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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was tax.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Victoria (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 42% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Criminal Records Act April 8th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to acknowledge the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for his contributions to this place. Saying that I remember fondly would be the wrong word to use, because it was a very trying and emotional experience being on the committee that dealt with physician-assisted dying. One of the highlights of my career, and I suspect of his as well, was the spirit of collaboration and co-operation that marked that important debate.

We agree on decriminalization, which was a common policy between our two parties. The government chose legalization. Now it is choosing record suspension over expungement. Why would I say there are problems with that?

I want to make a few quick points on the subject.

First, record suspensions can be revoked by subsequent parliaments. If people's records have been expunged, they are gone. Second, if people are no longer of good conduct or have what are called administration of justice offences that go along with their cannabis possession, then they can be removed by the National Parole Board. This cannot happen if they are being expunged. Third, some police and government agencies would still be able to access those records. In other words, there could be leaks that happen from time to time. As we know, some people who claimed to have no record in fact did have prior ones. Why would we take that chance with the lives of people?

Criminal Records Act April 8th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, first, it may be that certain changes will be needed to make automatic expungement efforts happen. In the United States, it was not an obstacle in states like Delaware, where the same issues arose.

Second, if as few as 10,000 people would be affected by Bill C-93, which is according to the number we have just heard, then I do not understand why the government could not find summer students to go through those files and determine who could be relieved of that burden. I do not understand why it is such an obstacle to get a few summer students to do the work.

It is easy to overstate the administrative burden of automatic expungement, but it is also not easy to stand by and watch so many people's lives being wrecked by the government's failure to act.

Criminal Records Act April 8th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain at the outset that the NDP will oppose this legislation. Over the next 20 minutes that I have available, I hope to explain why record suspension is not the way to go, and record expungement, which I will describe, is the way to go. Record expungement for simple possession is the basis of my private member's bill, Bill C-415, which will be up for second reading debate in the chamber on Thursday.

I have risen on previous occasions in this place to call Bill C-93 a half-baked measure, and I am still of that opinion. Let me explain: It is too little and it is too late.

It is too little, because record suspension is just that, putting a criminal record aside where it could potentially be used again against the individual. It ignores the historical injustice, the disproportionate impact of cannabis possession offences on marginalized Canadians, on blacks and particularly on indigenous people.

It is too late, because it is almost six months since October when we had the historic legalization of possession of cannabis. Here we are, almost at the end of this parliamentary session, starting second reading debate on the bill. It has to go before committee. It has to go to the Senate. It has to go before Senate committees. I am anxious that this will not be law in Canada, as it will die on the Order Paper until the next Parliament addresses that.

It is especially disappointing because the Liberals have had years to do this. Their excuse was to wait until possession was legal on October 17, 2018. Now we are almost six months later, in the dying days of this Parliament, and suddenly talking about it.

I hope that cynicism is not warranted. I hope there is goodwill on the part of the government to fix the bill and move it forward expeditiously. However, I have my doubts.

My private member's bill, which is the counter to this piece of legislation, would require an application process for expungement. In an ideal world, my bill would have had automatic expungement, which is the case in Delaware and California, where officials sweep the records, find out whether a person has a record, for simple possession in effect, and if so, the record is deemed never to have existed. It is gone. It is zapped from the system.

This legislation would require an application. My bill does too, but that is because, as the House well knows, it is a private member's bill, and due to a technicality called the royal recommendation, I could not ask the government to expend money. I was not able to do what has been done south of the border with automatic expungement. That would apply universally and automatically and benefit, disproportionately, indigenous and racialized Canadians.

Let us just stand back from this. We have an activity which is perfectly legal now, but for which hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps that high, have a record for past consumption of cannabis, possession of cannabis, when it was illegal, and now they cannot get on with their lives.

Why does that matter? It matters because blacks cannot rent apartments because they have a criminal record and are on the bottom of the list in a tight housing market. As I will explain later, there are way more people in Halifax who were charged with a cannabis offence and have a record for cannabis than the non-black population.

Believe it or not, it is most glaring in Regina, Saskatchewan. This is government data; this is not me. This is from records disclosed under access to information. An indigenous person in Regina is nine times more likely to have a record for cannabis possession than a non-indigenous person. A black individual is five times more likely in Halifax and three times more likely in Toronto to have the same. An indigenous person in Vancouver is seven times more likely to have a cannabis record. This matters. We would call this law, adverse effects discrimination. We would call this constructive discrimination.

That is why it is so galling that the government wants to bring in a half-baked measure in Bill C-93, rather than doing what is done in California. In San Francisco, there is an automatic intelligence system that simply sweeps the records to make them disappear for those who have a possession of cannabis offence on their record.

Let us contrast this with what the government wants to do today. To its credit, it wants to bring in a bill that says people no longer have to pay $631 for having a criminal record suspended, which is what Mr. Harper introduced, and they no longer have to wait for five years. I congratulate the government for that minor step in the right direction.

In the U.S., a person's record is automatically expunged in the states I have mentioned. These records are deemed not to exist. This matters because it allows people who are asked by a landlord whether they have a criminal record for anything to tell that landlord they do not. When asked by an employer if they have a criminal record, people who have only a cannabis possession charge from several years ago in their background can say they do not, because under expungement, it is deemed not to exist.

The government tells us not to worry and that we do not understand, because there is a human rights statute federally and in all the provinces that says people cannot face discrimination on the grounds that they have a criminal record for which a pardon has been granted. Tell that to an inner city landlord in downtown Halifax or to an inner city employer or small business operator in downtown Vancouver.

It is ludicrous. Why would the government not do the right thing, getting this all done at the same time and done properly, rather than bringing in this half-baked measure? It is too little, too late, which I am sad to say is my theme.

I am not the only one with this opinion. I am pleased to say that the Liberal member of Parliament for Beaches—East York acknowledges the limitations of the bill. He said:

Only full amnesty recognizes the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition on people of colour and the fact that cannabis should never have been criminalized in the first place.

Our government’s solution is better than nothing, but it’s not enough to be better than nothing when we have an opportunity to make historic injustices right.

I am quoting a Liberal member, not someone who has an axe to grind, if you will, on this issue. This is a Liberal who realizes we can do so much better.

One of the arguments the Liberals have used to explain why we cannot have expungement is that many people would be affected and it would cost so much money and take so much time. However, that is not true anymore, because we have new data suggesting that only some 10,000 people would be positively affected by the bill. That is not a very large number. Why can we not expunge their records rather than simply giving them this record suspension, after which records move from one filing cabinet to another and can come back and bite people later in a subsequent event if the state deems that they have committed another crime?

What about a crimes such as failure to appear? These are called administration of justice offences. They are not like the actual offence of cannabis possession. They occur when people do not pay a fine or do not show up in court. In these situations the criminal justice system is continually on a person's back, even though the root of it all was a cannabis possession charge.

I have been advised that indigenous women are sometimes affected down the road in this way when they have custody issues with their children. This occurs not because of the cannabis offence but because of the other matters on their record that have resulted from that. It is ludicrous.

The government says our most important relationship is with indigenous people. Here it could make a tiny but critically important change in the lives of so many. Why would it let this opportunity pass to expunge the records of people so they could say they have no criminal record, allowing them to get their foot on the social ladder in order to get employment, housing and the like? I do not understand the government's reluctance in this context.

Professor Kent Roach is one of Canada's leading criminal law specialists. Recently, in the Criminal Law Quarterly, he wrote, “The government's approach to cannabis convictions in the wake of legalization is even more problematic than the expungement act,” which is another bill I will come to.

He continued, “It has announced plans to allow the National Parole Board to grant pardons under the Criminal Records Act. This again requires case-by-case applications. This places challenges on the most disadvantaged people who have been convicted of cannabis possession.”

He goes on, “By not relying on expungement, the government's approach leaves applicants vulnerable to records of convictions and arrest being retained by the RCMP and other federal departments and to questions from prospective employers and landlords about whether they ever had a criminal conviction. It falls behind states such as California and Delaware in terms of reform.”

He then goes on and says about my bill that it “...takes a better approach by proposing to expunge cannabis convictions including the destruction of records of convictions.”

I am not here to score political points. I am not even running again in the next election. I am fully convinced that automatic expungement is the way to go. It is what people deserve. I implore the government to amend this bill and do the right thing by so many people who are affected, whose lives are on hold until we get this right.

Record suspension simply removes criminal records from the main database, CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, and puts the data somewhere else, where it can be used prejudicially later and potentially shared with other departments, thereby having a negative effect.

Expungement means those records disappear for all purposes and for all time. A record suspension or pardon indicates the government is forgiving or excusing individuals for criminal behaviour, and that is all; expungement acknowledges it was wrong to criminalize it in the first place.

At this time, let me give the House the other government excuse for not doing the right thing.

It brought in, to its credit, Bill C-66, which was called the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. That bill dealt with same-sex sexual activity, which is no longer criminalized but was in the past. The government said it was going to deem those offences to no longer be on a person's record—gone.

I have two things to say about that.

Number one is that since October, from the last statistics, do members know how many people have even bothered to apply, of the 9,000 eligible? It was seven. That hardly gives confidence that this application process is going to make a difference.

Number two is that the government says, “Oh, member for Victoria, do you know what we will do? We will say that this is to be reserved for things that are constitutionally over the line, such as same-sex sexual activity.”

There is no principled reason for that smokescreen. I have talked to criminal law specialists and constitutional specialists across the country who say that this argument is not valid. Second, even if it were valid, which it is not, what about the constructive discrimination I just talked about, the adverse effects discrimination, whereby the policy and application affect blacks and indigenous people dramatically more than others? What about that?

Not doing the right thing for cannabis expungement as for same-sex sexual activity, which the government is prepared to expunge, makes no sense at all. It is another Liberal smokescreen.

I am not here to score political points; I am just trying to persuade the Liberals to do the right thing. Why would they not do it? That is what is so complicated for me to understand.

The NDP has been calling for this measure for years. I will not go through the whole background of it, but there are deficiencies in addition in the bill that is before us today. The Parole Board does not have the resources to do the job, so there are going to be even further backlogs for other applications from people seeking pardons. There is a whole industry, sadly, out there to help people get rid of their criminal records. If members go on the Internet, they will see everybody who wants to help if they give them a few hundred bucks.

The forms are complicated. Members might not think they are, but for a poor person with little education who is living in the inner city, this measure would impose another burden, and I do not understand why, when our friends south of the border figured it out much more readily.

There are also eligibility gaps in Bill C-93. Only those people convicted of simple possession are eligible, meaning anyone with prior record suspensions of crimes related to the simple possession charges will not be able to use this process. I gave the example of failure to appear or not paying the fine or the like. If there is another offence on the record, then they are facing an inability to apply.

Someone pointed out that if a person has a summary conviction offence and then four years down has another cannabis offence, there may be a total wait of nine years to apply under this bill. I do not believe that was intended, but it is a function of the drafting of the bill, according to experts I have consulted. That is problematic.

The Liberals have had six months since they brought in legalization to do this. This bill is maybe four and a half or five pages in English, so how on earth did it take that long? The elephant laboured and brought forth a mouse.

Bill C-75, which was 302 pages, was before the justice committee, and it rammed that one through. This bill is five pages in English and maybe nine pages in total with English and French. It took the Liberals that long to produce this tiny bill, this weak bill. Presumably they can just check it off on the list that another promise was kept, except if the bill dies on the Order Paper, as most people are anticipating.

This is a real problem. This is an opportunity for the government. My hope is that if the private member's bill that I have before Parliament for debate on Thursday goes to the public safety committee at the same time as this bill, perhaps there will be a way in which some of the provisions that I have suggested for expungement could be brought into the bill that is before us and we could get it right for the victims as they are.

It is not just me saying this. The Prime Minister has been quoted as follows: “...there is a disproportionate representation of young people, from minorities and racialized communities, who are saddled with criminal convictions for simple possession as a significant further challenge to success in the job market....” He seems to get it.

The statistics that the government has produced under access to information confirm what I am saying. I am not making up those shocking statistics about overrepresentation of blacks and, particularly, indigenous people. The Prime Minister gets the consequences, so why would the Liberals not do it right? I do not understand.

Professor Doob, the famous criminology professor at the University of Toronto, stated:

There is no justification for forcing those who were convicted to live with a criminal record for behaviour that will soon not be criminal. A procedure for dealing with the problem has been devised by the current government. They should ensure that relevant drug records are expunged for the thousands of Canadians who have them.

Senator Pate, who has been very powerful on this issue in the other place, has made similar arguments, and I hope that those points are taken into account by the Liberals opposite.

I have been working with a very talented lawyer in Toronto, Annamaria Enenajor, who is the director of Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. She is a prominent lawyer in Toronto and clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She is volunteering for this important cause and she states:

...the government...leaves the impression that restrictions exist on the government's ability to issue expungements for the offense of simple cannabis possession that are beyond its control. This is false. There is nothing in Canadian law that prohibits our government from issuing expungements for offenses that, in their application, unjustly targeted racialized and indigenous communities. It simply chooses not to. This is a policy decision.

That is the nub of the argument. Let us do it right.

There may be some good arguments in theory. I talked about the theoretical ability to apply the human rights legislation when people have been given pardons and so on, but it does not work in the real world. We have an absolute dearth of money for legal aid, and legal aid rarely covers human rights complaints if one has been discriminated against because of one's record. Theoretically, I guess, the Liberals could hang their hat on that, but they sure have not visited many inner cities if they think that is a viable argument in practice. Many small businesses and landlords draft their own applications and may not be aware of human rights legislation.

We have a historic opportunity in the dying days of this Parliament to do it right. Let us expunge criminal records for small quantity cannabis possession and help those thousands of Canadians who need a head start and a chance to get their foot on the rung in the social ladder. Let us do the right thing for those people as soon as we can.

Business of Supply March 20th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on the justice committee, the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. I heard the member opposite talk about the justice committee and allegations that the character of each member of that committee was being maligned in this place.

I was very fortunate to work on a committee that got along very well and produced unanimous reports. Then, all of a sudden, this hot potato was dropped on that committee. It occurred to me that things looked very different. It occurred to me that things were being directed from elsewhere.

Through you, Madame Speaker, I ask the member, as a new member who observed for the first time how that committee was functioning, whether he felt that the members were acting as independently as the Prime Minister has told this House they act.

Business of Supply March 20th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the effort of my friend to get us into the technicalities of cabinet confidence. It was another effort, I suppose, to do what the Liberals have been doing so aggressively, which is to change the channel.

The member talked about the Ethics Commissioner, and I want to ask a question about that. Is he aware that subsection 44(7) of the Conflict of Interest Act, under which the Ethics Commissioner has jurisdiction to deal with reports, requires that the report be provided in the House by the commissioner?

Sadly, the commissioner is on an extended medical leave. Therefore, is it, in his opinion, legally possible for the commissioner to make a report? The act does not contemplate an interim commissioner appointed by the OIC or otherwise. Could this be done if the commissioner wanted to do it?

Committees of the House March 18th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from St. Albert—Edmonton for his service on the committee. He has been a very effective member.

I was also ashamed to observe the motion from the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. To my knowledge he has never been on the committee in the three and a half years I have served there. He came in and basically was given the job to be the fixer or the hammer and everybody apparently walked out the back door. The Liberals were afraid to face the public and afraid to face the music.

There is a question of fairness, to which he alluded, that I also want to address. There were some very serious things said by the former attorney general about one of the most senior people in the Prime Minister's Office, whose name is Katie Telford. The allegation, which again is hearsay, was by Jessica Prince, the chief of staff to the former minister. She alleged that she had said that the time for legalities was over. Those are serious things that were said. We need, in fairness to her, to give her the opportunity to come and tell her story as well. Hearsay should not be enough in these circumstances.

Committees of the House March 18th, 2019

Madam Speaker, first, I did point out the basic fraud prosecution in Montreal along with the judicial review. It is a simple fraud case, which has nothing to do, I would argue, with what we are doing in Ottawa.

Second, the DPP had indeed said that there had never been any successful interference, and the Liberals are holding this out as a virtue. Katie Telford is alleged to have said, by Jessica Prince, that the time had passed for legalities. Mr. Butts was quoted as saying that there was no solution without interference. Those are the words she said. Are we supposed to take that as a good thing about the rule of law?

What about the fact that the former Treasury Board president resigned and talked about constitutional principles and ethics? Are we to forget that conveniently as well?

I would dearly love to talk in the House about indigenous issues. However, on a principle like the rule of law is at stake, I make no apologies for talking about that every day I can.

Committees of the House March 18th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I appreciate following my friend from Timmins—James Bay, because he has channelled the anger that many Canadians have.

Today I come to this discussion more in sadness than anything, and I will explain why.

I was at the committee that chose Kathleen Roussel as the director of public prosecutions. As members may know, under section 4 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, there is ability, I think appropriately, for members of Parliament from all recognized political parties to be involved in the selection process, and I was very pleased to be part of the group that chose her for that role. I do not know her, but over the last couple of weeks I have acquired enormous respect for her integrity. I think she has proven to Canadians that she is the right person for that job.

I raise that point because technically, of course, this is a concurrence motion in respect of her appointment, and I want to say that. Also, under her constituent statute, section 10 allows for an attorney general to take over a specific prosecution if he or she wishes, and section 15 allows that as well at a later time. If that is done, it has to be put in the Canada Gazette and the Canadian public gets to know that it has been done. I am happy to say it has not been done, although there were efforts made at the highest level of this country to cause that to be done, and to her everlasting credit, the former attorney general said no. She said no because the buck stops with the attorney general when it comes to decisions on criminal prosecution in our system. Even that has been constrained, as I said, by the Director of Public Prosecutions Act in the way that I have just described.

I come in sadness today because the Liberals have been trying to change the channel on this story for months. They started by saying that there is nothing here, that she was still in cabinet, until she was not, and then it was a different story. Then it was Scott Brison's fault, and then it was there is nothing to see here. I do not even know where the bouncing ball stops, but Canadians have to have serious concerns about this issue.

The former well-respected President of the Treasury Board left the employ of the Canadian public and said, in doing so, “Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.” She talked of the ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations that she has as a member of cabinet.

Any Canadian who watched the testimony of the former attorney general would know, because of the way in which she spoke and the clarity of her testimony, that she was telling the truth. She wants to come back and tell the remainder of her story, but the government will not let her do that.

Tomorrow the justice committee is having another meeting. We will see whether the government changes its mind and allows that to happen, notwithstanding two previous efforts through motions the government, through the Liberal majority, chose to squash.

This is about the rule of law. That is part of our Constitution. It is in the preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Does the government care? It is changing the channel again, and this is where the sadness I started my speech with comes to bear.

I have known Anne McLellan for many years. We taught constitutional law at the same time at different universities. She was an extraordinary academic and an excellent minister. I have great respect for her work on the cannabis report as well, which saw all of its recommendations implemented. Why she would let herself get into this charade saddens me greatly, because it is another example of changing the channel. She is now going to study whether the attorney general should no longer be a member of cabinet, but she is a partisan Liberal. There is nothing wrong with that, but how can Canadians have any confidence that our rule of law principles are going to be maintained?

Ms. McLellan is not, presumably, going to talk about whether the former attorney general was fired from her role because the Prime Minister did not like her standing up and doing her job. We do not know, because the Prime Minister will not let us know. He will not let her testify. I do not think that Anne McLellan, talented, competent and ethical as she is, is going to be given that mandate.

Liberals are turning this into an academic law reform question, rather than the central question Canadians are anxious to hear about.

When I say anxious to hear about, I was in a village called Witset in northwest British Columbia on the weekend with many leaders of the Wet'suwet'en in First Nation. I cannot say how many people thanked me for the work we did on the justice committee when the former attorney general testified. They were watching, and they are angry at the government.

I come at this more with sadness in that the Liberals they think they can get away with this and use Anne McLellan to change the channel.

I say I am sad for another reason. I have had the honour of serving with my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton on a committee in which we produced unanimous reports consistently. It has been an excellent committee and I have publicly praised the chair for the way in which he has run our committee meetings. However, that all changed dramatically when we had carriage of this hot potato issue.

We saw a bunch of new Liberals, who I had never met before, being brought in to committee. I wondered who those people were. All of a sudden they voted as a bloc. It looked to me that they were voting as they were told by someone else. However, the Prime Minister as recently as this afternoon said that we must let the committee do its job, as if it had any independent role yet to play.

Canadians should watch this process. They should watch this charade. However, they cannot because it will be held in camera tomorrow. All of us will be watching whether the motion I have put forward on the Order Paper will be allowed. The motion would allow her to come and testify again. Although it is an in camera meeting, we will find out very clearly what the answer is.

My point is that the Prime Minister said that we had the Ethics Commissioner and not to worry, that he would come to the rescue even though his mandate does not have anything at all to do with whether there was political interference in this issue. It has to do with private interests, which is economic in nature.

Then the Liberals tell us not to worry, that the justice committee will do its job. Canadians should watch TV and see how it is doing that job. I dare any Canadian to conclude that the fix is not in on that committee, which I am very sad to say.

The last version the Prime Minister used today was the sub judice rule. I invite anyone to read the decision of the Federal Court. It laughed SNC-Lavalin out of court in an absolutely staggering way. There is this notion that we can interfere legally within a court at the discretion of the director of public prosecution. There is no way that can be done, and the court has made that clear. A slap down would be a light way of describing it. The Prime Minister tells us we have sub judice rules, it is before the court. If that case is appealed, it will be even more of a joke than what happened at Federal Court. Do not take my word for it. I invite Canadians to read the decision of Madam Justice Kane. If they appeal to keep this before the courts, that would be even more scandalous. Then there is a simple fraud case in Montreal, as if that has anything to do with the work we are doing here.

All three excuses are completely bogus. That the justice committee will get to the bottom of it is wrong. That the conflict commissioner will deal with this is wrong. That it is sub judice is essentially wrong. We need to have a public inquiry into this. I am sad to say that the justice committee is completely debased. I am so sad to be saying that because I was so proud to be on that committee. It is not going to get to the bottom of this. People should watch TV to see what it did. They should watch what the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell did at the emergency debate last Friday, He moved adjournment. It was non-debatable and home we went. We sat for 15 minutes at great expense to the taxpayers to bring people to committee from different parts of the country, and for what?

It is supposed to be coming up tomorrow I am told. The eyes of the nation will be on that committee tomorrow. We will see whether the Liberals are prepared to let the former attorney general be unmuzzled and let her tell her truth. They let other people like Michael Wernick come back. We will see whether the Liberals will allow that to happen. If they do not, we will know how they feel about the rule of law in our country.

Justice February 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we heard explosive testimony from the former attorney general. It directly involved the Prime Minister of Canada, and Canadians still have not heard the whole story. The Prime Minister is not allowing the former attorney general to discuss anything that happened after she was removed from her role. Yesterday the Liberal majority on the justice committee voted no when I asked that she be able to tell us what happened after that date.

Will the Prime Minister stop trying to save himself and remove the restrictions that he imposed on her so she can tell her entire story?

Justice February 27th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, from the beginning of the SNC-Lavalin saga, the Prime Minister sent mixed messages to Canadians. First, he refused to allow the former attorney general to speak at all. Then he gave in but only a little bit. This week, she wrote the justice committee and said that she will not be able to tell us anything as to what happened after January 14.

Are these the actions of a Prime Minister who says that sunlight is the best disinfectant? Enough is enough. Will the Prime Minister let the former attorney general tell her story, speak her truth and tell Canadians exactly what happened?