House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was cities.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Beaches—East York (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 31% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions June 18th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the federal lands in Durham region.

The signatories to this petition point out that the federal lands in Durham region encompass class 1 Ontario greenbelt farmland and the vital watersheds of the Oak Ridges Moraine, but that this land is designated for an airport and economic development and not agriculture.

The signatories call on the House of Commons to rescind all plans for an airport and non-agricultural uses on the federal lands in Durham region and to act instead to preserve the watersheds and the agricultural land of this irreplaceable natural resource for the long-term benefit of all Canadians.

Petitions June 18th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions today.

The first is in support of a pan-Canadian food strategy. The signatories point out that Canada is notable among its industrialized comparators in its absence of a comprehensive food policy.

The signatories to this petition call upon the Government of Canada to implement a pan-Canadian food strategy to support farmers, improve access to healthy and local food, and to market Canadian food at home and abroad.

Petitions June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table hundreds of signatures, adding to the many thousands already tabled, protesting the end of door-to-door delivery by Canada Post. The signatories wish to point out that the elimination of door-to-door delivery will have a particularly hard impact on seniors and the disabled, and they call upon the government to reject Canada Post's plan to cut mail services and increase prices and to instead explore other options for modernizing our postal delivery system.

Petitions June 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition in the House today with respect to affordable child care.

The signatories to the petition want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that after nearly a decade of Conservative government, child care costs continue to soar; that there are nearly one million kids with working parents out there without regulated child care spaces; and that quality child care and early learning offer children a head start in life, while easing poverty. They further note that the NDP has put forward a plan to ensure quality, affordable child care for up to $15 a day.

The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to work with provinces and territories to implement the NDP plan for affordable child care in Canada.

Infrastructure June 12th, 2015

Cities, Mr. Speaker, are where most of us live. They are the engines of the Canadian economy. Yet, they have been saddled with an infrastructure deficit of nearly $170 billion by Liberal and Conservative governments.

The Minister of Finance has called further investment in urban infrastructure a risky spending scheme, ignoring most obviously the billions lost to our economy due to gridlock.

The New Democrats are ready to partner with our municipal leaders. It is in our national interest to do so. Why are the Conservatives refusing to invest any more in our cities?

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act June 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the member will recall that at second reading, the NDP actually put forward a motion in response to this bill. It was rejected. It was a comprehensive motion that was intended to capture a whole bunch of issues that this bill, in its reflex to criminalization, did not capture. The issues dealt with the need for support for families and for social services.

Repeatedly we see that these things are not dealt with by the government. It is a bill that is missing, for example, the social support required by people caught up in a web of domestic violence. It omits, for example, as UNICEF has called for, educational support and mental health services for people who are caught in these circumstances.

Most critically, and we hear this time and again, this is a bill that is missing anything on affordable housing. We had a budget tabled not long ago by the current government that was missing the same thing. Affordable housing is cited by many as the single most important factor in permitting women and children to escape circumstances of domestic violence and abuse. There is nothing in the Conservative budget to deal with affordable housing. There is nothing to deal with that practical response here in this bill. The amendments proposed by the NDP are intended to build into this bill some of those critical supports for people caught in these cultural practices.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act June 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a habit the current government has of not paying attention to the criminal provisions that already exist in the Canadian Criminal Code across a broad range of issues. The Conservatives put forth legislation in this House that duplicates existing provisions, as though these things are not already taken care of. What is most problematic is not just the reflex to criminalization but the insensitivity to the fact that when they deal with matters of family and social relations through criminalization or immigration only, they are inevitably catching in their web family issues and are doing harm to families.

At committee, there were experts talking about this issue. For example, Dr. Hannana Siddiqui, head of policy and research at Southall Black Sisters in London, the United Kingdom, said:

Anything that you introduce around immigration is not going to affect just the perpetrator but the whole family—the women and children in that polygamous relationship; and that can have a detrimental effect on them as well.

According to Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the bill seeks to deport people who are engaged in polygamy, and that would include the very women the government claims to be trying to protect. These are the unintended consequences and the insensitivities I talked about in my speech.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act June 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am standing today at report stage on Bill S-7, which has the very unfortunate short title “the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act”. I stand in opposition to the main motion and in support of the NDP's proposed amendments to the bill.

I want to stress that I support the intent of the bill. No woman or child should be subject to any form of violence and certainly not to the forms of gender-based violence, such as forced marriage, polygamy, and underage marriage, the bill purports to address. Further, the fact of these forms of gender-based violence in Canadian society is not in dispute here, and neither is the fact that there are things we can do and ought to do to prevent and respond to the practices at issue.

However, the bill is not the appropriate response and needs at a minimum to be amended, because it threatens to aggravate, not help, existing circumstances and to further victimize or re-victimize those subject to the practices the bill purports to address.

The precautionary principle ought to apply here. The Conservative government has heard enough from enough knowledgeable people on the matter of the bill from those with experience and expertise in these matters to stop this here, to take a step back, and rethink its approach to this issue before it does more harm than good to people who need help.

Here are the main provisions of the bill. It amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to make polygamy grounds for inadmissibility to or removal from Canada of immigrants and permanent residents if there are reasonable grounds to believe that these individuals have practised, are practising, or may in future practise polygamy.

It amends the Civil Marriage Act to make free and enlightened consent to marriage a legal requirement and to require that any previous marriage be dissolved or declared null before a new marriage is contracted and to make 16 years of age the minimum legal age for marriage.

It amends the Criminal Code to clarify that it is an offence for an officiant to knowingly solemnize a marriage in contravention of federal law; to make it an offence to celebrate, aid or participate in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing that one of the persons being married is doing so against their will or is under the age of 16 years; to make it an offence to remove a child from Canada to marry a child against that child's will or if the child is under 16; to allow a judge to issue a peace bond for a period of up to two years if a person is suspected on reasonable grounds of preparing to force someone else to marry, to marry a child, or to remove a child from Canada for one of these purposes; and to address the issue of so-called honour killings to limit the defence of provocation to circumstances in which the victim engaged in conduct that would constitute an indictable offence under the Criminal Code that is punishable by five years or more in prison.

However, stakeholders and expert witnesses have testified before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that the bill is also likely to have many and serious unintended consequences. For example, the bill makes no provision to allow women who are conditional permanent residents to remain in Canada if their polygamist partner is deported.

There is no clear definition of polygamy, leading, likely, to confusion and potentially arbitrary decisions regarding deportation and inadmissibility and discrimination against nationals from certain countries.

UNICEF has expressed concern that the bill would criminalize minors who celebrate, aid, or participate in forced marriages, and UNICEF has recommended exemptions for children and young people from certain provisions in the bill.

Criminalization, in the context of family and social relations, may end up simply driving these practices underground.

In all of this, the bill falls in a long line of socially insensitive, ham-fisted and unsophisticated responses to complex social issues by the Conservative government.

In March 2012, for example, the Conservatives introduced new measures to crack down on marriage fraud, including a requirement for a sponsored spouse to live with the sponsor for two years or face deportation and possible criminal charges. Clearly, this measure leaves women reluctant to report abuse, because they fear losing permanent residency. Consequently, they are vulnerable to abuse.

In April 2014, the Conservative member for Mississauga South introduced a motion that purported to deal with forced marriages by banning marriages by proxy or by telephone, for example, from qualifying for spousal sponsorship. Distance marriages of this sort are largely conducted by refugees, so we have the consequence that this motion would serve to limit family reunification rather than limit forced marriages.

These are the kinds of sensitivities, nuances, understandings, et cetera, missing from the Conservative government's world view, and it is problematic.

Beyond that, and just as egregiously, the current Conservative government forgoes opportunities to even consider, much less heed, the advice of those who actually understand the complexity of these issues. For example, during the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's study on strengthening the protection of women in our immigration system, most witnesses insisted that newcomers must be informed, in their language of origin, and before coming to Canada, of their rights in Canada and about the resources available to them in Canada. The committee recommended in its report to the House:

... that the Government of Canada expand pre-arrival orientation to ensure sponsored spouses receive information in a language they understand and to ensure that the topics covered include gender equality, women's rights, their legal rights, what constitutes abuse in Canada and how to seek help.

However, no funds were earmarked in the 2015 budget to implement this recommendation.

Here is another example of the government ignoring expertise and forgoing data and information and in so doing putting people at risk, sacrificing vulnerable people on the altar of political expediency. I call it political expediency quite deliberately, because the truth here is that so much of what is in the bill actually duplicates existing laws.

For example, the bill would amend the Civil Marriage Act to make free and enlightened consent legal requirements for marriage, but these requirements already exist as part of the civil code of Quebec and of common law in other provinces. The bill would limit the defence of provocation, ostensibly to exclude honour killings, but the courts have already ruled that the concept of honour and a culturally driven sense of what is an appropriate response does not count as provocation under the Criminal Code. The Canadian Criminal Code also already provides recourse that is relevant in most cases involving forced marriages, prior to and after marriage, as well as in cases of travelling with minors with the intent of forcing them to marry.

There is a broad range of existing Criminal Code provisions on everything from intimidation to forceful confinement to sexual assault that deal with these issues already.

So much of what we are talking about here today in this House stands as so fully representative of the four years of the 41st Parliament and the style and substance of the current Conservative government. It takes complex social issues, with real victims, and responds the only way it seems to know how, with its reflex to criminalization without regard to evidence, experience, expertise, or the potential of the unintended consequences of its reflex.

Witness its response to the over 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women: no inquiry, no search for intelligence or understanding, just criminalize, as though that helps victims, as though that will somehow prevent having more victims.

With so few days left in the 41st Parliament, this elected chamber is here considering a bill put forward by a chamber of unelected people. We have a Conservative government giving priority or ceding priority to an ill-considered, reactionary, and potentially harmful bill from the unelected Senate while at the same time it is shutting down debate in this elected chamber, as it has done 100 times already, as has been the fate of nearly 60 bills to date, on matters that elected representatives of this chamber want to debate.

In all, what a fitting way for the current government to close out the final days of this Parliament, and what an unfortunate way for Canada and Canadians.

Petitions June 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today in support of my climate change accountability act. It is a petition I presented in this House many times before, reflecting the concerns of Canadians with the failure of the government to address climate change, reflecting the concerns of Canadians with actions of the government, such as the cancellation of the ecoENERGY retrofit program, and with the ongoing subsidization of the oil and gas industry.

The petitioners are calling upon the Government of Canada to support my climate change accountability act, a law that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hold the government accountable.

Infrastructure June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we heard the Minister of Finance this week. He said that it was risky and reckless to invest any more in our cities. Well, we saw the evidence this morning of both Liberal and Conservative neglect of public transit in our country. Our largest city was shut down by a subway system failure, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded.

We have a plan to get transit moving in towns and cities across the country. Will the Conservatives get on board with the NDP's practical plan for public transit?