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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was fact.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Ottawa Centre (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 39% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns March 12th, 2015

With regard to diplomatic postings by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada: (a) what is the total number of vacancies in diplomatic postings; (b) which positions are vacant; (c) how long have each of the positions identified in (b) been vacant; (d) at which stage of the recruitment and posting process are the positions identified in (b); (e) what is the average length of time taken to fill a diplomatic posting in each of the last five calendar years; (f) what percentage of diplomatic postings in each of the last five years has been filled from within the Foreign Service; (g) what percentage of ambassadorial postings in each of the last five years has been filled from within the Foreign Service; and (h) what percentage of diplomatic postings requires ministerial approval?

Committees of the House March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague has been on the foreign affairs committee and on the human rights committee, and one of the things we have to try to figure out when we hear testimony on troubling issues like this is where to put our resources. I would like to hear her advice in terms of providing direct help to women in the DRC.

We know that we need to help the victims. We know they need justice. Impunity is a huge issue, and I know the member has some interest in law, so I would be interested to hear some of the things we can do to help the victims seek justice and to help them become whole again, if possible.

As was stated before, this is a rampant issue, and we have to find ways to confront it. The trials in Bosnia were a great example, but how do we help women directly and invest to help them directly? What can we do as a country to help with that?

Committees of the House March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is the Kimberley process that was referenced. It is to make sure that it is still functioning to follow the supply chain. There are some issues there. However, the member brings up a very important point.

I was just at an event a week ago on the issue of certifying and following the supply chain for gold as well as for conflict minerals. There is a role for Canadian mining companies. It has happened in the past that mining companies hire security firms to essentially keep people off the land and sometimes to push people off the land. Some very unsavoury methods have been used to do that, not directly by the mining companies but by subcontractors.

What Canada needs to do, following the transparency initiatives we have seen at the G8 and G7 and the OECD, is ensure that all companies understand that they have a role to play in compliance and in ensuring, from taking minerals or gold out of the ground all the way through to production, that if any human rights abuses happen in connection to that, they have to bear the responsibility. There has been some good work done on this. Obviously government has to play a role, and I think we need to strengthen oversight. We have had debates in this House on how we can do that.

When we talk about big mining sites, there are cases when subcontracting has happened and human rights abuses have happened. It is not typical and is certainly not in conflict minerals, which is all about illegal mining. However, we need to understand that the responsibility lies with those companies to ensure that nothing like that happens. That is something we can do a bit more of.

Committees of the House March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, there was a very important period in our Parliament just at the time we were looking at extending our mission in Afghanistan. I do not know this, and history eventually will disclose this, but there was a period of a couple of weeks when our government was seized with what the next steps would be after Afghanistan. It was at the time we were being asked by the UN to supply officers for a UN peacekeeping mission. They were pleading. When I was in the Congo, they were asking me this personally. They wanted our professionalism, because obviously our history as peacekeepers is well known, to help with the peacekeeping mission in the Congo, the largest peacekeeping mission we had at the time, and which continues. They asked us more than three times over a couple of years. It was right around the time we were looking at whether to extend our mission in Afghanistan. It was at a time when we could have deployed some of our professional men and women, but not thousands.

I wish we had. It would have been helpful because of the professionalism we carry. We speak the language, French. We also have the authority, the history, and the integrity in peacekeeping. That is what was lacking and still is lacking. We could have done that. We could have implemented some of the ideas I had on conflict minerals. We still can do that. We still need to invigorate our action plan on peace and security. These are all things that can and should be done.

Committees of the House March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.

I rise today to speak to one of the most important issues to be focused on in the House. For me, and for many members, as we have heard, that is the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war. I can say this personally, having been to the DRC a couple of years ago and having talked to people on the ground there as well as to people here who are involved internationally on the issue.

We have had forums here. A couple of years ago we had a very important forum with the All-Party Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, of which I am now the chair. We organized an event a couple of years back with Eve Ensler, the famous playwright, that included testimony from victims who suffered from rape as a weapon of war.

I do not want to sensationalize, but I do want to lend some stories to the debate and some facts about what has been going on.

It has been noted many times in the debate around rape as a weapon of war that the epicentre is Congo. Congo is the rape capital of the world. That is what it was called for many years. It remains a problem. Since 1998, over 5.4 million people have been killed in this ongoing conflict in which rape is used as a weapon of war.

People have used the term “femicide”, because in this war it is not soldiers who are on the front line. One former colonel in command of a UN peacekeeping mission in Congo said that in this conflict, it is women who are on the front lines. It is not soldiers. What he was referring to is the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war.

In the past, yes, rape was evident in conflict. Sadly, rape has been a by-product of war in the past. However, what we are seeing in the case of the Congo and in an increasing number of conflicts is its use as an actual strategy of war. Soldiers and rebel groups use rape to mark territory and to intimidate people.

There are people who are dealing with this on the ground, but it is really hard to conceptualize that 5.4 million people have died in a war that seems to pass us by. How does that happen? How is it that women who are on the front lines are repeatedly gang-raped by soldiers and militias and no one seemingly does anything?

There are people on the front lines, and I will talk about them in a minute. We had a UN peacekeeping mission as well, but most people either had no idea of this conflict in the DRC or chose not to look. Perhaps it was too disturbing. My theory is that most people just did not know.

I mentioned that the financing for these conflicts and these militias is coming directly from the supply chain that puts minerals into our technologies. Coltan is used in our BlackBerrys, our iPads, and our computers. It is actually a good thing to have in technology. It allows our devices to work by making sure they do not get too hot. It is really important. However, 80% of that mineral comes from the region. Most of it has been controlled and is still controlled by the militias that are using rape as a weapon of war.

It is frustrating, because when we come to understand the connection between supply chain mineral revenues and the conflict, we begin to think we should be doing something about that.

I know that the Dodd Frank initiative was brought forward in the United States, so the U.S. actually has a law now that forces companies to say where their supply chain is coming from. I want to give credit to some of those who have taken this on. We have seen good outcomes under this law in the United States. The supply chain for Intel, the company that makes the little chip, is now 100% conflict-free. The U.S. is doing what we did with blood diamonds.

We have to break the chain of revenue that goes to these militias, because that is what they are after. They are using child soldiers and they are using rape as a weapon of war. It is something that we have to stop, and we know how to stop it because we did it with blood diamonds back in the 1990s.

Who are the people on the front lines who are taking this on? I want to cite someone who has been extraordinary in taking on and dealing with the victims, and that is Dr. Mukwege who works in the Congo. His Panzi Hospital, which has been noted around the world, is in Bukavu, in the eastern part of the Congo.

As a gynecologist, he set up a clinic to help women. He was there to help women and women's health. What he ended up having to do, though, is deal with the outcomes of rape as a weapon of war. This is very disturbing. Instead of just doing basic health care for women and children, he ended up having to do surgery on women, rebuilding women's bodies because they had been so deformed from rape. Fistula, a medical term, occurs when a woman's body has been so abused that her body comes apart. It ruptures. That is what he was dealing with, not doing women's health. It is horrific.

Over the years, he has operated on over 50,000 women and girls due to rape, in just his clinic. These are girls, kids, and women who are older. This is what we are talking about.

When we debate this in the House, I think it is important to understand that this has been going on for a while. It continues to go on. Dr. Mukwege has said:

This will be the destruction of the Congolese people. If you destroy enough wombs, there will be no children. Then you come right in and take the minerals.

He is saying that because this is exactly what has happened. It is intimidation. It is a way, as we heard from one of my colleagues, to shame people, to take away their dignity. After this violence has occurred, they are left without support, sadly. It disrupts the whole society. That is what this is intended to do.

It is also heinous on the other side of the equation. This is socialized; these soldiers are socialized to do this. They start them off very young, as boys, to initiate them with rape. There is the whole social circle here. These young boys become soldiers. They are initiated in rape and then go in and continue the cycle. There are women who are raped multiple times, whose whole bodies become deformed and broken. It takes a very hard hit on a whole society. We have to consider that when we look at how we should respond.

This report is good. It is important. I challenge the government to implement it. I challenge the government to go back to the 1325 action plan on women, peace and security. However, I want us all to remember that there are things we can do as citizens. We should ask all of our providers and the people we buy technologies from what they are doing to make sure that all of our products are conflict free, so that we end the incentives for this horrific crime against humanity that has led to femicide in places like the DRC, and that we support the victims and those who, like the good doctor, are doing work on the ground.

Then we could say that when we found out there was a war against women going on, we did not just sit by, we acted and we acted with our values, obviously, as the cornerstone of our democracy, and that we actually reached out to those who did not have a voice and whose voices were too often extinguished.

This report is important because it gives us a chance to talk about an issue that is not talked about enough. It is something we should talk about more and, more importantly, something we should act on.

Committees of the House March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on a subject that we have debated before in the House. It relates to rape as a weapon of war in the DRC. It was not that long ago that I had a bill in front of Parliament on conflict minerals and how to stop the trade of those minerals. As members probably know, the BlackBerrys they are looking at have conflict minerals in them. We were trying to end that.

One of the propositions to government was to ensure we did what we could, like the Kimberley Process, to stop revenues going to these militias. Sadly, my PMB did not go forward. That is not news. It lost by 16 votes. However, during the debate, I listened carefully to the government's point of view on the bill as it related to this and to the Kimberley Process. It said that it would take on the issue of conflict minerals and deal with the sources of revenues that the militias used.

Could the member update the House as to what steps the government is taking vis-à-vis the revenues that the militias are using from conflict minerals? These militias are using rape as a weapon of war to clear people off and intimidate, and are continuing to use this as sources of revenue. Could she update us on the progress with respect to conflict minerals?

Respect for Communities Act February 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to put on the record a couple of statistics on Ottawa regarding this issue.

The most recent research for Ottawa finds that 73% of people who inject drugs test positive for the hepatitis C antibody, and 13% test positive for HIV. These infection rates are attributed in part to the sharing of drug injection equipment. The research finds that one in five people who inject drugs in Ottawa has injected with a needle that was previously used by someone else, and that the rate of needle sharing is more than double this rate among street-involved youth.

In other words, this is clear fact and evidence of why the status quo is not working, not only for individuals' health but the community's health. It is a community health issue and it deserves a better response from the government.

Respect for Communities Act February 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. Our party's view on the approach to take is completely different than that of the government. We recommend an approach that focuses on prevention and on investing in community health centres, such as the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in downtown Ottawa and the Carlington Community Health Centre.

It is a good idea to invest in local community health centres so that they can do prevention work and provide this type of care. That is what makes us different from the government. The government would rather act after the fact by investing in a large hospital. That is a bad idea.

Respect for Communities Act February 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-2. As we have said on this side of the House, this bill is ill-considered and a reaction, frankly, to the government's inability to address a serious problem. As we know, the Supreme Court has had to intervene to guide the government to do more than it has been doing.

However, it is more than that. If we look at the legislation, it tries to address a major void in the approach of the government in dealing with what is a health issue. I would like to underline that point at the start. This is about health, the health of our neighbours and the people we represent as members of Parliament. Too often, this issue has been dressed up as a drug issue, invoking the kind of images we see on TV. Somehow it has been torqued to the point where we forget that we are talking about human beings who are facing addictions.

Recently I met with people who were with the recovery movement in Ottawa. I sponsored a motion, which I would love to have the rest of my colleagues support, with respect to designating a recognized recovery month in September. One of the important topics they spoke of was the people who had taken on an addiction, gone down that brave road and, with the support of many people, been able to deal with it, whether it had been alcohol or drugs. Their point was that we need to take this out of the shadows when we are talking about addictions and celebrate when people have been successful with recovery. We need to talk about it and celebrate it, not hide it or be ashamed of it. That is something we have seen with mental health. We have come a long way when it comes to mental health. However, we need to do the same with addictions.

When people are addicted to drugs, we need to see that as a health issue. It could be my kids who could become addicted, or the kids of other members, our neighbours, or friends. We have seen that pattern.

Before my mother entered politics, her first job was as a public health nurse. One of the things she had to deal with in the 1970s was the kids who were getting addicted to hard drugs and had nowhere to go. She was their first point of contact in dealing with that issue. The problem then was acknowledging that it was a problem. People were hiding behind closed doors and suffering in silence. We have made some progress in that area by now. However, when I look at this bill and listen to the government side, I think we need to take back that approach that we thought we had learned and instead say this is a health issue and that we can solve it if we work together.

It just so happens that this is timely for me. I was very lucky this past week to meet with all the executive directors of all of the community health centres in Ottawa. They were not just community health centre executive directors from Ottawa Centre—I am lucky to have four community health centres in my riding—but also from other areas in Ottawa.

I met with the executive director of the community health centre in the south end of Ottawa, which is not in my area; and from the Queensway Carleton area, which is west of me; as well as Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre, who coordinated it. I want to give her a special mention because she hosted the meeting. Jack McCarthy from the Somerset West Community Health Centre was also there, as was the executive director from Sandy Hill.

It was David Gibson who underlined the point that we have to get smarter when it comes to dealing with addictions, and hard drugs in particular. He laid out a convincing argument on why we need to take a different approach than what is laid out in Bill C-2. Essentially, he said that we have to acknowledge that we have harmful, powerful drugs being used by members of our community. Therefore, the first thing we need to do when dealing with any addiction is to recognize it. The second is that we have to understand what the drugs are, who is taking them, and where they are taking them. Therefore, we must do an analysis. The third is to come up with solutions. It is a fairly straightforward approach that he talked about.

However, he also added to the briefing that he sent me, which I thank him for, the legal piece here, because we know that the Supreme Court has been involved.

I will read some of that report into the record for the benefit of our debate. One of the things he says is the following:

I consider Bill C2 as an important reminder of the lessons of the 2011 Supreme Court's ruling: that governments, and all health and public health organizations, have a duty to act in ways that enhance the health of individuals and their communities.

I do not think anyone in this House would disagree with that statement.

He does go on to say how we can improve that response to achieve the goal he laid out. One of the things he has laid out was from that Supreme Court ruling:

The effect of denying the services of [safe injection sites] to the population it serves and the...increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.

That was from Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in her decision in 2011. It goes on to say:

These sites are evidence that health authorities are increasingly recognizing that health care for injection drug users cannot amount to a stark choice between abstinence and forgoing health services.

This is the key for me. We cannot take people who are hiding in the shadows with their addictions and using injection drugs and say that we do not have any role. They are people in our communities. They are people who need help.

We cannot just say get off the drugs. The ads are fine. I have seen them, and they can have some effect, but if an individual is addicted to hard drugs and is using injection drugs, that campaign will not help. It will not do the job.

The Supreme Court was saying that we cannot lay it out and say that abstinence or denial of health services is all that is left for an individual who is a drug user. We have to look at who this person is and how we can help, as I mentioned earlier.

The image I will now tell the House about is from the report I received from one of our community health centre executive directors. It is an actual story. I think it is important, because it lays out what some of the challenges are.

This story is about a person we will call Michael, to protect his privacy. In August 2012, at the age of 19, the same age as my eldest son, Michael visited the downtown City of Ottawa community health centre to exchange his used needles for clean needles. Having declined further support that day, Michael left the community health centre. There is an accompanying photo, which I cannot show the House.

What happened next was that just steps away from the community health centre, Michael was found in an overdosed state. He was found by one of the people in the community health centre, fortunately, because if he had not been found, he would have died of an overdose.

He woke up in the hospital emergency department and was told that he was clinically dead when the paramedics arrived. I will just underline the point that he was 25 metres from the community health centre, and they were able to be there to help him. However, what happened to his friend was not so lucky. A week later, one of his closest friends died of an overdose.

What I am trying to say is that this is preventable. When we have people, and they are in all of our communities, make no mistake, who are dying because of overdoses and the use and misuse of injection drugs, there is a model that is not one-size-fits-all. It is an opportunity for us to deal with it.

In closing, this is not about naming and shaming. This is about taking people out of the shadows and putting them in front of our health care services and providing the supports they need.

It is 2015. The evidence is out. The studies have been done. We know that supervised sites can work. It is not one-size-fits-all. Yes, I agree with the government that it has to have community support, but if we fail to provide that support, we are turning our backs on people.

This is about people's lives. This is about the fact that people are dying in our streets because we are not doing enough, and it would be an abject failure, not only of our duties as members of Parliament but our collective duties as a caring community.

Respect for Communities Act February 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge my friend's comments at the end. We can agree on his statement that that proliferation and use of some very harmful drugs are affecting lives in our communities.

Where we part company is on how we deal with that problem. He has probably looked at all of the evidence-based research on why we need to have safe injection sites and places where people can get health care at the same time.

No one is looking at trying to proliferate. We are trying to reduce the use of harmful drugs.

Has my friend read all of the evidence from other countries? The issue has been looked at in Germany, Switzerland, and right here in Canada, and the evidence says that this is a health issue and that we need to provide safe support for those people who have these problems so that we can have first contact with them and not abandon them. I think that is where the government's problem is.

I just want to know if he has read all of the evidence-based reports that say that the direction of the government is the wrong direction.