Mr. Speaker, this being December 6, I will take a few moments to acknowledge the anniversary of the awful tragedy at Polytechnique Montréal where 14 young women lost their lives.
It is important to always take a few minutes on this day to reflect on what happened at the time and what continues to happen in our society. Violence against women still exists, now more than ever. Taking the time to commemorate this horrible tragedy makes us look at the present to see what has been done and what we are doing at home, in our neighbourhoods and across the board to ensure that such things never happen again. This includes small gestures when a man or a woman is in an unacceptable domestic violence situation. Women tend to end up vulnerable, without resources and without help, because they simply do not have the means and the necessary resources at hand to report and flee domestic violence.
I want to give everyone, especially the women in my riding, the phone numbers they can use if they find themselves in a difficult situation. In the Appalaches RCM, the La Gîtée shelter can be reached at 418-335-5551. In the Granite RCM, people can contact La Bouée at 819-583-1233. I commend the women in the Granite RCM who are marching today to speak out against violence against women and to advance the cause. In central Quebec, the La Volte-Face women's shelter can be reached at 819-795-3444. Anyone in need anywhere in Quebec can contact the domestic violence service SOS Violence Conjugale at 1-800-363-9010.
Resources are available, and people are there to help. It is just a matter of getting to a phone to ask for help. This is something each and everyone one of us should be more conscious of.
I also want to address Canadians who are currently living with domestic violence. Far too often, these people are overlooked or ignored, and others act as though nothing is going on. There has been an unusually high number of femicides since the beginning of the pandemic, and this trend is continuing. If every one of us took the time to recognize what is going on, to do something and to try to help people who are dealing with violence against women, we could surely make a difference and potentially prevent someone from becoming a victim. Anyone could be a victim at any time, in any place, because others turn a blind eye and pretend as though nothing is going on.
I wanted to say a little something given that today is December 6. It is extremely important and is directly connected to the bill we are debating today. This bill would provide meaningful protections against intimidation and harassment of health care workers. This type of intimidation has no place in our society.
The Thetford police force has released its 2020 annual report, and I bring this up because we will be calling on police officers to enforce a law that would eliminate or reduce instances of harassment of health care workers, essential workers and our guardian angels who have been there for us since the beginning of the pandemic.
The police are very aware of the situation and the problems, and they too wish they had the means to intervene. For example, they intervened 315 times in situations involving people with mental health issues, which is an increase of 17% from 2019 to 2020. Even though the number of suicides and attempted suicides decreased by 3% in the region during the same period, police expect an increase in this type of intervention in the coming weeks and months, as indicated in the report.
These police officers have been there from the beginning. I think we should spare a thought for them, as they will have to enforce these laws and implement these measures, while respecting people's right to protest peacefully.
Looking at everything that has happened since the beginning of the pandemic, many of our health care workers, our guardian angels, shared with us that they were exhausted dealing with an illness that they knew practically nothing about. They were not sufficiently protected and feared for their family members and friends. They also had to work overtime, sometimes 16 hours straight. It was extremely exhausting for all health care workers.
As the situation evolved, we unfortunately saw more and more people protesting against these very workers who were putting their heart and soul into trying to save people, our neighbours, our uncles, our aunts, our grandmothers and grandfathers from this horrible virus, which has been gripping our society since March 2020. That is on top of the stress at work caused by this unknown virus and professional burnout. I think it is about time that the government intervened to protect and, above all, to recognize these workers.
I, too, want to recognize the entire profession. I am thinking of the nurses, who have done an extraordinary job and who are also stretched thin. It is not only them, however; I am also thinking of the orderlies and the support staff. I am thinking of those who disinfect our hospitals. We do not often talk about them, but they are directly on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. I am thinking of the administrative staff who are there to greet us in hospitals and who surely have also had to go through a very difficult time. I am thinking of the lab technicians who handle this virus to determine which of us have come into contact with it.
All these individuals deserve the respect and, most importantly, the protection of the government and fellow members of the public. They should not be harassed or threatened. I am thinking of the dedicated physicians and specialists. I am also thinking of the child care workers who, in taking care of our children, must also deal with the additional stress of the pandemic every day, because young children do not have access to vaccination and are a potential target of this accursed virus, even though its effects on them are not as serious.
I am thinking of teachers, of police officers, whom I mentioned earlier, and of paramedics and social workers, who also have to go out and see a lot of people because of mental health issues. At the very least, all of these workers should be protected by their government against harassment and intimidation.
For these reasons, I will certainly support this initiative, especially since it was included in the platform proposed by the member for , the leader of the official opposition, during the last election campaign. He wanted to introduce a bill to protect critical infrastructure, including in health care.
I am also doing this for my daughter, who is currently studying to be a nurse. She has the calling and the drive, and she wants to help and to serve. I think that we should support and encourage her, not discourage her.
Mr. Speaker, this is my first time rising in the House since the election, so it is my turn to thank the voters of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun for placing their trust in me for the third time. I will do my best to represent them as their MP.
I would also like to draw everyone's attention to the fact that today is December 6. As a Montrealer, a Canadian and a Quebecker, the memory of what happened in Montreal on December 6 never fails to move me. Fourteen young female engineering students lost their lives. I will do my best to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.
I am pleased to speak at the second reading debate on Bill , which I introduced alongside the last week. I will focus my remarks on the Criminal Code amendments contained in the bill.
I am proud of Bill , but I will be honest. I am disappointed, as was the member for a moment ago, that we are having to propose criminal law reforms to explicitly protect health care workers and patients against intimidation and obstruction.
Since the start of the global pandemic 20 months ago, the health sector in Canada has faced unprecedented challenges. Health professionals have been working relentlessly and under extraordinarily difficult circumstances to save lives. A Statistics Canada survey revealed that seven in 10 health care workers reported worsening mental health due to the pandemic. However, that is only part of the story.
On top of the strain on mental health, our health professionals are also facing violence in the workplace.
Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told Canadians, during a news conference on this bill, that preliminary results from the 2021 National Physician Health Survey suggested that three out of four physicians had experienced intimidation, bullying and harassment in the workplace. She went further to say, “one in three say that this happens regularly. This number jumps to 80% of female physicians.” These numbers are telling me a deeply disturbing story, especially when we look at the impact on people who identify as female in the health profession.
Most Canadians have shown tremendous respect for our health care workers and have followed the guidance of public health authorities. Unfortunately, a small number of individuals refuse to believe the authorities or follow evidence-based public health measures. An even smaller group has even uttered threats, including death threats. These people have also committed acts of violence against health workers who were simply doing their jobs by providing essential care to Canadians.
Violence against health care workers is a long-standing problem. Ever since the pandemic hit, health care workers have expressed concern about their ability to keep doing their jobs. Some have even been forced to quit. Moreover, people who need health care services have expressed similar concern about their ability to keep accessing health care facilities safely.
I cannot stress enough how disappointed I was to learn of this behaviour. There is simply no place in Canada for such conduct, and we will not tolerate it. The ability to express ourselves and to protest what we do not believe is right is a cherished freedom in this country, but Canadians understand the difference between expressing our views and threatening those we disagree with.
We have seen the consequences of this abuse. For example, Dr. Gretchen Roedde of Latchford, Ontario has decided to retire early due to online abuse. This small town could lose a doctor because of this kind of behaviour.
Shockingly, this abuse and harassment even extends to children. Nolan Blaszczyk, a seven-year-old boy, faced a torrent of verbal abuse when he went with his mother to get his vaccine. Abby Blaszczyk was told that she was murdering her son and she was committing genocide. How is this acceptable?
As everyone knows, the Criminal Code includes a broad range of general offences to protect all Canadians. The Criminal Code already prohibits some of the despicable behaviour we have seen over the past year, including assault, criminal harassment, intimidation and threats. Today we see just how urgent it is to go even further.
Enhancing these existing measures by explicitly prohibiting this conduct in the health care sector has become necessary and urgent.
During the recent election campaign, as COVID-19-related protests began to intensify around health facilities, the committed to protecting our health care workers and ensuring all Canadians had access to health care without fear of threat or intimidation. The measures introduced in Bill would fully address these commitments and ensure a broad range of responses to various forms of harmful conduct facing the health sector.
The bill would create two new offences specific to the health context.
First, a new intimidation offence would be enacted to protect both health workers and health seekers. Intimidation is already criminalized as a general offence, but these amendments would give police and prosecutors additional tools to specifically protect our health care workers and users. Furthermore, they would provide for a higher maximum sentence for intimidation of 10 years. The current intimidation offence carries a maximum sentence of five years.
This new offence would extend to health care workers similar protections to those justice system participants, people like judges, jurors, witnesses, as well as journalists who report on organized crime. Intimidation is treated as a more serious offence when committed to impede them in their important functions.
That specific intimidation offence was created in response to a series of incidents in which prosecutors, witnesses and others were intimidated by criminal organizations to destabilize the criminal justice system. Similar to what we are doing now, Parliament's response then was to enhance criminal law protections for such intimidation with a distinct offence and an enhanced penalty. It is important to protect those who are working to improve our country, whether through the health care system or legal system.
The new intimidation offence would prohibit any act intended to promote fear in health care professionals in order to stop them from performing their professional duties. As noted above, this includes health care professionals working at abortion clinics, other frequent target of threats and intimidation. Anyone who works to assist health professionals in the performance of their duties would also be protected by the intimidation offence. Depending on the circumstances, this could be a professional support worker or clinic staff working alongside a physician or nurse.
It takes a community of health workers to deliver health services in our country, so those who assist health care professionals in carrying out their duties are rightly covered by this offence.
The proposed offence would also protect anyone seeking or receiving health care services. Any behaviour intended to incite fear in individuals seeking health care services, for the purpose of dissuading those individuals from obtaining services, would be expressly prohibited.
Creating this new offence will also allow us to increase the maximum penalty for this behaviour. The new offence will be a hybrid offence and will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, on indictment. This is a harsher penalty than the general offence of intimidation, which is five years.
Increasing the penalty in this way sends a very clear message that Parliament strongly condemns these forms of behaviour directed at the health sector.
There is another point that I want to be very clear about. The proposed intimidation offence can be committed in person or through electronic means, including social media and other online channels. Media outlets across the country are reporting that health care providers are being threatened and intimidated on social media. Medical associations, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Ontario Medical Association, have confirmed that threats and intimidation are occurring not only in person, but also online. The offence of intimidation would apply regardless of the means of communication.
In addition to protecting the heroes in the health care sector, the bill also creates a new offence that would prohibit intentionally obstructing or interfering with a person's ability to access a health facility. The offence would protect access to any and every place where health services are provided, including a hospital, a mobile clinic, an abortion clinic, a vaccine clinic, a doctor's office and even doctors' homes if that is where they provide their services. This new offence is hybrid and will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years of imprisonment.
I want to be very clear about one thing. Nothing in the proposed legislation would undermine workers' ability to strike or Canadians' ability to peacefully protest. Our government stands by the charter and the freedoms it guarantees, including freedom of speech and the right to strike. That is why this offence would expressly exclude communicative activity that remains peaceful and lawful, such as strike action or peaceful protest, even if it has a minor impact on access. Minor inconvenience for those seeking to get into buildings is a fair price to pay to protect our cherished liberties, but behaviour that is threatening or violent or that creates a major impediment to access is rightly criminalized. This is the current state of our criminal law and the bill would only enhance that.
The legislation provides for a definition of “health professional” to clarify the scope of the offences and how they are intended to be applied to police and prosecutors. A health professional would be defined as a person who is entitled, under the laws of a province or territory, to provide a health service, such as doctors or nurses. Given that the provinces and territories are responsible for the health sector and regulation of health professionals and services, the definition is intended to be broad and capable of being applied in accordance with each jurisdiction's health system.
I would now like to talk about the sentencing reforms in Bill . These changes address the concerns that health professionals have had for a while now, and, in fact, parliamentarians from all sides have presented similar reforms in the past through private members' bills.
The bill would require that, in cases where there is evidence showing that the offence was committed against a health care provider who was carrying out their duties, sentencing courts treat this evidence as an aggravating factor. Aggravating factors will also apply if the offence involved impeding another person from obtaining health services. Individuals on both sides of our health care system must be protected, meaning health care providers and their patients.
Support workers, also referred to as orderlies, are also vulnerable to violence in the workplace. Even though they are not regulated in many regions across the country like health professionals are, they still provide care and essential support to many Canadians. Therefore, the aggravating factors proposed in this bill expressly include personal care services.
These sentencing reforms are based on long-standing calls from stakeholders. Indeed, during our news conference following the introduction of the bill, the presidents of the CMA and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions affirmed the importance of these measures to our health workers.
The aggravating factors also implement a recommendation of the 2019 report conducted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health entitled “Violence Facing Health Care Workers in Canada”. The report requested the Government of Canada amend the Criminal Code to require a court to consider the fact that the victim of an assault is a health care sector worker to be an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing. The same report documented that health care workers have four times the rate of workplace violence than any other profession, despite most of this violence being unreported due to a culture of acceptance.
While the pandemic has created new challenges for health care workers and exacerbated the violence they face, as I mentioned before, those who provide abortion services and the women who access them have also experienced unacceptable threats and violence. It was not so long ago, in the 1990s, that several physicians in Canada were shot because of their work providing abortion services. Abortion clinics have been attacked and blocked. Those seek abortion services have been harassed, threatened and intimidated by individuals opposed to abortion. The safety and security of abortion health care workers and patients continue to be a troubling issue. Our government will protect abortion service providers alongside other health professionals. We support the rights of women to control their bodies and have unimpeded access to abortion services along with other health services.
I hope—like all members here today, I am sure—that health care workers will one day be able to do their jobs free from violence and can feel safe and valued when they are caring for us. The pandemic is not over, as we know, and neither is the need to protect our health care workers.
These workers play a very important role in the lives of all Canadians. Thanks to them, we have been able to fend off this devastating pandemic and make recovery plans for our society and our country. The proposed reforms will enhance existing measures in the Criminal Code and they have broad support within the medical community. For these reasons, I urge all members to support Bill , which is urgent, important and necessary.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from .
Furthermore, as today is December 6, the 32nd anniversary of the tragic Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were killed just for being women, I would like to offer my support and solidarity and say that we remember.
Let us return now to Bill , which is currently under consideration. This is a two-pronged bill: it amends the Canada Labour Code, and it amends the Criminal Code. These two statutes do not address the same issues.
What we do know about this bill is that it stems from a commitment the government made during the last election campaign, the one that should not have happened. During that campaign, the government stated that it wanted to increase the number of sick days for workers who have none and strengthen the Criminal Code with more severe penalties for people who impede the provision of health care or intimidate health care workers.
Since we are talking about two jurisdictions here, and since this bill will definitely be worth studying in committee, I am wondering which would be the best committee to study it.
The government thought it would be a good idea to significantly strengthen the measures set out in the Criminal Code that penalize people who intimidate or harass patients and health care workers, but is that the right solution to this problem?
We will need to examine this bill to be able to answer that question properly. We understand the purpose of the measure, which is to make it clear to health care workers and those who need access to medical care that we will never allow them to be intimidated or afraid to get care. I think everyone understands the message, which may have been necessary.
However, as a health care worker, even though it has been some time since I worked in the field, what I am wondering is whether our labour laws, our workplace health and safety laws, also protect the workplace from acts of violence, intimidation and harassment.
Perhaps that should have been considered. Besides the incidents that we all witnessed in Quebec and the provinces, the major unions have been long calling for stronger measures against violence, intimidation and harassment to be included in our labour laws, because employers also have an obligation to provide a safe workplace.
In Quebec, anti-vaxxers have protested in front of primary schools. They have also protested to a lesser extent in front of hospitals and vaccination clinics. The Government of Quebec did not wait for the federal government before it significantly increased fines and public safety measures. That is why we wonder if strengthening the Criminal Code is the right solution.
The Canadian Labour Congress made it clear, and we agree, that we must avoid depriving individuals of the fundamental right to associate, to unionize, to strike, to picket and to mobilize. It is a major right guaranteed by the Constitution, and we must ensure that it is included in this bill.
As for the Canada Labour Code, the stated in his speech on Friday that there are gaps in the social safety net. That is not news. Canada's antiquated labour laws are sorely in need of attention. Fifty-eight per cent, or 580,000, of Canada's workers do not have paid leave, and it is time to give them 10 days of paid sick leave. We could also amend the Canada Labour Code to increase the minimum wage as the government promised in the last budget. That would send a clear message in the current circumstances that we are protecting workers, who should have good working conditions and good wages.
Speaking of gaps in the social safety net, the government has forgotten one important aspect, namely, the employment insurance system. I am thinking specifically of people who are sick. The government is failing thousands of people who have no paid sick leave, no wage loss program and only 15 weeks of sickness benefits. This really is a gap in the social safety net.
Why is the government introducing a bill that targets the Canada Labour Code and the Criminal Code, which are two different systems, rather than strengthening labour laws and the EI system to protect people who are sick and have nothing to fall back on when they become seriously ill?
Why did the government not ensure that the constitutional right to protest and to freedom of expression were properly protected in the Criminal Code, if that were its intention? It will be important to study those two matters in committee.
We support the bill in principle, with a bit of fine-tuning.
Mr. Speaker, today is December 6, and I want to join my colleagues in taking a few moments to think about the victims of the École Polytechnique massacre and their loved ones. I was 12 years old at the time, and I, fortunately or unfortunately, have an excellent memory, especially when my emotions are involved. I clearly remember, at 12 years old, the feelings of stress, distress and disbelief when I learned that women could be murdered simply because they were women. I thought that was something rare, out of the ordinary, but I now realize that it unfortunately happens far too often.
I have been asking questions in the House since the beginning of this Parliament, but since today I am making my first speech, I want to take the time to thank the people of Beauport—Limoilou for electing me and allowing me to continue serving and representing them. I also want to thank my volunteers, whose support was invaluable during this campaign, my second. When I say their support was invaluable, I think back to my first campaign and how there were just two of us. I thank my volunteers from the bottom of my heart because they did so much, even showing up during a heat wave. That is amazing.
Lastly, I want to say hello to the loves of my life: Pierre, Zoé, Louis, Benoît and Simon. They are extraordinary, and without them my life would be empty. I love them very much.
I could speak at length about the support I received during the campaign and how grateful I am to each and every person, from 18 to 77, who donated their precious time. Now, just as they helped me, it is my turn to help improve the lives of others by adding my thoughts about Bill C-3, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code.
I have to admit that when I read the bill's preamble and eight clauses, I initially wondered how this bill could actually help people. Here is the brief analysis I did as I read the bill.
The first clause adds a definition of intimidation in health services to the definitions of offence. In short, it indicates that intimidation in a health services setting constitutes an offence. This is just one addition to the long list of what is considered to be an offence. This could certainly be simplified by indicating that any form of intimidation, regardless of a person's status or job, is an offence. However, I recognize that this was an election promise. Accordingly, stipulating that the intimidation becomes an offence based on who specifically is being targeted makes the government look good, given the current situation.
The second clause of the bill inserts a new provision into the Criminal Code, subsection 423(2). It specifies that intimidation is an offence when committed against a person seeking health services—a patient—a health professional, or any person working to assist a health professional. This includes orderlies, administrative assistants, custodians, and so forth.
In short, it would be an offence to intimidate anyone in order to prevent them from receiving or providing health services. In my opinion, this clause makes sense, not only with respect to vaccination, but also with respect to other terrible situations that patients and health care personnel could experience.
Take, for example, women who go to a family planning clinic and are confronted by people who are angrily screaming and shouting. Think of those people and the clinic's staff, whose workplace is vandalized or who have their car tires slashed. All of these acts are unacceptable and lack the minimum civility, respect, or dignity, in addition to negatively affecting the physical and psychological health of the victims being targeted.
The new section 423.2, in the second and third subsections, makes it an offence to obstruct access to a place at which health services are provided, and a maximum sentence of 10 years can now be imposed on a person guilty of this offence. Here, I wondered about this: What about workers striking outside of their workplace? Will their right to strike be respected, or will it be considered a form of intimidation?
The question bears asking, especially since Bill C-3 specifies that a person cannot be found guilty if they go to the location of a demonstration for the purpose only of communicating or obtaining information. This might include a journalist, for instance. If a person who is going to communicate or obtain information is specifically exempted from being found guilty of an offence, why is it not specified that a person exercising their right to strike cannot be found guilty of an offence either? After all, a strike is a form of demonstration in front of a place where health services are provided.
The third clause adds a definition to part XV of the Criminal Code on special procedures and powers, specifically forensic DNA analysis. This addition makes subsection 423.2 also fall under the definition of a secondary designated offence. All the bases are covered to ensure there is no way out for anyone using intimidation against health services. However, I wonder about the need for DNA analysis in the case of intimidation. The link is not clear.
The fourth clause amends subsection 515(4.1), which sets out the aggravating factors of a charge. It adds intimidating a health professional as an aggravating factor. That is good.
The fifth clause states that the offence was committed against a person who was providing health services, including personal care services, and had the effect of impeding another person from obtaining those services. That covers anyone who is directly or indirectly connected to a health service. I have nothing to add, but what does that mean exactly?
What it all means is that from now on, as Quebec has been doing for a few months now, demonstrations will not be allowed in the vicinity of places where health care services are provided, and intimidating a health professional will be prohibited, as will be intimidating a person who decides to receive health care, regardless of their age or the nature of the health care.
As I said earlier, I think this makes sense because intimidation is indecent, unacceptable, degrading and stressful, no matter the target, and is an act devoid of dignity and respect. I am repeating this because I think it is important to keep it in mind. Such acts should never be committed against anyone, regardless of their social or employment status.
That said, intimidation is already an offence under the Criminal Code. Why are these clarifications needed? I am still wondering about that. If intimidation is prohibited and is an aggravating circumstance, that applies to everyone. Are we not all equal before the law? Was it really necessary to draft a bill to clarify that intimidation in the health care sector is criminal? Everyone is equal before the law. Anyone who is the victim of intimidation, regardless of their age, social status or job, is the victim of a criminal act.
Bill C-3 also amends the Canada Labour Code to eliminate part of subsection 206.6(1), specifically paragraph (a), which states that every employee is entitled to up to five days of sick leave per year for the purpose of treating illness or injury. That paragraph is being eliminated, because now it will be up to 10 days with a medical certificate. This will affect many employees across Canada. Here is my question. If this matter is under federal jurisdiction, could it affect negotiations with unions and workers? It is important to ensure that unions' right to strike and to negotiate their working conditions are not subject to this bill.
To sum up, the Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle of protecting federally regulated workers and health care workers. However, the committee will have to amend the bill for clarity to ensure respect for workers' other rights, such as the right to protest and the right to negotiate collective agreements in good faith.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Let me start by acknowledging what an important day today is. It is a day of action to end violence against women, and I recognize all the women who have died in Canada and around the world and the incredible women who continue to fight each and every day. As a society, we have a long way to go to end violence against women, but it is a day for us to redouble our efforts in this regard.
I am glad to speak today to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code. I will be speaking primarily about the amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada.
The last 19 months or so have been difficult for frontline workers, particularly those in the health care sector. They have been working around the clock to help Canadians get through the pandemic. In many ways they have been putting their families at risk and have been away from their families during this period. We are very grateful for their service.
In my home community of Scarborough, I know that members of the Scarborough Health Network and those at the TAIBU Community Health Centre and many other local organizations have been instrumental in supporting us. However, sadly, the work of many of our frontline workers, especially those in the health care sector, has been the brunt of a great number of issues over the past few months, and I want to speak to that. I believe the amendments that are proposed today would address this.
It should be a fundamental right to go to work free of harassment and free of any form of disruption by the public, but sadly, because of anti-vaxxers and many others, health care workers are scared to go to work. I have been able to speak to many nurses, PSWs and physicians who are at their wit's end. They are stressed and are going on leave or are considering it because they can no longer bear what is happening to them.
I think all members would agree that it is unsettling to see reports in the media of bullying, threats, violence and intimidation directed toward health care workers and those seeking care. I was shocked to see reports of individuals in Canada using online platforms to incite others to shoot health care service providers who vaccinate children. Let me be clear: Such conduct is criminal and has no place in our society.
This past weekend I was able to get my second daughter vaccinated. She had her first dose. It was administered by Dr. Jaya, who has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID. I know she and her colleagues want to work in an environment where they are free and safe. We are very thankful for what they have done so far.
Bill seeks to provide enhanced protections to health care workers and those seeking care at a time when the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. Unimpeded access to health services is critical to moving Canada beyond the pandemic. As Ontario right now has reached the important 90% mark of vaccination for those over the age of 12, it is more important than ever that we extend these protections to all Canadians who are working in the health care sector.
While Bill would create two new offences in the Criminal Code, namely a new specific intimidation offence and an offence of obstructing access to health care facilities, I want to focus my remarks today on the sentencing amendments advanced in the bill that relate to the proposed aggravating factors.
In short, aggravating factors are facts present in any given case that increase the gravity of the offence or the offender's degree of responsibility. Existing Criminal Code examples include when an offence is motivated by hate or prejudice and when an offender abuses a position of trust. To arrive at a fit sentence when sentencing, the court must weigh all aggravating and mitigating factors present in the case at hand.
Before speaking to these proposed legislative changes in more detail, I want to provide some additional context in relation to the sentencing amendments being advanced.
In 2019, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health studied the prevalence of violence faced by health care workers in Canada. It reported that the rate of workplace violence against health care workers was four times higher than any other profession. What is particularly alarming about this figure is that stakeholders in this area also reported that most of the violence that workers experienced remained unreported due to a culture of acceptance.
In its report entitled “Violence Facing Health Care Workers in Canada”, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health made several recommendations, including that the Government of Canada amend the Criminal Code to require courts to treat an assault against a health care sector worker as an aggravating factor for sentencing. In advancing this recommendation, the committee heard testimony from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union that such an amendment would serve as a deterrent for individuals perpetrating violence against health care workers.
The sentencing amendments in Bill would respond to the long-standing calls from health care sector stakeholders and to the recommendation of the committee to codify assaulting health care practitioners, who are acting in the course of their duties, as an aggravating factor at sentencing and would reflect the common law in this area.
Let me take a moment to explain why. Existing sentencing laws already provide sentencing courts with the broad discretion to account for all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors in determining a sentence that is proportionate, having regard to the gravity of the offence and degree of responsibility of the offender. The list of aggravating factors provided in section 7(1)(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code is not exhaustive and courts can, and do, expand the list by recognizing new aggravating and mitigating factors at sentencing. In fact, reported cases in Canada have already recognized assaulting persons working in the health care system as an aggravating circumstance at sentencing.
Consistent with this existing treatment by courts, Bill would create two new aggravating factors applicable in the health care context, which would apply when a person is being sentenced for any criminal offence.
The proposed measures in the bill would include an aggravating factor where the offence was committed against any person who, in the performance of their duties and functions, was providing health services. The concept of health services would not be defined in the bill, but the courts would have the flexibility to apply it in appropriate cases. The aggravating factors also make clear that personal care services are captured within the concept of health services for aggravating factors.
Personal support workers provide health services that are essential to the well-being of all patients. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health reported that an alarming 89% of all personal support workers had experienced physical violence on the job based on a poll commissioned by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. Codifying this aggravating factor signals Parliament's view that criminal conduct directed at personal support workers must be recognized and denounced.
There is a great deal more I could say on this issue, but I want to emphasize that this is important legislation that stands up for health care workers who are essential for Canadian society to recover and thrive, especially during a global pandemic. This bill is long overdue and delivers on an important commitment the government made to Canadians.
For all the reasons identified above, I urge all members of the House to support the swift passage of Bill .
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to rise to speak to Bill , very important legislation that covers two aspects of providing for our health care workers, especially during this pandemic.
The latter half of the bill specifically addresses the issue of paid sick leave and how important it is to ensure that people do not have to choose between paying their bills and going to work. When people are sick, as we have learned through this pandemic, we do not want them going to work and participating in an environment where they could potentially be passing along illness to other people. When we are sick or do not feel well, it is important we stay home. To that end, we need the proper legislation in place to protect workers and give them that flexibility so they can take the proper measures to protect themselves.
The other part of the bill, which I will focus a little more on, specifically ensures that proper measures are put into our Criminal Code to protect individuals from being harassed on their way to and from work, in particular, health care professionals. When the bill was introduced, I was extremely happy to hear about the measures that would be put in place.
There was an extremely unfortunate incident at Kingston General Hospital at the beginning of the election campaign, when protests were gaining speed and traction. A group of people chose to protest not just in front of Kingston General Hospital, but right in front of the cancer clinic at the hospital. Folks going to receive their cancer treatments and then leaving were being harassed by a protest group that yelled insults. In addition, those serving on the front line, the nurses and doctors, were being harassed as they were going in and out of the hospital. It is absolutely ridiculous that we even need to have this debate or that we have a requirement for legislation. However, unfortunate incidents have been popping up, such as the one most recently in my community of Kingston and the Islands.
Perhaps it was the nature of the election taking place at the time that really added fuel to the fire. The unfortunate part about the campaign was that it was taking a political lens. The People's Party of Canada was really promoting this event. People's Party of Canada signs were in front of the hospital during this protest. By and large, on Twitter, it was the People's Party and its supporters who were promoting this event to take place. Of course, they did it all in the name of civil liberties, believing that somehow liberties had been breached during the pandemic, which I find extremely alarming.
Even though the People's Party did not win any seats in this place, I still find it concerning when members of the House attempt to play footsies with the issue of civil liberties being in jeopardy during the pandemic. Unfortunately, I am reminded of the more recently formed Conservative liberties caucus, the freedom fighters caucus, whatever it is called, which consists of approximately 15 to 30 Conservative members of Parliament and senators, who somehow find it their job to stand up for the liberties that have been infringed upon during the pandemic. I believe that every person in the House believes strongly that people are entitled to certain rights afforded them under the charter and that, indeed, no person's rights have been infringed upon during the pandemic. However, this is not the way it is being interpreted. When leaders are helping to fuel the fire through their actions and words, it only further instills within the people who are leading these protests to go out there, to charge and suggest they somehow need to be protected.
We end up with what I described in my riding of Kingston and the Islands in front of the Kingston General Hospital: an event where there were about 50 people yelling, screaming and hurling insults and accusations toward not just health care professionals, the nurses and the doctors coming and going from the hospital, but indeed people entering the cancer clinic at Kingston General Hospital and people who were leaving immediately following treatments.
Members can imagine the public outcry against this type of activity that was going on. It was quite a bit, and there was a lot of anger and frustration from the community, but at the same time it provided an opportunity for a certain degree of empowerment in this group.
This legislation specifically seeks to make this type of activity something that is not permissible in the Criminal Code and indeed that people can be held accountable for. I am extremely happy to see this legislation that we committed to during the election come forward so quickly. I want to see this get to committee as quickly as possible so it can be properly studied. As I have been listening to the debate today, some of my colleagues have raised questions about the content of the bill and how that will be affected. I think back to the previous question from the NDP member, and these are good questions and things to study at committee, where we can hash out the details to ensure that this legislation is the best it can be.
The reality of Bill is that it is a commitment to Canadians. It is a commitment that we will not tolerate this kind of behaviour around health care facilities that are providing services. The frontline workers are there to provide services to our communities. We will not allow people to participate in activities that intimidate, harass or threaten their ability to move freely in and out of such a facility in order to provide these frontline services.
I know I am close to question period and I am happy to begin my five minutes of questions, but I want to say I am very glad the bill is before us. I want it to move quickly to committee so it can be thoroughly examined and reported back to the House and we can pass it into legislation.