House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was victims.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Gatineau (Québec)

Lost her last election, in 2015, with 27% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act June 9th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-2 is probably not the most accessible bill for the community and the people who are watching at home. From the beginning, I have been calling this bill the sleeper of this legislature.

For one thing, it has not garnered much attention, which is worrisome, and for another, it originated in the Senate. I believe that we are already starting off on the wrong foot when a bill that will have such a major impact on our future practices comes from the Senate.

That being said, this will likely be one of my last speeches in the House as the justice critic for the official opposition, given the justice agenda from now until the end of this Parliament on June 23. I would therefore like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Justice, particularly those from the New Democratic Party and my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île, the sponsor for the recommendation we made to our colleagues regarding Bill S-2. She did an excellent job, given that work on this bill was not the easiest way to jump into her role as deputy critic. I would like to congratulate and thank her.

In recent years, the justice agenda has been rather onerous. Since you were once the justice critic for the official opposition, Mr. Speaker, you know what I am talking about. I would also like to thank the leader of the NDP for putting his trust in me. That is why I took the analysis of each bill very seriously and why I have often spoken out against the government's attempts to short-circuit democratic debates and in-depth examinations of bills. The decisions that we make in the area of justice can have even more significant implications for the people we represent.

Bill S-2 is a fine example because it did not attract too much attention. I was interviewed once about Bill S-2, and it was by Blacklock's Reporter, which took the time to analyze this bill and saw the same problems we did.

I find it even more important to point out that, when elected in 2011, I was appointed the co-chair of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations by our then leader, the great Jack Layton. I have to admit that at first I wondered about the committee's mandate. However, I understood just how important the committee was.

I also saw first-hand the systematic resistance of some departments, which take an eternity to answer the questions posed by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. That was what had the greatest impact on my position on Bill S-2. Sometimes they were basic questions, mainly about incorrect language usage or contradictions between the French and English texts, which creates confusion and can lead to legal disputes. I truly appreciated what I call my internship with the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, because it taught me the importance of regulations.

As some members mentioned, we sometimes forget that the Minister of Justice must certify that any government bill, whether from the Senate or the government, complies with the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The same should be true for regulations. My colleague who spoke before me spoke about the importance of modernization. I agree with her. There are 30,000 pages of regulations every year. It is painstaking work to sort through all of that. However, members of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations and officials—whom I want to commend today for the difficult job they do—examine these issues and ensure that the regulations are correct, compliant and accessible, for the benefit of our constituents and for all Canadians across the country. People need to know what is going on and what could be expected of them. I agree that we need to find a way to modernize this.

However, modernizing means something else to this government. This may ultimately be where the Conservatives pay the price for their sins, if I can put it that way. Members on the official opposition benches are deeply distrustful of this government. Why? Because this government has been secretive. It has tried all kinds of ways to circumvent democratic debate. It does not accept disagreement with its opinions. It practically sees any question from the opposition as a form of treason. In short, it prevents us from doing the job we were elected to do. The Conservatives should not be surprised that we do not want to give them a way to speed things up or to put these issues in the hands of people we cannot control or oversee to ensure they are doing their job properly.

When a public servant like Mr. Schmidt goes to the Federal Court against his employer, the Department of Justice, to say that he was told to cut corners and ignore the Constitution and the charter, that worries me. Now the government wants the power to regulate by reference, which is the simplest way. There is also a retroactivity clause, as my colleague from Toronto—Danforth mentioned earlier. In committee, we were basically told that it was already being done—as if the fact that something previously prohibited is being done should justify the fact that they are rushing into this approach.

Currently, if regulation by reference happens, it is authorized or should have been authorized by the enabling legislation. We learned that that was not always the case. That is why the government put clause 18.7 in the Senate bill. That clause includes a retroactivity provision. That reminds me of what was in Bill C-59 about destroying information in registries.

What people do not see is that regulations can go very far. Let us look at each kind of bill: government bills, private members' bills and Senate bills. A power is always given to the appropriate minister, the authority to adopt regulations. The minister himself can delegate the power to take action to a senior official. In short, if we also decide to allow them to adopt regulations that come from other countries—which would come to us in a language that is not ours and where bilingualism will surely be short-circuited—one might have some serious concerns about this bill.

What I am saying to my colleagues in the House is that there is no urgency here. Bill S-2 deserves to be studied further and should be considered with greater openness. It would be nice if the government could look at the comments and listen to and consider the criticisms instead of simply slamming the door and saying that this bill is the only way.

I encourage my colleagues to take a short strategic pause to look carefully at Bill S-2, given that it could have enormous ramifications that will be rather serious in some cases.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act June 9th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. I have two quick questions for her.

First, clause 18.7 confirms the validity of an incorporation by reference that was made before the day on which that section comes into force. That is a retroactivity clause, suggesting that this is already being done without the consent of this House. What does the hon. member think about that clause and how does she explain it?

Does she have any concerns about compliance with Canada's bilingualism rules for regulations, since a number of witnesses told us that there could a serious problem in that regard? Does the Conservative government still believe in the importance of bilingualism in Canada?

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act June 9th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île for her speech on a bill that is not necessarily easy to understand for everyone. As she pointed out, it is extremely technical. I am pleased to see that the problem of bilingualism of our regulations was raised. It is a problem that could very well surface quite regularly after Bill S-2 is passed.

There is also another obvious problem with Bill S-2: by proceeding with incorporation by reference, is there not a risk of further circumventing regulatory compliance with the Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? This concept is quite foreign to the Conservative government when it comes to its bills, but it is a requirement for regulations.

I am extremely worried about the fact that it will be easier to adopt regulations without thorough study by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. I would like the member to briefly comment on that.

Criminal Code June 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, as the justice critic for the official opposition, I have the honour of rising in the House on this Friday afternoon to speak to Bill C-590 on behalf of both my riding of Gatineau and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party. First of all, I would like to say that we too support Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content). This bill seeks to establish more severe penalties for offences where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and where driving under the influence results in serious consequences, such as bodily harm or even death.

I heard a number of my colleagues in the House mention that impaired driving is still a scourge even today in 2015. It is still a problem. People go out and they still think that they can drive a vehicle, which can actually be considered a weapon. A vehicle can cause considerable damage. Nevertheless, some people seem to think that they can get behind the wheel of their vehicle after they have been drinking, no matter how many drinks they have had.

The New Democratic Party obviously has a zero tolerance policy for impaired driving. We believe that even more can be done. Members may ask if I think that Bill C-590 will solve this problem. When members introduce a bill, they usually want to make sure that it accomplishes what it is supposed to. In this case, the member obviously wants to send a clear message, but I hope that the bill will do more than that because it does not seem that people really understand. There are many repeat drunk drivers who unfortunately do not seem to care about the Criminal Code.

Is Bill C-590 going to make every single Canadian understand the concept of zero tolerance once and for all? I highly doubt it. First of all, I doubt that this bill is that well-thought-out. Whether the Conservative member introducing this bill likes it or not, it definitely should have been fine-tuned a little more. For now, with this parliamentary session coming to an end and time running out, it is a half measure. Clearly, the person who introduced the bill had good intentions in relation to its objective, but he is not a legal expert. Few witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to talk to us about Bill C-590, so the member left many questions unanswered.

We realize, and people from the Justice Department also realize, that this bill has a few gaps in it that should have been fixed before it was introduced. This is perhaps another reason why these kinds of files do not usually come from backbenchers, but rather the government, because they involve complex policies. Certain sections of the Criminal Code can lead to disputes as well as some confusion.

The main confusion here relates to a question I asked my colleague across the way when he first introduced the bill. When most offenders are first stopped by a police officer on the side of the road, they are asked to take a breathalyzer test. Knowing the penalties for someone who has more than 160 millilitres of alcohol in their blood, would the person not be better off to simply refuse to take the breathalyzer? Of course, refusing the test carries its own penalties, but, Mr. Speaker, since you are a lawyer like me, you know that those penalties are much less harsh than the penalties that would apply under Bill C-590 if it passes.

Someone who is very drunk would certainly have greater incentive to refuse to take a breathalyzer test, rather than giving the Crown evidence that they are above the new limit that comes with this new sentence.

As justice critic for the New Democratic Party, I have always believed that when we are drafting bills it is not a matter of taking a tough-on-crime approach—as the Conservatives love to say—but a matter of taking an intelligent approach. We need to ensure that the measures we take will truly achieve what we claim they will.

For example, if Bill C-590 passes, we could see games being played. As I mentioned in committee, in January or February this year, a judge in the riding of Gatineau dismissed some 30 impaired driving cases because the cases had not been tried within a reasonable amount of time. This made the news, and many people were shocked.

On occasion I go through my riding to talk about drunk driving and how, despite all of the awareness campaigns and the harsher sentences in recent years, people still do not seem to get the message. The problem is that the Conservatives have made all kinds of amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code.

Criminal justice experts, such as crown prosecutors, defence attorneys, police forces, judges and all stakeholders, tell me that there are so many delays in these cases that the Crown and the defence end up playing games.

Since sentences are more severe, the defence is less likely to negotiate a plea bargain with the Crown and more likely to go to court in all cases to avoid certain new sentences. This creates a tremendous backlog in our courthouses. Gatineau is not alone in this. We see it all across Quebec and Canada.

This backlog should not be the one thing preventing us from taking action. However, as we in the New Democratic Party often say, if the government wants to introduce new sentences and a new way of doing things, it has to give the police the tools they need. For example, there should be more officers on the ground so that offenders can be arrested. The government also has to ensure that our justice system can handle these people and hold their trials within a reasonable period of time instead of allowing unreasonable delays due to a shortage of judges, crown prosecutors and courtrooms.

Taken together, these elements result in an extremely dysfunctional system. Courts are begging for help, but nobody is responding. All the government does is give them new laws that they have to adapt to and interpret within the context of other laws. This complicates legal situations and sometimes results in the opposite of what the Conservatives are trying to achieve. Lots of people manage to slip through the cracks in the system. How many times have I read in the paper that somebody has been caught for the fifth time and been sentenced to the equivalent of a slap on the wrist?

One serious problem that the Conservatives have not yet fixed is the fact that criminal records are not always up to date because the RCMP lacks resources. We know there is a way to emphasize recidivism before the courts, but the criminal record and the history have to be properly identified. If they are not, the Crown cannot work miracles. It cannot say that a particular conviction has not yet been entered on the record but that the individual was convicted in such and such a year. That is not how it works. Sometimes there are more basic problems to fix.

This will not stop us from supporting Bill C-590, which is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, it certainly is not the answer to all our problems when it comes to zero tolerance for drunk driving.

Access to Information June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I smell another video coming.

The Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault, has already warned the government that the retroactive amendments to the Access to Information Act set out in Bill C-59 set “a perilous precedent against Canadians' quasi-constitutional right to know”. However, the government chose to ignore her.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Ms. Legault recently filed an order in Federal Court to prevent the Conservatives from destroying the data.

Why is the government stubbornly refusing to listen to the commissioner?

Questions on the Order Paper June 4th, 2015

With regard to Edgar Schmidt v. The Attorney General of Canada, as of March 31, 2015: (a) how many hours have public servants devoted to this legal challenge; (b) how much money has the government spent on the challenge; and (c) what resources has the government employed with respect to the challenge and how much money has been allocated to each of these resources?

Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act June 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address a few minor points we heard regarding this 98th time allocation motion, more commonly known as a gag order, because that is what the government is trying to impose on us.

I heard the minister say that the Conservatives are principled. However, people who are principled do not say one thing one day and the opposite the next, 98 times. Principled people do not condemn the imposition of time allocation motions when they are not in government, and then turn around and impose more such motions than any other government. It will be interesting to hear what the minister has to say about that.

The Conservatives are mocking us with these 98 time allocation motions, as though this were a good thing, as though they have proven that they can get things done. What I want to say to people watching at home is that with these 98 gag orders, the Conservatives have instead proven that they cannot convince anyone to get anything done in the House while respecting our existing democratic systems.

As for the member for Yukon, he had the nerve to tell us that we refused to go along, when he is the one who abandoned his own bill, at the government's request, because he did not have the guts to go ahead with it, even though he had the unanimous consent of those people in the House. I will not take any lessons from the member for Yukon.

Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act June 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I know that the Chair gives a lot of leeway to members, but we are on time allocation, and the member is completely off base on that one.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons Act June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-587 best represents this government's approach to justice in the four years of Conservative majority reign. I can say that with authority, having been part of in-depth studies in committee since I became the official opposition justice critic. My heart aches for justice and for the victims because the government laid it on rather thick when it claimed that it would change things for the better for them when, in reality, this is a total failure.

I say that Bill C-587 is a good example of this because it constitutes a major change that will have major repercussions. It has been left to the courts to determine whether or not a person should have to wait up to 40 years before getting parole, but that is the least of my concerns in the context of Bill C-587.

The principle underlying this whole bill—which should have been introduced by the Government of Canada, not a backbencher—is highly representative of what this government stands for. It has always tried to get things in through the back door that it knew it would have a hard time getting in through the front door. When it brings things in through the front door, it gets chastised quite regularly by the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada.

I am not talking about just anything here; I am talking about justice in Canada. Any government that is responsible when it comes to justice would have taken a step back before going full steam ahead with its sledgehammer agenda and heading directly for a wall.

I think we need to respect justice. A democracy that lacks justice has some serious problems. That is what the government is trying to create with all of these haphazard pieces of legislation that are connected in strange ways.

The question I asked the member is extremely important. I asked the Department of Justice representative the same question. The similarities between Bill C-587 and Bill C-53 are pretty clear.

I appreciate the response given by the member, who said that he saw that his bill had a better chance of making it to the Senate so he decided to go forward with it. However, what is more important is that there is another bill coming behind his that deals with the same type of crime but that will apply in a different situation. That is not very good for the courts and for justice in general. That is not a good way to govern.

If we want to do things, we need to do them right. What will we do in the event that two bills that deal with the same type of crime but provide for two different courses of action are passed?

When a senior official from the Department of Justice indicates that he thinks the court will be able to sort things out and assess the evidence, he is complicating justice in Canada. The fact that the Conservatives have brought in so many mandatory minimum sentences—sentences that are often shorter than those that have been established in the case law—is going to have the opposite effect. It is going to give defence lawyers the opportunity to ask for the minimum sentence, since the legislator des not speak to say nothing. The fact that there is no mandatory minimum sentence in other instances sends the message that the Conservatives do not trust the courts.

That will likely be a key part of the Conservatives' legacy. I am truly saddened by that, and all those who are concerned about justice in Canada likely are as well. Justice should be administered fairly to all Canadians, regardless of whether they live in Quebec, Ontario, western Canada or the Atlantic provinces. Justice should reflect the crimes that have been committed. A desire for justice does not mean that we want improvised justice that does not do what it is supposed to do.

The Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, Mr. Head, said that this bill might apply to one or two people a year. At some point the Conservatives need to stop laying it on so thick and claiming that they are fixing a huge number of problems.

I was struck by the argument that my colleague made at second reading. It is indeed difficult for families to appear before the Parole Board of Canada, which the government repudiates with Bill C-53. The government thinks that the Minister of Public Safety will do a better job than the Parole Board of Canada. The parole board does an amazing job, in light of all the files it has to process and the limited resources it has as a result of cuts.

I sometimes feel as though there are people who jot something down on a napkin, saying that it would sound good at a press conference. Then they bring in a few people who support them and put on a nice press conference. However, they do not think things through. If they are serious about wanting to rehabilitate criminals over a larger number of years, they need to work on rehabilitating them.

Commissioner Head told us that the parole board adjusts its rehabilitation programs based on the length of the sentence. If the individual is not released for 30, 35 or 40 years, his rehabilitation program certainly will not start as soon as he goes to jail, in light of the reduced budgets at the Correctional Service of Canada. Did they think about that? No they did not.

My colleague who introduced Bill C-587 said that he wanted to reduce the number of times that victims are asked to appear before the Parole Board of Canada. I support that argument. However, I would have preferred that he try to find ways to remove some of the irritants for victims who have to appear before the Human Rights Commission. This could be done through the victims bill of rights, even though that is merely a nice statement of principles in many respects, and it will not really do anything for victims—and the future will prove me right.

Sometimes we know that the offender will not get out of prison. As Commissioner Head was saying, not just anyone can be released, and especially not dangerous offenders. There are so many things that have to be established before the board will even consider releasing someone.

We need to remove the irritants, so let us do that. If the objective is to bring in harsher sentences, the House has already agreed to making certain sentences consecutive rather than concurrent. The member said so himself. No one can convince me that we have a soft justice system in Canada when 75-year sentences are being handed down, as was the case for the Moncton shootings. We are capable of handing out harsh sentences.

The criminals he is referring to are people like Bernardo. Those criminals die in prison. If the government is looking for harsher sentences, I would like to remind it that the system already ensures that dangerous criminals will never see the light of day again. Instead, we should eliminate the irritants in the parole process for victims and their families. When it comes to the principles of justice, there are smarter and safer ways to avoid these irritants.

What has bothered me about justice issues for four years is that I always feel like we are working to no avail. We know that there is almost no reason for doing this work and that problems will arise, because these sentences will be considered to be unusual punishment and will be overturned by the courts.

Just because it gives discretion to judges does not necessarily make the bill acceptable. It is a bad bill that will not do what it is meant to do. It is at odds with another bill this government has introduced and will create confusion when it comes to justice, and that is certainly not helpful. For these reasons, I will be voting against the bill. I understand some of the intentions behind the bill, but there are smarter ways to get things done on matters of justice.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons Act June 2nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

I have a quick question for my colleague. I still do not have the answer, even after seriously studying the bill at committee.

The government had presented or filed at first reading Bill C-53, which is the life means life bill. Now we have this bill, with the possibility of appealing to the public security minister after 35 years. For the same type of infractions or crimes, we have Bill C-587, which seems to create a type of situation where we are not too sure what prosecutors would be able to do. There might be the possibility of a mix-up in front of the courts, which are already mixed up because of the crime and punishment agenda put forth by the government.

I know the hon. member suspended the study of his bill at some point in time at committee. I am curious as to why he suspended it and why he decided to continue even though Bill C-53 is still somewhere inside this Parliament.