House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was elections.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Toronto—Danforth (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Defence June 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Defence seems to be in denial. He pretends to be unaware of the existence of my Motion No. 517, tabled one year ago, on discriminatory discharge of Canadian Forces LGBTQ personnel, despite correspondence with me on Motion No. 517 back in February and March.

In the House the minister talks only about the lawful presence of LGBTQ men and women in the military since 1992. He ignores the long period when they were treated as subhuman under a Canadian Forces administrative order entitled “Sexual Deviation - Investigation, Medical Examination, and Disposal”.

Disposal is what we do with garbage, not human beings. My motion calls on the government to issue an official apology and to revise service records to reflect the honourable service of those LGBTQ men and women discharged from or forced out of the military during this period.

I want to recognize and thank members of the We Demand An Apology Network for their perseverance, especially Darl Wood and Gary Kinsman. I join the network's members in calling on the government to finally apologize and acknowledge this period of cruel discrimination.

Digital Privacy Act June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question and for all her work, without which I would not be even half as informed about this bill as I believe I am.

The issue is ultimately that the government is not at all interested in having Canadians know the extent of something even so comparatively innocuous as the government asking for voluntary disclosure of information from private companies. The minimum, for example, that certain witnesses asked for is just to have statistics that the Privacy Commissioner and everybody else could be looking at, so that people would have a sense of the scope of the phenomenon. Nothing like that is even in the bill, let alone a regime that would actually regulate the phenomenon.

The bottom line is that the more Canadians know about the scope of government access to private information, the more concerned they become. The government is quite far behind on this issue. I think the Conservatives have a tin ear when it comes to where Canadians are on privacy issues.

Digital Privacy Act June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the short answer—and I think I spoke to it in my speech—is yes, the government has generally lost the plot.

Privacy is more rhetorical from that side of the House, at least from the government ranks. I am not saying that is the case for all members of Parliament, but I do not think the Conservatives have any sense at all of where privacy absolutely needs to be taken seriously versus when it is used as a shibboleth for other kinds of agendas, as my colleague from Trinity—Spadina pointed out very well in his speech by noting that when privacy suddenly rears its head on such things as the long form census and the long gun registry, it does not quite rear the same head when it comes to privacy in the Internet context.

Digital Privacy Act June 2nd, 2015

I did raise it. You are correct.

Mr. Speaker, there are a whole range of measures that we would ask the Senate to consider to put itself in the proper relationship of complementarity to the House of Commons for so long as it exists. I will be releasing those measures at some point, but not at the moment. Meanwhile, we will do everything we can to convince Canadians and the other partners in Confederation that the Senate has seen its final days.

Digital Privacy Act June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am sure my colleague would, but I think we will keep the topic on Bill S-4 today.

Digital Privacy Act June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill S-4, and I would like to do so by addressing three themes. The first will be how Bill S-4 reflects rather badly on our democratic process. The second theme will be that Bill S-4 is already hopelessly out of date. It is behind the technological times. The third theme is that there are worrisome features in Bill S-4 to the extent that it would inadequately protect privacy, even within the limits of what it is trying to do.

On that first theme of democracy, we should recall that a lot of what has subsequently come through the House in a series of different bills started with Bill C-30, which I always called the Internet surveillance bill. It got so panned by experts and civil society that the government tried to take it off of the table in the House by sending it to committee for study before second reading. It then disappeared, because the government knew that too much in there had attracted too much early attention from Canadians.

I mention that, because parts of it have begun to reappear in bits and pieces since Bill C-30 disappeared.

Bill S-4 uses one of the same techniques as Bill C-30 to try to take it away from public scrutiny. It is ironic that the method it would use is one that was recommended by the McGrath committee in 1982 or 1984, which is to make better use of committees by having them look at bills before the principle of the bill has been fixed, by having the government send the bill to committee before second reading. That is between first and second reading. It would allow committees to effectively look at the bill as a strong draft from the government, but for MPs, presumably from all parties, to try to improve and perfect the bill without being hamstrung in the way we are now in our committee study of bills by the principle having been fixed, as it gets fixed when we go to second reading for a bill in principle.

Bill S-4 did get sent to committee and, surprise, surprise, with the way that the government has operated since I have been here and since it got a majority in 2011, there were no amendments. The government rejected every amendment and presented no amendments itself. It was as if it had not heard anything that had convinced it of anything, despite all of the witnesses who had appeared and who, in very measured tones and with a very focused analysis, had indicated that there were ways, even within the limited confines of what the government was trying to do in the bill, that the bill could be improved. However, the government, through its MPs on that committee, decided that the bill was fine as-is.

Look at House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, on page 742. It tells us what this procedure was intended to be when the McGrath report came down in 1982 or 1984. It was intended to be an empowering mechanism for the House in relation to government legislation. It was meant to create more of a partnership between MPs and the government. It says:

This empowers Members to examine the principle of a bill before second reading, and enables them to propose amendments to alter its scope.

In the end, this was a subterfuge. Who here is going to doubt that the reason it was sent to committee between first and second reading was to get it off of the agenda in the House, which can tend to lead to a bill receiving more public attention and producing the kind of civil society push back that we have seen meet the government's bills on and on for the last little while? It was a mechanism to reduce its visibility and to have it reappear just about now, with two weeks to go, when there is no steam, no energy, nothing left for civil society to get its mind around in terms of general resistance.

My colleagues have mentioned a problem with this bill, as with other bills that start in the Senate, which is a structural problem that will hopefully be dealt with after the next election by having the Senate put in its proper place. There is also something here, which is that there has been no acknowledgement by the government that this bill probably does conflict with the Spencer decision of 2014 in the Supreme Court of Canada.

This decision recognized the nature of the privacy interests in Internet users' data, including all the metadata that identifies various features of their existence on the Internet, and indicated that in a police context, warrants are needed in order to get access to that information.

PIPEDA, as amended by Bill S-4, would now allow private sector organizations, using the guise of fraud investigations, contractual breach investigations, et cetera, to request of any other private actor all that same information, and nothing is put in here by way of safeguards. It is as if the Spencer decision never came down.

We have had no opinion tabled anywhere from the Department of Justice, through the Minister of Justice, to say that under section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act, the minister has assessed that Bill S-4 complies with the charter, even after the Spencer judgment. That is because the government never tables opinions and never takes charter arguments seriously.

The record is clear. Last year alone, something like a dozen judgments came from the courts, and 10 out of the 12 found that the government's legislation breached the charter or other principles of law.

The bottom line is that this bill is not a good story for democracy, but that again, I am sorry to say, is not a new story.

The second theme is that the bill has missed the boat.

This all started in 2007. That was when the PIPEDA review was mandatory under the statute, and very quickly a couple of different bills began to appear in the House. They just never got through the minority Parliament at all. Nothing really changed along the way. The government is still stuck back in whatever its thinking was around 2007.

Let me quote from the Library of Parliament's background paper on Canada's federal privacy laws. It says:

As advances in technology increase the ease with which information about individuals can be gathered, stored and searched, the need to protect the privacy of such information presents a rapidly evolving challenge for legislators.

That challenge has not been met. It is as if the government does not know how much of an information economy we have rapidly, almost exponentially, year by year, evolved into being.

How about these basic facts?

The world's largest taxi company right now has no cars. It is the largest taxi company because it has information. That is Uber.

The world's largest accommodations company, Airbnb, owns no property, but it is the richest and largest company by virtue of how it owns information.

The world's largest retailer has absolutely no inventory. That is Alibaba, in China.

This is the world we live in now, and there is nothing in the PIPEDA amendments, in Bill S-4, to indicate the government is at all aware of what it means to be living in this economy.

We should think about the so-called Internet of Things. According to recent research, by 2020, 26 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. That is roughly an average of something like three or four per person on earth. There is no evidence that this bill even comes close to understanding the privacy issues that arise from the fact that we are increasingly living in a connected world in which our phones will be reporting on our heart rates, our fridges will report on our eating habits and even order our groceries, self-driving cars will be out there on the roads, and thermostats and smart meters will monitor our every movement. There is nothing in the bill in that regard. All I would say is that amendments that are 10 years out of date are not exactly something to write home about.

The third theme is the inadequacies and the problems in the bill.

Let me just list them. They have been mentioned before.

First, the way in which the bill deals with giving consent on the web is inadequate after the Spencer case.

Second, the loophole that allows for private organizations to pass on information without any kind of safeguard system analogous to a warrant system, on the simple basis that they are investigating breaches of agreement or fraud or financial abuse, is a recipe for incursions into privacy.

Third, I would end by saying that the reportability standard whereby, if there is a breach of data, a company or holder of the data must tell the person whose data has been lost on the basis of a real risk of significant harm is a subjective standard that is assessed by the company. There is no real system to ensure that it does not become a mechanism for breaches to be hidden from public view and hidden, therefore, from accountability.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my question relates to the subclause and reference to creating a chief science officer. I wonder if my colleague could let us know whether this is intended to be the same as the parliamentary science officer that my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas proposed in Bill C-558.

Is there a distinction between the chief science officer and the parliamentary science officer? Is it the intention that the chief science officer would be within government, or would that position be an officer of parliament?

Privilege May 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, these are very good points, and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has made them before in other debates on privilege. It is a serious point, the question of whether our head of state, the Governor General, should presumptively be the one at whose residence and workplace foreign dignitaries are received, with the exception being otherwise where planning can go on in a way that still allows for all of our activity to go on.

There is a constitutional issue, and there is a de facto constant infringement going on when the executive branch is using the parliamentary precinct as its way of dealing with the rest of the world through VIP showcasing. The Speaker said that these are great premises and we want to show them off to the world. We cannot disagree. However, the idea of using this as an automatic place for whenever the Prime Minister wants to put on a diplomatic show probably does need to be looked at to see whether this could be better done, and probably with less cost, at Rideau Hall.

Privilege May 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly disconcerting.

I am not exactly sure what the Speaker's ruling delivered a few minutes ago encompasses, but when it comes to the surveillance and protection systems on the Hill, including those at Centre Block, I think they should include the ability to address the members in both languages. If that is not possible, this will lead to other problems.

I think this could be on the table during our discussions at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Privilege May 12th, 2015


That the questions of privilege raised on April 30, 2015, by the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and on May 8 by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth regarding the fact that hon. members were delayed when trying to access Parliament Hill be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

I think it is important for me to briefly recap, for those who were not present or listening last week, why I felt that even a momentary delay of what I admit was less than a minute raises major issues that the procedure and House affairs committee really will have to take seriously.

What happened basically involved an indistinguishable stopping of everyone coming up one side of Parliament Hill heading toward the Centre Block within immediate proximity of the doors that MPs always enter. The reason, as was made very clear by the officer, was that she was under orders to stop everyone. I will emphasize again, as I did in my intervention last week, that the officer was firm and polite, and I have no concerns at all with the officer.

I am sorry; I am actually going to split my time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

I have no idea how long the group was there as I was walking up the Hill before I arrived, but the fact of the matter is that when I arrived, I presented myself to the officer as I was trying to pass, and the conversation that ensued is now on the record of Hansard. The officer indicated that she was under orders to make no distinction between any members of the public, anyone else, and MPs. Indeed, structurally, there was nothing about the way the crowd control was working to suggest that any distinction had been made. There was no ability for an officer to stand and wave MPs through or to ask, “Are there any MPs here? Please go through.” There was nothing like that. It was a one-size-fits-all approach.

This was confirmed when she then called through to whatever was command central for this welcoming of the President of the Philippines to the Hill. They did not bother addressing the issue of whether an MP could go through while the others were waiting, because the moment she called, they solved the problem by letting everybody through. I assume that was a coincidence of timing. Nonetheless, it was clear from the overall situation that there were, again, indistinguishable orders.

On that front, I would like to now move to two arguments that I believe the Speaker has put in context in his ruling just now but that have been raised twice now by the government House leader on the question of privilege by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and on my question of privilege.

One is, effectively, that he has come before the House and asked the Speaker to take his word for facts that he and the government have investigated in tandem with the RCMP. The first problem is that it is not the role of the government to conduct these kinds of investigations.

Second, I would like to read an excerpt from the House leader's intervention on the question of privilege by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. He stated:

...I can tell you that the public safety minister's office has advised that that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reviewed the surveillance camera footage and determined that the green bus in question was indeed delayed for some 74 seconds....

He went on to say that was a mere momentary delay and that for that reason, the privilege motion should be dismissed.

The fact of the matter is that the procedure and House affairs committee needs to look at what the lines of authority are here. The House leader comes into the House, gets word from another minister of the crown about what that minister of the crown had discussed with the RCMP, and then, in a not-so-subtle fashion, expects the Speaker to say, “Thank you very much for doing my work and thank you very much for reporting to me what the RCMP has said.”

I am very glad that the Speaker has obviously decided that this is not the role of the government and not the role of the House leader.

I would also like to point out that the Speaker went back into precedents and quoted one precedent that said that even a momentary delay can be a breach of privilege. However, the government is now trying to reshape the law of privilege around the idea that just any delay at all, as long as it is short, is not a breach of privilege. It went so far as to argue last week that the recent report on the question of privilege by the member for Acadie—Bathurst actually stated that the PROC report put forward the idea that momentary delays are not a breach of privilege.

No such words at all appear in that report. In fact, it is very clear that the committee was expressing concern by the very sentence that the Speaker just read in the House now on his ruling, when he read, in French, this sentence:

Cases of privilege in which Members have had the right to unimpeded access to the Parliamentary Precinct denied have occurred in the recent past with all too great a frequency.

For that to appear in the PROC report from the most recent case and for the Speaker to now read it again is diametrically opposed to the spin that the House leader is trying to put on the law of privilege in this House when he says that report ruled that a momentary delay meant there was no privilege breached in that case. That is a completely out-of-bounds argument, as far as I am concerned.

I took care, and I took care at the beginning of these remarks as well, to emphasize—and this is actually consistent with the recent report on privilege with respect to the member for Acadie—Bathurst—that there was no fault on behalf of the officers. The officers are working within a system. They are following orders. The question is the system. How are, in these two instances, VIPs handled? What kind of priority are they given over members of Parliament to access? What kinds of easy procedures could be available that the RCMP has so far declined to put into place? An example would be to have, at all access points, a designated RCMP officer to check or let through or look out for members of Parliament while everybody else has to wait. There is nothing like that.

Instead, they put a lone officer out under orders to block everybody, regardless of whether or not they are an MP.

My guess is they are putting out recent recruits to do this, people who have not even been properly versed on what parliamentary privilege is or why it is important for members to get to the House on time.

At one level, it is of absolute importance. If I wanted to be in the House because I had limited time to hear a debate or to possibly ask a question, et cetera, that, in and of itself, is enough reason for me to be in any hurry I want.

However, beyond that, votes are crucial in this place, and they can come up at unexpected times that overlap with times when VIPs are visiting.

The idea that 30 seconds or a minute or whatever is always de minimis is already in trouble with respect to the logic of the timeframes within which we operate in this place. The idea that the House leader has raised on occasion is almost a suggestion that MPs are sitting on their posteriors, waiting to the very last minute before they rush to the House, and, therefore, if they are delayed a bit at that point, they are to blame. In actual fact, votes disrupt everything else MPs are doing, and they often try to finish what they are doing in the knowledge that they will have enough time to get there in the ordinary course of events.

This just-in-time arrival of a good number of the people who are voting on any given motion is also a part of our life on the Hill, and the moment that gets interfered with, we are going to potentially have problems with multiple people not making votes. At the moment, we have been lucky with respect to those who have been delayed but who have managed to arrive just in time.

With respect to the whole question of VIPs, the mere fact that the RCMP officer said it was a VIP, as broad a category as that is, versus a visiting head of state, just to give it some context, suggests that a broad-brush approach is being taking by whoever is in charge of federal policing on the Hill. Ultimately, it is the Deputy Commissioner. I am now no longer personally convinced that the Deputy Commissioner is listening to any of these debates on what privilege amounts to. It would have been so easy to set up procedures to ensure MPs can get through. That has not been done.

I think we need to have the procedure and House affairs committee hear this matter—not in any extended way, but in a way that would focus upon systems so that we get precise information from the RCMP about what the orders are and what training procedures are in place. How do we know that the RCMP is even listening to these reports and to the Speaker's rulings?