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Results: 1 - 15 of 38
View Dan Harris Profile
NDP (ON)
View Dan Harris Profile
2015-06-19 12:31 [p.15359]
Mr. Speaker, the bill would not create a statutory holiday, so there would be no cost with respect to that.
It is actually a little difficult to calculate the exact cost with respect to adding Remembrance Day as, say, a statutory holiday. If we were to add another new holiday, something else, it does not matter what, that would impact the entire country, it would be easy to measure that.
If Remembrance Day was made a statutory holiday, it would not impact six provinces and three territories; it would slightly impact a couple of provinces, and it would impact two provinces.
It is hard to find out what the cost would be to businesses right now. Businesses I have spoken to have said it is very confusing if they have an operation in Ontario and one in B.C. The folks in B.C. would be off for the day and the folks in Ontario would not be and if they tried to conduct business between the two, they could not get it done. That has a cost as well.
Businesses want predictability. Sometimes uniformity across the country is actually helpful to business. We only have to look to our neighbours to the south, the United States, for an example. The U.S. federal government passed a bill, and then every single one of the states passed their own bills. Now they have uniformity with respect to the observance of Remembrance Day, which they call Veterans Day.
View Matthew Kellway Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Kellway Profile
2014-12-08 11:19 [p.10271]
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's speech. I am a bit concerned about the claims he has made for the fitness tax credits. In this day and age, certainly in my riding, a lot of constituents simply cannot afford to put their kids in sports programs. The leagues, while run very efficiently by volunteers, are expensive. The government has proposed to put pennies in the pockets of people who actually need dollars in order to put their kids in sports programs and reap all the benefits.
I worry about a bill of this nature. The member has talked of extravaganza and tax credits that, frankly, are not meaningful to a large proportion of Canadians. If we are serious about getting kids engaged in sports for all the great health and social reasons that flow from that, why is the government not doing something more meaningful to put real dollars back into the pockets of people these days who do not have them so their kids can participate?
View Guy Caron Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, this bill touches on relatively complex issues such as copyright, intellectual property, trademark rights and the ethical and legal challenges related to Internet regulations. There are many types of counterfeit products, and depending on the case, Canadians can suffer very different consequences. As with the Criminal Code, some infractions could endanger peoples' lives or safety, while others have economic consequences. When it comes right down to it, counterfeiting is a form of fraud and, like all fraud, sooner or later it will affect Canadians' quality of life.
The International Chamber of Commerce “puts the cost of lost tax revenue and additional welfare spending due to counterfeit goods up to USD 125 billion in developed countries alone. And 2.5 million jobs have been lost as a result of fake products.”
Globalization makes it easier for countries to engage in trade, thus considerably increasing the opportunities for this type of activity. The counterfeit products intercepted in Canada in 2012 and seized by the RCMP were worth nearly $40 million a year. That number has increased more than fivefold in the past 10 years, from $7.6 million in 2005 to $38 million in 2012.
By 2015, the International Chamber of Commerce expects the value of counterfeit goods globally to exceed $1.7 billion U.S. That is over 2% of the world's total current economic output.
The government introduced this bill on March 1, 2013, as Bill C-56. Interestingly, that very same day, the U.S. International Trade Administration published a report asking Canada to adopt specific measures in line with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement to combat counterfeiting in Canada. Specifically, it recommended that customs officers be given the necessary authority to intercept suspicious goods.
The problem is that Canada has not yet ratified the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement despite the fact that it signed the agreement on October 1, 2011. For its part, the European Parliament rejected the agreement, which means that neither the European Union nor any of its member states will be able to ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the United States and Europe, Canada seems to want to have its cake and eat it too by taking a vague position on the importance of combating this phenomenon without talking about the agreement specifically.
The American authorities can certainly suggest that the Canadian government improve its customs services and give them the authority they need to seize or at least intercept products that they suspect are counterfeit, but nothing can force the government to allocate the necessary resources. Without adequate training for officers and additional resources for inspection services, especially the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and customs, they can write whatever they want.
Not only do officers have to know all of the laws in addition to the Customs Act and details about trade agreements that have a bearing on these issues, they also have to have the expertise to recognize problematic situations and counterfeit goods. However, the government is cutting jobs and the agency's budget the same way it is cutting other departments and organizations.
We always get the same answer: the cuts are not affecting services. However, we must not kid ourselves. Border officers did not have these responsibilities before this bill was implemented, and with the staff cutbacks, there are fewer people doing the same amount of work. The agency was asked to cut back by at least 10%, as were all departments and agencies, which has resulted in a shortfall of over $140 million since 2012. The border officers' union said that some 1,000 jobs would be lost over the next few years as a result of those budget cuts.
In fact, that was one of the main criticisms of the members of the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, a not-for-profit group made up of individuals, businesses and associations that have joined forces to combat fraud, counterfeiting and copyright violations. In a letter to the Minister of Industry prior to the parliamentary committee's study of Bill C-8, which we are currently debating, the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network outlined five contentious issues in the bill, including the lack of resources.
The letter states, and I quote:
While the Bill empowers Canadian customs officers more than before, we are concerned that insufficient resources may be allocated to allow for effective enforcement by CBSA.
We fully agree that more powers need to be given to border services officers. However, they must know what their rights and responsibilities are, since they will have no legal supervision. The agency must also have the resources needed to train them and properly enforce this legislation.
The Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network is currently fulfilling its mandate by helping to train customs officers and members of various police forces to recognize fraud and counterfeit products. In committee, the group's representative expressed his frustration with staff turnover and layoffs. He said:
I'm continually frustrated by the fact that it's like a drop in the bucket. If we go to the Niagara Falls border and train 50 border guards, as we did last year, and then come back in three months, 50% of them have gone on to other jobs, and we start over again. It's very difficult to maintain a level of understanding of what products look like.
They need some help on their side, and we're willing to help them, but we don't have funding either.
Let us be clear: strengthening the rules and legislation on counterfeiting is a good idea, but we have to put words into action.
According to a number of witnesses, the financial burden that comes with penalties and the administrative costs of a seizure falls to the rights owners, who are already stung by the counterfeiting.They therefore become financially responsible for the legislation put in place to protect their rights. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology heard from several witnesses about that, including Michael Geist, Wayne Edwards and Martin Lavoie.
At the very least, I would like to cite part of the testimony by Michael Geist, who is well known in the field of digital law and copyright:
Further, detention of goods can be used to harm small Canadian businesses that could find the goods they are seeking to import detained, oftentimes by competitors. The absence of a misuse provision in this bill is particularly notable in this regard.
Those remarks were echoed by Martin Lavoie of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association:
...I would like to raise a number of concerns that we and our members have with the bill in its current form.
One of them is about the responsibility of the right holder—or in other words, the victim of counterfeiting—to pay the fees associated with the detention and destruction of goods. We do not understand the rationale for this.
We believe that the importers should be responsible for these costs, since they are the ones introducing these goods into our country in the first place. They should not be given a free ride. Where is the disincentive [for importers of counterfeit products] in that? Moreover, these costs, which will largely be incurred in court proceedings, are likely to be onerous and difficult to support for smaller companies that are the victims of counterfeiting. I know that you've heard this from other witnesses. We share this concern.
That is a concern that we on this side of the House also share. We are going to support this bill at third reading, but it is important to recognize that the bill still has shortcomings that were not corrected by the committee.
The NDP proposed nine amendments, which were all rejected. The only amendments that were accepted were technical amendments. This happens regularly in every committee when the Conservatives see certain flaws in their bills.
Like all opposition parties, our role as the official opposition is not only to oppose—which will not be the case with Bill C-8 since we are going to support it—but also to point out any significant flaws in the text and any negative effects that the government did not take into account when drafting and examining the bill. We therefore strongly criticize the government for failing to listen to the arguments made by the opposition.
We are going to support this bill, since it is a step in the right direction on the important issue of counterfeiting. Given that trade with our major trade partner, the United States, is fairly free, this is a way to coordinate our efforts in the fight against counterfeiting, a practice for which there is no justification. As I mentioned earlier, counterfeiting is a type of fraud that must be dealt with.
Will the government now put words into action? Will it provide the resources necessary to implement this bill and ensure that border and other officials responsible for identifying and seizing counterfeit goods can do their work effectively?
With regard to funding for these agencies, whether it be border services, food inspection or customs as a whole, the government still has a long way to go to ensure that Bill C-8 becomes law and that authorities have the strength and power to enforce it.
View Jonathan Tremblay Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, before getting to the meat of this subject, I would like to mark a sad anniversary today. Earlier in the day, we had the 50th time allocation motion imposed on us, the 50th gag order. In this 41st parliament, Tuesday, June 18 is a sad anniversary.
I recall bills on which I would have liked to have the opportunity to make my contribution and to present a different perspective on the debate, one that came from the constituents in my riding, but I could not do that because, unfortunately, a time allocation motion was imposed and curtailed the debate.
I am sure that as many members on the Conservative side as on the opposition side have found themselves in that situation in various debates.
In terms of the present bill, I would first like to say that it has changed for the better as it moved through the various stages of the legislative process. That is why I am going to vote in favour of this bill. It is not perfect. We wanted to make amendments that were rejected, but we have still been promised that this bill would be reviewed in five years to see whether it is working, as we hope it will.
Public safety and the attention that victims of crime receive are issues that had to be dealt with. We succeeded in addressing issues relating to the real consequences of the proposed changes and were careful to listen to experts and victims.
Public safety has to be considered. I agree that it is essential to keep our communities safe. However, we need to make sure that we abide by the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We had to be sure that the way we manage the cases of accused persons with mental illnesses is effective in treating mental disorders. I would therefore like to congratulate the legislators who wrote this bill, but mostly those who amended it, on the job they have done.
Numerous witnesses were consulted during and after the committee’s study. We took the time to listen to victims, families and our communities. We were thus able to have the bill amended to reflect some of the testimony given in committee, and I have to say I am reasonably satisfied with the final result.
It is nonetheless important to recall that the rules in the Criminal Code regarding mental disorders apply to a very small proportion of accused persons. It is always worthwhile to listen to debate in the House and to be able to ask questions afterward, I would note in passing.
A person who is deemed unfit to stand trial or found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder must appear before a provincial or territorial review board, which decides on a plan of action. The person is therefore neither convicted nor acquitted. Once again, this is an extremely limited number of individuals. Some of them have not committed serious crimes.
Concerns had been voiced about the bill at first. We had to make sure that we did not exacerbate the public’s fears for no reason. We also had to be sure not to hinder the reintegration of individuals found to be not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. We undertook a proper examination of the Criminal Code provisions relating to mental disorders, an issue that is important to many Canadians. Some recent cases that received heavy media coverage have also cast doubt on the effectiveness of the current approach, and the bill fixes some of those flaws in terms of victims’ rights.
Bill C-54 also deals with victims’ participation in the process. The ideas put forward are taking us in the right direction. In the NDP, we wanted to know, before anything else, how we could assist victims in this process. One thing the bill provides is for victims to be informed when an accused is released and for the accused to be prohibited from communicating with their victim, and for the safety of victims to be considered when decisions are made about an accused person.
I have no problem with these proposals. However, I have to say that more will need to be done to assist victims. The Conservatives have often applied the same formulas in the past. They complicate the judicial system, but they do not offer assistance for victims.
This bill, at least, is a first step in the right direction.
What else can we do? Catherine Latimer, of the John Howard Society of Canada, asks that more programs and services be offered to the victims of sexual abuse. In her view, the government should invest more in crime prevention. Prevention is something that is often lacking in the Conservative ideology. I totally agree with her.
Every year in Canada, the total cost of crime is at or near $100 billion. This is a huge bill for our society. With regard to individuals declared not criminally responsible on account of mental disorders, it is important to work with key players, such as the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, in order to prevent crimes.
There are costs associated with any amendment. Once again, it is the provinces that will have to pay the bill. It must be said that under the Conservatives we have grown accustomed to seeing the bill passed on to other levels. They really like to pass legislation and then let others pay for it. They also like applying legislation according to their own ideology, without consulting the provinces. I am starting to wonder whether this is not a centralizing government after all. Perhaps the Conservatives are centralizers.
With regard to provincial prisons in Canada, the provincial and territorial governments are already forced to do what they can with the pointless reforms passed by the Conservatives.
I am not saying that any change to the Criminal Code is pointless. It is even necessary to have certain provisions, or at least consider them. In any case, I will be voting in favour of the bill. Nonetheless, certain changes made by the Conservatives have not improved safety in our communities. The only thing they have managed to do is to bog the system down even more.
Can the Conservatives tell us if they now have a financing scheme that will enable the provinces to implement the changes proposed in Bill C-54? I would really like to have an answer to this question.
It is necessary to make sure that the provinces and territories will never again receive a bill that they do not have the resources to pay. The government could thereby learn from its mistakes and at least accompany its reforms with compensation for the provinces. We can all agree that it is very easy to pass legislation when you do not have to pay to implement it. Basically, it is a simple matter of justice.
Over the past few months, the members of the NDP have spoken with experts on mental illness, victims, as well as the provinces to find it out what approach they think would be the best. We did not indulge in political games. We have concentrated on the most important thing, that is, on the study of the merits of this policy, a policy that, we must remember, must come with adequate funding by the federal government.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the fact that public safety must be protected as a priority, with due regard to the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is also essential to consider the needs of the victims. The bill does respond to these concerns.
With regard to the elements that raise concerns and the amendments put forward by the NDP, including clarification of the term “brutal”, amendments that in any case were not accepted by the government, there is at least a guarantee that we will be able to study the bill again in five years’ time, when we will be able to see the benefits and the positive impact of the change.
The NDP is not unwilling to change. We have done our homework, and we have managed to improve the bill. I recognize how much work we put into studying this bill and this is why I will be voting in favour of it.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this bill today, and with a lot of relief, in that the government seems to be in an even greater rush to pass this bill and has trampled right over our co-operation in this case.
I want to review the timing that we are dealing with. This legislation was introduced on December 11, 2012, just before the Christmas break, so unfortunately it could not be dealt with at second reading until we came back.
It was dealt with at second reading on February 12, 2013. Then it was sent to committee. At committee, the government moved a motion suggesting that we should deal with the committee and hear our witnesses within four weeks.
We in the NDP agreed to that motion. We accepted a motion to limit our time in committee and to bring this back to the House in a timely fashion, so it came back here on March 26.
The first day of debate was less than a week ago. What we intended to do on this side of the House was to point out our concerns about the bill, but not to hold up this bill unnecessarily.
What we got was two speakers on the bill before the government decided it was time for time allocation. No one had threatened to put up every single member on the opposition side to speak, but we did have members who wished to speak on the bill.
I did hear some of the minister's comments on the imposition of time allocation, and I frankly cannot understand them. He was saying that we did not move any amendments at committee and that therefore we must have nothing to say.
At committee, we agreed to a number of witnesses so that we could bring this bill back in good time, have the debate and pass it in a timely fashion. In a way, what I heard the minister saying is that when we try to co-operate on the bill, he is going to punish us for that as well by restricting debate in the House. The comments from the Minister of Public Safety were nonsensical.
The member for Crowfoot, the chair of the public safety committee, acknowledged in his very good speech that we worked together in committee to talk about the problems with the bill but that we had agreed that the bill had taken too long to get here. The NDP has been calling for action on the witness protection program since 2007.
We agreed not to go into an extensive process of disagreement over amendments and call a lot of other witnesses. We agreed to get this back here because we on this side of the House do believe that there are improvements in this bill sufficient to allow it to proceed.
It is hard for me to understand how the minister could say we have nothing to say when he has not heard us yet. It is one of those odd comments: “The opposition must have nothing to say about this bill; therefore, we will not let them speak.”
Before the session this morning, I was very privileged to speak to a group of young, very politically active gay students, organized by Jer's Vision. There were two members of Parliament there, and we were explaining to them that we would have to leave and come to the House in order to discuss and vote on a motion.
They asked what the motion was, and I have to say it was embarrassing to say to these students who are very involved in learning about politics and democracy that we were going to vote on cutting off debate for the 38th time.
The response from those students was, “But is it not your job as a representative to go there and speak? How can they suggest you should not have the right to go there and speak? Is it not your job to bring up criticism to the government? How can they say you should not have the opportunity to do that?”
It was clear that even those who are very new to the political process seem to have a basic understanding of what we are doing here in debates in the House of Commons, which is representing our constituents and bringing forward alternative points of view. It is not always about the technicalities of a piece of legislation. It is not always about amendments.
We heard the member for Newton—North Delta talking about the concerns in her riding, both with the Air India tragedy and with youth gangs and youth violence. She has a very important perspective to bring forward on this bill. It is not about amending the bill; it is about getting the public to understand the importance of the bill and the fact that on this side of the House we think there are further things we could do in this area.
Bill C-51 is not the be-all and end-all for witness protection; it is the beginning of some reforms that we need to make.
Again, it is very difficult to face, 38 times, a government that seems addicted to shortcuts. We have seen how taking those shortcuts has got the government into trouble on other things. Examples are the chief of staff to the Prime Minister and the Senate. It is not always a good idea to adopt the shortcuts.
However, here we are again. To me, that is what closure is, an attempt to shortcut the process and shortcut democracy. The government is saying, “We have a majority. We know what is best. We are just going to do it anyway, so you on the opposition side should be quiet, get out of the way and let us go.” The government does this even when we are co-operating to get the bill through this House of Commons in the best form possible.
It does not make any sense to me.
I do not mean to belittle or diminish the importance of the word “addiction”, because I know many people in our society have severe addiction problems, but it does seem like an addiction when it happens 38 times, 5 times in one week, and this week it even happened twice in one day. It seems like a solution in search of a problem. Everything that comes up has that same solution.
I have heard other members use that old adage, that when all one has is a hammer everything looks like a nail. However, it is not true in this House that the only thing the government has is closure. The Conservatives could actually come in and engage in debates and represent their constituents, and we could still get the public's business done in good time. So I am very disappointed that we have time allocation on this.
As the critic, I was travelling with the public safety committee last week. I almost did not get a chance to speak to the bill, and I am supposed to be the NDP's spokesperson on it. Only two speakers spoke. We had less than an hour and a half of debate in this chamber before time allocation was used again, for the 38th time.
Turning to the substance of the bill, I will talk first about why the NDP is supporting this bill, and then I will talk about what we see as the deficiencies in the bill.
First, as many members have noted, probably the easiest thing to understand is that the witness protection program, as it exists, has very narrow criteria for its admission, and it left out the important areas of national security. In an age when we are faced with the threat of terrorism and we are trying to combat that threat, being unable to offer witness protection to those in national security matters is an important gap in our legislation. Therefore, we on this side do support Bill C-51 because it would take that important step to allow the Department of National Defence and CSIS to recommend people to the witness protection program. This may be a very useful tool for those investigating and prosecuting terrorism cases. The other area in which I believe the criteria would be expanded is that it would explicitly allow the use of witness protection for those involved with gangs. Some members on the other side insist that this was always possible, but it certainly was not explicit. This legislation would provide that reassurance that we can use the witness protection program, which may be essential in cracking some gang activity.
The second aspect which is very positive and which has received much less attention is that it would provide better protection for those staff who are involved in the witness protection program in providing things like new identities. In particular, if witness protection is used, as it often is, in the case of organized crime, if members of organized crime are trying to find out what has happened to that witness, they may attempt, and have attempted, to learn who provided the new documents, and then place pressure on that public servant or that public servant's family in order to get access to the new name that was provided to someone and find out where he or she is. Therefore, this bill very clearly would provide additional protection to those other staff members outside the police who often facilitate the witness protection program, and that would be a very important improvement.
Third, one of the things we in the NDP have always been calling for is better co-operation and coordination of witness protection with the provinces. This bill would make it very clear and would remove some of those legal hurdles that made it difficult for the provinces to make use of witness protection. In particular, it made it difficult for those who, at the provincial level, wanted to use witness protection to get new documents quickly for those who needed a new identity for their protection. This bill would do a very good job in setting up the ability to designate provincial programs and would remove a lot of that red tape for co-operation between the two programs.
The fourth reason that I believe this bill is worth supporting is that it would extend the period provided for emergency protection for those who may need witness protection. This a formal program where people are assessed and their lives are completely reorganized. However, quite often there is an intervening period before they are formally in the program, when people may not even have yet given their testimony, when they need this protection. That originally was 90 days but it would now be 180 days. Given the delays in our justice system, it is very important that we expand the ability to have this emergency protection.
Why is the NDP providing support to a bill that it does not think is perfect? I have given four reasons at this point. They are the expanded criteria, the broader protection of staff working in witness protection, better coordination and the extended emergency period. We think that is enough to proceed with this bill and on that basis, we did agree to expedite the bill. We co-operated at committee and said yes, we can make our points in five meetings of the committee and we will do that.
However, we did not expect, in return for that co-operation, to have our ability to comment on the bill cut off at third reading through time allocation. If I had been dealing directly with the minister, I would have said it was a case of bad faith. However, I was dealing with the parliamentary secretary and the committee chair. I think they entered into that co-operation on good faith and they may, in fact, be as surprised as I am to find that time allocation was needed for a bill on which the opposition was co-operating.
What do we think is remaining that could have been in this bill? There are two things that I want to focus on. One of those was raised by the member for Newton—North Delta, and that was the recommendations of the Air India inquiry. At the end of the inquiry, Mr. Justice Major pointed to the very obvious thing that had happened, which was that one of his key witnesses in the inquiry had been assassinated. He was killed. Obviously, he could have been able to make use of the witness protection program, although knowing Mr. Hayer as I did, he was a very brave individual and I doubt he would have gone into the witness protection program. He had been threatened many times. He had also actually been physically harmed many times before he was eventually killed.
However, there were other witnesses, as Mr. Justice Major said, who would have gone into the witness protection program had it been available. This bill took that first step by expanding the criteria. What it did not do, which Mr. Justice Major recommended, was establish an independent authority, perhaps in the Ministry of Justice, but somewhere outside the RCMP, to determine the eligibility for entry into the witness protection program.
If we think for a minute, most people can figure out the problem here. The RCMP is doing the investigating of these cases. At the same time, it is the group that decides whether a person gets into the witness protection program. It creates an obvious conflict of interest when the investigators can dangle or hold out the acceptance or rejection from the witness protection program in front of the witness. Therefore, Mr. Justice Major's recommendation was that there be some independent agency within government, but not within the RCMP, that would make those decisions on witness protection. It did not have to be some completely separate agency.
We did not move amendments in that case, as we said, to expedite the bill, but also for a second reason. The RCMP recognized the spirit of that recommendation and it has now separated the decision of witness protection from the investigators. It is not a perfect solution, and we will see how it works, but going forward, the investigators will not make the decisions on the investigations. There will be a separate office within the RCMP Commissioner's office, which will make the decisions on acceptance into witness protection.
It is a step forward, but on this side, we think that when someone as distinguished as Mr. Justice Major makes a recommendation in a very critical area, we probably should have pursued it.
There are several other things that I could talk about, but I will only focus on a second one. That is the question of funding. This is not a budget bill, so we are not saying on the question of funding that the bill should have allocated x dollars to the witness protection program. However, I want to quote from the minister's statement when he introduced the bill, because it did raise a very big red flag. He said:
It is important to note that it is not anticipated that there would be any need for additional funding to accommodate this change. The program is currently funded by the RCMP from existing operational resources, and that will remain the same under Bill C-51.
That would be okay, except that it ignores one very large problem, which is that he is only talking about the witness protection program operated by the RCMP. When any other police force in the country uses the witness protection program, it is billed back for the entire cost of the program. If the provincial police in Quebec or Ontario or a municipal police force uses the witness protection program, it is going to get a bill.
Therefore, the witnesses we heard before committee were the RCMP's, saying that they did not have a problem with the budget and that they have never denied anyone using this program. However, we had some other witnesses, who the government ignored. I want to take a bit of time to mention one of those: the RCMP.
The RCMP website states, “There are instances when the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies.” The minister said that we have no problem with funding. The RCMP states that while it does not, other police forces do have problems with funding of the witness protection program.
We had a very persuasive witness who is the vice-chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners. Her name is Micki Ruth. I want to take a moment to tell members what she had to say about this funding question. It is an extensive quote. I do not normally read extensive quotes in my speeches, but this is worth listening to.
Commissioner Ruth stated:
Like many issues facing government today, funding is one of the biggest and toughest ones to find solutions for. The problems identified back in 2007 with the adequacy of funding for the current witness protection program are not addressed in Bill C-51. Unfortunately, we see problems with the ability of municipality police [forces] to adequately access witness protection because they lack the resources.
I want to emphasize that while we [the Canadian Association of Police Boards] support the intent of Bill C-51, CAPB has a duty to its members to ensure that legislation passed by the government does not result in a downloading of additional costs to the municipal police services that we represent. This is an important element of our work on the economics of policing, a subject with which you are already very familiar.
Therefore we urge you to appreciate our position that unless the issue of adequate funding is addressed, the legislation will not produce the result that is intended.
That important testimony that we heard at committee contradicts what the minister had to say when he introduced the legislation. It draws attention to the fact that not just small police forces but police forces in Halifax, Toronto or Victoria, my own community, do often face this tough question. Could they make progress in a very serious investigation by using the witness protection program? We would need a big bill. Can they really afford to take on organized crime and gang crime in their community if they would get several hundred thousand dollars billed back? There is no mistake about it. The witness protection program is not a one-time cost. It is an ongoing cost for those police departments. They do not just get one bill. As long as those witnesses are in witness protection, they will get bills for any of the costs associated with that. The initial costs are high and the ongoing costs are lower. Nevertheless, it is something they have to think about when making a decision on what kind of crimes they can successfully investigate in their community.
When the minister, in imposing time allocation, said that we had nothing to say, I am afraid what he meant was that he was afraid of what we might say if we had the chance to debate the bill.
The minister said at committee that no concerns were raised. With due respect, the minister was not present at all the committee sessions and seems to have a faulty memory because when he did appear at committee we did ask him about these concerns. These concerns were raised at committee. Therefore, if he does not have a faulty memory, then perhaps he has a selective memory about what happened in committee with respect to this bill.
It is frustrating for the opposition when we say to the government that we are prepared to work with it and try to get a bill through in an expeditious manner to then have the minister stand up in the House and say that somehow we are dragging our feet and that we are ragging the puck on the bill when what we want to do is make the public aware of the issues that remain outstanding.
We will be supporting the bill and will work to move it through Parliament, not instantly and not without debate but in an expeditious manner. The bill will have been passed in very few months. Had the government introduced it earlier in the term it would already be enacted. However, for some reason, even though it was aware of the concerns from 2007, it only brought the legislation forward just before the Christmas break of 2012. Therefore, if anyone is responsible for delays in getting this bill passed and getting these important improvements made to the witness protection program, unfortunately it is the government that will have to take responsibility for that.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, the member for Kootenay—Columbia was an RCMP officer, and I know he knows a lot about this on the ground. There is a sense in which I agree with the comment he just made, and it is in fact reinforcing our point. That is what we heard from police services at the municipal level. They do understand there is going to be a cost. However, what they also said is that it sometimes makes them make decisions based on that cost factor. This is what they told us. The member can shake his head, but this is what they said in testimony before the committee, that they are sometimes constrained. Even the RCMP website on the witness protection program has a statement saying that for smaller police agencies, costs often impose constraints.
There is a sense that police understand that when they are taking on the witness protection program there is a cost, but sometimes it affects their decisions. When the benefits come, they come to society as a whole for breaking down gangs. They do not just come perhaps to the Victoria police force, in my case, but maybe to everybody who lives on Vancouver Island, yet they have to make the decision to shoulder those costs themselves.
View Guy Caron Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here to debate Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.
As many of my colleagues have mentioned, we will support this bill at third reading, but not without reservations, because a number of the questions we raised in committee at second reading remain unanswered.
We see enough progress in this bill to support it. However, it would be nice if the government members, especially those who are making speeches, would answer our questions at third reading. I will come back to this.
The government is relying more and more on the principle of disclosure to obtain information in order to enforce its laws properly. Whether in relation to its tax policies, public health or the criminal justice system, the general public is a valuable ally in helping the government anticipate and manage crisis situations.
The people who witness a wrongdoing play a key role in reporting, solving or preventing an offence or a crime. These people live in the constant fear of reprisal and feel that disclosing what they know will turn their lives upside down. They must be treated with respect, since they are risking a lot to protect others.
That is why this bill has been generally well received. It will better address the needs of these people who often reluctantly become involved in investigations related to national security.
This is somewhat of a delayed reaction from the Conservatives, since the bill was designed in 1985 to address some concerns raised by the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. I would like to quote one of the commission's findings:
A failure to provide adequate protection for witnesses threatens their safety and, sometimes, their lives. It discourages others from helping intelligence or police agencies. In the end, poorly designed witness protection measures can rob the justice system of crucial assistance.
Better late than never, though. We are happy that the government has listened to our calls to expand the witness protection program.
The ability to protect witnesses was one of the main reasons—one of them—the Air India investigation was mishandled. It was certainly mishandled. One witness, Tara Singh Hayer, the publisher of the Times of India, a newspaper in British Columbia, was assassinated. This meant that the statement he gave under oath to the RCMP seven years earlier, in 1995, was deemed inadmissible. Other witnesses refused to participate in the investigation in 2007 because they feared for their safety. I do not blame them.
At the time, Justice Major admitted that he was not able to give witnesses the protection they needed. The authorities must understand the importance of these people and the magnitude of what they are doing. Chapter 8 of the commission's report stated:
Witness protection also involves developing a “culture of security” within the institutions that reflects an awareness of the real risks to those who assist the authorities in guarding against terrorism.
A number of recent events have focused attention on the serious problem of information sharing between the various organizations involved in national security activities, including the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, various departments and provincial and local police forces.
This problem was mentioned in the Air India commission report:
The processes and procedures by which decisions are made as to what information should be passed exchanged between the intelligence and law enforcement communities are seriously flawed and require substantial revision.
This problem still exists and is the reason behind this bill's objectives. Witnesses must be guaranteed protection so that information can be gathered and a crisis or crime prevented or managed. The sharing of that information amongst the various intelligence and security forces and governments transcends the whole issue of national security.
In the case of Air India, for example, some testimony was called into question, and various authorities had the different pieces of evidence or testimony in their possession. The commission concluded that:
Government agencies were in possession of significant pieces of information that, taken together, would have led a competent analyst to conclude that Flight 182 was at high risk of being bombed by known Sikh terrorists in June 1985.
The handling of sources and sharing of information is a key element, one that is central to the objective of this bill, yet no consideration is given to it in this bill, despite reports such as the Air India commission report, which is more than 20 years old, I might add.
I would like to quote some of the commission's other findings concerning the sharing of information. It is worth quoting them because they are at the heart of the problem that this bill will resolve, albeit quite imperfectly. Here are some excerpts from the commission's report:
The institutional arrangements and practices of information-gathering agencies were wholly deficient in terms of internal and external sharing of information, as well as analysis.
CSIS failed to include important information, such as the Duncan Blast, in the threat assessments it provided to the RCMP and Transport Canada.
The RCMP wasted resources creating a threat assessment structure parallel to CSIS'. The RCMP structure was itself ineffective—it failed to identify, report, and share threat information.
I have some more excerpts from the commission report:
The RCMP failed to transmit the June 1st Telex, warning about the possibility of bombing with time-delayed devices in June 1985, to either CSIS or to Transport Canada.
Excessive secrecy in information sharing prevented any one agency from obtaining all necessary information to assess the threat. Excessive secrecy also prevented those on the frontlines from obtaining information necessary to put in place security measures responsive to the threat.
There was a lack of cooperation and communication within the RCMP and between RCMP, Transport Canada and airlines in relation to airport security.
I will go on with some more excerpts:
Although Air India was operating under an elevated threat level, CP Air (the airline upon which the bomb was loaded in Vancouver) was not informed of this fact and was operating under normal security protocols.
On June 22, 1985, the security level in force at Pearson and Mirabel airports called for the use of an RCMP explosives detection dog (EDD). That weekend, however, all RCMP EDD teams were in Vancouver for training, leaving the Toronto airport without any coverage.
I will close with some other excerpts from the same report:
CSIS often failed to disclose promptly to the RCMP information relevant to the criminal investigation, particularly information from human sources, or it disclosed information without sufficient detail or in a manner that prevented the RCMP from using the information.
CSIS was mesmerized by the mantra that “CSIS doesn’t collect evidence,” and used it to justify the destruction of raw material and information. CSIS erased the tapes that caught coded conversations possibly related to the planning of the bombing, and CSIS investigators destroyed their notes that recorded the information CSIS sources provided in relation to the Air India bombing. Both of these actions compromised the prosecution’s evidentiary position at trial.
The RCMP failed to appropriately protect sources and witnesses.
And finally:
The RCMP, at times, failed to take threats against Tara Singh Hayer seriously.
This sharing of information must occur between the federal and the provincial levels, since many provinces have their own witness protection programs.
Greater collaboration between the two levels of government would not only ensure better service to witnesses and sources, but also provide for more effective management of the intelligence services. Bill C-51 now under discussion would address this issue, but only partly.
From now on, more individuals will be eligible for the program. The bill also provides for recognition of provincial programs in place—meaning that some provisions of the act will apply to these programs. The bill also authorizes the Commissioner of the RCMP to work with the appropriate federal and provincial departments and agencies to facilitate the change of identity of persons admitted to the program. This is great news, as witnesses and sources will not have to submit a second application to the federal program to be eligible. Indeed, their files may simply be transferred between programs.
Despite this important addition, a problem remains. Where a provincial protection program is in place, local police forces may have to cover the costs of the investigation even when that investigation is federal in nature and the RCMP is involved. That is one of our major concerns about this bill. We agree with the spirit of the bill but, if the resources are not available, it will be extremely difficult to move in the right direction. The government is trying to reassure us, but we have still not received clear answers to the many questions that have been asked, particularly those asked by the official opposition.
It is not surprising that, although “the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies”—and that is a direct quote from the RCMP website—Bill C-51 does not provide for any new funding for the program. This issue is not addressed in the bill.
When the bill was introduced in December 2012, the Minister of Public Safety said, “[o]ur Government is committed to keeping our streets and communities safe. An effective and reliable witness protection program is valuable in the fight against crime, especially organized crime and terrorism”.
We also want citizens to feel safe. Still, I really do not see how the government can claim that the bill will be another instrument to accomplish this, since the program will be expanded but the resources will remain the same. If the Conservatives really want to improve the witness protection program, they must commit more funding in order to achieve their goals.
The opposition has asked many questions of various government spokespeople. We keep coming back to the question of resources. The answers we are getting are not really answers. The government says we should trust it. Apparently, the Canadian Police Association told the government that it has sufficient resources. Nevertheless, local police forces say they do not have the resources they need. The RCMP's website says, and I repeat the quote, “There are instances when the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies.” That is what the RCMP says.
Unfortunately, the government has not allocated additional resources that might make it possible to respond to the RCMP's concern. There may be some former police officers and police chiefs among the Conservative MPs, but that alone does not address the basic question: if there are not enough resources to enforce Bill C-51's provisions and improvements, how can the situation get better? We would like an answer to this question or at least an assurance that the government members will agree to commit more resources if necessary as Bill C-51 is implemented.
Another element I have already mentioned and which is worth repeating concerns the Air India inquiry's recommendations. We have said several times that few of the recommendations in the commission's report have been implemented. One of the primary recommendations from the inquiry was that the process for entering the program be transparent and subject to more rigorous accountability. Bill C-51, which we are currently studying, skips right over that issue.
I hope the government will give us answers to our questions later. That is why we are having this debate.
We all agree, and all parties in the House have already indicated that they would vote in favour of Bill C-51 at third reading, because it is an improvement over the current situation. Still, we would like the government to take our concerns seriously and do something about them.
Having an eligibility process that is more transparent, rigorous and accountable should also be a concern for the government.
We have still heard no answers even though the questions have been repeated over and over. We will continue to debate Bill C-51 this evening. We will continue to ask questions until we get answers from the government.
I have a question that is rather significant. It is possible to have the best intentions in the world and want to improve the situation. However, we are now in a context where the government is making cuts to various services, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Unfortunately that has very negative consequences.
The issue of witness protection and keeping witnesses safe should be taken seriously because these people have often put their lives in danger in order to do their civic duty.
I do not want to see the government strutting about in public, in front of the media, saying that it is taking care of witness safety, that it is looking after victims, and using that as a non-partisan issue when, really, these provisions will have no teeth because there is no money behind them. Money is crucial. In this bill, it is essential to give police forces the resources they need.
We want a commitment, here and now, on these additional resources. If it is not here and now, we would like to have it by the end of the debate.
I eagerly await the questions I will be asked in about an hour, after private members' business.
View Craig Scott Profile
NDP (ON)
View Craig Scott Profile
2013-05-30 19:44 [p.17406]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying what I think has been fairly clear in the contributions from colleagues all along, that the NDP will be supporting the bill.
Bill C-51 does some important things, and nobody is going to claim that it does not. In particular, it adds to the categories of folks who might eventually receive witness protection. For example, those who have been assisting agencies in the federal security or defence or safety realms are added, as well as those associated with them: friends, family, et cetera, who may also need protection. There are any number of contexts that we could all refer to and know about that indicate that witness protection, if anything, is a growing need on the law enforcement side of government.
The Air India inquiry was one of the contexts in which we heard that the national security context was a gap in the system. Surely that has to be the case with other forums and other terrorism investigations, which cannot be much different.
The member for Oxford spoke very well about the burgeoning transnational nature of organized crime and how it is becoming more and more sophisticated, which has been a trend line for decades. Law enforcement is always playing catch-up in the role of witnesses to somehow or other get ahead of the game, and the witness protection program must surely be very important there.
One area that is very important to those of us from more concentrated urban areas is the whole question of street gangs and especially youth gangs. How is it that we can actually break the codes of silence, encourage witnesses to come forward, such as in the Danzig shootings that took place in Scarborough not so long ago? Also, how is it that we can use the witness protection program as part of a broader strategy in getting youth out of that environment?
Nobody is contesting that the bill, as far as it goes, is a good bill and deserves to be supported. Nobody is saying that the context is not one that presents a crying need.
That said, working briefly through three themes, I would like to suggest that the bill does not go nearly far enough when it could have, which is the problem. We have had many years of warning. The NDP started in 2007, and we had reports from 2008 on, saying that the system needed to be upgraded. With the upgrading of the system at the level of effectiveness, we have heard all kinds of concerns, including about funding and the need for an independent agency from the RCMP to be involved. We know from the various interventions that have occurred already that those elements really were not addressed, and so it is a lost opportunity. At some level I would like to think of this as sort of a battle between the real and the rhetorical.
We also went through this recently with respect to Bill C-37, the increasing offenders' accountability for victims act, which I was involved with when I was on the justice committee. The NDP also supported this bill, despite considerable concerns we had that it was totally avoiding any federal public support philosophy for victims and instead was trusting in sort of a combination of surcharges that offenders would pay—and many of them would not be in a position to pay—and provincial programs that were a patchwork quilt and often nonexistent across the country. However, the government at that time presented that bill as making a major contribution to support for victims when it was largely devoid of any kind of a federal role with respect to true victim support programs.
However, again, we supported that bill. It was not because we thought it was the greatest bill in the world, but it was because it added something. Although we had some problems at the level of rights protections, we ultimately felt those could be worked out down the line.
This is why I have joined with the mother of a murdered youth from Toronto—Danforth, Joan Howard, whose son Kempton was murdered 10 years ago literally around the corner from my house. He was murdered by handgun. He was a youth worker who contributed in amazing ways to his community. His mother is of the view that we need to focus more on the needs of victims when it comes to the kinds of public support mechanisms that we associate with other causes, which are the kinds of support mechanisms people need, such as psychological support and social service support.
The supports are needed not just for the immediate victims who survived crime, but quite often for their families—maybe even more often, especially when it is violent crime that has taken a life. It is true that provinces jurisdictionally have the responsibility for this, but the specific link to crime means that the kind of victimhood that occurs because of crime is really not taken into account for the most part in most provinces. We get to legislate the Criminal Code and a bunch of other areas of criminal law through other statutes up here, but we kind of back off when it comes to how we deal with the consequences of crime. Somehow, that becomes purely a matter of another jurisdictional level.
At some point, the federal government has to, obviously under an initiative from Parliament, really catch up to other countries that take public victim support programs a lot more seriously than we do, rather than simply downloading costs on offenders and provinces and thinking that somehow or other we have accomplished the task. I see this bill as falling a bit into the same trap. It would do a fair bit that is important, but at the level of making sure the system functions in a way that all witnesses who need protection will be protected—which is a goal that is necessary for making sure all crime that can be prosecuted is prosecuted—then it is a bill that would fall short.
Therefore, I move on to the second thing, which has been emphasized a lot: funding. The government MPs are focusing often on comments coming from government witnesses, including RCMP witnesses, before the committee; basically comments saying that the funding is adequate. I will read an example that has been read, at least in part, by others. This is from assistant commissioner Todd Shean of the RCMP. He said, “We will immediately increase resources. We have increased the resources allocated to our witness protection unit”, and he goes on to say then, “I am confident that we have the means to manage the program effectively”.
What is the problem here? First, he speaks of “...our witness protection unit”. Of course, the RCMP has its own costs, runs its own program and sometimes assumes all the costs because it is an entire RCMP or federal investigation that the witness protection program is latching onto. It is good to know that he is projecting an increase in resources, but there is no reference here, or recognition even, to the provincial or local police force costs associated with witness protection programs. These levels of government, provincial and municipal, and more particularly their police forces, are charged for the costs.
The member for Oxford made it clear to us that of course costs are saved for police forces. I am not saying that is not true, but ultimately when there are costs that are not simply the costs from the fact that there is an overall system that they can tap into, they get billed for it. What we know is that there is already a problem with funding for these levels. In 2007, this was pointed out. We are in 2013, and there was no evidence before the committee that it has changed. There was clear and persuasive testimony before the committee on this, and I will return to some of it as I end.
However, let me first go back to the RCMP. Its own website states, “There are instances when the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies”. What is the second problem with this, apart from the fact that it really probably is only focusing on the RCMP's own costs? The second problem is that none of this is actually a budgetary commitment from the government. It does not indicate anything more than that the RCMP sees increases in resources, and it is no small irony that this is the case when we know that we are in budget season, and that it would not have been a big deal to coordinate this bill with a very clear budget line item indicating that there would be adequate budgetary support for our partners in crime prevention, the provinces and the municipalities. Every million dollars counts; I recognize that. However, a $9-million budget for the last fiscal year for the witness protection program is not exactly a huge budget when we know, from all the testimony before the committee, mostly from police services boards, that there is a need.
I do not think we should end this debate thinking that by having what might be unanimous support for the bill, we have somehow addressed the issue of resources. I would much prefer it if my colleagues across the way would say that the bill does something and is important—we are supporting them on that, let us take that as a given—but let us not throw a cloak over it and pretend we have solved the whole problem.
View Matthew Dubé Profile
NDP (QC)
View Matthew Dubé Profile
2013-05-30 20:29 [p.17412]
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-51. Fortunately, I have the time to do that, despite the fifth time allocation motion in five days and the thirty-eighth since the beginning of this Parliament.
Since this is my first opportunity to speak to this bill, I want to point out that this morning, the Minister of Public Safety stated that everyone was in agreement on this bill and that since no amendments had been put forward, a debate was pointless. Yet I have been here since early evening and I have been listening to a very interesting discussion on available resources and on the next steps to be taken in the area of witness protection, which is the focus of Bill C-51. This underscores the importance of having a debate to bring these problems to light. Even if these are not settled this time around, at least we will be able to proceed with due diligence in future.
That said, to echo the words of my colleagues, I want to say that the NDP will be supporting this bill since it favours improvements to the witness protection program. Many criticisms have been levelled against the program since it was first introduced in 1996. To finally see the government make some improvements is a positive step, even if it has taken far too long, in our opinion. We will therefore be voting in favour of this bill.
However, as I said, a number of problem areas were discussed this evening. I would like to focus on a few of them.
The first one is very important and may seem rather ironic to some extent, since it concerns witness protection. This bill disregards an important recommendation contained in the report released in the wake of the Air India tragedy. This recommendation focused on the transparency, review and accountability of the program.
It is important because, as I said earlier this evening when I put a question to one of my colleagues, the RCMP oversees the witness protection program, but often it ends up investigating the very same individuals at the same time. Often these persons are also implicated in the crimes in question. Therefore, there is a conflict of interest, so to speak, and that can be a problem.
Therefore, accountability and transparency mechanisms need to be put in place. This is extremely important in order to ensure that the RCMP acts properly. I want to stress that this is not a criticism of the RCMP's work, which is excellent. The members of the RCMP are deserving of our praise, but at the same time, in a society like ours, it is vitally important to have in place mechanisms to ensure transparency.
This is one of the important problems highlighted, particularly since this recommendation was contained in a report drafted in the wake of events having to do with witness protection. There is no reason why the government could not include these mechanisms in this bill. We hope to see this happen in the future.
The other major problem is obviously the issue of resources, which has been noted repeatedly. This is interesting because the Conservative Party member who preceded me said that all the NDP wanted was resources and spending. However, what is funny is that we in fact want to avoid burying the provinces and municipalities under more expenses. We are facilitating co-operation between the RCMP and local and provincial authorities. If we improve co-operation and expand witness protection admission criteria, more people will actually enter the program. Consequently, more spending will be incurred. That seems obvious to me.
The question thus arises as to who will absorb those costs. The RCMP, of course, already has resources, but municipal and provincial authorities will receive more applications and will accept more of them as a result of more flexible criteria, and they will have to cover the necessary costs.
However, municipal and provincial authorities are very concerned. We know they are because that is what we heard in committee. The RCMP is not concerned because it says it has the necessary resources, and that is a good thing.
As for provincial and municipal authorities, as my colleague from Toronto—Danforth said, everything will depend on how the federation is managed, how the government works under collaborative federalism.
I think it is a major problem for the government to introduce a bill when there has been very little consultation, knowing that it will result in additional costs. That is one of the criticisms we want to make.
I will conclude by saying that we support the bill. However, we wanted to point out those two extremely significant deficiencies. However, we hope that we will be able to rectify the situation in future and that this will be a lesson to the government to co-operate more with local authorities so that they can lower their costs and not succumb to the effects of bills that, like this one, are introduced unilaterally.
View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I would like to state my objection to the suggestion by the member that anyone on this side was laughing about the program. I do not know where the idea came from. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 2007, the New Democrats have been calling for the government to take action on the Air India justice's recommendations.
Yes, it should be expeditious. We have been waiting six years. The government has finally brought it forward. Our members have co-operated fully, made good suggestions and been supportive all along.
As I understand it, one of the issues with costing is that on some occasions, and maybe more occasions now that the ambit has been extended to gangs, the costs for the witness protection program can be downloaded to local enforcement agencies. It is fine for the RCMP to say that it does not need any more funding and does not expect more referrals, which seems a little odd, given the fact that the whole point of expanding the program is so that there can be more referrals. Even if the RCMP does not anticipate that, I have worked in enforcement agencies myself and know that it is something one cannot anticipate. I wonder if the member could speak to that. Could she also speak to the fact that the Air India justice also recommended an independent agency to review this because of issues that arose, including at Air India, and why the government is so adamant that it does not want an independent agency?
View Jean Rousseau Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I would just like to point out to my colleague from Portage—Lisgar that I did not mean to laugh at the bill. In fact, these are very serious bills dealing with protection, privacy and, most importantly, public safety. I would never dream of laughing at that.
However, I am laughing because we are being accused of obstructing and delaying the work of Parliament. I cannot help but laugh since this is coming from a government that has imposed over 30 gag orders to shut down debate on bills. That is not very serious and that is why I laughed.
We were talking about funding for the program. Over the past few years, about 20 or 30 witnesses have been admitted to the program, whereas about 100 witnesses were on the list. Now, the criteria are being expanded, which is perfect. We really hope to see some changes to that.
That being said, if the criteria are expanded, more witnesses will need protection through the program, which will require funding. However, the RCMP and other police forces are facing cuts.
How are we going to pay for this? Will the provinces be responsible for part of the funding?
View Sadia Groguhé Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, strengthening the witness protection program will improve co-operation between local police forces and the RCMP. In terms of the fight against street gang violence, strengthening the program will make communities safer.
However, according to the RCMP website, there are instances when the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies.
How do the Conservatives plan to increase the funding for enforcement, while also taking into account the insecurity caused by street gangs?
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2013-05-23 16:37
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his well-balanced question, a question that recognizes that New Democrats are, indeed, standing up on this side of the House to protect witnesses and that it is something we feel strongly about, though we have some minor disagreements. The member will not be surprised that I have a minor disagreement with the numbers. I have 30 of 108.
I find the comments of the member on financing somewhat encouraging. One would hope that financing would come forward to ensure this.
Also, perhaps 30 of 108 is low because the admission to the program is so strict. That is part of our point, that we need to look at the criteria and make sure they are flexible enough to ensure that more people can take advantage of the program and the financing that the member across the aisle says is present.
View Jean Rousseau Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Pontiac on his excellent speech.
Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, would amend and update the witness protection program. Many people familiar with the system have been saying for a long time that it needs to be expanded and modernized.
On the other hand, the task is not an easy one, given the enormous changes that have occurred in computer espionage technology and the inexhaustible ways of obtaining information about people today. Just think of how many times a scandal has come to light where information was obtained more or less legally or a document containing information was lost. Similar things can happen when the time comes to protect witnesses in extremely important trials like the Air India trial.
We must not forget that criminal organizations are highly skilled at making arrangements to infiltrate various government and public agencies. Once again, how many times have we heard about a person who obtained information or managed to get their hands on a hard drive or CD containing encrypted information?
In the course of the fiscal year ending in March 2012, the federal witness protection program accepted only 30 applications out of 108, at a cost of just over $9 million. That is only 30% or 40% of applicants.
Once again, families and various players in the system have been saying for a long time that the program needs to be expanded because there are trials under way that cannot be completed because of a shortage of information and evidence.
For instance, in Quebec, evidence against criminal gangs is difficult to obtain because there are so many friends and family members. It is extremely difficult. As its short title indicates, the bill therefore redefines several provisions to make witnesses safer.
For example, it provides for the designation of a provincial or municipal witness protection program. It authorizes the RCMP commissioner to coordinate, at the request of an official of a provincial or municipal program, the activities of federal departments, agencies and services in order to facilitate a change of identity for persons admitted to the designated program.
This is extremely important, because when someone's identity is changed or a witness is assigned to a location, the municipality and province in question are responsible for that person and also for that person’s protection.
The bill adds prohibitions on the disclosure of information relating to persons admitted to provincial and municipal programs, to the means and methods by which witnesses are protected and to persons who provide or assist in providing protection.
Even RCMP and Quebec provincial police officers have told us that they or members of their family involved in the program are at risk. The program therefore needs to be broadened to ensure that everyone is protected.
The bill will also specify the circumstances under which disclosure of certain protected information is permitted. It exempts a person from any liability or other punishment for stating that they do not provide or assist in providing protection to witnesses or that they do not know that a person is protected under the program. It also expands the category of witnesses who may be admitted to the federal witness protection program to include persons who assist federal departments, agencies or services. This is extremely important.
It allows witnesses in the witness protection program to end their protection voluntarily. The testimony suggests that people sometimes ask to end their protection. They say everything is okay, that there is no problem. However, there were still some reservations about that.
The reverse is also being proposed, namely to extend the period during which protection may, in an emergency, be provided to a person who has not been admitted to the federal program or who would like to put an end to it in a situation where the federal program comes to an end. Finally, it also proposes to make a consequential amendment to another act, namely the Access to Information Act.
Bill C-51 proposes a better process to support provincial witness protection programs and expands the program to other agencies with national security responsibilities. This could mean a department, a municipality or an agency. They really need the support.
The bill will expand the protection program eligibility criteria by including street gang members and by accepting a new group of people who assist federal departments. Federal departments and agencies with a mandate related to national security, national defence or public safety would also be able to refer witnesses to the program.
The bill would extend the period for emergency protection, as I was saying, and clear up some of the technical problems that were occurring in relation to coordination with provincial programs. This is extremely important, because the lack of coordination between the stakeholders at the provincial, federal and municipal levels, especially in large municipalities such as Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, was causing serious problems.
There are also a few other changes, but there is one in particular that I find worth mentioning, specifically the change to the definition of “protection”. This definition would be replaced by the following in clause 3 of the bill:
...protection may include relocation, accommodation and change of identity [which is quite legitimate] as well as counselling and financial support for those or any other purposes in order to ensure the security of a person or to facilitate the person’s re-establishment or becoming self-sufficient.
This is extremely important. When you change someone's identity or place them in the protection program, at some point they will have to integrate into society and resume living their lives. This paragraph alone may have more financial implications than one might think.
What about loved ones? This is not clearly defined. It is one of the questions that remain to be answered. The loved ones of witnesses in the protection program are not clearly defined, if they are defined at all. Are they the immediate family, or more distant relatives? Are the gang members still considered loved ones? There is no way to be sure.
If the Conservatives truly want to improve the witness protection program, they should commit the money needed to implement the measure. They should also truly want to protect everyone involved in the program, including the officers, as I already mentioned. Officers have told me that when they participate in witness protection programs, their loved ones can sometimes be in danger. That is important to keep in mind.
Bill C-51 makes enough positive changes that we will support it at third reading. I think that everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, agrees with expanding eligibility for the witness protection program.
Authorities who work on combatting street gangs say that it would be an improvement and would help them do their job if gang members who are trying to leave that lifestyle could have access to the program.
However, there is one thing we must never forget. People are what matter to the NDP. Everything we do, we do for the people of Canada. We are committed to building safer communities and neighbourhoods for seniors and the general public, so that everyone feels comfortable being out and about in this country.
We can also improve the witness protection program by bringing peace and justice to our neighbourhoods. We can do so by giving federal, provincial and municipal police forces the additional tools they need to combat street gangs and organized crime groups, which are becoming increasingly better equipped in terms of technology and information, as I mentioned.
The government has cut nearly $190 million from the RCMP and over $140 million from the Canada Border Services Agency. The government will not create a free and peaceful Canada by making cuts to our police forces and to public safety.
View Pierre Jacob Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.
I understand that the witness protection program deserves appropriate funding. My colleague agrees with that. However, if I understood correctly, the bill is not sufficiently generous.
What specific amendments would my colleague suggest?
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