After a brief recess the House of Commons will again be in
session this week and one of the Government Bills up for debate for the first
time is Bill C-55: "The Response to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R.
vs. Tse Act”. This is in my view an important Bill although it has to date not
generated a considerable amount of public commentary as opposed to Bill C-30.
While Bill C-30 is now effectively a dead bill, it was frequently
mischaracterized as the “Internet spy bill” even though Bill C-30 did not allow
for any unauthorized “spying” to occur without judicial oversight. Bill C-55 on
the other hand, does pertain to the legislation that allows law enforcement
agencies to engage in lawful but limited surveillance activities without
judicial oversight. I believe that any legislation that allows law enforcement
to engage in acts of surveillance without a court order is important to
Canadians and as such, I will spend much of this week’s report covering Bill
One key aspect of Bill C-55 is to recognize that it does not
create new powers for law enforcement, but rather seeks to clarify existing
legal tools available to police in matters of public safety as a result of a
Supreme Court of Canada legal ruling. Law enforcement at times requires the
ability to respond very quickly in situations where there are urgent
circumstances. Kidnappings, hostage taking and bomb threats are a few examples
where urgent actions are expected of the police to protect innocent victims and
maintain public safety. The kidnapping of 23 year old Vancouver resident Graham
McMynn in April of 2006 and the prompt response by the Vancouver Police
Department in using all of the legal resources available to safely return Mr.
McMynn to his family serves as a reminder of why legislation in a Bill such as
C-55 is needed.
Currently the laws that govern police use of a wiretap (as it is
frequently referred to as) without court authorization can only occur in
situations where there can be imminent harm as defined in section 184.4 of the
criminal code. From a historical perspective this particular legislation was
passed into law some two decades ago by a former Government in 1993. One of the
oversights of the existing legislation is that there is no legal requirement for
an individual who has been the subject of a wiretap to be notified of this fact
after the incident has occurred. The Supreme Court has ruled that if law
enforcement intercepts private personal communications under section 184.4,
there is an obligation to notify the individual that this action has occurred.
The Supreme Court has further directed Government to respond to this matter by
April 13 of 2013. I mention this last point as often I am asked what factors are
involved in establishing the timing on when various Bills are introduced into
the House of Commons.
Bill C-55 proposes to add new requirements to comply with the
ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. One new requirement proposes mandatory
notification for any person who has had personal communication intercepted under
this act within 90 days unless a court ordered extension for the notification
period is granted by a judge. A second proposal is to publish annual reports on
the use of “imminent harm” wiretaps so the public can be better informed on
these practices. The final proposal better clarifies and narrows the scope that
allows police officers the ability to use this legislation. The current
definition is broader in also including peace officers. Overall I believe the
proposals in Bill C-55 will provide better balance and help to increase the
transparency of a process that all Canadians should always be aware of. Also
occurring this week is continued debate on Bill C48 “Technical tax Amendments”
and Bill C42 “Enhancing RCMP Accountability Act”. Senate Bill S-7 “Combating
Terrorism Act and S-12 “Incorporation by Reference in Regulation Act” are up for
3rd and 2nd reading debate respectively. Private Members Bill C-463 “Discover
Your Canada Act, C-419 “Language Skills Act” and C-425 “An Act to Amend the
Citizenship Act” are some of the Private members business that will come before
the House this week.
If you have any comments, questions or concerns on these or
any Bill before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me by
phone at 1 800-665-8711 or by email at email@example.com
One topic that has been very actively discussed recently both on
Parliament Hill and in Okanagan Coquihalla is the Canadian Senate. There are
generally three main perspectives that I hear from local citizens and from other
Members of Parliament in Ottawa that include reforming the Senate, abolishing
the Senate altogether and leaving the Senate alone…. taking the status quo
approach. In these discussions I have also discovered that there are, at times,
some misunderstandings of the legal status of the Senate and the obligations of
Government to comply with legislation that, in some cases, is well over one
hundred years old.
One area that I frequently hear disdain for pertains to the
practice of appointing various Canadians to the Senate. The question I am
frequently asked is “Why doesn’t the Prime Minister stop appointing Senators and
just get rid of the Senate?” The challenge is that the Senate, sometimes
referred as the“Upper Chamber” or the “Other Place” (as it must be referred to
within the House of Commons) is part of our Constitution. When the founders of
Canadian Confederation created the Senate, they did so by essentially dividing
Canada into five different regions: The Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec, Western and
“Additional”. Additional includes Newfoundland, Labrador, NWT, Yukon and
Nunavut. By design the Senate is not based on a representation by population model as is the House of Commons but rather on the principle of “equal”regional
representation where the first four regions each have 24 seats while the
“Additional” regions have 9 of the 105 seats in the Senate.
Consequently the constitutionally mandated Senate
representation arrangement means that regions of Canada are legally entitled to
the number of seats as defined within the Constitution Act of 1867. To date
every Prime Minister elected in Canada’s history has by legal obligation,
appointed Senators when vacancies arise, most often created by a Senator
reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. In addition the Prime Minister
can, in exceptional circumstance, also temporarily appoint 4-8 additional
Senators if there is a deadlock that must be broken.
One of the challenges to the Senate “equal”representation model is that
it conflicts with representation by population. As an example the current Senate model
ensures there are actually 30 Senate seats east of Quebec – that is six more
Senate seats than the 24 in all of Western Canada combined. Likewise for Ontario
in spite of having a much larger population than Quebec has the same number of
seats in the Senate. As a result,
some regions in Canada from a population perspective are under-represented
compared to others. As an example here in BC there are 6 senators compared to 10
in Nova Scotia. When it comes to the discussion of abolishment of the Senate,
many in western Canada are strongly in favour while some regions of Canada are
equally as strongly opposed.
Recently our Government has posed a series of six questions to
the Supreme Court of Canada to request a ruling on how the Senate can be legally
reformed or abolished in accordance with our Constitution – one of the many
questions is a ruling on the need to determine if there is a requirement to have
a Canadian constitutional debate involving all of the Provinces and Territories.
Although many have expressed a desire to see action taken on the Senate, few
have expressed interest in opening up a Canadian constitutional debate that
could potentially pit different regions of the country against each other a time
when national unity is critically needed. This will be the first time in over
three decades that our Supreme Court will look at the issue of Senate reform in
a review process that will ideally provide more clarity on how action can be
taken on the subject of Senate reform and/or abolishment. I welcome your views
on this subject.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached
via email at Dan.firstname.lastname@example.org
As a first time Member of Parliament I greatly value the advice and wisdom that is often shared with me by more senior and veteran elected officials from all levels of government. In particular, a recent MLA report from Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff really hit home for me. In his December 17 comments Mr. Barisoff spoke of the unpleasant but important need for publicly elected officials to be in tune with death and tragedy. In my relatively brief time as an MP I have already noted that, while serious tragedies often make the headlines, the media spotlight is quick to shift to other issues of the day, all too often leaving the victims and their families behind. For the past year I have worked closely with the family of Lynn Kalmring. As I shared with the House of Commons recently, Lynn Kalmring was a loving mother, sister, daughter, and friend to all who loved her. Lynn's life was tragically taken from her in a senseless and brutal act of domestic violence. The suffering and immense hardship for the Kalmring family did not end with Lynn’s passing; rather, it was only the beginning of an ongoing challenge that, in many ways, only victims of such a tragedies truly understand. It should not have to be this way.
Likewise, although I have only briefly met with a few of the family members who have suffered greatly at the hands of Allan Schoenborn (the man who took the lives of his three children in Merritt, B.C.), his legal status of being found not criminally responsible for this heinous act continues to terrify the family and victims to this very day. It should not have to be this way.
In yet another example, long time Okanagan-Coquihalla residents may recall the 1997 tragedy that occurred in Summerland. Kevin Machell, who was released on parole, senselessly murdered Tammy Grono and her mother Cecilia at a motel in front of his own pre-school aged children. These murders occurred in spite of a restraining order against Kevin Machell. In fact, the victim who had feared for her life as a result of death threats was neglected to even be notified that Machell was on the loose and that he had failed to report to a half-way house. Sadly those children grew up without a mother or grandmother by their side. It should not be overlooked that this tragedy occurred some 16 years ago. Today families involved in similar tragedies continue to be victimized by a justice system that all too often puts the rights of criminals ahead of the victims and ahead of public safety. It should not have to be this way.
This past Friday I had the honour of supporting our Prime Minister at an event as he announced the “Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act”. This act will introduce several important changes that will help to put the rights of victims ahead of criminals, as well as aiding in protecting the public and reducing these acts from occurring in the future.This legislation will ensure that victims are specifically considered in the decision making process and more importantly are notified when a person found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) is discharged; including the creation of non-communications orders. This legislation will also create a High-Risk Designation– individuals designated by the court as high-risk must be held in custody and cannot be considered for release by a review board until their designation is revoked by a court. Under the existing law, it is a review board and not the court that determines when these individuals are no longer considered a “significant threat” to public safety.This increased judicial oversight will be guided by the principal that public safety is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process relating to accused persons found to be not criminally responsible.
In my view these changes are long overdue and I am proud to be part of a Government that is finally taking action and putting the rights of victims first and enhancing public safety in the process. The families of serious domestic violence should not have to live in fear for their safety and continue to be victimized by offenders.
The Clarity Act is not one that is referenced very often in the cafes and coffee shops that I visit on a regular basis throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla. However, it is a topic that has been very prominently part of the discussion on Parliament Hill this past week. For those of you unfamiliar with the Clarity Act, this is a law created under the former Chretien Liberal Government that ultimately stated the provisions on how any province, but more specifically Quebec, could potentially leave Canada- a process also known as “secession” in Parliamentary terms. The Legislation was passed in 2000, some five years after the 1995 Quebec referendum on separation. As can be expected, it was a controversial bill (Bill C20) at that time and was not universally supported in the House of Commons and was widely opposed by Quebec provincial political parties. One key aspect of this legislation was that ultimately the Federal Government, as opposed to the Quebec Provincial Government, maintains the ability to override a referendum decision with respect to secession. This is a somewhat brief and simplified summary of the Clarity Act which would also require an amendment to the Canadian Constitution for any Province to leave the federation.
An MP from the Bloc Quebecois has recently sponsored Bill C-457 that proposes to repeal the Clarity Act and suggests that the Quebec Provincial Government and not the Federal Government should ultimately have jurisdiction with respect to the secession of Quebec. In response, NDP leader Tom Mulcair, through a NDP MP, has introduced Bill C-470. Among some of the language in Bill C-470 is the principle that “the Quebec nation has the right to democratically decide its own future”. One key part of the NDP proposal is the following clause that “the majority of valid votes are cast in favour of the proposed change”. This requirement means that a simple majority of 50% plus 1 could, in effect, open negotiations for Quebec to leave Canada. The major concern heard around Parliament Hill thus far is that the NDP, through Bill C-470, is making it easier for Quebec to leave Canada largely for political reasons given that much of the NDP caucus comes from the Province of Quebec. In response, the comment from the NDP is largely that Bill C-470 provides more clarity to the process of secession and how it might work in reality. Others have indicated that the bar for the separation of Quebec from Canada is being set to low by the NDP as well as the fact that Bill C-470 is unnecessary. While the debate this week has certainly been interesting, I am personally not supportive of either bill. As a legislator I would like Parliament to focus on creating more jobs & investment, building a more skilled workforce and ensuring the safety of our streets. As a Canadian, I am proud to be part of a strong and united country. Ultimately there will be a vote in the House of Commons and I welcome your views.
Also this week we will be the phasing out of the Penny… as I reported in my April 16th MP report the Royal Canadian Mint will no longer be distributing the penny. Although the penny will retain its value indefinitely, our Government encourages Canadians to either redeem them at financial institutions or consider donating them to charity. In the absence of the penny, a process of rounding up or down (affecting cash transactions only) as follows: For transaction between $1.01 and $1.02 cents the total would be rounded down to $1.00 For amounts of $1.03 - $1.04 would be rounded up to $1.05 while conversely amounts of $1.06-$ 1.07 would also be rounded down to $1.05 and an amount of $1.08 or $1.09 would be rounded to $1.10. If you have a further question on this topic, please visit my website at www.danalbas.com/penny or call my office at 1 (800) 665-8711.
As I am running out of space in this week’s report, here is a brief summary of some of the Bills that are before the House of Commons this week: There will be continued debate on Government Bills C-52 Fair Rail Freight Service Act and Bill C-48 Technical Tax Amendment Act that I referenced last week. New Private Members Bills C-464 An Act to amend the Canada Labor Code (parental leave for multiple births or adoptions), Bill-462 Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act, Bill C-266 Pope John Paul II Act, Bill C-459 Air Passengers Bill of Rights, Bill C-383 Transboundary Waters Protection Act and Motion M-400 Homes Not Connected To A Sanitation System. Votes this week will potentially occur on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If you would like further information on these or any Bills before the house or to pass on your comments or questions please do not hesitate to give me a call.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.