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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was health.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Abitibi—Témiscamingue (Québec)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 42% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Criminal Code November 8th, 2018

Madam Speaker, Bill C-75 is at report stage. The purpose of this bill, introduced by the Liberals, is to improve the compliance rate with the Jordan decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and to reduce the backlog in the justice system.

Unfortunately, we have heard many times that Bill C-75 was rushed. Some of the wording is very vague, and the bill does not meet the main objective, which is to improve the justice system so it works better for everyone.

One of the biggest disappointments, which was not addressed in committee, is the lack of bold reforms for the criminal justice system, such as abolishing the mandatory minimum sentences that proliferated under the Harper government. That is a major element, because unfortunately, although mandatory minimums are respected in most cases, there are many unusual cases for which judges would have liked to have some flexibility.

Unfortunately, judges' hands are often tied by mandatory minimum sentences, and they have no choice but to impose them, despite circumstances that can be extremely sad. I am thinking about the rise in “suicide by cop” attempts, which primarily involve police.

Some people reach a point in their lives where they are in extreme distress and feel suicidal. They sometimes threaten on-duty police officers with real guns or paintball guns, fake guns that look real, in order to get themselves shot. These situations are unfortunately known as “suicide by cop” and are a sign of someone who is suffering tremendously.

Gun crimes are often subject to mandatory minimum sentences. During the trial, if the judge recognizes that the problem is not a criminal issue, but an issue of mental illness or distress, and that the offender would be better off receiving treatment than being branded a criminal, this judge has very few legal options. I think it is especially important to give back some flexibility to judges by eliminating mandatory minimums. It is also important to understand that in cases where the accused truly committed the crime, the sentences go far beyond the mandatory minimums.

Mandatory minimum sentences often have a perverse effect on the justice system. They do not allow judges to consider the extenuating circumstances surrounding the events or the accused's past, experiences, personal situation or family responsibilities. Mandatory minimums allow for absolutely no flexibility.

Another problem this bill does not fix, a problem that impacts the justice system, is lack of financial support for victims and their families, as well as for the accused. The poverty threshold for access to legal aid is very low when the accused does not have a family or dependents. One must be very poor to get legal aid.

Some people simply cannot afford a lawyer. They cannot get legal aid because their income is too high. For example, a young man in his early twenties who earns $30,000 or $40,000 a year cannot get legal aid because his income is considered too high. There is no way he can afford $30,000 in legal fees, so he cannot get good legal advice. That young man will find himself caught up in a system that does not allow him access to legal advice.

The legal system also needs to take victims into consideration, because the whole process would go more smoothly if they had better support. In many cases, they get absolutely no support. Many a parent whose child was killed in a car accident, which is such a tragedy, says they have no access to resources of any kind, no financial support to attend court proceedings. They pay for everything out of pocket.

Lack of access to justice for financial reasons is a serious problem that hinders the effectiveness of our justice system. Bill C-75 does nothing to address that. In the case of both victims and the accused, we need to take a more logical approach and be able to support them. We must be able to ensure that they understand what is happening. For instance, when victims' families get completely lost in the procedures, they often have to pay for lawyers out of their own pockets in order to understand what is going on, get advice and figure out all the procedural rules. That is one particular aspect of the bill that could have been explored, or at least corrected, in committee. It still has not been corrected or addressed. I also have to say that, since it was not done at the outset, we were more limited.

Furthermore, if we want to make the judicial system more efficient, we absolutely must separate acts that genuinely criminally motivated from acts committed as a result of social problems. So many charges related to simple possession of any kind of drug wind up in court.

I think we will have to explore whether drug possession is actually more of a health problem. That is a very important issue that absolutely must be addressed.

In order to find a better solution, should we not consider drug possession and ultimately drug use as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue?

Would that not give us more time to focus on serious crimes and free up our judges who have to deal with offenders who have been charged with drug possession? I believe these offenders would be much better off if they were treated at a hospital and given quick access to detox services.

Would it not be better to treat these cases as health issues and save our resources to deal with cases involving serious sexual violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence against indigenous women? Many such crimes are committed, and unfortunately, our justice system does not deal with them very effectively.

We could set better priorities by rethinking the way our justice system works. Many offences are related to social problems. People living in extreme poverty will commit small offences to try to survive. Is the solution to criminalize them or, on the contrary, is it to better address those social issues and dedicate our resources to people with truly sick criminal behaviour? I think we would all benefit from that.

Since my time is up, I now hope to provide thoughtful answers to my colleagues' questions.

Criminal Code November 8th, 2018

Madam Speaker, a number of amendments were rejected in committee. Which of these rejected amendments was he most disappointed by?

Officers of Parliament October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion, which is very important. Officers of Parliament play an essential role.

I would like to speak briefly about my experience as an MP. Back in the day, Jack Layton appointed me military procurement critic. I can assure the House that without the tireless work of Kevin Page, my role would have been much more difficult. He was able to give me a great deal of information on the cost of the infamous F-35s. His role was really crucial. I have a true appreciation for the work done by officers of Parliament.

When we talk about officers of Parliament, we are talking about nine individuals who play an essential role for all parliamentarians, not just government members. We all interact with them. Francophone MPs might have frequent dealings with the Commissioner of Official Languages, for example. That position is extremely important to them.

The Liberals have shown us exactly what not to do when appointing someone to those positions.

Members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages were told that an independent appointment process had taken place and that the best candidate for the job of official languages commissioner just happened to be a former Liberal minister. The opposition leaders received a letter indicating that she was the best candidate. That letter was the extent of the consultation process.

I understand that, for logistical reasons, every member of the House cannot see all of the resumés and interview questions, but at least one NDP representative could have been asked to consider the appointment. That person could have seen the list of candidates, participated in the selection process, and known which candidates were rejected and which were called in for an interview.

Right now, we know nothing about what is happening. We were informed of the name of the person who was supposedly the most qualified for the job. We know that about 70 other people applied, but we have no idea why their resumés were rejected or accepted. We have no idea who was invited to an interview. We have no idea what questions were asked during those interviews. We have no idea what criteria were used to assess the applications and determine who was the best candidate. We have no idea about any of that.

The government imposed a name, and we just had to believe in its ability to determine who was the best candidate. We did not even know what evaluation grid was used, for example. We had no information on that, nil.

On top of that, it took the government 24 months to appoint an official languages commissioner. It also took 24 months to find a replacement for the chief electoral officer, even though he had announced his departure in advance. It even took the chief electoral officer saying that the next election might be compromised if someone were not appointed. The former chief electoral officer said the government had to stop wasting time, as the situation had become totally absurd.

This proposal is about creating a committee to take care of this. The committee would be non-partisan. It would therefore be composed of members from all parties. It could deal with several aspects that are completely missing from the legislation. It would handle the application process and determine what skills are required. All parties would have to agree on the required skills, on what is needed, on the candidate's profile, and on the person being sought. The committee would then handle the application process. That could even be done ahead of time. If the committee knew what direction to take, it could start working in advance. If the committee knew which individuals will be leaving their post in six or 12 months, it could begin the work and everyone could agree on the information that would be needed in the application process. That could be done in advance. Then everyone could agree right away on the evaluation grid to be used and on the questions to be asked in the interview. Some of the work could be done before officers of Parliament even leave their position.

It is also important that the committee agree on which candidates should be rejected and which ones should be selected.

With regard to the appointment of the Commissioner of Official Languages, some candidates stated, on condition of anonymity, that they had no idea why they were not selected and that the questions they were asked were ridiculous. They even said they had doubts about the seriousness of the process, so naturally, we have serious concerns. Discussions were held in secret and we have no idea what was said. We only know which candidate was selected.

We were able to ask questions of the person appointed when she appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, but we were not able to ask questions of the other 69 people who applied. We were not able to voice our opinion about the suitability of each candidate, and we absolutely were not involved in any step of the process. That raises serious doubts. These people are appointed to serve Parliament and not the Liberal government. We must ensure that they do the best possible work in a non-partisan fashion.

When we hear the Liberals claim that partisan appointments are a thing of the past given what we know about what happened with Madeleine Meilleur, what can we do but laugh? It just so happened that a former Liberal minister was the most qualified person for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. We were not told who the other candidates were, what questions were asked in the interview or what process was followed, but we were asked to believe that she was the best person for the job. Quite frankly, who would believe that? Even someone who does not follow politics would realize that it is nonsense. It is time to put a stop to that.

The government was supposed to institute democratic reform to ensure that every vote counts, but when people did not give it the answer it wanted to hear, the whole thing was dropped.

Now we have an opportunity to make changes and to do something about partisan appointments. Though they may be minor, these changes are very important for democracy, our institutions, and Parliament. The nine officers of Parliament are there to help Parliament and, unfortunately, sometimes to conduct investigations. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner investigated the Prime Minister and this government's Minister of Finance. When we know that ministers and prime ministers can be investigated, then we have to select people who will have the courage to make appropriate decisions, who will be able to do the work and not be afraid to do it, people who got their appointment because they were truly the most qualified of all the candidates.

If the process is totally flawed from the start people will not be able to trust the decisions made by officers of Parliament. Today, we can do something about that. The motion does not clearly explain the process in detail, but if adopted, the government could implement this process and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could study it and work out the details.

The purpose of the motion is not to establish the whole committee membership process and all of the other details. The purpose of the motion is simply to propose the idea. If the government and our Conservative colleagues had the courage to at least support this motion and admit that it is time for an intelligent, democratic process to appoint officers of Parliament, we could all work together on the details. We could then develop this new process and start the next Parliament off on the right foot. My colleague will unfortunately not be here to lend us his experience.

Officers of Parliament October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, is the legislative branch able to see the names, qualifications and resumés of the candidates who have applied to be appointed officers of Parliament? Is it possible to prepare the questions to be asked in the interview and to design the scoring grid used to determine who is the best candidate?

Is the legislative branch currently able to do any of this?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, with respect to Bill C-83, I will focus mainly on administrative segregation because it is one of the key measures that should have been greatly improved. Unfortunately, we are not seeing this improvement.

There are two rulings on the use of administrative segregation that, in essence, have profoundly challenged the use of this technique because of the psychological and psychiatric effects it can have on people. For example, a number of studies show that administrative segregation could trigger or aggravate certain psychiatric symptoms such as hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, depression, impulsiveness, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, self-harm, insomnia and problems with thinking, concentration and memory. The use of administrative segregation increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide.

In light of all that, the government should have engaged in a profound re-evaluation of the circumstances justifying the use of administrative segregation as well as the guidelines for the duration and supervision of this practice, among other things. Unfortunately, there are no options.

Segregation is also used in the health system. It is one measure used to restrain patients. Clearly, I am not referring to the same clients. Nevertheless, there are many linkages that can be drawn. The health system previously used many restraint measures on a regular basis. For example, a lap belt was used for seniors with dementia and the bed rails were raised so they would not fall out of bed. That was how things were done.

Quebec's health system has seriously questioned the circumstances that justify the use of restraints. There have been questions about how health institutions should determine whether their protocols for the use of restraints are effective.

Several documents were written about this, and I will be referring to a document put out by the Government of Quebec called Cadre de référence pour l'élaboration des protocoles d'application des mesures de contrôle, which deals with restraint, isolation and chemical substances. Chapter 4 is extremely interesting and so I hope that members will look into it, especially at committee. It talks about the ethical and clinical principles that health institutions should use to establish their protocols for the use of restraint. The first principle is this:

Control measures are only used as safety measures when immediate threats are identified

The protocol should state that control measures must be used in a therapeutic context only and must under no circumstances be used to punish, intimidate or correct a person, to modify a behaviour, or to deal with organizational constraints. If a control measure is used, it must be used with the sole object of preventing the person from imminently causing harm to themselves or others.

These ethical principles make many interesting points, especially where they say that restraint measures, such as segregation, must never be used to deal with organizational constraints. In other words, if segregation can be avoided by doubling staff numbers, that would be the ethical thing to do, rather than placing people in segregation just because it is the easiest option and money is tight.

This is also a very important principle from a legal perspective. Administrative segregation should not be used as a substitute for increasing staff numbers due to a lack of means. If segregation can be avoided by increasing staff, whether that means more security guards or other professionals, then increasing staff is the better option.

Another ethical principle is that control measures should be used only as a last resort. That seems logical.

I will continue after question period.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, in the British Columbia Supreme Court decision my colleague alluded to, I get the sense that the judge was, in essence, calling on the government to re-examine the whole concept of administrative segregation. Unfortunately, I do not see the government doing that.

Does the member agree that the government has not re-examined the use of administrative segregation thoroughly and in detail?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague pointed out in his speech, administrative segregation is used for several reasons. Court rulings have found that the current practice violates prisoners' rights.

Does my colleague think the Liberals did a comprehensive analysis of the use of administrative segregation to determine under what circumstances that practice should be replaced?

What I am asking is whether every case and all possibilities were properly studied in order to find a solution tailored to each situation, or whether the Liberals simply modified the term and changed the rules slightly without taking into account the various circumstances in which administrative segregation is used, as this could justify a different approach, depending on the case.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell the government that I am deeply disappointed that it is imposing a time allocation motion on Bill C-83 because this bill was introduced in response to court rulings.

This bill does not call into question administrative segregation by proposing other solutions. All it does is call administrative segregation by a different name and make slight changes to a few measures. I am very concerned because this bill does not seem to respond to the courts' decisions. I would like the House to come up with a solution that truly addresses the courts' decisions so that we do not end up back at square one in a few months when the bill is once again challenged because it did not respond to the court rulings.

Why rush the study of this bill when we know why it was introduced?

Petitions October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, today I am presenting a petition against the wine and alcohol excise tax hike in the previous Liberal budget. The tax hike is hurting small wineries and microbreweries in my riding, and the petitioners strongly oppose it.

Veterans October 3rd, 2018

Madam Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague that I agree that veterans should not have to wait to have access to services.

However, the specific questions that I have for him are these. What has been found to account for the fact that some veterans do not get services at the same time as others because of their gender? What has been found to account for the fact that francophones do not get services as quickly as others?

I want to know what specific measures the government is going to take to ensure that gender- and language-based discrimination are completely eliminated from our veteran support system.