House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as Independent MP for Ahuntsic (Québec)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 32% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply September 28th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, human trafficking is a serious subject.

As my colleague has mentioned, we will be dealing with it at the next meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

It is essential that human trafficking should be dealt with in relation to prostitution. That is also a very important subject that we should be examining.

I would simply like to return to the question. Unfortunately, we are discussing cuts. In committee, surely we will look closely at human trafficking, but there are other groups that can contribute to this issue. Many women’s groups are working to combat human trafficking, trafficking in women and children. It is estimated—although I am not certain of this figure—that more than 90% of human trafficking involves women and young girls. These are often women forced into prostitution. That is serious.

If we cut funding intended for people who are fighting against human trafficking, against social injustice and for the rights of women, we cannot make any progress.

We will do great things in committee. I am sure because many members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women are extraordinary women. There are also men there who do excellent work.

However, our role as members of the committee is to support all the women’s groups that provide input to us because we are not in the front lines. These women are in the real world and they know the subject well. We must not let them wither and die because they are underfunded or because Status of Women Canada cannot do its work because it is short-staffed due to budget cuts estimated at $2.5 million per year.

Business of Supply September 28th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, October is almost here, and October means not only Hallowe'en but Women's History Month. Unfortunately, as we will show, October 2006 will be a sombre month for women in Canada and Quebec.

Since 1992, Canada has celebrated Women's History Month annually in October. The highlight of the month comes on October 18, Persons Day, which commemorates the historic “persons” case in 1929, a decisive victory in Canadian women's struggle for equality.

This year is also marked by an important anniversary, the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. How can the government of this Prime Minister act in this way on the eve of this historic anniversary? It makes no sense.

Do I have to remind this House that social and human progress has been made largely through the efforts of women's movements? Women's struggle has always been humankind's struggle. Women have demanded rights not just for themselves, but also for children and for men the world over. I will give you a few examples of this.

Access to education: I do not think that education here in Canada is just for girls; it is for everyone. There is also women's right to vote, the right to own property, freedom of choice, the adoption of pay equity legislation in Ontario and Quebec, the institution of public day care and the introduction of an outstanding accessibility program in Quebec. Women in Quebec even helped set up a department of the environment under Bourassa. There again, the environment is for everyone. Those are but a few examples.

For over a century, women's struggles have led to major advances. Women have helped change social, economic and cultural conditions and, as a result, have enabled women to become full citizens, but they have also made an extraordinary contribution to all humankind.

In Quebec, we also recall milestone events, such as the bread and roses march that took place on May 26, 1995. At the time, women demanded a number of things from the Quebec government, including a tuition fee freeze—which Quebeckers now pretty much take for granted and do not want to see changed—more money for scholarships, a minimum wage above the poverty line and at least 1,500 subsidized housing units per year. They sought these things not just for women, but for everyone. I feel I need to clarify this, because people sometimes think that women's movements fight only for women's rights. That is not true; they fight for everyone's rights.

Throughout history, women have demonstrated the true meaning of the words solidarity, equality and justice. These are more than just words; they are concrete actions.

Women's groups in Quebec also helped found the World March of Women, a worldwide network of 6,000 feminist organizations in 163 countries and territories fighting poverty and violence, especially as they affect women and children.

Women have gradually been taking on what has become a crucial role in Canada and Quebec's political, economic and social landscape. But the fight is not over yet. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we are far from achieving equality. There is still much work to do.

Life for women in Canada is far from perfect and the situation remains worrying. In a report commissioned by the federal government dated December 2005, entitled Equality for Women: Beyond the Illusion, the Expert Panel on Accountability Mechanisms for Gender Equality sounded the alarm on the situation for women in Canada.

The report stated that women are underrepresented in the federal, provincial and municipal governments. This is not news; just look around this House. Less than 25% of the members are women. Girls are more vulnerable to sexual assault against minors; some 80% of victims are girls; 51.6% of single mothers are poor; 35% of single women live in poverty. Visible minority women are more often victims of job discrimination. New immigrants, 24 to 40, with a degree who work full time earn $14,000 less than people born in Canada and Quebec. We know that full-time salaried women in all categories earn 71% of what their male colleagues earn.

These figures speak volumes about the work that still needs to be done, at a time when this government is cutting funding for Status of Women Canada. During the election campaign, on January 18, 2006, the Prime Minister signed a letter in which he said:

Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality.

If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada.

You can see where I am going with this. Signing this declaration and making such cuts does not make sense. It defies logic. On September 18, 2006, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Justice of Canada denied the request of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to have the government introduce legislation on pay equity. This request was based on a lengthy report by the Pay Equity Task Force tabled in May 2004 after three years of work. This report found that the current legislative provision—section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act—was insufficient and that what was needed was federal legislation on pay equity, such as is currently on the books in Quebec and Ontario.

On Monday, September 25, with a surplus of over $13 billion, the Conservative government announced cuts of $5 million over two years to the $24 million budget for Status of Women Canada, representing just over 20% of its annual budget, excluding funds allocated to specific programs.

What has Status of Women Canada done to deserve these cuts?

Status of Women Canada focuses on three areas: improving women's well-being and economic autonomy, eliminating violence against women and children, and advancing women's human rights. We support their mandate. It is a huge undertaking.

This government has made cuts after the Prime Minister promised in the election campaign to support women's human rights and to take immediate and concrete action.

What more can I say? I just do not understand it and I leave it to the members to come to their own conclusions. On Monday, September 25, this government also abolished the court challenges program.

Not only has this Prime Minister cut funds to programs that are already underfunded but, in addition, he is eliminating citizens' means of defending themselves. I would like to quote Mrs. Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, who denounced this odious action, with just cause. She said, and I quote:

This program was the only means available to women to have their constitutional rights to equality recognized. The right to equality does not mean anything in Canada if women and other Canadians who are victims of discrimination cannot exercise them.

I would like to remind my Conservative party colleagues that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended, in item 356 of its report, that Canada:

—find ways for making funds available—

And not that it take away funding.

—find ways for making funds available for equality test cases—

I would like to remind this House once again that the Prime Minister signed a declaration whereby he undertook to protect and support women's human rights and to take more—the word “more” is there—immediate and concrete action. The government has refused to implement legislation on pay equity, has cut funding to the Canadian Feminist Alliance and has abolished the court challenges program.

In regard to the specific steps taken by this government—yes, these are specific steps—people are entitled to wonder and now they can pass judgment on these kinds of specific steps. They can pass judgment not only on the steps but also on the value of the Prime Minister’s signature and, by extension, his word. Here we see that the right-wing ideology innate in this government takes precedence over its promises. That is too bad and very sad. As the old adage goes, a leopard cannot change its spots.

A number of women whom I have met today think that the Prime Minister was hiding his true intentions during the election campaign. In view of his January 18 statement, many women are telling me that they feel deceived.

During question period, we have heard the Prime Minister and his ministers offer all kinds of explanations, utterly preposterous ones in my view, in response to our reproaches. Nothing, however, absolutely nothing can change the facts and the truth about the incredible and unacceptable disparity between what the Prime Minister promised and the steps he has taken since the last election.

In view of the current budgetary situation, in view of the $13 billion surplus—we must remember—nothing could justify such cuts to Status of Women Canada or the actual abolition of the court challenges program. What the Prime Minister should have done instead, in order to show his good faith, is what the Standing Committee on the Status of Women asked: increase the budget of the women’s program. That would have been a very good step.

The people are never wrong, but they can be wronged. Once again, this has been proved in spades.

What will be the effects of these cuts? First, it will likely be hard for Status of Women Canada to operate, especially as it was already underfunded. This agency is important to the women’s movements. The government did not actually cut the women’s program; it cut Status of Women Canada. In case this government does not realize it, in order for a program to operate, it needs someone to manage it. So if the administration is slashed, how can the agency be managed? It is a non sequitur.

Any organization can be improved of course. But improved does not mean cut. To the contrary, improved means more funding and studies of how it operates in order to improve it.

I think that what is happening now to Status of Women will slow women’s progress toward real equality from the standpoint of physical safety, economic security, and democratic and political rights. Whether intentional or not, when there are cuts, groups cease to exist, in this case the groups that advocate on behalf of women.

I have been closely involved in international policy and am therefore able to say that after having tarnished 50 years of Canadian diplomacy on the international scene—I saw it when I was in Lebanon—the Prime Minister now apparently wants to destroy more than 40 years of Quebec and Canadian feminism.

As an aside, I would like to speak for a moment about the word “feminism”, an over-used word that it has become a catch-all. Some people have only negative things to say about feminism. What is feminism? Feminism is to believe in the equality of men and women and to seek that equality. Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you believe in gender equality, and you are therefore a feminist, like myself, and like everyone else in this House who also believes. To be a feminist is to believe in equality for everyone, including men and women. We should be proud of being feminists. I hope that the Prime Minister is also a feminist. If he believes in gender equality, then he is a feminist.

During question period two days ago, I asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women a question regarding these cuts, and she replied:

Mr. Speaker, I will reiterate that the women of Canada made their decision when they elected this new Conservative government and put it into power.

While it is true that Canadian women voted for the Conservative government, they did so based on false representations. That is how I see it. I think that women in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada voted for the Conservative Party because the Prime Minister, on January 28, 2006, signed a document affirming that he would defend the rights of women.

Since I only have a minute left, I will conclude by adding that the women's movement will not be defeated.We believe in peace, equal rights and access to justice for everyone. Long before any of us in this House was born, this country was being built by women who deserve our respect.

Status of Women September 26th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the 30% cuts announced in Status of Women Canada’s budget is yet another example of this government making budget decisions that will affect the lives of millions of women, and making them behind closed doors. At the same time as the government is announcing surpluses it chooses to make cuts in activities that are already underfunded.

In making this ideological decision, has the Minister of Finance not allowed himself to be influenced by groups whose goal is to abolish Status of Women Canada, which works to achieve economic equality for women, to eliminate violence and to promote human rights?

Status of Women September 22nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women told me yesterday, during a very good conversation, that the Women's Program, which expires on September 26, will be extended.

Can the minister confirm here in this House what she said to me, that the program will be extended and therefore maintained? Also—and this is where things get dicey—does she intend to increase the budget as the Standing Committee on the Status of Women asked her to?

Status of Women September 21st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage about funding for women's groups, and I reminded her that September 26 is the deadline for renewing the Women's Program. The minister said that there were some doubts about actions undertaken by these women's groups and that she was looking for greater efficiency.

Can the minister tell us which of these women's groups are so inefficient they deserve to have their funding cut off ?

Status of Women September 20th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Women's Program, which is set to terminate on September 26, is still underway. The criteria are the same as in the past. Women's' groups have been submitting their applications for weeks, not to say months. We are told that the public servants completed their portion of the work several weeks ago.

Why has the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women left these applications unanswered, while groups such as the National Association of Women and the Law are being forced to close their doors, due to lack of funding?

Quebec Federation of Women September 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, today I pay tribute to the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ). Forty years ago, in March 1966, on the initiative of Thérèse Casgrain, women in Quebec who were determined that all women there would enjoy the same rights as men founded the Fédération des femmes du Québec.

Last Friday, the FFQ celebrated its 40th anniversary by looking back at what it has accomplished in education, health, work and civil rights. Let us not forget that in 1972, the FFQ supported the election of women from Quebec to this place. That year, Quebec elected the first three women to Parliament: Monique Bégin, Jeanne Sauvé and Albanie Morin.

Quebec society has benefited from the battles the FFQ has fought, but much remains to be done. Many economic and social inequalities still persist today.

Let us salute the Fédération des femmes du Québec, which, in carrying on its work, calls us to justice, equality and dignity in Quebec, in Canada and in the world.

Lebanese Festival June 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, last weekend the Lebanese community of greater Montreal held their annual festival in the riding of Ahuntsic, which I have the honour of representing.

All of Montreal was invited for three days of discovery. Tens of thousands of people had an opportunity to experience and appreciate Lebanese culture, through music and song. This year, the theme was the family.

Since I am of Lebanese origin, I can tell you that this festival gave Quebeckers an opportunity to get to know the beauty of the fundamental values that unite the Lebanese people, with their extraordinary diversity of ideas, traditions and religions.

The festival was a chance to get together and to renew acquaintances, and it was a great success. I offer my warm congratulations to all of the organizers from the Saint-Maron and Saint-Antoine churches and their 300 volunteers.

Bravo. I am looking forward to next year.

June 15th, 2006

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

It seems to me that we are being ridiculed. In fact, the parliamentary secretary has just repeated the exact text written on the sheet I received from CIC, namely, the answer to the committee. I am not here to have something read to me.

Here is what I would like to know about these people, Lebanese people who are applying to move here. Can they have their applications for permanent residence fully processed at the Canadian Embassy in Beirut? When these people cross borders, they are humiliated, they are afraid and very stressed. Borders are sometimes closed and they cannot cross. Their appointments are cancelled and postponed for up to nine months. This is unacceptable.

The infrastructure exists in Syria. It must be fully exploited. The sovereignty of that country must be respected. That country, which is full of tension, must be respected. It is as if we here in Canada were told we had to go to the United States to apply to go to Cuba.

June 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian embassy in Damascus, Syria, processes permanent residence applications from the following countries: Syria, Cyprus and Iran, 41%, Iraq, 15%, and Jordan and Lebanon, 23%.

This means that Cyprus, Syria and Jordan combined make up 21% of the claims. This is, therefore, an embassy whose needs are not really local, but elsewhere, when we look at the other percentages.

The Damascus embassy has around 11 officers and 36 locally employed staff, compared to the Ivory Coast embassy, which has 6 or 7 employees and processes claims from 16 African countries. We see that in 80% of the cases, all the permanent residence applications in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, are processed in 31 months. In Damascus it takes 61 months and the world average is 53 months. What is going on at that embassy?

Currently in Beirut, Lebanon, there is a Canadian embassy with some nine employees, which is just a satellite office for temporary residence applications. My numbers on the staff are approximate.

We are told by CIC, and I quote:

Over 50% of those who apply for permanent residence do not need to be interviewed in person.

They must be kidding. This means that the office in Damascus, which takes 61 months on average to process files, fast-tracks 50% of the files from Lebanon. The processing time should therefore be shorter.

We know that there are tensions between Lebanon and Syria that were exacerbated by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14, 2005. Other Lebanese leaders were also assassinated. This led to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon on April 26, 2005.

CIC tells us:

After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut in February 2002, some representatives and family members of Lebanese applicants expressed concerns about not being able to go to Damascus for interviews because of problems at the Syrian border. No such problems occurred. The RPC in Damascus checked with its clients to make sure there was no problem crossing the border.

That means that CIC does not even know when this political figure was assassinated.

Once again, they must be kidding. On November 1, 2005, when he was sitting on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the current Minister of Public Safety stated, and I quote:

Syria has tried to rule Lebanon for decades and now that it has been forced to withdraw, it is still trying to diminish the hopes of the Lebanese people.

Has a decades-old situation changed in seven months? The borders between Lebanon and Syria have been closed many times. People who have been waiting for an interview for years have had it postponed.

If this government recognizes Lebanon's sovereignty and respects the Lebanese diaspora in Canada and Quebec, it is time that it sent all the applications for permanent residence back to the existing embassy in Beirut. It is a matter of dignity and security.