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

Parliamentary Budget Officer November 2nd, 2012

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's secrecy is deeply disturbing. The Conservatives have broken the promise that got them elected: more openness and more accountability. They are refusing to share information with the Parliamentary Budget Officer and with Canadians. They will not say how many jobs are being eliminated or what services are being cut. Day after day, ministers rise and simply refuse to explain their cuts.

Why are they hiding the impacts of budget cuts amounting to billions of dollars?

Human Rights November 2nd, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I rise to make a statement on behalf of the leader of the NDP and the NDP.

It is with great sorrow that I extend my sympathies on the 28th anniversary of the tragic pogroms of 1984 that targeted the Sikh community across India.

Like our former leader, the NDP stands in solidarity with the Sikh community and human rights organizations. We continue our call for justice for the survivors and an explanation for why and how Sikhs were targeted by organized mobs. We also salute those who risked their lives by providing refuge and assistance to Sikhs during these pogroms.

Victims and survivors have waited too long for recognition of their plight. Rehabilitation must be prioritized. The actions of the police and allegations regarding the role of congress members and the use of state resources must be examined. The truth must be brought to light and the guilty brought to justice. These are the obligations of a democratic state.

41st General Election November 1st, 2012

Mr. Speaker, Michael Sona has finally come forward. He said that the Conservative Party's director of communications sent him to the University of Guelph, where he stole a ballot box. He also called the central campaign about how untraceable voter suppression calls were made and he talked about how easy it would be for the Conservatives to identify who pulled non-supporter lists from their database.

When will Conservatives come clean and take responsibility for any involvement in dirty tricks by their central campaign?

Petitions October 31st, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from the Grandmothers' Advocacy Network. They have secured 177 signatures from Toronto calling for the adoption of Bill C-398, which is currently before the House, with respect to facilitating better access to needed drugs in developing countries.

The grandmothers point out that their sister grandmothers are burying their adult children and caring for many of the 15 million children who have been left orphaned by AIDS around the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Therefore, the petitioners call upon the House to pass Bill C-398 without significant amendment to facilitate the immediate and sustainable flow of life-saving generic medicines to developing countries.

Criminal Code October 25th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials). Over the past several years, we have seen deplorable incidents across the country where war memorials have been vandalized. This includes a war monument at the front of Malvern Collegiate, just outside of my riding of Toronto—Danforth, which was vandalized a few nights after it had been newly restored and rededicated.

Of course, my colleagues and I strongly condemn these and other disrespectful actions toward war memorials and monuments. That is common ground. We acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of people and communities throughout Canada who have ensured that those who served and sacrificed on behalf of all Canadians are honoured and that their memory is preserved. This memory, on our part, of those who fought to maintain the memory of others comes at no more appropriate time than a week or two before Remembrance Day.

Personally, honouring military service is very close to my heart. For many years I have worn the ring that is on this finger, which my grandfather, a soldier in the Nova Scotia Highlanders, was wearing when he fell at the Battle of Drocourt-Queant in September 1918. He lost his leg that day and, as for so many who cheat death in battle, pain and trauma made post-war survival its own sort of battle. Eventually, my grandfather succumbed to the effects of his wounds. However, thank goodness for me, my mother was born before my grandfather passed away. What makes this connection particularly interesting is that she spent the last 15 to 20 years of her career working for a monument company that specialized not only in cemetery memorials but also in larger memorials. Most of the war memorials in Atlantic Canada were produced by the company my mother worked for in Windsor, Nova Scotia, including the World War II pilots memorial in Gander, Newfoundland, and a memorial replacing an older memorial in a town in Belgium, commemorating the 85th Battalion of the Nova Scotia Highlanders and its role in the Battle of Passchendaele.

My purpose in referencing my family history is to suggest that I do not come to this debate not appreciating the importance and value of memorials in our society and for our collective memory.

Bill C-217 proposes to amend section 430 of the Criminal Code, which is the section dealing with mischief, so as to provide for minimum mandatory fines of $1,000 for a first offence, 14 days in jail for a second and 30 days in jail for a third when the mischief is in relation to a war memorial or like structure, similar building or part of such a building or structure. However, the current provisions of section 430 of the Criminal Code already deal with mischief related to the destruction and defacing of property, including war memorials and monuments. The penalty provisions in the existing section 430 have provided the courts with an adequate scope for appropriate sentencing without the need for any mandatory minimums. No evidence at all was presented to the committee to suggest a need for mandatory minimums.

Section 430 of the code provides for greater maximum penalties for mischief in relation to churches, synagogues and so on, but again there are no minimum sentences.

In contrast to the current approach in the Criminal Code, Bill C-217 proposes adding a subsection to deal specifically with mischief relating to war memorials.

Like the sponsor of this bill, I want to emphasize that I believe we do have an obligation to protect these sacred spaces in our communities in order to honour the Canadians who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country.

As we heard from the sponsor of the bill, its intent is “to send a strong message that vandalism and desecration of our war memorials and cenotaphs will not be tolerated”.

Be assured that we, the NDP, support this intent. However, the means by which the bill proposes to send this message is not the right way.

As legislators, we must ask whether the imposition of greater mandatory penalties will achieve the purpose of encouraging respect for war memorials. Mandatory minimum sentences simply do not accomplish that end. They do not accommodate the reality of the divergent circumstances that judges are called upon to assess, which can lead them to the conclusion that something less than a mandatory minimum sentence is appropriate or can lead them to pursue alternative approaches or measures other than fines or jail time.

As my colleague from St. John's East, who was the former justice critic, and others have said, we must work hard to find a balance in legislation and so often mandatory minimum sentences upset that balance. I would also draw to everyone's attention the compelling testimony before the justice committee with respect to another bill before the House of former Supreme Court Justice John Major, who was elevated to the Supreme Court from the Alberta Court of Appeal. I recommend his thoughtful testimony. Two comments he made are worth mentioning now, just to give everyone a taste. On one hand, he said:

I'm still a little concerned about a minimum sentence that's absolute. Cases are not all the same, as you know, and the minimum sentence may be inadequate in a number of circumstances...but in other cases it may not be proper.

He went on to say:

It's just the variation in people that pushed me towards the view that a minimum sentence is something that I find has a lot of flaws.

That was said by a former Supreme Court justice who was known for being a very good jurist, but definitely a cautious, if not at times a conservative jurist. He told the justice committee that mandatory minimum sentences are problematic.

At working committee my colleagues, in particular the justice critic from St. John's East, proposed a series of amendments to the bill that would have allowed for greater judicial discretion. There is one in particular that I would like to draw attention to because it combines two philosophies that can live together with some balance. The NDP would have asked for an amendment that would have read as follows. “A court may delay imposing a punishment on a person convicted of an offence under [the subsection in question] to enable the person to make reparations for harm done to victims and the community. If the person makes reparations that, in the opinion of the court, are appropriate, the court may impose a punishment that is less than the minimum punishment provided for in that subsection.”

The government declined to work with us or accept that amendment, but the committee heard testimony that suggested that approach would be recognized as an appropriate one by many in Canada. I was struck by a letter received from the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion. I am going to read two short passages from that letter. It states:

Our membership is strongly in favour of recognizing the serious nature of these incidents and in consideration of the feelings and emotions expressed by all Canadians against such acts....

We do however feel that the provision of appropriate penalties suitable to the individual particulars of an incident should reflect the nature of these acts and there should be latitude in assessing the gravity of the situation.

The punishment should fit the crime and although no incident of this nature can be condoned, there should be provision for restorative justice measures with a mandated dialogue between veterans groups and the offenders. There should be provision where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they have done, by apologizing to a group of Veterans, or with community services. It provides help for the offender to avoid future offences and provides a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions.

I remind those listening that this letter was from the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion.

I would much prefer to stand with the approach of the Royal Canadian Legion that has veterans and our historical memory with respect to wartime first and foremost in their minds than with an approach that relies on mandatory minimum sentences as some kind of salvation for the serious problem, which I again acknowledge, of the desecration of memorials.

I will end by drawing attention to the case of the Ottawa National War Memorial, where teens charged with urinating on that site ended up working with the Royal Canadian Legion. They were not fined or sent to jail, but they learned and are continuing to work with the Royal Canadian Legion in an educational mode. I believe that we should follow the lead of the legion.

Petitions October 22nd, 2012

Mr. Speaker, following on from my Davenport colleague, I rise to present a petition from dozens of people, mostly from Toronto, calling upon the government to reverse the decision to close the ELA.

Canadians, like the petitioners, wish the government to remember that without a 28-year Experimental Lakes Area experiment on the effects of acid rain on lakes, sulphur dioxide emissions would not have been curbed by Canada and the U.S. through treaties and statutes, or without an ELA experiment on algal blooms, we would still have lakes choking to death as they were in the 1960s.

What major findings could be next if the ELA were to live on?

The petitioners ask the government to give the ELA a new lease on life.

Experimental Lakes Area October 22nd, 2012

Mr. Speaker, over the last six months, Canada has witnessed an outpouring of stunned disbelief in the wake of the Conservative decision to de-fund the Experimental Lakes Area.

Nowhere else in the world are whole-lake ecosystem studies done and the long-term effects of experiments monitored on anywhere near the scale or with the path-breaking scientific success of the ELA.

What is the operational cost of the ELA? It is approximately $2 million per year. That is all. To put this in perspective, compare this to the massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, which will still be $1.2 billion per year by the end of 2016.

A major mistake has been made but there is still time for the government to recognize and rectify the error. If the government were indeed to change its mind, I would be the very first to stand here and give credit to the government for doing the right thing and for showing that goodwill and good sense are still possible in this Parliament.

Canada Elections Act October 17th, 2012

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-453, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (preventing and prosecuting fraudulent voice messages during election periods).

Mr. Speaker, as MP for Toronto—Danforth and as the official opposition's democratic reform critic, I rise to introduce this private member's bill entitled, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (preventing and prosecuting fraudulent voice messages during election periods). Seconding the bill is my hon. colleague the member for Winnipeg Centre. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to him and his staff for all of the work that they have done, which has been crucial in developing the bill.

On March 12, the House of Commons voted unanimously to adopt a New Democratic motion that called on the government to bring forward legislation within six months to amend the Elections Act in the way that the bill seeks to do. It is now well over six months and the Conservatives have not yet acted on the motion. Accordingly, the bill steps into the breach at least for the moment. It now proposes amendments to the Canada Elections Act to make it an offence, subject to severe fines, to knowingly transmit false information through voice messages. In addition, it creates certain obligations to report to Elections Canada in a mandatory framework.

The NDP has taken the initiative by doing the groundwork. No doubt the bill could be improved, perhaps greatly improved, through collaboration with all parties in the House. I look forward to such collaboration.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Patent Act October 16th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Richard Elliott, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, who was mentioned by my hon. colleague in her speech but who is also a constituent in my riding of Toronto—Danforth, for his continuous dedication to this issue.

Richard, in a recent interview in Embassy magazine, had the following observation:

Overcoming the global gap in access to medicines requires multiple, complementary strategies. But ensuring more affordable medicines for low- and middle-income countries is a necessary part of the solution.... They need to harness the power of competition in the marketplace to make medicines affordable. This is why it's important to make the access to medicines regime work—even as it should be complemented by other efforts....

Would my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie elaborate a bit further on the bill being a part of the solution but never something that we should expect to be the solution, in and of itself?

Business of Supply October 16th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, some of the contributions today from the opposite side have brought to mind a comment that at the time shocked me. Back in May when the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, omnibus Bill C-38, was being debated, the Conservative member for Vegreville—Wainwright said:

Mr. Speaker, the member must really have very little to complain about when it comes to this legislation, because he focuses on the process, as do so many others opposite.

Quite frankly, Canadians do not care about process; what they care about is what the end result will be. What they care about is having ample time for debate, and there has been a record amount of time for debate on a budget bill.

Does my colleague think this might be indicative of a broader attitude that underlies how the Conservative government thinks of democracy in the House? I wonder if the hon. member for Mount Royal might comment on whether this reveals an underlying problem with how the government thinks about the House.