Bill C-389, an Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression)

4:14 pm February 17th, 2011

The Bill, supported by the three opposition parties and passed in the House of Commons, will achieve two things: to amend “the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination; and also to amend  the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as distinguishing characteristics protected under section 318 and as aggravating factors to be taken into consideration under section 718.2 at the time of sentencing” essentially ensuring the same rights and protections on sentencing for all Canadians.

We need to protect all Canadians against discrimination and against all crimes.  Period.

I support Bill C-389. 

 

Harper’s New Obedient Senate as written by Senator James Cowan

2:12 pm December 14th, 2010

Harper’s New Obedient Senate

 

The traditional working relationship between the Senate and the House of Commons was transformed beyond all recognition with this week’s defeat of Bill C-311 in the Senate.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to recognize the limitations inherent in our Parliamentary system of government, particularly in a minority Parliament situation, and wishes to turn the Chamber of sober second thought into his personal back-stop. 

 

The Senate has amended countless bills over the decades, but since the outbreak of the Second World War has defeated only five bills received from the House of Commons. The reason so few have been defeated in that 70-year period is that the Senate has been acutely aware of its appointed nature. Senators have been extraordinarily reluctant to defeat legislation passed by those who Canadians have elected to represent them in Parliament. Bills have been defeated in the Senate only after prolonged study, when the views of Canadians have been solicited and then carefully considered at public meetings of its committees.

 

The Senate last defeated a bill it had received from the House of Commons in 1998, after its Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee held 12 days of hearings and heard from 31 witnesses. Those hearings convinced Senators that the Private Member’s Bill in question would violate the freedom of expression guarantees contained in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and they were unanimous in their decision.

 

Five years earlier, members from all parties in the Senate joined forces to defeat the government’s 1992 Budget Implementation Bill. This legislation, which would have merged the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canada Council, was debated extensively in the Senate. It was sent to the National Finance Committee, where 48 witnesses were heard during the course of five days of hearings. Following those hearings, members on both sides of the chamber concluded that the merger of these two major granting councils would have very damaging consequences, particularly on our universities, and joined to defeat the bill.

 

In every instance when the Senate defeated a bill which had originally been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons, it did so only after examining the legislation in committee, where it carefully weighed the evidence of Canadians who appeared to testify before it.

 

On Tuesday, this “sober second thought” approach to legislation was suddenly abandoned when the Harper government used its majority in the Senate to defeat a House of Commons bill without even a pretence of debate or public input.

 

Bill C-311 arrived in the Senate on May 10, 2010, but for more than six months not a single Conservative Senator rose to speak on it. In response to a request on Tuesday by Liberals to either finally express their views on this important initiative to help deal with climate change, or allow it to go to committee so that Canadians could have a chance to present their views before the Senate made a final decision on its fate, Conservative Senators decided to simply kill it outright.

 

History was made on Tuesday. Until the vote on Bill C-311 there had been an understanding spanning generations that there exist self-imposed limitations on a powerful appointed chamber in our Parliamentary democracy. Those limitations and that understanding have been erased by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who once again has shown little respect for Parliament or for Canadians who wish to be heard on one of the most important issues of the day, climate change.

 

 

House of Commons Bills Defeated in the Senate (1940-2010)

Year

Bill #

Subject

# of Committee Meetings

# of Witnesses

2010

C-311

Climate Change

0

0

1998

C-220

Authorship and Crime

12

31

1996

C-28

Pearson Airport

50

99

1993

C-93

Budget Implementation

5

48

1991

C-43

Abortion

10

102

1961

C-114

Bank of Canada

2

1

 

C-25 Follow-up

9:59 am October 22nd, 2009

On Wednesday, October 21st, Bill C-25 was given third reading and passed unamended by the Senate. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions on this issue.

Pre-trial credit

11:33 am October 15th, 2009

The article posted below was published in the Edmonton Sun on October 11th concerning the amendments made to Bill C-25 by the Legal and Consitutional Affaris Senate Committee. I hope this provides some more insight into the issues surrounding pre-trial credit.

I look forward to your comments.

Pre-trial credit has validity

Andrew Hanon

October 11th, 2009

The Edmonton Sun

 

 Amid all the clamour and cries of foul in Ottawa this week over some Liberal senators’ mini-rebellion against party leader Michael Ignatieff, one very important point was overlooked.

 

They were right. The fracas erupted over the Tory government’s so-called truth in sentencing act, which would do away with the two-for-one credit that is frequently handed to convicts who’ve spent long stretches in jail waiting for their trials.

 

Under the current practice, for example, a criminal who languished in pre-trial custody for 18 months would get 36 months taken off his prison time after getting convicted.

 

For years, critics of the two-for-one system have accused defence lawyers of deliberately dragging out the process in order to get lighter sentences for their clients.

 

The Harper government’s proposed Bill C-25 would outlaw those decisions, which are made at a judge’s discretion. The new rules would make it one-for-one in most cases and 1.5-for-one in special circumstances. What those special circumstances might be is not spelled out in the bill.

 

The bill passed a Commons vote with the support of Opposition leader Ignatieff.

 

But last week the Liberal-dominated Senate justice committee amended the bill, changing the one-for-one restriction to 1.5-for-one.

 

Tory Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was outraged, accusing the Liberal senators of “gutting” a law that was designed to unclog Canada’s glacially-paced court system.

 

But let’s take a step back from all the rhetoric and theatrical outrage and look at the facts.

 

Pre-trial custody is known as “dead time.” That means there’s no rehabilitation programming at all — no training, no educational programs, hardly any counseling services, and certainly no recreation.

 

Prisoners often spend more than 20 hours a day sitting in their cells, waiting for their day in court.

 

Pre-trial centres like the Edmonton Remand are notorious for their overcrowding and volatile atmosphere. They’re considered harsher than full-on prisons.

 

All this, in a country where the accused is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.

 

That’s why judges are willing to give convicts two-for-one.

 

No doubt some defence lawyers drag out trials, getting delays and continuances in order to get lighter sentences for their clients.

 

But let’s be realistic: most judges see through such transparent attempts at manipulation and yank lawyers’ leashes when they’re being unreasonable. Besides, two-for-one is discretionary — not every convict gets time taken off their final sentence.

 

It’s also important to note that two-for-one time doesn’t count toward parole eligibility, which means that in many cases, it doesn’t shorten the prisoner’s time behind bars.

 

For politicians to suggest that outlawing two-for-one will solve the bottleneck in our courts is just as cynical as the lawyers they claim to be thwarting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on C-25

12:07 pm October 9th, 2009

I have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls both for and against the Senate Committee’s amendments to Bill C-25, and many voicing confusion about both the Bill and the Senate Commitee’s procedures.  I hope the article below provide some clarification or additional perpective. Also, trascripts from committee meetings can be accessed at http://www.parl.gc.ca/.

 

 As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Tories reject fast-tracking of sentencing bill

By: The Canadian Press

Date: Friday Oct 9, 2009 6:48 AM ET

OTTAWA — Conservatives rejected a bid Thursday to expedite a key piece of their tough-on-crime agenda, even as they continued to bash Liberal senators for holding up the legislation.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson continued to rage against Liberal senators, accusing them of delaying a bill that would end the sentencing practice of giving offenders two-for-one credit for time spent in pre-trial custody.

“This idea that this should be delayed beyond the (Thanksgiving week) break is ridiculous,” Nicholson fumed.

“These people are soft on crime and this is a huge mistake, a huge mistake.”

But Liberals countered it was procedural games from Conservatives in the Senate that ensured the bill won’t be dealt with until Oct. 20.

At issue are amendments to the bill proposed by Liberal senators on the legal and constitutional affairs committee. They want offenders to be given 1.5 days credit for each day spent in pre-trial custody, which Nicholson maintains would gut the bill.

Senator Joan Fraser, the Liberal committee chair, twice sought unanimous consent Thursday for the upper chamber to deal with the amendments by the end of the day. That would have cleared the way for the final debate and vote on the bill on Friday.

The Tories’ deputy leader in the Senate, Gerald Comeau, refused. He said Conservatives would agree to expedite the bill only if Liberals would agree, in effect, to drop the amendments.

Moreover, Comeau then moved to adjourn the Senate until Oct. 20. The bill will now languish until then.

Liberals suspect the Tories are deliberately footdragging because they want to make more political mileage with their soft-on-crime accusation.

Ironically, Liberal insiders believe the amendments are likely to be defeated and the bill passed, as is.

Indeed, they say the bill would likely already be law if the Tories hadn’t insisted that Fraser’s committee delay its clause-by-clause study of the legislation in order to hear testimony last week from two provincial justice ministers.

Fraser complained Thursday that Manitoba’s Dave Chomiak and Alberta’s Alison Redford appeared before the committee and, after a little more than an hour, announced they had to leave to catch flights back home.

Even before the pair finished testifying, Nicholson’s office issued a press released quoting Redford and Chomiak calling on senators to give the bill speedy passage. And moments after leaving the committee hearing, the pair showed up at a news conference with Nicholson to repeat that message.

“The only reason clause-by-clause consideration of the bill had not been concluded at the time the press release was sent out was that we delayed it to hear witnesses that the minister himself felt was appropriate for us to hear,” Fraser told the Senate.

She said Redford and Chomiak’s departure from the committee under false pretenses was a “grave and serious breach” of Senate privileges.

In Winnipeg, Chomiak called Fraser’s complaint “silly” and “hardly worth comment.”

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer chimed in, saying the Liberal senators’ proposed amendments to the bill demonstrate why “the Senate should be abolished.”

A spokesman for Redford said the ministers had been scheduled to appear before the committee for only an hour but the hearing went overtime before they finally advised Fraser they had to leave. He said Redford spent only 10 minutes at Nicholson’s news conference before rushing to catch her plane home.

While Liberals still slightly outnumber the Tories in the Senate, senators tend to be fairly independent and don’t always vote strictly along partisan lines. Liberals point out they lost a Senate vote earlier this week, underscoring that they no longer control the upper chamber.

Just because Liberal members of the legal affairs committee have proposed amendments, Fraser conceded she’s not sure other Liberals senators will support them.

“I’m not sure how the vote would have gone had it been held today. I’m not at all sure how it would have gone,” she said in an interview.

Liberal senators are coming under some pressure from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. He reiterated Thursday that his party’s elected members in the House of Commons “strongly support” the bill and he urged senators to pass it unchanged.

“I am confident that the Senate will eventually pass that legislation,” he said in London, Ont. “And the idea that . . . we’re holding it up is ridiculous.”

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20091009/nicholson_legislation_091009/20091009?hub=Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill C25

12:44 pm October 8th, 2009

Contrary to what Minister Nicholson is claiming, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has not gutted the Bill C-25 - the government is not being truthful about what the core amendment accomplishes.

 

The core principle of the bill is to set limits on the amount of credit that judges can give people for pre-trial custody.  The committee has preserved that principle.  But in response to testimony from many expert witnesses, the committee amended the bill to give judges slightly more leeway than the bill originally provided.

 

The reason for this is that time spent in remand is often harsher than time spent in regular custody.   In addition, time spent in remand does not count towards parole eligibility, which means that people who are held in custody before conviction will actually spend more time in prison than others who have committed the same crime but were awarded bail. 

 

Simply put, the committee amended the bill to provide a general rule that credit should be 1.5 days for each day spent in remand, but most importantly to allow a judge to decide whether to award less or, in exceptional cases, more credit up to a limit of 2 days credit for 1 day in remand.   The judge is the person best placed to decide what sentence should be imposed and what credit (if any) should be granted

 

The Senate committee did its duty by amending this bill. 

I hope I have clarified the “what” and “why” of the committee’s amendments to Bill C-25, and that the amendments absolutely preserve the principle of the original Bill.

 

Letter to the Editor

9:53 am August 31st, 2009

The following letter was sent to the editor of the Vancouver Sun:

I am writing in response to Kim Bolan’s article published on July 23rd concerning the so called Senate hold-up of Bill C-15, which would impose mandatory jail terms for drug producers and traffickers.

The Conservative government has a field day every time a bill they introduce arrives in the Senate.  Instead of allowing the Senate do it’s constitutionally mandated job of studying legislation to ensure its worthiness and effectiveness, we are constantly forced to defend our work to the general public.  Maybe the “hold-up” in the Senate reflects hesitation on the part of Canada’s chamber of sober second thought to pass a Bill based in ideology rather than fact.  Or maybe it comes from a desire to think carefully about the consequences of changing our laws based on partisan thinking.

Bill C-15 received 1st Reading in the House of Commons on February 27th, and took 49 sitting days to be passed on to Senate.  The Senate received the Bill on June 9th, and had only 6 sitting days to do what the House of Commons accomplished in 49 days.   Ms. Bolan’s article quoted Minister Nicholson as admitting that he “had a hard enough time getting that bill through the House of Commons” and that with three times the number of parliamentarians and resources.  

In its current form, if Bill C-15 was to become law, the financial burden of the majority of the prison sentences (less than two years) contained within the Bill would fall on the provincial government and not the federal government.

Provincial courts are already dealing with backlogs; this Bill will only worsen the strain on the system. If this bill is really designed to target “gangs and organized crime activity,” why does it include six month sentences for individuals growing as few as six plants?  Instead of quickly and efficiently convicting organized criminals, traffickers, and dealers, the courts will be backed up with the influx of people caught growing a few plants in their backyards. 

We in the Senate have an obligation to the Canadian people to properly and thoroughly study all legislation, and come the fall, when parliament resumes, we will do just that with Bill C-15.

The Conservative Government should not be playing politics with people’s lives – we, as Canadians deserve better

- Senator Larry Campbell

 

 

 

National Day of Reconciliation

4:43 pm June 11th, 2009

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Indian Residential School system apology from the Government of Canada.  This apology was made by Prime Minister Harper in the House of Commons, and followed by apologies from each of the leaders of their parties, and was received by members of first nations, Métis, and Inuit leaders, elders, residential school survivors and children in the House of Commons on June 11th, 2008.  This was a historic day for everyone involved, and today’s anniversary is no less significant.  Today we must reflect on the atrocities committed towards our aboriginal populations, and restate the vows made by our leaders one year ago that those atrocities will never happen again.  We should also review the changes made over the past year to improve attitudes of Canadians towards our First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations.  

An apology is only as good as the actions which follow it, and I am deeply moved to be able to participate in today’s events in support of Canada’s aboriginal peoples and their efforts, combined with those of the government, to strengthen the Canadian mosaic instead of depriving these vibrant communities of their traditional cultures as was done for so many years.  

It is my hope that all Canadians will reflect today on the terrors that were forcibly inflicted upon our First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations for so long.  We should feel privileged to live in a society where this sort of treatment is no longer tolerated, and where individual cultures and traditions are encouraged to thrive.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day

4:19 pm May 22nd, 2009

On May 7, I participated in the Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day on the Hill by volunteering to spend the day in a wheelchair while trying to go through my parliamentary duties as usual. From 8:30 in the morning, until 2:00 in the afternoon, I learned how important cracks in sidewalks can be; how steep the slope from behind East Block up to the Senate really is; how to find a washroom I could enter; and how to open a door if you can’t find the automatic button. In the process, my eyes were opened to the everyday challenges faced by those permanently confined to a wheelchair. I have more awareness of what is happening in their world, and have huge appreciation for the way they continuously triumph over challenge and adversity.

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our high standard of living for all. However, I was shocked to learn that the unemployment rate for people with spinal cord injuries remains at 62%, well above the national average. If the Canadian quality of life is to continue to be a source of pride for our country, we cannot stop our efforts to promote equality for individuals with physical disabilities.

I urge Canadians to support The Canadian Paraplegic Association, which helps over 40,000 Canadians who suffer from spinal cord injuries and their families. The CPA provides resources such as peer support and counseling, informational resources for both adults and youth, and rehabilitation and training programs for Canadians with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities. These resources, and the support which the community of the CPA provides, assist individuals in achieving self-reliance and independence. My day on the Hill without the use of my legs has made it clear how important awareness and support is if we are going to ensure equality for those who suffer from spinal cord injuries.

Minister Flaherty on the Economic Crisis

10:16 am March 11th, 2009

Yesterday Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty appeared as a witness before the Senate Finance committee in its study of Bill C-10, the Budget Implementation bill.   I have received thousands of emails from Canadians who are concerned about Bill C-10.  There are a myriad of amendments to non-budget related issues, and Canadians are requesting that the Senate study and amend the bill, and not bow to the wishes of the Prime Minister and Minister Flaherty and pass the bill expediently, as the Conservative government has demanded.  In Minister Flaherty’s address he showed the Senate Committee that he not only does not care about the wishes of the people he represents, but moreover that through his lies he does not respect them either.  This is, in part, what he had to say:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkk_OR6Dqt8