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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was nations.

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

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 18% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Citizen Consultation Preceding Natural Resource Development November 21st, 2014

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the federal government, in exercising its jurisdiction, should submit natural resource development projects to a broader consultation with First Nations and citizens in communities and urban areas affected by the establishment of such activities, and that public willingness should be a criterion in obtaining a development permit to the same degree as impacts on human health, ecosystem maintenance, employment and economic development.

Mr. Speaker, the motion that will be debated in the House is the culmination of the environmental citizenship initiative that began in Manicouagan in 2009.

Why 2009? That is the year I became active in environmental issues after my band council, where I was legal counsel, received a visit from a Romanian engineer who had come to inform us that a company was prospecting for uranium on our land. The people on my band council were quite amazed to learn about it because no one had been informed. Ultimately, there was an outcry about this situation.

Thousands of citizens—about 2,000— marched in the streets of Sept-Îles in the middle of the winter, to speak out against these activities. They were protesting the lack of transparency and the secrecy surrounding the activities, rather than the mining itself, although the mining, even at the exploratory stage, could cause problems for the water tables and the Moisie River watershed, which is nearby.

The public spoke out against this mainly because there was a lack of transparency and of will. An economic entity had acted in secret.

The company's stock price plummeted after this protest. Ultimately, the company fled the Côte-Nord, and its shares were decimated.

Other areas in the north have supported the claims that the public should be involved in the decision-making process associated with industrial projects. Grassroots mobilization is now significant and can be assessed due to the multiplicity of action-based measures and tools put in place by citizen advocacy groups. When I talk about citizen action, I will be contrasting it with the significant financial clout of industry players, such as the major industrial lobbies.

For example, three days ago a document surfaced. It was from a group that was hired by TransCanada as part of the energy east project. The document revealed that the industry players in 2014 are not even hiding it anymore and are prepared to put it on paper: their desire to muzzle the public is so strong that they are willing to pay up to $7.75 an hour for people to speak out publicly against those who are questioning the legitimacy of the project and how it will impact the environment.

The industry players in 2014 are prepared to invest money in these tactics rather than working together, trying to listen to the public's claims and coming to an agreement. In fact, they operate behind closed doors and are prepared to spend serious money. We see the disparity and the lack of balance here, since the public has little financial clout. Big business is willing to pay $7.75 an hour, which opens Pandora's box, so to speak. In short, we can see that there is a serious imbalance of power.

The only tool people have left is mobilization. In the past, that particular tool has not been very good for investment. In 2009, Terra Ventures' share price dropped dramatically and ended up being worth nothing, and the company had to leave the region because it did not start by including people.

I feel that citizen participation is indispensable. Genuine listening and paying attention are critical to securing public willingness, which is one of the main points of this motion. Citizens must be involved from the earliest stages of any given initiative. If citizens are not involved, eventually they will get up in arms, and that is bad for the industry and the economy in general.

The fundamental basis of all these demands is noble indeed. Citizens are entitled to expect to be more involved in processes related to natural resource extraction undertakings.

As I said, in 2009, a public education campaign about the Lac Kachiwiss project ultimately led to mobilization. Now, in 2014, public participation has increased dramatically and is not happening just in Sept-Îles or on the North Shore. It is happening across Canada.

In fact, that is what the TransCanada report indicated. In Quebec, activism on environmental issues is going strong, and there are more ecologists. Is that a bad thing? Time will tell. Still, more and more people are mobilizing about this.

That is why industry players now have to pay through the nose to hire the services of big communications firms. I have a message for National, the firm that is currently operating just outside Sept-Îles: we are keeping an eye on you and the Arnaud Mine, given that the same modus operandi is being used on the north shore. The local people are on to you.

The public awareness raising that began in 2009 has paid off because still in 2014, we are seeing incredible mobilization and citizen involvement on the north shore. We have even been cited as a national role model. It is for the common good, after all.

The message to industry players that has been developed over the years is that actively seeking public approval for proposed mining activities is a guarantee of a stable climate that is conducive to investment, unlike the view the government takes.

The Conservatives and successive governments have seen citizen engagement as an obstacle to Canada's economic growth. That is where they err in fact and in law, since citizen engagement is a guarantee of stability and good for the economy and investment. If people are involved from the early stages of a given initiative, this greatly diminishes the chances that they will end up demonstrating in the streets to make their voices heard, sometimes more assertively than not. When 2,000 people are outside when it is –25 degrees Celsius, with small children, dogs and placards in tow, that is not good for investment or the country's international reputation.

Rather than investing in communication programs designed to repress people, industry players would be much better off working in a truly inclusive manner. That does not mean just saying on paper that they held consultations, when people's concerns have not been taken into account, the public really has only secondary influence, and industry players are trying to sideline people and pit community groups against each other.

That is what is happening right now in Sept-Îles with National, the firm I mentioned earlier. The industry behind this is creating its own community groups and then pitting them against existing groups. Rather than dealing with the situation directly and involving people who may have dissenting opinions, the industry is trying to pit other community groups against them so that these matters are dealt with in the streets. That is not a very progressive idea.

Given that people have leverage when it comes to natural resource extraction initiatives, it was important for me to place the concept of the expression of public willingness in the context of decision making. The public should be involved when economic incentives and environmental impacts are being examined.

Implementing natural resource extraction initiatives has an effect on economic development and the environment. In the future, the best approach would be to hold some sort of plebiscite to get the public's approval and make sure that people support the project. That is just as important as any other social, economic or environmental considerations. People need to feel as though they are involved and their opinions are taken into account.

When I was writing my notes and the motion, I felt it was crucial to stay away from older concepts such as sustainable development and social accessibility. It is sad, but these concepts have been recycled and are now trademarked. That is why I chose instead to use the concept of the expression of public willingness.

When I eat my cereal in the morning, it says “sustainable development” on the box. It has become a trademark. The industry has appropriated these concepts and they are now devoid of all meaning. Claims are being made left and right. There are sustainable development experts in 2014. It means nothing now, and people are not stupid. That is why I put forward this new concept of the expression of public willingness.

How long will it take for the industry to recycle that concept? That is what I am asking. I know one thing for certain, and that is that it is very clear: expression of public willingness, public approval and, finally, acceptability. This is where true social acceptability lies. A plebiscite must be held to determine whether the public really agrees with the proposed idea and initiative.

When I was writing this motion, I tried to distance myself from worn-out social and environmental concepts in order to offer a completely innovative vision for the Canadian people who are looking for another voice in Parliament.

In a certain way, the public is rejecting the government's initiatives. Cynicism has seeped into society, partly because of how essential and defining concepts, such as sustainable development, have become watered down. It started out as a noble concept. It is still somewhat noble today, but it has been overused, especially since our environmental safeguards have been ignored and gutted. Take, for example, the Navigation Protection Act. The legislation included environmental protection, but it was gutted and the only tool available to people now is mobilization.

Once again, there is the misconception that public mobilization and engagement are a barrier to economic growth. Yes, that is how it is in 2014. Indeed, when people take to the streets with signs, that attracts attention. The media pay attention, and that influences stock prices and value. If companies invested as much in including people as they are currently investing in suppressing public opinion, we would not have the level of public outcry or the troubling situation that we have right now.

The disillusionment and the gradual rejection of government initiatives in this country by a growing segment of the population—not only in Quebec, but across Canada, contrary to what the TransCanada communication plan indicated—are closely tied to feelings of powerlessness regarding public protection measures that have proven to be meaningless. We must face the facts: public powers, under constant pressure from industry money, have managed to ignore social and environmental public protection mechanisms for the most part.

For members' information, over the past three years, mining lobbyists have come to see me six times at my office. I am a nice enough person and I will not show them the door. I work with them, but they know that I am not really in favour of the proposed measures. They even had the audacity to show up with two lawyers who took notes and an army of legal experts and stakeholders. The last time they came, I did not have enough room in my office to offer all of them a seat. Now they come in groups of six. I continue to open my door. I cannot refuse. The mining industry is important to Manicouagan. We can see where things stand with someone who is not really in favour of the measures being proposed in 2014. Imagine someone who is open to what they are proposing; they must always be in their office. These people have rented an office not far from Parliament. They are close by and they are ever-present on Parliament Hill. If they came to my office six times, I can hardly imagine what it must be like for the Conservatives. They must have a red phone, like Batman, to have a direct line to them. I submit this to you.

I talked about the constant pressure from big industrial lobby groups. I think one thing should be perfectly clear to those who oppose this idea and to my colleagues in the House: citizen involvement is a guarantee of stability. It is good for the market. The parties need to involve citizens, not disingenuously say that they are being consulted. Citizens' concerns and goals must be genuinely taken into account. Stability flows from a genuine desire to include people. They are on the wrong track now. Suppressing public opinion is the wrong way to go, and TransCanada's communication document was a bad idea. There really has to be a desire to include people.

I submit this respectfully.

Criminal Code November 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the opportunity I have to discuss the consideration of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder within the criminal justice system will allow me to describe the impact of this syndrome on the daily lives of many Manicouagan residents.

FASD affects approximately 1% of Canada’s population. Research shows that the incidence of FASB is significantly higher among aboriginal people and in rural, remote and northern communities.

Whenever I tour the riding, I travel to some places that are on the 52nd parallel and even a little further north. I think my riding goes up to the 54th parallel. In any case, I travel to very remote communities. Unlike some of my colleagues on the other side of the House and in other parties, rather than visiting social clubs, social groups or chambers of commerce first, I visit educational institutions and primary schools, first and foremost.

I talk to the staff, and when I visit remote communities, especially aboriginal communities, I always ask about the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome. It is quite well documented that this syndrome occurs very frequently in the aboriginal population and in remote areas. The statistics I gave you just now, Mr. Speaker, are clear evidence of this.

A few months ago now, when I went to Pakuashipi, I had a discussion with one of the social workers, and I think in fact I even discussed the issue with the school principal. I asked him about identifying and monitoring young people with fetal alcohol syndrome or behavioural issues linked to fetal alcohol syndrome.

I was told that it was quite difficult to make a diagnosis in remote areas. This is why children must often move to Montreal or Quebec City, where they are better equipped. There are experts in development and education who are able to make a diagnosis and detect early signs of the syndrome.

I was told that while the teaching staff in remote communities are qualified to identify signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, before a diagnosis can be made, the student must have reached quite an advanced stage of development and education. In most cases, the case must be referred to a specialist in an urban area, such as Quebec City or Montreal.

However, the instrument before us today addresses the situation as experienced by adults who must deal with the criminal justice system. These are adults over the age of 18, of course, who have not necessarily ever been diagnosed. This is the point on which my argument is based: they were not diagnosed at an early age.

Technological advances have helped in detecting signs of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This was also brought to my attention. Until recently, detection was rather complicated. That is why in 2014, young people are being more closely monitored than adults or young people were in the 1970s. That is why in 2014, the criminal justice system sometimes has to deal with adults who simply do not have any diagnosis on file. There may be some mention here and there in a medical file. Nonetheless, generally speaking, the 1% of the population that has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is highly represented in criminal cases, at 60% or 80%. The numbers elude me, but these people make up a high percentage of the prison population and of those brought before the criminal justice system.

That is the reasoning I will present during my arguments, namely to take into account this characteristic, as well as the diagnosis at an advanced age in criminal cases. These elements were included in my motion and in the instrument being brought to our attention today.

The instrument submitted to us for consideration seeks to establish a procedure for assessing individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who, it is suspected, suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. As I indicated, here we are talking about undiagnosed adults.

I want to make sure it is understood that I am making the case that the instrument before us is first and foremost about sentencing submissions. At the risk of repeating myself, I am aware that the vast majority of Canadians do not have in-depth knowledge of the justice system. That is why I want to talk about sentencing submissions.

When an individual has moved through criminal proceedings and is convicted of the offence in question, his lawyer and the crown prosecutor are to meet at a subsequent stage. It is usually when the guilty verdict is handed down to the individual that sentencing submissions are set for a later date. This always depends on the severity of the crime committed. However, with respect to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, my understanding is—and I do not think I am erring in law here—that submissions would take place at the sentencing submissions stage. Consequently, the lawyer of the individual who stands accused would submit that it is highly likely that his client has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The crown prosecutor would be allowed to present arguments and elements that would be taken into consideration by the judge.

Here is my conclusion: I think that this will be debated in committee. Those responsible, the justice critics, will have a field day. What I was saying was that there is a potential for backlogs, or at least hold ups and delays in the courts, particularly if experts have to weigh in on the likelihood that an adult has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I have been told that it is far more difficult to make an accurate diagnosis once a person reaches adulthood. For adults with possible behavioural problems related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, it is much more difficult to identify the impact and occurrences in everyday life. That could pose a problem.

For example, I handled mental health cases and criminal cases. I often submitted applications under subsection 672.11 of the Criminal Code. That is legal jargon. It is about criminal responsibility at the time of the action or criminal responsibility in cases of mental disorder. That is an additional factor. When lawyers submit applications under section 672.11, clients usually go to the Philippe Pinel Institute in Montreal where the experts do their expert thing, so to speak, for two to three weeks. Then they come back. In Sept-Îles, when my clients appeared in the judicial district of Mingan, there were undue delays lasting two or three weeks. Local expertise was not necessarily able to meet the needs.

Will a similar process be set in motion when there are sentencing submissions? That is what happens when these elements are brought forward. I do not know. That is my information, and it will have to be debated in committee by the people responsible for this file. This is not within the scope of the present discussion, but the process could get bogged down.

Prevention and intervention are key to improving the situation. Advances in screening methods used by pediatric health care and education professionals have made it possible to identify cases of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the early stages of child development. As I mentioned, it is preferable to do this at a very early age.

In closing, I would like to quote comments made at a justice conference held in the Yukon in 2008:

Given the stringent criteria associated with defences of “not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder” [subsection 672.11, as I mentioned] and “unfit to stand trial” [also subsection 672.11], which are defined in the Criminal Code, most individuals with FASD [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder] would not meet this threshold ... Instead, they are considered to be fully responsible individuals and the judge sometimes considers their disability to be a mitigating or aggravating factor.

I would like to emphasize the phrase “the judge sometimes considers”. At present, this is at the judge's discretion and is not codified. The remarks made at the Yukon conference in 2008 indicate that the judges already apply this principle and that it is already taken into account, more or less informally, because it is not codified.

Consequently, the instrument currently before us would simply formalize a practice already being implemented.

We have already seen this in the past and it is nothing new.

I submit this respectfully.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his intervention.

He talked about posting the individual's whereabouts and picture. Those are methods and practices that have been used in the United States and perhaps even here in Canada. However, that may open a Pandora's box because people could become vigilantes. We do not want that. I can guarantee that if people decide to take the law into their own hands, there will be implications. This is worth considering at committee to determine whether action by the public is a good thing and workable on the ground.

As I said in the beginning, this is a distinct group. These criminals and offenders already enjoy a dubious kind of popularity in prison. Their safety is jeopardized because of the circumstances. The other inmates have it in for them. We need to ensure that the same thing does not happen in broader society. It is worth looking into.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 20th, 2014

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

His comments remind me of the visit I made last week to an elementary school in Sept-Îles, in my riding. The children spoke a lot about online predators and the realities of social media.

This made me realize that when I was their age, these kinds of things simply did not exist. I was 21 years old the first time I had access to a computer. I was almost in university. At 19 or 20, the first few times I saw the Internet, I had a hard time understanding it all.

However, in 2014, kids who are 8 or 9 years old were practically born with tablets in their hands. There is a need for enforcement measures and better verification of the content on the Internet.

However, although this is very troublesome, it is outside the scope of this discussion and this study. There are experts who are examining this issue. The teacher I met with was well trained to handle the children's concerns.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 20th, 2014

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

I think that some of my remarks may have been lost in translation, because at no point did I say that 6% was not incredibly worrisome. It is very worrisome. Such exponential growth from year to year shows how inadequate the proposed measures are and shows that they will not improve anything.

This is 2014, and now is the time to address this issue and look at other potential measures instead of harsher penalties. We have seen a lot of these penalties since 2006, and so far we have hit a wall.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, members of Parliament will be engaging in a debate on Bill C-26 that is part of a process to codify aspects of punishment associated with sexual offences against children.

At the risk of being repetitive, I will draw from empirical evidence, namely from my personal experience at the legal aid clinic I joined in 2006 as an intern. I worked at the clinic in Sept-Îles for about two years. Since I was new to the office, I was often given the cases nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole, if I can use that expression. These were big cases involving clients who were not always the nicest people. I was in criminal defence. I also handled mental health cases. I handled 400 cases in 2007—we had statistics at the legal aid clinic. It was a real boon to have those statistics every month, and our boss could come and talk to us about our performance. Anyway, in 2007, I handled 400 cases. As it happened, I ended up with several cases involving children, most of them young victims. Even a lawyer would find such clients difficult to like. It is hard to imagine what kind of experience would await them in a penal institution.

At the time, there were restrictions in place. There was a very strict framework that applied to crimes against the person involving victims of sexual acts—children in this case. I remember the first such case I handled. There was no way the accused could have served his sentence in the community. That was called a conditional sentence. By 2006 and 2007, there had been a codification, a change to the Criminal Code that prevented judges from sentencing people to serve time in the community. Sentencing was already getting harsher because that restriction was added.

Given the bill before us and its history, it is clear that sentences related to sexual crimes against children have gradually gotten harsher.

These offenders usually wound up in prison, depending on the severity of the alleged offences. This clientele invariably found themselves in protective custody. Protective custody simply means that they have to be separated from the general prison population because even inside the prison walls, they risk being assaulted. Word gets around among the other inmates, and those offenders are really unpopular. They are not accepted. One can imagine, then, how horrible those offenders are in the eyes of the general Canadian population. Basically, as I said, this clientele is unique, and the onus of proof is high. The cases were also unique. I had to ask for help from my articling supervisor at the time, and later from my boss, on those cases because the Crown was insistent, and more attention was given to those kinds of cases.

Considering the social stigmas associated with crimes committed against vulnerable victims, it is important to enact coercive measures that will adequately protect young people and communities. With those goals set out, it is important to apply a filter to the measures proposed by this government in order to prevent possible diversions from issues of identity for targeted political gain.

If this had never been brought to my attention, I would not be mentioning it here today. However, history has shown, as I have learned from being here for the past three years, that too often, bastions of identity and highly contentious issues are often seized upon and given lots of media attention.

It is unfortunate, but the Conservatives' trademark is “tough on crime”. There is even a copyright on it. This kind of measure, with harsher penalties, is meant to please a lobby group that has the government's ear. That is why this kind of issue and the debate around it usually become more about propaganda and electioneering. As I said earlier, this has been brought to my attention several times.

Given the specific subject matter in this case, we must ensure first and foremost that the goal behind implementing measures that are more draconian and harsher for the accused is not just to pander for votes, since this is about the people on the ground. I will come back to that.

It is the stakeholders, the paralegals, the crown prosecutors, and naturally the judges as well, who have to apply these harsher rules on the ground.

What is more, these undue measures are being imposed on them without necessarily a supporting budgetary envelope. Over the past few years, there has been a 6% increase in sexual assaults against children. It is not just the resources, including stakeholders on the ground and crown prosecutors, but also the social workers and paralegals who will have to deal with a larger clientele without necessarily getting more money to do so.

We got to this point because some people felt it was necessary to create hype around this issue, and went to great lengths to propose harsher sentences and codified measures, which, if I may say it, are nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Based on the findings concerning the dubious effectiveness of measures targeting sexual offences against children that have been brought forward since 2006, a review of the applicability and the hold of these measures on the work of judicial stakeholders must be undertaken in committee. There has to be a real study, so that we can try to see through all the hype and truly consider the impact on the people on the ground in order to understand the consequences and what the workers actually have to contend with.

I will go over how sentences and restrictions have gotten tougher since 2006.

The government is:

[Making it] illegal for anyone to provide sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence...

[Making it] illegal to use computers or other means of telecommunications to agree with or make arrangements with another person to commit a sexual offence against a child;

The sex offender registry has been strengthened; the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity has been increased from 14 to 16 years of age. Those are a few specifics. There has been a definite trend to harden the rules and strengthen coercive measures.

Despite these clear changes, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding the supplementary estimates, the Minister of Justice said that sexual offences against children had increased by 6% over the past two years. That is a rather large increase in recent years.

This finding raises a number of questions about what the actual impact of the proposed amendments will be and whether they will be adequate, enforceable and effective. Clearly, we are about to hit a wall since the number of such offences increased despite the tougher regulations that have been put in place since 2006.

Is there a connection? A correlation? I submit that for consideration. However, this should still be examined in committee. I want to bring up these questions today so that they can be meaningfully debated and so that experts and people on the ground can be heard.

Once again, it is the people on the ground or the front-line workers who will have to deal with these cases. As a result, they need to have their say about whether the proposed measures are enforceable.

Experts who have spoken out about the need to stop the sexual abuse of children have said that our communities need more human and financial resources in order to take a less repressive approach. There is always another way. Sometimes, we have to make sure that we are not wearing blinders.

For example, and I will close on this point, the statistics from the Circle of Support and Accountability program are impressive. That is an alternative. According to one study, the rate of sexual recidivism is 70% lower among those who participate in a Circle of Support and Accountability program.

Another study shows that this type of program reduces the rate of sexual recidivism by 83%. Those are promising statistics, which show that there could be another another approach to dealing with this problem. Such an approach would also help ensure that justice is served and victims are protected.

I submit this respectfully.

Students at the Boisé Elementary School in Sept-Îles November 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, last Friday I celebrated National Child Day, a UNICEF Canada initiative, with students at the Boisé elementary school in Sept-Îles.

My conversations with the student council were very relevant. The topics we discussed included politics, the environment, poverty, bullying and cyberbullying, the role of family, peace and caring, which illustrates the children's openness and their involvement in our society.

What the young people had to say at my meeting seems to indicate the rise of a generation that is well aware that being environmental citizens is of paramount importance in enacting public policy. That is in fact the mandate they gave to me as I returned to the Hill.

I want to thank the principal of the Boisé school and the parliamentarians for this rewarding meeting, which was quite hopeful from a citizenship perspective.

Petitions October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the petition I am presenting. It has been signed by the people of Manicouagan, who are saying that door-to-door mail delivery needs to continue, as it is an essential public service.

The Environment October 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, since January 2012, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has been examining an open-pit mining project on the outskirts of Sept-Îles.

Because of its size, proximity to communities and possible repercussions, the Arnaud mining project is causing concerns. In a report published in early 2014, the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, or BAPE, said it is unacceptable in its current form.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has remained silent so far, much to the delight of some. It usually has 365 days to examine and report on a project. In this case, it is already nearly two years past that deadline.

What is preventing the federal scientists from completing their report? Why is the government taking so long to tell people the truth?

For the sake of transparency and probity, the Minister of the Environment must ensure that the notice of decision is issued diligently and that all the information related to this decision is communicated to the public.

Public Safety September 22nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the people of Port-Cartier are worried about the Conservatives' plan to close one of the local penitentiary's three units. As usual, the employees have not been informed about the details of this plan, which will have a devastating impact on families and the regional economy.

Will the government be transparent and show some respect for its employees by telling us about its plans for the Port-Cartier penitentiary?