for plain language policies in the House and in the drafting of our legislation.

Just very briefly, this is one of the most complex pieces of legislation before the House, mostly because of the intricate obtuse language in which it is written. The justice committee will need some time to review the bill to ensure that the offenders described in it do not lose the rights other offenders enjoy simply because they suffer from mental illness. It is a major concern because these are often the offenders who do not have adequate access to justice. I will borrow some information from my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle who has studied this problem in detail. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination....

Imagine that the rights conferred by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were only available if they were affordable. Imagine if our rights to life, liberty and security were available only if we were sufficiently wealthy to secure them for ourselves. What if the right to have a court proceeding translated into a language that we understand were violated because the government stance is that only those who can afford to hire their own translators can enjoy these rights? What if our right to be fairly represented by counsel amounted to nothing more than our ability or inability to hire the best lawyer we could afford?

Naturally these requirements sound absurd, and so they should. Each of these situations is a violation in and of itself that no court of law should be allowed to tolerate. Luckily for Canadians the charter does not guarantee the rights and freedoms set out subject only to how much we could afford, at least not in theory. That is because the charter forms part of the Constitution, making it inviolable and uninfringeable. Truly it is the supreme law of Canada. Accordingly to this, then, none of the above mentioned absurdities could be allowed to arise or persist.

As with many things, that which is true in theory often fails to translate into truth in practice. In practice, the absurdities mentioned above represent realities for many Canadians who come into contact with the justice system. The reality is that governments at both the provincial and federal levels are currently subjecting our rights to their affordability.

This has been allowed to happen because disparities across the provinces, stemming directly from funding problems, are compromising our right to equal protection and benefit under the law. It is about time we actually practise what we codify as law. Pretty words will get chucked at the Bar and justice will too if we do not take action to restore accessible and affordable legal services across the provinces and territories.

Justice should not and cannot continue to be limited only to the rich and well off. If our legal system does not reflect that point, we run the risk of losing the validity of one of the most important pillars of a democratic society. The Constitution does not simply say that all Canadians are equal under the law. It also says that Canadians have the right to equal protection and equal benefit under the law.

Can it be said that a person who has a public defender appointed to them enjoys the same protection and benefit of the law as the defender who assembles a team of high profile lawyers? I would say not. It cannot be said that a person in British Columbia who is denied legal aid with their child custody and support claim receives the same protection and benefit of the law as the person in Manitoba, where those services are offered by legal aid. Nor can one pretend that the law offers equal protection and benefits to everyone when some people are forced to sacrifice more than others in order to have equal access to the courts. This, however, is a reality in Canada for far too many Canadians.

Therefore, this is what we believe needs to be done. First, we need to standardize legal aid coverage across the provinces. Differences between the provinces means differences between Canadians. Disparities in services mean that the likelihood of obtaining justice is dependent more on the administration of the law rather than the law itself.

If a service is offered in any of the provinces or territories, it should be available and in every other province and territory. This is not to say that legal aid has to cover every matter, but it does rightly require that a legal service provided for Canadians in one region be provided in every region, as provided for under the charter.

We believe also that we need to standardize legal aid eligibility across the provinces. To illustrate the disparities or arguably the injustices in legal aid, by way of example, assume that a Canadian earns $20,000 a year. If that Canadian lived in British Columbia or Manitoba where the financial eligibility criteria is capped at $23,000 and $27,000 respectively, they would be eligible for free legal services. If, however, the same Canadian lived in either Ontario or Quebec where the cap is $15,000 and $17,500 respectively, they would be denied these essential and otherwise unaffordable services. Therefore, access to the legal system should not be denied to Canadians based on their incomes.

We also need to revise the financial evaluation process so that it recognizes that families have priorities other than just paying to obtain justice, such as keeping their families fed and housed. Current guidelines for financial evaluation set aside a modest exemption for personal assets. After that, however, governments expect legal costs to be paid out of personal assets, such as one's bank account, car, RRSP or home.

Can it still be considered justice if a family is successful in their legal battle but has done so by losing their home, their vehicle or their retirement savings? Obviously not. That is why guidelines need to be more equitable and sensitive to an applicant's responsibility to feed, clothe and shelter their families.

For most Canadians, the barriers to obtaining justice is the sheer cost of legal services provided by lawyers. Rather than have the public engage the legal profession in an adversarial debate over how much lawyers should earn or what their services are worth, it should be recognized that the government and the legal profession are in the position to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship with the goal of providing the public with valuable services.

It is time to provide tuition credits as well for law school students. One way to provide more affordable, accessible counsel would be to increase the numbers of lawyers available. To this end, the government must recognize the increasing cost of law school and should explore the possibility of providing tuition credits or refunds to law school students who enter practice after graduation.

It is also time to provide tax incentives for pro bono work. In the interests of providing a greater number of lawyers to those who cannot afford it, the government should provide lawyers with greater incentives to represent those with lower incomes on a pro bono basis. This could be achieved by something as simple as a tax incentive or rebate for those lawyers who engage clients in the type of work.

Unless I have misread the charter, I thought the rights and freedoms of Canadians went far beyond provincial jurisdiction and I did not think we had to shell out our savings simply to look after inequitable legal costs in various provinces and not in others.

In closing, the NDP supports having this bill sent to committee for further study and further improvement, and we look forward to being involved in that process.

Canada National Parks Act April 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am a member of the youth at risk committee which has spent a great deal of time studying the issues around the problems facing native children. Housing on reserves is an extremely important one. A sense of entitlement, having land, having rights, although abstract, are issues that impact on children strongly. This movement toward giving more recognition of native land is a start, and I am happy to support it.

Canada National Parks Act April 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-28, the amendments to the Canada National Parks Act. These amendments would allow for the removal of lands from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada in British Columbia and the Riding Mountain National Park of Canada in Manitoba, for the purposes of Indian reserves.

These amendments to the Canada National Parks Act will serve to respond to a long recognized need in the Pacific Rim and rectify a past error in Riding Mountain positioning these first nations to meet the needs of their communities.

The amendments seek the removal of 84.4 hectares of land from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and would allow the Tla-o-qui-aht Reserve to address the critical infrastructure programs that it now faces. In addition, the amendments to the act would fully re-establish the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation Reserve 61A on the north shore of Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park.

We will be supporting the bill. When the bill first came along, it was the view of some of us in the NDP that we would be in opposition to the erosion of the national parks in any way, even if it would satisfy the legitimate claims of a first nation that had an historic right to the property by virtue of traditional use of land or a specific land claim dealing with what was in fact an error made in the survey of assessment of the first nation lands affected, as in the case of the Riding Mountain National Park.

However, we have changed our views since then, after extensive consultation. I would like to speak just briefly about this issue and how it has evolved. I will speak mainly about the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada in the context of the debate.

First, to strip away the situation and to see it in its most basic form, we believe that the debate is about section 35 of the Constitution. Some members may wonder how we would arrive at that, but quite simply, section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 deals with aboriginal and treaty rights, but fails to give any definition to those rights. That is why the Government of Canada has spent the last 22 years in court, since 1982, to give meaning and definition to section 35 of the Constitution.

While the constitution recognizes aboriginal and treaty rights, it does not say what those aboriginal and treaty rights are. It is the position of first nations that aboriginal and treaty rights mean some rights, some legitimate claims, to some sharing of land and resources on their traditional land base, not just the narrow finite boundaries of reserve which are not in any way traditional or naturally occurring.They are constructs of the federal government and the Indian Act.

I am talking about the traditional area of land use as demonstrated through traditional land use maps. From time immemorial, the aboriginal people up and down the west coast, whether it is in the coast Salish or the any number of Tsimshian west coast Salish tribes up and down the west coast of Vancouver Island, have used the area for hunting, gathering, settlement and traditional uses. They never ceded that territory through the Douglas treaties which predated the rest of the treaties throughout Canada, and certainly not through the treaty areas of Treaties Nos. 1 through 8 in the rest of Canada.

Their aboriginal and treaty rights were never ceded and signed away in any formal agreement with the Crown, and they remain intact. Therefore, it is fitting and appropriate, and we feel proud to support this claim today, that this area of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada should rightfully be under the direct holding and title of first nations making that claim.

Obviously, there is vested interest on many claims. However, people are satisfied that there has been adequate consultation with local landowners, municipalities, town councils and rural municipalities in the immediate area and that their concerns have been taken into account. I do not know that anyone has strongly held views about recognizing the aboriginal and treaty rights in these cases.

As we deal with the bill, it is a lesson for us all that the Government of Canada and therefore the people of Canada could save themselves an enormous amount of grief, aggravation and cost in the future if we would simply take one step back and get our minds around giving meaning and definition to section 35 of the Constitution.

Frankly, the Government of Canada is not faring too well in its court challenges in this regard. Virtually every time aboriginal people make claims for recognition of those rights, they are denied by the federal government. First nations have no avenue of recourse but to go to the courts. They go to the Federal Court and to the Supreme Court ultimately and they always win. Court cases have been going on for 10 years, 15 years and 20 years, but they are finally concluding in favour of aboriginal people.

We are letting the courts do the work of Parliament. It should be up to Parliament to give meaning and definition to section 35. We have been afraid to or reluctant to do so. I do not know what the reasoning is on the federal government's part in this, but it has never tackled this very thorny issue. It has never embraced it as a priority and conceded that aboriginal people have a right to mud, clay, gravel and sand as much as they want. They can develop it in any way they want to, resourceful as they are. We have that broad range here in interpretation.

The fact that we have to bring forward a special bill dealing with national parks is very sensitive in that it affects aboriginal people and their rights. The Government of Canada could spend less time seized of this issue if it would dedicate the time, resources and energy to define what aboriginal and treaty rights actually are.

I think that there is generosity and goodwill among Canadian people. I think that Canadians are finally ready to recognize that 140 years of social tragedy as it has pertained to aboriginal people is enough. Our relationship with aboriginal people in Canada is our greatest failure, and some would say Canada's greatest shame, in that we have allowed these third world conditions to foster within our midst knowing full well that it was all unnecessary.

People on the west coast have to be ever cognizant of traditional aboriginal and treaty rights, unceded yet to be finally defined. In this case, my colleagues and I in the NDP will support this bill. We would like to see this move forward. It is a step in the right direction, but needs to supplemented with solid action on the issues of treaty resolution, housing on reserves, native children at risk, and many more issues that we know are facing aboriginal people in this country today.

Copyright April 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago the Minister of Canadian Heritage said she would “as quickly as possible, make changes to our copyright law” to end peer to peer file sharing on the Internet. Creators want to know, will the minister table legislation to deal with this loophole before the expected election is announced?

Health April 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, Canadians know that the Liberal government wants to turn health care over to private industries; after all, the Prime Minister brought an advocate for P3 into his cabinet.

The only difference between the Liberal government's plan for health care and the Conservative plan is how quickly it will hand it over to the big corporations.

Will the minister stand up and tell us exactly what the Liberals consider publicly delivered health care to be? Is it public money paying for private profits?

Health April 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are wondering where the cabinet ministers went, the ministers who used to protect publicly delivered health care in Canada. There was no new base funding for health care in the budget and no commitment to any of the recommendations of the Romanow report. Now we have a health minister calling public delivery of health care a slogan.

Will the minister now rise and give us a guarantee that the Liberals will provide publicly funded and delivered health care in Canada?

Cathryn Prince April 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, when the rookie NDP members of Parliament arrived here in 1997, we were welcomed by the smiling face of Cathryn Prince. She helped us through our first days, eased our fears, talked about the mechanics of the job and inspired us even more about the importance of the House of Commons.

Cathryn loved this place. She worked on the Hill for over 25 years with a number of NDP MPs and with the public service. Cathryn believed passionately in the principles of social democracy, the union movement and the importance of reaching out and helping people. She had a twinkle in her eye and a warm smile. An incredible number of people counted her as a trusted, loyal friend, so great was her generosity of spirit.

Cathryn was also a loving mother, sister, wife, and an especially loving grandmother.

Cathryn Prince passed away on March 10 with one of her sons by her side. She passed from this life the way she lived it, feeling the love of her friends and her family.

Today in the House we want to celebrate the lasting contributions of Cathryn Prince.

Canada Marriage Act April 29th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-450. The NDP supports the decision of the federal government to recognize the equal rights of same sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies. The NDP does not believe that the notwithstanding clause of the charter should be used to prevent the recognition of this happening.

I would like to go over some of the recent history of the greater debate around this issue. On June 17, 2003 the Prime Minister and the federal cabinet affirmed their commitment to recognize the equal rights of same sex couples to marry. This announcement came in response to both the judiciary and elected representatives urging the government to respect the charter of rights and ensure equality for gay and lesbian couples.

In a recent unanimous decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the current definition of marriage as the union of one man to one woman was deemed to be a breach of the charter as it is discriminatory against gay and lesbian couples. This decision followed the decisions of both the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Quebec Superior Court which also ruled that the current definition of marriage is discriminatory.

The federal government's move to allow same sex marriage also comes in response to a motion passed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights which called upon the government to support the ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

It is important to note that the changes that will be made to the definition of marriage in the federal legislation will not affect religious traditions or the ability of faith organizations to sanctify marriage as they define it. The justices, writing in the unanimous Ontario Court of Appeal decision, stated, “We do not view this case as, in any way, dealing or interfering with the religious institution of marriage”.

I would like to add that I fully support the right of churches, such as the Catholic church, to oppose an inclusive definition of marriage, just as it has the right to refuse to marry a divorced person. That is also respected. While there are a number of religious faiths that accept same sex marriage, others do not and their beliefs must be respected. A change in the law would only apply to civil ceremonies. I support the government's reference to the Supreme Court which would ensure that it is made very clear in the law that no religious institution should be forced to marry same sex couples.

I will close my comments by quoting Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, who said, “I neither believe that the civil law should dictate one's faith position, nor should a single faith position dictate the civil law” of this country.

Question No. 53 April 19th, 2004

At each level of the Canada Pension Plan disability application and appeal process, for each financial year from 1990-1991 to 2000-2001, what were the numbers of men and women (listed separately for each group) who: ( a ) applied for or appealed denials of disability benefits; and ( b ) were awarded benefits?

(Returns tabled)