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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was public.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Etobicoke—Lakeshore (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Marriage December 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I rise here today to speak out against this motion. A significant number of Canadians have enjoyed the right to same sex marriage. However, if a bill were to result from this motion, the legality of their marriage would be based on whether it occurred before or after the arrival of the Conservative government. This would create a serious inequality between two equivalent categories of Canadians. If a bill were to follow, an additional inequality would arise between heterosexual couples and same sex couples, namely, the right to describe themselves as married.

I went into politics to reduce the number of inequalities between Canadians, not to increase them. For this reason, I will vote against this motion.

I do want to address some of the issues raised by my right hon. colleague across the way and not preach to the converted. He has urged us to address each other in a civil manner and I certainly want to do that.

Let me address some of the arguments made by those who are in favour of the motion.

There has always been this contention: why can gay couples not be satisfied with equality of rights under civil unions? Just leave us, us heterosexuals, the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, people say, and we will allow them the civil equality of civil unions.

The point very simply is that equality of civil unions and equality in civil unions withholds the right to call oneself “married”, and that right to call oneself a married person is of intense importance in terms of respect.

Respect seems to me to be what is fundamental here.

We care about equality of marriage rights because we care about equality of respect and because we believe we want to confer equality of respect on all our fellow citizens, some of whom are our neighbours, our friends and our colleagues. I cannot see how we confer equality of respect to our fellow citizens unless we accord them full equality of marriage rights.

I think the second question that then follows, and it follows directly from the comments made by my right hon. colleague, is that if we are according respect to one side of the debate, should we not accord equal respect to the other side of the debate, to those who believe that the definition of marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman?

I believe emphatically that equality of respect is called for here. I believe that this side of the House and those of us who support full equality rights to marriage for persons of the same sex do not want to withhold respect from the other side of the debate in any shape or form. Moreover, that respect, the basic respect to people we disagree with, is mandated by rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, rights which I value I think as much as any other member of the House and certainly I value in exactly the same way that those who disagree with me value them.

But then the question becomes, if both sides of this proposition must be treated with equality and have equality of respect and equality rights, then the difficult question, the core question, is, which rights must prevail? That is the question to which my side of the argument or this side of the argument must give a clear answer.

The proposition we would make is that those demanding equality of marriage rights should prevail because the loss of their claim is a real loss: they cannot call their union a marriage in law. Whereas those who oppose that definition lose nothing: their right to oppose remains intact and their right, the religious right, to withhold the solemnization of marriage is protected.

That is, those religious groups who do not want to solemnize marriages between people of the same sex retain the right to withhold that solemnization. Their rights are respected. The people who lose in a situation in which we withhold full equality of marriage rights to our fellow citizens are gay couples who deeply value the respect that that accords them as Canadian citizens.

My sense of this issue is that we are talking in fact about how to manage disagreement in our society. I think that is a common theme in this discussion. I feel that we have to manage respect by respecting the rights of those who disagree, but we cannot take action which withholds the practising of respect from any groups of citizens in our country. I feel that the attempt to restrict marriage to a man and a woman withholds a fundamental form of human respect and a fundamental human right from a category of our citizens. For that reason, I will vote against it.

I also disagree profoundly with the intentions behind this motion, because instead of uniting Canadians on what I believe is now a settled question for most Canadians, this motion will set one group of Canadians against another. I feel in that sense that it is playing politics. We play politics in this House every day of the week and politics is a very respectable profession, but there is a way of playing politics, and there I am going as far as I can.

We are politicians and we play politics, but there are some things, I would conclude, that should go beyond politics. Among them is the right of all Canadians to full equality, both in rights and in respect. That should, in my judgment, go beyond politics.

I am committed to that proposition above all, I think, that we are in politics to accord full respect to all Canadians regardless of sexual orientation, and that to deny that puts us in a situation where we begin to play politics with rights in a manner that we will come to regret, simply because it brings the process and processes of politics which we practise in this House into disrespect.

Therefore, on those grounds, I will vote against the motion.

RCMP Commissioner December 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the government has become accustomed, whenever it is in a tight corner, to blame a previous administration. Those members are the government. When are they going to start to act like one and take responsibility for their conduct?

RCMP Commissioner December 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the issue in the Zaccardelli affair is now the conduct of the government. The minister was aware that he was changing his story well in advance of the speech on Monday. We know the government was providing the commissioner with communications advice. What we do not know is why the minister did absolutely nothing when he found out the commissioner was going to change his story.

Will the minister finally explain why it took over a month for him to comment on the commissioner's--

Government Programs December 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this minority government eliminated the court challenges program, cut Status of Women Canada's budget and cut literacy programs.

When will it understand that a government should bring people together rather than exclude them?

Status of Women December 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, a minute ago the Prime Minister referred to reallocating funds. We were speaking in respect of the Status of Women.

I think the House would want to know what specific programs, what specific commitments he has made, or is that reallocation simply another paraphrase for a cut?

Petitions November 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table a petition regarding LAMP, a community health centre in my riding of Etobicoke--Lakeshore.

My constituents signed the petition calling upon the government to secure the future of LAMP's homelessness programs. These currently receive funding through the federal SCPI program. LAMP provides critical assistance to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Counselling, food and health care are just a few of LAMP's essential services.

I join my constituents in calling upon the government to ensure continued federal support for LAMP's homelessness programs.

Criminal Code June 13th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful to the hon. member for his comments about me.

He agrees with me on the political line I addressed in my speech. I fully agree with him that if these crimes are not properly punished, it is always possible to turn to the Court of Appeal.

I would add that in the Canadian system, Parliament creates laws and judges apply them. We accept and respect the possibility of a division of labour between the judiciary and Parliament. I accept this division and the respect that exists between the two—

Criminal Code June 13th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I take some exception to the idea that previous Liberal governments were associated with hug a thug. As I made perfectly clear in my statement, the previous government took added mandatory minima where it felt there was a public order justification. I would point out to the hon. member that over the last 13 years Juristat statistics make it perfectly clear that crime rates fell on the Liberal watch because we took a tough and balanced approach.

As the hon. member rightly said, this is a question of justice, but justice does not consist of locking people up and throwing away the key. If the hon. member is as concerned as he says about rehabilitation in prisons, then I would see measures in the government's estimates that would amount to an investment in rehabilitation programs in prison. I see no such evidence of any investment in those programs.

Once again the hon. member is trying to play this as being that side of the House is tough on crime and we are weak on crime. The Canadian public is entirely sick of this falsely polarized debate. The entire House takes the most serious view of serious crime, as I made pretty clear in my statement. Let us move beyond this and assess this measure on its merits. I have assessed it according to three criteria and it has failed to pass the most elementary test of justice.

Criminal Code June 13th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in opposition to Bill C-10. My constituents in Etobicoke—Lakeshore made their concerns about public safety very clear during the last election campaign.

I will not forget knocking on the door of a family in my riding who had just lost its nephew in a gun crime shooting in Montreal. I went to a memorial service held in the young man's honour and we all felt shock and anger at the senseless waste of a young life. The young man's uncle asked me what I would do to reduce the incidence of these terrible crimes and I pledged to support any reasonable measure that would make such tragedies less likely in the future.

Everyone in the House, especially this member of Parliament, wants to keep faith with families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Everyone in the House wants to reduce this scourge of gun crime.

The question before us today is not who is tougher on crime. The question is, what is the most effective way to do so? That family in my riding does not want us to play politics with its grief and anger. It wants balanced measures that work. Balance means measures that address all features of the crime problem in our society rather than using sentencing tariffs as the unique yardstick of whether criminal justice policy is sufficiently tough.

Balance means giving all our crime fighters, the police, the crown attorneys, the judges, the neighbourhood watch organizations, the youth workers, the school teachers, the parents, the parole and probation officers, the correction officers and, yes, the good people who run the gun registry, the support and resources they need to work together to reduce crime in our society. Recent arrests of drug gangs in Toronto prove the effectiveness of a targeted and tough police action, and the Toronto police deserve all possible praise for these raids.

A balanced approach includes tough sentences for heinous crimes, but the Criminal Code already contains 42 mandatory minimum penalties. Many of these were placed on the statute books by previous Liberal administrations. The political charge that this side of the House is soft on crime just will not wash.

The question before the House is not whether there should be some mandatory minimums for serious crimes, but whether it is good public policy to increase their number and severity and to make this the sole focus of criminal justice policy in the government.

Instead of a balanced approach—increased funding for police forces and the RCMP, the courts, legal aid, youth employment programs and crime prevention in schools—this government proposed a single new tool: a new series of minimum sentences for a variety of crimes committed with a firearm.

Instead of listening to the valiant army of people who fight crime, this government decided that petty politics took precedence over efficiency in fighting crime.

The people of my riding do not want to play petty politics with crime. They want a balanced approach that is based on actual facts and delivers tangible results.

Bill C-10 fails the test of balance. Instead of investing new resources in the police, in the courts, in the probation and parole systems, the federal government, and provincial ones as well, will be forced to invest millions of dollars of scarce criminal justice resources in new prisons. This is not balanced. This is just ideologically driven public policy.

The second test that criminal justice measures must pass is evidence. In his testimony before the justice committee, I heard nothing from the Minister of Justice that approached an evidence based approach that would justify the new tariffs. There is good reason for his silence. There are no studies that prove, with any degree of conclusiveness, that increases in mandatory minima do actually reduce the incidence of gun crime.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice said in the House on June 6 that he “wanted to send a message to criminal gangs”, but he went on to say:

Whether or not they are paying attention and will think twice before committing a serious crime with a firearm remains to be seen....

This suggests that the government does not know whether mandatory minima deter. It wants to send a message but it has no idea whether the message will get through.

The United States has just come through a 40 year experiment with mandatory minima. No reputable criminologist believes that this explains the fall in serious crime rates in the United States. The causes, the experts agree, can be traced to jobs, to prosperity, to better prospects for the poor and a demographic decrease in the proportion of young adult males who are responsible for most serious crime. Already many American states are abandoning mandatory minima. Why should Canada rush to adopt a policy that many thoughtful Americans reject as a failure?

The use of mandatory minima, however, has had one obvious effect. The U.S. now has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

When I was a young graduate student, I used to spend every Tuesday night for about four years in a medium security prison working with the prison chaplain with a bunch of young lifers who were doing mandatory minimums for serious crimes. After that experience of four years, I came away with one very clear conclusion: Prisons are essential to remove dangerous offenders from society but prisons also render most offenders worse.

The unfailing consequence of Bill C-10 would be to increase the Canadian prison population and, as a consequence, increase the number of criminalized individuals who, when released, are likely to reoffend. Instead of reducing crime, Bill C-10 might just have the opposite effect.

Because Bill C-10 would increase the prison population, this would have serious public expenditure consequences. The House and the country is entitled to know what these measures will cost. Nowhere has the government presented real estimates of what it will cost to increase our prison population, but we can have some idea.

We already know that it costs $80,000 to keep a Canadian in prison. The House and the country will want to know why the government believes it should spend more scarce criminal justice dollars on keeping people in prison and possibly making them worse, when the same money could be spent on a balanced investment, in more police officers, probation and parole personnel, improvements in legal aid and the court system.

Bill C-10 fails the test of balance. It fails the test of evidence. It also fails the test of justice. By justice, I mean the requirement that sentences fit the crime. As my colleague, the member for London West, so ably pointed out, a person who commits a crime with a long gun under this legislation is likely to face a lower penalty than someone who commits an equivalent crime with a handgun. Where is the proportionality? Where is the fairness in this?

In our system we leave the adjudication and proportionality to judges. They are trained to determine the circumstances, mitigating or aggravating, that ought to determine what penalty fits the crime. The escalating tariff proposed by the government makes it more difficult for our criminal justice system to achieve proportionality and fairness.

My party has always believed in a different balance between the legitimate prerogatives of the legislature and the courts and between the imperatives of public safety and the need for proportionality.

In conclusion, Bill C-10 is not a balanced approach to public safety. It is not evidence based and it fails the test of proportionality. On these three grounds, I will vote against it.

Petitions June 13th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a petition in this House on behalf of a number of people and especially the Polish community of Canada.

A former member of this House, Jesse Philip Flis, to whom I extend warm greetings, recently met with me and asked me to support the Polish community in its initiatives.

This petition asks Parliament to recognize the centennial of the Polish Alliance of Canada, which will take place in December 2007. It therefore asks that a commemorative stamp be issued to mark the occasion.