Interventions in the House of Commons
RSS feed based on search criteria Export search results - CSV (plain text) Export search results - XML
Add search criteria
View Elizabeth May Profile
View Elizabeth May Profile
2019-05-30 10:09 [p.28259]
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this morning to present a petition that has been circulating. It is not the first time I have presented it, but many Canadians are currently concerned about this issue.
The petitioners ask that the government take steps to stop the use of animals in the testing of cosmetics. The use of animals in this fashion is less regulated in Canada than in other countries. They call on Canada to stop the use of animals in research and testing and to protect animals from cruelty.
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 18:57 [p.28251]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the ministers for the work they did on Bill C-81. I would also like to recognize the excellent work of the member for Edmonton Mill Woods, who motivated us and brought us together on this bill. My colleague who is here beside me also deserves a round of applause for his work.
It is an honour for me to speak to this bill, and I believe I may be the last one to do so. I have always cared about and been committed to the cause of people with reduced mobility and disabilities.
When I began my career, I was a young radio host and the very first volunteer work that I was called upon to do in that capacity was to host a radiothon, a telethon for cerebral palsy. I do not know whether Quebeckers or members of the House remember the major cerebral palsy telethon with well-known radio and television host Serge Laprade. Every year for many years, Quebeckers looked forward to this major televised event, which sought to raise money for people with disabilities.
It was a first. Once a year, on television, we were seeing people who had difficulty doing the same things as everyone else. We were seeing people who needed help and money from others to live. I do not know whether similar events were held elsewhere, so I will talk about Quebec.
Quebeckers were always very generous. Year after year, more and more people contributed to this cause. In addition to helping people with disabilities, this event began to raise awareness of the importance of meeting the accessibility needs of people with disabilities, who are people just like us. In the beginning, these telethons had a tendency to paint people with disabilities as people we should pity. That is how it was. The scenes that were shown depicted the challenges and hardship these individuals face. People with cerebral palsy sometimes have difficulty speaking and so those watching had to pay close attention to understand what they were saying.
Canadians and Quebeckers had a rather fraught relationship with disabilities. There were these telethons, but there were also telethons in small regions like my own. The Caisse populaire had hosted a small local telethon and brought in people with cerebral palsy. People found out that talking with them was very pleasant. The problem was that the people with disabilities could not actually get into the buildings where our telethons or radiothons were being held. They had to be picked up and carried in. Even the places hosting telethons or activities for people with disabilities were not accessible.
One of the first decisions that the volunteer organization made was to build a ramp. Now these people could get into the building where we were ready and willing to help them. We wanted to involve them so they could be there with us to help raise funds. That is one of the objectives of the bill that I am going to talk about later on.
I had so much fun at the telethon that I decided to become president of my riding's cerebral palsy association in Thetford Mines. It was a small association, yet it somehow managed to raise $50,000, $60,000 or $80,000 a year. It worked miracles with that money, mainly raising public awareness, because renovating buildings costs a lot of money, more than $60,000 or $80,000.
Anyway, I became president of the association, and one of the first things we did was increase the number of directors with cerebral palsy or other disabilities or conditions, so that we could make decisions with them, for them. That is one of the elements of the bill that really struck a chord with me. This is not a bill that is going to impose anything on people with disabilities. Instead, it focuses on working with them to find solutions.
A particular decision may sometimes seem like a smart one, but it could ultimately serve no purpose to persons with disabilities. They may not need it. The radiothon was more than just a first volunteer experience. It was an opportunity to interact with people who are different, who have things to say and who want to do things. These are extraordinary people.
My volunteer experience changed my perspective. Everywhere I go, every organization or public building I visit, anytime I play a sport or recreational activity, I always take some time to ask myself whether the space is accessible by all. I ask myself if everyone can participate in this sport or if everyone can work in this space. Unfortunately there is still a lot more work left to do.
Although I completely agree with this legislation, it really is just a first step. The bill allocates money, shows goodwill and proposes some plans, which all represent one small step. Although this step is a small one, it is still a step forward. This is something that had not yet been done and that was necessary.
As I said, I started doing volunteer work on the radio in 1985. It is now 2019 and we are still trying to implement accessibility plans. I have had the opportunity, and I truly consider it an opportunity, to work with persons with disabilities. It makes absolutely no sense to me that we are still having to introduce accessibility legislation. Accessibility should already be standard practice. We should not even have to ask the question. An accessibility plan should simply be the same thing as the architectural plan for all spaces, for all projects. This is why it is a great honour to speak to this bill this evening.
Volunteering gets in your blood. It is infectious. I was the mayor of Thetford Mines. One of the first things I did was check all the municipal buildings to make sure everything was okay. I was mayor of Thetford Mines for seven years. I did not manage to make the Thetford Mines city council chamber accessible. It is not an easy thing to do. It costs a lot of money and requires a lot of investment. We have to send a message: every infrastructure project should always include an envelope for making all public buildings accessible. If not, then we have to convince seven other people who did not have the same volunteering experience that I did to invest a significant amount of money to allow a person from the community to attend a municipal council meeting once a year. Trying to convince colleagues around the table is not always easy. I did not succeed.
We started making progress. We decided to move the council chamber. We gutted a building and decided that the next council chamber would be at that location on the ground floor and therefore accessible. We did not get that far because we did not manage to get the funding to build a new city hall, but that is another story.
In any case, that is where we are today. All elected officials, anyone who is in a position of authority, all departments, organizations and Crown corporations under the minister's responsibility must keep this in mind and steer policy in that direction. If a portion of infrastructure budgets is not dedicated to improving the quality of life of people who cannot access the full range of services they are entitled to, to the same degree as all other Canadians, then we will have failed.
I will speak to Bill C-81 and review a few points for people listening to us, because this is important.
The purpose of this bill is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, of a Canada without barriers, through proactive compliance and enforcement measures of accessibility standards that regulated parties must respect and uphold. Upholding these standards is another important aspect.
Sometimes, a grant is provided to install a ramp. However, the ramp has to be maintained. After five years, a hole may appear in the ramp and someone in a wheelchair will not be able to use it. If it cannot be used, it is no longer accessible. The ramp needs to be maintained. It is great to receive a given amount of money, but these structures have to be maintained. That is why the accessibility plan requires us to report after a certain number of years. That is an important element of the bill. It is a good initiative.
The requirement for all federally regulated entities, including private enterprises, to create multi-year accessibility plans, set objectives and present a report on what was done has been included in the bill. That is what I was referring to in the question I put to the minister just before giving my speech.
It is good to set an example, but that is only the first step. This needs to happen everywhere. We have to ensure that all Canadians get the message—not just those working in federally regulated sectors, but those working in large and small businesses as well. Thinking about the accessibility of our buildings should be second nature.
The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization is a Crown corporation tasked with creating standards. I am always a bit afraid of new agencies. I always worry that more money is being invested in the offices than on the ground. That is one of my concerns. However, if we do not start somewhere, we will not get anything done. It is a vicious circle.
Personally, I hope that this organization will be more concerned with what is happening on the ground than with office management and expansion. We do not want to have everyone with disabilities working in the same agency. We want them to work everywhere, in all the federal government buildings, and not just in one place. That is something we must absolutely keep in mind.
We have supported this bill and we will support it now, because it is a necessary piece of legislation. Clearly, we would have liked it to go a little further. We would have liked it to be less permissive with regard to the minister’s discretion, and we would have liked to see the minister require a little more of the people who will have to implement the bill.
We proposed some sixty amendments, but only three opposition amendments were agreed to. I hope that further improvements will be made to this bill in the future. As I see it, there are still about 57 good ideas that are not reflected in this bill.
I think this shows that there is still work to do. Whatever party forms the next government, it will still have work to do. Everyone knows I cannot give a speech without saying that I hope my whole team and I will be part of the next government. It is hard to deliver a 20-minute speech without being partisan. The members opposite know me.
The Senate adopted 11 amendments to Bill C-81, and those amendments improved the bill tremendously. I think it is a step in the right direction. Thanks to the Senate amendments, American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and indigenous sign languages will be recognized as the primary languages for communication used by deaf people in Canada. That is in line with stakeholders' recommendations and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Harper government ratified in 2010.
Even with the amendments, the bill uses permissive language, as I already mentioned. If possible, I hope that the ministers who will be implementing the bill will change “may” to “must”. If they make this personal, they will be able to do it. The bill says that they may do it, and I hope that they will.
As I was saying, these new standards will apply only to regulated individuals and entities, but it would be worthwhile to expand this and to use this bill as a model to help make life better for everyone.
In conclusion, I want to read a few excerpts from an open letter on the need to swiftly pass the Senate amendments, which was signed by a number of organizations. This open letter congratulates the minister but it highlights a comment made by Senator Chantal Petitclerc, which I really liked. She said that the committee's amendments reflect the maxim of disability communities: “Nothing about us without us”. This must absolutely guide our decisions.
This is what should guide ministers, agency directors and anyone who is called upon to participate in the development of these accessibility plans and all related measures.
Some very good ideas might come from people like us who do not have disabilities, but although we sometimes think we have the solution, that is often not the case. People with disabilities are able to tell us what the solution should be and how we can help them. That might cost a lot less than implementing our own solutions. I have seen this in the past. These individuals do not want the hottest Cadillac or the ultimate in accommodation. They want to live their lives and thrive like the rest of us, and the best way to help them is to work with them.
Many organizations want this legislation to be implemented quickly. I will name them, because they deserve to be recognized for the work they have done throughout the long process of getting Bill C-81 passed.
They are the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, AODA Alliance, ARCH Disability Law Centre, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario, Ontario Autism Coalition, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, StopGap Foundation, Travel For All, Older Women's Network; Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopment Advocacy; Barrier-Free Canada; B.C. Coalition of People who use Guide Dogs, the Keremeos Measuring Up team, National Coalition of People who use Guide and Service Dogs in Canada, The Project Group Consulting Cooperative, VIEWS Ontario For the Vision Impaired, Communication Disabilities Access Canada, British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, DeafBlind Ontario Services, March of Dimes Canada, North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, Peterborough Council For Persons With Disabilities, Québec Accessible, CNIB Foundation for Ontario and Quebec, Electromagnetic Pollution Illnesses Canada Foundation, Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, and the Rick Hansen Foundation.
That is just a small number of people, but they worked hard to encourage us to change our habits and ways of doing things. Having once been a member of one of these organizations, I know that we still have a lot of work to do. These organizations work so hard.
First, they work with their clients. Second, they try to persuade the government to change things. Third, they raise funds, because they do not have big operating budgets. Lastly, they improve the lives of many people living with the disabilities that have been mentioned.
In closing, I would like to thank everyone who was involved in introducing Bill C-81. I want to remind the government that 57 amendments could have been adopted to improve the bill, but all the same, the bill is a step in the right direction.
I thank all my colleagues who worked on the committee and did their utmost to speak for those who could not be there. It is our role, as members, to be a voice for the voiceless and to make sure they get a chance to speak when and where they want to.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to my colleague across the way, if she had been listening to the remarks I was making, they were all very clearly on the issue, which is why I was making them. These are important points to make.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Garnett Genuis: If the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader wants to heckle, that is also his prerogative, but we are having an important discussion.
I appreciate the opportunity to make the points that I am going to make. I understand that the government intends to bring forward a motion today on extended hours. To be clear, there is absolutely no reason why the bill before us would not move forward. I am making arguments that I think are important and worthwhile, and I am sharing personal stories about members of my own family. If members do not take that seriously or want to cast aspersions or imagine other things, that is their prerogative, but it is not really in the spirit of what the discussion could be. These are things I have wanted to share, and I appreciate that the Standing Orders provide me with the opportunity to share them.
The parliamentary secretary asked about details. I do not have a specific length of time in mind, but I would tell the parliamentary secretary if I did. I want to discuss these points. Of course, interventions like the one we just saw make it harder for me to do that, but I will resume where I was in terms of making the point that I was making. When I finish making my remarks, others will speak, and I am sure we will get the bill passed in due course.
As well, there are issues in terms of the bill not reaching the standard that many people wanted and the government rejecting amendments, which are things I have spoken about. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that there are further steps that can be taken after this.
I will go back to the point I was making before I was interrupted. I was speaking about the experience of my cousin who has Down's syndrome and the things I have been able to learn from her. The principal point that I think we need to absorb from the life and legacy of Jean Vanier is that the relationship between people who are not disabled and those who are should not be seen as one of charity, but, rather, one of people who have different experiences living together in communities of love and friendship and being able to learn from each other.
I want to make the point, in the context of my beautiful cousin who has Down's syndrome, that very often when parents who are expecting a child receive a diagnosis and find out that their child has some genetic condition, that is associated with a lot of surprise and maybe fear and lack of awareness about what this is going to mean for their family. We know as well that there is a high level of selecting out children who have that condition. I wish that every family that was not sure what to do in that situation would have an opportunity to speak to my uncle and aunt, or have an opportunity to speak with somebody like my cousin to see the love, joy and teaching that come through the community with that person. It can be a surprise to find out that what one had expected is not what is going to happen. Sometimes the unexpected is filled with such opportunity for love, joy and learning.
What are the key takeaways that we should have as members of the House from the points I have made and from the work of Jean Vanier?
First of all, we need to go beyond a formal, legalistic notion of inclusion. The legal standard of inclusion is, let us say, the minimum standard. Our goal, rather, should be to build meaningful community among all people to recognize the contributions that all of us make together in the way we treat each other, and to put our emphasis on the pursuit of a concept of true happiness: that is, living well together, not merely thinking in terms of material well-being.
I started this point in my discussion by asking whom this bill is for, whom the work is being done for. The answer is that it is for all of us. People with disabilities benefit from a society in which there are no barriers to their participation. However, everyone, whether with a disability or not, benefits from being part of a society in which we can live together in a community where the contributions and experiences of those with disabilities are heard and where we pursue happiness, community, love and meaning together.
Part of how we do this better, and this is a subject I referenced earlier and something I wrote about in my master's dissertation, is the measurement of happiness. Part of creating a society in which all of us can pursue and attain happiness is, I would argue, measuring happiness as well. There are questions and controversies around the best way to do that statistically, but efforts made to engage in the meaningful measurement of happiness are important and are part of the picture. It is something we should consider as part of subsequent statistical instruments.
Having made that point, having outlined whom I think the bill is for, I now want to discuss some of the amendments that were proposed at the committee in the House and were not accepted. As we move this legislation forward, it is important to note what has been done and what is positive, but also to acknowledge that there are some areas of missed opportunities. There are some areas where we could have done better. In fact, amendments were proposed by other parties that were unfortunately not adopted by government members at the committee.
First of all, there were amendments put forward on the House side that introduced proposals around dates and timelines. This is an issue now being incorporated at the level of the Senate, but it was proposed in the form of amendments to clauses 5, 11, 18, 23, 111 and 148. Amendments were proposed that would have established timelines, and we made the argument that timelines were absolutely essential.
We argued as well that the bill had to require positive action by the minister. We argued that the bill ought to require the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada by the minister and should therefore remove permissive language. A lot of the language in this legislation in effect does not actually require the minister to do anything. It uses a lot of language around the word “may”, such as that regulations may be established or proposals may be put in. That exists in the context of exceptions.
While we have a legislative framework in place that may allow the minister to do certain things around the realization of a barrier-free Canada, the framework is very open in terms of allowing the minister to do certain things or not do certain things. There was an interesting comment made by the minister today in the context of questions and comments, where the issue of exceptions was raised by my colleague from Foothills. The minister said that they would certainly be very careful in their use of those exceptions under her watch.
That is the rub, the exercise of these powers by the minister. I take the minister at her word in terms of her sincerity about this bill, but it is our job in the opposition to ask questions about whether the framework relies merely on the goodwill and the word of one person, or whether it puts in place the structures that provide certainty and indeed a protection for the kinds of circumstances that we would like to see. The minister says that they will be very careful in their use of exceptions, at least under her watch, and that under her watch they will certainly do the things that are laid out in this legislation. Of course, under the current government, we do not know how long a particular minister will remain with the responsibility of a portfolio. I think all parties want to see the legislation be meaningful in ensuring impacts.
We sought to address this issue in the form of amendments, but unfortunately we did not see progress on it. These amendments dealt with the issue of permissive language in clauses 15, 16, 75, 93, 94 and subclause 146.1. We need to try to do better in this respect. Although we tried to get things done, unfortunately that did not happen.
We proposed amendments to subclause 17(2) and clause 21 to ensure the independence of CASDO, the accessibility commissioner and other key positions. Certainly, we are very concerned about the track record of the government in not always respecting the independence of things that we would expect to be independent. We raised concerns at committee about the issue of the legislation ensuring the sufficient independence of these bodies. Without independence, there is a concern about whether the accountability functions we expect will be followed. Our amendments in this respect were also not adopted by the government and the changes we proposed have unfortunately not shown up subsequently.
We proposed an amendment to clause 18, that the bill must designated CASDO as the only body to develop accessibility standards. The framework put in place by the legislation seeks to deal with a number of different parts and aspects of government. Certainly, we recognize the importance of ensuring that all of those are included and that the regulatory structure is there to cover them in all cases.
Our amendment proposed that the government have a standard set centrally by CASDO, which presumably is the goal of establishing that entity. The legislation, as it stands, creates a more complex scheme than is necessary by having some of these standards set external to CASDO. We raised this issue as well. In the follow-up implementation of the legislation, people will want to see it so they can explore the effectiveness of those provisions.
We also proposed an amendment for a new clause 33.1 to ensure there would be accountability regarding public information during CASDO's work on developing an accessibility standard. Again, there is a need for accountability as part of these frameworks. We are not keen on provisions in legislation which the government tells us “just trust us”. When the issue is important, “just trust us” is not enough. We want to see a framework that requires government action, that is accountable and that provides a reasoned and effective framework to ensure that accountability is in place.
We then proposed amendments about strengthening accessibility plans. Unfortunately they were rejected. They related to clauses 42, 47, 51, 56, 60, 65 and 69. Then we proposed specific amendments to remove exemptions.
Let us reflect on the actions we have seen from the government and the concerns that might arise when well-connected companies are lobbying for exceptions regarding their obligations. Frankly, we know this is going to happen. Our legislative framework may say that federally regulated companies have to comply with certain standards, but it is possible to make exceptions. Some companies are going to calculate that it is actually easier for them, less expensive perhaps, to spend resources lobbying politicians and ministers to give them an exception. They would rather do that than invest in the required changes to make themselves more accessible. Unfortunately it is relatively likely that some people will make this calculation and will use the tools and resources available to them.
We have seen in recent months a government that when the pressure is on, when the well-connected lobbyists are brought to bear, rather than follow through on the intention of legislation, the government may allow that exception. Let us say the argument is around jobs, that if companies are required to conform to such a standard, then they will not be able to continue to operate and they will have to move their headquarters, whatever the arguments are made in those cases.
That is why those who are following us today, those who are concerned about the effectiveness and the impact of this legislation should be concerned about the power the legislation gives around the granting of exceptions.
We have permissive language and the refusal of the government to move forward with amendments around the removal of exceptions, amendments which were supported by the Conservatives. Although there are high aspirations associated with the bill and although I do not doubt the sincerity of some people on the government side around the legislation, this creates circumstances in which it does not compel the government to act and it gives the government a great deal of space to say to a company that it does not have to follow its obligations. An area of regulation that it maybe had the power to put forward action on, it will not do that anymore.
It is precisely our job as members of Parliament to ensure the legislation we put forward is directed to and binding on government. So often, unfortunately, and what I have seen in my time here in the last three and a half years as an MP, is legislation that leaves the door open for the minister to exercise a great deal of discretion.
There is some latitude for ministerial discretion in the specific working out of details around regulations in the plants. However, when we have so much flexibility that the minister can say an exception will be put in place, that is a totally different case. This goes beyond the normal expectation that there is some degree of ministerial discretion involved in this case. This goes much further than the norm and that is why we proposed those changes. We are concerned about what the government's real intentions are and what the real actions will be.
I do not want to cast aspersions on everyone's intentions, but somebody made the decision somewhere, whether it was in the Prime Minister's Office or somebody else around the cabinet table, to leave the door open to the possibility that someone could be let off the hook in a particular case.
We proposed an amendment as well to designate the accessibility commissioner as the one body to handle compliance for accessibility standards and the adjudication of complaints. This was another amendment that dealt with streamlining the effectiveness of the bill.
The bill does not designate a central agency to oversee compliance with accessible ability requirements. Enforcement as envisioned under the framework right now is done by multiple agents: the accessibility commissioner, the CRTC, the CTA and the Federal Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board. Again, just as with setting a standard, through a complex patchwork of different organizations, this will create far more than is necessary with respect to confusion and barriers to those who wish to access the process.
If somebody is looking for standards to hold an agency or an entity up against, if he or she is looking to make complaints, the legislation does not have this sort of single window that would provide clarity around standards as well as enforcement. This is again a missed opportunity. Members of the committee and the House had tried to put forward amendments to address and strengthen this, but unfortunately we did not see action in that respect.
We felt, and we still feel, that multiple bodies looking at accessibility complaints from different angles will create a potential patchwork unfair administration of the act, and we should be concerned about that.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, I find the reaction and heckles by some members of the government very surprising. We know they do not like listening to opposition perspectives. We have seen multiple efforts by them to shut down debate on different issues. Yes, I am criticizing their failure to respond properly to proposals put forward by Conservative members and agreed to by members of other parties to strengthen the legislation.
Government members do not want to hear that perspective. They want this to be a day when we all agree on every detail. I said right at the beginning, very clearly, that we agree on the principle and that moving this legislation forward would be an improvement on the status quo. However, part of the purpose of the parliamentary conversation is to identify aspects of legislation that need to be improved.
The members across the way may not want to hear these criticisms. They may not want to hear about the fact that this legislation provides a possible exception, whereby a company like SNC-Lavalin might lobby the government for an exception. However, we need to talk about those things. We need to talk about how we strengthen this legislation and about some of the missed opportunities.
Members can be assured that this legislation will pass this session. However, these are criticisms that the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader would benefit from listening to rather than heckling. In any event, it is an important part of the argument we are making. The fact that this legislation does not “require” the minister, but only “invites” the minister to take certain action, and the fact of the exceptions that exist are issues that need to be identified and discussed.
There is also the issue of the administrative complexity that I was talking about before the point of order was raised, and the rejection of an amendment that would have designated CASDO as the only body to develop accessibility standards, and the rejection of another amendment that would have designated the accessibility commissioner as the one body to handle compliance with accessibility standards and the adjudication of complaints. The fact that these amendments were rejected increases the relative complexity that people will face when they are engaging with these issues in the legislation.
Part of our job as the opposition is to reflect the feedback we have heard from stakeholders and to say, yes, the government needs to do better. It can do better. It should have done better. We support this legislation going forward, but we are asking for more for Canadians with disabilities, to facilitate the realization of a full vision of shared community, one in which we go beyond the minimum and do as much as possible together.
We proposed amendments, as well, to ensure that the process for making complaints and reviews by the accessibility commissioner would be fair. We proposed amendments specifically to clauses 117 and 142 to say that this would not allow organizations to be exempted from producing and publishing accessibility plans, feedback processes and progress reports. We proposed amendments to include stronger provisions for reviewing the accessible Canada act and monitoring the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As well, one amendment that was adopted and showed up in the Senate version eventually concerned sign language. It is important to note that we are glad to see this adopted through a Senate amendment, but it had been proposed at the House level as well.
One particular concern we raised about the coming into force of this legislation is that if clause 207 were left in, it would lead, according to the Statutes Repeal Act, to the act being automatically repealed within 10 years of receiving royal assent. That was perhaps a technicality, but one with important consequences that we sought to address.
In the course of proposing 60 amendments at committee, the government only adopted three, and they were not of the substantive variety we had hoped for. They supported two amendments to make reviews fair and accessible, which were improvements, and one amendment to the preamble that changed “Canadians” to “persons in Canada”. Essentially, it was a fairly technical linguistic change in the preamble, which was an important change in language, but the substantive concerns about the legislation we had highlighted were not fully addressed.
The Senate committee study provided some important perspective, and on the issue of the structure of this legislation, I want to read from testimony at the standing committee that studied this bill, in particular the testimony of David Lepofsky, the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is a real champion on these issues. He has done extensive work representing and reflecting the concerns of the community. I want to identify what he said about this bill. He stated:
Bill C-81 is strong on good intentions, but palpably weak on implementation. It's called an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed.
I will read that again as it is fundamental to the criticisms that I and others have made. He stated:
It's called an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn't require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
This legislation splinters its enforcement and the setting of enforceable regulations among multiple federal agencies. From the minister's defence of her practice, she conceded that if she was starting from scratch, that isn't necessarily how she would do it. But her explanation of why she did it gives triumphant ascendancy to federal bureaucracy over disability equality.
Now the question is: What do we do about it? The question is not: Are you going to pass this bill, senators? You're going to pass this bill, so let's take that off the table. We all know it. We all understand it. That's the starting point.
That was the starting point for my remarks as well. I said that the Conservatives are supporting this bill, but that there are issues. There are issues the community has raised, and in terms of how we see the issue, and with the substantive aspects of the provisions of this legislation. Our support and the community's support to pass this legislation is clear, but there are big gaps.
I will go back to the testimony, which states:
The question before this committee is: Are you going to amend it first? What we say is that you must. The reality is this bill needs a lot of amendments not to make it perfect, that's a red herring, but to get this bill from the status of weak to one that is closer to what people with disabilities need and deserve.
In the House, there were a couple hundred pages of amendments. Hard work over the past weekend has led us to distill it down to a series of amendments before you that we proposed and you have received e-mails from some witnesses who support them, which fill a grand total of 3.5 pages and cover a few core themes.
I am only going to address a couple of them, but let me be clear, there is time to do this. You are going to vote in committee on May 2. I understand you will do third reading by May 16. We are working and approaching the federal parties to urge that, once amendments are passed if they are that the house consider them quickly, so the issue of swift passage of this bill, whether amended or not, is now, procedurally, not a bar to your being able to do what we need you to do.
Again, we will see this legislation pass, but there are issues that we need to address.
The testimony continues:
So what should you do?
Well, let me just focus on a couple, but I invite questions on all of what we proposed. Lets just turn to the headlines. Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion-dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions to the allocation the province is committing to. Thats not unusual. But we need the federal government to be required, before it spends our money on a project like that, to say a ground rule of getting our federal money is you have to meet certain federal accessibility requirements.
Now, the minister came before you a week ago and said, We cant do that. We dont have constitutional authority to do that. Respectfully, the minister is wrong. Its called the federal spending power. Have you heard of the Canada Health Act? The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements. Not disability accessibility, but their financial accessibility.
If what the minister told you is right, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades since it was enacted. I would be staggered to believe that is the position of the current federal government. If they can do it there, they can at least attach strings when they give money, if they agree to, to local projects and not just federal buildings. You might look at me and say, Oh, come on, in 2019 we wouldnt use public money to build inaccessible public transit. Senators, go to YouTube, search on AODA Alliance and public transit. You will see a video we released during last springs provincial election that has thousands of views and media coverage where we document serious accessibility problems in brand new subway stations in Toronto that just opened within the past year-and-a-half.
This isnt about perfect, folks. This is about basic equality, so we ask for an amendment that would at least require federal ministers or their ministries, if they are agreeing to give our federal money to a province, a municipality, a college or university for a project like that, to put, as a term of the agreement, an enforceable term, just like the Canada Health Act, that accessibility requirements are required. Why should the federal government ever allow federal money to be used to create new barriers or perpetuate existing ones?
I will note, just as an aside, that this specific issue that he spoke about here, the issue of federal money funding infrastructure that may not meet a certain accessible standard, is one that the Senate flagged for our consideration, but it is not reflected in the amended provisions of this legislation. This is an area that requires, I think, more discussion and exploration by government on how we should ensure that the accessibility standards we expect are met, especially in new construction and infrastructure, so that we have taken the basic steps required to ensure that it is accessible to people. That is something that should be fairly obvious. However, if we do not put in place processes and mechanisms to ensure that the obvious happens, sometimes it does not.
According to Mr. Lepofsky, in fact, there was a claim made that it would somehow be unconstitutional to put these conditions in place. It is interesting, because we see a federal government that, in general, in so many different areas, is very heavy handed with what it tries to impose on the provinces, even trying to use federal spending to compel them to implement particular policies in provincial areas of jurisdiction. It is interesting how that separation is selectively invoked in some cases but not in others, which seems to be an excuse for inaction in this case.
The testimony continues:
Let me give you one other core amendment. My colleague from the CNIB said the minister last week had agreed to amend the bill to ensure that it does not curtail in any way the human rights code and the duty to accommodate. I hope the minister does that, but I dont hear her as having said that. I hear her as having said that she, as a former human rights lawyer, has ensured that this bill doesnt interfere with the duty to accommodate. But senators, it threatens to.
Clause 172 of the bill perpetuates a provision in the Canada transportation legislation that would let the CTA enact a regulation, and once it does so, to set standards for accessible transit, no matter how low that standard may be and no matter how deficient from a human rights standard it may be. As a traveller with a disability or others in my coalition or anyone in Canada, we are barred from asking anymore under the legislation's guarantee against undue barriers.
With that provision in the act, our position is: Please don't ever enact any standards under the CTA because they threaten to take away our rights. A simple amendment would repeal that provision from the act.
I will note that, in this case, this testimony led to an amendment. Of course, we are pleased to see that the amendment was made on that provision. That was one issue from this testimony that was, in fact, addressed, which is why we were pleased to see that change in the Senate amendments. The version of this bill that was originally proposed, and that the government appeared, initially at committee in the House, not to see any problem with, was, in fact, a version whereby the CTA could enact regulations that would be below the human rights standards and that would have the potential impact of lowering the standards that are in place for the protection of the rights of Canadians with disabilities. This indicates the importance of the Senate amendment process and the benefit of the fact that in this case, the government, although not responsive as much to House amendments, did come around in response to proposals on the Senate side.
The testimony from Mr. Lepofsky states:
Let me conclude by inviting questions on the other areas that we've raised. I'm telling you that we are not just about saying what's wrong. We are about proposing constructive suggestions for what's right, and the amendments we've placed before you are designed for a Senate that has a limited time frame to act, a commitment to respect policy decisions made in the House of Commons and an eagerness to ensure that these amendments can be considered by the house quickly and easily, with a realistic chance of them being taken seriously. They are designed to be tailored both to our needs and to what the minister said to you last week. So we ask you to take them all seriously. They are all substantive, and they all bear on the needs of all people with disabilities.
I conclude by saying this: I'm speaking for my coalition, but as an individual, I first came before Parliament 39 years ago as a much younger individual—my wife said I had hair back then when she saw the video—to appear before the standing committee considering the Charter of Rights. At that time, the Charter proposed to guarantee equality but not to people with disabilities. I and a number of other folks argued and succeeded in getting the Charter amended to include that right.
I leave you with two thoughts. First, the amendments we seek are aimed at making that right become a reality, not just as a matter of good intention but as effective implementation.
The government members who do not like hearing arguments against their bill may be encouraged by the fact that I am now coming to the conclusion of my remarks.
These were all important points to make. Here is a brief summary of the key elements I have highlighted in this bill.
The bill is about requiring regulated entities to make accessibility plans. It is a positive step, but it would not have the force and the pressure on the government in terms of compelling government action that many people within the disability community want to see. We tried to reflect those concerns in the context of a debate that happened here in the House the first time around and at committee. Unfortunately, all the more substantive changes were rejected in the House. The Senate put forward a number of amendments that were positive, but they would not fix the bill in every respect, certainly from the perspective of our caucus and those in the community.
Therefore, while we are pleased to support these amendments and this legislation, we will continue to call on the government to do better and to give reality to the promise that “better is possible”. That is what we are asking in the context of this legislation. The Senate amendments make improvements, but they do not go all the way in terms of the improvements people are asking for.
I talked a bit about who this legislation is for. It is important to recognize that the steps we take to facilitate an accessible, barrier-free society benefit people with disabilities, but they benefit all of us, because they give all of us an opportunity to live together in meaningful community and to learn from each other.
There are things that are not in the bill. In some cases, they are things that could not be addressed by a bill, and in some cases, they are things the government should have addressed but did not.
Legislation can ultimately only go so far toward addressing people's attitudes and culture. Building a barrier-free Canada is not just a political decision; it has to be a social commitment. It has to be something we all commit to leading on and acting on together as parliamentarians and as citizens. We call on business leaders and people from all walks of life to see what they can do to build and facilitate meaningful commitment, goodwill, friendship and love among people, regardless of ability or disability.
Those kinds of social and cultural changes are important. Legislation without that kind of social commitment is not enough to create a truly barrier-free Canada.
I want to again say that the work done by my colleague, the member for Carleton, on trying to ensure that disabled Canadians are able to access paid work, was very important. It was disappointing to see that bill voted down by the government. I hope that in a subsequent Parliament, we will be able to see progress on the initiative he put forward.
Not everyone is able to work, but there are many people who have a disability who are ready, willing and able to participate in paid work. They benefit our economy by doing so, but they also benefit from the community associated with work. They benefit from a sense of purpose and meaning that comes to many people from being able to go to work every day.
More needs to be done to support the kinds of initiatives we saw in that private member's bill. Maybe it will come back in a future Parliament. Maybe we will see other kinds of action that will seek to specifically address the issue of barriers that exist for disabled Canadians seeking employment.
With that, I will conclude my remarks. I am supportive of the bill. I am supportive of the amendments. I am hopeful that we will be able to see more action, and in the future, that we will be able to challenge the government. Rather than rejecting amendments in the House and sending them to the Senate and then accepting them at that point, maybe a novel idea would be to have some of these amendments adopted in the House in the first instance, which would skip the step of bringing the bill back to the House afterward.
There are some areas that could be better, but there are positive steps here. People can be assured that we will support the bill and support these actions. Going forward, we will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire. In the areas where it says it may regulate, we will apply the pressure necessary. We were not able to get from “may” to “must” in the legislation, but we will work to create a political imperative so that the government does not fail to act.
Those in the community who are following us today can be assured of our commitment to always hold the government accountable on these issues and to ensure, with the high-minded discussion around Bill C-81, that the objectives that were laid out are fully realized.
View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Pam Damoff Profile
2019-05-28 12:50 [p.28128]
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Centre.
It is truly an honour to speak this morning on this historic piece of legislation, Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. When I was elected, one of my priorities was to see us recognize the challenges faced by those living with disabilities, to raise awareness in my riding and across the country on how we can improve the lives of these friends and neighbours, and to enact legislation to ensure that we are moving forward on a barrier-free Canada. With Bill C-81, the federal government is leading by example, as this legislation would ensure more consistent accessibility in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Why is this important? It is because of people like Steven Muir, who works in my office. Steven lives with a developmental disability. I met him in Oakville and we became friends. Steven fell in love with Maggie, who lived in Ottawa. That presented some logistical challenges to their being together, and while it took a few years to work out the details, Steven left his job and his support network to move to Ottawa to follow his heart. Today, he is happily married to Maggie and I have had him working in my office since 2016. Steven deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and that has not always been the case, in particular when it comes to employment and housing.
Karina Scali is another friend of mine who lives in Oakville. Karina has worked harder than most people I know to get a post-secondary education. She has faced barriers most of us would find insurmountable, including bullying at school, but she has persevered through all of it and is working toward her degree in early childhood education. She has struggled to find paid employment, not because she is not capable but because of her disability, and that is just wrong.
My friend Joe Dowdall was injured in a workplace accident, which put him in a wheelchair. Joe works at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793 and has been an incredible advocate at all levels of government. When I was elected, he told me that I need to work on improving the lives of those with disabilities and I promised him that I would.
I do not have time to share all the stories of my friends at Community Living Oakville and In The Loop Media, but they too have faced challenges in our community and deserve more from all levels of government and Canadian society. They are just a few examples of individuals who will be impacted by the bill before us today. There are thousands more, actually five million more, across the country with stories that are similar.
Bill C-81 would benefit Canadians by removing and preventing barriers to accessibility in areas under federal jurisdiction, including in built environments, employment, information and communication technologies, procurement of goods and services, the delivery of programs and services and transportation.
An important part of this bill is the appointment of an independent chief accessibility officer, who will be responsible for monitoring and reporting to the minister on the implementation of the act.
The bill outlines three duties for all regulated entities. They would have to create accessibility plans in consultation with people living with disabilities, they would have to set up ways to receive and respond to feedback from their employees and customers, and they would have to prepare and publish progress reports in consultation with those living with disabilities that outline how they fulfill their accessibility plans. The bill proposes to create the Canadian accessibility standards development organization to develop and model accessibility standards. In general, these standards would outline how organizations can identify, remove and prevent barriers.
An accessibility commissioner within the Canadian Human Rights Commission will be appointed and report to the Minister of Accessibility. The commissioner will be responsible for compliance and enforcement activities, as well as handling complaints for most federal activities sectors. The bill proposes a mix of proactive compliance activities, including, but not limited to, inspections, compliance audits and orders, notice of violations, penalties and more. The legislation provides individuals with the right to complain and receive compensation if they have experienced physical, psychological or monetary harm because an organization has not met its new obligations under the act and regulations.
It is especially meaningful to be speaking today during National AccessAbility Week, which has been held each year since 2016. Bill C-81 would see National AccessAbility Week officially start on the last Sunday in May.
The legislation also gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission responsibility for monitoring Canada's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In that regard, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel on an inclusion mission organized by Reena Foundation, March of Dimes and Holland Bloorview. I know some of them are watching right now. What an incredible opportunity this is to see some of the groundbreaking work being done in that country to make it more accessible and inclusive.
I also got time to spend with some of the leading advocates of accessibility and inclusion in Canada. I got to know Yahya, who is living in supportive housing run by the Reena Foundation, a terrific organization that allows Yahya to live independently and with dignity.
David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, joined us on the trip, and I had the chance to talk to him at length about the bill before us today. I am pleased to read that Mr. Lepofsky has stated that the Senate amendments reflect an important victory for those disability advocates who have devoted so much time and energy to strengthening Bill C-81.
This trip allowed me to explore what is possible alongside those living with a disability. What a unique and blessed opportunity it has been. It has has helped guide my perspective as I work in Parliament.
The Senate has made several important amendments to Bill C-81, and I applaud the government and the minister for accepting these amendments. These amendments include one that adds a deadline for realizing a barrier-free Canada. Adding a deadline was something that many disability advocates said was needed, and I am pleased to see its addition. The Senate amendments also recognize American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign language as the primary languages for communication for deaf persons in Canada. I know this amendment was extremely important to the deaf community, and it is great to see a sign language interpreter here with us today. These amendments and others made by the Senate have strengthened what is already groundbreaking legislation, and it is my sincere hope that all parties can work together to pass Bill C-81 as quickly as possible.
While the bill is historic, it is not enough to truly change the lives of Canadians with disabilities. We need a culture change in our country. Everyone needs to think differently about inclusion. We need to stop accepting the view that those living with a disability do not deserve a minimum wage. We need to build more inclusive housing so that people like Steven and Karina have a safe, affordable, inclusive place to live. Government alone cannot build an inclusive and accessible Canada. Every single Canadian needs to change their attitude.
Employers cannot only change a life, but can improve their business's bottom line by hiring staff living with a disability. Make no mistake that passing Bill C-81 will make a difference, and it will send the message that the federal government believes in the abilities of all Canadians.
I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to the Minister for Accessibility for her leadership in building an accessible Canada with this legislation and in so many ways, both big and small. The minister is a role model for many Canadians, and I thank her for all of her hard work on this bill.
I also want to thank my friend Senator Jim Munson who was the sponsor of this bill in the Senate. I can think of few parliamentarians who have been so passionate about inclusion for so many years. Senator Munson became emotional when Bill C-81 passed third reading in the Senate, posting on Twitter, “This has been a good day for Inclusion—good day for Canada”.
To the minister and Senator Munson, to all the disability advocates and organizations who have been played a part in guiding and supporting us to where we are today, and to every person across Canada who has played a role in seeing this bill before us come to fruition, I thank them for their passion and commitment to creating an inclusive and accessible country.
View John Barlow Profile
View John Barlow Profile
2019-05-28 21:46 [p.28195]
Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to the Senate amendments with regard to a barrier-free Canada and this legislation, Bill C-81.
As a member of the HUMA committee, I worked very hard with my colleagues from all parties to see this legislation through. I know there has been lots of discussion tonight about why there are so many Conservatives and members of the NDP and the Green Party speaking to this legislation. Now we have had a Liberal get up to speak about it. Many of us worked so hard on this legislation and we all want an opportunity to speak to it and the amendments put forward.
As I said several times today, this was a unique piece of legislation when it came through the committee. When I say it was unique, I mean that the members of the opposition parties, the Greens, Conservatives and NDP, almost tabled identical amendments. There were more than 60, almost 70, amendments that were almost identical word for word. It is pretty rare, I would say, when three opposition parties are so in sync with feedback from stakeholders. We absolutely support the intent of Bill C-81 and have all voted in support of it through the process.
Our opportunity here today is to talk about and shed light on some of the shortcomings of this legislation and highlight our hope that whomever is in government after the election this fall, they will work hard to address some of these gaps in Bill C-81 to try to strengthen the bill and meet some of the concerns that are still out there and that have been raised by our stakeholders, and certainly by members on the opposition benches.
I do have to admit that I am pleased that the minister has said she will support the more than 10 amendments brought forward by the Senate. I think these do go a long way toward addressing some of the key concerns raised by stakeholders during the discussion and debate at committee stage. However, I am a little frustrated that although we are supportive of Bill C-81, there are a lot of gaps and shortcomings in it as a result of the Liberal members on that committee not supporting our amendments. I think they supported three that dealt with grammatical changes to the legislation, and not really anything definitive or of any substance. However, the Senate's coming forward with these amendments, I think, is certainly a step in the right direction.
What makes me proud of the opportunity to speak on Bill C-81 is that it certainly continues the legacy of one of my favourite politicians, our former finance minister Jim Flaherty. He left a lasting legacy in the House and I think almost all members in this Parliament would agree. Mr. Flaherty brought forward the registered disabilities savings plan and the enabling accessibility fund. They are two key pillars and historic policies that have made significant differences for people across the country with disabilities. In fact, the minister of accessibility said at committee that these policies were a game-changer for Canadians with disabilities, who are able to live much easier lives as a result of these programs. Certainly, in saying that I think some of the policies and steps in Bill C-81 are going to build on that legacy, which is one of the reasons why the Conservative Party will be supporting Bill C-81, as we have through every step of this process.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to travel to Israel with a group of disabled Canadians from Ontario on a trip that was organized by Reena and March of Dimes. This was a unique experience for me and some of my colleagues. We have all had experience working with people with disabilities and critical organizations in our ridings, but this was the first time I have had an opportunity to spend an extended period of time with the people from these groups, Reena and March of Dimes, on such a long trip from Toronto to Israel and then while touring Israel. We saw how behind we are in Canada in removing barriers for people with disabilities. The whole idea of this trip was to see what Israel is doing to address some of their issues. It really was eye-opening to see what legislation and policy, and individual businesses, NGOs and charitable groups are doing to address their issues.
One facility that we toured was almost like a small town specifically for people with disabilities, where they had started small businesses that people with disabilities were able to operate and raise money. This reminds me of my colleague from Carleton and his opportunities bill, which he tried to put through earlier in this Parliament. His bill would have addressed something similar.
One of the examples in this community was a wine-making facility. The grapes were brought in and crushed to make the wine. Olives were brought into another area to make olive oil. The grinder was rejigged to make it accessible for people in wheelchairs. We were all given an opportunity to try it, and it was not easy. It was a challenge for us.
It just goes to show that when we allow groups and organizations that opportunity and ingenuity to really take things on themselves, and also put policies in place that encourage the removal of those barriers, it gets to the essence of Bill C-81.
I am also proud to say that on that trip I made some lifelong friends, people like YaYa and Joshua. If Joshua is watching tonight, I have not forgotten his invitation to tour his apartment in Toronto. I am really looking forward to doing that later this summer.
To see the excitement in the eyes of these Canadians as they toured Israel and saw some of the opportunities that are available there for people with disabilities but are not available to them here in Canada really showcased the fact that we have some work to do here in Canada. I am hoping that Bill C-81 will take us in that direction.
I do want to stress the fact that we do support Bill C-81, but we do want to take the opportunity in these discussions tonight to highlight some of the concerns that stakeholders have raised about the bill.
The first and almost unanimous one from stakeholders was the lack of any timelines within Bill C-81. I am happy to see that in one of the amendments by the Senate, they have asked that Canada be barrier-free by 2040.
As opposition members, we put forward an amendment asking for Canada to be barrier-free by 2021. The Liberals voted against that amendment, saying that having deadlines in the legislation as a result of these groups would not help federal departments be proactive in removing barriers until the very last minute.
I would argue that if we do not have a deadline, if we do not have metrics involved to measure success, how are we going to know if we are achieving anything? To see that timeline of 2040 in the Senate amendment is critical. I am pleased to see that the Senate paid attention to the amendments that we brought forward at committee, and from stakeholders.
I am going to talk about three or four amendments out of the more than 60 that were brought forward. Again, these came directly from stakeholders, directly from witnesses that provided critical testimony at committee.
The first one is critical. The minister and my colleagues across the way in the Liberal government have talked about a no wrong door policy. I appreciate what they are trying to say and their nice language. However, stakeholders are arguing that they do not want no wrong door; they want the right door. They want one door.
The issue here is that when people with disabilities want to file a complaint and have an issue with a federal department or a regulation that has been imposed, they may be confused about where to go. We certainly heard that from stakeholders.
If I am a Canadian with a disability and have an issue, I could go to the accessibility commissioner, the CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency, or the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board. The idea that the Liberals have put forward is that if people go to the wrong door, they will be redirected to the right door and that that door will help them with their concern or complaint, or their issue with the regulation.
My concern with having all of these different bureaucracies deal with a complaint is there would be very little, if any, consistency on how the complaint would be handled. If I go to the accessibility commissioner, would my concern or complaint be dealt with in one manner and if I go to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, would that complaint be dealt with in a different manner? If the CRTC puts forward one regulation or guideline on a barrier, would that be the same regulation or guideline as the CTA would put forward?
I will argue, and I think anybody who has dealt with the bureaucracy in government knows, that the more cooks in the kitchen, the more unlikely there will be any consistency in that recipe. Therefore, I am hopeful that, through the discussions we have had in these debates today and going forward, this will be one element of Bill C-81 that my colleagues across the way, or whoever is in government after October 21, will work hard to try and address.
This is not an amendment that was just raised by the Conservative, NDP and Green members who participated in the debate on this issue at committee. It was brought forward by just about every single stakeholder who provided testimony at committee.
I want to take a brief minute to read a quote directly about this issue. It is from a person who has been mentioned many times today, David Lepofsky. He is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and is renowned in Ontario for his advocacy and work for people with disabilities. Ironically, he was also on our trip to Israel. The man is an unbelievable resource when it comes to Israeli history. I certainly enjoyed riding on the bus with him and picking his brain.
His comment on this is:
The federal government response to date has been inadequate. It simply said, “We'll have a policy that there will be no wrong door. Whichever agency you go to, no matter how confusing it is to figure it out—and believe me, it is confusing—if you go in the wrong door, we'll send you to the right door. Problem solved.” No, it isn't, because all that does is fix the problem of which door you go in. It does not solve the substantial problem that happens once you're inside that door. It means we have to lobby four agencies to get them up to the necessary level of expertise. It means we have to learn four different sets of procedures, because they may all use different procedures once you get inside the door. It means we have to go to agencies that may not have any expertise in disability and accessibility.
Further on he comments:
The fact is simply that the design of this bill, splintering among these agencies, serves only two interests: the bureaucracies that want to preserve their turf and those obligated organizations that would rather this law have weaker standards, slower implementation and weaker enforcement. That is not consistent with the federal government's commendable motivations and intentions under this legislation.
That is a direct quote from Mr. Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, one of the foremost experts in Canada. He is talking about Bill C-81, the barrier-free Canada act, and his concerns with this key part of the legislation.
We are not raising this issue to try and delay this process. We are discussing these issues tonight to try to ensure we find ways in the future to strengthen this bill.
The next issue I want to raise which also was not addressed in the amendments that were brought forward by the Senate but was certainly a key amendment we brought forward at committee is the fact this legislation allows exemptions for different federal departments. We have heard tonight, and my colleague in his speech talked about it, that the government wants to ensure that every government department meets these regulations and standards.
The first problem with that is there are no regulations and standards in this legislation. It is very weak when it comes to any sort of metric to measure accountability or success. It also allows any federal government department, and this relates to only federally regulated entities, to request an exemption. Federal government departments would not have consistency across the board on how they implement whatever regulations or standards a future government imposes.
In my opinion, the federal government should be the one that is taking the lead and setting the example. Our hope in the committee, when we discussed this, was that the federal government would pass Bill C-81 which would send a message to the private sector and other entities across Canada that the federal government is taking this on and that they should be doing much the same.
What kind of message does it send to our stakeholders who took a lot of time out of their busy schedules to participate in this process? It sends the message that this is historic legislation but we are not going to ensure that it is measured the same across the government. Various departments, for whatever reason they bring forward, can request an exemption that could be granted by the minister. This sets a very poor example. We put forward amendments at committee to remove the ability for federal departments to request an exemption and those amendments were denied.
I am hoping we have a third chance. That was also discussed at the Senate but was not included in its amendments. I am hoping that we also have another opportunity in the future to address the exemptions. If we really want to talk about legislation that is historic and is a game-changer for Canadians with disabilities, we have to ensure that the federal government, and every department within that government, meets those standards. We cannot have a different playing field across the federal government. It again adds to that concern when it comes to the four different departments and those four different levels of bureaucracy that are going to be handling concerns and complaints.
The other issue I want to address as part of the discussion is the standards or the lack thereof. There are unknown timelines, no metrics to measure success and no accountability. We talked in committee about those things being added in the future.
My message today for my colleagues in this House is let us not forget that part of this bill. We do not want to pass this bill, have it get royal assent and then have it sit on a shelf somewhere. There is a lot of work left to put the meat on the bones of Bill C-81. I want to encourage my colleagues that we pick this up in the fall to ensure that we do that.
To that point, I want to mention a quote from another stakeholder who brought this forward. This is from Michael Prince, a professor of social policy at the faculty of human and social development at the University of Victoria. He said:
This bill, to me, with respect, reflects that it was written in the bubble of Ottawa. This is written from the point of view of traditional management focus, organizational focus. This is not people-centred. This is about departments making sure that in the negotiations and drafting of this bill, exemptions and deals were cut.
Further on he said:
This is basically a machinery-of-government bill. There's not much social policy or public policy in this bill. This should be about people front and centre. I get that we have to have administrative enforcement and compliance, and on that note I'd like to see a lot more about incentives and education.
That again just goes to the fact that there are concerns from stakeholders with this bill.
My colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin talked a great deal about permissive language. I will not go into that in detail as my colleague has already done that.
What has been talked about is that the motto of Canadians with disabilities has been “Nothing about us without us”. All of us in this House can agree with that. It is very important that we all support Bill C-81. We are doing that. It is also important that we remember that phrase “nothing about us without us”. We have to ensure that Canadians with disabilities are included in this bill. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of the concerns that they raised, which we tabled as part of those dozens of amendments, were not passed and were ignored. I am hoping as we move forward we will remember “Nothing about us without us”.
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2019-05-28 22:16 [p.28199]
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this debate. This is not a debate that is inappropriate, quite the contrary. I will give two reasons why. The discussions and debates we will be having this evening, tomorrow and so on throughout the week are so vitally important.
First, the issue of disability rights in this country has been a marginalized discussion, certainly for as long as I have been in Parliament. We have not had full evenings of debate. We have members of the deaf community here this evening, and they are watching, to see what it is that we bring up about Bill C-81 and how we can improve it.
Second, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier, the issue of regulations and how to improve the bill are extraordinarily important.
The reality is the discussions and the debates that we have on this issue, far from shoving it under the carpet, are vitally important to getting the kind of bill that actually makes Canada more accessible. The government is patting itself on the back tonight, saying that we have bill, and it is weak but the Senate did improve it. The point is exactly thus, the fact that the bill was so weak to begin with that the Senate has already managed to improve it means that if we worked hard and assiduously over the next few weeks, we could make this bill better still. We could actually make it accessible.
The problem for anyone who is aware of the situation for people with disabilities in our country, the appalling situation that people with disabilities live under and the lack of accessibility, means that we have a duty to get this right, not just shove it under the carpet and move on to something else, saying that it is a weak bill that needs more improvement. The reality is we have a responsibility.
I hope that the government takes that responsibility seriously over the next few days as we sit until midnight to actually make those improvements. The government rejected over 100 amendments from the opposition. There was no willingness to improve the bill, despite the fact that there were so many witnesses who came forward and suggested, in very concrete terms, how this bill could be improved.
Fortunately, we have some Senate amendments that add, very appropriately and very importantly, the recognition of American sign language and la langue des signes du Québec as languages that are used by the deaf community. It is very important communication. I know only rudimentary American sign language, but the beauty of the language, when someone is fluent, is quite extraordinary to watch. It is something I deeply appreciate.
As other members of Parliament are sharing their experiences, I would like to share my experiences, coming in as the executive director for the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and working over the years to try to improve accessibility for the services that we offered across the mainland of British Columbia.
As members know, the situation of people with disabilities in this country is dire. Half of the homeless, and the growing number of homeless that we see in our country, are people with disabilities. Half of the people who have to go to the ever-increasing lineups around food banks in this country, just to make ends meet, are people with disabilities. The absence of services means that in many parts of this country, people with disabilities have to hold bake sales to try to fundraise, to get the accessible tools, essential tools, such as a wheelchair.
In Canada, we are far behind the rest of the world in terms of accessibility issues, and Canadians with disabilities pay a terrible price. When I was executive director for the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, I would often drive up early in the morning to get to work. Sometimes, as I came to that building on the west side of Vancouver, there would be a woman or man from the deaf community who had spent the night under the awning at the back of the building, because they had no place to live. They had no place to go, so they went to the one place where they knew services would be provided.
We would try to sort out their situation, to help them, to provide the services they were not getting from a federal government and, at the time, the B.C. Liberal provincial government that simply did not seem to care about housing as a human right.
That is my experience of the disability community, people who are incredibly resilient, but have received very little of the supports that they should be getting as Canadians with rights.
We talk about the billions of dollars given to the corporate community, overseas tax havens and $4 billion for a pipeline. The government seems willing to unleash the faucet as far as resources go, but people with disabilities have been starved of resources for decades and it is time that it changed.
When I was at WIDHH, we worked with other organizations, the Coast Mental Health, the B.C. Paraplegic Association and the CNIB. We created the first province-wide employment program for people with disabilities, the B.C. Employment Network. We established that because we knew that people with disabilities have so much to contribute, but so often doors were shut in their face for employment because there was no bridge, no way for those people with disabilities to get in to see a potential employer, to go through an interview, to learn the job and then to contribute to that business.
When we started the B.C. disability employment network, we started creating those bridges. That meant for a deaf British Columbian when they went to a job interview, there was a sign language interpreter. We have many talented sign language interpreters in this country and they could assure that there was a contact and communication with the employer and then training to make sure that the person learned the job.
For people in wheelchairs, the B.C. Paraplegic Association was a pioneer in this respect. Often it would mean nothing more than simple ramps and accessible doors that allowed people with disabilities to enter and leave the workplace. We provided that bridge, those supports.
For a wide range of other disabilities, we provided those supports to make sure that there was a contact made with the employer. The employers may not have been ready initially to provide those resources. The fact that they were provided for them allowed them to get to know those Canadians with disabilities in a new and meaningful way. What happened? Time after time those employers hired the people with disabilities. Once those people with disabilities learned the job, they stayed longer in employment, so it was a win-win situation by establishing that bridge and making sure that those people with disabilities had access to employment and access to that workplace so they could contribute for many years.
That is my experience in terms of people with disabilities, but let me talk about my experience in another country and that was the first time I went to the United States with a better understanding, thanks to people in the deaf community, of what it meant to have disabilities.
My first trip to Seattle really opened my eyes in terms of how far ahead the United States is in terms of where Canada is. I did not have that much money, we were working at WIDHH, but went to a conference in Seattle and I stayed at a very low-end motel called the Jet Motel. It is the far end of the strip at the Seatac International Airport. It was far away from the airport, a very cheap and low-grade motel. In the room the shower was completely wheelchair accessible. I asked at the front desk about a TTY to communicate and was told there was TTY and a whole range of other accessibility supports. I said, “This is a low-end motel. Why do you have all this?” They told me it is because it is the law. It is the law to have accessibility for Americans everywhere in the United States.
Even in some of the highest-end hotels in Canada, we do not achieve that degree of accessibility because it has been built on a volunteer system. We have not built the kinds of accessibility that are so vital to ensure inclusion and to ensure that people with disabilities everywhere in this country can contribute to their full potential. That is what makes me so sad about Bill C-81.
The Liberals are applauding and patting themselves on the back for what is such a small first step. It would not even have been as good as it is without the incredible pressure, thankfully, from people with disabilities who were saying that it was not good enough and applying more pressure to ensure that things improved. Instead of seeing it as something inclusive that all members of Parliament could participate in and accepting the over 100 important amendments and improvements offered by the opposition parties, the amendments were systematically rejected and the potential for an improved bill was lost.
We had something that could have moved us so far along, closer to the model in the United States, where there is an obligation, a duty, to ensure accessibility, and where there is transportation and accommodation right along the line, with an insistence and obligation to open doors for people with disabilities. We could have had that. All of us would have been overjoyed in the House to adopt such legislation. However, the involvement of the opposition parties was stymied. The many amendments that came forward often very thoughtful, extremely well researched and well crafted. They were simply rejected out of hand.
When it comes to Bill C-81, we have a bill that had tremendous potential. That potential has been lost so far because of some government intransigence. People with disabilities in this country deserve better. We have heard some remarkable stories tonight of people who have family members and close friends with disabilities and who have been in the workplace. We have members of Parliament who have disabilities and understand them first-hand. We have far fewer members of Parliament with disabilities than we should have. If this Parliament actually reflected the real division of the population and the number of people with disabilities across this country, we would be talking about having dozens of people with disabilities in the House of Commons.
I see in the gallery members of the deaf community who are extraordinarily eloquent. I hope one day some of them will be on the floor of this House of Commons contributing to its work and making sure that we do build that inclusive society, because that is what would make such a fundamental difference.
We had the bill brought forward by the government. We had some debates initially. As a number of my colleagues have pointed out, everyone supported the principle of greater accessibility. There is not a single member of the House of Commons who said that in principle they disagree with accessibility. Every single member from every single party and every single independent member stood together to say, “Yes, on principle let us pass this, because we all support the principle of accessibility. Let us get it to committee, let us hear from witnesses, let us hear from people with disabilities and let us make a difference there.”
That is when it really came off the rails. It was at that point that many amendments were offered. There were nearly 120 from four of the opposition parties. Those amendments, which were brought forward in a thoughtful and honest way, were turned down.
The bill came back to the House. A number of us, including the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, raised those issues. When witnesses were speaking to the importance of ensuring that this be an obligation, and not just something the government can pick and choose and give exemptions to whole ministries, why not ensure there is a framework and some standardization? A number of my colleagues have spoken to that as well.
When those questions were asked, the government's response was that it was just going to pass the bill through. Then it went to the Senate, and fortunately the Senate started setting some clear objectives. Its members talked about recognizing American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign languages. Those were all important components.
In the debate we are now faced with, members of the opposition are recognizing that we have made some progress and want to make some more. They want to make the bill even better. They want the bill to put us close to the standards we see in places like the United States. Let us make the bill such that when travellers with disabilities check into a motel, even if it is a low-end motel at the far end of an airport strip in an international airport area, or take any type of transport or deal with a government ministry, they will feel they are a part of those things and not see barriers that stop them from actively accessing and being part of society.
The figures are grim. It is a fact that in our land, where we are seeing increasing concentration of wealth, more and more Canadians are struggling. As I have mentioned before in the House, Canadian families are now struggling with not only the worst debt load in our history, but the worst debt load in the history of any industrialized country. That is the legacy of the last four years.
When we are dealing with this situation, it would seem important that we take a more dramatic step to bring the bill forward and improve it, as it impacts people with disabilities above all others. The lineups at the food banks across this country are getting longer, tragically, yet it is estimated that half of the people in those lineups are people with disabilities.
Is the bill enough? Well, it is only a start. We need to make it even better. We have a number of weeks in which we can to do that. When I think about the growing number of homeless people in our country, half of whom are people with disabilities, I remember, as I mentioned, the tragic cases that I would see on occasion when I walked into the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the morning. Some people simply did not have a place to stay and went to the institute because they knew they would be helped.
We have to ask ourselves if we are doing enough in Bill C-81, with the Senate improvements, to actually make a difference in their lives. That is the real question we have to ask ourselves honestly, as parliamentarians. This is not a time for any of us to rest on our laurels and simply say there are some good things in the bill and that it is sufficient. Given the dire situation of people with disabilities in this country and what they mandate us to do as members of Parliament, we have a responsibility to go much further.
Earlier tonight, a Liberal speaker talked about regulations, and a number of members of Parliament have raised the notion of having very strong and robust regulations. We also have the ability and opportunity to improve the bill. We have a responsibility to about 15% of the Canadian population. These are people with disabilities who are not, in any number, represented in the House, but who came to committee, offered suggestions and asked for improvements, and who found that the government was not willing to listen.
Here, as parliamentarians, we have the responsibility to listen. We have the responsibility to speak out. We have a responsibility to question the government about why it it did not accept amendments and did not make the bill stronger. Even with the passage of the bill, why are we still so far behind what the Americans with Disabilities Act offers to Americans with disabilities?
Canadians with disabilities deserve better. It is true that we will be voting in favour of the bill, but it is a lost opportunity if we do not take the time that remains in debate to make the bill better, to make the regulations stronger and to make the bill more reflective of what Canadians with disabilities truly need.
View Guy Caron Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill S-243. Although the bill was introduced here, in the House, it is actually a Senate initiative sponsored by Senator Percy Downe, for whom I have a great deal of respect. Back when I was the NDP finance critic, I had the pleasure of working with him on tax evasion issues. I know this issue is really important to him.
In the previous Parliament, the Standing Committee on Finance studied the tax gap, which is the difference between what the government does collect and what it should collect. That is money the government misses out on because of tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance, the use of tax havens and so on.
I remember when the committee was debating it, we had witnesses from all over the world, including the United States, Great Britain and various European OECD countries, as well as Canadian experts. We heard from experts on taxation, banking and various organizations.
It became apparent that we needed to measure the tax gap. However, at the time, the Conservative government and the Conservative members of the committee had no interest in moving forward. They told us that it was impossible, that it would require too much work, and that any data we might gain from the whole exercise would not justify the resources required to see it through. I do not think that was true, and the Liberals who were on the committee at the time agreed.
However, as soon as they took office, the Liberals became reluctant to get the Canada Revenue Agency to be transparent and to start measuring the tax gap. Yes, they ended up doing it. Yes, the CRA is now doing some hasty calculations to try to tell us how much tax revenue is likely being lost.
However, most stakeholders do not believe the amount is accurate. As part of a review of all tax measures, the CRA claimed that the government is currently losing about $7 billion or $8 billion in tax revenue. Most tax fairness organizations do not believe that. The Conference Board of Canada even conducted a study on measuring the tax gap, which found that it may actually be closer to $45 billion or $47 billion, if we rely mainly on how much tax revenue is currently being lost by the United States, which I would remind members has a lot more resources to deal with this issue than the CRA does.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer now has the authorization, power and desire to measure the tax gap. For two years, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and his office were asking for authorization to proceed with an accurate measurement of the tax gap. For two years, the Liberal government refused to give them the information they needed. For two years, the Parliamentary Budget Officer did not have the information needed to proceed with this important study, a matter on which the CRA has no credibility, and yet, the government claimed the whole time to support the office.
Here is why I believe the CRA has no credibility. During the entire time that I had to deal with the agency, all I saw was a lack of transparency. Not only did I find that they were unwilling to provide information, but I also observed that they were withholding it.
Not that long ago, at the beginning of this Parliament, I sat on the Standing Committee on Finance. Among other things, we studied the whole scheme involving KPMG and the Isle of Man. After a handful of committee meetings, we were no longer allowed to examine the processes that KPMG had been involved in.
When CRA representatives testified before the committee, they gave every possible excuse for not providing the information. They told us that it would breach confidentiality, that privacy could be at risk and that it could not give us information that KPMG deemed to be privileged. There was every reason to deny us the information, but none of them were valid.
We could have done what the U.S. usually does, which, in the case of KPMG, was to use the committee's authority to issue subpoenas requesting that KPMG officials testify and compelling them to do so.
Both the Canada Revenue Agency and its minister had a hand in that.
The minister does not have much credibility. Throughout this Parliament, she repeatedly told us that the government and the Canada Revenue Agency had taken steps, but that turns out not to be the case.
For example, the minister repeatedly said that the government invested $1 billion to fight tax evasion and had recovered $25 billion, but that turned out not to be true. The government did not recover $25 billion; it hoped to recover $25 billion. As it turns out, “hope to recover” is exactly right because the government is far from hitting that target at the moment. Then the minister said the government really had taken the necessary measures and that CRA had hired 1,300 new auditors. Well, we did the math, and so did the media, and we figured out that CRA hired 192 new auditors, not 1,300.
The Canada Revenue Agency told us that it answers 90% of all calls within two minutes. The Auditor General begged to differ. The truth is that 34% of all callers actually get someone on the line, and a third of all callers are given incorrect information.
It is very hard to believe everything coming out of the Canada Revenue Agency. It is very hard to lend them credibility. That is why we need an independent study. I do not believe the numbers that the Canada Revenue Agency came up with in the course of its study of the so-called tax gap. I would have more confidence in the numbers from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, if he has access to the data that should be made accessible to him through this bill.
Percy Downe, the senator who introduced the bill, has a great deal of credibility in the area. He made this his pet issue and did not make a big spectacle out of it. He just wants to get to the bottom of this. He realizes that here in Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency is a problem.
The CRA's approach to collecting tax revenue across the country is problematic. The senator recognizes, as we do, that the CRA is acting arbitrarily. It changes its approach to collecting personal income tax depending on the individual's level of wealth. I am not making that up. It was in the Auditor General's 2018 report, which notes a lack of consistency in the CRA's collection processes.
Two different taxpayers will be treated in two different ways. That is not professional. It is unfair and perpetuates the perception that the CRA and the Government of Canada treat taxpayers differently based on their wealth or status.
This is a major problem because it indicates that this is a two-tiered system. In this system, the government will try to reach an out-of-court settlement with people who have the means to defend themselves. That is actually what we have seen. The government tries to resolve the situation by closing the file, because it will be too expensive to recover money from people who have the means to defend themselves. However, in the case of those who cannot defend themselves, the government takes quick action to recover the money.
We must standardize the way the agency does things and, above all, take away the Canada Revenue Agency's authority to assess the gap, because it will likely not do a very credible job. We must routinely ask the government to do its job, to exercise due diligence and to provide on a regular and ongoing basis the information requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer to evaluate the tax gap.
That is why I am proud to support this bill.
View Don Davies Profile
View Don Davies Profile
2019-05-13 17:09 [p.27704]
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and honoured to rise today and speak to Bill C-55, a very important bill and one of particular significance to me, coming from Vancouver, British Columbia, where the coastline, the oceans and the marine species are so absolutely critical to our economy, culture, people, indigenous nations and, frankly, to our way of life. This bill really speaks to the need to look at our marine areas in a different way, and to start to treasure them and protect them for future generations.
I am pleased to say that our party will support Bill C-55, albeit with some reservations, which I will outline in my remarks.
I want to start by saying that I am disappointed that the government has once again used time allocation. In other words, the government has cut off and limited debate on this bill. This is the 71st time in this Parliament that the Liberals have used time allocation, which is one of the most undemocratic tools that a government can use. It cuts off debate and hinders parliamentarians who, after all, have been sent here to express our positions on behalf of our constituents. It shows a disrespect for Parliament and all Canadians, who elect us to come here to represent them and to ensure that their voices are heard and reflected in the debates in this House.
I sat in the last Parliament when the Conservatives used closure 100 times, and I am starting to see very little difference between Liberals and Conservatives in terms of their fundamental disrespect for the democratic traditions of this chamber.
Interestingly, I heard the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader refer to the budget and describe how one of the Conservatives, by speaking for 15 hours, denied other members the right to speak, yet he does so himself, having risen in this House to introduce a motion to cut off debate. That denies all sorts of members in this House the right to speak. Canadians should be aware of that fundamental disrespect of their rights and democracy.
In British Columbia, as in other areas of the country in the north and on the Atlantic coast, on our coasts, watersheds and oceans, the sea life, the pre-eminent species that reside on the coasts—the orcas and dolphins and of course the iconic salmon, as well as the sea lions and eagles and all other species—are of absolutely profound importance to our entire ecosystem, and when we say “ecosystem”, we are not just talking about ecology. It is part of our economy as well.
I know the Liberals are fond of saying that we have to balance the environment and the economy. Actually, I think we need to go farther than that: We need to recognize that the environment provides the fundamental capital that makes all economic activity possible. When we do not place protection of the environment and our ecosystem first and foremost, we actually threaten our economy. That is what the government has done, repeatedly, through its policies over the last four years.
We use our oceans and our marine areas for recreation. We use enjoy nature there, and they are fundamentally part of the cultural and historic fabric of our indigenous nations. As I have said, they are part of our fundamental economy.
In Vancouver and in British Columbia, tourism and fishing and these kinds of economic activities depend on having a pristine and well-protected environmental system in our marine areas. It is absolutely critical. That is why we need sustainable policies. We need to balance economic activities to make sure that generations forever can enjoy, in a sustainable way, all the bounty of our marine areas.
I do not need to point out that these marine areas are precious and delicate and require extreme care and balance. In fact, we are simply stewards for all future generations of these areas.
There is an irony in the Liberal government patting itself on the back for protecting marine areas at the same time that it has bought the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline, which will carry raw bitumen and triple the number of tankers through the Burrard Inlet, right into the marine areas that the government is trying to protect. This will threaten the southern orca population, and if there is ever any kind of spill, it will create an ecological disaster of unimaginable proportion, because bitumen sinks and there is no way to clean it up. As for the Liberals pretending to care about our marine environment, it is impossible to square that idea with their approval of a pipeline that presents probably the most disastrous threat to our marine environment on the west coast that we have seen in some time.
I want to pause for a moment and mention a recent situation that is of great concern to my constituency and the tens of thousands of Filipinos who live in my riding: the hazardous waste that originated in Canada that has been sent over these marine areas to developing nations, in this case to the Philippines.
In 2013 and 2014, a private Canadian company shipped 103 containers to the Philippines. They were labelled as plastics for recycling, even though they also contained waste, such as soiled diapers. These containers have been rotting in a port in the Philippines for years. The Filipino government has been asking Canada to take back this trash, which has been rotting at the port in Manila. Environmentally concerned people in the Philippines were failed by two governments, the Conservatives and now the Liberals, at least until recently, and the Filipino-Canadian population in my riding desperately wants Canada to take back its garbage, quit using developing countries as a dumping ground for our trash over the marine areas and compensate the Government of the Philippines for all its costs in having to deal with this environmental offence over the last number of years.
I will turn to Bill C-55.
This bill would provide some new legal tools to speed up the creation of marine protected areas, MPAs, but it falls short of Canada's environmental and international commitments to protect our marine biodiversity. The bill fails to set a minimum protection standard and targets for zoning for marine protected areas, and while the government recently announced new standards for marine protected areas, we are concerned that omitting them from Bill C-55, from the legislation itself, and instead relegating them to regulations opens them up to easy reversal under a future government. This process would give the minister far too much latitude to decide what activities are permissible in an MPA. The government's new standards would not be enshrined in law and would therefore be easier to undo under a future minister.
As we have heard, Canada has pledged to the international community to protect 5% of Canada's marine areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020 with the aim to halt the destruction of habitats and ecosystems and to protect against the erosion that has gone on for decades under successive Conservative and Liberal governments. In fact, Liberal and Conservative governments have both failed to take meaningful action since signing the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. That is 25 years of a commitment that has really been ignored by successive Liberal and Conservative governments.
I think Canadians would be somewhat shocked to know that most marine protected areas today still allow extractive fishing activity, and one even allows for oil and gas exploration. Thankfully, the government recently announced that it would prohibit oil and gas activities, mining, dumping and bottom trawling in MPAs, and that is a good thing. However, it stopped short of creating so-called no-take areas, which have long been the recommendation of conservation groups.
I would also point out that Canada has yet to adopt the IUCN international marine protection standard, and 15 university scientists from St. John's to Victoria have written to the former minister of fisheries and oceans and the current Minister of Environment and Climate Change to ask for stiffer conservation measures in Canada's 12 marine conservation areas, as well as those being proposed in the future. Imagine if we allowed hunters into international parks to hunt. I think that would be absolutely shocking to most Canadians, and totally unacceptable. Why then would we allow it in marine protected areas? The very name implies a marine area that we are protecting. Would we not say that in this one area, there is to be no activity that would extract any marine species or life in that area?
Ninety per cent of Canada's marine areas are open to extractive fishing, so we are not talking about creating a huge burden on Canada's fishing industry. However, if we are going to protect an area for future generations, then we should protect it, and that means not allowing any kind of economic activity other than enjoyment and tourism and people coming to visit those areas and leaving a soft footprint when they are there.
The NDP moved a number of amendments to this legislation that we felt would have made the legislation stronger. We had five objectives. We wanted to enshrine minimum protection standards in the act. Unfortunately, that was rejected by the Liberal government. We wanted to maintain ecological integrity as the primary objective of an MPA. We wanted to enshrine co-governance with indigenous peoples as the governing principle of this act and establish the authority of indigenous guardians, who have such a long, millennial, actually, relationship with these areas under their stewardship. We wanted to require the establishment of significant no-take zones, as I just mentioned. Finally, we wanted to facilitate the implementation of networks of MPAs, which, of course, would facilitate the movement of species from one MPA to another.
Unfortunately, the Liberals were not interested in our amendments. They did pass some Green amendments and one from an independent member that touched on themes similar to ours. Unfortunately, those amendments were diluted versions of our own. We would certainly have been happier if we had received a robust adoption of the principles I just highlighted.
I want to point out some quotes from some environmental and marine experts in this country that show how important this legislation is. I want to quote from West Coast Environmental Law. Its representative said:
The law is currently very inconsistent. As you've heard and will probably continue to hear, people are astonished to learn that oil and gas exploration, undersea mining, and damaging fishing activities are all possible in the tiny fraction of the sea that we [currently] call marine protected areas. That's why an unprecedented 70,000 Canadians, members of the public, spoke out about one of the proposed new MPAs, Laurentian Channel, and said that we need to keep harmful activities out of these areas.
That is simply common sense. Again, I will give the government credit for announcing last week that its policy would be to prohibit those activities other than establishing no-take areas. That is a very important development. Again, I am curious as to why the government did not see fit to enshrine those standards in the legislation itself, where they would have been far more entrenched and more difficult for any future government to unwind.
We did see, in the previous government, that the Conservatives did massive damage to our navigable waters act and to ecological principles, not only on water but on land and in air as well.
I want to comment for a moment on how important it is that we are going to prohibit bottom trawling. I quote:
The scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that bottom trawling has significant damaging impacts to sea floor ecosystems, and that no-take fishing areas are a key component of effective MPAs. Research shows that MPAs that permit varying levels of fishing and other activities are less effective at achieving biodiversity than fully protected areas.
International best practices suggest MPA core no-take zones should encompass 75% of a given MPA. Canada is nowhere close to reaching that high bar....
Right now, the minister has the discretion to determine what activities are allowed in an MPA and how restrictive each zone in an MPA can be. So far, Canada's fisheries minister has implemented a no-take zone in only five MPAs [to date], and those areas are tiny when compared to the overall MPAs. Canada should follow international examples and make no-take zones the rule rather than the exception...[in] MPAs.
That was from our very excellent former fisheries critic, the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, who has spent a lifetime in watershed development, river health and marine ecosystems.
I want to also take a moment to contrast this bill with the Canada National Parks Act. The Canada National Parks Act sets a high bar for maintaining ecological integrity in all national parks. However, marine protected areas lack the clear minimum protection standards that terrestrial parks benefit from.
The federal government recently announced that a national advisory panel would be established to provide the Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard with advice on minimum standards for future Oceans Act MPAs. This would still leave protection standards to the subjective judgment of the minister. Since fisheries ministers in the past have permitted seabed mining, oil and gas exploration and other industrial activities in MPAs, we do not have confidence in that discretion. Of course, that is based on empirical experience, not theoretical concerns. Therefore, the solution is to enshrine minimum protection standards in the legislation. The NDP would continue to urge the current government and future governments to take that very important step.
Our oceans are a critical part of our country. They are critical to our economy, our culture and our social relations. They are enjoyed by millions of Canadians from coast to coast. Therefore, in the same way we want to ensure that we continue to expand our protection for natural terrestrial parks, we need to do the same in marine areas. To do that, there can be no half measures. We should not be quibbling. We should be having world-class, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, complete protection of marine biodiversity in all marine protected areas. Frankly, given that it is still such a small percentage of the vast oceans that many members in this House have already commented on, with Canada, I believe, having the largest coastline in the world, I think the case can strongly be made that in those few small areas we are protecting, we should protect them completely.
The New Democrats will be voting in support of this legislation, because it makes the designation of marine protected areas easier and faster, which is a good thing. We support the government's policy announcement last week that it will strengthen and tighten the kinds of damaging industrial and commercial activities that frankly gut the purpose of marine protected areas. However, we will be pushing the government in every positive way we can to make sure that this legislation responds in a more positive way to the concerns that have been raised, because it is not quite there yet.
I want to conclude my remarks by talking about the indigenous nations in Canada. In the New Democrats' view, reconciliation should be part of all legislation. Additional designations are welcome tools, but it does not make sense, in our view, to exclude the explicit recognition of indigenous rights in the Oceans Act. Given the implications of MPAs on indigenous constitutional rights, we believe this omission is irresponsible, and frankly, inconsistent with the current government's stated objective of pursuing reconciliation. The federal government's commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to working in a true nation-to-nation relationship with Canada's indigenous peoples is something we need to make a reality. Every time the government introduces legislation that does not make an explicit and strong reference to those indigenous rights, we see it as a missed opportunity and evidence that the government's commitment to reconciliation is more one of words than of action.
I will conclude with this. British Columbians are very proud of our west coast. New Democrats are very proud to be strong defenders of those coasts and all the species that live within them. That is why we are going to continue to fight hard against irresponsible pipeline decisions that threaten our coast. We are going to fight for strong environmental protections for all marine areas, for the expansion of those areas and for 100% protection of those marine protected areas so that all species, from the orca to the salmon to the human, who enjoy those areas can continue to enjoy them for millennia to come.
View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2018-11-27 19:12 [p.24073]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the contributions of the member for St. Albert—Edmonton at the committee, but also today in this House in presenting his private member's bill. It is prior to my tenure as parliamentary secretary, but in terms of those committee deliberations, could he advise this House about some of the practices taking place in different provinces around the country? I know some of them have put in place counselling and psychological supports for jurors. Also, in the course of applying those supports and that treatment, has the issue of section 649 of the code ever resulted in prosecutions of jurors in different parts of the country, as a result of the treatment they received?
View Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-11-27 19:12 [p.24073]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice for his work as a member of the justice committee and in his capacity as parliamentary secretary. The hon. member raises the issue of juror supports across Canada. There is a patchwork from province to province, with some provinces having better juror supports, some having less and some having none at all. It was a key recommendation of our committee to call on the federal minister to work with her provincial and territorial counterparts to see a better consistency of supports across Canada, and also to provide one-time funding to help make those supports available and accessible right across Canada.
View Anthony Housefather Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Anthony Housefather Profile
2018-11-27 19:18 [p.24073]
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise, and I want to thank my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton for the private member's bill he put before us. It is consistent with the report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which had unanimous approval.
I also want to salute my colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford who, along with the member for Victoria and the member for Niagara Falls and all of the other members of our committee, have worked so diligently in bringing this issue to the fore.
Jurors throughout Canada have a serious issue. As the member for St. Albert—Edmonton reminded us when he quoted Mark Farrant, jury service is essentially the only compulsory service left in this country. It is the only time that members of the public often find themselves in contact with the justice system.
While the bill before us deals with a very important component of the issue, the study we did showed many flaws in the way we treat jurors in Canada. For example, it showed us that in some provinces, the rate that we pay a juror has not increased since the early 1970s and that there is a great divergence among provinces, with some provinces paying up to $163 a day and other provinces paying nothing for the first few days of jury services, leading to many people being unable to afford to be on a jury. We want juries to be representative of the public at large, and not simply one small group that can afford to do jury service.
We found that in some provinces, there have been excellent services provided post-trial to jurors in recent years, and some provinces have started real legal support programs. Other provinces have absolutely no legal support programs. As my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton said, one of our important recommendations was to ask the federal Minister of Justice to work with her provincial counterparts to ensure that all provinces are able to provide post-trial support for jurors.
We heard the quotes that were read by my hon. colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton. We heard compelling testimony before our committee that showed how deeply people were affected by their jury service. We heard that people have come out of a trial unable to take care of their children, unable to have relationships with their partner, unable to fend for themselves in the world, but dropping out of the world and secluding themselves. That is not an acceptable result in Canada today from a compulsory service that we ask of our citizens.
I would only hope that in addition to this very well-timed bill, there is more that can be done through the provincial and federal governments working together to improve the lives of jurors across Canada. The last thing we want is people disinclined to perform jury service.
As to the bill put forward by my hon. colleague, it lies purely within federal jurisdiction. This is an issue that is in the Criminal Code. It is an issue that results from the fact that in Canada, we have determined that it is generally inappropriate for jurors to discuss the matters that have arise during deliberations, except if they are somehow raised in open court or are the subject of a criminal proceeding. However, that is not the case in every jurisdiction in the world. In the United States, for example, jurors are able to speak freely about their experience in deliberation, which has led to many books. All of us can remember the O.J. Simpson trial and how many books came out of the Simpson jury.
Now, that is not the approach our committee is proposing. We are not proposing, and neither did any of the jurors who came before at committee propose, that jurors be allowed to enrich themselves by talking about juror deliberations in titillating or sensational trials. That is not the approach we are proposing. We took the time to listen to expert testimony from different jurisdictions in the United States, Europe and Australia. As my hon. colleague mentioned that we are proposing the model used in the Australian State of Victoria, which, by the way, has a coordinator for juries, a person whose entire job is to be responsible for making sure that the juror experience in that state is appropriate and that jurors are well taken care of.
We in Canada would be well advised, at the provincial and territorial level, to create the position of jury coordinator so there is someone who has overall responsibility. It would not just be for the purposes of one trial or one case, but overall in talking about the juror experience and making it better.
We have bailiffs, judges and others who, with appropriate training, can do excellent jobs, but that does not mean the experience should stop there.
We heard testimony of jurors being confined to small rooms and small spaces. We heard testimony of jurors being told to park next to the accused or next to family members of the accused, of walking into court next to people who were testifying at trial. All of this could be avoided if we had someone who had an overall responsibility of walking through our courthouses, determining how best to allow jurors to have a decent experience.
In this case, Victoria, whose jury coordinator, by the way, came from Canada, told us that it had an exception to the secrecy rule, which we have in section 649 in our Criminal Code. When it came to speaking to mental health professionals, jurors were allowed to do so and it was an exception to its general criminal principle that jurors could not talk about deliberations. This is exactly what my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton is proposing in this legislation.
In our report, we recommended using Victoria as an example, and that is exactly what the member has done. He has carved out a very small exception to allow those jurors who were or could be deeply affected by the deliberations to speak to mental health professionals. We heard about the most stressful parts of juror service. Jurors could have conflict with their fellow jurors in deliberation. They could be hearing about gruesome, horrific testimony. They could, for example, be even at a point where they would be in an altercation with fellow jurors because they were the only ones who believed the defendant should either be acquitted or found guilty.
Coming out of their service, while jurors can talk to a mental health professional about the other things that have impacted them during their service, in Canada we do not allow jurors or someone providing support to jurors, for example if the juror is hearing impaired, to talk to a mental health professional or other medical professionals about the stress they experienced in deliberations, which could be the major source of their stress.
Therefore, while it is well and good and excellent that we are pushing for provinces and territories to each have a mental health support program for former jurors, it still does not work as effectively if this exception is not created in the Criminal Code to also allow them to talk about their experience in deliberations.
My colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton has taken a recommendation, which was unanimously supported by all of the members of the committee, has taken a concrete example that exists in a different Commonwealth jurisdiction in Australia to show it can be done and he has put this into legislation. I dearly hope we can unanimously support this in the House and move it quickly toward the other place, so we can move forward down a path of helping jurors in an area of federal jurisdiction to be treated better when it comes to mental health services.
I think this is a very important piece of legislation. I thank my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton and all the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their work. I hope this bill will be adopted very quickly.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in favour of the legislation. Let us get it through.
View Rob Nicholson Profile
View Rob Nicholson Profile
2018-11-27 19:35 [p.24076]
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, for introducing this bill and giving me, as well as so many of my other colleagues, the honour of seconding the bill.
I remember my first time in Parliament, back in 1984, when my colleague Pauline Browes asked if I would second her motion to erect a statue to John Diefenbaker here on Parliament Hill. Needless to say, I was very proud to have that honour, and I am very proud to have this honour. I thank my colleague for that.
This is the first time we have introduced legislation to Parliament to address this critical oversight with respect to jurors in our justice system. I appreciate that my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton and all those we have heard here are addressing this situation, which up to now has been basically ignored. I was justice minister for six and a half years. I do not remember any reports or memos with respect to the health and well-being of jurors. I am so pleased that we are taking steps, as my colleague, the member for Victoria, just pointed out, on something that makes common sense.
What we can get out of Bill C-417 is the protection members of a jury need. The member has proactively taken this issue that has been ignored for too long. The legislation effectively speaks to section 649 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits jurors from disclosing jury deliberations to anyone, other than in relation to obstruction of justice under subsection 139(2) of the Criminal Code. This new legislation would allow jurors, for the first time in Canada, to seek the help of licensed practitioners, such as psychiatrists and psychologists. I am so pleased to hear of the support.
When we were on the justice committee and heard some of the testimony and evidence, everyone was affected in some way or another. My colleague, the member for St. Catharines, still remembers, as we all do who live in the Niagara Peninsula, the gruesome details of the Bernardo trial. I remember that trial. Indeed, my colleague is correct when he says that the wounds from that trial have not healed. All I can say is thank God that man was not released on parole just recently. As a matter of fact, there are people who are still suffering and are still impacted by that trial. I heard from a constituent who was a friend of Kristen French. She reiterated that the nightmares from that trial live on in her family, friends and jurors.
We had compelling testimony at the justice committee from Mr. Mark Farrant and Mr. Patrick Fleming. Mr. Farrant has been an advocate for jurors and is one of those who has suffered PTSD, in addition to anxiety, depression and nervous shock, due to the distressing and disturbing evidence presented at the trial in which he served as jury foreman. The 2014 trial was that of Farshad Badakhshan, who was convicted of second degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, Carina Petrache. She was stabbed multiple times before her body was burned in a fire. Mr. Farrant was subjected to viewing gruesome evidence over and over again. It should be no surprise to anyone that jurors are traumatized by being obliged to sit and watch graphic horrors repeatedly.
Tina Daenzer was another witness we heard from. She was the first one to be selected for the Bernardo trial. She had to listen and see all the terrible evidence introduced at that trial. She wanted to close her eyes and look away, but she could not, because she knew it was her duty to watch the evidence. At one point during the trial, Judge LeSage had to call a recess on her behalf, as she was having severe heart palpitations due to stress. She was referred to counselling. In his 29 years as a judge, Justice LeSage had ordered or recommended counselling for a juror on only two occasions, and the Bernardo trial was one of them. It should be noted as well that he himself sought counselling after that trial ended.
Ms. Daenzer ended her testimony by saying that counselling had helped her manage the trauma and anxiety and to get back to living her life. This speaks to the reason why Bill C-417 is critical to protect our jurors. If we want to continue to have jurors serve and to value their service, we need to ensure that they are provided avenues to reduce their stress, including the opportunity to talk about it and debrief afterward.
Many provinces do have juror support programs such as providing free counselling to former jurors. The bill would increase the effectiveness of those sessions, as it would allow jurors to further discuss the reasons why they had become significantly stressed. Many of our health care professionals who testified at committee supported this change, as they felt it would improve the health of former jurors without compromising the sanctity of our jury system, which medical professionals are bound to by confidentiality requirements.
I thank all the members who have been involved with this, the member for Mount Royal, the member for Victoria and, of course, the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, for encouraging and moving forward with this at the justice committee. Because of that report, we are seeing Bill C-417 here today.
It is not without precedent. As members have heard, there are other jurisdictions that are having a look at this issue. In Australia in the State of Victoria they have had similar secrecy rules to Canada's, but its Juries Act 2000 now allows jurors to discuss juror deliberation in the course of their mental health treatment undertaken as a result of their jury service. As justice minister it was always very helpful to see what our colleagues in Australia did. They face many of the same issues we do in Canada. Both countries adhere to the Westminster model of Parliament and are in fact similar in many ways. I always remember when the Prime Minister of Australia was here about 10 years ago and addressing Parliament. He mentioned that Canada and Australia were like identical twins separated at birth. Indeed, having a look at what they do in other countries such as Australia is very helpful for us here in Canada.
One of the things I want to touch on, which I was pleased that my colleague from Mount Royal raised as well, is the lack of remuneration for members of the jury. To ask someone to sit on a jury for two weeks and then not pay them or to pay them $50 a day contributes to the stress these individuals suffer from. As my colleague pointed out, some provinces have not raised this amount since the 1970s. That is absolutely wrong. These people are an essential part of our justice system and they should not have that added stress of not being able to look after their homes. Even employers are stressed because they are losing their employees for perhaps long periods of time. I am hoping that in our discussions with our provincial counterparts to say that time has moved on, that will be one of the areas where we do get these people the kind of financial support they need.
The bill is within the complete jurisdiction of Parliament, and I am so pleased and honoured to be a part of this. Again, I thank all of my colleagues here for all of their wonderful support for this important bill.
View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2018-11-27 19:44 [p.24077]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-417, an act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), initiated by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.
As is readily apparent this evening, the bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to provide that the prohibition against the disclosure of information relating to jury proceedings does not, in certain circumstances, apply in respect of disclosure by jurors to health care professionals.
Our government indeed recognizes the crucial role in dedicated service of jurors in the Canadian justice system, as stated by a former juror, Mark Farrant, who was indeed quoted by the moving member, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. Mr. Farrant said in his testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that, “Jurors are an important pillar of the justice system.”
Members heard reference to Mr. Farrant, repeatedly, this evening.
Before November 22 of last year and February 8 of this year, that justice committee undertook a study that culminated in their report, “Improving support for jurors in Canada”, which was rendered in May of this year. The committee held eight meetings in Ottawa to hear evidence from witnesses, including former jurors, Canadian and foreign government representatives who work directly with jurors or in justice departments, Canadian and international lawyers, and other experts interested in the stresses that are associated with jury duty.
Again, those committee deliberations and that committee report have been referred to extensively in the speeches we have heard thus far tonight.
First of all, I want to indicate our thanks to the committee for their thorough study and their important report on this important issue. What I would like to do now is take a moment to explain the jury process in Canada, because understanding the roles that jurors are asked to play is necessary to finding solutions to assist them with the difficulties that can result from their very important public service.
For criminal cases, section 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a trigger. What that does is it grants any person charged with an offence the right: the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.
As provided in section 471 of the Criminal Code:
Except where otherwise expressly provided by law, every accused who is charged with an indictable offence shall be tried by a court composed of a judge and jury.
When a person is charged with a crime listed in section 469 of the Criminal Code, the trial will automatically take place before a judge and jury, unless the person charged with the offence and the Attorney General agree to a trial without a jury.
In all of these types of criminal cases, the jury is called upon to reach a unanimous verdict, determining whether the accused is guilty beyond a standard of what is called “a reasonable doubt” based on the evidence presented by the prosecution.
In the context of civil cases, juries also have a role to play. While most civil cases are heard by a judge alone, a defendant may also have the right to a trial by judge and jury, depending on the nature of the case and the court. Civil juries must decide, on a balance of probabilities, whether the plaintiff proved that the defendant violated civil law. There are six jurors in a civil case and at least five of them are asked to agree upon a civil verdict.
Finally, there is also an aspect of coroners' inquests that is triggered when we discuss jurors. Coroners' inquests, which aim to inform the public of the circumstances of a death, require jurors as well. Jurors must respond to questions about the circumstances of a death and may make non-binding recommendations. Unlike civil or criminal cases, jurors in coroners' inquests are not required to render a verdict on anyone's legal responsibility.
Serving as a juror in any of these capacities that I have just outlined can involve significant stress. We have heard a lot of testimony and a lot of submissions today in this chamber about the stresses the jurors face. Those stresses have the potential to seriously affect a juror's life. What causes stress varies from one person to another, evidently. Several examples were raised by witnesses at committee. I would like to discuss some of these.
For many Canadians, being summoned for jury duty is the first and maybe the only experience they will have with the justice system. As a result, few prospective jurors are knowledgeable about what jury duty entails, and that unfamiliarity with the process itself often generates anxiety. Many individuals may therefore feel overwhelmed and stressed when they are summoned for jury duty.
As expressed by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty, “...jurors are moving into an environment that is very unfamiliar to them. This can be very intimidating, and that alone can be somewhat stressful.”
Being exposed to disturbing information is also a fundamental aspect of what jurors are faced with. Again, we heard extensively about this this evening.
It goes without saying that some legal proceedings deal with truly horrific and horrible crimes and involve traumatic and explicit evidence and testimony, which can include disturbing audio and video. This can be extremely stressful for jurors who are exposed to it.
We heard this quote earlier, but it bears repeating. Mark Farrant explained:
Images would haunt me day after day, an unrelenting bombardment of horror. My daughter's red finger painting would hurtle me back to the scene of the crime and I would stare transfixed, seemingly out of space and time.
With respect to deliberations, some jurors explained that they were uncomfortable with challenging group dynamics and the confrontations that sometimes occurred between jurors. Therefore, the deliberation process itself can be stress-inducing.
Other individuals spoke about their significant fear of making the wrong decision or rendering a verdict that would have a life-altering impact, fuelling the gravity of the task that was before them.
Former juror Michaela Swan told the Standing Committee on Justice:
...the most difficult process in serving as a juror was that of deliberations and the resulting post-trial discharge...It's confusing and highly complicated, but there is an immense drive to do the right thing.
There is also an abruptness of the end of the trial. Generally, after a verdict is rendered, the duty of jurors comes to an end. The committee heard repeatedly that for a number of jurors, particularly the ones serving on extensive and gruesome trials or inquests, the transition back to normal life was indeed challenging.
Former juror Patrick Fleming explained:
We need assistance getting back to our “normal” life. We are civilians who did not choose this path for ourselves nor are we trained to deal with this type of situation. Being a juror is a monumental job that has had a major impact on my life.
Many of the former jurors who participated in the committee's study described the difficulties they experienced once the jury task concluded.
Michaela Swan, who I mentioned earlier, stated:
Within 20 minutes of delivering a verdict, and after four days of being sequestered, I walked through an open parking lot with 11 other strangers and returned to normal life. I had Sunday to reconnect with my family and was back to work Monday.
As Patrick Fleming explained:
At the end of the trial, it was so abrupt. One minute I was reading a guilty verdict to five individuals, putting them away for 25 years plus another 25, and then the very next minute the court doors opened, and I was going home. Think about that.
With respect to section 649 of the Criminal Code, some jurors described feelings of isolation. Currently, in Canada, jurors cannot discuss the case with anyone as per section 649 of the Criminal Code itself. They are cut off from their family, friends and usual support networks with whom they would normally share troubling information and receive advice or encouragement. This also can be an added stress.
As Patrick Fleming explained:
I felt isolated from my family and friends. I would distance myself, and I could not share what I was going through....I felt guilty for not being present for my family emotionally and physically.
The important work undertaken by the committee clearly shows that it is possible to prevent or reduce the stress on the juror's experience, particularly by improving the preparation process and the conditions under which jurors fulfill their duties throughout the legal proceedings, as well as by providing jurors with psychological support as needed.
As was also mentioned earlier, it is a worthwhile investment. According to the WHO, every dollar invested in mental health results in about $4 worth of savings.
It is important that we continue to work with the provinces and territories to find solutions that support jurors and their mental health, including an examination of section 649 of the Criminal Code.
View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Pam Damoff Profile
2018-11-27 19:54 [p.24079]
Mr. Speaker, while my time might be short, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this legislation.
I want to thank the member for St. Albert—Edmonton for choosing this issue to address in his private member's bill. It is an extremely important issue, and as he has heard tonight and knows himself, it is a nonpartisan issue.
I am a member of public safety committee. The first report that we did was also on PTSD and operational stress injuries. It too was a unanimous report, just like the justice committee report.
Mental health is an issue that crosses party lines. It is an issue that all of us need to work on together. When people serve their country, we need to make sure that we look after them.
I was quite surprised when I heard that jurors are not able to seek support from medical professionals when they have finished a trial. I first learned about this during a public safety study. Both nurses and jurors reached out to my office to ask if our study could incorporate the mental injuries they had suffered. That was of course outside the scope of our study.
We probably first became aware of mental injuries from our veterans. For me personally, that was the first time I learned that people could suffer mental injuries because of what they saw or heard.
We have come a long way with our veterans and are starting to make strides with our first responders and public safety officers. With both of those groups, we have a long way to go, but with jurors this is something that just has not come up before.
I am so happy to be able to speak to this issue and that the justice committee took the time to study it broadly with jurors. Much of it falls under provincial jurisdiction. Right now, four provinces provide some kind of services to jurors, but this really is something that should be provided across the country.
I quite liked the suggestion by the member for Mount Royal that there should be someone who looks after jurors. Would that not be a lovely way to support jurors?
From the testimony that members heard and I read in the report, after jurors have gone through a trial they have intrusive thoughts, nightmares, trouble sleeping, and develop phobias and anger, and lose their appetite and have a sense of isolation, and are hypervigilant, depressed, anxious, and suffer from substance abuse problems.
It is critically important that all parties support this legislation. We have limited time left to see it get through the House and then hopefully through the Senate to become law.
I am very pleased to offer my support to the member. I will be supporting the bill and will certainly be advocating within my own caucus to ensure that we get this important piece of legislation passed.
Results: 1 - 15 of 230 | Page: 1 of 16