House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was police.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act December 14th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that we are going to vote for this bill, albeit somewhat reluctantly, as the bill has clearly been cobbled together and is deeply flawed. Still, it is true that Parliament must give the impression that it is doing something about major fraud of the sort that has made the headlines in recent years, especially in the financial sector.

We will vote for this bill, even though it provides for a minimum sentence. I am confident that the sentence will likely never be imposed, for the good reason that frauds over $500,000 or $1 million have always led to much longer sentences than two years, which is what the government wants to add.

Nevertheless, it is disturbing because, as usual, when the government sets minimum sentences, it is thinking of the worst criminals. The government tends to forget that minimum sentences do not apply just to the worst criminals, but also to minor accomplices to crime.

I get the feeling, though, that this law is so complicated that no one will dare apply it to people who have played a lesser role in frauds of $1 million, such as the telephone operator for a business or a secretary in an office.

The government is forgetting that the definition of “accomplice”, which the Criminal Code calls “parties to offence” or “participants à une infraction” in the poor French that is a direct translation of the English, applies only if there is abetment. Subsection 21(1) states:

Every one is a party to an offence who

(a) actually commits it;

(b) does or omits to do anything for the purpose of aiding any person to commit it; or

(c) abets any person in committing it.

Paragraph (b) is the most significant.

This has to be coupled with the doctrine of wilful blindness. The doctrine of wilful blindness means that an individual has to know something in order to commit an offence. Knowledge is therefore a key element. In the case of a company that begins systematically defrauding its clients, as Vincent Lacroix's companies did, when some people begin to suspect that activities or money collected for clients are being used to defraud people, they cannot use the excuse that they did not know because, in fact, they had suspicions but may not have wanted to ask any questions.

This doctrine may apply to the employees of a company that has every appearance of legality at first or the employees of a brokerage firm that misuses funds and where people play minor roles, such as a young bond seller who did not initially think the money he was collecting would be used for that purpose.

This brings me to the clerical staff, who at some point begin to wonder if the business is in fact seriously involved in fraud worth millions of dollars. I do not think anyone would even consider sentencing these people to two years in prison. However, they are accomplices if they decide to stay, given that, by continuing to perform their duties, they are encouraging the company to continue committing fraud.

Wilful blindness is important because clearly, the secretary, junior salesperson or telephone operator is going to realize sooner or later that the company is not a regular investment firm, but rather has a criminal purpose. At some point, they will say they had their doubts, but that they were just secretaries after all. Consider the example of the Canadian woman who was caught in Mexico around six months or a year ago, who said exactly that about some frauds that had been committed.

When someone suspects that something may have an illegal purpose, but refuses to ask any questions because they do not want to know the answer, that is known as wilful blindness. Wilful blindness is the same as knowing. That theory is beginning to be widely accepted in drug-related cases. Looking at a real case, someone is asked to bring back some scuba diving tanks. He decides to do it for someone he has met only once, who offers to pay him well for doing so—more in fact, than the actual value of the tanks. He does not know what is inside, and does not want to know. When he is arrested, he will be very surprised to learn that the tanks were full of drugs. This is an example of wilful blindness regarding what was in the tanks. Accordingly, he would be guilty of importing the drugs that were in the tanks.

This also applies to fraudulent businesses that appear to be legitimate. They hire people who, in the beginning, believe that they are working for a perfectly reputable company; however, at some point, they realize that the business is fraudulent. A young single mother with two or three children to care for would want to keep her employment. From now on, she will be guilty of a crime with a minimum sentence of two years in prison. When we bring this type of case to the attention of the Conservatives, they say that the police or a prosecutor would never lay charges in such cases. In all likelihood, this is true, but what does that say about this legislation, which is not serious enough for the police to use or for crown attorneys to prosecute? In my opinion, this is bad legislation that must be amended to cover specific cases.

We previously proposed that, with this bill and others, we follow the example of other Commonwealth countries that also fell into the trap of imposing minimum sentences for everything but, at a certain point, felt they needed to implement safeguard clauses. In some circumstances, when a judge finds that, given the role the accused played and the few benefits they obtained from the crime, the minimum sentence is really unfair to the accused, the judge could have recourse to these provisions and justify, either orally or in writing, why he was not imposing the minimum sentence.

The Conservatives hate judges so much and have so little trust in them that they would rather trust the police. They tell us that the police or prosecutors would not lay charges in these cases. They do not want to give this discretion to a judge who has experience hearing such cases and who would render a decision after hearing from both parties. Instead, they would rather have the police or crown attorneys act as judges and decide not to prosecute before the issue goes before the courts. This is a major flaw.

Then there are provisions for ordering the restitution of the proceeds of fraud. Once again, that is very good and it is being done already. It is already provided for in the Criminal Code, although it is not a requirement. There are many instances when it is not practical. Furthermore, a criminal court cannot easily intervene in civil matters. Quite often, fraud on this scale is not committed by just one person, but by many. Although they are all guilty of the same offence, their participation must differentiated.

The accountants, secretaries and junior salespeople just hired by the company must be treated on a case-by-case basis by the judges. When it comes to the restitution order, the court must suddenly transform into a civil court and determine that one party will be responsible for 50%, but that the accountant is responsible for 20%. As for the young salespeople who sold the first, legal securities, but who then allowed the fraud to continue in order to pay back the funds, they have a lesser responsibility.

If 15 people are involved, the judge will have to determine the order of restitution. In civil law, this is not really a problem because everyone shares the responsibility for the entire amount. However, in criminal law, the share of responsibility must be established. If a judge sentences one individual to repay 50% and another to repay 3%, what happens to the person who does not repay his 50% compared to the person who, according to the judge, is responsible for 3%? In any event, this will give rise to many problems.

Other problems have been pointed out by two Toronto lawyers with rather extensive experience. I believe that one of them has even served as the chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, the equivalent of our Autorité des marchés financiers in Quebec. They too said that it would complicate trials considerably. That makes me think of something I often say: bad laws make good lawyers wealthy. I know something about that; I can attest to it. More complicated trials, and minimum sentences that may one day be applied to cases that do not warrant it, will result in pre-trial negotiations and the prospect of a great deal of work for lawyers.

Among the restrictions the judge will have to consider, one is very intriguing and it involves real estate activities. Really. I remember a judge who was convicted of money laundering. His fall was total. He was never able to practice law again. He ended up working as a building caretaker. Under this bill, he would not be able to do that any more because being a caretaker involves real estate activities. He could no longer collect rent, wash the stairs or make repairs to apartments because all that involves real estate. We see that the government still wants to take away discretionary power from judges. Would it not be better to leave it to judges to apply conditions to sentences, as they currently do? I have not heard any complaints about the way judges exercise the very broad powers they have for imposing conditions on parole and on this punishment, because quite often, it is imprisonment with a probation period during which certain conditions have to be respected.

By leaving them this discretionary power, we will have conditions that are perfectly suited to each specific case. Here the government is introducing a great deal of rigidity. In fact, the Conservatives lacked imagination when they established the various conditions available to a judge during sentencing. It is as though they copied the ruling in the Vincent Lacroix case and pasted it into the legislation. Obviously, the Vincent Lacroix ruling was perfectly suited to that case. We can expect that future conditions will probably differ from those in the Vincent Lacroix case, even if they are equally deplorable and significant.

The other thing that strikes me is this constant desire to show that they are tough and their attempt to apply that to very objective criteria such as sums of money. That is truly very important. In practice, fraud involving small amounts of money can be much more heinous than fraud involving banks or major financial institutions. I remember seeing some rather remarkable examples.

I was retained as one of the lawyers who had to help a judge determine which of the offenders known as habitual criminals met the new definition in this part of the Criminal Code when the part entitled “habitual criminals” was removed from the Criminal Code and redefined as “dangerous offenders”. The term “dangerous” implied a risk of violence. The government therefore appointed a judge. I think there was even a commission headed by a single judge who was directed to examine, one by one, all cases where there had been no violence and where the people had been declared to be habitual criminals but were not violent.

Anyone sentenced as a habitual criminal was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence. Ordinarily, the end of a sentence is always known, but in this case, the sentence served was indeterminate and it was reviewed every two years to see whether the person was still a so-called habitual criminal.

In the section, we had several examples of con men. In fact, the way they operated was sometimes quite funny. One case I remember was a con man who operated on a regular basis. I have to point out that this was really several years ago. At the time, there were more women at home than today, because a lot of women work during the day now and are not at home. This con man would generally arrive at a woman’s home with packages that bore a resemblance to Canadian Tire packages, and tell the woman that her husband had ordered some tools. He handed her the tools and asked to be paid in cash. The women had not heard anything about it. So he collected $10 or $15 or $20, amounts that seem negligible today, but that were significant at the time because people earned less than $100 a week. It seems that his success rate was about one out of five.

What the police officer who had arrested him and put together the evidence for him to be declared a habitual criminal rightly observed was that he was taking money from disadvantaged and somewhat naive people, and it was a very serious thing for them.

Another con man used this trick: he would go to someone’s home and tell them he had been sent by the landlord to repair something that was not working. Is the heating system not working? Right, he would check it out. And then he looked at it, he took the pieces of the furnace apart, and he said he absolutely had to go and get an essential part at the store. Then, since he unfortunately had no money on him, he asked the victim to lend him $40 so he could buy the missing part. I do not know whether that con man’s success rate was one out of 12 or one out of five, but it was still a very substantial rate.

These are not major frauds, and the technique was actually quite crude, but what is important is that they often succeeded. It was more serious than some bank frauds, because money was being taken from people who genuinely needed it, people who were already in need. It amounted to taking advantage of their naivety.

At the time, these people were considered to be dangerous enough to be declared habitual criminals and left in prison for an indeterminate period.

In the case of fraud, there are many different things to consider, beyond the amount. For example, jurisprudence exists for fraud committed by someone in a position of trust and for specific types of fraud, for example, if the individual took advantage of seniors or naive individuals. Jurisprudence also exists for the impact of fraud on victims. All of these elements are regularly taken into consideration.

We must give judges the discretion they need to deal with each case individually. I am not saying that the Conservatives have taken that away here, but they have made it very strict.

I have only one minute left, so I will conclude by saying that this bill does not do any harm. However, this is far from the major reform we would have liked to have seen and that should have applied the six points. I am sure that my colleagues will talk about the plan presented by the Bloc Québécois over a year ago.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act December 10th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, anyone who wants to know how the law works should not ask a Conservative.

First, the concept of applying every two years comes from another law that applies to those who have already served 25 years in jail. What we are talking about here is those who would like to reduce their jail time.

Second, the law applies in cases where the application is rejected. Before it is rejected, the offender has to go before a judge, who decides whether it is likely that the application will be approved. Then a jury has to be convened, and it makes the decision. It takes quite a while from the time the offender applies to the time the outcome is known. Furthermore, the jury may decide that the offender cannot submit another application before a minimum, not a maximum, of two years has passed. This would go further than that. It is clear that such repeated applications every two years would no longer be allowed under this law.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act December 10th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am simply going to say that this will not happen again. Olson has spent 25 years in prison. This law does not apply to people who have served 25 years in prison. It allows people who are sentenced to 25 years to apply for early parole. Olson does not fit into that category.

In any event, this will never happen under the legislation as it is going to be passed, although it may be amended. Under this legislation, people convicted of multiple murders cannot apply for early parole. I have a lot of sympathy for the victims, and I think that I reassure them much more than the government does when I say that they should not worry because this will not happen under the laws that we are going to pass.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act December 10th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to put the debate on this issue back into context. We are not debating Bill S-6 itself. We are debating motions moved by the government to restore the text of the bill to what it was when it was referred to the committee. After studying the bill, the committee made two minor amendments to reflect concerns raised during the study. The government has rejected those amendments.

The minister attended our committee meeting again yesterday. He urged us to spend more time studying Bill C-4 and make suggestions for amendments, which he would take into consideration. Today, he is objecting to such minor things as the title and extending the deadline after obtaining permission from the provincial chief justice or delegate because circumstances beyond a person's control prevented that person from applying before the deadline. That is what we are debating now.

Let us begin with the easy part, the title. The title the government wants to use is not the same in English and French. The English title is Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act. The French title is Loi renforçant la sévérité des peines d’emprisonnement pour les crimes les plus graves. With all due respect, those are not bill titles. They are slogans.

In my opinion, when we are talking about crime and about putting people in jail, we have to take a calm approach. We have to leave the hustings mentality behind and behave like parliamentarians. One would expect a minister of justice to be conscious of the dignity required in exercising his functions and do so of his own accord.

As long as they keep giving us titles that are really slogans, we will vote against those slogans. The trend seems to be on the rise, with the government trying it with nearly all of its bills. If they give us objective titles like the ones the previous government provided, we will vote in favour. This has become absurd. Some of the titles are outright libel against Canada's judges.

In that regard, the most impressive title is that of Bill C-16, which would purports to end house arrest for violent and dangerous offenders. No violent or dangerous offenders ever receive such a sentence, because current legislation clearly indicates that judges cannot sentence dangerous offenders to house arrest. Furthermore, these sentences are for more than two years, and are not the kinds of sentences that violent and dangerous offenders receive. If any judge in Canada were to release a violent or dangerous offender to serve his sentence at home, it would be the duty of the crown prosecutor on the case to appeal the decision. In some cases, the sentence could be overturned.

The government needs to stop making up these slogans and start proposing objective titles. In this case, I see a specific problem. Indeed, this time there are two slogans and furthermore, the French and English are not the same. This is what happens when advertising executives are hired to give titles to bills.

The second amendment, which is more serious, would extend the time period. Lawyers who have experience with these kinds of cases gave evidence before the committee. They explained to us how complex the procedures are and how hard it is to build a case 15 years later. Indeed, these requests are made 15 years after the offences, and the offender may have been through many different prisons in many different cities. The lawyers have a very hard time finding the old files. This was acknowledged by correctional authorities, who told us how much effort they put into these requests. They also told us that in many cases, it would be impossible to fulfill all of the requirements as set out in the legislation within the prescribed 90-day period. I therefore believe that the amendment proposed by the Liberals was carefully designed and drafted to target a specific problem, unlike the bills presented by this government.

It is only in exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the inmate, as the amendment says, that the chief justice of the province or a delegate could grant this additional 180-day deadline.

Victims have waited 15 years and we would be asking them to wait even longer. They will be told to wait 90 more days because for reasons beyond their control, the inmate the inmate's lawyer was unable to follow all the highly complex procedures within that timeframe. What is so unreasonable about that? Does the minister lack confidence? If anything comes from a committee, then it is no good. He asks us to make suggestions and we do. They are justified, but he does not accept them. I fully agree with the eloquent remarks made by the member who spoke before me.

Consider this: 84% of murder victims knew their murderer. Murder is often committed by a family member. In at least one case, that of young Mr. Kowbel, the father and sister testified to give him a chance even though he was the one who attacked them 15 years earlier, killing his mother and seriously injuring his father. Nevertheless, his relatives recognized his rehabilitation efforts.

This is essential legislation and we only use it when necessary. It is essential for setting the stage for someone facing a sentence of more than 10 and up to 25. He has to have some incentive for good behaviour and respect for the guards. This legislation is good for safety within the prisons and it has not been abused.

Statistics show that before 1995 only 63 applications were filed, 13 of which were denied. The fact that not many applications were denied makes sense because before an application is filed, prison officials have already reviewed the case. Of that number, 27 were approved, but with sentences up to 16 years and 20 years. Three were from 21 years to 23 years. Of the cases that were approved by the juries, 6 were denied by the National Parole Board. We can see from this that the safeguards are substantial.

Since that time, 921 people have been eligible but only 169 requested authorization. Of that number, 141 received authorization to apply and 125 were granted early parole. The result? No repeat murders. There was only one serious criminal offence, an armed robbery. Fifteen people were sent back to prison because they failed to meet some of the very strict conditions of parole imposed on offenders under the supervision of the National Parole Board. In addition, 11 people died.

This is not a law that is abused. We are keenly aware that it may require victims to testify and may cause them painful moments. The cases we are discussing, like the Olson case, will not be affected. Regardless, these offenders will have no chance of parole.

This is a useful law in terms of prison security. It is a good law that encourages some criminals who have committed serious crimes to be rehabilitated. It is a law that, in the end, has produced excellent results. What is worse is that we think that we are doing more in Canada but, in this case, it is quite the opposite.

In Canada, the time that murderers spend in prison is greater than in all other western countries, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

Let us therefore respect the committees and vote the same way as those who have studied the issue carefully.

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, since my colleague opposite has raised the issue, I would like to tell a quick anecdote.

I was taught by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He gave 15 hours of lectures on Diefenbaker's Canadian Bill of Rights. He concluded that it had had virtually no effect because it did not have constitutional status. He bore that in mind when he created the charter.

I have a great deal of respect for my colleague who just spoke and I would like to ask him another question about a consequence of the charter. Does he think that the charter has deprived Parliament of its decision-making role on major social issues, for example, abortion, euthanasia or the protection of journalistic sources? We expect the courts to rule on these issues whereas, in many democratic countries, the elected representatives of the people debate these major issues.

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that I bitterly regret it. Their refusal means that it will not be submitted to a vote. In my opinion, they are very worried at seeing how many members would acknowledge not so much the shortcomings, but the excesses of the charter with respect to language laws.

It is odd, because on other opposition days, it was at least possible to submit these questions to the entire Parliament, and therefore to have the opinion of each member on these matters. I believe it is because they fear this opinion.

In Quebec, we have had the unanimous support of all representatives in the National Assembly since the charter was adopted.

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister would have to have spoken about the flaws he perceived in the charter when he was a member for us to be able to judge. Personally, I continue to believe that it is good for a democratic society to have a constitution, supreme to all other laws, to protect rights and freedoms. Again, I want to say that I believe that section 1 is a model for other charters.

I am very pleased that there is a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in case the Conservative Party wins a majority, because we obviously do not have the same concept of fundamental rights.

It is important to understand that in Quebec we are well protected and better protected than the rest of Canada in terms of rights and freedoms. Our main criticism of the charter relates to the provisions that were specifically written and included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to overturn and restrict Quebec's language laws.

The speaker who questioned me is probably more sensitive than others. However, for many people who grew up speaking English, in this world that is becoming anglophone overall, it is very difficult to understand the reaction of people who speak a minority language and believe that, collectively, they must protect that language. These people are not limiting the fundamental rights of the people in that society.

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, there are many good things about the charter, but there are some bad things as well, and a motion on the charter must consider both. When I speak of the bad, I am obviously referring to the provisions that were carefully drafted to counter the language legislation that Quebec deemed necessary to protect the French language.

I am prepared to acknowledge that the charter has played a crucial role in the protection of justice, freedom, equality and fairness for all Canadians. It certainly sets the standard by which all Canadian laws are currently judged. Therefore, it is extremely important. However, to make it acceptable, there has to be recognition of why Quebec still refuses to sign it. For this reason, the Bloc Québécois will not support this Liberal motion as currently drafted.

The Bloc Québécois believes that we must not confuse the defence of rights and the defence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Bloc Québécois is a staunch supporter of rights and freedoms, in Quebec and Canada as well as throughout the world. However, we wish to remind members that this charter was designed in part to limit Quebec's powers of self-determination. The Bloc Québécois is also of the opinion that the Conservative government has not done a good job of defending rights and freedoms in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

The Bloc Québécois has always denounced the charter when it has been used as a tool to limit provincial powers, especially those of Quebec, over language issues, among others. We should remember the context in which the charter came to be, especially the night of the long knives. However, it is clear that the Conservatives do not like to defend rights and freedoms, and there are many examples of that. The Bloc Québécois has always defended human rights and has always risen to defend them against the Conservatives' attacks.

Let us take a look at how the charter came to be. Two people who were there gave an eloquent account of its genesis on the 25th anniversary of the charter. First, Louis Bernard, former secretary general of Quebec's Conseil exécutif, the most senior public servant in Quebec and a participant in the constitutional talks of 1981-82, wrote the following in the Friday, February 16, 2007, edition of Le Devoir.

The Constitution Act, 1982, gave birth to the Canadian charter and plunged Canada into a constitutional crisis that it is not about to climb out of. There were attempts to repair the damage with the Meech Lake accords, but they did not work, since some provinces reneged, once again, on their initial commitment. Any kind of constitutional progress became impossible.

We need only reread some provisions of the Constitution Act, 1982, to see how things reached an impasse. Section 49 states, “A constitutional conference composed of the Prime Minister of Canada and the first ministers of the provinces shall be convened by the Prime Minister of Canada within fifteen years [before the end of 1997] after this Part comes into force to review the provisions of this Part.” This refers to the procedure to amend the Constitution.

Obviously, this conference was never held. In 1997, the Parti Québécois regained power in Quebec and its premier was Lucien Bouchard, who had founded the Bloc Québécois after the failure of the Meech Lake accords. And, of course, there is no talk of holding such a conference anytime in the near future!

It is also important to read section 55: “A French version of the portions of the Constitution of Canada referred to in the schedule shall be prepared by the Minister of Justice of Canada as expeditiously as possible....” These portions form the bulk of the Constitution. No one ever intended to follow through on this section and nothing was done to ensure that the Constitution of Canada had an official French version. This leads us to believe that it is not important....

Therefore, we cannot do anything about either the charter or the rest of the Constitution. If the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ever evolves, it will not be by legislative amendment, but only by judicial interpretation, which I believe [this is Mr. Bernard talking] shows the charter's limitations.

What merits?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted in 1982 as part of the federal government's national unity strategy to put individual rights ahead of collective rights. The government hoped that, in time, the former would be substituted for the latter. The adoption of the charter was motivated by political reasons that, particularly given the illegitimate and amoral manner of its adoption, irrevocably tarnished its image in the minds of many Quebeckers.

Nevertheless, some might say, regardless of the circumstances of its coming into being, the Canadian charter exists and is bearing fruit. Does it not have some merits? It would have more merits if it had, for the first time, protected rights that were previously unprotected. But it did not. Quebec, like all of the other provinces, adopted its own Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in 1975, which takes precedence over all other Quebec laws. The Canadian charter had nothing to add, other than the controversial clause about access to English schools. There are even some important rights, such as sexual orientation, that are explicitly protected under the Quebec charter but not under the Canadian charter.

Of course, the Canadian charter applied to criminal law and marriage, which are not covered under the Quebec charter, and that is where its effects are most deeply felt.

I would like to emphasize that while the Canadian charter is extremely rigid, the Quebec charter is much more flexible, not to mention more detailed, more didactic and, most importantly, more complete because it includes provisions on economic and social rights. Since 1975, the Quebec charter provisions on protected rights have been amended a dozen times, including a major overhaul in 1982. In other words, the charter is evolving with Quebec society. It is frequently discussed at the National Assembly and is part of public debate.

We can foresee that in time, at least in Quebec, the Quebec charter will become much more relevant than the Canadian charter, except in criminal matters, obviously. The Quebec charter is the one that will be used and applied, not only by the Human Rights Commission and Tribunal, but also by ordinary courts. That is what happened in the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Chaoulli health insurance case.

...In short, 25 years later, the results of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are mixed, to say the least. [As I said, this is Mr. Bernard speaking, which is why he said 25 years.] Although its proponents hoped that it would unite all Canadians around a fundamental text that would be an object of national pride, it was a sorry failure that had the opposite effect due to the circumstances of its coming into being. Although some hoped that it would strengthen Canadian identity, instead it imposed an American approach, with the separation of power and the precedence of judges over elected representatives, which is contrary to our traditions and our system of government.

In summary, it does not seem to me that there is much to celebrate. On the contrary, there is much we must not forget.

Also in 2007, Gil Rémillard, the intergovernmental affairs minister in the Bourassa government at the time of the Meech Lake accord, wrote an article in Le Devoir as part of a series on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The article was titled “The Story of the Notwithstanding Clause” and I quote:

On the evening of September 29, 1981, Pierre Elliott Trudeau gave a press conference via satellite. He was in Seoul, South Korea, en route to Australia for a meeting of Commonwealth countries. His disappointment was obvious. A few hours earlier, he had learned that in a majority decision, the Supreme Court of Canada had recognized the legality of his plan to repatriate the Constitution, adding, however, that it would be illegitimate for Ottawa to proceed without “the consent of a substantial number of provinces”. [He is quoting the Supreme Court.] Thus, the court skilfully cut short any impulse by Ottawa to repatriate the Constitution unilaterally. And the British Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, diplomatically told the Canadian government in the days that followed that Westminster would be uncomfortable with the idea of repatriating the Canadian Constitution by passing a law deemed illegitimate by the Supreme Court of Canada if only two provinces, Ontario and New Brunswick, supported the plan.

Then Governor General Edward Shreyer, as Canadian head of state, was also concerned. A year later, he admitted that he had seriously considered dissolving Parliament and calling an election if Mr. Trudeau had continued with his plan to repatriate the Constitution unilaterally. Trudeau had no other choice but to find the necessary compromises so that a “substantial number of provinces”—as required by the Supreme Court—would support what would be the highlight of his political career.

Backed into a corner, Pierre Elliott Trudeau decided to try one last time to reach an agreement with the provinces. On October 13, 1981, officials started informal discussions. It became clear that the provinces might be somewhat open if Ottawa were to compromise, particularly on the amending formula and the charter. At the invitation of Prime Minister Trudeau, the premiers agreed to a last-chance conference in Ottawa on November 2.

On November 4, after two days of talks, things were still at an impasse in Ottawa. The “eight provinces united against repatriation”, led by William Bennett, premier of British Columbia, did not give up.

Prime Minister Trudeau felt trapped. To the surprise of the delegates, he again brought up the idea of a national referendum. Since the politicians cannot agree, let the people decide, he said.

René Lévesque, who had raised this possibility in his opening address at the conference, supported the idea. However, the premiers of the eight dissenting provinces saw this as a betrayal on the part of the Quebec premier. They saw Trudeau and Lévesque talking behind their backs during the coffee break and thought that the two francophone leaders had agreed to push this idea of a referendum, which the premiers absolutely did not want.

They reacted so strongly that Trudeau thought about ending the conference. But Premier Lougheed from Alberta and Premier Davis from Ontario persuaded him to try one last round of negotiations. They knew that the referendum issue was what drove Quebec and the seven other provinces away from the rest of the group. The last-chance round of negotiations therefore began informally in the late afternoon on November 4, but Quebec was not really involved, probably as a result of René Lévesque's support for the idea of a referendum.

The Premier of Ontario, William Davis, called Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the early evening, first to ask him to give up on the idea of a referendum, which he had suggested that morning, and second, to tell him that discussions with the dissenting provinces were going well. He added, however, that the prime minister would have to agree to a “notwithstanding” clause in the charter. Trudeau refused to budge. [This is what became known as the “night of the long knives”.] But at around one o'clock in the morning, Davis woke Trudeau to present the compromise proposed by the seven provinces that had taken part in the last-chance discussions. Davis told him very clearly that if he did not agree to a notwithstanding clause, Trudeau could no longer count on his support. In the end, Trudeau agreed, on the condition that it would apply for a maximum of five years, renewable, and that it would apply only to sections 2 and 7 to 15 [of the charter].

Meanwhile, the Premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed, got in touch with Sterling Lyon, the Premier of Manitoba, who had returned home to run his election campaign. Lyon became the champion of the notwithstanding clause, according to him, in order to protect the sovereignty of parliaments. However, no one bothered to tell René Lévesque, and at breakfast, the Quebec premier knew nothing of the compromise that had been reached during the night.

The truth is that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms cannot be separated from the Canadian Constitution of 1981, although the Liberals do not want to talk about that. Neither the Bloc Québécois nor any Quebec government in the past 30 years has subscribed to that Constitution, which was rammed down our throats and designed to diminish Quebec's constitutional powers. Asking Quebec to support the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms means asking us to endorse this blight on Canada's history and this betrayal of Quebec.

Quebec has its own charter. It has now been 35 years since Quebec developed its own Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which is consistent with its values and which the Conservatives would likely not respect any more than the Canadian charter. It is the principles of the Quebec charter that the Bloc Québécois defend in Ottawa, with the support of all the members of the National Assembly.

The Canadian and Quebec charters are similar in many ways; however, they are fundamentally different in their purpose and status. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, included in the April 1982 repatriation of the Constitution, has constitutional status. It is therefore part of the supreme law of Canada. All other laws must be consistent with the rules of the Charter in order to be valid. The Canadian charter has a specific scope of application. It governs the actions of all the parliaments and governments of Canada. It guarantees a certain number of fundamental rights, such as the right to life, liberty and security, the right to vote, and others, subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. This is the first provision of the charter, which I consider to be a model for other charters. However, our objections are with other provisions.

The Quebec charter was adopted in 1975 and came into force in 1976. It is a regular law of the National Assembly and can therefore be amended through the regular legislative process. Like all other laws, it has to be consistent with the Canadian charter. However, a specific majority—I believe it is two thirds—is required for amending the Quebec charter. Because it concerns fundamental principles, the courts have given it quasi-constitutional status, which means it can be invoked to attack a law or a decision by the Government of Quebec. What sets it apart the most from the Canadian charter is that it applies not only to the relationship between individuals and the state, but also to private relationships.

The Quebec charter also has a broader scope. It guarantees the protection of 15 or so rights that are not protected under the Canadian charter. Under the Quebec charter, every human being whose life is in peril has a right to assistance under section 2; every person has a right to respect for his private life under section 5; every person has a right to non-disclosure of confidential information under section 9; every person has a right to free public education under section 40; and every person has a right to financial assistance in certain conditions under section 45. These are the principles defended by the Quebec charter and by the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa.

With the Canadian charter, the Liberals under Pierre Elliott Trudeau had found a way to attack a fundamental tool for Quebec, namely the Charter of the French Language.

Other speakers following me will illustrate the many reservations the Conservatives have about the charter and the many acts and statements the Bloc Québécois has always condemned. We take issue with the government's position on the Maher Arar case, the Omar Khadr case and gay rights. We also take issue with some of the provisions in the Anti-terrorism Act.

We certainly agree with the last part of the motion moved by the Liberals calling on the government, but to have our support, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Joliette, the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by replacing the words “for all Canadians” with the following: “in Canada and deplore the negative impact the provisions of the charter have had on Quebec's jurisdictions, especially Quebec's ability to protect the French language.”

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles surely knows that all Quebec governments, whether federalist or sovereignist, have refused to sign the Constitution and, consequently, the charter. Does he understand their position? Does he agree with this position? Does he believe that we should sign the charter provisions?

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I have many of the same opinions as the hon. member who just spoke. I would like to ask him whether he is prepared to acknowledge that the circumstances under which the charter was adopted are perceived far differently in Quebec. The charter is being used to keep Quebec from exercising its full authority when it comes to language. In the long term, this language is threatened by the vast anglophone ocean of North America that surrounds it.

In addition, why does his resolution not acknowledge the negative effect of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which I am sure is still a model worldwide, save for the provisions that were written specifically to break the language laws that Quebec was and will always be in need of?