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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was conservatives.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 23% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act October 5th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to address the House.

On May 17, 2012, the government introduced Bill C-37, which amends the Criminal Code provisions on victim surcharges as currently set out in section 737.

I have listened to many of the speeches given by my colleagues on both sides of the House, but mainly on this side, since few government members have spoken about this bill. I trust the judgment of my hon. colleague from Gatineau, who was the first to say that we would be supporting this bill at second reading. I also respect her legal experience. For my part, I worked for quite some time as a special constable, for I have always had a special interest in saving lives and keeping the people in my community safe.

At the beginning of this Parliament, I was our party's public safety critic. I care deeply about the safety of my fellow citizens. Now while debating this bill, it is our duty as legislators to ensure that victims of crime have the support they need.

Many people here have pointed out the lack of funding for programs and services offered to victims, and like my colleague, I am very concerned about this. That is why I will vote in favour of this bill, for we in the NDP support many of the recommendations made by the ombudsman for victims of crime, many of which are addressed in this bill. Furthermore, we have always supported increased funding for programs and services offered to victims of crime.

Bill C-37 amends the Criminal Code sections dealing with victim surcharges. A victim surcharge is an additional penalty imposed on offenders at the time of sentencing after they have been convicted of an indictable offence. This bill doubles the amount of victim surcharges and makes them mandatory for all offenders.

The surcharge would be the equivalent of 30% of any fine imposed on the offender at sentencing. Currently, the surcharge is 15%. If a judge does not impose a fine with the sentence or if no fine applies, then the surcharge would be $100 for summary offences and $200 for indictable offences.

Judges will be able to impose a higher victim surcharge if circumstances warrant and if the offender has the means to pay it. This provision is interesting because it leaves room to adjust the fine, but especially because it gives judges discretionary power in cases where this might apply. These fines will be collected by the provincial and territorial governments and allotted to the programs and services for victims of crime. These fines are not supposed to end up in the consolidated fund of any province or territory. We must ensure that this will indeed be the case.

A number of my colleagues have also mentioned that the programs and services are severely underfunded and that the precarious finances of these organizations often jeopardize the success of their mission. Crimes have considerable socio-economic repercussions on victims, including funeral costs, the need for psychological counselling and lost revenue. There are many repercussions for the families of victims of crime.

The statistics say it all. In 2003, crime cost roughly $70 billion, $47 billion of which was assumed by the victims. In other words, the victims assumed 70% of the cost. In 2004, a study estimated that the pain and suffering of the victims was in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. That is huge and, unfortunately, the victim surcharge is not going to fully cover this cost, but it will help.

Did the government do its homework and use the best possible tool for maximizing the funding for these organizations? That remains to be seen, and I hope we can determine that when we study the bill in committee.

This bill could contribute to funding these organizations and if that is the case, then I am most pleased. If it also—although I have my doubts—helps make an offender accountable and prevents recidivism, then just like the government, I will be very happy. But make no mistake, this is not a magic solution. The provisions in Bill C-37 will not solve all the problems, but they will be another good tool to help provide funding to the organizations.

We should not, however, expect that the impact of this bill will be significant enough to dissuade a person from committing a crime, as some members mentioned in their remarks.

This is where policies and programs on crime prevention and offender accountability come into play. Since the beginning of this parliament, the Conservatives have introduced many justice bills involving mandatory minimum sentences. Yet, they have done very little in the way of crime prevention and offender rehabilitation.

That is why, when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety, I endorsed a balanced approach to crime and rehabilitation, as did my other colleagues. It is important to invest in prevention and rehabilitation in order to minimize the chances of people committing a first offence or reoffending. We must not focus all our efforts on punishment. The Conservative Party's vision of this concept is rather shameful.

For the Conservatives, punishment solves all problems. There are so many factors that lead to crime that we must take a multi-faceted approach to dealing with it. Poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and low levels of education are all factors that contribute to a rise in crime. A preventive approach must address all these problems in order to achieve effective results.

It is also important to have intelligent corrections legislation and policies accompanied by rehabilitation programs that help to reduce recidivism. It is everyone's duty, as a community, to help victims of crime and to do everything possible to prevent people from becoming victims of crime.

The bill also contains provisions regarding offenders who are unable to pay the fine. Under Bill C-37, these people can participate in a provincial fine option program. These programs allow offenders to pay their debts by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where they committed their crime. I think this is a worthwhile approach because it could get offenders involved in their communities and make them feel accountable, which will greatly contribute to their rehabilitation.

However, the government will have to regulate these programs, since they must be fair and equitable, in light of the sentence, and must be standardized across Canada. I hope the government has done its homework, and we will be able to check that once the bill is sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We must not blindly rush into this, since these programs do not currently exist in all the provinces and territories. What happens when a program does not exist? This is a legitimate question that my colleague raised during the first debate.

If a province must create a new program, it will require funding to do so, and once again, like with Bill C-10, the government may end up passing the bill on to the provinces. Has the government consulted the provinces about this? Will the provinces once again be on the hook for financing the government's crime agenda? I would like a clear answer to that question.

The bill will eliminate the court's ability to exempt the mandatory surcharge if undue hardship to the offender or the dependants of the offender would result from payment of the surcharge. I have some concerns about this provision. The bill indicates, in order of priority, the debts that the offender will have to pay, and support payments are at the top of the list.

In conclusion, like my colleagues, I have a number of concerns about Bill C-37, but I support the spirit of the bill and some provisions that deserve to be studied more carefully in committee. A number of the questions we asked the government have not yet been answered, and we think that they deserve to be discussed in committee. We must talk about the proposed elimination of the judge's discretionary power to decide whether paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship to the offender or dependants of the offender. I think that discretionary powers for judges are very important and that we must protect their autonomy.

Veterans October 5th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Privacy Commissioner confirmed that the Conservatives have made many, many mistakes when it comes to protecting veterans' personal information.

According to the report, the Department of Veterans Affairs is outsourcing the disposal of veterans' files.

The report also reveals a lack of monitoring to ensure the secure destruction of files containing personal information on veterans.

When will the Conservative government take privacy protection seriously?

Motions in amendment September 24th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak. I rise today in this House to discuss something that is very important to me and obviously to all Canadians, and that is the safety and protection of our children.

My colleague opposite, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, introduced a bill that would amend the Criminal Code with regard to the kidnapping of a young person. I understand why this member introduced such a bill, because I am a father of three. The stress that parents of kidnapped children experience is unimaginable. I think it is one of the most revolting crimes, and all Canadians are disgusted when they learn that a child has been kidnapped. A child's life is so fragile that it is important to do everything possible to protect and improve their safety. During times like these, we can see just how strong Canadian solidarity can be.

The questions we have to ask today are whether Bill C-299 will reduce the number of kidnappings in Canada. Will it improve public safety? Is this new bill relevant in the fight against crimes against a person? I am not convinced of that and I do not think that this bill will achieve the objective of reducing the number of kidnappings in Canada. That is why I will oppose this bill.

The purpose of Bill C-299 is to deter potential predators by imposing a minimum punishment of five years. It would include provisions for a mandatory minimum punishment of five years for offenders found guilty of kidnapping a young person under 16 years of age. Like all of the other kidnapping provisions in the Criminal Code, Bill C-299 would impose a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Yet, a maximum sentence of life in prison is already set out in the Criminal Code for this type of crime. The life sentence has also been imposed by the courts, including in British Columbia. The Conservatives and the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia therefore feel that predators will be dissuaded by a minimum sentence of five years, rather than by the maximum sentence of life in prison that is already set out in the legislation. If a life sentence does not dissuade predators from kidnapping children, I do not believe that a minimum sentence of five years will be as effective or have any deterrent effect. In my opinion, the members opposite lack knowledge about criminology.

Once again, the Conservatives want to please their electoral base without any regard for the interests of Canadians or the reality of Canada's legal system. Minimum sentences are a judicial approach that even the most conservative and hardened American judges are starting to reject. They are concerned about the ineffectiveness of this approach and the burden it places on the prison system. During the debates on Bill C-10, their opinions in this regard appeared in the national papers. The Conservatives basically ignored these judges' experience.

With this bill, the Conservatives are once again trying to impose minimum sentences. They want to show the people of Canada that they are tough on crime, when the only effect this approach has is to place a heavier burden on the justice system. In addition, on several occasions, the Supreme Court has struck down the legislator's attempts to impose minimum sentences because such sentences went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So, once again, the Conservatives are trying to impose such minimum sentences when they know full well that, in certain cases, these are unfortunately not the sentences that should be imposed. And I would just like to mention again that this will no doubt be challenged before the Supreme Court in the future.

The Conservatives are going to try to convince members of the House and Canadians that, since there is no minimum sentence, those who kidnap a child could be sentenced to six months in prison, for example. This is completely false. We must not fall into that trap. Canadians have the right to be well informed.

The NDP is tough on those who commit such crimes. We want to see maximum sentences imposed in these cases. However, we want to protect judicial discretion because we have faith in the existing judicial system.

If we look at sentences in kidnapping cases, we see that average sentences for this type of crime are around eight years in jail, which is quite a bit more than the five-year minimum that this bill would impose.

By introducing a mandatory minimum sentence, all the government is doing is tying judges' hands. This bill would not enable judges to take unique attenuating circumstances into account in certain cases.

It is difficult for lawmakers to write legislation that takes all of the possibilities into account, which is why judicial discretion is important. Judges must respect not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit. They must be able to interpret the law and hand down appropriate sentences that take into account the unique circumstances of each case.

We must have confidence in our legal system and in our judges, who typically make informed decisions that take into account both the law and legal precedent.

As I said, we have confidence in the justice system. That is why we will oppose this bill. We want to respect judicial discretion by opposing this five-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Current provisions allow judges to sentence those guilty of kidnapping to a maximum of life in prison. Judges have the freedom they need to hand down harsh sentences and ensure that dangerous offenders do as much time as they deserve. As I said, judges have typically sentenced offenders to more than eight years in prison. That is more than the five years this bill sets out.

This bill is problematic on two counts: the mandatory minimum sentence it recommends is shorter than what is typical in case law, and judicial discretion is being taken away for this type of crime.

Justice Major of the Supreme Court shares our opinion on this issue. He is concerned that the minimum sentence would be the rule. He said that no two cases are alike and that the minimum sentence would be inadequate in certain kidnapping cases. He wondered why this bill imposes a minimum sentence that is lighter than typical kidnapping sentences. He also pointed out that minimum sentences do not deter would-be criminals but would have serious consequences for other aspects of our legal system.

Bill C-299 is another clear example of the Conservatives' lack of understanding when it comes to justice issues. At first glance, this is an interesting approach, but upon closer scrutiny, it soon becomes clear that this bill does not really accomplish much of anything. The courts are much more severe on these issues than what this bill proposes. Most sentences are much longer than the minimum sentence set out in this bill.

As previously mentioned, a life sentence is often imposed. Do the Conservatives not realize that they are undermining the discretion of judges and the judicial system with this bill?

In budget 2012, the Conservatives slashed front-line forces by also imposing minimum sentences in several sections of the Criminal Code. Do they really believe that minimum jail sentences will make Canadians and Canadian families safer?

Instead of adopting punitive measures that have no deterrent effect, why does the government not invest in tools and resources for front-line police forces when a kidnapping takes place? Instead of focusing on punishment, I believe the Conservative should pay a lot more attention to prevention.

We are worried that the Conservatives are once again using a crime bill to try to score political points with victims and anyone who is sickened by this kind of offence. We are under the impression that this bill was introduced in order to please the extreme right wing of the Conservative base. Once again, the Conservatives are introducing a bill that presents a restrictive view of the problem. Minimum sentences, I repeat, are not the answer to kidnapping problems, and that is why we do not support this bill.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code September 21st, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to express my strong opposition for Motion No. 312. I am strongly opposed to this motion based on my own personal convictions, but dozens of my constituents have also asked me to oppose it because they are concerned. While I am honoured to speak today, I am very disappointed that I am addressing the House about an issue that most Canadians thought was completely closed. The hon. member for Kitchener Centre wants to reopen a debate on an issue that we thought had been resolved for many years. It seems that he wants to try to break the social peace that has settled over this country. He brought forward a motion that reads as follows:

That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

The motion also sets out the composition of and powers given to the committee.

I would first like to clarify certain statements that the hon. member for Kitchener Centre made in the speech he gave during the first hour of debate and other speeches.

The definition dates back to 1892 and not to the 17th century, as he led us to believe. Many of our laws were sanctioned in the early years of our federation and they are still in effect and still relevant to the governance of the country. He also said that abortions were done in the third trimester, more specifically that there were no rights to protect the fetus in the third trimester. I would like to remind the hon. member that 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester. Only 0.3% of abortions are done after the 20th week, and most of those are done for quasi-medical reasons or when the mother's health is in jeopardy.

I would also like to mention to my colleague that abortions are down by an average of 1% per year. So, it is not true that fetuses are being aborted during the third trimester. The Conservatives are twisting the facts to justify their ideologies. Canadians have the right to have the real facts rather than twisted ones.

As I said earlier, in the mind of Canadians, this debate has been closed for many years, following many Supreme Court decisions. It is up to Parliament to make legislation, but it is the responsibility of the courts to review the legislation and to make sure that it is consistent with our Constitution and the individual rights that we all enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is important to know the political and legal history behind this debate. Let me quickly go over the facts to refresh the memory of the hon. members opposite, in case they may have forgotten them. In 1988, the Morgentaler decision held that the Criminal Code provisions on abortion were unconstitutional. They violate section 7 of the Charter.

After the 1988 Morgentaler decision, a number of provinces tried to restrict access to abortion by using the health care system in terms of reimbursing costs. They prohibited abortions that were not performed in public hospitals by not paying for abortion fees. In the Morgentaler decisions against the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Quebec, courts ruled in all cases that the provinces’ attempts to restrict abortion were contrary to the Charter.

All of these decisions always focused on a woman's inalienable rights concerning her body. However, as my colleague from Gatineau mentioned in a passionate speech, there was a fundamental aspect missing from the speech by the member for Kitchener Centre: a woman's right to control her own body. This right is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the member for Kitchener Centre seems to have completely forgotten that, or simply ignored it. The member said that he wants a study in good faith on the issue and that the definition in section 223 of the Criminal Code is dishonest.

Let us talk about honesty in speeches and statements. The member for Kitchener Centre said:

Motion No. 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question. In fact, it directs the committee to make no decision and no recommendation but merely to report options.

However, the Chief Government Whip said:

...the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.

The member for Ktichener Centre also indicated in an interview with Metro Ottawa published on April 26, 2012, that if we reach a conclusion on when a child becomes a human being then all of the other issues that are so complicated about abortion can be discussed with that honest conclusion as a bedrock foundation. Either the member is contradicting himself, or else the member for Kitchener Centre is hiding his real desire to turn women who have abortions into criminals. So, the member should be careful when he talks about honesty.

The Conservative Party does not have a good record on this issue. The Conservatives have been trying to criminalize abortion for a long time. The Mulroney government introduced Bill C-43 in order to criminalize abortion, but fortunately it was defeated at third reading.

In 2004, the then leader of the opposition, who is now the Prime Minister, said that the first Conservative government would not be interested in reopening the abortion issue.

In 2008, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park tried to create a loophole for the criminalization of abortion by introducing Bill C-484, which would have made the murder of a pregnant woman a double homicide. Almost every Conservative, including the Prime Minister, voted for the bill.

In 2010, when the Muskoka Initiative for maternal health was launched by the G8, the Prime minister imposed a moratorium on funding for projects involving abortion in the developing world. Still in 2010, the member for Winnipeg South introduced Bill C-510, which would have made it an offence to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

In 2011, the Prime Minister reiterated this promise with the assurance that his party would not reopen the abortion debate. We know what happened: a member moved a motion with the ultimate goal of restricting access to abortion. One cannot help but wonder about the Conservative Party's ability to be consistent. The Prime Minister seems to have difficulty keeping the more extremist elements of his party in line with his position to not reopen the debate. In any case, the Conservative Party cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting women's rights.

How many times will the Conservatives try to reopen this debate? The Conservative ideology believes that the government should be as small as possible and that it should not interfere in the private lives of people, as demonstrated by its position on the firearms registry.

Strangely enough, this does not seem to apply when it comes to defending the rights and equality of women. If such a motion is accepted by the House, it could lead to the criminalization of abortion, which is completely unacceptable. Criminalizing abortions will not stop women from having them, even if that means having them in conditions that could jeopardize their health and life, not to mention the criminal prosecution that could follow.

Let us look at the example of the United States, where abortion is now severely limited. Women have to travel hundreds of kilometres to have access to this procedure. They have to use their rent and food money to pay for it and they have to go to judges to get permission. When they go to the clinic, they have to listen to anti-abortion propaganda and push their way past violent and aggressive anti-choice activists. They sometimes even have to wait for hours in their cars in the clinic parking lot because of a bomb threat, which is a frequent occurrence. All this to say that most women will do whatever it takes to have access to this procedure, regardless of the difficulty or risk involved.

Is this really the type of society that we want? Do we want to take such a big step backward? Women have fought for decades to assert their individual rights and to protect their safety and security.

We must never impose our beliefs and opinions on others. Members of the Conservative Party may never have to resort to abortion, and I fully respect their positions and their beliefs, but they should never judge women who do resort to abortion, nor should they attempt to take that right away.

Members of the New Democratic Party strongly oppose this motion, which is a direct attack on women's right to choose. The Conservative government, which now has a majority, is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. We want the Prime Minister to keep the promise he made to Canadians during the most recent election campaigns and to put a stop to these regressive debates. Abortion must remain a matter between a consenting woman and her doctor.

In closing, I am confident that the NDP members will unanimously oppose this motion.

National Defence September 21st, 2012

Mr. Speaker, the Department of National Defence is one of the largest government departments, with expenditures of over $20 billion a year. Canadians have the right to know where their money is going and how it is being managed.

But the Conservatives have put in place a policy that affects the entire defence department and requires employees to withhold information that could be embarrassing to the government. The culture of secrecy is nothing new for the Conservatives, but it seems to have become the rule rather than the exception.

What are the Conservatives afraid of? What do they have to hide?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act September 20th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, during the introduction of this bill at second reading, I spoke in the House to express my concern about the potential impact this bill could have on the proper operation and security of our penitentiaries.

During first reading of the bill, I was concerned about the fact that the commissioner was being granted the discretion to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant without placing limits on this power by establishing clear criteria. In my opinion, without such criteria, we cannot guarantee that decisions will be made in a fair and equitable manner.

Something else that concerned me at that time was that the bill did not take into account the reality of the inmates being designated as vexatious complainants. The agencies working in penitentiaries and the Office of the Correctional Investigator stated that many of the complainants who could be designated vexatious by the commissioner were actually people who have mental health problems or who are not well educated.

We have to remember that, when this complaint and grievance process was implemented in the early 1970s, the objective was to channel inmates' frustrations by using a constructive process that would allow inmates to participate in improving the living conditions in penitentiaries. So the objective was to improve safety by ensuring that inmates did not use violence to express their discontent and frustration.

It was also felt that this process was a tool that helped ensure transparency and accountability, allowing us to assess the effectiveness of correctional policies and identify problems in Canadian prisons.

Another benefit of this complaint process was that it made it possible to identify individuals with problems, whether mental health problems or low levels of education. Once identified, they could be directed to programs adapted to their circumstances.

The government should focus its efforts on increasing the correctional investigator's capacity to investigate so that he can quickly identify the problems in prisons.

Yes, the volume of complaints is a problem. However, we do not believe that reducing access to the complaint and grievance process is the answer.

In my view, this new bill is likely to cause more frustration for inmates who are unable to access the grievance process. This could in turn increase the level of violence and reduce the safety of inmates and prison workers.

We believe that the most effective way to guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of complaints, is to create mediator and grievance coordinator positions.

The Conservatives ignored all the recommendations of the experts and the external and internal review committees. Many of them said it was important to create those types of positions, which would allow prisons to maintain an open-access complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of formal complaints through informal resolution.

Our approach is also supported by many experts and stakeholders in the corrections field, including prison law and criminology experts.

Nevertheless, the member for Scarborough Centre seems to have ignored all this, as have the Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Not only did they ignore the experts who came to share their points of view, including the correctional investigator, but they also ignored the recommendations in David Mullan's report on the external review process, which was commissioned by the government itself.

In his report, Mr. Mullan made a number of recommendations regarding various aspects of the complaints and grievance process, including recommendations concerning staff and training. Mr. Mullan made recommendations to improve the informal complaints resolution process. Several recommendations touched on reducing the administrative burden of the complaints process, accountability and involving the offender in the process.

None of the 60-plus recommendations in the Mullan report were implemented or taken into consideration during the drafting of Bill C-213 or in the amendments that were made to the bill later.

Yet the recommendations made sense and the government itself commissioned the report. Why did the Conservatives not implement the recommendations in the Mullan report? Is it because the recommendations are not in line with their ideology even though the experts agree on this issue?

When I was a member of the committee, it became clear to me that the only approach that was acceptable to Conservative ideology was punishing criminals. That is what this is about.

I did not support the introduction of this bill at first reading. Unfortunately, the final version is even more disappointing because the only clause left states that, if the commissioner believes an offender has submitted vexatious complaints, he can prohibit that offender from submitting any further complaints.

I feel that the Conservatives did not listen to James Bonta, an expert witness who testified during the electronic surveillance study. Mr. Bonta is a clinical psychologist who presented a psychological explanation of punishment to the committee. I will read a portion of his testimony:

Punishment can deter or suppress behaviour, but only under certain conditions....It has to be immediate, it has to be the right intensity, it has to be predictable, and it has to be done with the right kind of person....

It works really well for people who think in the future, who have little history of being punished, and who think things through. Is this your typical offender? Offenders tend to be concrete thinkers who think in the here and now. They have a long history of punishment. They were raised in families in which most of them were physically abused. Some were sexually abused....

I'd strongly encourage you not to expect deterrence to have a great impact on the behaviour of your moderate- to [even] high-risk offender. You need to put your hope and your money into rehabilitation programs.

It is a clinical psychologist who made this statement to the committee. The first reading version of the bill had a provision to implement this type of corrective program or plan in order to break the complaints cycle. This was a worthwhile approach, but the provision in question is also one of the first ones that the Conservatives members of the committee removed from the bill.

The end result is that most of the provisions were removed from the first version of the bill, leaving only one provision that allows the commissioner to prohibit offenders that he designates as vexatious complainants from filing any new complaints, and another that allows the commissioner to review the complainant's status annually rather than every six months in order to reduce the administrative burden.

We are therefore not at all convinced that a review after one year would help the process, even if it does reduce the administrative burden. Leaving an offender in the system for one year can only increase the administrative burden while jeopardizing the safety of inmates. This will only make the situation worse. The parliamentary secretary on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security took most of the provisions in the first reading version of the bill and included them in the regulations.

She mentioned that this bill was a legislative burden that would make the administration of the grievance process more expensive. She therefore proposed an amendment, which was passed, to include the administration of the grievance process in the regulations rather than in the act. She wanted the commissioner's authority to prohibit a complainant from filing a new complaint to be included in the act but enforced by the regulations.

These regulations would be submitted to the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. Our critic, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, had also proposed an amendment to ensure that the commissioner, when making a decision, would take into account mental health issues and low levels of education. However, the parliamentary secretary would only include these factors in the regulations. Therefore, we believe that this is an empty promise because there are no guarantees that these provisions will be included in the bill.

I would like to remind my colleagues opposite that the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations examines the regulations after the fact. In my opinion, this will allow the government to avoid debating this bill, because the experts do not agree with its position.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that this bill only addresses a very minuscule part of the problem. Improving the efficiency of the process is the problem, not just dealing with vexatious complainants who only represent a handful of Canada's inmates.

The government has chosen to ignore the opinions of experts and the Mullan report, which they commissioned. They have decided to punish inmates—and we are only talking about a few inmates, as I mentioned—rather than introducing a bill that really tackles the problem by supporting the grievance procedure while enabling inmates to reform. This bill is not the answer, and it is obvious that we will not support it.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act September 18th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her interesting question.

Indeed, the new commissioner will have certain powers to compel officers, who will have to comply with more effective disciplinary measures. There is a problem within the RCMP. The commissioner will certainly have greater authority to enforce appropriate behaviour within the RCMP.

It will be interesting to study the government's proposal in committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act September 18th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

He has highlighted certain problems that this new bill will present. He notes that this body will have no transparency since it will report directly to the department and the commissioner. Because it is not at arm’s length, it will unfortunately not be able to make binding proposals that would require the RCMP to change its practices.

Canadians really expect the RCMP to fix its problems. This bill is a good step in that direction, but it needs to go a little further to be able to tackle sexual harassment head-on. Officers will have to abide by this bill, and for that reason we will support it. We will be able to hear the experts’ opinions on the subject in committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act September 18th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, in recent years, a number of scandals have rocked the RCMP, particularly with respect to the sexual harassment against certain members in recent years. Furthermore, many Canadians were troubled by the disciplinary measures that were too lenient for some officers accused of serious misconduct. The revelations that came out with these scandals seriously undermined Canadians' trust in this noble institution. I would like to briefly remind members of the various scandals in order to put this bill into context.

More than 200 women who work and have worked for the RCMP in recent years filed a class action suit against the RCMP for sexual harassment. The first hearing was held a little over a month ago, but the class action suit has not yet been accepted by the courts. A number of officers have also filed individual lawsuits in addition to this legal action.

The government introduced Bill C-42 in response to all of these scandals, in order to restore public trust in the RCMP.

From 1994 to 2011, 750 formal discipline hearings were held across Canada. In this same period of time, 206 regular and civilian members resigned from the RCMP. From 2000 to 2011, 715 new formal discipline cases were filed , which represents an average of about 83 new cases a year.

Given the many harassment allegations and serious disciplinary offences, we believe this bill is justified. There is growing public concern among Canadians regarding the problem of harassment.

For months now, the NDP has been urging Public Safety Canada to make the issue of sexual harassment in the RCMP a top priority. Unfortunately, Bill C-42 does not directly or adequately address the systemic, deeply-rooted problems in the RCMP corporate culture, nor will it do anything to change the current climate in the RCMP.

The Minister of Public Safety does not appear to have taken into account the various recommendations made by the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. Bill C-42 simplifies the process of resolving problems in the workplace, a process that many saw as complicated and ill-suited to changes in workplace practices.

In 2007, the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP described the process as too formal, and an overly legalistic and procedural system. More recently, Commissioner Paulson wrote an open letter to Canadians expressing his concerns about the RCMP's disciplinary system, which he described as outdated and administratively burdensome. These problems limit the disciplinary system's ability to ensure that members' conduct is properly managed and corrected or, when necessary, to see to it that the rotten apples are fired.

Currently, RCMP managers faced with having to address harassment issues have two completely different processes they must follow. The first one was created under Treasury Board policy and the other under the RCMP Act. Since these two policies do not always align, this can lead to some confusion about the rights of the parties involved.

Bill C-42 proposes to give the commissioner the power to establish a single framework for conducting investigations into harassment problems and resolving those problems. The bill will also give the commissioner of the RCMP a new power to decide what disciplinary actions would be appropriate, which will include the power to appoint and discharge members.

The first thing we note is that the Minister of Public Safety has adopted a simplistic solution to a problem that is much broader, by simply giving the commissioner final authority when it comes to dismissing employees, for example. Employees are in fact somewhat concerned about this bill.

The bill does nothing to address unionization by the members of the RCMP. Since the RCMP is the only police force that is not represented by a union and is also not subject to a collective agreement, the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada has concerns about the job security of members of the RCMP and the extraordinary power given to the commissioner over dismissals. But the Conservatives do not want to address that question at all.

While Bill C-42 gives the commissioner greater ability to establish a more effective process to address harassment problems, and also gives him more power in relation to discipline, it cannot bring about the real change of culture within the RCMP that is needed in order to eliminate harassment and problems relating generally to discipline and the conduct of RCMP officers. The evidence is in what Commissioner Paulson has said himself: that legislation alone is insufficient to restore the public’s trust, and that thorough reform is needed to tackle the serious underlying problems in the RCMP, in order to foster a workplace that is more open and respectful for all its members.

The commissioner has also told the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that the problem goes well beyond the question of sexual harassment.

This situation has to change from top to bottom. I think the minister should have taken the opportunity offered by this bill to include a clear policy to combat sexual harassment. The minister did not consider all of the police and civilian stakeholders. The government is also going to have to pay attention to the findings of the two reports that should clarify the problem of sexual harassment in the RCMP, the problem of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, and the evaluation of the RCMP on gender issues.

Let us move on to another aspect of the bill, the reform of the former RCMP Public Complaints Commission by establishing a new civilian complaints commission called the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, and by implementing a new framework for handling investigations of serious incidents involving members.

The bill will establish a new civilian complaints commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to replace the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

This bill will give the new commission a number of powers, including the power to undertake its own reviews of RCMP policies to ensure that the Minister’s directives and the applicable legislation and rules are being followed. It will provide a right of access to information in the control or possession of the RCMP. It establishes new investigative powers, including the power to compel witnesses and officers to testify, and to require them to produce evidence and documents. It also allows the commission to conduct joint complaint investigations with other police complaints bodies. Lastly, the commission will report to the Minister of Public Safety and the commissioner of the RCMP, and its recommendations will not be binding.

The Conservatives have been promising for years that they are going to make an independent oversight body responsible for investigating complaints against the RCMP, as the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP recommended. The task force had recommended that a model be adopted under which there would be a body responsible for examining every incident or aspect of RCMP operations that was considered to be problematic and making binding recommendations. With this bill, we can see that the government has not kept its promise.

The “new” civilian complaints commission proposed by this bill bears a strange resemblance to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, because just like that commission, the new one is unfortunately not totally independent. It reports not to the House of Commons, but to the Minister of Public Safety. We would also have liked more powers to be given to an independent external civilian body, to investigate serious incidents in which death or serious bodily injury is caused by members of the RCMP. That type of investigation will largely be assigned to municipal or provincial police forces, even though many of them have no civilian investigation body, and so, depending on the circumstances, some investigations will continue to be done by the RCMP itself.

Canadians want this type of investigation to be done by a body outside the RCMP. That is how we will enhance Canadians’ confidence in our institution. Bill C-42 does not provide more transparency and better independent oversight of the RCMP. The bill simply leads to a single body that submits its non-binding recommendations to the minister.

We believe that this bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. We are therefore going to support it so it can be considered in committee, where we will be proposing amendments.

Petitions September 18th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, today I have the pleasure of submitting a petition signed by dozens of Canadians from across the country, which underscores the chronic underfunding of public transit in recent years.

This petition is in support of the bill introduced by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina. This bill will improve public transit infrastructure, which could be a great boon to the people in my riding who do not have adequate infrastructure to establish an efficient public transit system.