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

The Environment May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Canada has gone from climate change laggard under the Liberals to climate change embarrassment under the Conservatives, with weakened and missed targets, and a caucus that is a safe haven for climate deniers. Now the Prime Minister is saying that our next set of targets will not even match the U.S. after he spent 10 years telling us that we would harmonize with the U.S.

Canada needs to bring new targets to Paris this year. Our contribution is absolutely crucial. When will the government announce new ambitious targets to fight the climate crisis?

World Press Freedom Day May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, to pay tribute to the essential work that journalists do to inform the public and to speak truth to power. I also pay special tribute to Kathy Gannon, who has received this year's Press Freedom Award. I also cannot let the moment pass without again drawing attention to Egypt's treatment of Canadian journalist, Mohamed Fahmy, who remains in legal jeopardy and is still not home.

As a former commissioner for the civil society Truth Commission established after the 2009 coup in Honduras, I came to better understand the bravery of a principled press. Honduras was the most dangerous place for media professionals in the world—intimidation, threats to family members, assaults, multiple assassinations, forced exile.

Today, too little attention is being paid to the deteriorating situation in another country. I speak of Turkey, where the government has been launching raids on media institutions and detaining journalists in large numbers. Turkey must step back from its deeply worrisome drift into repressive rule.

Citizen Voting Act April 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, one of the concerns I continue to have is the false impression being left by the government in general, with the current minister having to carry the can, apparently. I will not go further than to say that she is responding to questions and others are not.

The first thing is that a distinct impression was intended to be left. That is a very awkward way of putting it, but back in December, for two weeks we were all under the impression that the government had decided not to appeal the Frank case. The whole presentation of Bill C-50 was that we needed this to implement the Frank decision as if we were complying. It was a constitutional judgment, the government realized it did not stand any hope of winning an appeal, so it would no longer fight against enfranchising all these Canadians who had, before now, been disenfranchised, and it would not appeal. That turned out to be totally false. Once we started probing, the government case continued.

There is no actual interest on the part of the government in enfranchising Canadians, and that should inform how we understand what it is trying to do with this bill. When it is forced by the courts to abide by the Frank judgment, this is how it is going to do it, and it is going to do it in a way that makes it exceedingly difficult when compared to what the process used to be for citizens abroad.

It has to be put on the record that the government is appealing the Frank decision. That is part and parcel of why it is seeking to make it more difficult for Canadians to vote through this new bill, and why the government does not want a lot of debate or awareness about the bill at all.

The second thing is that our colleague has made a very good effort to present it in a way that suggests that some streamlining is going on here. The presentation is that a bunch of rules are being cleaned up and the Frank judgment has kind of spurred that analysis of how to make the process of citizens voting from abroad more efficient, secure, fair and everything else. The fact is that of the three or four major changes, the single biggest change in the bill is that those who are abroad cannot begin the process of voting until after the writ drops. Only at that point are they allowed to register. Then there is a whole series of steps involving the mail across the globe, which creates the huge risk that they will never get the vote at all. Therefore, the streamlining subtext of this is absolutely inaccurate.

It is really important to know that both of the points I have made about the Frank judgment, and what is going on with the judgment with respect to my last point, speak to why the government delayed so long in bringing it back for debate: because of the attention it would continue to generate. It now wants almost no attention, which is tied to the fact that the bill is set down for debate tomorrow, Friday, the day when the least attention is paid to bills in the House.

Citizen Voting Act April 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, with respect, the fact that a member of Parliament agrees with part of a bill, while at the same time taking care to outline a number of serious problems with the bill that need more exposure, including through debate, is hardly an argument for shutting down debate.

The second thing I would like to reference, and ask my colleague to comment on, is that all of this started in December when the minister tabled the bill and presented media and press release materials that gave the impression this was in response to the Frank judgment in the court system, which prohibited preventing any Canadian abroad from voting. The current rule in the Canada Elections Act says that if one has been away for more than five years, one cannot vote, but that rule was struck down on the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The only action the government had to take on that was simply to eliminate the rule. Nothing had to change.

There are already a bunch of rules in the act for how those who have been away for less than five years to vote from abroad. There is no nexus whatsoever between this bill and respecting the Frank judgment. Rather, it is the exact opposite, because the Frank judgment opens up the field of voting for citizens abroad to far more people than had been the case before. The government, obviously, suddenly became worried and created much more onerous rules for voting from abroad for everybody, including for those who have always had the right—who have been away for less than five years.

I would kindly ask my colleague across the way not to buy into the minister's spin that the bill would implement the Frank judgment. It does not at all.

Citizen Voting Act April 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address my question to the minister. I would also like to thank the House leader for giving us the opportunity to have more people in the House to listen to exactly why the government is shutting down debate again, for the 95th time in this Parliament.

It is very clear that Bill C-50 is a bill the Conservative government does not want Canadians to know about. It has only received one day of debate so far. The Conservatives have had six months to push it through, and now, on a Thursday, with debate on the bill scheduled for tomorrow, Friday, they want to slip through the fact that, following Bill C-23, Bill C-50 is a deliberate attempt to suppress the votes of citizens abroad.

There is a nonsensical creation of a barrier in the bill that would make it very difficult for many Canadians abroad to register in time to vote. The minister knows that. There is also a stripping of powers from the Chief Electoral Officer to determine what ID is sufficient for citizens abroad.

There are all sorts of things that have actually not registered yet on the radar screen of the media or citizens, and one of the reasons the Conservative government does not want the bill fully debated is exactly that. When Canadians come to realize that it is step two after the former unfair elections act, they will resist, along with the official opposition.

Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act April 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, one of the justifications the minister has offered is that the time is here to go to committee, even though there has been almost no debate on the bill.

In a functioning Parliament, in a Parliament where democracy is taken seriously, the idea of going to committee for an independent and truly fair review of a bill might be something we would want to entertain, were that argument made sincerely and in good faith. However, we know that is not true.

We had the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages up in the House in question period saying to the Speaker that committees are masters of their own house. Everybody in this House knows that is simply not true. Parliamentary secretaries sit on committees as direct conduits from ministers and the PMO. We also have the record of the government not accepting, as a matter of perverse principle, amendments coming from the opposition. There were over 100 amendments from four parties or from independents in the Bill C-51 process, but not one was accepted.

Going to committee as an excuse to cut off debate in the House is totally bogus, and I am wondering if the minister, somehow or other, thinks committees are working independently in this House.

Military Contribution Against ISIL March 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague whether he has any concerns at all that the Minister of National Defence is going out there and usurping the role of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and making completely erroneous claims about the state of international law. The Minister of National Defence said yesterday:

I would further state that Canada has an independent right of self-defence here insofar as this organization has explicitly targeted Canada.

The idea that threats from a terrorist group give us the right to use military force in another country is a completely erroneous and ridiculous statement of the state of international law. I am wondering, as someone who comes from the foreign affairs field, whether my colleague has any concerns at all that we are looking at a kind of reverse takeover by the Minister of National Defence of an area the foreign affairs department should be leading on.

Military Contribution Against ISIL March 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I do not have any particular views other than to say a well set up question is asked and answered. Both ministers I am sure are capable of dealing with the conflict that exists between their rationales.

However, it goes back to the fact that, again, the government is content with wholesale, feel-good arguments in the sense of, let us lash out and attack brutal terrorists. It feels good to all of us. Who does not want to do that? That is the bottom line kind of justification they are getting to. Then, when they are really going for the moral impulse, they talk about all of the brutality. It is correct to be talking about that, but they are not linking it to any specific legal justification either.

All I am asking for, truly, is straightforward clarity. That will also come with seeing the legal opinions, although the government is rather afraid of the legal profession in this country. It is afraid of law professors who give opinions on Bill C-51, for example. It is disdainful of the Canadian Bar Association. I rather doubt it would want to see its legal opinion subject to the scrutiny of other experts.

Military Contribution Against ISIL March 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, first, the hon. minister is a lawyer. He knows that the solicitor-client privilege can be waived by the client. The analogy between private sector solicitor-client privilege and advice the government receives, especially on a question of going to war, is completely inapposite and he knows it.

Second, the government has not been clear. No one on that side could articulate for two days that they were acting in accordance with article 51 of the UN charter. There was so much scrambling going on behind the scenes, it was actually embarrassing.

The last thing is, the minister can reconstruct government relations all he wants but having an opinion from the Department of National Defence, if the newspaper reports are true, that the judge advocate general, as the minister who is now in the House has said, is the one who has given the go-ahead advice, is completely inappropriate unless there is parallel advice coming from the legal adviser of the Department of Foreign Affairs. If there is, we would like to see that opinion.

Military Contribution Against ISIL March 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by pointing out what I think is obvious for many here. The position that the Prime Minister has taken for the last couple of days in the House suggests a serious continuity with the position he took in 2003. He was one of the cheerleaders and apologists for George W. Bush's decision to engage in a manifestly illegal and profoundly stupid invasion of Iraq.

There were two cheerleaders of note at that time. One was south of the border and became the leader of the Liberal Party. That was Michael Ignatieff. He was immediately recruited by the Liberal elites to become the anointed one. The other was the current Prime Minister. He did not give a hoot then about international law, and he does not now.

All we have to do is look at is the contemptuous response he gave in the House yesterday to the Leader of the Opposition. In the end, what the Prime Minister is telling us is “What I say is the law.” That is how he is used to running—and, frankly, ruining—this parliamentary democracy.

“I am King. I am the law.”

That is the Prime Minister.

We then heard from the Minister of Foreign Affairs today. It was a more measured speech, but at the same time, he slipped. He started saying that if we vote against this motion, we are “voting against” our own soldiers. This kind of argumentation, this kind of attempt to suggest that any concerns about wisdom—and, in this case, lawfulness—is somehow beneath debate in the House of Commons is destructive of our democracy. We talk about a goal of degrading ISIL, ISIS, the Islamic State or whatever it is called, and at the same time we are engaging in debate that helps to degrade democratic discourse in the House of Commons.

One thing that is obvious from the last two days is that the government, or at least the ministers, did not have a clue about what the legal basis would be that they were going to be putting forward. They had not bothered to clarify in their own minds what it was. Their answers were all over the map in the House. Yesterday they were scrambling to cross their t's and dot their i's because they finally acknowledged that if they were going to be following the American model, the justification would be one of collective self-defence of Iraq, for which they need an invitation from Iraq. We will see whether that gets backdated, because there is no invitation from Iraq to go into Syria at the moment. They will also need to write a letter to the UN in the way that the U.S. did in order to go into Syria on September 23, 2014.

What that suggests is that legality is an afterthought. Not knowing and not reading whatever legal opinion they purport to have in order to know how they are allowed to go into Syria, so as to then know what the purpose of the mission can be in law, suggests that it does not matter to them. They are going in for other reasons.

Some of the reasons might be very good ones, in the sense that there is this visceral response to the brutality of ISIS. The imagery from the former minister is of that ilk. The government is mixing in justifications about how maybe this is actually a humanitarian intervention, although I have not heard the government give that as the legal basis. It is also on that side.

Frankly, there is also just politics. The government wants to go in for reasons that have as much to do with electoral politics as they do with the actual need for Canada to be involved in this way, especially by extending the mission to Syria.

We debated this question back in early October. At the time, the motion that was passed by the House included Syria. We knew that it did. It was clear, and there was a condition set by the Prime Minister that Canada would not extend its active mission, particularly the bombing part of it, without the consent of the government of Syria, namely Assad.

The U.S. had already put out its legal rationale for going into Syria a full two to three weeks before, on September 23, 2014. Surely any competent Canadian government and its advisers would know what that rationale was by the time we had the debate in the House, yet the only legal basis that the government put forward then for going into Syria was one of the consent of the Syrian government. No mention was ever made of the U.S. rationale.

Was that because the government had legal advice from somewhere within the government that the U.S. rationale was dubious, or even not valid? If so, how the government went about getting a legal opinion that it liked a lot better is a question that has to be asked.

Maybe there is a hint. Newspaper reports suggests that it was the Judge Advocate General, based in the Department of National Defence, who gave that legal opinion.

It is one, of course, we are never going to see, because the current government will raise the bogus argument of solicitor-client privilege as the reason we cannot see the legal opinion. However, the Judge Advocate General has no business giving legal opinions on ius ad bellum, the use of military force as set out in general public international law. That is the role of the legal adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs, who in every other government and every other Westminster system would be the one giving the opinion.

The question is begged: did the legal adviser give an opinion back in September and October? Was it favourable to the government? If so, why do we not know about it? If it was not favourable to the government, is that why the Department of National Defence has inserted itself and overridden the Department of Foreign Affairs in its proper role of advising the government on the lawfulness of going to war?

These are questions we have to ask. I would remind members that we have asked them and will continue to ask them. We will want to see the legal opinions. It is not for the sake of legality itself, but in order to know what the government sees as the basis for going in and to be able to hold the government to account for the reasons given, under law. It is also in order to be critical, to scrutinize, and have others who are also experts say “case made” or “case not made”.

The fact is that unless the government changes its ways, it is going to say, “Sorry, solicitor-client privilege”, which is so bogus. First of all, the client is the government. Second, this is the ultimate public interest. There is nothing reasonably confidential in what the government hears about whether it can go to war that cannot be shared, not just with Parliament but with Canadians as a whole.

Therefore, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs here in the House, I do ask him to make sure that any legal opinion that has been received by the government is tabled, and tabled forthwith.

I will briefly go over the three kinds of legal justifications that have been circulating.

One is that when things are finally clarified, it is beginning to look like the government realizes that for the Americans, the primary justification is one of collective self-defence of Iraq. Not surprisingly, the U.S. needed Iraq to request it to defend itself against whatever threat it sees coming from Syria. This is based on a very tenuous theory that does not have firm grounding in international law, possibly not even firm grounding in emerging international law: the safe haven theory.

The safe haven theory is that if another state is incapable or unwilling to eradicate safe havens from which non-state groups like ISIS are crossing the border into another state, that state can attack at will in order to deal with the threat. The fact is that the leading judgment in international law on this point, from the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua case in the mid-1980s, specifically said that it is not a basis for exercising the right of collective self-defence.

The leading definition set out by the United Nations in 1974, the Definition of Aggression, does talk about a scenario like this, a scenario of non-state groups crossing borders to attack another state. It is not as if this issue has not arisen. However, the issue is whether another state is sending, by or on behalf of that state, or is substantially involved in sending, armed groups across the border. That does trigger a right of self-defence.

People have cited the 9/11 response. After the towers came down, after that brutal terrorist attack on New York, the response was to go into Afghanistan. People said the attack meant that we can go after any safe haven in response to a non-state terrorist attack.

That is absolutely wrong. At the time, everybody thought and understood that al Qaeda and the Taliban government of Afghanistan were so interpenetrated that any al Qaeda attack was, in effect, one that had the substantial involvement of the Taliban government. That was the basis on which self-defence was exercised, and nobody objected at the time. However, to stretch that into this broader theory requires seeing the legal opinions. Maybe the law has marched on. Despite being a public international lawyer, maybe I have not watched enough in the last five years to know it has, but we need to see to know.

The last thing floating out there, especially coming out of the mouth of the Minister of National Defence, is the idea of a George Bush-style GWOT, a global war on terror. It is the idea that all that is needed is a threat by a non-state group to allow a state to go around the world bombing, whether with drones or airplanes, if another state is somehow or other not doing the job that this state says needs to be done.

The wording of the motion actually plays exactly into that idea, because the new motion—as my colleague, the critic for foreign affairs, brought up earlier today—specifically says that it is not just against ISIS but ISIS allies, which include, for example, Boko Haram in Nigeria.

It also says that the actions Canada can take “include” air strikes in Iraq and Syria. It does not create an exclusive list. There are good reasons the official opposition is asking for legal clarity and to see the legal opinions.