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Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)
Won his last election, in 2015, with 56% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal December 9th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Becka Viau, a visionary, a feminist, an artist, an activist, an innovator, and a mom.
Becka works tirelessly for and with the artistic community on P.E.I. She has been named to receive the Meritorious Service medal for rejuvenating contemporary arts on Prince Edward Island. Her work as a champion of the arts speaks to her love for her community. Her dedication led to her joining forces with the right hon. Kim Campbell and the now Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs when she participated in “A Bold Vision”, an experiment to imagine a Canada designed by 23 women in 2014, as opposed to 23 men in 1864. A force within our community, she ably represented P.E.I. at that table.
I extend warm congratulations to Becka and look forward to being at Rideau Hall in the new year when she receives this prestigious and well-deserved honour.
Santa's Angels December 2nd, 2016
Mr. Speaker, amid the excitement and anticipation of the Christmas season, there are some very kind souls who lift the spirts of those who are less fortunate.
Today I wish to recognize Father Stephen Allen, Kenny Zakem, Don Wright, and their team of volunteers. Twelve years ago they founded Santa's Angels in Charlottetown, a dedicated group that works tirelessly each Christmas to deliver food and gifts, along with a visit from Santa, to those in need.
Last Christmas, 77 of Santa's Angels visited 218 homes, helping an estimated 1,000 adults and children. These volunteers take time out of their own Christmas morning, with Santa's visits beginning as early as 7 a.m., to create a magical and memorable surprise for those who may not have been able to have a Christmas celebration on their own.
I know I speak for the entire House when send out a sincere “thank you” to Santa's Angels and all of the other local charities that spread joy to our most vulnerable citizens.
Committees of the House November 29th, 2016
Madam Speaker, I wish to speak to the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to proposed Bill C-242, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (inflicting torture).
Bill C-242 proposes the enactment of a new criminal offence of non-state or private torture. Let me begin by commending the member from London North Centre for raising the important issue of non-state torture before the House of Commons.
I recognize that Bill C-242 seeks to address a particularly horrific subset of criminal conduct, which is worthy of our attention as parliamentarians. That being said, the committee has recommended that the House not proceed further with the bill. The committee's fifth report was presented to the House on October 17, 2016.
I agree with the decision not to proceed further with this bill. Let me provide some more details on why I believe that this was the appropriate decision to make. Private member's bill, Bill C-242 proposes to create a crime of inflicting torture for the purpose of coercing or intimidating any person, with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. It would define torture to mean “any act or omission by which severe and prolonged pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally and repeatedly inflicted on a person.” In addition, “severe and prolonged mental pain or suffering” is defined to mean suffering “a mental injury leading to a visibly evident and significant change in intellectual capability.”
The key point about this proposed offence was that it applied to anyone who committed torture, not just to officials of the state. The committee's report concludes that this approach may be redundant. This conclusion reflects the reality that there are already several offences in the Criminal Code that address inflicting serious harm on a person. For example, there is the offence of assault causing bodily harm in section 267 of the Criminal Code, with a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment. There is also the offence of aggravated assault in section 268 where a person wounds, maims, disfigures, or endangers the life of the victim. The maximum punishment is 14 years imprisonment.
There is the offence of sexual assault causing bodily harm in section 272 that has a maximum punishment of 14 years imprisonment. Finally, there is the offence of aggravated sexual assault in section 273, which addresses the situation where someone who commits a sexual assault wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the victim. The maximum punishment for this offence is life imprisonment.
As a result, cases of private torture can already be prosecuted under the Criminal Code under various assault provisions. An offence of private torture, as Bill C-242 proposes, appears not to be necessary. The standing committee's report also concluded judges already have the authority under section 718.2 of the Criminal Code to consider torturous conduct.
Section 718.2 is the sentencing provision in the code that sets out various aggravating factors that a judge must consider when determining the appropriate sentence for an accused person who has been found guilty of a crime. In particular, it is an aggravating factor whenever the victim of abuse is the offender's spouse or common-law partner. It is also an aggravating factor where there is evidence that the offence has had a significant impact on the victim. This will be particularly relevant where a victim has endured ongoing and horrific abuse.
Most importantly, section 718.2 instructs judges to consider "any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender.” Given such broad and comprehensive language, I have absolutely no doubt that the type of conduct addressed by Bill C-242 is already met with severe punishment. The approach to sentencing established in section 718.2 is critical, because it preserves judicial discretion to consider all the facts before them. Rather than creating a new offence to address every scenario, the code allows each unique set of facts to be accounted for at sentencing, and this is exactly what judges do in practice.
In addition to the redundancy with existing Criminal Code provisions, Bill C-242 also overlaps with another offence, namely, the existing offence of torture found in section 269.1 of the code. Although potential overlap is not always a problem, in this case it does appear to be.
Section 269.1 sets out a definition of torture that incorporates the internationally agreed upon definition of torture found in the torture convention. That definition contemplates torture committed by an official or committed by another person at the instigation of, with the consent of, or with the acquiescence of such an official. Thus, it does not capture torture committed by private citizens. The definition proposed in Bill C-242 is substantially different. It is both broader and narrower than the existing Criminal Code definition.
Torture is defined in subsection 269.1(2) of the code to mean any act or omission by which “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for various purposes, such as obtaining information from a person. Under this definition, in contrast to Bill C-242, there is no need for the pain or suffering to be prolonged or repeatedly inflicted or that the mental suffering lead to a visibly evident and significant change in intellectual capability.
In addition, section 269.1 of the Criminal Code has a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, compared to the maximum penalty of life imprisonment proposed by Bill C-242. In creating the offence of torture in section 269.1, Parliament gave that section exclusive jurisdiction to address torture. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the proposed offence would complement Parliament's original intent. Such discrepancies with the existing definition of torture, as well as the existing penalty, may in fact undercut the established law set out in the Criminal Code.
Finally, there are a number of practical challenges with the bill that were raised at committee. For instance, the definition of torture proposes to introduce new and uncertain language into the code, including the words “change in intellectual capability'“. There is an open question as to whether PTSD or similar disorders would qualify under this definition, and it would likely take years of litigation to sort that out. It is also worth noting that none of the amended definitions proposed at committee appeared to adequately address the ambiguities raised by experts.
The introduction of uncertainty and inconsistency into the Criminal Code can result in a loss of confidence in the administration of justice. It is, therefore, our duty as parliamentarians to carefully consider all the implications of any proposed amendment.
The horrific forms of violence contemplated by Bill C-242 have no place in our society. That is why the concerns raised in this bill will be part of the discussion as the Minister of Justice undertakes a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.
I wish to thank the members of the justice committee for their diligent work in reviewing this private member's bill.
Criminal Code November 29th, 2016
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise to speak at second reading debate on Bill S-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code, detention in custody.
The Senate public bill was introduced in response to the tragic events in Alberta in 2015. I want to again express my deepest sympathies to the family of Constable Wynn and to expressly thank Shelly Wynn, David Wynn's wife, for her testimony before the Senate committee. The pain to the officer's family, RCMP colleagues, and the St. Albert community and beyond is immeasurable.
I also want to indicate at the outset that I support the objective of the proposed bill. Decision-makers in the bail process need all relevant information to make timely and appropriate decisions as to who should be released on bail. Ensuring this is not a simple task. It requires up-to-date information management systems and fully trained prosecutors, police, and justices.
Unfortunately, I am not of the view that the bill before us today meets its objective. I am concerned that the Senate public bill would create policy and legal implications that could result in a bail system that would not function properly for anyone.
The Criminal Code provides the framework for determining whether an accused is released or detained prior to trial. After an arrest, police may decide to release the accused with or without conditions. If not released by police, the accused is brought before a justice for a bail hearing. In some cases, the crown will consent to the release of the accused on certain conditions. However, in other cases, the justice will decide to detain the accused or release him or her, often after imposing conditions, such as a curfew or an obligation to report to police. These important decisions about pre-trial release are made daily in countless courtrooms across Canada.
When making any amendment to the bail provisions, it is important to note that the bail process varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick, use only judges to make release decisions. Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, heavily rely on justices of the peace in their bail courts.
There are also significant differences in who attends the bail hearing. Alberta, for example, where this tragedy occurred, is the only jurisdiction in which police officers assume the role of prosecutor at most first-appearance bail hearings. I understand that this practice occurs to a much lesser degree in parts of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. It was, in fact, a police officer who consented to the release of Mr. Rehn, the offender who ultimately killed Constable Wynn.
In response to this tragedy, the Alberta government has conducted a full review and continues to examine the role of police officers in bail hearings. The amendments proposed in Bill S-217 were not recommended in the Alberta report, nor have they been raised by the provinces and territories, which have been extensively reviewing the bail process.
The bill before us, Bill S-217, proposes two amendments to the Criminal Code bail provisions.
Clause 1 proposes expanding the grounds on which the courts rely to determine who should be detained prior to trial. Currently, under the Criminal Code, there are three general grounds under which bail can be denied: first, if the accused is a flight risk, meaning the accused may not show up for court; second, for public safety reasons; and third, to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.
Bill S-217 would expand the third ground to specifically include consideration of an accused's criminal record and outstanding charges.
If we ask anyone working on the front lines in our criminal courts, they will tell you that the criminal record and outstanding charges are key considerations in almost every case and at almost every stage of the bail process. From the moment someone is stopped by police, right up to considerations on bail pending appeal, the record of the accused is assessed. These factors are automatic considerations under the first ground for detention, that detention is necessary to ensure that the accused attends court, and also under the second ground, that detention is necessary to ensure that the public is protected.
Injecting consideration of the accused's record specifically into the third ground for detention, as suggested in Bill S-217, creates uncertainty for the multiple other bail provisions that do not specifically reference the criminal record.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in the 2015 case of the Queen v. St-Cloud, has recently considered and clarified the constitutionality of these grounds of detention.
This bill would open the provision to new judicial scrutiny and interpretation after the Supreme Court has just settled it. Clause 2 of the bill proposes to remove crown discretion from section 518 and require crowns to lead evidence to prove the fact of prior convictions, outstanding charges, failures to appear, or offences against the administration of justice at bail hearings.
Currently, under section 518(1)(c), the crown is given broad discretion as to what evidence can be led at bail hearings, as well as how evidence is presented to the court. Bail proceedings that are high volume and conducted on short notice require this flexibility.
By mandating crowns to provide specific evidence and raising the evidentiary burden with the words “to prove the fact”, Bill S-217 may unnecessarily complicate and lengthen the bail process; crowns may require adjournments to formalize evidence; and hearings could take longer. No one in the criminal justice system, including victims, would benefit from excessive delay and the staying of criminal charges.
Similar concerns about the proposed amendments creating delay and resource issues were raised by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police when they testified before the Senate committee on this bill. These concerns would most likely also be echoed by prosecutors and defence counsel, the front-line workers in our justice system.
Legislative changes, such as those suggested, require fulsome consideration of these important perspectives. As part of her mandate to review the criminal justice system and, more specifically, the bail process, the Minister of Justice is working with stakeholders, including her provincial and territorial counterparts, to make this critical component work effectively so that all Canadians, including our first responders, are appropriately protected.
Our government is also working to enhance the efficiency of the bail system. No one wants to see serious criminal charges stayed because of unreasonable delay, which is what can happen if bail decisions are not made in an effective, timely way.
It is a complex issue that has no one single answer and involves all actors in the criminal justice system.
While I think that the Senate public bill's proposed amendments are well-intentioned, they are not the solution to this complicated issue. Rather, they would import delay and confusion and would likely have unintended legal and operational consequences for the bail process.
I want to be clear. Bail is a critical stage in the criminal justice process. As this tragedy in St. Albert demonstrates, decisions made at bail can have far-reaching, devastating consequences.
While I appreciate its objective, the government does not support the bill. Effecting meaningful change would require a comprehensive response that considers stakeholders' perspectives and fully assesses the legal and policy implications for the bail process.
Criminal Code November 29th, 2016
Madam Speaker, that was a very powerful and moving speech, the calibre of which we have come to expect in this place from the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.
I also wish to add my voice to his in conveying our thoughts, sympathies, and condolences to Shelly MacInnis-Wynn and her family on the loss of a husband and father.
My question for the hon. member relates to the testimony at the Senate legal affairs committee by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who expressed a concern that imposing an evidentiary burden on crowns at bail hearings to prove prior convictions and failures to appear, administration of justice offences, would create a burden that could result in delays, in the seeking of adjournments, which would almost certainly negatively impact victims and the system in general. I would ask for the member's comments with respect to that testimony.
Rotary Youth Parliament November 25th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, later today, the 29th annual Rotary Youth Parliament will be called to order at the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island.
The Rotary Youth Parliament sees high school students from across the province take on the role of members of the legislative assembly, debating their own bills and resolutions in the chamber.
This year, 36 students will participate, forming a full cabinet and an opposition.
Bills on the order paper today include the bridge and ferry toll rebate act and the cap and trade system act.
Tomorrow, after adjournment proceedings, the top youth parliamentarian will receive the Frank Zakem Memorial Award, which was established in honour of one of the giants of our community and the driving force behind the establishment of this wonderful learning experience.
Frank would be so proud of his legacy.
I look forward to sitting in the public gallery tomorrow morning at the legislative assembly to pick up a few pointers and meet some of tomorrow's legislators.
Criminal Code November 22nd, 2016
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak about private member's bill, Bill C-305, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief).
Bill C-305 seeks to broaden the provision of the Criminal Code on mischief that constitutes a hate crime in relation to buildings or structures that are primarily used for religious worship by adding other types of buildings or structures.
To help situate the Bill C-305 within the criminal justice system, I intend to do three things in my remarks. First, I will provide an outline of how the current criminal law addresses cases of mischief that are hate motivated. Second, I will provide recent statistics of mischief that is hate motivated. Third, I will briefly outline how Bill C-305 proposes to expand the existing hate crime of mischief committed against property primarily used for religious worship, including some concerns with this approach.
First, let me address what the Criminal Code currently does to prevent hate mischief including hate-motivated mischief. Section 430 of the Criminal Code includes a general offence of mischief, which carries penalties ranging from up to two years imprisonment, where the value of the property that has been vandalized does not exceed $5,000 in value; up to 10 years imprisonment, where the value of the property that has been vandalized exceeds $5,000; and up to life imprisonment, where the mischief causes actual danger to life.
The variations in punishment for this offence depend on the value of the property that has been vandalized, not on the cost of the damage done to the property. For example, minor damage of a few hundred dollars done to a property that exceeds $5,000 in value, such as a house, could result in a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment, not a maximum punishment of two years imprisonment.
For the general offence of mischief, like for all criminal acts, there is a sentencing provision for hate crimes. In fact, subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code indicates that, during sentencing, the courts must take into account any aggravating circumstances, including whether the offence was motivated by prejudice or hate based on a non-exhaustive list of motives, such as race, colour, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.
There is also a specific hate crime of mischief relating to religious property. Subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code specifically prohibits mischief directed against a building or a structure that is primarily used for religious worship—such as a church, mosque, or synagogue—an object associated with religious worship, or a cemetery. For a person to be convicted of this offence, the mischief must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have been motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin. The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment on indictment. Enacted in late 2001 by the Anti-terrorism Act, this offence was designed to prevent the chilling effect that some mischief could have on the worshippers of a particular religion.
Now let me move on to what we know about the incidence of hate-motivated crime in Canada and, in particular, hate-motivated mischief. The uniform crime reporting survey conducted by Statistics Canada in collaboration with the policing community collects police-reported information on hate crimes. This includes offences motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, and any other similar factor.
It also includes information about hate crimes categorized by the term “most serious violation”, which includes the categories of mischief and mischief to religious properties motivated by hate. The statistics for mischief for the last two years of police-reported information on hate crimes cover the years 2013 and 2014. Statistics Canada reported that for 2013 there were 1,167 incidents of police-reported hate crime in Canada.
Now let me provide some information with respect to vandalism committed because of hatred of a person's religion.
According to the B'nai Brith of Canada's annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2015, for the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, antisemitic vandalism declined to its lowest point in 15 years, with 136 incidents in 2015, compared, for example, to 362 in 2011 and 238 in 2014. However, it added:
Frequent and ongoing threats against the Jewish community result in increased security costs for synagogues, Jewish schools and community organizations, in order to maintain the safety of those who utilize such facilities. These increased security costs are unfortunately justified, with hundreds of incidents every year taking place at Jewish institutions.
As well, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, which tracks hate crimes committed against Muslims, has noted on its website that in 2015, of the 59 hate crime incidents reported, 18 involved vandalism against Muslims.
Bill C-305 proposes to expand subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code, mischief relating to religious property, to include hate-motivated mischief directed at a building or structure that is primarily used as an educational institution; for administrative, social, cultural, or sports activities or events; or as a residence for seniors.
Bill C-305 also proposes that the grounds of hate motivation found in subsection 430(4.1), currently restricted to acting out of bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, should be expanded to include the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation. As a result, if Bill C-305 is enacted, subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code would no longer have, as its underlying rationale, preventing a chilling effect on worshippers of a particular religion.
The intent of Bill C-305 is consistent with our government's commitment to ensuring equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, in keeping with the charter. It is also consistent with a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Canada.
This rationale is well explained by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, or CIJA. This organization has highlighted the recent spike in anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-Muslim vandalism that was reported in Ottawa, including at three synagogues and other religious institutions in our nation's capital.
CIJA argues that the current law is deficient, since it only designates as a hate crime mischief committed against a religious site such as a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. In its view, this designation should be broadened. To quote from its website:
Hate-fuelled criminals do not distinguish between synagogues, community centres and schools. Neither should the law.
I believe that this principle is a worthy one, but I have questions about the potentially broad scope of the proposed crime. For example, would it include structures such as sports arenas, like the Rogers Centre in Toronto? Would it apply to a coffee shop used regularly by a university Spanish club or to an office building occupied partly by government? As it is currently worded, it appears that the bill could potentially capture numerous unintended buildings and spaces. As a result, the offence could become over-broad and potentially vague.
Potential impacts of the bill on other parts of the Criminal Code must also be considered. Would it have a deleterious effect on paragraph 718.2(a)(i) of the code, the hate-crime sentencing provision, since that sentencing provision would no longer be used in a large number of mischief cases?
Lastly, I am concerned about maintaining the underlying rationale of subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code, which is to protect freedom of religion. In its current form, the bill appears to go quite far beyond that original intent.
Cabinet will therefore support Bill C-305, with amendments to address over-breadth and consistency with other provisions of the Criminal Code, including those referred to by my colleague from the New Democratic Party.
As noted, this bill aligns with our government's commitment to charter values, as well as being a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Canada. For these and other reasons, I believe that Bill C-305 is deserving of further discussion and examination at a committee of the House.
Canadian Human Rights Act November 18th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for really being the driving force behind the protection of the trans community from discrimination. He was indeed the person who drove this issue in the last Parliament, and deserves full credit for the fact that we are at this stage now. I also want to thank him for providing a better answer to the questions from the member for Sarnia—Lambton than I did.
With respect to the plan going forward, I cannot share with the member at this stage specifically what conversations have been had and what arrangements have been made. Because of the new world order in the other place, there will indeed be discussions to ensure passage. Those discussions have started and will be continuing, and I believe that is going to become standard operating procedure in the current configuration of the Senate.
Canadian Human Rights Act November 18th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for that question and also congratulate her on her recent honour at the Parliamentarian of the Year awards.
There were a couple questions there. One was with respect to the decision of the committee to not take witnesses, and the other was on the potential restriction or alleged restriction on private speech.
With respect to the first one, witnesses at committee, this bill, Bill C-16, is a piece of government legislation that has been brought in in this Parliament, but it is certainly not the first time that issues of protection from discrimination for our trans community have been debated in this place. This bill actually went through the House of Commons in the last Parliament. It has been the subject of extensive debate, and we have heard from numerous witnesses at various times.
The committees, as the hon. member would know, are masters of their own destiny. There was a vote taken at committee on witnesses, and that was indeed the decision of the committee.
With respect to restrictions on free speech, she need not be concerned about that. There is an amendment to the Criminal Code such that unless discussions venture into the hate propaganda portions of the Criminal Code, inter-family discussions will not, in any way, be affected.
Canadian Human Rights Act November 18th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for that.
I would like to use some of my time to respond to a persistent criticism of the bill. That is that it is redundant, unnecessary, and merely symbolic. Members raised this issue during second reading debate. They have argued that the bill is not necessary, because our federal discrimination law already provides trans people with enough protection. I acknowledge the perspectives of my fellow parliamentarians, but I believe that these concerns can be answered and that the bill is indeed necessary.
It was pointed out that under the current Canadian Human Rights Act, commonly called the CHRA, trans people may bring discrimination complaints using the ground of sex.
It is true that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has interpreted the existing ground of sex to cover some complaints brought by trans individuals alleging discrimination, but a person must be quite familiar with the case law and the workings of the CHRA system to know that this protection is even available. Canadians should be able to turn to our laws and see their rights and obligations spelled out clearly. We cannot expect trans people who feel they have been discriminated against to become experts in statutory interpretation just to advocate for their basic rights.
The CHRA system was originally designed to be a user-friendly, inexpensive, and accessible system. We can further improve access to justice for Canadians by ensuring that rights and obligations are spelled out clearly in the CHRA.
What is more, employers and service providers must also be aware of their obligations under the law. They too should be able to look at the CHRA and understand what is required of them. They should be able to understand what kinds of workplace accommodations they must provide to their employees. This area of the law is just emerging. Bill C-16 would serve the important function of clarifying and codifying it.
These are practical results, not mere symbolism. When similar amendments were made in provincial human rights codes, human rights agencies received inquiries from the public creating new opportunities to inform people about their rights and obligations.
Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre reported an increase in enquiries about gender identity and expression, and there are similar reports from other provinces. After gender identity and expression were added to the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported a growing awareness that discriminating on these grounds is against the law. Commissions have confirmed that explicitly listing these grounds supports their mandate to inform the public of their rights and obligations.
We have also seen legal education respond to amendments such as these. Bulletins, newsletters, and textbooks are sent out and updated to account for statutory amendments. Training sessions and conferences are held to inform legal professionals and others of the new provisions.
That has been the experience elsewhere. We should expect the same when this bill is enacted. These are some of the tangible effects we hope to achieve with the bill. They are results, and parliamentarians have the ability and the responsibility to set them in motion.
I turn now to another reason for the bill: it would amend the Criminal Code to respond to the risk of violence and harm faced by trans individuals on an all too frequent basis.
For a better sense of these risks, I would refer the House to the Trans Pulse project, a research study of social determinants of health among trans people in the province of Ontario. Data for the Trans Pulse project came from focus groups conducted in three Ontario cities in 2006, with 85 trans community members and four family members, and from a survey in 2009-10 of 433 trans Ontarians age 16 and over.
According to this research, trans individuals are the targets of specifically directed violence. Twenty per cent had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans, and another 34% had been verbally threatened or harassed but not assaulted. Many do not report these assaults to the police.
Let me now turn to the proposed Criminal Code amendments that are intended to address these risks and harms. First let us consider the aggravated sentencing provision that enables judges to properly recognize and denounce crimes motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate. This is found in section 718.2 of the code.
One of the important purposes of the aggravated sentencing provision is the condemnation of hate crimes. It is about recognizing that some people may be more vulnerable to crime simply because they are identifiable as members of a particular group. That can be because of race, religion, colour, or ethnic origin, to name just a few of the listed grounds. Bill C-16 would add explicit protection for members of the trans community.
We can see, again, that Bill C-16 is more than just a symbolic gesture. Adding the ground of gender identity or expression to the Criminal Code would explicitly condemn this type of hate crime. It would also clearly signal to police and prosecutors that they must be aware of the particular vulnerability of trans individuals.
Bill C-16 would also add gender identity or expression to the hate propaganda offences in the Criminal Code. This is by no means redundant. This amendment would fill a gap in the law. In the criminal context, clarity and certainty is of great importance. Criminal offences are interpreted narrowly. The hate propaganda offences currently protect groups identifiable on the ground of sex and other grounds, but there is no mention of gender identity or expression. We cannot assume that these offences would be interpreted to cover gender identity or expression without the amendment of Bill C-16.
Finally, some members have expressed the view that the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” are too vague and open-ended. It has been suggested that the addition of these grounds would lead to a flood of litigation.
I do not think this concern is warranted. Most provinces and territories now have explicit protection for trans and gender-diverse people in their anti-discrimination statutes. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island all have gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds in their human rights codes. The codes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories have the ground of gender identity. In fact, the Northwest Territories has had the ground of gender identity in its act for more than a decade. There has not been a flood of ligation in these provinces and territories.
I have also heard the suggestion that a definition should be added. Most of the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the CHRA do not have definitions. Commissions, tribunals, and courts elaborate the meaning of the grounds in a reasonable way. They clarify through the application of real-life examples, allowing the law to respond in line with its purpose. This does not mean that grounds are indeterminate. It does not mean that people can claim protection on a whim or for frivolous reasons. There are real limits to what any ground can mean, informed by the important purpose of the legislation and the social context in which it is being enacted.
It is time for Parliament to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection where it is now much needed. I urge members to vote in favour of this bill.