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

Helping Families in Need Act September 27th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but agree and echo the fact that for the families receiving these benefits, they are absolutely important.

My only point, made with some considerable emphasis in my speech, was that other families in directly analogous circumstances would equally benefit from and welcome the same benefits. That was my only point.

Helping Families in Need Act September 27th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the bill, although I would say it is critical support. I say this because in many respects the bill is inconsistent, as some of my colleagues have already indicated, in terms of what benefits are covered for what people. I will speak to that concern a little bit.

I first want to acknowledge some of the very important aspects of the bill that we should celebrate and thank the government for moving on. Currently it is the case that employment insurance claimants can access sickness benefits and subsequently access parental benefits. However, at the moment, those same claimants cannot access sickness benefits during or right after they claim parental benefits, because of a technical problem with how the law works. Bill C-44 would amend this. It is extremely welcome and I thank the minister for moving on that.

The Canada Labour Code code changes that will protect the jobs of people who have taken time off work because a child has gone missing or, worse, been murdered as a result of a Criminal Code offence, or a suspected Criminal Code offence, are also welcome. We can all understand the deep trauma and debilitating effects on parents when a child is lost in that way. Therefore, making sure that they are not penalized in the workplace is very humane. The fact that it is 2012 and this is coming into effect only now suggests that many elements of good sense do, unfortunately, take a bit too long to make their way into our legal system. Nonetheless, I thank the minister for her earlier speech outlining this change in the law.

I would like to talk a bit about some of the problems. I mentioned inconsistencies in how this is being approached. Some of the inconsistencies stem from a general problem with our employment insurance and federal benefit system of approaching things in far too ad hoc, piecemeal a fashion, not looking at the overall picture and structural dimensions of unemployment and other related or similar causes for people needing assistance. Instead, we are ending up more and more with an employment insurance system that looks a bit like the tax code, which we are all so keen to attack for it being unprincipled and full of all kinds of piecemeal provisions, without any overarching coherence. Our employment insurance system is approaching that point, and although the benefits in Bill C-44 are very welcome, they add to this piecemeal, ad hoc approach.

Let me give a couple of examples of why we are concerned that something is being moved on but in an inconsistent way that speaks to the rather limited ad hoc approach the bill feeds into.

It is great that once the bill is passed, the labour code will protect the jobs of those who are employed. Obviously I am talking about parents who lose their children, where a child goes missing or is killed through a criminal offence. The labour code in these cases will protect the parents' jobs, and that is great. That should be the case. However, there is no good reason to tie the benefit itself, the grant to the parents, to the fact of someone being employed, especially when the funding is coming from general revenue and is not considered an employment insurance benefit. We do have a problem with the fact that not all the funding for the bill will come from general revenue, but at least this benefit, the benefit to parents who have a missing or murdered child, will come from general revenue. Therefore, there is no technical reason not to be consistent in who receives the benefit. Yet it is being treated as if it is somehow an employment insurance benefit, because it is being linked and limited to those who received $6,500 a year of earned income in the previous year before the benefit.

There is no logical reason why parents who lose children in the way this bill is contemplating merit the benefit if they have been employed in the past to a certain threshold level, while parents with lower incomes, who are unemployed or otherwise, would not qualify by this standard if they also lose a child in the exact same way. The trauma is no different. The debilitating effects are no different. The undermining of their responsibilities, even if they are not responsibilities in the workplace, is no different. Others have responsibilities in their lives, whether they are employed or not, that would be undermined, indeed made impossible to fulfill, if a child is abducted or worse, murdered.

Here are two examples that anybody could recognize as valid. There are stay-at-home parents who are not earning a formal income in the workplace. They are working and in this day and age we all recognize the fact that this is work. Many of us would hope that the system would eventually evolve to the point that this work would be recognized as a form of employment but at the moment that is not the case. There are stay-at-home parents who have other children they are taking care of or an elderly parent or they are trying to hold things together in the house, and they lose a child in the same circumstances as somebody who is employed or had been employed to the $6,500 rate.

The second example is of an unemployed parent who, according to our system and our cultural values, has to spend a lot of time looking for work. That is what we expect somebody to be doing. That person would be undermined by the same event in their life as somebody who is employed. Somebody who is employed would be affected by losing a child and the ability to get back into the job market would also be affected. That inconsistency is something I would love to see looked at in committee, especially because this would be funded from general revenue.

I forgot to mention at the beginning that, if possible, I would like to split my time with the member for Pontiac.

Here is another example of this inconsistency. Precisely why is the benefit to parents who lose a child limited to parents whose children are missing or killed only as a result of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code? Is there something quite arbitrary in drawing the line there? We all have no problem understanding the debilitating effects of crime. There is indeed something hard-wired in all human beings to perhaps react a bit worse when a crime has befallen our family; it is not just the loss of the child but how the child has been lost and I accept that distinction. Yet we can have as much trauma and debilitating effect when children go missing or are killed in other ways.

I draw on the very good speech of my colleague, the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain. In her reply speech to the minister's introduction of the bill she put it so well when she said:

If I am understanding this right, if a family were to go wilderness camping, say, and their toddler wandered away from the campsite and ended up missing, the parents would not be eligible for any support during their time of frantically searching for their child. Why is that?

She went on to say:

Did the government's need to feed the rhetoric of its law and order agenda take precedence over good public policy here? I am simply not understanding why the Criminal Code caveat was deemed necessary to add in this bill.

I echo this concern. As the minister said in the House yesterday, it is not adequate to say that it was judged to be a good public policy because of response to consultations with Canadians. Surely Canadians, upon reflection, would not begrudge extending the benefit to analogous circumstances. Are Canadians so fixated on a crime agenda that they would not see the inconsistency? I very much doubt it.

I end here because I want to hear what my colleague from Pontiac has to say after I take a few questions.

Helping Families in Need Act September 27th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. minister clarify something I am still not clear about after the technical briefing last night.

I understand that, in the amending statute, the Canada Labour Code will reflect the fact that jobs are protected in the case of missing or murdered children. However, I was told last night that the grant itself is not in the amending bill and will not appear in the statute. It will be a grant.

I am wondering if she happens to know where in the system that grant would come from. Will there be regulations. Is it simply a policy of some sort? I am just wondering about tracing the trail of the money on this.

Business of Supply September 25th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for an excellent speech that set out some of the fundamentals that underlie this motion. The five specific asks in the motion were well underpinned by a philosophy of why inequality is a problem.

I would simply like to ask the hon. leader of the Liberal Party how he thinks about income and equality and its relationship to the health of our democracy at the moment. Would he agree that the further we see income inequality building up in this country, the less engagement of citizens there is with our political system and the more we will see democracy itself suffering from this fact?

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act September 24th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, if the people in my riding actually took that position and were able to argue it to me in a convincing way, obviously I would be open to changing my mind on things. The fact is that people in my riding live cheek by jowl, those who are citizens and those who are landed immigrants. Landed immigrant status can often last a very long time. It has nothing to do with dragging their feet but has a lot to do with the luck of the draw. Sometimes people are landed immigrants because they have come as children and do not opt for citizenship until quite a bit further in their lives. Then something happens where they get into trouble with the law.

The whole question I was trying to address was this. Whose community is responsible for people who get into some trouble with the law that can sometimes lead to six months versus two years, which is a huge gap? Who are responsible? The people themselves are responsible, but society as a whole has to bear some responsibility. What if those people know nothing about the society that we are thinking about deporting them to? Should we not think of them as our co-citizens, even though in the law they may not be citizens? That is my approach.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act September 24th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I share some of the concerns. I am not convinced that the government itself wants to tar people with that brush in that way.

As I started out by saying, the phraseology in the act refers to foreign criminals. For the 1.5 million or more landed immigrants or permanent residents in our country, a number the member indicated but I do not know if it is the figure, the effect of that word “foreign” is to create this kind of us/them within our own society. Some consequences for some people will be much worse than for others, even though they are just as much members of our community and Canadians in our country as somebody who has gone to the next step and become a citizen.

Therefore, I have a problem with the effect. Whether it is part of the intention, I have doubts. I cannot imagine that is the intention of the government.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act September 24th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I must advise the House that I am going to share my time with the member for Rivière-du-Nord. We will each speak for 10 minutes.

I would like to start by saying that the title of the bill, quite obviously, is something that should give us pause. The reference to foreign criminals is something that seeps throughout the entire bill. It could, if we are not careful, help construct society's understanding of the contexts that are being discussed in the bill in a way that would separate those of us who are lucky to have full citizenship from those among us who are merely landed immigrants or permanent residents.

I would like to come back to that point when I discuss, a bit later, the cutting of appeal options in new categories of cases. However, I do want to put on record that one of the biggest problems is almost a discursive problem by the reference to foreign criminals in this undifferentiated way in the title.

The second big problem with the bill is that, in some ways, it combines two extremes in terms of the exercise of state power in this context.

One extreme is that it would give a full, at least in terms of the text, and unfettered discretion to the minister with the new section 22.1, which would allow him or her to refuse temporary residence visas on his or her own opinion of what are public policy considerations. There is nothing in the bill that talks about any constraints on that.

We had an answer earlier in the House when the parliamentary secretary suggested that the government might be open to giving a bit more substance to that, but at the moment it is not in the bill.

On the other hand, we have no discretion at all on other fronts in the bill in a way that adds to the repressive dimensions of its structure. Within section 64, which would change the threshold for no appeal rights after being determined to be inadmissible from two years to six months, removing the appeal as of right, there would be nothing in between. There would be no procedure for a leave to appeal. It would be all or nothing. If people have been convicted for an offence that has involved imprisonment of six months, then they have no right of appeal from the decision on admissibility to the Immigration Appeal Division.

On the other hand, in terms of no discretion, there is a new section 25 wording that would remove not just the right of the minister but the power of the minister to consider humanitarian and compassionate considerations in a category of cases.

Now, I want to be careful here when I add this in as a problem because those categories of cases are worded very broadly and they seem like the kind of cases when one would never want to exercise discretion to allow somebody to stay. “Security”, “organized criminality” and “violating human or international rights” are the words used.

However, even within those categories, they are so generally worded, “organized criminality” and “security”, that it is not difficult to imagine some circumstances in which there may be reason to lighten the severity of the law and allow somebody to stay. In fact, that is how the system has worked. On occasion the minister does exercise exactly that discretion for those reasons. The fact is that has been eliminated.

We have to look very carefully when this does hit the committee as to whether or not the use of extremes, nothing in between, has actually created a bill that would, down the road, show itself as producing a lot of hardship.

I am going to primarily address the question of the reduction of the elimination of the right to appeal to a broader category of persons and, also, the public policy discretion of the minister.

With respect to that public policy discretion, let me start here. The new section 22.1 says:

The Minister may, on the Minister’s own initiative, declare that a foreign national...may not become a temporary resident if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations.

He may do that or she may do that for up to 36 months.

That is it. That is all we have there.

It is not too difficult to imagine how, in the hands of a certain minister or in a certain period of time, this could be exercised very arbitrarily, if not abusively. There is nothing in the bill to constrain that, other than, I hope, the fact that there would be judicial review available, but judicial review is one of the worst possible ways to produce checks in any legal system because it requires time, money and good lawyers to actually get anywhere. We need to have a system of decision making within the bill itself that checks the minister in his or her decision making, and public policy consideration is just simply far too broad a mandate to give any one person to exercise in the context.

I will not go into specific examples, but we do know of at least a few examples where the Minister of Immigration has clearly not wanted somebody to enter the country for reasons that, under the surface, appear to be more about politics than they do about sound public policy. That clause has to be looked at in committee. It has to be beefed up if it is to be retained.

The next provision to look at is section 64 which, as everybody has noted, lowers the threshold for removing the right of appeal on an inadmissibility decision from two years imprisonment to six months. If a person has been in prison for six months, that is it in terms of them having any right of appeal. They would not have any.

We should think about some of the things in the Criminal Code that can attract six months, and they may not that often, such as stealing oysters, section 323, selling a betting pool, section 202, and the list goes on. There are lots of offences that can attract six months. We would like to think the system would never end up seeking to deport somebody for these kinds of offences, but the moment we go down from two years to six months, we actually enter that territory where these kinds of Kafkaesque possibilities are there.

What about more recently, the effects of mandatory minimum legislation in Bill C-10? We know now that with marijuana, for example, the growing of six plants can lead to a six months sentence. The sentence cannot exceed six months, but it can also be six months under the new Bill C-10, when that takes effect in the Criminal Code: six months, six plants, no appeal. Does that seem at all proportionate to the kind of more nuanced decision making that we would want our laws to recognize. We hope that would never be used as a basis by the system to seek to deport somebody in and of itself, but there is nothing protecting against that result the way it is written.

The biggest problem is that the lower the threshold, the more people will be caught by it. More people who have permanent residence and landed immigrant status will suddenly be put in this category of deportable, even though what they have done in the grand scheme of things is not nearly as serious as what used to be the case under the law.

We have to begin to reflect on how much ownership we have to take of those among us who get into criminal trouble, who do end up with sentences right at the edge of six months, eight months, nine months. Who is responsible? What society is responsible for dealing with that issue? Is it always the other country that has a formal nationality, a country that a person may not have seen in 30 years, a person who may have come here at age two or age three and does not even speak the language of the other country, for example, or is it the country where the person grew up and basically produced the condition under which the crime occurred? We are not responsible for it, but we are that person's brothers and sisters. How do we think about the fact that the lower the threshold is, the more likely it is that people among us will end up in the headlights of the minister or the department of administrative immigration for this kind of deportation.

In the general sense, the bill may not appear offensive to those on the other side or to many in society, but when we look at how minimal the trigger is for somebody to be deported with no right of appeal, we really have to question whether this is the way our society wants to go. Two years itself is already something that was a compromise. Why we have gone to six months has escaped me.

Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act September 24th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for outlining what the bill contains.

I have a quick question on the new subsection 22.1, the section allowing the minister to exclude someone from gaining a temporary residence permit for up to 36 months if, in the minister's own opinion, public policy considerations justify doing so. We have already heard of some concerns about the generality of this.

Is the government at all open to giving some substance to the notion of public policy? What are the guarantees that this could not be used for political reasons? You did say to us just now that this would not happen very often. I would be very interested to know what guarantees we would have, including whether judicial review is contemplated by the government.

Chief Electoral Officer September 20th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats co-operated with Elections Canada and in fact were praised by Elections Canada for that co-operation, while the Conservatives had to plead guilty to breaking election laws. The Conservatives paid the largest fine available and wasted over $2 million taking Elections Canada to court.

If the minister of state says that something will be tabled, forgive me for not understanding that deadlines are there to be kept. The government promised to answer the committee—

Chief Electoral Officer September 20th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that New Democrats co-operated with Elections Canada, and in fact—